on toughness, empathy + being gentle with yourself

When I was in high school, I played on the basketball team for two years. I’ve loved basketball since I was a little girl playing for youth teams, where the coaches would sometimes bring boom-boxes to blast music during warm-ups. In elementary school I spent many recesses playing H-O-R-S-E and pick-up games with the boys. At home, we had a basketball hoop in our driveway and I found a sense of calm in the hours I spent after my homework was done, practicing my shot, my dribbling, my lay-ups, until the daylight faded away to dusk and it was time to come in for dinner. Track and cross-country are close contenders, but basketball might still be my favorite sport. I love the team camaraderie. I love the fast-paced energy of the game. I love elegance of shooting, that clean feeling when you release the ball from your hand and just know it’s going in, and then the joy of that SWISH through the net.

My freshman year of high school, I was so excited when I made the Frosh-Soph girls basketball team. Immediately, I felt welcomed and my confidence blossomed. The sophomore girls on the team were so friendly and they took me into their fold. We worked hard in practice, but the ultimate goal was to have fun. I played center or power forward, so I never dribbled the ball much. But I remember one game in particular when, for whatever reason, the defender wasn’t guarding me until I reached the half-court line. So Coach told me to dribble the ball up the court each play, and I did it successfully. I was nervous at first, because I never thought I could be a point guard! But after that game, I felt like I could do anything. Like I didn’t have to box myself into a specific role. And, the more confident I felt in myself, the better I played.

Then, mid-way through the season, the Varsity coach decided to move a girl on the JV team up to Varsity, and to move me up to the JV team. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I felt honored to be chosen, but it was a difficult situation to move into a new team partway through the season. I was the new girl at the bottom of the totem pole, playing with girls older than me and better than me who already had built their own team dynamics—on and off the court. On the Frosh-Soph team I had started every game, but now on the JV squad I sat on the bench and felt lucky to play a couple minutes. My confidence tanked, but I still tried my best to be positive and work hard.

The biggest obstacle was my new coach. A nice man off the court, during practices and games he would yell constantly. I have never been inspired by yelling. The coach constantly berated me for not being “tough” enough, and it seemed like nothing I did could convince him otherwise. No amount of showing up early for “optional” practices, busting my butt during block-out drills, or hustling up and down the court changed his option of me—that I was a nice, “soft” girl who needed to “toughen up.” It is true that I have never been an ultra-competitive person. To me, playing basketball was as much a contest against myself—to continue working hard and improving my own game—as it was a contest against the other team. I didn’t have that desire to crush my opponents, and if we lost, I shook it off pretty easily. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t tough.

As I entered my sophomore year, I hoped for more stature and confidence on the JV team. Yet, the situation was pretty much unchanged from the season before. During each game, I sat on the bench, my knees jiggling. I yearned to play, but I was also filled with nerves—I worried about making a mistake and being yanked out of the game, banished to the bench again. I tried to remain confident in myself and my abilities, but it was hard.

One game will be forever etched into my memory. This was the turning point when I knew that I would not go out for the team again the following year. I just couldn’t handle the emotional toil anymore. It wasn’t worth it.

This particular game wasn’t an especially important one. It wasn’t a playoff game, nor was it a game against the rival high school across town. Personally, it was an important game to me because our family friend, my Uncle Wayne, was in town and he was planning to attend the game with my parents. I looked up to Uncle Wayne very much {I still do!} and wanted to impress him. I hoped that I would get some playing time to show my best effort.

It was a close game. In the second quarter, Coach put me in. I don’t remember much of the next few minutes. It’s possible I scored a basket or two. It’s possible I made some passes. Someone on my team fouled a player on the opposing team in the act of shooting, so we all lined up for free-throws. Since the other team was shooting, my team got to line up on the innermost spots. The player shot the first free-throw. I bent my knees, elbows out, preparing to box out for the rebound if the second free-throw was a miss.

It was. I successfully boxed out my player. But another player—a guard from the other team, who had not been boxed-out—swept in and grabbed the rebound.

