Category Archives: mitzvot
A Thing I’m Slowly Figuring Out
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.
LexBallet Intensive 2017, Day 1: The Onliest Boy Rides Again
…A giant registration system SNAFU almost scuttled the whole thing! But! A bunch of us showed up anyway, and N, the director of the school, called us in for a huddle after class and said, “We can still make this happen!”
So we’re back on.
Tonight, whilst everything was up in the air, we just did the Intermediate/Advanced Open Class. It was a really good class, though!
After a tough morning in class at home which I couldn’t keep brain and body together (seriously, we did an awesome manège which I managed to screw up by losing track of which cycle I was on–did an extra on the first side, left one out on the second), it was a relief in to not go full Baby Giraffe tonight.
Tonight I apparently mostly remembered how to dance. W00t. There was one combination I didn’t pick up right, but I got it on the second run.
Also, heckin grand jetés across the floor. Evidently, I haven’t forgotten how to fly.
Tomorrow it’s back to the regular intensive schedule. We have, in essence, three days to learn variations o_O’
I have no idea what we’re doing, but Friday night we’re showing them, G-d help us!
Honestly, though, if I can dance like I danced most of tonight’s class, I’ll be fine.
In other news, C opted out this year, so I’m the Onliest Boy again. I guess it wouldn’t be right to make it through a summer without that?
I mean, Turksgiving.
Wait, no. THANKSGIVING. That’s what it’s called!
Public gratitude posts are are a thing.
I don’t normally do them, but I’m (mostly) cool with people who do.
I’m kind of doing one this go-round, in part to take my mind off the fact that my throat has, since Tuesday, developed a wicked itching-burning thing that A) makes me feel like I’ve swallowed a snifter-full of angry fire ants and B) makes me cough, which makes the fire ants even angrier.
I suppose I should begin by being thankful for for the existence of of cough drops, because unprintable words this is driving me crazy.
Nice quiet day at home yesterday. I finally transitioned from Trim Painting hell into Trim Painting Purgatory. I’m grateful for that, because jeez.
Also, I am grateful for ballet, modern, and aerials, which keep me sane (fire ants notwithstanding), grant me membership in a phenomenal community of amazing people, and give me something to do with my creative energies.
I am grateful for my astounding husband, who manages to keep a roof over our heads despite my best efforts to completely drive this little train of ours right off the rails (note to anyone considering marrying an artistic type: we can be very responsible, but some of us are prone to long bouts of throwing ourselves wholesale into our work at all costs, and those of us who who dance can be expensive to feed), and the strange beast that is our family, with its many branches staggering off in different directions.
Also for mixed metaphors, without which it might be much more difficult to describe snifters full of fire ants, the glorious chaos that is family at its finest, or probably anything at all about dance or home maintenance.
Lastly, I am grateful that, at least at the moment, I still have medical coverage, so if these unspeakable, unprintable fire ants don’t GTFO soon, I can go see a doctor about about them.
Oh, yeah — and also for everyone who, for mysterious reasons, reads my blog, and for all the amazing and inspiring bloggers out there.
Cooking with ADHD: Bread 2.0
I think I may may have posted my bread recipe at some point in the past, but I’ve updated it a little bit, so here’s the update!
I have a kitchen scale now, so later on I’ll add metric mass values so those of you cooking in Europe can give it a whirl without having to guess. It works fine by the fairly-inexact American volumetric method, though!
You will need:
- 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 4.5 teaspoons highly active dry yeast (I recommend SAF red; also, that’s 1.5 tablespoon, by the way; or if you’re using packets, 2 packets)
- 1.5 cups hottish (not boiling) water (or 1 cup hottish water and .5 cup milk)
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil (margarine or veg oil will work, too!)
- 1-2 tablespoons sugar, brown sugar, honey, or malt syrup (your choice)*
- 1.5 teaspoons salt *
Ingredients marked * are optional. I like the flavor of bread better with salt (and need tons of salt because my body is crazy), but you can leave it out. The sugar/honey/syrup changes the flavor of the finished bread only a little, but it can help get your yeast going if it’s sluggish. Honey or malt syrup add a little moisture, but not enough to require adjustments (edit: usually).
I think you can also bake bread entirely without fats, but I haven’t tried it, so I’m not sure how it would turn out.
To make the bread:
- Combine water, yeast, and sugar. Stir to blend them, then set aside.
