A Spooky lesson in confidence

There’s a thing that happens to fat kids. Or at least, it happened to me.

Let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge how hard it is for me to write the words “fat kids,” because they are so incredibly fraught with anxiety and shame. They carry – literally – a lifetime of doubt, of fighting to believe that one is still worthy of joy, love, happiness, even when one is overweight. I never, never, never, want any kid to feel any of what I felt as someone who’s struggled with weight my entire life, so it’s hard to even say the words.

For fat kids, everything active that “normal” kids do is harder. At least, it was for me. Pull ups. Situps. Learning to waterski. Playing soccer. Running. All of it.

Don’t get me wrong, in many cases, fat kids are as strong as other kids. But what they aren’t, or at least what I wasn’t, is as confident in their bodies.

It’s taken a great deal of self-analysis and deliberate, almost dogmatic self-encouragement, for me to accept my non-skinny body and still demand a great deal of it. I ask it to play volleyball, to run, to hike mountains, and in most cases, it obliges, albeit with the occasional protest.

But sometimes I am faced with a situation where – even though I KNOW I am a strong and confident 40+ woman who can do anything I set my mind to – I suddenly become that fat, timid kid who couldn’t climb the rope for the Presidential Physical Fitness test.

It happened to me this past week, on the tail end of a marvelous vacation. I’d hiked my way through Southern Utah, up “strenuous” climbs in Zion National Park and even up one trail in the pitch black of night. I’d done most of the trip pushing through a minor ankle injury that made every step a little more precarious. I wasn’t as fast as my hiking buddy, but I’d finished nearly everything he’d done. I felt good…happy, strong, confident.

And we were heading for the famous slot canyons of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. For those who are wondering, a “Slot Canyon” is a narrow path that’s been carved into sandstone by flash floods and water flow over time. I’m sure they aren’t meant for man and woman to traverse. But because they are so magical, traverse them we do. Here’s a picture of a very wide and accessible one that we visited earlier in the trip.

Lower Antelope Canyon (38 of 46)

Now, I won’t lie, when I heard “Slot Canyon”, my knee-jerk reaction was to wonder if I’d fit; that’s the lifetime of being just a bit too big for comfort kicking in. Rationality indicated that I would, as did the eagerness of my hiking buddy to add this to our trip, so I set that foolishness aside and prepared to enjoy myself.

And for a while, I did. I had to suck it in and make sure I found the right contours in the rock to accommodate my, ahem, curves, but it was a riot. I was laughing and having a blast.

Then, we came to the first of two sections that required some climbing. I took one look at the height, did the math, and was instantly despondent. In the space of a moment, I was reduced to a trembling child, fearing, above all else, that I wouldn’t be able to do what the other kids could do, and that I would look foolish trying.

If you want to get to know Spooky Gulch and its tiny crevices, here’s a good description, but keep in mind that, on the advice of our shuttle guide, we were going the opposite way from what’s described in the article. This would wind up being a good thing in the end, but at that moment, it was a crisis for me. I was certain I wouldn’t be able to get up that first section. Certain of it.

My hiking buddy, who loves to climb and has complete confidence in his own body to get him where he wants to go, scrambled up like a monkey and then looked down at me with a grin. But I was flummoxed.

In the end, it took him hauling me from the top and a stranger down below giving me a boost, and then basically just planting his hands on my butt and shoving, for me to clear the obstacle. And all my mojo was gone. Shaky, embarrassed, filled with adrenaline of the not-good kind, I slogged forward. Then the 2nd obstacle appeared, and I heard myself, to my chagrin, whimper “I don’t know if I can do it” in a tiny voice that I hated to hear coming from my mouth.

With little choice, and his own brand of confidence, my hiking partner blithely assured me I that could, told me he’d help by anchoring my foot, and basically forced me up. Surprisingly, I popped through this one pretty quickly; I even heard another stranger exclaim in pleasant surprise when my head cleared the top.

After that, it was easier, but the residual fear of being weak – and all the scars of fat kid embarrassment – followed me through the rest of the canyon, so that I don’t remember much of it. I’m sure I missed some amazing pictures because I was so far gone into my head that I couldn’t even look beyond my feet.

