woo! Finally getting paid on the sorta regular! I can buy a
house car nice bike umm. Groceries and a coffee? #firstworlddancerproblems
Category Archives: life
This morning, perhaps due to the time change but perhaps also due to the fact that we’re all up to our eyeballs in alligators right now, the struggle was really, really real.
Barre was … well, meh about sums it up. It wasn’t the worst I’ve ever done, but I also wasn’t entirely awake, and my legs felt like they weighed about 48 kilos each.
Center tendus were … ugh. More like tendon’ts. I got through the first version without too much awfulness, but when we ran the reverse I kept changing the facing of my hips when I shouldn’t have and, as a result, winding up on the wrong leg, and then having to do this tendu-failli-tendu thing, and then sometimes I’d have faillied the wrong leg somehow and I’d still be wrong, and I’d just go, “Feck it,” and coupé over in whatever way would get me to the right place ’cause ain’t nobody got time for dat.
Adagio was at least back to meh, instead of actively WTF-worthy. When I’m “on,” adagio feels fairly effortless. When I’m off, I adage like a spatially-challenged stork with some kind of substance-use disorder. I still get through it, but it’s … um.
So basically I made it through the adage at a more-or-less acceptable level while lamenting Thursday’s effortless extensions and wondering why my legs continued to experience enhanced gravity, whether last night’s sleeping pill would ever wear off, and exactly how much postnasal drainage could actually dump itself down my throat before something horrible happened (the answer: a lot, apparently, as nothing particularly horrible happened during the remainder of class, regardless of the constant stream of sinus goop working its way down the back of my throat).
Going across the floor, things finally began to improve. First off, the talking-to L’Ancien gave all of us about using our weight and our plié shook free of the cobwebs (I think it probably happened while we were doing 6th port de bras in the adage) and rolled into play, and some very, very nice turns resulted (though there was that one triple with way too much force … sometimes I get excited about turns and forget that you don’t need to use all the grand allegro booster rockets).
Second off, I realized that we were all struggling along together.
To whit: uur first turns combination was exceedingly simple—tombé-pas de bourrée to 4th-en dehors-repeat-repeat-rotation-en dedans, then straight into the second side—and did exactly what we all expected it to do so nobody had to think.
Our waltz, on the other hand, was simple but remixed familiar elements in a new way.
We’re all good friends with balancé-balancé-waltz turn-waltz turn-tombé-pas de bourrée and then whatever.
This time, JMH gave us:
balancé-balancé-waltz turn-waltz turn–CHAÎNÉ-CHAÎNÉ-CHAÎNÉ (petit developpé)-tombé pas de bourrée to fourth-en dehors-tombé back-en dedans (dancer’s choice: I did attitude turn en dedans because it’s in our Showcase piece; finished to arabesque allongé).
We all had to mentally yell at ourselves to keep from going balancé-balancé-waltz turn-waltz turn-tombé-pas de bourrée… I suspect that must’ve been pretty funny to watch. There was much visible gnashing of teeth, though we mostly kept the wailing on the inside.
Still, the waltz overall managed, amidst great struggle, to somehow turn out quite nicely. Against all odds, the repeat was rather lovely.
By the time we got to little jumps, my brain was beginning to light up, and the major mistake I kept making was adding extra jumps—in one combination, I kept adding extra changements when the prescribed step was a simple sussous balance. WTF.
I actually yelled at myself about this out loud at one point. Specifically, I said, “Why am I punishing myself?!” as I failed, yet again, to prevent myself from putting in extra changements. Jeez. On the other hand, they were quite decent jumps, so there’s that.
Moreover, my petit assemblé has stopped being a disaster area (my legs actually assemble in the air like they’re supposed to, you guys!), and I finally seem to have programmed that weird coupé-coupé weight shift into my brain somewhere along the way. We finished with jeté-temps levée-coupé coupé-brush jeté, and it was just … there. Like magic.
