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Metamorphosis

Published May 24, 2015 by megdedwards

meg writing

I wrote poems when I was a child. I remember one that was pretty straight forward. It was about my life plan. I wanted children and then I wanted to write. At least that was the gist.

When I mentioned this at breakfast the other day my husband said, ‘Be careful what you wish for, they say, because you just might get it’, but then he smiled because he must have wished for a sexy wife and a happy home with delightful children.

Then I had an epiphany. I had to stop and think; place my index finger on my lips and frown. All the whirring sounds of breakfast, a child asking where her brush was, a cheap dishwasher taking off like a jet engine, faded away and my mind focused on one point: had I been pursuing this plan all along? Was I living out a lifeline that I had set up when I was ten years old? I had to shake my head. I had to smile.

What really took me by surprise was that I have spent much of my life quietly thinking that I had failed; that I had not lived my dream life. I was critical of myself for not having ‘become a writer”. What I didn’t realize was that I was a writer, and always had been. My own child self had given me plenty of time to find a good man and create beautiful children and write and think all along the way.

I have always been writing, thinking about writing, reading, and writing some more. I wrote for myself, I wrote for academics, I wrote for the free ranging feminist community. I wrote on film, art, theater, computer technology, medical topics and local politics and events. I wrote about everything and anything as a freelance journalist. I wrote cover stories on everything from chocolate to female impersonators.

I have never stopped writing and one of the classic photos my kids took of me is of the back of my head, my hair casually clipped up, typing away at the computer. I had a Mom just like that – typing, frowning, placing her finger in her upper lip while she was thinking. We were trained to wait til she had finished her thought before interrupting.

And like all writers I also wrote poetry and stories. Files, folders and black journals full of emotions and ideas formed into words. It does not matter if anyone noticed. I have been following that plan like a blueprint. I do have the happy home that I imagined. It is becoming more possible to do more writing as they grow older.

Later that same day while I was wandering aimlessly around Facebook I saw the image of a donkey tied to a plastic chair and under it was written, ‘Sometimes the obstacles you imagine are not as big as you thought’. I think I heard a chorus of hallelujah in my brain. Second level to the epiphany!

The next day I stared writing a novel. I jumped in with no plan and no particular structure. I wrote and I wrote and at about 10,000 words (thank you Nanowrimo for getting me going) I re- thought the main character and introduced another character and kept going. At about 30,000 words I knew who I was writing about, why I was writing and how it was going to end.

I have long dreamed of this moment. I am ecstatically happy and not in a temporary way in which you expect that sad drop of disappointment later. I can’t be disappointed about results or expectations because I am entirely happy about recognizing who I am and acting on it. I have acknowledged my childhood plan.

Characters and scenes from short stories that I wrote long ago are queuing up. Some of them want to be in this novel, some of them want their own novel. I am enjoying the big canvas; I am taking my time building characters and scenes. I am having fun doing it and I know someone else will have fun reading it.

I am confident about my created world. It reminds me of the process of my rug hooking, a hobby I began last winter when I was homeschooling my youngest. I enjoy the process; the visual concept, the gathering of the wool, the painting in colors and textures. While I am pulling strips of hand cut wool up through the holes of the burlap my mind relaxes and indulges in day dreaming. I listen to music and I think about things. Halfway through one rug I have an idea for the next one.

And this is how I feel about my stories now. Working in an entirely different medium helped bring about this commitment to the novel. Just as I always finished every rug I began, even when I had thought of an even better idea for the next one, I know I have to finish this story before I begin the next one.

It is incredibly satisfying to recognize that all my earlier writing is not wasted. It had its place in the forming of my characters and visions. I don’t need those dusty files anymore because the characters have burst out of their tight little short story forms and lunged forth into characters who want more space to develop. Poems, images, and dreams are becoming living thoughts in my fictional characters.

When I was a child I wrote because I loved to and that spirit is returning. Writing is my friend. I am writing because I want to. Sometimes it does take discipline to sit down and write but it is work I was meant to do.

