24 April 2017

Friday Happened - A Rant

Friday happened -- but Sunday's coming.

This was a common sentiment on my Facebook page over Easter weekend this year. Right from the first it seemed odd to me. I'd never heard it before -- and I grew up German Baptist in the Bible belt and am currently attending one of the oldest, most recognisable Bible colleges in the country. Believe me, I know all the cheesy phrases.

But the main thing that bothered me was how much this little statement trivialises the pain and grief of Good Friday. It brushes all of it aside with a wave of the hand and a 'yeah, yeah, that's not important.' But it is important.

Maybe I'm more sensitive to these things because I have gone through hell the past two years and have had all of it waved aside by nearly everyone I know (I do say, 'nearly' -- there are about two or three people who 'get' it or at least valiantly try. I treasure them greatly).

The sermon at the Easter Sunday service I attended focused on Mary Magdalene on the first Easter morning. It was a phenomenal sermon, but one of the things that he emphasised that I really appreciated was just how despondent Mary was that day. Any other time in the Scriptures when an angel appears, the human they visit falls down in fear and trembling and takes them seriously. Not Mary -- the angels of God are telling her that Jesus is alive, and her grief and despair is so thick that the freaking angels of God can't penetrate it. (This wasn't one of his points, but it's something I thought of: most times in Scripture there is only one angel at these kinds of things. But here there was more than one. That's a very unusual occurrence, yet their message still failed to get through to her.)

Furthermore (back to his sermon) -- the thickness and heaviness of her despair (depression) is so great that Jesus Himself shows up and she almost misses him too.

People -- grief can be intolerable. Even in three short days it clouded Mary's vision to the point she could not see that the best thing that could have happened in the wildest childhood story had actually happened in real life.

You cannot brush the grief and despair of Good Friday aside with a mere 'yeah, yeah, it happened.' If you're going to remember and commemorate an event, you have to at least try to feel what our spiritual ancestors felt that day. That's the only way you can do justice to it. Sit with the grief a bit. Feel the heaviness of it. The good news of the resurrection will mean nothing without the emotional backdrop of grief to give it context. No, it's not a pleasant feeling. Suck it up. Get out of your comfort zone for half an hour and realise just how dark the darkest day was. You cannot see the light of Easter morning properly without realising just how bleak things really were. And then you will take the light of Easter morning for granted because you have no emotional reference point for it. Don't just share a Facebook meme and think you've done your duty. Think -- really think -- about this weekend. It's not about duty. It's about love -- actual, real love, with action, not lip service. And pain -- actual, real pain, that changes things permanently. And how they intermingle.

Yes, Sunday's coming... but Friday happened.

Don't trivialise the pain. Don't trivialise the grief. Don't trivialise the weight of the despair. Don't just assume anybody 'gets over it' in five minutes. You don't. And some of us are so blinded by it that we are unable to see Jesus Himself standing in front of us, calling our name. Don't mock us or get upset at us for having a worse life than you -- often through no fault of our own. We ask your patience, your listening ear, your gentle restoration, and your constant prayer, not your rolled eyes, your self-help tips, and your holier-than-thou attitude.


You're too afraid of hurting
Been playing cover-up
Expose yourself to dying
And in this real world
It is your calling...

You've been a wide-eyed innocent
Come to the garden
Come to the hill
Come to the tree
Come to the kill
Won't break your bones but it can break your will...

~ Daniel Amos, 1983 (Angels Tuck You In)

23 April 2017

Music Day Part II - Easter Song

A week late for Easter Sunday... but He is still risen, even now.

This is probably one of the most well-known Easter songs -- ever. On Good Friday I featured Silverwind -- this group was their predecessor. The prototype, if you will, the original.

This is the song that launched the career of an orphaned group of siblings with no musical training to speak of but an ear for harmony. This piece remains a classic among Christian music historians. It's delightfully simple in its message and the piano is so light and bouncy that it induces almost immediate dancing of some kind -- whether the subtle, head-nodding type or a more Pentecostal full-body style.

Title: Easter Song
Artist: Second Chapter Of Acts
Album: With Footnotes
Year: 1974
iTunes here; YouTube here.

The angel up on the tombstone said 'He is risen, just as He said
'Quickly now
'Go tell His disciples that Jesus Christ is no longer dead'
Joy to the world -- He is risen
Hallelujah!

15 April 2017

The Easter Shoes

This past week, my tap shoes -- which have been steadily falling apart for some time -- finally gave up the ghost. I had hoped I could limp them along until I graduated college and managed to make enough money to replace them. Alas, this was not the case. This, of course, presented a few problems...

Problem 1: This was the only pair of tap shoes I owned/had access to.

Problem 2: I have a few commission projects in the next couple of weeks that I NEED tap shoes for in order to complete.

Problem 3: An entry-level (read: lower-quality) pair of tap shoes can cost $70-$100. A quality pair can run up to $400-$500 Canadian dollars once you factor in shipping from the States (and not all dancewear companies even ship to Canada). (You see why all dancers are broke.)

Problem 4: Kijiji, eBay, and Facebook queries in the area had yielded nothing (nothing I could use, anyway). I hadn't heard promising things about the selection in the (few) local(ish) dancewear shops, although I had planned on checking them out for myself over the weekend.

