There I was, walking down sixth avenue, after being placed on hold with customer service about a dispute on my credit card when...I walked right by the infamous, David’s Bridal on 26th street. I paused. I was angry, annoyed and irritable - which turns out - are three S-U-P-E-R power emotions to get you to do things you are really scared of! It took all of three seconds for me to decide TODAY was the day I would try a wedding dress on!
While still on hold, one earbud in and the other hanging from my purse, I went directly to the lady at the front desk. “Excuse me...I realize I don’t have an appointment but would it be possible to browse through the wedding dresses in the back?" “Absolutely!” she said with confidence. Awesome. No more sneaking around.
At this point, I hung up with customer service. Because, customer service, WHO CARES!!! I’M ABOUT TO TRY ON A WEDDING DRESS!!!
This time, as I browsed through the big-white gowns, I felt differently. Hmmmm...I can kind of see myself in that one. Or maybe that one. Then, I saw one, on the sales rack and decided...this would be the one I’d try.
I went back to the lovely lady at the front and asked, “I just found a dress on the sales rack that I would love to try on...may I?” She looked at her list of appointments. I felt nervous, but calm. She said, “Can you fill out this appointment card...then we can squeeze you in.” “Oh absolutely!” I replied with joy.
Now, I’m thrilled. Second time around and I’m getting to do what I want.
The questionnaire required little meaningless details like, approximate date of the wedding, which I was able to write down as a possibility. You know, if things went well and I met someone in time for that date!
It also required my email address. Which now, thankfully, I get emails congratulating me on my engagement and informing me how many months away until my big day. All very thoughtful, and more encouraging for my ego than the usual, “Still Single? Don’t Kill Yourself Yet...He’s Online Now!!!”
I filled everything out and waited for a sales associate to call my name. “Charlene???” A young woman announced. “RIGHT HERE!!!!” I stood up like I had been waiting my whole life to get called.
“Which dress would you like to try?” she asked. I pointed to the dress. She removed it off the rack and placed it in one of the dressing rooms. I started to feel nervous again. But more excited-nervous. Butterflies-nervous. Happy-OMG-nervous. “Let me know if you need anything while you’re undressing.” “OKAY!” I shouted. (yes, everything I say will be in all CAPS because in my head, I was SCREAMING!!)
Now I’m excited. Adrenaline is pumping through me. Nerves going crazy. I felt, again, like I had to pee in my pants! But to calm me, I kept repeating to myself: There’s nothing to fear anymore. Step into the role completely. Go out there, with confidence. YOU ARE GETTING MARRIED. Yes, YOU! Allow yourself to believe it. Allow it to feel real. And so I did.
I walked out, turned around to see my reflection in the full-length mirror...and there, staring back at me, was a girl -- no wait -- A WOMAN...ME!! AS A BRIDE!!!
“DO YOU HAVE SOME HEELS I COULD TRY?” I called out. “Oh, of course!” she said. “Wow, that dress fits you perfectly. Let me get something to tailor it a bit in the bust area.” As she’s clipping my back to tighten the fit, I started to really see my wedding day. My family there, my friends, my husband...it actually began to feel real. Not far away in fantasyland, but...possible.
“How should I wear my hair, do you think?” I asked. HOW SHOULD I WEAR MY HAIR?? WHO AM I RIGHT NOW?? “Oh, I’ll get you some hair clips to try.” I tried a few on. I had the sales lady take some pictures of me in the dress. I think I even started to sway from side to side, just to feel how it danced. I looked at the price tag and thought, “I could actually buy this, if I wanted!!”
I turned to the sales lady and gave her a big hug. My heart was full. “Thank you so much...I really appreciate everything!”
As I broke away from the hug, I heard her say, “Wow -- even though this is fake?” Wait -- What? Huh? What did she just say??? Did I imagine that or did she actually say that? I shrugged it off like I didn’t hear her and went back into the dressing room to change.
Then, behind the closed doors...I really heard what she said. In fact, it became the only thing I could hear. And I started to tear up. I took the gown off, walked out of the dressing room and hid my feelings as much as I could. I smiled and waved goodbye as I walked out.
Once I left, I started thinking: Who is she to know if it’s fake? Who is she to rob me of that moment of joy? Wait a minute...I have the power here… and I WON’T LET HER!!! Nobody can take your joy away from you...unless you choose to let them.
Even though I got to try that dress on...I still felt like I was missing something. Like there was a bigger lesson here that I didn’t get yet. And then, it hit me:
Sometimes we need the universe to manifest our deepest fears so that we really know - with certainty - that we can survive it.
I was terrified - both times - that someone would know that I was “single” and kick me out or tell me I wasn't "allowed" to be there or throw me in some room marked “NOT ENGAGED/CALL AUTHORITIES” or some other ridiculousness.
And I was afraid of sharing this story. Of admitting to everyone that I even wanted or needed that moment. And I just did. I just...did.
Perhaps my biggest fearless act has been revealing so much of myself over social media. I didn’t expect to get this... real. But, it’s also been the greatest gift. By opening myself up, I get to release my shame, my fears, my embarrassments, my weakness, my joys, my heart….all of it.
And that is what this journey has been about for me. Getting to the truth of who I am.
I cannot express how deeply grateful I am to you - for following along with me, for sharing your words and notes of encouragement, of love, and validation that I am not alone. You have shown me that it’s okay to be vulnerable, to be human, to be flawed, to be...Me.
As I embark on yet another milestone in a few days, another “blessed” year of life...I have only two words to offer: Thank you. Just...Thank you.
This would not have been the same journey if I didn’t get to share it all with you.
Here’s the next chapter… 41 and beyond…
All my love,
I didn’t want to do this one again. I just didn’t. Nope. No, thank you. I did it once and it turned out great so I’m gonna lean towards the big “HELL NO” in my head and respectively decline.
But then…There’s this other voice in my head...a much softer, kinder, nudge of a voice, whispering...
What are you really afraid of?
I’m afraid no one will listen. I’m afraid of looking like a fool. I’m afraid of falling on my ass because standing up while playing my guitar on a crowded subway train, while the train is moving, is dangerous. I’m afraid I’ll give up after one try. I’m afraid of crying like a little girl at feeling unnoticed.
