Right or wrong, being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has put me in a very different head space, and I am suddenly comfortable opening the shutters to my world. In that process, and almost by accident, I’ve found myself back on the dance floor, refreshing my beyond-rusty, country-western dance skills. Slipping into dance shoes again has also meant slipping into danceable garments, and finding something to cover my record-breaking, stay-at-home weight gain ain’t been easy. Picture the dancing hippos scene from Fantasia, and no, I’m not exaggerating. It’s that bad. But I’m putting myself out there anyway.
All of which has brought me to a realization. I think I finally have reached a point in my life where I honest-to-God don’t have anything to prove to anyone anymore. While a complete escape from the tyranny of the opinions and judgments of others is still a work in progress for me, more and more I’m able to throw off that weighted blanket with an insouciant shrug, and say “screw it.” This is me. Take me or leave me, it’s your call, because I will no longer mould myself into society’s vision of who I should be or what form my body should take. This realization might just be my true lifetime achievement!
Some of you were blessed with a lack of self-consciousness and tons of self-confidence, and I envy you to pieces. But for many of us it’s a process to let go. Putting oneself out there is scary. Instead of taking a chance on trying something new, we shove our unfulfilled passions to the back of a dresser drawer, lock it, and lose the key. But my point here is, we are all aging, and before we run out of time, it’s important to dig deep and ask what exactly is holding us back from whatever it is we’ve put off or are afraid to do: ditching tailored clothes for hippie/gypsy attire, taking an art class or singing lessons, learning to belly dance or sweep around the ballroom? If you really think about it, what’s the worst that can happen if you try?
You sign up for that art class or dance lesson and discover that everyone else is younger, slimmer, and more talented than you are. So what? No one is going to fire you, right? You won’t lose your income or your home if you aren’t the best in the class. Being a little embarrassed has never killed anyone, and if your peers think you’re crazy, who the hell cares? Hold your head up high, stare the naysayers down, and be that crazy old lady (or man) who gives ‘em all something to talk about. As long as you having fun and expressing your inner diva, all is as it should be.
So, you ask, besides stuffing my no-longer-svelte bod into dance clothes, what have I done to put my money where my mouth is? The process started several years ago when I shoved down all the niggling “you are not good enoughs” and started writing Dancing Between the Beats, a novel grounded in the world of ballroom dance. Eight years later, the year I turned 70, I typed “The End.” By year’s end I was holding those first, soft-cover copies in my hands. Without a doubt, a major high point in my life, but also a big step into the “who does she think she is” limelight of peer scrutiny. It was time for me to hold my head up and develop a thick skin. For someone who has always cared too much about what people think (thanks Mum), why would I put myself in the middle of a race-car track and take a chance of being run over?
Because I was overdue taking a risk and doing something just because I wanted to do it, on my own time, and my own terms, and hopefully have fun along the way. My economic security didn’t depend on my book being a screaming success, neither did my identity. I wasn’t writing to change literary landscape of America; I was enjoying the process. I’m beyond thrilled that so many people have purchased the book. Some readers have great fun with it and thoroughly enjoy it, a few others…not so much. And that’s okay. Every book isn’t for every reader, and I’m quite pleased with myself for actually getting the characters and their lives between two covers, and I get to call myself not just a writer but an author!
Most of you have lived a lifetime of paying your dues and often putting others and their needs first. I will pass on Life Lesson Number 201: life has ultimately taught me that I am no less important than the person standing beside me, and neither are you. So, give yourself permission to stretch into foreign territory, without being constrained by what others might think. Set aside the fear of being judged, of not being good enough, and believe that giving something your best shot, whatever the outcome, makes it more than good enough. What’s important is the unselfconscious, risk-taking act of doing. Find that key to the locked drawer filled with all your “one days” and “I’d love to try this, but…”, and just give something a go. And this time, with whatever you decide to take on, enjoy the process and turn a deaf ear to the judgments, even if they are just voices in your head.
** next up. Trying my hand at painting. This painting was done by my grandmother. She picked up her first oil-painting brush at SIXTY-ONE !