Category Archives: adulting

On Autism And Ballet (Again)

I know I’ve written about this before, and I’m sure I’ll write about it again, but because for some unfathomable reason I’ve spent basically my entire day on Twitter grooving on threads from the neurodivergent, EDS, and disability communities, it occurs to me to write about why the ballet is a good fit for me, specifically as it interfaces with autism.

Everyone on earth has now written a summary of the basic diagnostic criteria for autism, so I’m not going to do that, here. Y’all know how to Google if you need more info -.^

Instead, I’m going to touch on how working as a dancer in a ballet company is a good fit for me as an autistic person, breaking things down as I go by the specific traits in question.

So, here we go.

Narrow Range Of Specialized Interests

Hooooo, boy. With the exception of the equestrian world and certain subsets of academia (I see you, paleobiologists!), I’m not sure there are too many actual career paths that dovetail as neatly here.

Ballet is an all-encompassing special interest. It requires your body, your mind, and basically all of your time. It’s one of the very few career paths in which obsessive focus on the subject is essentially an entry-level requirement—like, the only way to make it through the training is to be motivated enough by ballet itself, which is why dancers everywhere giggle at t-shirts that read, “I CAN’T. I HAVE CLASS.”

Like, we’ve all been there, and (excepting the few who get shoved into it by overbearing parents), we all chose that life.

As autistics, we experience this thing where people get really sick of our special interests. I honestly have only met one person in the ballet world who occasionally gets tired of talking about ballet, and even he doesn’t get tried enough of it to resent it—he’s just delighted when people bring their non-dancing partners to dancer shindigs so he can talk to them about, like, politics or futböl ^-^

It’s not that we dancers never talk about anything else—but in the studio after rehearsal, or at gatherings of dancers, nobody gets mad if you talk about ballet, or if all your jokes are specific to dance.

I suppose part of this is that ballet leaves precious little time for other pursuits—but, also, you only get that far if it basically consumes your whole being.

Rigid Adherence To Routine

I go to class even when I’m on holiday.

This is, of course, partly because I like going to class, and partly because the only way to stay in shape for ballet is, well, ballet.

But I’ve realized it’s also, to a significant extent, because no matter where I go, class is class. Barre is barre. Centre is centre. Allegro is the best thing that ever—erm, sorry, allegro is allegro.

There may be minor variations (Ha! Ballet puns!) in the routine, but overall, when I step into the studio, I can relax a bit more than I normally do, because I understand the process, and I know what will happen.

That Whole “Systematizing” Thing

NGL, I love a good system—and ballet is a system.

admittedly, from the outside, it prolly looks a bit like this

It comes with its own entire language and four hundred years of etiquette, which (bonus!) is largely explicit.

Better still, it combines beautifully with a systematic understanding of anatomy and physiology.

Yes, parts of the system are problematic and due for overhaul—but that can happen in any system. A strong system will weather those changes and come out the other side better than it was.

Ballet has been doing that for four hundred years. As long as we allow it to, it will continue.

Being a member of a company also provides a systematic framework for managing time. Class begins at the same time six days a week; rehearsal and performance schedules are posted where you can see them enter day, but you’ve also got your fellow dancers to remind you that, oh yeah, this Friday we have an outreach gig after lunch.

In a well-organized company, you know the temporal framework for the entire season when you arrive on Day One. Specific parts of it may change due to casting or whatever (for example, global pandemics o.O), but the broad strokes are there.

The Social Aspect

My particular autism is probably most observable in the casual social contexts most NT folks seem to really enjoy—the ones where there’s no specific topic or activity, just general chumming around with a bunch of people. I have literally no idea what to do in those circumstances unless someone fires up a conversation that falls in my range of Known Topics ^.^’

And G-d help me if it’s the kind of party where there’s music and lots of different, overlapping conversations but no room to just dance [1]. I can’t with parties like that—my spoken language processing is too limited, and my brain stops bothering, so I typically find the quietest possible place to hole up with a match-3 game on my phone.

  1. If there’s room to dance, on the other hand, I’m in my element. It didn’t even really matter what kind of music is playing.

There’s some very interesting research happening about much of autistic social difficulty results directly to autistic neurodivergce itself and how much results from the social opportunity costs of being different, particularly during childhood, bu it’s generally agreed that autistics on the whole typically struggle with social stuff.

40 Helens Agree (and if somehow you weren’t exposed to reruns of Canadian comedy classics as a kid, I’m sorry)

Ballet might seem like a weird way to address that, since the typical class offers little or no time for what we think of as socializing. But what it lacks in time to chat, it makes up for in spades under the heading of “shared/corporate[2]/communal experience”—which works well for me as someone who grooves on the whole “parallel play” modality, and which in itself provides fodder for chats outside of class and rehearsal (or during breaks).

  1. In the sense of “people doing things together as a single entity”—ie, a body, or corpus

You don’t have to know how to have a casual conversation to be part of a group of dancers—but being part of a group of dancers can help you get better at having a casual conversation. At least, it did that for me. I’m not going to say I ever totally stopped being The Weird Kid at LexBallet, but people got to know and like me well enough to see past the discomfort that causes.

Addendum: Oh, and because I totally failed to mention it: there’s nothing as social as partnering. (Well, maybe one other thing ^-^’)

You Never Have To Sit Still

Okay, except sometimes, like if you’re a corps girl in parts of Swan Lake or the Master of Ceremonies during certain parts of The Sleeping Beauty. But, even then, it’s a very active way of being still, and will inevitably be relieved by movement.

I often tell people the story of sitting (“sitting,” lol) in a meeting at the last non-ballet job I had and experiencing this intense revelation: like, literally everyone else in the room was physically able to sit still.

I was the only one doing a jig under the table, furiously taking notes to stay engaged, drawing when there was a lull, and constantly shifting in my chair.

That was the moment when I realized with absolute clarity that I did not belong there. Not in a value-judging way—just in a, “Wow, this is not my environment” way. I realized I wasn’t about to “grow into” sitting down at a desk—not then, and probably not ever.

Or, well. The combination of me and the environment, anyway.

I need to move in order to function. I mean, yes, that’s true for everyone, don’t get me wrong—basically it’s what makes us not plants. Even sessile species like sea anemones go through phases where the they float around irresponsibly before finding grown-up jobs and settling down.

What I mean is that, for whatever reason, my brain/body compels me to move more than most people are compelled to move.

I think better when I’m moving. I feel better when I’m moving. Moving helps me organize my senses and my thoughts.

Honestly, my brain is kind of like one of those sharks that starts to die if it stops swimming, only replace “die” with “dance a stationary jig while quietly losing the plot, but not actually processing information in any meaningful way.”

I don’t necessarily panic—I just get more and more restless, and the excess spills over in the form of more meltdowns and less sleep. Well, and also just having to get up and take a walk, to anywhere, even if it’s just the despised printer, enemy of humankind, or the file cabinet or whatevs.

Also, I just have a metric shedload of extra energy to burn off, and nothing does that like ballet-company life [3]. Teaching gets partway there, but drains my social meter harder than it does my hyperactivity, so it doesn’t lead to the kind of productive exhaustion that makes me actually feel my best and reliably sleep well.

  1. working with horses also comes very close, but it’s hard to work at a barn and in a ballet company at the same time; being a picker in a gigantic warehouse also burns off tons of energy, but isn’t as helpful in other ways

This is never a problem in ballet, because in ballet, moving is literally your job.

So, Like, In Summary

Anyway, this is long enough.

I’ve written it in part because I’m sure there are people out there who are like, “Wait, I thought all autistics did computers or trains or math,” or even, “How can an autistic person possibly work in ballet?”

I hope this goes a little way towards helping things make sense for people in those camps, but it also helps me understand better what I need from my work environment and why company life, even during my “unpaid trainee/bottom of the pile” days, meant so much to me and worked so well for me.

I’ve been thinking hard about how to make things work going forward, because normally, in dance, you kind of audition everywhere and you go where the job is, but things are happening in my life (nothing ominous, just … responsibilities and stuff) that mean I’ll be moving to a specific place whether or not I get a company spot there.

