Women’s Issues

All posts in the Women’s Issues category

East Coast Challenges: Buying Furniture

Published July 2, 2012 by megdedwards

One of the challenges to life in the Maritimes of Canada is furniture purchases.

I have mentioned this to my Upper Canadian friends and they scoff and, by their silence or pursed lips, seem to suggest I am lazy and or dim, which is their general impression of east coasters in any case.

‘Just go to a second hand shop’ they say.  Oh, I go to second hand shops. The Thrift store in our local university town has a constant circulation of stinky old furniture with the occasional sound dresser or desk, and those get SOLD stickers plastered on them as soon as they hit the store floor.

If you are desperate for a dresser you have two other choices, over priced ‘anitique’ shops or the press board shit furniture from Big Box Stores.  Quite honestly I think that antique hunters raid the second hand stores and truck the stuff back to Ontario or into the States. It is hard to find that unexpected gem among the crap.

In our peripatetic life we have left furniture behind in our many moves, never using a truck.  And without generous relatives we have needed to find kitchen tables, couches and beds.

Sometimes we have used the ‘hunting’ approach. Locating the couch or bed, we would circle around it and then drag it home.  In search of a futon couch it was necessary to go Moncton,  accept the inevitable terrible service and buy a full priced item of  questionable value.

In comparison to the big ‘hunt’ style of furniture acquisition is the womanly style of ‘gathering’.  ‘Gathering’ is a necessary strategy out here in the east, a survival technique for the barren grounds of the Maritimes, where the couches no longer roam free.

I prowl and scavenge for furniture. My eye is always peeled. This means that whenever I am out, in any capacity, in any place, I am thinking about lugging home a piece of furniture.  Garage sales? Plant stands? Wooden chairs?

If I am visiting my Mother in Toronto I just have to close my eyes to opportunity as I know I cannot ship it back home. But if I am wandering in the local environment of  Tantramar I will keep an eye out at all times.

It might be an old English armoir obviously created for small rooms, or a wooden desk, or god forbid, a red velvet couch. I am always looking for a red velvet couch. All my life I have been looking for a red, or even better, a dark green velvet couch.

My husband will accuse me of being an impulsive shopper but in this accusation is no understanding of the ‘gathering’ style of hunting.  ‘Gathering’  ebbs and flows and never ends.  ‘Gathering’ involves negotiations and machinations, begging for trucks, shuffling of furniture, and a long term view.

So it is the opposite of impulsive, it is gradual,consistent and thoughtful.

And that is the state of mind I was in when I bought a red velvet antique couch while attending the opening of a museum in a historical house. They wanted to get rid of the couch, they promised delivery. It was a good looking red velvet couch and even ugly couches cost more. So I put the money down.

Complications arose that caused me a sleepless hour or so in the middle of the night; Joe was aghast, there was no where to put the new couch because the new room, where I will shuffle the old futon couch, is not finished.  But my mind held the vision of the red velvet couch sitting in my newly painted study, and I held on to that picture in my mind.

I started my negotiations with the minutiae of life.  If I got rid of the old piano I had bought in a fit of chagrin when my Mom told me I could not have the old family piano, then I could put the couch there until the back of the house was finished.

I put an ad up in kijiji for a free piano and then held my breath a bit and within a week a very nice man drove up to the house and practically singlehandedly shoved the very old, worn and massive piano into his equally massive truck and drove away with a big smile.

I was honest to a point with the man on the age of that piano and how it was good for kids to learn how to play. I had, in fact, had it looked at and it was so old you could only tune it so far.  I know the family piano will make its way out to me some day so I will wait for it while Frank practices on an electric piano (just not the same at all).

One step closer to a new couch.  We are many months away from that couch being in my newly painted study. But it will happen eventually. I know that with sure conviction because I have seen myself make things happen before.

Children have been born and houses have been bought and all on the wings of planning, patience, striking when the iron is hot, and the skillful art of negotiation.  And underneath this ‘gathering’ and nurturing mentality,  I have a a belief in myself and my path before me that makes things happen.

I am swimming in the waters of life, head above the surface, gentle calm breathing, eye on the the shore.  Sometimes I hunt and sometimes I gather. What, was that a rocking chair on the side of road, stop, back up, we are taking that home.

Mom and the Old Bitch Above

Published June 23, 2012 by megdedwards

There was a time in my youth when I wished my Mom was dead.

