Tag Archives: blogging

To Dance Again: Return to Self

teaching at MAD LOM

A few years back, when I started this blog about body image and identity, I was thinking a lot about my relationship to ballet. It defined me from late childhood, though adolescence and into my late twenties. It was my niche, my career, until I left to find out who I was without it.

To recap: some time in 2012, after who-can-even-count how many years of not dancing, a friend lured me back to ballet class. I was flooded with all kinds of emotions—excitement, dread, nostalgia—but most of all, an overpowering sense of return-to-self.

Return-to-self isn’t anything I learned about in social work school, but I’d have to define it as a process of acute identity repair.

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a sixty-something-year-old guy on the table next to mine at physical therapy. I was there for my knees—the culprits who’d distanced me from ballet. He was there for a leg or back injury, I never asked what. I should mention that my physical therapist, to distract patients from their agony, has large-screened TVs on every wall, all synced, streaming sit-coms from the 1990’s—Friends, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond. Depending on the hour of your appointment, you can usually predict what will be playing.

At the time of my narrative, Will and Grace was on. After my neighbor and I shared a chuckle over Karen’s alcohol-fueled antics, he mused about how the country had changed since the show had aired.

“You can’t make cracks about alcoholism anymore,” lamented the guy with the back-or-leg injury. “You can’t even say words like Jew or Black on primetime without a lawsuit.”

Whether that’s true or not, I kept listening. Soon, the conversation led to the guy sharing some of his history with me.  He’d been an outdoor sports guy, he said. Hunting, boating, motorcycle racing. Sure, he’d suffered various wounds from these high-risk diversions. He’d been shot Cheney-style more than once (he showed me a shoulder scar), thrown from bikes and boats—all minor events he’d shrugged off at the time. But the injury he faced now (again, he did not specify, but later I saw he walked with a severe limp) had sidelined him from everything he loved to do. Everything.

“But my faith is in him,” he aimed a thumb at our PT, “and Him.” He re-directed said thumb toward the ceiling. “You watch. I’ll get back on that bike if it’s the last thing I do.”

I could see he meant it. Getting back on his motorcycle was worth that much to him. Life just wasn’t life without the thrill-rides he loved. That I understood.

For me, the sine qua non endeavor was ballet, as I wrote back in 2012, when I went back to ballet for the first time. I didn’t stick with it back then; my knees wouldn’t permit it. But I kept ballet in my heart, blogging about it, watching my favorites on YouTube, penning a novel about teenage ballet dancers in New York City. Through my characters, I still lived ballet, still danced in my mind and through my fingers on the keyboard. I kept thinking, should I try dancing again? Or should I let this be enough? I ran for exercise, so it wasn’t like I was completely sedentary. (Running, oddly, has no negative impact on my knees.) But every so often I’d wonder: is it really over? Will I never dance again?  That sounded so sad, so final. I pushed the thought away, rather than try to challenge it.

I still dreamed I was dancing, though. One night I even dreamed I was still good. I got back my arabesque, my turns, my elevation. The very next day, I got an email from a friend, a former dancer who runs a dance, theater and drumming school in town. Would I teach ballet for her one night a week, she wanted to know? Two classes, for ten to twelve year old girls? I thought it over and rose to the challenge. How could I possibly say no? Especially after the dream I’d had.

So back again I went. It’s been over a month. I never thought I’d love teaching children to do something that could be painful and frustrating as well as beautiful. But, guess what? I do. Because I value ballet for its elegance, its purity and the way it lets you merge with the music, I believe I’m giving these children something precious. I’m stricter than I thought I’d be, but also loving, because I can see that they love what I’m sharing with them. I don’t allow them to not point their feet; I don’t allow them to give up. But I do lavish praise on effort and hard work. I say things my teachers used to say—grow taller as you plié, drop the tailbone, roll back your shoulders and keep breathing!—and I mean them.

I have begun taking a weekly ballet class in addition to the ones I teach. What has happened is curious and hard to describe. I don’t do everything full-out, but as I dance, I can almost hear my soul clicking into place.

I still have my psychotherapy practice; I am still writing fiction—both of which I love. But now, the dancer in me is back from hibernation.

So what about you? How many years has it been since you did that thing you used to live for? It might have been a hobby or a passion—dirt-biking, fly fishing or found-object sculpting—any activity that completed you, that was your dessert after a hard work week. Maybe you performed with a band whose members all had day jobs. Maybe you wrote poetry you never shared with anyone, but that sustained you nevertheless. Or maybe you were one of the lucky few whose passion—be it acting or football—was once your career.