Anyway, today’s Theater Week Prep Day, during which I will Make All The Food and Clean All The Catbox and Wash All The Dishes and Finish The Stray Laundries and basically prepare for the fact that for the next six days I am unlikely to accomplish anything other than dancing.
The primary goal, really, is to make enough food in advance that I won’t have to really cook until a week from today: instead, I’ll just be able to throw things in to reheat as needed. Obviously, things like scooping the catbox that can be done quickly will still happen. Just not a lot of cooking, because I am unlikely to feel like cooking, but extremely likely to feel like eating, when I get home after rehearsals.
So that’s it for now. My legs feel like blocks of lead, and I plan to soak them in epsom salt solution for as long as my conscience permits later on. If the cat ever deigns to return the use of my left arm to me, anyway.
Yesterday, D and I met up with some of my ballet girls at a showing of the Norwegian documentary Ballet Boys, which follows three teenage dancers at a critical period in their training—the point at which they’re deciding whether to continue training and possibly to pursue careers as dancers.
One of the three is absolutely all-in. The other two aren’t as certain. One of them mentions the reality that one faces as a dancer in training: that there’s no time for a typical adolescent social life. He walks away, briefly, from dance—but he literally can’t stop dancing, and ultimately he returns.
I was reminded of a conversation I had not long ago with my friend RH: I said something about how working in dance involves a lot of sacrifice, but it’s willing sacrifice, joyfully given. He said something to the effect that he didn’t see how sacrifice came into it.
For a second, I honestly felt kind of angry. I almost responded with anger.
Then I realized that my anger was the knee-jerk response that dancers evolve as a defense against the fact that people who don’t dance haven’t the faintest hint of a clue about how hard it is; how much it demands. They often seem to legitimately believe that we spend all our time riding unicorns and eating cotton candy and swimming in the fountains of money we get paid for it, when in fact our lives are more akin to monastic vocations—we work grindingly hard, often for peanuts, because we’re called to the Work.
And then I realized that, okay, from his perspective, the commitment and sacrifice required probably aren’t visible, let alone obvious.
RH doesn’t dance, but he knows that I love dancing. He knows that dancing makes me unbelievably happy.
He works in technology, and he loves tech—but he doesn’t love his work in the all-consuming way that I love dancing. The work that he does in the tech sector isn’t the work he’d choose to do if money was no object, and it doesn’t always really work for him. Dancing is absolutely the work I would choose to do if money was no object, and it works for me in a way that nothing else ever has.
Perhaps a bit ironically, I’m working in dance in part because, at the moment, money is an object: to dance at the level I want to, I need to make dance pay for itself. But it’s still what I’d be doing if we suddenly received a windfall that would set us up for life.
That doesn’t, however, mean there’s no sacrifice involved.
Every now and then, someone will say to me, “I wish I could do what you’re doing.”
I try to listen and respond with kindness; with an openness to the nuances of meaning that underpin what they’re saying. I try to factor in things like financial challenges and family commitments (kids change everything).
But what I want to say, most of the time, is this: You could.
Part of what people are saying, when they say that, is this: I wish I was talented enough.
Sometimes, the people saying it are more talented than I am. They may not have as much training, but in terms of raw aptitude, they have the goods. They just need the training to use their aptitude.
I have pretty strong aptitude for dance, don’t get me wrong—but talent isn’t really the deciding factor.
Sometimes they mean, “I wish I’d danced as a kid.” There’s an assumption that it’s essential to start before your bones stop growing—especially in ballet.
Early training does exert some influence—but it’s not the deciding factor, either. My bones are constructed in a way that allows for 180-degree turnout; my feet were definitely shaped by my early training. But there are much, much better dancers than I—professionals at major companies with a lifetime of training and still have less turnout and mediocre feet; but also late-starters without great turnout or awesome feet who have gone on to forge careers out of nothing.
Early training isn’t the deciding factor, either.
The deciding factor, at the end of the day, is sacrifice.
