There are a lot of things that people say all the time to people who are fighting life-threatening illnesses.
They’re how we express our empathy as fellow humans; how we try to express our solidarity, our support, our “being-there-for-you-ness.”
Most of them are great — but some of them, when I really think about it, seem a little problematic.
Not that I’m judging you if you use them: frankly, in the heat of the moment, we tend to say whatever we can, and it’s really hard to come up with something to say that’s supportive. Worse, a lot of the phrases in question are basically the major elements in our cultural tool-kit of go-to things to say to people when they’re struggling.
Still, I think it might be useful if I write about what I try not to say and why. Of course, feel free to disagree with me (or agree with me, that’s cool, too!) in the comments.
Here we go:
What I Try Not To Say:
I know you’re going to beat this!
Why I Try Not To Say It:
In short, I don’t know that.
A couple years back, a long-time friend of Denis’ was diagnosed with what looked, at first, like a pretty uncomplicated lung cancer. His prognosis was very good. After the usual course of radiation and chemo, he went in for surgery to remove the tumors … and that’s where everything fell apart.
It turned out that his body was riddled with cancerous tumors; tumors that hadn’t shown up on the various imaging studies that had been done up to that point. The tumors in question happened to be of the same density as the organs they had invaded. They were stealth tumors.
Those stealth tumors killed Denis’ friend.
With cancer, as with so many things, nothing is certain — and if I tell someone I know they’re going to beat it, and they discover that, actually, they aren’t, it can leave them feeling like they’re letting me down. They don’t need that.
I never want my friend who has cancer to feel like he’s letting me down. He’s not. He didn’t ask for cancer, and even if he had some kind of habit (like smoking) that amounts to asking for it … well, people do stupid things all the time. That doesn’t mean they deserve cancer. Cancer sucks.
What I Try Not To Say:
Why I Try Not To Say It:
It’s okay to be weak. Sometimes, it’s even necessary.
I’ve noticed that the hardest thing for people who are seriously ill to do is to just put everything down for a little while and take a breather.
People who are seriously ill often feel like they owe it to everyone around them to hold it together.
I’m not advocating turning into a navel-gazing blubfest — though I’d actually say that it’s fine and healthy to do that at times! — but when you’re battling cancer, or heart disease, or severe major depression, or whatever, you’ve already got a lot on your plate.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is the sort of thing we perceive as weak.
Sometimes, you need to stop being responsible for a while and literally lie down in bed so your body and/or your mind can do their thing and try to heal as best they can.
Sometimes, it’s even good for the people around you to step up and take over some of the stuff you would normally do. It lets them feel like they’re doing something to help, even though they can’t wave their magic wands and make your cancer go away.
We live in a culture that devalues weakness. What we don’t always realize that it’s when others are weak that we have an opportunity to lift them up — and any good personal trainer can tell you that lifting makes you stronger.
So by lifting others in their times of weakness, we strengthen ourselves: so we should try to be less afraid of others’ weakness … and less afraid of our own. When we let someone lift us up, we’re doing them a favor, too.
What I Try Not To Say:
Everything’s going to be okay!
Why I Try Not To Say It:
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.
It could be that everything will turn out fine, and that the experience of living with and/or through cancer becomes a kind of emotional touchstone.
It could be that everything won’t turn out fine. A struggle with cancer, even when cancer loses, can leave scars and tear families apart. A struggle with cancer that ends in death is hard for everyone who loves the person who dies, and while some of those people will come out just fine, others might not. We don’t really understand a lot about the underpinnings of human resilience, yet.
So maybe everything will be okay, and maybe it won’t — and, either way, I want my friend who has cancer to know that I’m going to be there. That I’m not going to judge him or anyone else if everything doesn’t turn out just fine. That I’m going to love him either way as a brother-of-the-road, a fellow fitness fanatic, another human being, and a general all-around funny and awesome guy who was dealt a crappy hand.
I’m sure there are other problematic phrases out there in our cultural lexicon. I can’t seem to think of them right now.
Sometimes, though, when I need to find something to say to someone who’s hurting, I find one of these phrases slipping from my tongue (or my fingertips).
In the end, that’s okay, too: once again, as humans, we make mistakes and we do stupid things.
So, yeah. If you’re that guy from time to time who says stuff like this, don’t be too hard on yourself.
And if you’re that guy who has cancer, don’t be too hard on yourself.
At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.
And that, in fact, might be something worth saying to your friend who has cancer.
“We’re here. We’re in this with you. Together.”
It’s Spring Break week for Ballet this week, so I have no class (I’m trying to avoid the obvious jokes here, since I’m sure I’ve used them all before). This is handy, because I’m in the middle of writing my final paper for my Buddhism class, preparing for the final exam in my Entomology class, and finishing the PorchLight Express website.
Yesterday, I met with my boss for my performance review, and it was great. That was a huge relief, as it’s actually kind of hard to figure out how well you’re doing your job when you’re in your first term as an SI leader. At one point, Ryan said, “When are you graduating, in May? That’s too bad. I mean — not for you! But it would’ve been nice to have you around longer.”
That felt really good!
