Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Sport of the Arts and the Making of Strong Women

It's coming up on Christmas and for me, Christmas is a time of reflection. It's a time of remembering and thinking of  blessings. With each ornament unwrapped from the tissue paper that kept it locked away and safe all year and then placed on the tree in the most perfect place, I reflect. Each ornament has a memory. Together, they tell the story of my life. In a week I turn 44 and my Christmas tree is filled with memories.
Many of them have dates on them.

Some of the ornaments tell the obvious story.

"Baby's First Christmas."
"Our First Christmas Together."

They all mean something and many of them, speak of a life in an activity that came to me by surprise and with much hesitancy. Many of the decorations that adorn my tree were given to me through Secret Santa exchanges with this colorguard or that one. Some were on top of presents given to me by performers I was teaching. Some were given to me by my closest friends that I still teach with today.

This year, as I unwrapped each ornament, with the Christmas music playing in the background and the wine poured into my Christmas glass given to me by good friend Ron Comfort many Christmas's ago, my thoughts drifted to this activity of ours. It's an activity that started for me in 1987 and hasn't stopped 26 years later. I thought about the life long friendships and the friends lost along the way. I thought about the good times. The fun times. The sad times and even the arguments. They are the story of my life and there they sat...in a box...ready to shine for me through another Christmas memory.

Someone once said that your twenties are about finding your identity and challenging the status quo for that identity. Your thirties are the time in your life to enjoy the new found "you." They are the time to tell the world, "I don't have to pretend anymore. This is who I am and I am ready to show me to the world." In your forties, you know who you are and you have enough life experiences behind you to no longer hear your parents voices in your head. You are humble enough to stay quiet until it is absolutely necessary to speak and bold enough to say, "To hell with it. What do I have to lose?" You are at the mid point of life and there is a sense of pride that you actually made it this far, through the ups and downs, the failures, the stress, and outright stupidity of your twenties.

For me, as I decorated my tree at the mid point of my life, I reflected on me, the woman who made it this far. I thought about who I am and who I was. I have been a woman who has endured my share of struggles. I've been harder on myself than anyone could ever have been, but I've realized in my old age, that most women are. We have statements to make in the work place and for those of us that are climbing that career ladder, every step on that rung is fraught with questions about our ability. Society has taught us to be quiet and humble. Some of us are taught to not speak unless spoken to. Be pretty. Don't be too aggressive or too confrontational. We question ourselves as mothers. We live in a society where a mother usually can't do anything right. Should she work? Should she stay at home? Neither choice is easy. "Well her son wouldn't be acting out at school if the 'mother' was home more to take care of her family." As women, we aren't thin enough. We aren't smart enough or we are too smart for our own good.  We are too bold or we aren't bold enough, and when we are bold enough, that light of the bold woman gets extinguished by the phrase, "overly emotional."  As women, we live in a world run by men and to break through that glass ceiling takes a level of fortitude that wears you down to the core. "Bitch" is a word often used to describe women who stand up for themselves or gives an opinion that challenges the "network" of good old boys.  I've been called bitch so many times that I could wrap my tree a dozen times in the word. I once heard a person in the same conversation over cocktails describe a strong and powerful female technician, by saying that he heard that in rehearsals she was a total bitch when cleaning a phrase. I asked, "By total bitch do you mean high expectations?" He went on to describe a temper tantrum of a designer he had dealt with in a critique scenario by saying, "You know, that typical designer attitude. They let their creativity block their judgment." One statement is classified as "bitch" and one is classified as "creative."

So as women we struggle. As I decorated my tree I reflected on that struggle. It's a struggle that took me through relationships that were not just unhealthy, but practically abusive at times. I reflected on times when I couldn't take it anymore after being patronized and demoralized. I didn't dwell, however. I am a strong woman and dwelling on the past is not in my life's plan. Barely anything phases me anymore. I look at life almost as a game. "What are you going to do now life? Bring it on baby! I can take it."

Life is hard. Male or female. It's hard and it doesn't get any easier as time takes its toll on your body, your mind, and your spirit, but you know what? I believe strongly that I am the woman I am, because of an activity that never gave up on me. This activity was handed to me by God and without it, I wouldn't be who I am. I am a woman of strength, because I managed two summers of drum corps that were tougher than boot camp in the Navy. I am the woman who I am, because I've taken a colorguard on to a floor, failed miserably and still managed to hold my head up high as they announced my guard in last place. I am able to stand up in any meeting filled with high powered politicians and executives and state my case without hesitation, because I have sat in critiques across from some of the best designers and techs in the activity and said, "I don't think your show is as good as you do." I am a strong woman today, because when I started in this activity, my colorguard was faced with the gravest and heaviest of moments as we buried guard members who lost their lives while doing colorguard. Once, in an argument with a male companion, when I was being put down and patronized I said, "Do you think what your are saying actually gets to me? I marched drum corps for Christ's sake!"

The activity makes you stronger. It builds your spirit and toughens your soul. It gives you the confidence to step into the world with an attitude of, "I can!"

As a woman, I have performed in front of thousands, because it was expected of me and because someone was behind me saying, "You can do this." Because of that, I can sit in any professional interview with absolute confidence. As I reflected, I realized that this pageantry activity of ours flies past the societal judgment that says that a woman has to be a size 2, 5'8, and blonde to be attractive to men. The activity allows us to challenge ourselves to be better than we ever thought we could and to be more than society thought we had in us. It helps us believe in ourselves. Pageantry has given me the ability to say, "I can do this. Just me. I can be a mother, have a career, be a political activist, a colorguard instructor, judge, and any other damn thing I want to be."

The pageantry activity creates leaders.

As we reflect this Christmas, one month before the start of another winterguard season, let's do it this year for the girls; these young women who are on the floor giving all they got...who don't see many images of themselves in the media. They don't see a woman who is is 5'4 and 135 pounds in daily print ads. They don't usually see women in roles of power as much as they see men. Research backs that up time and time again. Commercials are still made for the woman to mop the floor and drive the SUV to little league. Women are depicted as emotional and weak in shows like Bad Girls and the Kardashians. Still, in 2013 women are still depicted as in need of saving. This sets them up for a life of need, when all they ever needed was to unlock the power within their own soul and mind. In this season of reflection and the 2014 season ahead of us, let's create strong women. Demand from them more than anyone has ever demanded of them in their lives. Tell them they can do anything they set their minds to. When they step on that floor for the first time and for the last time, tell them that every moment is a choice to succeed and to hell with what the role society tells them they should take. This pageantry activity of ours has grown some incredible women. I grew up with the strength of greek god, because of a flag, a sabre and some really tough instructors. This activity makes dancers out of awkward teens and world class performers out of shy wallflowers. Mostly though, it gives you courage and strength and THAT is more than many women get in their entire lives. My tree is decorated with the gift of pageantry and that has been the best gift of all and it was a gift given to me almost three decades ago.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays my friends.

Photo: Tree is done. Changed it up and went white. Santa even has gifts under the tree.