all the difference

Sometimes grad school makes you feel inside out and upside down. Questioning yourself, your experiences, your motivations, your goals, your honesty with yourself. How much you want to do this thing, be on this particular road. But, I mean, do you really have any other options at this point – what else can you do? (Ok, ok the “you” is definitely “me.”)

I’m thinking about that Robert Frost poem. You know the one. I’m sure you read it in high school or have seen quotes emblazoned on glass-is-half-full mugs.

“The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost

Ok I don’t quite agree with the poem being “America’s most widely misread, literary sensation,” thus attributing meaning-making to Frost’s intent alone. Oh no, not the authorship debate again. But I really enjoy this animation of the poem.

The classic American poem is alternately interpreted as a championing of individualism OR an unsettling reflection on choice-making. That’s because “all the difference” is so… unpindownable. “All the difference” can be delightful or dreary depending upon your intonation, mood, blood sugar.

What’s the difference?

In arithmetic “difference” is the distance between two numbers on a number line. Distance (as opposed to displacement) is mathematically “ignorant of direction.” How appropriate here, as the narrator, (like any person making a choice) at the moment of decision is ignorant of the directions either road will have taken beyond the narrator’s immediate view.  Since these potential roads are abstract, they are quantities like x and y, we don’t know if either is of greater or lesser value, nor in which order to subtract them. Which one is the subtrahend? Which the minuend? We might set up the general equation for difference as |𝑥𝑦|=|𝑦𝑥|, the absolute value, or positive difference, or just distance between two (real) numbers.

 So back to questioning. Every choice you make and have made. Positive? Negative? Potentially negative but you’re making it positive by looking at what you deem the “absolute value” of what you’ve done? Neither?

That’s the point of a graduate program in the arts ( a life in the arts?) maybe, but how easily I feel lost-ish.

I’m encountering questions around whether I am enough of an artist -with a capital A- to be here. And annoyed with the “obnoxiously self-indulgent existential crisis” again. MFA. Master of Fine Arts. But who is ever a Master? (At least while they’re alive). And the few living people touted as “Masters” – are they happy?

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Happiness. 

In Professor Jennifer Schlueter’s Multidisciplinary Seminar I get to talk to MFA students in other departments. People who do other things. People who write novels and short stories. People who sculpt and paint. People who write poems. People who light stages. People who make hard to label time-based-art, animation, and interactive installations.

We’ve been tangentially approaching the loaded “why?” question, while discussing Andrew Simonet’s Making Your Life as An Artist. A zinger from the text:

Distinguish between artistic brilliance and life brilliance. OR: Never talk to a person about happiness who has less of it than you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the model artists, the masters, we discuss in dance history. The “greats,” the “written- abouts.” The capital R Royals, capital M Moderns, Capital P Postmoderns, the purposefully-lowercase-all-the-time postmoderns. Were they people? Were they happy? Were they horrible to work with? We don’t get to that part usually. (Though the scuttlebutt is invariably the latter).

I think about the professionals who I’ve been instantly & keenly aware of my distaste for. (You might know the type. The “big” name who you’ve met at least fifteen times and on the sixteenth they introduce themselves with their schtick and salesman handshake as if it’s your first meeting). And reflecting upon the very different people to whom I gravitate.

I know I’d rather have life-brilliance than art-brilliance.

detour? distraction? exactly the right place?

Right now I’m taking an advanced undergraduate anatomy course as a prerequisite for a graduate course. It “doesn’t count” for me and takes up five full credits. And I’m relishing it in several ways.

O-H-I-O. The cover image for every slide set of Anatomy 3300.

At the start of this term I was very worried (of course didn’t say so here – I was busy keeping up art-appearances) about my excitement differential between non-dance and dance courses, (particularly in regards to Anatomy). Worried that I might be regretting path choices from that point in the yellow wood. (The yellow wood being the state of being nineteen years old and choosing thespian-tinged wonderfully exciting fields of study at the University at Buffalo, and maybe every job “choice” since. And all the other yellow woods.)

Worried that I might consider re-routing. Worried that if I decide to do so that would mean I’m a sham or a failure.

But at the moment, other than the immense satisfaction of deepening real-life practical content knowledge, I’m finding the way of learning in this class a welcome shift. Read, look, touch, memorize – input input input, from read, watch, analyze, synthesize – output, output, output.

It’s refreshing, like I’m filling an empty well.

(I’m also observing all the disturbing ways teachers can sabotage curiosity in big assessment-based lecture classes. But that’s another post!)