I feel like I’m learning and growing a lot this semester — not just as a student, but as a person. The whole past year has been an exercise in figuring out who I am and where I fit and where I want to go … and also in learning how to be happy even though I’m not there yet.
By analogy, I came to a realization not long ago that has been bizarrely helpful (though, to be fair, if you’d told me the same thing maybe a year ago, I would’ve said you were full of crap). I was reflecting on why I liked making bread, but didn’t like putting the dishes away. Both are basically repetitive activities that you do in one place, and yet I find one of them enjoyable (even when it makes my wrists hurt) and the other tedious.
I came to the conclusion that there was, in fact, no good reason that I didn’t like putting dishes away. It was a mental thing. If I could like making bread, I could like putting the clean dishes back in the cupboards. The main difference is that putting clean dishes away involves working with a lot of small elements, much like de-cluttering does (this explains why I enjoy housework but hate de-cluttering; it took me the longest time to figure out that that was my biggest problem as a homemaker).
The working-with-lots-of-small elements part is difficult for me as someone with my particular flavor of ADHD. I think this is also why I enjoy bike maintenance, but not so much repairs — maintenance mostly involves fiddling with a whole bike; repairs often involve lots of fiddly parts that can escape and roll away and basically stress me out until they’re back on the bike.
That doesn’t mean I can’t come up with ways to find either process enjoyable, though — so I’m working in learning to like putting the dishes away, or at least not hate it. As for bike repairs — meh. Some of them I’ll definitely do (changing tires and sometimes repairing tires; fixing broken chains; stuff like that), but some I don’t mind paying someone else to do. Besides, that helps good bike wrenches stay in business, which I really appreciate when something major that I don’t know how to fix happens to one of my bikes.
On the “learning to like putting away dishes” front, I’m not going to say I’m entirely there yet. Nor am I going to say that this is something everyone can or should do — there’s lots of things that lots of people would say I “should” be able to learn to do or to like, but I either can’t or won’t, and I think that’s basically okay. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.
I feel like other people deserve the same consideration. People live in different ways and prioritize different things, and it’s totally okay to feel like putting dishes away is anathema to your soul. It’s okay to pay someone else do it, or bribe your spouse to do it, or just plain not do it. I personally know a couple people who have dishwashers solely so they don’t have to put the dishes away — they just put the dishes in, wash them, and then that’s where the dishes live until they’re all used, and then the cycle begins again. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.
So that’s a thing I think I’ll probably write about some more at some point.
In other news, I finally took the last dose of my tendon-exploding antibiotic this morning, so I rather expect to stop feeling exhausted and bedraggled in the next few days. I was so tired last night that I conked out before Denis got home from his night out with Kelly, and I didn’t even wake up when he got home and came to bed.
I’m looking forward to having my usual energy level back, but also glad that the break in ballet classes allows me to get more done while I’m still feeling the fatigue. The main part of my PLX job is just about done, too, so when ballet class resumes next week, I should be able to enjoy it without having to dash around quite so frenetically.
Frenetic dashing just isn’t really my style.
I am, in some matters — mostly the ones that involve heights, speed, agility, risk of falling, large animals, stuff like that; physical dangers — a fearless idiot.
In other matters, however — basically, in matter that involve interacting with humans in new ways — I am a giant chicken.
About a week ago, I approached some friends of mine who are members of an online bike-geek community that now spans the globe and asked if they wanted to get involved in a fund-raising thing I was thinking about doing for another friend of ours.
That was surprisingly scary. I thought everyone would say, “What? That’s a terrible idea! Why don’t we just do something through one of the existing fundraising organizations out there?”
Instead, my ideas were met with enthusiasm, and then with more ideas, and from the resulting seven-way brainstorm, Cabal Aid was born.
That was scary, too: taking this idea, and building something around it, and then setting the thing that we’d made together loose in the world in hopes that people would receive it in the spirit of good-hearted meddling that we intented. Heck, just showing the rest of the team my contribution — the WP-based website and Google forms I’d cobbled together in a rather unprecedented storm of productivity — was pretty scary.
We just went live a little while ago, so it’s still scary. I’m afraid nobody else will join our roster of riders; afraid that if people do, they’ll have trouble finding sponsors; afraid that some Great Authority in the Sky is going to come down and tell us to cease and desist.
For what it’s worth, I was even kind of afraid to talk specifically about that project, here. It was one thing to mention it in passing as a theoretical thing; another thing entirely to put up a link that people can visit and, like, judge and stuff (BTW, the purpose of the link isn’t to try to drum up still more support, though if you want to take part, that’s cool, too).
It’s scary and challenging to take a piece of your heart and put it out there for the world to see.
Oddly enough, though, that’s what we all do just about every day in our blogs here.
In a sense, that’s what every adult amateur ballet student does every time he or she sets foot in the studio; what every hopeful grad student does when she or he applies to a much-desired program. The world is full of scary opportunities; perilous places where we pin our hearts to our sleeves and take gigantic leaps of faith.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to observe that bravery isn’t fearlessness — it’s being afraid and doing stuff anyway. Sometimes it starts with having faith that you actually have wings; sometimes it starts with being fed up and feeling like you have to do something, even if it turns out to be wrong.
