A Body as Full as a Canvas Sail
After my birthday, I spent a sunny weekend at my mom and step-dad’s that felt like a super dose of fun. I held my niece upside down, we buzzed our lips back and forth and played a game where I touched her on the nose and said, “boop!”, all of which made her break into a smile that revealed all seven of her tiny teeth. I had a birthday dinner with my family. My sister decorated the porch with branches of plum, magnolia, and forsythia blossoms cut from the yard. Pink, orange, and yellow tissue paper spheres hung from a string of red wooden beads pilfered from a box of Christmas decorations, and we ate barbecue catered by a charming pit master from the market nearby. It was the best potato salad I’d had in my life, and we sat outside drinking daiquiris until a thunderstorm rolled in long after it had gotten dark. On Saturday there was coffee, a long walk, and digging in the dirt with my mom. We made a new compost pile, and I carried the raised beds to their new home. When I lifted the short black walls out of the dirt, damp soil and worms clung to the sides, and I hoisted them over my shoulder. And while it sounds too convenient to be true, there are wild violets blooming in the yard and between the patio stones, and none of us remember them being there last year. I dug some up with a trowel and patted them down into the wet earth near the entrance of the vegetable garden, hoping they’ll spread. This is not an adventure tale, just the joy-filled details of a nine-month old, the world in bloom, being outside with people you love. But at the end of the weekend, as we rode the bus back into concrete midtown, I felt like sunshine was pouring out of my skin.
Sometimes I bemoan that my life in New York can feel like a Woody Allen movie, everyone sitting in restaurants talking about their feelings. But when I am able to really do––to be active and present in a fun physical process––it’s as replenishing as good night’s sleep or emerging back into the world after a spa afternoon. Moving raised beds, rearranging piles of squirmy worm-filled earth, and tucking demure, winking indigo blooms into a new spot of earth made me feel like my best self again.
What role does doing play in your life? It’s an interesting question for reflective, emotional people, and an especially tough one for anyone who battles the blues. Getting going can be the toughest part of any day. Spring seems to have breathed enough life into my bones so that my body feels full as a canvas sail. Doing feels natural and good, so that whether I’m pedaling my bike uphill, playing peek-a-boo, or sorting through bunches of spinach at the greenmarket, I feel alive, engaged, and happy. It could be considered like flow, possibly, but while flow can happen while writing or painting, mindful doing feels best to me when there’s some kind of movement.
One of my friends has a fear of not doing, and so adopted a challenge as a way to get over it. Every day, she has to do something she’s never done before. You can imagine how difficult this would be. When I last saw her she had a notebook open under the window with a list of numbers running down the left-hand column, one for each day of the month. There were more new daily doings next to numbers than not. It was not only impressive but inspiring.
I prize my usual Monday nights because I have no appointments. It’s my night to go to the gym and make a proper dinner without feeling harried and hurried. But this past Monday, I did something quite goofy and frivolous for the first time. I stepped off the F train at West 4th street after 7pm and it was still light outside. Walking west toward the water, the brightly-lit sex shops and karaoke bars gave way to narrow, leafier streets, with jewelry boutiques and darker, more den-like sex shops. The sidewalks were filled with women in their workout clothes and tiny little dogs, and under the marquee of a theater, people stood in small groups wrapped in dark wool coats and sweaters waiting for a performance. It was a part of New York at a time of day that is not part of my usual daily doings. It felt like village life in all those period BBC dramas I love, filled with characters and daily dramas in one small pocket of the world unlike any other. I felt curious and alive and nervous. I was on my way to my first tap dancing class.
I signed in on the second floor of a windowless studio on Christopher Street, and rifled through a tub of tap shoes marked “7-8 1/2” on the outside. I found a shoe that fit, and then couldn’t find its pair, so resorted to wearing two different shoes. I fit right in. We were a collection of oddballs, overly loud theater kids who had grown up into overly loud middle-aged women, an elderly woman, stooped and nervous, and a young girl in her twenties dressed for her first session of Absolute Beginners Tap like she was auditioning for Flashdance. I rather admired her chutzpah.
Inside our little studio, we stood in front of a mirror and tapped our toes and heels against a scuffed wood floor. Then, in time to the slowest jazz you’ve ever heard, tried for simple combinations of shuffles and ball changes the long way across the room. We wound up against the opposite wall a crowd of exasperation and laughter. It was pure delight.
Is this spring fever, this affection for doing? The longing to get out of our heads and homes and into your bodies? Whatever’s brought it on, it’s a welcome antidote to the hours our modern life requires spent in front of a computer, typing out characters and numbers and rearranging widgets. This is real movement, and doing, to the time of slow jazz and birdsong on a stage of sun and damp, blooming earth.
What will be your bit of frivolity and delight and doing?