Updated: Nov 6, 2022
This morning, while I was pulling up the x-ray image of my child's broken bone on my phone, I'm certain the orthopedic surgeon glimpsed the following stills I took from my burlesque act.
And therein lies the awkward place where I live: I'm a mother of a den of chaos dragons and a woman with big art and growing needs.
I've recently accepted that I want attention and I want pleasure. At forty-two, with a family and a pile of jobs and responsibilities, this borders on unthinkable, or at least inconvenient and problematic.
But it's what I want and I'm starting to honor my needs and wants.
These past few months, my family has had school, work, soccer, wrestling, horseback riding, band, and Girl Scouts. We have 1 car. We had 4 bicycles but 1 got stolen, so now we have 3. We have 1 freshly broken arm (making it a grand total of 3 (three!) broken bones on these 2 kids this 1 calendar year), 1 new anti-anxiety medication, 1 new job and a big 'ol twist in an established job, an anniversary, a birthday, and countless meetings with schools and counselors.
In the midst of all of this, I've been taking a burlesque class; three hours every Thursday night, with all the creatures in my house pacing just outside the door, whining and banging to be let in to interrupt my pursuit of myself. It was not easy to stay focused or in the headspace. I missed a lot of class between wrestling meets and therapist visits, but I was determined to see it through.
I had seen dances created from this program and I wanted what those women seemed to possess- body authority, confidence, joy in themselves, freedom, sensuality. God, I wanted that so badly. My confidence has been shattered over the past few years, my identity left thin and patchy, and I've been living in my body like it was the last place I wanted to be. This class- a safe place full of women with similar goals- was about enrichment, empowerment, embodiment, courage and vulnerability. Each week, I found myself understanding more about what it feels to be solid and free, but it wasn't easy.
Initially, I wanted to do some sort of cutesy, fun, flirty Mae West thing where I could use humor and bawdiness to 'own' the crowd. I know how to perform, I could do that. I can give joy, I can give pleasure, I can give amusement and even wonder....but it quickly became clear that if I wanted to GET those things for myself, I was going to have to take a different, more authentic and vulnerable path. Dammit. I chose a song that made me want to sob and run and fight, and even dance. As I was building the choreography to go with the gut-wrenching lyrics, I realized that I was going to have to dip into very hard, serious emotions. Dammit again, always with these freakin' feelings!
I had fears about what I look like, how I (don't) dance, what taking off my clothes would mean in my chubby and scarred body. I was embarrassed and afraid but I WANTED to be healed and whole. I wanted to skip through the pain of processing all this shit and just FEEL SEXY AND AWESOME ALREADY. One day during class, after an especially hectic week at home, I tried to game the system and as I worked on my song, I yanked my top off, exposing my ruined breasts. THERE! I DID IT! I'M FIXED, SEE? In exploiting my wounds I thought I could force my evolution. I did what I thought I was supposed to do, what I thought was expected of me, I tried to "win" at burlesque class and to hasten my way to actualization and confidence. I tried to cheat and shortcut my way there, but....you'll be shocked to learn...it didn't work.
Instead, eventually, I put every bit of my sadness, fury, and determination into the dance, and it ended up more of a performance piece about depression than what I would historically have called burlesque. But it mattered. I mattered. Me showing up with all of my messy dark stuff and picking my way through it, picking myself up out of it through the course of a 3 minute song was healing to me- and to those who witnessed me. In the end, I uncovered some skin, but it wasn't the cure. It wasn't the reason. The pain in my eyes was a lot more exposing than the bit of flesh I released on camera. The nakedness was a metaphor for the acceptance of who I am, all of me, of asking for what I need, allowing for what I want.
I want to be seen. I want to feel pleasure and relief. I want to matter.
So, this morning when the orthopedic surgeon saw these pictures on my phone, I had a flash of embarrassment that he would think I was selfish or vain or extra or an inept mother or something, and then I gently reminded myself that in my phone and in my head, in my heart, and in my body, I'm allowed to exist, too. Not just my family, not just my work, but me. So he saw me....so what? I want to be seen. On my own terms.