Geena: Dancing Queen

IMG_8976Geena has a big heart. Geena’s aunt Karen is living with cancer.

“The hormones are not working.”

Geena is scared, but has great compassion and vision. As I held her hand, I rubbed her thumb with mine. I felt vulnerable to be showing such an intimate form of physical expression with a stranger, but Geena held on and continued to self-disclose in beautifully honest and open ways. IMG_8965Geena likes to help people find their potential. It’s a great life work and mantra: finding one’s potential for growth and personal greatness. But Geena, like many, is much harder on herself than others.

Geena and I share many interests and insecurities, which made the walk a surprisingly challenging one for me to just listen and not exclaim, “Ah me too!” Though I’d get in my head about feeling like I was trying to put on a stoic air, it was a nice change in pace–to sit back and give her space rather than trying to form an immediate connection or friendship over our commonalities.

When I asked Geena what she hated, she said disorder and clutter. Which made us both laugh. She described how if she sees a poster up with a date that has already passed, it takes everything in her power not to take it down.

As a slightly obsessive tidy-upper myself, I could relate to the feeling; you know it really doesn’t  matter, but you just want to make things look and feel more in sync. Some may view this as an annoying or even obnoxious behavior trait, but it’s just another way of coping. We all have “our things”, our rituals, our care routines that make life more manageable. It’s the little strange tidying tidings that keep us sane.

IMG_8968
I was surprised (and then again not surprised) to learn that Geena loves vogueing and twerking. She seemed very unassuming, calm, and nurturing so it was funny to think of her in such an aggressive and flamboyant style of dance. But as soon as I asked if she would like to pose for me in the fountain at Washington Square Park, she jumped up to the center like a warrior.

I saw a completely different person than the one I had been walking with for the past half hour. Geena in motion is beautiful. Things take shape; she is given color, taking form with such purpose and life that it leaves you wondering if she’d been waiting the whole time for this moment to move.IMG_8970 copyGeena’s proudest moment: raising money in an 18 hour dance marathon for children living with cancer. It was certainly a great accomplishment and sounded like successful fundraiser, but the truly tender part of this experience was the way Geena described how one of the kids cut Geena’s event band off at the end of the marathon.

Raising money for research and care for patients living with cancer is important work for Geena. It has been imprinted on Geena’s heart in memory–and you can feel its power in the way she talks about it.

Those dedicated to service often forget to care for themselves, a quality I’ve found to be true in myself as well as in other care-taker types. Geena’s charitable nature has a toll.

“I’m hard on myself.”

“I don’t give myself enough credit.”

These words hit too close to home.

When I asked Geena what she hated, she immediately replied, “Cancer…Cancer, ignorance and war…The enemies of life.”

Geena was so at ease with our walk that I kept wanting to ask, half-accusingly, why she felt so comfortable. I hated how much she reminded me of myself. I judged her in my mind, as I often do myself, for being in constant motion, analyzing, reflecting and planning.

When I asked how she felt about our walk, she said it was a nice break from reality. “Reality sucks.” IMG_8982

IMG_8958
I lost my mother to cervical cancer when I was 9. There were countless moments for me to share this with Geena as she described her experience with her aunt…So why didn’t I tell Geena about my mom?

I guess I didn’t want my family’s experience with cancer to shadow or be related to Geena’s. It’s different and it’s not. I wanted to hold onto the idea that everyone has the right to have the space and time to share without interruption. I wanted Geena to have this. I let the silence speak.

I was by no means trying to be distant, but the moment didn’t feel right. Like the time my friend was diagnosed with cancer and was raising money for her treatment; it felt very weird to tell her about my mom after donating to the cause. Because you shouldn’t have to know someone to care.

More than 1.5 million cancer deaths have been averted this year according to the American Cancer Society. While the mortality rates have dropped in the past two decades, this doesn’t change the reality of many people and their families living with cancer. Health care costs are astronomical and for those without the privilege of a secure socio-economic status, the emotional as well as the financial tolls can be detrimental. There’s been progress, but there’s still a lot of work to do… We need to be there for each other. During a life at its end just as much as its beginning.

IMG_9008With my large lumpy bag bouncing around, my cold hands growing numb, and the never-ending circles around Washington Square Park, this was one of the most tiring (both physically and emotionally) walks for me. I hope Geena had no idea how heavy it was for me. I wanted to give her the gift of a walk and talk, apart from reality, apart from both the intense and non-intense relationships of her life.

