Cooking with ADHD: Chia Pudding

It’s been about a thousand years since I posted a recipe, but this one’s worth knowing about if you like tapioca. If you don’t like tapioca, on the other hand, you might hate this stuff.

The TL;DR

Prep Time: ~5 minutes
Cook* Time: 1 – 8 hours
Who’ll Like It: Tapioca fans ❤
Who’ll Hate It: Tapioca haters XP
Best Uses: Dessert, Breakfast
Hardest Part: Remembering to buy the d**n Chia Seeds
Pairs Well With: Disorganized mornings; late-night cravings

*And by “cook,” I mean “stick it in the fridge and mostly ignore it”

The Actual Recipe

I’ve adapted this from a variety of similar recipes with similar goals. One of the best things about it is that it’s adaptable. Lactose intolerant? Use almond milk. Allergic to almonds? Try coconut milk. Hate coconut? Use rice milk. Don’t like artificial sweeteners? No worries; you can use sugar or agave or honey or maple syrup or…

Here’s What You’ll Need (for each serving)

  • 1.5 tablespoons of chia seed (I’m using black chia seed because that’s what I’ve got, but white is fine, too)
  • .5 tablespoon unsweetened coconut shreds (or powder)
  • .5 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1-2 tsp sucralose
  • ~.25 tsp coconut extract
  • ~.25 tsp vanilla extract

Here’s What You Do

  • Put everything except the chia into a small container with a lid (I’ve repurposed a glass jar that came with shredded cheese in it)
  • Stir briefly
  • Add the chia
  • Whisk all the things briefly with a small whisk (a fork will work fine, too)
  • Stick the lid on and stick that bad boy (or girl, or gender-nonbinary personage) in the fridge
  • Chill for a minimum of 1 hour, but preferably more like overnight, then come back, stir, and stuff it into your maw

For even distribution of the chia seeds, I’ve been coming back 30 minutes into the chill time to re-whisk everything, but that step is optional.

Most of the recipes I’ve found for this use 1 cup of whatever milk-like product and 3 or 4 tablespoons of chia seeds, but when I made my first batch, I found that makes rather an enormous portion. I halved all the volumes to arrive at what seems, for me, like a more reasonable end product.

That said, you can definitely shove an entire 1-cup-of-milk portion of this into your face if you try hard enough.

Notes

  • I’ve read that highly acidic ingredients can prevent the chia seeds from “gelling” adequately, so if you’re going to toss in orange juice, lemon curd, etc, you might want to do it right before you serve this up.
  • If you eat this stuff after one hour, chances are good that it’ll still be a little loosey-goosey and a little crunchy. Don’t worry, though, you won’t die. Or, at any rate, I didn’t.

I entered the ingredients above into LoseIt’s recipe calculator, and here’s what it threw back:

coconut-chia-pudding-v

The (V) is for “vegan,” since I also made a dairy-based version and entered that one into the calculator.

I suspect that this would be really, really good with lemon curd … which, of course, I don’t happen to have on hand. Even better with berries (which I do have) and lemon curd.

As always, I’ll try to get some pix up here soon.

‘Til then, please enjoy this picture of me looking disconcertingly like a young George “Dubya” Bush on the trapeze:

dubyastep.png

I misunderestimated how aggressively this trapeze would attempt to remove my clothes.

And also this one of “splits down,” just because:

splits-down.png

Danseur Booty: 1 / Tights-Removing Trapeze: 0

Things I learned At PlayThink 2018

Aaaaaaaaand, we’re back!

This year’s PlayThink proved, without a doubt, to be the best yet for me—the best by leaps and bounds, in fact (pun not originally intended, but retained for effect ;D).

Part of that was simply the result of the stuff I’ve been working on as a human being for the past year: accepting my social difficulties and learning to socialize within my own limits; growing more confident in my basic worth as a human being; listening with presence and patience; and feeling more confident in my body.

Part of it was the result of very conscious choices that I made before and during the event. I’mma talk about those a little now, k? Cool. Here we go:

Good Choices That Worked Out Well

Decide Not To Feel Obligated To Take A Million Classes … Or Any At All.

This may be the smartest thing I’ve done for myself in years. In the past, I selected at least one class each day that I just couldn’t miss, and the more I missed, the more frustrated and cranky I got.

This year, I decided to take a different tack: to take a page from the Burning Man playbook and regard the experience as The Thing, and the classes as optional sprinkles.

In the end, the only class I went to was my own (because obvs). That’s fine: I opted, instead, to spend a lot of time relaxing, hanging out with friends new and old, and dancing my tuchas off in the evenings.

It turns out that that’s a great way to do PlayThink, too. I gained just as much from simply sharing time with my fellow beings as I would from taking classes, without the stress of staying on top of the schedule or forcing myself to be out among the masses when I needed to be alone for a while.

Accept The Whims Of The Universe.

