For midlifers, fatigued parents, and anyone who may be discontent with their life and looking to shake things up, try new things, or just escape, Finding My Badass Self is proof it's never too late to reinvent yourself—and that the best bucket list of all may be an unbucket list.
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|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
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Finding My Badass Self
A Year of Truths and Dares
By Sherry Stanfa-Stanley
She Writes PressCopyright © 2017 Sherry Stanfa-Stanley
All rights reserved.
BELLYING UP TO THE DANCE BAR
Here's the thing about belly dancing: You seldom look as sexy as you hoped.
Given my middle-aged figure and history of uncoordination, looking sexy was a long shot. The most I probably could hope to pull off was getting a bit of exercise, enduring minimal humiliation, and walking away without any body parts permanently out of whack.
I knew belly dancing classes, as the first of my new experiences, would challenge both my physical ability and my pride. I did seem to have at least a couple of the physical prerequisites. A well-meaning older girl informed me, when I was thirteen, that my big hips would come in handy for birthing babies, as if this were something every teenage girl dreams of hearing. (The joke was on both of us years later, when I ended up with two C-sections.)
And, at this mid-point in my life, Lord knew I had the necessary belly.
But the word "belly" proved to be far less important than the word "dancing." "Dancing" should have raised a three-mile-high red flag. The last structured dancing lesson I'd taken was a ballet class in the second grade. The song that my seven-year-old self practiced for weeks for our final recital was "I Can Learn to Do Ballet."
The problem was, I could not.
After my recital, my parents never once mentioned re-enrolling me. I assumed the classes were too expensive.
Forty-five years later and forty-five minutes into my first belly dancing lesson, my foremost thought was, "Holy Mother of God, please don't let this end in a public recital."
The instructor was a full-sized woman my age or a few years older, but far more agile and confident. She seemed to sense my trepidation. She tossed out a trickle of encouraging remarks: "Age, shape, and size don't matter here. Belly dancing is for women who want to celebrate life." She also was fond of telling us, "Belly dancing is different from that other form of dancing entertainment not taught here. We are ladies, not hussies." And my favorite, that first night: "I've only had you for an hour. I don't want to hear anyone say, 'I can't do this.' You can only say, 'I can't do this yet.'" During the first lesson, I muttered, "I can't do this yet," approximately five times. Or maybe fifty-two.
I mastered the hip thrust in minutes. It was a surprising feat, considering my romantic life had provided no opportunity for that particular move in a long while.
But the stepping and the swiveling and the pivoting? And accomplishing them all in a prescribed order? This appeared to require not just coordination but also some sort of geometric or algebraic equation. Math was not my forte.
"Step, touch — one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. And back — one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight." Blah-blah-blah. If I couldn't remember the instructions three seconds after hearing them, you can be damn sure I can't recall them now.
The swiveling was particularly perplexing, much like hula-hooping in my school playground days. Even now, my ample hips were useless tools when it came to swiveling. Trying to memorize the additional stepping and pivoting sequences gave me the closest thing to a combined migraine and anxiety attack I'd ever experienced.
I wanted to believe I was faking my way through, or at least keeping up with the rest of the first-timers. My friend, Mary, while finishing off a bottle of wine the previous weekend, had agreed to join me in this escapade. I glanced over and noticed that as she was pivoting left, I was swiveling right.
I elbowed her. "This is impossible. Are you having a hard time keeping up, too?"
Mary shushed me, shook her head, and glided across the floor through the rest of the sequence.
I secretly vowed to never invite her along again.
Moments later, the instructor asked a finely tuned returning student to move down the dance line, so "others" could watch her and try to follow along. She was placed directly in front of me. I shrugged off her placement as a coincidence.
As we continued to swivel and step, I frowned. Each of us had chosen a brightly colored scarf, adorned with gold-colored coins, to wear around our hips. As my classmates danced, the dangling coins from their hips jingled. My own hip scarf remained noticeably silent. A terrible thought struck me: Perhaps the scarf was stretched so tightly around my ample hips that it had absolutely no room to sway and clink. Although it was also possible I was simply the victim of defective coins. I went with that.
I wasn't nearly as rattled about my non-clinking coins as I was about all the falling ones. Several coins from our scarves had dropped off and were now scattered across the dance floor. Mary mentioned this to our instructor, who reassured us not to worry about it.
Not to worry? After all the other dancers chose to disregard these rogue coins, I could think about nothing else but the collateral damage. I kept eying the floor. Each time we enjoyed a momentary break before segueing into a new sequence, I frantically scooped up every stray coin. Was no one else consumed with the fear of slipping on one of these menacing baubles? How would I manage a hip thrust with a broken hip?
My paranoia was not without justification. Through just a meager handful of physical and athletic pursuits, I had endured a lifetime of accidents.
During a workplace softball league in 1982, my future and now former husband assigned me the position of catcher. Our romance was still young, so I was eager to please. I crouched down and pounded my mitt with my right hand, as I'd seen professional players do. I was so preoccupied with this vital maneuver that I forgot to keep my eye on the pitcher — which is why the ball slammed straight into my face.
