29 May 2017

Broken Magic

Written 29 May 2016.

Seventeen (now eighteen - 2017) years ago a child stood at the front of a church and watched as a covenant, the deepest and most magical of all promises, was made.

Fifteen years later she watched as it crumbled to the ground, as meaningless as a feather on the wind, only less beautiful.

And now she stands in the ruins of it, even as she prepares to be a witness to another, very similar, covenant.

The child who once stood in awe of the beauty around her now stands shattered, pieces of sharp glass held together by naught more than fairy floss, which could be cut by the glass it holds together at any second. Where once she threw rainbows of light and sparkled in the sun, she can only see darkness so thick that it can be felt, so heavy that it has the ability to suffocate.

This is what happens when the magic is broken and the covenant is disregarded. It hurts the people who created it and the people who broke it. But it also hurts those caught in the explosion, those who were at ground zero when it was initially forged, and those who watched the trust build in layer after slow layer as those fifteen years ran by, only to see it mangled by one of the very keepers of the covenant.

It is the very worst of betrayals; one of the most treacherous ones that does not end in a quick and frightening death. Instead it only initiates a slow breakdown in the world, in the way things should have been, in the way that the covenant keepers had pledged they would be.

28 May 2017

Putting On The Mask

I performed depressed for the first time in my memory last night. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done.

Literally thirty-five minutes before showtime it hit me -- all of the 'negative thoughts,' as my counsellor calls them (for some reason that sounds like a cheesy name to me -- I'd almost rather refer to them as 'the lie,' which is what my program director calls them, even though I actually believe those thoughts are the truth and have I confused you with this parenthetical comment yet?).

I've never really paid attention before to how I react when this happens. This is such a normal/frequent part of my life that half the time I don't know where one episode ends and the next begins. But because it happened in such an unnatural context (the excitement of performing is usually enough to dull the depression so I almost never experience it while performing), I was more aware of the differences in me.

I spent most of the evening trying not to cry because I already had full stage makeup on. I completely forgot about the dance in the first act -- the dance that I not only choreographed myself, but also taught to two others. I forgot the entire ending of the opening song (I never thought I'd say this, but thank goodness I'm only ensemble in this show). Whenever I wasn't onstage, I was literally crouched in a fetal position in the wings because I didn't have the strength to stand and I didn't have the strength to interact with people backstage. Never before have I had to make a conscious effort to put on a mask when I crossed the threshold of the stage. For the first time I found myself thinking, don't let them see... everything's fine, you're perfectly okay. I don't know how well I did at that -- I have never had to work so hard for a character before. Usually it just sort of happens. I remember thinking here is the real test -- can you act convincingly when you're dying inside? I don't know if I did. But I tried. I don't know if it was enough.

18 May 2017

To Love. To Fail.

After surviving a car accident in June 2010, I vowed that I would be an encouraging person. That no-one who encountered me would leave me without knowing they were loved and cared for and important.

When Brittney died, I tried to renew this vow. But the guilt that dogged me for failing to be as kind and caring as possible to her sucked my resolve dry. I had failed. And there was absolutely no redemption to be won. There was no hope of a second chance.

When my cousin died two months later, it only reinforced this. I wasn't close to my cousin, but I could have been -- should have been. I cared for her deeply, but she never knew this. And again, I was left with no hope whatsoever at a second chance to let her know that at least somebody on the planet cared for her. Yes, her parents and siblings loved her. But love shouldn't be limited to that.

By the time my cousin died I was so physically depleted and emotionally wounded that I withdrew into myself. I had failed -- twice. I'm realising this school year that perhaps the thing I fear the most is failure -- of any kind, in any area of life. To have those two relational failures slug me back-to-back convinced me that I was a failure. So I gave up. Better to not try and not fail than to make a vow (even to myself) and go back on it or mess it up -- that is, fail.

I withdrew from everyone. I waited for someone to come break my shell, to draw back the curtain and direct the sunlight onto me again.

...It's hard for me to continue writing this. On one hand, I'm still waiting. Will someone care enough to reach out to me, even through the darkness? (The logic is, if I drag myself out, it's selfish of me. What if nobody wanted me to begin with and then I just show up again, uninvited? FAIL. But if someone else comes searching for me -- that means they missed me. That means they wanted me.)

But on the other hand -- I still want to be that loving, caring, kind person, no matter what the other person is like. On some level I don't want to ask more of people, emotionally/relationally, than I can give back. (To take more than I give is -- you guessed it -- failure. No, I can't win.) I still want to 'give my heart' (as my college program director puts it) -- but 1. I don't think it's worth giving, 2. I can't handle losing anyone else, and 3. what if I screw it up again and accidentally alienate the very people I really care about? That is: what if I fail again? People are pretty graceless as a whole. Ninety-eight percent of the time you have exactly one chance. Foul it up -- say one word with the wrong tone of voice -- and you're automatically a 'killjoy' (at best) or 'toxic' (at worst).

