Thursday, February 10, 2011

Let's Face the Music and Dance

Celebrity Sightings, Random Acts of Elbow Violence, ABBA, Cupid, and oh yeah, Salsa Dancing
I can hardly believe six weeks ago Catherine and I launched this blog and pledged ourselves to 25 resolutions for 2011. This past Wednesday we were able to cross off the first goal on both of our lists. That’s right, we finished our first level salsa class! Tonight, our dance studio had an all-levels salsa night mixer. There was a lesson beforehand, followed by salsa, meregue, and cha-cha dancing (as well as something called “machato” or “machado” – we’re not really sure how to say it or spell it, and the closest thing I could find online is “maxixe”). The three hours of dancing marked the capstone of our learning so far and seemed like a good time to give you a bit of a taste for what we learned.

Well, before I finish that story, I should go off course a bit. Catherine and I have a game of spotting celebrity look-a-likes. I think it started when we were at the airport and thought we saw Sally Field. Today was an extraordinary day for celebrity sightings, quite possibly because I was in such a good mood. First, I saw Jimmy Stewart on the light rail. Then when we reached the dance studio, the instructor for the class looked like Liza Minnelli (and acted a bit like her – I thought she was going to break into song at one point). And finally one of the guys from our beginner’s class came and when I danced with him under all those colored lights and disco balls, he suddenly looked just like Robert Duvall. But I want to focus on the Liza look-a-like right now. She went very fast and kept stressing the lessons were for the intermediate class, which Catherine and I braved. I’m proud to say that for the most part, we kept up well. Sure, I had a few missteps and topples, but I was still learning. And then I had to practice with a partner whom I had never met before and, well, let’s just say I tried to do a spin and accidentally whomped him in the stomach with my elbow. And forearm. And probably some wrist too – it was so embarrassing! Luckily it must not have hurt or he felt sorry for me and my overflowing apologies, because he danced with me again later in the night too. Catherine also turned into a dance machine, having guy after guy ask her to dance. Afterward she said she was a regular “dancing queen” and you know what, I believed her. A lot of dancing is about confidence and release – having faith enough to let go and know you will be alright.

Earlier this week, I was talking to our friend Rachel, an avid swing-dancer, about how much I've been enjoying salsa. "It's a good way to let go," she said. "I mean, swing helps me give up control - you just have to follow." I found myself doing just that tonight. In fact, there were times when my dance partner would try to get me to do a complicated move several times in a row and on the last try, I just closed my eyes and stopped thinking. And it worked, no wayward elbows or tangled up wrists either! In fact, looking at it now, that’s really what I did in our usual weekly classes too. In the first few lessons, I kept trying to be in control. I wanted to make sure I didn't slip or take a wrong step. But as we went on, the more I let go and just trusted my lead, the better the dance went. I still had to know what I was doing and how to cover during a misstep, but it went much smoother. It was a great, liberating feeling – how wonderful to have enough confidence to let go!

Which brings me at last to my last point. I believe certain things (people, events, etc.) come into your life at certain times for a reason. Taking salsa recently has been a great way to dive into my 25 goals, and it’s also been a good way to loosen up those other white-knuckled grips of control I’ve had on my life. In case you are one of the very rare people out there who have yet to be bombarded by Cupid-themed advertisements everywhere for chocolates and diamonds and oyster dinners, let me tell you that Valentine’s Day is upon us. Technically, Monday is the big day, but everyone wants to celebrate Saturday - that's the purpose of Saturdays, after all. Now, I have been staunchly against Valentine's Day for the past few years. Not just because I’m still stuck in some rebellious phase, but because of some personal tragedies, none of which I should delve into on public cyberspace. Usually Valentine’s Day would render me useless; my time spent steeping in depression and isolation. But I digress. I've been very grumpy so far this week (par for the course), but my mood changed unexpectedly after salsa class ended Wednesday night. I logged onto my email after a dizzying last class (seriously, how many times in a row do you expect me to do an underarm twirl?) only to see more ads for Valentine's Day. I simply rolled my eyes and tried to ignore them. Then tonight I faced the same promotions as I got online, but this time something clicked. My mood change wasn’t just about finishing a goal. It was about letting go and having the self-confidence to find my way. If I'm ever going to relax and enjoy life again, I need to calm down a bit. Beating myself up about past failures and breakdowns isn't going to do any good in the present. I think I’m finding I have more confidence lately, in salsa and other areas too, and am starting to restore faith in myself. “Always keep your feet under you,” our instructor said tonight. Stay grounded, but keep moving. It’s hard to face those other 24 goals wondering if I’ll have courage enough to finish them all, but as salsa has taught me, I just need to face the music and dance.