What took you away from that passion? An injury? The practical reality of needing to make more money? Lack of time? Maybe you can’t immerse yourself in the activity like you once did, but there might be a way to reconnect yourself with it. For example, one woman I danced with years ago, benched by a back injury, became a dance photographer. A friend and former performer—another psychotherapist—writes plays in her “spare time.”

If you ever look back on the days when that activity was part of your life, and think: That was when I was most fully me, you deserve this. Dust off your old passion and find a way to take it back, in any way you still can. Whatever it is, I wish you hope, courage, and a safe return to your Self.

The Alchemist of Time

images[3]Forgive me O blogging muse, for it has been over two months since my last post.  In the meantime, much has happened.

Our house, which suffered a terrible post-Hurricane Sandy fire is nearing the point where we will be able to move back into it.   My children had an incredibly eventful summer, mostly in the form of day camps to which I sent them so I could finish my revision.  And speaking of the revision, I don’t remember whether I mentioned it here or not.  In any case, I was offered—not representation—but a “Revise and Resubmit” by an agent with incredible vision regarding my book.  She gave me a ten page document on what I needed to change, so I spent the summer changing it.  Exciting, yes, and downright scary, to essentially lop off the second half of your book and write it all anew.  But it’s done-ish, not yet submitted, but in the hands of “beta readers” who have been reporting back bit by bit.

So that’s me.  How are you??  Because, the thing is, I haven’t just not been blogging, I’ve also not been reading many blogs, and not commenting at all.  It was hard to let go; I missed my fellow bloggers and was curious about what they were up to.  But I know myself; once I start reading and commenting, it leads to more reading and more commenting and I often lack the discipline to stop and get back to work!  It had to be all or nothing.  So I gave myself permission, not just to step back, but to step out of the blogosphere altogether for a summer.  As Jodi Aman noted in her guest blog several months ago, we all need to prioritize without second guessing ourselves.

And just yesterday, the inspiring Dahlia Adler did a post on time, specifically making time to write when it looks to the naked eye as if there is none.  Working, writing mothers are known create time out of the ether.  How do they do it?  All too often my way of making time is to rely on the wee hours when everyone else is asleep.  But when you’re parenting, working and trying to be a decent human being, when your life requires you to drive, or otherwise operate machinery, not sleeping can really backfire.  So you find other things that can give for a while.

I have a friend whom I’ve known since college, who has always seemed to me an alchemist of time.   At school, what she accomplished in a day, took others a month.  She aced her courses, wrote plays, acted in them, participated in many student-run organizations, managed a relationship here and there, and taught herself to play the guitar.  Really well, as a matter of fact.   How did she do it?   With a lot of creativity.  Which is how she did everything.

Fast forward twenty-some-odd years: my friend is a successful corporate executive, managing a large staff.  She is also the mother of two little girls.   Spare time, needless to say, does not exist.  Nevertheless, out of the ether, my friend has managed to publish a novel this year.  Her first, but certainly not her last.  I don’t know how she did it.  But I do know that her creative side could not be silenced.  Her imagination was too entwined with her identity to be forgotten.  She had to do this.

(Spoiler alert: this very friend same friend, Louella Dizon San Juan, will be writing a guest blog later in the week!)

There are always things in your life that you can skip, at least temporarily, for the things that matter most.   You might feel guilty at first, for not volunteering to be class parent this year, for dropping book group for a month or two.  But in your heart, you know what you can’t sacrifice.  Your family, for example.  And the pieces of your identity that you hold most dear.   If you are a writer, professional or aspiring, one of those pieces is writing.  You have to do it.  You just have to.

Blog vs. Book Part 2

Unlike some dedicated bloggers who announce their hiatuses (hiatae?) in advance, I just up and took one without planning to, without any word at all.  Though I thought I’d start blogging in earnest again as soon as I’d completed a draft of my novel, once I had that draft in hand (in my docs) my momentum picked up, rather than slowing.   A draft is only a draft, after all, and a completed, submission-ready novel is quite another thing and I wanted that other thing ASAP.  I became obsessed—remain obsessed (as I think you have to be to finish any book) with that goal of completion.  (I know: many novelists say you’re never really done; there are always possible revisions to make, but I’m talking about that stage when you can finally query an agent re: “my completed novel.” )

Once I’d finished what was really a second draft (meaning the first draft with all notes-to-self replaced by actual writing, a real ending and finally, finally, a title (more on that in a moment), that goal seemed imminently doable.  The next milestone—right before the point where you can revise with intent to query—was the “done-enough-to-give-to-beta-readers” point.  I can get there by the time my husband gets back from his business tripI can get there before my daughter leaves for sleep-away camp (and my son needs me to actually hang out with him).  I can get there by the time my mom gets home from Russia (she’ll be so proud of me and so surprised that she’s got a new book to read!).