Emotional aside – emotional centering

The first cadaver lab day, hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting. After all, I have seen and worked with prosections of cadaveric material before.  (What a strangely clinical way to talk about human remains).  The night before the first lab I had a discussion with a good friend and colleague from home, who was losing a parent, making them comfortable at home, and dealing with the emotional trauma of caring for the dying.

The fact of the human tissue in front of me, the full cadavers – with gender, age, and cause of death listed on the wall of the lab – in the context of that reverberating conversation, struck directly at the very liminal space, the fine line between “person” and “human tissue.”  I was so moved.  That evening I cried for a good while, sitting at my kitchen table. Not out of fear or sadness, but a fullness of emotion around the whole idea of life and how we live it. And considering the body, as a friend recently put it so eloquently, as “the great equalizer.”

So what I’m getting at…I think

I’m excited to keep digging at the powerful things. Right now making dances for the sake of it just doesn’t do it for me. Cue crisis? Maybe, maybe not.

I’m taking a step at a time, seeing how way leads on to way. Patiently filling my curiosity buckets. Living life creatively. Balloons in my living room, flashcards on the floor.

I’m going to trust that following the things that make life brilliant will make my creative experiences much more satisfying than trying to keep up appearances of being good at art-making.

And way will lead on to interesting way.

Though I sometimes I’m scared and wish I had a definite map. With Numbers. And Directions.

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fuschia and integrity

So that’s fuschia.

Approximately the shade of my face this afternoon while attempting a group fitness 30/30 cycling/strength&cardio class at the campus gym.

artist-scholar-athlete (???)

In this humbled state, (and reflecting upon several other moments in the first week and a half of the semester) I’ve been thinking about self-awareness, patience, and that interesting way we can sometimes try to step outside and evaluate (without too much judgement) how we’re actually doing and (with honesty) try to do things better.

I’ve been thinking about the sweet spot of self awareness between humility and confidence- an ideal condition for meaningful learning and growth to take place. (and interpersonal interactions, grocery shopping, living.)

We’re reading an excerpt of Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach in a Pedagogy seminar with Professor Susan Van Pelt- Petry, in which Palmer describes that same sweet spot of calm self-knowledge as  integrity.

Paraphrased for pronouns:

Identity is : “an evolving nexus where all the forces that constitute (one’s) life converge in the mystery of self… a moving intersection of inner and outer forces that make (a person) who (they are)”

Integrity is :”whatever wholeness (one is) able to find within that nexus as its vectors form and re-form the pattern of (one’s) life”

I’m drawn to the acknowledgement of identity as dynamic, especially considering social pressures to self-label, or be easily labeled as _____. (Insert political party, religious affiliation, occupation, race, gender, or other “box” here).  As well as the grounding note:  “the self is not infinitely elastic- it has potentials and it has limits.”

I’m drawn to the notion of integrity as the way we navigate the shifting self (as far as it can shift) in a shifting world. Sometimes, hopefully, with aplomb.

On that note, I plan to take another humbling fitness class next week – anyone wanna join?

Awesome beginnings

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First semester completed – it’s been a very dense period of focused activity, study, creating, growing, exploring, (& occasional kvetching).

To reflect on it right away is a bit challenging.  I feel a bit like I would after a particularly busy week/month/year of my just previous version of regular life in NYC (many subway trips, many discrete work units in different places doing tangentially related things).  Maybe this is how my computer feels after I download those full book pdfs for research with twelve other tabs open.

hmm.

New Vantage Points

I’m excited and intimidated to engage with writing critically and academically again, and to push myself to grow past previous experience and explore new contexts. Dr. Hannah Kosstrin’s Postmodernism class really pushed me to engage with reading and writing critically about the field I’m in the middle of.  The vantage point of contextualizing yourself, your performing and choroeographic experiences, creative impulses, networks, has been a rich place to sit and percolate.

It’s been a breath of fresh air to work with students, both grads and undergrads in the department, to witness their creative work, and to collaborate. I savor the distinct flavor of  “unjaded-ness” in the undergrads’ rigorous, exciting choreography. (I thought Wow! I can harness some of that again too…maybe)

(I simultaneously love and am frustrated by the never ending parade of insular, “made-up” theory words like Aboutness, de-doxify, visibilize/invisibilize, and anything with ness or ize… next project : visibilizing awesomeness in subaltern counterpublics and de-doxifying populist demagoguery –  Look, the times are political and the political is personal and personal is political…)

Grounding

Favorite grounding, landing places have been a graduate seminar taught by professor Norah Zuniga Shaw for the entire entering cohort (MFA and PhD), and Grad Choreography Workshop for MFAs facilitated by Dave Covey.

With Norah we landed. We shared transition experiences and tips while also checking in about practical skills- PowerPoint, FinalCut, Chicago Style, and had guest visits from Dept. Faculty- getting a sense for their specialties, and really interesting visitors from outside academia – glimpses of various career carvings in the broader field of dance. Most importantly the cohort got to know eachother. I’m grateful for the particularly spunky, smart, resourceful, empathetic, and strong group of artist-scholars I get to call peers.

Here are the MFAs in Dave Covey’s Choreography, or Creative Brain Space Making- getting to know eachother while adjusting to new lives and staying excited about it all – Workshop.

We made space. And painted space too.

And I moved everyday!

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Glorious Midwestern Studio Space.

and all the outside of class learning

I went outside!

I  went dancing for fun, witnessed OSU football Saturdays (who knew it was a fashion show) & even had a Freshman vomit on the sidewalk next to me when I was about to eat lunch. (Welcome to OSU!) Perhaps they too enjoy the unbelievable happy hours of Columbus: “Excuse me, I don’t think you charged me, I ordered a beer? ” – “No it’s really that cheap.”

 

Off to decompress and percolate on the theory, creative practice, physical practice, and general density of experiences and interconnections of the semester – see you next year.

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Merry Holiday Festivities to all .

Hope you find as much joy in your decorations as I do in my Charlie Brown tree.

Dada Birthday Party

A wonderful reflection from a guest to our class final event:  “Wow. Everything, every transition, was … crazy.” We were ecstatic.

SO… when guest pulls out an action card that says Da Da Birthday Party we magically manifest chairs around a table, party hats and balloons for all, and  place a miniature birthday cake and tiny wooden mallet on the table. and wait.

We were having fun, and obliquely referencing  Max Ernst’s offering of an axe next to artwork, at  the Second Da Da Exhibition in 1920, – you know- to see what people will do. Interactive Art.

In preparation for our final group event, the class and Professor Norah Zuniga-Shaw erupted in bouts of uproarious laughter as we plucked favorite concepts and ideas from past studies by both groups, from technical magic, conceptual puzzles, low tech interpersonal gems, and thematic content.

I was too wrapped up in playing to take photos, but we wheeled our guests – literally- into a world, with awkwardly excited flight-attendantesque tour guides (a recurring theme from Monday’s lab crew), casual grooving,  circular screens with projected moving textures,  chance-ordered  interactive scenes entitled “Hot Air Balloon,” “Blockhead,” “Motion Capture,” and “Dada Birthday Party,”  some savasana, an awesome catch the movement improv, memory recall sharing, and a rousing round of “you’re awesome”(instructions below).

Some favorite moments from the semester:

 

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Storytelling on the box.

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Faces on boxes floating places.

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Demetra and Kyla’s wonderful Intermedia rendition of twister.

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Wednesday group’s Surprise Party as Interactive Performance

(What a way to consider how we “perform” in social situations all the time).

Some Favorite Concepts:

1) Relishing in learning happening by doing. And by doing without knowing what you’re doing as you’re doing it.  And reflecting and letting it wash over you. And doing more things.

2)  Questioning what performance is. Maybe a capital “E” Event,  maybe just walking down the street and noticing, maybe chance meetings, parties, shared experience.

3) Playing with tech tools, images, props, (something outside of the body) as a starting place to explore what kinds of embodied magic can happen. 

(This reminds me of the box of craft junk treasures my mother would take out for us to make “stuff” with.  Hot glue, feathers, glitter, paint, pipe cleaners, wooden shapes, and no end goal in mind. Those studies, just like our class studies, were little thought/doing  exercises in which the thinking and doing the blur in the moment of play.)

4) Genuine value of process.  The class ethos allowed studies to be studies – it allowed for risk taking.  The prospect of a flop (despite or because we were working in such a liminal space that who knows what a flop or success would even be?) was not prohibitive the way it can be in a traditional comp class, or even professional works-in-progress showing, in which lip service is paid (well-meaningly)  to risk taking and exploration but in which works are only nominally considered studies/experiments. They are graded/evaluated/critiqued often as products.

Maybe it’s something about “The Art of Making Dances” rather than “one of many perspectives on the Art(s) of Making Dances”

5) Thinking Bigger Picture:

What are the systems we make, live in, work in, are subjected to?

How do/can we function within those systems with agency?

What is technology- how has technology anchored our personal experience of the world? How do technological advances coincide with world events on broad scales: political movements, artistic movements, war?

How to we responsibly wield access to and advances in technology for benefiting humanity rather than destroying it?

Instructions for “You’re Awesome:”

Works best in a group standing in a circle, with some energy shifting side to side, or jogging in place, but can be seated, etc.

Person A  says “one”, holding up one finger.

Other players repeat: “ONE!!!!!!” Brandishing one digit.

Person A says something (they learned, they’re thinking about, excited about)

Other Players respond : “YOU’RE AWESOME!!!!”

Person A : “Two”

Other players repeat: “TWO!!!!!!!”

Person A says something else (they learned, they’re thinking about, excited about)

Other players respond: “YOU’RE AWESOME!!!!”

Person A: Three” . . .

Each player says three things, echoed by awesome affirmations, until the group has finished.The more raucous each “awesome” is the more hilarious.

Try it at your next business meeting, awkward team building day, rehearsal, birthday party…  it’s Awesome.

 

 

 

Dance, research, and news tangents. Today’s topic: borders.

Interconnections, intersections, all around, all the time.

I am occasionally struck by bouts of newsreading-rabbit-holes that make me think the world is messed up/bonkers/astonishing/ crazy/ violent/brutal.  And I aggressively undermine myself : and what are YOU doing? Getting an MFA in dance?!  Much good you’re doing for the world right now.

Those little voices inside us are pernicious! and yet. Yes.  Yes I am.

For many reasons.  But one reason is about art as a site of connection.  Connections between cultures, concepts, media. Between creator(s) and audience(s).  Dance as one of many lenses of art, lenses of looking, at the world. Education as the only way to ensure survival. Education that includes arts includes looking, seeing, thinking, considering, connecting, feeling, and if we play our cards right – empathy.  Looking in, and looking out with confidence.  Confident empathy- we DO want, rather need, that for humanity to survive. Right world?  (Right Washington DC? Right Ohio?…)

Two works I’m currently researching and analyzing for a paper for Dr. Hannah Kosstrin’s postmodernism class connected  to my news rabbit-hole this week.  And to many other things. But the connecting factor is a curiosity around borders, around citizenship, around existence and geography and mobility. And fear!

Works: (I highly recommend watching them both)

Mary Nunan’s Territorial Claims (1992/1997) and John Scott’s Fall and Recover (2004), have significant political ties to – and inherently comment upon- the social and political situations the artists and choreographers involved lived in – and echoes of those situations are returning in this week’s headlines about Brexit, about citizenship, about immigration, etc.

Thoughts and connections between the works to eachother and to this week’s headlines:

Territorial Claims was made in Ireland in 1992, made into a film in 1997, and relates to- as most dance does, a lot of things but a main topic is- the violence of the Troubles, the border conflict between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland that had been ongoing for decades until the Good Friday Agreement formally brokered some semblance of calm in 1998. Interestingly in an interview Nunan states that ethnic conflict in Bosnia made her more cognizant of the brutality of sectarian violence in her own country and galvanized to comment upon it.  Since the violence had been a constant presence, it became almost “normal.” A reminder of how easily we can become desensitized to injustice.

(Separation of families, poverty, segregated school systems – anyone?)

Scott’s piece created in 2004 deals with issues of identity. Also created by an Irish choreographer, the work – performed and created by predominantly refugees from African and Eastern European countries (many of whom are now Irish citizens) – premiered in the year of Ireland’s Citizenship Referendum and 27th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment  removed jus soli or “right of the soil” birthright citizenship, restricting citizenship to children of citizens, or individuals eligible for citizenship, jus sanguinis or “right of blood,”  and relegated further decision making power about citizenship eligibility to the legislature.  The statement of non- ethnically Irish bodies, on Irish stages and world stages representing Ireland, then, is a pretty powerful one.

…trails of breadcrumbs…

Interestingly the establishment of birthright citizenship in Ireland was recent, only written down in 1998 as part of border negotiations  – as a result anyone born on the island of Ireland (North or South) was  officially considered an Irish national.  A variety of complicated factors- economic, social, political, led to an over 70% support rate for adjusting that clause in 2004. And yet a number of high profile deportation cases have stirred up  increasing support for immigrants rights and a growing distaste for the ramifications of the 27th Amendment.

this past weekend:

However any re-adjustment to the constitution  is hampered by worries around Brexit, and how changes in the relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe will impact the border permeability between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Could a citizen then, born in Northern Ireland, to parent of a non Irish Nationality then enter Ireland and then the EU? Or what if someone born in Ireland, of non Irish descent, wanted to get into the UK!

Oh dear. Fear Fear Fear.

Fear of people crossing borders.

Other articles of interest:

We know a lot about about this fear it seems in the US:

-Sunday’s border closing at Tijuana Port of Entry, WaPo

-really thorough and interesting article about the US-Mexico border and immigration, WaPo

So do Ukraine and Russia and their contested waters

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/ukraine-martial-law-effect-181128082222282.html

The Mediterranean & Europe

and on and on.

