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When you get to a certain age, you know that you know....
Photo courtesy of Carl Miller and Shibar

Gilded Serpent presents...
Journey into
by Elizabeth Artemis Mourat

Each of us embarks on a personal evolutionary process as we develop into our womanhood. Our obligation as women is to help other women in this process. We should recognize and act on this mission daily.

I am now in my 56th year in 2008. When I was a child, we were told directly and indirectly what we were to become. Girls were not supposed to be too smart otherwise the boys would not feel superior. Women were to become mothers. If we wanted to have a career, we were to become nurses not doctors, teachers not principals, secretaries not bosses, waitresses not restaurant owners and maids not employers of maids. We diminished ourselves by the expectation that we could do one job in this collection of professions but not the other.

I vividly remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I stated emphatically that I wanted to be “Betty Boop.” My teacher patted me on the head and told me it was impossible. I did not believe her, but I said that my second choice was to be, “a gunman’s moll and lay across a piano and smoke a cigarette in a long holder and sing long, slow songs.” My teacher cleared her throat and made a note to tell my parents that I was watching too much television. I did not believe her when she said that this too was impossible. I sighed patiently and told her that my third choice was to be a “cancan dancer in a saloon Out West.” She tried to convince me that these were not “real” people and she asked; “Wouldn’t you be happier as a Mommy?” I said a polite; “No, thank you.” and flatly announced that these other people had more fun than Mommies.

School Girl Artie
The awkward stage, a funny looking half Middle Eastern girl in a neighborhood where everybody was of the same ethnic ilk and it was not mine.
Blooming Artie
Beginning to blossom

I look back at my deliberate decision to not have children and although I greatly admire and respect the path of motherhood, it was not for me. I became a “shampoo girl,” a receptionist, a waitress, a clerk, a singer, a poet, a writer, a political activist, a social worker, a therapist, a dancer and a teacher. Through dance, I have taught thousands of women to come back into their bodies. In class, I see how week after week, they stand taller and laugh louder. They stop frowning at their own reflections in the mirror and begin to smile at the reflections that return their gaze as they discover the magic of dance. They walk with more grace when they go home and I know that these happy effects will last long after they discontinue taking lessons. Through all my careers, I have sought to help people walk with more grace, peace and power. I found a different path for motherhood for myself. The women whose lives I influence, they are my dancing daughters.

In my 50th year, I caught a glance at my reflection in a mirror while I was brushing my hair after a sweet scented bath. I was struck by what I saw. I marveled at how my arms are different than a man’s arms, my skin is silky soft, my facial features delicately defined, my bones strong but compact, my shape rounder, my voice more melodic. I loved the wrinkles that smiled back at me because they indelibly and permanently linked me to my father’s eyes and my mother’s mouth. I liked what I saw. In that moment, I fell in love with my womanhood.

At a time when many of my friends had stopped feeling attractive, I saw my femininity in a new light. This decade of my life is my far.

In my teens, I acted as if I was an adult, quite unsuccessfully. I navigated those pseudo-adult waters in my leaky little boat. Those were my first swimming lessons. I talked too much and only halfway listened. Everything was shiny and new and I basked in the brilliance of recently discovered colors, flavors, sights and smells. I tried on different identities with earnest determination. I discarded the ones that did not fit, then I retrieved and hugged them to my budding young body, the way children shift their loyalties from doll to doll. I lied and pretended that I was not afraid. I misunderstood the world because I saw it in extremes. I sought logic and order: good things were supposed to happen to good people, things should be black or white not sliding through shades of gray and life was supposed to be fair. I was wrong a lot. I described my interests in terms of “loving” not “liking” and I enthusiastically “loved” almost everything. I got angry for reasons that were not clear and I acted angry when I thought I was supposed to. I burned a bra without really understanding why, but then I bought a new bra that fit better. I was clueless but chanted slogans vigorously. I confused myself by thinking too hard and I behaved in response to my insecurities. I thought people were looking at me. I went through a homely stage which was painful but educational. I blossomed out of it and was convinced that people were looking at me then too. I was generous and selfish and I loved life and snow and the smell of spring and my mother’s spaghetti. I pushed away from home with my left hand, but clung fiercely to it with my right. I straddled the two worlds of childhood and womanhood awkwardly on uncertain high heeled feet. Awkwardness is, after all, a necessary part of adolescence. It is a shame that I was not able to learn that until many years later. In my teens, I was on the brink of this journey into womanhood.

