vanilla

Overhead after 6pm

Working late at the office.

The cleaning man is doing his rounds. 1-2 cubicles over from my desk, he takes a call.

Hello? Who is this? Who?! Why you keep bugging me?! Why? Imma come find you, ok? Imma come find you.

I’m torn between curiosity – what kind of life does this cleaning man live?!- and more than mild concern. I kinda wanna get on the phone and tell the person on the other line,

If I were you, I would stop bugging him. He is a rather intimidating individual, and while I am not an expert in these matters – I am an accountant, you know – I can’t help but feel he might actually come and find you, and know what to do with you once he did. I thought you should have all the facts before making any further decisions. Good night!

But I didn’t. I just kept working my Vlookup formulas like a boss. #excelisbae #microsoftofficeismylife Still. I wonder if I ask nicely in a week from now, whether the cleaning man will give me a synopsis of the situation, a high level update. #nodetailsplease

If only my peeps at my gangsta boxing gym could see me now. #ratchetwhat?

 

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All of the colors in Paris

Sunday. Landed in Paris, took a quick nap, then off I went for a little bit of solo-sightseeing. Y’all. There are SO many tourists in Paris during the summer months. No, I do not think of myself as a tourist. I am an invited guest. A wannabe Frenchie. Obvi.

ANYHOW.

I stopped by la Sainte Chapelle for the first time since 2012 to stare at the beautiful stained glass windows. Then I skipped over a few blocks to attend Mass at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. An organ. A skilled choir. Pomp and circumstance. Mozart! A very French archbishop cracking very French jokes that only a small percentage of attendees understood, because Mass at Notre-Dame is packed with hundreds of Christian tourists from every corner of the earth. During Mass, Notre-Dame is no longer a historical monument, but a living breathing space where people find solace from their grief and pray for salvation. There is something very humbling about uttering the same prayers that have been said by thousands of people for the past 7 centuries. The current emotions mingle with those that fill the walls of that sacred place.

Sunday night, as is my habit, I went to the Louvre. The contrast of the modern art (pyramids) and the old grandeur is magical, preventing the Louvre from merely being a fancy building that hosts a vast quantity of antiques. It is anchored in our current day world.

That statue reminds me that this used to be a real palace with carriages and horses stomping their hooves impatiently amongst the bustling activity.

In case you are wondering, all the pics in this post were taken with my iPhone 8. And other than this pic and the next pic below, all pics in this post were taken solely by me. ICB helped me get the right composition for this one. Filters applied by me.

Usually, the passage way to the courtyard is deserted. On Sunday, there was a very talented cellist playing Bach’s cello suites. I stopped to listen for 15 minutes. The cello was my mother’s favorite instrument: my father’s wedding present to her was a cello + music lessons, which she never got to take advantage of because of her health that began to fail almost immediately after their marriage. It took her years to sell the cello. She liked looking at it, she said. What a mama. A mama that never got to see the Louvre. Who never got to see much, yet who gave me everything so that I could live my best life. Since her death, I’ve been sent to Paris 9 times for work. I felt so much joy and sorrow, standing in that courtyard, listening to that music, my heart tried to break through my body. Instead, I cried.

That is me, on the left, hiding behind the column. I didn’t want to distract the cellist with my tears. I was unaware that I was in ICB’s line of vision.

I’ve been listening to Elgar’s Enigma Variations on repeat this trip since Sunday night. #perfect #mood.


Monday, I stopped by the Jardins des Tuileries before (8:30pm) and after supper (10:00pm).

Unfortunately this pic doesn’t capture the brilliant blue skies, which I could barely see because of the bright sun.

Jardins des Tuileries is an oasis in the middle of Paris. Joggers at all hours, families with preschoolers, tourists, people taking naps in the lawn chairs around the fountain, business people taking a break for icecream, students reading books in the shade. These gardens are where Parisians find shelter from the hustle of the city. I’ve never seen it so quiet and peaceful as it was on Monday at 10:00pm.

That sky tho. NO FILTER. Let me write that one more time. NO. FILTER.

No filter AND so peaceful a pelican came and hung out with me.

Laters, dude. Also, would y’all LOOK at that sky.

As the pelican took flight to new discoveries, I decided it was time to lead ICB through Paris, to discover the Eiffel Tower. With the beautiful weather, and vivid skies, there would be many opportunities for spectacular pictures.


Spectacular doesn’t begin to cover it. It is a 40 minute walk from the Jardins des Tuileries to the Place Trocadero, according to Google. It took us over 2 hours because we kept stopping to take pictures. The number of times I heard ICB triumphantly exclaim, “That’s it! I am never taking a picture ever again in my life. Would you look at this shot? It is PERFECTION.”

