Recently, Elyssa Taperro of Only Fragments commented on my post, “Allegiances, Language, and Space,” in which I wrote about my ongoing wrestling matches with the notion of compassionate language and safe spaces. I thought she had some really important things to say about the question of identity policing and asked if she’d mind writing a guest blog (the first one ever!) for My Beautiful Machine on the topic.
The result is this lovely, thoughtful, and beautifully-written post, “Opening the Gates of Queer,” for which I am immensely grateful (and which also really uplifted what had turned into a rather tough day for me). It really needs no further introduction: this piece stands on its own.
Originally posted on Only Fragments:
After I commented on MyBeautifulMachine’s post “Allegiances, Language, and Space,” he asked me to write a guest post about identity policing and the term “queer”. I can only speak to my experience in the asexual community, but I hope I can share some insight.
[ A note: When I talk about the “queer community”, I’m using queer as an umbrella term for the entire community comprised of gender, romantic, and sexual orientation minorities (GRSM). While I prefer the acronym GRSM, it seemed more appropriate to use both of queer’s definitions in this post. ]
Opening the Gates of “Queer”
This post is a long time coming. If one thing can get my feathers in a ruffle fastest, it’s people policing who does and does not deserve to identify as queer. I see this aspect of identity policing most frequently in regards to people on the asexual spectrum. When I see…
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I just discovered tlacoyos, and they look surprisingly doable: mix masa harina with salt and water, flatten into oval shapes, fill with something like beans or ground beef, fold to close, toss ’em in a pan to cook. Fry them if you want; don’t fry them if you don’t want to. Top like you would a taco, or just eat them plain. Sounds good to me!
The process doesn’t look like it will require too much prep or cleanup — you don’t need fifteen different bowls and spoons and pots and pans to make these, just a bowl to mix your masa in and a pan to cook your tlacoyos. Toppings can be as easy as prepared salsa and pre-chopped onions (it seems like almost every grocery store In Louisville carries these in their produce section now).
I’m betting you can probably make these with regular cornmeal in a pinch (…and being able to do things “in a pinch” is sometimes important when you’re working around a condition that interferes with executive functioning). In fact, I think I’ll try them that way first. I already have everything I need to make them that way.
You can easily make your tlacoyos kosher, halal, dairy-free, gluten-free (though some kinds of cornmeal do contain gluten), vegetarian, vegan and so on. They’re really versatile, and that’s a great thing — especially if you’re looking for something to cook for a crowd of friends who might bring different dietary challenges to the table.
I plan to add these to the first set of test recipes for Cooking with ADHD.
They might even be first on the field, because I can’t wait to try them. I’ll probably make some with just mashed beans (the disorganized cook’s answer to refried!) and some with my favorite meatless taco filling, which combines mashed beans with red rice (brown or white rice work fine, too, it just happens that I bought an enormous bag of red rice a while back and don’t eat rice all that often).
I’ll do them again with proper masa harina (also widely available in US supermarkets and on Amazon) if it turns out that they’re as easy as they sound.
I’ve finished one of my academic classes, and the other one has only two weeks left (HALP!). I figure that means it’s about time to start working on Cooking With ADHD.
Amazingly, my project exploring ways to simplify cooking for those of us who are (among other things) planning-challenged begins with a plan. Ironic, amirite?
So here’s the plan. I’m going to start by testing a few recipes myself and asking my friend Robert to test them as well (if you’d like to suggest or test ADHD-friendly recipes, let me know! The more, the merrier!).
I’m still working on my list of testing criteria, but here’s what I’ve got so far:
1. Manageable Ingredients
Sometimes this might mean sticking to the basics; sometimes it might mean using ready-made blends (like “apple pie spice” or “taco seasoning”) instead of buying and blending lots of individual herbs and spices.
The shorter the list, the less stressful it will be to work through it without the fear of skipping something important (like flour — remind me to tell you about the time that I read the ingredients list for a cookie recipe three times to make sure there really wasn’t any flour, only to discover that I was wrooooooong).