That has been pretty scary, because I haven’t been sure how to continue building my life as a dancer if that happens. Like, literally, as a not-tall guy who still has some rough spots in his training, that’s a very real possibility. There might not be a company that has a spot for me right now.

But knowing why company life works for me will help me begin to see my way to building a working life that does work, even if that happens.

Rough Day, But Not As Rough

CW: Mention of Suicidal Thoughts

Today was … yeah.

It wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had. Not by a long, long, loooooooong measure.

But it was the kind of day that starts with a reminder of the fact that the ballet company I worked my butt off to be worthy of is still on hiatus, and that since I’m moving, it’s very unlikely I’ll be dancing with them much, if at all, ever again, and that as such the part of my career that meant the most to me is still stalled (pending auditions, etc). This is, for me, a big deal.

I’m also tried and probably haven’t eaten enough bc my schedule is weird and nothing sounds like food, so I’m sure some of this is just down to the fact that I turn into a giant toddler when I’m hungry or tired, let alone both.

So, anyway, right now, my brain is simultaneously like YOU ARE AWFUL, LIFE IS AWFUL, EVERYTHING IS AWFUL and also like OMFG STOP BEING SUCH A GIANT DRAMATIC EMO TODDLER (while yet another part is like Can’t we just stop being so judgmental of our own emotions, here? Sheesh).

But, also, another part of my brain is like, “Dude, you know what? I remember that we’ve felt like this before, and it was terrible and sucked and felt like it would go on forever, but then eventually we stopped feeling like this. So, I’ma let you finish, but you know, it’s very possible that eventually this will stop, too.”

It reminds me of a thing I realized about my suicidal episodes, which come on very fast, usually when I find myself feeling trapped: I can tell myself to wait a day (or an hour, or thirty seconds), and if nothing has changed, I can kill myself then. I tell myself that over and over, until finally I stop having to tell myself that. Sometimes it takes weeks. Sometimes it takes less than a day.

But so far I’m still alive, partly because I really mean it in those moments. Like, I tell myself that option is there, and bizarrely, that helps me feel a tiny bit less trapped. That probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but it often works for me (in combination with having people in my life who can help me, of course).

Anyway, I think this is the first time my brain has chimed in with NOOOOOO EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE AND IT WILL BE HORRIBLE FOREVER and another part of my brain has said, “Hey, you know, that could be true, but experience tells me it probably isn’t[1], so instead of getting caught in this idea–though you can go on feeling that way, over there, it’s okay–I’m going to hang out and wait and see,” and I’ve been able to sit with that paradox without it losing sight of that second thing, really.

  1. I mean, notwithstanding the fact that in some ways life is unrelentingly horrible to a lot of people. Like, for an incredibly large number of people, that is pretty objectively true, though so many of those people are incredible at enduring things nobody should have to endure. But that’s a different sense of the thing.

I am still struggling with being knocked out of the thing that was so central in my life, and not having somehow gotten my crap together enough to audition last year so I wouldn’t be in this position now (though I’d still be moving, so I’d still be facing the terrifying gamut of auditions). The structure of company life brought a lot of sanity with it, for me; it helped shape my time in ways I’m not good at doing for myself (I don’t mean that as a value judgment: it’s just not a thing my brain does well, and that’s fine). It helped me grow both as a dancer and as a person in ways that I’m not doing, or perhaps not doing as much, under current circumstances (I’m sure I’m learning other things, but the thing you have doesn’t replace the thing you lost; that’s just how grief is).

It’s been hard to talk about this because, quite frankly, the response one often gets is, “Why are you complaining! You have no idea how lucky you are to have had the time that you did in that company.”

Which is both dismissive (grief is not lessened by knowing that one has lost something rare and special; not at all) and, frankly, incorrect. I would hazard that I know better than anyone alive the staggering constellation of circumstances that coincided to give me my time at LexBallet: I know keenly and viscerally just how incredibly lucky I am.

But I also know that luck was only part of it, and that an ocean of hard work and no small measure of sacrifice was also involved.

Grief is real; grief is hard; and still I work not to cling to grief, but to say, “Hello, grief,” and let it be there, while also knowing that other things will come, though I have no idea what they will be, and they might not be the things I imagine that I want.

So here I am, sitting with these things that I feel, and sitting with the uncertainty of things, and part of me is in turmoil about it (though probably more in turmoil about needing to go to bed and/or eat) and part of me is at peace with that turmoil. Which feels kind of neat, in its own way.

And now I’m going to go feed my inner giant emo toddler and go to bed.

~

PS: the thing that made everything boil over this morning was having a bad day in class in a way that felt like a step backwards: I kept not trusting myself to have the exercises, and instead of just saying, “Ah, feck it,” and going for it, kept watching everyone else in the mirror to make sure I was right, which then actually prevented things from sticking in any meaningful sense, which led to a kind of crisis of nerves in which I couldn’t pick things up because I was busy being afraid that I couldn’t pick things up, to such an extent that L’Ancien called me out on it (which I deserved).

That reminded me how much confidence I’d gained during my time with LexBallet, and which (in that moment) I feared I’d lost, which gave my brain (which was already in a weird place, probably for purely biochemical reasons for once) a thing to hang up about, which colored the rest of the day, which might otherwise have been only a normal day in which some things sucked and other things rocked and most things were just meh.

Besides being okay with sitting with the place where my head is now, part of the answer is to be willing to say, on mornings that I’m as foggy as I was this morning, “OKay, I’m going to hang back and give myself more time to pick things up.”

Sometimes forcing myself to go in the first group every time is a good strategy. Sometimes it’s not, and it’s silly to cling to that strategy when it’s not working.

~

PPS: At the end of class, when I finally got out of my own way and decided to just trust that I knew the combination, I got some very nice remarks from L’Ancien. That should tell me a lot. I’m sure it will when that part of my brain is ready to listen.

I Botched My Roll

So, I made a plan (or, well, more like a goal) and … yeah. You know how it goes. Man makes plans; G-d laughs.

In addition to the schedule insanity (that I brought upon myself by not communicating as well as I should have and thus taking on a couple of projects that have added hours of driving time to each week) and STILL trying to finish getting the house sorted, we’re trying to figure things out relative to stuff going on in my family. Oh, and Nutcracker, of course. Two of them, but at least I’m only dancing in one, I guess?

So I haven’t succeeded in compiling and posting resource links yet. Mea maxima culpa.

What the past BASICALLY TWO HECKING YEARS FFS have made me really, really realize is that I thrive in the highly-structured and physically demanding environment of a ballet company, but freelancing makes my head explode.

I don’t know if I’d say that I’m glad that I’ve been given an opportunity to learn how much freelancing in dance probably isn’t a really great, sustainable career choice for me–let’s be honest, we’d all rather that COVID-19 (and misinformation appertaining thereto) hadn’t driven a hecking train through everything, and I’d MUCH rather be halfway through my fourth full season at LexBallet than … this. But, like, at least it’s given me some insight into how NOT to manage my career. Or, at any rate, to the fact that if freelancing is going to be part of my future, I have to find a better way of managing my calendar.

I don’t think I’ll ever be great, or possibly even basically competent, at planning. I think I’m going to have to accept that. It’s not in my wheelhouse, so to speak.

Apparently when I was rolling up my stats or whatevs before I was born, I decided to put a ton of points in strength, dex, charisma, and … whatever stat covers having a brain that’s incredibly good at creative stuff and storing boatloads of information about highly specific things but doesn’t cover things like planning (at all) or processing language (at least in, well, a reliably-accurate way). I clearly more or less zeroed out whichever stats cover things like planning and executive function in general.

What’s my “Not Sucking At Life” modifier again?
PC: Murilo Papini via Pexels.com

I find the whole Ye Olde Tabletoppe Gameyngg analogy helpful because it reminds me that, like, it often really does kind of seem like we have X amount of points that somehow get distributed between an array of characteristics.

While some people–probably most people–roll up well-balanced stats and are very comfortably sound all-rounders, those of us who stack one or more stats do so at the expense of other stats.

Maybe we’re strong AF with a wimpy constitution. Maybe we supercharge Charisma at the expense of mere Strength.