Baby Dancer in first costume
"A baby belly dancer in my first costume which was homemade"
Courtesy of Your Pictured

In my 20s, I struggled to convince people that I was knowledgeable when I was not. I was wide eyed and open and full of possibilities. I took chances because I wanted to prove to others that I was “a real woman,” brave, smart and desirable. I was extraordinarily lucky with the risks I took and somehow I not only survived, but I thrived. I wanted to be good at everything so I dabbled vigorously in too many directions. I took pride in my chosen identity as a nonconformist and went to great lengths to conform to the other nonconformists in my circle. I read voraciously and expanded my taste in food, films, literature, music, dance and the other arts. I fell in love deeply, permanently and frequently, because I was without the perspective that can only come from life experience. So, I could not yet understand the concept of permanence. I superficially explored spiritual things. I spun my wheels on a regular basis but I was learning. I was embarking on the journey into my womanhood via a zigzag path that accommodated ten directions at once.

In my 30s, I began discovering my true power but did not know the best ways to use it. Many things seemed so “heavy” and I took things hard. I was smart but I was not wise. I married for all the wrong reasons and divorced for all the right reasons. Despite these things, I became more joyful. I wanted to be worthy and to somehow prove it. I embraced higher ideals. My energy was boundless and life was rich with promise. I explored the world and learned that everything is cultural. I fell in love with history over and over again. I enjoyed my discoveries and the act of discovering was a reward in and of itself. I lived in many places. I improved upon my skills and abilities without any foreknowledge of how often these skills would come in handy later in life. I was a sponge and as I soaked up life’s experiences, I did a lot of growing up. I was in training for the woman I was to become.

Artie with hubby of 22 years!
Smooching in the backyard with my wonderful husband (who I have been with for 22 years).

In my 40s, I was on my way. I moved with proficiency and I no longer spun my wheels. I got organized and took big sweeping steps toward my goals. I fell on my face at times, but I took it in stride because by then, I already had a lot of practice with getting back up and dusting myself off. I knew that this was a necessary part of learning and it tempered my steel. I began to enjoy the fruits of my labors and I had more fun. I settled comfortably into my skin. I married for all the right reasons. I sincerely sought numerous spiritual paths and things started to make more sense in this dance of life. I lightened up and laughed more. I discovered that we each come into this world to become a certain person. In my 40s, I could see her beckoning on the horizon. Premonitions peaked through my consciousness of who she was supposed to become, how she would think and what she would do in life. I realized that all along I had been molding my clay to conform to her shape.

Decade by decade, I reinvented myself - all in service to this wondrous evolutionary process. In my 50s, I feel as if I have finally, fully arrived into my womanhood and I am loving it. So much has become clear and my priorities have shifted sharply. The things that made me cry in my 20s, that upset me in my 30s and bothered me in my 40s, well, in my 50s, I see that those things are actually, utterly unimportant. They had been unimportant all along. It is amazing how liberating this realization is because it frees up enormous amounts of energy. I look back at those troublesome things and sometimes I laugh, sometimes I give myself a hug, but rarely, rarely do I feel pain. I have learned that emotional pain should be reserved for the inescapable true traumas of life. In my fifth decade, I am smarter than I have ever been. I have lost some speed and physical dexterity, but I am still better at everything I do. I am funnier, more self assured and I love to laugh at myself. I am determined when I need to get things done, flexible when I need to let things go and assertive without guilt. I have finally discovered patience. I forgive the weakness of others more easily. I have learned to not agree to requests impulsively, passively or without thought. I have tried to take the higher road, knowing full well that it will often be the harder road.