As we cleared the slot and sat to have lunch, I fought the shake in my hands and the welling tears in my eyes. I was so freaked out that I couldn’t even figure out how to turn the water valve on my water bladder. We faced another slot canyon and I honestly gave thought to bailing, right then and there.

But my hiking buddy just tossed me a bagel and told me how to switch the water valve without making me feel even more stupid than I already did. We talked a bit about technique, and he offered me his gloves, and then we set off for the 2nd slot, known as Peek-A-Boo. I discovered, to my joy, that we were going to go DOWN this slot, rather than up, and for some reason that seemed better, even though Peek-A-Boo was supposedly full of water, which had a lot of our fellow hikers freaked out. My hiking buddy was determined to stay dry, and I was pretty much resigned to getting wet. But I felt like I could handle downhill. I’m always on friendlier terms with downhill.

And then something wonderful happened. As we entered the slot, we tramped along a bit, and then came to a big pool of water ringed with sandstone. Ah well, I thought, it’s time for me to get wet. My hiking partner did this nifty thing where he basically plank-walked his way over the puddle, inching his way in a spread-eagled fashion. He made it look easy and quite impressive. As I looked at the pool and prepared to step into it, he suggested that I try it his way. No way, I said, laughing. I can’t do that.

Sure you can, he said back. Give it a try. Just don’t fall in.

So I did, and by God if I didn’t make it across. At one point, I was what felt like completely parallel to the pool (I suspect it wasn’t quite as bad-ass as that, but it felt like it) staring at the water, thinking “Man, this will suck if I fall in. ” But I didn’t, and with a whoop, I cleared the pool and stood up, laughing in relief. My hiking buddy was laughing too, regretting that he’d been too busy watching me (and hoping I wouldn’t fall in) to snap a picture.

And on we went. Eventually, I had to get my feet wet, though he managed to pull off some Spider-Man worthy moves and stay dry.

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It was a riot, and I was soaked and giddy when we finished.

Later that afternoon, we met up with the strangers who’d helped shove me over the first obstacle, and they were smiling and chatting with us and no, they didn’t laugh at me or or make fun of me for my struggles. When I thanked them for their help (again) they seemed surprised that I felt I needed to, even though they’d literately had to shove my butt up a rock crevice.

So, here’s the marvelous thing to learn from all of this. It’s nothing new or revolutionary. It’s that we are often our own worst enemies in situations like this. Everyone ELSE in that canyon figured I’d make it up eventually. Sure, maybe they felt a little embarrassed for my flailing attempts, but odds are, they were more worried about themselves than me. Even after watching me struggle, my hiking buddy kept pushing me to try stuff beyond my comfort zone, because he figured I could do it.

Sure, it’s a little annoying that I needed the external affirmation before I could get over myself. But how great that it was there when I needed it?

And how lucky that we did the downhill portion of the hike last. 🙂

Peek A Boo (1 of 1)

Dear Arts Marketers…let’s stop counting occasionally

I’m an arts marketer. This means, among many other things, that I count things. Many things. Everything from website hits to YouTube views to people in the audience to number of times someone asks me “hey, have you ever thought of [insert marketing idea I’ve most definitely thought of]?”.

My job is to somehow quantify the unquantifiable. I’m not allowed to say “that felt like a big crowd,” or “seemed like folks saw our ad”. I’m supposed to have numbers to back it all up.

It’s hard sometimes to get those numbers. In truth, it’s hard most of the time, because once we get them, inevitably we want more and different numbers.

And there are times when this need to justify our existence via numbers puts us at odds with our artistic or education colleagues. It’s not PC to say it, but it’s true; sometimes we speak different languages, even though we’re on the same team.

That’s why I love moments like today. Here’s the setup in its briefest format.

A local public radio station puts on a festival called Cartoonfest. Basically, they play Bugs Bunny on the big screen in Boston’s Symphony Hall, and invite a bunch of local groups to play classical music in various rooms throughout the day. Kids get their faces painted and scavenge for stickers and otherwise run rampant in one of the most hallowed symphonic music halls in the country.

It’s cute. It’s fun. And today I realized that, despite my hopes otherwise, it’s a pretty lousy marketing/PR event for my little non-profit. See, the local radio station doesn’t carry our radio show, and there’s barely any time to try to collect emails or contact info from people in the audience. Half the time, people arrive 15 minutes into our 30 minute set and leave 10 minutes later. There’s no real way to count the audience.