End notes: 1) When she's not swing-dancing, Rachel's rockin' the world of publishing in her blog: Trac-Changes. 2) Also, a fun list of types of dances. 3) Yes, I used another Sinatra song for my title. This may become a theme. Be forewarned.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In which I am easily swayed by attractive young men (and other misadventures).

At some point in December, shortly after Amanda and I put together our to-do lists and threw them on the internet, I was met in the grocery store by a very attractive young man who offered me ten dollars off my groceries and free movie tickets if I signed up for a discounted subscription to my city paper. I wasn't really interested in the movie tickets, but ten dollars is ten dollars, I already had the "Keep current!" goal in my brain, and, as I said, the guy was very attractive. So I signed up, paid twenty dollars for the paper subscription, and went back to my shopping.

A week later, I realized I had yet to receive a paper. I checked my receipt and, sure enough, the first paper was supposed to arrive the previous Saturday. I gave it a few more days, and then I called the paper. After a few minutes of listening to their surprisingly catchy hold music, I finally got through to a representative. He made his general introductions, and I pressed forward.

"Hi," I said. "I bought a subscription on December 16th, and so far I haven't received a paper. Any idea when that might show up?"

He hemmed and hawed a bit, asked for my information, and then spent a minute clicking around his computer. Finally, he answered in the affirmative. "Yeah," he said. "That should have arrived by now."

Not quite the answer I was looking for. "Except it hasn't. Do you know when I'm going to start getting the paper?"

"Um." The clicking began again. "No. But we'll fix it, and I'll credit your account."

Much better. I agreed to this, requested a vacation hold for the Christmas holidays, and hung up the phone. Sure enough, the representative took care of it: I received my first issue of the newspaper the Monday after the new year.

Reader, please imagine my dismay when, upon opening my long-sought paper, I realized that it was composed of at least seventy-five percent garbage. The sports section was larger than the part actually containing news, and the comics, horoscopes, and crossword puzzle took up two pages of the already brief news section. There was an additional, slim section for auto enthusiasts, and a collection of coupons and advertisements I didn't even glance at, as none were for stores I frequented. Worse: the front page of the paper -- the part that's supposed to contain news? -- was dedicated to football.

This was not a happy "You got peanut butter in my chocolate!" scenario. The entire front page of my newspaper was dedicated to football, in addition to the already thick sports section. A little disgusted, I read through what little news was actually there, credited the slim pickings to it being a "slow news day", and tossed the paper in the recycling bin. A fluke, I told myself. The next day's paper would be better. It would actually contain news.

The next day's paper was not better. It at least didn't feature football on the front page and the auto section had been swapped out for one devoted to food -- relatively more interesting, at least to me --, but the actual news still made up less than a quarter of the paper. I ran into a similar problem the next day, and the next, and the next, and finally, one day, I brought this issue up to a friend.

"Oh, right," she told me. "Didn't you know? That paper is pretty much all about sports. If you want actual news, you have to go read the Post or the Times or something."

That explained it. Clearly, this paper had learned to cater to its audience -- admirable, considering the print industry's growing problems with maintaining its market share -- and its audience was Not Me.

Left with the option of either supporting the print industry by paying for something I considered mostly irrelevant or actually reading, you know, news, I called to cancel my subscription. After twenty minutes (literally) of the representative trying to talk me into purchasing a weekend-only or a weekday-only or a "reduced" subscription (whatever that is), I finally convinced him that no, I really didn't want the paper anymore, and he canceled my account. However, since I had the credit from December, I would still be receiving papers for a few more weeks. Was that okay?

Yes, I told him. That was okay.