Immediately, my coach was screaming. He called a time-out and we all hustled for the bench. I was not prepared for what happened next.

Coach had yelled at me before. Not just me—he yelled at all the players. He had pulled me out of the game before. He had expressed displeasure and disappointment. But it was nothing like this. Loudly, leaning right in my face, he screamed at me for not getting the rebound. He screamed that it was all my fault that we were losing. He screamed that I was “killing” the team, that I wasn’t trying hard enough, that I wasn’t tough enough.

I was completely caught off guard because I had boxed out my player. I didn’t expect that I had done something wrong. I didn’t think I had made a mistake. But even if I had—even if I had purposefully dribbled the wrong way down the court and deliberately scored two points for the other team—his verbal outrage would have been completely out of bounds. I realize that now. A grown man yelling in red-faced rage at a sixteen-year-old girl is never okay. Especially in front of her peers and her community.

I would learn later that it took every ounce of self-control for my father not to run down from the bleachers and yank me away from that screaming man. He didn’t want to embarrass me or cause any more of a scene. And he knew how much I loved basketball. He didn’t want to jeopardize that for me. But he—and my mom, and my brother, and Uncle Wayne—were appalled. He tried to catch my eye, so he could thump his chest with his fist in our signal for “I love you. You’re doing great.” But I wouldn’t look at him.

The reason why I wouldn’t look at my dad, or my mom or brother or Uncle Wayne, or anyone in the bleachers, was because I was ashamed. Already, as I took my place at the end of the bench and avoided my teammates’ eyes, I was internalizing my coach’s words. He was in a position of power and he was telling me that I was a loser, and in that moment I believed him. I believed that everyone in the bleachers, including my parents, saw things the way he did. Everyone thought that I was “killing” the team. Everyone thought I wasn’t trying hard enough. Everyone thought I wasn’t tough. Red-hot shame coursed through my veins that I had messed up enough to deserve such a torrential smack-down.

It never crossed my mind that perhaps I didn’t deserve it. That perhaps Coach, not me, was in the wrong. That perhaps everyone sitting on the bleachers was horrified not by my playing, but by his out-of-control outrage.

Later, my parents would comfort me and I would feel better, coming to believe that I had nothing to be ashamed of. Later, they would schedule a meeting with my coach and talk with him about the incident, although he would never apologize. Later, I would decide to end my basketball career and focus on cross-country and track, and later still I would become involved with my high school’s drama department, which was a life-changing experience in the best way. Although I still loved the game of basketball, I did not miss the self-doubt and negativity that came from playing on that team.

These days, I only think of my old coach very occasionally, when I make a mistake and catch the way I’m talking to myself. Not usually, but sometimes, the words that I say to myself could be coming directly out of the screaming mouth of my old coach.

I can’t believe you just did that! What were you thinking? You ruined everything! You’re so stupid! It’s all your fault!

Whenever I catch myself doing this {like that time I spilled green tea all over the table} I feel a punch in my gut. I try to immediately silence that critical voice in my head by taking a few deep breaths. Then I ask myself,

How would you talk to your best friend or one of your students if they were in this situation?

The answer: I most certainly would not yell or berate them. I would treat them with gentleness, compassion, and understanding. I would offer words of encouragement and support. I would tell them that everything was going to be okay. I would build them up by reminding them of their past successes.

My self deserves that same courtesy and love.

Unfortunately, it is likely that every single person reading this has been yelled at before. Perhaps you were yelled at by a parent, or a teacher, or a coach, or a boss. Or perhaps you yell at yourself when you do something wrong. These experiences bury themselves inside us. They can last for a long time, their reverberations rippling outward to the present. {Recent studies have shown the damaging effects that yelling and shouting can have on children and teens—possibly as detrimental as physical hitting.} A friend told me recently that, as a child, he always felt much more at ease when he was over at a friend’s house and their dad was at work. It wasn’t until recently that he realized the reason: his own dad was a frequent yeller who frightened him, and so he was frightened and nervous of his friends’ dads, too. He associated all men with yelling.