Depressing, if all we care about is numbers. But I left our 30 minute set anything but depressed.

See, the young musicians we work with at From the Top are exceptional teenagers. There’s no other word for it. They are remarkable. And today, I watched a 15- and 17-year-old sister/brother cello/violin duo put on a 30 minute presentation that was more interesting and thoughtful than most chamber music concerts I’ve been to. They poked fun at each other like siblings do. They played Bach, Schubert, Shostakovich, and Piazzolla. They gave charming little intros to every piece of music they played. They THOUGHT about their audience and how to engage them. They were delightful and played like a million bucks. And did I mention they were 15 and 17?

I watched the crowd of kids as they played. A few were bored or squirmy. But more than a few sat rapt, knees pulled to their chests, completely attuned. I happened to catch this little moment with one of the youngest audience members:

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When was the last time you went to a concert and got that kind of connection with the musicians on stage?

I kept trying to count the audience as I was watching the show, until finally, I mentally threw up my hands and said, “No.” The number of people in the room did not even come close to representing the GOOD that came from this little 30 minutes of music. That two busy teenagers would give up hours of their time to write a script and practice together, and do it with such care and consideration, was worth more than any numbers.

That a few young audience members could see people their age, less than 10 feet away, playing with joy and passion and obvious respect for each other and their music, was entirely worth it. To think that even one kid in that audience might decide to keep playing music because they were inspired – that was enough.

For a few lovely moments today, I simply didn’t CARE what the quantifiable result of this performance was. I was just able to appreciate how making music is wonderful, how listening to music is wonderful, and how supporting young people in doing those things is one of the best jobs a person could have. And one of the most important, if we want our country to be the greatest in the world.

Sometimes, we have to stop counting and simply appreciate when good things are happening. When a few good people do something good. I’m glad I got to do that today.

End-of-winter musings

It’s mid-March, which means one thing in Jodi-world: the END of my patience for winter. I love the onset of winter in New England – that first snowstorm is magical, and maybe even the 2nd one, too. I enjoy the challenge of bundling up to get my outside time in. Sadie loves the snow and doesn’t care about the cold. And winter gear is awesome.

But when it’s the middle of March, and we just had a foot of snow dumped on us, followed by freezing rain that has hardened the snow into cement…and that storm is followed by freezing winds and ice-covered sidewalks just waiting to dump me on my ass?

Yeah, that part of winter I’m done with. This is when I start to say “why do I live here again?” Luckily, I have a magical trip to the Utah desert coming up in two weeks, so that will be a nice antidote to the cold. (PS, you’ve been warned – there will be multiple blog posts about canyons and red rocks and whatnot. I’m guaranteeing it.)

And, despite my grousing, I’m not without gratitude. I mean, watching my dog bite and frolic in the snow is delightful. Hiding bad hair with hats, and double chins with scarves…these are bonuses of the winter variety.

And in truth, when one has the right gear, there is wonder to be found. Like last night, where the tread on my hiking boots, normally used to keep me from falling off of mountainsides, allowed Sadie and I to take a walk on TOP of the snow layer, leaving no footprints, which was a weird and fun experience.

Or, like this past Monday, when, after an eye doctor appointment, I found myself in an unfamiliar part of town (this Orange Line gal doesn’t know what to do in Green Line territory), at the mercy of buses that were not following the posted schedules. When the bus that was supposed to come didn’t, I shrugged, zipped up my puffy warm coat, tightened my Smartwool hat on my head, donned my gloves, popped on my sunglasses, and proceeded to walk – in my sensible and warm Merrell boots – the 11 stops to the bus transfer point. It was the first night after we turned the clocks ahead, so I strolled a couple of miles while watching the sun go down behind me, erasing that layer of gold that tips the tops of buildings.

I was warm, I had new contact lenses on, and my legs felt strong. And I had a moment when I realized that I am truly a lucky and, dare I say it, privileged, person. To live where I live, in a city that values public transit (even when it doesn’t quite work right). To be able to afford really good winter outerwear. To have health care that gave me a free pair of eyeglasses, and an employer that doesn’t punish me for taking the time to get my eyes checked. And, to have two working legs that can take me anywhere, really, with the only limits being my own willingness to try (hope I remember this when descending into slot canyons in Utah).

