Thursday, February 28, 2008

Yeah Baby, I'm a Swinger!

No, not that kind of swinger. The dancing kind. Specifically, west coast swing.


So I realized that I've been dancing for about ten months now (although I've only been a west coaster for three) and most of the people who read this blog don't know and probably won't get to see me dance until I start uploading competition videos, and I'm guessing that won't happen until my kids are grown (a few more years).

So anyway, since I had no idea what west coast swing was until I saw folks dancing at the club, I figured most of you don't know either. Well, being the sharing kind of blogger that I am, I thought today would be perfect. If you have a little time, here are several videos for you to sample.

Let me just say this first. What really draws me to west coast is that it is most often danced to the kinds of music I like best, and it has the added benefit of being a partner dance. So it's club dancing with flair. Or salsa toned down. Or rockin', bluesy, sexy, fun to move to the music, kind of dancing. When I tried to describe why I love this dance, I thought, this dance is how I feel on the inside. You know, that part of you that isn't embarrassed or afraid. The part that is just alive. Yeah, that's what it is to me.

So the first video starts with the most basic (I can do all of those moves), and then there's one I'm aspiring to now that I've joined a swing club on Thursday nights. The third one showcases the instructor couple I'm dying to take lessons from (but they are on the other side of town, so for now, not yet), and the final one has some national champions just cutting some serious rug (like wowsers...and to think they were in Houston last weekend and I missed them)!


Oh, and let me know what you think, ok?

Forest and Yolanda at Waltz Across Texas, in Houston, Oct. 2007
(event sponsored by Texas dance studio peeps)

Unnamed Improvisors
(This is my goal for my one year dancing anniversary in June!)

WARNING: Video camera operator is enthusiastically loud,
watch your volume!

Lisa and Damon D'Amico (my dream teachers), in Seattle

Michael Kielbasa and Jennifer Deluca
1st Place Winners at America's Classic, Houston, 2007's good to be Swing! =)

© Nicole J. Williams, 2007, all rights reserved.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentine Award

This year, Valentine's Day was very good for me, and that's saying something! No, actually, it was/is FANTASTIC!!!

This year, I had my lovely daughters to dote on, friends to dance with (our west coast swing club meets on Thursday nights) and exchange cards/gifts with, a husband to pamper and be pampered by (we are having a COUPLE'S MASSAGE tomorrow! WOW!), and something else that was just the sweetest thing I've ever heard.

My younger daughter, Miss A., has a boyfriend. She is a fourteen year old freshman. I know, I know. But I've been open minded, open-eyed, and open-eared. And our motto for boyfriends is that they are boys, who are friends, and who add something happy to life--no drama allowed. The short version, "If it's not fun, it's not worth it." Not in high school. Heck, not ever. But you get the idea anyway.

So this boy, Prince R., has been nothing but dreamy with my little girl, and, reader, they will have been "going out" for FIVE MONTHS before February closes. So, always and ever watchful, I was waiting to see how Valentine's Day turned out. Mostly because this young lad is a gift giver...genuinely, thoughtfully so.

She got a bevy of classis Valentine's adornments: a dozen red roses, a bear clutching a cloth red rose with a small mylar balloon and a small bag of chocolates, and also a one pound Hershey's chocolate bar. But there was one more thing, and this is the thing that I just thought was so wonderfully sweet.

Apparently, earlier in the week, Miss A. had been complaining of feeling "ugly." Now, this is more of a state of mind than anything, sometimes we call it feeling "wimpy." Miss A. has given up makeup application for Lent. Earlier in the week, she had a prominent zit and was feeling red-nosed and under the weather, and she would normally use a little cover up and move on, but she couldn't, so she was feeling a little self-conscious, and telling her boy who is a friend about it. She did, however, admit that, "Mom, I was exaggerating a little bit." For some sympathy. This mother understood her daughter's very feminine dilemma.

So anyway, Prince R. of course told her to "Stop it!" Happily telling her that not only did he think she was beautiful, but that he bet just about anybody at school would sign a petition declaring her to be the most beautiful girl ever. (Ok, so am I a sap? I can't help but wonder what his parents must be like together for this young man to be so sensitive and complimentary...and communicative!) So anyway, Miss A. told him to stop and that was that. Or so she thought.

