23 July 2018

The Effect of Perelandra

Almost finished reading C.S. Lewis' Perelandra.

READ. THIS. BOOK.

I am not kidding. I do not care who you are. I don't care if you normally hate fantasy fiction (I do, actually). I don't even care if you normally hate reading. READ THIS BOOK. It gets off to an incredibly slow start, but once it gets going it grabs you by the soul. Not the throat, not the heart -- the soul. What the Chronicles of Narnia has lost by being so immensely popular, this trilogy has retained by being almost completely unknown.

Ordinarily I would start thinking, what can I take from here to improve my own writing? But to try to strip writing advice out of a work so -- there are no adequate words -- intense is to strip it of its weight and meaning. And perhaps that would be an unnecessary exercise anyway -- as I was just saying to my brother not long ago: whatever you're reading will, for better or worse, show up in your writing. Your output will begin to reflect what you're putting into your mind, your spirit, your soul. You don't even have to try for it, it just happens. I was telling somebody the other day that as soon as you start trying to be sincere, you're no longer sincere. That particular discussion was in the context of interpersonal relationships and communicating feelings through writing, but it also applies to art -- as soon as you 'try' to make something great, it automatically loses some of its potential to be great.

Instead, I'll try to document some of what this story has done to me.

For it did do things to me. I was reading Buechner the other day and he said something to the effect that things like painting and music are subcutaneous arts -- they get under the skin and slowly seep into your being. But writing is an intravenous art -- it goes directly into your bloodstream, in minutes, undiluted. If I ever doubted that, Perelandra has proved it to me.

I've never really been one to read trashy novels. My mother was a huge book-lover, a teacher, and a bit of an intellectual. My earliest memory of her is of her reading to us. We, her offspring, read copiously as children and teens (that was just what people did in their free time, wasn't it?). And because my mother was very aware that what you read influences how you think, she ensured that we had access to books of substance. Those were what she bought and read to us, and so those influenced our tastes as we began choosing our own reading material. As a writer myself, I can't stand trashy junk-food novels -- the mass-produced brain-clogging recycled intellectual and emotional pablum that serves only to give your eye muscles a little exercise but not your brain. But even though I haven't even been reading trash, this book makes me think 'this is what stories are supposed to be.' This level of intensity, this real, this rich, this deep, this poetic/allegorical to the mysteries of real life. It's like every story I've ever read to this point in my life has been a cheap facsimile of a real story.

I needed to read this story now, at this point in my life. It speaks to so much of what I've been thinking about and going through lately and puts a lot of it into perspective.

For a while now, I've been realising that I'm different, on a fundamental level, from most people. Even writing that sounds a little boastful, and I don't mean it to be. I mean it only as an observation. I'm beginning to realise that not everyone sees what I see (intellectually/spiritually/emotionally) -- they don't make the connections that I do. When artists say 'people don't get it,' they actually mean that -- people really, truly, do not get it. And it's frustrating because to me it seems to obvious, so simple, so logical, if only you pause and think about it a little. It's like I can see -- however dimly -- what goes on behind the curtain of the empirical world while most everybody else seems to not even realise there IS a curtain.

And although the layperson might think it's cool and fun to see things others don't -- I used to think the same thing till I realised I was one of them -- it's actually so frustrating. You can only converse with people in shallow terms on shallow subjects. As soon as you try to steer the conversation to something that actually does interest you, challenge you intellectually, they check out and tell you you're getting 'too personal.' It's like how a mother feels when they're cooped up in the house or the car with their two-year-old all day long -- it's like you can feel your brain atrophy because of the lack of conversational/intellectual stimulation. Except I experience this adult-in-a-room-of-two-year-olds phenomenon indefinitely -- the only person who seemed to 'get' what I see died three and a half years ago.

It's not something to brag about. It's more of a curse. (Yes, I do realise how cliché that sounds, but it's an accurate description.) It's like I'm doomed to forever be misunderstood and patronised. I've written before on how I often feel the weight of other people's pain and concerns -- things that don't bother my life but weigh on them -- so heavily that often I physically can't breathe.