Maybe we roll up a dancer who can’t remember what’s happening this Tuesday, let alone some other, distant Tuesday, if there’s not an external structure in place to help him remember.

Instead of making value judgements about our stats, we can see them as tradeoffs. And just as, in an RPG, you accept the tradeoff and play the character you made, in real life it’s probably a good idea to take stock of one’s strengths and weaknesses instead of wasting energy trying to ameliorate the weaknesses beyond a reasonable degree[0].

  1. Seriously. In an RPG, you don’t go, “Greymoor Devondale prepares Spell of Basic Calendar Management” when it’s going to take 17 turns, your party is facing a Balrog with serious indigestion, and you’re the only one whose music can soothe the beast so the Thief can steal the Thing of Needing and save everyone’s butts, or at least advance to the next stage in the adventure. You play the Magic Music and let the appointments fall where they may.

I’m sure there are people who buck this general trend and who are just, you know, spec-hecking-tacular in all their stats[1]. Honestly, I’m happy for them, and happy they exist–like, legitimately, I suspect that there are probably a handful of such folk who are, perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, effectively holding back the tide of the rest of the world’s collective idiocy, including mine.

  1. JS hecking Bach, organist, composer, choir director, and family man extraordinaire comes to mind. But otoh there were elements in his life that facilitated all that; who knows what would become of him in the mad l’aissez-faire end-stage capitalist economy of the 21st-century United States.

I’m also grateful for all the comfortably sound all-rounders–the human Morgan horses of the world who may not be the flashiest, the fastest, the highest-jumping, the smoothest-going, or the hella strongest but who nonetheless are perfectly capable in all those areas and thus are just plain useful. People who are generally competent at being human keep the world turning[2].

  1. Seriously. Y’all are the best. May G-d preserve me from becoming a snooty artiste who doesn’t understand how important lunchroom staffers and accountants and stay-at-home-parents and handypersons and all the competent human beings of the world are ❤

For the rest of us, I guess we have to figure it out.

I’ve maybe finally gotten my head around the fact that my body is kind of a unicorn of strength and flexibility and staggeringly good at picking up physical skills and that I am, in fact, apparently actually rather a talented dancer (if also a bit of an idiot with regard to remembering choreography in certain contexts). I’m a seething inferno of creative ideas and stories. I’m good at making stuff up. Like, really good. And for whatever reason I seem to be missing the gene that makes people afraid of improvising in front of an audience, which has begun to strike me as a kind of Holy Grail of gifts related to the performing arts. I was evidently born not with the gift of gab, but that of pure, unadulterated ham.

Oh, and I’m not half bad at obsessing about neuroscience, though it seems less and less likely that I’ll be returning to pursue a PhD therein any time soon (which is fine).

I’m also getting my head around the fact that I’m absolutely not great at planning, managing my schedule, keeping a house decluttered and pleasant to live in unless there’s very little stuff in it, doing any unfamiliar social task, general adulting, and being, well, reasonable.

You know: the things that, well, “normal” people manage with a fair degree of competence, even amidst the wackadoodle landscape of the 21st century[3].

  1. For the record, I do know that modern life isn’t easy for, well, “normal” people. Wrestling a giant is always hard. It’s just that, for people like me, we’re doing it with one or both hands tied behind our backs, basically. So we kind of need that paintbrush we’re gripping between our teeth, so we can stab that giant mothertrucker in the nostril, if we ever get close enough.

The last of these (that is, not being reasonable) has been … well, not the hardest to accept, exactly, but maybe the hardest to see. Barring my autistic resistance to unexpected changes when there is a plan (I’m much less rigid in circumstances where there aren’t really established plans or protocols, which might be related to my fearless delight in improvisation), I like to think of myself as a fairly reasonable person. After the inevitable meltdown (“WAIT!!! Here are all the reasons that it would be a HORRIBLE PLAN to combine these two classes!!! I don’t mean to be alarmist but THE WORLD. WILL. ENNNNDDDDDDDDDDD!”) I’m pretty good at accepting changes (“Oh, wait. No. Never mind. You’re right. That’s actually a good idea. Carry on.”).

I’m also generally quite willing to do what works for the greater good and even pretty willing to admit when I’m wrong, once I find the brake that lets me stop arguing simply because I’m arguing (do y’all have that, “Oh, crap, this is the WRONG HILL, but I’d guess better die here because I’m already defending it” reflex between realizing you’re at least partially wrong and adjusting accordingly, or is that just me?).

But I’m not reasonable, and what finally made me realize this was a conversation in which I grumbled at myself for not being reasonable in some specific way, and good ol’ Dr. Dancebelt pointed out to me that we don’t exactly become dancers because we’re reasonable.

To unpack that (since just copying-and-pasting the whole conversation doesn’t seem quite kosher), the idea was this: a truly reasonable person can absolutely love dance and dancing without being compelled to make a career out of it. Being a full-time professional artist of almost any kind is and has, in the Western world, almost always been essentially a way of trading security for passion. There are lots of people who are accountants or nurses (well, maybe not nurses; their schedules are usually even crazier than mine) or teachers or pipefitters or cooks who also paint, write, sculpt, or make music for the love of it, and some of them even get paid for their work.

Some of them also dance for the love of it, though they’re a lot less likely to get paid for dancing because of the demands dancing professionally makes on one’s time.

Yet to do any of those things full-time–which is all but a necessity when your thing is dance (especially ballet)–one must very unreasonably choose a difficult and, let’s be honest, financially perilous way of life. That’s just not a reasonable thing to do (though I guess one could make the argument that if not doing The Thing makes you unbearably unhappy and thus not really any more productive or financially stable in the long run, choosing the way of being financially unstable that doesn’t also make you want to die is actually pretty reasonable?).

Basically, being the kind of person who does what, from the outside, looks like choosing the life of an artist despite the glaringly obvious difficulties it imposes is a bit like being possessed–admittedly, by a fairly benign entity, but one whose directives nonetheless sometimes make other people look at you (often with a kind of baffled wonder) and say, “Well, I sure wouldn’t do that.” (On the other hand, a lot of them also say, “Man, I wish I could do that,” so ???)

But also: as artists, we don’t typically lead head-first[4]. Both my AD at LexBallet, Mr D, and the sort of Ur-Teacher of LouBallet’s open classes, L’Ancien, constantly remind us to get out of our heads and dance.

  1. Even JS Bach led from a faith like a volcanic caldera, simmering hugely away beneath the exterior–he coupled it with powerful reason to make some of the most beautiful music of the Western classical canon.

Mr D exhorts us to feel the music!

L’Ancien says, “I don’t care if you do the right steps–I want to see you dance!” Yesterday I caught myself saying almost the same thing to a promising student in my Ballet I/II class, “You were right, but you started thinking and you second-guessed yourself. Brains can really get in the way sometimes!”

As artists, we lead with our hearts or our souls or our guts or whatever (Who has time to even contemplate that? The dance won’t dance itself![5]). If we’re smart/lucky/whatever, we bring our brains along A] to facilitate the process of creation and refine its results and B] to make sure we don’t do anything too stupid and irremediable in the process.

  1. Yes, I say this with a touch of irony. Contemplation is usually part of it, somewhere along the line, and I suspect that a lot people would argue that the dance is always dancing itself. In fact, being entirely comfortable with the apparent-but-not-entirely-actual paradox implied, I don’t disagree. But That’s Another Post(R).

So I’m learning to accept the measure of unreason that appears to be intrinsic to my nature, and to relinquish the well-trained tendency to worship reasonableness for its own sake. All things in moderation, even moderation, etc.

As for the rest … it’s a learning curve.

Like, honestly, as you grow up, you’re used to getting better at things, and often just kind of growing into things that you couldn’t do very well before. Then you spend a while being, or trying to be, an adult, and you realize: oh, okay. Some of this is just kind of how my brain works, and while I might be able to move the needle a tiny bit by expending basically all the energy I have in a constant, massive, concerted effort, it probably wouldn’t actually be worth it.

