03 December 2018

Post-NaNoWriMo Debrief

This was the hardest novel I think I've ever written.

Mind you, I don't particularly remember the trenches of writing my other novels. But usually I have a pretty good sense of which novels are decent and which are... not. And this one is trending to the latter camp.

First of all, my plot only percolated for about 36 hours before I started writing it (usually it's simmering in my brainpan for five or six months by the time November hits), so I felt like I didn't really know the story. It was like trying to eat an unripe fruit. It might have been good, but I was asking too much of it prematurely. My mystery story was a mystery even to me, and in fact, the plot grew murkier as the book went on. When I started the story I knew exactly who the murderer was, and by the time I hit 50k I had narrowed it down to three people. (No, that's not a typo.)

It was also hard writing without M. Even in the years when she didn't write a novel herself, she still commiserated with me as I wrote mine because she knew from the inside the madness that is writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days and got, more than anybody else, the strange heady mix of elation and hilarity and angst that co-exists in the speed-novelist in those thirty days. But this year, I couldn't message her my characters' latest escapades and have her laugh along with me instead of taking a vague 'smile, nod, and back away slowly' approach like most everyone else does. I didn't have any of her insightful/funny comments on my NaNoWriMo Facebook posts. I never got to see her dramatic updates of her own novel. I didn't get to offer her ludicrous ideas and steal ridiculous plot points from her.

Artists -- true artists, who follow their calling with such passion and intensity -- are so rare already, and although we are often perceived as working alone, the fact is we can be pretty closely knit and when we lose one of our own, it's like taking a support beam out of a building. Although M and I worked on our novels in our own separate rooms, communicating almost exclusively online, she was integral in my own creative process and now that she's gone, my own work has grown paler, simply because she's not a part of my life anymore. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I would also argue that it takes a village to create art. Take one person out of the picture, and the whole composition of the photo is altered. Colours are missing -- the blue eyes, the blonde hair, the bright clothing. The light is different -- the reflection of the sun on her face, the sparkle in her eyes. The shape is different -- one less figure, one less shadow, the loss of shape and symmetry, a literal hole where there used to be a whole fascinating personality. You can tell me to get over it because she was 'just' a friend all you want (as opposed to a spouse or a child), but the fact is, she coloured my life and by extension my artistic output, and now with one of the arteries of my art severed, my art -- and therefore I -- can't help but suffer.

I digress.

I did make 50k though. I completely filibustered the last 10k. I had about four plot points of any kind, so I basically dropped one in every 10k and then milked it in great repetitive word-padded detail for as long as conceivably possible (and then some) before dropping in the next tiny plot point and milking that cow absolutely dry and so on. I lost my motivation somewhere around the 25k mark and honestly it was sheer force of will that got the book to 50k (I'm not calling it 'done' because nothing's wrapped up because I don't know how to wrap it up). I have never been so thoroughly, consistently uninspired for a novel. Even my 2016 novel (which only made 37k that November) wasn't this difficult to write.

Maybe in eight months when I get around to re-reading it I'll feel differently about it, but right now I'm not looking forward to that day. I can't complain too much though... my main goal coming in was not to write an amazing book (although that would have been nice), it was to write 50k in a month for the first time since 2015. And I did that.

Next writing project: back to revising Kyrie.

23 November 2018

The Hardest Thing

The hardest thing about an invisible/mental illness is the fact that it's invisible.

It's not the cowering beneath the whip of self-loathing, it's not the constant calorie-counting, it's not the paralysing fear of interacting with another human (though all that is certainly exhausting).

The hardest part is that nobody sees.

Oh I've played the game of hide-and-seek
When all I wanted was for them to see
See the lines upon my face
The memories have left their trace...

~ White Heart, 1990 (Storyline)

19 November 2018


When I go visit my family, one of my favourite things is listening to my sister practice piano.

She's someone you probably wouldn't expect to be a pianist. She's almost a tomboy -- short hair, loves the outdoors, loves bugs in particular, owns a pet rabbit and co-owns about twenty outdoor cats, perennially in jeans and running barefoot, and can throw a punch or two if necessary. She's kindhearted and small and feisty and you don't mess with her if you know what's good for you.

Yet, she sits down at that piano and spins beautiful smooth melodies out of it so effortlessly. It's hard to believe it's my own little sister -- the rough-and-tumble farm kid -- making music like that. It never ceases to amaze me. Two of my other sisters are violinists, but somehow that seems more natural -- they both have a personality more stereotypically like that of a musician, plus in violin you see their arm moving the bow across the strings. With a piano it's just your fingers hitting keys. It's a lot more impressive to make a piano piece smooth and emotional.

The other day I was backstage at a show and got talking with a few other choir singers that I sort of knew, but not very well, and in the context of a different conversation it came out that I'm working on a novel. They were in awe and peppered me with questions. They were so impressed. I was a little taken aback. Having written fifteen (and a half) novels in the past ten years, I often genuinely forget that people don't just write novels in their free time. To me it seems normal. To them, it's extraordinary.

So I write this to you, my fellow artists -- whether or not you think you're worthy of the title. You are extraordinary. Yes, your everyday life consists of practice and rehearsal and research and fine-tuning and critique, but the average person's life doesn't. I especially write this to those of you, like me, who are in this world full-time and all your friends are from this world of practicing and rehearsing and fine-tuning and you feel lost in it. You (and your friends) are all extraordinary. You are not the norm. It feels like the norm, but it's not. You do incredible things. For me -- I write novels. Whole novels. For fun. People don't do that. That's extraordinary. I practice dance multiple hours every day. I may not have 180 extensions, but I have speed, and strength, and grace that does not come naturally to 99% of the population (even though I still often feel like I'm less-than because I'm surrounded by flexible dancers).

All those years that you have dedicated to your craft -- your instrument, your poetry, your drawing -- are extraordinary. This past August I made a rough calculation of how many hours of my life I've spent dancing -- not rehearsals or performance, just class and my own practice. The number came to well over two thousand hours, and I know for a fact most artists practice much more than I did in my earlier years. To dedicate that much time to a craft is extraordinary. Nobody has that kind of patience or love for something so difficult and nuanced (especially if it doesn't earn you millions of dollars).

And all those hours have culminated to make you extraordinary. Because now this is such a part of you that you can simply sit down at a piano, like my farm-girl sister, and play something so clear and effortless that it takes our breath away. Now you can simply pick up a paintbrush and create a world with so much depth and detail we forget that it's not a real place. Now you can simply put on a pair of shoes with metal on them and make an engaging rhythm faster than your brain can think. Now you can shape words into a living, breathing sculpture of the effervescent nature of human experience, explaining and understanding at the same time.

You now have the power to do extraordinary things at will. Yes, there are always improvements to be made, yes, we must always practice, but remember that we are not the norm. We are, right now, this moment, already extraordinary.

18 November 2018

Novel Update - Day 18

I've almost come to a complete standstill on this novel. I only wrote 500 words on Friday, and I didn't write anything yesterday. I literally just stared at the screen and then eventually just went to bed. I don't think I have ever hated a novel during its creation as much as I hate this one right now.

And it's not even that bad. The story has potential. I just can't get it there right now. I don't know how to pull it out.

Currently writing a character in the midst of early grief. Trying to write the initial anger, and it's hard. As I've mentioned before, writing is a lot like acting -- you have to feel, really feel, what you're writing.

And because I'm in school, and because I am on my literal last chance to be happy enough to keep my place in this program, I can't let myself feel the anger that I need for this novel. I think that's why I'm struggling SO MUCH with this novel. I am no longer allowed to be angry or even remotely sad because my friends have died and my cousin has died. I'm not even allowed to access those feelings for the purposes of creating a character and telling a fictional story. And it's stifling me. It's stifling me as a human with a soul that's prone to wounds, and it's stifling me as an artist trying to come alongside those who feel alone in their anger and grief and the pain of being alive while others aren't.

I hate that I'm being told what I can and cannot feel, and I hate what that kind of Cloud Cuckoo Land restriction is doing to my artistic output. This novel is an abyss of repetitive character ramblings on nothing at all because they're not allowed to feel anything because I'm not. I guess art does imitate life. As readers we'd never stand for such an emotionally flaccid book but we expect it of our real, theoretically bright Technicolor lives all the time. And that's what I tend to write about -- stories that could be real life. What a sad state society is in. But is it society or is it just me?

(Yes, I will be booking a counselling appointment tomorrow...)

16 November 2018

Music Day - Only One

I accidentally stumbled on this one in my iTunes yesterday and MY GOSH I am melting.