Faith grew up inside of me and it has become my frequent friend. Faith is the heart of hope. It is the backbone of courage. Faith is a prerequisite for optimism and it is essential for my sense of well being and even for my survival. I have seen and experienced how faith guides us when we are in doubt. It spurs us on when we feel defeated. Faith drives that inner voice that whispers in the darkest moments that things are going to be alright. I trust in that inner voice which I believe is from divine sources. And those divine sources are behind the instincts that I have learned to listen to and obey without question.

I have learned many things during my journey…

I have learned that words are powerful. I now prefer to say: "I am" rather than "I am trying to", "I will" rather than "I might", "I am working on" rather than "I hope to someday" and "I want" rather than "I wish." I avoid wasting time or energy ruminating about the past. "Should haves," "could haves," and "would haves," are mostly unproductive. Regrets and guilt have a limited usefulness. They are only productive as learning tools that can teach us if we did something wrong and show us how we could have done it better. Once we have learned the lesson, we should let it go, move on and do better next time.

I have learned that people who evaluate their self-worth with their youthful appearance are doomed to spend most of their years with unhappiness.

Nobody looks young forever. Physical beauty is handy but at the young stages of life, it is inflated in its importance and most of us buy into that. The misconception that beauty is linked to worthiness is a notion that gets burned deeply into our brains. Unfortunately, many people do not grow beyond that untruth and they reserve their admiration for only those who have attractive external features. The beauty of youth is, by its very nature, a temporary thing and it is a superficial and deceptive indicator of worth. Women must cultivate more enduring personal qualities or they risk becoming shallow and uninteresting people later in life once they are inevitably deserted by youth. I learned a lot from my unattractive and awkward teenage phase. I developed compassion for others from the pain I felt. Later in life, I knew a number of exquisitely beautiful dancers and singers who were hateful human beings. So, over time, my definition of beauty shifted and it now requires only internal qualities such as depth, warmth and wit.

liberated Artie after divorce from 1st husband
This picture was taken right after I divorced my first husband who was jealous of my dancing. This was my liberation photo shoot.

I have learned that the bad things in life help us to become who we are as much as the good things. This realization puts a different spin on life lessons, doesn’t it? I am grateful for the many positive people and events in my life. I am also thankful for my challenges and tribulations...and even for my mistakes. It is the difficult things that teach us about our strengths. Many of my life’s challenges have turned out to be gifts because my appreciation for what I have has been enhanced and I have learned how to improve my life with new ways of doing things. It may seem ironic but it is the hard things and also our mistakes that offer the best opportunities for growth. I liken this process to pruning a tree (nature gives us the best metaphors, don’t you think?). When we prune a tree, we clear away the old material that is no longer useful and we steer the growth into a better direction. We do this all the time when we learn from our mistakes. Through that process, the mistakes are the catalysts for change so they are instrumental in helping us to shed old ways of thinking and behaving. Since we will inevitably make mistakes on this journey, forgiveness of self is necessary, fair and right. I will continue the process of pruning my tree forever.

I have learned that the body and the mind are inextricably linked and if we do not take care of our bodies, we will have no place to live. We must continue to be physically and mentally stimulated and open to new ways of doing things. I have recognized that stress is as real as a hammer that we often hold in our own hands. Learning how to put the hammer down is a skill well-worth developing because stress can cause very real physical and emotional illnesses. And stress can knock you down as sure as any hammer.

I have learned that there is something to learn from everyone but it is important to be selective about who we spend our precious personal time with.

