Friday, April 25, 2014

The Bully Inside Us

Yesterday, my seven year old and I were playing the game Connect Four. If you have never played the game before, it's basically a childhood game that teaches children about the very basic concepts of creating and building strategy. When we play games I never let him win. Sometimes I give him clues, but I never let him win. I don't feel like I'm helping him if I let him win. When we were playing, he said to me that he never wins at anything and that he was stupid. I thought, "My God! Where did he learn that?" I have never told him he was stupid and he doesn't always lose. I thought about it and decided that those messages must be taught through the ridiculous standards society places on us and how we take pride in this country at raising people to the top, to just take pleasure in watching them fall. I thought about this all night. Never once did I put the blame on myself.

Later that night after my son went to bed, I was going through my nightly ritual of looking for a job in the hopes of taking my career in a different direction. I found a great job that I was not only qualified for, but would be absolutely fabulous at. I didn't think twice about applying. I wrote a well worded cover letter, attached the resume, and pressed send. Then it hit me. The minute, no the second that resume went into cyberspace my biggest critic attacked me from the inside. It said, "You know you won't get this. Someone is better. Someone has more experience. They won't even acknowledge they received this. You are stuck where you are. Get use to it. You will always be less than."

It took less than a minute for the bully inside me to tell me I'm less than and then I realized something. My child didn't learn about self doubt from society. He learned it from his mother. My heart sank. Since I could remember I have had a voice inside of me telling me that I wasn't enough and you know what...we all have and only a few of us have learned to tame it.

I've been teaching in the pageantry activity for a long time (a very long time) and the only thing I'm certain about, is that with every new batch of kids, comes a new set of bullies. They are bullies that live inside the kids we teach that tell them they are less than. They tell them they can't throw that quad or that they will never be a soloist. Their bully tells them that they will never get acknowledged by the staff. Their bullies tell them they suck and with that, they drop the rifle, lose the solo, and never get acknowledged by the staff. Their bully wants them to quit. The bully inside of them takes pride in every failure and missed opportunity. They say, "Quit. Come on. It's too hard. You will never make it. You should have never been here to begin with. Remember that day you tried out for cheerleader and didn't make it? Well, you made this, which clearly means you will eventually fail."

The inner bully.

The inner bully looks back at you in the mirror as a young girl of ten and says that you are fat. At the age of 44, your inner bully is still looking back at you in the mirror telling you that you're fat. Now it also tells you that you're old. It tells you that you are failing as a mother and professional. The bully ages as you age and its job is to look for new ways to bring you down.

This year in Dayton someone came up to me in the bar on Friday night and said that they had always wanted to meet me. No shit! Someone actually said that to me. My response? "Ummmm...ok. You want to" That's what I said.

"Me? You want to meet me??"

The bully inside was laughing at me, wanting to take my moment and it won. I have found that colorguard people are some of the most fascinating, talented, creative, and intelligent people I know, yet they have bullies living inside of them the size of Hercules. Why wouldn't they?  As artists we put our thoughts and creativity on display year in and year out for all to judge...and judge we do. We judge with scores, our catty remarks, our body language, and our thoughts. We all do it. Pageantry people aren't always nice and are judgmental. It's not a bad thing or a good thing. It's reality. It's called competition. It's called human nature. It's our American culture.

We also have a way of using mediums such as Facebook to highlight our successes...and highlight we do.

Holy crap! If I see one more Facebook post about how such and such just had 5,000 kids show up to auditions I'll slit my wrists or how the "I'm the most fabulous designer, tech, and choreographer, plus I just got my pilots license and flew my entire guard to Dayton myself" just medaled for the 15th time in 3 years... I'll throw myself off a bridge. There is no shortage of people throwing themselves into social media for all of us to look at and be jealous of and with their success, we see our failure, regardless of our own success. It's the vicious cycle I call, "Less Than."

In pageantry we live week in and week out experiencing new ways to feel bad about ourselves. We beat ourselves up with phrases that go something like this. "My scores are too low."  "My kids aren't talented enough." "My program doesn't bring in enough money." "I'm a bad designer." "I'm a bad tech."  "I'm burned out. I'm over it."  Personally, I start every season with the feeling of, "Dear God. Just let the kids come back next week." Once again the bully telling me that I or my program isn't worthy.

I also feel old, fat, incompetent  in an ever changing activity, and unsure of myself as a judge and if we are all honest with ourselves, at some level my feeling is mutual to an entire activity. My bully tells me that I'm not perfect and there is always someone better and she reminds me of that I'm comfortable in using the term bully, because in my career I'm a bullying expert and the definition goes as follows:

"Bullying is an ongoing, consistent level of abuse that zero's in on its victim and uses mental torture to gain a reaction from the victim."