Within the first verse, Uncle Terry's incisive writing slices the heart with the line You've broken so many hearts, darling / That you're not untouched... (Is this true or is this true?)
Beautiful lyrics spin out across a lush early-'60s-style arrangement and can we talk about the harmonies? Mid-century rock harmony is what early DA did best and they may very well be at their peak here.

I've been listening to a lot of late '50s music lately for my novel this year, and this fits right in, but with lyrics that aren't cheesy, mushy, sappy sentiments. I could not ask for more. (I love the '50s sound, I'm just bored with the 'love' theme, in all eras of music.)

Title: Only One
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Shirley, Goodness And Misery
Year: (song) 1981 (album) 1992
Label: Alternative/Stunt Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

The song has a complex history. Originally recorded during the ¡Alarma! album sessions (which was in itself a saga for the ages), the original version of the song languished on the shelves for eleven years before it appeared on a compilation of demos and unreleased songs on the Alternative/Stunt label (though a rewritten version with more synth strings showed up on the side-splitting Best Of album, The Miracle Faith Prickly Heat Telethon Of Love in 1990 -- the same album that first introduced us all to the hilarious if somewhat heretical Dr. Edward Daniel Taylor). The original has since found a wider audience as part of the bonus disc on the recently released ¡Alarma! two-disc deluxe reissue (which was my first encounter with it).

14 November 2018

NaNoWriMo Progress Report - Day 13

I feel like this year I'm having the NaNoWriMo experience Chris Baty describes in the monumental book No Plot? No Problem! (the book that introduced me to National Novel Writing Month and singlehandedly turned me into a writer who actually writes rather than just dreaming about writing).

He describes going in with zero plot and truly making it up as you go. He describes Week Two -- a week when everything in your novel is crap and you just want to quit. He describes the lifeless anaemic characters finally beginning to perk up and DO something in Week Three. And for the first time in ten years of month-long-novel-writing, I'm checking all these boxes.

While I try not to plan much at all, I do usually have a strong enough idea that I know I can squeeze 50,000 words out of relatively easily, even if I don't quite know how that plays out yet. I'm not usually worried about running out of plot (though I've had to stretch some of the novels a bit to make 50k). But this year, while I did have a bit of an idea, I had no earthly clue how I was going to get from point A from point B without making it too easy for the characters (that is, writing the entire plot arc in 10k and having to filibuster for the other 40k). This was the first time I'd really had to make a conscious decision to trust myself and my ability to write myself out of a corner -- something I've rarely had to actually do on this scale. Usually I have at least one ace up my sleeve, but I didn't this year. I had no escape route, no back-up plan. I felt like I was playing FreeCell on Windows XP -- there's no undo button, and if you make one wrong move, you lose, no second chance. It was a huge act of courage to even start the novel this year, not knowing how well I can actually write myself out of a true dead end.

I'd never really experienced the Week Two blues. Usually Week Two is when I tip the second domino chain into motion and really get in the pocket. The first week was historically the worst for me. But this year, Week Two was abysmal. One of my characters was dead and the other two had literally no personality (or social life -- so I didn't even have interesting acquaintances I could write about).

But now, suddenly, the characters are beginning to develop emotions. They're beginning to react to stuff and have opinions. At the moment, one character has just accused his best friend of getting his sister pregnant. I knew this was a plot point, but when I put it in I was surprised how angry the brother was, and how the accusation drove the friend to despair. The friend knows it's not true, but he has no way of proving it, and the sister's dead so she can't say. I had originally thought these guys would be grieving her death together, but last night at the write-in they suddenly stopped speaking to each other and that made things a little more interesting because now they're going to have to repair their friendship AND solve the mystery. Even more interesting -- my character who was all gung-ho about solving this mystery literally just gave up on it and has accepted that maybe the deadly fire was an accident after all (the other character never did care about whether or not it was an accident -- which also surprised me). So now they have to repair their relationship AND decide that actually this is worth investigating AND solve the mystery. I feel like having enough story to make 50k isn't quite impossible anymore -- it's only mostly impossible.

I'm currently at 24,677 words. It's almost halfway, but it really doesn't feel like it. I feel like there's still so many words between here and 50k and I'm trying to hold off all my plot points so I don't run out of story. (I need a subplot. Unfortunately I am terrible at subplots.)

Hoping to hit 26,700 words today. The official goal for today (Day 14) is only 23,333, but I've been trying to gain an extra day of word count every two or three days so I'll be finished (or extremely close) by the last week of November so I'm not trying to catch up on the novel AND keep on top of school AND open our massive Christmas musical.

31 October 2018

NaNoWriMo Eve Resolutions

On this, the eve of my 15th National Novel Writing Month (I'm counting Camp in these numbers), I decided to make a few resolutions in order to ensure my novel can be the best version of itself.

- None of my characters will have a lung disease. None. ZERO.

- I will remember that Daniel Amos did not exist in 1957 and therefore I will refrain from having my characters quote the entirety of their discography in this novel when I get stuck.

- (The above resolution also applies to Prodigal, David Meece, and Crumbächer.)

- I will remember to eat more than once a day.

- None of my characters will develop even a temporary lung issue. No pneumonia. No infections. Not even a cold.

- My secondary character is allowed to have an interest other than the performing arts. Just let her be a scientist.
(Besides, it's necessary for the novel's plot.)

- I will not give my characters names starting with 'E.'
*looks at list of three main characters*
*FMC's name is Elisabeth*
(Everyone calls her Bette though, okay?)

- I will not get sucked into the abyss of baby name websites for two hours as I try to find the perfect name for a secondary character that DOES NOT start with 'E.'

- I will not spend my writing (or practice) time looking at 1950s decor on Pinterest.

- I will learn to type FMC's name without typing 'Beete' first and having to delete and retype every single time she says something.

- I will not spend more hours making writing playlists than actually writing.

- I will not write the death scene in the first ten thousand words and then have to filibuster for the next 40k because I'm out of plot.

- The director is not the bad guy in this novel. This is not Kyrie. Or Angel Falls.

- None of my characters will die suddenly at a young age... oh, wait, that's literally the entire centrepiece of my plot.
(Hey, they say write what you know...)

- Seriously. No lung diseases.

Onward to literary greatness!

28 October 2018

Day 31

They tell you grief is weird and unpredictable. You'd think I'd know this already, having grieved so much in the last three or four years.

One month and one day since M's death, and this one is not at all like the others. With the others I sobbed uncontrollably for weeks. I spent months in a fit of rage -- how could this happen? -- and literally could not function for a long time. I completely stopped writing and choreographing -- only very recently have I begun to take these things up again.

But this time it doesn't hit me in tsunami waves like it did with my cousin and with Brittney. It's not a crushing heaviness like it was with my grandpa. It hits me in little needling moments, death by a thousand cuts. I have shed tears over M, but not all at once in full-blown sob sessions. The tears this time have been a collective, unobtrusive effort -- one or two at a time, and you'd miss them if you weren't looking directly at me and if the light wasn't just right.

Today I was thinking about one of my writing projects. There's a character who does highland dancing and of course my first, instinctive thought was, I'll ask M about highland stuff... and then I realised I can't. There was a window of opportunity -- years of it -- where I could have (if I had thought of this aspect of the character sooner), and I thought that window would stretch on forever, but it didn't and that somehow blindsided me.

The question that keeps coming to mind is not why? I know why -- or at least I have a pretty good idea. I've been on the edge of that cliff. The wind just happened to push me the other way. (For now.)

The recurring question is: is this how the story ends? All that enthusiasm and vigor and energy and life -- is this the apex? Does it all end here? Apparently it does -- it already has, thirty-one days ago -- but somehow I'm still haunted by this question. Is this really it? Is this really the end of her story? This? It feels so incomplete.

It scares me a little how quickly I've been able to just continue with my life, so unaffected. On one hand I'm waiting for it to bowl me over, and this is a possibility -- I tend to not fully process things immediately. It took me a full three years to process my cousin's death (how has it been over three years?), to return to some kind of normalcy after literal years of being almost literally paralysed with grief and rage. But at the same time, M's death has so far has almost zero effect on me, though I was much closer to her than I ever was to my cousin. Have I just grieved so much for others already that I'm out of grief? Have I spent all my life's emotions? Am I numb now?

And then the next little moment hits me that I'll never be able to tag her in another writing or dance post on Facebook, or I'll never be able to ask her a highland dance question, or I'll never be able to be a part of her dance shows again, or that we never did do that dance video I had started teaching her choreography for, or we'll never again spend 25 comments on her Facebook status talking about music, and I feel a tiny twinge of that huge hollow breathless ache that I know so well. It reassures me -- at least I'm feeling something -- but it also scares me. I only catch glimpses of it, but it seems somehow bigger than I remember it, and should the curtain be fully pulled back, I don't know if I can stand under that much nothingness.