PlayThink is usually the only place where I can realistically expect D to join me in a dance performance.

This year, his rotator cuff surgery meant I wasn’t sure until a few weeks before the event that he’d even be able to participate … but I wanted him in my piece, regardless.

Of course, this year I’m also juggling the busiest schedule I’ve ever seen, and was sick for two of the 3-or-so weeks that I had to rehearse with him.

In short, I got almost no rehearsal time in with D. I wound up teaching him the basics of weight-sharing in a 20-minute window a few hours before we were scheduled to hit the stage, then trusting that the Demiurge of Improvisation would visit us and bless the final 40 seconds or so of our piece.

On top of all this, I forgot my push broom and had to borrow one, which was a fantastic broom, but had a very different balance point than mine and thus handled rather differently.

The end result was that a bunch of the stuff I had intended to include got left out, and some spontaneous bits magically appeared. Oh, and I threw D right into his personal nightmare of being asked to perform dance improv with an audience.

The funny thing is that everyone loved the piece anyway.

For PlayThink, I like to make pieces that tell simple, funny stories, and the story still came through.

I also like to take familiar materials (in this case, rather literally) and do unexpected things with them. PlayThinkers are a uniquely receptive crowd for that kind of thing!

The best part, though, was that D revealed an unexpected facility for character acting. Apparently, he was completely terrified while he was on stage … but he projected such an air of confidence and radiant joy that even I had no idea he was feeling anything else.

When your dance partner who’s also your life partner can’t tell that you’re actually terrified and not having the time of your life, you’re officially Doin’ It Rite.

Do Scary Things, Knowing That Everything Might Go Completely Wrong.

I fully intended to test-drive my workshop before PlayThink.

You know how these things go, of course. The road to hell, &c.

Anyway, I was actually quite nervous about teaching, and quite convinced that I had No Srs Bizness Doin So.

Turns out, though, that the good folks who participated* didn’t feel that way at all. My workshop went well and was well-received, and I think the participants actually felt like they learned some stuff, which is great.

I decided up front that everything might go wrong, and that I was going to have to be okay with that, but it was, in fact not terribly likely that everything would go wrong**.

I also decided that I would frame the workshop as one in which we were there to learn together, instead of one in which I was Thuh Authoritah and my students wouldn’t Respekt Mah Authoritah unless I demonstrated complete mastery of the subject matter.

Hmmmmmmmmmm.

The best moment for me, by the way, happened much later. The next evening on the dance floor, I saw a couple of the students from my workshop using some of the stuff I taught. They were experimenting together with weight sharing, and they laughing, and clearly having a good time. That was a cool and unexpected outgrowth!

*Did I mention that I was also afraid nobody would come to my weird little workshop? No? Well, I was.

**This is an approach that’s sometimes used in treating anxiety disorders and specific phobias. You learn to have this little conversation with yourself: “What am I afraid will happen if I [don’t go back and check the stove again/leave the house/talk to a stranger at this well-attended festival full of thoughtful people/etc]? I could [burn the house down/die/be abducted by a ring of human traffickers]. Could that really happen? Yes. Of course it could. Will it happen? Probably not. How likely is it to happen? Not very.”

As you can probably tell, this approach has been really helpful for me. By naming the thing you’re afraid of and acknowledging that is, in fact, actually possible, then examining the statistical probability of the thing, you remove some of its power without dehumanizing yourself (or whoever it is that’s struggling with anxiety). Obviously, it’s part of a larger process, but for me it’s a really important part.

Ultimately, PlayThink is about sharing and learning … and even though I didn’t spend a lot of time in the formal learning space this year, I feel like I learned more than I’ve learned at any other PlayThink.

If I had to crystallize the lessons I learned into soundbytes, they’d go something like this:

  • Honor your incarnation by respecting your own limits the same way you’d respect someone else’s. It’s okay. Really.
  • Of course it could all go terribly awry: gently embrace that possibility, then get out there and Do It Anyway.
  • Whenever possible, approach teaching as an opportunity to learn and explore together.
  • Sometimes it’s okay to admit that you’re afraid.

That last one is pretty groundbreaking for me. The circumstances of my childhood and adolescence taught me that to reveal vulnerability was to have that vulnerability exploited: to show fear was to be given reason to be even more afraid; to show weakness was to be hurt.

I think there’s still a lot of the world that operates on those principles, so I’m not going to say that it’s always safe to say, “This scares the #$%! out of me.” Sometimes it’s really, really not.

But it’s good to know that sometimes, it really, really is.

 

 

Unstrung

It’s funny: when we speak of someone being “unstrung,” we typically mean it in the sense that a harp or a piano that has been unstrung is usually having a pretty bad day.

We don’t typically mean it in the other sense—that a bow (the old-fashioned kind made from wood and/or horn and/or bone) should be unstrung regularly, lest the tension of the string ruin its strength.

I think I’m experiencing a bit of both right now.