It's an ongoing, consistent level of abuse. Abuse. Inside of us lives an abusive asshole, trying to tell us as guard instructors we aren't good enough and you know what? It also wants us to bring friends to the party. It wants us to tell the kids we teach that they aren't good enough either. Bullies thrive by the nature of the attention we give it. They want their victim to quit and cry. They DO NOT want the victim to fight back.

Inside of all us lives a bully. Inside the kids we teach lives a bully. The young girls are being told that they look fat in their uniform and the young boys are being told they are too gay. Our kids stand on the field rehearsal after rehearsal and show after show, beating themselves up for every mistake and every missed cue. They look at themselves in the mirror before a show and wonder if they are pretty. They hope that someone will notice them as they perform and they pray that their parents will see their accomplishments. Their bully tells them that they are less than. Their bully will tell them that it is them and them alone that causes a score to be lower than it should.

It is up to us to tell them their bully is an asshole!

One day, a long time ago on a hot day in Hershey, Pennsylvania, I was kicked off the field during a drum corps rehearsal for talking back to the staff. I was told that I was rushing the tempo while we ran a 32 count phrase over and over. I will never forget this. I asked where in the phrase I was rushing. I was told that I was rushing the entire phrase. Over and over we ran that phrase. Over and over I got yelled at. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore.

 "Shelba! You are rushing!"

I responded in the only way I knew how in my adolescent, frustrated mind.

"Well I must be a f****** idiot then! I don't understand!!"

"Shelba! Get off the field!"

Sauntering off the field, pouting all the way to the sideline as I threw my flag to the ground, I held back every tear that was building up inside of me. My mind was screaming that I sucked and didn't deserve to be in a top 10 drum corps.  I deserved to get kicked off the field, but not because I talked back. It was because my bully told me that I would never make it as a world class performer. I never should have responded in the way that I did. My response however, came not from me, but from my bully. My bully wanted me to believe that I was in fact a f***** idiot. It wanted me to believe that I sucked and the more it took control of my mind, the more I truly did suck. My inner bully made me rush and the more we ran the phrase, the more I screwed it up. That day in Hershey was a victory for my bully and although it doesn't have the power it use to, sometimes I see it rear its ugly head.

It reared its head in Dayton when it made me believe I wasn't worthy of someone wanting to meet me. ME! They wanted to meet me and I couldn't for the life of me understand why. It rears its head in the morning when I look at myself naked in a mirror and realize that I'm no longer 24, but 44. It rears its head at work when I get congratulated on a project and then dismiss the compliment by saying, "It was nothing." It rears its head when someone asks me for advice. "Me? You want my advice?"

The point to it all.

We have one chance with the kids we teach. It's April and marching band and drum corps is starting its cycle of training and design. Recognize the bully inside your kids. Acknowledge it. Push your kids to be better than their bully believed they could ever be. Tell your kids that they are worth every catch, every performance, and every moment that the activity has to give. Remember this. Their bully is strong and is as strong as yours ever was. It's working against you as an instructor. It's tearing the kids down from the inside and its goal is to win. Remember that before you scream at the kid for dropping, their bully already has. It told them that they suck and will never live up to your standards. Push your kids, but push their bully out of your rehearsal for good and while your at it...kick your own bully to the road as well.

I decided to write this today, because I was asked in a meeting if I would be interested in being an adjunct professor for a local community college. My bully said, "They must have not been able to find anyone else." As I told the person that I was very much interested and even as we were setting up our first meeting, my mind told me that this wouldn't happen. Writing this today puts me on the line. Putting myself "out there" is hard, because it means that criticism is on the horizon. It means that failure could be just around the corner. However, it could also mean that I might inspire someone. It might mean that someone will read this and see themselves in this post and see how they beat themselves up for being "just not good enough,' but the irony to it all is that you are good enough. We all are. Look at this fabulous activity we created!

If nothing else, writing this today tells my bully to go to hell and it tells the kids that I teach that they too, can put themselves on the line and survive and be better for it. As I write this, I have playing loudly in the Ipod, "Perfect," by Pink and this is my favorite part:

The whole world's scared, so I swallow the fear

The only thing I should be drinking is an ice cold beer

So cool in lying and we try, try, try but we try too hard

And it's a waste of my time.
Done looking for the critics, cause they're everywhere
They don't like my jeans, they don't get my hair
Exchange ourselves and we do it all the time
Why do we do that, why do I do that (why do I do that)?

And as I write this...I sit here drinking a cocktail. In a bar. By myself. Because I'm just that confident! 

('s a gay bar, because...I'm really not that confident, but I'm certain my straight friends think the opposite.) 

Aren't our perspectives in life just interesting?? 