In the end, we overcome fear by doing scary things.
We start with Small Scary Things, and we work our way up to Bigger Scary Things, and then one day we do something that would once have seemed like a Huge Scary Thing, only it turns out that we’ve grown stronger by doing all those Small Scary Things and Bigger Scary Things and living through them.
The hardest part, it turns out, is finding the first Small Scary Thing that you can do.
For me, the Huge Scary Thing here was actually approaching Scott, who’s going to be the recipient of this month’s fundraising efforts. I really kind of thought he might be offended or something (you never know!). Fortunately, he was cool with our meddling. Because that was a Huge Scary Thing, and because we had a contingency plan in case Scott said no, I left that for last. Well, that and announcing the creation of our new do-gooding wing to the broader membership of the Bike Commuter Cabal.
The Small Scary Things?
I’m not even sure what they were. I can tell you that there were a lot of them, because I had to practice a lot before I was ready to start doing Big Scary Things.
There are more Huge Scary Things on my horizon. Figuring out how to use the next year and a half in a way that creates growth — Huge Scary Thing. Applying to grad school — another Huge Scary Thing. Starting to forge my path forward, now that I kind of want to know where I want to go. Huge. Scary.
I guess as long as we live, we’re going to face Huge Scary Things. Sometimes it will take us a while to be ready to meet them, and that’s okay. Sometimes, we’ll have to practice on a lot of Small Scary Things and Big Scary Things first.
Over time, Scary Things that were once Huge diminish into the distance. By the ends of our lives, if we work hard, we’ll have grown enough to step over mountains.
A little more than a year ago, I returned to the ballet studio after a long break from all forms of theatrical dance (note that I didn’t say all forms of dance, period: historically, every time an opportunity to own the floor has arisen, I’ve grabbed it by the horns and spun it like a top).
I didn’t see that as the Beginning of Something, because of course we almost never* spot the Beginnings in the ongoing string of serial novels that comprise our lifetimes, but that’s what it was: a Beginning.
It was a beginning that had been much-rehearsed and much-prepared-for, in a way.
I’d made a lot of changes in the three years prior: met the love of my life; figured out I was unhappy not just with my job, but with my entire career path; left a stable job with decent pay and fair opportunities for advancement; left the field in which I’d accrued all of my meaningful professional experience; returned to school; got married (another Beginning); finally started to get my head around the fact that bipolar disorder was a thing in my life whether I admitted it or not, so I’d better just admit it; etc.
I had been doing a lot of foundational work on myself. Returning to ballet was the outgrowth of that foundational work.
What I didn’t expect was the transformative effect of that return to the studio.
If you’d asked me before I returned to ballet what kind of dancer I expected to grow into, I probably would have pointed to the most fluid, most gender-bending member of the Ballets Trockaderos and said, “I’m going to be him.” If you’d asked whether and how I expected ballet to transform the rest of my life, I might have said, “I dunno, I’ll be more fit, I guess?”
Instead it turns out that, as a dancer, my style is traditionally masculine in the balletic sense (I’m trying to figure out how describe what I mean, here), and that ballet has sent its tentacles into every nook and cranny of my life. Surprise**?
I suppose I can’t be entirely surprised that ballet just kind of took over. That’s how I roll. I don’t do hobbies; I do consuming passions.
That said, I was quite surprised when ballet almost immediately eclipsed cycling. Somehow, I expected them to coexist. Instead, cycling has been recast in a subservient role — still wildly fun, still great for keeping up the cardio and getting from here to there, but let’s not overdo it, because it’s bad for the turnout. Casual centuries are still A Thing from time to time, but racing? Not so much.
Perhaps more genuinely surprising is the fact that I — perhaps not the most incendiary of flamers, but still sufficiently alight to say of my husband, “His steadiness allows me to be the airy-fairy faggot I was built to be” — feel so at home and “right” and comfortable as a danseur.
Historically, I’ve found it kind of awkward to be who and what I am: this boy who is not “straight acting” and has no desire to be, but who nonetheless doesn’t fit neatly into the “total flamer” box either.
I recognize that this is mainly because the limits we’ve drawn around that box are, well, silly — and, actually, quite sexist, in a “flamers are like girls and girls aren’t bold and athletic” kind of way. I’d like to see someone tell Misty Copeland or cycling great Marianne Vos that girls aren’t bold and athletic!
I can’t help but toss an eyeroll at the over-compensating “straight acting” types — not the ones who are just being themselves, but the ones who are trying too hard; the ones who make “masculinity” into some kind of cult object and wear its trappings like ill-fitting trousers while cloaking their own feminine or androgynous sides in shame. The problem is, I also don’t quite fit the mold at the opposite end of the spectrum … and, curiously, queer culture seems to leave precious little room for the recognition of anything else (okay, except bears, wolves, and otters — but I’m not any of those).
I am someone who by his nature likes categories and wants to belong to at least one, but I am also someone who appears to have been created specifically to defy categorization. I am eternally consigned to some kind of purple area, when all I want much of the time is to know whether I’m red or blue. Yea verily, this hath vexed me: I have really, really always wanted to fit somewhere. It never occurred to me that maybe part of what I missed about ballet was that I fit.