It became a race against the ordinary events in my life, a race against myself, my stamina, the clock, sleep.  As a writing mom with kids home for the summer, work is all about brief periods of intense focus, then lots of big vats of pasta so my kids can have all their friends over and won’t miss me if I need to keep writing.  But when I’m done writing for the morning or the afternoon, my kids have me.   We make up dumb songs, tell each other stories, dance around the kitchen, swim, read to one another and, of course shop (which is sometimes fun with kids, other times not, but it’s important for kids to learn to take the good with the boring).  In other words, even when my writing takes center stage, kids are top priority.  For example, my daughter had a bad scare when she was convinced that a cookie crumb was lodged in her lung; believe me, I dropped everything to make her tea and hold her hand while she coughed tearfully away.  A blog, on the other hand … well, a blog is not your kid.

To be perfectly frank, this blog, the blogosphere in general, dropped completely off my list of priorities.  And, unlike past occasions, I didn’t feel a lick of guilt about it.  Partly that’s because I believe my fellow bloggers–those I follow and who follow me–would not only understand, but would be cheering me on as I’d cheer for them.  We’re a group of supportive women (mostly) and men (still a nice handful) who respect one another and know that each of us is an adult (mostly) and that we all have goals that may sometimes take up all our energy.   (Though it’s only been ten days since my last post,  it feels like much longer; I haven’t been reading, commenting or even going on She Writes.)

All that said, I’m returning to this blog after an unannounced hiatus, because it matters to me.  The blogs I follow matter to me.  I am curious to see how they’re all doing, what’s up with my fellow novel-writing bloggers, what’s happening in Australia, Lebanon, Alaska, Calgary and The Blue Ridges (for a few examples).  What people are thinking vis à vis gun control, post Aurora; about the Boy Scouts’ sad and curious choice of encouraging homophobia.  I’m eager to see how the new bloggers I know are doing and enjoying the colorful visuals of the photo-blogs I follow.  (Please check out my blogroll in the lower right hand corner!)

Please note that I have added a second Novel Excerpt page for anyone interested in checking out my new Y.A. baby:  Twice the Dazzle.  It took finishing the book to come up with a title I felt was right!

Thanks for your patience and all your support in the past.

Lisa

P.S. If you didn’t catch the original Blog vs. Book post from March 15th, you can read it here.

Blog Vs. Book

One of the things I like best about blogging is the other bloggers I’ve met this way.   Wonderful writers, women and men, who live all over the globe, some of whom share my day-to-day routines of parenting, writing, house-maintenence (or house-neglect which is more apt these days), others whose schedules do not revolve around carpools, pick-ups and drop-offs.  I look forward to reading the blogs of the people I follow, many of whom follow me.  Through my followees (and followers) I am exposed to lives I’d never have discovered on my own.

There’s responsibility in blogging, though.  Your blog is more than an expression of yourself and your take on the world.  As it gains an audience, your blog becomes a thing of its own.  When I am asleep, someone on the other side of the planet might be reading, sharing, commenting on my blog.  When I check it again, it’s got new growth.   Like a garden, you have to care for your blog, feed it, nurture it, recognize when it’s stagnating and then do something about that.

When the bloggers I follow are silent for a while, I might miss them, but I won’t judge them.   I know we all have to live our lives and that often the blog is the piece we can leave unattended while we’re caring for a sick relative, working, hosting the in-laws or, what was that other one?–writing a novel.   For me it’s that last one I’m having trouble balancing with the blog, though it seems like everyone else online manages to do it.

(Yes I know, everyone chooses what they reveal of themselves online; some let it all hang out, others show only their most glowing selves.  Recently I read a great article about social-network envy–the perception that everyone on the internet is accomplishing more than you and having more fun doing it!)  I am sure everyone struggles balancing blog and life, or in my case, blog and book, but I find myself occasionally overwhelmed with guilt for choosing one over the other.  Not that I believe there’s a galaxy of fans who would be devastated if I took a hiatus to power through my novel.

