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.)

26 April 2018

Acting in Writing - The Difficulty of Being an Artist

I think one thing fiction writers sometimes underestimate is how much acting ability you need to write well. You need to be able to put yourself in the heads of your entire cast and write the scenes from their emotional/logical perspective in order to do a story justice. You need to BE the character, no less than an actor on a stage or in front of a camera needs to BE the character.

Today I wrote a scene for my novel that occurs a few days after an important character's death. I write this two days shy of the anniversary of my cousin's death, and even three years removed, I can still remember the weight and vastness of the shock and the grief in the days that followed. A person who has not gone through this cannot do justice to it in writing or acting, but I can come close because I've been there. In some ways I'm still there. I know this grief. And that background makes the stories I tell more believable.

In the art I take in, that's what I look for -- I look for the person who can describe/express what I'm experiencing even when I can't. The only way you get to the point where you can describe it with intimate accuracy is to go through it. This scares me -- how much experience (heartbreak) am I going to be entrusted with as I continue to develop and pursue this calling to be an artist?

This is what makes the arts so difficult -- you have to go through so much in order to do justice to what you're talking about. This is what separates the posers and the wannabes from the true artists. The posers are in it for the prestige, for the elitist rush of complaining no-one understands them, so they can feel more intellectual. But the ones who truly are artists know, as the great Terry Scott Taylor once said, 'There's not a holy man who doesn't know grief well / Or think the road to heaven doesn't pass through hell...' (Jesus Wept, 2013).

03 April 2018

Artistic Update

I feel spread in a lot of different directions lately, but it's because a lot of things are finally starting to come together.

I'm currently shooting another dance video (which is eating 95% of my attention because I'm so excited), and hope to put together a rough edit before the end of next week.
I'm trying to piece together a costume for the college dance showcase and another video idea I want to do (hopefully soonish).
I'm preparing for an audition on Thursday night (two monologues, two songs, and a sixty-second tap clip).
I'm learning this crazy fast tap solo for the dance recital.
Also trying to get a bunch of future dance video pieces up to par so as soon as I'm done the current video I can start pre-production on the next.
Accidentally started choreographing Crumbächer's Terra Firma and it is seriously eating my life. It's so fast and it's so fun. This is the level I always wished my choreography was at and now I'm starting to taste it.

School? What's that?
Take-home diction final due in a week.
IPA transcription due tomorrow.
French song to memorise (should have been done already because I perform it next week).
Conducting self-evaluation due Thursday.
Voice recital in a week.
Choir concert this weekend.
Dance show next weekend.

It's hard to focus on school commitments/homework because all I want to do is dance. Between recital rep and personal dance projects, dance/choreography has been stealing all my attention. It's a lot of fun to work on so much, but it's also a little frustrating knowing I shouldn't be letting it run away with so much of my time while I still have schoolwork. My schoolwork has noticeably suffered in the past week because I'm distracted by all the dance inspiration I'm suddenly deluged with.

Please hear this -- I am not complaining. After nearly three years of crickets on the inspiration front, I am loving this golden vein I've hit. I just wish there were more hours of the day to dig into it.

17 March 2018

A Moment in Tension

Tonight is one of those nights when I wonder where that fine line is between dedication and self-care.

I had fully intended to practice dance tonight, as I always do, but suddenly a wall of exhaustion hit me and I ended up sleeping for an hour and a half -- right through my practice time. I made the decision to give myself the night off dance if I was so tired, but now I hate myself... how can you call yourself a dancer if you trade practice for a nap? You call this dedication? There are dancers all over the world who danced more this afternoon than you have all week. How do you expect to improve if you don't practice every day? You'll just lose all the abilities and strength and stamina you had and you'll be right back where you started. Every hour in that studio is an hour closer to improvement. You're already so far behind, and now you just put yourself farther. You wasted this whole evening. You could have done something to further your dream, but instead you just took a nap.

I tried to silence the voice by typing up some choreography notes -- which is still dance-related, dream-related -- but it will not be satisfied. That's not good enough. You didn't put anything in your muscle memory. You didn't stretch anything. You didn't strengthen anything. You didn't raise your heart rate. Your lungs didn't get worked. You sat on your butt all evening looking at a screen. You had one free day -- you could have done so much with it, and you wasted it. Why were you even tired? You didn't do anything to earn it. You don't deserve to be tired. You didn't do anything.

It's 1.30 in the morning and I'm still half-considering going and doing a half-hour practice, just to say that I did it. Just to know that my muscles and my memory won't atrophy.

16 March 2018

Music Day - Only Time

I am reinstating Music Day just so I can fangirl over this song. That is how good this song is. You know when you watch a sunset and everything seems so 'right'? That's what this song is like.

See, I bought a bunch of Crumbächer tapes the other day (full saga forthcoming). Stephen Crumbacher was already one of my favourite lyricists, just behind the likes of Terry Scott Taylor, Loyd Boldman, and the duo of David Meece and Dwight Liles. Identical Twins alone is a testament to just how much mastery Stephen Crumbacher has over the written word. Even in today's song -- notice how clearly you can picture each description of the sky. Now realise that he is painting this entire mental picture with three lines of text (each) and a bit of keyboard. He takes you almost literally across the galaxy, across time and space -- in essentially twelve lines of poetry.

I grew up in the Alberta countryside. Our yard faced west and every single night, from the comfort of our living room, we could watch God paint the western sky. I have seen many, many brilliant sunsets over the years, and that's one of the biggest things I miss now, living on a south-facing yard. But to this day sunsets capture me. All feels right in the world if I can watch a sunset for a while. In this song Crumbächer follows the changing, timeless skies with a wonder and peace that is rarely, rarely seen in the arts -- ever.

In the later Crumbächer albums, Stephen really began to show off the depth and emotional range of his piano/keyboard skills (though keyboards had always been a core part of the band's sound), and they are on full display here (the interlude, people!). Maybe Thunder Beach didn't have the harmonic virtuosity (vocals-wise) that Escape and Incandescent had, but the piano skills -- even just on this song -- make up for it.

Also, the space in the drum track opens this thing right up into something big and glorious and sweeping (again... that interlude!). Dawn's vocals are a really lovely touch. All in all, this is probably one of the loveliest songs I have ever heard -- and this is coming from a person who owns almost everything Terry Scott Taylor has ever written.

Title: Only Time
Artist: Crumbächer
Album: Thunder Beach
Year: 1987
Label: Frontline Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Midnight - the stars are shining
Frequencies that tease the ear
Parade across the atmosphere...