Getting My “Gangnam” On

You’ll have to take my word for it, mostly because I wasn’t willing to pay for the $60 upgrade in order to upload my own video (even in HD) to this blog. But it really does exist: video of me, kicking it “Gangnam Style”. And here’s how it happened:

After a long and mentally exhausting day at the office, I got in my car and thought about all of the things I should spend my evening accomplishing. But I was tired and somewhat demoralized, so I decided I needed a “buffer” experience – something between the office and my house that would allow me to shift mental and emotional gears before going home to “be productive”. As has often happened over the years, my car seemed to steer itself in the direction of the Dennis family. When I arrived, Wendy answered the door in her pajamas (it was approximately 6:00 p.m.), having just arrived herself after an 8-hour day in a graduate school classroom.

We made romaine, cucumber and feta salads with a spicy side of wasabi peas, and talked about our days. Wendy had lots to share about treating patients with anxiety and depression – and how all those “shoulds” we put on ourselves can take things from bad to worse. Then, after discussing a particularly gruesome crush injury she treated at her clinical site, Wendy moved on to a topic even more painful (from her perspective): her youngest daughter’s first Show Choir performance.

Wendy is a practical, concrete, achievement-oriented person. Plays, musicals, show choir performances…not really her thing. She told me she was sitting in the audience wishing it was over – approximately 10 seconds into the first song, mind you – when her eye was drawn to one girl in particular. This middle-schooler was so animated and so clearly in the moment, no inhibitions holding her back, that her demeanor and palpable happiness changed Wendy’s entire perspective on the show. Suddenly, Wendy’s consciousness of the moment shifted from harried distraction and lack of enthusiasm to one of communion, of shared joy.

Wendy’s Show Choir “A-Ha” got me thinking about what kinds of experiences we can intentionally create in order to bring about a shift in perspective when we need one. Obviously, Wendy’s shift came as the result of a serendipitous moment rather than a specific plan, but we can’t count on serendipity occurring each time our internal tank is on low. If we did, we’d surely find ourselves stranded somewhere emotionally far from where we wish we were. Here are a few suggestions for quick energy reboots or perspective shifters:

Crank up the Music:

Music is powerful as a mood enhancer. If you don’t believe so, just try to watch a feature film, or complete a difficult workout, without a soundtrack. We’ve all used music to get jazzed up, to relax, to set a mood. Unfortunately, we often only think of doing this for specific or special occasions. But it works for the every day situations, too!

Move It, Move It:

Working in an office setting means I do a lot of sitting. At my desk, in meetings, at lunch in the cafeteria. When I leave work, sometimes it feels like all I want to do is go home and crash – meaning sit some more, just in a new location. Movement of any kind, from rigorous exercise to yoga to a stroll through the neighborhood, can really rev things up. In particular, I’ve found that moving my body outdoors actually gets my sluggish brain going, too.

Find the Horizon:

There are days when I start to feel closed in, as if my life has shrunk to a small box that includes work, stress, and all the “should” messages I give myself. That’s a pretty cramped feeling. I’ve found that a simple drive west, out of the city far enough that fields give way to an actual horizon line, opens up the box and I can breathe deeply again. Obviously, this works best during daylight hours – but the evenings in February are lengthening, and a quick escape after work is becoming more possible.

Reach Out:

Find people who allow you to break free from the energy-sappers of your day. These people can be your chosen family (like the Dennis’ are for me) or they can be a book club, people you encounter while volunteering, occasionally I’ve even found myself re-enegized by a talk with the guy behind the Hy-Vee meat counter. The point is, reach out to other people and think about, talk about, laugh about something new.

Which brings me back to the whole video of me dancing “Gangnam Style”. As I was leaving the Dennis’ home, we were talking about what I would post on my blog this week. And, as silly conversations have a way of doing, our discussion veered wildly until we were all laughing at the idea that I would simply post a video of myself doing the pony dance from the Psy video. I knew that neither Wendy nor her daughters (Katie and Dani were part of this conversation) believed I would do such a thing: which made me want desperately to do it. So, when I arrived home, I found an instructional video which took me through the dance, step by step (I only learned the gallop and lasso-ing movements). I practiced for about five minutes, then hit record on my computer. The position of the camera was such that it only captured my dance from the waist up. Still, I collapsed with laughter when I watched the recorded results, especially my facial expressions as I galloped and lassoed!

Was this what I had planned for my “productive” evening? Not at all. But it was the kind of productivity I needed – it produced relaxation, laughter, and shared joy. A perfect reboot for me!

And, while you’ve likely all seen this video, here’s a little something to ease your disappointment at not seeing my version of “Gangnam”:

Discovery and Rediscovery: Notes on the Best 4th of July Ever!

Here is a partial list of my activities over the 4th of July weekend, 2011:

  • Reunions with high school and college friends and their families.
  • Airshow, fireworks, and sparklers with various combinations of children and adults from the above.
  • 64 miles of bikeriding on unpaved trails.
  • A family reunion in rural Maquoketa, IA.

And here are some of the things I discovered or rediscovered over the three day weekend:

Discovery: Any place, including an apartment in an assisted-living retirement facility, can feel like home if the right people are assembled there.

Rediscovery: The joy of singing. Most especially songs originally written and/or performed by John Denver. With friends and guitar accompaniment. When no one cares whether you can carry the tune, hit the notes, find your range.

Discovery: That the happiness of reunions can be enhanced by including people who weren’t part of the original group. Betts, Mary’s partner; Ruth, Sheila’s 88 year old fireball of a mother; my dear friend Sue, who brought Lori whom none of us knew…not to mention the children of those we remember as (almost) children themselves!

Rediscovery: Dubuque’s Eagle Point Park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve spent time. It would hold up by comparison to many much more famous spots. Some very special memories, from early childhood through Saturday’s air show and picnic, reside there.

Discovery: Turning 50 doesn’t feel that strange when the friends surrounding you are that old, too!

Rediscovery:  A group of cousins may be able to laugh harder and have more fun than just about any other grouping of people.

Discovery: A family reunion full of people you are completely unrelated to can be very fun – especially when the family that invited you is uniformly warm and welcoming, whether they’re meeting you for the first time or the first time in 30 years.

It all started with a vague plan that a bunch of us would get together for parts of the weekend. Then, as the date approached, and plans became more concrete, I spent a moment or two wondering just how the groups and various events would work – would the people gel or would there be uncomfortable silences and people making every effort to maintain distance from those they didn’t know? I needn’t have spent one moment worrying. After all, at the core of the plan: friendships which have endured in spite of years and distance. Branching out from that core, were some of the people these friends love best in the world. Each event and permutation of the group worked. How could it have gone otherwise?!

Surprisingly, it was one of the teenage boys (initially dragged along against his will, I’m told) who declared, late on Monday night, that this was the “best 4th of July EVER!” And it was.