What Starting Zumba Classes Taught Me So Far…

Oh yeah, I can step in place and in sync, this feels good, I’m all ready to DO THIS, this should be fun…Oh, wait, she moved sideways, OK, oh, now it’s the other side, was I too slow? What is she doing with her feet? How come mine aren’t doing the same? Am I spinning the wrong way again? WHAT’S GOING ON?

When I try to do that leaning forward, chest shaking thing, nothing shakes, I just take turns rapidly moving my shoulders back and forth. It happens by itself. On the other hand, any booty-shaking seems to happen very easily and with a lot of joy. It also strongly feels like there’s, ah, much more to shake than with my upper body, and I can’t decide whether this is funny or disconcerting. Maybe it just is.

The moment the trainer says the choreography is simple, my brain goes into overdrive with its “Complicated” setting, but they do say that resistance is what makes you work harder. She adds some theatrics that go in line with the lyrics of the song, which kind of brings out my headphone party dance/ acting skills (you obviously don’t just sing along to stuff, you illustrate it with your moves), and hey, this is that song from that IISuperwomanII video, and is it actually about taxis…?

When you’re concentrating on doing some semblance of proper steps and not cuffing the girl next to you with your waving arms, you can’t really whoop. Sorry. But please be assured that I am actually able to let it all out.

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Women Apologizing: My Personal Experience

Note: This was an essay I originally wrote for a call for submissions on this particular topic, but after I had produced it, I discovered I didn’t qualify for the terms and conditions since I reside in Europe. Buuuut, why waste writing I’d invested in? So here it is. Obviously it’s only one viewpoint of a vast ocean of a subject, but this is what came to my mind upon facing the question about my sorries.

I am known as the serial apologizer in my family. At least I think I was until as recently as a year ago, when I felt like I started getting a handle on it. It had been almost like my own conversation signature that had to pop up at least once a day on any subject. My family helped me a lot in that area by the simple action of being affectionate and joking when my apologies were made in relation to harmless things, like putting something in what I thought was the wrong place or forgetting to confirm a date for a gathering way, way in advance. They would even anticipate when I was about to say sorry and calmly ask me not to.

I think the way I did it before first grew from the combination of taking my words and actions towards others seriously (sometimes too seriously), wanting to show consideration and viewing an apology as a validation of the fact that I was paying attention, present, capable of being honest. I’ve also definitely been the person who apologized automatically when she was bumped into on the street. I’ve apologized to diffuse what I thought was about to be an unexpected explosive reaction to something I did, since it was easy for me. I’ve apologized to stave off or break up fights about small things. Finally, I hope I also apologized when I thought I really did have to, for what I considered to be tactless words on my part or hurting someone’s feelings.

With time I tied apologizing to being able to assume responsibility for words and actions, something I tend to measure people by. Saying sorry for bigger things, for that which actually brings someone undeserved pain and suffering, should definitely be analyzed from within yourself, practiced and cultivated. Understanding that type of sorry doesn’t always happen overnight, and it carries weight that you need to be able to feel and then let go, remembering the impact of it.

For some saying sorry is just a turn of phrase. I found myself imitating that for a while, then I wanted to stop because it didn’t coincide with my personality and the distinctions I made about apologies. I began paying attention to my wording and in those cases where I would have previously said sorry, I substituted it with a polite statement of facts. “I can’t make that day because of so and so, but how about next week?” It was also a question of not succumbing to what felt like tiny lies. I wasn’t sorry about following a plan that had been arranged first, right? And neither was the other person I was talking to. So why even say so?

I guess I just stop myself more, take that extra second, as much as possible in the moment, on any level to evaluate whether I do actually need to make an apology. I think a lot of it is also connected to what I don’t feel apologetic about anymore, because I accept it for myself and I know that it’s not wrong.

Swimming Snippets: Pool Ponderings

Soooo… I was swimming today and arrived at the thought that there seem to be two types of lap swimmers.

Type number one acts like they own the pool. People wade in and throw themselves into swimming laps without a glance in any direction, because the idea of other swimmers in the vicinity is just ludicrous, I guess. Preferred swimming styles include backstroke or the front crawl, and of course goggles and swimming caps add to the feeling that it’s just you in the pool. Get out of the way, all you other peasants with your heads above water!

Type number two carefully steps in, moves to the side so as not to be in the way of anyone reaching the end of their lap, then spends a few seconds looking around, picking a lane. They then elegantly lower their body into the water and strike out, taking care to keep enough distance between themselves and the feet and hands of other swimmers. If, God forbid, they do end up brushing limbs with someone passing by, they actually take the time to turn their head and at least mouth “Sorry”.

