If any of you share my somewhat shame-faced but whole-hearted love of the cheesy dance movie “Center Stage,” you’ll recognize this brilliant line: “Girl, you are too many things!”
It comes when the gorgeous and talented but attitudinally-impaired Yva Rodriguez has just danced her stunning surprise lead role in the academy director’s major new piece, and her performance shocks everyone not just because she was a substitute: she was flawless. She was inspired. She brought individuals to tears and the house to its feet. Most importantly, she realizes for the first time that she truly does LOVE this work, this life, and that her own sense of self-importance and defensiveness really take a back seat to her passion and joy in the work. Her best friend, Eric O. Jones (“O as in Oprah — she’s my idol”), offers her that unforgettable line, perfect in its capacity to honor all the many facets of herself. It’s not “Oh, yay, you did a great a job,” or “What a terrific career opportunity” or even “congratulations on overcoming your obvious fears of success.” It’s “you are too many things!” You are all that and more: scared and courageous, brilliant and flawed, vulnerable and hostile and beautiful. That’s the kind of encouragement we all need.
We had some reminders in our house recently of the risks of underestimating ourselves, of curling up in our shells because we’re tired and sore. We’ve also had some reminders of how crucial it is to do just that kind of retreat. The challenge, I guess, is knowing when or in which fields it’s okay to hide out, and when to more forward, trusting the path to open up ahead of us with fewer brambles than before. Part of the challenge, too, is knowing how to ask for guidance, who to ask and with what kinds of framing. Do we seek to be better at what we do, or to help out more where we are, or do we try to challenge and nurture our core selves, whatever that might look like? Does the latter always advance the former?
This stuff seems purely academic in a certain way, except that when you pile it all up, it takes on form and begins to loom. It casts dark shadows. Like this.
When the exhaustion and the irritation and the career concerns and the money worries and the new-computer-buyer’s-remorse are all heaped together, they start to look a little like that guy. So I’m glad that I get to actually SEE him, to remember that he’s a children’s toy, that we can pick him up and move him around, that his long shadow is just a result of where we’ve put him in relationship to the sun. It helps.
It also helps, I find, to revert to the present mode again. To realize that even if it’s not the time to haul out every tinkertoy in the known world right before bath, it MAY be time to put the baby down first and then spend extra long with the Dr. Seuss-a-thon the three-year-old wants. It MAY be time to hold said three-year-old extra close for longer than usual, because he is your child and he makes you whole and this is why we are alive. We are indeed too many things, all at once, and we’re no good at living in that kind of story. We want the drama of a particular narrative and the resolution of conclusions; we want plots that unfold with tidy themes. There’s rarely enough room for the outrageous glory of the everyday while fatigue hums along our bones like wires. We cannot contain in language, or even sometimes in our hearts, the enormous bog-wallow that is our lives, everything steeped in everything else, our fears and ambitions and concerns and hopes. The closest we can come, I guess, is to accept the bigness and the touchingness and the inextricability — and to keep showing up, right here, right now, to see what’s rising to the surface.