So what, then, do I sacrifice to work in dance?
First and foremost, time.
To work in dance, you have to dance. Dancing eats up oceans of time.
It’s not like training to race bikes as a serious amateur. That you can do around a life that allows some time for other pursuits. You work to develop fitness and riding skills and racing know-how—but a lot it you can do (and ultimately do do) alone, in the interstitial hours around the job that pays for the bike and the racing license and the entry fees.
Dancing requires technique, fitness, and artistry. All of these things, in turn, require a time-commitment that will eat your life. You can potentially fit your training in around another job (and make no mistake, your training is a job), but in so doing you must acknowledge the fact that you will literally have time for nothing else.
I don’t race bikes anymore. I barely ride anymore. I don’t play video games that can’t be squeezed into a few minutes here or there. I’m never up to date on TV shows. I rarely manage to swing a night out, and when I do, it’s almost always with other dancers from the class or rehearsal that ends right before said night out.
I schedule my “life” around dancing. Even my occasional bouts of paid non-dance work are subject to the demands of class and rehearsal schedules. I give up weeks of the summer, when sane people are enjoying cookouts or canoeing, to sweat my ass off with other dancers in the interest of professional development (but also because I love dancing more than anything else).
I rarely manage to snag an evening alone with my husband. Fortunately, he’s okay with that. We make the most of whatever time we can grab.
If he wasn’t okay with that? To be honest, I’d still choose dance.
My time belongs to dance, and it will for the foreseeable future.
As a function of time, I’m also sacrificing money. I could land a job tomorrow that would pay thirty times or more the amount I made as a dancer last year. It might even allow me time to dance as a hobby. It would, in one fell swoop, make us very secure, financially-speaking.
It would also mean giving up the career, such as it is, that I’m building now.
Dance is a demanding muse.
I have back-burnered every other interest except circus arts, and circus arts make the cut only insofar as they allow me to function within them as a dancer and don’t interfere with actually dancing.
I still write, but I do my writing in shreds of time snatched at the ends and beginnings of my days. I often fall asleep while writing in bed.
I know it’ll take me longer to finish the projects I’m working on, but I don’t care.
These are a handful of the things that I’ve cast into the fire in the name of dance.
I don’t mind. They’re joyfully given. I would do all of it again in a heartbeat. If you forced me to live my life over, I’d even do it sooner.
But a sacrifice is a sacrifice, willing or not. That’s the one and only thing that separates me from my friends who would like to do what I’m doing.
- Except the ones who have kids. Denis is a consenting adult who can walk away if he gets sick of playing second fiddle to a career that pays poverty wages. When you have kids, you’re responsible for them in ways that force you to make different decisions. It can be impossible to do what I’m doing and keep the kids fed and housed. In short, kids change everything.
Sometimes, the same people who say they wish they could do what I’m doing are the ones who skip class to just chill, or who opt not to take rep class because it would conflict with game night, or what have you.
I restrain myself from saying, “You could do what I’m doing if you chose dance over everything else.”
Most of the time, I don’t say it.
I recognize that I wouldn’t have understood, back before I started dancing again and realized, finally, that dancing was the only thing I had ever really wanted to do. Either you step into the studio one day and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you would and will shove everything else off the table to keep dancing, or you don’t.
Both ways of being are valid, good, and necessary—but only one usually leads to working in dance.
As humans, we are great at wanting to want things.
I want to want to paint more often.
I just actually want to dance.
As dancers, we face the generally unconsidered, usually unspoken, and often unconscious assumption that a sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice if you do it to achieve something that gives you joy; that helps you to be a whole.
And yet we recognize the sacrifices of medical students, many of whom pursue their calling for exactly same reason that dancers pursue dance.
As dancers, our calling places tremendous strictures on our time and finances; on our relationships and our personal lives. Just because we’re making art, rather than medicine, that doesn’t make our sacrifice less worthwhile.