The idea for this post came from a great person and inspiration Dr. Kathleen Griffin, who lives her helping people fight their inner bullies and for who the bully idea came from.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Finding Ghosts Among The Ruins Of Dayton

Image result for glitter in the wind

When you wake up on Sunday morning in Dayton and look out the window of your hotel room, you see a city that is brown and lifeless. The buildings are crumbling and the roads are under construction. Dayton, Ohio is not a place where one visits by choice or just for fun. Dust covers the ground on any given Sunday in Dayton, but when you wake up on Sunday morning after WGI, you see a city that came to life among the ruins. For four days, four very special days, the dust and dilapidated buildings shine with the glitter of ten thousand colorguards and within that glitter, are the whispers of the past, the exhaustion of the present, and the Dayton's yet to come. When you wake up on Sunday morning in Dayton and look out the window of your hotel room, the glitter is all gone and what you are left with is this indescribable feeling that the world all of a sudden seems a little less interesting and a little less fun and within that, you say goodbye to your heart, as the best people you have ever known board their planes that take them away from the center of you. 

When WGI is over, all that is left is a file of recaps to study and a drawer of videos that are tucked away like a favorite charm given to us by a special lover from our youth. Old arm bands, programs, ticket stubs, and photos end up in boxes lost to our memory of once was and in the ruins of Dayton, our memories gravitate to a time not many can grasp or can even attempt to understand and if you listen closely, you can hear the ghosts of Dayton's past whisper their legacy. 

Sitting at World Class Finals on Saturday night I was struck by how many people continue to come to Dayton year after year. I met a great new friend this year in Dayton...another wonderful benefit of attending WGI. His name is Denny and he marched Emerald Marquis. He had not been to a WGI in about 15 years and watching his reaction to the World Guards was truly an unexpected gift. Where many of us have become jaded, Denny was overwhelmed and excited. It must have been like stepping out of a time capsule that left space dock somewhere in the late 90's, and all of a sudden he spies cell phones, the internet, and flying vehicles.  On the breaks between guards, I would think about guards past and the impact those guards made on the activity. I thought about a time when on Saturday night the World Class performers walked around dressed to the nines, while they watched an event called, "Triple Finals." I wondered how many in the arena remembered Triple Finals and how many actually grasped a time when finals was on Sunday. 

I thought about the guards and the people that made up those guards...many who were sitting in the audience watching their legacy come to life. They are the ghosts. The performers who stood on that arena floor in a time when it was not sold out in the round and a time when the activity was a little bit less commercial. 30 years I've been coming to WGI and in between guards, I thought of the wonder of our activity and the impact it has had on thousands upon thousands of people. As I watched the guards pull their floors to set for what would be their final performance, I thought of the shadows left behind. I remembered a time when we heard the phrase, "Let the ceremony begin," and then the rain came and the house came down.

There was a time when we saw an Irish jig and couldn't believe the immense talent that flowed from performer to performer. When a colorguard would present a final flag feature, my mind would gravitate to a flag feature that left us speechless. It was all white, developed from the back, and it was the first and changed the activity forever. On Saturday night if you closed your eyes and opened your mind, you could hear colors and their personalities being described to you and a rifle line entering on the color red. If you watched closely, you could see a gypsy caravan coming out of the tunnel. On Saturday night, I saw the flags of guards past. I saw Marilyn Monroe's skirt fly and paint being thrown. I heard the song, "Summertime," and then a score that would blow the minds of everyone in attendance that night. On one special occasion, we saw peacocks bring the arena to life, thus offering a new definition to the phrase, "Production Value." 

Each year on a Saturday night in April, we watch as the present merges with the past and wonder where the future will take us. The ghosts of the past grace the arena. They sit in sections 313 and 212. Some are sitting in the center with a recorder in their hands and others are standing at the top of the tunnel welcoming the present to finals. They are everywhere. They are in the tent and outside listening to the smokers mull over present day colorguard. They are in warm-up holding the hands of the performers as they struggle to get their nerves under control. They are on retreat waiting to place medals around the necks of the next generation of winners, asking those performers just one simple request. "Remember this moment and thank those that came before you." After the show, they are waiting at headquarters with a drink in their hand saying, "Welcome back. We've missed you." They are the voices of the past and all they want is to welcome us back to Dayton. 

At some point during the weekend, we pay tribute to those we have lost by a simple toast of our cocktail and wish they were sitting with us. We tell old war stories like old men sitting on the front porch of a nursing home and we remember. Late Saturday night we say goodbye to our friends, give them a hug, and hope beyond all hope to see them again in this place we call Dayton. 

On Sunday morning upon the ruins of Dayton, we say goodbye as we pass the arena on our way to the interstate and say, "I'll see you next year." And with that, we say goodbye to the present and welcome the future and if you look closely, you can see a small piece of glitter glistening in the wind and its echo thanking you for your passion for this thing we call colorguard.