LOST GIRLS: Rise Again. And Again. And Once More - My Lindsey Stirling Journey 4
Continued from MY JOURNEY WITH LINDSEY STIRLING:
--THE MUSE IN THE MOON: A Thank You to My Muse & My Supporters
--BRAVE ENOUGH: To Fight in the Arena & Shatter Shackes
--TRANSCENDING INTO LIGHT: And Taking Flight
let's rise above this
and be kind to one another
spite darkens friendships
why not cast away
malice from our heart
...I truly was transcending. I had taken flight with my new wings. They were clipped shorter than the ones I’d had before, but that just made them more maneuverable. They were still gorgeous, and powerful in a completely different way.
Then another angry man with a smarting ego tore one of them up.
See, I'd pissed him off on the mat at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when I made it clear that sidemount was NOT the appropriate place to come onto me. I used the look in my eyes, the tone of my voice, and my forearm wedged between me and the crushing weight of his body to inform him that, where he was concerned, there was no better time.
Knowing him like I do now, it's no surprise that I left that class with my neck and shoulder shredded again.
"Oh, surely it was an accident. That's the risk you take training. These things happen in martial arts."
They absolutely do.
However, the word "accident" is no longer applicable once you pause in the middle of a technique to have a multi-sentence conversation with someone about the fact that you're a millimeter away from tapping out to their figure-four armlock because your shoulder is full of scar tissue so it doesn't work that way anymore. Then they slam your wrist down onto the mat anyway.
"Accident" would be the wrong A-word for that.
This injury shoved me right back into the scoliosis chain reaction that always ensues: neck into brain, spine, hips. That's just how the body works. When my neck goes out, my hips misalign and vs. versa. When my brain goes out, it prevents me from noticing warning signs in my body when they're small because I live in a fog and I'm simply always in pain, which leads to bigger physical injuries if I miss a subtle cue. Alas, an income reliant on belly dance moves makes spine and hip issues extra problematic.
The Ds make everything problematic. Disability, Dain Bramage, Destitution--Desperation.
When that incident on the mat happened, my ability to achieve liftoff again had been years in the making. It had been seven years of losing one income source after another. I'd been forced to move five times in those seven years--never when I was prepared to do so. Three of the moves had to happen in under a month. One of them was across the country to a region I never would have chosen of my own volition, because it's not welcoming to people with belly dance careers, rainbow-hued hair, and a personality to match. With every life interruption, every brain trauma, every assault by a pissed off guy, and a second rear-ending by somebody not paying attention at a stop sign, my employability options dwindled further.
(And oh, I remember. I can hear y'all from here. Uphill, both ways, wah-wah, poor me...)
I'd been traveling to Tulsa semi-regularly to teach my drills technique and the Elements System when I wound up with a surprise gig at an Arabic nightclub. I should have known better than to take it because I'm not a traditional belly dancer. But they were desperate for a dancer that night, I was financially desperate, hoping for a new income source, and the dancer who sent me to that gig told me that she'd informed the owner what style I do and he still wanted me to dance. Cool!
I've always wondered why I was told that lie.
It took one 15-minute set to out it. One set out of the four I'd been hired to do. On concrete. For a guy who kept changing my music on me mid-show, demanding that I dance faster and faster without the kind of slow, gooey breaks my injury-laden body requires to pull off that long of a performance.
(No shoes, in the snow...)
Well, whatever the motivation behind being set up like that, and whatever make-nice things were said in the aftermath, I wasn't the one who got a new job out of it. To top it off, the fiasco that ensued that night reignited my newly healed hip into a flaming ball of pain. I should have walked out in the middle of the second set, but professional stage performers don't do that. Not unless they want to find themselves blacklisted, and dance was the only source of income I'd been able to (sorta) maintain on my brain injury.
This time, the hip issue traveled all the way down my leg, eventually devolving into a knee injury. My doctor kept telling me it was just a muscle spasm. Ummmm, no. That would be a torn meniscus that finally displaced the whole joint.
That stopped dance and martial arts in their tracks. Again.
(Lost my pants, ratty underwear...)
I've never spoken openly about where that injury originated. Because Mr. Sidemount had sparked another chain reaction after that day he tore me up. Before I could speak to anyone about my refusal to work hands-on with him anymore, he got to some of our instructors first and started poisoning waters, which rippled into a wave of distancing maneuvers. Smearing my reputation was all too easy at that point.
I was already considered eccentric (truth), strange (definitely), and "broken" from how many injuries I was trying to heal. (Not a word I prefer to identify with, thanks.) Plus, I was an unmarried belly dancer, which rarely goes over well outside the dance community. Heck, I can be married in doe-eyed Twue Wuv and it doesn't go over well.