It is up to each one of us to break the cycle. Not only in our behavior towards others, but also in the way we treat ourselves.

I do not want to be an angry basketball coach screaming at my self. Instead, I want to be like the coach of my Frosh-Soph team, who made me feel confident enough to be point guard for a game even though I had never played that position before. Who never would have yelled at me, even if I had failed—and, with that knowledge, helped give me the confidence to succeed. I want to talk to myself the way that my dad and mom and brother and Uncle Wayne talked to me that fateful day, taking in the shadows of my shame and erasing them with light. I want to talk to myself the way that Allyn talks to me, centering me with his calm support and love no matter what happens.

After all, that little voice inside my head is powerful. It is the only voice that I hear all day, every day. It never, ever needs to yell to be heard. A gentle, compassionate whisper will do just fine.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Open up your journal or a new document on your computer and use the following questions as inspiration for some “free-writing”:

  • Write about a time when someone yelled at you. What was your response? How can you find peace with this memory and move forward?
  • Write down a list of self-talk phrases you often direct at yourself. Are they positive or negative? How can you be more kind and gentle to yourself? Look at your negative words. What are some loving phrases you could replace them with?
  • Who in your life makes you feel loved and supported? What does this person say to you? Write down these words of affirmation. Can you say them to yourself?

on vulnerability + saying “i love you” {part 1}

Later this week, Allyn and I are headed to Monterey for a little getaway with his family. I’m excited to see everyone and soak up time adventuring and relaxing together. I lucked out with awesome in-laws and I always have a blast with them!

Our upcoming trip made me think about the first trip I took with them—the first time I ever went on a trip with Allyn, in fact. We’d been dating for a little over two months and he invited me along on the family getaway to Mendocino. I was thrilled. “Yes!” I told him ecstatically. “I’d love to come!” Then I immediately began to stress out about what to pack to make him fall in love with me.

I like to tease Allyn that back then, he was a bit of an enigma to me. For the first few months that we were together, I worried that my feelings for him were stronger than his feelings were for me. Looking back now, I’m not quite sure why. I think it might be because we have different Love Languages—mine is definitely Words of Affirmation, and I’m fairly sure Allyn’s is Acts of Service. Yes, Allyn asked me to be his girlfriend and told me he cared about me. And his actions spoke even louder than his words. He invited me to do things with his friends, wanted me to meet his family, called me every night before bed, and always kept his promises. He planned thoughtful dates for us, listened to my stories and problems, and even wooed my grandma with a box of toffee.

But I yearned for more. I wanted him to LOVE me. I loved him. Of course, I hadn’t told him that. I wanted him to say the big L-word first. Somehow, I felt I could trust it more if he said it first. What if I told him that I had fallen completely, madly, head-over-heels in love with him… and he just said, “Thanks”? Or what if he said “I love you too” not because he really felt it, but because what else was he supposed to say?

I spent a lot of time worrying about this.

I wrote epically long emails to my friend Holly analyzing his words and actions, searching for clues. I imagined what particular circumstances might need to unfurl for him to take my hand, look me in the eye, and say, “Dallas. I love you.” After all, I was pretty sure he did love me. His actions were filled with love. But I wanted him to SAY it. I wanted to hear the words so I could wrap them around myself like a blanket, play and replay them in my mind, shape them into bricks and build a solid foundation on their truth. So they could become my home.

It’s funny, because Allyn has never been one to play games and has always been very clear and up-front about his feelings. {Note above, when he asked me to go on vacation with his family after a mere two months of dating. Um, HELLO past self!} I think what made me feel so vulnerable was that I felt differently about him than about anyone else I had ever dated. From very early on in our relationship, I knew I loved Allyn. He was IT. He was The One. But did he feel that way about me?

Which brings us, my friends, to Mendocino. We were going on a romantic trip into the wilderness for four days. I was officially being ushered into the family as Allyn’s Girlfriend. This was it, I felt sure. He was going to tell me, “I love you.” The clouds would part and the angels would sing.