Problem 5: I have to pay the school $1600 on Tuesday for (required) voice lessons and my (required) theatre internship course this summer. I didn't (still don't) know if I'll even be able to make that payment in full. Plus I have to save every single penny I can for college next year (especially if I'm apparently not going to get a job ever... I've been trying for four months now and still nothing). I certainly didn't have enough leeway in my bank account to buy tap shoes (of any kind).

Conclusion: As cheesy as it sounds -- I really did need a miracle.

If it had to be, I was willing to settle for a (slightly) lower-quality (but less expensive) pair to get me through the rest of my time in academia, although it would mean I would have to replace them sooner (I'm VERY hard on my dance shoes). Ideally I would have liked my next pair of tap shoes to be very high quality (read: more expensive) so that I wouldn't have to replace them again in two years, but the timing, financially, was apparently not going to work out that way.

I had been half-heartedly praying, but I wasn't expecting much. There have been many unanswered prayers over the past two years, and I expected this would just be another one in a long line.

B Plot: So one of my hallmates' sister was coming to visit and my hallmate had asked me a few days ago if she could borrow my spare mattress for her sister to sleep on. I had said she could. Thursday night her sister arrived and said hallmate came to get the mattress. I helped her carry it across the hall to her room and ended up meeting her sister. One of them asked me what I had been up to that day and I told them about my broken tap shoe and how I'd spent all day researching tap shoes, trying to find quality on a college student budget. My hallmate asked how much tap shoes cost and I said entry-level is roughly $100 but a good pair can get up around $400 once you convert it to Canadian dollars and ship it here. We talked a bit more about other stuff and then I went back to my room.

Less than five minutes later, my hallmate came in.

"This isn't from me," she said, "but here." She stuck out her hand. "You can buy your tap shoes."

In her hand was a wad of cash. It felt thick when I took it.

"My sister said she felt she needed to pay for your tap shoes. But she was too shy to give you the money herself. So this is from her."

Four hundred dollars cash. From a stranger.



This morning, I set out on a mission to find decent tap shoes that I could live with for the next few years for $400 or less. There was one dancewear store in the nearest town, the next dancewear places were in the city an hour and a half away. I intended to hit all of them if necessary.

I went to the one in town first and tried on a few pairs, including Bloch's Jason Samuels Smith shoe (A.K.A. J-Sams or JSS). I liked it immediately -- no stupid rubber pad to muffle the sound, good thick sole, comfy fit -- but I was reluctant to pull the trigger on a $200 pair of shoes at the first store I came to. I told the girl helping me that I might return for them, but I wanted to shop around first.

I headed to the city.

The first place I actually found (I made a wrong turn in my attempt to get to a different store -- classic Kate) carried both new and used shoes. I asked to see the used shoes (for budget reasons) and the lady took me to a wall of shoes and let me examine and try on and try out tap shoes for a good half hour. I found two pairs I liked -- one black Capezio oxford-style pair for $65, and one tan Bloch Cuban-heel-style pair (called the Tap-On), listed at $80. At this point I was considering picking one of the used ones to hold me over for the next few weeks and then putting the rest of the money into Miller and Bens (which are some of THE best tap shoes available -- and the price reflects that). The used pair should, I reasoned, at least get me through the time for the M&Bs to ship and then through their break-in period. Then the Miller and Bens would almost certainly carry me for at least a few years.

I called my mother for advice (not that she knows the first thing about tap shoes, but she does know how to stretch a dollar and ask questions that I should think of but never do). I presented her with the aforementioned scenario involving the Miller and Bens, then on the fly I came up with an alternative scenario in which I could buy both used pairs and then go back and get the J-Sams. She advised me to pick just one of the used pairs and go back for the J-Sams. After some discussion and comparison, I decided the Capezios had a few tiny things that I didn't like (the heels felt mushy in a heel stand -- which may have been a size issue more than an issue with the shoe itself -- and I didn't like where the stress point was in a toe stand, as it was the same place my last pair blew out), so I bought the Tap-Ons and headed back to the first place for the J-Sams.

As if the providential money from my hallmate's sister wasn't enough, the lady at the store I got the Tap-Ons from looked at the $80 sticker on the shoes and said, "That's too much for a used pair of shoes." She rang them through at $40.

So basically -- I was gifted $400, and I ended up with two pairs of tap shoes (including one brand-new, fairly high-quality pair) for $250. I now have two very different styles and colours for different kinds of pieces, plus if one craps out, I still have another.

An Easter miracle for a nearly-forgotten artist.

Here they are:

Bloch's Jason Samuels Smith shoes (J-Sams).


Bloch's Tap-On shoes (used -- sorry, pre-owned).

14 April 2017

Music Day Part I - Forgiven

It really doesn't feel like Good Friday to me today. Usually on Good Friday there is a turkey dinner and family (whether mine or someone else's generous one). But I spent today researching tap shoes (mine are officially shot) alone in my flat.

It's getting harder to find suitable songs for Easter weekend every year. Songs on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were fairly common in the 1970s and 1980s, but since then even the mention of Jesus in Christian music is hard to come by (unless you're a worship band, but even then they mostly talk about how He makes them feel, not anything He's actually done). As a result, I'm featuring the songs that do exist, but there aren't really any new ones coming out. The year will come when I have to either stop the two-for-one Easter weekend special or start re-using songs.

Fortunately for all of us, this is not that year.