It’s kind of like realizing that you’re always going to be 173cm tall with short arms, and buying a footstool to make it easier to get things down from the high shelves. Even the strongest demi-pointe only gets you so far.

A long time ago, I made this kind of decision about managing how autistic I look in the world at large. In familiar settings, with immense effort, I can “pass” as … well, not “normal,” but at least not obviously autistic. I learned to do so as a survival mechanism, albeit one that has always been both limited in its actual effectiveness (Is it really any better if people just think you’re plain old weird? By which I mean, does it actually make life any easier? My experience says it isn’t.) and incredibly taxing to maintain.

I had this kind of epiphany, at one point, that I was wasting a ton of clock-cycles trying to fly under the radar, and that outside of very limited-duration applications (placing an order at a coffee counter, and things like that) it was a complete waste of energy. So I decided to, like, stop doing that.

Which, of course, was difficult in its own way, since by then I’d spent a number of years basically cosplaying “normal” roughly 10-16 hours per day and it was a pretty ingrained habit, albeit a destructive one.

Anyway. The end result was a decision to stop swimming up stream for no dam reason (sorry, kinda went fishing for that pun, didn’t I :V) and, ultimately, to learn some new coping skills. And also to, like, just let my hands flap if they want to, sometimes. (Since then, I’ve learned that it’s amazing what kinds of physical weirdness people will overlook if they know you’re a dancer ‘\_(^.^’)_/`

So instead, I’m trying to learn to actually communicate my needs (this has been huge) and to, like, make accommodations[6] for myself as needed. I have trouble managing a house with a lot of stuff in it, so getting rid of a bunch of the stuff is a reasonable approach–and it turns out that D is, at this point in history, on board with that idea. I have trouble managing the process of making appointments with out quarduple[7] booking myself all the gorram time, so … ermmm. Yeah. Still working on that one.

  1. …By which I mostly mean “tools and strategies,” though sometimes, of course, the reality is more, “I JUST CAAAAANNNNNNN’T!” than, “I can! But I’m going to need a boat.”
  2. This isn’t a typo. I’m making fun of myself.

The appointment-management thing is kind of my “white whale,” as we say in the aerial arts community. I’ve been trying to solve that problem forever, and so far I’m 0/infinity. I don’t use any one calendar system reliably enough to prevent it, partly because my phone is crap at multitasking and I lose the thread while it’s taking its sweet time launching gCal or whatever, but mostly because I’m bad at actually remember to copy things into a central calendar and then either get said central calendar out or pull it up while booking things[8]. Ugh. Why[9].

  1. The obvious solution is to carry a small, physical notebook[10] and WRITE THINGS DOWN. The challenge is finding one that
    1. is small enough that I will always carry it and
    2. plays well with my specific handwriting difficulties
  2. Oh, right. Because sometimes the relationship between ADHD and autism is multiplicative, not additive.
  3. Obviously, I haven’t found the One True Notebook yet.

Anyway. So this is where I am right now. I’m trying to stop saying things like, “…But I’ll have a lot more time available once X show is over” because A] that is NEVER true and B] if it ever is true, I would really benefit from a few days to hang my brain out in the sun on the laundry line or something.

Or at least really finish the fecking dishes and laundry. THEY NEVER END.

I originally intended this to be just a short, “Hey, sorry I haven’t done the things yet,” post, but apparently I needed to write for a bit. It did get me thinking about a possible way to implement The Calendar Notebook, though. So maybe I’ll also post that idea at some point.

Until then, keep dancing, and keep being unreasonable, where art is concerned.

You Will Make Mistakes

So it’s been a while.

We’ve been redacting mold, DIYing our basement living space back into shape after redacting said mold, and otherwise generally working on the house like crazy, while at the same time I’m rehearsing four (I think?) separate things and teaching.

One of the pieces in rehearsal involves this sheer & very sparkly thing in which I don’t even think I look like me, but I do think I look pretty darn good?

So, erm, it’s rather a lot.

I am bad at the kind of adulting that involves juggling four separate, unrelated rehearsal schedules and anything else, never mind that plus everything else. And yet, here we are.

Anyway.

This week I found myself in a frazzle because my brain momentarily decided to latch on to the idea that I might not manage to teach all of my students all of the absolutely correct technique they might need and ten years from now one of them might be in an audition somewhere going, “Oh, snap, I’ve been doing that wrong my entire life.

Case in point: my body wants all attitude turns to employ the same arms as renversé. I just can’t with my body sometimes, y’all. Also, the thing where I STILL put my arm too far back in second sometimes 🤬

And then I realized, like—yeah. That will probably happen. And, to be honest, it’s okay.

I wish it was possible to guarantee that 100% of what I teach would both be absolutely sound and absorbed perfectly. But isn’t, and it never has been.

My own technique has its rough spots (I mean, I don’t call myself “danseur ignoble” for nothin’). My own teachers have probably passed along some quirks, and I certainly came up with plenty of them all by myself.

That’s fine. I don’t resent any of my teachers for the shortcomings I have now; instead, I appreciate how hard they tried to teach me correct, classical technique. I owe my career largely to my teachers’ sound methods, partly to the good graces of directors who have the ability to look beyond my quirks, partly to my ridiculously good feet (still, lol), partly to my own work ethic, and a little bit to raw talent.

People rock up to auditions with all kinds of flaws, because nobody’s perfect. Even if that wasn’t the case, different directors like different versions of things (like: I paused today to ask Mr D whether he wanted our waltz turns to brush through twice or to brush to the front and petit développé/pas de cheval to the back, because both versions are valid and I’ve been doing a lot of the second one lately).

Even students graduating from the best, longest-established schools aren’t perfect. That’s one of the things I love about ballet: no matter how good we are, we can always continue to strive for perfection. The fact that it’s unattainable is immaterial. The practice is the thing.

Likewise, there is no such thing as a perfect teacher. I will make mistakes. I will explain things with crazy analogies that may or may not take root. I will miss some things and overcorrect others.

Here I am DRASTICALLY overcorrecting an échappé 😱 (Whilst simultaneously losing my right-side turnout 🤦)

In the end, I won’t be perfect, either as a dancer or as a teacher, but I suspect that my students will forgive me.

The important part is to teach, to the best of my ability, technique that is as strong and consistent as I can make it, and to continue learning both as a dancer and a teacher so that over time I can teach more effectively.

If I do that, I’ve done my part towards ensuring that most of the technique my students bring to the table will be strong and consistent, provided that the students also do their part, that the winds are favorable, and that, as they say, “the creek don’t riz.”

Because, y’all, I may be a somewhat teacher of regular ballet, but I’m wholly unqualified as an instructor of water ballet.

Something’s Happening!!!

You know those soundbytes that your brain makes from experiences in your own life and then plays back every time you hear some kind of trigger word or phrase?

“Something’s happening!!!” is one of mine. My friend Mal, who is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known, once shouted this during a particularly complicated group acro thing, and it so beautifully summed up the moment: like, “Something is happening! Is it the right thing? WHO CARES!!! IT’S A RESULT!!! YEAHHHHHHHHH!!!”

If I remember correctly, what was happening was, in fact, the thing we were trying for, so that’s also awesome, but the best part was just the sheer excitement that ANYTHING was happening ^-^

Anyway, it was just one of those really great moments.

As is this.

Yes, COVID-19 is still a thing. We’re still dancing in masks in most circumstances and so forth. People are still getting sick and dying, and I don’t want to make light of that.

But, at the same time, the world of the performing arts and of the movement arts is slowly, cautiously resuming operations.

This week, I’m taking the Louisville Ballet School’s second-annual Adult Summer Intensive. Thus far, it’s been flat-out amazing. I’ve hella missed starting my day with class in a room full of dancers, then spending the whole day at work in the studio. It’s so good to be doing it now, and it’s a great group this year–14 of us doing the full-day program, plus an additional handful doing the half-day version.

Next week, on the 11th, I’m teaching a workshop for aerialists (and other movement-based performers who might not have a strong dance background) specifically on What To Do With Your Hands. Honestly, given my history as a Ballet Squid, I’m both deeply moved that people actually asked me to teach that specific topic and also deeply amused. Honestly, though, the fact that hands have historically been a biiiiiit of a problem for me is one of the reasons I actually feel qualified to teach this.