There!! Are you happy, inner voice?? Isn’t that a good enough reason!
Nope. I have learned there’s always something more to discover underneath that fear.
Last Tuesday evening, with my guitar on my back...I just decided to do it again. And in this instance, the fear was much more intense than the first time.
I pulled out my guitar and introduced myself, “Hey guys...I’m Charlene and I’m gonna sing you a song that I wrote and you can listen or not...and here goes!” (or something like that, I don’t remember verbatim).
Then I start singing. And the train is going Express. Which, if you’re a New Yorker, you know what that sounds like. Really loud, awful noises start interfering as we’re speeding through stops. If you’re not familiar, that noise resembles a steamroller mixed with a long horn and scratching rails. It’s awful. I couldn’t hear me. They certainly couldn’t hear me. So, I kept singing louder. Then, it stopped. And now, they can hear me screaming...I mean, singing.
I, awkwardly thanked everyone for listening and began to travel to the next car. As I leave, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turned and it’s a man handing me two bucks! TWO BUCKS!!! He must have felt sorry for me
(side note: Why do I always have to go there? Why can’t I just accept that maybe he liked my singing?)
I thanked him and went on my way.
I made the decision to continue to sing from car to car until I reached my destination: home in Brooklyn. And in case you’re wondering...that’s a LOT of stops.
As I continued my stint of Subway Songstress, I began to get good at it. I introduced myself. I sang. I tried different songs to see if one would be the “hit” of the subway-singing-experience. I tried to make eye contact. I smiled. I waved (I think I did). And I kept moving.
Some people would hand me a couple of buck as I left, and others didn’t even look up. In fact, I noticed one man leave the subway car as soon as I started to sing, just to move to the next one.
So, I followed him. I had this idea that I would stand right in front of him while BELTING out one of my tunes. But, instead...I sat down and watched him from across the way. He just wanted to read his paper in quiet. I get it, Dude. And I moved on.
As I got closer to my destination, I started wondering: Where’s my big ending? This can’t be... it?
Then, I heard that voice again: Why do you always need a big outcome? You just sang and played for over thirty minutes without taking anyone’s responses personally. You behaved much braver than you did the first time. That is enough.
I sat in silence. My heart was beating a mile a minute. I was drenched in sweat. It was as if I had just gotten done with a workout. I mean, didn't I?
I packed my guitar back in it’s case and I realized two things: One, it doesn’t feel good to be ignored/unseen. It just doesn’t. I started to think about what my life would be like if I never felt seen. What if my parents didn’t love like they do? Or what if I wasn’t attractive, by societal standards or what if I had no talent or no positive reinforcement and so on and so on.
I felt really lucky that I am someone who walks into spaces where people are actually happy to see me. In fact, I built my life around feeling seen, valued, appreciated, admired.
And the second realization I came to is: when that big, loud voice is screaming “NOOOOOOOO, don’t do it again!” it’s usually because there’s an unhealed wound, probably from childhood, that doesn’t want to get triggered.
That’s what this voice was trying to protect me from. Because I did begin to tear up when I walked from subway car to subway car....feeling ignored. Emotions are funny that way. They force us to notice where we still need healing. And the difference now is I felt it, and I just kept going. And that's all we can do.
I left the train and this experience feeling expansive. More open. More compassion. More fueled with love.
Since I moved into a new apartment building at the beginning of the year, introducing myself to all my neighbors - this time around - didn’t feel scary at all. In fact, there’s only four apartments in our entire building -- SCORE!! I’ll be done in twenty minutes. Tops.
I walked across the hall, knocked on my first door and no one answered. Hmmm... I’ll come back later. I went down to the second floor and I heard some music and talking in the background. Knock-Knock. The music stops. I hear footsteps. The door opens and I begin, “Hi...I’m your new neighbor upstairs and…” He interrupts, “Oh, we’re so sorry if the music's too loud, we’ll turn it down.” “Oh, no, the music is fine...I just wanted to introduce myself since I just moved into the building. (I hold out my hand) I’m Charlene.” He looked surprised, “Oh, nice to meet you. Welcome, this is my wife” (as he pointed to a woman in the background). An awkward silence. “Well, it was great to meet you both.” I offered. “Yeah, you, too!” Done. Awesome.
Two more neighbors to meet. Not so bad. And this time around, I was going to keep knocking until I introduced myself to everyone.
One night, as I walked into our building, I saw a young woman gathering her mail from our mailbox. I wait, and opened the door for her. “Oh, thank you!” She says. “Of course!” I smiled. “I just moved into the building. I’m Charlene, and you are…” (aaaannnnd...I can’t remember her name!!!!) "It’s nice to meet you.” “You, too!” She walked straight into her apartment and waved goodnight. Nice. And I didn’t even have to knock on her door!
The next day, I walk across the hall to my neighbors door, knock again and no one answers. Weeks go by and after numerous knockings...there is still, no answer. Hmmm...could it be vacant? I wonder what this person does for a living? Are they alive? Just what is going on over there across my hall?!!!!
Then, one early morning, as I’m leaving, I hear something coming from the “vacant” apartment. SOMEONE’S HOME, I thought!!! QUICK - GO KNOCK!!! At this point, I’m a bit nervous as to what or who I may find on the other side of this door.
Knock-Knock. I hear footsteps. I hear loud noises. Suddenly, I hear Alfred Hitchcock music in the background (in my head, of course). What if it’s a PSYCHO? No wait -- this is my imagination...let’s get creative...it could be a really hot dude just coming out of the shower...towel around his waist...dark, thick hair dripping with…(Door opens) “Ohhhh, HIII!!” (It’s definitely NOT that visual). Just a man answers. “Hi...I’m, uh...I moved in next...across, I mean, I’m your new neighbor! (uncomfortable giggle, on my part). I live across the hall! I’m Charlene… And, YOU are?” (my one eyebrow raised). He shakes my hand. “Oh, Hi there… nice to meet you. Yeah, I’m never really home...I’ve had this place for years, I’m usually...away.” (Long pause) Away, I thought? I continued, “Well, I’m glad I caught you. Have a nice afternoon!” I shouted. As I turned towards my door, I wondered...did he even say what his name was? And just where is “away?” But I didn’t want to pry. After all, sometimes, those details are better left….behind closed doors.
