Song and Dance, Pt II

On my boyfriend’s birthday, we sat down to breakfast overlooking beautiful Caribbean ocean. Palm trees, green and blue waves, birds everywhere. A relaxing setting for a relaxing breakfast. The couple next to us was discussing whether to jet ski or snorkel. Another table was gently gigging about last night’s black jack game. Me? I was intensely recalling the first time I met our community vice president. After meeting me, she concluded that I wasn’t “really a community leader.” That she didn’t feel like she had “really met Emma.” When in fact, I actually was the community lead. Nonetheless, she didn’t get that when she met me. She got someone different…someone less authentic.

I sighed remembering the day: we closed the store because of a hurricane, but I had call with my regional manager and area community manager. They told me that I didn’t come off as a community leader during a dinner we had attended with the vice president earlier that week. “Community” meaning strongly rooted in our company’s brand philosophies of authenticity, giving without expectation, and operating from a place of love that is void of ego. Instead, I came off as flighty, dedicated but ungrounded. When I hung up the phone, I burst into tears, then quickly changed into my workout clothes and went downstairs to run out my emotions.

Just your average birthday breakfast conversation.

My boyfriend paused and looked over at me. I can see that, he said. I caught my breath, surprised. Have you seen me act that way before? I asked. He nodded, cautiously. My heart started racing. I stared into the water. But I’ve been working on this for years, I replied. Years! My whole region helped me work on it. They even had a name for her – the woman who didn’t sound like the authentic me – Aurora. By the time I moved regions, I thought I’d squashed this problem, but it’s a difficult problem to work on because it doesn’t come up so much with my coworkers or friends. It happens when I feel like I have prove something. To impress someone. When I feel like I’m being evaluated… I over-explained my greatest personality hurdle. He stared at me intensely. I know, he said.moneytree

I wanted to leave the table, angrily slam my chair in, grab my bag and march away. He didn’t know anything! What do you mean you know? I asked trying to be calm. So you’ve seen me act that way? I have. When? I asked sharply. He gently reminded me of a time when I had met one of his brother’s friends and hadn’t acted like myself. He remembered being surprised and wondering why. It didn’t happen again soon enough to seem like a real pattern, however, he hadn’t forgot about it. Sometimes he thought about it when he saw traces of that women in other situations.

Someone kill me, I said out loud. Emma, he protested. That’s dramatic.

But how incredibly frustrating and disheartening and monotonous and deplorable and harrowing to be working on something for years, and still not able to completely overcome it. Is something wrong with me? I wondered. Am I destined for a life of intermittent pain caused by hapless self-sabotage? I felt hot tears filling the corners of my eyes. Sweetie, am I upsetting you? he said softly. I really didn’t mean to… I sighed. No, I am upsetting myself because even after years of working on it, I can’t stop doing something potentially detrimental to my professional and even personal relationships. I took a drink of water.

My boyfriend put his hand on my arm. We all have those things, baby, but most people aren’t ardent enough to continue working on it. I tend to agree that many people are neither hyper-aware nor motivated by self improvement enough to a) receive candid feedback b) examine the part they played to elicit such feedback c) enlist a team of friends, coworkers and family members to help them overcome the source of the feedback and d) persist, persist, persist. On the flip side, some people just change more quickly than other people. I am the queen of learning the lesson the hard way. For me, it takes a few times of the same feedback and then many failures in implementation before I change. And when I change, I relapse and relapse and relapse.

My saving grace is a wonderful support system. People who aren’t afraid to say, Yes, my love, I have seen you do that Aurora thing. Friends who can honestly articulate feedback and generously share their examples of failures so I don’t feel alone. I may be a self-sabotage repeat offender with a song and dance default mode, but I am surrounded by genuine, successful people. People who love me. With that in my back pocket, I soldier one. It’s a little trickier than overcoming fear of public speaking or stating your opinion in a more diplomatic way. The offenses can be quite nebulous; the feedback esoteric. But my truth is a fully expressed and authentic version of myself, so soldiering on is part of the journey. But should you see Aurora song and dance through a post, feel free to leave a comment.

It takes a village.

Emma Dinzebach

Photo: A girl and her money tree. 

Song and Dance, Pt I

About a week into my first store manager role, my bosses boss flew in town for store visits, and I was her first stop. We were seated in the red adirondack chairs outside my store. The sun was shining on her angelic blonde hair while I had my knees childishly tucked into my chest. I thought for a moment that maybe I should act more professional, but I was drained. My new store was a wreck. My old store was closed. My friend had just died. My then boyfriend didn’t think I was “handling it very well.” In past conversations, I had attempted to put my best foot forward. Today, I spoke with succinct candor. The life wasn’t sucked out of my tone, but the effort was. I couldn’t impress her even if I wanted to. I didn’t have that left in me. Emma, she said to me, This feels like the first time I’ve had a conversation with you – not the song and dance version of Emma, but the real Emma.

