Dance with more than just your toes!

I admire the lack of inhibition in children.  Of course it has it down side, but for the most part, I think it is a trait to be nurtured and emulated.  Children have not yet learned to be afraid of what other people think of them.  They simply experience the world around them and engage it with undaunted enthusiasm and vigor.  A rather potent example of this is dance.  We are all hardwired to dance.  It is part of our nature as human beings to physically respond to music.  I have never met a young child who did not dance.  It begins almost as soon as they are able to make voluntary movements and continues till the time they learn to be afraid.  A baby who cannot even sit up by himself will bob his head to music and older children will jump and bounce and swing around the dance floor with an excitement that cannot be held back – as though they can’t help it.  And why should they?  It’s natural, joyous, active, FUN.

Children dancing at the "Delta Mountain Boys" concert at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center.

I recently attended a bluegrass concert where the music was as lively and dance-inducing as it ever gets.  And, as I looked around the room, I noticed that every single adult, without fail, sat straight and calm in their seat while their feet bounced in rhythm under their tables.   Try as they might (in order to maintain “dignity” and “self-respect”), they could not keep the dance inside.  Not completely.  It was wiggling out their toes, trying to escape.  But the children . . . they didn’t even try to keep it in.  They danced wildly around the floor as though no one was watching.  Or perhaps as though everyone was watching but they loved it.  When do we lose this sence of freedom?  What are we so afraid of?  Is it because we are so quick to judge others, that we assume everyone else is judging us?  Well, as my sister’s teacher told her in high school, “You’ll become much less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”   Children believe themselves to be the center of their own little world.  And with that understanding, they make the rules.  It doesn’t matter what other people think because it’s their world, after all.  As adults, we come to understand, rather brutally sometimes, that the world does not, in fact, revolve around us.  But some residual part of that belief holds on and we still believe that people are analyzing every little thing we do, because, I mean, why wouldn’t they?  But despite our immense worry, people are far less preoccupied with the things we do than we give them credit for.  And most people are much less judgemental than we often assume.  When you see someone dancing spiritedly at a concert, unconcerned about how professional they look or whether or not they’re messing up their hair . . . just dancing, do you think, “Look at that stupid person!  Why don’t they just sit down?”  Or do you smile and wish you had the nerve to live in the moment as they did?  If your answer is the former, than you deserve to be self conscious and fearful, because you will probably receive the same judgement you give out.  But if it is the latter, know that MANY people have that same thought.  And most likely they admire you for taking chances and living outside of a box.  Perhaps if we all lost a bit of our inhibitions, and let our kids teach us as much as we teach them, we might inspire one another to live a bit more vividly, with open eyes, open arms, open hearts, and more than just our toes dancing!


Embracing the Clichéd

In today’s society, where individualism is hailed as one of the highest virtues, we are often afraid of being too clichéd. The phrase, “That’s such a cliché!” is used as an insult. But sometimes I find myself wondering, is it really such a bad thing to be somewhat predictable, normal, or even unoriginal? Some things are clichéd for a reason. Because they have stood the test of time and multitudes and still hold true. I’ve taken flack from plenty of friends and sometimes my own alter-ego, for my desire to move to the suburbs. And I must admit, the individualistic, young, and still edgy side of me cringes at the idea of moving into a cookie cutter, “stepford” neighborhood, with picket fences, matching roof lines and tiny trees. But not all the suburbs are so scary. And some things are more important than being in the middle of it all. Like my son’s education. I certainly see the value in sticking it out and fighting for better education in the city rather than fleeing, but I will not use my son’s future as a weapon in that battle. And then there’s crime. Does staying put and risking the robbery of my possessions and possible harm of my family help bring crime levels down in the city or should we just move to where it is safer? But considering these things makes me wonder if I have been too quick to judge others in the past. Most of the suburbanites have probably had similar lines of reasoning that brought them to where they are today. Most of them probably have histories and lives every bit as interesting as mine, or more so. And yet I have been guilty of looking at them and thinking, “What a cliché!” We are taught from such an early age to never judge a book by its cover and yet we fight judgementalism well into adulthood and old age.

Yesterday, as my son and I were downtown enveloped in a sea of people who had gathered to celebrate Independence Day, I found myself looking around at all the faces and imagining the stories behind their eyes. We are all on wildly different journeys, and yet, too often we tend to approach people as though they should be in the same place we are. The whole event for which all these people had come together was, in and of itself, an incredible cliché. Americana at its finest. There were flags and people in patriotic attire, face painting and glow sticks, catfish and burgers, and an orchestral band playing “Yankee Doodle.” There were kids everywhere and frazzled parents trying to keep up with them. There were lawn chairs and lovers making eyes at each other. And of course, there were fireworks. But there was something beautiful and calming about the cliché. So many different people, from different walks of life and in different places in their journey, coming to celebrate the same thing. And celebrate it in the same way it has been celebrated for generations. It may be a cliché, but it is a damn good one and I’m happy I was part of it.

