week 5: take up space

In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’d never done before then writing about it. This is week 5.

nun5Hold space. Sure. I hold all I can. I’ll hold it if you sidle up close, hip to hip, and whisper something true. I’ll hold it if I’ve met you only three times and you post something lonely really late at night on facebook. And if you show up and show me your skin and say nothing but things feel pretty good today, I will listen. With ears. With hands. With some silent, unseen nod that you will never know about. Here is your space. I’ll just stand over to the side, casual and compassionate, so quiet you’ll barely know I’m here. I will take nothing but air. I apologize for my breath being, quite naturally, both slow and deep.

But to take the space…to take it up, well, that’s a different kind of exercise. As if my hands could grab space by the shoulders and shake it. You’re not going anywhere, mister. As if I could inflate my limbs and torso to twice their size. As if I could exist in my limbs and torso in exactly the size they are, my voice bursting from my throat in loud, unwieldy sentences. Me, immovable. Me, without my dress of sorries.

That’s a lot harder.

Over the weekend, I forced myself to a reading up the street from my house against all the pleas of my achey joints and the soothing hug of my comfortable couch. I sat by the back wall next to the snacks, somewhat removed from the circle of chairs and tables and people close to the podium. I was another body in the room in support of the wonderful woman who organized the event, another set of ears for the people reading vulnerable things. But I was also there for myself, to hear something new, to get that sweet jolt of joy that comes from hearing the right words pushed off a woman’s tongue in just the right way.

At the end of the night, the performers as well as any alumni of the reading series were asked to the front so a picture could be taken, according to their tradition. I’m an alumni, but instead of stepping up, I tightened my sweater around my chest and walked out quickly without a word. Later, I found out that the audience held many of the writers I’ve recently befriended on facebook but have never met in real life. I wished I’d resisted my default reaction of shrink or go or disappear. But leaving a space, rather than taking it is such an automatic response that my body practically moves without my knowledge. I was on the sidewalk before I stopped to think, hey, maybe I should have introduced myself and said hi.

The next evening I went to dinner with my folks, expecting to face an awkward conversation about being non-monogamous since I’d shared this blog with them days earlier. I was anxious about it all day. And then it didn’t happen. My mother admitted that she’d only read one post about Powell Butte. She was complimentary of my writing, but there was no more discussion because neither she nor my father had read what I’d wanted them to. There was no discussion because I couldn’t move the words on the page onto and then off of my tongue.

Earlier that afternoon, my best friend had asked, what would you say if you were normal and not a writer? Well, if I were normal, I’d say this: I’m forty-six years old and it’s embarrassing how hard it can still be to take up some goddamn space in this world. I’d say this: if you lined up all my apologies – sorry to sorry to sorry – how many weeks of my life have been spent with those two shame-filled syllables in my mouth?

So this week’s new thing? Therapy! I’ve actually had a few therapist visits in my life, maybe five, and three of them were in my first year out of college when I lived with my parents and was working hard at running my first small business into the ground. But I’ve never done any ongoing therapy. So I spent this morning figuring out my new awesome insurance ($10 copays!) and finding a therapist that seems like a potential fit. Let’s do this. Let’s get to where, instead of retreating, I stay. Instead of silence or sorry, I say this: Here, this is who I am. This tall. This wide. This deep.

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