27 November 2017

Life Update

Written 16 November 2017, 11.52pm.

It's November and I haven't posted a single thing about NaNoWriMo... for the very simple reason that for the first time since 2009, I'm not participating.

I wanted to -- I really did. But I had no story idea whatsoever. The last two years of the event were a huge struggle for me already... I felt so little connection to my 2015 novel that I often forget it exists, and in 2016 I failed to make 50k for the first time ever. On the back of those two years, I knew I would not be able to force a novel out of myself this year (though I have more free time to write now than I think I ever have).

I decided to do a self-imposed 30-day choreography challenge instead. I made a rule to choreograph no less than 32 counts (four sets of eight) per day and post the results on my Instagram page (for accountability). I'm not even halfway through the month and I'm seeing huge amounts of growth in my technique and creativity (I figured out nerve taps!), but the response of the public has been growing steadily less enthusiastic.

On a personal level, this was just the challenge I needed. I've been wanting to choreograph the 77s' Ping Pong Over The Abyss for forever, and I finally did it this month. I've also done some of Michael W. Smith's Christmas music, a sizeable chunk of Prodigal's I Don't Know Who You Are, and a duet that my sister requested. Currently I'm working on The Kimberlites' Gigajig and -- although it hasn't hit my social media yet -- the Piano Guys' Where Are You, Christmas? I've wanted to do this for a while as well, to encompass how broken Christmas feels with so many people missing. A lot of loss has surrounded me in the past while -- my own, certainly, but a lot of others around me have lost people close to them too. I've had two friends lose their fathers unexpectedly in less than two weeks. The growing, rushing waves of grief in the instrumental half of the song pretty accurately capture the yearning and fury that swirl around us who grieve; who have to put out one less table setting at Christmas dinner.

School is okay. I'm quite frustrated actually. This was supposed to be my penultimate year, the year when all the hours and hours of hard work (especially last year) would finally begin to pay off, to blossom. I had a few pretty lofty goals, and previously attaining difficult things has not been a big problem for me. I hoped to land a place in the elite-level choir, to get a larger role than last year in the massive Christmas musical, to maybe even get a singing part in the Remembrance Day and opera shows. The opera show remains to be seen (it's in February), but I didn't even get called back for the choir, and not only did I not get a larger role in the Christmas musical, I actually got a significantly smaller one. No lines, nothing. It's a half-step from no role at all. In my angrier moments I'm almost tempted to drop out and not even bother. I asked the director how to improve my acting in general (because I would assume that at least most of the people who actually got roles must be better at acting than me) and long story short, he literally told me to be more cheerful in my everyday life (this directive makes more sense in the context of multiple conversations we've had over the past year).

I was so desperate I actually tried it. It worked for a week, and the effect was dramatic. Both the director and my voice teacher commented on the difference in me. Even I was beginning to see a difference in myself.

But a week after that conversation with the director, at the end of my first week of actually trying, my dear friend attempted suicide. In one text, everything that was still going for me was undone. If she could kill herself, why couldn't I? What was to stop me finishing what I had started last March at the side of the highway?

I broke. There was no point to anything. I was going to die anyway and it's not like I would be missed... it wasn't like I had a role in anything. I gave up, and the director saw that immediately though he didn't yet know what had happened. Because of the nature of the whole thing I was not allowed to say anything about it to anyone -- including literally all the people in my support network who I would ordinarily go to immediately to keep myself from spiralling down again. Because I couldn't tell anyone, it all just kept rattling around in my head, growing quietly bigger in the dark silence that was imposed on me.
But I did say something, two weeks later -- I was so messed up by the whole thing that I was at the point of physical collapse. I'm a master secret-keeper (I was suicidal for twelve years before ANYBODY knew about it), but privacy rules or not, I could not, for my own safety, keep this inside. It was affecting me far too deeply. If I kept quiet, I was going to end up dead. My heart was literally starting to fail. So I brought one of my instructors into it. She brought the director into it. There were repercussions for me for telling either of them about it, but I was beyond caring. My own suicidal thoughts had strengthened and multiplied and I was caving very quickly in the onslaught. To say nothing kept me out of trouble and kept everyone happy. But to break the rule -- to say something, even to a very select few, kept me alive. Which was the more preferable option...?