As soon as I wished it I realized that it was a terrible solution. I knew that my Mom drove me crazy in various ways but it was certainly not fair to request her death in order to set me free from my reactions to her.

I knew that she enjoyed living and I did not begrudge her that.  I did not actually wish harm to her.  She did not need to die, I knew that. I just needed to separate myself from her.

Mom was always there for me but sometimes her love or maternal attention felt destructive. I would inevitably regret reaching out for help. Whether it was emotional or financial, her help was like the well intentioned rock walls that people put up to save their sea shores, the effect of her attention sometimes caused more erosion than protection.

There was something about my relationship with my mom that was claustrophobic and dangerous.  She had a way of watching and commenting on my life that was suffocating. And while she could be maternal and caring, even almost doting at times, she could also be cool and dismissive.

If there was a battle of the wills then she had to win, and she would use whatever tools necessary, mockery, sarcasm or even physical power in order to rule supreme.  She was competitive and fiery.

If I was in pain she assumed I was exaggerating and would imply that I was weak. If I was in love she would question my judgment. If I wanted anything at all she would suggest I was greedy.

Maybe I made our relationship more painful by wishing she was something that she was not. She could only be who she was. When I read about Martin Amis talking about his relationship with his father, Kingsley Amis, I saw that what I had with my mother was not unlike this relationship.  It was more competitive than maternal; it had a manly air about it. She nurtured and then she fought. She prepared us to fight.

I kept wishing for a soft mom with soft arms who was a refuge against the world, but I did not have that. And in fact my Mom did not have that either, with her steely blue eyed librarian mother with the feminist leanings.  As I age, my sense of certainty that I have managed to avoid the same pitfalls and personality faults of my mother fades into a more sympathetic notion that maybe my Mom did not fail.

Maybe mothering is not about constant nurturing and altruistic sacrifice at all times. Part of what we do in weaning our children is push then away from our breasts, even when they cry. If they don’t learn to survive without us then we will have failed.

We may sometimes push our children away in order to set them free. That might be true. But we also make stupid mistakes and have moods. No one’s fault, no one deserves it, it just happened. Not only do I not know what I have done already that has hurt my children, I don’t know what I will do in the future. I will try very hard to be a good mom, but at times I will fail, quite by accident.

As the grains of sand drop one by one into the hourglass, the witch watches us and laughs. This image, from the family favorite, The Wizard of Oz, is definitive of my mother’s effect on us. My Mom was not the bad witch, she was kind hearted and fairly powerless, but she conjured witches.

Mom created a feckless and humorous God-like character, the Old Bitch Above; this mythical creature had a looming presence over our lives. OBA, as she was known in our home, would punish those who became too confident. OBA may give you a bad hair day just when you thought you were pretty, or make you trip when you were proud of your shoes. She had that kind of power. She brought you down off your high horse. Like a Greek God, or even the emotional Hebrew God, OBA had moods and emotions and you never knew what she would throw at you next.

Looking back, I see that my Mom was the physical form of OBA. She was unpredictable; you had to watch your step. Sometimes she was nurturing and sometimes she was harsh.  And she never said sorry. I learned to keep my dreams or opinions to myself because if I turned to her for comfort it would come back at me like a boomerang at another time, with a sudden attacking reference to that private conversation.

Even now, while we embrace in love and forgiveness as her energy drains out of her body, she can still throw a knife.  While I was telling her about a business idea that I had (once again forgetting what this admission would lead to) I said, “If it is any success at all…” and she said without thinking, “Well, that’s not likely”.

I laughed in my head, back on the same ground, aware now that the constant negativity that had accompanied me all my life was just under the surface.  She was aware that she had done it again, but, true to fashion, would not take it back. We let it go. But sometimes I see my life, and those of my siblings, as plants struggling for light, twisting and contorting to find the nourishment that we need to thrive.

As I accompany my Mom around the track, on her last lap, our faults are forgotten and our desire is to show love and acceptance. She says wonderful things about my writing; we talk about philosophy, writing and ideas. In fact, even in our hardest times we have always been able to talk about ideas. That has always been our connection.

Sometimes her  past rises up to torture her, she feels ashamed and irritated with herself, acknowledging that her strong pride and stubborn nature may have been unnecessary or harmful  to herself  or others during her life.