Yesterday, he had a mysterious paper hanging out of his pocket. When asked about it, he said it was an unfinished poem and she could not see it. Then she witnessed him showing "the poem" to other people! She even saw people writing on it. She decided, oh well, he'll show me eventually and forgot about it.

After lunch, and before they parted ways for the rest of the school day, he handed it to her. And lo and behold, it was the petition signed by about twenty of their girl and guy friends.

I got to hear the story on the way home. She pulled out the piece of paper and was smiling and smiling at it.

"What's that?" her sister, Miss Z. asked.

"Nothing," she smiled.

Looking over her shoulder from the backseat, Miss Z. said, "It looks like a bunch of signatures."

"Yeah, it is. Ok, so this is what happened..." She was giggling and beaming at the end.

Her story just made me smile too. What a great gift of affection and appreciation, no?

© Nicole J. Williams, 2007, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Twelve Things I Learned (from My Sponsor)

Definition for the day: IRONY- 3 a (1): incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2): an event or result marked by such incongruity. (source:

My daughter and I were talking recently about how life seems to be almost predictable in its flair for the ironic. It's almost cliché, really. In other words: frustrating as hell. Let me tell you a story about irony.

My sponsor thought that it was ironic for someone with a Master's degree in the "communicative arts," such as myself, to have such a difficult time communicating with loved ones. This was the first pointedly derogatory thing I remember her saying to me, or at least the first time I noticeably took offense at something she said. And I still think it's a misguided thing to say. Now let me tell you why I think it's even worth mentioning.

The first reason is that it's just flat out wrong. Having a degree in literary analysis is almost always a surefire way to appear ridiculously obtuse to the general audience. Some folks start making comments about the vocabulary you use. Some people think you won't be able to relate to "younger students" because that much schooling makes you useless to young people. Others even say things like, "Well, maybe on your 'higher plane of reasoning' that makes sense." And, as a general rule, many people come at you with apprehension due to their own insecurities, usually based on past experiences with merciless English teachers who bled red ink all over their schoolwork. Like those folks, for instance, who, after asking me what I do, make self-effacing comments about watching their grammar around me (and it's even worse when there is email correspondence involved). So, you see, right from the get-go, a person with an English degree can be at a severe communicative disadvantage.

The second problem, for me, revolves around the study of rhetoric, Aristotle's idea that understanding one's audience and appealing to the hopes and fears of those listeners, or readers, can provide the well-trained rhetorician with incredible powers of persuasion. Rhetoric is something I honed to a precision (mostly in writing) that surprised even myself at times. A lot of it is intuitive. The rest of it is pure calculation. Have we not heard enough politicians' carefully crafted speeches and debate responses to have that feeling of being manipulated, both emotionally and logically? So, being good at persuading people (or making a solid argument, whether they agree with you or not) isn't always a good thing when it comes to personal relationships. You can acquire a bit of a reputation: "There's no arguing with her." Being as logical as Spock doesn't always make for good communication in a relationship of the heart.

All that is to say that yes, I was very good at rhetoric, but no, I was NOT very good at the language of love. Unfortunately, they don't teach you that in graduate school. And I felt that my sponsor, in pointing out her idea of a discrepancy here, was being unhelpful at best. I certainly didn't ask for a sponsor to treat me like I should already know what it is I was obviously lacking. That sent me straight back to childhood, straight back into pure emotion with no logic to speak of. And that was the beginning of the end of my sponsorship.

I met with my sponsor in person just twice after that, and her style continued to spiral down into the realm of personal attack. At first I thought it must be some kind of "tough love" tactic, holding the mirror so close it hurt to look. And there was a lot of truth coming at me, but there was just too much coming at me. I just sat and listened. And her tone became more and more shrew-like, more abusive, more "you should know better by now." It got to the point where I literally couldn't ask a question about what she was saying or disagree without being accused of "playing the victim." Or she would say, "Well, if you want me to just be warm and fuzzy and agree with you, then you are wasting your time here."

