Are You Constantly Looking for the Extraordinary? What if You Stopped?

Yesterday I learned that one of my teachers from NYU died.  It happened last week, yet somehow I didn’t know about it. I was talking with my friend Kate from college, and she suddenly said “You know about Peter, right?” When she told me, I stopped in my tracks and couldn’t speak.

I’m a terrible dancer and he was my African Dance teacher. We were forced as drama majors in my school to take African Dance freshman year, and I always dreaded it. It was first thing in the morning and I was always exhausted. And there was so much drumming and jumping…and did I mention I suck at dancing?

Yet Peter, my teacher, always had so much energy. He was smiling and shining every frigging day…just beaming. It was insane how much energy he had and how much he danced in our classes all day. I remember feeling tired just watching him. Yet by the end of the year, I was African Dancing with the rest of the class. I was jumping and throwing my arms and skipping and bobbing my head and moving my back in funny ways. It was far from perfect. It was probably far from even sort of good. But it was.

And I was proud of myself.

So thanks, Peter, for giving me those moments of taking it all in- of forcing myself to do something imperfectly and to find joy anyway. For showing me that I can be terrible at something and still do it imperfectly but proudly. To find pleasure in my own ordinariness.

He posted a quote on his Facebook wall before he died, and it really stuck with me. I think it sums up a lot of what he taught me, and how I feel about those lessons. I’m posting it below.

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

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How Much Have You Forgotten By Your Thirties?

I finally saw Inside Out tonight. It’s a movie that all of my favorite people have been raving about and begging me to go see. I’d only heard amazing things about it, and Jane even mentioned and exalted it in her last post, Shake It Up, Mix It Together, and Reassemble. The movie was as good as everyone said it would be- in fact, I think it was even better than all the hype. It has become my absolute favorite Pixar movie.

Warning: Inside Out spoiler alert ahead…stop reading now if you haven’t seen the movie…and go see it.

There were quite a few moments in the movie that left me in tears..sometimes happy ones and sometimes really sad ones. One of the saddest moments for me was the disappearance of the protagonist, Riley’s, imaginary friend, Bing Bong. This imaginary friend was walking with another character, Joy, through the land of forgotten memories, and while he was there, he started to fade. First he lost a piece of hand, and then an arm, and then, in a moment of sacrifice, he let himself stay in forgotten memory land and fade away completely in order to let Joy escape.

When Bing Bong faded away, I lost it. I started weeping uncontrollably once Bing Bong was gone, even though I kind of saw it coming. And I saw it coming because I couldn’t remember my imaginary friend. Maybe I never even had one. Or maybe I forgot him or her. But it didn’t matter because that memory was gone. And so were many other memories from my childhood.

There’s so much we remember, and so much that fades. At this point we have 30-something years of memories. I realized recently that many of the memories I have repeat themselves over and over. The others are simply gone. It feels like such a shame to lose so much time but I guess that’s essentially part of the process of growing up. And we never stop growing up. Just because we’re already adults doesn’t mean that the growing up stops. It just keeps going and evolving. And fading.

As much as I uselessly grieved tonight over lost memories I can never get back, I was grateful for the ones I still have and for the present moment, where I can experience new things that aren’t gone or only memories yet. The disappearance of most memories is a darn good reason to try even harder to appreciate the present moment and to stay in the now- if you don’t grab onto the moment as it happens, you won’t ever experience it again and you may not even remember that it existed at all.

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Not Feeling It During the Holidays

Every year around the holidays, I wonder why I’m not “feeling it” the way I used to. Even though I’m now thirty, I find myself doing the same thing I did during the holidays as a teenager, and all throughout my twenties- trying to pull up an old feeling. You know that feeling. It’s that “magical holiday feeling”…remember it?

It’s an old memory now. Maybe I used to have it when I looked at the sky and was positive Santa was about to come. I guess I was awaiting something special…feeling that anticipatory glow. It came from expecting presents to appear out of nowhere…that wonderful moment of waking up and knowing something special has arrived…the feeling of barely being able to wait a moment longer. Now the closest feeling I have to that is when I open my email inbox after a long time of not checking it.

No, that’s sad. There are definitely times when I eagerly await something better than email.

But during the holidays, I guess I don’t know how to get that anticipatory excitement back the same way it used to be. So I performed my holiday traditions as usual- I got out my holiday stuff.

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My holiday soap

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My holiday socks

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My holiday owl tea mug. Yes, this is holiday related.

I lit my holiday candles and filled my room with pine smell. I made pumpkin everything. I played my Indie Holiday tunes Pandora station.

And I felt happy. I love all my little holiday traditions.

But I still didn’t get that old feeling back that I wanted so badly. So I sulked, vaguely disappointed. Every year I’ve sulked, feeling my special holiday feeling was just a hairs breadth out of reach.

And then I remembered something actors say to me all the time when I direct them in plays. They say, “Laura, I’m just not feeling it.”

And you know what I say back? I say “It doesn’t matter if you’re not feeling it! You’re not always going to feel it! Do the scene anyway! Just go with it!” I usually say this in a nice way, of course.

So with that in mind, I took a walk in Woodside at night during the first holiday season of my thirties.

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And I laughed.

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And I looked. And looked again.

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And I felt something mild, and silly, and light. A subtle feeling. Older in a different way. Something like peace. Possibly hope.

The old feeling was gone. It had been gone for a long time.

And that was okay.

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If I looked closely it had been replaced.

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Happy holidays to all of you. Let in anything you’re feeling right now. It’s okay.

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