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 souls 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.

17 March 2018

A Moment in Tension

Tonight is one of those nights when I wonder where that fine line is between dedication and self-care.

I had fully intended to practice dance tonight, as I always do, but suddenly a wall of exhaustion hit me and I ended up sleeping for an hour and a half -- right through my practice time. I made the decision to give myself the night off dance if I was so tired, but now I hate myself... how can you call yourself a dancer if you trade practice for a nap? You call this dedication? There are dancers all over the world who danced more this afternoon than you have all week. How do you expect to improve if you don't practice every day? You'll just lose all the abilities and strength and stamina you had and you'll be right back where you started. Every hour in that studio is an hour closer to improvement. You're already so far behind, and now you just put yourself farther. You wasted this whole evening. You could have done something to further your dream, but instead you just took a nap.

I tried to silence the voice by typing up some choreography notes -- which is still dance-related, dream-related -- but it will not be satisfied. That's not good enough. You didn't put anything in your muscle memory. You didn't stretch anything. You didn't strengthen anything. You didn't raise your heart rate. Your lungs didn't get worked. You sat on your butt all evening looking at a screen. You had one free day -- you could have done so much with it, and you wasted it. Why were you even tired? You didn't do anything to earn it. You don't deserve to be tired. You didn't do anything.

It's 1.30 in the morning and I'm still half-considering going and doing a half-hour practice, just to say that I did it. Just to know that my muscles and my memory won't atrophy.

16 March 2018

Music Day - Only Time

I am reinstating Music Day just so I can fangirl over this song. That is how good this song is. You know when you watch a sunset and everything seems so 'right'? That's what this song is like.

See, I bought a bunch of Crumbächer tapes the other day (full saga forthcoming). Stephen Crumbacher was already one of my favourite lyricists, just behind the likes of Terry Scott Taylor, Loyd Boldman, and the duo of David Meece and Dwight Liles. Identical Twins alone is a testament to just how much mastery Stephen Crumbacher has over the written word. Even in today's song -- notice how clearly you can picture each description of the sky. Now realise that he is painting this entire mental picture with three lines of text (each) and a bit of keyboard. He takes you almost literally across the galaxy, across time and space -- in essentially twelve lines of poetry.

I grew up in the Alberta countryside. Our yard faced west and every single night, from the comfort of our living room, we could watch God paint the western sky. I have seen many, many brilliant sunsets over the years, and that's one of the biggest things I miss now, living on a south-facing yard. But to this day sunsets capture me. All feels right in the world if I can watch a sunset for a while. In this song Crumbächer follows the changing, timeless skies with a wonder and peace that is rarely, rarely seen in the arts -- ever.

In the later Crumbächer albums, Stephen really began to show off the depth and emotional range of his piano/keyboard skills (though keyboards had always been a core part of the band's sound), and they are on full display here (the interlude, people!). Maybe Thunder Beach didn't have the harmonic virtuosity (vocals-wise) that Escape and Incandescent had, but the piano skills -- even just on this song -- make up for it.

Also, the space in the drum track opens this thing right up into something big and glorious and sweeping (again... that interlude!). Dawn's vocals are a really lovely touch. All in all, this is probably one of the loveliest songs I have ever heard -- and this is coming from a person who owns almost everything Terry Scott Taylor has ever written.

Title: Only Time
Artist: Crumbächer
Album: Thunder Beach
Year: 1987
Label: Frontline Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Midnight - the stars are shining
Frequencies that tease the ear
Parade across the atmosphere...

14 March 2018

Notation and Life...

I haven't notated any dance in a while. I haven't worked in any big pieces in a very long time.

This used to eat every spare second of my day. I would put off chores to notate. At work I would spend every second of downtime solidifying sequences in my head so I could notate them as soon as I got home. There was something thrilling about mixing little symbols together to create a record of a dance. It was beautiful, in a way.