But I can't help but think that now it's too late. Because of my dramatic improvement and equally-dramatic crash within the space of ten days, I succeeded only in proving myself as wildly inconsistent. And the inconsistent performers are the first ones cut from the list of potentials. I have five months left in the fourth year of my undergraduate degree. And it's very possible that I have destroyed my second chance at the only thing I ever wanted to be -- a performing artist.

I instituted the choreography challenge partly as a way to distract myself from my own desire to die and to get away from the sound and the press of everything crashing down around me. Since I'm not in any upcoming shows, I have no lines to learn or rehearsals to attend to keep me distracted so I had to manufacture my own distraction. And since apparently nothing's going to be handed to me on any kind of a platter -- never mind a silver one -- I have to manufacture my own fanbase somehow. It's on me now to create my own job experience, to develop my own craft on my own time, and drum up interest in my creative endeavours without any outside help or promotion. I'm not sure how it's working because, as I mentioned earlier, the enthusiasm on both my Instagram and Facebook accounts seems to be fading fast. Maybe they're all just 'hiding' my posts and not even looking at them at all...

But the process itself is keeping me distracted. And I have accomplished a fair bit. Maybe one day this will all be useful and one day all these long hours of thankless practice and all those tears (so many tears) will be worth something to someone.

23 November 2017

Challenge Retrospect

When they call it a thirty-day 'challenge,' they mean it.

I started doing a 30-day choreography challenge on a whim on 2 November. Initially I said it was because I wasn't doing NaNoWriMo and felt I should work on some creative project for the month of November. That was true, but there was a second reason that I didn't make public: I was not in a good place, mentally/emotionally, especially on 2 November. I decided to go practice dance in order to get my mind off how useless I felt, but I needed some reason to even bother practicing. The best way to do that is to set up some kind of accountability system -- like pledging to post each day's work on social media for thirty straight days.
The decision to do this challenge was actually more a first-aid response for a period of acute distress than it was a thought-out plan. Dance, so far, is the only thing I've found that relives some of the mental distress really at all (and even that doesn't work 100% of the time), so by locking myself into a month-long challenge, it meant that I had to do something -- choreograph four sets of eight -- every day. The time it would take to choreograph that much dance would be enough time to let my mind reset and not wander so far down into the abyss.

At first it was fun -- I started out choreographing some stuff I had really wanted to choreograph for some time but just never bit the bullet on it. The response on social media was initially relatively enthusiastic. But within a week, interest and engagement began to drop off. It began to be less fun. I started thinking, how can I get them back? What could I do to get their attention again, to show them I was actually good at something (I hoped)? I began to expect more elaborate and complex things of myself, and I began to expect myself to execute them perfectly. I was trying to make drastic leaps of improvement every day and prove it with a video record of 32 perfect counts every single day, on top of work and school commitments. On Day 18 of the challenge, I had a bit of a meltdown in the studio because I COULD NOT land a double pirouette -- on my good turning side, and it was even a decent turning day. There were plenty of valid reasons that might have explained why it wasn't working -- I hadn't had a lot of sleep, I had just gotten off work, I hadn't eaten in a few hours, I hadn't been doing a whole lot of pointe lately, I was in desperate need of a physio appointment because my body was so out of alignment -- but I wanted to power through all that. The show must go on. Real performers don't get a free pass for ANY of the above reasons. Why should I? What makes me more special than them -- the ones who have actually earned this life? If I planned on even having a tiny hope of being any kind of performing artist, I had to stop with all these excuses -- however valid they might be. Mere hangers-on have not yet earned the right to such pedestrian excuses. But the more I pushed myself, the more angry I became that I wasn't improving.