There are hundreds of paths up the mountain,
all leading in the same direction,
so it doesn’t matter which path you take.
The only one wasting time is the one
who runs around and around the mountain,
telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.
~Hindu teaching

Reminding Ourselves to Remember

I recently had the opportunity to revisit one of my favorite childhood pastimes – something I hadn’t done in over a decade. I went roller skating. Was I taking Aiden for his first experience with wheels on his heels? No. Was I attending a birthday party for some friend’s child or chaperoning some other young person’s event? No. I was just reliving the good ol’ days with some coworkers and the nostalgia of it was overwhelming.

It was yet another reminder to appreciate things as they are happening and not as we look back wistfully in the rare opportunities that we have to relive them. Although I loved roller skating as a child and even as a teenager, I don’t think I ever slowed those wheels down long enough to savor the experience and recognize that I wouldn’t be able to do it forever. I’m certainly not saying that we should take every happy, wonderful moment full of innocence and joy and make it serious, sober, and appreciative. But rather that we should learn to take mental snapshots. We are all so very good at taking digital photos these days – capturing flat, visual representations of the things we experience. But there is so much more to those memories. There are smells, tastes, sounds, feels, emotions, thoughts . . . all connected in an intricate web of vitality. And our minds are capable of cataloging all of it – if we would just take a moment to breathe and remind ourselves to remember. Tell ourselves in a fraction of a second, “This is good!”

As I looked around the rink at all of the other skaters, most of them half my age, I found myself wondering how many of them would remember. The twelve-year-old boyfriend and girlfriend with matching T-shirts skating hand in hand in countless circles. The new recruit to the roller derby team, getting a strong sense of her stride. The flamboyantly gay twenty-something spinning pirouettes at each turn and squealing with delight, not caring what anyone else thought of him. The middle-aged, excessively bearded beginner skating back and forth in the center at a painstaking pace, trying to prove that you can teach and old dog new tricks. The six-year-old little girl with white skates just like mine who put my moves to shame. Will all of these people find themselves in this spot a decade later trying to pull the cobwebs off of these memories? Or will these moments flood back with a vivid force because they LIVED them now? I am very glad I took the opportunity to experience this small part of my past again. And this time I drank it in deeply and will not easily forget.

I Prefer My Popsicles in a Glass

It is a wonderful thing when you find a project that captures the mind, imagination, and senses of a child. It is an equally incredible thing when you find something that tickles your creativity as an adult and becomes and outlet to help you forget the monotonies and stresses of the day. But to find something that accomplishes both in one fell swoop, is downright magical! I present to you “Orange/Strawberry/Banana Popsicles” in kid version and grown-up version. Enjoy.

Kid Version: Orange Juice and Strawberry/Banana Juice mixed in ice-cube trays and topped with sliced strawberries to help keep the sticks up while they freeze. I used wooden kebab skewers cut into thirds.

Grown-up Version: Same recipe as popsicles above minus the sticks. When frozen, and the kids are in bed, place into a martini glass and top with vodka (and water or juice if straight up is a little too stout).

The Fun Theory

Why is it that most of the things in our lives that we should do feel like chores?  Eating healthy, exercising, recycling, keeping an organized household, doing yard work, maintaining the car . . . the list goes on and on, but I think you get the picture.  As children, simple tasks like unloading the dishwasher were exciting endeavors because we hadn’t done them 8 million times before and they were filled with interesting colors, shapes, textures, and ideas.  The simple act of stacking plastic cups as high as they would go and then watching them tumble before putting them away provided endless entertainment.  Perhaps this is exactly the point.  We as “grown-ups” are too sophisticated to do such silly things as make cup towers before putting them away.  We are much to busy to waste our time on such frivolities.  We have crammed our lives so full we no longer have time to make simple tasks FUN.  And because we don’t take the time to add the ridiculous to the mundane, we find ourselves should-ing our way through life rather than enjoying it.  I was pondering this idea while watching my son pretend to be a ghost as he put away his blanket, when I remembered an ad campaign by Volkswagen that I had seen some time ago which centered around this very concept.  It was called “The Fun Theory”  and its goal was to coax people out of their boxes by taking everyday tasks, injecting them with a healthy dose of fun and seeing how dramatically it improved people’s participation in those activities as well as the quality of their work while doing them.  The results were often remarkable.  Demonstrating that it’s not that people don’t want to do the things they should, it’s just that most of us are bored and under-stimulated.  If we could expand on this idea and start seeking out ways to make ordinary tasks enjoyable, I believe we would all lead much more productive and fulfilling lives.  So lets stop should-ing all over ourselves and start looking for ways to make life more interesting and everyday things more FUN!

Piano Stairs - 66% more people than normal chose the stairs over the escalator!


Bottle Bank Arcade - in one evening, this was used by over 100 people, as opposed to the normal 2 or 3


Speed Camera Lottery - caused a reduction of speed of 22% in three days!