Every so often, usually at a time when the weight seems heavier than normal, I'll ask God, 'why me?' Why did He choose me to be one of the misunderstood, one of the special ones? Must I be alone in this heavy calling to see so much -- and be completely unable to do anything with that information?

(Spoilers ahead.)

There's a scene in Perelandra in which Dr Ransom grapples with the same question -- why must he fight the spirit that threatens the planet's sacred, fragile innocence? Why not Maleldil? Why not anybody else? Why him? He's nothing special. And I recognised, on a gut level, all those questions because I have asked them myself. Why me? Why am I the one chosen for such a lonely life? Why must I be so completely and incredibly alone, in every possible sense of the word?

This, naturally, turned my thoughts to my own half-finished novel Kyrie. The main characters touch on similar questions within their own experiences. Those two characters represent a friendship that I long for in real life -- that platonic intellectual thing that is completely at home and comfortable with the other person in their questions, exactly where they are at, engaging with them but not lecturing. The entire novel is basically me laying out the kind of friendship I long for in real life but -- I'm realising -- may never actually have again. It's the relationship Ransom has with the Green Lady of Perelandra -- intellectual and innocent.

This further turned my thoughts to a specific friendship I'm in -- one that I hoped would turn into 'something more,' as people like to put it, but so far has not. Yet we somehow have remained good friends. This person has seen me at some of my most broken and vulnerable moments and was content to simply exist alongside me in those times, without lecturing or proselytising, just existing and listening (exactly the thing I need that apparently seems to elude everyone else despite my detailed explanations that this is the thing I want to you to do if I'm struggling). Lately I've been wondering if this is, in fact, that deep comfortable companionship I've been longing for. Perhaps we have been denied romance because romance would cheapen (or needlessly complicate) what we have. I have been trying to be more content with our relationship as it currently is -- not focusing on what I want it to be. In the words of the Lady, "The fruit we are eating is always the best fruit of all."

And there's the other question: am I alone?

In that same scene, Ransom eventually hears from the darkness what he must do and despite his fear, he knows (somehow beyond explanation, but I 'get' it because I've experienced that deep certainty myself at times) that he will succeed in his task. It's no secret that the voice out of the darkness is Maleldil, and it's also no secret in the novel who Maleldil represents.

Something in me still doesn't want this answer to be enough (a held-over scar from the Year of Hell), but it's a question I can't not even consider.

(Possibly more thoughts to come as I finish the story.)


REFERENCES
Buechner, Frederick, The Clown in the Belfry, 1992.

13 July 2018

Music Day - Sound Of Waves

I am seriously addicted to this song right now.

It rocks, it's fun, it's catchy, it's insanely danceable, and if that high harmony in the chorus doesn't carry you up into the stratosphere I really don't know what will.

It has kind of an Ultravox vibe actually, so if that's your thing, you definitely want to hear this song (personally I'm into Ultravox mostly because they sound like Daniel Amos circa 1986, so there's also that connection). It makes sense though -- both Ultravox and Steve Scott hail from the UK. (The harmony also has a touch of The Choir to it... have I dropped enough names to pique your interest yet?)

Steve Scott, from what I gather (and have heard), is quite uncategorisable. His output is a mix of spoken poetry over soundscapes sampled from real life and straight-up dance-y rock songs. But so far I've noticed a common thread of the melancholy thinker -- one of those artists who sees the brilliant breathtaking details of life, but also sees how much the world falls short of what it should be.

Title: Sound Of Waves
Artist: Steve Scott
Album: Lost Horizon
Year: 1989
Label: Alternative Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.
(In researching for this post I discovered there's a seven-minute version which you can hear on YouTube.)

As for the lyrics, they have an air of Mike Roe or Terry Scott Taylor's poetry about them, on the topic of feeling alone in a world continually concerned with 'progress.' (Admittedly, the subject matter is a bit incongruent with the upbeat music, but both are enjoyable on their own merits.)

