At the movies…

Michelle, a manager at Carolina Cinemas, is my new customer service star.  (They’re everywhere!)

Me and three of my seven roommates from Lotus Lodge, along with one of their boyfriends, were in a very good mood, headed to the movies.

Lotus Lodge is halfway between an intentional community and a boarding house: 8 people trying to discover what community means to them.  For me, one thing it means is outings like this one.

Lotus Lodge is halfway between an intentional community and a boarding house: 8 people trying to discover what community means to them. For me, one thing it means is outings like this one.

None of us do this very often, so it was a big treat.  And we like each other and don’t get together as often as we would like, so we were very animated in the car riding there.  None of us knew much about Birdman – just that it had won several Oscars exactly one week ago and that it stars Michael Keaton, whom several us like quite a lot. (“How about Beetlejuice?!”  Several of us raved about that movie – agreeing that it was wacko in all the right ways.  “Yeah, and The Dream Team!?”  I stumped them with that one – nobody else had seen it.  I informed them that it’s a very good, very funny movie.)

Things quickly went south when we arrived at the theater.  The kid selling tickets had two pieces of bad news for us.  We had arrived right on time, 1:50, and he said that the show was actually scheduled for 2:30.  How could that be? Three of us had seen the time in two different online places, including the Carolina Cinemas website.  He had no answer, except to add that in addition the 2:30 showing was already sold out.

We indulged in several varieties of being bummed out.  For whatever reason, I was mostly able to quickly refocus on what else we might see.  I asked the kid, where are your movies and times listed?  “Usually on that TV screen over there by the concessions, but it’s turned off because the movie times were wrong.”  By that time, two of our members had pulled up the list of films on their phones.  The only one that any of us had any enthusiasm about was a Kevin Costner film, McFarland USA – and only me, because I had seen and liked the trailer two weeks before.

McFarland USA is kind of a classic Kevin Costner feel-good movie - and we all agreed that he had done a good job.

McFarland USA is kind of a classic Kevin Costner feel-good movie – and we all agreed that he had done a good job.

Movies like this are a good answer to my "I can't do it" voice (2/24).  You come out of there thinking. "If I want it bad enough, I can do it."

Movies like this are a good answer to my “I can’t do it” voice (2/24). You come out of there thinking. “If I want it bad enough, I can do it.”

The kid was able to tell us when the movie came on – also around 2:30.  I asked to speak with a manager.  He called one and said she would be right up.  My friends all look quizzical: “Why a manager?”  “They’ve jerked us all around – I want a discount on our tickets.”  This seemed a novel notion to all four of them, but to me when a business jerks you around, they are usually very ready to somehow make it right to keep you as a loyal customer.  I routinely send food back when I don’t like it – or have even complained about it after eating it, especially if they ask if everything was OK.  I’ll say, “No, actually….” I almost always get the food replaced, taken off the bill, etc.  And i find that if you make your complaint assertive but friendly – not defensive, just like you know in advance that they will want to make things right with you – the vibe almost never gets bad.  (OK, there have been exceptions – and those are mostly places that i never then do go back.)

Michelle showed up pretty quickly.  Watching her brisk step and air of authority as she walked across the lobby, a couple of us said simultaneously, “Looks like a manager”.  Tall, olive-complexioned, attractive, maybe 30, she picked us out right away as the customers with a beef and came up to us very graciously – giving no indication of any defensiveness or that she thought this might be a difficult encounter.  If I were to read her body language, which I do pretty instinctively, she planned for this to be a good conversation with a positive outcome.

“Hi, what’s going on?”  I took the lead, explaining how we had been jerked around.  One little bit of logic had not occurred to me (or any of us, I think) and which Michelle, if she had thought of it, had the graciousness not to point out.  As we had gotten caught up in our bummed-outedness, we never thought: “If the movie started at the time we planned, we still were too late – it was sold out.  Bad planning on our part, with a movie that won a bunch of Oscars one week before.”  So we had not thought that and Michelle showed no sign of having thought that.