26 October 2018

NaNoWriMo Indecision

National Novel Writing Month is coming up. Is that a thing here still?

I'm not sure.

There are a lot of emotions surrounding NaNoWriMo this year. I haven't done it since 2016 -- and even then I didn't finish, for the first time since 2008 (too much homework, too much stress, was still processing/not over The Year of Hell -- I pretty well imploded that semester). I haven't had much for ideas really since 2014 (Kyrie). Even the fire for the old ideas still languishing in my notebooks and computer folders has largely died.

On top of that, my perennial writing buddy committed suicide last month. And NaNoWriMo is significantly less fun alone (never mind the grief involved...).

I want to honour her. A good way would be to keep writing, in her memory. I want to give her a cameo in this year's novel, but how, and where? Do I write the entire novel about her? A subplot? A passing glance in the fabric of the backstory?

Earlier this summer, as I was contemplating this year's NaNoWriMo, I had toyed with the idea of finally doing the sequel for one of my earliest stories -- it was a time travel story, and I had left space for a sequel (which I'd already sketched out at that time). The main character in that story was in fact loosely inspired by Brittney (who passed away four years after I wrote it, but not before reading and giving her approval to the rough draft), and I have yet to write anything in her memory. I still have all my notes ('all' = maybe half a page) for that sequel, but I don't trust myself to pull 50,000 words out of it. In my younger writing days, I could start with literally nothing more than a sentence and maybe two characters (not necessarily named) and get a decent novel out of it, but 2012 proved that I don't really have that ability anymore (that novel literally ended with multicoloured cows in a field singing karaoke. It was supposed to be a serious military drama). I need some kind of an actual plot idea, or at the very least a character voice (Kyrie came entirely out of a quarter-page character monologue that fell fully formed into my head one day. Even all my subsequent planning for Kyrie was written in that character's voice).

I don't trust myself to be able to pull off that sequel. I know that of course if I doubt myself I definitely won't be able to so instead I should just fling myself right into it without giving a care. The artist cannot put a brush to canvas doubting... (Milosz)

My other idea is a late 1950s theatre drama. I have three characters, but I don't know what the drama is, and that scares me. Five years ago, this would have been enough of a plot for me to start November with. But now, all I see is the terrifying blank space ahead.

Lately I've been fascinated by the modern-day parable. My last novel (2016) was that, and since then I've written a couple parabolic short stories as well. Not only does it give me sort of a direction to go in, it gives the story greater weight. The problem is I've run out of parables. I feel this blockage keeping me from both the sequel and the theatre drama -- I want to have a faint whiff of a parable somewhere in the background of my story this year, but I can't find the one for either of these stories.

If I'm honest, I don't really trust myself to write another good novel at all. Never mind the fact that my last novel, written in such a haze of stress and exhaustion that I literally do not remember writing it, is probably the best thing I've written next to Kyrie.

But I do feel like I need to write something this year. I took last year off of NaNoWriMo, but I think writing another novel is the next step in my slow healing. I haven't truly enjoyed writing since before the Year of Hell (2015), and I want to get back into it. I feel the time is right. But I've changed so much and I don't know if I really truly trust myself to be able to do this again.
It's just been so long...

16 October 2018

Deleting Humans

I'm having such a hard time deleting you from my life.

I've done this before -- too many times. A text comes through and you just sort of mentally scratch another person off your list of friends to call when something terrible or wonderful happens. You mentally note another anniversary. You read the obituary. And they just sort of fade out of your life -- just gone, irrevocably gone, incommunicado, with no explanation. You go back home and don't happen to see them and you think maybe next time.

Sometimes the funeral helps make it real. But yours didn't. It's still not real. I was there, in the pew, and I heard your brother and your teacher and your friends give the eulogies. I heard -- I felt -- the thundering bagpipe lift a mournful cry to the autumn heavens. I watched the still lifes of your now-still life float by me, mere pixels on a projector screen, trying and failing to capture and contain and give back to us the experience and essence of your life, the vivacious energy you carried. I watched the singers' faces crinkle, I saw them clasp each other's hands, holding tightly -- eyes closed, ribcages shuddering -- knowing they knew they could no longer take yours. I heard your mother weeping, howling like no creature in the world ever could -- the haunted, hollow cry of a mother's gutted heart.

And then I went out into the balmy fall day, into the coloured leaves and the blue sky -- I somehow assumed all the colour would die when you did. Maybe that's why my heart doesn't feel it yet. The world is still too bright for you to not be in it. How could you possibly be gone if the sun is still shining? I would think it's some dramatic trick for attention, but the echo of your mother's visceral sobs in my memory tells me otherwise.

I look at the pictures I have of you -- thank goodness I knew you during my take-pictures-of-literally-EVERYTHING phase -- and I study your face and I can't reconcile the fact that I will never see it again in real life. I can't remember your voice, but I remember the words you'd use on our Facebook chats -- I'd recognise your writing voice again in a heartbeat.

If only you still had a heartbeat.

I still do -- why don't you? How is it possible that I'll never -- truly, never -- see you again? How can I look at that face in the pictures, the face of my friend, and delete it from my life? That's so cold, so heartless, so final -- even though you've already deleted it from my life. It seems impossible to just take it as fact that I will never hear from you again. There's always hope, isn't there? The prodigal always comes home, don't they? Love conquers all, doesn't it?

How then can I look at you, that wildly expressive face, and say definitively that hope is gone, and you'll never return, and my love for you -- our love for you -- could not conquer your demons? To do so is to admit defeat. It means I've given up on you and I can't find it in my heart to do that to you; you who have been through so much and meant so much to me. You're not gone -- I just haven't seen you in a while. Like so many others in my far-flung life. They haven't died, they're just geographically far away. Can't you be the same? Can't I run into you at some gala twenty years from now and revert to overexcited fourteen-year-olds again as we catch up on shows, and men, and recent projects? I'll be waiting for that day.

I'll be waiting a darn long time for that day.

12 October 2018

Music Day - Numb

This is a song that probably doesn't need much introduction -- one of the few songs in my library that other people would actually know. But I'm listening to it now and I'm dedicating this Music Day to the lovely but trapped M -- lover of performing and writing and rock music, victim of the hell that is perfectionism.

I loved her. I know her brain was sick and she couldn't receive it, but I loved her all the same, and I hate that I'll never see her light up a room again -- nobody could do it like she did and I daresay nobody ever will.

This is how I feel right now. My mind is screaming and clouded like the guitars, but my heart is numb.

Title: Numb
Artist: Linkin Park
Album: Meteora
Year: 2003
iTunes here; YouTube here.

And I know I may end up failing too
But I know you were just like me with someone disappointed in you...

07 October 2018

Upheaval and Music (A Snapshot)

Life has been in upheaval lately.

I am preparing to graduate this coming April (and none too soon, according to the powers-that-be...). I have planned several auditions for productions outside the college over the next couple of months -- hoping to hit the ground running so I don't experience the post-grad psychological crisis (because it's a real thing and it almost killed me last time). Also I actually managed to land an actual role with actual lines at the college (I know, I was shocked too). And I've now attended the funeral of a suicide (my very good friend -- a brilliant dancer and fearless writer).

I find myself re-evaluating my life quite a bit in the wake of all this. I am definitely ready to graduate -- not angry-ready, just ready. I sense I've more or less gotten all I'm going to get out of my current post-secondary stint and it's time to move on.

And my friend's death has redoubled my passion to live my life the way I feel called to rather than be pressured into spending it at some soulless desk job. I feel a bit of a burden in my spirit to live the life that she never will -- to dance just as brightly and passionately and to write with just as much verve and abandon as she did. It's up to me now to take up that mantle she left behind.

I don't know what any of this looks like. I guess I'll keep practicing and keep auditioning and keep performing. After all, that's basically the life I've always wanted anyway.

Tonight I'm listening to Michael W. Smith's brilliant album i 2 (EYE). This is the album that fits this night, this moment of my life, with its themes of providence and life (warts and all), and darkness and light and loss and sadness and camaraderie. As I've said before, where people cannot grasp the feelings in my soul, music can, and tonight this album is that music. I can't really describe it -- it's a strange mix of what MWS actually wrote coupled with my long bank of memories associated with this album and they all come together in this particular listening tonight. I wouldn't quite say it's bringing me comfort -- in fact as I Hear Leesha plays it's kind of ripping the hole left by my friend's death even bigger -- but it just fits. It makes emotional sense, on some deep subconscious soul level. It accompanies the upheaval with a sort of peace even at it brings me temporarily back to the times before everyone died, sitting in the Dodge Spirit in a Fabricland parking lot with my dad, playing this cassette over and over.

