Category Archives: history
(Full Disclosure: I still haven’t seen Hamilton. I know. I suck.)
… Because I can’t, because it’s already in my arm.
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations has been interesting. Connecticut, where my parents live, has it ticking over like clockwork. Indiana (the state next door) is doing … something? Idk. It seems more chaotic than what we’re doing.
And here, in Kentucky, we seem to be figuring it out bit by bit.
A decision was made recently to open up vaccinations for teachers & volunteers who work with K-12 students, which is how I wound up getting called up for a shot. At least, I assume that’s why they sent me an email saying, “Ayyyyyyyyy! Come get your shot!”
I mean, not in those exact words.
The actual process of setting up an appointment was pretty simple—really, the hardest part was figuring out where in my wallet I’d stashed my insurance card.
As for the process of actually getting the vaccine, it was smooth & efficient. They’re using Broadbent Arena, part of our Fairgrounds & Expo Center. You drive in and drive right through (pausing at appropriate points) and never even get out of your car (there are other options for people who don’t drive or who don’t have have access to cars, also).
Because it was A New Situation, my brain was a little spooked about it, but the protocols were extremely clear (except for the unexpected sign near the entrance to the fairgrounds that read COVID TESTING USE GATE 1 ONLY and didn’t mention vaccinations at all—but since my email told me which gate to use, I kept breathing and proceeded as planned).
This is really helpful for neurodiverse people. If we know what the procedure is, it’s much less difficult to go do the thing. I appreciated that—and the fact that, in the course of two days, I got like five emails about my appointment so I would be able to find the confirmation code no matter what). Normally, that might seem a bit excessive, but in this case it was helpful and comforting.
I got the Pfizer vaccine, which is the same one D got. It’s a good week for it—we don’t have men’s technique class on Saturday, if I wind up feeling meh and staying home I’ll just miss normal class.
Because my wildly overreactive respiratory system places me at pretty high risk of being seriously ill if I did catch COVID-19, knowing that my first vaccination is behind me and the second is scheduled is a major relief. Obviously I’m not going to go turn cartwheels in Walmart without a mask, but with things like summer intensives and workshops on the way, it’s good to have that pinned down.
In ballet news, I’ve been taking a good, extremely detail-oriented Zoom class with Devi Piper on Wednesdays. The opportunity to really pick my technique apart and refine key elements is immensely valuable.
Today she gave us a killer plié that I’ll be using on the regs when I’m warming up to work on choreography or whatever.
A lot of really cool stuff has been happening in my life as a dancer of late—stuff that makes me feel awed at the way people reach out to guide developing dancers as we progress and grateful beyond measure for it.
In a week, I’ll be seven years into my resurrected ballet life. When I launched myself on this journey, I definitely carried a sliver of hope that maybe I’d find a way to make a life of of it, but it was so precious and fragile a hope that I rarely dared even to think about it.
Every single day, I’m staggered by this sense of immense privilege (not in the political sense, though there’s that, too—as a male ballet dancer, that’s a huge thing). To have somehow built a life in which I’m valued as a dancer and as a teacher and, increasingly, as a choreographer is something that, in all honesty, I couldn’t have imagined seven years ago.
The hope I had was that I might find a place to fit as a corps boy for a while. I was perfectly fine with the idea of just being a semi-anonymous body of it meant I got to really dance.
I seem to have found, instead, a place where I fit as someone who actually gets to do complex, visible roles. I’m probably never going to find myself in one of the big, world-famous companies, or even one of the ones that are more broadly known on a national scale, but that’s fine. I don’t care about things like that. I still just want to dance (and to make dances, and to teach dancers).
The biggest change, though, isn’t feeling that others value me as a dancer, as a teacher, and as a choreographer. It that I’m beginning to feel worthy of that esteem. That I’m beginning to value myself as a dancer, a teacher, and a choreographer—and, really, as an artist.
I owe a good part of that to the people who’ve gone out of their way to coach me; to suggest that I come take class; to draw me out of my own sense of inadequacy. To show me my strengths.