They say it's asking far too much
To talk about the personal touch
Even if it was planned in advance...

These words resonate a lot with me. As you may have gathered in reading this blog, I tend to be fairly open and honest about pretty much everything (especially my feelings, depression, and the frustration of living in a world that's got its priorities messed up), and in recent years I've heard several people accuse me of being 'too personal' (which I don't understand, because if I'm sharing something from my life, of my own free will, who are you to determine it's 'too personal'? If I'm okay with talking about my own feelings, who are you to tell me that I shouldn't be comfortable with talking about my own life? How can you justifiably censor my life? It's not yours to censor. Anyway, stopping the rant now before it gets too out of hand...).
'Planned in advance?' Well -- as an example -- even at things like small-group Bible studies, where you're supposed to be able to 'share your struggles,' there are unspoken limits on what can and cannot be said. There's an unwritten list of 'acceptable sins to confess' (the more vague, the better) and if you dare step off that list and confess a genuine struggle with an actual sin (or, God forbid, actual pain), you'll be shunned.

And as a result, we are left alone -- each one an island unto himself. To struggle, alienated from fellow humans for... how long?

But right now the only thing I hear is the sound of waves
Crashing all around me where I stand
But right now the only thing I hear is the sound of waves
Now that you have found me, take my hand...

08 July 2018

The Dance of Respect

Recently I was reading a dance magazine, and this one contributing author was talking about his experiences in contact improv -- specifically, the topic of consent and 'listening' to one's partner during creation/performance. I'm not familiar with contact improv at all -- I've never seen it done and certainly never participated, but one sentence in this article grabbed me by the throat and is now about two weeks into completely altering my life.

'If I know my NO will be respected and if you know I am actively listening for your NO, we can both relax and explore the dance, right to our edges.'

When I read this, I instantly thought of several (non-dance) relationships I'm in.

I can name several people in my life who probably cannot really trust me to listen for their cues (and actually respond appropriately), and this hampers the friendship. I can sense this stunted dynamic in a tangible way in some cases. As a child abuse victim, I'm often so concerned with self-preservation (because several key people in my life didn't listen to my cues so I had to constantly fight to be heard no matter how much they told me to stop) that I often forget others have boundaries and needs too... and as a result I (however unintentionally) perpetuate the horrors that come from not truly listening to the other person.

As this sentence has been seeping into my consciousness, I am struck by 1. how effectively it defines respect (which was an abstract and difficult to grasp concept for me until after I read this), and 2. how beautiful that can be -- to go as deep as possible together, to take the dance of life and (platonic and/or romantic) love as far as it can possibly go while not having to worry about whether or not you're pushing them somewhere they don't want to go, and simultaneously knowing that if you don't like where something is going, you're allowed to say so without reprimand. There's so much freedom in that. Again, as an abuse victim, I've spent 98% of my life not being allowed to say anything if I didn't like where someone was taking me; and not knowing if I'm pushing someone too far until they full-on blow up at me. I was constantly walking on eggshells. There was no freedom, no relaxing, and in a situation like that (especially if you're in it for a long time -- say, you know, twenty years), you get tense and you take smaller, shuffling steps, and you get smaller, as a human, as a personality, in an attempt to do less wrong ('maybe if I'm smaller/not in the way, they won't hate me so much').

How deep and intense and rich life could be if we all lived the way the quote describes. How much freer and happier we would all be because we would all know exactly where we are with each other and we wouldn't have to devote so much energy to trying to read into someone else's cryptic silence or trying to figure out how to say what you want to say without actually saying it.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it's not a perfect world and people are fallible humans that make mistakes and people will disappoint us and all that self-excusing crap... but can we collectively at least try? And if we screw up, try again?


Referenced article: 'Contact and Consent,' Vivek Patel, The Dance Current, May/June 2018, 37.

26 June 2018

Good Enough

20 June 2018, 11.48pm.

What do I want?