I wrapped up my presentation by saying, “So we’re wishing that we could get discounted tickets for McFarland USA”.  Michelle said, “I have no way to give you discounted tickets.  What I can do is to give you free passes for a movie now or in the future.”  She was so friendly about it all that you would swear she enjoyed giving away free passes – and maybe she does.  I had said that several of us were devoted customers – though in fact it was only me, and not so much lately.

Michelle also explained to us why the times had gotten screwed-up.  On Sunday mornings they rent out one of their theaters to a church group and that group had been very late getting out of there today.  She got all kind of inclusive in telling us about it: “It’s the second time it’s happened – we have to figure out what to do about it.”  She was making us part of the team.

She even parlayed a little joke by me into a much funnier line.  I said, with a poker face, “So do we need to be prepared for some serious spiritual energy in there?”  “You always need to be prepared to encounter some serious spiritual energy, everywhere.”  Whether she really believes that (which would be very cool) or was just playing with me, either way it was a wonderful comeback and totally cracked me up.

She also went on to say that everyone she has talked to about McFarland has really liked it – including several of their staff.

Here we are (minus the camera man) - happy campers.  Well, relatively happy cuz we just got in the movies for free.  Our happiness is tempered by the fact that everyone but me is a little skeptical about a Disney movie.    Michelle, while she seemed positive about a blog post and fine with me using her name, did not warm up to a photograph.  I'm struck by how many very attractive women are hesitant to be photographed.  I think we do a number on them about what it means to look good.

Here we are (minus the camera man) – happy campers. Well, relatively happy cuz we just got in the movies for free. Our happiness is tempered by the fact that everyone but me is a little skeptical about a Disney movie.
Michelle, while she seemed positive about a blog post and fine with me using her name, did not warm up to a photograph. I’m struck by how many very attractive women are hesitant to be photographed. I think we do a number on them about what it means to look good.

 

Well, we loved the movie.  Oh, several of us loved it – I don’t know about all.  But we mostly all agreed that for the genre – go-for-it, feel good movies – they pretty much got it right.  Only one of the five of us did not volunteer that they got teary-eyed in places (and she didn’t deny it, just didn’t comment beyond saying she liked the movie).  For myself, I actually shed tears at several points.  My emotions are way near the surface when I’m manic, as I am today.

I got big points from my cohort about my negotiating with Michelle and we all went home happy – and beginning to make our plans to see Birdman.  (I talked with my friend Lynn later in the afternoon and she said that life had spared us by bumping us to this other movie and that I’d be better off skipping Birdman altogether.  I trust Lynn’s judgment, though it doesn’t always mesh with mine.  We’ll see.)

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“You’re not going away unhappy…”

“I’m not going to let you go away a less-than-satisfied customer.”  That’s been the stance with me of James at the Frugal Backpacker.  And he has twice now rescued me from being an unhappy customer, to where I am now very happy – and a big cheerleader for their store, right next door to my store.  And I do like to chat – and will certainly tell lots of people, admirers of the new winter coat I bought from James and customers in my checkout line, about how much I like James and his store.

James and I got off to a great start with each other.  I don’t remember how I found out that he worked at the outdoors outfitter next door.  But I vented with him.  “I am so much needing a really warm winter coat – an industrial strength winter coat.  I hate winter and I’m really suffering.  My current winter coat was old when I got it at the resale shop four years ago and has never been warm enough.  Now the zipper is broken and takes forever to get it to work – and it’s not worth the expense to replace it.  It’s january 8 – have I missed all the good post-Christmas sales?”

James has shown world-class customer service chops since I first met him.  Not just a good businessman, but the kind of guy I'd like as a friend.  Starting next week he'll be in the store on Thursdays only - but Becca is also great, and Emily.

James has shown world-class customer service chops since I first met him. Not just a good businessman, but the kind of guy I’d like as a friend. Starting next week he’ll be in the store on Thursdays only – but Becca is also great, and Emily.

“On the contrary, you are right on time.  Our sale on winter coats starts tomorrow – 40% off.  Come by and I’ll hook you up.  We open at 10.”