Doctors, when they’re skilful and lucky, save lives by cracking open chests to work on hearts.
Dancers, when we’re skilful and lucky, save lives by cracking open hearts.
Sometimes, those lives are our own. Sometimes, they’re other lives.
Regardless, at the end of the day day, the life of a dancer—like any other dedicated life—is one of sacrifice.
Because of that, however, it is also one of transcendence.
It’s super easy!
Just get yourself a nice case of food poisoning or a really aggressive gastrointestinal bug. If you can arrange for it to take hold around the time you go to bed, all the better–by the time you wake up and find that you can’t even keep liquids down, you’ll already have gone hours without eating or drinking!
Don’t worry. I do not, by any means, intend this as actual advice.
I was just really startled when I stepped onto the scale today and discovered that the roughly sixteen hours that I could neither eat nor drink yesterday–that is, the sixteen hours that it took me to remember that I had some really effective anti-nausea meds on hand–coupled with the profoundly minimal amount I have eaten and drunk since then has added up to a literal five pound drop in my weight.
Obviously, most of that’s water weight. That doesn’t make it any less startling as a demonstration, though. Dehydration is for reals.
Also, the wicked dehydration headache (unless the headache is part of whatever led to the, erm, gastrological pyrotechnics) is, you know, kind of 0/10 Do Not Recommend.
Fortunately, between the Ondansetron and my immune system having time to work on whatever this is, I’ve now regained the ability to drink and to eat dry, crunchy stuff like saltines (I’m still afraid to try anything else, thus far, though I literally had a very involved dream about chocolate milk).
I did grit my way through my endocrinology appointment yesterday (though I was very, very grateful for the single-user restroom, and was profoundly nauseated on the way home). Based on my previous labs, Dr. P prescribed a moderate dose of Androgel, which is kind of what I was hoping for. It should prevent the overdosing thing that happened last time I tried HRT.
I didn’t make it to either class or to rehearsal, and I find it absolutely hilarious that earlier in the day I imagined I actually would, somehow, at least make rehearsal. In fact, during the time that I would’ve been at evening class and rehearsal, I was asleep (though I was pretending to listen to podcasts).
I was particularly sad to miss this session, as KW from the company–AKA my Ballet Spirit Guide, since I inherited his tights last year–came in to teach class and do some cleaning and polishing of The Piece.
I hope the girls were okay without me.
Except possibly for the bits with C, I think it’s not too hard for them to mark through the partnered sections.
Meanwhile, I’m not usually very important to their spacing, while their spacing is critical to my ability to do my part. I’m forever running through flocks of girls in this piece, so if their spacing is off, it starts to look a bit like sportsball-sans-ball.
Anyway, while this was certainly the second-worst gastrological upset I’ve had (the worst, bar none, was the time I ate some bad shrimp when I was eighteen), I realized yesterday whilst contemplating my fate at the foot of the porcelain throne that it’s actually been quite a while since anything made me puke.
Also, despite being fairly dehydrated, my resting pulse yesterday clocked in at 53, which is pretty nice, and my blood pressure was 100/60, which is about typical for me. I figured my vital stats would be all over the place, but they were fine.
So that’s it for now. I’m planning to attempt to eat some yoghurt, after which I’ll probably resume “listening to podcasts,” also known as sleeping. BW’s class is cancelled tonight, conveniently for me, so I feel no great pressure to attempt ballet heroics.
I … think? … I’m done with auditions for the rest of the month, at this point.
Yesterday’s was actually rather a soaring success, except for my usual habit of forgetting some bit of the modern combination and faking my way through that part so I could get to the next bit, then remembering it right after … but there are two thoughts that cheer me up.
First, nobody had the combo down cold. We all missed bits and pieces.
Second, that’s one of the skills they’re looking for at dance auditions. What happens when you fall off the script (because it happens even to top-tier dancers)? Do you freeze like a deer in the headlights, or do you roll on just as if you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to? (Bonus points if you can fake your way through well enough to make it look like everyone else was wrong. I don’t think I accomplished that, yesterday, but I didn’t freeze, either.)