I want somebody to message me, out of the blue, and tell me, in detail, that even if I never 'accomplish anything' (splits, more videos, better ballet technique, fame, decent singing ability, any acting role ever, published writing), that they (hopefully this message comes from multiple people) will still love me and need me and not hate me for not being as good as they are no matter how hard I try.

I just want somebody to (platonically) love me. I want to know that if I were to be completely incapacitated from an unforeseen circumstance, there would still be people who love me and want to spend time with me, even if I had nothing to give them in return.

I want off this merry-go-round, this trying to earn your affection and attention and failing at every chance I have to redeem myself.

It's literally like a taskmaster standing over me with a whip most days. By the grace of God, I've never struggled with an actual eating disorder, but I really resonate with the way I've heard people with EDs describe their illness. It's this constant thing in your head, telling you you haven't tried as hard as you could have -- as hard as you should have (you lazy, unmotivated disaster of God's creation). If you don't lose five more pounds (master -- not learn, master -- an entire pointe dance) today, you are a failure and nobody wants you and you should just go rot in hell.

This script is screaming in my brain 24/7. While others are visiting with friends and having fun and relaxing, I'm in the studio, alone, dancing the same variations over and over until I black out from lack of oxygen, sweating so much my shirt sticks to me and my hair is literally dripping, telling myself over and over 'that was awful. Do it again. Do it right this time or else,' but it's never, never right. There's always some mistake. It's never good enough. No matter how much I practice I can never silence the voices in my head: "if you want to do this, you need to be more flexible/get your stamina up/try harder/get your shoulders down/work your turnout..." with the implied unspoken 'you will never be a dancer because you can't do any of this.' The voices are never, ever silenced. It's never good enough. I'm in the practice room, singing until my asthma kicks in and my throat is hoarse from the subsequent coughing -- breathe right, don't tense your tongue, NARROW FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, are you letting it flip into head voice, don't shoulder breathe, are you even singing anything close to the right pitch and diction, and why does all this hurt so much if this is what I'm supposed to be doing? I'm sitting in front of my computer, writing, picking, shaping words and stories and emails and posts and fine-tuning and tweaking and maybe one day I'll get something good enough to submit and maybe even good enough to get published... or maybe even just good enough for you to actually understand what I'm trying to tell you because apparently my words obscure what I'm trying to say.

There is no rest. None. Ever. If I sit down without choreography notes or a novel document or a script in my hand, the whip breaks across my back again ('you're not even trying! No wonder you haven't achieved your dreams yet -- you just sit around not practicing. You lazy waste of space'). It's like that ElectroBOOM video where the guy has to keep moving or be shocked. If I'm not spending every waking moment on perfecting my art, I'm wasting my existence. In the eloquent words of ElectroBOOM: "[Practice] or ----ing DIE!"

And people just turn a blind eye. All those hours, all that hard work, all that time and effort and energy and sacrifice... and they don't even seem to notice.

Which, of course, leads to the very obvious conclusion that all my hard work, all my effort, all my energy and sacrifice and fixing and time, is still not enough. I need to practice more hours -- maybe then there will be a more discernible difference -- one that people will pick up (without me having to fish for it). Maybe then I'll actually get closer to 'good enough' instead of farther behind it.

They say that if you miss one class, you notice, if you miss two classes, your teacher notices, and if you miss three classes, the world notices. That's how fast a dancer's technique degenerates. And I missed three years. It's probably impossible to catch up on that, but I still try. If I don't -- if I don't, then my dream dies for good, and I feel like I'm already tethered to it by only a single tiny thread of fairy floss, melting in the daylight, ready to vapourise at any second. I live every waking second terrified of the moment that thin fibre snaps and I practice myself half to death every day in a desperate attempt to beat that day back -- just a few more hours, just a couple more minutes. Every minute I don't practice is one minute closer to that moment when the thread snaps. And that is the Thing That Must Not Happen.