But now, as I move into my mid-twenties and real life -- rent, food, counselling, training -- demands more money, I have to start either going somewhere with this or drop it and pursue something that does. And it's VERY apparent my original idea of putting together a dance company is not going to happen as soon as I hoped. I had hoped by now I would have twenty classically trained ballerinas at my disposal so I could realise works like Going Home, A Song In The Night, Rainbows, or even Sanctuary.

Unfortunately, I have only have one dancer -- me. And she's not even flexible. Strong, sure, but 'flexible' is on some other planet. Also, I choreograph WAY more complex turns than she is actually capable of.

So I've been doing tap solos because that's at least attainable in the here and now. I can make those into film projects and gather a bit of a following without the ability to developpé my leg up to my ear. (Well, I can as long as I can find a cameraperson...)

I'm trying to finish Elle G because it's been in my head for YEARS and it looks so beautiful in there, but I can't because I need to focus my time and energy on projects that have even a tiny hope of being seen. Elle G is for twenty-one (good) pointe dancers. That may not ever happen in my lifetime. So why bother creating this dance?

I don't know. I really don't know.

These are the things that discourage me.

08 March 2018


'God, why the hell am I doing this? Why am I trying so hard and failing every. single. time? Did You or did You not give me an aptitude, a gift? And if not, say it to my face. But if so, give me some indication, some encouragement. Because I am --ing DONE trying and failing. I am DONE seeing absolutely zero improvement. And I am DONE screaming for You, somebody, anybody to hear me and hearing only crickets. I am tired of being the outcast among Your so-called 'loving and welcoming' people. I am tired of being ignored and being on the --ing outside. And I am tired of having my frustration minimised and 'fixed' by everyone who is supposed to care about me. Why am I here? And why should I stay?'
-- Excerpt from my journal, one year ago today.

I wrote that following a dance practice during which my skills seemed to dissolve before my eyes -- the same as my dance practices had been going for weeks. I had already had a difficult voice practice earlier that day, I had been doubting my calling and abilities for months, and after years of dancing alone on the razor's edge around it, I finally hit the breaking point. In a fury, I sat down and wrote those words... and those words were very nearly my suicide note, the final record of my thoughts before my last breath. My church had given up on me, my friends had abandoned me, my family was too wrapped up in their own drama, and I was tired of fighting for nothing.  I had used all my energy, poured out so much of myself, and nothing had come of it.

'Today is grace. ...There was a hug. There was completely unexpected and lavish encouragement. There was Faith, and Mel, and me, being blown away.'
-- Excerpt from my journal, today.

That memory of last year weighed heavily on me this morning as I ate breakfast. It seemed heavier as I walked to school and warmed up my voice. In chapel today, they had us gather in groups of three and pray together, and I confessed that today was hard -- how I don't want to leave the darkness that I remember from last year because that's all I know and I don't trust God to take my hand and lead me to anything good beyond it. I confessed that I didn't even want to pray that.

After that I had a voice lesson. It went quite well -- my teacher grew more excited as the lesson went on. "This is what I've been hearing from you in my head for a year, but I've never heard it in real life," she said. And I had to admit that it did feel nice. Normally when I sing it feels awful. It certainly did a year ago... in my practice journal that day, I wrote, 'Why do I keep doing this when I'm so mediocre at it?' And that question haunted me for the rest of that day, through my dance practice that night, and exploded into that first journal entry.

As I walked to school this morning, a song that I had listened to over breakfast seemed to haunt me instead...
Through the tired eyes of faith
You'll see your resurrection day
Resurrection day will come
As surely as the rising sun
Death will fight a holy war
It will live no more
Love will even the score
Resurrection day...
-- With The Tired Eyes Of Faith, Swirling Eddies, 1995.

The phrase thrummed through my head as I approached the school, and all that it would hold today. Resurrection day will come / As surely as the rising sun... Resurrection day will come...

