The Long Haul

Some thoughts on adapting to the present situation and on teaching … but first, a little housekeeping.

You might notice that my Insta widget has vanished from the sidebar. Last month, Insta decided to make some changes to how it works with WordPress, and users were asked to reconnect the Insta widget. I’ve been trying, and it hasn’t worked yet. It gets halfway through the process and hangs every single time.

Once I figure it out, the widget will be back.

Anyway, onward.

This week would’ve been Theater Week. I liked the role I had in Snow White, and I was looking forward to performing it. Instead, I’m at home, thinking too much and not dancing enough.

This is, I think, probably harder for H, who had the title role for the first time with our company, and L, who graduates from the school this year (and has evolved into quite a fine dancer in the time that I’ve known her), and for whom this would’ve been a grand finale closing this first chapter in her life as a dancer.

But it’s still hard in its own way. I was beginning to find my feet, so to speak, in this ballet. Even though I know it’s for the best, and that what we’re doing right now is critically important, there’s a definite … I don’t even know what the exact word for this feeling is. I had the wind in my sails; the boat was gliding over the waters. Then the wind stopped. Or maybe the boat shot over the edge of an unexpected waterfall.

I try to give myself grace for feeling whatever. As D always says, “If feelings were rational, we wouldn’t call them feelings.” But it’s an active process: actively stopping the voice that says, “Stop feeling x way,” and instead allowing myself what I would allow any other person: the room to feel what I feel.

As a company, we’re doing small video projects, for which I’m grateful. There’s some semblance of continuity; some small reason to force myself to spend at least some time focused on dancing.

That’s helping me cope with the other unexpected outcome, here. Normally, I can’t stop dancing. Right now, I can barely start. My mind shies away from the thought of ballet.

I assumed that was just a question of feeling overwhelmed—first by the circumstances themselves, then by the irritatingly fraught process of buying a car, then by the projects I’m suddenly supposed to be doing around the house (to be fair, they are pretty overwhelming … but it’s not like I don’t have time available). I figured I’d get over it once my mental GPS found an alternative route forward.

This week, though, I’ve realized that it’s not going to be that easy. My mind shies away from the very thought of ballet because I am, in fact, more deeply stunned by the loss of the end of this season than I’ve realized.

Most of my life was spent learning to seal each fresh trauma in its own vault and walk away, numb to the persistent ache of hurt or loss.

This is what happened when I stopped dancing as a kid, and why it was so hard to let myself return: had I never met D, in fact, it’s entirely possible I’d still be ignoring the thing that means the most to me. But D happens to love circus and dance, and every time we watched a cirque show or a dance performance together, the truth trapped inside that vault struck out at the door.

It’s a powerful truth. Sometimes even when you’re actively patching the cracks in the door, a powerful truth breaks free.

But, anyway. This thing where I toss the body (which, obviously, is never dead, trauma being what it is) in a vault and seal it has become a reflex. I do it automatically, now: though I hadn’t realized that until almost this very moment.

So this thing where my mind automatically turns itself away from ballet … it’s a function of a coping mechanism.

I suppose, also, that the trauma in question isn’t just this swift and unexpected change: it’s the weird stress of living with an invisible threat and, honestly, more or less forgetting about it most of the time, because it’s sealed in its Trauma Vault, where it.mostly stays until I have time to sit with it.

The ongoing trauma of this situation, sealed in its vault, acts like a faint buzz in the back of the consciousness—a kind of mental tinnitus. Every now and then, it breaks out and blasts up to the level of a klaxon and my conscious mind suddenly feels, “WE CAN DIE FROM THIS!” for 11 seconds.

Then the unconscious mind steps back into its role as Curator of Trauma Vaults and slams the vault shut again. 

(I do, in fact, take time to actively process this current, ongoing trauma. The last thing I need is for that hinge to get rusty, or for that lock to jam  … that’s when Trauma Vaults really become problematic).

The end of the ballet season, and this ballet itself, are also tied up in that mess.

So the question, then, is how to develop a strategy to bring ballet itself out of that vault so it can function on its own. Partly, I need to do this because I’m not ready to retire from my career in dance. Partly, I need to do this because dancing is, for me, a powerful healing tool.

I’m working on some ideas. 

My friend SF has suggested that we do a class together once a week as peers in addition to the two classes I’m teaching her, and I think that’s a good place to start.

I should probably also haul myself to the Frankfort studio a couple of times each week. There’s no space in my house that’ll allow me to move with the full vigor of my emotions, and I really, really need that if I’m going to stay sane.

