Wednesday, 8 February 2012

About Me, Part 31: What's Come Over Me?

One warm evening in August 1997, a friend and I went for a walk down to Kitsilano Beach. This was the friend that I had first met at the Sogyal Rinpoche talk the previous year. I had come out to her (as bisexual) a few months earlier and she had been completely accepting. We talked about our respective families and how unaccepting of our personalities they seemed to be. The night was so quiet that we could hear people having conversations on their yachts out in English Bay. At some point, my friend, who had recently been doing work through Toastmaster's, mentioned a workshop that she had done which had helped her work through some issues and put things in perspective. She recommended that I take the next one, a personal growth weekend workshop called The Mastery of Self-Expression. It sounded right. I had grown impatient with how cerebral my therapy was getting. I had long felt that I needed more body in my therapy, more of a centered, physicalized experience. The Mastery, the way my friend described, seemed like the obvious next step.

I went to an Introductory evening at a large, shared house in Oakridge. I remember there being another librarian among the guests. After the organizers introduced themselves, all in a very playful, whimsical manner, they invited us each to get up and introduce ourselves likewise. I already knew from presentations I had done in library school, and from some of the best advice I had received by others in my profession, the importance of making eye contact and speaking with confidence. The advice given to us here was much the same, only less about being professional and more about simply connecting with others, letting them see you. "The eyes are the windows to the soul" was and is a cliche, however it also was true. I had never let people in, as long as I could remember. I had avoided their eyes for fear of being seen, of being slandered or criticized. I had avoided my own eyes in front of a mirror for other, still hidden, reasons. The others in the room sensed my shyness and the intro leader said that would get a lot out of doing this "weekend". Sold.

I paid for the workshop the following week. The workshop started Friday evening. After work that Friday, I took the bus from Burnaby into Vancouver along King Edward to Main Street and got off, bought some food at a grocery store and walked down to the community hall where the workshop would be taking place. It had been a hotter than normal week and Vancouver was in the midst of a garbage strike. When I got down to the hall, I signed in at the registration desk and put my stuff aside. Then I took my seat in the first two rows. After introductions from the workshop leaders, the program got started. Over the next few days I got up in front of the other participants and revealed all the grief that I had been carrying since my mother's death, the hurt, the loneliness, the isolation. I had a chance to vent, to laugh and cry. I saw others work through their own issues. By Sunday afternoon (we did go home in the evenings, incidentally), I felt something that had never before in my life, real connection, the kind that comes from sharing of yourself, the deepest parts and they theirs. I also learned what it meant to express myself with fire and passion. I felt the vulnerability of "being in my body". I felt the thrill of expressing myself (I performed a poem that I had written about a month earlier) in front of an audience that seemed only too eager to support me. All foreign experiences.

The week after the workshop, I found myself missing the people that I had met that weekend. I was hungover, tired during my last week at the Open Learning Agency. I craved more connection and wanted more people around me. Coincidentally, there were two OLA employees in the television department who had been assisting at the workshop. Seeing them in the cafeteria was a welcome sight. I made a point of calling some of the former participants on my phone list, just to see how they were doing. When our follow-up meeting happened, the week after that, it felt like a mini-reunion. We planned to continue meeting regularly in a support group afterwards. I was glad. With my work now sporadic (at UBC) and the rest of my waking hours spent looking for a regular job, I needed to be careful that I did not become too isolated again. I did crush out on someone that I met during the weekend; we had coffee a few times. It was awkward. Looking back, I think I craved connection so much, that I was confused about what I was feeling. I realized that I lacked physical contact of almost any kind, and hurt so much, that I often found myself in tears completely out of the blue.


I continued to furnish my apartment with a computer desk and chair. I bought an Mac Performa from a nearby (around the corner, actually) Apple dealer. Next door to them was the insurance company where I bought my first policy. Can you say "adult"?

I had Thanksgiving dinner with many of the people in the Mastery community at a large house in North Vancouver. I felt a bit out-of-sorts, but I was welcomed just the same. I had stumbled on a lively, warm and fun crowd of folks among whom I felt at home. That Halloween (hosted by some Mastery folks at the RCMP detachment hall near Cambie and 33rd Avenue), for the first time in years, I wore a costume. In the retro-70s mood of the time, I went as a disco corpse, with a silver Afro wig, elephant pants, silver and white polyester shirt and death-mask make-up. I was a hit. I also wore lipstick with it. Someone remarked that I was in drag. Really? I thought. I had not thought of it that way. The party was a tremendous amount of fun and it kept my spirits up as life by that point was becoming much more trying by the day.

To be continued ...  

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