“Oh God it’s bloody milonga. What shall I do?”
I identified my suitor.
“Sal, I think it’s high time you laid that ghost to rest,” she said.
It was a good humoured but long overdue shove.
I looked back at my guy. Yep he was waiting. I smiled. He inclined his head. I nodded. He stood up. I took my glasses off and waited for him to reach my table.
Because I knew him, I threw in the disclaimer before the embrace,
“Look, I’m not too confident with milonga. Please look after me.”
He chuckled as if I was quite ridiculous and replied,
“Just relax. You can dance. You’ll be fine.”
I was. I loved it.
How fragile is the mind. I can ride high for days and sometimes weeks convinced I can conquer the world, then one tiny thought from me or one word from someone else and I’m teetering on the edge of the slide into knowing with absolute certainty that I can do nothing at all. This ghost in my particular machine is not easy to control: despite my best efforts, it still has the capacity to override my most carefully constructed logic circuits, balanced trains of thought and even the truth.
So back to that milonga tanda. A few months ago in the same place I was sitting with my friends at the end of an afternoon of dancing, mineral water and chat, when a man approached the table and said to me,
“Do you dance milonga?”
I was high on blissful tangos and the company of people who believe in me, and so, as I can do when I’m flying, I broke one of my many Buenos Aires tango rules – don’t accept a verbal ask unless you know the guy or he is Pablo Veron – and said, “Yes.”
We got onto the floor. It was almost empty. We embraced. I felt his lead and I moved. He stopped. Five beats into the music he stopped. He broke the embrace and said,
“I thought you said you danced milonga.”
And I mumbled, exactly like I might have done the first week I arrived here,
and he marched me back to my seat.
The milongueros on the left stared. My friends mouths were full of ‘Que paso?’ and ‘What the…?’. I wanted to run through the dark red curtain and jump off the balcony. Instead, I told the tale. My mate from New York promised that if he ever turns up there he will be shunned. Much laughter followed including mine. Yet, after that delightful experience, whenever the milonga tanda played, I avoided eyes, ignored invitations even from men I dance with regularly, built mountains in my head; no-one but Carlos could persuade me out of my seat. I am all too familiar with the saying, ‘Get back on the horse’; but hell, I couldn’t do it. Until last week. Finally I’d had enough of paralysis.
My ghost in the machine is my Inner Critic, The Voice of Doom, and it goes like this:
Hey you Sallycat, what do you think you’re doing? Making mistakes again. Serves you bloody right for saying you danced milonga. Got too big for your boots there eh? And why didn’t you stand up for yourself? Cat got your tongue? See, even you know you can’t dance milonga. Get back on your seat and stay there, NOW!
Oh how I begin to admire my Voice of Doom: in its own twisted way it tries to protect me and keep me safe. I know because it screams loudest whenever I try start a new venture, or when I’m not very confident about a skill, or when I think of taking a risk. It wants to stop me from failing and the surest way is to prevent me trying in the first place, or to get me to do a U-turn back to relative safety, or to bring me to a grinding halt. It tried to send me back to England once. I wrote about it here one year ago. The silver lining of that turn of events was, in part because of the comments I received on this blog, I began to listen to the voice and instead of trying to drown it out, I said, ‘Hi. I hear you. Don’t shout so loud. I know you’re there,’ and the voice fell to a whisper and spoke less often. Still present though, and currently residing in my head.
In October I met my Inner Artist who’s maybe my Inner Child. I wrote about it here. She’s called Barbie. She wants to dance milonga with Flaco Dany for a laugh, blow $20pesos on the biggest licuado Buenos Aires can serve up, make sure every tango tourist leaves Argentina happy, belly dance on Corrientes while singing Dancing Queen into a deodorant can, inspire a million people to follow their hearts, and touch C’s silver hair every day until she dies dancing tango in his arms. She shouts at me too, but hers is a voice that never considers my safety, only my joy, and it goes like this:
Hey Sallycat! I’ve got this great idea. Why don’t we write a book to make sure every tango tourist leaves Buenos Aires happy/inspire a million people/oh heck the subject doesn’t matter. Let’s just start. I’ll help you. We can do it. No problem. You’ve written a few blog posts, so you can write anything you want right? Let’s get started NOW! Go. Go. Go!
She tells me I can dance, love and sing too. And even though that last one’s stretching it a bit, I believe her at the time. She’s the ideas girl. She doesn’t care how impossible the task may eventually turn out to be. Hers is the song of passion and creation, and she lives in my heart.
Then there’s me. Sallycat. The woman who does. It’s me who holds the pen, selects the dance partner, talks about her dreams, asks people to read her writing, buys the flights, decides to live in Argentina, chooses the next step on the journey. It’s also me who feels: excited, crushed, excited, crushed, excitedcrushedexcitedcrushed… exhilarated, exhausted.
So who the hell is in the driving seat?
From the day I met Barbie in my morning pages, I thought it was her behind the wheel. Just go for it Sallycat. What’ve you got to lose? Must be Barbie, the voice of encouragement every time. I always assumed that the Voice of Doom waited for the first crack in confidence after the act had begun. I’ve changed my mind. I think that whoever is behind the Voice of Doom – still has no name, though I’m afraid it’s male – is far cleverer than that. Not only do doubts or criticism trigger him into shout mode, but also the Barbie fuelled highs. He sees me purring and he’s right there convincing me to dance milonga with some creep, because he knows it will engineer the very doubts on which he loves to feed. It is he too who persuades me to share ideas or work in the early stages of creation with well meaning critics because he knows that babies are easily crushed, not by the critics themselves, but by him and me afterwards on the back of their perfectly reasonable reactions. I imagine that he laughs his head off as I set out enthusiastically to the writers’ group with my virgin ‘about to be read aloud for the first time’ pages in my flowery pink bag. Afterwards he pounces, and can murder Barbie’s original idea and the writing that flowed through my pen by the time the bus from Callao hits Las Heras. In the process he beats me up too. And poor Carlos gets to pick up the pieces of the three of us from the floor. It’s bloody.
Here we are in all our glory:
The Voice of Doom: big, strong, as old as me and possibly fighting for his life. Managed to lock Barbie in the cellar when I was fifteen, her release dependent on me listening to my heart and following it (something he thought would never happen). Speaks English and the lingo of nightmares which does include the word ‘peso’ as well as ‘dollar’ and ‘pound’.
Barbie: innocent, playful and rebellious. Managed to yell the word ‘tango’ from the cellar in 2006, loud enough for me to hear it in Mongolia, thus ensuring her freedom and that she would meet me again one day. Speaks Spanglish, creating words like ‘impresivo’ (ignoring the real thing, ‘impresionante’ ) at every possible opportunity.
Sallycat: learning. Now sees that The VOD (ah he has a name after all -very enemy of the Timelords, and in a strange twist it rhymes with God) wants Barbie back in the cellar and possibly Sallycat too. After all it’s very safe down there. Finally sees the need to avoid the trigger situations loved by The VOD as well as find ways to deal with him more effectively.
Progress? Madness? No, it’s definitely progress.
Thing is I’ve loved writing this post, which turned out to be rather longer and on a completely different subject than I originally intended. Sorry if it confused you. Thanks for listening. It sorted a few things out in my head and it made me smile.
From milonga between the columns of La Confiteria Ideal, Buenos Aires, to the Land of VOD… Mmmmm, not sure Me and Barbie will be able to sleep tonight. Better get Carlos to knock us up a midnight feast.
And the finger to you VOD. From us both.
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