I am not, for example, all that well well placed to teach flexibility, because my entire approach would be, “IDK LOL MY BODY JUST DOES THAT *shrug*”

But since I’ve actually had to work at making my hands not do stupid and ridiculous things ALL THE TIME, I think I can actually offer some useful insights–like, “your hands will be more graceful if you think of them as extensions of your arms,” for example.

On the 13th, our preview production of Leigh Purtill Ballet Company’s CIRCUS OF WORLDLY WONDERS goes live (or semi-live). The show will have both pre-recorded and live segments, and there will also be a raffle and other cool fundraising stuff.

On the 17th, it’s PLAYTHINK TIME!!! I’ll be teaching my usual workshop, Move And Be Moved, at 6:30 PM on Thursday and performing an original piece with my friend Emma in the main-stage Flowcase, which begins at 8:30 PM on Friday.

In a studio with many colorful balls and fabrics, male dancer (the author) stands with his back to the camera, supporting a female dancer (Emma) with her right arm and leg raised.
We’re doing the Nutcracker Grand Pas! …No, just kidding, but I did AHEM borrow this bit from there.

Emma has, by the way, been a fabulous partner. She came into this with no real partnering experience, but has been incredibly game about trying everything. We also take regular breaks to act like a couple of five-year olds, which is super important to the partnering relationship IMO.

In July and possibly August, I’ll be teaching at Summer Intensives, and beginning rehearsals for LPBC’s next show, Sweet Sorrow: A Zombie Ballet, in which I get to be a werewolf (AWOOOOOOOOOO!!!).

I also have a bunch of short gigs with Turners’ Smile Parade, which is an awesome sort of pop-up circusette that visits nursing homes, schools, birthday parties, and so forth, and I’m hecking excited about those, because frankly they’re SUPER fun ❤

I may or may not find a way to jam another SI into my summer, though who knows? Right now, I’m feeling pretty booked, and like perhaps I shouldn’t add anything because I need to leave room to, like, actually breathe and relax and put my feet up before I dive into what is somehow the THIRD YEAR of my ballet-teaching career and the … fourth? year of my ballet career.

Tonight, though, I’ll be sliding into the bathtub for a little R&R before I crawl into bed. My body feels great (if a bit tired) right now, but 6ish hours of dancing, followed by an hour pushing the lawn mower around, can take a toll, and a bath will help put things right.

An Obvious, Not-Obvious Thing

I think I was 20 or so when I first thought to myself, “The first step in growing up is realizing that you’re still a kid” or something like that.

Even at the time, that seemed very obviously like a Step Zero kind of idea: like, not even Step One in the actual program of working on the thing, but the step that makes you realize there’s a thing to maybe work on in the first place[1].

  1. … Though, in fact, I’m not at all enamoured with the idea of growing up for its own sake, and never have been. More on that later, ! maybe?

At the time I was still rather blindly invested in the idea of myself as being mature-beyond-my-years. That was a problem because, in fact, I wasn’t so much preternaturally mature as developmentally delayed in a way that completely hoses up the cultural signals of maturity.

Look past the Sexy Accountant Glasses and air of composure. Remind yourself that a fully-qualified adult would probably be wearing a shirt.

Like: it’s hard to get in trouble by doing stupid things with your friends when you don’t have any friends. Not getting in trouble can make it seem like you’re making good choices, when in fact you just haven’t had to make those choices in the first place.

It’s easy to follow the rules when you’re developmentally still at a stage in which you actually really like rules. This can make it seem like you’re a mature and prudent individual with clear foresight when, once again, you might not actually be equipped to make prudent decisions or be at all good at figuring out how your immediate actions might impact your long-term outcomes.

It’s easy to sound like an old soul when you basically learned how humans talk by reading books written by people who died a hundred years ago (and let’s not forget the social weirdness of growing up in the ur-nerdy, monomaniacal worlds of ballet and classical music, in which children tend to behave almost as if they come from another time, because the culture of the artform selects for a kind of old-world obedience). None of those things mean you have any idea how to have adult relationships.

Anyway!

When an actual 8- or 10-year old comes across that way, we assume that—appearances notwithstanding—they’re still not yet in a place, developmentally, that qualifies them to march forth into the adult world and, like, provide for themselves, navigate complex adult relationships, and … all that stuff.

When someone who’s 18 or 20 comes across that way, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Things Aren’t Always As They Appear. Instead, we congratulate them for their apparent maturity and are then flabbergasted when they make a disastrous hash of actually Adulting.

This can be just as true when the person in question is yourself. It can be hard to see our own deficiencies. We are, by nature, standing too close, so to speak.

Is there a better analogy for the process of trying to adult than someone (okay, me) decked out in a crown, a regal jacket, plaid jogger-style pajama bottoms, and moon boots?

Which brings me to The Obvious, Not-Obvious Thing.

I have spent a huge chunk of my life trying to prove that I could Live A Normal Life Despite My Differences/Disabilities, without understanding that simply acting as if they didn’t exist was, perhaps, not the best strategy. (Okay, full disclosure: I still do this on the regs. Long-established habits take time to change.)

As a result, I’ve basically lived a life in which I’m constantly angry at myself for the mentaphorical equivalent of failing to make it up the stairs in a wheelchair when there’s a ramp RIGHT HECKING THERE, for G-d’s sake[2]. Or, at least, there’s an easy enough way to add one.

  1. Caveat: there are, of course, still many, many situations in which there is neither a literal nor a metaphorical ramp. The fact that the culture at large behaves as if people with disabilities are failures in those situations is another post entirely, and one that lots of people have written better than I might. Likewise, deciding to climb the stairs in your wheelchair because you actually want to is a totally valid pursuit.

Anyway, lately (and belatedly, given that anyone who’s spent more than two minutes around Buddhism should hecking well know better, but there I go becoming attached to a concept again—specifically one about how I should or shouldn’t learn, which seems hilariously apropos), it has begun to occur to me to forgive myself, as it were, for being what I am.

Like … I might be able, with immense effort, to change some of these things to some extent—but why do that when there are other ways to reach the same goals? And why be mad at myself when I struggle? It’s not like being mad actually helps (in this circumstance).

In other words, it has begun to occur to me that instead of continuing to ram my metaphorical wheelchair into the stairs and be angry at myself for failing to climb, I can accept the metaphorical wheelchair situation and, like, add metaphorical ramps instead. (This seems relevant to this year’s intention, “Ask for help.”)

It has begun to occur to me that instead of fighting to change some of the limitations (for lack of a better word) that my brain imposes, I can accept that they’re there and figure out how to work with them—to harness them where it’s possible and to accommodate them where it’s not.

I guess I used to assume (albeit unconsciously) that I would “grow out of” things—that one day I’d learn how to do things the “normal” way (which is difficult enough for “normal” people, come to think of it) and … that would be that, I guess?

It’s not an unreasonable hypothesis—after all, at one point, I didn’t know how to tie my shoes, and then I figured it out and now it’s automatic.

Or, possibly, I’ve just engineered a life in which I never actually have to tie my shoes, because I never have to wear shoes that tie.

It is, however, an incomplete hypothesis, or maybe a complete one that I’ve overgeneralized. (Teaching has been helpful, I think: it’s made the idea of different people having different strengths and weaknesses real to me in a way that it wasn’t before.)

In the past, for example, whenever I figured out a way to actually get myself to sleep in an almost-normal pattern, I I would simultaneously feel pleased with myself (This is it! I’m finally doing it!) and incredibly anxious (But what if something happens and I can’t sustain it?). I would cling white-knuckled to the System I’d devised. Then I’d be terribly disappointed when, inevitably, something interrupted the System and my brain happily reverted to its night-owl default because, yooooo, chronotypes are a thing.

I felt this way despite understanding that last point (chronotypes are a thing, though they tend to wander a bit over the course of our lives and we can force ourselves, with effort and routine, to live contrarily to them).