- Combine flour, butter/oil, and salt in a large bowl.
- When the yeast mix gets foamy, pour it into the dry mix (if you’re using butter, the hot water will help it melt).
- If you’re using milk, pour it in, too.
- Stir with a stirring spoon to everything is fairly well blended (don’t worry — it doesn’t have to be anything like perfect!).
- If you have time, give the ingredients about 5 or 10 minutes to rest. This lets the flour take up the liquids. It also lets you find some awesome podcasts to listen to while you knead (might I recommend the History Chicks?).
- Squish everything together a little with your hands, dust your work surface with flour, and dump your dough right onto it.
- If you’re like me, set a timer so you don’t find yourself thinking, “OMG, I have been kneading this dough foreeeeeeeevaaaarrrrrr.” 6 to 8 minutes should do the trick.
- Ready … set … knead! Remember, no grouchy TV chefs are here, and even if they are, it’s your kitchen — so knead that dough in whatever way works for you!
- Ball up the dough, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rise for 30 minutes (if you’re in a hurry) to 1 hour (if you’re not). Longer than 1 hour is fine, too. If it’s going to sit all day or overnight, though, maybe stick the dough in the fridge so it doesn’t go completely crazy.
- When you’re ready to bake, preheat dat oven — I like a darker, crisper crust, so I set it for 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Punch down your puffed-up, self-important doughball friend, then shape your baguettes or batards or loaf or rolls or boules or what have you. I often do one baguette and either four submarine rolls or eight dinner rolls.
- If you have time, let your dough rise again (like the Mary-Ellen Carter!) for 15 – 30 minutes. this step is optional, but gets you a pooftier end product.
- Bake for 15 (for dinner rolls) to 30 minutes on or in whatever kind of pizza stone, cookie sheet, loaf pan, and/or baguette pan you’ve got on hand. You can probably even use muffin tins (though I haven’t tried that).
- Cool (preferably on a rack) for as long as you can stand it.
- The most important part! Enjoy your bread while collecting accolades from your friends and loved ones who will be like, “OMG, this person is amazing!” (Unless they can’t have gluten. I should learn a good gluten-free recipe, because Celiac is no joke.)
That’s it! I’ll try to add pictures, and someday, I swear, I really will do a video post about this.
Edit: Oh, yeah. You can also also combine steps 1 through 4 and just mix everything together right away, as long as you have good yeast. I like to proof mine because it makes me feel like a mad scientist, but it isn’t really entirely necessary.
When I make pizza dough (exact same recipe!), I usually omit the second rise.
Right now my country is in a welter of anger, fear, pain, and (too often) recrimination. I don’t know what words to say about it; as with the Orlando shooting, I think other people have already said what needs to be said better than I could here.
Back in the 13th century, though, Saint Francis of Assissi wrote a prayer that encapsulates a lot of what I’m feeling right now. I first encountered it as a singer, and along with Tich Nhat Hanh’s simple breath-following meditation from Being Peace, it it one of the things that swims into my mind at difficult times like this one.
Even for those whose worldview is entirely secular, it says a great deal about how to be a force for peace in the world — not by giving money to organizations (which is okay, too) or agitating for change (which is also okay), but simply by being in the world. Anyway, here it is.
Saint Francis’ Prayer for Peace
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Sometimes There Are No Words
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.
Aerials: When “Can’t” Becomes “Can”
(Also highly relevant to dance, btw.)
I’ll start with a caveat.
As we are very fond of saying at the studio:
- Bodies are different.
- Bodies are weird.
…Which is a long way of saying that “Can’t” is okay.
As a dancer, gymnast, and equestrian, I’ve experienced a lot of that “No such thing as can’t” conditioning — I still wrestle with it frequently, though for me, it’s usually on a mental-health level or a neurological-weirdness level rather than on a physical-performance level.
Aerials have taught me that, really, the proportions of my body — which are great for dance and for most things in aerials — make some skills really hard, even potentially impossible. It’s also teaching me that, you know, that’s probably okay.
I haven’t hit a skill yet that’s really, truly impossible, but I can tell you that T-rex arms make doing a half-Russian out of a half-mill pretty freaking hard. I may or may not ever find a way to make it happen smoothly; I may have to work on it until my body finds its own special way of doing it.