I also owe some of it to my students, who show up and focus and work hard even when I give them the world’s hardest rond de jambe every week for six months.
- I mean—it’s not the hardest, hardest. In terms of technique, it’s really pretty basic—but the musicality is tricky and central to the exercise, and requires them to listen to the music and dance instead of just being like, “Yawn, barre work is boring.” Which is kind of the point.
I owe yet another part of it to the friends who jump right in whenever I say, “Erm, ah, ssssssoooo, ahhhh, would you like to work on a choreography project I’ve been thinking about?” Or, at any rate, try to jump right in, given how challenging it can be there schedule things even when there’s not a global pandemic 😅
But some small part of it I owe to myself. I came to the ballet studio and found the place where I simply know how to work. And then I started doing the work, and I started looking for opportunities and taking calculated risks. And when the chance came to dance full-time, I took that leap, even though it was honestly pretty scary.
And even though I wasn’t sure I was someone who would ever be good at sticking with anything that didn’t have a finite term, i stuck with it—though honestly that’s really a bit like saying like saying, “The water decided to continue flowing downhill.” It’s honestly the path of least resistance. Quitting would be harder than continuing.
I don’t know where life will take me (I mean: really, nobody does). But I’m no longer afraid that I’ll never find anything that feels like a suitable path.
The periods of mindfulness, of being present in the present, afforded by the work I do—most specifically, taking class and creating choreography—have also been healing in ways I never expected.
I literally never imagined that my brain would ever be as, well, relatively stable as it is now, for one thing. I mean, don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying ballet is The Cure, or even The Treatment, for unstable moods for everyone who experiences them. But, for me, it’s a huge piece of the puzzle.
Likewise, dancing has forced me to engage with both my present and my past more deeply than I ever imagined being able to do. My first Pilobolus SI stands as a watershed: something about that experience broke the seal I’d placed over deep, deep wells of feeling—both beautiful and painful.
There are still plenty of things in my past I’ve never directly dewalt with by the conventional means of talking about them—but somehow, when I dance, sometimes I dance about them without realizing that it’s happening.
Only later do I find that somehow, in the midst of wrestling with choreography, some old and festering wound has been cracked open and washed clean so healing can begin. It doesn’t mean the healing is complete, but it means that healing I long thought impossible has begun.
Anyway. Speaking of long, this is getting really long, and it’s the middle of the night, and Merkah would greatly appreciate it if I’d go to sleep. So I guess I’ll close here.
I don’t know how to end this except to add:
If you’re reading this, I’m also grateful to you.
Often, part of growing into a thing is talking about it. For some reason, I find that easier to do here than in a private journal (largely because I’m terrible at actually keeping up with a private journal, since it doesn’t occur to me to put things into words unless I’m talking/writing to someone else).
So you, too, have been essential in this journey.
So: thank you. And I’ll try to include some pictures in the next post 😁
I tend to try maintain an aura of ebullient optimism.
I’m aware that I lead a relatively charmed life, in which I’m permitted by circumstance to pursue a fairly impractical set of goals, and to mention that I still struggle seems a bit like spitting right into the face of good fortune.
But I do still struggle, and I’m beginning to understand something, which is this: living a life in which I’m not forced to do work that grinds my soul to powder, in which the work I do is work that I enjoy, doesn’t alter the fact that my mental health is a little fragile and that history and genetics have conspired to place me on a narrow bridge that spans a yawning chasm.
Rather, the life I’m living acts as a kind of safety harness, so that when–not if–I go plummeting off my bridge, I can eventually climb back up, or at any rate be hauled back up by people who love me.
I am capable of periods of immense creative productivity, but they’re interspersed with periods in which merely surviving is still all I can do. Those periods of mere survival are made easier to bear by the knowledge that I won’t have to return, as soon as I’m barely able, to work that will inevitably accelerate the arrival of the next plunge off the bridge.
Because D carries the vast majority of the weight of the financial responsibility of keeping us afloat, I’m able to get up and walk along my bridge for long periods, when in the past I rarely made it beyond the clinging-and-crawling-along-the-edges phase before I slipped again.