And of course, to have heat and a roof over my head to keep me warm until glorious spring decides to show herself. Which frankly, can’t come soon enough. I mean, seriously, Mama Nature. I’ll do my best to find the good in the cold, but spring is the best time ever to be alive…so let’s get to it.

 

 

Allegiance

Today, I sort of tripped over history.

Last week, a friend posted on facebook about a Fathom Events cinematic showing of the Broadway musical Allegiance, and I thought “Huh. I should go see that.” I’d missed seeing it on the actual Broadway. I follow George Takei on twitter, and he’s delightful. Funny and poignant and unabashedly liberal. I have fond memories of him in Star Trek, but beyond that, I couldn’t tell you anything else I’ve seen him in. But Allegiance was his brainchild, and I knew it was about the internment of Japanese-Americans, and I’d heard it was good. So I bought a ticket. I literally didn’t give it any more thought than that. I completely missed the symbolism of this show being shown on this day, February 19.

See, Mr. Takei was one of approximately 120,000 Americans who were interred in camps after the Pearl Harbor attack during World War II. I don’t remember much about this moment from my American history classes, other than what I just wrote. I know we learned that it happened, and it was bad, but beyond that…

So, on this unseasonably sunny day, I set out for the mall to catch a Broadway show. I arrived about an hour early (oops, got my times wrong), so had the entire theater to myself for a while. Scrolling facebook on my phone, I stopped, stunned, at a post from a friend with Japanese-American heritage:

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I set my phone down and stared at the empty theater, gobsmacked.

No clue. I had no clue this was the anniversary of the executive order. Heck, I didn’t even know it was an executive order. I picked my phone back and up and read the order. Shook my head, frowned, then read it again. And I felt a chill; there was nowhere in that order that mentioned “Japanese-American” people. The words were colder. The words basically said that the US military could designate zones, whenever and wherever they wanted, “from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.”

In a horrifying nutshell, the military had authority to exclude anyone they wanted from anywhere they wanted, and could force those people to move to other locations where, if the military felt so inclined, they would be fed and clothed and housed…maybe.

This was America. 1942. One stroke of a pen from the President. A Democratic president, it’s worth mentioning.

Shaken, I sat silently as the theater began to fill with people. I had only a few minutes to wrestle with the parallels between then and now before the show began. As it did, I idly noted some production flaws (the syncing of music and film was a little off at times), but within a few moments, I was completely enmeshed in the lives of the people I was seeing on screen.

I spent pretty much the entire show either on the verge of tears or with them dripping down my face. For a change, I wasn’t thinking about the structure of the show, or if that musical number belonged, or if that lighting cue could have been better. I was fully immersed in a beautiful and tragic story of warm, flawed, stoic, and loving people trying to survive.

Bubbling under my appreciation for music and choreography and costumes that touched my heart was fury and anger that my country could do this, and then sweep it under the rug. That’s the most basic of emotions. But I also ached at the duality the show revealed, as these earnest, patriotic, fiercely loyal people wrestled with how to respond to the outrage being foisted upon them. Some chose to enlist in the military, the same military that was interning them, out of a heart-breaking belief that if they proved themselves by dying for their country, it would help their families trapped in camps/prisons. Others sought resistance, through burning draft cards (yes, we DRAFTED people we’d put in internment camps) and smuggling letters out of the camp so other Americans could see/hear what was happening.

These two different responses to the internments tore the family apart in the most heart-wrenching of ways, and I was struck at how close we are to this reality today. Most decent people don’t think that rounding up people based on religion or ethnicity is good. Most decent people believe that something like the internments would never happen again.

But fear does funny things to decent people. And it’s in the response, in the ways we choose to react to such horrors, that the danger lives for those of us not immediately impacted. We can double down on patriotism, hope our loyalty is rewarded, and risk the guilt of staying quiet in the name of “not rocking the boat.” Or we can actively resist, risk being branded as naive and reactionary, and potentially widen the fractures in our own families. Maybe there’s a middle ground, I don’t know.

