personal growth

A valuable lesson

Back in Feb, I was having coffee with Dynamo, and I brought him up to speed concerning my trainwreck dating life.

I’d recently experienced a few moments with Beaut that had led me to believe that perhaps, maybe, with caution, we could sustain a friendship. Dynamo listened to me in silence, and then gravely spoke:

So this is what you are gonna do. You are going to unfriend him from social media, block him, and never talk to him again. He lied to you. He has lied to others. He has repeatedly shown that he will hurt you as a side-effect to him getting something he wants. He can have all the good quantities you describe, all that is true. You have forgiven him, bc you should not hold hatred in your heart. But he is not a good friend. And so he deserves nothing from you. No time, no energy, no space in your life. That isn’t being a drama queen, that is choosing to control the levels of drama and happiness in your life. To chose happiness you MUST not choose drama.

I mourned the end of a chapter in my life that, while tumultuous, had triggered so much personal growth and discovery for me. I was a better person because of Beaut – how sad that I couldn’t benefit from all the advantages he’d generated with him as a part of my life. But Dynamo is wise, and has built a life for himself that I respect and admire. If he tells me something, it’s worth considering.

I followed Dynamo’s orders and blocked Beaut. My stress levels improved almost immediately, and have continued to steadily improve ever since. I’m free.

Dynamo wasn’t done. He had lots to say about my recent string of dates, including Hickster, Eurodude, Older Guy.

I think it is time you question what you want in your life. If you want happiness, why are you accepting guys that won’t bring you happiness in your life? Happiness is a choice, and is contingent on the alignment of the values you hold dear and your own behaviour. The Vanilla I met in 2009 would not have accepted these guys in her life, bc they do not align with her values.

Have your values changed? Because your quest for happiness has not, so make sure your behaviour is reflective of that. I don’t think it is.

Ouch. From my best friend. Hearing that suuuuuuuuuucked. He was right. I’d been settling for dead-end, fun, convenient dating scenarios, with no long-term potential, and usually a whole lot of drama, that inevitably distracted me from my goals of well-being and joy.

A few weeks later, cue my almost burnout and a need for an immediate vacation, and off I went to Paris/Dubai.

I have often stated that the Universe is a bit of a dick, with a fucked-up sense of humour. Well, not this time: the timing of this life lesson was just perfect. If I step back and look at the theme of this trip, it is that of Love and Friendship: both new (FroMan, Energizer and Sunshiney), old (BlondEyes) and dear (BossMan and IronSweetie). There was no drama. There was no insecurity. There was overwhelming happiness and connection and joy. Why? Because of the ppl in my life, willing and capable of sharing themselves beautifully with me, and I with them.

This trip spoiled me. I don’t wanna settle for any less happiness with my friends and dating life than what I experienced in Dubai. Frankly, I don’t think I can settle again: anything less will be too little, when compared to the joy I felt during those 8 days.

Dynamo, as always, was right.


Recap of this trip – Dubai:

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Back to reality

Here I am. Back at work, mentally and physically.

I spent all of last week, jet-lagged and sleep deprived, trying to get back into the beat of my life. It didn’t help that I attended another dance festival, this time in Montreal, hosted by Teacher. My feet are killing me. I estimate I did 50 hours of dancing in 10 days.

At Teacher’s Gindungo festival, one of the instructors from Paris (she is the woman with black hair, in jeans and a white t-shirt next to me in the video below) mistook me for an instructor from Vermont – huge compliment bc I deem the Vermont instructor to be one of the best dancers I’ve ever seen. Once Paris instructor realized her mistake, she pointed out that if such a misunderstanding was possible, perhaps I should stop being so shy when I dance and own my place during dance offs? I explained to her that no, I’m still a beginner, and the last thing I’d want to do is to embarrass Teacher at his festival in front of all of his international guests. She rolled her eyes, “You only have one life. Dance if you feel like dancing.

Behold a video of a Kuduro workshop at that same festival – I’m starting to exhibit my inner Pussycat Doll, because I’ve accepted my right to self-expression.

 

These were the most incredible 3 weeks.  This trip has shown how much I’ve grown, over the past few years. My struggles with mental health and unhappiness appear to be under control.

I’ve only one life, and I’ll dance, bc I do feel like dancing.


Recap of this trip – Paris:

Recap of this trip – Dubai:

First time on a beach

I spent the day on a beach. Kite beach, one of the world’s longest stretches of white-sand beaches.

