What I would give now, this very minute, for a cookie, a cupcake, and a big, red shiny bag of Chippy. All three of them, all at once, now. The fact that I can’t have them makes me want them even more. See, I’ve given all those up for Lent as a sacrifice, alongside meat, but when the going gets tough I start craving them. Madly. These lovelies, sublime and beautifully delicious and comforting as they always are, tide me through tangibly on the bad days. As I write this, I am at the tail-end of something like that: a rough, bumpy Monday at work; nothing major, just many little things that individually should not really matter but, together in a batch, really irritate and have the power to make me want to pull my hair out and roll my eyes all the way to the back of my head (if that were even remotely possible) and sigh in surrender, my spirits feeling as heavy as my shoulders. It’s that kind of rough day. This will pass.
That mouthful let out, I do love my job. I am blessed to be given the chance to do the very things that make me feel alive, and when the bumpy moments do come (and they will, they really do, annoyingly when you least expect them to at that) I make a conscious effort to remind myself how lucky I still am to be where I am, in an environment that allows me to grow and learn and laugh a lot while doing just that, even with all the requisite irritants factored in. I mean, really now, what job does not have its quota of bad days? Who does not get tired? We all do. Even the dreamiest of jobs are not without a fair share of those. So times like these when I cannot have my cupcake, my cookie and my Chippy I ask myself, does my job give me moments of happiness? I do not have to think long and deep about that. A definite “yes” bubbles up the surface very quickly. Yes, there are many, many moments of happiness to be had. I laugh the most Mondays and Tuesdays on the Sweet Life set, more off-cam than on-cam, the kind of laugh that starts solidly in the belly and escapes the lips in giggles and guffaws that make you all but collapse, with tears spilling from your eyes in mirth. I work with a lot of crazy people, my co-host Wilma Doesnt leading the pack like a queen, and along a regular day’s journey I meet a lot of characters that inspire, who make me smile, and even manage to bring out the best in me. In itself, that is a blessing.
As soon as I enter the studio that is the door, figuratively, to the heavy Monday and Tuesday workdays I see Snowhite, the resident makeup artist who is a dispenser of laughs. Her station is right outside the door of our dressing and makeup room so even if we do not see her we pretty much hear what is going on in her slice of the workday. I always like to take my cue from him/her. Snowhite, as we have known her forever and ever, is actually Renato in real life: once upon a time a registered nurse but now a makeup artist. She makes up face after face after face after face on any given day but you never see her with shoulders slumped. On the contrary she has a very refined air about her, shoulders back and head held high, shirt always neat and tucked in. She is almost regal, but in a very comical way. She is almost always the first person I see when I arrive and as it is in any production she makes the most and the best of what is available. Take her table, for example: it is rough and makeshift and is little more really than just slabs of old, roughly cut, un-sanded wood that has been nailed together in a rickety way and called a table. That does not faze Snowhite one bit. I see her, at the start of the workday, pulling our shawls and scarves and random scraps of tela scoured from the art department and using these to cover the ugly table she is assigned. She arranges her makeup box and brushes neatly along the surface and before long she has a makeshift space that although far from sleek and polished is pretty in a shabby chic kind of way and more than just a little bit presentable. If there are extra flowers from the set, she uses them, too. Anything to make the space prettier. Snowhite and the ever-evolving look of her makeup table makes me smile, even early in the morning at that time when I would rather still be sleeping than doing anything. Thank you, Snowhite, I think of you and your makeup table when the day is far from easy.
Shall We Dance over at TV5 is an altogether different space for me; over there it’s a lot of joy, like being in a happy playground with many happy kids. Almost five years ago I was in a lunch meeting in Café Ysabel for a dance show called Shall We Dance, which I eventually signed up to do for a season. It was one of those things you do not analyze too much and you pretty much just take it at face value, for what it represented at that very moment. At that time it seemed very much like a fun thing to do, like games that blow through your childhood, something I could see myself telling my children about one day— you know, one of those fun things Mommy did on a whim and on the wings of a dream kind of thing. I was not exactly a dancer back then (not that I am one now) but I loved to dance, especially when no one was watching. I was also far from being a host, shy as I was (still am, although I have gotten used to it) although I have had found myself in a handful of situations doing just that in the immediate past. I did not think much about it really, when the job was offered to me, I just took it because it somehow felt right for the heart. I guess it helped a lot that the folks we met with, Perci and Marj, were pleasant and easy with a sensibility about them you instinctively knew you could trust. And so that was it.
On a November night, moons ago, I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, grinning like an idiot. A very happy idiot. I was tired, exhausted actually, but I was very happy. I had just gotten home from my first day of work as host of Shall We Dance, and it being a new show and all we had groped and stammered our way through the work day. It felt like birth pains, I was far from being surefooted as a deer, and “confident” was a word I still had to make friends with. But boy, was I just joyful. And expectant of all things joyful. I remember the feeling so well. And if that was a portent of things to come then that early I already knew I was in a very good place.
I had just danced on TV, the same girl who her whole school life shied away from plays and performances and class presentations, and I was almost breathless with relief. I did it, and came out of it in one piece, still breathing, feeling even more alive than I already was. I had taken the first step at conquering a fear; the fear of being in front of a crowd (no matter how small that crowd was in the studio), and alongside that the fear of having to dance, too, and talk in front of that same crowd. I was empowered, to say the very least, not because I performed the dance of my life, lived out a secret dream (it was not, never was) but because like a bad heartache the very thing that frightened me also had the power to exhilarate me and yes, let me say it again, make me feel alive. It is like walking on hot coals and then dipping your foot straight in a basin of cool water (not that I’ve tried that or that I want to). Or falling backwards from a high step and just believing that someone will make good on his promise to catch you. There is that moment when your heart feels like it has left you, like it ran away from you, and then right when you feel you almost can’t survive the suspense your heart jumps back inside of you, just in the nick of time. And then you laugh very nervously, eyes wide with excitement and fear and relief and you want to giggle and cry without really knowing why. That’s the thing with me in Shall We Dance, whenever I have to perform and dance. Even after all these years, I have not gotten used to it. Backstage in my first pose, just as they are announcing my name and introducing my dance number, I scold and chide myself: Why do I do this to me, why do I allow myself to go through all the anxiety and nervousness? I still do not know exactly why. Maybe, just maybe, and I am guessing here, because there is that part of me that acknowledges that the more I face my fears the more I find freedom. And in the first minute of that three-minute dance there is that point when you just throw caution to the wind and tell yourself to just have the most fun you can have, come what may; and besides, when will you do it, when you are 85 and all wrinkled like a prune and struck with arthritis? My heart knew, long before my brain caught on, that — fear and jelly knees and the beginnings of vomit all factored in — I would do it all over again. In a heartbeat. And maybe one day I can really dance as if no one is watching.
I am blessed because, although my work is real, many times it can also feel like an escape. Many times, it is that.
So I say this still is a very good place to be. Even on a rough day, and without cookies, a cupcake and Chippy to tide me easily through.