“Great.  I’m not working tomorrow – I’ll be there at 10.”

The next day at 10:15 there were already a lot of shoppers in the Frugal Backpacker.  I don’t know how they had advertised – probably not just word-of-mouth –  but the word had gotten out.  James gave me a big warm greeting, made points by remembering my name, and immediately made himself my personal shopping assistant.

I kept feeling like I was being a very demanding customer because one jacket after another seemed to me not warm enough.  I wanted industrial strength warmth.  But the truth is that from start to finish I didn’t spend a lot of time picking out a jacket.  And, in that moment that I found the right one, I loved it.  I thought it was probably warm enough – and it was a beautiful blue color.  It was a good brand, one that radiated quality.  A brand new winter coat, after years of resale coats!  And, let’s just say it, I was manic.  Reality on steroids.  What might seem nice another time seemed awesome, fabulous with that manic chemistry flowing through my veins.  James was happy, I was happy, life seemed happy.

When I saw James three weeks later, back in my checkout line, he was clearly happy to see me and very brightly asked how I was doing with the new jacket.  I practically hung my head.  “It’s not warm enough.”  It had taken me a couple of weeks to decide this.  Those first two weeks I was manic and warm.  I don’t know if it’s anywhere in the clinical research that people are warm when they are manic and cold when they are depressed, but it makes good sense to me and certainly fits with my experience.

So now I was depressed, cold, feeling like I had mismanaged the whole situation, discouraged about the chances of setting it right three weeks after making my purchase – genuinely ashamed of myself.  James brightened right up.  “We’ve got to fix this!  We can’t leave you unhappy.”

“I don’t have my receipt.”  My personal organization is genuinely chaotic and I have a hard time holding on to receipts.  (About an hour ago I pulled out an envelope, labeled it “receipts” and deposited in it a receipt from today.  I really do mean it that I intend – no matter what voice says I can’t – to bring some order to my life.)

So I went back to the store the next day and this time James found me a genuinely industrial strength parka – not as pretty as the previous jacket, kind of industrial strength looking, but as much goose down as any jacket they carry and a strong windproof exterior.  The 40% off sale was well over, but James gave me that discount.  I went out of the store once again a happy customer.

People think I'm dressed for the Arctic in this coat.  I feel good that I've done everything possible to stay warm, even though I'm not.

People think I’m dressed for the Arctic in this coat. I feel good that I’ve done everything possible to stay warm, even though I’m not.

I returned to the store today, three weeks later, once again feeling like a failure.  The jacket is definitely warmer than the last two, but still not warm enough for me.  I have basically given up on finding a jacket that will keep me warm – and blame myself for being so bloody cold-blooded.  I have really kind of resigned myself to that limitation; what brought me into the store today was that all the buttons were falling off the jacket.  “They really ought to do something to make good for that”, I thought.

James was once again clearly happy to see me – exactly the way i would most love a shopkeeper to greet me.  Knows me, remembers my name, happy to see me – and wants me to be a happy customer.  And, in this instance, ready to let me get to know him as a person.  Very shortly into our conversation he shared his good news.  “I’m going part-time, one day a week, so I can stay home with our nine-week-old baby.” He was radiant.

“Awesome – congratulations.  Does this mean you will have to give up your job as the store manager?”

“I’ve never been the store manager – I’m a sales associate.”

“But you take so much personal ownership for the store and its products.  You’ve gone way out of your way to make sure I’ve been happy, including maybe bending policy by giving me 40% off when the sale was over.  You didn’t consult with any manager, you just empowered yourself to do it.  How did you learn such great customer service chops?” (I didn’t say, “and so young”, but I thought it – ageist that I am.)

“My dad ran a hardware store for 30 years – I picked a lot of it up from him.”

Then I gave him my bad news about the buttons.  He was clearly shocked at the sight of my buttonless coat.  “That’s terrible – I’ve never seen anything like that.  We’ve got to do something about this.  Let me see what we can do.”  This time I think he did go consult with a manager, the lovely Becca whom I would meet a few minutes later.