Somebody, please -- tell me it won't happen. Promise me that thread won't break. Tell me I'm good enough. Tell me -- and mean it. (Believe me, I can tell when you don't.) And no, a random TWLOHA 'you are enough' shirt on some stranger in a mall is not going to cut it. And if I'm not good enough, tell me how to get good enough. Lead me to that assurance. I cannot rest until I know with absolute certainty that I am good enough. And the frustrating thing is -- it's a moving target. I don't know what will prove that to me. And I'm hoping like heck you know (or can guess) because I don't.

17 June 2018

A Father's Advice

My dad has taught me a lot -- mostly by simply living life. I've grown up watching him run a business with integrity and hard work. I've watched him and worked alongside him as he strives for quality workmanship on every jobsite. I've watched him demonstrate humility and love (to his fellow man, to my mother, to us kids) and leadership and a constant dependence on God to lead and provide.

A story that sticks out is recently, I was shopping for new stage shoes. I needed a very specific style of shoe for my purposes (that is, for the show that weekend), and I found two -- one new, by a quality brand, for $95; and the other for $10 at a thrift store. Ordinarily I would have jumped for the higher-quality shoes without question, but this was at a time when my finances were at an absolute low, so the price tag gave me pause. Should I just take the cheaper shoes for now and replace them in a couple months when I wasn't scraping to pay rent?

I usually would call my mother in this situation but I couldn't get a hold of her, so I called my dad at work and explained the dilemma. He doesn't know the first thing about dance or dance shoes or really anything in this world of mine filled with tights and makeup and hairspray, but I figured any outside opinion would help clarify my own at this point. I was truly torn.

Normally he makes decisions slowly, weighing the pros and cons of each option (now you know where I get it from). But once I'd explained it, he said without hesitation, "You know that I always spend the extra money for a better quality tool. It lasts longer and it's easier to use. To me, this is the same thing -- these are your tools. I would spend the extra money for better shoes that will last longer and be better for you in the long run."

So I did. I got the $95 shoes. So far, I have no regrets (except maybe the fact that I broke them in during opening weekend). But something about the moment struck me... how this advice from a contractor with no performance background or training whatsoever so perfectly applied to my situation. My parents have often said they struggle with how to guide me as I pursue a world so foreign to them, but this guideline he'd developed from years in his own vastly different work was exactly what I needed.

Not only that -- for the first time in my life I felt that someone outside the arts saw my work as legitimate. And not because they were 'trying' (code for 'saying the right things and not meaning them')... they just did. There are no words to describe that feeling, especially coming after years of striving and straining for years for people to see me as a human with needs and wants and strengths as well as weaknesses -- instead of as God's failure. A weight lifted in that moment. My dad saw my work as serious and treated it accordingly. That was one of the best feelings in the world.

14 June 2018

Still Memories

I used to do a lot of photography. Some of you old-timers here at the edge of the dream may remember back when I was very seriously looking at doing it professionally. I always, always had a camera in my hand. My parents had bought me a Nikon Coolpix for my sixteenth birthday, and it practically became a permanent extension of my arm.

My specialty was candid event photography. I loved catching people in their natural state -- talking, listening, laughing, playing, working. I suck at posing people (mostly because I suck at interacting with people in general), and I find still life/nature/architecture/animal photography insufferably boring so candid photography was the only option left and I sort of fell into it. At family gatherings, at home, at church, at youth group, with friends -- everybody who knew me for those years of my life was so used to me having a camera in my hand and taking pictures that they barely even noticed the camera anymore. This worked in my favour, as it meant I got even more natural photos of them.

But when I went to college, I suddenly felt self-conscious about the camera. Would people sue me for taking pictures where they happened to appear in the background? Would it be weird for me to walk around a college campus taking pictures of people I barely knew -- at times without their knowledge?

Even as I made friends, I could never sense when would be a good time in the relationship to bring the camera into play. They'd never seen me with it -- not like people back home had -- so they would likely get self-conscious. So I never did.