I'll help you find your way
When you're lost in all the madness
When you're blinded by your doubts
When you need someone to be there for you
I'll help you find your way...

01 October 2018

I Know The Drill

Do you know what I hate?

I hate being in my mid-twenties and getting a text saying that a dear friend of mine has died and knowing exactly how the next few weeks will look for me because I've done this all before. I hate that I know exactly which music to listen to and what to avoid. I hate that I know how long it'll take for the news to hit home. I hate that I'm planning a roadtrip for a funeral on Thanksgiving weekend. I hate that I'm so matter-of-fact about this because I know the drill -- I hate that I know the drill.

My friends are celebrating weddings and birthdays and anniversaries. They're going on dates and having children and going on vacation.
And I just keep attending a steady stream of funerals.

I came across a picture the other day featuring myself, my sister, Brittney, and one of my dance friends.
It's a candid shot (though Brittney had seen the camera and was posing), taken by my sister at my birthday party in 2012. And I looked at this picture and realised that two of the four people in that photo are dead, a mere six years later. Brittney, at twenty, was the oldest person in that photo. None of us should be dead, not yet. We're all too young, and yet we're dropping like flies. I've almost come to expect that everyone I've ever loved in going to die young and I'm going to outlive them all, lonely and angry.

When one of my good friends attempted suicide last year, I distinctly remember writing in my journal, 'next death, I die too. I'm not taking this anymore.'

That next death happened this past Thursday.

Yesterday morning one of my very good friends asked me how I was doing. I told her I wasn't doing great and she gave me a hug and there was this strange moment in my head -- both this friend and I have survived suicide attempts and here she is, comforting me in the wake of another friend's suicide. Why did the two of us live? Yet... how strangely beautiful that we did, and now we have each other. We have both been through Hell and back.

The moment reminded me of the old Burlap To Cashmere song...
You have one wing and I have another
Seeking shelter like sister and brother...
Hold my hand and we'll make it all right
From this hell that we live in...
It's a long and lonesome ride
When your friends have all gone home...
(Eileen's Song, Burlap To Cashmere, 1998)

25 September 2018

Analog Media

Anyone who knows me (or has had the greater misfortune of actually living with me), knows I take in and use a LOT of analog media. Vinyl, cassettes, 35mm film cameras (and prints), physical books, pen and paper, journals, old PCs... entering my room is like entering a time warp (the lava lamp next to the high-end laptop doesn't help). (We should all count our blessings that I haven't yet fulfilled my dream of owning a Sega Genesis or a Pac-Man arcade console.)

On a recent trip to the city (during which I picked up my film prints from the lab, looked through some vinyl, bought a book -- it would have been two if I'd had the funds; and shot a bunch of film), I began to realise that the reason I purchase/collect/use SO MUCH physical analog media is because it will always be there for me, in ways people never are. You can pull out your favourite photograph at 3am and look at it and escape into the better world, however briefly. You can spin your favourite album at 11pm and as long as you wear headphones nobody gets upset and the poetry will still understand what your own soul struggles to comprehend. If you're alone for the tenth straight day you can sit and read your favourite book and have a companion in Lord Peter Wimsey. Analog media is there when people refuse to be or at the very least cannot be.

Yes, you can accomplish all that on an iPad (books, music, photography, writing, games) and it does take up FAR less space than a vinyl collection and eight camera lenses, but it's not real. You can't touch it, hold it, interact with it on a personal level. It's like playing a synthesizer violin versus playing a real violin. It's the same as texting someone rather than going for dinner with them. Technically, you're talking, but you're not really connecting. Connecting with someone or something is a much more full experience than I think we sometimes want to believe. We have five senses, but most of the time we try to reduce ourselves to one or two.

It's the little physical, in-person things that make analog media a companion on the lonely evenings. It's the feel of dropping the needle in the groove and hearing the soft crackle, watching the cartridge bob up and down. It's feeling the glossy edge of a photo print. It's hearing the spring as the shutter opens and feeling the tug of the film in the sprockets as you throw the advance lever. It's feeling the roughness of the pages as you turn them. It's hearing the soft scrape of the ballpoint on a fresh page in a hardcover notebook and running your fingers over the grooves of the writing on previous pages, watching how your own writing changes from day to day. It's pushing that huge 'Play' button on the cassette player, feeling the resistance of it as you push the entire playhead mechanism into motion. I haven't even talked about the smell of vinyl, and books (new and old), and the cassette booklet, and fresh ink on paper.

One of my favourite roles I've played is the Man in Chair from The Drowsy Chaperone, and that character helps me make my point here. The character is divorced, socially awkward, has some health problems, is a bit of a shut-in. He makes no reference to any friends or acquaintances or even workmates. All he has to console and intellectually stimulate himself is his vinyl collection. This is his escape and his comfort and his window into the world. He doesn't have people around him, so he turns to the next best thing -- vinyl. Vinyl is there for him when nobody in the real world knows he even exists.

How many times do you hear of people with depression or in hard times turning to music, in some form or another, in those times? How many people do you know who binge-watch Netflix? How many people with mental illnesses turn to things like painting or writing, especially during flare-ups? In all fairness I can only speak for myself, but when my depression hits the point (and it has at times) when literally everybody in my entire life gives up on me and outright refuses to interact with me because I'm 'so negative,' you know what? My Electric Eye vinyl still plays. My camera shutter still fires. The book's pages still open. None of these give me crap for not feeling the 'right' emotion at any given moment. They're just there.

I know these deep dark times will recur throughout my life. And I know that 99.9% of the people who say they're going to be there will not be. So I surround myself with analog media as a barricade against my own self-imposed demise.

22 September 2018

On Human Souls

'I wish I'd never been told that this species had souls...'
- Mark Heard (iDEoLA), 1988.

Do we realise, really truly realise, how much power we possess to wound and to heal other humans? Every time we interact with somebody -- anybody -- we hold at least a tiny piece of their soul in our hands, if only for a few seconds.  Every facial expression, every word, every inflection, every movement has the power to encourage or to devastate, even a tiny bit. But tiny bits add up quickly. And if the other person trusts you, you hold rather a large chunk of their soul in your hands -- meaning the damage you could do is rather more severe. And the joy and encouragement you could give goes more quickly to a much deeper place within them. Not only that, you have access to their soul while you're apart. With the bank teller, it doesn't matter what you do after you've left the bank. It won't affect them. With a close friend, it matters a good deal what you do and say even when you're not with them because inevitably your actions will affect them on some level because your lives are so intertwined.

Similarly, do we realise how fragile and important these souls are that our thoughts and actions brush every day of our lives? Do we know how rare they are? If we knew all this, really knew it, with every fibre of our being, would it change how we interact with them? Would we realise how crucial our words and actions are in every single interaction? Would we be more empathetic? Would we as a culture be less locked up and afraid and lonely?

I guess we'll only know if we begin to realise how much rests in our hands in even the most routine moments of running errands or cooking dinner. This is part of the weight of glory, of being made in the image of God -- the very fact that we have access, however limited, to the souls of every other human on the planet.

20 September 2018

Normal or Gifted...?

This is more of a PSA than me breaking new ground (probably), but here's the thing about gifted people -- people with special abilities, talents, or skills. (In the context of this post I'm referring to the performing arts because that's what I know, but this can apply to literally anything -- leadership skills, speaking abilities, math skills, philosophical genius, yo-yo skills...)

Have you ever wondered why the most gifted are the ones who doubt their calling the most?

We all grow up thinking that we are normal. All our abilities are the same as everybody else's. This is why children tease each other so mercilessly when one can't do something as well as the others. We all start out assuming we're the same.

From a gifted person's perspective... we assume everyone is just as good an actress as we are. We assume everyone can see the spiritual/emotional background of daily events the way we can. We assume everyone can sing beautifully. Our gifts aren't extraordinary -- they aren't even gifts. They're just normal and everyone has them... right? They're nothing special.

Meanwhile everyone outside assumes we can see we're different and special, and they get confused (or even angry) when we get discouraged. To those outside of me and my abilities and my perspective of those abilities, they assume we know that we're gifted and thus see no need to belabour the point -- to actually tell us our gift has been an encouragement to them. So they say nothing, assuming we already know. To those outside, the difference between the ones with the gift and the ones without is vast. Those who don't have it see it so clearly. But the gifted assume they're normal. We assume everyone has the same abilities we do, on a fairly equal (or perhaps higher) level than us.