He came back and said, “Woolrich has a warranty on the jacket, but you’ll have to call them to work that out.  From our end, to try to make up for your inconvenience, we’re going to resell you the jacket not at 40% off, but 65% off.”  I brightened right up.  By the time he finished his calculations, I was buying the jacket not for its original retail $170 nor for the $107 I had paid for it three weeks before, but $67.  I said, “I honestly don’t completely love this jacket, but at $67 I love it and am a satisfied customer.”

Becca then came out and introduced herself.  I told them both about my blog and about how some of my posts get kind of psychological because I have a background of being a psychologist.  “James said Becca’s a doctor – she teaches courses at UNCA” (University of North Carolina Asheville).  Turns out she has a doctorate in environmental science and is a classic destination Ashevillain – she and her husband moved to this job-challenged town for the life style and are cobbling together jobs to make ends meet.  It felt good to know that I’m not the only front line customer service worker in this plaza to have a Ph.D.

Becca was smart and charming - a classic Asheville overqualified front line customer server.

Becca was smart and charming – a classic Asheville overqualified front line customer server.

This incited me to probe a little deeper into James.  “Us cashiers are such interesting people.  What else do you do besides working in the outdoor store?”

“Well, I’m an audio engineer.  I have worked with various bands, but these days I’m reining in all the traveling and I do audio work with Biltmore Baptist Church.”

“I knew it – an artist.”

Before I left, I got James’s email address so I can send him my favorite book on stay-at-home dads – From Deadlines To Diapers, written by my friend Mike Perricone during a period when he was a therapy client of mine and left his job as the hockey reporter for the Chicago Sun Times to stay home with little Jenny.

Oh, and before I left, Becca introduced me to her cute and very sweet and friendly dog Pepper, the store mascot.

Not  a great shot of Pepper - she's way cuter than this shows, and as friendly as James and Becca.

Not a great shot of Pepper – she’s way cuter than this shows, and as friendly as James and Becca.

Asheville is a very dog-friendly town and it is common for people to bring their dogs to work.  Jubilee, where I go to church, will have several dogs in the room on any given Sunday.

I left there feeling redeemed as a consumer – and proud to be doing customer service for a living.

 

 

In and out of my head on the dance floor

The last post described my Friday dance a week ago.  Here I’m describing last night.

Last night I went to dance even though I was tired and had been depressed for over a week.  I had had a better day and thought I might not be depressed any more, so wanted to give it a try.

And, in fact, I wasn’t depressed.  But I wasn’t having fun.  I was not depressed, but also not high.  I miss being high – I feel so great.  But I think this in between state is way better.  I’ll write about it in my next post.

I love being up, but this state with some up and some down is way better for me.

I love being up, but this state with some up and some down is way better for me.

I wasn’t having fun – was barely dancing.  I thought about leaving – at one point kind of resigned myself that I would probably leave.  But I knew that I wasn’t depressed – and that’s when I leave.  I wasn’t having fun because I was in my head, thinking – thinking about myself, thinking about my day, thinking about dancing – and that was a not fun place to be.

I realized that this was a great chance to practice getting out of my head and into my body.  “For four out of the last five days I have been locked behind a cash register.  Look how much room I have to move here.  My feet hurt, but it’s still fun to move all round, fill the space.  And there are these great playmates encouraging me to move free by the creative ways they are moving.”

I clapped my hands all over my body, to remind myself that it was there.  It’s mostly a non-verbal practice, this dance, but two times i went up to good buddies and said, “I have a body” – and bumped up against them to emphasize it.

There was a new woman there who was very attractive.  I danced into her zone (she mostly stayed in the same place) and found how it energized me – how it got me out of my head and into my body.  I was shy with this new person and didn’t initiate to dance with her – and actually think it’s usually better to give a new person lots of room to move before trying to dance with them – but I still found it stimulating to have her in the room and to dance near her.  At one point she danced around me and even bumped into me.  I looked for eye contact that might indicate she was doing this intentionally.   I didn’t see any, so didn’t follow up, but it still lit me up.