Actual footage of me during the hours that many pundits claim are somehow magically the Universal Best Hours (spoiler alert: they’re not; it’s really more about finding the hours that are magically The Best for you)

It takes several weeks to condition myself to sleep on a different cycle than the one my brain wants, but only about two nights off-pattern to reset back to square one. This is frustrating, obviously—but it doesn’t have to feel like a disaster.

I can remind myself that stressing out about it only makes things harder, and that while more than a few nights in a row of sleep deprivation can have dangerous consequences for my mental health, I now know how to combine a handful of tools (strict sleep hygiene, medication, and sheer physical exhaustion) to make myself sleep. Ideally, I should actually apply them before sleep-deprivation-induced mania takes hold, but even if it reaches that point, I now have the safety nets in place to prevent actual disaster.

In short, I’ve learned to tell myself, “It’s going to be okay” and believe it.

And though I’ve been reading and hearing about it for years, only recently did I develop the ability to apply a measure of radical acceptance. Like, how hard can it be to say, “Ah! I’ve managed to get to sleep by 1 AM and wake up by 9 AM for three days running. That’s convenient,” without feeling like THIS IS IT! I’M FINALLY DOING IT! or freaking out when, inevitably, I don’t get to sleep until 4 AM at some point?

Really hard, apparently.

But I’m learning to both say and feel, “It was handy to be awake by 9 AM and well-rested for a few days, but it’s no big deal that it didn’t work out today.” (Admittedly, it would be harder to do that if the company weren’t on hiatus. But we are, so I might as well work on developing this skill while sleep-scheduling demands are still on easy mode.)

I can also be fine with understanding, for example, that I’m not good at the kind of abstract planning that Adulting requires, or at managing money (or literally anything else) unless I keep things very simple, or at making phone calls (I joke about this all the time, but I also spend a lot of time being annoyed with myself about it). And being fine with understanding those things could help a lot.

Like, it turns out that when you stop being mad at yourself, it actually really is easier to start looking for ways to approach problems and get stuff done, just like everybody has been saying since forever.

Is this the face of serenity, or is The Buddha like #smdh

So, basically, my current hypothesis is this:

Why not accept that what I am and where I am right now and begin working on building ramps so I can live without constantly feeling like I’m fighting an uphill battle?

I’ve also only just kind of realized that “accepting what I am right now” is different than “clinging to an idea of What I Am.” The first option leaves room for change and, frankly, for just being wrong. I might not actually understand all that well “what I am right now,” but if I accept that I can try different strategies until I find one that works, then it doesn’t really matter that much anyway.

If I can fail without getting angry at myself—that is, without judging myself—it’s not actually that hard to try again, or try something else, or to allow myself to rest before trying something else, or, you know, whatever.

And maybe I can even learn that it’s okay to fail. We can’t all be great at everything, and the world would be boring (and I wouldn’t have a job as a dancer, probably) if we were.

On Anger

I don’t think I’m someone that most people would describe as an angry person, mainly because I work my butt off to contain myself when I’m angry about things that don’t really call for anger.

But, in fact, I think of myself as an angry person.

I’m angry a lot.

Part of me feels entirely justified: like, there’s a lot of injustice and stuff in the world, and also a lot of people just being jerks.

While it might not always be effective, anger about “injustice and stuff” seems, well, justified. What matters in that realm is what you do with that anger. Just like you can harness the power of anger to make yourself actually do double tours, you can harness the power of anger to help power you in the ongoing struggle for justice.

And getting angry (or at least annoyed) when people are jerks is kind of human nature. You have to learn how to manage it, of course, but I’m pretty sure even the Dalai Lama occasionally feels at least a little irritated by the actions of his almost-eight billion siblings in this life. Even the Buddha and Jesus got angry now and again, and the Hebrew scriptures of full of good people (and not-so-good people) who get angry at each-other and even at G-d [2].

  1. I mean, one of the ways to translate the name “Israel” is “wrestles with G-d,” and Judaism allows, and sometimes even encourages, us to have it out with the Being Upstairs.

So this isn’t a screed against anger.

Anger Happens.

Anger has its place, and usually when we try to Just Not Be Angry, what we actually wind up doing is Being Angry Anyway But Bottling It. And when we say “we,” I mean “I.”

I’m hoping your upbringing and experiences have taught you healthier habits–but, if I’m honest, looking at the way most of us act behind the wheel of a car, I’m probably not alone, here.

Strangely, when you bottle something that can be produced in almost limitless supply, you tend to wind up with a lot of it. Ask anyone who’s ever been to Burning Man[3] or had to spend a day or two without a toilet while plumbing repairs happened . Pee Jars proliferate in the dark like some kind of invasive life-form.

  1. It can be hella cold in the desert at night, and if you don’t want to don fifty-seven layers to sprint to the nearest Portos, a Pee Jar is your very best friend.

Likewise, just as it’s a bad idea to repurpose an empty one-gallon cranberry juice jug[4] as a Pee Jar, it’s a bad idea to construct within one’s being a vast reservoir for the storage of anger. Because it’s large, you can procrastinate for much longer before doing the necessary work to empty it. Because you can procrastinate for much longer before emptying it, it’s very likely that when you do, you’ll find that the contents have been magically concentrated into a vile stew of immense potency.

  1. What do you mean, “That reference seems oddly specific,” eh, buddy?

So I am, on the inside, part being attempting to learn to live with lovingkindness and part gigantic bottle of acidic stank.

But that, in fact, also isn’t what I’m reaching for (or, well … except when it’s time to empty the jar, I guess: now, where did I put my chem-lab respirator…).

Instead, what I’m reaching for is something I know I’ve written about before, but which bears revisiting. And it’s this:

When I think I’m angry, I’m usually just afraid.

Fear Is Under-Rated

You’ve probably heard my argument about how laziness is, in fact, an extremely valuable asset in terms of the long-term survival of a species (perhaps ours most of all, since it gives birth to at least as much innovation and creativity as does its dour-faced sister, Necessity, and the ability to invent–that is, to adapt–is our stock-in-trade).

Well, here’s another one: fear is also an extremely valuable asset.

In fact, I would argue that it’s a much more important one than laziness. Sure, it seems reasonable to assume that our moderately-lazy ancestors likely got a bit of a Darwinian boost by conserving their calories and putting them to use when it really mattered … but our moderately-fearful ancestors probably had a huge boost.

Like, honestly? As much as we tend to worship this ideal of fearlessness, really fearless people are excellent at getting themselves killed early in life.

And, of course, dying early in life somewhat limits one’s chances at contributing generously to the overall gene pool.

So not only does a healthy dose of fear help us stay alive, but when we treat fear with respect, we’re respecting a great gift that our ancestors gave us.

So, like, fear can be a great, great thing. Obviously, you can have too much of it–when it prevents you from living your life, that’s roughly as problematic as the all-too-common end result of having too little fear and dying in some stupid way because your nervous system didn’t bother to say, “HEY! This is stupid, and not how we should die. Could we maybe rethink this plan?”

But, on the balance, fear is a helpful gift.

So, then, what (you might by now, quite reasonably, be wondering) exactly is the problem here?

The Problem With Fear (and with Anger)

The problem, for me, is threefold.

First, by nature, I’m a bit of a bad ancestor. As much as I’d like something more impressive, if I had to choose a heraldic motto for myself, it would probably be best to use, “Quod citius ad me, ut per me stultior.”[5]

  1. My Latin is very much limited to the sphere of sacred-music latin, so that’s Google Translate Latin for, “The faster I go, the dumber I get.” If something is incorrectly declined, blame Google. Caveat emptor, etc.

I am the kind of person who has, thus far, avoided major injury by a combination of genes that make me naturally suited for fast-moving, dangerous feats and no small measure of sheer dumb luck. It doesn’t matter how good a skier you are when some other jackwagon careens into you at the speed of sound, after all, and skill and good reflexes can only account for so much, and I’m pretty sure the Divine Intelligence of the Universe isn’t really in the business of pulling morons like myself out of fires that we have ourselves first constructed and lit. At least, not most of the time.