Accessibility is also important. While I love all kinds of exotic flavors, I’m not going to create an ADHD cookbook that assumes we’re all organized enough to go find the rarest Golden-Crested Phoenix Eggs or Celestial Foofoo Stamens (PS, I’m not actually picking on saffron … much ;)). Likewise, I don’t want to incorporate a lot of stuff that’s going to be used once or twice, then sit around cluttering up the spice rack. Instead, the idea is to develop a small stable of versatile spices that can transcend culinary borders.
2. Doable Instructions
The best ADHD-friendly recipes will come with short sets of one-line-at-a-time instructions. Others, we’ll have to modify for usability. This may be the most important thing.
3. Not So Many Steps
This isn’t to say that I won’t include a few more complex recipes for special occasions — but everyday recipes don’t need to read like aircraft-assembly instructions! The fewer steps there are between concept and implementation, the better the results are likely to be.
4. Not So Much Specialized Equipment
Even with meds, I am not sufficiently organized to own an actual food processor. This means that I don’t make anything that requires one.
The idea is to test recipes using pretty basic technology — an oven, bowls and spoons, a spatula, knives, a whisk or two, a hand-powered egg beaters, pots and pans. I own a proper fancy stand mixer, but since I can’t lift it down from the top of the fridge, I don’t use it. Folks who have things like food processors can use them to speed up some of the steps; I’ll try to include sidebars for things like that whenever possible.
The less stuff we have to buy, store, find, use, and clean, the more successful we’re going to be!
So with that in mind, here’s a list of the first few recipes I plan to road-test:
1. Slow-Poached (In-Shell) Eggs.
Poached eggs! Can these possibly truly be ADHD-friendly? I guess we’ll find out! The fact that you poach them in their shells means you can make a bunch and pop them back in the fridge to eat later, just like you would with hard-boiled eggs.
2. Roasted Chicken (or Game Hens!)
I’m pretty sure this one will fit the bill. I make roasted chicken all the time. It looks impressive, but it’s easy, and you can walk away from it for an hour and a half or so in the middle, which makes it a great thing to prepare for company.
3. Freezer-Marinated Steaks or Chicken Thighs
These are my go-to weeknight meals. Easy to make, easy to thaw, but not too repetitive — the number of flavor combinations is nearly limitless. (Seriously: the chicken version has turned into everything from Mediterranean-inspired pita sandwiches to Buffalo chicken strips!)
4. Microwave Eggs
These don’t really need a recipe; people just need to know that they’re even possible. My Mom taught me how to make them last time we visited her and my Step-dad, and I don’t really know how I’ve survived this much ostensible adulthood without them.
5. Yes, You Can Bake Bread
I make bread all the time using a profoundly simple recipe based on classic pizza dough. Swap butter in place of olive oil, and you’ve got a lovely baguette platform. Add cinnamon-sugar and raisins, and you’ve got Heaven on a plate. May I suggest pairing this with roasted chicken the next time you have friends over? That way, you don’t have to resist the temptation to eat all of it yourself ;)
So there we have it — the first five recipes. I’ll also include some veggie instructions so these can be made into full meals.
Edited for clarity and to clean up some messy code that always shows up when I type these on my tablet.
Like the mad, socially-conscious Yankee intellectual I was raised to be, I often find myself thinking about language.
Specifically, I think about how to use words in ways that will be empowering, rather than disempowering; unifying, rather than divisive; kind, rather than unkind.
Sometimes, this gets sticky — especially when it comes to speaking with compassion as an ally.
Whether we realize it or not, privilege colors how people in the world hear the words we use: our privilege and lack thereof, as well as their privilege and lack thereof (note that I write “and,” not “or,” because privilege is not an absolute; most of us experience a mixture of privilege and its opposite).
