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.


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.


Fibrous strands of

“the soft animal of your body.”

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?

Image result for happy emoji


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.

NY Visit: FAMI 2- Head, Neck and Spine & Darrah Carr Dance visit, and show tonight, and…


Mr. Bones, Kinected

Over last weekend, Oct 20-21, with the support of a Kinected Work-Study Scholarship and the OSU Dance Semester Funding Initiative, I attended FAMI 2: Functional Anatomy for Movement and Injuries 2 at Kinected Pilates Center in New York City.
FAMI 2 is a follow up to FAMI, a four-day anatomy workshop held at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai annually in June. Geared towards movement educators FAMI dives into structure, function, and pathology of major body regions and incorporates a gross anatomy lab component encountering prosections of each region.

(Seeing and touching the iliopsoas is much more effective than visualizing it – or trying to spell it.)

FAMI 2 focuses on a specific body region, topics rotating each year, with a deeper focus on assessment and programming for common dysfunctions of that region. This workshop’s focus was the head and neck.

Dr. Jeffrey Laitman, with typical candor and humor described important overall anatomical and evolutionary characteristics of the head and neck region, with specific attention to importance of vocal  chords in maintaining intra-abdominal pressure and function of the inner ear in relation to balance and coordination. You know, listen to how your clients/students/patients are speaking before working their glutes.  Funny. And important. A Dr. Laitman mantra : “the body never forgets and it never forgives.” That doesn’t mean to lament once injury occurs, but to choose wisely how to treat your body to cultivate longevity and optimal function – we only have one body after all.

(Seeing and touching the iliopsoas is much more effective than visualizing it – or trying to spell it.)

Dr. Jeffrey Laitman, with typical candor and humor described important overall anatomical and evolutionary characteristics of the head and neck region, with specific attention to importance of vocal  chords in maintaining intra-abdominal pressure and function of the inner ear in relation to balance and coordination. You know, listen to how your clients/students/patients are speaking before working their glutes.  Funny. And important. A Dr. Laitman mantra : “the body never forgets and it never forgives.” That doesn’t mean to lament once injury occurs, but to choose wisely how to treat your body to cultivate longevity and optimal function – we only have one body after all.

Some activities with questionable musculoskeletal impact, according to Dr. Laitman and most human bodies…

Eliot Fishbein, FMPT discussed rehabilitative perspectives for the region, Dr. Amanda Walsh, orthopedic resident at Icahn,  gave clinical insight into injuries such as concussion and whiplash, and Kinected Director Matt McCullogh demonstrated several practical exercises geared toward balancing stability and mobility of cervical spine: many can be done on the go or at the office, others were variations on classic Pilates equipment exercises. Foci of exercises were balancing thoracic  and lumbar mobility and stability in conversation with the cervical spine, activation of posterior spinal muscle chains, oblique strengthening, and building strength in deep stabilizing endurance muscles like Longus Colli, to counter the tension and pull of superficial muscles like SCM.

Matt McCullogh and amazing client Jim demonstrating lateral flexion, thoracic flexion with posterior chain activation, and a reformer knee flexion exercise with theraband for maintaining posterior chain activation. Notice how  in the center photo by gently maintaining pressure into the theraband while nodding and curling , Jim can avoid leading with his head and achieve deeper flexion in his thoracic spine.

Some consistent takeways – respect healing time, proximalize symptoms, restore balanced functional movement, and consider the whole body in conversation.  Also, you never know the impact you have on others. Keep learning; keep sharing.

Bonus Rehearsal Snippet:

Enroute to the airport post workshop last Sunday I had the privilege to drop in to rehearsal with Darrah Carr Dance and musicians Dana Lyn and Kyle Sana in advance of our performance “Dancing the Great Arc”  10/26 & 10/27 (today and tomorrow!) at the NYC Irish Arts Center. I’ve worked with Carr since 2011,  and walking into the space, I immediately felt the warmth of this particular dance family.

Jonathan Matthews and Melissa Padham Maass, in rehearsal.

By the Way… We made the NY TIMES Dance Picks for this Weekend!



A note from 14th street.

I do not miss the atmosphere of the subway at 8 am, 5 pm, or it seems the 1 train at any time of day…