I'd like to say I crashed to the ground with the ball securely in hand. In reality, it knocked me flat and smashed my glasses. I rose to my feet, empty-handed, sore, and sightless. But I was tough. Besides, my boyfriend/coach pointed out that we didn't have any spare players. So, I continued playing the remainder of the game, squinting in right field, where my near-blindness had little opportunity to prove me any worse a player than I was.
As the years passed, my coordination and athletic prowess never did kick in. A rollerblading incident in 1999 ended with a CT scan in the ER, and in my second — and final — attempt at snow skiing, I fell off the chairlift.
Somehow, I managed to make it, free of any physical crisis, through my first belly dancing class. And through a second one, too.
When time for the third class rolled around, I reasoned it wasn't worth investing more of my time or money. Why stick with something I'd given a shot if I didn't enjoy it and showed little promise? I had other seeds to sow. Other crosses to bear. Other clichés to write.
Although I became a belly dancing dropout after two lessons, the gig was not without its positives. Except for my nightly hot flashes, I hadn't sweated so much in years. I lost a pound in water weight over those two weeks.
That hip thrust could come in handy, too, if I ever got lucky again.
The point was, I'd tried something new. I'd gone outside my comfort zone, which was the idea behind this whole project. I'd also learned I was indeed a lady and not a hussy, no matter what anyone said.
I felt no shame in moving on.CHAPTER 2
STRANGER OF THE BRIDE
A little hint about remaining inconspicuous when crashing a wedding reception: It's probably best not to catch the bridal bouquet.
The bouquet toss was the furthest thing from my mind when I cruised party hall parking lots on a Friday night. Seeking another experience for my year of new adventures, I simply anticipated a nice meal, a few drinks, and the opportunity to celebrate the wedded bliss of a wonderful couple. Sure, I wasn't invited, and I'd never met either of them. Minor details.
Crashing a wedding reception might have been more fathomable and potentially fun if I were twenty-one, accompanied by a group of college friends, and half-plastered. At fifty-two, alone, and sober? Not so much. Considering most items still ahead on my unbucket list, however, this was one I thought could be enjoyable — in between the panic and paranoia.
After a half hour of circling the city, I scored with a full parking lot at the third place I passed, one of the most upscale reception halls in town. Surely, I'd struck gold with a three-star wedding. Yet when I stepped into the lobby, the first thing I spotted was a poster with a huge photograph and the words "Rest in Peace."
Since when did a party hall host a wake on a Friday night? I stepped back, contemplating my escape. As I reached the doorway, I paused. Crashing a funeral wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but it would indeed be a whole new experience.
And then, I spied a bigger banner, reading "Congratulations," along with a photo of a happy young couple. Apparently, the first poster was only their memoriam for a recently deceased loved one.
My shoulders drooped at this tearjerker tribute. My sentiments, however, quickly changed gears. Sure, this beloved friend or family member was unable to attend. But I was alive and on hand to take part in the celebration.
It seemed so wrong, yet so right.
I ignored my weak legs and wandered in. I'd morphed into a ten-year-old schoolgirl, wondering just how much I could get away with.
Next to a pile of scrapbooks on a table, I spotted a basket of tickets for dinner selections. I grabbed the last slip for chicken. "Boneless chicken breast with bread stuffing, topped with a garlic pan sauce." It sounded scrumptious! I was hungry. And thirsty, too!
I made a beeline to the bar — a rational move.
First appearances mean so much. My beer was served in a real glass. No plastic cups for my fabulous, newly wedded BFFs. This was a classy kind of gig. I was pretty certain I would fit right in — if I hadn't been some freeloading stranger walking in off the street.
I wasn't a true freeloader though. I had brought a congratulatory card with a gift certificate enclosed. I dropped it ceremoniously on the gift table and slowly swiveled my head around, hoping people might note this validation of my attendance.
As I saw the line forming for the dessert table, I realized I missed dinner. If only I actually had been invited, I might have known when the event started. What if dinner had been a planned seating arrangement though? I'd have been SOL, for sure. Maybe my timing was impeccable. I could make do with the dessert bar. Moreover, I wasn't too late for libations — and a chance to mingle with a hundred or so total strangers.
I joined a group around a fire pit on the outdoor patio and found myself fitting in more easily than expected. No one questioned me or my relationship to the bride and groom. While this eased the execution of my plan, I was a tad disappointed I didn't need to conjure up any of the prefabricated stories I'd prepared on the drive there. (My name: Shelly. My relationship to the new couple: Girlfriend of Jim Miller, who used to work with the groom. Where: Hmm. I can't remember — it was years ago. I'd have to ask him. Wow, the bride's gown is gorgeous, don't you think?)
I struck up a conversation with a trio of young men who advised me on the best way to illegally stream movies. Nice guys, if not a bit shady. I asked them to snap a picture of me with my new iPhone camera, which I didn't yet know how to use. I hoisted my glass of beer and smiled at the camera, not realizing it wouldn't be the last photo taken of me that night.