That’s okay, though. Half-mill into half-Russian is one skill out of a zillion. There are other skills I can use instead.
That’s not quite a true can’t, but it’s an indication that part of me is willing to move towards a world where can’t is as okay for me as it is for other people.
We’re allowed to have can’ts. In fact, we probably should have can’ts. If we were all equally good at everything all the time, maybe there wouldn’t be room to appreciate artists, spectacular surgeons, and for those people who are amazingly gifted in the realms of the heart.
There’s some real truth to the idea that the shadows allow us to appreciate the light (and vice-versa), and while some of the can’ts in our lives hurt too much to think about them this way, others sting a lot less when we come to see them that way. (That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s wrong to fight to overcome your own personal can’ts. Probably the middle road, some of each, is the healthiest approach.)
Basically, everyone has a can’t somewhere, and that’s okay.
That being said, there is something I love so very, very much about aerials, and it’s this.
Every now and then, there’s this magical moment when something that used to be a can’t suddenly transforms into a can.
Of course, that’s not really how it happens.
What really happens is that you practice that skill, or other skills that train the same muscles and build related neural pathways, and then a moment arrives when, Boom! It all comes together, and it seems like a miracle.
Or, like, maybe it just is a miracle. Empiricism is great and all, but it isn’t everything.
Anyway, I had one of those moments today in mixed-apparatus class. We were doing vine climb to crescent moon (here’s an image [opens in new tab]).
This, by the way, is one of the skills that are more challenging for me because of the way I’m built. The last time I tried it, my body basically didn’t “get it,” and I haven’t done it since (not on purpose; it’s just how things have shaken out).
Today, it just happened brilliantly, beautifully. I was able to sail right into crescent moon effortlessly (and did a straight-leg variation that apparently impressed the hell out of everyone; I’m going to have to get a picture of this).
I haven’t really practiced these skills; I’ve just practiced related skills enough that it came together today — and that felt amazing.
Suddenly, this thing that used to be a can’t had magically become a can.
And that felt so good.
This is one of the things I love most about aerials (and about dance). I love those moments when things that felt like I would just never, ever be able to do them magically transform into things I can do and do well.
Those moments only happen, of course, if you stick with it — and I think that this may well be the greatest lesson that aerials and dance can teach us.
When we experience those moments in which can’t becomes can, we begin to think of ourselves differently. We begin to regard ourselves as people who are capable; as people who succeed.
Likewise, we watch other people experience that same transformation, and we begin to see them the same way.
We learn to feel this way in spite of our can’ts; in spite of those other areas in our life in which we continue to be less than able.
If we are fortunate, we learn to see past those areas; we learn to see that they are not barriers to a kind of overall can.
For what it’s worth, I think this is the same knowledge that good support services for people with disabilities imparts.
I used to think of myself more as someone who couldn’t: someone whose neurology stood in the way of success. A lot of parts of day-to-day life are hard for me in ways that can be really frustrating and even demoralizing, and for a long time I internalized the hell out of that. I felt like I had to fight with everything in me to wrestle that set of can’ts into the ground; to be as “normal” as possible, no matter the cost.
Dance and aerials have taught me that my strengths lie elsewhere — and that they’re considerable.
They’ve taught me to regard myself as someone who is profoundly capable, but in ways that are maybe kind of different and not entirely compatible with the usual 9-to-5 (or 6:30, or 8:30) world.
They’ve taught me that those ways of being capable are good, and valuable, and actually pretty awesome.
That opportunity should be available to everyone.
Not that everyone has to reach it through aerials or dance — some people reach it through math, or the study of history, or organizing (seriously, this is probably the most under-appreciated gift in the whole of the Western world), or homemaking, or knitting, or bringing people together, or through an uncanny ability to navigate the difficult waters of the human heart.
I hope that, in time, we’ll grow into a culture that appreciates every one of these gifts (and all the others that I haven’t listed; we’d be here for the rest of forever if I tried).
One of Denis’ great gifts in working with his clients (adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities) is helping them transform their can’ts into cans; helping them reach their moments of can.
He believes in people with a kind of unshakable faith, and he helps them believe in themselves.
I have seen aerials do the same thing for so many people now — so many people come in saying, Oh, I’ll never be able to do that or I’m too weak or (as I once said) I don’t have the upper-body strength for that.
As our trainers are so fond of saying, “That’s why you come to aerials class.”