From the get-go, the trip didn’t unwind quite as planned, even though it was a delightful weekend. Allyn’s family made me feel welcomed right away. The vacation house they rented was fun and quirky, with a hot tub and a stunning view of the ocean far below. We lucked out with gorgeous weather and went hiking and exploring and even spotted a whale in the wild. We cooked big breakfasts and dinners together and ate s’mores for dessert over games of Jenga. I loved seeing the little-kid glimpses of Allyn that emerge around his siblings: their decades-old inside jokes, his sugar-high laughter, his easy comfort with them.

{us in mendocino, april 2014}

But, I could sense it right away—something was off with him. He wasn’t as sweetly attentive as he usually was. Did he regret inviting me along? Was our relationship moving too fast? Maybe I was cramping his style. I made an effort to hang with his sister sometimes, to give him alone time with his brother, to help clean up the kitchen with his stepmom, to not be “attached at the hip.” {Even though we’ve never really been one of those couples and I already felt like we each had our own independent hips.}

One afternoon, during a hiking break, we sat on a log together in the forest. My internal I-Love-You Antennae perked up. This could be it! This was the perfect opportunity. Just the two of us, in the peaceful wilderness, in the dappled sunlight.

He was quiet.

“Watcha thinkin?” I asked after a little while. My stomach was filled with butterflies.

“Nothing much,” he responded. My butterflies drooped in disappointment.

Somehow, we got to talking about his upcoming summer internship in New Orleans. He would be gone for two-and-a-half months, and we’d already discussed me coming out to visit him at some point during his stint there. That’s why I was so taken aback by what he asked me next…

{This story will be continued on Friday! See you then!}

amber rubarth house concert in seattle

When I wrote a letter on this blog to Amber Rubarth back in May, I didn’t expect that she would ever read it. I hoped my words might somehow reach her – I wanted her to know how much her music meant to me – but, even if she never read my letter, I still felt writing it meant something. Even if the words were just for myself, I wanted to reflect on how I had carried her songs within me for years, how they had impacted my life and had been my companions and helped me grow into someone braver and stronger and more assured in myself, more rooted in my being. It was a small gesture, but it felt hugely good.

me and amber rubarth 2

Even though I wrote that letter for myself, when I published it here on the blog, something amazing happened.

The positive response was overwhelming. People shared with me their own thoughts about how music has made a difference in their lives. The post was shared widely throughout the Facebook and Twitter communities. And, within a few days, my words made their way to Amber herself.

I got goosebumps when I logged onto Facebook one afternoon to find a notification that I had been tagged in a post by Amber Rubarth:

Ah my heart!!! Just read this beautiful post from Dallas Woodburn who came to my show last week in San Francisco. My heart is fluttering with gratitude. Thank you Dallas for your beautiful words and gorgeous soul. Wow. So moving. You are a beautiful writer.

It was the opposite of that frustrated feeling I experienced after our brief interaction post-concert, the one that spurred me to write the post in the first place. Now I felt buoyant and peaceful and more connected to the community around me. I had been able to express what had previously felt inexpressible. I had let someone know that their work was important to me. I was happy and grateful that my words had rippled outward and found their recipient. It seemed like a small miracle.

But the ripples did not end there. I received messages from both of Amber’s parents, letting me know how much my words meant to them. Amber and I became email pals, and she even tweeted congratulations on my wedding day!

screenshot_2016-09-05-08-57-39

And I received an email from a man named Bill.

Hi Dallas,

Long-story-short… My wife and I have been hosting a house concert series in the living room of our house here in Seattle for the past eleven years. Amber Rubarth played our series back in 2013. She’s eager to return and we recently talked about this coming October. Before contacting Amber I did some poking around online to see what Amber was up to and came across your blog post. Wow! It had me and several  friends I shared it with in tears. This type of feedback provides the fuel for touring musicians to continue doing what they do. So here’s the deal… If Amber plays here, I’d like to invite you and a guest to come to the show. And I’d pay for the airline tickets for you both to fly to Seattle. I know, this sounds like a scam. Believe me, it isn’t. As soon as I read your blog I knew what I wanted to do. My brain and stomach (intuition) were aligned with each other and agreed this was the right thing to do. Hope to hear back from you and get your thoughts.