Bummer, Blues and Visions of a Radiated Sea

Published February 15, 2014 by megdedwards

murmurationI had some good thoughts yesterday but I have forgotten them now.  I am thinking in colours and textures.

Did I have an insight about death? No, nothing there,  just a flash of darkness that passes through me. But not an actual thought. 

We are approaching the first year since my Mom died and I have some pretty strong memories of her cold body. Physical memories that hang around inside of me like shadows.

I find I cannot articulate the sheer outrage of having a soul pass away into the air, leaving a body that gets so cold it is colder than the air. Becomes icy and waxy. I thought that having talked to her and said good bye and seen her body move from life to death would make it easier to mourn. Maybe it has. But it sure is weird. I cannot express it.

I had a dream about trying to warm a small old female cat by the fire. Her legs were so cold I could I thought it was too late. The cold was in her bones.

Mom was one to experience life very intensely. I know she was right there until the moment she opened her eyes one last time. She might have been frightened, but I think she was more curious than scared. She had a brain that was capable of scientific inquiry while her heart raged and her eyes teared.

She died and knew what it felt like to die. She always told me all her terrible nightmares and her thoughts so I am waiting to hear from her. Her death would become an anecdote at a dinner party. She might even get a wobbly chin as she told us. But she is gone, with no looking back, she is off adventuring in some other time and space.

We have boxes of photos and files of writings. We have family history and genealogy. She kept it all so fastidiously, but never did anything with it. Now my sister and I are breaking into boxes marked ‘precious’ and pulling out crumbing letters, shaking out dresses from the 1930’s reeking of mothballs.

A cat broke one of her precious bowls the other day and I was somewhat relieved. One more precious thing that is free.

I was feeling so tired and questioning of myself yesterday. Parenting, in all its glory, was wearing me out. I wanted to talk to my Mom, not for comfort but just for company. It is hard to lose someone who knew you so well that you did not even have to say anything for them to know you don’t feel well.

She would have complimented me and said that I was doing everything very well and I would have felt good that she enjoyed my call. We would have made each other happy by being nice to each other.

I started dancing to music yesterday and it was very nice at first and then it just made me want to cry. It is as if my sadness is bound up in my body and when I move it to music it releases it. It makes me realize that I am holding down the fortress on any given day and emotions are boiling away just under the surface.

I tried a dance work shop a week after my Mom died and the more I released my body to the music the more I wanted to cry. Well I did cry, and my friends were nice enough to not mention it. I just want to talk to my Mom about all that. Take some Vitamin B or D or something,  she would say.

I don’t know why I continue to blog. I don’t need to add my voice to the masses. In the past I would have written in a journal, as my Mom did. Why do I add to this public domain?  No good reason, I am just trained into it now and I feel that some people are comforted to hear a voice that they recognize.

I am overwhelmed by the madding crowd chattering away about so many things. People getting outraged. people stating their opinion, people having opinions about subjects they know so little about. People complaining about this and that. It is exhausting.

We all know the amplification of the voices is exhausting. It is very hard to tell what is important. Everyone’s cause is so important and we need to ‘share’ everything all the time. It makes nothing important, it flattens the horizon; it is white noise.

I had a horrible foreshadowing vision regarding Japan’s radiation of the ocean. I saw quite clearly that we will have to stop eating what comes from the sea, and that one day I may have to tell my daughter not to swim in the sea in case it makes her sick. I don’t want to dwell on this because it is too terrible. It is more important than ‘fracking’ and train accidents even though those are important. But we go ahead with plans to re-open our nuclear plant in New Brunswick, now that it is ‘fixed’.

What a bummer. Sorry, will try to rally and think of a brighter future.

When I first wrote this I decided not to publish it on the blog because I felt bad about being depressing. But I will publish it today because it is here and it is true, and I have written about all the other stages of grief.

But I have to say more.  Is it my change of life, or is something else happening to me? I am feeling a lot of joy. I am celebrating every moment with my loved ones and I feel joy, joy so deep and layered  like the earth’s many layers from crust to burning center. 

