It starts with the eyes

I’ve tried so hard to not admit this. Tried to be hopeful about it, but I can’t avoid it any longer. I am not ok.

Since seeking out my beloved therapist for my volcanic emotional reactions (I lied about my shadow), I’ve had less and less angry eruptions. Progress? Nah. More like defeat – there’s just no point in getting angry, I won’t be heard anyhow. My January breakthrough of owning my right to be angry? Undone. Worrisome. Especially since anger and sadness are two sides to the same coin, and I’ve quite the history with sadness.

I’ve lost my drive to write – nothing seems pertinent, of interest, worth sharing. I remember writing these words, once upon a time:

That, ladies and gents, is why I write. To share what is painful. Sometimes – hopefully, most of the time – it is painfully funny, but sometimes it is the ugly painful. Exploring the pain is an exercise in excruciating vulnerability; vulnerabilility, to quote Brené Brown, is “the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

I no longer have painful stories – I am too tired to feel pain. I am too tired to be connected. I withdraw, exhausted. The to-do list piles up, the guilt of being an MIA friend, of not answering texts, breaking promises, not showing up because all I want to do is take a nap in my apartment that I am too tired to clean… I don’t go out except for the occasional quiet supper with close friends with whom I feel safe enough to be my boring tired self, and not put on a show or be witty and entertaining. This particular, familiar weight of being a perpetual disappointment is settling down on my shoulders. I am too tired to feel.

I cave in at work because I’ve lost the energy to fight for what needs to be done. Vanilla, agent of change? No. Leave me alone, I just want to try not drown. I am aware that the drowning is partially self-inflicted, because of my terrible concentration. I don’t even escape onto social media much anymore – scrolling on Facebook requires too much effort. I stopped caring.

I stopped dating, or flirting, because my hormones are MIA, and really? No point investing effort in what will only end up in disappointment.

I stopped wearing make up or doing my hair. I still do laundry, but my clean clothes are piling up in an unfolded heap on my bed. I sleep to one side, almost falling off my bed. Uncomfortable, but less energy consuming than folding my clothes.

I’ve stopped working out – often because of work, but also due to an inability to arrange my schedule or get my shit together in time to make it to the gym. For a brief moment I considered hating my body, but that requires too much effort. I just put on random clothes, and no longer take pleasure in my appearance. But really, why care about my appearance? I don’t want to get noticed, because I don’t want to deal with dating or flirting scenarios.

I still go dancing, because I am a good girl, and I refuse to let down my team. But my pleasure is mostly gone. Like a robot, I go through the moves, without intention. We had a performance Saturday. I bombed. Watching the video, I can see the effort being put into the appearance of having fun, which consumed all my bandwidth, leaving me with complete blanks about the choreography. Part of me vaguely feels bad for letting down the team, not bringing my A-game, but most of me is happy that no one noticed that I wasn’t mentally present.

 

After our show on Saturday, I stayed for the social and danced till 3am. I was relieved to feel echoes of my former peace while dancing with partners. It felt good to dress up and take pride in my appearance – I was relieved to discover that I cared enough to do so. First time in weeks, since getting back from France. The time before that? May.

Looking at pics from Saturday, I can see my deterioration. It’s all in the eyes. My smile no longer reaches them.

Our first show in May. Real smiles.

Saturday’s show.

And then there was my reaction to Chester Bennington’s death. Not “how sad” but “at least he is finally free”.

I write this, not because I think it is pertinent, of interest, worth sharing. I write it because the only way to fight my shadow’s attempt to silence my voice is to speak up. I write it because of the power of simple conversations to change mental health taboos. I write it to remind myself that it is ok to admit to struggling – voicing it strips my shadow of some of its power over me. Having admitted it, I have my tool box and I will use it

Some shadows can’t be beat

It’s rare that a celebrity death will get to me, on a personal level. Sure, death is always sad, but most celebrities are strangers whose artistic legacy may or may not have affected me. I regret that the planet has lost a person that used their influence for good, bc that is something worth regretting, but I remain unaffected.

There are a few celebrity deaths that hit a bit closer to home. Princess Diana, Robin Williams.

