Reflection on Words

Looking out at the quiet south oval this morning as I take some time to reflect.

I just completed a final exam for Musculoskeletal Anatomy, hands down one of the best courses I’ve ever taken. Anywhere.

And I can’t help but hear myself:

 Dang – you got #43 wrong! Why didn’t you switch to C? Stupid!

You missed an assignment because you’re a disorganized flake. You were weak and got affected and spaced. People will think you’re a flaky artist. All your diligent work will be for nothing.

My auto-talk is run by a rather unfriendly personal demon. I don’t like them very much.  So I’m reworking my words to myself … with summer-reading simmering in the background.

In And Then You Act: Making Art in an Unpredictable World, Anne Bogart writes:

 “Stand up and articulate what you are rather than what you are not.” (2007, 25)

 (This is from a section of the book about Articulation, the act of pointing towards the thing you mean to get across as clearly as you can, as one of the essential components of art-making. And maybe of living well.)

Ok let’s try that, Self:

I’ve experienced a LOT in nine weeks!

I took an intense course because I wanted to learn, and I completed it.

I experienced a deep, constant, heightened encounter with mortality both within and outside of the lab.

And survived to tell about it.

I met and learned alongside a stellar group of individuals whom I probably wouldn’t have known otherwise.

I fully engaged my creative capacities for learning – and enjoyed it.

I was challenged and moved.

I know more now than I did before.

I appreciate even more the overwhelming, stunning complexity of the human form, and the life coursing through and all around us.

Oh and I also helped remove a brain, observing it in a state close to what it looks like in vivo.

That’s weird. And pretty cool.

* * *

As I consider the manner of my self-talk, I’m reflecting upon recent conversations with students and graduates of the dance department, and many years of conversations with dance-artist colleagues in New York and elsewhere.  Many people trained as dancers, consciously or not, assume a manner of speaking about themselves from a place of lack as routine. Without thinking.

(So do many other people.) Regardlesss of reason – the habit obscures reality to themselves and to whomever they are speaking.   

Another thought from Bogart:

“When we use the wrong words, or weak words, or abusive words, or assume that the words we inherit are good enough rather than embarking upon a close examination of the vocabulary, we are cheating ourselves of a wide range of experience and expressivity.”(2007, 24)

Embracing the responsibility to do the work to choose clear, accurate words, and to eradicate embedded demons in our daily lexicon (ones that perpetuate diminishment of self or others) can help us see ourselves and each other more clearly. 

And might keep us honest and on task as we navigate a climate of divisive soundbites, marginalizing language, and easily tweetable/re-tweetable ignorance.

I’m going to the studio.

Bogart, Anne. 2007. And Then You Act: Making Art in an Unpredictable World. New York: Routledge.

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M. 81. cardiac arrest.

This summer semester I’m fortunate to be able to dive further into inquiry into the structure and function of the human form as a student in Advanced Musculoskeletal Anatomy, a graduate cadaveric dissection course led by Dr. Laura Boucher in the OSU School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. It’s an immense, intense, and paradoxically pragmatic experience. It’s formal. It’s messy. It’s business. It’s personal. It’s someone else. It’s you. It’s everyone you’ll ever know. Here’s a trace of processing outside of origins, attachments, and innervations:

Male. 81. Cardiac Arrest.

That’s the extent of information I have about my Teacher.

And yet.

A paradox of vulnerability and strength. 

An imposing, formerly vibrant figure lies still, exposed, bare, on a table.

Skin. Protective Integument. Repository. Place of traces. Of dirt, of sweat, of effort evaporating from the inner world to the outer. Of scars from the outer world reaching in.

Gossamer shield. The scalpel slices.

There is a matter-of-factness to the logistics of how we deal with bodies After.

The metal table covering, two interlocking angled lids, resembles a coffin-sized catering chafer.

Plastic wrappings.

White tablecloth and cellophane.  Saran wrap preserving leftovers.

A lined garbage pail at the head of the table collects pieces of person, tissue cleaned away. A PVC pipe collects fluid drained from the table into a metal pail. Jack and Jill fetch the pail and pour it through a plastic funnel into a blue plastic barrel at the end of each day.