Lately I've been missing it.

As I near the end of my college years and watch friends leave every year, there's always this part of me that's saddened that I have no pictures of them. I don't mean the posed grad photos the day before they leave, I mean the candid ones, the ones that showed them as they really were -- talking and laughing and listening and concentrating and simply soaking life in; the ones that really showed who they were, their personalities and fleeting facial expressions. I see these things every day now, but the time will come when I won't be able to and my memory will fade. One day I won't be able to reference them in real life.

In my second year of college, one of my uncles walked out on my aunt (his wife of well over a decade). No warning, no explanation, no other woman, no plan, nothing. Just up and left. This event shattered the entire extended family on that side. The extended family had been very close -- we'd regularly get together at my grandparents' house on Sunday afternoons and eat pizza and talk and play the classic unofficial keep-the-balloon-off-the-floor game. We talked and laughed and played games together, and this aunt was a central part of it. She was the fun-loving aunt with a big, ready laugh. But because she had married into the family, when the split happened, my uncle was the one my mother and grandmother stayed in contact with rather than her -- even though they were angry with my uncle, they still felt a blood obligation to keep in contact with him. My other aunt and uncle on that side wholesale ditched. I've only seen that couple, their children (my cousins), and my divorcée aunt once since before the divorce -- and that was at my grandfather's funeral (yet another loss). All I have left of over half of my once-inseparable extended family are the pictures -- the pictures I took of all these Sunday afternoon gatherings with that Nikon. Pictures of my aunt pulling faces, of my grandpa and uncles playing cards, of my grandma in the kitchen, of the cousins playing cars on the floor.

That's all that's left.

When I first joined Facebook in my mid-teens, on a lark, I looked up someone I had been in a dance class with as a child. She accepted my friend request and sent me a message. I replied, and she replied, and I replied again... and we developed a close friendship, sharing joys and sorrows and being there for each other on 'off days.' Our friendship mostly developed and continued through emails, but we did occasionally manage to connect face-to-face. She, too, was an avid photographer, so of course we always took a few pictures of those times (though not many).

Brittney died unexpectedly in February 2015. Those few pictures of those few times we adventured together in person are all I have left to remember her by. Her face, her sense of style, the spunk that shone through her eyes... my only way to see my dear friend again is through those pictures.

On the other side of my extended family, there is a cousin who never made it to age ten... she died suddenly in April 2015. And it wasn't until then that I realised how few pictures I had of her. Though I had my camera in my hand all the time at those family gatherings too, she was such a whirlwind that somehow I never captured her. I went through my entire photo library (probably some 20,000 photos at the time) about a year after her death and found about 23 pictures with her face in them anywhere -- and only about three of those really 'featured' her (and weren't in terrible lighting or motion-blurred). Those three pictures are all I have to remember this spirited child who left such a void when she breathed her last.

As time marches on and I say more goodbyes -- however temporary -- I want to get back into photography again, to capture my newer friends in their ordinary brilliance. Because tomorrow is never promised to anyone.

But how to start...?

10 June 2018

The Fading Beauty of a Dream-Chapter

We wrapped up another show's run yesterday. Even though I tentatively have another show on the horizon for July, I still feel the dip -- the sense of having nothing to do, nothing to work for. It becomes a big empty pit in my chest so quickly. It's like waking up from a dream -- I was surrounded by people, some friends even, for a month and a half and now in a matter of twenty-four hours, all of that is gone. The bows have been taken, the goodbyes have been said, and the weight of emptiness/loneliness/purposelessness has settled in.

In many ways, you can never go back. There will never be those exact people in the cast together again -- for some, this was their last show with us. Others will join for future shows. But these people, in these roles, in these shows will never happen again. It's well and truly over, and it will never be truly replicated.