The dance improv bit was, of course, a blast, because I love improv.
The trapeze bit went pretty well despite the fact that apparently whatever demiurge manages music for trapeze auditions believes it’s great fun to mess with mine. I recovered from that and had to improvise a fair bit, but it turned out rather well. And, of course, I didn’t fall off the trapeze this time.
- Last year’s audition for “Orpheus” is still the one and only time I’ve fallen off a trapeze. It’s also my number-one go-to story to tell when, inevitably, groups of people start reminiscing about stupid moments in their lives. There’s something special about making what seemed, in the moment, a very logical decision to drop myself off a trapeze from ten feet in the air rather than risk breaking my arms. Dancers get it; circus people get it; athletes get it. That said, there are entire hosts of people who think I’m crazy, and they’re probably right—but I’d still do it again in a heartbeat.
Once again, at this audition, they’re not necessarily looking for a polished cirque-style act: they’re looking for expression, musicality, and the ability to command the audience’s attention (and also sound technical elements, obviously). The piece that I showed is one I’m slowly working on set to the Indigo Girls’ “Kid Fears,” and it’s intentionally struggly, so it probably didn’t really hurt anything that I was, in fact, wrestling with my own choreography (much of which I didn’t apparently remember).
The acting part was flat-out awesome, and reminded me how much I actually really like acting, my anxiety about struggling to memorize scripts notwithstanding. Maybe what I really like is cold reading. Who knows? Anyway. I really liked the part they handed me, and ran with it.
Today’s audition was also lovely. Almost nobody showed up, so it was really just three of us mostly doing some improv stuff. I already know that our AD likes the way I improvise, so that was just pure fun. I showed the bits of my piece that I could, given my lack of a partner, and described the idea as a whole. Both our AD and the guy from U of L whose group we’re collaborating with liked it, so it looks like it’s a green light there.
My next audition is a couple of weeks away, and I’m happy to have a bit of a breather. The stretch from the past couple of gigs through now has been pretty intense.
Not that I’m complaining. The other night I was kvetching about some company-related annoyance and suddenly though something like, “Oh, hey. I’m complaining about work because that’s what we do. If it wasn’t a pain in the *** sometimes, it wouldn’t be work.”
And that actually felt, in its own way, rather lovely: like, this is my work, and it’s work that I love. And I think I’m becoming rather good at it. Maybe not world-beatingly good or anything but, you know, serviceable. Which has, to be honest, always been the goal. As a ballet boy I’m smallish and muscly and I bounce like a rubber ball, which puts me squarely in the demi-character camp, and I’m fine with that. Not everyone always has to be the prince (and, honestly, there are a lot of ballets in which the prince never gets to do anything cool outside of the pas de deux). As a circus artist, I’m reliable, adaptable, and versatile: not a specialist, but a generalist, and the kind of generalist who can pinch-hit almost anywhere.
I feel like that’s a good thing to be. I’m not here for glory: I’m here because I love to move; because I can’t not move.
And if sometimes that means I’m stressed out and hounded from pillar to post … well, that’s part of it. That and Auditioning for Poverty are pretty much hallmarks life as a dancer, or indeed as any kind of performing artist, or indeed possibly as any kind of artist.
You do the Work because the Work is what moves you … sometimes more literally than other times.
(With ADHD. Who Like To Write.)
You guys, I am terrible at using planners.
Every year, I buy one … okay, or more than one … and I try to make it work with my insane schedule, my ADHD, and my apparent allergy to anything that resembles a journal but not a blog.
The thing is, most planners aren’t designed for people who might work from 1000 – 1130, then again from 2100 – 2330. Most planners use sensible hourly formats designed for sensible people who sensibly work from 9 – 5 or, at the outer limit, 6. Everything later than that gets, like, two tiny lines labeled ‘Evening’ or what have you.
