Fearful of Change Jar
I was ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY BLOWN AWAY by today. Let me start backwards, starting with the last thing I just experienced. I just saw Pidge Meade perform in her one-woman show, which she also wrote and produced, called 40 Pounds in 12 Weeks: A Love Story. It’s an autobiographical show framed around the summer after her freshman year at college, when her hard-core gymnastics coach Dad came to pick her up and drive her 800 miles from Wake Forest back home to Carbondale, Illinois. He discovers that she has put on more than the “Freshman Fifteen” and tells her that if she does not lose 40 pounds over the summer, he will not pay for her to return to college in the fall.

I can’t even begin to go into the rest of the details of the show, but I will try to describe to you how raw, how honest, how loving, how soulful an artist Pidge is for creating this show. I know her as a would-be “corporate Escapee” who has worked in a “sensible” job in a Fortune 500 company for the past decade or so, even though she has always had a love of acting. Her list of theater credits is long, so she has kept her passion alive through community theater opportunities, even though she has secretly always longed to be taken “seriously” as an actor. I met her as an attendee at a workshop on escaping corporate imprisonment to start your own entrepreneurial dream. She sat in the front row and I was in the back, but something about her story when I first heard it caught my attention. I ended up talking to Pidge several months later about taking the first real steps toward her dream of creating an authentic business for coaching women on weight loss, based on her own journey and beliefs about weight representing much more than just food and eating, and her desire to have courageous conversations about the underlying issues, not just the numbers on the scale. I’m happy to be hosting Pidge’s first weight-loss workshop for women in my studio space next January!

Seeing the show tonight just made me so glad to know Pidge. She captured ALL the emotions of love and pain and fear and confusion and guilt and power and the defenses we all construct in order to survive. And she made us LAUGH about them! She played every character in the show – herself at various ages from 7 to 19, her mother, her father, several of her friends, her church pastor, and the hilarious narrator of the show, a French chanteuse. There was not one person in the Dragon Theater in Palo Alto who didn’t recognize the emotions she was portraying. The conversations were so real, which is perhaps not surprising as they were peeled from her own memory. But what struck me was her ability to portray every single character with such depth and empathy and love, even in moments of profound pain.

The program for Pidge’s show tonight was a modest 8.5 by 11 sheet of light green pastel paper, folded in half. But the Creator’s Note said it all so eloquently:

This play is not about weight. Except when it is. Just as in real life, I believe that how much we weigh and what we look like doesn’t really matter. Except, of course, when it does. But more than weight, I think this is a play about love: how hard it can be to love each other, and ourselves; how we frequently hurt each other in the name of love; and how desperately we try to find love substitutes, when the real thing eludes us.

You see, I’ve been going through some of my own pain lately. I think the dream I had last night pretty much sums it up. The dominant image in that dream was an inky black sea, swirling with angry-looking waves, billowing endlessly, rising up to such frightening heights that I could see them crest over the glass ceiling in my house (not my real house – just in the dream). I watched them crash and swirl and crest without relenting. But I never got wet or pulled into them. I was inside, looking out. I was safe, even though I felt the anger of those waves. They looked like anger to me. I think my dream finally allowed me to see all my anger.

Turtles

Which brings me to what I did last night. Sometimes the emotions are just so intense that all you can do is make some construction paper animals. I made turtles. I went to Staples on a Friday night and bought glitter glue pens and glue sticks. And I sat at my kitchen table making turtles.

Turtle 2

I was suddenly and inexplicably inspired to create an award for my students, honoring the moments from each week that inspire me to keep teaching. It’s really all I can do right now to keep going. I need to remember the small moments – the small, turtle steps – that keep me going each day. They’re there, even though they get flooded out by those jet black waves of anger swirling so madly right in my face, right through the glass.

Three stories came to mind from this week, so I made three turtles. It calmed me to trace the circles, cut them out, figure out how to make the head and the feet, and finally decorate with glitter. In the end I was kind of proud of them – hence the picture. I punched holes in them and tied sparkly ribbon onto them to make “medals” out of the turtles. I’ve decided the “Turtle Steps Award” will be a rotating award that my students will hopefully begin to covet. They will wear it with pride on the Saturday I award it, and then give it back to me at their lesson. At our next full group class, I will present the award to another 3 students who inspire me in the preceding week.

Today, while leading my Turtle Steps Award ceremony and in telling the stories of these three students in front of everyone, I felt I was taking back possession of the thing I had created five years ago. I finally gave first voice to the deepest thing that inspires me. I had found no other way to show my appreciation for all the “unsung” heroes in my school who go unnoticed, because they don’t hog the limelight, get the solo opportunities, or go on international concert tours. They just do their work, do their learning, and don’t expect any recognition for it. They are like turtles, with hard shells of resilience developing around their soft inner cores, taking small steps on the long journey of a wise life. Most of their true personal victories happen with no witness except me – that’s one more than a lot of us ever get in a lifetime. But like everyone, they appreciate being seen. We have enough people saying, “Look at me!”. Today’s awards were my way of saying, “I see you.”

Finally, sandwiched in between my morning group class and this evening’s one-woman show, I hosted a reunion gathering for the Bay Area Escapees who first came together in June for Pam Slim’s book tour. This was where I first met Pidge. Today we were a small circle of just seven, but we provided such strong support of one another. The feeling in the room was the unmistakable feeling of people being seen and heard in each other’s presence. Each of us was embarking on major scary changes in our lives – scary only because we each felt utterly alone in our desire to pursue something “different”, authentic, real to us only. Agenda

But as we looked around the circle, and began listening to one another, charting our questions, giving each other the space in which to talk, and in some cases the accountability partners and sounding boards we so longed for, I saw people come alive. It was reminiscent of what I experienced at Real Speaking in Santa Fe. People began to light up with courage, feeling less uncertain about their dreams becoming reality, feeling a little lighter in their own souls, a little more able to face another day of uncertainty. I could read this on the faces of each person in the room, as they began to voice their doubts, and hear sane people offer reasonable suggestions or challenge the assumptions that were holding them back. Mostly these shifts occurred simply in the space of being able to give voice to the deepest truths in our hearts. It was nothing more than that, I believe. In order to heal our unseen wounds, we as human beings may need simply to feel heard at the level of our souls.

This is why Pidge’s show really brought it full circle for me. I had conversed with Pidge over a long cup of coffee several months before, and then heard some of her current concerns in the circle this afternoon. But THEN I saw her creation – her unique expression, through her gift of singing and acting, of what it feels like to be Pidge in this world. I felt I knew her after that show, and felt so grateful for her letting us see her sometimes broken but ever resilient heart. I was in deep admiration of her after the show – so deep that all I could do was give her two long, heartfelt hugs, saying “Wow.” I hope she could feel through my embrace that I was encouraging her to keep expressing it, keep giving it, because it’s all coming around to help all of us who need people like her in this world. We need people who are willing to be alive. We need truth, love, and beauty.

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