In short -- we can't see our own gifts. We're too busy assuming you have them as well. We're too blinded by your gifts to see our own.

And you wonder why we are so discouraged and 'needy' all the time. You wonder why we so often give up, citing 'I'm not that great at it,' or 'there are others who are doing a much better job of this.' To you it seems SO CLEAR that we have an extraordinary ability, but to us -- we think our ability is merely normal (if not subpar). No matter how great it is -- in fact, the greater our natural ability is, the harder it feels to improve on the (perceived) baseline 'normal' and be 'actually good' at it. It feels unattainable.

And you wonder why so many of the most gifted end up listed as suicides.

24 August 2018

Darkness and Creation

Mentally, at this specific moment, I am probably in a better place now than I have ever been since before depression first hit me when I was nine years old. I blame actually tasting my performance dream in real life for this improvement (and probably also being in an environment well away from my negative church/extended family).

Here's the thing though.

After skipping NaNoWriMo last year because I was so uninspired, I'm now wondering if I should attempt this year. On one hand, I haven't really done anything creative in a very long time and I miss that. NaNoWriMo could be just the thing to kickstart my creative brain again.

But... the only story idea I've come up with so far that I might actually squeeze a novel from is a story that basically deals with the subject of abusive churches.

On one hand, it could be good to write this. Having gone through some stuff in previous churches (and heard stories of others' experiences) means I definitely have a place to write from, and goodness knows I feel strongly about this topic. It's possible that writing about the topic could help me deal with my own experiences. Writing is definitely a cathartic thing for me, and the times when I was at my worst emotionally were the times I couldn't write because I didn't have words to encompass the pain.

But on the other hand, I'm actually in a fairly good place mentally. I've pretty well severed myself from the ones who inflicted so much damage on me in the name of Jesus. Dare I dredge all that up in my memory again? I've mentioned before how writing well is not much different from method acting -- the best way to resonate with the reader is to actually feel what the characters are feeling. This includes their pain.

When I was filming Rift several months ago, I was already sort of on an upswing, mentally. But I deliberately sort of 'kept' myself in a dark, frustrated place until I finished filming because I wanted that dance to capture, as authentically as possible, the pain and frustration it was intended to convey. I think the rawness and honesty of the piece did benefit from that and I don't think I regret it. But now that things have gotten SO much better... do I want to deliberately go back to a dark place for the sake of my art? I'll probably end up back there soon enough anyway -- dare I risk hastening it? Is it possible to dip into it for a couple hours each day (during writing sessions) and then 'switch it off' and return to my current content/joyful state? Or is that playing with fire? Will I be able to switch it off?

And if I decide not to risk plunging myself into the depths again, even for the sake of art -- then what do I write about? That's literally the only story idea I have right now. Characters and plots and allegories used to spring to my mind fully formed as I went through the motions of life, but now I can't even remember what it was like to have a story consume me the way stories like Reuben, Rebecca's World, Chasm, and of course, Kyrie did.

I miss that.

23 July 2018

The Effect of Perelandra

Almost finished reading C.S. Lewis' Perelandra.


I am not kidding. I do not care who you are. I don't care if you normally hate fantasy fiction (I do, actually). I don't even care if you normally hate reading. READ THIS BOOK. It gets off to an incredibly slow start, but once it gets going it grabs you by the soul. Not the throat, not the heart -- the soul. What the Chronicles of Narnia has lost by being so immensely popular, this trilogy has retained by being almost completely unknown.

Ordinarily I would start thinking, what can I take from here to improve my own writing? But to try to strip writing advice out of a work so -- there are no adequate words -- intense is to strip it of its weight and meaning. And perhaps that would be an unnecessary exercise anyway -- as I was just saying to my brother not long ago: whatever you're reading will, for better or worse, show up in your writing. Your output will begin to reflect what you're putting into your mind, your spirit, your soul. You don't even have to try for it, it just happens. I was telling somebody the other day that as soon as you start trying to be sincere, you're no longer sincere. That particular discussion was in the context of interpersonal relationships and communicating feelings through writing, but it also applies to art -- as soon as you 'try' to make something great, it automatically loses some of its potential to be great.

Instead, I'll try to document some of what this story has done to me.

For it did do things to me. I was reading Buechner the other day and he said something to the effect that things like painting and music are subcutaneous arts -- they get under the skin and slowly seep into your being. But writing is an intravenous art -- it goes directly into your bloodstream, in minutes, undiluted. If I ever doubted that, Perelandra has proved it to me.

I've never really been one to read trashy novels. My mother was a huge book-lover, a teacher, and a bit of an intellectual. My earliest memory of her is of her reading to us. We, her offspring, read copiously as children and teens (that was just what people did in their free time, wasn't it?). And because my mother was very aware that what you read influences how you think, she ensured that we had access to books of substance. Those were what she bought and read to us, and so those influenced our tastes as we began choosing our own reading material. As a writer myself, I can't stand trashy junk-food novels -- the mass-produced brain-clogging recycled intellectual and emotional pablum that serves only to give your eye muscles a little exercise but not your brain. But even though I haven't even been reading trash, this book makes me think 'this is what stories are supposed to be.' This level of intensity, this real, this rich, this deep, this poetic/allegorical to the mysteries of real life. It's like every story I've ever read to this point in my life has been a cheap facsimile of a real story.

I needed to read this story now, at this point in my life. It speaks to so much of what I've been thinking about and going through lately and puts a lot of it into perspective.

For a while now, I've been realising that I'm different, on a fundamental level, from most people. Even writing that sounds a little boastful, and I don't mean it to be. I mean it only as an observation. I'm beginning to realise that not everyone sees what I see (intellectually/spiritually/emotionally) -- they don't make the connections that I do. When artists say 'people don't get it,' they actually mean that -- people really, truly, do not get it. And it's frustrating because to me it seems to obvious, so simple, so logical, if only you pause and think about it a little. It's like I can see -- however dimly -- what goes on behind the curtain of the empirical world while most everybody else seems to not even realise there IS a curtain.

And although the layperson might think it's cool and fun to see things others don't -- I used to think the same thing till I realised I was one of them -- it's actually so frustrating. You can only converse with people in shallow terms on shallow subjects. As soon as you try to steer the conversation to something that actually does interest you, challenge you intellectually, they check out and tell you you're getting 'too personal.' It's like how a mother feels when they're cooped up in the house or the car with their two-year-old all day long -- it's like you can feel your brain atrophy because of the lack of conversational/intellectual stimulation. Except I experience this adult-in-a-room-of-two-year-olds phenomenon indefinitely -- the only person who seemed to 'get' what I see died three and a half years ago.

It's not something to brag about. It's more of a curse. (Yes, I do realise how cliché that sounds, but it's an accurate description.) It's like I'm doomed to forever be misunderstood and patronised. I've written before on how I often feel the weight of other people's pain and concerns -- things that don't bother my life but weigh on them -- so heavily that often I physically can't breathe.

Every so often, usually at a time when the weight seems heavier than normal, I'll ask God, 'why me?' Why did He choose me to be one of the misunderstood, one of the special ones? Must I be alone in this heavy calling to see so much -- and be completely unable to do anything with that information?

(Spoilers ahead.)

There's a scene in Perelandra in which Dr Ransom grapples with the same question -- why must he fight the spirit that threatens the planet's sacred, fragile innocence? Why not Maleldil? Why not anybody else? Why him? He's nothing special. And I recognised, on a gut level, all those questions because I have asked them myself. Why me? Why am I the one chosen for such a lonely life? Why must I be so completely and incredibly alone, in every possible sense of the word?

This, naturally, turned my thoughts to my own half-finished novel Kyrie. The main characters touch on similar questions within their own experiences. Those two characters represent a friendship that I long for in real life -- that platonic intellectual thing that is completely at home and comfortable with the other person in their questions, exactly where they are at, engaging with them but not lecturing. The entire novel is basically me laying out the kind of friendship I long for in real life but -- I'm realising -- may never actually have again. It's the relationship Ransom has with the Green Lady of Perelandra -- intellectual and innocent.

This further turned my thoughts to a specific friendship I'm in -- one that I hoped would turn into 'something more,' as people like to put it, but so far has not. Yet we somehow have remained good friends. This person has seen me at some of my most broken and vulnerable moments and was content to simply exist alongside me in those times, without lecturing or proselytising, just existing and listening (exactly the thing I need that apparently seems to elude everyone else despite my detailed explanations that this is the thing I want to you to do if I'm struggling). Lately I've been wondering if this is, in fact, that deep comfortable companionship I've been longing for. Perhaps we have been denied romance because romance would cheapen (or needlessly complicate) what we have. I have been trying to be more content with our relationship as it currently is -- not focusing on what I want it to be. In the words of the Lady, "The fruit we are eating is always the best fruit of all."