If I could find a way to make people feel loved without screwing it up and without having to get my heart broken again -- I would leap at the chance. But I know it doesn't work like that, so now I have to choose between the two. It's an impossible choice. Either one leads to failure.

15 May 2017

State Of My Choreography

The picture that inspired this post:


Full choreography sketch for a song, conceived/written in the time it took to listen to the song straight through once (three and a half minutes). This is a testament to how far I've come: less than a year ago the same amount of choreography would have taken me a full week.

Choreography, I've found, is part inspiration, but also part experience. The more experience you have, the quicker the inspiration comes (and really, this is applicable to a lot of the arts - I see this in my writing as well). You discover what you like and where you like it. You develop a sense of where things should sit in the piece. You get a feel for the art form and you start to be able to tell innately what does or doesn't work, even if you can't explain why. No amount of book-learning can do that for you. (It kills me to say this, because I love learning through reading.)

That's why if you want to be an artist, you have to be dedicated. You have to put in the years of work before you get good. You can find quotes from artists in any discipline to the effect that you have to write a hundred songs before you begin to learn how to write a song; you have to paint or draw a hundred pictures before you really begin to understand how to draw or paint; you have to put in ten thousand hours of work before you can say you have begun to master something. Choreography is no different. I've fully choreographed 78 songs (and probably started and not-yet-completed that many again, plus I have about a dozen that I'm actively working to finish) and I'm only just starting to feel like it's coming naturally. This has been fully five years since I finished choreographing my first piece, and I was choreographing snippets of things in my head long before I ever finished that one.

That said, I would be remiss if I didn't note that I was taking ten hours of dance per week last calendar year, that I was practicing tap every day except Sundays through this past summer and again since January, that I've been watching a TON of tap dance on YouTube in my spare time, that I have a subscription to Operation: Tap's online lessons and those have been invaluable in jump-starting my practice sessions, that my tap teacher at the college this year pushed me hard (because I asked her to), that I've been clapping rhythms to almost literally every song I've heard I'm the part six months, playing with different patterns. A lot of groundwork has been laid in my foundational tap dance technique over the past year and that has gone a LONG way in allowing my choreographic voice freedom of expression.

The next step is to figure out what exactly it is that I want to express.

07 May 2017

Too Good To Be True

Written 24 January 2017, 12.55am.

A common observation by one of my college profs is that I 'fight' a lot. Not 'fight' as in 'make trouble/argue with people,' but 'fight' as in 'struggle.' Multiple profs in my program have noted that I'm stubborn and passive-aggressive. But it wasn't until Christmas break that I began to figure out why. Over the break, I was talking with a friend and somehow over the course of conversation the thought came to me: 'I'm scared it's too good to be true.'

I've loved music and dance all my life. The theatre has always drawn me. I've always loved stories. But I also grew up in a Baptist church, where the performing arts were Absolutely Forbidden (except hymn-singing and the annual Sunday School Christmas skit). Very early on my natural empathy for people (don't laugh) and my ability to memorise and understand the Bible (relative to my age) convinced people -- including myself -- that I would grow up to be a missionary.

I was okay with that -- excited, even. I loved hearing stories of other missionaries and I thought 'wouldn't it be so cool to be able to lead people to Jesus?' This was something on my radar well into my teen years, although I wasn't so pretentious as to decide exactly where I was going. I was content to wait on God for that.

In my mid-teens, performing made a resurgence in my life. It gained a further hold when I went to college and found myself almost accidentally swept into the musical theatre program. I loved every single second of it. I've made posts on this blog to that effect. But even as I was pursuing the performing arts and even as I was justifying my degree to my Christian acquaintances by saying, "The art world is so dark -- it's a mission field too," and even as I was telling myself I was training to be a more effective light in the darkness, I was scared. Not of the darkness -- there was so much of that around me I was more or less used to it. Rather, I was scared that at any moment God would snatch the performing arts -- my deepest love and often my only solace -- away from me, plop me into a 9-to-5 office job, and forget about me.

I knew God uses the arts. I've seen Him do it. There is no doubt in my mind that God loves the arts. But I had trouble realising (or perhaps believing) that maybe... maybe I was one of them. Maybe the one thing I longed for the most was also the very thing God had created me for. I knew God does need artists, but as much as I wanted to be one of them, I couldn't bring myself to believe that maybe He wanted me to be one of them too. To think that God might have actually wanted me in the performing arts was too good to be true. So I tried to ruin it for myself and get my no-doubt-impending failure over with as quickly as possible. I have almost succeeded.