It’s deeply unpleasant to miss a week of class. By day three, I begin to suffer from the sneaking suspicion that I’m losing my figure if I eat at all (please note, if you’re new to this blog: this a criticism I apply solely to myself—I’m not generally prescriptive about dancers’ bodies, unless the dancer in question is me). My history of anorexia is still, essentially, history … but I’d be lying if I failed to admit that its voice speaks louder when I’m forced to sit down for a while.

This is complicated by the fact that my internal mirror, my mental representation of my body, is updating slowly: that I’m starting to see myself as this rather athletically-built kind of boy, possibly the sort that runs to fat by current professional ballet standards (though perhaps not by any saner standard in the world).

Likewise, I begin to feel frustrated: I know I’ll have to work back into my body a bit; that ballet in particular is an art that demands constant practice. If I miss class for six days, I, my director, the audience, and even the spiders in the stairwell will know. And I’ll really, really know. My deep rotators are, by this point, slowly morphing back into deep potaters (though I am at least feeling well enough to do simple turnout exercises now, provided I do them lying down or in small batches).

And yet it would be impossible and unhealthy to dance through the illness I’ve had this week—I might have milked a few more classes out of myself, but it’s probable that for every hour I strained to charge forward, I’d pay back a day in interest. The show must go on, but at the same time it’s stupid to feck about with a fever and an aggressive infection that has already colonized your upper respiratory system and is eyeing your lungs. If you have to do a show and you don’t have a second cast, you do it; if you’ve got a slow week of class and rehearsals, for goodness’ sake, just take a minute and heal.

Now is no time to get sick—at least, not sicker than I have been. If there’s a good week to take a hit from North Tonsilia, for that matter, this was it: next week is PlayThink, then it’s tech week for Weeds. This week we had fewer rehearsals than usual, and none that were unusually demanding. There was time to sleep and recover.

Time to sleep and recover also means time to review video of Tenebrae and think about work and consider how to move forward.

It’s still a little weird to think about myself as a professional dancer and as a nascent choreographer. It’s really weird in this way that it’s not as weird as it once was. I’m starting to think about the long game; to consider strategies for working as much as I can for as long as I can. It doesn’t seem as ludicrous, anymore, to think seriously about choreographing projects and so forth.

In that light I should think about trying to avoid, say, choking to death. I sliced up some steak to eat with a salad today (now that I can eat salad again :P), but I failed to account for being pretty much unable to breathe through my nose, still. I wound up aspirating a longish piece of steak in the process of trying to bite through it, and D had to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Obviously, it worked: out came the steak, and after a few minutes I was able to go eat my lunch, which I’d literally just started.

Still, it gave me pause. I’ve managed to choke on things before, as one does, but never so badly that I couldn’t sort it out myself. It was less scary than one might expect: like, the initial feeling was, “Oh, I’m choking, I should sort this out,” followed by futile attempts to somehow dislodge this strip-o-steak, um, psychically or something?

The problem being that by the time I staggered into the living room where D was, I was kind of redlining and started to panic as I realized I couldn’t remember the universal sign for “choking,” which apparently is not instinctive :O

That said, I was still able to make a faint gurgling hiss somehow: apparently that, combined with the usual hand-waving that I do when I can’t find words, prompted D to realize that I was choking.

The actual experience of being Heimlich-ed was interesting: there was a moment of, “This isn’t worki—” and then all at once it had worked and I was holding a disgusting, slimy strip of meat in one hand. Weird. After that there was a brief episode of the physical rage that’s my universal response to physical threats, but in a particularly helpless-feeling fashion that made me sit down on the floor and say some colorful words.

And then I realized it was just that—the same reflex I always have—and that I was fine and D had basically just saved my life by correctly reading a particular form of interpretive dance that I do when my language coprocessor crashes.

Which, in retrospect, is really rather funny. So now I have another amusing story to tell at dancer parties, which are basically the only parties I attend, about how interpretive dance saved the day.

You guys, I swear my life is not normally this interesting.

You may now proceed with the obvious jokes related to choking on huge meat, biting off more than I can chew, etc.

Attack of the Tonsils

Last night I kept choking on water (and tea, and everything else). That should’ve told me something.

Here’s a quick recap of this week!

Sunday:

It’s fine. Everything’s fine. It’s just allergies. With a fever. Because that happens all the time.

Monday:

…I’m feeling much better! (Hack, wheeze.)

Thursday:

That word, “Better.” (INCONCEIVABLE!)

Thursday Night:

Also, that part where I said I wasn’t running a fever? Yeah, well, I was wrong.

Today:

Dr. B ordered a shot of prednisone and a round of antibiotics. I was actually still running a fever this morning, and was apparently a thermonuclear reactor last night when I was sleeping. Hmm.

Evidently, that repeatedly-choking-on-water thing is sometimes a sign that your tonsils have decided to annex the greater portion of your nasopharynx in the name of Prussia.