Tom and I have a multifaceted relationship: we were roommates for two years, we work together at the grocery store, we do Interplay (improvisational movement, storytelling and song) together – and we dance together (at the same dances).  And we usually do dance together – like really together – more than once over the course of a dance.  He likes engaged dancing probably even more than me and he frequently initiates towards me – and I like that.

Tom and I sometimes do contact improv dancing as we pass each other in the store aisles.  It's mostly pretty minimal, but it brings the world of dance into the world of work and kind of lights things up.

Tom and I sometimes do contact improv dancing as we pass each other in the store aisles. It’s mostly pretty minimal, but it brings the world of dance into the world of work and kind of lights things up.

He also takes a stance for the value of me staying on the dance floor when i feel like i have to leave – and likes to do what he can to keep me there.  We typically dance rough and energetic – it really gets me into the room, into my body.  This helped a lot last night.

Solon came in late and wrapped me up in a big  bear hug.  He frequently says he loves me when he sees me.  He didn’t say it tonight, but I felt it.  I felt better about myself from his presence in the room.

I succeeded only some of the time at getting into my body – I was in and out of my head.  But getting out of my head is big work for me – it’s going to be my work for a long time, maybe forever.  And I was neither manic nor depressed and that’s good stuff for me.

Dancing back to life

Sometimes dance saves my aliveness.

Sometimes when my spirit seems dead, dance brings it back to life.

Sometimes when my spirit seems dead, dance brings it back to life.

Including today, I have worked eight-hour shifts the last three days – eight hours of standing in front of a cash register.  By the time I left the store today (2/13), my body was frozen and my feet were burning.

Yes I'm smiling - but my feet are killing me.

Yes I’m smiling – but my feet are killing me.

(Tae Kwon Do last night helped a lot to loosen me up, but the frozenness set back in today.)  I was badly in need of my regular Friday night dance, but I was in the kind of depressed state where it tends not to work for me.  I am too frozen to move, too self-critical to engage people, too judgmental to improvise.

The dance I do is free-form improvisational dancing inspired by the 5 Rhythms dance work created by Gabrielle Roth.  On a good (high) day I have a total blast on the dance floor: I am free, energized, spontaneous – and especially groove on jamming with other people.  We may dance all around each other, in and out of each other’s space, maybe (or maybe not) sometimes touching each other – or we may do “contact improv”, improvisational dance with more extensive touch.  On a good day, I’m really good at this kind of engaged dance – I know how to connect with people in my life and I know how to connect with people on the dance floor.

Contact improv can get pretty athletic, but not for this 68 year old dancer.  It can also be finger-to-finger.  i explore that end of the continuum and some of the mid-zone.

Contact improv can get pretty athletic, but not for this 68-year-old dancer. It can also be finger-to-finger. I explore that end of the continuum and some of the mid-zone.

When I’m down, I’m so terrible at moving and connecting that frequently it seems like the only viable option is to leave the dance.  And I do, often.  Or sometimes I just don’t go to the dance at all: when I’m in the kind of depressed state where I typically leave, it seems more kind to myself to save myself that kind of painful failure experience.  I’ve been telling myself that Tae Kwon Do can help me develop more discipline to go and stay regardless of how I feel.  So after work today (6:20), I decided to go to the 7 o’clock dance, then decided not to go, then got really sad at letting it go and decided again to go.  “Even though I’m in the kind of mood where dance doesn’t work for me, I want to go and try.”

I implemented a strategy that has evolved for me over the last many months, but I have never used so aggressively.  Before the dance, I caught several of my best dance friends and said one version or another of, “I’m in one of those moods which you know in me – moods where my body won’t move and I feel disconnected from everybody.  I’m at risk of leaving.  The thing that most keeps me here in this state is connecting with my people on the dance floor.  I may come by you and reach out to dance with you and  if it works for you right then that would be great.” (There is a very strong priority in this group to honor people’s space when they do not want to dance with you – and to learn to not take this personal.)  “And I may totally stall out and not be able to reach out to you.  If you see me in that state, it would be awesome if you were to reach out to me.”