Title: Forgiven
Artist: Silverwind
Album: A Song In The Night
Year: 1982
Label: Sparrow Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

How have I not featured this song before? This album was my jam back in 2003-2006. Yeah, okay, the production is dated, but the vocal blend is lovely and there's a really sweet simplicity in all of Silverwind's songs -- especially the songs on this album. Betsy Hernandez has perhaps the prettiest unrecognised voice in CCM history and was actually my inspiration to even consider learning to sing myself. It just floats. It's like a fairy's voice. Unfortunately this is the one song on the album that doesn't feature her voice prominently, but you still hear her airy soprano in the harmonies in the chorus and in the backing vocals. (Check out the title track from this album and some of the Music Day archives -- here and here -- if you want to hear more of her.)

This song is based on a true story, by the way -- check out Luke 23:32-43.

30 March 2017

Media Marathoning

Why are music marathons not a thing? We have Star Wars marathons, Lord Of The Rings marathons, Disney marathons, and heaven knows you can marathon any TV show you can think of (as long as the Netflix gods have deemed it worthy of their endorsement). These are seen as perfectly legitimate ways to either get away from it all (*cough* procrastinate) and recharge by oneself, or to have a party with friends and food and group selfies.

But why don't we do this with music? Why don't we ever invite the gang over to listen to the complete works of Steve Taylor? Why not spend a weekend listening to all of David Meece's albums in chronological order? Why not throw the entire Prodigal box set into the CD player and sit down with a beverage of choice or maybe some popcorn and listen to the whole thing straight through? Why not time travel through DeGarmo & Key's entire career? Why not listen to the complete ¡Alarma! Chronicles or Larry Norman's Trilogy on vinyl, for the heck of it?

Granted, for bands like Petra or Newsboys or the Imperials, this could get a bit long. But it's an idea worth considering.

27 March 2017

Your Music News Bulletin

Some notes from the bands I follow (and you should too).

The Choir is re-releasing their 1989 album Wide-Eyed Wonder on CD and vinyl AND they're recording a new album called Bloodshot... IF their PledgeMusic campaign is successful. There's only five days left and they're still 8% short of their goal. There are some pretty cool rewards for backers (including the entire Shadow Weaver album download for free), and it's also worth noting that Wide-Eyed Wonder is not on the iTunes Store -- meaning this re-release is the only way you will be able to acquire a copy. If this isn't funded, that doesn't happen. And that would be very sad.
Pledge here.
If you're not familiar with their work, you can listen to tracks from their 2014 album Shadow Weaver right on the PledgeMusic page.

After many, many years of rumours, false starts, speculation and general impatience from fans, Daniel Amos is finally in the process of issuing their seminal album Horrendous Disc on CD. The project is already fully funded (in fact, they just made their second stretch goal earlier today), but if you want in on some of the rewards (or to propel them toward their third stretch goal), go pledge here. But hurry -- the campaign ends on 31 March.
This is going to be a four-disc box set with photos and stickers and other goodies. And depending which tier you pledge to, there may be vinyl copies and/or t-shirts involved.

On a related note, the phenomenal Terry Scott Taylor now has a Patreon account, where we the fans can finally eliminate the middleman and fund TST's creative endeavours directly by way of a monthly donation. In return, we get access to the new stuff he's writing -- and there's a lot of it. If your life has been touched by the music of Daniel Amos, the Swirling Eddies, the Lost Dogs, or Terry's solo output, you should very seriously consider pledging at least a few dollars to this (if you're really broke, you can commit to an amount as low as $1 a month. It doesn't feel like much, but as an artist myself, I can tell you every little bit helps).
Pledge here.

Finally, for you vinyl aficionados -- the first-ever Christian vinyl subscription service launched last month. Right now they're only shipping within the US, but it sounds like they intend to expand the service as soon as they can. Basically you select a plan and for a monthly fee, you will get two (or three, depending on the plan you select) vinyl records per month. You can customise your preferences -- they have anything from eighties rock to modern rock to hip-hop to worship/hipster music -- and give them an idea of what you already have to cut down on the potential of duplicates. I don't have personal experience with this service yet because 1. I'm not in the States, and 2. I'm a broke college student, but you better believe once they open it up to Canada and once I have a steady job, I am SO signing up for this.
You can sign up here.

26 March 2017

What Worship Is Not

I've been pondering and railing against modern 'worship culture' for years now. Longtime readers of this blog are very familiar with this. I often blame it on lackluster musicianship, overwhelming same-ness in the arrangements (across the board), repetitive and inane lyrics, the overproduced fakeness of the entire culture that apparently only I and a handful of others seem to feel.

The other day, though, I was listening to a song in this genre (for research purposes only), and suddenly I realised why people will say certain songs are 'anointed' or 'so worshipful' -- they're the songs which, for whatever reason (which remains shrouded in mystery even to a person who is very seriously considering making a career out of nonverbal physical demonstrations of emotion), incite them to kneel and/or raise their hands. And suddenly it dawned on me that maybe these people think that is worship -- that physical pose they take while this music is playing. It's a tableau dance, and it doesn't arise out of a spirit of worship, it IS worship. Suddenly the overwhelming aura of fakeness that this entire movement is drowning in made sense.

People, I think we're missing something.