I’ve been working on the trapeze as well—it’s not ballet, but it taps the same wellspring, so to speak. A lot of the time I’m just flinging myself around, exploring movement and feeling things out. I’m definitely going to keep doing that as much as I can.

Last, I’ve started a project with four dancers (myself included) that specifically relates to the situation at hand … But I’m filing further details under To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Keep Silent for now, because it’s just a little embryo of a project at the moment.

So much of my history of pain, my lake of bones, feels so close to the surface so much of the time right now. The skeletons that live beneath the ice are restless. Writing this, I realize that I shouldn’t be surprised by that. The Trauma Vaults may be more civilized, but they’re built into the same deep cave where, if one journeys deep enough, one finds the Lake of Bones.

On a purely physiological level, they’re effectively the same thing.

The limbic system, neural circuitry, biochemistry, and physiological responses that are constantly stressed and intermittently freaking out about the Coronavirus are the same ones that lived with the constant stress of a tense early childhood and the intermittent intense stress of fights between my parents and between my sister and myself.

They’re the same one that lived with the constant stress of stalking and the intermittent extreme stress of emotional manipulation and abuse, profound physical violence, and repeated rape.

Of course the current situation drags those skeletons closer to the light. To the body that is the substrate for the mind, the situation is not so different. The circuits are open and the brain is hunting through them for strategies that will help us all survive.

So in the midst of all this, it’s back to trauma work, I guess, because that seems like a better idea than trying to shove the skeletons back into their lake and lean on the doors to all the Trauma Vaults at the same time.

So, anyway, this is me right now. I hope you’re giving yourself grace in the current circumstance. If you’re struggling, I see you. And if your Curator of Trauma Vaults is working overtime and you wonder if any of this will ever actually be something you can feel, I see you, too.

Peace be with you, friends.

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2020/04/05, in balllet. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Where does that ‘Lake of Bones’ reference come from? You’re not talking Lake Roopkand in India are you? Nice imagery though. Appeals to the goth in me.

    And don’t get caught up in that materialist-reductionist stuff that there’s some kind of equivalence or functional/emergent relationship between body and mind (or worse, brain and mind).

    Your mind isn’t just your body; it’s your universe. It’s everything you do and everything you perceive and everything you think and everything that happens to you. You already know that, from your traumas and luck and pain and love and dreams and bliss and all the rest of it. If you lose sight of that you fall down the old free will vs determinism rabbit hole and get all gummed up with questions of what you can do and what can be done to you.

    All of it is you Asher. You express the universe and it expresses you. There’s no difference. Leave cause and effect – karma and vipaka – to the linear reductionists. Everything is perfect and you’re perfectly free. It only seems otherwise when you break it up into bits and start pitting them against each other.

    You’re not a dancer Asher. You’re the dance.

    • Thank you, Cabro ❤

      This means a lot to me, and it's exactly the bump this stream-entering little boat of mine needs to get going again. …Which it seems to be doing.

      The Lake of Bones came from somewhere in my guts. It was an image that percolated up when I was trying to talk to my therapist about my struggle with my history of sexual violence and trauma in general–I was hit with this very powerful image of this deep cave in which there's a hidden lake, deep in the dark, full of forgotten bones and haunted by their ghosts. (Honestly, I suspect it's at least 70% Tolkien … when I think about it, it looks a lot like the way I've always envisioned the deep lake where Bible first encounters Gollum ^-^), and it's immensely useful for me in both talking about and trying to … interface? with my history.

      I'm curious about Lake Roopkand now, though, so I'm going to go look it up!

      • I misspelled it. It’s Lake Roopkund.
        Restless skeletons beneath the ice, deposited by historic trauma, just like you said.

      • Oh, wow o.O That’s fascinatingly specific. I wonder if I’ve heard of it at some point in the past and forgotten about it, or if it’s just the interconnectedness of all things trickling through…

      • Also, from the Wikipedia article:
        “Local legend says that the King of Kanauj, Raja Jasdhaval, with his pregnant wife, Rani Balampa, their servants, ***a dance troupe*** and others went on a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine, and the group faced a storm with large hailstones, from which the entire party perished near Roopkund Lake.”
        (***emphasis mine***)


        I’m partly wanting to say DON’T @ ME, UNIVERSE, but actually I assume that when the universe @s you, the universe has a good reason o.o’

        So, huh, wow

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