She made me want to give more. And the more I pulled my own thoughts, worries and history out of the way, the more present and focused I became with Geena. I gave a lot of love that day. It was a long walk, but worth the weight.

We cannot control time or cancer, but we still have the power to move, feel, touch, act and care. We still have the gift of life and of bringing light. Thank you Geena for this lesson that you may have unknowingly given to me.

Give time to dance. Dance is your life. Life, your dance.

11/03/14 Washington Square Park

Sy: lion heart, UFOs, alchemy, Thanksgiving Day candles, seeking truth

IMG_8880

“Lying steals someone’s right to the truth.”

Sy is the guy. Sy is my first guy. Sy is the guy I was afraid to talk to in middle school. Sy is sweet. Sy is strong.

A one-time “fragrance chemist” (really!) blending together the most alluring scents for the fashion and food industry, Sy has re-created diverse smells: from a candle imitating McDonald’s Big Mac to give consumers a sense of nasal comfort in inhaling fries-yet-to-be-fried and patties-yet-to-be-flipped to more conventional perfume lines to adorn women in scents as fancy and sweet as Jessica Simpson’s pits.

(Side-note: Okay, so I made up that last bit about JSimp’s pits, but wouldn’t that be a great conference to be a part of? But really, how do you determine someone’s odorous essence?)

Moving on. Sy is a certified BA in my book. His gentle spirit disarmed me from my preconceived notions that had me coming into the walk with my bro-self-defense shield on full blast. Something which I am still embarrassed to admit…

Sy is aware, calm, and perceptive. His eyes lit up when I asked what’s the best thing he’s ever smelled. He described, with great excitement, “a creamy Thanksgiving dinner candle” he had worked to develop, which simultaneously hit you with hints of “vanilla and out-of-the-oven-turkey, everything.” It was a delightful moment, and I suddenly felt myself not only craving mashed potatoes and gravy, but also becoming more self-conscious about how he was perceiving me. Sy continued to observe as I started to quietly panic.
IMG_8907

I was intrigued by his family’s history with Greek-Armenian heritage, a life built in Iran, then Afghanistan up until 1989, and now the US. A family of doctors, Sy comes from a long line of healers, which can be felt in his presence. “I bought a house in education,” reflecting upon how people don’t realize how much an investment medical school is, he explained, “It’s not a luxurious lifestyle.”

He had come to the US at the age of 3, the same age of my grandfather when he had arrived in New York from Sweden (passing through Ellis Island before moving to a farm in Nebraska) and I couldn’t help but to romanticize (somewhat idyllically) this immigration story with visions of my own family’s journeys into unfamiliar places. I admired his commitment to his education and was surprised to hear him state how brave travelers are after I told him about my experience studying abroad.

It was a moment of mutual appreciation. The grass is green on both sides. In staying and in traveling.
IMG_8892
PATH
It was freezing. Did I mention that already? It was also in Jersey!—a 20 minute ride on the PATH train from Manhattan, but worlds away in the minds of anyone exposed to the Jersey / New York cultural cleavage that is pushed on your face after living in “the city” for more than a year.*

  *Never mind that you have never actually lived in Manhattan nor the fact that you have never even been to Jersey. But in order to feel successfully integrated as a “New Yorker” you gotta hate on Jersey, just a little, even if you don’t.

While waiting for Sy to arrive, sitting on a bench along the waterfront, I kept thinking to myself, “How the hell did I end up in Hoboken?” Packed with judgment, sitting on a bench, waiting, looking out at the city, I felt my nerves calm as I reflected upon the sun sparkling on the Hudson, light resonating and bouncing off the new World Trade Center, cheers in the distance for the NYC marathon. This is my city. This is my home.

It is good to get a new perspective. The Hoboken waterfront was beautiful and gently stripped me away of my stubborn mentality to not have a good time that day.
IMG_8851
Sy arrived nonchalantly, kissed me on the cheek. And we were off. Like two funny characters in an Off-Off Broadway play. Me: awkward, blonde, small. Him: big, casual, calm. His gender expression made me initially tense up as I felt myself becoming defensive, apologetic, and rushing to ask my questions and trying to gage how he felt about me. I’m sure if he reads this, he would be surprised to hear all this going on in my head. I wonder how often women (like me & not like me) do this.

I admitted to him that he was my “first guy” and that I was feeling more uncomfortable than I had been on my walks with women, but thanked him for being so honest and open to the project. He said he enjoyed the idea of things like this: one time he saw a public project where strangers were asked not to smile while someone else smiled at them. Everyone who participated failed to not smile. This made us smile.

