*by which I mean I, though also you
I’ve written before about the experience of being someone who never expected to find the one thing for which I was willing to knock everything else right off the table, and then finding that thing.
I am (as a matter of course) talking about ballet.
When you’re in that position, it’s easy to forget that not everything works that way.
I am (as rather less a matter of course) talking about aerials, but also about Ehlers-Danlos.
Sometimes, Making Decisions Gets Complicated.
Recently, I decided to try training seriously on rope (as opposed to just occasionally hopping on the rope and being like, “This is fun” and then not doing it again for 4 years). I love watching rope, and it’s a great apparatus for strong, bendy people, so of course it seemed like it might be a good thing to add to my toolbox.
It took only a few weeks to realize that I was … well, not exactly wrong, but not exactly right, either.
Because, as it turns out, rope is a great fit for my strength and flexibility and a terrible fit for the connective tissue disorder that is the source of my flexibility.
The form of Ehlers-Danlos I have is mild—perhaps not as mild as it gets, but the Ehlers-Danlos spectrum includes flavors that are much harder to live with than mine. Because of that, I sometimes forget that my entire body, as D recently put it, “…is always just on the edge of blistering.”
I mean. We all remember that time I went to a modern SI and my foot blistered under its callus all the way down through several layers of skin, right?
(If you don’t, there’s a pic of the partly-healed blister here CW: ratchet-a** blister pic. I don’t actually think it’s that gruesome, especially not compared to when it first happened … but since several people I know disagree with me about that, consider yourself warned? ^-^’)
Anyway! So, yeah. EDS makes my body respond weirdly to friction and pressure.
And rope is all about that friction and pressure.
Horrible, Unavoidable Blisters Are A Good Reason Not To Do Something, Right?
It didn’t take long to figure out that rope training gives me weird, super-hard, glass-like calluses on my hands … or that the tissue under those calluses then blisters and sloughs, leaving behind raw, blazingly painful ulcers that take for-freaking-ever to heal.
Or that trying to do anything with giant sloughed-off blisters right over the distal ends of your metacarpals is … difficult.
So THAT happened.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, after attempting to get through rope class using a combination of Neosporin Plus, blister bandages, cloth tape, and self-adhesive bandages, I decided to take a couple weeks off of rope, let my hands heal, and think about what to do.
Like, even I am together enough to figure out that I needed to seriously think about whether rope was, in fact, a good fit for me.
Like, yes: it’s cool and I love watching rope performers, but was it worth literally flaying my hands on the regs?
And if I opted out, did that make me, like…
[ G A S P ]
This Is Where You Phone A Friend.
Or, well. If you’re me, you either slide into their DMs or just talk to them in person at the gym, bc actual phone calls??? LMAOOOOOOO. Who even does that? That’s not even what phones are for.
- Yes, I’m making fun of myself. Kind of. But also, that ISN’T what phones are for, or at least not my phone, as evidenced by the fact that it’s absolutely terrible at voice calls. I’m also absolutely terrible at voice calls, so it works out.
Anyway, long story short, last week I finally got around to asking my friend, mentor, and hoop instructor ABM, who has pretty much the same version of EDS that I have, if she does rope, and if so how it plays with her EDS.
- Is a combination friend-and-mentor a “frentor?” Or is that more like someone who’s a friend, but also a bull?
- EDS is a rare disorder unless you’re a dancer, aerialist, or contortionist, in which case sometimes it feels like half the planet has it.
It turns out that she doesn’t, largely because it doesn’t play well with her EDS.
When she does rope, AEB gets the same weird, glassy calluses that I get. They inevitably blister underneath and slough just like mine do. She also said it makes her body hurt in ways that other apparatus don’t, which is consistent with my experience as well. (In my case, I had assumed that more training would fix that, but maybe it wouldn’t.)
ABM is also a super boss-level badass.
So this, in turn, made me feel more okay with the idea of not continuing to pursue rope.
Practically speaking, I’ve pretty much put the question to bed. I haven’t gone to rope class since my glassy calluses tore off. I’m not planning to go to rope class.
And yet my brain still finds it difficult to accept that. I hate being told that I can’t do something, even when I’m the one telling myself that I can’t.
Bargaining Is One Of The Stages Of Grief.