That is Paris for ya. Perfection in beauty.

Oh hey, guess what. Yup. NO FILTER. Can you imagine walking by views like this daily?

As we walked, I talked. I told ICB of how Paris saved me following my mother’s death, when I was badly stuck in my grief. Of how I feel like I am coming home, every time I come to Paris. How I feel like I belong here, like a missing part of my identity is found as I walk through its streets.  How in Paris, I feel fully alive, being surrounded by such beauty encourages me to strive to find my own – because there is nothing more beautiful than being fully myself.

Paris is a CROWDED city. And yet, the power of it’s beauty is so strong that you just have to look around to see moments of peace and serenity.

We finally made it to Place Trocadero. We spent almost an hour there, in silence, soaking up the atmosphere. Sitting on the steps of the Place, listening to the talented street musicians sing pop songs in French accents, children laughing, adolescents flirting in the background. We ate box of macarons. ICB took 200 pictures of the Eiffel Tower, from every possible angle. As I sat back and watched him work, I felt deep contentment. Here I was, 24 hours from my birthday, seeing and feeling colors. All of the colors. What’s more, I’ve been feeling colors, intermittently but with increasing frequency, since beginning May. I am getting better. One year, day for day from the start of this vicious episode of depression, I am on my way to remission. I survived. Normally I feel depression strips me of so much of my life, time just slips through my helpless fingers, month after month, year after year. But as I watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle on Tuesday night, I felt gratitude. As Rainbow once told me, surviving deep pain and suffering opens us up to the capacity to see “all of the colors, so very brightly. It can be overwhelming sometimes, and tiring. But I wouldn’t trade the beauty that I can now see for anything.”

My depressions might steal from me the ability to see colors for long stretches of time… But my depressions make me kinder, more compassionate, and much more willing to take risks and live during those brief moments when my shadow is sleeping. Here I was in Paris, working at my dream job, accompanied by a guy I barely knew. Despite a bumpy start, we were having a total blast. I was enjoying every single moment without trying to determine anything about the future or what this means for “us” – who cares, really? This trip was a trip of memories and happiness, time well spent. I was taking the lessons I’d learned in Toulouse last year, and applying them in the best possible way.

I sat on those steps, under a sparkling Eiffel Tower, and cried tears of happiness and gratitude.


Yesterday was my birthday.

ICB surprised me with this present.

Vanilla, I know you slide into a world of no color, of black and white and grey. I know you find it hard, that it makes you suffer. Paris is your happy place, where you feel alive and see clearly. I want you to have this, so when things are not going well, you can look at it and remember those colors that you can and sometimes do see. I want you to remember the colors. I want you to see them.

Kindness, y’all. Wrecks me everytime.

There have been a lot of tears on this trip. For the first time in a long long time, these were the best kind of tears.

All of the colors.

All of them.


Previous Paris posts:

When it’s too cold for ice cream

I know. Not something I ever thought I’d write. But it happened nonetheless.

Two weeks ago, Cute Boy and I were supposed to go for ice cream, an essential component of my wisdom teeth recovery. But Cute Boy mismanaged his work schedule, and bailed last minute. I didn’t particularly mind as I’d fought a bad anxiety attack earlier that afternoon at dance class. I was too tired to feel anything but relief at the unexpected alone time.

The next day, Cute Boy apologized again and requested a second chance. He offered to come pick me up and take me to any one of the incredible ice cream shops in the city. Ok, then. I normally can’t bring myself to care about first dates, especially those that get off to rocky starts. But something about Cute Boy made me willing to take a risk. More importantly, I realized I was looking forward to it. I genuinely wanted to spend time on Cute Boy. I was attracted without being psycho, which is rare – when I crush, I crush intensively and overwhelmingly. Our connection when we danced was really good – I was comfortable letting myself be vulnerable with him as a leader – and he made me laugh. I wanted to spend time with someone who had made me smile. No stress, no pressure, just the expectation of spending a comfortable moment chatting with someone pleasant and easy on the eyes. My unfamiliarity with that feeling made me question it further. I realized the last time I’d gone on a proper date was with Beaut, to the Opera. Y’all, that was in November2015. Almost 2.5 years ago. 2.5 years of my life, spent investing in, and then recovering from, 2 successive dead-end situationships. (#1 = Beaut, blogged about in great detail, #2 = Hickster, barely mentioned because I’m still putting the pieces back together of my life after that destructive trainwreck. Some stories should not be told in real-time.) Two point five years. Approximately 900 days.

