Dance Space and Going With the Flow

I missed the memo about dance space and going with the flow.

This is my dance space, this is your dance space.

The other day, in a preemptive strike against the caloric onslaught of Thanksgiving, I went to Zumba class.  Ya’ll know I love me some Zumba, but this particular class was not as enjoyable as it usually is.  It was super crowded, so space was at a premium.  Under these circumstances, people tend to adjust how much room they consume, and people with even minimal social awareness tend to be extra mindful of how close they are to other people.

But in this particular class, there was a young man who I took to be about 17 years old.  He was one of these tragically spaztastic kids who can’t stop doing random karate moves.   I was vaguely sympathetic to his plight, as when I was his age, I was once told I would have been good-looking if I would just stand still.

So as class began, I took a spot in the back of the crowded studio, well away from the highly energetic youngster.  As class got going, he was just bubbling over with energy and doing every move extra big.  A little inconsiderate under the crowded circumstances, but his enthusiasm is forgivable.  But he also dropped out formation a lot, to fiddle with his shoes, to get water, to wrangle a better view of the instructor, etc.  This I found kinda rude, because then he would work his way back into his original spot, and as he did he intruded into the space of everyone around him.

Having my dance space invaded by an overzealous adolescent is one of my many tragic, First World problems, but whenever something bugs me, I try to root around and figure out why it bugs me.  In this instance, there’s of course the personal space factor.  Everyone needs their bubble, and I think I need my bubble to be a little bigger than most people. I’m not great in crowded situations and if you are a close talker, then I’m sorry, you and I probably can’t be friends.

Seriously, don’t be this guy…

But the other thing that I think factored in to my annoyance is that by moving around the studio and nearly tripping his fellow Zumba-ers this kid was interrupting the flow of the class and I really, really value “flow”.  By “flow” I mean that feeling of connection that sometimes comes when you’re completely present in an experience.  It comes in lots of forms, in work, in play, in calm, and in crisis.  For me, this feeling of connection is precious and fleeting, as my mind is typically unquiet and busy, so happy, focused attention is not my forte. I experience “flow” in dance-y sort of situations, so I look forward to Zumba class almost as much as I look forward to Christmas.  I need these little moments to help me find something that resembles inner peace.

Ever see the movie “Phenomenon“?  It’s a little schmaltzy, but it’s one of my favorites.  There’s a scene that kinda illustrates what I mean by “flow”….George (as played by John Travolta) is struggling to harness his new-found energy and abilities, and he finds an outlet in his garden.  As he’s frenetically hoeing  (that sounds dirty, but it’s not, well, there’s dirt involved, but, you know what I mean…) he happens to look up and see the trees swaying in the breeze.  He has a little moment where he slows himself down and sways in time with the branches.  He feels connected to everything around him, and that moment gives him a lot of clarity. Here, watch:

I’m uncharitably hoping that the young man who invaded my dance space  was just home on a break from his Kung Fu college and will not be at future Zumba classes.   But if not, I’ll just try to keep my distance and go with the flow.  Memo received.

Being Quiet

I missed the memo about being quiet.

I’ve got a son in pre-school, which means I get about a gazillion colds a year.  And with almost every minor sniffle, comes a bout of laryngitis.  For the first five minutes or so, it’s kinda cute.  I get that deep, raspy voice that comes with lots of whiskey and cigarettes and we all know how sexy that is.  But then the rasp segues to a horrible croak, then fades to a pitiful squeak, and then…nothing.  If I have any hope of recovery, I can only whisper.

The beginning stage of laryngitis would be really hot if it weren't for all the snot and coughing.

Anyone who has ever heard me attempt to sing knows that my laryngitis is no great tragedy.  But struggling to be heard and not being able to talk always makes me a little disenfranchised from my own life.  It’s hard not being able to chime in effortlessly in a conversation.  If my husband and I are more than a couple of feet apart and if he is not looking directly at me, I have to throw something at him to get his attention.  And my son is special challenge…I can say with all honesty that I don’t yell at him much, at least not in anger.  (I am, however, perfecting that scary-mad-talking-quietly-through-your-teeth-thing that all moms seem to have in their discipline arsenal.)  But I do need my voice to manage my son’s safety and behavior.  In the last few days, he responds to my whispers and croaks with, “Whadyousay?”  It’s getting tiresome for both of us.