And there's the other question: am I alone?

In that same scene, Ransom eventually hears from the darkness what he must do and despite his fear, he knows (somehow beyond explanation, but I 'get' it because I've experienced that deep certainty myself at times) that he will succeed in his task. It's no secret that the voice out of the darkness is Maleldil, and it's also no secret in the novel who Maleldil represents.

Something in me still doesn't want this answer to be enough (a held-over scar from the Year of Hell), but it's a question I can't not even consider.

(Possibly more thoughts to come as I finish the story.)

Buechner, Frederick, The Clown in the Belfry, 1992.

13 July 2018

Music Day - Sound Of Waves

I am seriously addicted to this song right now.

It rocks, it's fun, it's catchy, it's insanely danceable, and if that high harmony in the chorus doesn't carry you up into the stratosphere I really don't know what will.

It has kind of an Ultravox vibe actually, so if that's your thing, you definitely want to hear this song (personally I'm into Ultravox mostly because they sound like Daniel Amos circa 1986, so there's also that connection). It makes sense though -- both Ultravox and Steve Scott hail from the UK. (The harmony also has a touch of The Choir to it... have I dropped enough names to pique your interest yet?)

Steve Scott, from what I gather (and have heard), is quite uncategorisable. His output is a mix of spoken poetry over soundscapes sampled from real life and straight-up dance-y rock songs. But so far I've noticed a common thread of the melancholy thinker -- one of those artists who sees the brilliant breathtaking details of life, but also sees how much the world falls short of what it should be.

Title: Sound Of Waves
Artist: Steve Scott
Album: Lost Horizon
Year: 1989
Label: Alternative Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.
(In researching for this post I discovered there's a seven-minute version which you can hear on YouTube.)

As for the lyrics, they have an air of Mike Roe or Terry Scott Taylor's poetry about them, on the topic of feeling alone in a world continually concerned with 'progress.' (Admittedly, the subject matter is a bit incongruent with the upbeat music, but both are enjoyable on their own merits.)

They say it's asking far too much
To talk about the personal touch
Even if it was planned in advance...

These words resonate a lot with me. As you may have gathered in reading this blog, I tend to be fairly open and honest about pretty much everything (especially my feelings, depression, and the frustration of living in a world that's got its priorities messed up), and in recent years I've heard several people accuse me of being 'too personal' (which I don't understand, because if I'm sharing something from my life, of my own free will, who are you to determine it's 'too personal'? If I'm okay with talking about my own feelings, who are you to tell me that I shouldn't be comfortable with talking about my own life? How can you justifiably censor my life? It's not yours to censor. Anyway, stopping the rant now before it gets too out of hand...).
'Planned in advance?' Well -- as an example -- even at things like small-group Bible studies, where you're supposed to be able to 'share your struggles,' there are unspoken limits on what can and cannot be said. There's an unwritten list of 'acceptable sins to confess' (the more vague, the better) and if you dare step off that list and confess a genuine struggle with an actual sin (or, God forbid, actual pain), you'll be shunned.

And as a result, we are left alone -- each one an island unto himself. To struggle, alienated from fellow humans for... how long?

But right now the only thing I hear is the sound of waves
Crashing all around me where I stand
But right now the only thing I hear is the sound of waves
Now that you have found me, take my hand...

08 July 2018

The Dance of Respect

Recently I was reading a dance magazine, and this one contributing author was talking about his experiences in contact improv -- specifically, the topic of consent and 'listening' to one's partner during creation/performance. I'm not familiar with contact improv at all -- I've never seen it done and certainly never participated, but one sentence in this article grabbed me by the throat and is now about two weeks into completely altering my life.

'If I know my NO will be respected and if you know I am actively listening for your NO, we can both relax and explore the dance, right to our edges.'

When I read this, I instantly thought of several (non-dance) relationships I'm in.

I can name several people in my life who probably cannot really trust me to listen for their cues (and actually respond appropriately), and this hampers the friendship. I can sense this stunted dynamic in a tangible way in some cases. As a child abuse victim, I'm often so concerned with self-preservation (because several key people in my life didn't listen to my cues so I had to constantly fight to be heard no matter how much they told me to stop) that I often forget others have boundaries and needs too... and as a result I (however unintentionally) perpetuate the horrors that come from not truly listening to the other person.

As this sentence has been seeping into my consciousness, I am struck by 1. how effectively it defines respect (which was an abstract and difficult to grasp concept for me until after I read this), and 2. how beautiful that can be -- to go as deep as possible together, to take the dance of life and (platonic and/or romantic) love as far as it can possibly go while not having to worry about whether or not you're pushing them somewhere they don't want to go, and simultaneously knowing that if you don't like where something is going, you're allowed to say so without reprimand. There's so much freedom in that. Again, as an abuse victim, I've spent 98% of my life not being allowed to say anything if I didn't like where someone was taking me; and not knowing if I'm pushing someone too far until they full-on blow up at me. I was constantly walking on eggshells. There was no freedom, no relaxing, and in a situation like that (especially if you're in it for a long time -- say, you know, twenty years), you get tense and you take smaller, shuffling steps, and you get smaller, as a human, as a personality, in an attempt to do less wrong ('maybe if I'm smaller/not in the way, they won't hate me so much').

How deep and intense and rich life could be if we all lived the way the quote describes. How much freer and happier we would all be because we would all know exactly where we are with each other and we wouldn't have to devote so much energy to trying to read into someone else's cryptic silence or trying to figure out how to say what you want to say without actually saying it.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it's not a perfect world and people are fallible humans that make mistakes and people will disappoint us and all that self-excusing crap... but can we collectively at least try? And if we screw up, try again?

Referenced article: 'Contact and Consent,' Vivek Patel, The Dance Current, May/June 2018, 37.

26 June 2018

Good Enough

20 June 2018, 11.48pm.

What do I want?

I want somebody to message me, out of the blue, and tell me, in detail, that even if I never 'accomplish anything' (splits, more videos, better ballet technique, fame, decent singing ability, any acting role ever, published writing), that they (hopefully this message comes from multiple people) will still love me and need me and not hate me for not being as good as they are no matter how hard I try.

I just want somebody to (platonically) love me. I want to know that if I were to be completely incapacitated from an unforeseen circumstance, there would still be people who love me and want to spend time with me, even if I had nothing to give them in return.

I want off this merry-go-round, this trying to earn your affection and attention and failing at every chance I have to redeem myself.

It's literally like a taskmaster standing over me with a whip most days. By the grace of God, I've never struggled with an actual eating disorder, but I really resonate with the way I've heard people with EDs describe their illness. It's this constant thing in your head, telling you you haven't tried as hard as you could have -- as hard as you should have (you lazy, unmotivated disaster of God's creation). If you don't lose five more pounds (master -- not learn, master -- an entire pointe dance) today, you are a failure and nobody wants you and you should just go rot in hell.

This script is screaming in my brain 24/7. While others are visiting with friends and having fun and relaxing, I'm in the studio, alone, dancing the same variations over and over until I black out from lack of oxygen, sweating so much my shirt sticks to me and my hair is literally dripping, telling myself over and over 'that was awful. Do it again. Do it right this time or else,' but it's never, never right. There's always some mistake. It's never good enough. No matter how much I practice I can never silence the voices in my head: "if you want to do this, you need to be more flexible/get your stamina up/try harder/get your shoulders down/work your turnout..." with the implied unspoken 'you will never be a dancer because you can't do any of this.' The voices are never, ever silenced. It's never good enough. I'm in the practice room, singing until my asthma kicks in and my throat is hoarse from the subsequent coughing -- breathe right, don't tense your tongue, NARROW FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, are you letting it flip into head voice, don't shoulder breathe, are you even singing anything close to the right pitch and diction, and why does all this hurt so much if this is what I'm supposed to be doing? I'm sitting in front of my computer, writing, picking, shaping words and stories and emails and posts and fine-tuning and tweaking and maybe one day I'll get something good enough to submit and maybe even good enough to get published... or maybe even just good enough for you to actually understand what I'm trying to tell you because apparently my words obscure what I'm trying to say.