Song and dance? Hmf. glittertoungue

Later I darkly joked that of course my friend has to die and my new gig hit rock bottom leaving me near desperation for my authenticity to reveal herself. Calm down, Emma, my friend said. That’s not what she meant. She did mean that in two years of sporadic interactions with me, she hadn’t met the real me. Yes, my friend replied. So maybe that’s something to think about…or maybe not.

When I was about six years old, we built a big house in the suburbs. I didn’t know anyone in these suburbs. No one knew me. When I met my backyard neighbor Erin Ackerman, I told her we had just moved from the city (true), and I had a twin sister in L.A.  who was an actress (not true). My new house was just past her backyard (true.) My sister was coming to town any minute (not true). You have a twin sister in L.A. whose an actress? Asked Erin, wide-eyed. Yeah, I said casually. I’ll have her come over when she gets here. Actually, she is probably here now! I exclaimed, turned around and sprinted across the yard, into my house, up the stairs and threw open my closet.

I rummaged through every article of clothing I had looking for something “L.A.” When I found the perfect neon shirt and cut off shorts, I quickly changed. I snuck into my mom’s bathroom and lined my eyes with her blue eye liner. I put on lipstick. I tied my hair into a hight and tight side ponytail. Looking in the mirror, I smacked my lips and put one hand on my hip. Then I ran back down the stairs and threw open the sliding doors to the back yard. But instead of sprinting, I sauntered across the lawn to Erin Ackerman’s. She was still standing where I’d left her on her rusty scooter beside her playhouse. She tilted her head to one side and squinted her eyes as I approached. I’m Kelly! I said in my best valley girl voice. Emma’s sister from L.A.

Song and dance.

The days following my conversation on the adirondack chairs, I woke up early. I quietly crept out onto my then boyfriend’s balcony with my journal hoping to find some answers to the actual reason I do a bit of song and dance. Is it because I want to impress people? Do I think the regular ‘ol me isn’t good enough? But doesn’t everyone do a little of facade-ing? I rationalized. Across the courtyard, a neighbor was just back from his run. He was wearing a sweat stained t-shirt and stretching on his balcony. For a moment he stopped and stared off into space. I sipped my coffee, closed my eyes, and turned inward. When I opened them and looked over, the guy had his shirt off and his hands raised, saluting the sun. His face looked certain, satisfied. He didn’t think anyone was watching. I didn’t think anyone was watching. In these early moments before the day closed in on us, we were ourselves. No frills. No song and dance.

Maybe it is one of the great ironies of life that we are our most real selves when no one else is watching, and thus, few people see our real selves. When we find ourselves engaged not because of the song and dance we do for other’s approval, but because we are intrinsically compelled. When we help others not for a charity to add to our LinkedIn profile, but from our heart. When we pick up garbage because we want our neighborhood to be clean. When we choose the quiet dinner at home over the glitzy social hour.

For me, that person is still lively and energetic. (I once dislocated my shoulder dancing with my dog in the living room.) I’m still a perfectionist, but I’m also more forgiving. I exhibit style, but might let a day with chipped nail polish slide. (But probably not.) But I’m also softer and more purposeful. My boyfriend will tell you that sometimes I’m pensive, and he thinks something is wrong. Actually, I’m just tired of talking. Alone, I need more time to rest, more time to recharge the battery it takes to maintain this omnipresent song and dance.

Emma Dinzebach


The Art of Actualizing Me

I think I have to come home early. I miss you so much. I pressed send even though I knew I sounded pathetic. I was – I am the one who wanted to come on a solo vacation for nearly two weeks. I predicted periods of lonesomeness but not this soon. Only this morning I left my family in Milan and arrived in Tuscany. I haven’t even been alone for twenty-four hours. How could I already be in need of human interaction?

Maybe I am just lonely for him, I thought. The week I left he started a new job, we signed a lease on a new apartment, had out of town visitors, and I rushed to tie up loose ends at work. I poured a glass of wine and opened the window. I ran my fingers through my freshly blow-dried hair catching them on the knotted strands that had gotten stuck in the teeny travel-sized blow drier. Ouch. I sat down in the chair and stared at the vineyards. Sun graced the center of my view. Moody clouds hung in the back drop. I exhaled. I looked at my phone. I stood up. I sat back down. What the fuck am I supposed to do? I wondered.

My phone buzzed. Hahaha I would LOVE that but you just need some time to settle in. It always takes a few days at least to let the day to day worries filter out of your system so you can decompress and reflect.

