The “I can’t do it” voice

On Saturday, I spent six hours at belt testing at our local Sun Soo Tae Kwan Do martial arts school.  After three weeks of taking classes at the school and never having experienced anything like this testing, I was stunned – blown away – by all I saw: so much support and love, so much go-for-it energy, so many people going out of their comfort zones, stretching themselves, doing things they had not thought they could do.  So much excellence, so much mastery, so much beauty.

I have spent the last two days integrating what I experienced.  I expect to continue doing so for a while, but I want to capture some of it now.  First I want to write about how all this confronted me with the “I can’t do this” voice in myself.  I hear this voice on and off the mat.

On the mat (and, by extension, on my imaginary mat when I practice my forms at home), I don’t think I can do it.  I am a total spas, my body just doesn’t work this way.  I am too in my head and can’t get out of it.  I can’t get myself to class enough.  I can’t learn my white belt forms.  I can’t bear the humiliation of being so terrible at movements that everybody else knows – and that 12-year olds are learning faster than me.  I can’t bear the stress of testing on this stuff that I cannot learn.

I do know for sure that my legs will never stretch like this, but how much is possible?

I do know for sure that my legs will never stretch like this, but how much is possible?

Off the mat, I don’t think I can do it.  As I have reflected about this today, I have come up with a long list of things I think I can’t do – and for now will mention two of them.

  • I can’t stay off of sugar.  Sugar is not a harmless indulgence for me.  So much of my life goes out of whack when I am in the clutches of that addiction.  And now I am getting fat from it – and feeling unattractive, less eligible for a romantic relationship, which is an aspiration for me. Each of the black belt candidates read a two-page essay about their Tae Kwon do journey to that point.  One of them related that he stopped smoking the day he started practicing – five years earlier.  I got inspired, but that went away for much of today.  I do intend to get off of sugar tomorrow, but I’ve fallen off that wagon so many times that I don’t believe I can succeed this time.
  • I’ll mention just one more thing (out of that long list) that I feel sure I can’t do.  I can’t keep my room from being a chaotic mess.  I have struggled with this for a lot of years, have had periods of some progress – but mostly not for long.  One of the people testing for a black belt said of her life progress related to her martial arts practice, “I clean my room now.”  This spoke to me.
    Google pulled this up when I searched for photos of clutter, so I shall call this clutter - and it's much less painful to look at than an actual photo of my room.

    Google pulled this up when I searched for photos of clutter, so I shall call this clutter – and it’s much less painful to look at than an actual photo of my room.

    I intend to spend 15 minutes organizing my stuff tomorrow, and I know that if I did 15″ on most days I would eventually have things in order, and some days I will not be able to hold myself back from going longer than 15″ – in love with my momentum.

In Tae Kwon Do, you are continually being confronted with tasks that take you out of your comfort zone – tasks that get more and more complex and physically challenging.  As soon as you master one belt level, you move on to the next.  And, at this school at least, you are also flooded with encouragement  and cheerleading and instruction and connection with your peers who are being similarly challenged.

It starts tomorrow.  I continue to do my Tae Kwon Do practice every day – at home on days, like tomorrow, when I can’t get to the school at the time of a class.  I stay off of sugar.  I spend 15 minutes organizing my room.  A voice in me says I can’t do it.  Another voice says “Maybe I can.”  This already seems like progress.  Another voice says, “We’ll see”.  This is not terribly positive, but better than “I can’t do it.”

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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.

“I Want To Give You Space”

I performed this poem, which I wrote five years ago, at Jubilee today.  It’s a love poem and so fit the day after Valentine’s Day.  The text is below.  You can find audio (with beautiful keyboard by Chris Rosser and a slide show with sensitive photos thanks to Sandy Swanson) at http://www.somethingrises.com/Iwanttogiveyouspace.html.   Video of today’s performance (with lovely piano by Robert Thomas and beautiful dancing by Kathy Jennings) is at https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10155206822175716&set=o.54400281606&type=2&theater.  The poem is about four minutes long – if you like reading it, I’d encourage you to go onto the audio, and then maybe even the video.

Intro
I wrote this poem when I was in the throes of infatuation.  But even before I became uninfatuated I realized that it’s not really just about romance.  It’s actually about how I want all of my major relationships to work.  And it’s called “I Want To Give You Space”.

I want to give you space
But not by stepping back
I want to step towards you
All eyes and ears and heart and breath
All my nerves atingle
From the joy of seeing YOU!
In all your gorgeous, flawed humanity
You! As you are right now
You! As you soar and dance
And as you stumble, swear and fall
You!  In your frailty and tears
You! In your power and your glory
You! When you like yourself and when you don’t
You! When I like myself and when I don’t
But still to keep seeing you
Outside of my programs wants and needs
You! Beyond my foolish little dreams
Of who you are or ought to be
You! Bigger than you know or I know
You!  Never the same two days straight
You!  Becoming someone so big and free
She would scare both of us if we could see her now.