But I have no argument or anger anymore. Life is like one of those mysterious Irish folktales that show life as a meaningless struggle punctuated by madness and magic. My Mom likes to quote from some tale that she studied, lost now, “A man longs and longs and nothing comes of it”. She likes this line; it satisfies her on some deep level.

Examining my Breasts

Published February 13, 2012 by megdedwards

I found a piece of writing in a dusty file and pulled it out. It was something I wrote about breasts and self examinations 12 years ago.

Since then I have had close relatives lose their breasts to the scourge of cancer and I am even more appreciative of the old gals.

While looking for an image of breasts to suit my blog I came across a wonderful site called 007 Breasts . It is an informative and liberating site and I have discovered a new word, ‘topfree’! I really believe in boob freedom and I do wonder about the bad effects of bras.  Check out the site!

And here is something from the files:

“I was once inordinately proud of my breast, they were perfectly proportioned, perky and irresistible. They were soft, ivory toned and had delightful pink nipples. I wore see through shirts and no bra. My breasts were my pleasure, my beacons of ‘come hither’ and my friends.

I didn’t think about aging much, or dying. You don’t when you are in your twenties. Death seemed far off and theoretical, or sometimes just too close up and dramatic. My breasts did not make me think about mortality. They seemed pretty life affirming, if anything.

But now my breasts have taken on the personality of timebombs. I am thirty six years old with a bit of extra weight and two children and I keep expecting my breasts to go to war against my body.

My fearful scenario plays out like this, a small hard lump is discovered and then I have a meaningful relationship with a doctor. You know what I mean. We don’t like to articulate the fear but it is there.

Cancer is a real threat, although not necessarily fatal. I am aware of it, as we all are, trying to eat right and exercise and whatever else we are told to do.

But living in fear is not a good state so I am adjusting my mental state; I like to think about my body as  happy and healthy, not one ‘bad’ examination day away from disease.

The guilt trip around breast awareness is changing the way we feel about our bodies. If we don’t manipulate our breasts in the shower to feel for the dreaded mass, then we feel guilty.  If we do, we don’t know what we are looking for and wonder about every bump or mass.

Fear of breast cancer is recreating a Victorian-like fear and distancing between a woman and her body. The all important breast exam is making woman afraid of their breasts.

I approached the self breast exam with fear and anxiety I could barely bring myself to touch my lovely boobs. I have bumps and I have puckering, but at this point they have been caused by stretch marks and milk production.

What am I looking for, will I recognize if anything is wrong? I felt vulnerable and afraid. My own probing massage brought on fear and anxiety.

Suddenly I pictured millions of  liberated and sexually confident woman touching their breasts as if they are foreign objects. A fearful poke and aggressive massage and suddenly our breasts are mysterious and unpredictable – the ‘dark terrain’ of femaleness that Freud struggled to understand and explain.

After a few tries I became familiar with my breasts benign lumpiness and now I feel that I might recognize any new development. Or would I?

I have been examining my breasts with love recently. They are bigger and more pendulous than they used to be and the nipples are larger and darker from nursing .

When I take off my shirt the whole family runs over to kiss them. My partner, who was the first fan, and my little children who are either still nursing or remember nursing.

I gather my breasts into my hands and give them loving squeezes. The girls are loved and appreciated and have done a fantastic breast feeding for nine years altogether.

I am tempted to get a medal tattooed on them to honor their good work. They are loved and appreciated and I would miss them if they had to go.”

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.

Rape, Sordid Sex and Self Actualization

Published January 23, 2012 by megdedwards

I was reading The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay, the second book I have bought on my kindle, last night before falling into delicious sleep.  My interest in the book was twigged by an interview with the author on CBC Radio.

The novel is told by a 12 year old girl in the 1800’s in New York City.  The young girl named Moth is poor, homeless and vulnerable to everybody, but she is an attractive protagonist because she is a tough little survivor. Apparently the author’s great great grandmother was a doctor in New York and this set off Mckay’s interest in the period.

Extensive research has been done by the author to give the real details of the time.  All though we see the world through the eyes of Moth, the other voice we hear from is Dr. Sadie, one of the first female physicians, who travels from bedsit to boarding house (or brothel) to back rooms of burlesques. She tries to protect Moth from contacting syphilis; a deadly disease at the time that some men believed would be cured by having sex with a virgin.

I have always enjoyed books with bleak environments and strong characters, I read Mare Claire Blais when I was 13 as if her books were a Nancy Drew series. Last night I was drawn into the story.