I don’t make much money doing what I do, but I usually have enough energy left over to keep our house comfortable to live in and to cook good food.
Sadly, I failed to realize the potential hilarity in recording a video of A-ha’s classic, “Take On Me,” with a small change in the lyrics (read: “Taaaaaaaaaape onnnnnnn meeeeeee [Tape … on me!]” etc) until this morning, after I’d peeled myself free of The Tape.
I suppose I’m overestimating my overall level of organization in assuming I could complete any such project, though.
Anyway, I know, I know: I said I was going to let it come off on its own.
D had his concerns, though, about leaving it on too long, and also once the little end bits started peeling themselves off I got antsy about it. They weren’t making me itch except when they were—always when it was least convenient to be furiously scratching an armpit. I trimmed them, and then I trimmed them a little more, and finally this morning I said, “Ah, feck the lot of yous,” to the remaining bits and peeled them right the heck off.
Anyway, things are looking good under the tape. The incision lines have remained very narrow; in many spots, I suspect that they’ll disappear completely over time.
I’ve known for a long time that I generally heal very well, for the most part, and my surgical incisions appear to be no exception to that rule. This, by the way, is a really strong argument of remaining as fit as you can if you have even the mildest form of Ehlers-Danlos: the better your blood supply and oxygenation, the better it’s going to be for your healing process no matter what, but that’s extra important when you have a disorder that affects collagen formation.
I chose a surgeon who has a ton of experience doing surgeries like mine–one who specializes in them, in fact–and who is known for his fastidious approach to suturing at all the necessary layers. Given that “hypermobility-type” EDS is less rare than the other types, and that he has literally done thousands of these surgeries, it’s a safe bet that he’s worked on someone with the same condition before.
He said to expect things to look a little ripply and wrinkly at first, but there are very few ripply spots.
Overall, I continue to be surprised by how good everything looks.
Anyway, here are a couple of shots from this morning:
You can see a couple of pale hypotrophic scars in the second picture (if you look closely, you can just pick barely out the related ones in the first shot)—those are really old, leftover from Things That Happened 😦 I have some elsewhere, too. They’re not the result of neat surgical wounds, but of untreated cuts (not self-inflicted).
- I’m not sure how much of this I’m ever going to discuss here. Honestly, this blog isn’t about that, and I don’t want it to become one long Content Warning.
Anyway, one of the things I hadn’t anticipated as a result of this surgery was that a bunch of those scars would be gone, since they were in areas that wound up in the Extra Skin Department. They were from before the m00bs, so I suppose it never occurred to me to think about it?
- The funny thing is that I was well aware that I would finally be rid of at least some of the stretch marks that resulted from the rapid development and equally-rapid diminution of the Moobs. I worried that the remaining ones would wind up looking weird and truncated, but actually there are barely any and they’re effectively unnoticeable.
- …Aaaand, now that phrase is racketing around in my head as a parody of Poe’s “The Bells,” because it scans: “The tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells…” all too easily becomes “the rapid diminution of the moobs, moobs, moobs…” Feh. Apologies if that’s as terrible an earworm for you as it is for me.
Interestingly, this is the one place where my feelings about all this get a little complicated (or, as they say in The Book of Mormon (the musical): “Now’s the part of our story … that gets a little bit sa-a-aad…”).
It doesn’t in any way diminish my delight at the outcome of my procedure—not the least fraction of an iota, in fact. If I could go back and do it again, I would in a heartbeat.
What is weird is that I’m not sure how I feel about those scars being gone.
I’ve evolved the philosophical position that scars, in a way, represent history written into our skin. For me, looking at my scars doesn’t trigger bad memories or make me feel victimized or whatever; it reminds me that I survived; that I came through and sort of fought my way back to, like, life. (I say “sort of” because I’m not 100% sure “fought” is the right word; it implies an angry struggle, and not one of endurance. There have been angry moments, sure, but mostly it’s been a question of determination.)
