Getting to know myself a little bit better
Friday morning I scooted on over to my friend Kate’s house to borrow a few books that she had recommended on her collaborative blog. While I was there she made me tea and we sat on the front porch of her adorable house and talked for a while. I’ve been doing a lot of this lately and it’s been glorious. I need friends. I guess I shouldn’t “need” anybody, and I don’t really mean it in that sense. Just that I don’t want to be hanging around my house, getting too lost in my own thoughts. That’s a bit dangerous right now. It’s ugly and messy and unhealthy. Whereas porch chats with friends are beautiful and insightful and healthy. Kate and I talked quite a bit about relationships, our careers and our lives.
I don’t remember the exact context of the conversation we were having when Kate said to me, “You know, it’s like going to the movie theatre by yourself.” And then I said I had never been to the movies by myself. And then she audibly gasped. Ok, I don’t quite remember if she actually did that. But we spent the next bit of conversation discussing all of the things I had to do by myself. Go the movies. Go out to dinner. Take a vacation (even if it’s a mini one). And so on and so forth. She endorsed the idea that I do things with myself. She said I would love it.
I know for many of you this just seems silly, but I have never had a significant period in my life where I lived in my own skin, on my own time, with myself. When I was a kid I was dragged around by my family to different events (not necessarily against my will, just not by choice). I am a third child and so I pretty much had everything done for me. My identity was always influenced by my family, particularly my older brothers. My mother is your typical Italian mother and she took care of all of our needs, even into adulthood. When I was 17, I was in my first serious relationship – and a very destructive one at that. Even after that ended, it left me scarred in a way that I am still healing from. I had met my husband when I was 21, coming off the heals of another destructive relationship. I felt so lucky when I started dating my husband. Our relationship saved me from myself. And, at the time, that’s exactly what I wanted.
So I haven’t spent a lot of time alone. And to be honest, I’m not that good at it. I crave the company of other people. I love to laugh with friends and experience their joy and sorrow and comfort them and entertain them. When I’m by myself, I have to entertain myself, or at least, be honest with myself. It’s very intimidating, but lately I’ve been trying to embrace it. Kate’s advice about doing things by myself echoed through me all day. I did get to spend a good chunk of time writing while my daughter napped. (I don’t know what I’ll do when those nap days are over… shudders) I wrote about my scooter adventures this past week and I also wrote some poetry. But I decided that I wanted to go by myself to hear Erin Condo & the Hoofties play at the PA FarmFest. My husband agreed to take care of our daughter and they went to a friend’s gathering. I was a bit anxious while getting ready to go out. I’ll say it again: I know you think I’m silly. I put on something nice, but not too nice, but also practical for scooter riding. I uncharacteristically put on a bit of make-up. And around 7pm, I got on my scooter and took off up Centre Hall mountain (very, VERY slowly).
When I got to the Grange Fairgrounds I instantly ran into a friend, JK, who plays bass in Erin’s band. He smiled, stuck out his pinky and thumb and shook his hand, and said, “Hey you!” Seeing him instantly calmed my nerves. I walked around the fair, and talked to a friend working the Friends & Farmers Co-Op booth. I also went over and sampled some wine from from the Mt. Nittany Winery. I was sipping the white wine out of the tiny cup and decided to strike up a conversation with the woman who was pouring. I mention this because it’s a bit out of my character to do something like this. It’s not that I’m an overly shy person, but in situations like these I always feel like I’m putting the other person out by talking to them. I don’t want to be a bother. I always assume this about myself. This time, though, I mentioned a house that was near the winery that was for sale a while back. She knew exactly which house I was talking about and we started up a conversation that led me to learn that she and her husband just moved back to the area from Pittsburgh, where they were living in the ‘burbs while their kids were in school. We chatted about Pittsburgh (I’m originally from the ‘burbs as well) and the differences between the “city life” and living in State College. I’ll spare you the details, but I ended up having a really wonderful conversation with her. Before I left the booth I introduced myself and told her that I hoped to see her at the winery sometime.