Ballet embraces a kind of bouyant masculine grace (which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily have to be constrained to male dancers; more on that in another post; G-d help me, I am backlogging myself with “…in another post” posts lately!) that is at once strictly counter-cultural in our modern age of male buffoonery and strictly classical in the sense that gentlemen were expected, Once Upon A Time, to know how to cut a caper or a rug and how to recognize a well-cut suit.
So I am learning to live into this kind of weird masculine grace that’s apparently a native part of my being — I say “weird” because I have, of course, thought of myself as male, but not particularly as an exemplar of any flavor of masculinity; that has, simply put, never been one of my aspirations. And, in so doing, I am learning to live into the whole of my being more thoroughly.
In short, I am feeling at once more whole and more real and developing a burgeoning sense of agency that threatens to topple my lifelong assumption that I would live out my days as a sort of domestic, dependent figure.
I say all this by way of a discovery: earlier today, I read a really cool article on Serious Eats called Friday Night Meatballs, immediately Had A Sad because it reflected something I’ve always wanted to do but felt I couldn’t because The House and Where Will People Park and Nobody Wants To Visit Our Neighborhood and Nobody Ever Comes To Our House, etc…
Then, immediately, I thought, “Well, why don’t I do something about that?”
Like, point the fourth, there? Of course nobody ever comes to our house. We never invite people to our house. Maybe if we invited people over on a regular basis, people would come to our house. Maybe that’s how all this works!
You guys, what the heck is happening to me?
It used to be that I would get to, “…but the house” or whatever and stop.
This isn’t to say that our current house is ever going to be ideal for entertaining. It’s not: but that’s life. I can’t practice big jumps in my basement, either, even though it’s the largest clear-span space in the house (our living room, meanwhile, is roughly one tour-jete across, if I keep it small). I make do: turns in the kitchen (because that, as we have established, is what kitchens are for), the occasional big jump in the living room, adagio in the basement. Balances everywhere, on every possible surface.
So packing ten people in for a sit-down meal in our dining room probably isn’t going to happen, at least not unless we get rid of the china cabinet and buy a different table. So what? Who cares? That’s why the human race invented this little thing called “the buffet.” It worked a treat for our family holiday shindig, and I’d like to do more of that: china and food on the dining room table, however many people arrayed on sofas and loveseats and chairs and giant ottomans in the living room. It works, and it actually feels rather nice and friendly.
I’m going to give this a spin, though first I’ll have to get off my butt and finish the Great Spring Break Cleaning.
I’m feeling this way about my life in general. You figure out what you’ve got and you go from there; there’s no point in worrying about what you don’t have right now. I don’t know if coming from a background in which I pretty much had everything made this harder or easier to learn — like, seriously, it seems like it should be easy to learn how to live on a much smaller income. You just spend less, right? But, in fact, it’s actually not all that intuitive when you’ve grown up never really having to worry about the expense of anything.
The difference is that when money really is no object, you can usually make things happen the way you envision them by just laying out some cash. When money is an object, you have to be a little more flexible and a little more creative. You have to learn how to work with what you’ve got.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
You take what you’ve got and you make the most of it, and while you’re doing that you figure out how to make the next step towards realizing the whole of your vision. Except in the most dire of circumstances, you cancel out the negative side of the equation (our dining room is definitely too small!) by recognizing a positive (but our living room is a really fun place for a group of people to hang out!). Then you figure out how to use that positive to meet your goal.
That’s the secret, apparently. That’s what keeps the here and now from seeming like nothing but a grinding wait ’til you get to where you want to be (now, if I can just figure out how to apply this kind of thinking to our bathroom, which I despise with the fire of a thousand suns, and to the fact that our kitchen feels like the most isolated room in our house…).
It’s like the principle of keeping Shabbos: from every Friday at sunset to every Saturday at sunset, the perfected kingdom of G-d is already present; sacred time descends upon and perfects our imperfect world. We invite the Perfect Someday to be here with us, now, and for a little while even our imperfect world is lifted up and perfected. Things still get spilled and little kids still burst into tears for mysterious reasons, but those things happen in the context of the Perfect Someday, and they too are sacred events.
In a way, Sarah Grey’s Friday Night Meatballs, with its recognition that the house is going to be messy and that you might be asked to read picture books, is its own Shabbos***. The world doesn’t stop being imperfect and chaotic (this isn’t to say that having to read picture books, by the way, is imperfect: it just probably isn’t what people think of when they think “Friday evening dinner party”), but for a little while, a different kind of perfection — a transcendent perfection — is invited in.
I’d like to live my life a little more like that. I realize that’s what I’ve been hunting, in my endless journey for a spiritual practice that answers the calling of my soul: something that lifts up the Holy Sparks in all things. I just didn’t realize that it’s been sitting right here in front of me all along. (Voila! Isn’t that always where it is, though?)
It really helps to have an Organizing Principle, of course: Zen, or Yiddishkeit, or Catholic mysticism, or Quaker discernment, or secular humanist discernment, or bike racing, or ballet. Some organizing force that helps you untangle the threads and gather them together and weave them into a tapestry (and to know with ease that there will be imperfections in the tapestry). For whatever reason, Bike Racing didn’t really work for me — perhaps because it wasn’t my Vocation, in the old-school sense of the word.