And now Chester Bennington from Linkin Park. This one hurts.

Like every other middle-class white kid growing up in the suburbs, I could sing along to all of Linkin Park’s albums. I could relate. #adolescentangst But unlike most of my teenage musical appreciation, I’ve continued to relate. If anything, I relate more now. Not in a nostalgic way, but in “great music remains timeless and relevant” kinda way. My adolescent angst has given way to my shadow, and it hasn’t been easy. I listen to the lyrics, from their earliest stuff till now, and my teenage recognition of a shared emotion has deepened into a sadness, an understanding of what 17 years of an endless struggle feels like.

That sadness is now tinged with despair. Whenever someone loses their battle against depression, especially after putting up a valiant fight, I panic. The older I get, the more I get it. I get the exhaustion that leads someone to say, “I can’t anymore. I have no fight left in me.” I feel deep sorrow that the world has lost Chester Bennington’s voice forevermore. I am grateful we have record of 17 years of his inspired music. But most of all, I feel an odd satisfaction that finally, the guy is at peace, free from his shadow. 41 years is a lot of years to put up a fight. Well done, buddy. You were a trooper. Thank you for making the rest of us feel less alone, for the space of a few minutes, a few songs. You brought us relief, however temporary. Now, rest. 

This cover. He rolled in the deep, alright.

For those who aren’t as familiar with Linkin Park’s work, I STRONGLY recommend the following albums:

Chester could sing.

Until he couldn’t anymore.

#depressionsucks

Kizomba is a dance of the world. Until it’s not.

As the child of immigrants, I’ve often laughed at the culture clashes and distinctive behavioural patterns – My Big Fat Greek Wedding is almost an autobiography, apart from the small detail of the wrong country (Russia), and how I am still unmarried. I live in a world where race, culture, nationality are visible, identifiable, noticeable. I am not color-blind when it comes to skin: I celebrate the entire rainbow. However, North American society is not tolerant towards minorities, prejudice and bias run deep,​ systemic discrimination and white privilege are real, not debatable. Previous musings include:

The more I’ve tried to educate myself to avoid unconscious biases about minorities, the more I’ve learned about the commonly held perceptions about whites, and I’m uncomfortably aware of the weight of my white privilege and just how impossible it is for others to be color-blind when they see my skin color. #lossofinnocence #poorlittlewhitegirl


My eclectic tastes draw me equally to ballet as to African dances like kuduro/semba/kizomba. Unfortunately, not only do I have negative sensuality, but it is a well known fact: white people can’t dance. I mean, if Dave Chapelle says so, it must be true? Still, I can’t help it. The music makes me feel alive.

After one too many comments about how I can’t shake my hips like the other girls in the class, GT pulled me aside at a party and told me I should stop making such disparaging skin-based comments: it made the others uncomfortable. It was a silly stereotype, it wasn’t true, I was part of the team, not all black people can dance, just drop it Vanilla, ok? It’s in bad taste. Because I was too wrapped up in my insecurities, I didn’t listen to him. A few weeks later, following a constructive criticism during practice from Teacher, my response of “yes, well I CAN’T pop my hips any more, I’m white, I’m missing a few joints to have that kind of mobility” produced a tirade from Teacher.

I’m sick of this “white” business. There is no white, there is no black, there is just dance. You are not a white dancer. You are A dancer. Your job is to move to the music. Music doesn’t care what color your skin is. We all hear the same music, we all dance to the same music. Yes, kizomba is from Angola, but every country dances kizomba. One of the biggest kizomba festivals in the world is in Moscow. And in Sweden. And in the Netherlands. Are you going to tell me all those people can’t dance? Kizomba is a dance of the world. Stop with this stupid bullshit and get to work. I told you to pop your hips. Pop them.

Ok then.


Back when Beaut introduced me to Kizomba: “The music is so good! Except for the French Kizomba music, that stuff is crap. And there is so much of it! The French love to believe they invented Kizomba. They think it’s theirs now, they have quite the history of claiming whatever they like from other cultures.”