Goshdarn imperialists!

On the upside, my lungs (though fairly annoyed by the repeated coughing fits induced by my tonsils’ aggressive assault on South Pharyngia) have chosen to remain diplomatically neutral. Which is to say that they’re slightly wheezy, but we caught this before “slightly wheezy” could develop into “a goop-filled colony of Upper Tonsilia.”

Also on the upside, the medrol injection has started doing its job, which has both reduced the pain in my throat and made breathing, coughing, and drinking easier.

Provided, of course, that I don’t attempt to do all three at the same time.

Yaaaaaaaaay!

Probleme

So it turns out that my stiffness and disorientation on Saturday was the prodrome of some kind of aggressive respiratory infection. Like, mostly functional on Sunday morning, fever of 101F and raging headache by 9 PM Sunday evening kind of aggressive :/

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The recycled status of this picture does not make it any less accurate a representation of my current health state (so, zombie with a side of gay? or…?)

As such, I haven’t been in class all week, though I did go to a tech session for Weeds last night. We were shooting video for projections, though, so there was no serious dancing involved … mostly we hung out on various street corners looking mildly threatening, but definitely more threatening than a dance number from West Side Story[1].

  1. You guys, I love West Side Story, of course, but can we agree that some of the gangland dance numbers are, well, less than intimidating?

I am almost certainly skipping class tonight as well, because frankly nobody needs to try to dance when they can’t actually stand up, and none of the people in class who remain able to stand up need my germs.

C’est la vie. Sometimes you win; sometimes the microbes win.

adults beggar black and white busy

Basically me at the end of rehearsal on Sunday. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

Pas De Probleme

Si vous parlez français, mes chers lecteurs, and/or if you speak Ballet, you know that “pas de problème” can mean either “no problem” or “problem step.” It’s one of of those puns that never gets old, as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, class this morning began as an ongoing pas de problème in the latter sense, since I was still semi-disoriented (I probably should have skipped the sleeping pill last night) and oddly stiff.

Eventually, my body decided to bring itself online, although my brain lagged behind and kept asking stupid questions like, “Are you sure this Sissone travels right?!”

(Yes, Brain. It begins left foot back and travels sideways. Which way do you think it’s going to go? I mean, it could be a Sissone under … BUT IT’S NOT.)

Regardless, it wound up being a semi-acceptable class, which was good, because it was packed and a significant portion of the company came today. I wasn’t at my best—my body never quite finished organizing itself—but I wasn’t at my worst, either.

I’m debating whether HRT means I should actually devote some time to intentionally stretching on the daily. I’ve felt tighter the past week or so than I’m used to feeling, but I’ve also just returned to serious aerial training and done some serious sitting down in the car (we drove to Saint Louis again, this time for a fantastic dance festival).

I suppose it couldn’t hurt to be more intentional about mobility, anyway—especially going forward, with more partnering and so forth on the agenda.

After the Jessica Lang show, D mentioned to me that he thinks I should start strength training with an athletic or personal trainer who understands dance precisely for the purpose of partnering—especially lifting other guys. He rarely makes suggestions about how I should approach my life as a dancer, but when he does he’s usually right, so I’m contemplating how to move forward in that regard. Señor BeastMode is an obvious choice, if he has time in his completely crazy schedule to take on a client right now.

On a broader level, I’m experience the weird cognitive landscape specific to once again having to acclimate my mind to changes in my body. Obviously, I’m trying to work to avoid hypertrophy as much as possible, since I don’t need to be bigger, but at the same time the influence of hormone therapy is changing the overall shape of my body.

Sometimes I’m okay with that, sometimes I’m not. I’m trying to really internalize the idea that it’s okay to be someone who is a dancer, a bottom, and also rather athletically built.

Obviously, this is a refinement of my ongoing body-image weirdness … but it’s such an oddly-specific refinement, I guess. The dancers in Jessica Lang’s company (Jessica Lang Danceou JLD) made me feel a little less alien, since there are several guys in JLD who are small, rather pretty, and built like the proverbial brick …. houuussse (da-na-naaa-na … they’re mighty, mighty).


I felt that this occasion called for some Commodores. You’re welcome.

Given that JLD’s choreography skews strongly towards ballet (albeit contemporary ballet[1]), and that ballet is my preferred idiom, it was nice to see boys whose bodies resemble mine (only better trained, I am forced to admit) working in a major professional company.

  1. …Which is fine, because it turns out that I lurve contemporary ballet.

I realize that, as far as work is concerned, this continues to amount to First World Ballet Problems. Several people who know me have pointed out that my body is not out of line with the standard for male ballet dancers; I’m on the small end and rather powerfully built, but not to such a degree that you don’t see similar guys in ballet in general. Mine is, K suggests, a Bolshoi body rather than a Balanchine body. I’m down with that. I like the Bolshoi better anyway 😉

On a different level, though, the way my body has changed, is changing, is forcing me to redefine my understanding of myself in accordance with my sexuality. I’m not a waifish little twink anymore, but evidently the kind of guys I find interesting (including my husband) are not interested only in waifish little twinks.

