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


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.