I was trained as a child not to expect warm and fuzzy, so this seemed like a rational thing to say. And by now, I sure knew that I had issues, so here she was, doing me a favor pointing it all out to me over and over again. It wasn't until the final visit that I became conscious of the disparity between why I was there, and what was happening. I felt good about something and she twisted it into some diseased thing. All this time, she'd been talking about loving the child within and finally, here I was, the adult, listening to her abuse that little girl, sounding much worse than my mother ever had. The adult chose to leave. But my sponsor followed me to the door to get one last barb in before I left: "Yeah, go ahead and just add me to the list of people who have victimized you all your life." I knew then that I was lucky to have regained consciousness and found the strength to get up and get out of there. I said, "Ok. Thank you." She might have accused me again of trying to get in the last word by responding at all, but I didn't have to hear it this time.

In my opinion, this situation was mercilessly ironic. I placed my trust in a woman who said she saw herself in me and was sure she could help me because of it. Instead, it seems she saw a little bit too much of herself (or not enough?) and some of her old issues came up as a result. Nobody's perfect, after all. At least, this is the scenario I console myself with since I know she has literally sponsored hundreds of people, with better results than this. Which, I know for a fact because that was one of the things she was trying to shame me with during our final meeting. But, really, the true irony comes from the fact that it was she who taught me to recognize abuse, to recognize the difference between my adult self and my petrified child self, and to tell people who hurt me that I can't be around them. I can thank her for that, now.

As always, trauma brings obvious lessons. But what began as trauma has become much more comical than tragic for the very reason that she had taught me so much about how to look at my life and see the truth of the situation. So, in honor of the helpful relationship that we did share for a short time, I offer another list: twelve things I learned from my sponsor.

Hats off to you, B.W.!

1. Write to know, to discover, yourself.

2. Write from the heart.

3. Be honest, and direct.

4. Commit to reality--to the truth.

5. Respect yourself first.

6. Refuse to play the victim with others.

7. Refuse to play the victim with yourself.

8. Stand up to bullies (even if it means walking away).

9. Ban abusers from your life.

10. Love the child within.

11. Be the adult.

12. Take action.

Ok, one last dose of irony for the road! I'd been working on recognizing the truth of my relationship with my mother. We'd had some serious communicative issues over the past year and were essentially only communicating on a superficial level for birthdays and holidays. Well, like I said, my sponsor's tirade on that last day struck me as so much worse than anything my mom had said that I promptly went home and called Mom. I admitted my fear about talking directly about the issue and said I was ready to hear what she had to say. We said our peace, which was really quite simple. We aren't perfect, but the lines of honest communication are now open. We admitted that we have a tendency in our family to say what we think the other person wants to hear. (Sounds like I first learned a little rhetoric at home!) We promised not to do that anymore, and we agreed that we would accept and encourage the other person in the quest for genuine feelings. In other words, we have given each other permission to be ourselves. And I also forgave anything in the past that I was holding onto...and promised not to use the past against her in an argument. Whew! It was such a relief.

I think my sponsor would be glad to know that I finally took action--even if it did take me a couple of months.

God grant me the Serenity
to Accept the things I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things I can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

Be well.

© Nicole J. Williams, 2007, all rights reserved.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Another Year Older

I felt the urge to acknowledge the traditional marking of the passage of time known as my birthday with a blog entry. I've been reduced, you see, to needing a special occasion for logging my thoughts. So here, the day after, is my own commemoration of the passing year.

Just to make things even easier on my uninspired self, I thought I would make a list of experiences that stand out in the past year. Bear with me, it may just be navel-gazing stuff and neither cosmically revealing nor helpful to readers, but it is, at least, completely keepsake worthy.

1. I took the Science of Mind "Heartfelt Living" course with my husband last February-April. I learned about affirmative prayer. When I practiced this learning, I had tremendous results. My life is still changing as a result of those initial prayers, but I have lacked discipline and have been immature about my spiritual life since then. But I definitely learned a lot about my husband, and a whole lot more about myself and what "pains" me, so to speak. This course was a fantastic catalyst for the rest of the year. I also had the privilege of making a brand new, wonderful, loving friend--the kind to keep for a lifetime!!