I know his great saphenous vein, as it travels into the femoral vein.  I know his lesser saphenous too. I watch them wind and play and pour into the next.

I know the masses of yellow tissue that bubble underneath the skin and over muscle.

Adipose in repose.

Melting fat over muscle has a technique, the same as greasing your baking pan. Simply hold a wad of paper towel over the fat deposit and move circularly, side to side, up and down, with pressure, creating heat. Friction liquifies the warm yellow solid and spreads it.

White fascial webs contain and connect, holding on even though the ( what is the word ) has gone. Even though the need has gone. As if it’s waiting for us, for me, to find it, follow it, break it, and release it. It was waiting to teach me. It, they, him. Every cell. Every fiber.

When do cells die? When does cellular memory die? Does it?

To teach me about interdigitation. About articulation. About connection. About convergence. Divergence. Systems. Difference, sameness, function, form.

Vessels and fluids in the creature vessel.

Quiet.

Fibrous strands of

“the soft animal of your body.”

Talking and Listening

Today my colleague Davianna Green and I facilitated a seminar class on Race and Inclusivity for Graduate Pedagogy led by Professor Susan Van Pelt Petry. Lately we’ve been practicing leading movement and seminar-style classes with feedback discussions afterwards.

For this particular project I was enriched by the readings and research, by the candid dialogues Davianna and I had in preparation for the project, the group’s discussion, and by just doing the thing.

(I was also reminded  of logistics – our two warm up exercises for discussion became our main discussion.  Perhaps that’s how it needed to be though. It’s an interesting balance – choosing to allow space for fruitful conversation, for depth, and choosing to move on to get to content – there was so much rich content we barely touched the surface of and a lot of rich content in the space.)

Learning experiences.

TALKING:

As a white person, (and certainly as any person), starting, entering, or facilitating a dialogue around race can feel really awkward. But having the conversation is everyone’s responsibility. You don’t need to wait for a person of color to open the door for conversation, and it’s rude and irresponsible to do that.  We’re all implicated in broader systems of racial injustice whether it’s easy to see, whether we want to see, or not. And it’s a shared job to talk about it.

Of course I was nervous about the class, and felt that pit of my stomach squrimy feeling, even afterwards.  Maybe you know the feeling: I’ve had really bad experiences in the past, I was worried I’d “Talk About Race Wrong” (as Ijeoma Oluo puts it), afterwards I feel anxious, an ego plunge, worrying that I’ll be seen as stupid or unthoughtful. But the conversation isn’t about “I/me” –  it’s about having the conversation. And having it again. And seeing how we can grow. (See list of tips below).

It’s about normalizing the discomfort around talking about race and engaging with it in community. Be brave enough to be honest and be brave enough to listen.   

And if something makes you uncomfortable, you’re probably doing it right.

Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race provided a set of tips and suggestions for having potentially messy discussions about the “R word,” productively (chapter three if you want to know).

The book is honest (sometimes brutally so), accessible, provocative, and thoughtful.

– highly recommended. For everyone. It’s so good it’s hard to read because you feel so many feelings at once.

From Oluo’s Chapter “What if I Talk About Race Wrong”:  

“Here are some basic tips that will increase your chance of conversation success, or at least decrease your chance of conversation disaster:”

  1. State your intentions.
  2. Remember what your top priority in the conversation is, and don’t let your emotions override that.
  3. Do your research.
  4. Don’t make your anti-racism argument oppressive against other groups.
  5. When you start to feel defensive, stop and ask yourself why?
  6. Do not tone police.
  7. If you are white, watch how many times you say “I” and “me.”
  8. Ask yourself: Am I trying to be right, or am I trying to do better?
  9. Do not force people of color into discussions about race.   

Oluo’s advice for when conversations are not going well:

  1. Stop trying to jump back in when a conversation is beyond saving.
  2. Apologize.
  3. Don’t write your synopsis of this conversation as “the time you got yelled at.”
  4. Don’t insist that people give you credit for your intentions.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up.
  6. Remember that it is worth the risk and commit to trying again.