I was absolutely blown away when I read this email. To receive such warm and thoughtful generosity from a complete stranger! Immediately, I replied to Bill with an enthusiastic: Absolutely, I would love to come!!

We hammered out the details over the next few months, and then suddenly it was the end of October, and our trip up to Seattle had arrived! Allyn wasn’t able to attend because he had a previously scheduled commitment for that weekend, but my dad was kind enough to fly up from L.A. to join me for the trip. It was my first time seeing him post-wedding it was SO great to get some time just to ourselves, to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. We lucked out with beautiful sunny weather in Seattle and spent the day exploring Pike’s Place Market, walking around downtown, and eating delicious seafood. My favorite was the clam chowder we ate overlooking the water!

 me and dad chowder seattle

We also visited the amazing Chihuly Museum, which I dubbed “Dr. Seuss books come to life”… the delicate, vibrant, larger-than-life blown-glass sculptures were extraordinary to behold! Tickets were a liiiittle pricey, but worth it. We were both really happy we went there.

chihuly museum

Walking back to our hotel, we stopped at a Starbucks {because, when in Seattle, right?} to escape the brief drizzle and enjoy our hot drinks. And then it was time for the concert! After stopping at a neat local brewery for dinner, we took an Uber to the quaint historical Captiol Hill neighborhood where Bill and his wife Micki live.

It was a funny situation because, although Bill and I had emailed back and forth quite a bit, I had no idea what he looked like. When Dad and I stepped inside the beautiful house filled with people {who mostly all knew each other from previous house concerts there} I was unsure what to do! A white-haired man came up to us in the entryway and I asked, “Bill?” He laughed and said, “No, I’m Jim — but Bill’s making cider in the kitchen. C’mon!” And he led the way back through the house.

Bill knew what I looked like from this blog, and as soon as he saw me, he beamed. He and Micki were both so friendly and welcoming to me and my dad. We enjoyed chatting with them in the kitchen before the concert began, and Bill introduced me to some of his friends who had read my piece here on the blog. It was so special to meet them in person!

As soon as Amber came out “on stage” my heart leapt — I was so excited that my dad would get to hear her music live! I knew he would fall in love with her beautiful songs, and he did. I had never before attended a house concert, and I was captivated by the intimate vibe of the night. It was a mix of a casual concert and a Q&A, with the audience jumping in with questions and song requests.

amber rubarth house concert

Partway through the concert, Amber asked, “Is Dallas here?” I waved my hands so she could spot me in the crowd. Amber then sweetly told everyone about my blog post and the story of how I ended up being at the concert that night. Then she wished me and Allyn congratulations on our recent wedding day and played her “Song to Thank The Stars” for us — out of all her songs, it is my favorite and the one that reminds me the most of Allyn.

I was nearly in tears, it was such a special moment.

After the concert, which flew by way too fast, we got to visit with Amber in the kitchen. It was wonderful to get some time to chat with her about her music, the creative process, my wedding, her upcoming tour and new album, and our families. She is one of the most genuinely kind, warm and authentic people I have ever met. Oh! And she recently starred in a new movie that will be released in 2017! It is called “September 12th” and also stars musician Joe Purdy. I can’t wait to see it!

me and amber 2

{A little blurry, but the best photo of the bunch!}

The trip to Seattle was one of the coolest experiences of my life! What a testament to the generosity and connection of people — former strangers, now friends — and the beauty and love present in our world. I feel so very grateful for this experience! Thank you Bill and Micki from the bottom of my heart. And thank you, of course, to my new friend Amber Rubarth!