Worship is NOT a certain series of physical movements. It is NOT the act of closing the eyes and swaying. It is NOT the act of kneeling. It is NOT the groans and grimaces. It is NOT the raised hands. It is NOT the sound of the keyboard and the amped up acoustic guitar. It is NOT the light show. Yes, all of these things can be the MANIFESTATION of our worship (or the 'consequences,' if you prefer), but -- and please do not miss this distinction -- worship is not the physical act.

Worship is a heart attitude. I'm not going to go in-depth on this here, but you can find any number of (doctrinally sound) theologians who say this. The physical trappings/outward expressions of worship are a representation, a reflection (to put it another way) of what is going on in your heart -- but they are not worship itself.

Basically -- don't call your weird cultish tableau dance worship. It's not. You can worship in any posture, singing/playing in any genre. But don't shame the ones who aren't 'led' to join your weird cultish folk dance.

19 March 2017

Stress and Self-Injury

I read something the other day about how self-injury takes many different forms. Obviously there's things like hitting or cutting oneself, starving oneself -- but the article also mentioned people who constantly push themselves to the limit, the people who stay up late for no real reason, the people who will exercise to the point of utter physical exhaustion.

These are all me.

I took eight courses -- a maxed-out course load -- for two consecutive college semesters. The first one left me extremely bitter and I wound up emotionally dead. By the end of the second one (which was this past semester) I was suicidal because I could no longer withstand the mental pressure in the corner I had backed myself into. But even then my perfectionism was relentless. I stayed awake for 65 straight hours at the tail end of that second maxed-out semester writing papers and editing them mercilessly (though given the amount of sleep deprivation I was working under, there was no way I could possibly have been editing very well). And through that hellish 65 hours -- during which even the director of my program started commanding me to go to sleep because he could tell that I wasn't -- the question that kept screaming through my head was, You idiot, why do you do this to yourself?

Going farther back: I've always been a night owl -- since I was two months old, according to legend -- but I was about fourteen when I started consistently staying up past midnight. Usually I was reading, writing, or listening to music. Even now when I stay up late that's usually what I'm doing on some level. But why? All of these things could have waited till morning in most (if not all) cases.

This past summer I discovered another outlet for my self-hatred: dance. I would practice tap dance for one half-hour, every day, with zero breaks. If I took a break longer than one minute, I would have to practice for another five. It was merciless, but I had nowhere else to vent my anger and hopelessness so I turned it on myself. If I couldn't execute a step perfectly, I would do it over and over again, shaming and guilting myself until I did it. I would get to the end of that intense half-hour practice and literally collapse, half-dead from lack of oxygen. More often than not I was in tears, from exhaustion, frustration, and from the harsh words I would tell myself to prod myself to keep going. Looking back, that was probably not healthy. I was still mourning three deaths, two divorces, a cancer diagnosis, and a wholesale family split. I was still so bitter at God that I was telling other people not to bother praying because it didn't work anyway. I was working a physically demanding full-time job (which honestly was the least stressful part of my life). I was still physically recovering from the sleeping-four-hours-a-night-eating-one-meal-a-day life that I had been living through my previous semester of college (the first of the two overloaded back-to-back semesters).

Reading the aforementioned article made me realise just how much of the behaviour that mystifies even me comes from a place of self-injury, a place of trying to prove myself, to get attention. I'm trying to either earn love and acceptance from somebody -- anybody -- or destroy myself trying. If I destroy myself, if I drive myself so far down that I end up dead, maybe then somebody will feel sorry for me. Maybe then somebody at my far-too-early funeral will finally clue in and say, 'We were too hard on her. We should have made sure she knew we loved her.'

See, very early on in my life I hit on something that inspirational viral stories on Facebook would later exploit -- if you slog through adversity and still make something of yourself, people will love you. In fact, this is the only way to get people to even notice your existence. So my generation overloads themselves beyond reason, beyond sanity, so that they can 'brag' about the long hours and the hard work they've put into something -- because surviving intolerable levels of stress or hardship is the only way to get anybody's attention anymore, and you can only get love and acceptance if you have some tiny piece of someone's attention. What I would do was emphasize the bad things in my life when talking to people so that they would be more in awe of the insurmountable odds I was facing. This, of course, may (sometimes) inspire admiration but does not (ever) inspire friendships. People saw me as a complainer, and I suppose that's a legitimate claim. But instead of changing my self-destructive habits, I burrowed further into them. And I found myself getting angry that they were not putting me (visibly) at death's door as quickly as I wanted somebody -- anybody -- to notice me and really truly show that they cared about me.

07 March 2017

Stage Fright for Writers

I’m a writer. I sculpt words like clay. Words spill from my pen/fingers almost effortlessly, at least most of the time. I am almost physically incapable of writing a ‘short email’ -- they’re usually a minimum of two pages long, despite my best efforts. Words are my currency. Words are my lifeblood. Whether blogs, Facebook, emails, novels, short stories, notes, ideas... I am writing almost from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed.

Why then, when I sit down to write an academic paper -- even on a topic I’m interested in and have all the sources for -- do the words die on my fingertips? Why then is my writing voice suddenly silenced and I couldn’t think of the simplest of sentences if my life depended upon it? Why then does the topic suddenly inflate to such gargantuan proportions that mere words can no longer begin to encompass it?

04 March 2017

Music Day - Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?

Title pretty much says it all.