The skills I thought I had lost or would never attain are not as far gone as I feared they would be. My dream has not yet died, as I feared it would if I lived. There is still hope that maybe I won't be mediocre forever, that maybe my life will mean something to someone.

The best thing I can do
Is to clearly say
I'm thankful for today...
-- Today, Imperials, 1985.

27 February 2018

The Sovereignty of God

May I ask a question of the evangelical church of North America?

Why, when my cousin died, did you continually insist, 'Well, you know, God is sovereign. There must be a reason. Even if you can't see it, there must be a reason. Just trust Him'...


...when I mention that, after YEARS of prayer and soul-searching, I suspect God might be calling me to be an artist, you counter with 'But there's no money in it! You'll die alone, impoverished, and probably mad. You have to pick a career that will pay. It's the wise thing to do. It's your God-given responsibility. You can't expect a free ride from anybody. You have to be smart'?

Look. If God is sovereign, God is sovereign. He is not sovereign only when it gets you out of a raw situation (i.e. comforting someone who's grieving). He does not lose His sovereignty when you want to dole out advice to some younger person with different talents than you. If God was sovereign when He decided to let my cousin die despite our prayers, He was also sovereign when He made me and planned out my life.

You, church, people of God, cannot flip-flop between whether or not God is sovereign. Can you help guide my path (as the Spirit of God leads)? Yes. Absolutely. I have no problem with that. (In fact, if the Spirit is leading, please do.) I do, however, have a problem with you cloaking your nasty opinion of my gifts in the phrase, 'well, God told me...' If God did not tell you that, very, very, VERY clearly, then you are taking the name of God in vain -- using Him as a vehicle for your own opinion, using His glorious name as a mere trump card.

And then you wonder why nobody thinks much of God... maybe if you had respected Him enough to attribute to Him the consistency of character that you insist He has, we'd have a more formidable picture of this great and glorious God.

16 February 2018

On Encouragement

'Encouragement' is a concept I've pondered a lot since I began to take my calling as a performing artist seriously.

We as artists say we want to encourage people. We as Christians say one of our goals is to encourage each other.

So how does an artist encourage someone? Especially if you're a dance artist -- one who performs without words? Anyone can write a song with the lyric 'don't give up,' but how do you communicate that clearly in dance? Do you bother trying to say something so abstract so clearly? What about all the art that deals with the hardships of life -- the stuff that actually resonates because it touches on things so deep yet so common? Can only sugary sweet, 'safe and fun' art encourage?

Yet in my own artistic intake I continually find myself going back not to the happy, smile-a-minute songs, but to the ones that acknowledge -- no, press into -- deep pain. My favourite Terry Scott Taylor album of all time was written out of the loss of his grandfather and his oldest child within months of each other. It was in these expressions of melancholy and frustration and deep pain that I found solace. It was these songs, these albums, that gave the me courage to keep going. It was that knowledge -- that at least one other person on the planet, at at least one point in their life, had felt this despondency -- that kept my own despondency from swallowing me.

I came up against this concept again last year when, in the most intense and prolonged mental/emotional/spiritual struggle of my life (thus far), my church hung me out to dry. They told me I was too negative. Many stopped speaking to me, and those who didn't made no secret of their frustration with my despondency and repeatedly told me, 'you need to be happier,' 'you should be over this already,' 'you're not trying hard enough.' One person in leadership actually told me (in writing), 'Kate, it is your responsibility to encourage people by being happier.'

I was dying -- literally dying. And all they told me was 'it's your fault we don't give a crap about you.' They wanted me to earn what they should have been giving freely.

The other day, out of nowhere, the thought struck me: does 'encouragement' exclusively mean 'making someone happy'?

If so, then why do I get more encouragement out of one song born out of deep pain than out of an entire album that is so cheerful it causes a sugar coma? Why does one make me take a deep breath, wipe the tears from my eyes, and say, 'thank you,' while the other makes me writhe in near-physical pain from the confounded cheerfulness of it all?