- Which are non-linear, and may be visited numerous times. I think of them as trains: you can ride them more than once, and sometimes you’re on a train that at this moment is operating on both the Denial and Anger lines, for example, which might run concurrently in one place but not another. Like trains, they can also take you to places good, bad, and indifferent, and sometimes even to destinations you didn’t expect.
Figuring out that, realistically and practically, you can’t do a thing you’d like to do is a kind of grief.
So is facing down the fact that, no matter what your Russian-born gymnastics coach told you, sometimes there really is such a thing as can’t, or at least such a thing as, I could, but it would be a spectacularly bad idea on levels that I probably shouldn’t ignore.
And so, when I find myself in this position, inevitably I go through this whole mental wrangling process.
Like, I deny that there’s a problem. I give you full permission to laugh at this right now, in this context, because Y’ALL. Me denying that my skin sloughing off is a problem is like:
I get mad: maybe at myself, maybe at the world. I bargain with myself: “Okay, so I can’t do it in its default state, but can I maybe modify it somehow???”
And I do this, I think, partly because I really actually want to Do The Thing, but also partly because I need to know that I haven’t given up prematurely. Only, when it’s something that I want to do, my brain considers giving up at any point to be premature, and reverts to You Just Don’t Want It Enough mode.
Which Is A Problem.
While there might be ways I could work around the blistering thing, it really seems as if there probably isn’t one. At least, nothing short of inventing a modified version of the apparatus (which involves an R&D budget that I don’t have, because I can’t afford to pay an engineer rn).
Normal skin calluses, but doesn’t then blister under the callus. For those of us whose skin does do the thing, most dance contexts, allow shoes or dance socks or whatevs, and they prevent the whole problem. Artistic gymnastics and some circus disciplines allow “grips” that covered the parts of the hands that are most prone to EDS callus madness and tears (the rippy kind, not the kind that stream from your eyes as you attempt to pick up your coffee pot with your poor, ulcerated hands).
- I mean, assume there are circumstances in which this could happen to normal skin, but for me it’s the norm in some contexts.
- There are modern companies wherein it’s barefoot or nothing. I will probably never work for any of them, because I respect that as an artistic decision and just don’t even audition. I’m going out on a limb to say that it’s also a bit on the ableist side, but That’s Another Post.
Rope isn’t dance or gymnastics, though, and it has some unique constraints. I don’t think grips, or anything else I’ve dreamed up, would actually solve the problem. Like, seriously, I’ve been lying in bed and thought, “Maybe I could stick that moleskin stuff on my hands???” but … no. Freals. There are about a million reasons that probably wouldn’t work.
If I had slightly bigger hands, and could wrap them all the way around the rope, that might make a all the difference for me. But I don’t, and the diameter of the rope used in aerials is pretty much standardized.
Being able to wrap your hands all the way around the rope lets you take some of the pressure off of the distal ends of the metacarpals–I can do that on trapeze, silks, hammock, and sling, and while it doesn’t always prevent the whole glassy callus-blister-slough sequence, it does most of the time.
That’s good enough. I can work with most of the time, especially since when it does happen on trap or things other than rope, it’s typically because I’m doing something wrong.
On rope, though, even when I’m doing things right, I frequently have to grip the rope in a way that transfers a ton of pressure to the distal ends of my metacarpals. Result: the whole glassy callus-blister-slough sequence (and a couple weeks of wrestling with simple tasks like buckling a seatbelt, driving, or pulling up the covers in bed).
Even if I had bigger hands, though, the surface texture of the apparatus that I’m lazily calling “rope,” which is actually corde lisse, might still be a problem.
Corde lisse translates to “smooth rope,” and it is smooth–in a sense.
You can’t see or feel the twist of the rope fibers. This isn’t the rope you climb in gym class, which is visibly a rope, but something that looks more like the “velvet rope” barriers one encounters at museum exhibits and performance venues.
It’s a kind of long textile sausage. (It is not, however, velvety.)
Wikipedia describes corde lisse as being made of “soft cotton.” This also is true in a sense.
Une corde lisse has a layer of padding between the steel cable that forms its core and its sausage casing, so in that sense it’s softer than just, say, climbing a naked length of aircraft cable.