My walk with Sy was engaged with senses from the get-go. From the friendly kiss on the cheek to wind-blown faces and talk of aromatic candles, I was aware of the sights, smells, and sounds with a heightened sense of curiosity to my physical surroundings—my boots made a delicious clack-clunk-clack upon the wooden dock, leaves fluttered across the concrete in a hectically orchestrated dance, the smell of coffee called to us and reminded us of warmer places…but I was determined to hold on to Sy’s hand in the cold and resist the urge to proceed in a more calm and casual meet-up setting.
IMG_8936IMG_8870
Midway through our walk, Sy looked up and stopped. An unidentifiable floating object was hanging in the tree above us. Was it a mattress? A board? A flying carpet? We watched there stunned, just long enough for others to join us in the spectacle. It was strange and funny. I decided to take a picture.

We were like children in awe. After a bit of debate, we decided it must be a foam board. No real danger here. Right in the middle of an intense discussion about what Sy hates the most—a question I always ask—and here comes a floating board. The academic in me was annoyed, the artist and child enthralled.

Sy hates lying. I was taken aback by how quickly and unpremeditated this was:

— What do you hate? 

— Lying.

—Why?

—Lying steals someone’s right to the truth.

Wow. Pow.IMG_8916In an instant, Sy “the guy” transformed into Sy the poet. Through my all-too-human judging eyes, I placed him into a very superficial category of “man” that spoke little truth to the person with whom I was now holding hands. After discussing how limiting and destructive even the most white lie can be, he told me how he enjoyed writing poetry and reading in Farsi, and how he identified with the symbolic force of the lion. Though he also appreciated the solitary and self-sufficient qualities of a tiger, he certainly has the eye and heart of a lion.

A great and strong hand to hold. It feels good to know that people like Sy are becoming doctors. With Sy’s gentle, strong, wise, & attentive qualities, we are (at least here) in good hands.
IMG_8912

Camille: wonder, light, mauve tips, raspberries & fresh cream.

IMG_8705How do you not fall for Camille?

It’s my first walk. After a couple trial runs in the Prospect Park where I awkwardly stood silent with my sign reading “A Hand 2 Hold” (feeling like a walking poster child for some NGO or marketing scam), I learned that the best way to conduct a social art movement would require a bit more social effort on my part….Doy.

So as the weather started to cool down and my courage began to warm up, I reached out to people through various online platforms such as Tinder and OkCupid, places that had acted as a great refuge for me in dating and meeting new people.

Considering all this build-up, and months of mustering up the courage to present my project to others, Camille was the perfect first. Kind, curious, full of wonder and warmth. I couldn’t have asked for a better walking partner.

From our cyber banter I knew that we’d have an easy time talking about all the little big things: colors, light, smells, and tastes of our surroundings. And within the first couple seconds of meeting, I felt a sense of relief to realize that I was acting more nervously than she.

“Are you comfortable?” asked Camille. “Yes, thank you for asking. Are you?” I said with a great stupid-happy smile.

This simple question made a difference. We both seemed glad to have acknowledged each other’s comfort and proceeded to make observations about the way our hands felt along the walk.
cropped-img_8700.jpgWe noted a ball of energy in the space between our palms, which later evolved into in Camille’s words, a “squishy marble”. I felt my lingering adolescent fear of my clammy hands wash away as my cold 9am thumb was also given the space and permission to be warmed.

I was curious to know more about this beautiful person’s path. How did she get here? Where did she come from? What did she fear, hate, love?

For the first time in her life, Camille told me that she was really feeling her age, 40. She always wanted children, but now worried it was becoming too late. We walked past the most adorable tubby tots huddling around their teacher and Camille sighed. I could see the love in her eyes. Camille would be a great mother.IMG_8701Her innocence, light, and love continued to charm me. As we walked past a cottage near the home of Shakespeare in the Park, Delacorte Theater, Camille expressed with delight how it reminded her of eating raspberries and fresh cream. The craving was mutual. I was excited to show her one of my favorite trees in the park, which I hoped would be in its full crimson glory.

