About five years ago I wondered how I would I live my life differently if I lived alone, without children, without Husband. I obsessed about it for nearly a month and made a list. This was not an exercise in emotional terror, but an exploration of how I hem myself up. Do I live exactly how I want? The list used to throb in the back of my mind like a neon sign.
1. I would tattoo my entire back, more if I felt like it, with peacocks and the ocean and flowers -- all bright colors.
2. There would be an area in my living space only for painting and visual art projects. And I would have my own desk and a grossly comfortable reading chair with perfect lighting.
3. I would dance a lot again.
4. I would eat up books.
5. I would stay up as late as I felt like.
6. I would be a vegan like I always wanted to be.
7. I would volunteer my time.
8. I would write more . . .
9. I'd ride a bike everywhere.
The list went on and on until it was glaringly obvious that my notion of freedom was ridiculously paired with solitude. I could do all the things on my list if I cleared my excuses, if I didn't falsely accuse my family of being an obstacle. Every item on this list is a nugget of who I am truly. And if anybody loves those nuggets it's Husband and my girls. They don't hold me back. Only I do that.
Over these past years, I've slowly implemented my list. I add as I can. I don't force or rush it. There is a deep satisfaction in thoughtfully and so consciously placing each piece.
A couple years ago, this list transformed into a This Is Me List. It's sort of a life goal list but written as affirmations. Like, I eat 70% raw. Or, I submit my fiction for publication once a quarter. I am charitable. I paint. I dance. I am a good friend. I am grateful, always. The list is really long, sectioned into categories. And I read it a lot and I revise it sometimes. I keep a tiny print-out of it in my wallet. My birthday is coming later this month, and this is when I examine my list the most. Do I live how I want? Do I contribute? How can I soak it all up more? What is necessary and what is not. The mental stuff I work on a lot. The fine tuning of compassion is a worthwhile and never-ending topic for me. I am slower to diligently work on things like writing and painting and dance, things that take serious, physical time. Time is still my grandest excuse no matter how legitimate.
But since moving, I've been dancing a lot. I sought out a major dance studio in the area and just threw myself in a few days a week. The studio is classically weathered with a blotchy wood floor laced with a sweat smell. There’s a wall fully mirrored in front and a wall of all windows in the back that look out to a bumpy, brick courtyard. I dance in the back and when I’m on the floor in full stretch I look out to the trees in the courtyard, large leaves rustling against a marine-layered sky, and I thank god for my life.
I was pretty fearful and madly intimidated to dance at a real studio again, to be in a structured jazz or hip hop class along with more trained dancers. It's an environment that can be stiflingly judgmental and cliquish, but I realized that at 39 years old, I could honestly give a shit. It's so liberating. I dance all out, and I mean Fuck-It All Out. More than I did when I was younger taking class. More than most of the young dancers around me do, so self conscious of coolness and judgment. I dance strictly for the joy of movement to rhythm. My technique is so busted, but I feel music deeply. During a class I am able to hitch my body to my emotions and let them both fly. It’s soul-clearing. The teachers have been ridiculously encouraging and kind, and the other dancers can't figure out my apparent angle so no one has talked to me yet even when I lamely try to connect a little. Eesh.
Dancing again -- a glaring item on my list, a thing I thought might never happen as I grew older -- was the type of decision that made me wonder why I had given up on this side of myself. I had really blocked out how much dance ignites so much in me. I mean, goddamn, how do you let yourself forget that? I often grapple with the practicality of things. Like, what's the point if it's not actively contributing to something or if it doesn’t have solid end result? I’ll never be a professional dancer or a teacher. I may never get to an advanced level, but is feeling good and having joy in an exact moment without one goal attached to it enough? I testify that it is. Inadvertently this ignition, this release overflows into everything else. It also encourages me to keep working on my list no matter how long or wild or impractical or idealistic. Even if I never do the things listed perfectly, I am encouraged that the effort and the motivation and staying true to them are purely enough.