Feelings Are Not Milk

“There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body.”

The Buddha, from the Satipatthana Sutta

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What Happens: Your very close friend of forever tells you with happiness that she is engaged to a Good Guy.

What You Want to Feel: Exuberant joy and effervescence for her good fortune.

What YOU Do Feel: Bitter, slow churning anger in your gut. A heavy dollop of sadness that coats your entire chest. A severe jealously that you are 100% sure is blaring from your eyes and forced smile.

What You Do: You hug and congratulate your friend. Joke about ugly bridal dresses all while entertaining a raucous inner dialogue of Why Am I Such a Bitch? Why Can’t I Feel Happy for My Friend? What is Wrong With Me?

And maybe you go home and you try to shake these bad emotions from your mind as if they are raindrops along an umbrella. You reason: you should be happy. He’s smart and deep and treats your friend with grace. You love your friend.

Still the feelings persist no matter how much you talk yourself out of them. They follow you from bridal shower to wedding day, only dulling with time but never truly moving.

We all have feelings that seem to land on us from out of nowhere. Emotions that are ways away from what we want or expect to feel. A gleeful happiness when a colleague announces they didn’t get a prestigious grant. A welling of grief when we say goodbye to that one really toxic friend. Comparing ourselves to supermodels even when we know it’ll only depress us.

Sometimes, I think we forget that feelings are not milk.

They have no shelf-life, no labels detailing how many servings to ingest. They don’t stay neatly inside a container.

Emotions have a wisdom of their own–even when it feels like quite the opposite.

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In our feelings-averse, feminine-hating society, emotions get a bad rap. Especially the strong ones. Especially the strong ones when experienced by women: Jealousy. Anger. Grief. Frustration. Raucous joy. Sexual abandon.

We are told to “calm down”. To “think positive”.

(As if that shit always works, as if it is healthy and wise to stuff down our most intense emotions with twee platitudes of JUST BE HAPPY.)

What we not told is that feelings are truth. We don’t need to act on them, express them (like, yeah, no need to tell your newly engaged friend I HATE YOU BITCH AND WISH IT WAS MEEEEEE!!!!!!). We are not told that once we began to greet our feelings with curiosity, openness, and a hello, we start to learn and engage in the world more honestly.

So, how do we do that?

One way I have been learning to engage with my feelings in a real, tangible way is dancing.

Yes, dancing.

I don’t slip into choreography the minute I have a feeling, cuz, well, I do need to keep a job and my students might be just a bit confused if I started to gyrate in the midst of a lesson on writing closing arguments.

I have playlists for certain emotions.

Pissed AF.

SAD!

Hey, Jealousy.

Perk Me Up.

(One of my favorite tasks in the world is making themed playlists.)

I put on my music. Loud. If my boyfriend is sleeping soundly or I am away from home, then I slip on my ear buds. And I move.

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I got this technique from Mama Gena and Jess Grippo, two women who know that our feelings are nothing to run from or interrogate away.

When I first started Dancing with My Feelings, I felt all kinds of silly. Sometimes when my boyfriend would amble out of the bedroom all bleary eyed to go to the bathroom, I would freeze like I was caught doing something indecent.

No more.

Sometimes we forgot that we are not just heads attached to clouds. Emotions are called “feelings” for a really good reason: they show up in our bodies. This is part of the reason we try and run away from them, the discomfort is not solely located in our racing thoughts and attitudes, but in our chests, stomachs, shoulders, backs, and jaws.

Dancing helps me to move with the feeling. To give it a language beyond reasoning and meditation. I let my hips circle through envy and my arms snake their way through confusion. I get on my knees and pound the floor with my anger in beat to a headbanger.

We are not taught to do this. We are taught to bottle up and be Appropriate, to be a Nice Girl, and to pretend that all we have what Mama Gena calls a “vanilla emotional life”.

I say no more.

When I hear of another unarmed black person shot, I dance out my feelings of powerlessness and fear. When I am mired in creative self-doubt, I take a break to shimmy. When anxiety threatens to dull my message, I close my office door and I dance.

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I think dancing with our feelings is especially important for black women and women in color in general. We have to police our emotions even more vigilantly in a racist society that refuses to see us as full human beings.

Dancing can help us be truthful with ourselves, to give ourselves a gift of deep honesty.

And usually, something beautiful happens: my feelings reveal their wisdom to me. They tell me of my deepest insecurities, they speak of actions I can actively take, they assure me that I am still worthy of love and celebration.

Sometimes I end up crying. Or laughing hysterically. Or I sit in a quiet self-satisfied glow.

Everything is welcome. I may look crazy but I feel so free I don’t really give a shit.

The next time you experience a feeling you “shouldn’t” be feeling: dance that shit out. It will feel counterintuitive at first but whatever your body is called to do, let it do. You don’t have to best Ciara or even dance on beat.