We are going to have a party to celebrate a year since my Mom’s home death. It will be nice to see all her friends and family because we all recognize her in each other.

She was confident, proud, beautiful, and a little unpredictable. A talk -too- much, put your foot in your mouth quality. A  snazzy style that was a bit shabby, a challenging mix of indifference and independence and a simple  joie de vivre that lit the eyes.  That was Natalie, she had an effect. It is fun to see her effect ripple through life.

There is always time to dream, write and paint

Published October 2, 2012 by megdedwards

My sister and I home schooled our kids, hardcore. We did not hesitate to leave behind the current public school curriculum and grade testing.

We taught our kids to read, think, play and explore without anyone telling us how to do it.

Although our Mom never home schooled I think that our confidence in taking over the education of our kids came from her.  I bet our Mom would have home schooled if she thought she had a choice.

She was a very active and busy mother always teaching us details about plants or trees or about art, literature or politics as she cooked and cleaned.  She taught us how to be brave and explore new experiences and places.

My sister and I came from the same home, in a sense. Although she had the young mother who gave dinner parties for her CBC producer husband and sometimes drank martinis with the neighbours and I had the divorcee who rented rooms and smoked pot with her lover, we had the same creative and energetic woman running our lives.

She was not one of those moms that dreaded summer and the return of the children from school.  In the summers we lived in a cabin in the woods by a lake where there was no running water or electricity. We ran in the woods and played in the water and let our imaginations guide our play.

She read aloud and got out paints and games when it rained. She herself was always creating: painting cool designs on our rowboat, illustrating little stories, or sketching our portraits as we played. And when we all left for school in the fall, she actually missed us.

We had a bit of a bohemian mother, but she was competitive too, and not one to be left out of society.  She would put on her best skirt and jacket, a Vogue pattern she sewed herself, when she had parent teacher meetings.  We had porridge every morning and pulled on our sensible boots over our sensible shoes and walked to school on our own. We went to school every day and we were expected to do well.

I did not like school, and as far as I can tell, my sister did not like it either. But in those days one just went to school. The first few years of school were just plain torture, but I toughened up and my shyness was conquered mostly by grade three. It may have been good for me, I don’t know. But when my first child said she did not want to go I accepted her opinion.

As a parent I liked being free from the arbitrary rules of an institution and I loved leaving her little brain to develop without grading or peer- pressure.  She dreamed, decided what she wanted to learn, pursued her own projects and charged forward. It was a beautiful sight.

It is true that some kids fair better on structured schedules than others. Some kids like the constant socializing of school, and some kids really enjoy structured school learning.  Not all children thrive in home schooling. But my overview is that children benefit from free play and unhindered exploration especially between the ages of four to twelve years.

Presently I have two kids enjoying school (mostly) and my sister has an empty nest. In the last eight years or so we have both being pursuing education for its own sake, just for fun and because we like to keep engaged. I finished a long distance certificate in Library Studies and she is a few essays short of a MA.

What we have discovered about ourselves is that we tend to be very good at working for grades and the approval of our teachers. And what we find irritating is that we cannot seem to apply that same discipline and energy to projects of our own choice.

We need someone to say, ‘do this thing, and then hand it in and I will tell you how good it is’.  And frankly, we are embarrassed by this characteristic that seems so deeply ingrained by our parents and the school system.

We are shocked and disgusted by our Pavlovian response to approval. Right now, as our dynamic and powerful Mom is gracefully traveling to the other worlds, with cryptic comments and magical hallucinations, we are left examining who we are and what we should do with ourselves that best expresses her lessons and her rich teachings.

As we step into the world without our mother, I think we want to fulfill some of the artistic gifts that Mom and Dad have given us.  Our mother was a good painter and filmmaker, our father was a good actor and playwright.  When they were young they may have had dreams.  But they did not pass on those dreams. When we dreamed of being a writer or artist, we were quickly brought to earth.