But we’d be foolish…heck we ARE foolish…to overlook history. Yes, the show I saw was a dramatization. But this chapter in our history HAPPENED. And I am fiercely ashamed of how quickly we forgot about it.

As the show ended, our theater burst into applause, even though the actors on the screen couldn’t hear us. I slowly tuned in to the sniffles around me and realized I wasn’t alone in being affected by this story. As I walked back to my car, I reflected on conversations I’ve had, as I try to figure out how to respond to today’s political reality, about how tired some Americans are of “apologizing”, whether for slavery, or wiping out our indigenous tribes, or dropping a nuclear bomb (twice), or spewing poisonous gases into the air, or even just being white and privileged. I get it. It’s tough to be “the greatest nation on earth” and have such blemishes on our history.

How do we show allegiance to our country, while also acknowledging its failures?

I was always taught, from elementary school through business school, that the strongest people admit their mistakes and learn from them. Granted, as a society we often don’t follow through on that lofty ideal, but I refuse to accept that we should stop trying.

Allegiance is just one story about an incredibly shameful time in America’s history. I wish our current leaders could watch and it and be moved, but I doubt they will, or would. But if you out there reading this have a chance to see it, please do. You might react differently than I did, and that’s ok. But I think you’ll fall in love with the people portrayed, as I did, and will maybe learn something, as I did. I think learning and re-learning things might be our only hope.

What matters

I finally figured it out.

FINALLY.

After starting 20 blog posts, and then not hitting publish because they felt trite, or stupid, or wrong, or badly written…

After the inauguration…

And the peaceful marches that followed…

I finally know what I want to say.

As I’ve wrestled with how to react to the fact that the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans with an agenda that I disagree with, and that an inexperienced reality TV star now has the keys to our nuclear arsenal, I’ve been seized with this sense of…IMMOBILITY.

Like I can’t speak, or move, or have an opinion, because a) What does it matter? and b) Someone will tell me that I am brainwashed by the media, or that what I care about doesn’t matter in the “real America”.

Which leaves me with nothing more to do than commiserate with my like-minded friends (and thank god for them) and studiously, fastidiously avoid any conversation with anyone on the other side.

And that pretty much sucks.

But two days ago, I finally figured it out. It was lunch time, and I dared to get on Facebook as the President was giving his inaugural speech. (I didn’t listen. But I did read it in its entirely later). I was thinking about my work, what I was doing at that very moment.

I was building a website to help give grants to young classical musicians who want to use music to make their communities better.

And I realized something important. I have spent the last year (nay, probably most of my adult life) fretting that maybe I have it wrong. That maybe I am naive and brainwashed like the right claims I am. That maybe the fundamental things I believe in are wrong. After all, someone has to be wrong, right? 😉

But as I was watching my friends react to the President’s words, and rumors started to swirl that the Republicans were going to put the NEA, the NEH, and the CPB on the chopping block, and the words “climate change” were erased from the whitehouse.gov website…I realized something.

I realized that I will never, ever, ever, let our President, or the Republicans in Congress, or some right-wing media engine/engineer convince me that the arts don’t matter.

Or that trying to take care of our planet doesn’t matter.

Or that learning and studying different ideas and views doesn’t matter.

Or that trying to help people who need help doesn’t matter.

Because if we don’t care about such things, we have no right to claim to be great at anything. And we will never make the world better for all the people who need us to try.

And here’s the thing. HERE’S THE THING!!!

I can believe these things, and my believing them doesn’t come at the expense of someone else’s belief. Just because I believe these things doesn’t mean what you believe, which might be different, isn’t important. This is not a zero-sum game. There is room for all of us. Heck, most of us aren’t that far apart – but there’s no drama when we’re not fighting, and drama gets clicks.

There you have it. I will not throw away all that I learned in school and college and life, simply because a bunch of people voted differently than me. I will accept that we will differ on policy, on solutions, on the role of government. It’s entirely possible that I am wrong about many things. But I will no longer be made to feel guilty, or naive, or clueless, about the fundamentals of what I believe. I will try not to do the same to the other side. If we can debate how to fix healthcare, without implying that we each are spawns of the devil, let’s do it. Heck, we can even debate the merits of the National Endowment for the Arts, if you don’t imply that I’m a loser for caring.

So there. I’m ready. Let’s do this.