There is no rest. None. Ever. If I sit down without choreography notes or a novel document or a script in my hand, the whip breaks across my back again ('you're not even trying! No wonder you haven't achieved your dreams yet -- you just sit around not practicing. You lazy waste of space'). It's like that ElectroBOOM video where the guy has to keep moving or be shocked. If I'm not spending every waking moment on perfecting my art, I'm wasting my existence. In the eloquent words of ElectroBOOM: "[Practice] or ----ing DIE!"

And people just turn a blind eye. All those hours, all that hard work, all that time and effort and energy and sacrifice... and they don't even seem to notice.

Which, of course, leads to the very obvious conclusion that all my hard work, all my effort, all my energy and sacrifice and fixing and time, is still not enough. I need to practice more hours -- maybe then there will be a more discernible difference -- one that people will pick up (without me having to fish for it). Maybe then I'll actually get closer to 'good enough' instead of farther behind it.

They say that if you miss one class, you notice, if you miss two classes, your teacher notices, and if you miss three classes, the world notices. That's how fast a dancer's technique degenerates. And I missed three years. It's probably impossible to catch up on that, but I still try. If I don't -- if I don't, then my dream dies for good, and I feel like I'm already tethered to it by only a single tiny thread of fairy floss, melting in the daylight, ready to vapourise at any second. I live every waking second terrified of the moment that thin fibre snaps and I practice myself half to death every day in a desperate attempt to beat that day back -- just a few more hours, just a couple more minutes. Every minute I don't practice is one minute closer to that moment when the thread snaps. And that is the Thing That Must Not Happen.

Somebody, please -- tell me it won't happen. Promise me that thread won't break. Tell me I'm good enough. Tell me -- and mean it. (Believe me, I can tell when you don't.) And no, a random TWLOHA 'you are enough' shirt on some stranger in a mall is not going to cut it. And if I'm not good enough, tell me how to get good enough. Lead me to that assurance. I cannot rest until I know with absolute certainty that I am good enough. And the frustrating thing is -- it's a moving target. I don't know what will prove that to me. And I'm hoping like heck you know (or can guess) because I don't.

17 June 2018

A Father's Advice

My dad has taught me a lot -- mostly by simply living life. I've grown up watching him run a business with integrity and hard work. I've watched him and worked alongside him as he strives for quality workmanship on every jobsite. I've watched him demonstrate humility and love (to his fellow man, to my mother, to us kids) and leadership and a constant dependence on God to lead and provide.

A story that sticks out is recently, I was shopping for new stage shoes. I needed a very specific style of shoe for my purposes (that is, for the show that weekend), and I found two -- one new, by a quality brand, for $95; and the other for $10 at a thrift store. Ordinarily I would have jumped for the higher-quality shoes without question, but this was at a time when my finances were at an absolute low, so the price tag gave me pause. Should I just take the cheaper shoes for now and replace them in a couple months when I wasn't scraping to pay rent?

I usually would call my mother in this situation but I couldn't get a hold of her, so I called my dad at work and explained the dilemma. He doesn't know the first thing about dance or dance shoes or really anything in this world of mine filled with tights and makeup and hairspray, but I figured any outside opinion would help clarify my own at this point. I was truly torn.

Normally he makes decisions slowly, weighing the pros and cons of each option (now you know where I get it from). But once I'd explained it, he said without hesitation, "You know that I always spend the extra money for a better quality tool. It lasts longer and it's easier to use. To me, this is the same thing -- these are your tools. I would spend the extra money for better shoes that will last longer and be better for you in the long run."

So I did. I got the $95 shoes. So far, I have no regrets (except maybe the fact that I broke them in during opening weekend). But something about the moment struck me... how this advice from a contractor with no performance background or training whatsoever so perfectly applied to my situation. My parents have often said they struggle with how to guide me as I pursue a world so foreign to them, but this guideline he'd developed from years in his own vastly different work was exactly what I needed.

Not only that -- for the first time in my life I felt that someone outside the arts saw my work as legitimate. And not because they were 'trying' (code for 'saying the right things and not meaning them')... they just did. There are no words to describe that feeling, especially coming after years of striving and straining for years for people to see me as a human with needs and wants and strengths as well as weaknesses -- instead of as God's failure. A weight lifted in that moment. My dad saw my work as serious and treated it accordingly. That was one of the best feelings in the world.

14 June 2018

Still Memories

I used to do a lot of photography. Some of you old-timers here at the edge of the dream may remember back when I was very seriously looking at doing it professionally. I always, always had a camera in my hand. My parents had bought me a Nikon Coolpix for my sixteenth birthday, and it practically became a permanent extension of my arm.

My specialty was candid event photography. I loved catching people in their natural state -- talking, listening, laughing, playing, working. I suck at posing people (mostly because I suck at interacting with people in general), and I find still life/nature/architecture/animal photography insufferably boring so candid photography was the only option left and I sort of fell into it. At family gatherings, at home, at church, at youth group, with friends -- everybody who knew me for those years of my life was so used to me having a camera in my hand and taking pictures that they barely even noticed the camera anymore. This worked in my favour, as it meant I got even more natural photos of them.

But when I went to college, I suddenly felt self-conscious about the camera. Would people sue me for taking pictures where they happened to appear in the background? Would it be weird for me to walk around a college campus taking pictures of people I barely knew -- at times without their knowledge?

Even as I made friends, I could never sense when would be a good time in the relationship to bring the camera into play. They'd never seen me with it -- not like people back home had -- so they would likely get self-conscious. So I never did.

Lately I've been missing it.

As I near the end of my college years and watch friends leave every year, there's always this part of me that's saddened that I have no pictures of them. I don't mean the posed grad photos the day before they leave, I mean the candid ones, the ones that showed them as they really were -- talking and laughing and listening and concentrating and simply soaking life in; the ones that really showed who they were, their personalities and fleeting facial expressions. I see these things every day now, but the time will come when I won't be able to and my memory will fade. One day I won't be able to reference them in real life.

In my second year of college, one of my uncles walked out on my aunt (his wife of well over a decade). No warning, no explanation, no other woman, no plan, nothing. Just up and left. This event shattered the entire extended family on that side. The extended family had been very close -- we'd regularly get together at my grandparents' house on Sunday afternoons and eat pizza and talk and play the classic unofficial keep-the-balloon-off-the-floor game. We talked and laughed and played games together, and this aunt was a central part of it. She was the fun-loving aunt with a big, ready laugh. But because she had married into the family, when the split happened, my uncle was the one my mother and grandmother stayed in contact with rather than her -- even though they were angry with my uncle, they still felt a blood obligation to keep in contact with him. My other aunt and uncle on that side wholesale ditched. I've only seen that couple, their children (my cousins), and my divorcée aunt once since before the divorce -- and that was at my grandfather's funeral (yet another loss). All I have left of over half of my once-inseparable extended family are the pictures -- the pictures I took of all these Sunday afternoon gatherings with that Nikon. Pictures of my aunt pulling faces, of my grandpa and uncles playing cards, of my grandma in the kitchen, of the cousins playing cars on the floor.

That's all that's left.

When I first joined Facebook in my mid-teens, on a lark, I looked up someone I had been in a dance class with as a child. She accepted my friend request and sent me a message. I replied, and she replied, and I replied again... and we developed a close friendship, sharing joys and sorrows and being there for each other on 'off days.' Our friendship mostly developed and continued through emails, but we did occasionally manage to connect face-to-face. She, too, was an avid photographer, so of course we always took a few pictures of those times (though not many).

Brittney died unexpectedly in February 2015. Those few pictures of those few times we adventured together in person are all I have left to remember her by. Her face, her sense of style, the spunk that shone through her eyes... my only way to see my dear friend again is through those pictures.

On the other side of my extended family, there is a cousin who never made it to age ten... she died suddenly in April 2015. And it wasn't until then that I realised how few pictures I had of her. Though I had my camera in my hand all the time at those family gatherings too, she was such a whirlwind that somehow I never captured her. I went through my entire photo library (probably some 20,000 photos at the time) about a year after her death and found about 23 pictures with her face in them anywhere -- and only about three of those really 'featured' her (and weren't in terrible lighting or motion-blurred). Those three pictures are all I have to remember this spirited child who left such a void when she breathed her last.

As time marches on and I say more goodbyes -- however temporary -- I want to get back into photography again, to capture my newer friends in their ordinary brilliance. Because tomorrow is never promised to anyone.

But how to start...?

10 June 2018

The Fading Beauty of a Dream-Chapter

We wrapped up another show's run yesterday. Even though I tentatively have another show on the horizon for July, I still feel the dip -- the sense of having nothing to do, nothing to work for. It becomes a big empty pit in my chest so quickly. It's like waking up from a dream -- I was surrounded by people, some friends even, for a month and a half and now in a matter of twenty-four hours, all of that is gone. The bows have been taken, the goodbyes have been said, and the weight of emptiness/loneliness/purposelessness has settled in.