Ballet has become exactly that in my life. Ballet is, at the moment, a kind of functional Kashruth. It is the thing that helps me decide, and at the same time it’s a sacred aspiration. This is, I think, the heart of the ballet aphorism, “I can’t; I have class.” What we are saying when we say, “I can’t, I have class,” is that we serve a higher calling, and that calling comes before so many of life’s distractions****.
I am not living the kashruth of ballet perfectly, of course, because I am human and because I am just learning: but still it is working in my life, opening roads for wholeness that weren’t there before. It’s like pruning a tree, in a way: you prune away the suckers and the weak branches, and you are left with a strong and graceful tree that bears good fruit.
Ballet is the thing for which I am willing to shove everything else to the side, to make sacrifices that a year ago I wouldn’t have thought possible (Give up bike racing? Take any old job just so I can afford my training? Do :::shudder::: upper-body work?!).
I don’t think I would actually have bothered seeking out medication for my ADHD if it weren’t for ballet — but I realized that I need to get better at handling the other stuff in my life so I can keep dancing and so I can achieve my long-term goal of becoming a Dance-Movement Therapist, and I realized after a while that I wasn’t going to be able to do it without help.
I don’t know if, without ballet, I would have ever been as comfortable being who and what I am. I would have continued to feel weird, out of place, even in the outsider community that is the queer universe. I would have continued to hem and haw about having surgery for my gynecomastia, forever suspended between “living with this body limits me and makes me uncomfortable” and “the whole idea of surgery both makes Denis uncomfortable and reinforces the idea that there is only one right kind of male body.” I would have gone on not deciding until the accumulation of years rendered a decision for me. Ballet makes that decision easy: this is the thing I need to do to be able to move with freedom and strength. I can’t imagine regretting it, but I can absolutely imagine regretting not doing it.
Then again, that was the first bit of wisdom I learned from Denis: in the long run, you rarely regret what you do — instead, you regret what you don’t do.
So, yeah. I think I’m going to finish cleaning the house and try my own Friday Night Meatballs experiment, though maybe I’ll do something other than meatballs (but maybe not). We’ll figure out where to put people and where to put people’s cars and so forth (and if my friends come, they’ll probably come on bikes anyway).
I also think I’m going to keep working on moving forward, on stepping out onto this stage. Because, bizarrely, that’s what this all feels like: so much of my life, up until this point, has been rehearsal.
Now we step onto the stage. Now we take our place before the eyes of the world.
Now we begin to dance.
I’m not doing a video today because Denis is having a movie marathon in the living room, and the living room is the only plank-friendly spot in the house right now. The family room (in the basement) is, at present, full of the chairs that normally live in the dining room, the guest room is full of year-end finance stuff, and … yeah, I’m just gonna stop there.
This much I will say: I was pretty surprised how easy I found it to do the whole video-blogging thing. I say this not because I’m in any way camera-shy (I’m not; I’m our typical pretty-boy shutterbug in that regard, and my phone is arguably as clogged with ridiculous selfies as any 14-year-old’s) — it’s just that the spoken word isn’t necessarily my preferred medium.
Put concisely, writing gives me time to find all the words and stuff and arrange them in some fashion that more or less effectively resembles the ideas I’m trying to communicate.
I figured I’d have a bit harder a time doing that out loud, but it turns out that if I think about what I want to say for a bit before I say it, it kind of comes out okay (maybe that’s something I should remember for daily life :/).
That’s it for now. I’m on a bit of an uptick, which may or may not be a good thing. I’m not sure that I can tell the difference between feeling “normal” (for whatever that means) and the onset of mania. Then again, for me, I’m not entirely sure there is a difference. I’m doing my best to monitor and keep a lid on it. On the other hand, for the moment, it’s definitely better than being depressed.
Okay, that’s it for now. Ballet resumes Monday, Tuesday I go in for Supplemental Instruction Leader training, Wednesday there’s moar ballet! and therapy, Thursday we’re off to Connecticut to visit my parents, planking all the way, ha-ha-ha!
In other news, here’s what I got for Christmas from our favorite Kelly!
Also, for whatever reason, my neck looks awesome and stuff in this picture.
I am well on the road to recovery from Winter Plague #2.
*Yes, I said it! “Happy Holidays,” because I don’t know if you, beloved reader, are Atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan, or beyond. Lots of religions (and non-religions) have celebrations this time of year, and it would be rude of me to assume that I know your religious preferences without asking you (if I do know your religious preferences, though, I’ll make sure to offer an appropriate holiday greeting if we meet in person!).
I should be doing my homework, but instead I’m being distracted by the internet. I went to bed last night with a sore-ish knee, slept badly, woke up early with a knee that had progressed from sore-ish to sore, so I’m sleep deprived and grumpy and being marginally lazy to see if the knee will sort itself out(1).
Something I read a few clicks back reminded me of a thought that’s been percolating in here for a while.
We hear a lot about people talking themselves out of their dreams by saying, “I’m not good enough,” or “I could never be x,” or being unwilling or unable to just visualize themselves as being whatever it is they hope to be(2).