Usually I read until I am passing out and I can’t tell what I am reading. The Kindle has confused that process a little because as I become closer and closer to an unconscious being my mind goes into auto pilot and my fingers and hands want to turn the page. Instead I have to train my mind to push a button and if I find my mind is confused by this I know I should be sleeping.

I miss the tactile quality of a book although I did appreciate the immediate satisfaction of wanting to read a book and it turning up in my hand a few seconds later.  With an actual book though, when I pause with my reading, I contemplate the cover, or read about the author, or look at illustrations. With the little black book like thing called a kindle, you just put it down.

The narrative of Mckay’s novel is interwoven with bits of literature from the time period:  posters, newspaper articles, lists, advice.  This might be appealing in a book in the hand, but the electronic version just offers you separate texts that seem to pop up in a jarring manner.  The different type or font used for the separate texts just makes it harder to read and it doesn’t have the same effect.

But nonetheless, into the book I went. And just as I was going to sleep, after reading about a young girl being raped in the streets of New York City, my mind woke up. I thought about rape and losing your virginity and my mind went back to my first time, which if I describe it as it happens will sound as sordid and sad as a rape in the street.

Except it wasn’t rape at all, and I don’t think that my experience of losing my virginity was terribly unusual, just completely, and somewhat hilariously, unpleasant. It was the seventies in Victoria B.C.  Girls flicked back their hair like Farrah Fawcett and wore huge bell bottoms. I was living with my Dad, and sort of going a little wild. He said all I had to do was keep up my grades in school, that was our deal.

Anyway, I went off with a pack of young people into the dark night, up a highway and through the woods to a cabin the woods. Sigh. And we drank beer and vodka and then later I went upstairs, or up a ladder, to a loft with some guy.

I was extremely drunk, and I took a lot of risks that night. About the loss of virginity I only remember that I really had to pee.  I faintly remember the desperate thrusting of some fellow.  Afterwards I may have peed on some idiots’ clothes, thankfully not mine.  Even in that state of inebriation I have a faint memory of thinking, ‘Ha!’ I went along with the ritual willingly, but drunkenly.

As I lay in my bed last night the non-eventful evening came back to me, in little flashes of memory. We walked back through the woods and decided that a good short cut would be to cross the highway on an unfinished pedway with no fencing or barriers of any kind. As we filed on to the unfinished cement bridge, I thought ‘shit’; I could die if I fall off this on to the highway. So I remember taking all of my mental energy, of which there was very little, cutting out the raucous noises coming from the other teenagers, and walking firmly and steadily across the highway on the cement pathway.

I remember a nice boy, not the one I had slept with I noted, helping me get up when I had decided to take a nap in the middle of the road further along our travels.  Somehow, I got home to our idyllic cottage on the side of the sea. It had a little sign over the garden entrance that said “Dieu Donne”. I must have crashed in and gone to bed, with the blood between legs the only sign that I was no longer a virgin. My Dad must have thought, “Oh good, she is home”.

Living in beautiful BC after being brought up in Toronto was odd. All the teenagers were a few years behind in style and schooling. Because I was ahead in my schooling, and separated from my wild and beautiful sisters, I had a chance to be a wild girl myself. The teenagers in suburban Victoria did not appreciate the physical beauty of their surroundings, regularly cursing and throwing their garbage directly into the sea.

I remember feeling the dichotomy very strongly between my mostly angry foolish comrades, and the peaceful beauty of the town.  Big city girl that I was, I found the sea and the mountains majestic and fantastic, and realized that my school mates could not see it because they had become accustomed to it.

So I lay in bed with the cold wind swirling outside the window and thought about sex and self-actualization. And I thought about the many people who I know who were sexually abused when they were little, and how their experience is different from mine.  How much does it change a person to have that decision taken from them?  Being over powered, assaulted and attacked, or being tricked into giving away their inner power.

Although my experience was sordid and unremarkable, at least I was not raped.  I remembered another sleazy party where a man started shoving me towards the bedroom and onto a bed. I gave him a hard knee to the balls and got up and left the room. I don’t remember being scared, I didn’t leave the party; I was just saying ‘no’.

I have a very strong sense of self worth.  So does the little girl in The Virgin Cure.  I wonder how late I will stay up tonight reading, and then thinking, my Kindle slipping from my fingers as I fall into sleep.

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.

 

%d bloggers like this: