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.