The most regular of my followers and commenters happen to be kind and supportive and understanding (and yes, I feel like I know you and wish I could have coffee with you sometime!).   But I’m not worried about letting other people down.  Instead, I’m concerned about missing out, which I know is a piece of my character that stems directly from being an only child.  What was the sibling world doing while I was home with my parents?   With all their brothers and sisters around, would they forget about me?

If I took a month off from my blog, what would happen?  If I abandoned Twitter?  Would I have to start from scratch?  Would people remember me and still be my friends–I mean followers?  I don’t know, but I have decided not to find out, not yet.   I will slow down here, though.  I’ve actually slowed down already.   I’m giving myself until June to finish a draft of the new WIP, and will post here only about once a week for now.  (Don’t worry: I’ll still read your blogs because they are often so wonderful and mentally sustaining.)

But, as much as I don’t like to blog about blogging or write about writing, I’m going to temporarily let go of that to make this blog a better partner for my fiction.  Actually, that shouldn’t be hard, because my new WIP is all about body image and identity, which is the tagline for this blog.

I’m almost done for tonight, but first I’m going to share something about my WIP’s protagonists and why I think their struggles are relevant here.  They’re seventeen year old twins, both pre-professional ballet dancers, one male and one female.  Here I’ll just call them GT for girl twin and BT for boy twin.  Here are their conflicts:

  • BT is bullied by his homophobic father who suspects (correctly) that BT is gay.  BT’s father makes BT promise to give up dancing, but BT continues behind his back.
  • GT is bullied by the directors of their pre-professional ballet company because of her weight.  GT is a normal, healthy weight for a seventeen year old girl and the powers-that-be find this unacceptable.

I’m not going to share plot details because, though I’ve written over seventy pages, I haven’t yet finished the outline.  But these twins will face major obstacles to their dream of succeeding in ballet–all directly or indirectly related to the themes of body image and identity.  (See?  There’s my blog tie in.)

Anyway I hope to finish a draft, possibly a second draft, by the end of the school year, when I will lose a good chunk of writing time (as my angelic children will be home).  Please root for me!  Thanks!

Stay tuned …

A Fiction-Writing Shrink?!?

I live in a medium-sized town where I run into a minimum of ten people I know every time I go to the grocery store.  Often, these people are past or current psychotherapy clients.  More often than not, I have my children with me.  My clients have seen me in restaurants, in a bathing suit at the swimming pool, marching in the fourth of July parade with my daughter’s junior girl scout troop.  One former client was my daughter’s favorite camp counselor.  I have attended parties where clients were fellow guests.  They see my name in the paper as the new member chair for a local secular-humanistic Jewish family group.  In other words, unlike some therapists, my life is no mystery to my clients.  Seeing as my practice currently involves no individuals, and I see strictly families, this is less of an issue than it might be for some.  Families like to know that I am a mother.  Couples and individuals like to imagine I am simply their therapist.

To be fair, I’m pretty visible around town.  People know me as the biracial—black, white, Jewish, family therapist.  I’ve done talks on parenting, Multiracial Jewish Identity, Body Image and Talking to kids about Race.  People know what I think … about some things.

But a novel (un-agented, unpublished, but a novel all the same) exposes a much deeper, weirder piece of me: some form of my own reality skewed by the warped lens of my wildest imagination.   Writers of good fiction are supposed to take big risks.  How can I do that while responsibly adhering to the NASW Code of Ethics?  A fiction writing therapist opens herself up to all kinds of questions.

Are my characters based on my clients?  (Deliberately?  Never, ever.  Subliminally?  Maybe.)

Do I really think like my characters? (Some part of me has to, right?)

And what about this blog itself?  Where I’ll be writing about my ballet-dancing, eating-disordered past (which inspired Birch Wood Doll, my novel), as well as the more complicated aspects of being biracial?  In order to write at all, I’ve had to free myself from these worries.  I am not a private person by nature, which serves me as a writer, even if it presents a challenge for me-the-therapist.

My therapy practice, like everything else I do, has to be compatible with my personality.   I refuse to be fake and constrained with my clients, to answer their questions with the artful dodges we were taught in social work school.

For example:

Client: have you ever used drugs?

Therapist: I’m wondering if you’re asking that because you’re concerned that I might not be able to help you if I haven’t shared your experiences of drug use.

…Really?

As long as I’m writing fiction and blogging, I won’t practice individual psychotherapy—where your relationship with the client is the most important part of the work, where clients  hold onto their own stories about who you are.  Families generally like knowing I am a whole person with a family and experiences of my own.

The best thing to do—the only thing I can do—with my writing and my life, is be honest and open and me.