We don’t hear as much about a problem that I suspect is just as common, if not more so — being able to visualize the top of the mountain, so to speak, but having no idea how to get there.
Right now, there are things in my life I can see myself doing and being great at. I just don’t really know how to get there. My worries aren’t about the destination — I have absolutely no doubt that I’d be awesome at being the things I want to be — it’s more about the journey.
Like, seriously, where did I put my map? And, um, is that a canyon between Here and There?
This question bugs me much more than I like to admit. Like, I have this goal: become a dance/movement therapist. I feel confident that I’d be good at it. But I have only the vaguest notion about how I’m going to get there. Like, Columbia College looks awesome, and I really want to go there, but there’s a huge canyon between Here and There, and its name is OMG HOW DO I PAY FOR THIS?!
And I am pretty confident that I can make good dances that will be worth watching, and I can totally envision the Philip Glass Project coming together at Burning Man next year. I just have only faintest, foggiest idea how I’m going to make it happen.
Come to think of it, it might make more sense to imagine all this as a bunch of blank spots in the map labeled “here be dragons.”
I have enough Zen under my belt to know that it’s silly to worry about all that; that worry doesn’t solve anything and that we can’t control anything anyway.
Yet, still, I look out at the horizon, and I see this misty zone full of what might be chasms, what might be dragons; I look at my map, and I see this unknown, this void, which is more or less labeled “KAY DEFINITELY DRAGONS HERE.” And sometimes it freezes me in my tracks and/or makes me want to flee in terror.
So, anyway. I guess the whole point is that, at the moment, the only way forward is, well, forward. With occasional divertissements, of course, to cope with dragons and such. And possible detours, and Alternate Routes(4). And maybe even a different destination in the long run, because who knows where I’ll be five, ten years from now? I know what I want, but what I want and what will be might not turn out to be the same thing. It’s possible I could discover some other Personal Mecca where I will bloom spiritually and otherwise.
I also know I’ve battled dragons before — some of which were big and terrifying and stuff, and some of which turned out to be Not-At-All-Smaug-Like Dragons who invite you in for tea and cakes (and don’t intend to serve you in the cakes).
And, more importantly, I’ve come through, and I’ve learned things.
Yet, I’m still convinced that any dragon I encounter is going to be a Problematic Dragon, and that I Will Not Make It.
So I can’t say I’ve got it down, yet. I’m still very much in the “Was that, ‘Carry wood, chop water?'” phase of my quasi-Zen existence. Like, I know the basic idea, but I’m not great at remembering it when I need it.
And, frankly, those gaps in the map kinda freak me out.
But, you know. Writing about it makes me feel a little better, so there you are.
That’s it for now. Homework does not seem to be forthcoming, so I’m going to go do housework instead in an effort to do accomplish something useful prior to running away to the Giant Ballet Party tonight.
- The knee is a bike fit problem. Specifically, there’s something about the pedals on the Karakoram that makes my left knee (and ankle, but the knee gets the worst of it) very unhappy if I clip in. The knee is fine on the Tricross, on which I use the same shoes, so I think it’s a question of the pedal stand-off being a little too wide.
I kind of hate the pedals on the Karkoram anyway, so I think I’m going to donate them to our local bike collective (whenever I finally get down there!) and find something else. I might even try platforms with mini toe-clips (the “urban” kind without straps).
- I now totally have that “Be All You Can Be” song from the old Army commercials stuck in my head.
- There is an official Alternate Route to becoming a DMT, and it’s there on the map if I need it.
Okay, so I said radio silence through Saturday was probable, but I’m up and running earlier than is usual for a Thursday, so I have time for a quick entry.
Every now and then, I reach a turning point in my life. I think we all do — the proverbial fork in the road.
In truth, I think we usually reach them months, sometimes even years, before we acknowledge them.
I’m not sure when exactly I reached mine, but at some point I did. At some point, a while ago, I chose a path.
I wrote once about my decision not to branch off my ballet-related ramblings into a separate blog. I still have no intention of doing that. What I do intend to do is re-structure this blog.
When I started out here, I was a first-year psychology student, fresh back in school, and still working at a job I hated (actually, this blog goes back to before I even returned to school, but that’s another story). My primary obsession, at the time, was cycling. My primary goal in life was to be a homemaker. I didn’t really have any central focus, though I thought I did. Ballet was a blip on the radar — something I missed fiercely every time I watched anyone dance, but similarly something I guess I could only imagine doing in a far-away Somedayland beyond the margins of imagining.
Obviously, a lot has changed.
First off, while taking care of my home and husband remains an important priority (the cat won’t feed himself — oh, wait, yes he will, if I leave the Food Closet open…), “homemaker” is no longer my primary career goal. Early in our relationship, Denis predicted that this day would come. Because I am stubborn and kind of an ass like that, his prediction made it much harder for me to admit it.
Yet here we are: I no longer think of myself as someone whose primary career goal is “homemaker,” although I still think that’s an important job. It just so happens that I’m not very good at it, in part because I am constantly doing other things that have coalesced into an entirely different, nascent career path.