As I try to rest my voice, it’s been interesting how I’ve prioritized what I need to say.  A nice side effect of my laryngitis is that I have no vocal energy for petty criticisms.  It literally hurts to speak in a harsh tone, so I don’t.  This brings new significance to the old adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Another thing about being quiet is that it’s only a peaceful experience when it’s self-imposed.  There are religious orders who take vows of silence, and I suppose for them, being quiet is a form of meditation.  But when silence is forced upon you, it’s a whole different ball game.  In my humble estimation, “shut up” is one of the most hurtful and dismissive thing you can ever say to anyone.   In my case, I’ve been forced to shut up because of a minor medical condition and I’ve suffered just a bit inconvenience, but it’s troubling to see how people who are speaking out as part of the various protest movements going on around the country are being silenced by rough treatment by police.  Talk is cheap, but it’s clearly not free.  Apparently the price of protest at UC Davis is a dose of pepper spray in the face.

I really can't get my head around these images. I mean seriously. WTF?

If I have one, I suppose my point is this:  Our ability to speak is a gift, and last I checked, the freedom to speak is also a right.  I’ll probably lose my voice a bunch more times before this rodeo is over, but I’ll be damned if anyone is going to take it away, know what I mean?    Whispering loudly and memo received.

Regrets, Regrouping, and Student Loan Debt

I missed the memo about regrets, regrouping, and student loan debt.

After being a practicing attorney for nearly seven years, I recently resigned from the private law firm at which I had been working for nearly six years and took a job with the city.  My new job did not require a law degree, though my legal education and experience will probably come in very handy.

With my new job, comes a bit of a pay cut, but it’s a small price to pay for my mental health.  In recent years, I was getting pretty miserable in private practice.  As a defense attorney, the business model required me to keep track of my work day in six-minute increments, with lots of pressure to maximize the total amount of time I billed.  The elephant in the room with this business model is that what’s good for business isn’t always good for the client…this inherent conflict of interest weighed on me increasingly in recent years. 

I was also finding that so much of civil litigation was just posturing;  I would spend months and months going through the literal and figurative motions only to reach a conclusion that was pretty much foregone from the outset.  I started feeling that I was wasting a lot of life force in this process, and so many factors in litigation seem to unfortunately militate against people doing the right thing sooner rather than later. 

So, I’ve made this big transition, and so far so good with my new gig.  Now I’m left with trying to make sense of the last decade and I’ll admit it’s been a bit trippy.  As I was beginning to struggle in private practice, I would find myself cursing the day I ever decided to go to law school.  But then, as an eternal optimist, I tried to talk myself out of the conclusion that law school had been a mistake.  And because I’ve gotten some transferable skills out of the deal, my legal career hasn’t been a total loss. 

But…and it’s a big but…I’m left with the collateral damage of tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt.  How I kick myself as I contemplate what other less expensive routes I could have taken towards a meaningful career.  In recent weeks, some of us within the 99% have been calling for student loan debt forgiveness, and for me, that is a delightful daydream.  I will honor my student loan debt, but the thing that kinda bugs me about it is that it’s one of the only forms of debt that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.  If you max out your Visa on Jimmy Choo’s or buy a dream house that turns into a nightmare, you can waltz into Federal Court and say “oops!” but if you mortgage your future on an educational endeavor that turns out to be completely misguided, too bad. 

Forgive my crude artwork…

Your break it, you buy it.

Ever read the Guy de Maupassant story, “The Necklace”? Here’s the short version…a vain social climber is married to a petty bureaucrat. He wrangles an invitation to a glamorous ball at which she can rub shoulders with all the beautiful and important people. She’s delighted only momentarily, until she recalls that she has no gown befitting such an occassion. Her husband scrounges together the money she needs for a beautiful new dress, and still she is not satisfied, as now she recognizes she has no jewelry to go with her dress. Her husband suggests she borrow something from a well-to-do friend, so she goes to her friend and selects the most elaborate diamond necklace in her collection. They go the ball and have a glorious evening, but as they enter the car to go home, she realizes the necklace is gone. Rather than admit to her friend that the necklace has been lost, they borrow every penny they can, burdening themselves with an unthinkable amount of debt, and they buy a replacement, which is returned to the friend.

For decades, they work tirelessly to repay their debt. Then one day, the social climber, who is now old and weary from over-work, meets her old friend in the street. Her friend is shocked by how changed she is and feels pity. But the social climber feels pride and tells her friend the truth of how she lost the necklace but has worked all these years to repay the cost of the replacement. The friend is horrified and tells her, “But my dear, the necklace was a fake!”

So yeah, that’s kinda how I feel about my law degree.  I’m paying dearly for something that turns out to be fake.  Well, not fake exactly, but you know what I mean.   Some memos are really, really expensive, but memo received.