saying yes

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Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterward. – Tina Fey

Yes. I am saying yes. And it’s an interesting journey. I recommend it.

This fall I spoke at a cocktail mingler about creativity. I was invited last minute and it would have been so easy to say no. There were hipsters and entrepreneurs and movers and shakers. “What should I talk about?” I asked the man who asked me to speak and who is himself in all of the above categories. Cool as could be: “Whatever you’re passionate about right now.” So I spoke about the writing project that is several years in the making – starting and stopping, with me sometimes believing in it and sometimes feeling faithless. And I spoke about the need to inject more creativity into our local schools — another topic that I keep pushing and pulling at, working from different angles as my own kids work their way up the educational ladder with varying frustration and ennui at the relative worth-less-ness of the endeavor.

I said yes to the last minute call for a private yoga session with the visiting couple. He was getting a divorce. They’d reunited, years past their college romance. He lived in California – had just been surfing less than 24 hours before on the beach where I’d gotten married. She lived in New York. They chose Iowa out of a quixotic love of the literary and an intention to meet in the middle. I taught from the hip, which is often the best way, and at the end of our 90 minutes they beamed.

I said yes to my husband’s proposition that we stay out on the beach until after dark under the stars. Which is how we got a little bit lost – or turned around, depending on who you ask, and ended up walking on a path in the pitch black, holding on to each other, singing loudly, and flashing our cell phone lights ahead and behind as we tried not to utter the words “mountain lion.” (“Don’t say ‘mountain.’ Don’t say ‘lion.'”) But at the end of the path was the hostel where a nice Dutchman named Anders who was cooking his dinner paused to drive us to our car — bless that man up and down and may all good things come to him. As soon as he drove away, we took a deep sigh of relief and then  had the best laugh – and have been laughing occasionally for the past two weeks at our selves. Yes to the stars! Yes to the ocean! Yes to fear!

Speaking of stars, I said yes to introducing an astrophysicist who spoke with verve about the heart of the Milky Way. The night before, she sent me a so-called layman’s article to read to familiarize myself with her topic. I crossed my eyes and turned it upside down and then tried reading it with a French accent, but it was still a smattering of chaotic, albeit awe-some star-studded nonsense. And yet I stood there the next day and introduced her and did not completely make a fool of myself. Rather, I said yes.

Which is what I did two weekends ago when we went to California and I joined a group of fifty people for a dance workshop. There were a lot of gray hairs among the dancers, but also lithe, young bodies. Several men looked as though they were draped in suits during the week. I took one woman to be a counselor at a community college. Another man had an IT air. One young woman seemed fresh out of a modern dance degree; another, covered in tattoos and beads, arrived from a commune. Who knows their true stories, their actual lives.There was a lot of quiet – people hardly spoke, just the music and the sound of feet on the wooden floor. What I saw were the selves they shared only as dancing bodies — people vulnerably and yet ecstatically being in their physical selves. Twirling. Leaping. Crawling. Eyes closed. Smiles wide. Tears.  Patches of California sun streaming in through the window of the Finnish Hall. Out on the fire escape, a row of potted plants — rosemary, basil, cacti.

I can’t entirely put my experience of the workshop into words. Which is how it should be — something so about the body should largely remain in that land beyond words. I can say that there were moments of pure pleasure and others of utter panic. It brought forth some mighty teachers — Judgement, Doubt, Boredom, and Impatience. But also Joy. Also Love.  I have no regrets. I said yes, and that took me far. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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