900 days since I’d last felt inclined to spend time getting to know someone.

Not gonna lie, that realization made me feel a little sad. Almost like grieving. A chapter of my life that was so turbulent, with so much personal growth, moments of love and thrilling happiness, and so much pain, betrayal and sorrow, was fully over. Not only had I moved on from both Beaut and Hickster, with their familiar yet toxic love, but I had moved on from the comfortable mix of pain and numbness that follows every breakup. Just like the odd disappointment at turning the last page of a good book, I was disoriented that the Beaut/Hickster journey was over. No more sequels, no more anything. I was done and had been for a while: I just hadn’t had the opportunity to realize it. Time for new stories. Time for ice cream.

Except we didn’t go for ice cream at all. It was FREEZING when Cute Boy came to pick me up, I was chattering from the cold, and he turned up both warming seats in his car to the max. We decided instead to go for hot chocolate. He brought me to Mr. Puffs, which is like Dunkin Donuts except a million times more decadent and yummy. 2 hours of laughing and chatter, and then he brought me home. I gave him 2 kisses on the cheek, and that was that (#stillvanillathankyouverymuch).

I had a smile on my face for hours.

It isn’t lost on me that this is a very concrete sign that I am doing better. Going on a date, even if it is with someone that I already know, is a form of vulnerability. Vulnerability is the antithesis of depression. This was a very tiny step, that meant so much.

Cute Boy promised to take me for ice cream when it would be warmer.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about how Vanilla I am

Hey Nene! Hey Coach! Clearly your work is unfinished, because while you made serious efforts to render me less Vanilla, and a little more hip/urban/ratchet… I am still vibrantly vanilla.

Context: Teacher is in Baltimore for a kizomba-salsa-bachata congress. Guy calls me up to ask me a question, and in true ADD fashion, gets distracted mid conversation.

Teacher: “(…) oh look, I just saw an oreo cookie babylon.”

Me: “a what?”

Teacher: “Oreo cookie. You know, 2 black 1 white.”

Me: “I know that, but what’s an oreo babylon?”

Teacher: “babylon. It means police.”

Me: “ooooooooooh”

Teacher, turned away from the phone, answering the people he is with (the event organizers are Indians): “yeah, I know! A white girl. SO white.”

That obvious, huh?

#nowIknow


I gotta give it up for Teacher. The dude, on top of being a mind-blowing dancer and artist (check out this post which includes many of his videos) is also a blogger. His life is stranger than fiction, and he has seen and lived much from his travels for dance. It’s a good thing he documents all his stories, because otherwise nobody would believe the shit that happens to him. Take, for instance, his recent trip to NYC earlier this month. You don’t have to know him to get a laugh out of his stories.

I might be biased, but I definitely recommend bookmarking his blog: drkizomba.com/blog .

5 years ago my life changed

Anniversaries. I’m not the best at taking the time to celebrate those people and moments that matter. I forget, caught up in the current of every day triviality.


May 2012: I blew out my knee in kickboxing. Diagnosis: crutches and cane for 3 months + 9-months of daily physio to recover, with the possibility I’d never kickbox again. My identity as a cripple: confirmed.

July 2012: my mother died in her sleep. The depression I’d been fighting off since summer 2011 exploded with full force. I was a broken person. Drifting from day to day in a fog of misery.

Fall 2012: Superwoman suggested that I join the boxing gym she’d just discovered. It would allow me to work on my boxing skills, avoid losing too much of my fitness, keep me distracted through the long months of physio and rehab. I agreed to show up for one class. Limping down the staircase, hearing the sounds of the ring bell, the thuds of the punching bags, and the coolest trap music I’d ever heard, I felt like I was coming home – odd, considering that this was an environment in which I, crippled vanilla AF nerdy accountant, did not belong.

For the first year or so, I trained with Coach’s younger brother Slick, a pro-boxer and a coach in his own right. Slick did not have the time to impart much boxing knowledge on me, because he spent all his time trying to get me to work on my mental and emotional state. We didn’t use the word “depression”, but he could see I was not well. He made me do pushups every time I said something negative or mean about myself, even if it was funny. He encouraged me to read James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh:

“Doubt and fear are the great enemies of knowledge, and he who encourages them, who does not slay them, thwarts himself at every step.”

“Men imagine that thought can be kept secret, but it cannot; it rapidly crystallizes into habit, and habit solidifies into circumstance.”