Ironically, it was often pointed out that good art was produced by people who worked hard.  My Dad told me when I was a twelve year old poet that good writing was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I wondered why he told me that and concluded that he must have thought I was not hard working enough.

Now with so much of my life behind me, and so many dreams buried by hesitant living, I think that the best thing you can say to a child is that they do in fact have the talent to do whatever they want. Hard work is the easy part. Believing that you can produce something of value is much harder.

It is possible that the best part of home schooling is being free of the crushing judgment of others. And now that we are older women, my sister and I need to home school ourselves. We need to be the parents we wanted, so we have formed a bond of unconditional support.

If we can ask our children to believe in themselves, the best thing we could do is be a good example.  Our parents did not pursue their artistic dreams, and may have crushed ours by their attitude.  My sister and I have inadvertently been following the same path and need to remember that what we really want is to play without judgment and to explore without fear.

There is always time to dream, write and paint.

Stay Calm, Be Brave and wait for the Signs

Published March 10, 2012 by megdedwards

I have been spending much of my time thinking and writing in my wonderful philosophy class that I am taking long distance from Memorial University in Newfoundland.

Prof Craig Cramm offers a gem of a course for students looking for an elective, and the class has more engineering students than philosophy students.

This is my last class towards a Library Studies Certificate. This class was not a mandatory feature of the program, but I made it so.  In fact, the university had a required course called Business 2000 that was mandatory except that they no longer offered it. The long distance department didn’t seem to have any control over whether the business department would ever offer it again, and I was not willing to take the university up on their alternatives: apply to a separate institution that offered the same course for more money or take a first year English course.

Actually I was really annoyed and frustrated by the university’s disinterest in providing a solution and that made me question my years of dedication to acquiring the certificate. So after a series of terse emails that ascended eventually to the director of Lifelong Learning, I made it clear that not only was I not going to take another business course from a different institution in order to graduate, I wasn’t going to take a first year English course either.

I explained that most people in the library certificate course were sitting on a BA anyway and were trying to upgrade their hire- ability (not really a word except in places where people actually work).

I think they got tired of hearing from me and agreed with alacrity when I suggested that I take Philosophy of Technology instead, a second year philosophy course with no prerequisites. I argued that the course was in line  with the general theme of the library certificate that emphasized, repeatedly   in each and every course, how librarians must accept the modernization of the library and ‘get with it’.

Make the library more like a community center, create promotional material and book displays as if you are selling a product, start blogs and websites: technology savvy librarians need only apply, no ‘shushing’ allowed!

So this winter I took advanced technology, which taught me a lot and made me pretty darn comfortable with playing with technology and figuring out things like ‘deep linking’.  Then I moved into the philosophy of technology and it has provided a intellectual challenge and pulled everything together beautifully.

I am reading and thinking about technology, morality, ethics and action. It is fabulous.  It was just what I wanted, a real course with serious reading and thinking. I have written better essays for this course than I ever wrote when I was a young undergraduate.

The prof has asked us to make a leap with the last essay and write about how the ideas that we have discussed in the course apply to our own lives.  I am thinking about that with the intense mental application that this almost fifty year old woman seems to apply to everything she does.

Of course I could write about how in the last ten years of living in a fairly isolated community I have had regular work with a daily paper without ever meeting my editor face to face, and taken 12 courses from a university in a province that I have yet to visit. Technology has been a bonus for me. It has kept me engaged and even employed while living in an isolated hamlet on the side of the sea.

But my mind is thinking about something more slippery. While living in this area I have brought up my kids, home schooling some of the time, and volunteering and organizing much of my time, to the benefit of my family and the community.

If I needed or wanted a program for myself or my children I created it from library clubs, to toddler drop ins, to dance classes.  I did it for myself as much as for other people.  But I seem to be burned out now. Not only do I not want to create or plan any community event or activity, I don’t even want to go if someone else plans it.

I want to retreat, and be peaceful with myself. I want to write and think and be left alone.  I want to stop engaging with a community that gives back so little to me.