I was very disappointed then to see the green leaves resisting the seasonal change, but Camille did not seem to mind and noticed some budding mauve tips on the top. My exceedingly high expectations for the fall foliage (that I also hold for myself) had me miss a more subtle and beautiful transformation taking place.IMG_8687Camille revealed to me that her last relationship had been an abusive one where she’d come home to the loud noises of her partner’s screams, breaking plates, and shaking her to listen. It shocked me to imagine such violent scenes happening in our peaceful surroundings. She admitted to me that she loved the passion and excitement of it all.

In the middle of this discussion, we realized that we had no idea where we were. Lost in “The Ramble” of Central Park, we laughed at how strange and unusual it felt to be lost in woods in the middle of NYC. But it turned out to be our favorite experience of the walk.

When I asked her what she hated, she replied that her mother always said stupidity, but that she hated stagnancy more than anything. I admired Camille’s resilience to people in her life trying to keep things under control.

These moments were not as heavy or as intense as they may seem. Camille was funny, light, and had a great sense of curiosity that was contagious. She compared herself to the playful grasshopper from the Aesop’s Fables, who is ill-prepared for winter while the ant, who toils away has shelter and reaps the benefits of hard work. I thought she was being hard on herself, but she explained that you do not need to change yourself in order to become more grounded.

It is important to come back to the earth after years of air travel. When Camille explained these feelings to me, I envisioned a stretching motion of the body: pushing into the ground while also keeping your head high and hopeful—still that unique airy you, just more balanced and aware.

As I said goodbye to Camille, my heart felt full with joy, but conflicted in letting go. In the last hour, I had fallen in love with this person, this moment, and now needed to go back to the outside world. Leaving it at that was surprisingly satisfying. I may never see this person again, but I was going to drink up the love without conditions or doubt. My first walk was complete in every way.IMG_8690

I Want to Hold Your Hand

cropped-cropped-img_5378.jpg

Late-night perusing Tinder profile pics, swiping right with a slightly boozed daze of desperation…It’s the middle of January and I’ve had more dates with people I’ve met online than I can remember. The city is cold, but buzzing with New Year resolutions. I’m on a date with a charming (and possibly closeted) young man, when, midway through our post-Bourbon wandering down 2nd Ave, I suddenly ask to hold his hand.  So here we are: two fruit cakes without anywhere to go or be—who haphazardly fell for each other’s cyber charm—holding hands around Tompkins Square Park.

This may be where it all began. I had certainly always desired something more from dates and even from outings with my friends, but up until then, I did not realize what it was that I was craving. I remember and loved this date for how un-date-like it was. We were lonely, we wanted to touch. We held the moment in our hands.

The touching of hands is electric, strange, and necessary. Unfortunately, interpersonal intimacy—even with those closest to us—can run dry in today’s digital glow. A Hold 2 Hold Project is rooted in our desire and need to connect. While our phones and computers act as incredibly efficient tools for communication, we have become more and more “out of touch” (quite literally) with one another.

Out of this immense feeling of loneliness, and in dealing with my own personal issues of timidity, came the idea to walk with strangers in parks while holding their hands. A concept so simple and strange, but one that feels so right and real.

Admittedly the project, was and is, first about me and my way of challenging social boundaries and confronting my own fears. But as I continue to write, and walk and talk with people, I have realized that the project is not just about me.

This project is about vulnerability. About simple acts of kindness, of walking, of talking, of holding… It is about asking first; engaging in active forms of consent; facing the possibility of rejection (and not taking it personally); allowing things to progress gradually & let be.

Echoing a Peripatetic tradition of Aristotle’s philosophic wanderings, A Hand 2 Hold Project is a practice, a movement, an offering & moment of shared intimacy.

I’ve never been very good at saying hello, even worse at letting go. This project is exposing. It’s awkward, and I am afraid. Indeed, most offerings hold a certain level of discomfort or fear of rejection. But on the other side of fear,  is life—and I feel very much alive when talking to strangers. My greatest wish would be that others begin their own hand holding adventures, and that people feel encouraged to reach out to folks that they wouldn’t necessarily immediately think of as potential walking partners.

Finding the courage to say, “I want to hold your hand” is a great sign of peace and love, something that can be used and practiced with loved ones as much as strangers who may be in need of support.

Oh yeah I tell you somethin’
I think you’ll understand
When I say that somethin’
I want to hold your hand

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Thank you so much for visiting my page and for reading this first introductory post.

I hope to see or hear from you soon, and to be able to offer my hand to hold.

Contact ToHoldAHand@gmail.com for more information or to share your own hand holding stories.

Instagram/Twitter @AHand2Hold #AH2H #toholdahand #ahand2hold