When I returned to the fire pit, another man smiled at me. "Having a good time?" he asked.
I nodded. "Great reception! I've never seen the bride and groom look so happy." True statement.
He nodded back. "I'm still looking for a sign about it all," he said. "I haven't been given one yet, but I've been looking as closely as I can, to the atmosphere, to the stars, and to the birds." As he continued to profess these powers in the universe and provided a litany of strange personal encounters with stars and birds, I grew confused and concerned. Was he extremely spiritual or just extremely crazy? My instincts leaned toward "crazy."
"Uh-huh. Hey, excuse me," I finally said. "I see someone I need to talk to." Which would have been anyone but him.
Minutes later, while enjoying a conversation with a handsome, younger, and seemingly more stable guy, I turned to see the bride approaching us, looking eager to join the discussion. I backed away, avoiding her glance, and headed back inside.
As I watched people swinging it on the dance floor, I deliberated asking someone to dance. The thought terrified me, which made it all the more an obligatory move. I narrowed down my most obvious choices to the nice-looking younger guy by the fire pit or the dude searching for signs from the stars and birds.
I hadn't danced with a stranger in how long? A decade? As my stomach rolled, the DJ made the last call for all single women to join in the bouquet toss. I realized this wasn't only an easy out from dancing but also that a shot of the backs of a group of unidentifiable women, lunging for the spray of flowers, would be a terrific photo op. I hurried over, stationing myself a good twenty yards behind the line of waiting women. I pulled out my iPhone just as I heard the DJ begin his countdown.
Before I could manage to find my new phone's camera setting, I heard a collective rush of shouts, and then — silence. I looked up to see the crowd of zealous single women, as well as nearly every wedding guest in the room, staring at me.
I followed the direction of their glances. I looked down. Apparently, the bride was a former softball pitcher with a hell of an arm. Her throw landed the bouquet far past its intended aim. It was lying two inches from my right foot.
My eyes darted around the room, which had fallen so quiet you could hear my chin drop. All eyes were focused on me. I had no choice, really. I bent down, picked up the bouquet, and clutched it. I smiled stupidly.
Excerpted from Finding My Badass Self by Sherry Stanfa-Stanley. Copyright © 2017 Sherry Stanfa-Stanley. Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Prologue: The Beginning xi
Chapter 1 Bellying Up to the Dance Bar 3
Chapter 2 Stranger of the Bride 8
Chapter 3 The Princess and the Pee 14
Chapter 4 Of Bunnies and Batteries 20
Chapter 5 Pizza Pie in the Sky 25
Chapter 6 Church Hopping 30
Chapter 7 I Will Survive 35
Chapter 8 Creepy Crawlers 39
Chapter 9 You're Getting Very Sleepy 43
Chapter 10 If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right 50
Chapter 11 The Woes of Waxing, Not So Poetic 54
Chapter 12 Just Shoot Me 59
Chapter 13 Hair Today-Gone Tomorrow 61
Chapter 14 Out on the Street 66
Chapter 15 A Match Made in Hell 75
Chapter 16 From Meetless to Meatless 82
Chapter 17 Riding Shotgun 87
Chapter 18 A Coulda-Been or a Wannabe 95
Chapter 19 Revolver 100
Chapter 20 Get Thee to a Nunnery 105
Chapter 21 Old Folks and New Friends 111
Chapter 22 Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah 116
Chapter 23 Rocking It as a College Mascot 125
Chapter 24 Much a Doo-Doo About Nothing 129
Chapter 25 Honk If You Pretend to Like Mimes 131
Chapter 26 Baring It at the Beach 135
Chapter 27 Dining in the Dark 141
Chapter 28 I'm Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band) 149
Chapter 29 You Can Ring My Bell 163
Chapter 30 Crying over Spilled Paint 167
Chapter 31 Unplugged and Amish 172
Chapter 32 Frozen 181
Chapter 33 Turn Me On 185
Chapter 34 It's All Happening at the Zoo 188
Chapter 35 Let It Roll 195
Chapter 36 Tiptoe through the Tulips with Me 200
Chapter 37 Stranger Things Have Happened 206
Chapter 38 We All Float Down Here 211
Chapter 39 Pajama Party of One 217
Chapter 40 A Sitting Duck 223
Chapter 41 On the Ropes 230
Chapter 42 Catching a Flight to Nowhere 237
Chapter 43 An Italian/Irish/Ger man/French
Woman Walks into a Bar 246
Chapter 44 Going in Circles 250
Chapter 45 Coming Full Circle 256
Chapter 46 My Big Fat Greek Party 262
Chapter 47 A Segway into Catastrophe 266
Chapter 48 Running for My Life 274
Chapter 49 I Do Believe in Spooks 283
Chapter 50 Catching the Buzz 293
Chapter 51 Speed-Dating: Solo-Style 297
Chapter 52 Up, Up, and Await 306
Epilogue: The End-And a New Beginning 315