Friday, August 16, 2013

the bluebird of well managed anxiety

1. no one is watching

Amy was in town last weekend, and it was so nice, so easy to pick up where we left off, in the way of old friends. At one point, AK said something about my anxiety. The other day, she’d mentioned how poorly I had handled the uncertainty of apartment-hunting five years ago, and I’d balked. Did she really think I was still that person? Yes and no, she said.

Now, I said, “I’m really much less anxious now. I reserve my anxiety for like two things.”

Amy called me out: “Are you less anxious, or do you just distribute your anxiety differently?”

Some people talk about the fearlessness cancer creates in its near-victims. It’s true that I am acutely aware of all the things that won’t kill me, and am accordingly blasé, maybe even too much so: losing my job, writing a story no one likes, offending someone, disappointing someone, not making the bed in the morning.

But the fine print in this fearlessness contract—at least for me—states that in lieu of worrying about all the shit I worried about five years ago, I will worry about recurrences. (And, okay, early menopause.) Instead of pouring my anxiety in a hundred different containers, I’ll fill one giant keg labeled (in Sharpie on masking tape) My Own Mortality and lug it with me everywhere I go. But at least it’s easy to keep track of, and somewhat mitigated by Effexor and a shitload of therapy.

Tuesday night I went to a hip-hop class at the studio where Jamie does ballet. My not-so-secret mission is to see her dance there one day, because if the stretches she does at our conference table are any indication, she’s really good. I hadn’t taken a dance class in a few years, and hadn’t danced regularly since freshman year of college.

Back then, dancers had to make due without conference tables.
Going up that steep-and-very-narrow stairway* brought back memories of Act III, the one-room Redondo Beach studio where I took lessons in middle and high school. Of taking the last class at night, steaming up the windows and—I was certain—filling passersby with deep envy. Of cutoff sweatpants and kneepads and jazz boots with the tops folded over.

The teacher was a slim, fit black guy with the movements of someone highly trained to look street, like distressed designer jeans. I don’t mean that in a bad way—he was liquid, chameleonic. He could shrug like a thug, and I believed he could have pirouetted like a prima ballerina if he so chose. He conducted the class almost entirely in pantomime, touching his head for “from the top,” making a T with his hands for “half time” and spinning one finger in a circle for “speed it up.” His choreography was clever and not too hard to follow.

Just like teachers at Act III, he periodically divided the class in two so one half could rest and watch while the other put on a show. (What I love about dance, that you do not get from yoga, is that it’s not about “going at your own pace” and “doing what feels best”—it’s about looking good for the audience, dammit.)

I remembered the unofficial choreography of these moments at Act III. When your group is called upon, look sheepish, full of dread. Drag your feet onto the floor. Make an “Eep! I don’t know what I’m doing!” face. I did sort of suck as a dancer back then, so it wasn’t entirely false, but Amy and Bonnie were born dancers and they did the same. Self-consciousness was simply the language of being a teenager.

And heaven forbid we be asked to freestyle for an eight-count.

I didn’t suck so bad Tuesday night. When it was my group’s turn to dance, I Danced Like No One Was Watching. Or maybe I danced like everyone was, and like they liked me well enough anyway, or were just absorbed in their own shit. I do believe, on some level, that life experience makes one funky. I did sweat so hard I weighed three pounds less than usual the next morning.

2. my blue period begins

Cancer also made me particularly fearless about my hair. I got it trimmed for the first time since it grew back last night, just a little off the sides to emphasize the faux hawk that had grown naturally. Then I stopped by CVS for a bottle of blue dye and stayed up late coloring it, which is what happens when you have coffee too late in the day.

During the bleaching phase, I missed a big spot near the back, and during the bluing phase, I didn’t miss anything—not the sink or the walls or my neck or shoulders or fingernails.

The smears on my neck give away the fact that this isn't my natural color.
Tattooed wrist, tattooed fingernails.
Looking around at the Smurf massacre that was our bathroom, I said, “I would make a terrible murderer.”

“You’re no Dexter,” AK agreed.

My OCD, unfortunately, appeared to be limited to hypochondria and straightening picture frames. It would have been useful about now—it would have been good to hunt down petroleum jelly to protect my ears from the dye—but here my healthy, “ehh…good-enough” self took over.

The results are okay. More gutter punk than tidy Rockabilly, I’m afraid, but nothing I can’t live with for a few months.

And apparently my nose is crooked too. Good thing I'm not self-conscious anymore.


val zane said...

I love it! It's so punk rock. I feel very lucky to know you and to have been taught by you... not just because of the cool smurferiffic do either!

Cheryl said...

Aw, thanks. I'm going to try to use smurferiffic in a sentence today.

Tracy Lynn said...

Gutter punk is vastly underrated.

Cheryl said...

I bow to your expertise as a former Seattleite.

Peter Varvel said...

Ha ha! It took me a while . . . but I'm honored to be greeted by the ACL reference that I immediately zeroed in on - which you knew I would do.
Loved this post about dance class.
Love this specific shade of blue on you.
Love that you are living life with a healthy appetite!

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Peter! I'm glad you're living the dance life these days too!