But I had been clawing my way out of the injury hole--I was taking flight again, remember?--and I had endeared myself to a bunch of the female instructors at the gym. Once my neck could handle Brazilian Jiu Jitsu--carefully and with specific limitations--that place couldn't get rid of me. I took every class I could. In between, I could be found doing PT, hanging with my friends, working on my website, or developing my new dance system. Month by month, I proved myself as an obsessed--excuse me, dedicated martial artist. They named me Student of the Month and asked me to begin instructor training, a job option I'd wanted for decades.
Alas. After only six weeks, my brains collapsed from the sensory overload of that environment and from having to drive through heavy traffic every day in the city I'd been forced to move to--no availabilities in my hometown on a three-week notice in the middle of winter.
(Did I mention the snow and the lack of shoes?)
Having my neck jacked up again by Mr. Sidemount only exacerbated this, because that injury didn't merely make a chain reaction south into my hips and knee. When my upper cervical vertebrae are out of alignment, my cerebrospinal fluid starts to back up.
All the pre-seizure symptoms piled on. Disorientation, fatigue, irritability, communication glitches, erratic neurological tension that makes it impossible to subdue my already too-loud voice and over-animated body down to a level that is considered socially appropriate. It also heightened my issues with focus, spacial orientation, depth perception, verbal and reading comprehension, processing speed. At this point in the Code Orange warning signs, we get the dizzy spells and blackouts. Those are always fun.
One day, I just about passed out on the stairs on the way to teach class. I had to abruptly call in dead that night, which confirmed it: I needed to quit teaching the kids. It broke my heart, and it only added fuel to the fire of everything Mr. Sidemount had said about me.
The martial arts world--heck, the world--often treats injured, ill, older, and disabled people as "weak" when they could be championing someone who doesn't simply quit, but instead tries to figure out a way to keep jerry-rigging self-defense on the body they currently have. I mean, the kid who learned how to roll with only one full leg was hailed as the champ he is. (Roll: BJJ-speak for "ground fight".) But injuries and conditions you can't physically see, especially neurological ones, get you slapped with all sorts of lovely labels. Especially-especially when you're a female in a male-dominated activity. Especially-X3 in a misogynistic region of the country. Especially-X4 when you're a female over the age of forty. Sometimes it starts happening after thirty.
(More snow, bigger hill...)
In class that day, when the violation of my voiced physical limits produced a scream of agony, the look I hurled at my attacker, followed by the look I shared with our instructor should have said it all. Coach shot me a, "This is not the time or place, tell me what just happened later," and I fired back the, "Oh, I will absolutely have something to say." I didn't blame him for not wanting to sort out an incident like that in the middle of class. With all the horrified students around us, he flashed a tense smile and tried to laugh it off. "Oh, I'm sure he just surprised her."
"Yeah," I growled, then turned my blistering gaze upon my "oh-so-cluelessly-innocent-and-shocked" partner. "Surprise."
But by the time my instructor and I finally got to have that conversation, Mr. Sidemount had gotten to tell his version first. The skepticism in Coach's eyes, the crossed arms, the sketchy look that greeted me as I started talking about it...
"Accident" became the official version, just like "crazy," "fragile," "weak" and "drama queen" got slathered all over my reputation. Mr. Sidemount even asked me if I'd "put a curse on him" when a string of bad things happened to him a year or two later, so I wouldn't be surprised if that also got bandied about in my Bible Belt community. (In case there's any question about that one, I didn't.)
My communication style when attempting to bridge chasms and explain my weirdo, neurodivergent, disabled self has never done me any favors. I really should know better by now than to try, because it usually makes everything worse. Dain Bramage amplifies that, especially when I'm symptomatic, so my subsequent attempts to reconnect with my instructors and friends further chipped away at the foundation of another place where I thought I’d found home.
(Jacket stolen by ogres, almost eaten by wolves...)
To top it off, my family had a disastrous event that forced me to downgrade my membership to fitness-only and stop seeing my new miracle-worker chiropractor as much as I needed to. My spine deteriorated further. With it went my brain recovery. Again. All my fragile, sprouting attempts to reboot my dance career crumbled before they could take root.
(Abducted by aliens...)
My martial training and my relationships crumbled, too. Foolish me, I tried to keep up. I tried to make nice and smile and let my actions prove that I wasn't what I had been accused of being, just like I'd done in the big smear campaign of 2001.
Of course, my success in that endeavor only happened after I'd rebooted my life in two different towns. It also took between 1-5 years before people finally started seeking me out to apologize for believing the rumors, boycotting my classes, and blacklisting me from the dance community, once they saw her for who she was.
Because the simple truth can't ever combat colorful lies based on twisted facts, and I've never been willing to fire back that kind of ammunition about my detractors. Returning fire with the truth into poisoned waters is also a waste of energy and does more damage than remaining silent. Anything you say only confirms that--see? Just like they said. You're "insane, out to get them, paranoid, obsessed with them, lying, exaggerating, delusional..." Whichever adjective works best for the tales they've pre-laid about you.