There’s also the fact that I associate my scars very positively with one of the very first people who responded to my history with kindness and understanding instead of shock and attempts to evade discomfort by minimizing the flat-out badness of the stuff that happened. The first time my first boyfriend saw me shirtless, he touched the scars really gently and said, “Oh my G-d … who did this to you?”
For me, that moment was incredibly important: it was the moment that I first realized, really, that dealing with what happened to me in any really helpful way was even possible. (For what it’s worth, though, the scars he touched, that time, were the ones on my belly, which are still there and, barring anything really weird, always will be.)
That said, losing my scars isn’t the same as losing my history … and our bodies change all the time. There were many more cuts that never scarred in the first place, for one thing. Only the deepest ones left any trace, and even those have faded tremendously.
Anyway, I suppose there are a lot of people who would expect me to feel, like, “Yay! Fewer scars, especially ones associated with horrible things!”
But, in fact, that’s not how I feel, and I’m okay with not feeling that way. I guess having Feels about it took me by surprise: it hadn’t occurred to me to think about it before. In fact, I didn’t even think about it until I took the tape off and noticed the remnants of those scars. Chalk that up to trying really hard to just not look at myself in the mirror ever since the beginning of the Great Risperal Caper.
For what it’s worth, I’m also the kind of person who wouldn’t go back and change what happened to me (probably, anyway: it’s easy to say that, isn’t it, when we don’t actually have time travel yet). I wouldn’t go in for therapy that would erase the memories, either. Yes, it was bad. Really fucking bad, to be entirely honest. I am still dealing with the fallout and will probably never be done dealing with it.
BUT. It also made me a more humane, more compassionate person. It might, in fact, be one of the major reasons that I am not a much worse human being than I am. And it taught me, over the course of many years, to tap into a profound and quiet strength that I think probably belongs to us all as humans; to endure, to survive, and finally to shake off my shackles and begin to thrive.
So that’s that.
At any rate, I’m rather glad I took the tape off, because it seems that the adhesive has irritated my skin in a few spots. So chalk one point up to D, who has been gently hinting that maybe I should go ahead and peeeeeeeeeel it off (“Like a lliiiiiight switch! There—it’s gone!” ACK SOMEBODY PLEASE STOP THE SHOWTUNES).
I try not to lend aid to the cause of people who would use fear to control the rest of us, so I’m not going to comment on them. Not directly. Not here.
Nobody — asexual, bisexual, queer, straight, Atheist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan, female, intersex, male, transgender, immigrant, native-born, Asian, Black, Latino, White, any race, any faith, any anything, whatever else people can be — should be targeted with violence.
And yet it happens every day.
We notice when it happens to a lot of people at once. We don’t always notice when it happens to one person at a time; not until it reaches a kind of critical mass.
I thought about this when I was in Cinci; when I saw the words WE CAN’T BREATHE stenciled on the same square of pavement every morning; every evening. I thought about it today, when people in Louisville came together to organize a vigil for people in Orlando who they never met.
Regardless, tragedy is tragedy. Human cruelty is human cruelty.
I don’t pretend to make sense of any of this. I don’t pretend to have intelligent things to say about it; I don’t.
Even if I did, maybe it’s too soon to make sense; to say intelligent things. I don’t know.
Grief is a mysterious thing, whether it’s the direct grief of an immediate personal loss or the indirect grief of living in a world where things happen like this.
So that’s what I’m saying, because I don’t have any other words; because for a long time I haven’t had any other words.
…But first, a quick update: I am definitely feeling yesterday’s aerials class (though not excessively) in the muscles that need work. Excellent.
Now, on to a reflective post I wrote last night:
My father died when I eighteen.
We’d had a rocky time for most of my life — Dad was a rocky man, like the shore is rocky off Acadia in Maine. Difficult, sometimes frightening, often magnificent. Those last two years of his life, though, we had a pretty great relationship — also rocky, in its own way, and full of secret tides and undercurrents, but also magnificent.
I didn’t know what Dad made of me then. It didn’t really occur to me to wonder. Dad didn’t raise us to care what he thought: he wanted us, instead, to be singularly, incontrovertibly ourselves — and he wanted us to prove it.