I don’t write a great deal about my sexuality, in part because this blog is really more or less about dancing at this point, and in part because my difficulties with it are sort of, like, Queer 452 difficulties instead of Queer 101 difficulties. This may not be true for any of you who read this on the regular or who are reading it right at this very moment, but I suspect that a lot of people who are less familiar with queer issues might not quite grok the source of my internal conflict (well, a significant portion of men might not: female aerialists, who sometimes wrestle with essentially the same problem of the disconnect between their outer Aerial Beast and their inner Dainty Girl, are likely to get it in one, so to speak).

At the same time, I get that it’s aggressively First World Problems-y to be like, “O, woe is me, I have grown up to be this ripped little mesomorph instead of a dainty little ectomorph.” Like, yeah, I get that there are bigger, more problematic problems by far.

And yet, we live with what we live with.

I should note that this isn’t a question of consciously hanging on to some kind of ideal that I know isn’t going to work with me. It’s a question of some really outdated conditioning disrupting what might otherwise be a very natural process of being like, “Oh, okay, this is where my body is going, and this is the stuff I like to do with my body, here’s where I fit. Cool.”

I feel like ultimately it will take a while and a kind of re-conditioning … maybe even some very conscious de-conditioning. That’s going to be a challenge, since the source of the conditioning in question remains my life’s most significant trauma and one that I’m still working to address.

Either way, I should stipulate that I’m grateful for my body and what I can do with it.

I should also stipulate that I’m encountering some of the typical, boring adolescent problems: acne and, um, errr, ahh, wow, there are an awful lot of very freaking hot guys in the world, did you know that? (Actually, just, like, hot people in general.) Seriously. HOW DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY LEARN ANYTHING IN SCHOOL between the ages of 13 and 18, or what have you???? Thank goodness ballet requires so much focus it’s like wearing blinkers (except sometimes, between exercises, when you’re standing there watching and your brain drifts off and is like DAMN HE LOOK GOOD, WHERE YOU GET THOSE CUTE TIGHTS BOY, oh crap was that piqué-piqué-rond or what?).

I’m not sure how to address the latter problem, and today I was really disappointed when I went to the ONLY STORE IN TOWN that reliably stocks Queen Helene’s Mint Julep Mask, which is what I use to address the former problem (acne), and discovered that they were fresh out. I got some other mask that is reasonably acceptable, but it turns out that Amazon carries Queen Helene, and it comes in a tub. The tube version is fine, but a little hard to manage one-handed when you’re languishing in the bath with a good book, so since the price is right and so forth I think I’m just going to order it from Amazon from now on.

On the upside of the whole acne thing, my skin has decided to be way oilier than it used to be, and not to be as ridiculously dry as it has been for basically my entire life. That is a welcome change, to say the least.

oh h*ck

Somehow, I had become convinced that the LexBallet intensive was in June (even though it has always been in July) and that PlayThink was in July (even though it has always been in June—my sister’s birthday coincides with it every year), and EVEN, even though I made widgets for this very blorg that list the dates.

Needless to say, knowing that The Time Is Almost Upon Us has me, as they say, a little shook.

Mostly because, for the first time, I’m teaching a workshop, and I haven’t even given said workshop a test drive like I meant to (because Golden Retriever Time, y’all).

Anyway. I think it’ll be okay, but my Imposter Syndrome is off the charts with regard to teaching. I’m like, HOW CAN I TEACH, I DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW ANYTHING??!11

Sissone

Except what a foot is. I can identify a foot.

I’m sure everything will go just fine and nobody will die. And if anybody does die it will probably because Kentucky is ridiculously hot and humid in June and not because I’m a horrible, incompetent danseur and should never be allowed to teach anything, ever. But I hope nobody dies even then because that would really probably put me off teaching for a while (because I’m horribly superstitious deep in the cockles of my heart).

Regardless, I have a Plan (and not just a Goal) for the workshop and a 2-hour window in which to accomplish that plan, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be okay. I’ll just, as Señor Beastmode likes to say, Stick To The Plan. Unless the Plan proves completely useless, in which case I’ll throw it out the window.

In case you’re wondering, the exercises I’m planning to use will be sequenced as follows:

  1. The Little Dance
  2. Invisible Catch
  3. City Streets (Solo Version)
  4. City Streets (Eye Contact Version)
  5. City Streets (Touch Version)
  6. Flocking (North, South, East, West)
    ~
  7. Mirroring (into Touchless Partnering)
  8. Leaning In
  9. Leaning Out
  10. Weight-Share Shape-Building
  11. Lean Tag
  12. Basic Dynamic Weight-Sharing
    ~
  13. 5-Minute Dances
    1. 5 minutes to draft a dance
    2. Brief showing (music: random)
    3. 20 minutes to revise
    4. Final Showing (music: random or dancers’ choice)

A lot of this is stuff I’ve learned from Pilobolus—stuff that I feel very comfortable doing, but possibly not like I have the earned authority to teach it. …Which is hilarious, because I’ve taught all of this at various points, with the exception of 5-Minute Dances, which is something you more facilitate than teach.