Walking home from dance class last week, I ran into a guy I used to kickbox with many years ago. Beautiful black guy from Europe, he always was a looker. We chatted a few minutes, catching up on each other’s life. When he found out I’d quit boxing for dancing, he was intrigued. “What kind of dancing?” Kuduro/Semba/Kizomba, with the odd moment of Salsa. “Lol, taking us over, are you? Hey, relax, I was joking. It’s cool, you have good taste at least.”

Kizomba is a dance of the world… a world in which whites have a long, violent history of cultural appropriation.


I love my school. I love how much enjoyment we derive from watching each other grow as dancers. We are all on the same journey together, regardless of our individual levels of competency. When I am with my team, I do start to believe that dancing is dancing, and kizomba/semba/kuduro is a dance of the world.

At the end of yesterday’s kuduro class we had a boys vs girls showdown. The cheering in these videos makes me so happy. (Same choreography as in this post.)

​​

Just like my boxing gym was a perfect example of what could be if tolerance, respect and acceptance were the norm instead of the exception, my dance school gives me hope that occasionally, as a species, we can set aside our differences long enough to listen to the music and enjoy a quick dance. Fun fact: my boxing gym and my dance school are in the same building. So maybe, this has nothing to do with Coach and Teacher’s leadership skills and values, and everything to do with the specific GPS coordinates of the location. The chemical mix of the cement used in the building – undetectable fumes produce abnormally peaceful & loving human behaviour?! Must be it.

Mercedes vs Ferrari vs pizza

In our office building there is a cantine run by an Italian caterer who is skilled at making everything sound delicious, which indeed it is. Tests my willpower, he does. A few months ago, he hired a young dude (19-20 years old?), a good-looking charmer. This kid clearly enjoys his job, as evidenced by the enthusiasm with which he describes the menu of the day, and makes tailored suggestions to all the clientèle.

On Friday, Charmer pitched his home-made custom pizza as my top choice for lunch. It sounded decadent, as everything with bacon must. I sighed, recognizing defeat. “Yes, fine, I’ll take it. I’m gonna regret this!” Charmer paused as he put my pizza in the oven, completely stumped as to why I’d regret eating something so yummy? I explained: like every woman ever, I am trying to diet, to shed 10.

Diet?! But why? You look great! You could always look better? Well, yes, that’s true, in theory…. but I mean… if you drive every day a Mercedes, are you really gonna be saying “Dammit, if only I was driving a Ferrari”? No, right? A Mercedes is freaking nice car. Enjoy it. Be proud of it. Pretty much everyone would love to drive a Mercedes.

Someone get this boy -almost young enough to be my son – a job in sales, STAT. I’ve been averaging 1 gym workout per month, working too much, haven’t been on a date in months, wouldn’t remember how to flirt if I was presented with all of the opportunities on the planet, spend my weekends sleeping in to offset my sleep deprivation, find the motivation to wear mascara 2 days out of 7, and feel like an unattractive blob… is it obvious I am PMSing?

I ate the entire damn pizza, and had a goofy smile all day.

Behold the newest Vanilla-class Mercedes. #noselfieskills

“You’ve got nothing to lose”

“You’ve got nothing to lose.” My father’s excellent pun, in reaction to my announcement that I was going to Toulouse this past June.

Every time work sends me to Paris, I tack on 1-2 weekends in Europe, to explore new cities on my bucket list. So of course, when I found out back in April that work would be sending me to Paris in June, I scouted cities to turn this into a proper bday workation. Top destination: Toulouse.

Now comes the tricky part. Why Toulouse? Well, it is a popular tourist destination and it is in Southern France, a geographical region I’ve oft heard of but never visited. But also? FroMan lives in Toulouse, so why not take this opportunity to check off a new city off my list and visit my new friend from Dubai?

For months, my brain had a field day.

Creeper! Stalker! He’s gonna find you weeeeird. He’ll probably avoid seeing you. Dubai was MONTHS ago. Yes yes, he improved your dancing, you felt safe enough for a major breakthrough in vulnerability. You are entitled to be grateful for that – though he likely was acting out of kindness to a lonely, stranded, socially awkward girl – but wtv. Why are you pushing this? Some stories are only meant to last 4 days. You’re just setting yourself up for humiliating disappointment. Remember that time a guy drove up from NYC just to see you? How freaked out you were, and how much of a trainwreck that whole episode was? HE LIVED ON THE SAME CONTINENT AS YOU. Extrapolate that across the Atlantic Ocean, if you want an idea of how pathetic FroMan will find you. Don’t do this.