Four years ago, I thought of myself as a kind of apprentice homemaker. Now I think of myself as a dance/movement therapist in the making, a hopeful choreographer, a researcher, and perhaps someday a neuroscientist.
Four years ago, I was also in denial about my bipolar disorder. Obviously, that’s changed (and it’s changed in part because dancing has made it feel survivable).
Even one year ago, I had bike-racing goals. They were nebulous, but they existed. I don’t anymore. Bike racing and ballet are, to an extent, mutually exclusive. They are antagonistic activities. Training to race tightens all the muscles that ballet needs loosened; ballet, meanwhile — well, ballet might build a better randonneur, actually, but racing demands a high degree of specialization. So I don’t plan to race for the time being. Maybe someday; maybe not.
One can choose either to be a bike racer who dances in a casual, recreational kind of way, or a dancer who rides in a casual, recreational/transportational kind of way. While not that long ago I wouldn’t have been willing to admit it, I have, in fact, made a choice, and the choice I’ve made is to be a dancer.
I’ll undoubtedly still knock out occasional centuries though, and I’d still like to roll a 200k, just to know that I can. But my life with the bike will no longer be about being stronger, faster, harder.
Cycling for transport remains a major component in my life. I don’t see that changing. Likewise, I expect to continue to care about and advocate for forms of transport beyond the private motor vehicle.
The upshot of all this is that I’ve decided to restructure this blog — in effect, to start over fresh, redesign my system of categories (which is, right now, so complicated it isn’t even funny), and let it reflect the direction my life is taking now.
I’m also going to shelve the vast majority of my older posts. Not that I think history is unimportant (that’s why I don’t plan to delete them); it’s just going to take me a dog’s age if I try to go back and re-organize everything. I feel like I’m at a point in my life at which I want to wipe the board clean so I can start working the next problem.
So there you have it. I’ll be tinkering with things for the next couple of days, and I hope that I won’t break anything too badly. This feels like a cleanup project of such epic proportions that, admittedly, a part of me wants to say, “Screw it,” burn my digital house down, and just start over. I’m choosing (with great effort :P) not to do that, but I can’t promise I won’t completely hose things up by mistake and have to start over anyway.
Regardless, going forward, I’m going to let this blog take the direction it’s been taking anyway. I guess it will mostly be about ballet. There will also be bits of research, occasional reviews and travel-related entries, some stuff about cycling, excursions into the realms of bipolar disorder and ADHD, and possibly some other ramblings. I shall re-structure my categories accordingly. Oh, and as always, there will be recipes. I’ll resurrect the old ones as I have time.
In the end, this blog reflects my own journey — the process of becoming myself. I suppose its history is as complicated as that process is. I hope you will forgive me my grand and sweeping changes.
So that’s it. To borrow the words of the great Sam Cooke, “It’s been a long time comin’, but I know a change gonna come.”
I danced as a kid, and I loved dancing.
If I think back, part of what I loved so much about it was the sense of freedom. My childhood ballet teacher was really good at teaching sound technique without turning her students into a herd of little automatons. She guided and shaped us while keeping our innate freedom and joy in movement intact*.
As a kid, I had absolutely no sense of limitation (this was probably both my greatest personal gift and my greatest personal curse!). It never occurred to me to question whether I’d be able to execute any given step — I just did it, and it just happened. It didn’t occur to me that pirouettes or tour jetés “should” be hard for a little kid. They were just variations on the stuff that I did in gymnastics or when I was playing.
In short, though I probably couldn’t have verbalized it back then, I felt like all these movements were already in there, and all I had to do was let them out**.
In other words, I didn’t make them happen. I let them happen.
On what is probably the best ballet forum I’ve ever seen, Ballet Talk for Dancers, a recent thread discussed the question of sweat (yes, sweat: if you dance, you know these feels, too!).
One respondent dispensed a bit of wisdom she’d heard from presenters at a workshop for ballet teachers:
in classical ballet, dancers shouldn’t so much make their bodies execute movements as let their bodies execute the movements.
A light clicked on in my head. Of course! This is what I’ve been doing so very, very wrongly since I returned to the studio back in March. I’ve been trying to make things happen. In those rare moments that dancing has felt like it used to, it’s because I’ve switched from making it happen to letting it happen.
When you switch from making it happen to letting it happen, all the tension that can plague serious ballet students — especially serious adult students — drops away. Suddenly, you can move freely. You can interpret. You can smile. You can glissade-assemblé without making faces.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising.
Deep in the roots of Zen practice — indeed, in Buddhism itself — is the idea that control is an illusion. The harder we grasp at it, the more difficult life becomes.
The same idea crops up in other philosophies, as well — from the Twelve-Step movement’s “Let go and let G-d” to Christianity’s “Consider the lilies of the field” to the broader, new-wave “Go with the flow.”
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to do things — just that we should, perhaps, try to do them with less gnashing of teeth. As in those moments on the bike when a headwind or a hill appears: we can make ourselves ride it, tense and miserable, or we can accept that it’s part of the road we’re on, and let ourselves ride it.
With my bipolar disorder, I can either grit my teeth, resist my own nature, and make my life happen (with exhausting effort and the attending misery and crankiness), or I can accept that I am what I am and learn to work with it.