Why am I encouraged by the things that acknowledge the brokenness and sadness?

Maybe because 'encouragement' is actually not so much about joy as it is about coming alongside someone -- walking with them, whether the journey is easy or not. Think of Sam coming alongside Frodo. It was dark, it was difficult, it was by no means happy. But Sam was an encouragement to Frodo because he was right there, literally beside him, sharing the experience of the darkness, even though he could easily have checked out and gone home. Maybe encouragement is about companionship and empathy, not fake smiles and fluffy words. Maybe encouragement is a lifestyle -- a commitment -- not something that gets switched on and off. (And I am almost certain that it's not dependent on whether you think the other person 'deserves' it or not.)

I've always said, since the very beginning of my career, that I wanted to do for others what my favourite artists have done for me. So that's my goal: one day, I want to be able to give the next wounded soul the same companionship and comfort -- the same encouragement -- that my favourite artists have given me.

31 January 2018

Mental Health and the Performing Arts

It's difficult as a performing artist to know what to say. How much can I talk about this? I feel relatively little stigma from my general friends and acquaintances (although I think a lot of that is because at least a few of the people I hang out with struggle with similar things), but in the professional performing arts world, how much can be said? Any health struggle, mental or physical, can preclude you from getting roles -- getting work. No director wants to hire someone who may be unreliable -- even if it's something out of the actor's control, like their health. How do you reconcile 'the show must go on' with 'I have a chronic condition'? In the performing arts world, you are supposed to be able to do absolutely anything at absolutely any time. 'I'm tired/I'm not feeling well' is not a valid excuse -- ever. We've all heard stories of dancers who have performed on severe sprains or actors who have done shows hours after huge personal tragedies.

I get that -- I do. Our literal job as performers is to become someone else, to create another world. The audience comes so they can forget about their own problems, not be saddled with mine. So then how do you know when to just escape into your character or into your practice routine and how do you know when to say, 'I can't do this today or I will relapse'? Maybe this isn't as much of an issue for some as it is for me... for me, my life is literally staked on being able to do this performing arts thing. My counsellor and I were talking about this at my last appointment. He asked me, "Pretend for a moment that you decided to the do the easy thing and get a 9-to-5 job. What does it look like? What would happen?"

I said, "I have two reactions to that... On one hand, I can't even picture not being in the arts. It just sort of feels inevitable. It always has, for as long as I can remember. But on the other hand, if I had to live that life, to do the same thing over and over, meetings and phone calls and reports... I would actually kill myself. It would be SO boring and pointless." And I actually found myself tearing up as I spoke. I couldn't really picture myself living that life -- but for the fleeting seconds that I did grasp a vague image of it, my heart plunged into a despair that terrified me and I got the words out and banished the image before I could descend any further. It felt like I had been standing on the very edge of a black hole and tripped. I've attempted suicide twice in my life and I have still never felt anything as black and breathless as that vague fleeting image of myself not in the arts.

I've said things to that effect on this blog for years and years -- how I could never do a 9-to-5. But now it's really beginning to sink in that my life literally depends on whether or not I can stay in the performing arts. Because I know that if I can't, I will literally die. And that puts a lot of stress on me when I try to practice (never mind perform) because I feel this immense pressure to improve even more, to become the best the fastest, just so I don't fade out and become disposable -- so I don't get replaced by the next starlet who doesn't have depression (and also can do a developpé up to her ear and sing without sounding like a strangulation victim).

On one hand, you are asked to probe the depths of your pain and bare it on the stage, and on the other hand you are asked to shove it aside and pretend it doesn't exist. Is it any wonder so many artists break?

25 January 2018

Update - National Choreography Month

21 January 2018, 2.26pm.

So National Choreography Month 2018 has not quite gone as planned.