So now, nine days into February, I am still (temporarily) receiving a daily newspaper, I've finally realized that the New York Times publishes online for free, and my cats have decided newspaper tastes delicious.

...all the more reason to receive my news electronically, I guess.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's February Already?

I feel as though this year has already started off in a headlong rush, so I thought I’d take a breather and get down some of what’s been happening lately. I can’t quite check off any of my goals just yet, but I’ve started several of them. Here are the highlights:

1) Salsa Dancing. Our class is three sessions in, and I’m still loving it! It’s so much fun to meet people and get moving to some great music. I’m feeling more confident, even when I do get the steps wrong. Still haven’t stepped on anyone’s toes, though I came very close!

2) Wine Tasting. My lovely coworkers gave me a wine journal to help me start keeping track of wines as I try them. Tonight I made my first entry for a glass of Gewurtztraminer. I’m still not entirely sure of what I’m doing, but it’s nice to make notes and read up on things like aromas and flavors. Plus I now know how to pronounce the name of the wine – go me!

3) Time with friends. It’s been tough getting out and about lately because of the snow and ice, and I’m sad to say that there have been days when I’ve been too tired to do anything but sit on my couch in my pjs watching television or reading a book. But I have tried to stop that and my calendar for the next few weeks looks nice and busy – book clubs, birthday dinners, and all kinds of mayhem. I’ve also reconnected with an old friend of mine from middle school. What did we do before Facebook? Wait, don’t answer that….

4) Light Rail Buddies. I haven’t really made friends with anyone I commute with just yet, but I have talked to some of them. It usually involved the train not coming as we shivered on the platform with snow drifting down onto our heads. I’ve also run into my friend from college, David, on the train from time to time and that has also been a nice surprise. We didn’t realize that sometimes when I work later, we wind up on the same train.

5) Books. I made a decision to read 10 books outside of the ones I’ve read so far for book club, and to date I have read 2. First was Mark Rotella’s wonderful history of Italian Americans and their culture – Amore: The Story of Italian American Song. I loved it so much, mainly because I grew up with that music. It was not just the story of Italian singers, but of all Americans with Italian heritage. I could see my grandfather in those stories and for those 264 pages, it was like he was here with me again. That’s the power of good writing. The second book was also well-written: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I really enjoyed this novel of a circus vet that is told in the present (when he’s a 90+ year old man in a nursing home) as well as the past (when he first joined the circus). It’s very touching, especially the present day chapters. I read the whole thing in a week because I was so enthralled. I’m so excited to keep reading, too. I’ve got some of those books I mentioned in my earlier post coming up, as well as two more I got for my birthday: Julie & Julia and Film Club: A True Story of a Father and a Son.

6) And, drumroll please, I am going to a concert! I am so excited, I can hardly sit still. First, I should explain a bit about my music taste. Almost every singer or band I like have either retired, split up or died (most fall into the last group). So when I saw that Glen Campbell was not only out of retirement, but that he was finally touring in the US, I knew I had to see his concert. As fate and luck would have it, he is performing in Indianapolis this summer, and I am going. My friend Vanessa is coming with me, as is our friend Meghan, who lives out near Cincinnati. It’s going to be a great trip and a wonderful reunion! I know most people my age don’t know who Glen Campbell is, but gosh darn it, I’m thrilled and I’m going to enjoy it!

7) Upcoming Plans. I’ve been making a few plans for the near (or far) future too. I’ll probably go ice-skating soon, thanks to some coaxing from my friends. I’m also planning a roadtrip to a winery (that’s right, two goals in one!) and a trip to Ireland later this year. Sometime in February I also plan to have a writing weekend to myself where I just relax and focus on getting back into writing.

Looking through my list again, I realize that many of my goals are not quantifiable, so they cannot really be reached. I mean, how can I check something off my list like “Be Happy in My Work”? Although it’s been a stressful few weeks, I do feel a renewed energy this year towards my job and hope that I continue to stay on top of tasks and get more organized. Maybe at some point in the year I will feel more confident, and therefore happier with myself, in this role. These goals are all really just guidelines for how I want to spent this year and I think the only way I’ll get all 25 checked off the list is to sit back on New Year’s Eve and be able to say without reserve, “that was a very good year.”