With the more important crap I was dealing with in the rest of my life, I didn't have it in me to engage in that battle, much less win it.
That's when these kinds of people always strike--when you're already weakened and overwhelmed. Then they work to annihilate your support system. This breed of isolation tactic goes hand-in-hand with Triangulation, Crazy-Making, Projection, Double-Think, and Gaslighting.
He was really good at that multi-strike combo. Those personality types are masterful at it. It's part of their magical powers, along with the faerie glamour. You know what I mean. It's the shimmery allure that draws you in close, gets you alone, and quietly weaves a sticky web of self-doubt around you before they tear you apart. Meanwhile, their glamour blinds everyone around them to what's truly happening inside the faerie ring.
I hear my personality type is really susceptible to this magic until we learn the counter-spells. That's why I'd started taking martial arts to begin with. We'll get back to that. Many, many times.
At least my Stirling Muse had come out with a new video. I watched Shatter Me and Lost Girls like they were air after drowning. This inspiring new video tale reminded me how many times I've blundered into the Dark Forest, and that I had once battled a Faerie Queen, breaking myself and a bunch of other dancers free from her prison.
I bet you've battled one, too. At least one. If you haven't, you're fortunate. Pray you never do. For those of you who've lost, for those of you who've won, for those stuck in the thick of it, this one's for you. There's always a way out. I won't say that it doesn't come with costs. It does, and I can only decide for myself which prices I'm willing to pay and which I'm not.
But there is always a way out.
All it takes is one kind hand. I had a few. The people who wouldn't believe the rumors or who had never heard them, and those who refused to fall sway to the ostracizing undercurrents--they were my lifelines. I stayed for them. The rest of the time I trained alone.
I also danced and danced and danced in that back room where it was just me, the Muse-ic, and the mirror. I had been invited back to teach and perform in Memphis and Tulsa, with the understanding that I had deviated even further from belly dancing than I'd ever been. Those dancers didn’t mind. They were excited about my new direction, and I still had my Colorado Crew, on the rare occasions when I could go back.
Once freed from the stresses of trying to teach martial arts and make nice in poisoned waters, I found myself with extra energy and brain reserves. That let me easily choreograph two full songs, rather than the struggle I'd had for years to even come up with loose outlines or a few memorized sections. I had to change the original floorwork, as well as some of the footwork and spins due to the knee injury, but that just forced me to get more creative. These were experimental, storytelling pieces, including my first Lindsey Stirling tribute.
Remember that torn-off wing when I was just starting to soar? My dance to The Phoenix was all about relearning how to fly with what you have left.
In spite of the customary brain glitches and getting a freak overnight flu in the middle of the show, I chalked those dances up as successful. After all, my Memphis friends have always enjoyed experimental fusion, character creation, and storytelling. The crew in Tulsa loved it just as much when I performed there, as did some of my old audience when they saw the videos. Once again, I was relieved and overjoyed. I had found lights in the dark, and playmates for my new toys.
I also found little girls. More like they found me.
I still had one die-hard dance class left in Arkansas who provided my last financial lifeline in between rare travel gigs. We'd been at the gym for a time, but the students weren't comfortable with the open floor plan that allowed sweaty martial arts guys to look in on their way to the showers, so we'd moved locations. I was still struggling with how to completely integrate my martial movement into this new Elements stuff that wouldn’t leave me alone, but those interested in belly dancing aren't often receptive to the heavy-hitting physicality of martial training. I figured that the toe-twinklers among my MMA buddies might make the perfect guinea pigs, so I offered free classes to experiment.
To my shock, it was girls between the ages of 8-13 who were my most frequent aficionados. They probably taught me more about life than I taught them about dance technique, given that I didn’t get them until 7:30 or 8:00 at night after they’d had a full day of school and their martial arts classes. At that point, their brains were full. They needed to be released into the wild and play, so really, my job was what it has always been in the dance world: giving artists permission to dance how they want to, tell the tales they dream about, create the characters they envision, and to never stop playing with their toys.
Or mine. Veils, fanveils, and Isis wings that were twice as long as most of the girls were tall ranked among their favorites. And yeah, okay, they also favored the weapons and the jungle gym of yoga balls, aerobics steps, punching bags, kick shields, and Bob.
Wut? We’re martial artists as well as actresses and dancers, yo.
Mostly we played together. Sometimes they played while I doled out the diatribe of, “Get off that. Don’t fall and kill yourself. No stabbing. Get off me. Don't kill my knee. Dismantle that. Stay outta the hallway with those. Don’t kill the mats. The weight room is not a jungle gym. Don’t trip and kill your buddies. Veils are not for choking. Okay, veils are only for light choking. Remember to tap. Don’t leap and kill yourselves…”
As I prepared for multiple out-of-state trips, including a retreat in Spain, I had to push pause on our class. But just after I got back from the mind-blowing, heart-opening event in Tulsa with DaVid of Scandanavia, I tore my meniscus even worse. That put an end to classes with the girls. It put an end to pretty much everything except ice, writing, and my couch.