If you want to sink to the floor in despair and shake your wrist limply, because you feel like a loser compared to all your “30 Under 30” friends, do that. If you want to twerk in front of your hallway mirror after seeing your ex all hugged up on someone new, do it. Write big and loopy in a journal in blood red ink. Wind up the windows in your car and scream like a banshee.

Let your body lead.

Feel.

Move.

Onward,

Hannah

Art: Oresegun Olumide, Mahmahmoud Said, S.C. Versillee, Dion Pollard More

A Tall Girl Dances in the Middle of Brunch

shadow silhouettes of taller woman kissing a shorter man on blue background
                                                Up for Love (2016)

On my most recent connecting flight from Newark to Los Angeles, I randomly picked a French romantic comedy to watch. Titled Up for Love, the film follows an uptight divorced lawyer (Virginie Efira) who falls in love with a successful architect (played by Jean Dujardin) who has a winning smile and a full height of 4’5″. It was cute at times, schmaltzy and clumsy at others, but I did not exit out of the United Airlines entertainment app to re-watch X-Men for the billionth time, so it was well worth the ninety minutes of my flight.

A particular scene that hit an emotional spot was when Dujardin and Efira go on one of their many sweet yet awkward dates together. It’s a rocking party replete with the disco jams to prove it. As a very diminutive man, Dujardin is reluctant to dance with his much taller partner and does this hesitant little two-step thing for much of the party. Earlier that day, he had expressed his disdain for dancing in public. But, after a couple of minutes of seeing how much fun his date is having, he can’t help but move too and starts to jive with utter freedom.

Me and Tall Society and Tall Girl's Brunch founder Bree
Me and  Meet Your Tall Sisters Brunch founder Bree

That scene made my heart smile and nod in recognition. I remember one of the most salient ways I experienced my height as awkward was on the dance floor. While I am no Ciara, I have always loved to dance. I never sat out on the impromptu dance contests at any of the Nigerian parties growing up and I choreographed my own lip sync sets from fifth grade to junior high.

My relationship to dance changed when I got to high school. All of sudden it was majorly important to be dancing with someone. All of a sudden I was sitting out of songs and issuing self-deprecating jokes about my solo dance time.

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I blamed my dearth of dancing partners on my height. Who would want to dance with the girl who towered over everybody? Later in my college years, when I went to clubs with friends, it would feel like high school had followed me as I danced independent for much of the night. I grew overly self-conscious of my tall-girl body and this hyper self-awareness translated to being ashamed of my sweat and being crazy concerned with dancing “right”.

The mimosas were amazing
The mimosas were amazing

Still, whenever I needed a quick pick me up, I would put my I-Pod (remember those?) headphones in and dance it out within the safe, private confines of my room. Sometimes I would dance for hours.

This past Sunday, I went to the Tall Society’s Meet Your Tall Sisters Brunch in LA. My friend Bree hosts these Amazon gatherings all over the States. The women present conversed on #tallgirlproblems (finding cute heels) and our #tallgirljoys (reaching top shelves). I was able to look almost every single woman present at eye level (I love my short(er) friends, but sometimes incessantly peering down is literally a pain in the neck). We laughed about the men who verbally overestimate our heights just so they can continue to fool themselves about being 6’3″  (Brother, I am so not 6’7″ and I have the military records to prove it….just accept that you are 5’10” on a good day and keep it moving).

#tallgirllaugh
                                       #tallgirllaugh
So inspired by this conversation
                     So inspired by this conversation

My fourteen year old inner self was utterly delighted in the diversity of tall women present and I relished in the feeling of being normal-sized.

But, my absolute favorite part of the day was when we all danced.

Granted it was to the Cupid’s Shuffle, but to see all of us, skinny, curvy, in-between but all tall as hell dancing without self-consciousness and pure delight was beautiful. I know I was not the only tall woman at that brunch who remembers a time when dancing wasn’t as free, a time when we were ignored by the male species, saw our bodies as weird, and stubbornly defied Lee Ann Womack’s directive*.

Me and my (actual) tall sister
Me and my (actual) tall sister

Dancing is another way of being naked, a way of letting our bodies express their own specific language and way of being. And many of us spend too much time not enjoying the beauty of dance for all kinds of self-defeating reasons.

I am so glad I no longer have restrictive fears about dancing. Currently, when I do go out to a club or party, I often have a dancing partner and most of the time he is way shorter than me. This fact would have been crazy mortifying to the younger me, but Hannah-of-today does not give a fuck. Hannah-of-today dances with her short guys, even if she has to engage in the quad work-out of her life to do so. Hannah-of-today doesn’t get all scrunched up and sad if she does have a solo-dance night.

Brings to mind my favorite catcall of all time, "Well aint you a tall glass of chocolate milk!"
Brings to mind my favorite catcall of all time, “Well aint you a tall glass of chocolate milk!”

It may seem like a small thing, this new freedom to dance and be seen, but like many small things, it shows the incredible growth that consistent self-love sows and I am so proud of it.