I wandered into the “barn” where Erin Condo & the Hoofties were performing, sat down in the back and wrote a bit before they began. After my ride up Centre Hall mountain, witnessing my friend reacting so genuinely to my presence, and chatting with a complete stranger without feeling guilty for wasting her time, I was already happy with the decision to come by myself. People began filling the barn once the band started to play. I decided to move up front so I could get some good pictures of the band. Eventually though I got up and stood off to the side where I remained until their break. I alternated between closing my eyes and swaying to the music and writing poetry lines in my notebook. I was so entranced by the whole experience – Erin’s voice, the sound of the bass, the guitar, the drums, the people dancing, the people listening. It felt a bit magical. That’s the word that kept popping into my head anyway. And I was loving being there alone. No awkward glances at another person. No obligatory conversation while also trying to listen to music. I could just stand there, in my own skin, and do whatever I pleased. Sometimes I snapped my fingers, sometimes I shuffled my feet, sometimes I patted my left arm with my right hand to the rhythm of the drums. I took pictures, I people watched, and I listened. I felt lucky to be a part of the experience. I thought about how beautiful Erin looked – so confident up there on stage, doing her thing, and owning it. I felt like I would occasionally catch glances with JK while he was playing the bass, and I would smile at him. I imagined what he might be thinking about me being there alone, if anything at all.
When the band took a break, Erin invited her friend up to the front to teach the two-step to anyone who wanted to learn. When she called everyone to the front, I hesitated. Never have I two-stepped or, in my memory, been a part of a group dance tutorial. I can’t dance. Period. It’s a nice thought and I really wish I could, but I can’t. But that night was all about firsts and stepping out of my comfort zone. So I walked up to the front and joined the group of 40 or so people ready to learn the two-step. We split up into “leaders” and “followers” and I chose to be a follower (old habits die hard.) I think, although I can’t be sure, I was the only one without a partner. I’m guessing this because after the tutorial we had to partner up and I was all alone. The last kid picked for dodgeball. For a brief moment I panicked, felt so embarrassed and silly. I sheepishly wandered around, tried to get out of the dance area, mumbled something about not having a partner, when two girls said, “Oh we have a partner for you! Bob will be your partner! He’s a really good dancer. Bob! Get over here! This woman needs a partner!” I was mortified. But Bob obliged and came over. He was a very tall, older gentleman. He had a button down, light blue collared shirt on and dirty, faded blue jeans. I shook his hand and introduced myself. He had big, rough hands. He was awfully sweet. He said, “I can’t dance.” I said, “Neither can I.” But he took my right hand in his left and wrapped his other around my back. I laughed, made some joke to try and break the ice and show him I had a sense of humor about the whole thing. I put my hand on his upper arm (his very strong, I’m-clearly-a-farmer arm). Once the group dancing started (the couples were in a large circle all having to dance in a certain direction) we fumbled along. Yes, he could not dance. And neither could I. He kept saying aloud, “quick quick slow; quick quick slow” with every step we took. I kept getting off step. We would step on each others feet. We were bumping into other couples. And we laughed. I hadn’t laughed like that in a while. A long while. Half the reason we kept messing up is because I would throw my head back and laugh, causing me to miss steps, causing me to laugh harder, causing me to miss steps. It was so much fun. It couldn’t have been more fun if we were actually doing it right.
We were just getting comfortable with each other when we had to switch partners. We let go of each other and smiled fondly at one another. He did this sort of snap of his fingers and make a “awww shucks” gesture. My next partner was a better dancer, but not nearly as fun. He was much more serious and he spun me around once. After that was over I lost track of Bob and I sneakily exited the dancing circle. I was a bit hot and flustered by the experience, so I decided to leave the barn to cool myself down. I walked outdoors and settled on some bleachers, where I pulled Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within out of my purse. I flipped to the section on love and seduction and read her thoughts on writing love poetry. I started to work on one of her exercises — writing about the beginning and the ending of a relationship. I also glanced back over old entries in my writing journal, let myself get lost in them, and also added more notes to tonight’s entry.
