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Friday, January 01, 2010

Success Wreck

Yes, I've had emotional train wrecks just after major successes as many other people experience. Feels like a tsunami rolling over me at best. Had to take some time to re-group and think carefully about how to provide for my own needs and desires, hopes and fears. This was often days of time.

In order to get some freedom, I seemed to be capable of pretending that I was smart; or at least it seemed to me that I wasn't as smart as others considered me to be. When growing up, every once in awhile I'd get a teacher who was smart enough to use what I had to offer. They must have been wise enough to understood some of why I was acting the way I did.

For instance, my Spanish teacher in middle school was brilliant. It didn't matter to her that having eaten breakfast made me fall sleep during her class every day. She was smart enough to observe that I would soak up everything that was going on around me in this half-asleep state. It was fine with her that she had to call my name to wake me; then she'd repeat her request that she was passing around the room for everyone to answer. The test was that I had the answer that would satisfy her criteria. She was so kind to not penalize me in any way for sleeping with my head on my desk.

Every once in awhile she would give me something interesting to do that would keep me awake enough; the job of making flash cards for the class - or tutoring my classmates who were slower to learn. By the time I had spent three years in her class - I was completely fluent and could think and even tell jokes in Spanish. I joke now that I've forgotten many Spanish words... but the truth of the matter is it comes back to me when I go to Mexico. Pretty much I can tell what someone is talking about in Spanish, but not what they're saying about until I hit the books a bit again.

I knew where this wound came from in my past, but that didn't help much figuring out how to get past it. When I was a kid in the 1950s, I studied tap dancing at a gym - it was also a place where kids got rewarded (with the equivalent of twenty bucks now) the first time they could walk across the length of the gym on their hands. Had a funny flash-back that seemed to be lodged into my body when I attended a stretching class thirty years later as I bent backwards into what is called a "bridge" to "spider-walk" - walk on one's hands and feet belly-up, back arched with one's head hanging upside-down and backwards. As a five year old, I was such a fast learner of routines in the gym and dance classes that the teachers put me at the head of the troupe and had the other kids to just follow my excellent memory.

The problem happened at a huge group recital. Some other kids not in my group sat in the wrong line. When the line of my group was called me and a couple others in my troupe who were supposed to be at the head of the group did not get to go out on stage. I was completely crushed that I'd been pumped up about how important my role was as leader and then no grownup noticed I was not at the head of my group to perform. How important could I be if I was not even missed?

The event producers offered to let me go out on stage with the other two kids in my troupe, but I could not stop crying. My mom even stuck me into the car and drove me around the block to try to calm me down. She tried to give me a pep talk that I was doing what actresses do - throw a fit when I had been short-changed. I had been successful and now it was time for the show to go on. But it didn't work because I had not had any practice in calming myself down after being really upset. I had never gotten so freaked out and disappointed in my sweet, short life before.

I recognized myself in a scene of the movie "Wave Rider." A young girl works hard and skillfully to prove to her grandfather she is qualified to be the spiritual leader of her community. But he refuses to allow her recognition because of her gender. She successfully fulfills many trials, in spite of being spurned, and she is even actively prevented from learning by being excluded from her grandfather's classes - for boys only. In one scene, she has learned complex Maori chants and performs them with tears streaming down her face, in spite of the fact that her grandfather has refused to attend her performance.

For some reason, the producers of that even long ago would not allow me as a forgotten performer to express myself by crying while dancing. Why not? Where is this rule that performers must be happy?

The movie does not go into why the Wave Rider protagonist cannot give up the role she is meant to play for her people. But this is what I need to know - for myself. How can persist and continue to fulfill the role I know I am supposed to play without allowing setbacks to prevent me from eventual success?

Anyone who does not fit into the mold that language usage or culture has established to be "normal" is left to flounder - this is just as true for people who are good looking, talented and smart as well as those who are on the other end of the social spectrum.

Part of being an adult to know what it is you need and go out and provide it for yourself. My own secret has been to figure out how to ask for or get what I needed in other ways, other avenues that did not excite societal reactions, to sneak under the go in the back door rather than the front door.

I'm not sure that this "back door approach" will work for me in the future. Self-doubt has reared its ugly head for me.

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