Likewise, the heavy-duty canvas duck that forms the sausage casing is made of cotton, in that the cotton itself was presumably soft at some point in its life cycle. But that cotton is then transmogrified into the fabric generally known as “heavy-duty canvas duck” and associated with such words and phrases as “tough,” “stiff,” and “military duffel.”
It is not, in fact, actually sandpaper. It feels soft if you gently stroke it, like you might stroke the belly of a cat sleeping in a sunbeam.
But if you use the boniest bits of the palms of your hands to apply intense pressure to a long sausage cased in heavy canvas duck, “soft” isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Like the cat, who was only feigning sleep and did NOT invite you to disturb their recharge sesh, it has bite.
So, basically, for a handful (pun intended) of reasons, rope probably isn’t ever going to actually be my jam, no matter how much I want it to be.
The challenge is feeling like that’s okay.
You Really Don’t Have To Do Everything. Really.
This is where the idea of being fair to myself comes in.
Like, I try to do this thing in which I try to convince myself that it really is okay by playing out a hypothetical situation in which someone else comes to me about a similar problem. It goes like this:
I really like rope, but I’m not sure I can keep doing it because it does bad things to my body. I feel like I should stop, but I also feel weird about it. Like, in gymnastics, the coaches never let us use the word “can’t,” and *shrug* … you know what I mean?
I totally get it! I think you’re making the right decision, actually. You only get one body, so it’s good to listen to it and take care of it! Besides–you do trapeze, hoop, hammock, acro, and adagio, which is a LOT, and you’re doing the right thing to take care of your body so you can keep doing amazing stuff with it.
I’ve had these conversations in real life. Lots of them. And when I’m talking to someone else, I mean it.
Like, I’ll straight-up tell you if I think you’re being a big weenie. I mean, depending on the context, I’ll probably do it in a less-insulting way, like saying, “I know you can get that plank tighter! You’re strong!” or whatever–but still.
- Also, can we all stop for a sec and appreciate the delightful oxymoron implicit in the phrase “big weenie,” since “weenie” is used, in other contexts, as an adjective meaning very small? And also that as a derivative of “weiner,” AKA PENIS, PENIS, PEEEE-NISSSSS, it’s for once not insulting to age groups, non-male genitals, non-male persons, any particular ethnic group, people with disabilities, etc?
Sometimes deciding not to do a thing is how we take care of the beautiful instruments that are our bodies. And taking care of the instruments that are our bodies is essential.
The only way I can stop being mad at myself about this kind of thing is to be like, “Yo, you need your hands for PARTNERING, which is your basically YOUR ENTIRE JOB, and also girls won’t like it if they’re all covered in hard, stabby stuff.”
- D, at any rate, doesn’t seem to mind, though maybe he would if I was partnering him in pirouettes on pointe.
And That Isn’t Even The Point.
Look … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think there’s great value in the kind of quiet toughness and resilience that training in aerials or gymnastics or ballet, at its best, builds in us.
It’s good to try to overcome obstacles whenever they stand between us and something important or something we really want.
But you know what?
It’s also good to be able to say, without deriding ones’ self as an inadequate little panty-waist, “Actually, I don’t really need a world-beating reason to not do this thing.”
- Apparently, a “panty-waist” was originally an undergarment generally associated with babies–like a shorty union suit. TBH, that sounds like a pretty useful thing. #TheMoreYouKnow
It is okay to want to do a thing, and to try the thing, and to discover that maybe it just doesn’t jam your jelly or whatever. Or that it would jam your jelly, but instead it jellies your distal metacarpals, and that isn’t going to work.
So maybe you change your mind, and decide that the thing in question isn’t for you, at least not right now. And that’s fine.
Changing your mind doesn’t “make you a quitter.” It gives you room and time and energy to not quit all the things you do keep doing.
I do think that I have a good reason for deciding not to continue with rope training.
But it’s not the only good reason, and it would be good if someday I learned that sometimes you don’t even really need a good reason to say, “I think I’ll skip x thing.” That you–I–don’t really need any reason at all except that’s the decision you–I–have made.
Has writing this post moved that needle for me?
I don’t know. I’ve noticed that sometimes we need other people to help us move needles like that. And time. We need time, too.
So even if this doesn’t help move my needle, maybe it’ll help move someone else’s.