I was first introduced to this sentiment at about age four through one of my dad's mixtapes which contained Chris Christian's knockoff of this week's song, and that's kind of been my rallying cry (both as a fan and as an artist) ever since. Why do Christians have to settle for a subpar subculture? Why does the music we make have to be seventeen times blander than than 'regular' music? What makes us so 'special,' so sensitive? Are our stomachs so weak we can't handle quality songwriting/musicianship? (Of course, one usually answers with the argument 'that's what the labels want' -- but I'm asking this of the labels themselves.) Why must Christian music -- or any kind of art done by Christians for that matter -- be the vegan-friendly, gluten-free, low-fat, caffeine-free alternative to music?

I digress. But you can see even in that mini-rant how profoundly this song has shaped my life, even through the indirect channel of Chris Christian's reference.

As for the original, it too was a rallying cry for a previous generation of artists who were Christians. It was also a bit of an apologia from the father of Christian rock to his brothers and sisters in the Lord who would rather pretend he didn't exist. However, I suspect none of them ever heard the message, given that it was couched in a swinging '50s rock arrangement. And even if they had tried to listen to it, they no doubt would have turned it off after hearing 'They say to cut my hair / They're driving me insane / I grew it out long to make room for my brain...'

Full of verve and sass and musical bounce. This was music that was unashamed of itself. That's rare in Christian music, kids. Observe and enjoy.

Title: Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?
Artist: Larry Norman
Album: Only Visiting This Planet
Year: 1972
iTunes here; YouTube here.

19 February 2017

Singing and Dancing

Written 31 January 2017, 11.19pm.

The thing with being primarily a dancer in a musical theatre program that emphasizes singing SO heavily is that you're kind of caught between two worlds. On one hand, dance is my first -- and biggest -- love. It is the one thing I have found that can keep me alive when my entire life is falling apart around me.

On the other hand, I want to be a good singer so I can get better roles at this school. At this school, weak singers get lesser roles (if any) and that's all there is to it. I, of course, am one of the weakest singers in the program. But -- singing is not my love and my joy. After all, how can someone enjoy something they're so mediocre at? I don't exactly enjoy watching people flounder and struggle to find something, anything nice to say about my vocal performances.

If I'm honest, I feel singing is a necessary evil if I want to be a performer. Right now I'm just fighting to get my singing to a passable level. I know I should be having fun with it and enjoying it, but if I'm honest, I often dread practicing voice. If it happens to go well once I get going, then I kind of enjoy it, but the bad days far outweigh the good and I feel like I'm going absolutely nowhere.

I'm torn between wanting to focus on my voice -- my weakest point -- and strengthen it, or on dance -- my strength and love -- and attain higher levels of true excellence.

I should love to sing. So many people do, whether or not they're good at it. Why don't I? Can I ever be any good at it if I don't love doing it -- or at least sort-of enjoy it? But how can you love something that you're not that great at? Will joy come with time and practice, or will it never come at all?

15 February 2017

The Weight of the World on a Living Heart

5 February 2017, 1.27pm.

The world sucks.

That may seem pessimistic, but from a relational standpoint, it's true. (I'm leaving aside for the moment the 'we're moving in the right direction/working for a better future' argument. That may be true, but for this post I'm focusing on the here and now.)

How common is this view, generally, I wonder? Take the aforementioned hope-for-the-future argument out of the equation for a moment and think about how you feel about the world as it stands right now. How good is it right now, at this moment?

As for me, I feel this so intensely that often my heart physically feels heavy under the weight of all the sadness and pain and loneliness in this world -- even just in North America or even in the building I live in. I don't personally know even a fraction of how much pain lives here, but I feel it, sometimes to the point where I physically cannot stand under the weight of it.

Am I the only one?

Does anyone else feel this collective groaning of humanity? Does anyone else carry the pain of many in one tiny helpless heart?

Or do I get to be the special one -- again?

27 January 2017

Music Day - Crushing Hand

"God is in the business of throwing us curve balls, because His aim is to form the image of Christ in us.  He will do it by whatever means it takes. When I fear this process, it is because I don't really believe that He loves me. After some thirty-two years of being a Christian, I am only beginning to see just how much He does. His hand can crush, yet He chooses to lay it gently upon us."
        ~ Terry Scott Taylor, 2002 (Full interview here.)

Over the past year I have written and not posted more than I have written and actually published. There are many posts in my drafts folder full of frustration and anger and pain -- my personal writings even more so. I've begun to forget how much you readers actually know of the past two years and how much was written but never published here.

Suffice to say the last two years were horrendous. Death on every side, divorce on every side, woundedness, broken-heartedness, and just plain old life. By April 2015, I had completely given up on God, although the aforementioned things would continue well into the year 2016. I believed God existed, but I absolutely did not believe He gave one single crap about me or my breaking heart. And I believed this -- doggedly, relentlessly -- for two years (although I believed it in some milder form or another much longer than that).

At the very end of last semester I had a conversation with the director of my program -- ostensibly about singing, but very quickly it turned into the spiritual, and how frustrated I was with God. How I felt He hated me or at the very least had turned His back on me.

"Why do you think He doesn't care about you?" he asked.

Suddenly the answer I kept giving to that question -- 'just look at the past two years, do you think it matters to God if my heart lives or dies?' -- seemed inadequate. Lacking an alternative answer, I spread my hands and shrugged.