I am turning inward and reserving some time and space for me.  Acknowledging this fact has been cemented into place by a recent rejection. The school’s retired principal asked me to apply for a job in which I would teach GED (high school equivalency) to local adults. I thought about it and decided to apply although I realized it would be a huge commitment.

Of course I went through the letter writing and interview process just to be rejected. And this for a job that I did not know existed until someone asked me to apply. I felt like a big idiot and sucker. They hired a staid and putty faced woman of the community who is known for her religious fervor and judgmental glare.

I should not have applied at all. I should have known better.  It stung, slapped my ego, because it reminded me of all the times I have not got the job. It might be partly a generational thing where there were always too many of us with similar credentials and not enough jobs to go around. But I have always scrambled to create my own jobs.  The recent gig with the paper was great because it paid and gave me some respectability within this community.

So I am wondering how to put this in perspective. For me personally, I do not want to reach out to my community anymore. I want to offer something but from a different place. I do want to be part of the bigger picture, but I think I need to go back to my shy self contained self to do so. Something like writing literature for children, a place where you know you will have an effect albeit a quiet one. That is what I am thinking about.

So back to the blog, which like all the things in my life, is something I have created out of nothing.  It is an open journal and a map that shows you your path while you are still traveling.

And back to my general mantra, which came from a really cool and hilarious Canadian radio show that you can find on youtube called Dead Dog Café:

Stay Calm, Be Brave, and Wait for the Signs.

The Long Form Census and Moi

Published February 8, 2012 by megdedwards

I had an unsettling visit from an elderly Quebecois woman the other day.

She was a small woman with very practical winter clothes, and her hands and skin were very dry, like her frizzed out hair that was tied back in a strict bun.

I could tell she was a practical woman who believed being super clean was more important than moisturizers or wrinkles. She was perfectly pleasant but I felt that she was proud  to be controlling her normally judgmental nature.

I had invited her to come to my house, but with some reservation. She said it would take 2 hours, ‘2 hours!’ I exclaimed, to fill in the long form census. She had already been at my house twice, leaving notes from Statistics Canada. I called her back and made an appointment to see her.

Even then I thought, what is this, is this really less intrusive than filing out a form? She told me it was important for the government to have this information in order to make decisions about funding. I knew that. I never felt that the form was an invasion of privacy.

I decided to do the interview although generally I don’t give strangers two hours of my time.

The morning of her visit I forgot she was coming. It was 9 am and I had just poured a bath with lavender oil in it and was heading up to the bathroom when I saw a car pull up. I was filled with chagrin but tried to pull it together. I invited her in and explained that I had forgotten she was coming and she started to pull out her computer and explain, again, the benefits of the long form census data collection.

When she began to read from the computer, having trouble pronouncing the words because of her strong French, and I could smell my bath and also my underarms, I said gently but firmly, “Please do not read all the information, just assume that I understand”.

Then she asked me the names of the people in the house and began to pick out the letters on the keyboard one by one.  I took some very deep breaths and said, in a quiet voice, ‘Isn’t this a bit ridiculous, compared to me just filling out the form myself?’ She explained that they picked the houses randomly so that they had no information about the inhabitants and had to actually physically visit the house.

It took her an hour to drive to my house and I realized now, by the speed of her speech and her typing, why the form took two hours.  I knew that I had invited her and I knew I had to pull it together and be more pleasant.

I made a pot of tea and then I excused myself as best as I could. I explained that I had to go to the bath that I had just poured and I would be right back.  I justified this by acknowledging that I would be better tempered if I followed this plan, and I knew that she was already out on a day’s pay and had no other place to go that day.

I ran upstairs, had a quick bath, pulled my hair back, put on some proper clothes and whipped back. The ordeal was far from over, for both of us.

I did manage to convince her to just ask the questions without the preamble, but when it came to the relationships within the family I became short tempered again. Is Frank the son of Joe, yes, is Rose the daughter of Joe.  Just assume we are one nuclear family, I said, with only one father and one mother, and answer all the questions with that in mind. Are you the mother of Maude?