“As the physically weak man can make himself strong by careful and patient training, so the man of weak thoughts, can make them strong by exercising himself in right thinking.”

Slick turned my whole worldview upside down. 2 years later, when I started therapy, I chose an expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: “guided by empirical research, CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, and emotional regulation.”


By late 2013, I joined Coach’s team. In 2014, I fought my first fights.

In August 2014, I slid into the most terrifying depressive episode I’ve ever experienced. Overnight, I transformed from a fighter into a fragile girl who would cry for 3-5 hours a day. Coach didn’t understand, but he could see. Scary Coach became Gentle Coach. The team accepted my quirks, and continued to cheer me on every time I stepped into the ring. They didn’t know the particulars of my struggle, but they could recognize someone fighting the good fight of life.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport. By stepping into the ring, every boxer tacitly accepts to show their true self to their opponent, coach and whoever is watching. You can’t mask cowardice or fake bravery when getting punched in the head. Every hesitation, fear, bluster and cockiness is blatantly obvious to anyone who watches. There IS no socially constructed mask to hide behind. To step into the ring, every boxer, no matter their level of experience and proficiency, has to be willing to be vulnerable, and to be seen. As such, I’ve noticed that most people at the gym don’t cling so tightly to their social personas – there is no point, when we’ve all seen their true colors in the ring. As a result, everyone is more authentic at the gym than they otherwise might be. Vulnerability + authenticity = key ingredients for friendship.

By the end of 2015, I knew. These people were family.


2016. A transition year. I joined Coach’s new project, weight-lifting and conditioning designed for athletes, specifically boxers. The immediate benefits were weight-loss and a changed body shape. For the first time in my life, in my 30s, I wondered: maybe, sometimes, I might be beautiful, possibly sexy. For someone who struggled with eating disorders (binge-eating until I was nauseous and abusing laxatives) during my late teens and my twenties, the gradual silencing of the vicious body-shaming voices in my head was an unexpected liberation.

Even better? Thanks to Coach’s extensive knowledge, patience and careful coaching, I shed, permanently, the lifelong identity of a cripple, of inhabiting a body that betrays me. I am athletic. I used to be embarrassed to admit I boxed, as though somehow associating myself – me – with that sport was arrogant. Not anymore. I was a boxer.

I understood what life lessons this sport was teaching me. It taught me that I can take a hit and still keep moving forward. It taught me that I can fight back. It taught me to own all of who I am: sweet Vanilla and angry Vanilla. It taught me that who and what I am is worth fighting for. It taught me not to wait for any saviors: I alone dictate my destiny, through my actions.

I understood why I needed to move onto dancing. Saying goodbye to this sport was hard, but necessary.

I kept training with Coach (aka Dr. Booté). I kept partying with my boxing peeps, with hilarious results (please refer to exhibit A and exhibit B). The friendships are still strong.


2017. This year was hard. Life, my shadow, got in the way of my joy. I drifted from the gym. But when things got too confusing, too overwhelming, like a homing pigeon, I made my way back. Sure enough, Coach and my crew were waiting for me.


How do you celebrate a place that has shaped my very identity, freed me of decade-long insecurities, given me deep and constant friendships, keeps me sane, gives me the tools to face life as an adult?

How do you celebrate family?

#udnation

#udfamily

 

 

The D has arrived

Update on my funk/shadow situation: I’m ok-ish. Not getting worse or better, just meh. Treading water. I appear functional to the outsider: I make it to work every day, I am mostly delivering on my projects, I smile, laugh and occasionally have a sense of humor. But there is a huge cost to appearing so normal: I am permanently exhausted, my concentration is nowhere where it should be, I’m apathetic about my career, friends, blogging and dancing. I require a lot of naps and time-outs. But I know that as long as I am patient and persistent, eventually this cloud of grey through which I see the world will fade, and bit by bit the colors of the world will reappear. In the past, I used to feel shame of how I was wasting my life, drifting aimlessly. Now, I understand that this is the cost of depression: delayed career goals due to unrealized potential, strained friendships, and loneliness because I am in no state to meet anyone, practice vulnerability, and take risks. It is too bad, it is slightly unfair, but the Universe loves to dish out shit to everyone, and this is my particular cross to bear. There is no point feeling shame, or beating myself up. I am trying my best, I refuse to give up on the dream of one day achieving happiness, and that tenacity is something I should be proud of.