So, maybe going back the second time doesn’t end up with a sweet Mother inviting you into her home. Oh, well. At least I know all my neighbors...well, sort of.
The first time I walked into Planned Parenthood, I wasn’t prepared. I had an idea, an impulse, an inspired thought...and I acted on it. That day. And that’s what this challenge was about for me. Instead of overthinking and waiting until later. Which many of you know could lead to...N-E-V-E-R.
But, when I walked in, I didn’t realize just how nervous I would be. In fact, I started to have the same feelings that I had all those years ago when I walked into that music manager’s office unannounced.
You know how fear + projected rejection + am-I-crazy-for-doing-this shows up in your body? You get the shakes. Your heart starts to feel like it’s about to pop out of your chest and you just may have peed a little in your pants. That’s what I was working with the first time. (If you don’t know about my first time, go back and read about it on my blog). It’s no wonder that guard turned me away. I wasn’t ready. I probably needed someone to perform a meditation on me!!
But we can always go back and do it better. And so I did.
I walked into Planned Parenthood the second time with a plan. I was going to find out who I needed to talk to about proposing my idea of giving a meditation to the women in the waiting area.
I walk in, “Do you have an appointment?” the guard asked. “No, I was wondering if there’s someone in administration that I could talk to about proposing a volunteer-based meditation to the women in the waiting area.” “Oh, try the building next door.” Awesome, dude. Thanks. I wasn't even in the right building the last time.
Walked into the next building and spoke to another guard. This guard, asked me three different times to explain what I wanted to do. He just didn’t seem to get it. But he called his manager to come out and meet me. “Oh you should probably talk to “Jackie.” Awesome! But “Jackie” was in a meeting. I left my card and decided to try again the following week.
I come back, the guard recognizes me (thankfully, so I don’t have to explain myself again). He calls his manager who comes back down to speak with me...again. Oh, “Jackie” is now on a conference call and can’t speak to me. But he’ll let her know I stopped by again. Great. I think.
I let a few weeks pass, and I show up again. “Hi, it’s me again... Is “Jackie” available?” No. Again. “Does she have an email I can send her a note?” Sorry, we don’t give out emails or phone numbers.
The manager comes back down again. “What is it that you want to do again?” I explain. Again. Each time, gaining more and more confidence. He offers me a brochure how to volunteer for Planned Parenthood. No, sir. That’s not what I want to do necessarily. “Jackie” will give you a call. Right. That’s what you’ve been saying. I got that.
Then I start to rethink the idea altogether. Maybe I need to go back to the original source, where I first got inspired: Beth Israel Hospital.
I show up to Beth Israel, where I stood in line to get my first Mammogram, and asked who I needed to speak to. This time, I give her my personal story. I amped up all the feelings and emotions and I told her I am a yoga instructor who can teach meditation....I'm sure YOU get it by now... Isn't there someone I can talk to about this?
“Oh, you should speak to my supervisor,” she says. “Let me see if she’s available.” She calls said supervisor. I wait. She hangs up. “She’s in a meeting right now but you can leave your card.” Now I’m getting frustrated. “Is she really gonna call me back or am I wasting my time?” “Oh, yeah, she will!” I gave her my card and left.
Weeks pass...no calls. I show up again. This time, I just want answers. Something. ANYTHING!! I’m not leaving until I get to someone who knows something!!!
“Hi...I came a few weeks ago about meditation or even yoga classes for patients." A new lady chimes in, “Oh, you should speak to administration downstairs!” Perfect. Thank you.
I go downstairs and finally, I speak to someone who has some answers. FINALLY. I share my story again, she gives me two phone numbers to call. One is the Spiritual Care Center for Beth Israel and the second is someone who teaches yoga classes to cancer patients. I thank her profusely. I feel a mini-victory come over me, but I don’t get too excited...YET.
I call and leave messages for both people. Thankfully, one calls back. It’s “John” from the Spiritual Care Center. I explain, again what I wish to do. He really likes the idea. He thinks I should become a volunteer for the hospital but warns me that this could take some time. Right. Time. That’s seems to be the theme here. But, I feel like I’ve gotten somewhere. So, I start to get excited. He tells me I should be expecting a call from “said-name” by the end of the week. End of the week comes...no call.
I call, again. He says, “Oh yeah, that figures. We’re doing a lot of restructuring here. I have a new supervisor. I will give her your number so you can speak directly with her on what it is you want to do.”
OY VEY!!!!!!!! I’m so tired of being sent to this person and that person when all I’m trying to do is HELP people. That’s it. Give my services away. MY GOD!!!!! I almost wanted to give up but instead I said, “Do you really think she’ll call me back?” He says, “Oh yeah, she will.”
She calls me within thirty minutes. WOAH. I'm impressed. We speak. I explain, AGAIN what it is I want to do. This time, I’m drained, I’m dispassionate, I’m matter-of-fact about it. I'm almost numb about how I feel anymore. She says:
“Well, I just got this position and need to figure a few things out. Can you call me back in two weeks? I just need two weeks to see how all this works. And I just want to say, I turned Forty this past year and had to get my first Mammogram and I completely understand everything you’re saying. I had all those feelings and I just want to THANK YOU for being so thoughtful and wanting to do something like this…”
Wait - what did you just say???? YOU ACTUALLY THANKED ME???? I almost cried. Finally. FINALLY. A woman who understands and appreciates and ACTUALLY CALLS BACK!!!
Deep breath. Big siiiiiggggh. Thank you. There's nothing better than someone who actually gets you.
Two weeks. I can wait two weeks.
I could have waited to post what happens when we do speak (this was two days ago). But, I wanted to share this now because many times, we give up too quickly.
Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s time consuming. But, getting this far feels like a VICTORY.
And again, I want to celebrate these moments. This is what I know for sure, Oprah...
No one can tell you how many times to go back and try again. No one can tell you when to leave a relationship or a job or a career or anything. And, no one can tell you you’re “crazy” for doing something that you believe in. Anyone who did anything that made a difference always looked “crazy” at first.
This year has made me embrace my "crazy." And I kinda like it.