You can pre-order Amber’s gorgeous new album, Wildflowers in the Graveyard, at her website: http://www.amberrubarth.com/

year of kindness challenge: week 36

year of kindness button

Happy Monday, friends! How was your weekend? It was H-O-T here in Danville … you can bet I’ve been drinking a ton of smoothies and iced tea! This weekend I went with my grandparents to see Eugene O’Neill’s play “Anna Christie” and it was fantastic! The actors were so talented and the writing was superb. It was very inspiring to me, as I’ve lately been working on a full-length play of my own.

Even though it still feels like summer, since it is now officially September and football season has begun and the pumpkin-flavored drinks are back at Starbucks, on Saturday I decided to bake my first pumpkin pie! It turned out great {much better than my disastrous pie that longtime blog readers might remember from last autumn, haha.} I also had a lovely lunch at CPK with my aunt and cousin, and yesterday I went to another cousin’s soccer game — she scored two goals! I was bursting with pride. It’s such a blessing to get to spend lots of time with my extended family.

This past week’s kindness challenge was to compliment a salesman to his or her manager. I went shopping at Whole Foods for the first time {after reading for months now about how amazing WF is on Robyn’s lovely blog The Real Life RD} and a very nice saleswoman helped me find coconut flour. When I told her it was my first time shopping at Whole Foods and that I’ve recently started going gluten-free, she also helpfully pointed out other gluten-free products. So I made sure to catch her name, and before I left I spoke to the manager about how wonderful she was. It took all of two minutes, and it certainly gave my day a boost!

That simple act of kindness also made me think about how often the feedback we give to others, especially in corporate or business situations, is negative. I think most of us are more likely to go through the trouble of contacting a company with a complaint or write a product review warning others not to purchase the product than we are to give compliments or positive reviews. So, the Week 36 Kindness Challenge is to fill out a feedback form with five star ratings, write a positive review of a book or product you love, or even call that “How am I driving?” phone number on the back of a semi-truck and rave about the truck driver’s wonderful driving skills. 

Here’s a related quote that my dad sent to me that I absolutely love:

“You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world’s happiness now. How? By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.” — Dale Carnegie

As always, blog about your experiences and include your links in the comments section below, or feel free to send me an email at dallaswoodburn <AT> gmail <DOT> com.

Have a fun-filled Monday!
– Dallas

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year of kindness archives:
– week 1 challenge: donate items to those in need
– week 2 challenge: leave quarters & note at laundry machine
– week 3 challenge: write & send a kind handwritten note
– week 4 challenge: give hot chocolate to someone outside in the cold
– week 5 challenge: do something kind for a neighbor
– week 6 challenge: deliver valentines to a nursing home
– week 7 challenge: donate to a food pantry
– week 8 challenge: donate toiletries to a shelter
– week 9 challenge: post a kind note in a public place
– week 10 challenge: do something kind for a child
– week 11 challenge: thank someone in a genuine & meaningful way
– week 12 challenge: deliver baked goods to a fire station
– week 13 challenge: give someone flowers
– week 14 challenge: donate books
– week 15 challenge: reach out and spend time with people
– week 16 challenge: smile at everyone you meet
– week 17 challenge: pick up litter/trash
– week 18 challenge: write a kind note to a mom figure in your life
– week 19 challenge: leave an extra-generous tip
– week 20 challenge: donate blood/join bone marrow registry
– week 21 challenge: visit a cemetery and pay respect
– week 22 challenge: practice a little patience
– week 23 challenge: call 3 loved ones on the phone
– week 24 challenge: do something kind for a senior citizen
– week 25 challenge: pay for someone’s public transportation
– week 26 challenge: volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen
– week 27 challenge: send a care package to someone in the military
– week 28 challenge: give at least one compliment every day
– week 29 challenge: do a favor for someone else
– week 30 challenge: scatter lucky pennies around a playground
– week 31 challenge: mail an empowering postcard
– week 32 challenge: plant something
– week 33 challenge: donate school supplies
– week 34 challenge: give a sandwich to a homeless person
week 35 challenge: compliment a salesperson to their manager