Archive | January, 2011

How to dance your way out of anxiety

28 Jan

Dance Dance Revolution Mat

January 1: A day to start over.  A day to reinvent yourself. A day to pretend you are going to lose weight, drink less, and start an organic garden. Or a day to kick off a two week anxiety blitz with the force of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Two significant things happened to me on 1.1.11.

1. Someone made a serious offer on my house in Virginia. (Twenty days later, the sale closed, thanks to a buyer with cash and no interest in a home inspection.)

2. I played Dance Dance Revolution for the first time. Partied like it was 1999, if  you will.

I love to dance. I have some rhythm. I predicted I might excel at a game with dance in the title twice. Oh how the delusional fall.

The premise seems simple enough: Step on right, left, up, or down arrows as shown, in time with the music.

Aaron, experienced in DDR, demonstrates for me first. He smoothly taps the arrows in a controlled and relaxed manner.

That’s it? I can do that, I think to myself.

Only when I step on the mat I’m a flailing spaz. The anti-smooth. Picture a giraffe with the nerves of a squirrel.

I realize I will need more time in the DDR virtual school if I’m ever going to be as good as this kid. After a few lessons, I realize five-year-old Japanese kids will always kick my ass.

While you’re slapping your feet around on an arrow-laden piece of plastic, a  DJ shouts things like “you’re awesome,” “nobody can dance like you,” or “this song is the bomb.” Except when I’m dancing, it goes more like this:

Me (confused, uncoordinated): “Where’s the back arrow? I swear I’m hitting it!”

DJ (condescendingly robotic): “Try har-der!”

Me (irritated): “I AM trying harder!”

DJ (impatiently robotic): “TRY HAR-DER!”

Me (vengeful): “I’ll show YOU try harder$%#$^&!”

While I suffered a fair amount humiliation in the process (and irrational anger at an imaginary MC), I did complete enough lessons with my fan-carrying, knee-sock wearing, Japanese school girl avatar to unlock a plethora of pop songs by Naoki. Congratulations to me.

Now I’ve moved on to Dance Mode. After a achieving a false sense of confidence on the beginner level, I advance to basic. That’s right, not intermediate. Basic.

The arrows are all coming at once and I can’t tell which ones are up and which ones are down anymore. So I panic and move my feet in such an anxious frenzy that the mat gets twisted and sideways and at one point I actually flip it on top of itself, all to the tune of  Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You.”

So, turns out I’m terrible at this.

And I’m terrible at being terrible.

While Aaron glides back and forth on the dance mat with the smoothness of 70’s Yacht rocker Christopher Cross, I sulk in the corner and wonder why my life feels so frustrating right now.

Getting to the next level is always harder than it looks.

I’ve spent most of January not sleeping enough or not sleeping well. I take at least an hour to fall asleep. Or I wake up at 4:00 a.m. and can’t fall back  asleep, at least not until 20 minutes before my alarm goes off.  Not the one right next to me that pipes in NPR at 5:30 am, the one I bang silent every 8-9 minutes. I’m talking about the one in the kitchen that rings with increasing volume at 6:10 a.m., the one that means I actually have to crawl out of bed and face the day.

Welcome to anxiety.

It all started with my December realization that this whole starting over thing is affecting me more than I realized. As usual, when you think you’re handling things well, you usually aren’t.

Then on New Year’s Day Aaron and I had our first real conversation about having a baby. We had previously discussed wanting to have children but this was the first time we discussed logistics.  Timeframes. Moneyframes. Houseframes.

Yes, I sold my house, but for less than it was worth. And while I’m grateful to be free of that monthly mortgage payment (people in this market have suffered far worse), my -1 year of seniority in my current job does not bode well for building our love nest. That’s right, cutting teachers in Florida is even more hardcore than in Virginia. With 10 years of teaching experience (and 7 years of publication advising), I will be one of the first five to go at my school. Equal to a brand new teacher, age 22.

That hurts.

When I signed a one-year contract, I wanted to believe the words of my principal and my colleagues that they’ll do everything they can to keep me. If only it were up to people who know me.

Who know how much I care about my students and that they actually learn.

How to write.

How to love (at least not hate) Shakespeare.

How to read between the lines.

How to think (even if it’s different than what I think).

How to stop being afraid of themselves.

Oh and I actually like teenagers. I know, it’s weird. They’re so hormonal and dramatic and full of attitude. Until they decide you care about them. That you’re on their side. Then they’re some of the sweetest, most interesting, most hilarious people on earth. And you end up accepting (some) of their Facebook friend requests when they’re college students or (gasp) married and working a real job.

What’s worse is even with such an irritatingly positive attitude about teaching, I still suffered the pangs of transition this year. I left a school of (mostly) supportive and collaborative colleagues who on the whole loved their jobs and got excited about the latest teaching trends that increased student achievement.

My current school has many equally motivated and dedicated teachers but their voices get drowned out by a system that amplifies negativity and over-emphasizes hard times.  My principal who meant to be “real with us” about the upcoming year’s budget cuts at a faculty meeting instead left us feeling defeated and depressed. On the one hand I understand it, but ultimately I expect our leaders to see past it and still inspire us. This is why they get paid more than me.

So while I’m sure people think it’s overly optimistic or “just rhetoric,” I needed to hear that piece of the State of the Union that reminded me my job is important. Hearing our president call for good teachers to be rewarded (in pay and esteem) by asking the best and brightest to become teachers means at least it’s worth a few paragraphs on a teleprompter. At least we shared space with Sputnik. And salmon.

Whether or not the Chief is for real shall be seen but as my good friend Caroline said, “it’s better than silence.”

We’re still planning to have a baby one day (God willing) and whether or not I have a teaching job next year, I will never stop learning. Ultimately my life is in my hands. It’s up to me to make it better, level change pains and all. In tough times, it helps me to remember Goethe’s wise words:

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

That is teaching.

That is humanity.

That is life.