But I must have done something right, because the girls continued choreographing and making skits, and they started offering weekly performances for the adults after kickboxing class.
Those girls had worked their magic on me, too, and it remains an integral piece of my alchemy. You can see their discerning eyes and creative suggestions in the martial wing-slices of Phoenix. You can see it in the playful ass-whuppery of Universe. Their smiles and glowing gazes counteracted so much of that dark fae glamour at a time when I dearly needed some light.
This next song is for them, and for all my dance friends who still want to play with me, even though I’m out here in the toolie bushes, hacking away with machetes and having no clue where I’m going. It's for all my Elemental guinea pigs, my last die-hard dancers, and y'all who have hopped aboard the Good Ship Hartebeast with me. It’s for every child and every inner child who reminds me that I’m really just a big kid messing about with toys and trying not to accidentally off myself as I spring from life's tower of kick shields onto the side of the heavy bag to cling like a monkey.
This is one of the Lindsey Stirling songs I dance to most frequently, and I am incapable of doing so without the hugest of my smiles. Today, I hope you're dancing with me.
Y'all who have been around here for awhile know what happened next.
No shit, there I was in my earthy makeup and costume, filming the first Earth Dance footage when I re-tore my meniscus so badly I couldn't walk, much less dance or train. I had thought I would have to give away the scholarship I'd won to that women's retreat in Spain, but...well...something powerful and magical happened. When I returned home, I started writing about it, but it was so huge that I couldn't fully wrap my brains around it while also traveling out of state two more time over the next few weeks. Alas, before I'd even skidded into home base, I got chucked into the prop wash with my broken crown, the resulting tooth infection, and the Voc. Rehab fiasco.
That pushed me back into seizures, but at least it got me a long-awaited, updated neuropsychological exam which confirmed that my second-through-fourth brain traumas have downgraded me from Mild to Moderate TBI. (Upgraded? Downgraded in functionality. Upgraded in severity.) I had known this since they happened, but it took six years to get the official diagnosis, because those tests cost thousands of dollars.
And yet, as 2019 wound to a close, more magic abounded. I got a new awesome Voc. Rehab counselor, and I won another scholarship, this time to a writing conference focused on the business of being an author, rather than than the craft of being a writer.
Way back in the early 2000s when I was battling to prove my doctors wrong and reclaim my dreams of being a professional dancer, I'd known that my injuries would accelerate the natural issues that aging dancers have. I figured that, by about 45 to 50 I would start switching my focus from dance to writing so that my primary career in my golden years would be something not reliant on athletic prowess and youthful beauty.
When I won that writing scholarship, it was the exact age at which I'd planned to transition. This is good, I thought. This is perfect. I had already learned from experience that the traditional publishing route was not for me. With the advent of Amazon and a gazillion other e-book platforms, I didn't need it anymore. Besides, with the direction I yearned to take my stories, it would have been too limiting.
I had my whole conference curriculum planned out. I was going to learn how to do this self-publishing thing from innovators who knocked it out of the park. Then I would finally get an income back in a field that could weather the storm surges of my injuries better than dancing and martial arts. The Phoenix would rise again with ink-stained wings!
In case you've never seen what Lindsey Stirling does to me, here's a taste. Oh, yeah, and now you know the tales that inspired the first and the last set of Phoenix wings in this piece: my initial flight after the drunk driver and that torn-up wing on the mat in BJJ. You know about the middle one, too. I just haven't painted it in words yet.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: BEHIND THE VEIL - Hiding Things Underground- My Lindsey Stirling Journey 5
--OR: I hope you're starting to understand what I meant when I wrote that dance has always been my way of speaking when secret things aren't safe to be uttered aloud.
--OR: The other dance I made for Memphis, my Warrior-Priestess piece: UNIVERSE WRAPPED IN SKIN
--THE NAVIGATION TABLE OF CONTENTS
GROOVALICIOUS LINKS FOR YOUR INSPIRATIONAL PLEASURE
1) Lindsey Stirling
--"My Story" - As told by Lindsey, set to one of my favorite self-soothing, pick me up anthems: Anchor by Mindy Gledhill
3) Lindsey Stirling's tour and album, Artemis
5) Atwood Magazine's interview with Lindsey Stirling
6) Lindsey's book, The Only Pirate in the Room - yarrrrrr!
7) My Spotify collection of Lindsey Stirling songs that make me dance and swoon. I admit, I'm a bit of a Lindsey purist, but there are a few collaborations that I adore. As we will soon see.