No, I did not have to cover up or be veiled. I did not see a single burkini, much to my inner-fashionista’s relief. Veiled women lazed around, as did non veiled women – funny how opting to be veiled, or not, does not decrease one’s appreciation for the sea, waves, sand and relaxation. #debunkingignorance I did see and hear one of the most diverse crowds I’ve ever been immersed in. French, English, American, Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish, Indian and of course Arabic.

By putting on SPF 100 sunscreen 5 times in 6 hours, I mostly avoided burns. Not a lobster.

I spent the day alone on the beach, as Dynamo’s brother, Bossman, and Bossman’s wife IronSweetie (more on them in a later post) had to work. IronSweetie was worried I’d be bored or lonely, and reassured me that people were very friendly on the beach, I shouldn’t be shy to go say hi. My social skills remain legendary, apparently… I promised her I’d be ok. And I was. I didn’t talk to many people, other than to ask for help applying sunscreen on my back. I too busy enjoying the forced alone time – no data, wifi wasn’t working… 6 hours disconnected from the world. I swam for an hour, I walked the entire length of the beach, admiring the male joggers (#eyecandy), I read my book, I dozed. It was exactly the kind of solocation I needed.

Bonus realization: my usual body hangups didn’t make an appearance. Yes, I was bloated, PMSing, had spent the last 3 days eating all the food (Arab hospitality dictates that one must try kill one’s guests through constant peer-pressured eating and unnatural portion sizes). I hadn’t exercised in 10 days (#Parisandalltheprofiteroles). My body was not beach-ready… and I didn’t care. Why bother concerning myself with cellulite and a puffy tummy when there was the hypnotizing sound of waves and children laughing surrounding me.

I think, I hope, I am on the path to self-acceptance. And a tan. Please God, I need a tan.


Meanwhile, in Canada… Montreal’s been afflicted with one of the worst snowstorms in years. 35+ cm. Today‘s snow day was announced yesterday, because yesterday’s evening traffic was so bad (50 minute commutes taking 3.5 to 5 hours long!) that regardless of whether or not the snow removal companies worked the night through, it would be impossible to clear the snow, never mind the continued snow accumulation. However, since this is Montreal… I’d say there is 50% chance my street won’t be cleared by the time I get back Monday night.

What better time to change my Facebook profile pic to me standing in the sand?

Life coping techniques: boxing to dancing

I was going to write about my friend who was religiously profiled in downtown Montreal on Friday (Roman Catholic French Canadian-American profiled as a Muslim and threatened to be thrown out of a cancer fundraising event for a venerable Mtl health institution, the Jewish General Hospital). It’s a shocking story. But I can’t. Instead, I need to celebrate moments of happiness and silliness, to counter the asphyxiating despair that grows stronger with every day since Nov 8, 2016; the despair is spilling over into the Great North – no wall, real or mythical, can keep it out.


Superwoman had a boxing fight at an elite boxing tournament this past weekend. It was the first time since my last fight that I attended a boxing event. Yes, I still see my crew (my darlings!) at the gym, but I’ve missed the broader community. It made me nostalgic to see all these boxers whose amateur careers I follow on Facebook. There is a fraternity amongst boxers, a shared understanding between fighters that is difficult to verbalize: it transcends nationality, age, class, education.

Everyone who walks into the gym is looking for an escape from the outside world. Yes, the same can be true of a yoga studio. But here, people are looking for a reprieve from the tangle of thoughts, emotions, and frustrations that is a necessary by-product of being alive through the action of hitting an inanimate punching bag over and over again. It’s a safe haven that allows a person to work through whatever they need to work through, surrounded by people doing the exact same thing. The particulars of each individual’s tangled mess is irrelevant; everyone has preoccupations, and the gym is our way to work through our shit. People who walk through the door are looking for the freedom of a few hours when socially acceptable constraints are no longer required. The punching bags become the recipient for every harsh word that was bitten back through the day, every slight that was received, every injustice, every worry. For a few hours, the world stops pushing, and we can push back as hard as we want, without any consequences. Bliss.

