On Christmas, Ecstatic Dance and Letting Go

I met one of my closest friends in Minneapolis during a barbecue at the start of summer.

I was holding court: surrounded by a circle of open-mouthed, maxi-dressed women as I described the short-lived love affair that had lurched me into months of longing and compulsive poetry.

When K approached I assumed she was part of this group of women, all of whom had grown up together. I (wrongly) made that assumption because of the assurance in her tone as she ambled over, flicked her hand in a show of nonchalance, and said, perfectly, “Life is long!”

The particular, challenging contours of K’s life that I’ve since learned have only deepened my appreciation of that wisdom. And it’s one I keep returning to. Particularly, as it happened, during my holiday visit home.

As a culture, we tend to emphasize the opposite advice: life is short! Act now! Make sure you have no regrets!

And of course, there’s wisdom there too. We shouldn’t be prone to inertia, we shouldn’t procrastinate decisions and changes too long once we’ve recognized them.

But the more I experience, the more I recognize how little use there is for regret–and how little anyone can (or should) predict.

“A year ago I was getting rejected from Sweaty Betty!”

A and I were drinking elaborately infused vodka martinis at a subterranean East Village bar on Christmas night. (After a day spent ingesting an excess of sugar, sesame noodles and sporadic bursts of Family Tension, I impulse-gifted myself a late night speedwalk down Second Avenue and, bless her compliance, a duo of drinks with a dearest friend.)

Red-lipsticked Russian waitresses slid around the room. The bartender played dissonant pop songs from the early 2000s. And A and I reflected on how much our lives had transformed in the last year: one in which she’s moved, professionally, from a place of searching and insistent frustration to one of stability and promise.

“Where was I last December?” I mused, for a moment unsure. “Oh. Right. Practically married!” I sipped my drink. Shook my head. “Wow, things have changed.”

A nodded. “I mean, it’s crazy to think that we have any idea what we’ll be doing in five years.”

A few nights later I visited a Brooklyn bar with my brother, J. (I swear, I did more in New York this vacation than just drink.) It’s the sister bar to the one where J works, so we’d barely made it through the entrance before he started giving out handshakes and hugs.

Among the people he knew were a married couple with grown kids, a man and woman with that distinctly New York version of openness that pings me with warmth. We sat with them by the bar as they spoke lovingly of their family and 19th century Gowanus home, told us how they’d waited until five in the morning on Christmas to open gifts so that they could be together, just them and their four kids.

It didn’t emerge until later in the conversation that both of them are in fact divorced, that their four kids come from both their first marriages, that they’d met as colleagues and that she had attended his first wedding as a guest.

At this, J and I traded looks of awe.

“I’m practically crying,” he said, in partial jest. (And, predictably, in the same tone: Don’t you think you should write about their family instead of ours?!)

I thought: Life is long.

The following morning I rushed out of bed to subway into the West Village for a 5 Rhythms dance class: a space where the vibes of nightclub and zen center converge. I’d been wanting to go for years, but this was my first time, and I spent the full two hours feeling torn between the impulse to close my eyes and explore the sensual particulars of my soul (as the instructor/DJ implored), and opening them to absorb the erratic movements around me: fifty-plus bodies ranging infinite human types (fat, thin, young, old, black, Asian, white…even one guy with a yarmulke) in varying modes of motion: flow to staccato to chaos and (other things and) back.

Everyone poured sweat. Boundaries melted. Some bodies moved through and around each other, some faces marked recognition, and I could see that for many, this class represents a regular community–a kind of church.

I felt reminded, again, of how little we can trust our assumptions about anyone.

With one or two exceptions, no one in that room was someone that I would pass on the street and expect to find at the Joffery Ballet on a sunday morning doing ecstatic dance. I had to imagine some of them had been doing it for years, and some began more recently. The practice is new enough that few present could have been raised with it. Somehow, somewhere along their way, (likely, as I did, through a friend), they’d happened upon it; likely, the experience had dramatically shifted their lives. In just those two hours, it had, not insignificantly, affected mine.

What am I getting at?