That, and to reveal the vast treasury of your undiscovered can.
Reflections on a Bad Day
Yesterday was a bad day: a very bad day. The kind of day on which the depths of my disorder are somehow visible to the general public; the kind of day on which sensitive people ask me if I’m ill. The kind of day on which, for whatever reason, bipolar reveals itself in enormous dark circles under my eyes.
It was the kind of day on which the thought of talking to people is nearly unbearable — at once repugnant and frightening, since I can’t trust myself to speak in a way that doesn’t reveal the magnitude of my debility; on which I feel the fear the injured alpha wolf must feel — that my weakness will be revealed and I will be torn apart.
The kind of day on which I am wildly paranoid in an inchoate kind of way, but still rational enough to know that I am paranoid.
Yesterday’s venture deeper into to the dark and tempestuous waters of mixed mania was almost certainly precipitated by the use of a sleep aid the previous night. It’s a counter-intuitive outcome, but one I’ve experienced regularly. For some reason, antihistamines do things to my mood.
When I’m fairly euthymic, they render me a little groggy and down the next day; when I’m in my current state — skating desperately along the knife’s-edge of mixed mania — they’re a potentially-disastrous crap shoot.
The sleep-inducing medication in question is an antihistamine.
I seem particularly prone to the adverse effects of antihistamines, anticonvulsants, and other sedation-inducing medications — in short, depressants. Alcohol can also induce deeply unpleasant and even dangerous mood-states after its pleasant effects have worn off.
I would conjecture that I’m also unusually prone — relative to non-bipolar people — to the effects of stimulants, but I rarely experience those with the immense dysphoria typical of my reactions to sedatives.
Sedatives combined with stimulants, meanwhile, are a recipe for a day in Hell (whereby I probably should’ve skipped the iced coffee I had with lunch yesterday).
Yet, there comes a point at which one must decide whether the risks of a sleeping pill-induced bad day are worse than those of continued insomnia.
The after-effects of the sleeping pill, presumably as my brain attempts to re-regulate itself, wear off in a day or so if I don’t take another one. It is possible to get through one very bad day with a little help.
The effects of insomnia, on the other hand, will continue to accumulate and self-amplify indefinitely, until the current manic episode passes — and it is difficult to predict when they’ll jump the track and become manifestly dangerous. Worse, manic insomnia tends to beget manic insomnia — the less I sleep, the less I sleep — which induces further mania.
This is, perhaps, the heart of the problem with bipolar disorder: beyond its often-disabling nature, beyond the fact that non-bipolar people seem literally (and, perhaps, understandably) unable to comprehend what it’s like, it carries with it an immense sensitivity to all the factors that influence brain chemistry — including the very medications we use to treat it.
Worse still, perhaps, it is associated with great creative gifts — but also with the inability to utilize those gifts.
Bipolar disorder disrupts the ability to do sustained, concentrated creative work (or uncreative work; it may be even worse — the “worstest” — for that!).
The medications we take to counter the destructive aspects of bipolar, meanwhile, are equally capable of destroying both the creative faculties and the ability, physical and/or mental, to exercise them.
Lithium alone is associated with micrographia, Parkinsonian movement disruptions, and disturbances in balance and equilibrium, to name just a few of its adverse effects. For visual artists, dancers, and musicians, it can be devastating. Worse, these effects do not always ease up (as is often the case with other medications) as the brain and body acclimate: instead, they are often cumulative and even progressive.
In some cases (the tardive dyskinesia and akathesia associated with antipsychotics; the thyroid disruption associated with lithium), they become permanent: they will remain, perhaps treatable but generally incurable, even if the medication is stopped.
Artists living with bipolar find themselves trapped between hammer and tongs. The immense sensitivity that informs our work is at once fed, imprisoned, and subjected to danger of execution by the firestorms that rage in our brains and minds; when we bring in the fire crews, however, the ensuing flood too often downs all but the mere ability to keep body and soul together. Too often, the ability of the soul to soar is not preserved, nor even the ability of the body the function as it once did.
I have no useful advice to offer, here — just frustration to vent.
The question that all of us who live with bipolar disorder always face is this: are the costs of this treatment worth the benefits?
For many, the answer is a resounding yes — for many more, a qualified yes. For others, though, the answer is no, or not really, or I feel trapped; there is no right answer, here.