Then we moved on to my education and things deteriorated even further.  In answering what level of education you have, you can’t say just tell her, you have to look up a list of options in another pamphlet and say, for example, D.

Then I had to explain that I was getting more education and she said, “Yes, lots of education, but no job”.  She dipped her head after that, in an involuntary shudder, realizing that she was not supposed to chide the suckers who actually agree to fill in the form.

Part of me wanted to defend myself, ‘but I only just lost my job last spring, and I may get a new job soon, I am waiting to hear…’ But another part of me wanted to throw her tiny ass out in the snow so I just looked at her. “Have you worked for the government for long”,  I asked. She said she had come from Quebec so that she could be nearer her daughter and her grandchildren.  “That’s nice”, I said.  The English/French divide had hit the moment she walked in,  with the natural superiority that many French hold for the English.

The census continued inexorably. What came next was how much money I had made in the previous year, which turned out to be absolutely nothing. I felt like telling her how she had caught me just after I lost my writing job, but I didn’t. I felt like telling her that in the last year so much more had developed in my head and in my writing than money, but I couldn’t.

I was beginning to get a feeling of my worthlessness, which was seeping into my bones while my head intellectually denied any part of it.  How many hours did I spend on my work? That is hard to say considering it was after caring for my family but also a huge part of my day.  How would I describe my work, what was the most important element of my work, or what part of my work was the most important?

I said, after a pause to think, “Looking after my children”. She paused, hesitated, made a sound as if to argue with me, and then said, “Oui, d’accord”. At least on that we could agree.

Then she left for a snowy drive back to Moncton and a pat on the back from her boss for getting one more person on her list, and I worked on my essay for my last class in Library Studies and cleaned and made food and prepared for hungry kids and their many stories when they returned from school.

To be quite honest, the experience left me a bit  depressed but writing about it has helped.

 

 

Writing about Writing

Published February 1, 2012 by megdedwards

  I wrote this post three years ago. Now I live without my Mom’s voice and I am doing what I promised. I am working on a big project, writing a novel and my mind is playing on a big canvas.

My blog posts arrive quietly in my mind while I am cleaning, sorting or putzing around.

Thoughts develop, themes appear, and I want to talk about them. Sometimes I need to just sit quietly for a while and then my ideas arrive and start bubbling.

I thought I was going to write about love yesterday, but today I find myself writing about writing.

Writing is something that my Poor Mom misses.  Her thoughts bubble about and are delicious, metaphoric and deeply insightful, but she can’t write them down anymore.

I call her My Poor Mom now that Parkinson’s has taken over her life and fogged her hard working mind with apparitions and paralysis. All her life she was a woman with ideas and creative outlets; now she struggles to have a conversation.

We talk about blogging and writing a lot and she remembers her days when she wrote for an internet writing group called NerdNosh.   She wrote episodic memoirs of her life with the caveat that it would be good for her family to have those stories written down.  This was a very happy time for her; she had her own writing room where she would work on her albums and write her Nerdnosh remembrances.

This was as close to being an artist as my Mom got, and believe me, she could have been an artist. During one of our recent poetic, speculative and superbly honest conversations I told my Mom that she could have been a novelist (or painter or filmmaker).  Even now, her imagination and her ability to analyze her imagination are incredible.  When she woke from her weeks of semi-consciousness after her heart operation she told us all about the novels she had been writing while she was resting.

Recently her mind has been creating stories to accompany the hallucinations that crowd into her life. She told me that it is tiring living in the middle of a film set as people are always moving things and putting labels on things.  Even after I confirmed that this was just her own personal apparitions, she went on to tell me that the theme of the film was quite interesting, as if she was writing a film review. “It is all about the dark spaces of nothingness between the frames” she said. I said, “Mom, you are blowing my mind”, and she laughed.