It’s the same point where I keep winding up. It’s the reminder of how little we know. It’s the certainty that nothing is certain. That the marriage we think is solid may break in a day. The friendship that seems improbable may change everything. The dance class we give into trying one Sunday may transform our worldview. I’m saying I may stay in Minneapolis for one year or fifty. That I might never get married, or find three husbands yet.

Hermann Hesse: Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go. 

Letting go: a daily struggle. But at least, we hope, one that starts to come with greater ease.

Letting go, that is, of any illusions that we know what’s coming; of any assurance that we can say what the next day or week or month or year will bring.

I know: there’s a way in which that’s terrifying.

But there’s another in which it can seem the most comforting thing in the world.

Happy 2015 :-)

A Winter Whirlwind, Take 6.0

“Maybe this time it will stick!”

“It won’t.”

I was talking with my friend N and it was around Christmastime, which means a few things in New York were certain: you could not walk down 5th avenue without cursing at least eight brightly clad Midwesterners, the lights were pretty, and I was in the throes of a whirlwind affair with a beautiful but unavailable man.

If not for the facts that N and I were g-chatting and my emoticon vocabulary is tragically limited, she would have known that my tone was: bright, calm, assured.

Which is to say: I may not be able to correct my dating patterns, but at the very least I have grown the capacity to sustain at least three positive adjectives as I go through them.

As you may know, I’ve had some practice. It’s been nearly three years since this silly piece, something of a humblebrag (let’s call that my first and last usage of that obnoxious term and–pleasethanks, let aside the likelihood it offends me so greatly because it hits so close), about my Olympian capacities for super-intense, super-short affairs.

I’ve gone through at least six of these whiplash whirlwinds in the last ten-ish years, and about half have occurred around the winter holidays.

“Maybe it’s the holiday spirit?!” S suggested as we observed the coincidence. (S: “I still remember last year–what a week!” Me: “Imagine how I feel!”)

My response to this supposition (for which I did, yes, ask) was reflexively defensive, as though a seasonal explanation undercuts the one I prefer, which, obviously, is that I’m just so irresistable–particularly in furry earmuffs. (If nothing else, this should reassure you that a) my inner monologue is irrational and b) attempts at self-depracating humor notwithstanding, my ego is as healthy as a British rower’s biceps.)

But I digress.

A couple of days later, I was sitting at a Brooklyn bar with another girlfriend–one who, like me, tends to be a bit recklessly open when it comes to men.

“Why,” I pleaded, letting my head flop to the side, “Do I keep letting myself do this?”

It’s a question I ask myself, and surrounding girlfriends, with a regularity that can seem–alternately–shocking and dull.

“Cause,” she shrugged, a touch of mischief evident in her grin. “It’s fun.”

Her words came back to me as I preened around the Union Square Market a few afternoons later, bursting with the excitement of a teen with Taylor Swift tickets: I had, of course, spent the morning cozied up to a man I wasn’t sure I’d ever see again.

There is nothing quite so exhilerating as the thrill of fast, passionnate, and decidedly ill-advised romance with someone who makes you feel special and sexy. Duh.

And few things so deflating as the comedown: such as, the following day, which may or may not have been Christmas, when I staggered around my family celebration, baffled by how all my seemingly sensitive relatives could be so blase about taking photos and sipping mimosas and totally oblivious to the terribly hollowed-out feeling permeating my insides–the one you get when you pour yourself into an intense connection and then eject yourself quickly out of it.

“Yesterday, I felt so blissed out,” I told A over the phone, shivering in the cold during a brief escape from festivities. “And today, I’m just back in the world, alone.”

But as my other girlfriend pointed out, there’s some pleasure, too, in the entire process–all of it. It’s enlivening, a reminder of life’s intense possibilities.

And the fact is, I can spend infinite angsty days and sleepless nights–with friends, with therapists, alone–speculating and psycho-analyzing about why I do this. Lord knows I have and lord knows I will.

I can ponder whether it’s cause I’m so open or so foolish or because, having grown up in part an only child, I crave an intimacy I never thought my due. Whether it’s cause I’m vulnerable to unkempt facial hair or sensitive bad boys or, as A and I like to sometimes gush, I just really love men.*

But at the end of the day, whatever the other reasons, the most important is likely as basic as this: because, however briefly, it’s really, irresistably, fun.

*Clearly, it’s all of the above.