I make no pretense to have any solution to massive groups of displaced people, managing flow of immigrants to anywhere from anywhere. This isn’t a political blog. (Though, is art ever apolitical really?) But I’m interested in making sure we have thoughtful conversations about the state of fear that grips our “states.”

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

I’m pretty sure we’ve heard those words spoken by a green alien muppet.

What if we say them aloud, and consider their weight?

?

Ay.

And all this from thinking about dances.

Beginnerly Free-Play and Expectation Blocks

I am perfectly content, eager even, to fumble through things I don’t know anything about – like PhotoShop, or Final Cut,  or anything in the InterMedia Lab. I feel inept in these arenas.  I have no preconceived idea that my output must be stellar, or even decent. I’m embracing and learning through play.

Here’s an exercise in “Can you turn on a camera, upload footage, and do something with it?” I was delighted to complete even step one and see the little red  blinking dot.

(Thank you Andi – you’re awesome.)

On the contrary, I’m feeling a strong apprehension around academic writing -though I was longing to jump in again- that’s part of why I’m here in the first place.  I only have one important long form paper this semester – all other major assignments are shorter or in other media. And it’s not even that long a paper given writing I’ve done in the past. Laura you  have a degree in English. You used to do this well.

Bingo. Comparison to a previous self whose composition muscles were in-shape from constant use.

Ahhh. I’ve been grading essays for  years now – not writing them! Though I have continuously worked with words.  Choosing verbal cues for exercises for different demographics, writing”un-boring” practice sentences to teach parts of speech, writing hopefully clear exam questions…  but I’m afraid of the blank screen, and worse I’m afraid of a screen full of mediocre content.

I imagine this is a typical returning-student symptom. Though that doesn’t really make me feel better in the moment.

Like stepping into ballet class for the first time in a while – I undercut efforts by comparing the potential product to an ideal image or an illusion of previous abilities.  And yet I know the falling off balance is how to get your balance muscles back.  The getting messy gets you back “on your leg.” I know this rationally.  But the ego wrapped up in expectation isn’t rational.

The expectation feedback loop is such a thwart to the creative experience of play that facilitates growth.

Let’s be brave and play.

Oh but the internet- you fountain of e-books and JSTOR documents – you are also brimming with procrastination fodder –  who was Kate McKinnon this week?…

 

 

 

 

What you value

Hey you! Did you VOTE? It’s election Day.  Polls are open. Get there.  Vote what you value.

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(My new state of residence state seems to be under a somewhat endearing delusion that it actually resembles a heart – I think it’s closer to the anatomical heart than the Valentine’s one – but we get it…)

On the note of reflecting upon what matters to you…

A short study in Final Cut, a “how to edit” exercise using found dance footage, and seeing Silas Reiner’s and Rashaun Mitchell’s Tesseract in the same day, brought up some interesting aesthetic value questions for me.

Here’s my study, all original choreography is by Thomas Hauert Zoo Company, musical choice and video edits are mine – (totally unauthorized by them.)

I looked at several short clips of movement, and listened to the suggested tracks, but was hearing something else. Then, in that lovely uninhibited beginner fashion, just started juxtaposing things that seemed right. When a class full of students, sharing the same serious source material broke into sly smiles and laughter I loved it.  THAT! An actual connection between the audience and the work. That’s why we (I?) do this art-making thing. Prying open opportunities for connection.

On that same day, Tesseract was on at the Wexner. A Charles Atlas 3-D dance film followed by a live-feed projection enhanced dance performance choreographed by Reiner and Mitchell. I could appreciate the tension between mediated and physical bodies both in overarching structure of the evening, and within each half. Architecture as an overarching theme.  Strong physicality. Intricate patterns. Clear design choices. Beautiful lines. Interesting geometries. Strong technical dancing.  Though I wouldn’t say I enjoyed myself in the audience.

You know when you leave a show and you’re asked “Did you like it?” and your go-to response is “I don’t think it matters”?

I’d like to leave the theatre invigorated occasionally. Sometimes I like to really LIKE dance. I want to say: “ I felt something. I loved it let me buy a ticket to come back tomorrow.” (Not that most dance performances last that long).  And yet I don’t want to reduce dance/ art/theatrical experiences to escapist entertainment only.  That can be frustrating and alienating in a different way.  I’ve done that kind of work too – also not satisfying.

What is that elusive line- the right mix of virtuosities of physicality, intellect, and emotion that make a performance experience satisfying – and not just rigorous intellectual exercise -(or perhaps a combination encompassing both)?

 

They said it man…