Forever Fearless & EXTREMELY Patient…
Eight years ago I did a really brave thing. After waiting and waiting to hear back from a big-time music manager about becoming his receptionist, I showed up to his office unannounced, and said:
“I didn’t move to New York to become a receptionist. I came here to be an artist and I want you to help me.”
I had never felt that kind of fear before. My body was tingling and pulsing from the inside out. I felt on FIRE. I felt on PURPOSE. I felt ALIVE. I also felt like I had to pee in my pants and throw up at the same time!
The courage it took to get me to that moment was a culmination of years of struggle; of settling into jobs that were nothing more than a paycheck; of taking what was given instead of asking for what I was worth. That moment was so much bigger than me. It was a promise to God/Universe...I will never give up on my dreams. I’ll do whatever it takes.
It also happened to be days after I had just gotten mugged. I was shaken, vulnerable, and angry. Mostly at myself. The the voice inside my head wasn’t “How could this happen to me?” It was, ”What do you really want from your life? Stop playing small. GO GET IT!”
The real epiphany came after re-telling that story to a friend.
“Don’t you think that was my big Behind-the-Music special moment?” His response, “No, that’s after the TENTH time you do it.” You mean I gotta do it another nine more times!! (and for the record, I did go back another time).
So, as I was thinking about my final act of fearlessness, I wondered: What would it feel like to go back and do some of my most scariest acts...again? How would it feel differently? Easier? Better? Worse? And would the outcome change?
In the next few weeks before my 41st birthday (Can you believe it’s been a year??) I will share what happened when I went back and....sorry, you'll just have to wait and see which ones I did again!
I’ve learned so much during my Fearless journey, but perhaps the most pressing lesson has been about compassion. Deep compassion. The stories we tell ourselves that cripple us into not going for what we really want...are really just “stories.” We all have them. The details of your stories may not look like the details of mine, but they still feel just as real.
The courage it took me to pose nude in an art class or hand-deliver love notes to strangers... is the same courage it took you to…(fill in the blank). It’s all courageous when you’re acting in spite of feeling the fear, shame, guilt, or embarrassment. No one is better or greater than the other.
I realize that now as most of my scariest acts were often a surprise to me. The fear seemed to uncover a deep, unhealed wound or shameful story about myself. And midway through my challenge, I started to feel different. Vulnerable. Exposed. Humbled.
I discovered a whole lot I didn’t know about myself. I discovered judgment where I didn’t think there was any. I discovered shame where I didn’t think there was any. And I discovered love...a deep capacity to love and be loved. For everyone. For the people in my life that hurt me, for the people I’ve held judgment towards and especially, for the deepest part of myself that felt unworthy.
I look at a fellow busker on the subway and think, how brave. I think of someone going to an AA meeting or a Cuddle party and think, how brave. I look at a homeless person sleeping on the side of the street and think, how brave. I wanted to understand my fear and by doing so, I've become more understanding of people that seemed "different" than me.
I will say one more thing about the above-mentioned story. At the time, I didn’t share that story with my parents or some of my friends because it didn't produce the "outcome" that I wanted. But, what needs to be celebrated is the action itself. I'm sure there are a million stories of courage that are never talked about or shared because of some story or rather, society telling us since they didn't produce the results we wanted, they aren't worth celebrating.
Who we are and who we become are a collection of these stories. These acts of bravery. These moments of choosing to act in spite of feeling fear. We do it all the time. We just don't think much of them. And that needs to change.
In the comments below, please share what courageous action you are presently taking, or have taken that forced you to act in spite of feeling fear. Let us all celebrate these stories in each other. That’s what I hope this journey will inspire. Compassion for all and the courage to share our brave stories.
Ok, I admit it...I was weirded out by the whole idea of “naked yoga.” Just who goes to these classes anyway? What are the benefits? Is it all just a gimmick? A peep show? And... could I make it through one of these classes without giggling like a teenager? I was about to find out.
Before signing up to my first co-ed Naked Yoga class, I had to fill out a little questionnaire online (which I assume is to keep the creepies out!). I sent in my little application, and was promptly accepted by the owner. YAY!!! I mean...I think?
On my way to the studio, I felt uneasy and nervous. I stopped by my nearest liquor store and purchased a package of plain M&M’s. WHAT?! I never do that! Maybe it was the nerves...or maybe I was regressing to a child...or maybe I just needed a sugar fix to calm me down. With each “M” I devoured, I shook my head in disapproval at both my decision to eat these candies and at what I was about to do.
I kept looking around the subway train anxiously ready to announce: I’M HEADED TO A NAKED YOGA CLASS!! SOMEBODY STOP ME! Because I told no one about this. I mean, not one person. This was all me. And I could back out at any moment...and no one would know.
Then, my mind flooded with concerns….What will my parents say? Or my fellow yoga teachers? Or my students? I mean...what if someone I knew was in the class?? Agggghhh!!! The embarrassment!! The humiliation!!! I almost got up from my seat when…
The song, “Can’t Keep My Hands to Myself” started playing on my iPhone. I looked down to see who was singing and there, staring back at me was a naked Selena Gomez in a half-seated-sorta-twisty-yoga-pose.
She spoke to me: “Girrrlll...you got nothing to be scared of...I’m only sixteen and I’m like, naked all the time! Like, for no reason at all! Me and T-Swift go naked everywhere together. You’ll be fine.”
Sometimes, when we don’t know the reasons why we want to do something, we just have to follow our own curiosity. And in this case, my “curiosity” was in the form of Selena Gomez. And that lil' pep talk worked!
I walked into Bold & Naked Yoga in Chelsea with a fresh sense of confidence. I am FORTY! I’ve been naked in front of strangers before in fearless act #29. And this time, everyone will be naked with me. I have nothing to worry about. Until, I opened the door...
“CHAAARRRLLLLEEENNNE!!!!” My stomach dropped. O-M-G!! My worst nightmare has come true. Somebody KNOWS me here!!
“Hey girl, ohhhhh...you’re going to take this class!! Hmmmmm...YOU GO, GIRRRLLL!! I’m about to teach the all men class upstairs, while you all get your groove on down here (he laughs).” I felt somewhat relieved to know it was just a fellow yoga instructor. He assured me, “I’ve done it a million times...you’ll be fine!!”