And it worked, enough.  I initiated to my friends and that worked some of the time.  I had a couple of segments where I was on the ropes, feeling like I probably had to leave – and someone came by and danced with me.

I didn’t get high – and I miss that.  But I more and more believe that I’m better off not getting high.  I had a good time – interspersed with not good times.  Connection connected to separation.  Happy and not.  Human.

I’m glad I went.  I’m hoping that Tae Kwon Do increases my strength around going to and staying at dance.  I hope I will remember to ask for help when I need it.  I hope I will remember this evening when I asked for help and got it.

Writing, finally

There are lots of possible reasons why I am writing tonight, after six very depressed days when I have not.  (My previous longest stint without writing, since starting this blog three months ago, was three days – and my target is to not miss more than one day in a row.)  I’m writing even though it’s 10:30 and lots of me is crying to be in bed.  Here are some of the plausible reasons:

  • I was off of work for four days and there is often less stimulus towards writing when I’m not working. Yesterday I was so dead in the water at work that there was no appreciable stimulus, but today there was.  One customer talked about reading and liking the blog – and talked about stuff she had read.  My coworker Amanda told me how much she liked reading the blog and what a good writer I am.  Another customer, being told about the blog, got enthused and said “Keep writing.”  My co-worker Rex, having come over to my line to bag (we do this for each other when our line isn’t busy), said, “Aren’t you going to promote your blog?  I like the way you do that – no guilt or shame, you just put it out there.”  I had not promoted my blog at all yesterday, nor today up to that point.  I did a couple of times after.  In my last strong spurt I probably averaged 10 business cards a day handed out at work and one or two a day to random cashiers and customer service people where I’ve been the customer.

    Yesterday and today I'm back in the store after four days away. Today that started to show signs of stimulating the writer in me.

    Yesterday and today I’m back in the store after four days away. Today that started to show signs of stimulating the writer in me.

  • I went to Tae Kwon Do tonight.  The last two times I went, I got so in my head, so tied up in my knickers that I left more neurotic than when I went in.  Tonight was better.  I had practiced some last night following videos on the school website and there was one form tonight that felt good some of the time.  That’s more than on those two previous classes.  So I came home in a better mood.

    A couple of times I ended up feeling lousy after Tae Kwon Do, but tonight I came away kind of energized.  One girl who has progressed to a green belt comforted me by saying that she went home and cried a lot when she started because she felt so useless on the mat.

    A couple of times I ended up feeling lousy after Tae Kwon Do, but tonight I came away kind of energized. One girl who has progressed to a green belt comforted me by saying that she went home and cried a lot when she started because she felt so useless on the mat.

  • Maybe my depression is starting to lift.  It’s hard to tell: feeling good after a strong stimulus like my martial arts class doesn’t necessarily translate into feeling better the next day.  If I lifted up after just six days, that would be a real shift: my depressive cycles have been running 10-14 day, mostly around 14, for several months.  But all that is in play.  My manic cycles have been 7-13 days, but this last time I didn’t really have a manic cycle.  I had about six days of not being depressed, and looking like I was on the edge of cycling too high, but I just never did.  It was like the manic motor kept trying to fire up, but couldn’t catch.  That was kind of disappointing because I love that manic buzz. but I knew not to look this gift horse in the mouth.  That middle zone – or even more the zone that I call a complex healing state,  which has elements of both states – that’s the really juicy place, that’s where the healing happens.

Soon I’ll write a post about complex healing states and one about why I think I didn’t swing into a mania this last time around.  By then I’ll have more information like what happens tomorrow.