These concepts are much richer with Oluo’s commentary –  please go find out for yourself. What do you think about them?

LISTENING

(c) Shelton Oakley Hershey

One point brought up during the discussion was the importance of listening well.  Practicing listening in order to hear, absorb, & understand – not listening in order to respond. But, as the conversation also brought up, that act – actual listening – is a challenge.

I wonder about holding ourselves to this challenge of listening in our daily lives. Especially around the topic of race, and heated topics in general. 

When was the last time you really took time to listen to that person from whom you have very divergent views – without planning your retort as they are speaking? 

Yes even if you’re talking about Trump.

Yikes. I certainly struggle with that one.

When was the last time you actually felt heard? Really listened to?

Thorough Listening means taking time to have conversations.

Listening means there probably won’t be a clear “winner.”  

I wonder about prospects for listening in a political era drenched in rhetoric of “WINNERS” and “LOSERS,” short soundbites, and shackled by tweet-length attention spans.

I don’t know.  But what a resonant and relevant challenge to attempt.

Oluo, Ijeoma. 2018. So You Want to Talk About Race. New York: Seal Press.

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.

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?

Back to it. And winter break non-syllabus reading re-cap.

School tomorrow. I’m happy to be back and to start up a new term.

Reinserting yourself in New York  City for three weeks as a partial observer is interesting, disorienting, and slightly FOMO tinged.

I read interesting things, saw interesting things, traveled a little and spent time with people I love.

As I get back to this place in a new term and new year I’m interrogating why I’m here;  I’m thinking about the body, the vessel, how it functions, what we do to it, how we affect it through our emotions and mindset and how mental state and emotion impact the body.  Thinking about why we do what we do. Function literally and figuratively.  And about the vessel and what  it is and what happens to it.

Some non reading-list reading from break:

Image result for evil cradling book

An Evil Cradling (1992) by Brian Keenan  (Review)

  • Not exactly beach reading though I was on a beach when I finished it. The memoir by Northern Irish writer, Brian Keenan, documents his capture while teaching English at American University in Beirut and subsequent captivity for over four years at the hands of Lebanese Shi-ite militias.  It is fascinating and compelling reading, probing the frightening depths of mindfulness and mindlessness, of compassion and brutality, that humanity can reach.

Image result for from here to eternity caitlin doughty

From Here to Eternity : Traveling the World to Find the Good Death (2017) by Caitlin Doughty   (Review)

  • A fast-paced, well researched, painlessly delivered sucker punch to your brain about some things many of us haven’t really thought about or don’t want to think about: What happens to us… after? Funeral home director and mortician Caitlin Doughty narrates a variety of encounters with deathcare traditions and businesses from cultures around the world – exploring distinct perspectives and practices for honoring the dead.  From $7000 caskets and 2-4/7-9 regulated viewings in many American funeral homes, to an open air pyre in Colorado, Sky Burials in Nepal, unearthed remains in Tana Toraja, Indonesia, the Bolivian Festival of Natitas, Japanese hi-tech crematoria, the Parsi Tower of Silence, re-composition, and why whales and whale matter matter – told with wit and respect.
    • It made me regret not taking “Death and Dying,” a religious studies elective in high school in which students planned their own funerals…

Spontaneous Movie

Image result for The Green Book

Today I took myself to the movies to see the Green Book.  So glad I did.

Looks like it just won Golden Globes for Best Screenplay and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley). Thanks internet.

A few months ago I wrote about that unsatisfied empty feeling after a film/dance performance event. I didn’t have that today. A laugh, cry, think, kind of movie. An odd couple road trip to friendship. It makes you think about where we were, how far we have and have not come around issues of prejudice, racism, classism, and about the power of individual actions and individual friendships.

[BTW  in Columbus you can take yourself to a movie and get popcorn and an obscenely large “small” soda for the price of just the movie ticket in Midtown  – just sayin.]

 

 

Awesome beginnings

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2ccb

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.