Fuck you, brain.

I asked myself what I would do, if it were not for my fear of judgment. The answer was easy: go to Toulouse. I wanted to see that city, and I wanted the opportunity to see the person who unwittingly played a huge role in my newfound capacity for happiness on and off the dance floor.

2 weeks before getting on the plane, I messaged FroMan to advise him of my plans to visit his city and hoped he’d be free for a coffee/drinks/supper during the 3.5 days I’d be there. He was happy to hear from me, and suggested I consider attending a dance festival in Nîmes the following weekend. Just like that, my 2nd annual bday workation in France was all set. Easy-peasy.

Was it awkward? Yeah, definitely. He said a few comments that implied that my paranoid brain wasn’t so off. I had trouble talking to him; not from an absence of things to say, but from a paralyzing fear of being judged. To infrequent blog readers and real-life acquaintances I frequently come across as a high-strung overly-emotional drama queen with an excess of sensibility that talks about her feelings too much. Which isn’t wrong, precisely. But that easily gets interpreted as vulgar and self-indulgent.

But.

I had a great time. I spent my days exploring Toulouse alone, as that was always my stated purpose of this trip: its my favorite way to discover a new city. In the evenings FroMan took me dancing (#kizombalife) and invited me to supper with his friends, with whom I had so much fun they invited me to join them for supper the next day without FroMan. By the end of my 4 days, I was sure of one thing: he is a real friend. That certainty I felt in Dubai that he is a solid person & I ought to include him in my life, for good things are sure to follow? Still true. This trip merely allowed us to play catchup: Dubai gave us the connection, but the foundations of a real friendship were laid during this trip. By the time I saw him the following weekend in Nîmes, easy familiar banter had replaced the awkward silences of Toulouse.

You’ve got nothing to lose. Had I listened to my brain, and worried too much about perception, I would have never gone on this trip. And I would never have successfully turned a brief connection & handful of happy memories into a real friendship. Good people are hard to come by. It’s worth taking a risk or two, living through some momentary discomfort, to keep them in one’s life.

Especially when they live in as beautiful places as Toulouse. #chooseyourfriendswisely

 

P.S. 2 other instructors I’d met & adored in Dubai realized their visit to Paris would overlap mine for 1.5 days. They reached out to me, hoping we could meet up. Did I think it was weird, or suspect that their kindness towards me in Dubai had been only born of pity? No. I was delighted to hear from them, and it was with mutual regret that our schedules didn’t match up. Lesson learned: embrace and foster the healthy true connections I’m lucky enough to stumble upon. Those are the best gifts from the Universe.

 

 

That time I got Trump’d

Dubai.

When Teacher realized he would be unable to attend the festival, he told the organizer that one of his students was coming alone, and asked her to look after me. Which she did; not her fault I have a gift of finding myself in awkward situations. I told Teacher: he was happy that I was making friends and having a good time but, “Be careful, Vanilla. These guys can be trouble.” Which guys – there are two dozen instructors & DJs here? Trouble? What kind of trouble? Am I at risk of being drugged and date-raped? Finding myself arrested at the border for unwittingly smuggling cocaine? Having my identity stolen? Please elaborate. “Just trouble. Stay alert. Be careful around them.”


Last day of the festival.

At the end of the night, the festival photographer wanted a group pic. I clambered on stage so that I could be seen above the crowd. A few ppl climbed up with me, including a dancer called GLTW (*). As the photographer snapped away, GLTW came and stood behind me, pressed himself up against me and grabbed my ass – two solid handfulls, with a big squeeze for good measure. Not an accident. I tried elbowing him, discreetly, not wishing to cause a scene or disrupt the happy group picture. As soon as I could, I shoved him off of me, and gave him an withering look. GLTW laughed and smirked, before sauntering off.