I was sick for the entire first week. As in, I literally do not remember the entire first week of 2018. I was so wiped out my mother had to hold up my head so I could eat. I didn't have the strength to do it myself. Then, right after that, I moved back to Saskatchewan for more school. I'm taking a full course load for the first time in over a calendar year and I had to remember what it's like to actually have to go to multiple classes in the same day and then also do homework for said classes. Plus I'm still trying to work as much as I can (so I can even afford school in the first place).

While I've managed to shoehorn in a dance/choreography session almost every day, I'm not getting as much film-worthy stuff as I had hoped. I had planned on posting film excerpts on social media every week or so. I haven't even filmed anything, much less posted anything. (I almost filmed what I worked on tonight, but I had a bit of a short fuse and I knew trying to film would just aggravate me.) My shortlist that I was SO excited about? I don't think I've finished even one piece on it. I've started/am working on a bunch of them, but I feel like I'm going nowhere on it because I haven't been able to actually finish any of them.

I had also hoped to enter the Nachmo Film Dance branch of the contest, but the thing is it has to be choreographed during the event (and so far I haven't choreographed anything), and it's due on 18 February.

08 January 2018

Remember... Remember... (2017)

This post is mostly for myself, so feel free to skip... I just thought I'd take a few minutes and note the changes that happened in 2017, the good things, the things that only a few short years ago I only thought about wistfully and the things that I never could have foreseen.

Overall, 2017 -- mostly just the past few months -- was a year of significant upheaval for me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I'm still in the middle of it and I'm still processing a lot of it (it'll likely take years), but so far these are my observations.

- January: First posted an excerpt of one of my dance practices on social media. (This was actually supposed to be a one-off thing, but it set in motion almost literally every ounce of dance growth that would happen over the rest of the year.)

- January: Began a consistent dance practice schedule that would continue until the college Christmas break.

- March: My first comedic role (Person in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone).

- March: Choreographed for a stage production for the first time (The Drowsy Chaperone).

- April: Finally admitted to another person just how much I was struggling mentally/emotionally.

- April: Began counselling. (This in turn set off the long, long process of beginning to deal with my friend's death, my cousin's death, my extended family's issues, the emotional abuse throughout my childhood and teen years, the neglect and mistreatment from my former church, and the perfectionism -- both forced and self-imposed -- that almost literally killed me.)

- April: Performed literally the hardest, most complex tap dance I could ever have dreamed of in my worst nightmares... and performed it really quite well.

- April: Began my internship (as director's assistant).

- May: Told a few close friends about my depression.

- May (ish): Found my head voice. This opened up a whole other world for my voice.

- June: Performed a high G for the first time.

- June: After years of crap, finally left the church I'd attended for ten years and began attending a different one on the recommendation of a school acquaintance. So far I enjoy the new church. (At the very least it got me out of the old one.)

- July: Finished my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel draft.

- August: A few college friends got together and put together a book of encouragement for me.

- August: Moved into a legitimate house -- not dorm -- on my own (well, with roommates) for the first time.

- September: Submitted a statement to my former church about my reasons for leaving their church, including detailed stories of the way the leadership at this church mistreated me.

- September: Landed a job for during the school year.

- September (ish): Began making it a point to dress up a bit more. (Up till this time in my life I was dressing almost exclusively in jeans and t-shirts.)

- October: Learned/performed my first opera solo (Stizzoso, mio stizzoso from La Serva Padrona).

- November: Did a 30-Day Choreography Challenge, involving choreographing a minimum of 32 counts every day and posting the day's output on social media every day.

- November: For the first time in my life it occurred to me that I might actually be able to separate the depressed voice and my voice in my head... that they might actually be separate.

- December: Filmed, edited, and released my first dance video.

I won't say too much more because today was a rough day and if I throw a pity party here after this list that I made to look back on good things it would pretty much negate the purpose of making the list in the first place. But there it is. Things did happen... they're just not going as quickly and improvement is not as dramatic as I had been hoping.