And we went on to talk about why women find it so hard to take themselves seriously as writers or artists.  She told me that her life as she was living it right now would be a good premise for a novel. “I’d make an interesting character”, she said.  As a busy mom she told stories, painted, drew, and played the piano. She surrounded her children with creativity, worked as a journalist, an administrator and an agent. But she never created a story that was parallel and separate from her.

We wondered together what type of personality it took to sacrifice time and energy to a novel. We know that men and women do it all the time, even women with children, (which is truly remarkable) but we wondered what it is that drives them to produce purely fictional material.

What stops so many of us from grasping the full title, or aiming for the highest achievement? Can I create more than patches on a quilt of my life stories, or ‘mere light nothings’ as my Mom calls it? I feel that being a fiction writer may require a bigger ego than I have, or possibly, more mental discipline and stamina. But as I near the age of fifty I know that I not only have a perfectly good ego, but stamina and discipline.

I am fascinated by women’s writing and why they write and how they write. I am interested in the entire debate of a ‘woman’s voice’ and whether you can say there is one.  An old text book on Feminist Literary Theory, my conversations with my lapsed writer mom, and my blog are all leading me irrevocably down a path.

In respect of my Mom, and with love to my Mom, I feel that I have to take the creative process one step further.  Women are often content to create as we go; our story telling, our art work, our sewing and knitting adorn our lives and others, but are washed away in the current of life.

Maybe that is best. I don’t know. I don’t think that ‘fine art’ is better than craft; it is just defined and valued that way. But sometimes we hold back from creating something big because of a lack of confidence, and that is not a good reason.

In our latest conversation I told Mom I would attempt to take writing to the next level.  My mom has always said you are not a writer unless you have a manuscript hiding at the bottom of your files.  I have those, a pile of them, and they are very old and dusty or in ‘word’ files that can no longer be opened by any proper computer.

I told her I would try. It is a big commitment, promising a dying woman that you will write stories for her sake, but my only saving grace is that Mom may forget what I said.

So I have a project I am handing myself,  I am going to take all my lost children, my unfinished stories, and work on them with the same upbeat, sensible wordsmith practicality I take to my journalism or public ‘journaling’ (blog).  No self-loathing or recriminations, no high expectations or fear of failure, just a person who is happy to have her mind and fingers still working together.

And I better work quickly so my Mom has enough vigor to be able to criticize what I create; I don’t mind, I can take it.

Confessions of a Humble Belly Dancer

Published January 18, 2012 by megdedwards

I started belly dancing about 12 years ago. And no, I did not slowly work my way up the ranks to head belly dancer and start my own belly dancing school.

I don’t have a series of a velvet outfits and a business card with my dancer’s name on it, Megara’s School of Dance.  But a lot of my friends who started the art of belly dancing that long ago do actually have dancer’s names now.

I am not sure why I cannot bring myself to move to that apparently inevitable next step. But it says a lot about me.

Let’s go over the information you have about me  if you have been reading this blog: I was shy as a kid, I didn’t know I was in any way good looking for quite some time, maybe still don’t know that deep down. And I never, ever, wanted to be a princess. I never looked at myself in the mirror and smiled coyly, or wafted about like a princess.

Knowing these essential facts about me, you and I both would be surprised at see how good a dancer I am now in my late forties.  I have learnt how to move really gracefully, I can move like a queen and whip that scarf around like a real dancer. I can move my shoulders in a delightful wiggle and do nice little dance steps with my body pulled up in a lovely dancer’s posture.

The really great thing about belly dancing is that it is quite difficult, and your mind will have to focus on the actual mechanics, leaving no place for embarrassed inhibition. It is hard work to isolate a hip movement or move only your rib cage, and it takes a lot of practice.

I feel like I am pretty good now, and I have heard that once or twice from a generous friend of mine. But most prima donna belly dancers are stingy with the compliments. That has been a bit hard for me as I admit that I need positive feedback to continue tackling a difficult challenge. I am one of those people that sort of withers up under constant criticism. So I have had a bit of a battle keeping at belly dancing.