Now. Butts are kinda public property – they get brushed accidentally, or not so accidentally, in public transportation, crowds, clubs… it happens. GLTW’s behaviour was inappropriate, definitely, but I did not feel violated. Merely irritated by his presumptious behaviour, especially since I’d had almost no contact with the dude: I had not danced with or talked to GLTW all festival.

After-party later that (very early) morning.

Energizer and I flirted away, outrageously. I was leaning against a table, and Energizer stood between my legs and the banter was lewd and hilarious. Soon after Energizer left, GLTW walked up to me, right between my legs, in the spot Energizer had just vacated. “Hi” and grabbed my crotch. Palm up, I could feel his fingers on my vagina, separated only by the material of my panties and the jumpsuit I was wearing.

In silence, I knocked his hand away. “No, but really?!” Once again, he smirked, “what?!” and walked away.

Just like that my enjoyment of the night evaporated. I sought out FroMan, and stayed close to him for the rest of the party, trying to absorb his safe, calming energy. I pretended to watch the beautiful sunrise over Dubai, smiling to cover my mild nausea. I took a shower when I got back to the hotel.

The next day, I quietly told Energizer, Sunshiney and FroMan what had happened, so they could warn any of their female students attending any future festivals where GLTW was present. Energizer was disgusted, FroMan looked grave and silent, and Sunshiney was outraged, “Why didn’t you punch him? If I had been you I would have yelled his ears off, that cocky bastard!” Yes, but you see, I am Vanilla, a nameless beginner dancer. Had I caused a scene, he would have denied it, and with his reputation as a rising star in the dance world, this would be a tiny blip in his career, forgotten immediately, whereas I would be branded a drama queen, forever held at arm’s length in any future dance festival. Should I, could I, have punched him? Maybe, but what purpose would that have served? I just would put myself at risk of being punched back since he clearly does not abide by the gentleman’s code of conduct. No. The only alternative for a nameless female nobody, alone in a foreign country, is to be quiet. Suck it up, because the costs of speaking up are not born equally between the alleged aggressor and victim: the costs would be mine alone.

It took me days to forget the feel of his strange fingers against that most private part of my body: the part I’ve shared only with a select few people that I’ve trusted to handle that intimacy with care. It took me weeks to stop feeling guilty, wondering if I somehow demonstrated cowardice by not publicly shaming him. For the endless dialogue to stop: what was it about me that made him feel that was ok – I wasn’t drunk, I hadn’t displayed lewd behaviour on or off the dance floor. Oh wait, that’s silly, that’s the same argument as “she deserved to get raped, she was wearing a mini-skirt”. This isn’t about me, its about him. But really tho, I do wonder why me?! Am I being dramatic? Maybe this wasn’t a big deal, maybe I shouldn’t care so much. Maybe it’s me. It took me months to accept the proper term: sexual assault.


While the world reacted to Trump’s twitter fight against Mika Brzezinski, actual real news was happening. The Supreme Court upheld part of the Muslim Ban. I get it. I get that we need to prioritize and fight the most pressing issues.

But.

I live in a world where pussy-grabbers like GLTW feel vindicated: afterall, the most powerful man in the world boasts of the same behaviour – and the WORLD REWARDS HIM. It is no wonder that, instinctively, I know there is no point in speaking up when I get assaulted. The evidence of that pointlessness has been in office for 5 months.

I feel defeated. I write this to remind myself I have a voice. Just that: a voice. When the world implies I should be silent, having a voice is a tiny act of courage.

I wrote this post about sexual assault back in October 2016. All that rage. Its burned out now, replaced by hopelessness. That is his legacy.

(*) GLTW = Good-looking Trump Wannabe

Disclaimer:

That Dubai festival remains one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, and I will always encourage anyone to visit the city and attend that festival. Furthermore, to his credit (?) GLTW’s actions occurred after the end of the festival, and must not in any way be associated with what was a wonderful event filled with lovely, kind, generous ppl, talented instructors & DJs, and many many new friends. One bad apple does not make the whole thing rotten. Isn’t that so, America?