For years I've been pushing away the idea that I'm an attention whore at heart. I won't make a scene in public, but if I do something -- anything -- I usually quietly expect some recognition. This month really brought that out. Seeing the public engagement with my posts fall off so sharply brought this right out into the light. I'm not the kind of person who gets insecure if her selfies don't get a certain percentage of Facebook/Instagram likes, but I do get insecure when I post a dance excerpt that I'm proud of or that shows some growth and LITERALLY nobody says anything. I don't know how this works in the brains of other people, but in my head the logic is 'nobody noticed. Again. As usual. See? You're not good enough. You're not worthy of their attention. If you weren't such a crappy dancer, maybe they'd notice you. You're not working hard enough. Quit lazing about and improve already. If you don't, you've no business calling yourself a dancer. So prove it. Now.'

So I push harder. Don't give me this 'it takes time' crap -- how then do you explain all those sixteen-year-olds who are prima ballerinas of companies like the New York City Ballet or the American Ballet or the Royal Ballet or the National Ballet of Canada? You cannot tell me it takes time, because for them it did not. For them it took sheer determination. And if I'm not at that level -- or at least reasonably close -- then apparently I don't have enough determination. My body has an expiry date. My window into the dance world shrinks with every second I draw breath. The clock is ticking, the hourglass is running out. How many metaphors do I need to use to get you to understand the urgency of the situation? And how many times do I have to remind myself of this before I actually start improving?

I'm at a loss. I am too old to pretend to be serious about this if I'm not going to be seriously good. But I cannot, cannot give this up. I chose this life. Now I need to earn it. This challenge is another stepping stone to that -- it makes me practice and it (hopefully) helps me gain a social media presence, if only among my friends and associates. It gives me visibility. And hopefully it will give me ability enough to earn that visibility.

14 November 2017

Things That You Think Help A Depressed Person But Don't

15 July 2017, 11.43pm.

(In no particular order...)

1. "You're beautiful."

Maybe this works for those with body image issues, but here's a news flash -- not all depressed people have body image issues. I personally am quite happy with my appearance. I have come to terms with my height (or lack thereof), I like my hair, my hands, my strong feet, and I would absolutely not trade my eyes for the world. My self-hatred runs deeper -- I hate my personality. While I understand that you're trying to combat my self-hatred, you're not actually addressing it at all.

2. "Go shopping."

Has it ever occurred to you that maybe one of the biggest triggers for my despondency is the HUGE amount of financial stress I'm under as a college student? Yes, buying fifty vinyl records might make me feel better, but right now there is no way in hell I can afford even one. I am at the point where food -- like actual nourishing food -- is a luxury.

3. "Take some time for yourself."

...not the best advice to give to someone whose depression is triggered/worsened by feelings of rejection and abandonment. The way my life is now, I am alone literally twenty hours a day. And the other four hours consist of me backstage with forty-seven other people who are physically there but not actually talking to me. I'm still very much alone. I have time for myself up the wazoo. I don't need any more.

4. "Just find someone who listens to you."

And you don't fit under this category why, exactly?

5. "You are enough."

This probably gets the award for 'dumb vague statement of the year.' Enough? Enough what? When I hear the word 'enough,' I think of every father who's ever tried to get their kids to stop arguing in the car: "Now that's enough!" It is not necessarily a positive association. Not an overly negative one -- but not a positive one either.

6. "You are loved."

I notice that you yourself are not willing to commit to saying you personally love/care about me. You're deflecting it onto the nameless 'other' and hoping like hell they back you up so you don't have to actually dig into your heart and get emotionally involved.

7. "It's always darkest before the dawn."

That may be true. But right now, it is not dawn, it is very dark, and the wolves in my mind are circling, closing in for the kill. I have no guarantee I'll even survive till dawn. Sure, dawn is coming, great. Fat lot of good that will do me if I don't survive the wolves in the dark.