Too often, practitioners and caregivers still treat those of us for whom the existing medical therapies are not acceptable bargains as recalcitrant children who do not know what is best for us.
Sometimes, of course, they’re right — bipolar is a disease that does not want to be medicated, and sometimes it’s the disease talking; likewise, in our most florid moments, we bipolar types aren’t always rational.
However, I don’t believe that should be the first response. When an apparently-rational patient says, “I have tried these medications, and the side-effects were untenable — what now?” a practitioner would do well to listen, to consider alternatives, and — if need arises — to make a referral to someone else who may know if another strategy.
And always, always — even when we are manifestly mad, with all the attendant indignity of madness — patients should be handled with dignity and tact.
By way of illustration, there can be no doubt that lithium, in particular, saves lives.
So, however, does penicillin — and we find other ways to treat people who respond adversely to penicillin. We don’t criticise them or treat them as bad patients.
We who are or who hope to become practitioners would do well to keep that very simple example in mind.
When we express contempt towards mental illness patients who can’t tolerate the usual medical therapies, when we treat them as misbehaving children or miscreants, we are really expressing deep-seated cultural prejudices. Also frustration, of course, but that alone really doesn’t explain it; a doctor, PA, or NP may be frustrated by a patient’s inability to take penicillin, but that frustration isn’t generally expressed as contempt.
Instead, penicillin sensitivity (especially when severe) is generally met with compassion — It’s too bad the simple and inexpensive option doesn’t work, let’s see what we can find that will.
I know this because I, in fact, can’t take penicillin. I’m deathly allergic to it.
I am not, in fact, likely to die from lithium use, and I’m willing to use it as a short-term intervention should things get really, really out of hand. I am not, however, able to tolerate is effects over long-term treatment. The same can be said for antipsychotics.
I do the best I can to manage without — and I continue to research and seek and hope for an alternative. I also realize that, for me, a medical alternative may never appear.
I continue to understand that my current strategy may not always be tenable, either — that sometimes bipolar disorder gets worse with age, and that a day may come when I am no longer able to manage as I currently do.
Right now, the lesser of the two evils is bipolar: someday, that may not be the case.
If that day arrives, I may have to strike a different bargain. Bipolar, in the end, is the mother of many bargains.
Until then, I will struggle to make the most of my creative gifts, knowing that someday I may not be able to use them.
Until then — and indeed, thereafter, should that day come — I will continue to be immensely grateful for the fact that I have health and mental-health practitioners in my life who do not regard my decision to eschew long-term medical therapy with contempt, as the foolish decision of an irrational child, but rather with compassion, as the careful decision of a rational and intelligent adult.
That is an immense privilege; a great gift.
It is also a reflection of privilege: I am white, male, of “normal” size, well-bred, well-educated, and well-spoken. I am married to a medical professional.
Doubtless, all of these things factor in the quality of care that I receive — when none of them should. All that should matter is that I am a human being, and thus deserving of respect even when I’m irrational, stubborn, and wrong.
This, ultimately, is what every single person with mental illness deserves — even when we are irrational: respect. The essential respect of one human being for another.
This is basic human dignity in action.
It should be neither a privilege, nor something we stumble upon by luck.
Life: A Little Reminder from the Universe
Sometimes the Universe steps in and reminds us where we’re supposed to be going.
On Thursday last week, I finished my first aerial hammock class and said to Denis on the way back to our camper, “That makes me feel really happy.”
He said, “You always feel happy when you’re moving.”
This meshes nicely with last week’s (umptillionth) heretofore-unannounced revision to my long-term plan, in which I first discovered that one does not necessarily have to effectively complete a second master’s if one first completes a stand-alone master’s program and then goes for a doctorate, then decided that maybe doing a DMT Master’s (or a counseling or clinical psych Master’s with concurrent DMT cert) first would be a good idea after all, rather than diving directly into a doctoral program and attempting to do the alternate-route certification concurrently.
PlayThink was yet another reminder of the things that make DMT such an ideal fit for me: I love moving; I love helping other people connect with themselves through movement; I don’t want to sit behind a desk; I don’t want to have to wear normal clothes (seriously, if you’re choosing a career path, that’s something worth thinking about: Do I want to spend my entire day in khakis and a tie, or in lycra? As much as I like getting dolled up in a sharp suit, I’m happiest in dancewear).