This does not, of course, mean just rolling over and quitting, any more than just “letting it happen” on the dance floor means not dancing. It means, instead, tapping into the strength and grace that are already there, planted within the depths of my being — and using what I have been given.
I hope this makes at least some kind of sense.
At least where my dancing’s concerned, this may be the single best piece of advice I’ve encountered as a returning adult student. After replying to the thread, I got up, went to the kitchen (where there’s exactly enough space for a small glissade-assemblé or a few chainés turns), took a deep breath, and let myself toss off a lovely little glissade.
It felt really good. In fact, it felt a lot like dancing used to, before I started coming to it with an agenda and a sense of how I “should” go about it. In class, “letting” ballet happen made all the difference.
So perhaps in I’ll work on letting it happen instead of making it happen.
And perhaps I’ll try to apply that lesson to the rest of my life as well.
*Curiously, looking back, this may be one of the reasons that while some of us really thrived, a couple of students I knew left after a year or so. They were both heavier kids who had already learned to feel uncomfortable with their bodies; to be expected to move freely in a class environment where traditional body-conscious ballet kit was the uniform of the day might have been too much for them. That’s something I’ll need to keep in mind in my own future practice.
**This, by the way, is how good dressage training operates in the equestrian world: you’re never teaching a horse to do something unnatural; if you watch horses enough, you’ll see them execute all kinds of advanced dressage maneuvers, from canter pirouettes to glorious collected trots, as they go about their horsey lives (that is, when we’re not messing with them). As riders and trainers (and every ride is training), we don’t make these movements happen. We teach the horse to let them happen.
The “making it happen” approach pretty much reaches its zenith in the the peanut-roller style of “pleasure” horse (well … and in some subsets of park/saddleseat and gaited horses). You’ll rarely see a horse at liberty move that way. The same goes for poorly-trained saddleseat horses or hunters and even poorly-trained dressage horses: with a little experience, you can spot a horse that’s been forced into an unnatural frame.
Unfortunately, when every horse in the ring has been forced into an unnatural frame, the judges still have to pin the ribbons on someone, and in some parts of the country sound training is so rare that the show circuit unintentionally conspires to perpetuate really weird ideas of how hunters or “country pleasure” horses or dressage horses should move.
But, um. Enough horse-nerding for now.
We’re going to Chicago this week for the long-time-coming finally-legal wedding of a couple of our dearest friends.
As such, I’m in Trying To Finish All The Things Before We Go mode, which is totally something I’ve caught from Denis*.
So today I have:
- done yet more laundry,
- completed the drawing part of a painting I need to finish before we depart (it’s a watercolor, so it’s entirely possible that I will be able to finish it),
- initiated the packing-for-the-trip process (which I never, ever do this far in advance),
- topped off the Tricross’ tires,
- ridden the Tricross to the grocery store,
- slayed the grocery run for the next three days (along with some extra food because I couldn’t pass up a really good bargain that I can freeze),
- ridden the tricross home,
- put away the groceries,
- and started dinner prep.
I also had a complex internal conversation with myself about why we still use gender-specific insults even though this is the 21st century and the perceived gender of an individual has no bearing either on that individual’s ability to be a total jerk or the qualities of that individual’s jerkitude**.
Later I will finish making tacos and maybe begin trying to figure out how to set up a rooting dish for my pineapple.
I don’t know why I’m so into growing this pineapple all of a sudden. Denis suggested it when I told him I brought home a pineapple, and it just seemed like a really awesome thing to do. Meanwhile, a friend of mine on G+ has decided to attempt to grow an avocado from an avocado pit, and suggested that perhaps her avocado and my pineapple could be pen-pals.
I think that idea is so ridiculously fun that I’m just going to have to give it a whirl. First, though, I will have to think about what a pineapple would even write to an avocado***.
I am writing this brain dump thing because I find that doing this helps me feel like I’ve actually done something on a given day, which makes it easier to see that my mood disorder has not, in fact, totally torpedoed my life. Sometimes that’s hard to see.
I get that, like schizophrenia (to which it is genetically linked), bipolar disorder involves cognitive deficits.
This means sometimes my brain works better than other times. Right now, it’s not at its best (though I did, for once, remember to buy cookies for Denis). I think this is why sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine what I’ve done all day, which can feel … I dunno. Weird. And less than great.
So I’m doing this thing to keep a handle on my brain. So far, it does seem to be working.
That’s it for now.
More to come some time soon from Pineapple Paradise.
*Did you know that traveling like a grown-up is, um, transmitted by AHEM close physical contact? Well, now you do. #TheMoreYouKnow
**That said, I have noticed that the use of historically gender-specific insults is at least somewhat more flexible than it used to be, so … um … I guess that’s maybe one small victory in the fight against sexism, if not in the fight against everyone being jerks to each-other in other ways?
***Here’s a possiblity:
I am finding life in a dish with some pebbles and water reasonably acceptable, though far less fun than life in the tropics might be.
How is life in the dirt?
I am really bored so if you have any suggestions of video clips that might be relevant to my interests, please send them my way. Thanks!
Your friend, Pineapple”