I was so scared of having it taken away from me that I began to self-sabotage. I far overloaded the fall 2016 semester with classes and then added a couple fairly sizeable creative projects with deadlines on top of that. Every time I practiced voice, I would almost subconsciously do exactly the same thing as before, and then complain that I was not improving (this, I think, was at least part of the 'fight' my professors were referring to -- they kept telling me what to do to improve, and I kept not doing it). I started turning in half-done papers and skipped more classes in the last two weeks of the semester than I ever had in my entire education up to that point. I absolutely stopped trying in dance class. During voice recital/performance/finals week (when I should have been sleeping the most for the sake of my voice) I stayed up for 65 straight hours working on four major projects for three classes. My vocal master class prof straight up told me after the final dress rehearsal for the class final performance, "Go home and go to bed," to which I replied, "I can't." I wanted nothing more than to do exactly as he said, but I had a presentation to research and create before 8.30 the next morning -- a presentation that would have already been done if I hadn't overcommitted myself so badly elsewhere. I was texting my best friend back home things like, 'would it really matter to anybody if I killed myself?' -- texting her these things because I knew she was too far away to stop me. I was in a complete tailspin, and it was pretty much self-inflicted.

I fought my professors' advice and/or help at almost every turn, even though they probably wanted to see me improve just as much as I did. But I couldn't believe that might be the case. I couldn't bring myself to trust them, and I certainly could not bring myself to believe that maybe God wanted me here, in the arts, in this program, developing my skills. I kept telling myself the professors were only investing any time at all in me because I was spending money to be in their classes. After all -- that's all I've ever been good for, right? As for God, I had long since given up on His love for me.

So I subconsciously kept myself from doing what I wanted more than anything, so that God wouldn't have to break my heart again. If my life was going to get screwed over again, I was going to be the one doing it. I didn't need the church or my relatives or God breaking my heart anymore. I started breaking my own heart, berating myself on their behalf, to save them the trouble. I told myself everything that everyone else had told me for all these years: 'you're only worth something if you have a good job and make a lot of money,' 'you're annoying,' 'you're in the way,' 'nobody likes you,' 'nobody wants you around,' 'nobody asked you,' 'we don't need you here,' 'who said you could talk?' 'you can't do anything right,' 'maybe it's time to give up.' After all, even God's church gave up on me -- telling me, however, implicitly, that God doesn't want artists.

And I believed all of it. I believed that this love for the performing arts and this tiny seed of talent that I did have meant nothing, that God had simply put them in me to confuse me and to make it hurt more when His true purpose for me -- which, obviously, would probably include an office job and many early mornings and no alone time whatsoever -- was revealed. It wasn't until this semester (note that it's still only January) (EDIT: It was January when I wrote this, although many of the sentiments remain the same now, in May) that I began to wonder if maybe there was a reason He built this into me. Maybe He wants me to be a performing artist. But I'm too scared to believe it. It seems too good to be true.

01 May 2017

The Silence of the Storyteller

Written 14 April 2017, 1.08pm.

Do you know what it's like to pour your soul out in writing to fifty people and have not. one. person. acknowledge your existence?

I go through this every week. But I suppose that's the life of an artist. This is what I wanted. I made my bed, I guess I have to lie in it.

I'm a storyteller at heart. I always have been -- in writing, in acting, in music, in photography, in dance. It would make sense that this innate part of my soul would come to full force in writing -- when I write my update emails from college.

But in today's age of social media, nobody wants to hear stories. They want sensation. They want soundbites. They want Upworthy. They want BuzzKill -- I mean BuzzFeed.

So they lash out at me for talking too much. And then they withdraw from my life because I demand too much of their time and attention.

I have a storyteller's soul. And they hate it.

There's an entry in my journal from June of last year (on the subject of the five love languages): 'Acts of service children are good, helpful little children. Quality time children are just little time sucks -- always taking, but never giving back -- at least not in a 'tangible, helpful, productive' way. No wonder everybody hates us.'
I say 'children,' but this really means 'people.' We're all children at heart.

I go for my first counselling appointment on Monday. I'm scared that they actually will be able to help me. The only way I can get anybody's attention is to whine about how awful my life is. People will give you some (tiny) measure of sympathy/attention (for a limited time) if you're going through a hard time. It's underhanded and manipulative, but I am so desperate for something, ANYTHING, from anybody, that I am about willing to do anything. But if counselling helps with my issues and I'm no longer struggling, I lose the very tiny sliver of care that anybody ever had for me. Then I well and truly am alone. After all, think of how we talk to each other:

C1: Hi! How are you?
C2: Good. You?
C1: Good!
*awkward pause*
C1: Well, better get going.
C2: Yeah... I guess...

C3: Hi! How are you?
C4: Meh. Not great.
C3: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. What's going on? Can I help?
*insert moderately lengthy conversation*

So basically, the only get to get any length of connection with another human being is to have a sucky life. The thing is, all the Pollyannas of the world hate the people who have a sucky life -- "it's the power of positive thinking," they tell us. "If you think your life is going to suck, then it will." And "nobody wants to hang out with you if you have a sucky life *insert some kind of 'negative vibes/toxic people' crap*."

TL;DR: Just spend some time with me. Just talk to me. Just listen to me. That's literally all I want.


'We shot all our dreamers and there's no-one left to lead us...'
- Larry Norman, 1972

'I need some contact... I'm so tired of talking to an answering machine.'
- Prodigal, 1985