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

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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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.