I peeked around the lobby area and there, standing all around me were NAKED PEOPLE EVERYWHERE!!! Um...excuse me? There’s no changing area? Nope. There’s no separate screen to disrobe? Nope. I just have to take everything off...in front of EVERYONE?? YEP. Oh geez.
And then, before I could say, “Is there a bathroom?”….I saw a PENIS! And another PENIS. And another PENIS. And ANOTHER PENIS!!!! OMG! THERE WERE PENISES EVERYWHERE!! I felt like a five-year old and wanted to scream, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!” For the first time in yoga, I was outnumbered. For every five penises, there were only one pair of boobies. So this is where all the guys are!! They’re in NAKED yoga!! Figures.
I took a deep breath and started undressing. First my shoes, then my socks, then my...and…well...done.
I grabbed my mat and rolled it out in the back of the dimly lit studio. I kept looking forward. I was there for me. Not to peek at anyone’s...well, you know.
The teacher was a woman, which was also a relief. And she was naked, too. The lighting was, well, entertaining. First, it started as a red color, which I didn’t mind as it hid all my cellulite on my thighs. But then it changed to blue, then yellow, then it got progressively brighter and brighter. I kept wondering if by the end of class, there would be a big spotlight on us all and we’d win a celebratory hand mirror like, HEY! YOU DID IT!!! YOU PRACTICED YOGA NAKED IN A BIG BRIGHT ROOM! But alas, that didn’t happen.
Once I got over the room, the lighting, the naked butts in front of me...I actually started to get lost in the flow. Yoga is where I feel safe. And this was no exception. Even though everything outside of me was...well, exposed. Everything inside of me was the same. And I actually started to feel amazing. And powerful. And alive. And...free.
I began to marvel how effortlessly my body moved through each pose with ease and control. I looked at my breasts, my stomach, my thighs, my legs, my arms in a way that I had never experienced before. I felt humbled. I felt grateful. And I wondered...Why was I so hard on myself? On my body? I need to be kinder, more loving, more appreciative. Because I don’t want to look back when I’m Eighty and think, “Damn...I looked good! Why didn’t I really know that then?”
By the end in savasana, I felt so relaxed and comfortable and at peace. I couldn’t believe how far I’ve come. From the shameful tears of exposing my belly in a yoga class to standing on a pedestal for artists to sketch me nude to now, lying naked with other naked strangers...I really shocked myself. I never, in a million years would have guessed that I would actually enjoy this.
When the class ended, I made a quick dash to the bathroom to get dressed. I just didn’t feel comfortable chatting with anyone...naked. I waved good-bye to the teacher and jetted out the door. I had the experience I wanted. And that was enough for me.
Thirty-nine acts down...one more to go. This is my Forty.
As I’m nearing the end of this fearless journey, I started craving the days back in the beginning when I did something scary everyday. There was something special about feeling that knot in the pit of my stomach, or the kind of nerves that fly up and down my spine.
And lately, I’ve sort of fallen back into my normal routine of life...feeling unresolved about what to do for my last few acts. I’ve been secretly hoping the universe would present me with something that would truly shake me to the core. And, last Monday, it delivered.
I am moving at the end of the month from my apartment in Astoria, which has been my home on-and-off for ten years. I never planned to stay as long as I have. In fact, I moved out for the first time eight years ago when I went back to a full-time office job.
Although that job gave me the stability I lacked from living a struggling artist life, I still felt like a failure. And I spent the next two years working in a cubicle, living on the Upper East Side and desperately trying to figure my way out.
I suppose I could have continued along that trajectory and worked myself up the corporate ladder. But office life just wasn’t for me. And once you have even a small taste of that freedom...that scary leap out into the unknown...when you make that handshake with God, promising that you’ll do whatever it takes to fulfill your dreams…there’s no way that light can stay dim. Unless you choose it to.
I cried many nights after taking that office job. I just didn’t understand it. Why was I given this gift to sing if I wasn’t meant to make it my living? Everything I ever read was telling me: Leap & The Net Will Appear or Do What You Love & The Money Will Come. Nothing prepared me for what happens when you do all that and still don’t get the life you want. If music isn’t my destiny - I questioned - then what am I meant to do with my life?
I took a workshop that ultimately changed my life in 2008. I started to turn the questioning on myself: What am I doing to contribute to my reality? How are my thoughts and words supporting the life I want? Before that, I assumed life was just happening to me. That as long as I “worked” really hard at something, I could achieve it. And in that way, I was always at the mercy of what was occurring outside of me versus what was happening within me.
My first “baby” step towards a positive life change was enrolling in yoga teacher training in 2009. I had always loved yoga and had taken classes long before I moved to New York but I never thought about becoming a teacher. I don’t think I even knew it was possible to make a living teaching but, with the help of this new workshop and a whole slew of Self-Help books, a fresh belief system was emerging: I will follow my passion and let go of the outcome.
Once I finished my training, my dear friend, Michael, who was still living in my old apartment, knew of my misery at that job and said I could move back to my old room in Astoria with the same cheap rent. I shunned the idea at first. Nooooooo..I can’t go backwards!! That’s ridiculous. I’m over that apartment and that small room. And then, this little voice spoke to me and said, “But with that cheap rent, you can QUIT your day job and give teaching yoga a real go!” So…I just said, “YES!”
It has been five years since I’ve moved back. FIVE YEARS. I thought of returning to this apartment as a second chance towards my dreams. Even though I have lived within these same four walls for almost my entire New York life, the person I have become is so vastly different than the girl I was when I first moved in. And it feels perfectly timed to leave.
I am incredibly grateful to say that I do make my living teaching yoga and singing/playing my music in my classes as well as providing live music for other teachers/yoga studios around the city. Although it hasn’t been without struggle, I have never felt more fulfilled and valued for my talents than I ever did all those years trying to “make it.”
Last week, I have begun the process of packing and sorting through all my stuff that I’ve collected through the years. Everything from journal entries complaining about my jobs to hand-written directions of every Open Mic in the city to calendars with temp jobs and interviews and notes on the sides and books and birthday cards and luggage tags and pictures and company ID tags.