Type number one are also frequently noisy swimmers. You might not see them once you’re in the water and focusing on your own stroke, but you’ll hear them. I understand there’s a lot of action involved in what they do, there’s water around and that certain physical manifestations in the form of sounds escaping them is unavoidable. But blowing your nose, sniffing and clearing your throat with unrestrained relish that carries perfectly thanks to pool acoustics, and all this while swimming, seems a bit much.

Meanwhile, type twos are basically this:

I have picked my side…

 

As We Say Farewell to 2018…

I find myself thinking even more of not only the things I did, but what I felt at various times of the year following events and experiences.

I shed way more happy tears than sad ones and that was reassuring, so the acceptance that I weep when something good happens in life definitely stays with me, as does not holding those tears back. In most of these situations it’s OK to cry, after all. Don’t apologize for happy tears. And there’s still the convenience of crying in the cinema (I’m easily moved, even if it’s a film I’ve seen before – go, art!) if I’ve had a shortage of waterworks.

Among the things that made me weep was kindness towards me, genuine, pure, from the heart, unconditional kindness, especially in hard moments I kept to myself, when people were still not obliged to be kind and were so without knowing.

That’s enough tears!

There were many solutions to what I thought were tangled problems, and the solutions were there all along, mostly contained in, as always, facing facts, and then, sometimes, writing them down. Notebooks are the best.

Other philosophical moments include many confirmations in various situations of this too shall pass, realizations we weren’t lacking something when we thought we were, what drained my inner peace and what replenished it – it’s vital to keep learning how to feed your energy, mental and physical.

I am and always will be a family person.

I want to grab the moments that feel like they define me (again and again) and register that which resonates with me because it’s closest to who I am.

I want to be brave.

I want many things that I feel I’ve had a test run of in 2018, things I hadn’t even expected, and can now proceed with “for real” in 2019.

For a long time now I’ve been making decisions and setting goals instead of resolutions. New Year’s Eve isn’t the only time of year I do this, by the way, I also like to do this for my birthdays. But there’s still something uniquely monumental about the approaching new year, because it affects everyone, I guess. Goals and decisions feel like a better internal setting for me than resolutions, maybe because they can be adapted or changed depending on how the year unfolds, and I do like to leave room for life to work its own magic, despite my extensive list-making.

So, as we say farewell to 2018, I will add thanks for all that has been given to me, hope that I have given back, quietly and sincerely acknowledge all those who have added to the size of my heart, and leave that which has played its part in moving forward, but which I don’t need to take with me into 2019.

For auld lang syne…

 

Once a YA Reader…

I happened on a Goodreads post about ways to know you’re a YA reader, and felt inspired to make my own notes, because, yeeees, I belong to that tribe (among other genres that I pursue). My thoughts tended to drift in the direction of asking why one might remain a YA reader even after (possibly) exiting the general target audience.Young, frequently teenage characters arrive at decisions and gain insights we’re still glad about at our age (whichever that may be), with the advantage of settling crucial life lessons way before their 30s and often in a short period of time jam-packed with social activities or even supernatural events.If it’s fantasy, characters might be of age earlier than us, or age might not be a determining factor at all, otherwise circumstances are introduced which render the character able to do all sorts of things that wouldn’t have been possible if every single law and reality check went through. But that’s why it’s fiction!

Unlike for your own adolescence or early 20s, there’s actually a script for this one.

YA characters are always on the cusp of something breathtaking, dramatic or even life-changing in any setting – bring it on.

 

 

 

Of Grandmothers

It was a sunny summer day after a wedding in the family and a few of us were invited to have lunch at the house of the groom’s grandparents in the countryside. A short drive later we stopped in front of a pretty building and as I got out I saw a smiling old lady with an unmistakably regal posture, despite the cane she was leaning on, waiting in the courtyard. Something jingled at the back of my mind, either a memory or a sense of vague recognition, I couldn’t be sure.

She first embraced the newly married couple, and proudly kissed her grandson, then turned to each of us as we patiently approached her one by one. When my turn came, I looked down from my height into a lined, kind face which was still beautiful. She laughed and asked me to bend down a little, then placed her hands on my cheeks, studying me up close.

As soon as she did that, my heart trembled with the memory of my own beloved grandmother’s hands, and in the space of seconds the residual sadness I had carried with me after she had passed away some two years before disappeared. It was the first time that beyond talking to my mother, my grandmother’s daughter, anyone else had tapped in some way into what I had felt about her. I knew exactly who this woman was, and I remembered my grandmother clearly, but I was somehow reassured of my connection to someone I had loved dearly through the lady in front of me.