There’s another point, though, that I didn’t quite get until this morning. I’m going to take the long way ’round to explain it, because words.
Last night, I was pondering and feeling strange about an experience I had at PlayThink; about how a guy (Brandon, if I didn’t hear him wrong) who I barely knew embraced me and just held me for a long moment with a singular intensity and, strangely enough, it didn’t freak me out (that was the part I felt strange about — the not-freaking-out part). I’m still, generally speaking, quite protective of my own body, but for whatever reason, in that particular moment, I was able to just let go and experience and enjoy that physical connection, that closeness (for which, if you ever happen to stumble across this blog, thank you, Brandon!).
I wanted to talk to Denis about it, but was struggling with how to explain all the feels (in fact, I still can’t really articulate how I felt or still feel about that particular experience). I said, “I want to talk about something, but I’m having a hard time explaining it.”
Denis smiled and said, “I always kind of think it’s funny when you say that, because it’s always hard for you to explain things.”
I laughed, then, because he was right: I really struggle to explain anything (even my blog posts get a lot of revision, most of the time), especially abstract concepts.
Feelings are the hardest. I have trouble figuring out how to describe them using the abstract vocabulary of emotion — but I can dance about them … and, oddly enough, often moving my body helps me figure out which words to use.
Moreover, moving with people makes me feel connected to and comfortable with them in ways that nothing else does. The sense of instantaneous trust I felt towards Brandon resulted at least in part from our participating together in an activity that involved movement, cooperation, and spontaneity. It reminds me of nothing so much as the first group improvisation warmup that we did in Linnie Diehl’s Intro to Dance-Movement Therapy intensive last November at the ADTA conference!
I suspect that connection, that sense of trust that stems from moving together, may be one of the greatest tools that DMT can offer. For those of us who struggle with language and for those of us who struggle with trust, there’s a profound potential there.
That trust is a sacred one. In a way, that same sacred trust suffeses the work of dancers, of aerial artists, of acrobats. There’s a connection that runs deeper than words that we can find when we move together.
It all sounds very mystical, but even mystical experiences occur in the realm of neuroscience (and, in fact, the domain of the liminal, mystical mind is one in which neuroscience as a field is very interested!).
I don’t know, yet, precisely where my journey is taking me, but that is ground I very much hope to explore: first, in the experiential sense, connecting with other dancers, with other artists, and someday with other DMTs and with DMT clients; second, in the scientific sense, trying to understand how our experience of that physical, movement-based connection which bypasses words takes place on a neurobiological level.
DMT as a modality is a good one for me to practice because it takes advantage of my own native language: I’m a physical being first and a cerebral one second, and that’s okay. I realize that this is a huge part of why I am much more confident and social in the ballet studio; why I felt so confident and social at the 2014 ADTA conference; why, at the end of PlayThink this year, I didn’t hesitate when more than one near-stranger bypassed my proferred handshake and went in for a hug.
As for the present tense: maybe I’ll stop trying to describe my experience with Brandon and, instead, I’ll try to dance about it.
Allegiances, Language, and Space
Like the mad, socially-conscious Yankee intellectual I was raised to be, I often find myself thinking about language.
Specifically, I think about how to use words in ways that will be empowering, rather than disempowering; unifying, rather than divisive; kind, rather than unkind.
Sometimes, this gets sticky — especially when it comes to speaking with compassion as an ally.
Whether we realize it or not, privilege colors how people in the world hear the words we use: our privilege and lack thereof, as well as their privilege and lack thereof (note that I write “and,” not “or,” because privilege is not an absolute; most of us experience a mixture of privilege and its opposite).
If I call myself queer, anyone who hears me brings internal nuance to the table. Some will hear that I choose that word because I’ve internalized the homophobia of the culture that surrounds me; some, that I’m reacting against that homophobia through lexical reclamation; some, that I don’t fit crisply into other categories; some, that I can myself queer for reasons I haven’t even imagined. All of them may be right or wrong at the same time and to varying degrees.
Few, however, will argue with my right to choose that word for myself (and I’m happy to kindly debate that point with those who would protest — we may never see eye-to-eye, but usually their intentions are good, and we can at least come to appreciate one anothers’ perspectives).
It gets trickier, though, when I’m talking about someone else.
Take, for example, the word fat.