"He wouldn't care about everyone else and not you," he said. "You're not that special." (Possibly the strangest word of encouragement I've ever received.) He continued, "Kate, I guarantee He cares about you." He went on to talk about how he's seen God's hand in his own life, despite his own difficult circumstances at times. I hung on to every word. Maybe something here would connect. Maybe this thing I so badly wanted to believe and couldn't would finally make sense.

It didn't -- not immediately. I don't know that it ever will completely. But the conversation as a whole -- and my own inability to satisfactorily answer his gentle questions about my position -- percolated in my mind over Christmas break. What if I was holding onto an unnecessary amount of bitterness? What if -- maybe -- God still did notice I existed?

The thought chipped away at me. I opened my angry mind a tiny crack to a possibility that I hadn't allowed myself to entertain in a very long time. What if -- maybe -- God didn't hate me?

This is where I am now. There's still a ways to go -- I'm still not entirely convinced He loves me, but the fact that I'm questioning the idea that He hates me is much closer to the idea that He cares about me than I have been at any point since December 2014.

To trust this silent God still seems like insanity. He is so unpredictable and He is so withdrawn and He is so, so quiet. But people, artists even, who have gone before me into this blind trust of the same Being -- people like Terry Taylor or like my program director -- continue to commit their fragile human hearts to Him decade after decade. Is it enough for me to trust their long-term experience of Him as ultimately good and loving and follow their example?

I do not yet have the courage to sing every line of this song and mean it. But I appreciate the sentiment -- and I can identify with the struggle in it.

Title: Crushing Hand
Artist: Lost Dogs
Album: Nazarene Crying Towel
Year: 2003
iTunes here; YouTube here.

You know my name, wound me
You know my frame, heal me
You lay Your crushing hand
Your mighty hand
On me gently

Do what You must and save me
I'm in the dust, now raise me
Lord, I believe, help my unbelief...

Acoustic guitar with heartfelt poetry and the harmonies of Terry Scott Taylor and Derri Daugherty (of The Choir). What's not to like?

20 January 2017

Socialising In A Dark Silent Room

There's something I've been wondering about for a while now, and my hope is that you, dear readers, can explain it to me:

How is watching films a social activity?

I'm serious. It makes no sense. You all gather in a dark room and stare at an inanimate object for two hours while yelling at each other if anyone dares breathe a word. How in the world is this socialising? You don't even LOOK at each other, never mind interact. And forget meaningful conversation -- if you ask a question it's usually in a whisper and accompanied with a hushed apology, plus an annoyed 'just watch!' from either the questionee or the other people you're 'socialising' with.

I don't know about you, but when I'm with a group of friends and they say, "let's watch a movie!' my heart immediately sinks because that's when I realise they would rather watch a story they already know by heart than interact with me and share their own story or learn mine -- even after I took time out of my day to be with them. And it's even worse when the first film finishes and everyone says 'let's watch another!' because then it's not even a case of watch-and-discuss, it's a case of the-lives-of-these-fictional-characters-are-more-important-to-me-than-your-life. Films are a way of ignoring someone in a socially acceptable fashion and pretending you have a great friendship. But you're not only wasting your own time, you're wasting theirs.

My parents' generation didn't watch films. They 'had coffee.' They would invite people over, sit down at the kitchen table with some baked goods, and drink tea or coffee as each guest preferred. And they talked. Long into the night I remember my parents forging and strengthening friendships at their kitchen table and at the kitchen tables of their friends. It takes just as long as a film, but it's SO much richer. By the time you're done 'coffee,' you know the other person's joys and struggles, hopes and dreams, things that make them tick and things they're good at. And you've formed an alliance. Now you're in each other's corners, so to speak, and if that person needs help, you're not only more likely to notice, you're more likely to know how to actually help.

This is how we build community. When was last time you actually bonded with someone by ignoring their existence?

I'm not saying we should completely stop watching films together. I have a friend I watch Doctor Who with whenever we can, but after the episode is over there's usually a good long chat, not just 'well, that was fun. See you later!' In moderation, films can be a good kickstarter for a conversation that leads to friendship. But don't gyp yourself out of that conversation. That's the important part. The film is preamble. The conversation is what builds and sustains a relationship -- any relationship.

The film can be paused. It will always be there. But your friends, your family -- they will not. Trust me on this. Tonight could be the last time your paths cross. Don't spend all of it ignoring and shushing them in the name of 'hanging out.' The day will come when you would give anything to hear their voice again, to see their face again -- but it will be gone. Don't shush that voice or hide that face in a dark room while you still have it with you.

16 January 2017

Day 16 - National Choreography Month

Well, so far I have accomplished exactly one full dance this month. It's not even anything off the choreography-in-progress list -- this was a totally new piece, start to finish. It was one of those that you end up kind of sneaking up on, you know? I had a practice session planned at the local studio over the weekend, so while waiting I listened to the song, just for fun. By the time I had to leave for the studio, I had the whole thing figured out except the second verse, which I worked out during practice. The whole thing start-to-finish took me maybe two hours. It's been a long while since a dance came to me that fast.