So it surprised me, tonight, as I lie here reading, to find myself wondering what Dad would make of me now; what he’d make of the sometimes-precarious route I’ve carved out trying to figure out how to be what I am.
The answer is still, “I don’t know.”
I kind of like to think he’d like where I’m going now — launching myself from the springboard of academia into a frankly-kind-of-weird career, learning circus arts, turning myself into a dancer, tilting at windmills.
I had the kind of Dad who would have been secretly happy to see his kids run off and join the circus, even though he’d have chewed us out first, probably to ferret out and destroy any trace of cowardice or cliché. He would want us to go knowing in our hearts that we are born to join the circus, not to go because it seemed less awful than some other thing.
I realize now that was part of his rockiness: our Dad had a poet’s intolerance for falsehoods. He tolerated them. no better in himself than in anyone else. He didn’t care what you did: he cared why. And it wasn’t an affectation — it was his nature, like it’s the nature of the Maine coast to be hard and high and beautiful.
I couldn’t see all this before. I guess that’s how it works, though: as a kid, you see your parents through a different lens than you do as an adult. As an adult, some things look different; some things don’t.
I have always said that my Dad married my Mom’s family, and now I think I understand what I mean. He saw in them a kind of abiding and unselfconscious fidelity to their own natures. They were all as different as days, but they — especially Grammy, Mom’s mother — were all unshakeably themselves. Dad loved and admired all of them, regardless of the divorce.
Even Mom, in her long, unhappy years of restraint, being a Serious Woman with a Serious Job, was never untrue to herself. The painful part, I guess, must have been how half of her had to lie more or less dormant in those days, bursting out here and there and slowly accumulating momentum and force and life in the form of the beautiful garden that slowly ate first the back yard, then the front, a literal inflorescence of the soul.
I don’t know what Dad thought of me, that last year of his life. I was still casting around, searching for an exoskeleton, an identity I could step into I guess so I wouldn’t have to do the hard and lonely work of being who I was. Having felt the cutting edge of loneliness too long, I wanted to be loved. I would have said I wanted to be loved for who I was, and would’ve believed it, but I was wrong. I was still a long, long way from there.
I won’t say that I never do that anymore: identity is a nebulous thing, and I still want to be loved — but I am loved, as well and unconditionally as I believe a human being can be loved.
It’s easier to be brave, because of that.
So I still don’t know exactly what my Dad would make of me, if he were here — but I have begun to think he’d like what I’ve become, although he might not say it.
Not that he would mean any harm; not that he wasn’t brave enough. But his heart and mind were always two steps down the road, preparing to head off half-truth and hypocrisy.
I think he’d grill me about every single one of my cherished suppositions.
And I hope, were he alive to rake those coals, that I would have the courage and good sense to meet him toe-to-toe and love him for it.
I noticed today that, for this week, the top search that led someone to my blog was “why should ballet dancers be an ectomorph?”
Grammatical awkwardness aside, I think that’s a good question, and one that I haven’t touched on in a while.
The short answer is:
“Because that’s the trend.”
My full answer to this question is really long, so here’s the TL;DR version up front:
They shouldn’t, necessarily — but because fashion and function influence each-other profoundly in the performing arts and especially in ballet, trends in the art form stemming from the mid-20th century have created a situation that makes it easier for ectomorphic dancers to succeed as professionals. Likewise, I would posit that choreography has evolved to best suit the ectomorphic bodies currently in vogue.
Since professional dancers broadly inform our cultural definition (“what a ballet dancer is“), we have come to think that ballet dancers should be ectomorphs — but really, there’s no overwhelming em>functional advantage.
Functionally speaking, some advantages exist — ectomorphs are usually light, and thus easier to lift when partnered — but disadvantages also exist — ectomorphs are more prone to osteoporosis; they’re less likely to be good at explosive movements like jumps. The mesomorphic and endomorphic body types also come with advantages and disadvantages in dance.
At the end of the day, it’s really a question of fashion.
…And now, on to the “Really Long, But Feel Free To Read It Anyway” version: