“Breathe deeply,” our instructor sang soothingly as our acting class lay on the floor. Apparently, this was the first step to finding our voice. We envisioned being connected to the ground, expanding our joints, and becoming weightless. So far, so good. I imagined inaudible indie melody floating through us.
“Let your stomach expand with your diaphragm.
Without warning, my reflexes seemed to shout, “No!” and the indie tune evaporated. My body was shocked out of its tranquil state, as if to prepare for battle.
To let my stomach expand was to breathe deeply. I wasn’t used to that. To try to correct my body’s most basic function seemed impossible, if not crazy. If I breathed deeply, my stomach would look huge, which was simply not an option.
“Let your breath expand everything inside you. It’s okay to take up space.”
Once more, my body revolted at her words; this time, through tears. My eyes shot open as a parade of rebel tears marched down my face.
Take up space? I’d never thought about it that way. I let the concept wash over me. It became like drowning. Just as breathing deeply is the opposite of the mechanics behind my very existence, taking up space is equally as foreign.
I hate taking up space. I hate to be in the way. I hate to make trouble or cause someone any extra effort. I wish to exist as a blessing, a gift; something small and easy that doesn’t demand attention.
As other classmates began breathing deeply, a barrage of images flashed through my mind. First, my tiny suitcase: the one that saw me on two European adventures; a shoot in NYC on which I was asked to bring eight outfits to wear in scenes with Sally Field; and also lovingly held my no-nonsense “power apparel” I wore to pitch my book proposal to literary agents. Why on earth do I take such strange pride in being able to travel lightly, in the smallest possible bag with as few extraneous pieces as possible? I don’t want to seem high maintenance, or too much.
The next image flashed to rehearsal the day before— my very first day at with a company I’ve dreamed of working with. I saw myself crouched in the corner closest to the door, as if to say, “I’m not intruding, and I won’t be here beyond when I’m needed.” My shoulders rounded, my feet pulled in tightly as to not hinder anyone passing by. I’m not too much. I won’t get in the way, slow you down, or draw too much attention. I want them to think.
These images charged me to take inventory. Trying not to take up space is a characteristic interwoven in the deepest threads of who I am.
Even my voice is affected as I meet new people. Instead of speaking in rich resonance, I tighten my vocal chords to avoid sounding intimidating. I want people to know that I’m not a threat, that I won’t cause them opposition.
I always park as far away from my destination as possible to leave others parking spots so I won’t cause them extra trouble.
I have my money ready at the grocery store to keep the checker from waiting on me.
Take up space? No. I want to take up as little space as possible. I want to be small and out of everyone’s way.
As if reading my thoughts, my teacher went on:
“You don’t need to apologize for the wholeness of the body that carries you through this life. Your body is your instrument. Just as a cello’s shape dictates the sounds it makes, so your body is designed for the sound you were created to give.”
My body is shaped for the obstacles it will face. My height and my heart and my hands are not a hindrance. They are the architecture for the sound waves I’ll create on this planet.
To make those sound waves, I must take up space. I must allow deep breath to expand my body as far as it will go to fill it with life, with inspiration, with the power it needs to move forward.
Although fear and shame scheme to make me long for invisibility, Truth demands that I must take up space and make sound. That my words and stories are worth hearing. That the richness and resonance I’ve been hiding within belongs within the world, as a gift to those around me.
The space we take up is ours, waiting for us to inhabit it. Our bodies are our instruments.
Our class slowly rolled back to a standing position. In a circle, reflected by the mirrors framing the room, we each were asked to say “hello,” tapping into the deep echoes we discovered in the exercise.
“Hello,” I breathed. Hello, indeed. Hello to a new season of taking up the space that was reserved for me.