Onward (and dancing all the way),

Hannah

*I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack is a country-pop song released in 2000 with lines that hold Hallmark carpe-diem instructions for living a Good Life. The song was enthusiastically played at many a graduation party, bar mitzvah, and father-daughter wedding dances galore in the early 2000s and contains the lyric, “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance/I hope you dance…” As a tall girl in the early 2000s, I chose to sip Hawaiian Punch with my back up against a wall and fervently pray that the Sonora High School point guard would slowly circle around the quad with me to K-Ci and JoJo’s All My Life. 

 

Freewrite : Dancing the Doldrums Away

I couldn’t even dance like no one was watching when no one was watching for a long time.

I felt stuck, inhibited, wondering if my body looked weird or awkward. Remembering every slight and laugh I got from friends when I was feeling most free.

It was shame too, because without dancing, I really think I would’ve lost it.

But, then I met Jess.

How I hated when she would ask us to warm-up before our workshops with a dance break. I kept my movements small, close to the body.

In my first burlesque class, when we were doing our free movement, I couldn’t keep my eyes closed, kept wondering if I was “doing it right”.

Back in the day, I used to love dancing. Live for it really.

At Nigerian parties, I was always first to participate in the dance contests our aunties would hold at birthdays. I loved watching the party celebrants do their Nigerian side-shuffle as money fell down in a green fluttering wave.

When “Bad Boy” by Mase played at the sixth grade dance, I broke ranks from my frozen classmates and started to go. I couldn’t help it. Even as a socially awkward, twelve year old six-footer, I had to move.

In military school, when my roommates were away, I’d crank up my Sony Machine and dance out all my loneliness. I’d give myself a twenty minute dance break, but never was able to stop until forty minutes at least.

On ships, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, I turned off the white florescent light and flipped on the red switch reserved for nighttime operations in my cabin. And then I danced.

Then, something happened. Comparison. Wanting to appear cool. Shame that crept into my body and froze there like a winter lake.

I resorted to a simple two step when in club settings. Soon, my shyness crept into my alone dance time and I couldn’t even move freely alone. My body felt heavy and tired.

In this world, we want to believe it is our minds that hold all purpose and future sight. We forget that our bodies are what make it all possible. I was tired of feeling caged in, afraid of the sensuality deep in my body. And it was such a godsend to work with a creative coach who was a adamant on the power of dancing.

Today, dancing is the thing I do when I want to feel alive.

I’m not as brave as Jess yet, there isn’t any dancing in public open-air places, but I am dancing with vigor and my own weird grace again.

I let myself enjoy flamenco class, even though I still don’t have the sevilliana steps down.

I go to early morning dance parties.

I take dance breaks when I am feeling stuck in my writing or unsure about a decision.

I revive that old part of me that never left. And for this, I am eternally grateful. Maybe one day you’ll see me out there, but I’m afraid I won’t really be watching for you.

Since I’ll be dancing for no one’s eyes or comfort but my own.

Onward,

Hannah

A hunger to Dance

Red is the color of today.
Red is the color of today.

Today I had the opportunity to write with the Pittsburgh Memoir Project held at East Liberty Library. It was my first time and I enjoyed every second of it. (The Project travels to a new Pittsburgh location about every 6 sessions if you are interested.)

I heard many inspiring things today:

What would happen if we acted like magic really existed?

We are all living witnesses to history

A story shines when it intersects the universal, historical, and personal.

One of the prompts we were given was one on Appetite: How do you nurture your appetites? Name your hunger. Give it a color, a texture. Describe what appetite is to you with concrete images.

Here is what I wrote about Dance:

I would say it was red. The color of Aries, alive and pulsing under the skin. It feeds on blood and rampant desire. It throbs and electrifies. Spiky and crimson, shaped like a cobweb made out of Twizzlers. When activated it melts and relaxes neck muscles and itchy soles of feet.

Most of the time I beat it back, crumple it like a piece of wasted writing in the corner. Not now. There are people around. Not today, you need to clean the bathroom and take the clothes to Goodwill. 

But she persists. Sending forth incessant images of burlesque halls and Spanish parties. The hearty thump of a character shoe. The undulating fingers of flamenco. The lively springiness.

And when I let her free. She thanks me. Emerges from the pores in colorless drops. She unwinds and bursts forth.

What kills Her?
What kills Her?

What kills her?

Worry over how my long body looks.

Applause neediness.

Does-this-look-right checks in hallway mirrors.

A red, seared hunger yes. Wide but spreading further and further until it is as close to me as a DNA strand. Twisting, attaching and holding on for dear life.

She is Life. If I will have Her. Buzzing Life. For-sure Life.

Pining for hours of uninterrupted dance floors and a steady drop-down beat. She is my friend but I treat her tangled self like the Enemy.

She is lurking and sometimes I let her fly.

I love this camera effect, can you tell?
I love this camera effect, can you tell?

-Hannah