Burlesque dancer Lillian Bustle makes the brilliant point that fat is just a word, like short or beautiful — other traits which Ms. Bustle owns with pride. It’s a word that can be detached from value judgment — unlike, for example, overweight, which by its very linguistic nature underscores the notion that there is a “right” weight, a “right” body size, outside of which people are wrong. We don’t call tall people overheight, so why call fat people overweight? We’ve tried that, and it hasn’t reduced anti-fat prejudice one iota. Why don’t we simply decouple the word fat from its harmful connotations?
I think Ms. Bustle makes a brilliant point. I agree with her whole-heartedly. I love her spirit of reclamation. Her words were, in fact, instrumental in my process of beginning to deal with my own deeply-seated, deeply-denied fat phobia.
And yet, as someone who lives in a body of the type that is currently privileged in our culture, I hesitate to fly that banner.
I’m carrying it, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to unfurl it when I’m pretty sure that I won’t cause further harm that way — but believe me, I look around first to make sure I’m not going to poke sometime in the eye.
In short, when a skinny person — especially a skinny guy, because there are extra layers of complexity associated with gender — uses the word fat to describe someone else, no matter how sound his intentions, he risks inflicting unintended pain.
Even if the subject of his words identifies as fat, even if she embraces that word, she probably still hears it used as an insult all the time (by analogy, someone like me, in my locale, might feel the same about the word fag).
It can be hard to glean what someone’s intentions are, and even well-meaning people harbor unexamined prejudices. So if I’m trying to describe someone to another person and I say, “He’s a tall, fat guy with curly hair and piano hands,” it’s possible that it’ll sound like I’m making a value judgment about body size, even if it’s a salient characteristic for identifying the person in question.
The fact that I’m a skinny dude makes it more likely, I suspect, that prejudice will be inferred. That’s not unreasonable: inferences of that kind are generally based upon past experience, which is an imperfect predictor of future experience, but still the best one we have. People of a socially-sanctioned body size probably are more likely to feel justified in using the word “fat” as an insult.
While I can’t control how other people hear me, the onus is upon me to try to words compassionately. It gets kind of weird, though, in territory that’s still in the earliest phases of reclamation. It’s possible reduce harm by thinking before I speak, but there will still be misunderstandings.
I think it’s important to shake things up, linguistically speaking.
It’s good to reclaim words; it takes tools out of the hands of oppressors without adopting oppression as a tool. Likewise, it affords us freedom in identifying ourselves; in describing ourselves. Perhaps most importantly, it often affords us a route away from formulations (non-white, overweight, non-traditional marriage) that, intentionally or otherwise, bear implications of compromised worth and reinforce the idea that average (or in the case of body size in the US, below average) is inherently better.
Prefixes like non-, over-, and under- imply the existence of an accepted standard — and value judgment is inherent in all standards. That’s the nature of standards, and that’s okay — when we’re talking about things that really benefit from being standardized, like astronomical measuring devices and medical equipment.
Human beings, though? Human worth is inherent. While reality sometimes makes it difficult, we do justice to one-another when we use words that reflect that worth; words that don’t imply that one is less correct simply because one is in some way different from a group that has been designated as a standard.
But it’s not always easy to do, nor does it always come off without a hitch.
The same can be said for wandering into safe spaces belonging to disenfranchised groups — the hierarchy of relative privilege gets sticky. I’m not always sure how to manage that, either.
I suspect nobody is. We all have the basics: listen, be compassionate, don’t be a jerk. The devil, as always, is in the details. Sometimes, our best efforts still go awry. Sometimes, we poke people in the eyes with the banners we’re unfurling in solidarity.
I guess, in the long run, this is a pretty good problem for a culture to have: a better one than that of knee-jerk prejudice and socially-sanctioned oppression (not that those are entirely gone, by any means).
I’m still working on all this stuff. If I’m actually a good human being, I’m be working on it, with greater or lesser focus, til the day I die.
I like to think of this as a mitzvah — an extension of tikkun olam, repairing the world. I can work to undo injustices I have done, and I can work with others to right injustices that began long before I was born. I can look at that as an onerous duty or as a joy (hence the word mitzvah, literally “commandment” or “obligation,” but also an opportunity for human kindness, for justice, for celebration of the divine spark in ordinary things).
My efforts at likely to be flawed — after all, I’m human — but with successive approximations, I can improve not only my life, but the world around me … without, I hope, giving out too many pokes in the eye.