And there, lying underneath my bed, were my notes from that very workshop I took over six years ago (pictured above). Even now, reading the words, “I just don’t feel good enough” breaks my heart a little. Because in all the work I have done, there is still a voice inside of me that reflects that statement.
But, last Monday, I was given a gift. I showed up to one of my favorite yoga teachers, Ali Cramer’s class at the incredible Laughing Lotus Yoga Center. I absolutely love Ali’s class for so many reasons, one of which is how she manages to weave in such authentic words of wisdom that seem to speak directly to me every single class. And recently, I have had the privilege of accompanying her yoga class with my music, because I got up the nerve to ask her.
So, in last week’s class, after an hour of sweaty flow, Ali asked us to sit in meditation before lying down in savasana. As I sat there with my eyes closed, I felt a presence approach me. “Will you sing something for us?” she whispered. There it was. Chills up and down my spine; hands sweaty; body tingling; mouth drying and that pit in the middle of my belly. HOLY SHIT. I’m not prepared. I don’t have my guitar. I can’t sing one of my songs! OMG, Dana is in the room! I’m not GOOD ENOUGH to sing on the spot! WHAT IS SHE THINKING? But even with all that negative chatter in my head, I just said, “Yes!”
I managed to sing or hmmm some sort of melodic tune, but I was shaking like crazy. And when I finished, tears were rolling down my cheeks. Why was I reacting like this? Perhaps it was all the reflecting and sorting through my memories of this apartment that triggered my emotions or, it was simply the fact that someone I admire so deeply, asked me to sing at the end of her class, validating that I am, in fact, good enough.
After class, I hugged and thanked Ali and expressed my nervousness and tears that came up. She actually thanked me for being so vulnerable and replied, “Well, you just need to do it more often.”
I have taken her words to heart and sang at the end of my class on Friday night as well as in all three classes on Saturday. Not because I needed validation or approval but simply because I can.
Sometimes, life shows us exactly what we need in order to heal. And in that moment of fear, I acted in spite of feeling unworthy. And that alone, is progress. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to silence that voice, but I am learning how to JUST SAY YES anyway!
This is a picture of my very first driver's license at age sixteen. I saved it all these years because it means that much to me. It is symbolic of my first taste of freedom; of independence; of adulthood.
Getting my driver’s license was the connecting factor to attaining my dreams. Once I was old enough to drive, I could get a job and start paying for the singing lessons I always wanted and I could go to the mall and visit my friends at the drop of a hat and I could ditch fourth period and head to the beach...you know, all the important things that my teenaged-valley-girl self would ponder. Getting my license was, like (insert valley-girl accent) THE biggest deal, okay? I mean, my entire tenth grade class could tell you exactly how many days were left until I turned SIXTEEN...because I told them…like, everyday...like, all the time!
So, moving to New York from Los Angeles, a truly car-centric city, was a big adjustment. I remember selling my Black Volkswagen Jetta and thinking: Who am I without my car?
Cut to ten years living as a New Yorker and I got no problem leaving that car behind. I love (dare I say it?) taking the the subway! I love not having to worry about parking and tune-ups and smog checks and gas and insurance and paying attention to the “other drivers” and all that talk about “traffic.” Turns out, I love being taken places. My time on the subway is actually fun. I read; listen to music; talk to strangers; meet new people and generally, get to where I need to go at a reasonable and decent amount of time.
So, when the opportunity arose for me to visit Vermont (a place I’ve never been) to attend a yoga retreat center, I immediately said, “YES!” and then tried to figure out how to get there. I researched taking a train or flying or a bus...anything other than driving myself. Because...I have never driven in NYC. I repeat, NEVER. I only drive on occasion when visiting LA. On occasion!! So, that’s TEN YEARS of not driving. And people are crazy drivers here in New York. And now I am presented with the invitation of driving to Vermont which takes approximately six hours!!! Are you kidding? There’s got to be another way.
But, well, you know...this challenge is called “40 Fearless Acts” not “40 I’m-cool-wit-it Acts.” So, I chose to rent a car and drive myself.
Back in the day when I was a car-owner, there were no iPhones, no apps, no google, no nothing. If you had to drive long distance somewhere, you had to research how to get to where you were going. You had to buy a map or print out directions. You had to have a plan.
My “plan” was to download the app “WAZE”, plug my handy iPhone in the car charger, and TRUST that I would get there. What a difference ten years makes.
I sat in my rented purple Hyundai Elantra for a few minutes before I went on my adventure. I wanted to make sure I knew where everything was....or rather, re-program all good radio stations to the console. I couldn’t drive six hours without good tunes.
So, off I went...with my good buddy, Waze leading the way. “I can do this,” I repeated to myself, backing out of the driveway of the Holiday Inn (don’t ask, it was a “cheap” car rental spot).
The first hour I sat with my eyes and ears on high alert. I had the radio turned off, as I was trying to focus solely on whatever Waze told me. She directed me when to veer left or stay right or head on this highway or that one. But, what she didn’t tell me was how long 900 meters was in, you know, real people talk. Like, 10 minutes? Or, 30? C'mon, Waze, just talk to me like you’re my friend...HOW LONG TILL I CAN TUNE OUT AND JAM TO SOME MUSIC?
“You will be on this road for two hours…” she said. Finally. I can turn on some music and check out the beautiful scenery. And it was beautiful. I’m zipping down 1-95 highway without a care in the world. Until...first Toll...Waze never told me about the Tolls. But you know what she did tell me about? Large puddles or cars that were veered off to the shoulder or, that cop car in about 20 feet (ugh, how far is that?) Luckily, one of my students told me to take cash for the tolls, so I was prepared.
I got to Stowe Mountain Yoga Center in record time: five hours and some change. I felt relieved.
On my drove home, I trusted Waze completely. Things started coming back to me like I was a teenager again. I’m singing all the words to “I Miss You” by Klymaxx loud and proud (very proud, as I couldn’t believe I remembered all the words). I’ve got one hand on the steering wheel and one hand “scanning” through radio stations (why are they all on commercial breaks at the same time!) Or, I’m having full-on imaginary conversations with myself. Or with people I want to meet. You know, cause that’s what you do when you’re driving solo...riiiight?