Today I was in the studio again. (It's really quite a luxury to have easy access to a dance studio for my personal use rather than just for classes. I love it.) I still didn't create anything new, really, but I got rehearsal footage of a few dances I created over 2016 (Rift, Shades Of Green And Red, and Big Dreams), plus I tried a new thing -- improv. I've never really done improv, for two reasons: 1. lack of space, 2. lack of desire/courage. I don't know if I'm going to actually commit to finishing that improvised piece this month, but the song (DA's infectious The Man That Can't Be Mentioned) is just so much fun to dance to so I thought I would give it a try. I feel like I'm not mentally ready to commit to choreographing that piece. It needs to percolate a bit first. I've been doing this long enough now that I can sense when something is ready to be choreographed and when it needs to stay in incubation until further notice.

Haven't touched any of the pieces that were on my works-in-progress-to-finish list though. Maybe tomorrow... I hope to spend a lot more time in the practice studio this semester.

15 January 2017

Ramblings on Artists, Depth, and Loneliness

9 January 2017, 9.21pm.

I've been pondering (so what else is new?): I think I'm starting to get an idea of why so many artists commit suicide or get addicted to any number of things.

It's lonely. But not just in that there-are-no-people-around or I'm-always-on-tour-away-from-my-family way. It goes deeper than that. I'm noticing increasingly that people in general don't think deeply -- but I do, and that one difference puts a disconnect between us. I guess I always sort of knew that in the back of my mind... and the fact that since I was a child people have remarked on my (sometimes) acute observations and how 'smart' I am should have tipped me off. 'Smart,' I have learned, is code for 'thinks about deep things.' This, in turn, is code for 'she's weird -- don't hang around her.' Even as a kid I was lonely. I thought it was just because I lived out in the middle of nowhere.

I'm realising, though, that there's this deep-seated loneliness that almost defies explanation. I myself didn't even realise it was there until this school year, though I've certainly felt it all my life. It's this longing to connect, on a soul-to-soul level, to someone, anyone, who thinks about deep things too. Someone who understands why it's important to feel, why we need music and dance and paintings and beauty and stories, what it's like for your heart and soul to ache and not know why. Someone who can see -- at least sometimes -- through my eyes and understand the hollowness that never quite goes away, even when I'm happy and content. This is probably why I have such an obsession with Daniel Amos, David Meece, and Prodigal -- because they saw it too. They feel it too. There are at least three other figures who have ever existed who get it. They can take the words out of my mouth -- and sometimes that is solace enough.

If this is the mind of the typical artist -- if this depth and these feelings are what makes the artist an artist -- no wonder so many of them die young. No wonder so many are addicted to anything that numbs the mind, that turns off these feelings that sometimes seem to hold us hostage whose existence nobody is willing to acknowledge. And suicide -- well, that's the ultimate 'off' switch. But is it really better to live without feeling? It would be easier, yes... but is it really better? This is the question we face more often than we feel we are allowed to admit.

This whole thing is even trickier as an artist with depression. Where does one end and the other begin? What level of deep-seated melancholy is 'normal' and when should I start to get concerned? Am I doomed to spend the rest of my life always seeing the ends of things clearly enough that I can never truly enjoy the beginnings and the middles?

05 January 2017

National Choreography Month Intro

Definitely forgot this was in January until literally the 28th of December. Then I spent all of an hour making a sort-of setlist for the thing that consisted of fourteen songs. Never narrowed it down to a manageable amount -- figured I would do that the next day. But I forgot about the whole thing again until 8pm on 1 January.

So I still haven't narrowed down that setlist, so I'm thinking I'll take one of two approaches:

1. Go hard on the entire list and see how much I can manage.

2. Require nothing more of myself than four sets of eight per day and see where that gets me.

Interesting thing about the list this year -- most of the dances are solos and duets. Solos are WAY out of my proverbial element, but that seems to be what I get ideas for lately. It saddens me actually -- I far prefer watching (and therefore creating) large-group dances. They're so much more captivating than one person on stage trying very hard and usually failing terribly to be 'relevant' (to borrow modern Christianity's vernacular).

So far I haven't created any original/new choreography but I have finished and notated a pointe solo that I started at the end of September. Part of my goal for this year includes finishing off the choreography-in-progress list that has somehow ballooned to eight (not counting Perfect World, the one I just finished). Maybe I'll just knock out all those and see how much month is left at the end of that.

For interest's sake, here's what's on the in-progress list:
~ Perfect Time (Maire Brennan, 1998)
Ballet trio. Literally all that's left is to choreograph one set of eight in the interlude, flesh out the bridge, and notate the thing. A good day (or two partial days) should finish this.

~ Bobby (Prodigal, 1984)
This is about one-third done (including notation). I really like this one, and that has intimidated me into a standstill. I'm consciously paying homage to a couple of different pieces I've seen over the years (from the ballet Sleeping Beauty to Refined/Undignified's Restart to my own ballet Scream from two years ago) and the subject of the dance is a child with a device addiction. It's going to be heavy, but I think it will be effective.

~ Elle G. (Newsboys, 1994)
This is the dance I am going to want at my funeral (this and DA's Sanctuary). This is also the dance from Kyrie (the novel). In terms of mood and staging, it's loosely based off of the Wylie scenes from the ballet Giselle.

~ Big Dreams (Steve Grace, 1988)
Tap solo that I was working on the same week I discovered I was going back to school. If it weren't for that, I would have finished this that week. As it stands now, this is roughly half-done.

~ Empty Orchestra (Steve Scott, 1994)
Ballet for eight (I think -- it's been a while since I touched this). An embodiment of how depression can take over a person's mind and twist their thoughts to believe the whispers from the dark. A demonstration of how the darkness stills the light.