Balancing privacy with self-expression

I’ve posting a bit less frequently lately. Not because I don’t have stories, I do. Incredible, stranger-than-fiction stories, from every facet of my life: work, dating, dance. One day, imma write my autobiography, and it will be published as fiction. No, I haven’t been posting because I’ve been struggling with finding the right balance between my stories’ characters right to privacy with my right to self-expression.

My blog is not anonymous. Vanilla is my pen-name, but that’s the only purpose it serves. I post my blog on my Fbk wall, friends, coworkers and family read it. Once I publish a story, I accept that it is part of the interweb, and is no longer my own. People will read it, react to it, use it. Therefore it is my responsibility to take reasonable care that none my content cause excessive harm to my characters. In general, I follow these principles:

  • Anything told to me in confidence? Off-limits – I will never sacrifice my justly-deserved reputation of being the loudest, most discreet, trustworthy friend and coworker in my network for the sake of my blog. Anything said in a public setting, in the presence of others? Fair game. If a story can spread verbally, through other sources than me, I am not violating the subject’s privacy by telling that story on my blog.
  • Any story that is about me? Go for it. However, I notice if there are topics that I am uncomfortable writing about, and use that as a benchmark when deciding to write about others – chances are if I wouldn’t want a story told about me, they won’t either.
  • Any story that features somebody else? Go for it as long as I am comfortable with them reading it: they don’t have to agree with my portrayal of them, but they must recognize it as factually true. I am never mean.
  • Any story that features somebody else negatively? Tread carefully. I must be comfortable with them confronting me about it. I never write when mad, and always try write from a place of kindness and empathy. I limit negative portrayals to the bare minimal context and facts necessary for my readers to understand my subsequent emotions. Afterall this blog’s purpose is to voice my life, for my own mental well-being, and because my readers enjoy relating (or not) to my (mal)adaptive thought-patterns. Will this harm their reputation? Most of the time, this question only is relevant for stories featuring “public figures” like some of the boxers I’ve known, Coach or Teacher. Most of the time, the answer is no, bc I avoid ppl who are jackasses. But in the rare times the answer is yes, that is a red flag: do I care if I hurt their reputation – is that an acceptable cost to my right to self expression? And, if yes, am I sure I cannot get sued for it? To date, I’ve only needed to carefully consider that last question once.
  • Any story that features coworkers? Off-limits. There is precedence of employers firing bloggers for blogging about work or coworkers. Yes, I have mentioned work, and have 1-2 posts that carefully mentioned coworkers, but in flattering terms, with no company-specific details, and my boss was aware of the content. However, all of my work stories are about me, really. I don’t blog about my coworkers because it violates the principle that anything I wouldn’t voice at the office because it would be deemed office gossip should not be mentioned on my blog. And as I refuse to engage in any office gossip because I think that is corrosive to a healthy work environment, and I have a responsibility as a manager to promote vibrant team work, that basically means that none of my work stories are ever shared, verbally or on my blog. Pity, because there is an endless wealth of material there. But some things take precedence over my need to have a voice. Work, and my obligations there, is one of those things.

For the first time in my blogging life, I got it wrong. This week I posted what I thought was a really interesting story, about the mind-boggling experience resulting from helping a friend – it necessarily involved some of my friend’s backstory, to explain why I was involved in such a crazy adventure. However the point of the story was my adventure, and the roller-coaster of emotions that resulted from my saga. As it had a happy ending, did not involve sharing any information that couldn’t already be gathered by any one who had stalked the shit out of my friend’s social media profile, I felt I was abiding by my above principles, balancing my friend’s right to privacy and my right to self-expression.

Apparently not.

My friend was flabbergasted to see his life described publicly. I pointed out the lack of new information – that all the “new” stuff was not about him, but the incidents that I had undergone in my chapter of this adventure. It didn’t matter. For all my logical counter-arguments to his dislike of my post, he kept repeating: “Its my life. You cannot talk about my life.” Of course, I’ve taken the post down, because no matter how much I disagree with his assessment of my post, ultimately, I do not want my blog to strain any of my friendships. But it grates. I flip-flop between thinking “He needs to suck it up, I’m within my rights” and “Just because I am within my rights, does NOT mean I AM right.”

I hate being wrong.