But, the skies were getting murky. The clouds were coming in. And Waze didn’t warn me about... The weather! It started to rain on my ride back. Ugh, I hate driving in rain, I murmured to...no one? Waze also didn’t inform me of the big trucks that were driving irrationally fast on the opposite side of the highway and who would perpetually speed by and splash huge amounts water all over my purple Elantra. Ugh, the nerve!
So, I’m already a bit grouchy...Waze and I were not on the best of terms and well, I sorta passed by a Toll without paying?? I’m not sure how that happened but when I arrived at another Toll, the “officer” asked for my ticket, and I said, what ticket, officer, I mean, Mr. Toll-booth-man? He said I should have gotten one at the last station-thingy. I explained that this was my first time driving to New York from Vermont and I have no idea what he’s talking about. And then I tried to blame it all on Waze and apparently it worked because he let me pass...with paying of course.
Then, I went through another two Tolls and on the last one, I only had $5 and the Toll was $8...and they only take cash. Oh no! (Waze and I still weren’t speaking). I explained to this officer, I mean Toll-booth-man that I had no more cash and could I charge it? He smiled and took my five bucks and let me pass! Phfffew. Relieved.
I made it back to the Empire State and thought to myself, hmmm...perhaps I should make a stop to IKEA or Target since I have this car and could potentially buy really big, heavy items and drive them back to my place. OMG!! How EXCITING!!! Or I could drive things for other people? Or maybe I can become an Uber driver for the next hour or so?! The possibilities were endless.
But, I just wasn’t in the mood. So, off I went to return my purple Elantra.
One Holiday Inn shuttle back to La Guardia Airport to pick up the M60 bus back to Astoria Blvd to then head back on the N Train to the city just in time to teach my 7:30 class…and I was beat.
I started thinking about the days when I drove everywhere and how different my life was then. . And how much my car was attached to my identity…my “ticket” to freedom. It’s funny how I own less stuff now than I did back then and yet, I feel more free. Because there’s nothing in my way anymore. Not age. Not status. Not toll booths. And certainly, not Fear.
Last night, as I was walked from the East Village to the subway, I spotted a young girl sitting underneath the street light with ragged hair and a cardboard sign that said, "Sometimes You Just Need A Little Help." I glanced at her for a moment and then continued walking, as I normally do. But something told me to turn around...so I did.
Her paper cup was empty. She was sitting on bags, dressed in layers of brown and her hair looked like it hadn't been brushed in months. "Excuse me," I approached. "Are you hungry?" (She nodded). "Let me buy you slice of pizza." (I gestured to the pizza place across the street). She stood up right away, "I would love that! Thank you!"
"I'm Charlene..." as I held out my hand to shake hers. "I'm Mary," She replied. "Nice to meet you, Mary." Somehow I didn't believe that was her real name.
She added, "I saw you walk by before, and I thought you looked like my Mom's friend." I had two thoughts: one, I was old enough to be her Mom and two, she saw me walk past the first time.
As we walked across the street for pizza, I asked her how long she'd been on the streets. She told me she's been traveling for months...trying to get back to Texas. She also said she had a boyfriend and they were both sleeping at a friends house in the Bronx. I was relieved to know she had somewhere to sleep at night.
I bought her two slices; one for her and her boyfriend. She was polite, and gracious and sweet. I asked if she wanted to sit down and eat and she politely declined, explaining that she should get back to her spot as her boyfriend would be wondering where she was.
"I don't really like to do this," she revealed. "You know, sit out here and beg. People can be so mean...they spit in our cup and tell us to go get a job...which we're trying to do and will do once we get back to Texas." I just continued to listen.
"Thank you so much...I had been sitting here wishing for a slice of pizza." I replied, "Well, I must have heard you." She smiled. "Stay safe," I said, as I wished her well and waved goodbye.
As I waked away, I realized in the ten years I've lived here, I had never done that before. I had never bought a stranger dinner. I had never engaged in a real conversation with someone who was a "beggar." I was either too busy, too grossed-out by their appearance or frankly, just too disheartened to bother.
I know, especially as New Yorkers, we are constantly bombarded with all kinds of stories of people down on their luck. And it's easy to clump them all in the same category and look the other way.
But I made a promise to myself last night. Even if I can't always give money or buy someone dinner, I can always acknowledge them. Because everybody deserves to be seen. And sometimes, people just need a extra little help.
People have often asked me what I hope to achieve as my 40th act or wonder why I began this journey of fearlessness to begin with and I haven’t always been truthful...until now.
I want to fall in love. There. I said it.
Admittedly, I know by expressing this truth, I am opening myself up to all sorts of judgments and comments surrounding the “search for love.” I know there are apps and sites and couples with advice and stories and loved ones with opinions and well, I just didn’t want to hear it.
I think somewhere along my journey, I picked up the false-belief that I must be doing something wrong if what I desire most hasn’t shown up in my life. And believe me, it’s a pretty sucky feeling to be carrying around.
So, my thinking was simple: What if I went on this quest...this journey of stepping up my life by doing things that scare me, things that force me out of my comfort zone and then share my experiences in a really truthful, honest and vulnerable way?
Perhaps, then...if I were doing something unconsciously to “block” this great love, certainly all would be revealed by the end of this journey. I hate to admit it...but I was expecting a certain fairy-tale ending.
But, I have learned time and time again...living is in the present...in the moments...in the choices we make along the way. Wanting or needing a certain outcome inevitably leads to disappointment. And ultimately, it is who we become along the way to what we desire that defines us.
The reason I didn’t share these next few acts is because they didn’t produce the outcome I desired. But...they all required serious amounts of courage to perform. And that's what needs to be celebrated.
WAIT...before I unveil these little gems...I must let you in on a little secret.
Whenever I’m inspired to do something scary in the name of romantic love, I always ask myself, “What would the girl in the movie do?”
Because no matter what the scenario, the “girl in the movie” always looks adorable even when she’s a klutz or trips and falls or messes up her words or goes into that party alone or makes a dumb joke or walks up to the cute boy. And somehow this gives me all the confidence I need to become...THE GIRL IN THE MOVIE.
Grab your popcorn. Dim the lights and enjoy! (And note: all these stories DID actually happen).
SCENE ONE/ACT ONE: CAN I KISS YOUR CHEEK, HANDSOME MAN?