In many ways, you can never go back. There will never be those exact people in the cast together again -- for some, this was their last show with us. Others will join for future shows. But these people, in these roles, in these shows will never happen again. It's well and truly over, and it will never be truly replicated.

I was reading C.S. Lewis' The Weight of Glory the other day, and in it he mentioned how we often can only see beautiful things when they're ending -- the sunset just as it fades to grey, the final cadence just as its echo dies away. I feel this now -- I was a lot snippier during this show's run than I think I ever have been during a performance run, and there were definite moments when I took it out on people who didn't deserve the amount of snark I gave them. Perhaps I'm becoming a jaded struggling artist with years of experience but nothing really to show for it except a reservoir of bitterness. But today, at the cast party, I realised with more clarity just what I've been missing out on -- all these human lives and personalities and idiosyncrasies that I could have been interacting with but didn't because I was scared they wouldn't want me so I thought it better to stay out of the way.

I've had realisations like this before, which brings me more frustration and despair right now because I also realise this is very likely just another one in a long line. After years of isolation and abuse/being manipulated and now the self-hatred that arose from that even though I'm no longer in that situation, I have virtually zero people/conversation skills. Not only that, I have an impossibly high standard of perfection for myself that means the second I feel awkward (as I do when talking to people), I beat myself up about it for not being better at it, not being more confident, not saying the right thing, not keeping my mouth shut when I said the wrong thing... it's easier to wait for people to come talk to me than jump on that merry-go-round of frustration and futility. At least when they come talk to me, they (sort of) have some idea what they're getting into, so I feel less bad about my stumbling. So now we have this situation where I want to get to know people and interact with them and learn their little things that make them special, but I feel paralysed from actually making the first move.

I'm rambling. When I don't know what to talk about/write or how to finish something, I usually start talking about my insecurities in a desperate attempt to help people understand why I am the way I am. I know I find myself better able to interact with a person once I know where their tender spots are so I can tread carefully when I'm getting near those spots. So I assume others are the same, and it continues to surprise me when they get angry about me about giving them this information about myself.

I'm still rambling.

All I wanted to say was that this ending today -- even though I didn't let myself appreciate the cast during the show's run and was grumpy for most of it -- felt like waking up from a dream. It was a chapter in the beginning of my dream life (being a performer), and today feels like the alarm going off and now I have to go to work and push a pencil and for what? a dead-end job with nowhere to go that means anything. I didn't appreciate the dream when I was in it, but I don't want to leave it. As much as I personally struggled with various things, I do truly love the performing arts world and the people in it, even when that doesn't come across (and I wish it did).

What do you see when they finally turn out the light?
What do you hear when the music is stopped for the night?
Is there an answer
Or just a dancer leaving an empty stage?

~ Leslie Phillips, Beyond Saturday Night, 1983.

30 May 2018

New Dance Video!

After nearly two full years of work (planning, practicing, shooting, editing), I have finished another tap video, much in the vein of Shades Of Green & Red this past Christmas.

While Green & Red was choreographed in a couple of days, filmed in two hours, and edited in a week, I have had this new one actively in progress since August 2016. Filming alone was five days.

This new project -- Rift -- has more personal meaning to it. The song (which I've discussed before on this blog) deals with emotional abuse, and I created this dance around the time my difficulties with my previous church were worsening. The institution that was supposed to love and care for me, my health, and well-being (emotionally as well as spiritually) was beginning to show their true colours and I did not like what I was seeing. I felt like I had been completely abandoned in my hour of darkness and I was angry. And all of that anger and frustration and loneliness went into this choreography.

From the outset I knew I wanted a stark, dimly-lit set. The fact that it ended up being shot in an old church felt poetic, as the church (as a general institution) makes up a decent chunk of who I'm addressing with this. Though the lighting in the venue was already terrible, I actually deliberately worsened it in post-processing to further create a cold, isolated, abandoned feel.

It's weird to be finished this project. It's consumed my thoughts and planning and practice time and downtime for so long that my life feels a bit empty now that I've released it to the world and don't have to think about it anymore, in any way. In total I probably put in at least a hundred hours on this project between choreographing, rehearsing, location scouting, sound recording, filming, and editing -- not counting all the hours of staring into space daydreaming about what I wanted this to look like and how to achieve that.

On to the next project, I guess... still trying to figure out what that is. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this one.

17 May 2018

When The Circumstances Are Right...

I told someone once that my depression always dips a bit when a performance run ends. Rehearsals are over, I see my friends less, I don't have stage-time... if I don't have a job (as is the case at the moment), I have literally no reason to get up in the morning.

About a year and a half later, I was in a serious depressive state and this person said to me, "You told me once that you always feel depressed after a performance ends. So just get over it."

And that actually made things worse.

See, she clearly knew that circumstances were right for me to be struggling, but instead of using that information to come alongside me and comfort me and be there for me and encourage me, she weaponised it -- she used it to trivialise the pain I was in.

This incident, in this depressive state, was an extremely large factor in my suicide attempt not long afterward. She knew I was struggling, but she didn't try to help. She knew that conditions were right for something to happen but she did nothing to even try to help cushion the blow.

Don't do this.

In the same way you encourage your loved ones to watch a good film or go for coffee if they've had a stressful day or take a nap if they were up late the night before or bring/make them food if they've not stopped to eat in a while, take note of factors that may trigger or worsen your loved one's depression and take steps to combat it/soften the blow, ESPECIALLY if they have deliberately told you what those factors are, and ESPECIALLY ESPECIALLY if the factor is something predictable (for example, the end of a performance run). We do what we can, but sometimes we're not strong enough, or sometimes we just don't know how.

In my case, a good way for someone to help combat my depression is to just spend time with me. We don't have to do anything expensive or crazy. We don't even have to talk (just please note that if you're on your phone it very clearly sends the message that you'd rather be talking to someone else right now and I'm not worth your time and attention -- which actually worsens my depression even more than if you weren't even there to begin with). Just sit with me or walk with me. If I want to talk, let me talk. But please do not say that you did not know. Don't pretend that knowing it's coming makes the pain any easier to handle. News flash: it doesn't. If anything it makes it worse BECAUSE you know it's coming and you spend two weeks dreading it before it even arrives.

14 May 2018

Snapshot - What's In My Head

I am exhausted.
I am discouraged.
Though I don't want to admit it, I'm sick too (recurring respiratory infection).
And yet I must not stop.
I keep pushing, practicing, working, trying, pleading with God, do it again, do it again, one more time, one more time.
Maybe one day, by some miracle, I'll be good enough to earn your attention.

But in a way I doubt it'll ever be enough for anyone. You always want more, better, faster, stronger, more flexible, everything except what I've already got.

Am I on a hamster wheel? Will the carousel ever stop? Will you ever be satisfied? If I were to collapse dead on the floor from the amount of practicing I'm doing, would that sacrifice satisfy you? Would that dedication finally be enough for you? Or would you still demand more, better, faster, stronger, more flexible, more practice, more work, 'why aren't you trying harder?'

Drain the blood from my veins -- apparently it's no good to me. Maybe that is sacrifice enough. Maybe then you'll be satisfied. Cut my beating heart out of my chest. Maybe then you'll finally have what you wanted out of me. Touch my cold, dead body and my rigid unfeeling hands. Maybe then I'll have tried hard enough.

Maybe when I've paid the ultimate price you'll finally want me.

(NOTE: 'You' in this piece is a broad, general reference to both Christians and the art world. I have tried so hard to do everything they asked, everything they wanted, and still they cast me out. Still they tell me I'm not good enough. Still they ignore me.
Part of this was also written out of frustration with myself and my own continued lack of improvement and traction in the arts. I feel very much like I'm spinning my wheels and I'm so tired now. I want to give up. I'm not actively suicidal as I write this, but I'm trending toward it. It's so hard to think you're worth something when your own still-young, well-nourished, well-trained body refuses to do what you ask of it despite endless, consistent, hard hours of practice and training and stretching. I'm doing everything right. What more do I still lack?
I see very, very few bright spots or rays of hope tonight. I'm reluctant now to even look for them. Hope is so fragile. Just when you think you've caught it, it melts away in your hands. I would rather live in darkness than waste my fleeting energy chasing a disappearing light.)

26 April 2018

Acting in Writing - The Difficulty of Being an Artist

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

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

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

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

03 April 2018

Artistic Update

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

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

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

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

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