I was reading C.S. Lewis' The Weight of Glory the other day, and in it he mentioned how we often can only see beautiful things when they're ending -- the sunset just as it fades to grey, the final cadence just as its echo dies away. I feel this now -- I was a lot snippier during this show's run than I think I ever have been during a performance run, and there were definite moments when I took it out on people who didn't deserve the amount of snark I gave them. Perhaps I'm becoming a jaded struggling artist with years of experience but nothing really to show for it except a reservoir of bitterness. But today, at the cast party, I realised with more clarity just what I've been missing out on -- all these human lives and personalities and idiosyncrasies that I could have been interacting with but didn't because I was scared they wouldn't want me so I thought it better to stay out of the way.

I've had realisations like this before, which brings me more frustration and despair right now because I also realise this is very likely just another one in a long line. After years of isolation and abuse/being manipulated and now the self-hatred that arose from that even though I'm no longer in that situation, I have virtually zero people/conversation skills. Not only that, I have an impossibly high standard of perfection for myself that means the second I feel awkward (as I do when talking to people), I beat myself up about it for not being better at it, not being more confident, not saying the right thing, not keeping my mouth shut when I said the wrong thing... it's easier to wait for people to come talk to me than jump on that merry-go-round of frustration and futility. At least when they come talk to me, they (sort of) have some idea what they're getting into, so I feel less bad about my stumbling. So now we have this situation where I want to get to know people and interact with them and learn their little things that make them special, but I feel paralysed from actually making the first move.

I'm rambling. When I don't know what to talk about/write or how to finish something, I usually start talking about my insecurities in a desperate attempt to help people understand why I am the way I am. I know I find myself better able to interact with a person once I know where their tender spots are so I can tread carefully when I'm getting near those spots. So I assume others are the same, and it continues to surprise me when they get angry about me about giving them this information about myself.

I'm still rambling.

All I wanted to say was that this ending today -- even though I didn't let myself appreciate the cast during the show's run and was grumpy for most of it -- felt like waking up from a dream. It was a chapter in the beginning of my dream life (being a performer), and today feels like the alarm going off and now I have to go to work and push a pencil and for what? a dead-end job with nowhere to go that means anything. I didn't appreciate the dream when I was in it, but I don't want to leave it. As much as I personally struggled with various things, I do truly love the performing arts world and the people in it, even when that doesn't come across (and I wish it did).



What do you see when they finally turn out the light?
What do you hear when the music is stopped for the night?
Is there an answer
Or just a dancer leaving an empty stage?

~ Leslie Phillips, Beyond Saturday Night, 1983.

30 May 2018

New Dance Video!

After nearly two full years of work (planning, practicing, shooting, editing), I have finished another tap video, much in the vein of Shades Of Green & Red this past Christmas.

While Green & Red was choreographed in a couple of days, filmed in two hours, and edited in a week, I have had this new one actively in progress since August 2016. Filming alone was five days.

This new project -- Rift -- has more personal meaning to it. The song (which I've discussed before on this blog) deals with emotional abuse, and I created this dance around the time my difficulties with my previous church were worsening. The institution that was supposed to love and care for me, my health, and well-being (emotionally as well as spiritually) was beginning to show their true colours and I did not like what I was seeing. I felt like I had been completely abandoned in my hour of darkness and I was angry. And all of that anger and frustration and loneliness went into this choreography.



From the outset I knew I wanted a stark, dimly-lit set. The fact that it ended up being shot in an old church felt poetic, as the church (as a general institution) makes up a decent chunk of who I'm addressing with this. Though the lighting in the venue was already terrible, I actually deliberately worsened it in post-processing to further create a cold, isolated, abandoned feel.

It's weird to be finished this project. It's consumed my thoughts and planning and practice time and downtime for so long that my life feels a bit empty now that I've released it to the world and don't have to think about it anymore, in any way. In total I probably put in at least a hundred hours on this project between choreographing, rehearsing, location scouting, sound recording, filming, and editing -- not counting all the hours of staring into space daydreaming about what I wanted this to look like and how to achieve that.

On to the next project, I guess... still trying to figure out what that is. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this one.

17 May 2018

When The Circumstances Are Right...