I want you to feel more space
To breathe and move
With me than by yourself
Or anywhere else
I want you to sing like only I am listening
To dance like only I am watching
To know I crave your anger and your joy
To know that I will step towards you
Or hold my ground – but not step back
No matter what

To know that my anger, also
Is a way I step towards you
And not a call for you to change
Even when I tell you to change
That’s not what I really mean
It means I don’t yet know
How to be with this part of you
But I will try
Or simply hold my ground
Until something shifts
And that something does
Not need to be you

I want to breathe and trust and be myself
And to know it’s not your job
To do or be anything for me
It’s my job to do and be for me
And to let all my friends help – including you
And my job to not mess with you
Just to love you, as best I can
And to get better at it all the time
And to keep my eyes open
Open wider all the time
To see who you are
And who you are becoming
And to let you take my breath away

 

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.  

“Norm!” Calling your co-workers by name

On the old TV show Cheers, the regular patrons of the bar would loudly call out Norm’s name when he entered the room. It was maybe my favorite part of the show.  Who doesn’t want that kind of enthusiastic greeting? I try to greet everybody that way, but especially people where we are somehow part of the same community – even more a part of the same team.  And we who work in the grocery store are very much part of the same team.

Our name badges are less tacky than these, but sometimes I wish that a coworker's name was in really large print.

Our name badges are less tacky than these, but sometimes I wish that a coworker’s name was in really large print.

We are important to each other because we are all working to serve the customer.  We rely on each other to get the job done.  When someone else does a good job with a customer, it reflects well on us.  When we hand off a customer to a coworker who is energetic and positive and competent, the customer is grateful to us.

Our coworkers are internal customers.  Good customer service starts with giving them what they need.

Our coworkers are internal customers. Good customer service starts with giving them what they need.

We are important to each other because we see each other every day.  If you are friendly and positive and real and inclusive, that makes my day go better.  For me at least, a coworker calling me by name goes a long way towards these qualities.  When I walk in the front door, Tiffany – who is a singer – all but sings my name.  It makes me feel good.  Jose calls me My-yo even if it’s the second or third time we have seen each other that day – and I croon back Jose.  It’s a little game we play with each other.  At my old grocery store, Walker would loudly call out “Maajoo!!” like he was really excited to see me.  He still does it when I see him there.  It makes me happy.

My co-workers are, overall, really great.  They are smart and creative and energetic and friendly and fun and hard-working and customer-oriented.  I want to treat them in ways that show I see these qualities in them.  And for me this starts with calling them by name.

“Hey Bill….” – calling them by name

Some of my customers think I’m good at remembering names, because I call them by theirs.  They could not be further from the truth.  I remember some customers’ names because I dearly want to, because some people make a tremendous impression on me, because I keep a little spiral notebook where I write down people’s names, a little description of them (“Suzie, 45ish, 5’8″, athletic, shoulder length brown hair”) and any particular topic we talked about (“studying acupuncture”).  I also review this notebook periodically.

Names mean a lot. It's worth the effort to learn your regulars - and worth the downside, not remembering.

Names mean a lot. It’s worth the effort to learn your regulars – and worth the downside, not remembering.

Some people make a particular impression on me because of how fully they show up – they are really there, are ready and willing to genuinely connect with the grocery store cashier.  This also requires me to show up – and I do so more when I’m up than when I’m down.  Some people I also know from the dance community, from Jubilee (the funky non-church I attend), from my two years working at Greenlife, or from some other connection in this small town.

I dearly want to remember their names.  I can see that people love it when you remember their name.  No single act goes further to transform this interaction to a meaningful 1-1 connection. And that’s what I most want – to, in some interactions and relationships, go beyond a purely functional transaction.

Most cashiers do not attempt to learn people’s names – for good reason.  It’s not just that it’s hard mental work – there’s a lot of potential downsides.  I fail to remember their names – even after they saw me write them down.  I forget names – people who I got with no trouble last time, this time I can’t for the life of me pull their name up.  Sometimes it seems that for every name I learn, another one falls out.  Worse still, some people come through who remember a significant conversation we had last time – and all I know is that they look somehow familiar.

I need to cut myself some slack. I have taken on a very public job.  The repetitive nature of the work can be mind-numbing.  I am aiming high.  On a good day, I truly love my customers.  On a depressed day, I want to love my customers – and some interactions still touch my heart.

Is it unrealistic to love your grocery store customers?  Why else would you be there?

Is it unrealistic to love your grocery store customers? Why else would you be there?

Many of my customers really like me – and some get irritated or avoid my line because I am slow.  We have, overall, world-class customers – really interesting, warm, patient, sweet people.  And I show up best when I start by liking myself.