�The moment in between what you once were, and who you are now becoming, is where the dance of life really takes place.� � Barbara De Angelis
Racing out of African dance class sweating and out of breath on the way to my next appointment I stop for a moment trying to remember the name of the dance we just did. It occurs to me how many different dances are about the same thing; rite of passage.
There are rites of birth and rites of death; baptism, “bris” and burial. Every personal year begins with our birthday and every community year ends with a New Year celebration. A coming of age is acknowledged with bar-mitzvahs, confirmations and sweet sixteen parties. A coming of time is marked with graduation and retirement. Wedding is the passage from “me” to “us”. Anniversaries remember time held in that space. There is also a place between birth and death, after the graduations and before retirements, where we find ourselves unexpectedly in an undefined passage with no celebration to mark it. Something happens to us between the time we are fearless world changers and wise women and men. It’s the space between. It’s not marked by a rite of passage because it’s too big and too vague and means different things depending on who you are. It’s the space where you look for the glasses that are sitting on top of your head and it’s the space of profound revelations. My husband jokingly says this rite of passage is the passage of the cruise. Could be the passage of the Winnebago too but we’re not there yet; not even close.
I hit that space at the same time both my freelance film maker husband and I had to deal with rapidly changing businesses. If we are not our work then at least our work provides a way for us to support our loved ones and maintain some ease. Many of us are our work. Unlike generations before us who were pressured by the older generation to measure up and then had to stay current over the natural course of time, we’ve been pressed by a culture of youth to quickly get relevant or cease to exist. The speed at which we are required to change now is impressive. Throw in an economy in decline and people who still depend on you and it makes for some confusion and soul searching. I’d worked free-lance all my life and was suddenly sick of living on the edge. I romanticized that I would get a job answering phones and day dreaming. I would get a paycheck and health insurance and a vacation. I would paint and write. I knew I was losing my mind.
I have a shirt with a picture of a smiling Marine holding up a coffee cup. It says “HOW ABOUT A NICE BIG CUP OF SHUT THE FUCK UP”. I love that shirt. I’ve had it for years but hadn’t worn it for awhile. Resignation had replaced indignation and I had hardly noticed it. You’ve got to have a healthy indignation at stupid and a sense of humor to wear a shirt like that. My indignation was there but the sense of humor disappeared for a bit and there was more than just a touch of “who cares”. At a time when the fluctuations of my body heat were more interesting than the fluctuations of my mind and not totally unrelated, I’d come to recognize that I’d spent a few years in the limbo that’s the space between. It is the space between not having a purpose and not needing one.
I looked at the picture on my driver’s license yesterday. The space between that picture of me seven years ago and now is a lifetime. I raised and released kids into the wild. I had a place in a small yoga community and got lost in an exploding city. I was a confident healthy young woman who slept with ease, moved with grace and became a sleepless zombie with aching joints and a restless mind. Yoga was a simple business between teachers and students and became a computer generated fast food restaurant menu of random everything. In a confluence of circumstances which included a shift in my self- image, a change in the business practice and tone of yoga, and the cultural earthmover of the internet steamrolling behind us I was ready to bail. Ba ba _ ba ba ba; like the space between the second and third beat of a Cuban clave, it’s hardly there but it’s huge. If we are not the person we always knew and recognized then who are we? Are we still relevant?
When you’re a kid you think you’re invincible. That’s good. It sets you free. You get older and you think you know everything. That’s also good. It gives you courage. Then there’s the sweet spot where you do know something and hopefully you’re not quite an arrogant prick and it’s primetime. It’s a good time to make a name and money. It’s the time of raising a family. It’s the time to pull yourself together, make a statement and own the world. The next transition sneaks up on you. It’s no more extraordinary but seems so advancing with amplified awareness gained only by the experience of putting time in on the planet. The clarity comes in hindsight. There’s a period of time you’re aware you’ve been thrown clear and you’re sort of fucked but you don’t know how surreal that was until you hit the ground again.
I had a moment of doubt but it’s over. It was interesting being demure and angry at the same time; humbled and not the least bit humble. Free falling gave me distance to see more objectively. It is between points of balance where the work of life takes place but that one lasted an uncomfortable length of time. When you still need gravity it’s important not to lose sight of the shore.
I’ve had help from my students who are the keepers of my words. When I’ve forgotten that my work has purpose they’ve been there to remind me. I’ve forgotten my own ideas but they come back to me by letters and phone calls and chance meetings with people who have gone on to other things or moved away. They, who know that I could not give them the video of the class we just finished because I’d forgotten by the time I’d walked out the door, have had to remember for themselves. I’d advised them over the years to remember what I would forget so that it wouldn’t be lost. Now they remind me and give me back to myself and in doing that bring me back to work. Stream of consciousness teachers are conduits more than lesson planers; not better or worse but different. The problem for people like us is that our work is like sand paintings. Even if there are pictures of it or things written about it later, as the experience is over and we stop creating, we cease to exist. We are like Peter Pan’s friend Tinkerbell who will disappear unless people clap for her. The clapping is love. The clapping means we were here.
I’ve never had a direction that I consciously chose much to the dismay of friends and family. I’ve always been too stubborn to give a damn and I’ve also been lucky. I’m still on a circuitous path but these days I have a greater sense of purpose despite having no plan at all. Things have shifted again as they always will but mostly my viewpoint has shifted. It just took some simmering in limbo before I could climb back into myself. I think I was like an overactive immune system trying to throw myself out with the things that were making me mad.
I’ve got my New York attitude back. I’ve readjusted. I’ve made friends with the enemy of this time stealing soul sucking internet life. I pick and choose when to let it in. After that I just let that happy shiny Marine on my shirt do the talking.
I was always a solitary walker. Friends know better than to call me for a hike. I walk alone; or I thought I did. But this rite of passage has revealed a time to embrace dance partners. It’s the clasp of the people who touch and teach each other and remind us we are relevant. There is no ritual to mark this but this letter to myself.
(Published in Elephant Journal)