Enter Ink & Volt. I discovered them via Insta, then poked their website. I immediately vowed out loud that I wouldn’t buy their planner because their UI had serious problems, and in my darkest and most cynical heart-of-hearts I’m a cranky UI design crank.
And then, after fighting with the UI for a while and poking around and discovering that there wasn’t actually another goal-oriented planner on the market that suited my needs and that, G-d help me, I actually loved their product design, I sent them $40 (which is the most I have ever spent on a planner, but it seemed like a good idea now that I have gigs to keep track of and stuff).
Yeah, yeah. I know.
The thing is, I’ve actually consistently used this thing every day since it arrived, which is saying something.
It has catchy little guided-journal pages, like this:
… And this:
In addition to weekly scheduling pages, like this:
I like the simple schedule blocks. I like the lack of space-wasting hourly breakdowns. I like the paper that doesn’t bleed through.
I like the fact that this thing has some heft to it. It’s like a literal anchor for my day—I could probably tie it to a canoe and toss it overboard and expect to stay put for a bit, though then I would have to buy another planner. I like being able to sit down in the morning and fumble though it with my bumbly morning thumbs.
I like that it’s there, a solid and visible object that I can pick up when I’m bored, and that it has little ribbon markers so I can turn right to the monthly overview page or this week’s schedule (which is how I choose to employ them). Sure, a lot of the info in here is also in my phone and in The Cloud … but I can pick this up without getting distracted by Dots & Co or Google Now’s next suggested article about time-management (ironic, amirite?).
I like that there’s a little structure, but not so much my head wants to explode. Just enough.
I don’t think this is the perfect planner for everybody, because I don’t think that planner exists. It’s probably not even perfect for me—but it’s closer than anything else I’ve tried.
Will I stick with it? We’ll see. The $40 price tag is certainly an incentive—and I’m doing better than I’ve done with any planner since the free one I used to get at IUS, which had the advantage of also acting as an assignment book.
Sure—there are things I don’t love. My handwriting is sufficiently terrible that a spiral binding that really, really opens out F L A T T T would help. On the other hand, it wouldn’t feel as nice, and I secretly quite like the heft and permanence of the hard binding.
So there you have it.
If you, too, think you might like to go be pissed off by an irritating UI but still wind up buying a darned good planner, you can find both here.
Full disclosure: Ink & Volt doesn’t know me from Adam, and I received no compensation of any kind in exchange for this review, which they don’t even (yet) know I’ve written.
(Adorable, chubby baby tiger is unrelated, but adorable.)
We’re having a kind of ice-snow storm thingy, so the Powers That Be have prudently cancelled morning classes tomorrow to give the road crews time to work their magic.
This means I don’t have to face class with Le Directeur Ancien until next week.
My chicken-flavored heart is partly glad and partly horrified that I’ll have ANOTHER WHOLE WEEK in which to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong (though also another week in which to get into somewhat better shape).
Possibly it will turn out that I have nothing to fear. The worst he could do is regard me through eyes brimming with the Disappointment of the four hundred years of ballet teachers who came before hi…
Oh, G-d help me.
We got the first 30 or 40 seconds of our dance last night.
I like it—it’s completely different in feel from last year’s, very Tango-influenced, rather than neoclassical. Both TS and I are videoing everything from different vantage points, so I was able to see that I dumped my shoulders and core on this wee en dedans turn with the working foot just brushing the ground. It’ll be better next week!
On the whole, though, rehearsal was good. There are 13 of us thus far, and I’m still the Onliest Boy.
I also had a good night in class. Beginner 1 is right before rehearsal, so we arrive in masse and take B1, which means some of us might be a wee bit intimidating to some of the B1 regulars. Still, I enjoy B1, because I don’t have to think about any of the steps at all ever, so I can concentrate on dancing beautifully instead.