Maybe it was the Chianti or my unabashed love for my boyfriend, who not only encouraged and supported me to take the time, but also gave me questions to think about, provided guidance for self-discovery, and gently pushed me towards clarity and actualization. Even if it’s for fifteen minutes, just write some things down. Anything. You’ll get there, he said smiling through the tiny screen on my iPhone. Thank god for wifi. But I started to cry. This is the process, he said. masterpiece

I didn’t open my journal or my computer. Instead, I went outside and walked through the vineyards. There were so many different colors of green. I remembered when we were little, my mom took us to Arizona. We hiked up a mountain to do a meditation. She sat us at the top and told us to choose a color of green. No focus on that color green. I looked around at all the different shades of green. I choose a shade. Now what do I do? I wondered. I walked through the baby chianti grapes just starting to grow and had a moment where I thought of new things growing, but it quickly passed. What am I doing with my life? A fleeting thought before I stepped in mud. My shoe was dirty. My brain couldn’t focus on anything substantial. Maybe I’m just not ready, I said to myself and walked back to my villa to pour another glass of wine.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I was plagued by fear that I wasn’t going to do what I came here to do. Fear that I would pass the time reading books, visiting medieval churches, drinking wine. I would run. I would relax, but I would not actually decompress enough to reflect and gain perspective. I worried that I lost my introspection. I wouldn’t examine my past few years and certainly wouldn’t find clarity on my next. The process alone seemed self-loathing: selfishly pouring over a myriad of self-analyzations in a country where more than a third of people my age are unemployed. Am I selfish? Am I some sort of product of a spoiled generation, overly privileged enough to fly to Italy to actualize myself because I was born with all of my other needs already fulfilled? A woman with unlimited access to skills and resources without intrinsic motivation or passion or discipline to accomplish any one thing. I rolled over and texted my boyfriend. I’m still awake.

I guess I thought it would come easy. Go to Tuscany. Drink Chianti. Reflect on your life. Become self-actualized. Decide on future. Visit Prada outlet store. Hell, I studied human behavior and feelings. I should be able to do this. Piece. Of. Cake. But like all things worth exploring, it’s a more complicated path than I anticipated. My only guiding light is a nagging feeling inside – an intuition – that this is indeed necessary. There is something in there. If that something is in there, then I have to forge on. I must try. My mind spiraled – what if the something isn’t actually that worthwhile? What if I’m just meant to be mediocre? Maybe I just have a kid and try to correct everything I didn’t do in my own life in the next generation? Or worse, what if nothing is there. I’m just an infinite black whole. I dozed off.

The next morning, over an espresso and a foggy countryside, I vowed to go inside. I got out my journal and sighed loudly. Okay, I screamed. A release. A sound off. A call to commence my commitment (re-commitment) to living my best life. To the ever-evolving art of actualizing me. I put my pen to the paper and got to work reassured that should it all fail, I have wine.

Emma Dinzebach

Just Listen

Air was indeed coming in, but it didn’t feel like it was filling up my lungs. I gasped. Tears swelled in my eyes. I hit pause and walked away from the speakers, pacing back and forth, my mind completely blank. That happens to me sometimes when my emotions are so confusing I can’t decipher them. I don’t know what to think, and end up unable to generate any thoughts at all.My former boyfriend had given me something to listen to. He expresses himself via music. I express myself via writing. There was a lot of reading and listening in our relationship. It took me all day to actually press play because I didn’t know if I should or how it might make me feel or what it meant. Maybe I shouldn’t listen at all. But I’m so damn curious. I was filled with wonder, then fear, then wonder. “Just listen,” I told myself.

At first I didn’t really get it. I had to listen several times before the songs and song order sunk in and that’s when I couldn’t breathe properly. I couldn’t really breathe at all. I sat down on the floor and called Mia over for comfort. She just laid there staring at me – one lazy eye. I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry about this. I cried so many futile tears in the past year and a half. I didn’t want to cry…not over this.

So I went to bed.

I knew I shouldn’t keep listening to it. I knew it was going to put me in a weird state of mind. Plus it’s the week before my period and women really shouldn’t listen to emotionally charged music the week before their period. Everybody knows that. However, I seek out instances to feel emotional extremes, so the next morning when I got out of the shower, I pressed play. Almost instantly I was near tears. Again. I dropped to my knees and put my face in my hands. My towel fell off, and sadness overcame me. Loss is amplified by wonder. I wondered what might have happened had he given me this a few months prior – how things might have been different. What could have been? I wondered, why now? I wondered, why not before? I wondered, what if? When I exhausted all possible irrelevant hypotheticals, I stood up and wiped my eyes. I brushed my hair.But so much of life is timing. Had I allowed this outpouring of emotion any sooner – even a week sooner- I wouldn’t have had enough space to even entertain the thought of dating another dude.  I would have canceled our first date. I would likely be circling around and around, up and down. My boyfriend would likely be dating someone blonde… and taller. So many things might have happened, but what matters is what is happening now. All that is is now.

I saved the playlist to my iTunes, closed my computer and went to work.

Emma Dinzebach