(This act was inspired by someone’s dare to kiss the cheeks of thirty attractive and interesting men...as an alternative way to meeting my man. I said, “Sure!” Besides, if it did work out, what a great story it would be!)
(ENTER Handsome man. 5’10, dark hair, dimples, white shirt, tan skin, computer bag, and eating tacos.)
ME: (in yoga attire, finished eating tacos and sees HANDSOME MAN.)
“Excuse me, this is going to sound strange but...I accepted a dare to kiss the cheeks of interesting and attractive men...and well, it’s part of a bigger challenge I’m doing...40 fearless acts...because I just turned 40 and, so, (fumbling, while still looking adorable) I choose you to be my first...man...to kiss on the cheek (EEEK!).
HANDSOME MAN: (smiles) Well, I only kiss on the lips. (OMG!!!)
ME: (laughing nervously) Hahahahahhaha….hahahhaha…(Wasn’t expecting that!)
HANDSOME MAN: Why don’t you sit down and tell me more about this challenge you’re doing?
ME: uh, okay…(relieved)
(Both parties chat...asking each other questions and exchange in flirty conversation)
ME: I actually have to go and teach a class right now…
HANDSOME MAN: Oh, well, I’ll be here just working on some stuff if you want come back afterwards.
ME: (Unsure if he’s telling the truth) Okay, see you in a bit!
(After class...HANDSOME MAN is still working and done eating tacos)
ME: Hi, I’m all done with my class.
HANDSOME MAN: Great! I actually live right by here and have a nice roof deck where we can have a drink and talk more...
ME: (feeling adventurous) Okay, sounds great!
(Picturesque Manhattan roof deck, beautiful summer evening. ME is drinking wine, he’s drinking a beer.)
HANDSOME MAN: So…
(About mid-way through the evening, ME realizes while HANDSOME MAN is certainly handsome...he isn’t so interesting. Long pauses of ME asking questions while HANDSOME MAN asks ME...nothing.)
HANDSOME MAN: You know you’re going to have to kiss me…(He gets up from his seat and plants one on ME)
(ME and HANDSOME MAN exchange in a passionate make-out session. ME starts to drift, thinking about what she needs to do tomorrow, laundry and other mindless thoughts that one ponders when they’re not “feeling” it.)
ME: (Breaks away) I think I’m gonna get going.
HANDSOME MAN: Oh, really?!?! Okay...I’ll walk you downstairs. Well...why don’t you take my number...just in case. (ME takes number and laughs...on the inside).
ME: OK...thanks for being my first...uh...you know what I mean. (ME leaves smiling while still looking adorable).
ACT 2: THE CHAT SESSION
(Virgin America Flight LA → NY. Packed plane. ME playing on the fancy computer screen of Virgin America when ME realizes there’s a CHAT option where you can INSTANT MESSAGE anyone on the flight! ME gets curious.)
ME: Hmmm...Let’s see...how can I make this flight more interesting? Maybe there’s a single, attractive man on this flight that wants to “chat” with me.
(ME starts a chat session with: 12F, 3C, 24G, 9B…”Hello, would you like to chat with me?”)
(Nobody accepts the chat).
ME: Maybe this is dumb…(Seat 12F “Accepts the chat”) OMG!! THIS IS SO NOT DUMB!!!
ME: (starts typing away). Hi, How’s your flight going?
12F: Yo...it’s good, how’s yours?
ME: It’s nice...are you from NY or LA?
12F: I’m from NY, live in Long Island...You?
ME: I’m from LA and live in Astoria. I’m Charlene, btw….
12F: That’s a pretty name...My name is Marlon.
ME: As in...Wayans? hahaha, just kidding
12F: (no comment) Yo, I love LA...it was my first visit.
ME: (Still thinking about his name being “Marlon” and if “Charlene” and “Marlon” are good together...) Yeah, it’s cool but I like NY.
(ME and 12F continue the chat session until long pauses cause the chat session to shut off and turn back on again...and then shut off. And the typing mechanism is a very small keyboard that takes about one minute to type three words. ME decides to continue on the flight home...sans the chat session and sans meeting “Marlon” in person.)
FADE TO BLACK
ACT 3: 36 QUESTIONS TO FALLING IN LOVE
(Madison Square Park. Brisk Fall Day. ME is standing at the fountain across from SHAKE SHACK when a man with the words, “LIV” on his baseball cap approaches the same fountain.)
(ME has an idea. Maybe MAN WITH BASEBALL CAP would be willing to engage in the 36 Questions That Lead to Love, according to the New York Times. ME decides to approach him).
ME: Excuse me...are you waiting for someone?
MAN WITH BASEBALL CAP: No...why?
ME: Well, I was just wondering...if you would be willing to answer these 36 questions that lead to love with me? (ME, starts to realize how ludicrous this sounds so ME offers more explanation). You see...I am doing this challenge on performing 40 fearless acts since I just turned 40...and I thought this is really scary...walking up to a stranger and asking him if he’d be willing to answer these personal questions with me…(ME unsure if she’s looking adorable or just...crazy.)
MAN WITH BASEBALL CAP: Uh...well, how long will it take?
ME: I don’t really know...I’ve never done it before...which is why I’m asking…
MAN WITH BASEBALL CAP: Wait, so what is this for? Is it an app?
(ME looks confused. This is not going well. ME wants to abort the mission altogether and starts thinking of ways to escape without...looking even more crazy.)
ME: Well, it’s not an app...it’s from the NY Times Article on Love...It says these 36 questions will lead to love (OMG, did ME really just say that!)
MAN WITH BASEBALL CAP: (searching for words…) Uh..well…
ME: (interrupts) You know what? It’s okay...nevermind! Hahahaha...I understand you don’t have time….no worries!
(ME dashes away from MAN WITH BASEBALL CAP and starts laughing uncontrollably, as if she got away with murder! Perhaps she did!)
These blog posts are part of my #40daysoffearlessacts Challenge. When I turned Forty on June 6th of this year, I decided to STEP-UP my life and created a "40 Days of Fearless Acts" challenge. Follow along as I step out of my comfort zone, do things that scare me, that I've never done before and/or are just plain silly and make me laugh!