2. I started taking two-step lessons in May. I was prepared to go alone, but an acquaintance from church found out I was starting and joined me, saying she'd been thinking about doing the same thing. Then we met another woman who started brand new like we did, also by herself. From there, we became the Dancing Divas or the Tres Amigas and we've been taking lessons and practicing our dancing at least twice a week since. In the meantime, I learned a little polka and a teensey bit of waltz, and discovered the dance I now love the most--West Coast Swing. So now I take WCS lessons twice a week and practice on Friday nights! Dancing and spending time with my friends brings me so much JOY!!!

3. I finally made it through Julia Cameron's book for struggling artists, The Artist's Way, after trying several times over the course of oh, nine or so years. I was able to do it because I joined a focus group in the summer. This, in turn, inspired me to take a painting class where I found out that I love painting! I also made a fabulous friend from the group; a friend who is a practicing artist, a photographer most often, and an appreciator of art--including mine! What a fabulous adventure and reward!!

4. I took classes at a community college that were "just for me." I took Design, and Painting, Jazz, and Weight Training. As mentioned in #3, I discovered that I LOVE to paint. I also loved Jazz, but didn't like being the oldest student; I did, however, decide that I love all kinds of dance! Lifting weights definitely produced results, but the surprise was that the cardio training got me running up to a mile and a half....and liking it! My easel is set up at home, with my current painting in progress, but it's still tough to find the time like I had in class to devote to it. Something about the undivided attention of three hours to paint really helped. But, it's all ready to go when I can get back to it. Priorities may change, but the love won't, and now I have a beginning where before there was only a dream. Huzzah!

5. One of my Amigas told me about Codependents Anonymous. I started going to meetings in September. I started the twelve step program in October. I'm on step four: Make a searching and fearless inventory of myself. Ouch. Well, I have a sponsor who doubles as a life coach and I am workin' this step, and let me tell ya, it's tough. I recently described my revelations in a statement something like this: "I've discovered that it has been my own lack of imagination and courage that have contributed to any unhappiness in my life." In many situations, I have believed myself to be a victim of circumstance, or of people who have had power over me, or of a lack of choice, or even of being prone to being a victim. Waking up to the knowledge that my life is exactly the way I made it is startling, and it's very easy to beat up on myself for not having known this sooner. I mean, I thought I knew it, but I didn't really know it, you know? (ha) To feel the impact of this revelation just knocked the wind right out of me. I'm still trying to breathe. This is one of those pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go out and do something about changing yourself moments.

6. My family went to DisneyWorld for Christmas vacation. This was yet another dream that gained substance. Although I had been there before, it had been nineteen years prior to this trip, and so it was new and different enough that I loved it again. And my husband and two daughters, who had not been before, were enchanted as well. We tend to be an Edu-Tainment kind of family, so we soaked up a lot more than just thrill rides. The memories we made will be little mental islands of paradise I can visit anytime. I love those kinds of memories, don't you?

7. My girls both started this school year in high school! My girls are 14 and almost 16 (Feb. 22nd) and I have been having some serious mommy nostalgia of late. The "where-has-the-time-gone-it-was-just-yesterday-they-were-so-little" kind of nostalgia. But then I also have these moments where I just watch them, like I'm having an out-of-body experience and I'm just amazed at the young women they have become, and I am just filled with love, love, love for these wonderful ladies in my life. They have, and continue to be, lovely to behold in every way. I'm so grateful for the love and life we share. They will always be the best part of being me in this lifetime. I wouldn't trade them for anything. Ever. It's not a new feeling, per se, but it is deeper and different these days. Something about seeing them at eye level I presume.

And so I'm completely exhausted now, WOW! That's a great year right there I would have to say! Thanks for reading. Talk to you soon.

Here again are those lovely ladies I was telling you about:


© Nicole J. Williams, 2007, all rights reserved.