Ironically, I feel least qualified to teach in the dance idiom I practice the most (ballet) and most qualified to teach in the one I practice the least (modern partnering improv).

I would say that I’m not sure what that says about my faith in my practice, only I am: what it says is that ballet is a highly-technical, rigorously codified idiom, and teaching it incorrectly can really screw someone up. When I talk about the technical aspects of ballet, people routinely tell me I should teach—but I think it’ll take a few more years of learning, performing, and choreography…ing before I feel qualified to teach ballet.

I also need to start rehearsing “…Lover Boy” in earnest, because I haven’t really given that enough time.

Lastly, I need to NOT TAKE ON ANY MORE PROJECTS RIGHT NOW. I’m booked to the gills all summer, which came as something of a surprise even though in retrospect it seems fairly obvious that that’s what happens when you take two contracts and then load freelance gigs on top of them 😛

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How I’m going to feel by the end of summer.

Not to say I won’t take a ballet job if someone hands it to me, because, you know, ballet.

But still.

Instagram

Insta thinks I’m into:

  • ballet
  • cats & dogs
  • …bodybuilders?

2 outta 3 ain’t bad (not that I mind body bodybuilders or anything)

Lean In. No: More.

I mean, like, literally.

I’m talking about weight-sharing, here.

Kathy (right) and me weighting-in to rise from a deep freaking lunge.

Weigh(t)ing in on the question of relationships?

When you weight-in, you pour your weight into your partner, who pours their weight into you. Ideally, you should find equilibrium: you’re not pushing Terry* over, and Terry’s not pushing you over.

*Our gender-neutral partner du jour

When you weight-out, it works the same way, except instead of pushing, you’re pulling.

 

This is the lovely thing about weight-sharing: it’s a style of partnering that depends on both partners carrying their share of the weight. If you’re distributing the load equally, you can do all kinds of crazy things that way.

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Like this thing, which we’d be doing better if we were weighting-in correctly.

The piece I’m setting to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” (I’m kicking around the idea of calling it “Tenebrae”) combines traditional ballet partnering and weight-sharing, which makes for some interesting transitions: early in the piece, we fold from a shared arabesque en fondu through a moment of weight-sharing into a ballet-standard supported arabeqsue.

The challenge for K, as a ballet dancer who hasn’t worked in a weight-sharing modality before, is surrendering her weight into me at moments that it feels really counter-intuitive. She has the hard part of that move: basically, all I have to do is reach back with my free leg, set the foot on the floor, and get my arms to the right place at the right time so she can use them for leverage at one point in her end of things.

She’s tasked with the bizarre challenge of yielding her weight to me as I recover from the arabesque, rolling into my lap without bringing her working leg down, then fouettéing back into an arabesque.

She pretty much got it from the word go, which blows my mind. At first she wasn’t quite getting enough of her her weight down into me in the middle of all this, but it’s getting better and better. The fact that she springs right back into the traditional ballet mode with no difficulty is amazing.

Regardless, the more she pours her weight into me as we sit back together, the easier the transition is for both of us.

Anyway, the piece is going well. We’re well into the third minute of the dance. I’m not sure about the exact time because the last run we were behind the count and I left out a phrase that I’m pretty sure I want to keep. Regardless, given that we’ve put in about 2.5 hours, I’m very happy with how much we’ve built.

There will, of course, be some rebuilding involved once I start setting this with a larger cast—not least because right now we have the entire stage, and we use the heck out of it[1].

  1. Though, in fact, I need to dial back my travel … the space in which we’ll be showing it is smaller than the studio where we’re rehearsing, and there’s one point at which I’m not only off the stage but probably outside the actual building XD

We’ve started taking video of basically everything, because I have this habit of finishing the part we’ve already worked and starting right into the next section, and it can be hard to remember what, exactly, I did sometimes. Most of the piece is pretty clear in my head, but where it’s vague, I tend to just let the music drive and I, like, forget to remember.

Couple more for posterity 😉

This week I have one more rehearsal for this piece, plus one for Thursday’s show (ArtWorks) and about a million for Weeds, in addition to the usual class schedule.

Class, overall, is going well: I’m working on relying more on my inner thighs, working from my back down through the floor, and trusting my balances.

Oh, and also not doing dumb things with my hands or letting my shoulders creep into my ears when things get complicated. That, too.

Test Your Vision

This weekend, a friend of mine and I talked about art.