Today I hooked up with my friend CP, who is a photographer, to get some headshots and dance photos done. We shot outside, which was interesting: the temperature was okay, but the ground was damp, uneven in places, and (of course) hard, so adjusting was challenging at times.
I got to see the on-camera previews of a few shots (CP shoots on a DSLR), and some were really cool.
One of my favorites, though, is a mostly-beautiful pas de chat Italien with ridiculously effort face. It’s hilarious and honestly pretty cute. (In related news, TIL that executing pas de chats from a standstill often evokes effort face!)
I’m looking forward to seeing the finished pix. They should be pretty cool.
I also snagged a few pix to update my Topless Boys Live! series (even though I don’t go back to Modern ’til next week).
So, there you have it.
I’m at that phase, fitness-wise, in which one says to non-dancers, “I’m still pretty out of shape right now,” and they give you this look:
But dancers will understand, probably.
It’s Monday afternoon: late afternoon, really. I’m feeling restless and lonely. I have all these thoughts in my head and I’d dearly like to have a conversation about them, rather than writing into the ether, but I’m not sure where to begin.
The time of day is a problem. At this hour, in this long, recurring air pocket in my weird freelance life, other people with normal jobs are responsibly working. I’m … you know. Washing the dishes. Debating whether I should eat something else. Doing a mental inventory of the laundry (Do I have a clean dance belt? Yes. Is it one of the good ones? Too late to worry about that now…). Letting thoughts arise and simply go on their way.
I say “percolating” rather than “thinking” because so much of what I’m doing isn’t thinking, exactly. Thinking implies some kind of volitional exercise; it is a thing one opts to do.
I am, instead, doing other things, and “…thoughts,” as the song says, “arrive like butterflies.”
Only, well, not exactly. It is very much a sense of bubbling up rather than descending from above. Not that it matters—either way it’s all a metaphor, really.
Often, it’s uncomfortable. When you’re busy doing something else, and as such not policing your thoughts, it’s really quite startling what floats up from the murky depths. At the moment, for me, it’s a lot of self-hatred and memory and sudden flights of insight into the harshest segments of my own past which I hope to retain but sometimes don’t.
This is, now that I’m thinking about it, not unlike the difficulty a great many of us run into with zazen. You just sit, and while you’re just sitting, everything that’s In There Somewhere finds its way to your consciousness to feck about with your ability to, like, just sit.
- The trouble I run into is the whole sitting bit. If I can sit still for five minutes, it’s basically a minor miracle. I struggle to make it long enough to get to the point at which the Monkey Mind pipes up. I do fine with walking meditation and stuff like that, though.
Which, of course, is part of the point.
As it is, I suppose, part of the point in Just Washing Dishes. You find yourself accidentally meditating, as if Thich Nhat Hanh has teleported in and is standing at your shoulder, saying to you, “Breathing in, I am washing this dish.”
Oops, I guess?
Ironically, whilst ballet is an exceptionally fine way to enter a flow state as far as I’m concerned, it requires so much presence of mind that there’s not really much room for the percolation of stray thoughts.
I used to think that, for this reason, it constituted an ideal form of meditation, or at least that it did for me. Now, I’m not so sure. One of the strengths of zazen (and of its cousin, kinhin, and similar exercises) is precisely the fact that things bubble up from the depths in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t.
I constantly run from uncomfortable thoughts without realizing that I’m doing it. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Most of the time, I don’t even realize it: if I did, I suppose my self-respect would plummet. I believe in trying to face things that scare me.
(Then, I suppose I also believe in choosing my battles, and I could perhaps regard this automatic deflection of uncomfortable thoughts as a kind of unconscious method of doing exactly that.)
So I stand at the sink washing dishes, because our dishwasher is an ancient beast that is both inordinately loud and almost entirely ineffective, which means that if you choose to use it (which, generally, I don’t) you must first wash the dishes anyway before allowing the dishwasher to think it’s doing its job.