Second, my childhood taught me to be afraid of the wrong things. So, in addition to being what you might call your typical high-adventure-tolerance hyperactive/impulsive ADHDer, I was conditioned to disregard any misgivings my brain might actually bother to produce with regard to most kinds of physical danger, but also conditioned to be completely freaked the feck out by emotional vulnerability. I didn’t even have the example of an early childhood in which fear was met with compassion and comfort–neither of my parents had the wherewithal for that, back then.

So–and this brings us to our third point–I learned to transfigure fear.

And, of course, the easiest thing to turn fear into is … you guessed it.

Anger.

At The Bottom Of Anger, There’s Usually Fear

While finally catching up on housework, I’ve been binge-watching Call The Midwife. It’s one of the rare non-documentary series that I can really enjoy: the characters act like actual people, instead of drama-flogging wackos in the worst kind of middle-school fanfic.

Anyway, I’m on series 2, and yesterday saw an episode in which fiercely-independent twins Meg and Maeve lock horns with our friends from Nonnatus House. At one point, one of the Nonnatans says something like, “At the bottom of anger, there’s usually fear,” or something equally wise.

And that, in turn, might have primed me to recognize that fear was at the root of an episode of anger I experienced while driving to class tonight.

I make no bones about the fact that I deeply dislike the way people drive where I currently live. What looks like normal driving to people here looks, to me, like reckless (though sadly not wreckless) disregard for safe following distance, and indeed for the laws of physics. Where I grew up, we have this thing called winter, and even though we’re pretty decent at clearing roads, learning to walk, and then bike, and then drive on snow and ice imparts a healthy repect for leaving some frickin’ space, ya turkey.

So there I was, driving to class, getting angrier and angrier because, well, people were driving like they always do (except when it rains, in which case they drive at the same speeds and, well, lack-of-distances, but as if they’ve never been behind the wheel before in their lives and have indeed just now awakened unexpectedly at the helm of this incomprehensible four-wheeled Death Buggy).

But OF COURSE I was angry, right? THEY were behaving stupidly and recklessly and risking their lives and each-others’ and mine for NO GOOD REASON, and MY ANGER WAS COMPLETELY ABOUT THAT because that kind of behavior is STUPID and SELFISH and UNJUST and–

And then I pulled into the studio’s parking lot.

And then I spent 90 minutes dancing in my own little box, with my mask on, and not thinking about it because if you can think about anything else in ballet class, you either need a day off or a better class (and this was a very good class) or, possibly, you’re on week 3 of Nutcracker and your brain is just DONE.

And when, at least, I found myself back in my Ballet Wagon, I was swamped by a sudden resurgence of Automotive Anger[6].

  1. I’m defining this separately from Road Rage, since Road Rage is usually used to describe behaviors directed at other road-users, and my Automotive Anger often takes the form of unexpressed interior seething.

Sometimes at moments like that, I automatically talk to myself out loud, because my mental translation software does better with abstract stuff (like feelings) if I either write it out or speak aloud. This is one of the sticking points of being a non-verbal thinker: language was practically invented for abstract stuff that’s hard to parse through sensory imagination and the experiential states we call emotions.

At some point in this conversation, I said, “Yeah, but I don’t want to get back on the highway but taking surface streets takes longer and I just want to get home.” And then I asked myself, “Why don’t you want to take the highway?” and I answered, “It’s too stressful,” and I asked, “Why is it stressful?” and before I could say “Because people are jackwagons and I can’t effing stand it” some dusty long-forgotten neuron tucked away in a disused corner of my brain fired all of its guns at once and, rather than exploding into space, shot me the unadulterated message:

BECAUSE I’M AFRAID

Which … honestly?

It took me by surprise, and made me uncomfortable.

But then another part of my brain, the one that’s usually a smart-aleck about any kind of fear, was basically like, “No, that actually makes sense. Like, the way people drive is dangerous and beyond our control.”

Regarding which: wow. Apparently even my inner stupid jackwagon can learn.

A bit of fear about the way people is a good thing. At least, it is if you use it right: if you say, “Hi, Fear! Thanks for looking out for me! Let’s practice some mindful defensive driving so we can stay fairly far from other drivers as much as possible and be prepared just in case they do anything dumb.”

I took the highway home.

People still disregarded the laws of physics, but I expected that and knew I couldn’t change it. Somehow, that made a world of difference. I didn’t have to unconsciously transmute my nervous system’s life-sustaining concern over the dangers implicit in lots of common driving habits into anger in order to feel less vulnerable, or whatever my misguided unconscious habits are trying to do. I just had to drive my own car as responsibly as possible.

It didn’t mean that there wasn’t some stress involved, just that the stress was much easier to cope with without white-hot anger getting in the way.

Okay, But … So … Now What?

When I got home, it somehow occurred to me that maybe it’s time to start examining some of my other anger.

Like, I feel like most of the time I’m just one spark away from a conflagration[7].

  1. Add to this the neurologically-mediated autistic meltdowns that happen much less often but do, in fact, still happen these days, and I sound like a walking disaster. I’m kind of surprised I’m not worse off than I am.

If I lived in a different set of circumstances and had a different set of experiences, I suspect the outcome of that reality could easily be rather more unpleasant. If I hadn’t had a big sister to kick my butt and teach me that blowing up at people tends to result in getting one’s ass handed to one, as it were, they could be a lot more unpleasant.

But even as it stands, I walk around in a high-arousal state a lot, and I feel angry a lot, and I can be short-tempered in ways that almost always seem justified in the moment because my brain is great at deciding that it has good reason to be angry about … whatever. Right now, I’m really glad I was explicitly taught to assume all service-industry workers are doing their best under immensely trying circumstances (which is generally true) and that the customer is NOT always right, or I would almost certainly be such a huge ass all the time o_O

But, um. anyway. It occurred to me that maybe it’s possible to work on this after all. That maybe I’ll be able to work on mitigating some of the damage left by serious traumas and by, well, life. Maybe I’ll always be a bit more keyed-up and hypervigilant than I might’ve been if some really bad things hadn’t happened to me, but I can cope with that.

The past several years have, for me, been immensely healing. I’ve learned to trust in ways I never imagined; I’ve begun to re-examine the fabric of memory (endless thanks to Pilobolus SI, which really kickstarted that process); I’ve found, in the rubble of a life firebombed by circumstance, the tender shoot of a forgotten love that has become a passion, a career, and a home.

Still, I never imagined I would someday entertain the thought that I might also, just maybe, find a way to ratchet down the generalized wariness that leads, too often, to feeling like I’m living a kind of embattled life.

I don’t expect any of this to come quickly. Hell, I don’t expect it to come at all. If all that ever comes out of this moment of clarity is, well, this moment, that’s still an immeasurable good.

But I think if I can do this once, I can probably do it more than once.

Probably.

It’s worth a shot.


PS: It’s NACHMO time again! I can’t believe it!

New Year, New Post

I started to write a year-end post, then got involved with doing a bunch of housework and never got around to finishing it–so, instead, here’s a year-beginning post.

It’s going to be short because it’s almost 11 PM and I’m tired. I have too many thoughts about 2020 to hash out in a single post, anyway.

Instead, this post serves basically one purpose: setting an intention.

I’m not a maker of “resolutions”–but last year I set an intention: Don’t Overcommit.

Curiously, although I still managed, at times, to pack more onto my plate than I perhaps ought to have done, I did pack much less onto my plate than I otherwise might have even in the midst of a global pandemic.

It wasn’t magic–it was just a kind of mindfulness thing. An opportunity would come up, and I’d remember this intention to not overcommit, and it made me pause for a second instead of diving headlong into absolutely every single thing like I usually do.

So that was really useful, and I’m glad I did it.

Anyway. Last year’s intention was influenced by the growing knowledge that I needed to stop stacking my calendar the way I had been, and I think that’s part of what made it actually work–it was addressing something that had already begun to surface in my consciousness.

Moreover, it was both concrete and actionable. Or … inactionable?

IDK. It’s weird when the goal you’ve set is to NOT do a thing.

So, basically, that intention became a way of giving myself permission to say, “No,” or at least, “Not this time.” I wasn’t sure I’d actually do it, but I did. Not perfectly, but that’s fine. It’s a learning process.