Specifically, we talked about creating art. He’s a straight, cis-male photographer, and at one point I suggested that should he work on shooting nudes, it would be useful to his work overall if he shot men as well as women.

At the time, I didn’t do a great job explaining why. I’ve had some time to think about it now, and a lot of it comes down to this: art demands individual vision. Often, we sharpen the individuality of our vision by doing the things we don’t naturally want to do. They help us learn to see more clearly, and to see things that perhaps we don’t when we work within our comfort zones.

(Likewise, there’s an enormous amount of privilege involved in feeling that, for example, as a straight male, you only need to depict females in your art. That’s another post, for another time.)

In high school, I attended a profoundly rigorous arts magnet as a writing major (I didn’t audition for the dance major Because Reasons, which is also a different post entirely). Even being accepted into the program was no mean feat—but I think it’s fair to say that we all began with a fair amount of natural ability and only the bare minimum of skill.

In the first semester of the first year, we were all required to take a course on the fundamental mechanics of poetry. The course in question required us to learn and work within a number of highly-specific technical forms, from villanelle to sonnet to sestina to haiku.

At the outset, it seemed extremely dry—but it was a requirement, and so on we went.

Over the course of that semester, we learned an incredibly valuable thing: although poetry is expressive, it is also specific. Whether or not we enjoyed working within the strictures of the forms in question (I love writing sonnets and haiku, personally, but could take or leave villanelle), their strictures forced us to make decisions.

As writers, those decisions sharpened us. They honed our ears and our eyes; our senses of rhythm and meaning. They taught us to be specific, but also taught us how to say things by leaving them unsaid.

It was very, very hard work. It forced all of us to learn to take our visions and voices and cram them into someone else’s form, often with an assigned topic (which was inevitably very specific: write a villanelle about a window; write a sonnet to a garbage truck).  We were constantly reading, writing, workshopping, revising, re-workshopping; sometimes to the tune of five poems assigned Monday and due Tuesday, with revisions due Wednesday and further revisions due Thursday (and that’s not counting the reading assignments!).

Not everybody survived that semester in the program. The rate of attrition was high: many more people want to write than want to revise. Writing poetry entirely for your own satisfaction is a totally good and valid thing, but if that’s your only goal and you hate the idea of revision because you feel that poetry is all about feelings and revision somehow betrays the feelings that went into the piece, you’re probably not going to like the workshop process that takes place in that kind of setting.

Basically, it’s not at all about validating your feelings. Instead, it’s about: “Why did you use the word ‘jump’ there?” and “The tense shift in stanza 3 feels unintentional, and seems kind of distracting,” and “The third line in the second stanza is awkward, but I’m not sure what to suggest to fix it because I don’t actually understand what it’s trying to convey.”

At the end of the day, though, the writers that came out of that program were very solid. We entered and won serious competitions; we applied to and won scholarships to extremely competitive colleges and universities. We published. We wrote and wrote and wrote.

We all arrived on day one with ability, but ability wasn’t enough. We also needed skill, and we needed to find our voices as writers (which is far less airy-fairy a process than it sounds: it’s not about woo, it’s about diction, scansion, mechanics, tone, experience…). We gained skill and found our voices in no small part by working within the restrictions of form: just as a ballet dancer begins at the barre, or an equestrian begins in the ring (or even on the leadline).

I entered the program as a writer who was primarily uninterested in poetry. I liked fiction and wanted to hone my ability as a writer of fiction. Ironically, it turned out that I was much, much better at poetry than at fiction—which is to say that although I created breathing characters and wrote beautiful and vivid prose, the mechanics of plot would continue to elude me for quite a while. They still elude me whenever I’m not paying very, very close attention. So much of writing fiction is deciding which moments from your characters’ lives to leave on the cutting-room floor, and (SPOILER ALERT!) you’re going to wind up leaving most of the moments. Ugh.

Anyway.

The kinds of decisions imposed by writing formal poetry improved my craft overall, however: they made me better at making music from language, but also better at making decisions about things like plot and character in fiction; better at evoking the specificity of place that makes setting real; better at discerning which details to include and which to leave out. It’s about showing the reader that this isn’t just a burger, but a burger that sizzles on the tongue full of every lingering evening in July; of the faintest smoke of every campfire (always tempered down to coals) breathed back across the sun-warmed grass by a cooling breeze off the iron-scented lake…

In short, I didn’t want to write poetry: but the program forced me to, and it made me better at what I actually wanted to do, which was write fiction (the fact that it made me a rather good poet is kind of a bonus, really).

Having to do things I didn’t want to do as a writer forced me to see and hear things I wouldn’t otherwise have heard or seen. It also helped me figure out what was my voice and what was an echo of other voices that I was simply used to hearing.