~ Eleanor, It's Raining Now (Lost Dogs, 1993)
Ballet for four. Started this the last time I was at college (in a notebook that was subsequently stolen and I'm STILL not over that -- I'm starting to shake just typing this). I'd have to look at my remaining notes again, but I believe this is mostly finished as well. However, I suspect that I'll need to tweak it in light of what I've learnt about choreography since then.

~ Lux Venit (Michael W. Smith, 1989)
I have two different ideas for this piece and I've been trying to work them out simultaneously. This indecision has been slowing me down and I really just need to commit to one and run with it. My options are 1. a ballet solo, and 2. a ballet trio with one or two children.

~ Shades Of Green And Red (Phil Keaggy, 2010)
Tap solo. The entire first third is completely done and polished. It's the slow bit after that that I need to figure out now. I haven't even listened to the final third, but I may decide to tackle that next and fill in the middle/slow bit after.

04 January 2017

Not-Resolutions

I've never been one to make a big pie-in-the-sky new year's resolution. What's the point in picking a random thing like 'eat healthy' when you either 1. know you're not going to do it, or 2. don't need to make a major adjustment in that area of your life?

But in the past couple years I have usually sketched out a list of goals. Most of them are usually dance-related and I only accomplish maybe half of them, but I suppose I could say, 'hey -- at least I managed half of them.'

Inspired by the Big Fun Scary Things forum on the NaNoWriMo website, I now offer you my 'Big Fun Scary' list of goals for this year.

- Finish writing scenes for Kyrie.
As I've been trying to revise it, I'm realising that there are a lot of things that need to be fleshed out. So right now I'm in the process of writing the missing-but-needed scenes.

- Put Kyrie back together (however temporarily) and get beta readers for it.

- Finish my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel.
I only have 11k left and I know where I want the story to go but I couldn't finish during November because although there was a point where I did not sleep for four straight days (right after the biggest show of my performance season and during the week of all the voice finals), it was solely for the purpose of writing academic papers, not my novel. My $72,000 undergraduate degree was at stake and I could no longer justify putting NaNoWriMo before my homework.

- Publish a short story.
I mean, I could include 'novel' in this category, but somehow I don't really anticipate that I'm going to be THAT happy with Kyrie by December. Progress on Kyrie is very much dependent on how busy I'm going to be with school (hopefully) and work (also hopefully).

- Choreograph one dance per month.
This can also be read as 'choreograph a minimum of twelve dances this year.'
(NOTE: Official National Choreography Month post will be written separately. Once I get my crap together on that thing.)

- Finish choreography works-in-progress.
Somehow I've accumulated nearly a dozen half-done works. I'm pretty sure the one is literally like four sets of eight away from being complete.

- Get some choreography into the school's year-end dance recital.

- Film at least three dance videos (of my choreography).
Believe it or not, the hardest thing will be finding a videographer. And locations. And scheduling rehearsals.

- Audition for at least one dance company.
Partly just to be able to say that I did. But hey -- you never know what could happen.

- Actually memorise the RAD Advanced Two syllabus.
This thing has seriously been the most frustrating thing in my entire life over the past four months (outside of the music history final and the modern philosophy paper). I'm physically capable of doing everything they ask, but after four months I still don't actually remember the exercises, which, of course, makes it impossible to execute them properly because you're constantly playing catch-up.

- Practice dance for a minimum of half an hour a day.
I did this all summer, but only managed one practice session over the entire semester after I went back to school.

- Operation Tap's Technique Tuesday challenge.
TTC V starts next week! Hopefully this time I can participate.

- Basic stretch and strengthen regime.
And by 'regime' I mean split stretches after dance practice sessions (goal: to be able to hold my leg above 90 degrees without 'help' of any kind, whether from a grande battement or developpé or my hands -- we're talking battement lent and hold), and run through the ab workout from class.

- Triple pirouettes, both sides, both directions, no hopping around, no falling over like a dead tree. Work up to quadruples.

- Ten fouettès on the right, every time, no exceptions, on pointe. Work up to twelve.

- Work up to ten fouettès on the left, every time et. al.

- Master wings on one foot.

- Master pullbacks, without relying on heels for leverage.

- Write at least two letters (whether to friends or family) per month.
My siblings' birthday letters don't count.

- Learn to French braid my own hair.

- 365 Challenges: choreograph a minimum of two sets of eight every single day, and write down three things I'm grateful for every single day.

This list actually freaks me out. On one hand, a lot of it (especially the writing and choreography things) are things that are usually on the list in some form every year. Yes, they're quantified, and yes, I frequently do meet the number goals, but the fact that pretty much the same sentence makes it on this list every year is starting to make me feel like I'm going nowhere. As a result, the list feels small. I feel like I should add more things. But at the same time, the list feels huge. All these little daily things -- and I just know they're going to go out the window during March when I'm writing six million papers and presentations and catching up on readings and listening assignments and stuff.

It's hard to know what's realistic because at this point in my life I honestly do not know what province I'm going to be in at this time next week and for how long. My life is very much in flux right now and fairly big things are changing at the drop of a hat as of late. This makes (realistic) daily-schedule-based goal-setting difficult. I hate myself enough already -- I don't want to fail so badly at these goals because of a major change in my circumstances that I have an excuse to hate myself even more for failing.

We'll see how it goes, I guess.