Once upon a time, I too shared this need to box. But something changed this summer, which is why I quit boxing:

It is that constant assault that has ruined boxing for me. Every time I’ve stepped into the gym, I feel dread at having to steel myself enough to throw a punch, or take one. I don’t have anything left for this optional battle. What I want is the absence of punches, either metaphorical or physical. I need a break, a wee vacation. Life, and my brain, are throwing plenty my way, and I am fighting back as hard as I can. I don’t want to fight additional fights, that could be avoided by my simple decision to pursue other activities.

This weekend confirmed it. Watching my friends and former teammates step into the ring, I felt no envy. I don’t want to fight. Life is coming together, and I am taking on the world at work. My battles are strategic: owning my newfound assertiveness, growing into this new identity of a career woman that can affect change from sheer intelligence, force of personality and interpersonal relationships. While this all is thrilling, beyond my wildest dreams, it is exhausting. In my downtime, I want to stop thinking, to simply feel. Hence my choice to dedicate many hours a week to dance: ballet, kuduro, kizomba and salsa. Through dance, I’m exploring a different form of non-verbal communication than boxing: boxing is about pushing back – hit, don’t get hit. In dancing, it is about being comfortable occupying a space while being fully seen. It requires existing in a state of vulnerability. In those moments, using my body to communicate, it creates a space of truth.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. – Martha Graham

In this time of #AlternativeFacts and #FauxNews and real news that is so awful, the impulse to express my unique self feels like an obligation. An obligation to be true. It is a small, almost irrelevant rebellion against the lies and hate that surround us.


How did I deal with the upsetting story of my friend’s religious profiling? I took a dancing class with Teacher:

 

Teacher’s website: https://www.drkizomba.com/ 

Teacher’s dance school on Fbk: Kizomba Canada

Halloween vs a high school reunion: are they any different, really?

It is my 15-year high school reunion tonight. FIFTEEN. That’s a long time. I’m old. I’m old as fuck. OYE.

I am no longer friends with any of the girls I went to school with. This is a reasonable outcome from my experience in high school: I didn’t have any crazy close friends, even though I enjoyed several good relationships, nor was I made to be miserable by any of my schoolmates. Other than a rough start for the first 2 years (+/- = middleschool for all you Americans), high school was painless experience for me. Maybe because I had too much going on at home, with my perma crippled state and my volcanic teenage relationship with my mother; I kept my schoolmates at friendly arm’s length (even then, I was ambivalent about vulnerability!) and viewed school as a drama free space. All my friendships faded within 5 years of graduation. Still, I’m looking forward to catching up with the girls (I went to an all-girl school run by nuns). From what I can see, many/most of them are married with children. Social media lies, of course, but the ones I follow seem happy.

When I graduated high school, I assumed that by 30, I’d be married, probably with kids, a house in the ‘burbs, and some job in science. Turns out I striked out on all 3 counts. I don’t have much to show for my years, other than a solid career that is by no means stellar. I remember a time when such thoughts would have filled me with shame, but instead, today, as I reflect on my life these past 15 years, I feel pride.

And that brings me to last year’s Halloween. During that weekend, I met Strawberry who, in the subsequent months, played a small but pivotal role in my comfort with my identity as a writer (we still communicate regularly, and keep the acquaintance alive). I went to a boxing party where I spoke to Beaut for the first time. I went to another party where I made out with a guy, ending my 17-month sexual fast. Looking back on that weekend, it marks the beginning of a new chapter in my life. When I think of all that has happened since then… I am amazed. Beaut happened: for all the emotional roller-coaster, I don’t regret anything. His worldview challenged mine; it is thanks to him that I am pursing my writing with more conviction; he pushed me to take up dancing, which brings me so much joy. I travelled to Beirut, for my best friend’s wedding. I travelled to France for work and pleasure. I stopped therapy, after 20 months; and despite some tricky moments, and resurgence of some symptoms, I have been managing my mental health all by myself, with success. Lately, I’ve put my career back in high-gear; its been a thrill to realize Smart Vanilla is back. My friends are amazing, constantly reminding me that I am dearly loved.

For the first time, I can say that I live life to the fullest. I’ve had good and bad moments. I have made mistakes. But, after 12 months of taking risks, some of which paid off, and some didn’t, I can look back at what I’ve done and be proud that I tried. I might not have anything concrete to show for the past 15 years, other than the battlescars of life, but these scars remind me of the moments where my spirit almost broke… but didn’t. I’m still here and I am happy. I have my spirit and my smile.

Who’d have thought that a high school reunion and Halloween weekend would trigger such strong emotions of gratitude and contentment?!