I could hear the band had started back up, so after I was finished I wandered back in and stood by the side door (where I was listening earlier). I can’t remember now whether it was in the first or second set, but Erin and the boys did an amazing cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers I Won’t Back Down. In fact, I much preferred Erin’s version of the song. Her voice sounded amazing and she carried the melody a bit slower than Tom Petty’s version. Also, because she is a woman, I felt more connected to the lyrics and the overall message of the song. I felt as though Erin was singing to me.
Well I know what’s right, I got just one life. In a world that keeps on pushing me around. But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down.
I rocked my whole body to the song, sang along silently with Erin. Felt her voice move through my chest. In that moment I felt so empowered and so whole. I wanted to sing it to everyone that is “pushing me around” in my life right now. I wanted to make them hear me, to make them listen to me. After the song ended I knew I had made the right decision that night. And I knew I was going to start making the right decisions for myself in the future.
I left shortly after the second set. It was getting late and I wanted to take the long way home so I’d have more time on the scooter. As I was leaving I ran into Erin’s husband. He was putting the kids in the car and taking them home. I made a comment to him about the band and how excellent Erin sounded. I told him it was my first time hearing them play and I was happy I made it out. We introduced ourselves officially to one another (we both remarked that we had probably met before). I asked after his sister, who I know from Webster’s. We chatted for maybe five minutes and we said our goodnights. As I walked to my scooter I thought to myself that even that brief introduction and conversation would not have happened with the Old Gina. No, I would have been too shy to approach him, even if I had wanted to. I would have assumed he was not interested in talking to me or making small chit-chat. But I just feel compelled now to go after what I want. In that moment, I wanted to meet him, tell him how much I enjoyed listening to his wife, and make a few connections with a new person. I love people, and so it doesn’t make sense for me to be as timid and shy as I’ve been all these years. I’ve let other people in my life do the talking for me, even when I have so much to offer. But the New Gina won’t let other people talk over her or talk for her. It’s an exciting and thrilling new chapter in my life. I’m not 100% there yet, but I’m working on it. And I’m certainly embracing it.
I took a brief wrong turn on the my ride home, starting out on Church Street toward Linden Hall. I knew about a mile into the road that I was going to the wrong way and needed to turn back. I turned around in a farm field. I turned off my scooter. It was completely still and silent. After the hours of loud music and the constant hum of Vroomfondel’s engine, my ears were ringing. I sat on my scooter for a few moments and took in the silence. I looked around at the darkness and tried to make out shapes. I looked up at the sky and said aloud to myself, “a cloudless night like this can send the spirit soaring.” The stars were out and I could faintly make out what possibly was the milky way. The moon was an orange crescent. I sighed. I closed my eyes. I took some meditative breaths. I smiled. I said to myself (aloud, so I could be sure to hear it vibrate through me): I love you. Keep going.
I rode home on 144, which meanders along the stream. I spent the rest of my ride reflecting on how beautiful my night was and how happy I was to have made the decision to go, and to go by myself. I thought about all of the beauty in my life and started to write lines of poetry in my head. I thought about how over the past six months I’ve allowed myself to fall in love with life again, and with the people in my life. I had been afraid for so long to fall in love. It’s scary. There’s so much room for hurt. But the alternative (not allowing yourself to fall in love) is even scarier. It reminded me of the conversation I had with my friend Ellen the other night, parked outside my house. I told her how badly I was hurting right now and how I have never felt this kind of pain before. The intensity. The physical discomfort that came along with heartbreak. I told her it was unbearable. And she told me I should feel so lucky. Because experiencing all of that pain meant that I am alive and capable of feeling. And allowing myself to love and be loved. She said, “What a beautiful thing.” And even though the pain is unbearable right now, she is so fucking right. It’s unbearable because the love is real and I allowed myself to experience it. And I am so lucky to be able to feel this much. To allow myself that and to not be afraid of it. Because the alternative — the not feeling, just makes life not worth it somehow.
All I can do is keep loving with all of my heart and to not be afraid to put my love out there.