Anyway. I think last year I hit on a halfway decent formula for a useful intention: concrete, actionable, and already percolating.

So this year’s intention, which will also be a challenge for me, is simple: Ask for help and/or coaching.

One of the best lessons I learned while working on this year’s second Nutcracker is that there are a lot of people who like the idea of helping me become a better dancer, and are very willing to step up and work with me. I just have to ask.

I’m beyond grateful for that community, and also beyond grateful for the weird experience of trying to learn an apparently rather-complex pas de deux in the middle of a global pandemic, because it was the thing that finally made me brave enough to say, “Hey, we could use some coaching, would you be willing?”

I have some specific ballet skills things I want to polish up this year, and I feel much less afraid now to seek out help in reaching those goals.

So that’s my simple intention for this year.

Ask for help.

Just like it’s okay to say no to things, it’s okay to say, “Hey, I’m struggling with this thing, can we find a time to get together and look at it and work on it?”

Obviously, I plan to continue working on the whole Don’t Overcommit thing also, because that makes a huge difference in my life.

So that’s it for now. One fresh intention for a fresh year. Here’s hoping 2021 will bring better things than 2020 (I mean, not to tempt fate, but that wouldn’t really be too difficult in many areas, so even if we set the bar pretty low…).

Last Minute Changes

As an artist, as a dancer who is also autistic, last-minute changes are the bane of my existence.

They’re also just part of the process, especially right now.

The process of filming, with its opportunity for multiple takes, is inherently different from the process of performing a show start-to-finish before a live audience. The certainty in the familiar shape of Nutcracker—the prologue always precedes the crossing, which always precedes party scene, which always precedes “Midnight Scare,” etc—evaporates.

We just finished filming Nutcracker at LexBallet. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it was the single most stressful production of my working life this far—not because anything was mishandled, but simply because, as an autistic person, I feel comfortable when I’m accustomed to the process and stressed when I don’t.

Nutcracker is normally our most-familiar ballet. It’s the same ballet every year: adjustments are made to choreography, but the flow of rehearsal and performance are typically known entities. In a way, it’s like singing the alphabet song versus “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star [1]”: the lyrics might be different, but the music is the same.

  1. Shout-out to Autocorrupt, which was absolutely determined to make this, “Terrible, Terrible Little Star” 🤣🤣🤣 Autocorrupt be #judgy y’all

That isn’t a bad thing, but at times it was deeply frustrating. I’m sure it was even more so for dancers cast in multiple roles, who thus had to dash back and forth to exchange Costume A for Costume B and so forth. Drosselmeyer is only Drosselmeyer—the amount of undoing and redoing of costume, hair, and makeup it would take to be able to jump in and do, say, one of the second-act variations would be unmanageable during a live show.

Still, I’m learning to accept last-minute changes with less internal grumbling as I grow into this life. They still make me feel stressed and a bit recalcitrant (feels be like “I DON’T WANNA CHANGE THAT! …even though it actually works better the new way 😑”), but I’m no longer horrified that OMG MR D IS CHANGING THINGS A G A I N 😱😱😱

Instead, it’s just like: *shrug* *eyeroll* #dancerlife #yolo

In that same vein, I learned as I was packing my car that D had been exposed to COVID-19 at work again—he’s a healthcare provider, so it’s pretty much inevitable—and instead of returning home, I’d be landing at our friend KL’s house pending D’s test results.

Fortunately, I know KL well enough to feel comfortable in her home, though her catto (who normally likes me) was a little spooked about my unexpected arrival as an overnight guest.

Cats aren’t super keen on last-minute changes, either.

Anyway, I slept for 10 much-needed hours last night, and I’m recuperating. My body is definitely in restock mode: I’m super hungry and super tired, so clearly the stores of extra energy are tapped out (except, like: Hey, body? we actually do still have plenty of stored energy, so don’t expect me to eat 3500 calories today while I’m sitting on my butt! You’re going to have to manage on like 2000 or so).

My car, which was broken into at the least convenient moment during theater/filming week, is still sporting a temporary plastic driver’s-side[2] window constructed from blue painter’s tape and a clear vinyl shower-curtain liner.

Not cool, guys 😑 Also, was it necessary to explode my car’s trash bag everywhere? Note to self: get pix of temporary window.

I’m debating whether to order a tiny grocery delivery or actually slither into the driver’s seat[3] and go retrieve some food. Alternatively, I might just order some Chinese or something for today, since I have to go out anyway tmw to vote, rehearse, and teach 🤷‍♂️

  1. Dear potential thieves: please consider ANY OTHER WINDOW for your car breaking-in activities. I get that sometimes life puts you in a position where breaking into a car seems like the best or only option, but seriously, guys, come on.
  2. I’m highly grateful for being moderately-sized and flexible af right now. It’s the only way to get into my car rn without removing the temporary window 🤷‍♂️

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m still exhausted and I’m seriously considering a nap, even though if there were a World Ranking for Success In Naps I’d be right at the bottom every time.

Poco à Poco

That’s “little by little” in the Italian of the classical music world.

It often indicates a gradual change in the dynamics of a piece—a gradual crescendo or increase in tempo, perhaps.

Sometimes, when I think about how my life has changed over the past six or so years, it pops into my mind (visually, in that rather curly italic so common to classical scores 😁).

I think that happens for two reasons. First, so much has changed, and so gradually. Second, the ultimate effect on the listener of the direction poco à poco is often that of surprise: the dynamics change so slowly that, at some point, you suddenly awaken to the fact that the whole piece is dramatically different now, but you somehow didn’t notice the change happening.

Today I wrote a short bio for a thing that will remain top-secret for the moment, and in writing it I realized how much easier it has become to describe myself as a dancer, a teacher, and a choreographer.

I was struck with a powerful sense of gratitude, and that sort of delighted “I can’t believe this is really my life” feeling—but not, so much, the impostor syndrome of old.

When I began teaching, it was very much with the sense that I hadn’t really earned the role. I didn’t think I was a good enough dancer, really, to merit a teaching position.

Over the past year, I’ve watched my students grow in technique and confidence, and I haven’t really credited myself with that at all. I’ve sort of regarded it of an automatic process that happens if someone shows you more-or-less correct technique. Yes, now that I’m writing that out, I do suddenly realize how ridiculous it sounds, and that I wouldn’t say that about any of my teachers.

I think I honestly felt that my students were learning in spite of my deficiencies as a teacher.

I’ve begun to realize that, in fact, I have strengths as a teacher. One of them, I suspect, is being aware of the weaknesses in my own technique. It’s strange how glaringly obvious that seems now, when I spent all of last year thinking that the weaknesses in my technique were a reason that I shouldn’t teach.

It occurs to me now (and, yeah, not sure how I overlooked this, either) that even the best dancers have their weak spots, and that if your foundation is fairly solid, what matters as a teacher is knowing what they are so you don’t unwittingly pass them on to your students.

I’m heading into my second year of teaching with a much better sense of how to structure a class across the course of a year, which will help immensely.

I’m heading into my third year—my second “official” year—as a dancer in a ballet company similarly armed with a keener sense of what I need to learn and how to learn it.

I’m heading into both with a sense that this isn’t all some kind of fluke: that I may have taken a circuitous route, but I haven’t slipped in, uninvited, by some forbidden back door and won’t be discovered and unceremoniously ushered back out into the street at any moment. Or, well, probably not.

I wonder, now, if this is how everyone feels when they find their way onto their path. Or, at any rate, how many people feel, in that set of circumstances.

Would I feel differently if I had taken the more usual route through a pre-pro program and auditions or through a university-level ballet pedagogy program?

I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t, but I can’t say for certain that I would.

I can say that I feel more at home doing what I’m doing now than I ever expected to feel. I can say that I can imagine dancing and teaching deep into my future, and the thought doesn’t fill me with the dread and sense of being trapped that I feel when I imagined working at a desk for decades to come.

I can say that while I felt, at the beginning, that I hadn’t really earned my place (regardless of the kind words of my mentors), I failed to realize that even if that were true, I could earn it by staying in it and doing what that place required.

And so, here I am, at the start of a new season, ready to begin.

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