Monday, August 10, 2015

I Am Not My Hoop


Hoop love for-EVAH!
As an undergraduate, I wrote a paper on happiness. Hobbies, I proposed, are pathways to joy because they allow us to claim creative space for ourselves amid the bustle of modern life. The essay highlighted my experiences as a woman who dances with hoops and strings beads onto knotted twine. Since I posted it on-line some 5 years ago, it has remained one of my most popular ramblings. Yet it is not the essay I initially set out to write. In fact, it is the result of a professor handing back my initial outline with the declaration, “This is not a paper about happiness. It is a paper about hooping.”

Unaccustomed to criticism, much less calls for revision, I argued, “But it is about happiness. Hooping makes me happy.” We sparred back and forth, but she did not relent. I left the office, unconvinced, but followed her advice because I was a wise enough (or an A-hungry enough) student to follow her advice.

Now, however, I see the clarity of that professor’s distinction.

Because happiness is not a thing. I am not my hoop.

The first statement seems obvious. Yes, I understand that material objects do not create happiness. In fact, material objects often obscure our pursuit of contentment and joy. That is such a rote response to materialism that it functions as a platitude that often blinds us to the complex intersection of having, doing, and being.

In that intersection, hooping became a cornerstone of my identity. I made hoops. I made friends with hoopers. I taught my friends to hoop. I carried vast stacks of hoops into public spaces where they seemed to make other happy. I displayed my virtuosity in public spaces where compliments, questions, and applause made me feel talented, beautiful, important, and happy. Hooping taught me to dance. Hooping increased my confidence. I learned to hold space and strike up conversations with strangers. I blogged about hooping. I presented a paper at a prestigious academic conference about hoop dance and feminism.
Who the hell do I want to be?

Yet I also found a new job. I started working on my master’s degree. I busied myself with other projects rather than building my ‘hooping empire.’ Another local hooper began selling hoops and organizing events while I reeled between relief (I’m too busy for this, I’m glad someone is carrying the torch) and jealousy (How dare this girl spam my community page with links to her shop? Why doesn’t she collaborate with me first--I’m important!) My hooping gear aged and wore out so that I found myself in a new festival season without an LED hoop or a fire hoop.

Then I realized that without those things, those tricky oh-so-material things, I wasn’t quite sure who to be. On the dance floor, I danced with the same joy, but I was one body among many. I was no longer a singular marvel. I was no longer the girl who didn’t mind sharing her LED hoops with others; I was the girl subtly (or not so subtly) rebuked for asking to borrow someone else’s hoops. [Stop by later for a rant on smart hoops, status, and dancing at night]  On one hand, I felt liberated because I've been wrangling with the suspicious that I had "become my hoops" for a while. Yet on the other hand, I felt like less of a participant, more anonymous without a circle to empower and define me.

This summer, I sought to reconnect with myself outside the hectic academic life that dominates ¾ of the year. I vowed to myself, “I am not my to-do list” and wondered who I could be outside of due-dates and dead-lines. I assumed that hooping would again emerge as a primary current in my life, but it did not. Rather I fell in love with table top role playing games and the company of my tribe. While my tribe contains many hoopers and we often spin together, my focus has shifted.

I’m ok with that…I think. In this particular hindsight, I’m honestly more comfortable writing “I am not my hoop” than “I am not my to-do list.” In my quest to define myself outside both material objects and obligations, I’ve found that just being isn’t what makes me happy. I have yet to strike that balance between being and being lazy.

While I still believe that hobbies like hooping create space for moments of authenticity, growth, and bliss, I also see how initially open space solidifies over time, how play becomes work, and possibility drifts toward obligation. With this awareness in mind, I refuse to lecture myself on the importance of hooping through plateaus or vow to reconnect with my hooping practice. Rather, I acknowledge that there is no stable self. I have called myself a hooper for a long time, but I’ve worn countless other labels too. They shift and blur into one another because identity is weird and ever-changing.

I am not my hoop.

Thursday, February 19, 2015