People will always be drawn to the light that they see in others. I prefer the company of people who “do” rather than people who only talk about doing. I prefer the company of people who give rather than take. I recognize that there is a mutual attraction between “doers” and “talkers.” There is also an overwhelming reciprocal magnetism between “givers” and “takers.” Beware of those who only talk and those who only take. The “talkers” and the “takers” can deplete our energy, absorb our strength and devour our time if we permit it. They can steer us away from our paths and they can even make us become more like them if we allow it. They can steal our joy and destroy our dreams if we let them. They will inevitably be in our lives because they are plentiful but we must learn to maintain healthy boundaries. This is not easy since we are socialized from childhood to take care of others. But this is necessary if we are to continue growing while on our journey.

I have learned to seek the counsel and companionship of wise women. They inspire me by example, encourage me when I have doubts and strengthen me when I feel weak. Wise women are mostly brave. They readily admit if they do not know something and if they make mistakes, they say so. They know when to speak and when to refrain from speaking. Wise women avoid sulkers, temperamental people and those who enjoy anger. Wise women do not give their power away and they do not allow anything or anyone to diminish them...not the jealous boyfriend, the overly critical parent or the one who tells us that we can't succeed when we can, not religious beliefs that fill our hearts with fear, not the competitor who we thought was a friend, not guilt, not fear, not emotional pain, not anger and not lack of love. Wise women learn to let go of the things that they cannot fix or control or improve. Wise women love to laugh and they have an inner peace.

I have learned to embrace the wisdom of elders and I cherish their every word. I believe in telling my loved ones that I love them. I tell them often and I describe in many details why I appreciate them and how they have enriched my life. Each day is a gift. People cross over and we must love them mightily while they are here.

I am still a “work in progress” and I will be until and through and beyond my last breath. I’ve got several decades left and I can’t wait to see what develops. I would not trade places with a 20 year old for anything in the world.

Greek granparents from Turkey
These are my grandparents who are Greeks from Turkey. Family was everything to them.I thought everybody had a set of grandparents who did not speak English.

But how much easier this journey could have been if I knew a fraction of what I know now...that, you see, is where our mission comes in – yours and mine. We are here to generously share our wisdom with younger women and also with those who are within and beyond our own stages of life. As others journey from decade to decade, we can enhance and facilitate their individual evolutionary process. We can spare them some heartache, shore them up, inspire hope and help them prepare for the things that will inevitably come. If we take that extra moment to be kind and encouraging on a daily basis, there will be a ripple effect that touches many lives in deep, meaningful and permanent ways. Courage and confidence are contagious. We can each in our own way, through our own gifts share our wisdom.

Knowledge is powerful but wisdom does not hit us like a thunderbolt. Wisdom requires readiness but it must be earned through the following things: a never ending and enthusiastic interest in life, a gentle but determined diligence, a hefty dose of hard work, an ever curious mind, an ability to reflect with honesty and time for all of this to marinate.

Our mission, as women, is to encourage others to joyfully anticipate all the decades of their lives. Those who have gone before us have always and will always help us on our paths.

But we must be even more demonstrative and generous in our attempts to illuminate the paths for others. This is an honorable and necessary moral obligation. There are many people within the spheres that we influence. So we can make positive and far reaching changes on an individual level as well as on a collective level. We can find our dancing daughters everywhere and we can be vehicles for change. We do this by our words and actions and career choices, but also by our compassion and mostly by how we live our daily lives. So, when our dancing daughters come to us while on their journey, if they say they want to be like Betty Boop, we can smile and say; “Wow! How cool! How can I help?”

My birthday present to myself when I turned 50.
I am posing with my beloved "Nickta."
Photo courtesy of Mike McGowan

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If life doesn’t get any better than this, then, it’s okay with me! I feel so fortunate. I know so many dancers that are more talented than I; yet, here I am! When my time is over, I will bow out gracefully. I am thankful from the bottom of my heart.

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My frustration rose when the television news commentators expressed their puzzlement over the significance of the “shoe slapping antics”as they attempted to interpret them for western viewers. If they had had any inkling of the enormity of the hatred the insult indicated, they would not have made the silly comments that they made that day!

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