We saw each other again several years later for another family event, and I sent a thank you card afterwards for the hospitality I had experienced. In a few weeks I retrieved an envelope from my mailbox with handwriting that was both new and seemed familiar. I opened it, read the first few lines of the message inside and began to cry. It was a thank you card responding to my thank you card, and both the handwriting and the content reminded me of the cards my grandmother used to send me when her eyesight was failing, writing in green and red ink so she could see better, doodling pictures of the potted flowers on her balcony.

I’ve never talked to this other grandmother about my feelings. They are enough for me by themselves, and I am grateful for this gift of sorts that she has given me simply through meeting her. She has her own grandchildren, and for some time now she has been a great-grandmother as well.

My own parents became grandparents, and as a first-time aunt I’ve experienced a particular kind of joy from watching them, because in essence I was getting a peek at what they were like with my siblings and I at that very age before we were able to remember, but already knew we were cared about deeply. It is a bit like going back in time but moving forward in the same moment. And I find it incredibly humbling and inspiring.

In the first months after my grandmother had passed away the loss part of what happened naturally gripped me harder, perhaps because the feeling that she was still close hadn’t left me either, nor has it today. My mind knew what had happened, but all the things that had previously reminded me of her on a daily basis still did, just the same, and they were real. And then I saw other people, both in my family and outside of it, being what she had been to me. They were doing it on their own terms, of their own free will, not asking anything in return.

Of course it’s important and comforting that there are enough people I can ask, on any given day, “Do you remember how Granny…” But I am thankful for those sometimes unexpected moments of connection, reassurance, maybe peace, and I think that my grandmother would have understood.

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Telling Me My Name is Complicated

As always I can’t avoid various pop culture references popping (ha) up in my head during a topic of discussion close to my personal experience, unless it’s a Disney quote, but in this case it’s definitely the chorus of Say My Name by Destiny’s Child.

I worked with someone once who, striving to be polite and avoid mispronouncing my name, reverted simply to addressing me with “You” most of the time. Which is fine, and which I classify as sweet, but since he had a sense of humour, after a while I started singing “Say my name/ Say my name” at him whenever he spoke to me. When he actually did use my name, it turned out he was able to pronounce it correctly all along.

I wrote recently about things people ask me once I say I’m from Russia, and as often happens in these cases, I also have a Russian name. Actually, if you dig deeper and have time, I might tell you about the Greek origins of my name, its versions in other European languages, its connection to a few other female and male names, but that’s not the focus of this blog post and I’m already talking enough about myself aren’t I?

The Russian name means that there are combinations of letters in it which might be unfamiliar to some people and which further lead to pronounciation that they haven’t come across before. This leads to several scenarios after my introduction, from saying it wrongly repeatedly and trying to convince me this is how it works, to hopefully asking me if it’s actually another name. Um, no.But the response that I ultimately had a problem with and spent some time analyzing was, preceded by a squinty eye or a bewildered look, “What? Hmm, too complicated”, “Too difficult”, “What? No, I can’t say that.”

Now, I understand that in most cases people were simply being frank and in their anxiety to do well all sorts of chatter slipped out. That has happened to me before as well. But if there’s one thing I’m sure of, I’ve never told anyone whose name was new to me that it was “complicated”. I’d simply repeat my hello and then possibly ask during a quiet one-on-one moment how to pronounce the name. And the experience described above has only made me more sensitive, at least I hope so.

My name is not complicated. You just haven’t heard it before. You might not know or remember the existing European versions of my name. Breathe deeply once through your nose and give yourself some time. It’s OK to ask me to repeat it or to let me know you want to get the pronounciation right. In fact, I consider the latter courteous. It’s a polite sort of honesty that is immediately disarming. It also puts anyone at ease, because you are paying attention to your conversation partner. Just don’t force your firm opinions on me.

It might be useful, in general, to stop assuming you’re the first person telling me this. Do you really want to be part of the group who make the same comment over and over? Don’t get me wrong, interest is fine, but it only takes a few seconds to distinguish yourself by making an effort.

Why am I writing about this? Well…Within a few months after I first arrived in my new city I caught myself adding “Yes, it’s a bit complicated” after my introduction as soon as I saw a person pause or ask “Pardon?”, thus cutting off what might have actually been a different interaction, and saying something that I didn’t think was true, essentially lying about myself. I got a nickname which was pronounceable for those around me at the time, but which I ultimately disliked, because it didn’t feel like me. Luckily I shed all of this and met people who simply dealt with new names respectfully and maturely.

I like to stick to simple facts. My name is not complicated. You just might not have heard it before. It doesn’t sound like something that fits in to a paradigm you might have in your mind. But don’t worry, I’ll gladly repeat it to you.

And then we can discuss YOUR name.