I told someone once that my depression always dips a bit when a performance run ends. Rehearsals are over, I see my friends less, I don't have stage-time... if I don't have a job (as is the case at the moment), I have literally no reason to get up in the morning.

About a year and a half later, I was in a serious depressive state and this person said to me, "You told me once that you always feel depressed after a performance ends. So just get over it."

And that actually made things worse.

See, she clearly knew that circumstances were right for me to be struggling, but instead of using that information to come alongside me and comfort me and be there for me and encourage me, she weaponised it -- she used it to trivialise the pain I was in.

This incident, in this depressive state, was an extremely large factor in my suicide attempt not long afterward. She knew I was struggling, but she didn't try to help. She knew that conditions were right for something to happen but she did nothing to even try to help cushion the blow.

Don't do this.

In the same way you encourage your loved ones to watch a good film or go for coffee if they've had a stressful day or take a nap if they were up late the night before or bring/make them food if they've not stopped to eat in a while, take note of factors that may trigger or worsen your loved one's depression and take steps to combat it/soften the blow, ESPECIALLY if they have deliberately told you what those factors are, and ESPECIALLY ESPECIALLY if the factor is something predictable (for example, the end of a performance run). We do what we can, but sometimes we're not strong enough, or sometimes we just don't know how.

In my case, a good way for someone to help combat my depression is to just spend time with me. We don't have to do anything expensive or crazy. We don't even have to talk (just please note that if you're on your phone it very clearly sends the message that you'd rather be talking to someone else right now and I'm not worth your time and attention -- which actually worsens my depression even more than if you weren't even there to begin with). Just sit with me or walk with me. If I want to talk, let me talk. But please do not say that you did not know. Don't pretend that knowing it's coming makes the pain any easier to handle. News flash: it doesn't. If anything it makes it worse BECAUSE you know it's coming and you spend two weeks dreading it before it even arrives.

14 May 2018

Snapshot - What's In My Head

I am exhausted.
I am discouraged.
Though I don't want to admit it, I'm sick too (recurring respiratory infection).
And yet I must not stop.
I keep pushing, practicing, working, trying, pleading with God, do it again, do it again, one more time, one more time.
Maybe one day, by some miracle, I'll be good enough to earn your attention.

But in a way I doubt it'll ever be enough for anyone. You always want more, better, faster, stronger, more flexible, everything except what I've already got.

Am I on a hamster wheel? Will the carousel ever stop? Will you ever be satisfied? If I were to collapse dead on the floor from the amount of practicing I'm doing, would that sacrifice satisfy you? Would that dedication finally be enough for you? Or would you still demand more, better, faster, stronger, more flexible, more practice, more work, 'why aren't you trying harder?'

Drain the blood from my veins -- apparently it's no good to me. Maybe that is sacrifice enough. Maybe then you'll be satisfied. Cut my beating heart out of my chest. Maybe then you'll finally have what you wanted out of me. Touch my cold, dead body and my rigid unfeeling hands. Maybe then I'll have tried hard enough.

Maybe when I've paid the ultimate price you'll finally want me.


(NOTE: 'You' in this piece is a broad, general reference to both Christians and the art world. I have tried so hard to do everything they asked, everything they wanted, and still they cast me out. Still they tell me I'm not good enough. Still they ignore me.
Part of this was also written out of frustration with myself and my own continued lack of improvement and traction in the arts. I feel very much like I'm spinning my wheels and I'm so tired now. I want to give up. I'm not actively suicidal as I write this, but I'm trending toward it. It's so hard to think you're worth something when your own still-young, well-nourished, well-trained body refuses to do what you ask of it despite endless, consistent, hard hours of practice and training and stretching. I'm doing everything right. What more do I still lack?
I see very, very few bright spots or rays of hope tonight. I'm reluctant now to even look for them. Hope is so fragile. Just when you think you've caught it, it melts away in your hands. I would rather live in darkness than waste my fleeting energy chasing a disappearing light.)