But I am drawn back because I love to dance, and I love the music. And my back and torso love the exercise. I am not saying that I have abs of any form.   As far as I am concerned you can only get abs by doing exercises that are not natural to women.  I tried this out last year with a  misguided  ‘8 minute abs’ video (‘you can’t hurt yourself doing these exercises’, says the man, and I answer, “ yes, you can’)  I think I gave myself a hernia in my poor stretched stomach, but I have never hurt myself belly dancing.

I still love to dance and I still love belly dancing, in my own way. But I have stopped classes. For the most part that is because in order to have belly dancing classes in Baie Verte I have to rent the hall, call all the gals, collect the cash, run the class and pay for the hall no matter how many people come.

As you can imagine this makes the whole decision as to whether I want a weekly dance class a little burdensome. I don’t get to go down to the Y and just sign up and then just do my best. I have to run the dam class and I can tell you being a dance teacher was never a private fantasy of mine.

I have tried to write positive articles on body image and belly dancing before but they turned out a bit formulaic. I even had a neat metaphor comparing the colored belts of Tae Kwon Do with the self-anointed jingly belts that belly dancers buy themselves. I liked to make the case that belly dancers have no master and promote themselves by buying increasingly jingly and colorful belts until they buy themselves entire outfits.

But something was missing in my writing about belly dancing, and that was the honesty that I take to the personal blog.  I was not being entirely truthful about how I felt about belly dancing and it just made the piece flat. That is what I love about this blog. I ain’t selling it and I don’t care if anyone is buying it, so I speak my mind.

I confess I am a belly dancer who is at the stage where she should be teaching, but does not want to teach. Like the martial artist that moves away and starts his own school, I should be renting my own space, selling my wares and sharing the art and experience of belly dancing to newcomers. I know I can teach a beginners class in belly dancing no problem, but I seem to be lacking the hunger to do so.

I stopped running my weekly class about a year ago and my body is not thanking me. It is a great work out and dancing makes me happy.  I keep thinking I will start again but I am not enthusiastic about the class. What I really wanted was a collaborative work out class in which no one is really in charge. I ran it like that for quite some time with a friend and I thought we did really well.

Neither of us had the desire to be the leader so we split up the exercises and had a free form class in which we followed some routine and just made it up as we went. Some women did not like that no one was officially in charge.  But there was a core group of about six who managed quite well – we danced, we got our heart beats up, we laughed and talked, we stretched.

As I describe the class I am tempted to start again but our hall is becoming expensive and we only have a few women right now who could come. One hard core dancer took a break from belly dancing and threw out her knee in an ill advised attempt to get abs in a Tae Kwon Do. Never aim for abs.

I had one really fabulous class which I taught myself of which I am still proud.  We did our yoga stretches to lovely music, we did more and more dance moves until our hearts were beating fast, we practiced an old dance and we practiced improvisation.

We have one song in which the gals form a circle and do dance moves on the outside ring while one or two gals go in the middle and dance a sole for a short amount of time. We take turns, and no one really watches the gal in the middle that closely because they are thinking of their moves on the outside, so it feels safe in the circle.

I had my old pal from Halifax visiting, a friend that goes back to high school, and she is a dance student from way back so she leapt into the class with  enthusiasm.  We have danced together many times, often shoving the men out of the way so we could have fun dancing.

When we went into the middle of the circle we worked together and traded moves back and forth and looked at each other as we danced. That is the way I want to belly dance, with women, and in a causal noncompetitive mode.

What I find disappointing about belly dancing is the singular quality: one girl dances on the stage and everyone cheers for the princess of the moment.  But I want it to be collaborative and communicative.  To me, this is the way belly dancing should be. It is about the joy of dancing.

I am sure that women dance for and with each other more happily than for an audience, or at least most of us do. At its best belly dancing is a conversation with the body, and the best performers connect with the audience in that way.

It is a craft, and it is entertaining. But for most of us it is an exercise class that throws women together with movement and laughter.  By the end of that class we did something that I believe in my heart is the true origins of belly dancing; we danced together, a group of gals dancing with each other.

 

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