My five dirty secrets

See the happy, smiling cashier.  This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points.  This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

In my store, we give people bonus points on their membership account when they bring their own bags. These points eventually apply as a discount on your grocery bill. I have five dirty secrets about how I implement these bonus points:

  1. I frequently forget to touch the button on my touch screen that applies these points.
  2. To counteract this tendency, my policy is to give the points right up front to everybody who comes through my line – including people who take bags and thus don’t deserve the bonus (remember the parable about the laborers who work different durations in the fields), and people who don’t belong to our frequent shopper program and for whom these points are completely irrelevant.  (I picture them poring over their receipt at home and asking, “Bag points?  What bag points?”)
  3. Our system is a little screwy and often requires people to re-enter their credit card at the end of the transaction.  Sometimes, however, when I tell people “The machine is asking you to swipe your card again” a more honest statement would be, “I just realized at the end of the transaction that I had not yet entered your bag points.  Touching that button at this point in the transaction caused your credit card info to fall out.  I understand that the hassle of once again pulling out your credit card may greatly outstrip the value of your 5 measly points.”

    See the happy, smiling cashier.  This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points.  This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

    See the happy, smiling cashier. This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points. This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

  4. Sometimes, after the transaction is over, I have a moment of wildly neurotic insecurity in which I ask myself “Did I give them their bag points?” Then, in an environment that greatly values conservation and where we are all proud that we recycle unwanted receipt slips, I print out another copy of the receipt so I can see if I actually did dispense the magical five points (value 5 cents).
  5. More often than not the receipt says that I actually did give them the points.  What’s more out of it – to forget to do something or to do it and not remember doing it?

I really, really want not to care very much about all this: we’re talking about five cents, for chrissake!  But it haunts me.  It adds stress to my day.  It makes me feel like a bad cashier.

Oh, here’s the deal: it haunts me when I’m depressed.  When I’m manic I don’t give a shit.  

A new art for me…

I had my orientation session to my new Tae Kwon Do school on Friday afternoon, followed by my first class.  I am way excited about this new endeavor.

The instructor who provided my orientation asked what had drawn me to this practice – a pretty cool question and an indication right there of how this school focuses on your personal process.  I talked about having bipolar disorder and how I hope that this practice could

  • stir up my life energy when I am depressed – get me unstuck
  • ground me when I am manic
  • generally get me out of my head and into my body.

I said that I would like more exercise and that I think this could help me stay in shape, but this was almost an afterthought.  Writing this now (Friday evening) is the first I have thought that this practice might build self-confidence and help me feel better about myself (especially when I’m down, when this is a problem area).  Self-defense is not really on the screen for me – and the instructor told me that out of 500 people in the school there are probably about five who practice primarily for self-defense.

I had some concerns that these goals might sound kind of airy-fairy to this martial arts instructor, but to the contrary he described outcomes – including some in his own life – that were at least as broad as mine.  He said that the practice very centrally helps you get more presence – and what I would call mindfulness.  You are less likely to lose your keys, because you are more conscious when you set them down. He talked about ways the practice shifted the way he is in the world, how he relates to himself and others.

The Korean Tae Kwon Do team for the 2012 Olympics.  My legs don't stretch quite this far yet.  "Hey teach, is it OK if I just kick him in the knee?"

The Korean Tae Kwon Do team for the 2012 Olympics. My legs don’t stretch quite this far yet. “Hey teach, is it OK if I just kick him in the knee?”

He talked about one element of practice where you give feedback to each other about what you noticed in the way the other person performed the form – with all students participating in this, so that at a mixed rank class a white belt student could be giving feedback to a black belt.  He described how important it is at the school to break through any sense of hierarchy and that even if this system sometimes generates some not-useful feedback, it’s worth it for the benefits in creating an open atmosphere.

Before my orientation, I watched a kid’s class in which the instructor had students get in pairs and ask each other “What’s been a highlight of your day?”  This young woman comes through my line at the grocery store – I think she stole my line!  I hope she did.

My class was tough, even at beginner level.  But I had the sense that it was tough for a very good reason – because it was requiring me to get out of my head and into my body.  And the instructors and other students are very warm and welcoming and supportive.  I had told the instructor that I would need to leave a few minutes early.  When I bowed off of the mat, she said to the group “Majo had an awesome first class today – let’s give him a big hand.”  Which the forty or so people on the mat enthusiastically did.  I bet they do this for everybody after their first class.  I actually hope they do.  It’s a beautiful thing to do – and it felt great.