~

When we do only the things we want to do, it’s easy to see only the things we want to see. The danger in that is that it very quickly becomes trite: there’s a specific style of imagery very, very commonly created by straight, white men painting, drawing, or shooting women that is downright boring to everyone else. It may be authentic, but it’s also unoriginal. We’ve seen it. Really. Yawn. Even when well-intentionted, it devolves pretty quickly into cheesecake, simply as a function of its ubiquity.

The same can be said for some of the work produced by, for example, gay male artists—but it’s not as common, and I suspect that’s because chances are good that every gay male artist who prefers to depict guys has been asked a million times, “Why don’t you draw [or paint, or shoot] some women?” and heard almost as frequently, “Why do you paint naked men? Nobody wants to see that.”

Moreover, every gay male artist alive in the Western world has been bathed in the female nude essentially his entire life, while all too often the male nude is still an opt-in: without even trying, you can live a long time without seeing the male nude depicted in art[1], but the female nude, depicted in a handful of familiar poses, is everywhere.

  1. Until pretty recently, you could even get through an entire art-school education without being forced to really reckon with the male nude. There’s a whole bunch of posts there, but I’m sure lots of other people whose grasp of history is better than mine have already written them. And none of this even begins to address nonbinary people, or people who live at underrepresented intersections of queerness and race, and so on. Those angles, too, have indubitably been addressed by other writers more effectively than I could address them here.

~

I’m not going to be so prescriptive as to say that art only happens in the places where we are least comfortable. I mean, it does happen there—it just happens in other places, as well.

But when we force ourselves out of our comfort zones as artists, we also learn to understand our comfort zones in ways that allow us to work within them with greater originality and clearer vision.

Working outside of our comfort zones forces us to be more honest about our own vision. Especially where the human nude is concerned, it can move us beyond “I get a thrill out of looking at this.” (Which isn’t, as far as I’m concerned, an invalid impulse: it’s just all too commonly-represented an impulse, and perhaps a bit thin.) It also helps us see our weaknesses—even as they pertain to the work we do within our comfort zones.

I suspect that this is probably all the more true if you’re a straight male visual artist with a lifetime of being bathed in the work of other straight male visual artists[2]. It’s like visiting another part of your home country and realizing that you have an accent: when you step out of your typical milieu, you hear or see the way in which that milieu marks your work. That allows you to make conscious decisions about those markers.

  1. if you’re not sure what I mean, go look at the vast majority of nudes displayed in American museums; the billboards displayed in almost any American city; etc. This post will still be here when you get back.

This is especially true if your particular comfort zone happens to be concurrent with the dominant thread of culture where you live.

By way of analogy, if you’re a country musician who lives in a place where you hear country music in shops and restaurants and on the majority of radio stations, you stand to gain a lot by taking time to listen to other streams of music. If, on the other hand, you’re a classical musician who lives in a place where country is predominant, you’re already gaining a lot of exposure to at least one stream outside of your own (but you should definitely make time to listen to some hip-hop, or Euro-metal, or whatevs!).

You probably won’t enjoy everything you hear when you go off on a musical adventure. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t—musical styles are very much like different languages, and often you have to listen for quite a while before suddenly something in your brain goes, “Oh! This is music!” and starts to enjoy them, or at least appreciate them as more than “just noise.” But you might come away with a better understanding of what ingredients you find compelling in the music that you do like, and over time you’ll broaden your ear in a way that will help you figure out which parts of your musician’s voice are yours and which are, in fact, actually the voices of, say, Shania Twain or Garth Brooks.

~

None of this should be taken to mean that straight guys should never make images of women: just that straight guys who step outside of the comfort zone of making images of women are, I suspect, very likely to end up making better, more original images of women.

Likewise, this isn’t to say that male heterosexual sexuality has no place in art: it does. It’s just that we, the entire world, have already seen an awful lot of it, and it’s much more interesting if an artist has something original—and honest—to say about it.

Which brings me to the last point I couldn’t figure out how to express. Too often, we try to be original by, you know, trying to be original. Which, in turn, almost always results in “just doing the opposite of the thing that you see all the time.” It’s very much like shouting, “TRY TO RELAX!” at someone who’s having a panic attack: frequently ineffective, and often entirely counterproductive.

Back to the aforementioned library of familiar poses featuring women seen through the eyes of heterosexual men: none of this means that nobody should ever draw, paint, or photograph those poses again. Just that it would be nice to see them done with honesty and clarity of intent (even if the intent is, in fact, “Hehheh, boobies!” … if I’m to set myself up as an arbiter, I’d rather see an honest, “Hehheh, boobies!” than “Hehheh, boobies!” dressed up as “The Womanly Virtue of Patience” or whatever the heck).

Sometimes part of figuring out how to be original is reacting against what’s already been done. That’s fine. Sometimes work that reacts against what’s already been done is, in fact, a kind of blunt instrument for intentional commentary, and that’s also fine.

In the end, though, there’s so much territory beyond all that: in the end, I suspect the most original works are generally works that never involved any thought of originality. They are simply clear, and honest, and present.

 

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