I am uncomfortable, but I can’t just plow them back under before I’m aware of them. Nor can I, it seems, usually bring myself to attempt to find someone to talk to in the middle of the afternoon.
The curious thing is that this has, in many ways, been the best thing that could happen to me.
For many years I lived my life on high alert; constantly hypervigilant. Invading thoughts and emotions could and often did provoke a five-alarm response.
For many years I felt that I would, I don’t know, catch fire or something if I neither spoke to someone about the thoughts or did something in response to the internal klaxon.
Yet, so often, talking made no real difference. In fact, I suspect it often made things rather worse.
I wasn’t therapeutically processing thoughts and feelings and memories; I was simply externalizing them as a way of avoiding really wrestling with them. Sometimes, rather than deflecting the thoughts, it only made them shout louder and stick faster. I became caught in storms of fight-or-flight level arousal. Talking about the source of the arousal (or what felt like the source) often seemed only to crank up the perception of danger.
And yet, somehow, uncomfortable as it is, as I persist in attempting to wash the dishes (or just this dish, as is so often the case—when I’m in that place, it’s too much to focus on anything but the immediate thing), I learn that if I remain in place, eventually the alarm bells will subside.
I’m pretty sure this has had a remarkable effect on my overall anxiety level—if ‘anxiety’ is the right word. Who knows? It seems good enough. Anyway, I spend less time than I used to in states of profound vigilance; less time with the warheads armed, as it were.
I become alert, aroused, because something inside me perceives some invisible danger: but the danger passes, and nothing really terrible happens, and each time my brain learns that perhaps the danger in question isn’t real in the immediate sense. My unconscious mind ratchets the Security Alert Level down just a little bit.
This is a thing I’ve learned through necessity. I have left behind the phase of my life in which most of my friends were other college students with giant gaps in their schedules. I now mostly know people with jobs and responsibilities. I have been forced to simply live with very, very wildly uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Interestingly, I have thus far survived.
I don’t know if I’ll ever live without the klaxons. I am still as wary as a wolf.
If you’d asked me ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to conceive of the way things are now, so it seems reasonable to think that, say, ten years from now things will once again be quite different.
There’s another thing, too.
When I don’t divert the thoughts, sometimes they give rise to creative work. I’ve struggled, recently, with the sense that nothing I’m doing as an artist is in any way actually original or creative (then again, how many minds over the millenia have given us some variant on the maxim, “There’s nothing new under the sun?”)—but I think what I’m really struggling with is that trying to create from whole cloth doesn’t work very well for me.
Rather, I do better to let whatever’s in there filter up and appear on its own, and then to build and refine from there.
I have never been a composer of music: when I try to compose, my compositions turn trite, bathetic, even schmaltzy. I play them later and they make my skin crawl.
When I just sit and play, or when I record the stirrings of visiting muses, things work out quite differently. I won’t say that anything I’ve set down will ever be great, but some of it is in fact quite good.
The same happens when I attempt to compose dances without reference to an internal vision. There’s nothing as depressing as the little passage in a half-baked ballet in which you can tell that the choreographer was thinking, “Rats, how on earth am I going to get the prince over to the punch bowl? All right, tombe, pas de bourree, something, something, just need a few more steps…”
That’s how essentially all my choreography feels (to me, at any rate) when I try to wrestle it into being instead of allowing something to surface, then building on that.
And writing is and has always been, for me, an exercise in hearing and recording the voices and stories of people and worlds that speak from within; a kind of visitation rather than an actual act of creation. The formal, authorial work generally comes after: I’m more of an editor, really.
Perhaps, then, it should be no great surprise that the same basic process allows room for healing of a kind that is, while it’s happening, very uncomfortable, but remains nonetheless crucial.
So I suppose that’s something to think about.
There’s a great deal more, probably, that I could and should say about this, but at the moment I need to put clothes on and go to class.
More, then, at some point in the future.
woo! Finally getting paid on the sorta regular! I can buy a