Part of taking care of myself has involves training at my boxing gym with Coach aka Dr. Booté. The vibe and the friendships run deep. One of these friendships is with TooWhite, a mini-me: with skin that is blinding in its whiteness, she is a 25 yr old kickass smart accountant that struggles with similar insecurities to mine. I feel very protective towards her, like a mentor professionally and personally. Yet she can squat 250lbs, has the best taste in trap music ever and is infinitely cooler than I will ever be. My little gym-bae. Soon after resuming regular training at the gym in August, I texted TooWhite admitting how much I’d missed the gym & Coach.

Isn’t she the cutest? She’s the cutest. #squad

The past 2 weeks have been very hectic, causing me to miss 2 workouts because of Canadian Thanksgiving and because I had another show on Thursday night. I missed my dose of TooWhite. When I showed up to the gym on Saturday, at the front desk was one of TooWhite’s close friends, J-dawg (he’s badass by association). Even though I’d had two coffees at that point, my brain clearly was not awake:

Hey! Long time no see! Is TooWhite already here? Yeah? She is! Sweet. Imma go get changed, but meanwhile can you tell her her D has arrived?

J-dawg blinked. I realized what I had just said. I stammered an explanation, “I’m her D, as in the letter, not as in the male genital, because you know, I’m a woman and all, and even if I wasn’t I would be broadcasting the intimate nature of our relationship, if any. D as in #squad, oh god, I’m not making this better, am I?” TooWhite’s friend solemnly promised me he’d pass along the message. When I strolled into the weight-lifting room 3 minutes later, I found him & TooWhite uncontrollably giggling. I’m a walking eggplant emoji, apparently.

#squaD

Recap of various vanilla Vanilla highlights at the gym:

Mirrors and space

So basically, I am a star. No, really.


“Oh”, you say, “another video of Vanilla’s Teacher dancing kuduro. So what?”

Ladies and gents, this isn’t merely another video of Teacher and his merry crew of dancers on Instagram. Yes, it is Teacher’s video, reposted on the band that produces/sings the song used in our choreography. Aka, the original artists so liked what they saw, they chose to put it on their own profile.

 

Vanilla dancing kuduro. Broadcast to a few thousand strangers. I sure hope I don’t hurt their record sales… #infamous


You know the people that remain seated at weddings/office Christmas parties, staring at the dance floor but refusing to dance?  The “No, I don’t dance, you should thank me, I look too ridiculous, don’t wanna embarrass myself/ruin the party” people. Most of us can relate, yeah? I definitely can. I was mortified when I started kizomba/salsa: I’m the physical embodiment of the stereotype of a White Girl trying and failing to dance sexy – everybody would laugh at me. Similarly, I refused to take adult ballet for years because I knew that I would be terrible: regardless of how much joy dancing ballet would bring me, it would be selfish – I shouldn’t inflict my terribleness on the Universe, or distort the beauty that is ballet by my incompetent moves. It never occurred to me that I was imposing a life with less joy on myself.

Teacher always films his students, and himself; in part because it is good promotional material on social media, but also so his students can watch themselves and improve. At first, I found that unbearable. I would avoid the camera, accidentally go to the washroom as he was about to start filming. I eventually resigned myself to being on camera, convincing myself that no one watched his silly videos anyhow. It took 2 months before I actually would look at any of them. When I did, I noticed I never looked at the camera: I danced looking at the floor. I was physically present, but unwilling to fully show myself while dancing – I still held back. It has taken me several months to be able to look at the camera, and even now, I struggle. But THE hardest hurdle has been to watch myself in the mirror. The first time I dared look at myself in the mirror was in January, after doing 4 months of ballet and kuduro. I blushed. I was so embarrassed because:

I did not believe I was allowed to occupy that space with my body. I was ashamed of my self-expression. It was not good enough.

I wonder how many other ppl suffer from such a deep shame of themselves? Specifically, as a woman, this makes me sad. I feel the scars of a lifetime of judgment about my appearance, and I wonder how many women feel similarly. Dancing is forcing me to get comfortable with my body occupying, owning space. I’m learning to accept imperfection with compassion: I see my mistakes, and use the mirror as a tool to get better, rather than as a source of shame. I am learning to accept that even though I need to improve, work on my technique, practice until I master the moves, I still must not block my unique self expression. I am learning this:

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. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.― Martha Graham

The goal – to learn to express myself like these women do. Each one is unique. Each one is different and lovely and worth watching. Each woman is fully in the moment – nobody is staring at the floor. That is my goal.


Apparently, regardless of whether I dance kuduro or ballet, my style is that of a bird-woman (Cat-Woman is so passé). Well, I’ll have you know that three professional ballerinas liked my little Bird Ballet video on Instagram…

So basically, I am a star. No, really.