If I call myself queer, anyone who hears me brings internal nuance to the table. Some will hear that I choose that word because I’ve internalized the homophobia of the culture that surrounds me; some, that I’m reacting against that homophobia through lexical reclamation; some, that I don’t fit crisply into other categories; some, that I can myself queer for reasons I haven’t even imagined. All of them may be right or wrong at the same time and to varying degrees.
Few, however, will argue with my right to choose that word for myself (and I’m happy to kindly debate that point with those who would protest — we may never see eye-to-eye, but usually their intentions are good, and we can at least come to appreciate one anothers’ perspectives).
It gets trickier, though, when I’m talking about someone else.
Take, for example, the word fat.
Burlesque dancer Lillian Bustle makes the brilliant point that fat is just a word, like short or beautiful — other traits which Ms. Bustle owns with pride. It’s a word that can be detached from value judgment — unlike, for example, overweight, which by its very linguistic nature underscores the notion that there is a “right” weight, a “right” body size, outside of which people are wrong. We don’t call tall people overheight, so why call fat people overweight? We’ve tried that, and it hasn’t reduced anti-fat prejudice one iota. Why don’t we simply decouple the word fat from its harmful connotations?
I think Ms. Bustle makes a brilliant point. I agree with her whole-heartedly. I love her spirit of reclamation. Her words were, in fact, instrumental in my process of beginning to deal with my own deeply-seated, deeply-denied fat phobia.
And yet, as someone who lives in a body of the type that is currently privileged in our culture, I hesitate to fly that banner.
I’m carrying it, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to unfurl it when I’m pretty sure that I won’t cause further harm that way — but believe me, I look around first to make sure I’m not going to poke sometime in the eye.
In short, when a skinny person — especially a skinny guy, because there are extra layers of complexity associated with gender — uses the word fat to describe someone else, no matter how sound his intentions, he risks inflicting unintended pain.
Even if the subject of his words identifies as fat, even if she embraces that word, she probably still hears it used as an insult all the time (by analogy, someone like me, in my locale, might feel the same about the word fag).
It can be hard to glean what someone’s intentions are, and even well-meaning people harbor unexamined prejudices. So if I’m trying to describe someone to another person and I say, “He’s a tall, fat guy with curly hair and piano hands,” it’s possible that it’ll sound like I’m making a value judgment about body size, even if it’s a salient characteristic for identifying the person in question.
The fact that I’m a skinny dude makes it more likely, I suspect, that prejudice will be inferred. That’s not unreasonable: inferences of that kind are generally based upon past experience, which is an imperfect predictor of future experience, but still the best one we have. People of a socially-sanctioned body size probably are more likely to feel justified in using the word “fat” as an insult.
While I can’t control how other people hear me, the onus is upon me to try to words compassionately. It gets kind of weird, though, in territory that’s still in the earliest phases of reclamation. It’s possible reduce harm by thinking before I speak, but there will still be misunderstandings.
I think it’s important to shake things up, linguistically speaking.
It’s good to reclaim words; it takes tools out of the hands of oppressors without adopting oppression as a tool. Likewise, it affords us freedom in identifying ourselves; in describing ourselves. Perhaps most importantly, it often affords us a route away from formulations (non-white, overweight, non-traditional marriage) that, intentionally or otherwise, bear implications of compromised worth and reinforce the idea that average (or in the case of body size in the US, below average) is inherently better.
Prefixes like non-, over-, and under- imply the existence of an accepted standard — and value judgment is inherent in all standards. That’s the nature of standards, and that’s okay — when we’re talking about things that really benefit from being standardized, like astronomical measuring devices and medical equipment.
Human beings, though? Human worth is inherent. While reality sometimes makes it difficult, we do justice to one-another when we use words that reflect that worth; words that don’t imply that one is less correct simply because one is in some way different from a group that has been designated as a standard.
But it’s not always easy to do, nor does it always come off without a hitch.
The same can be said for wandering into safe spaces belonging to disenfranchised groups — the hierarchy of relative privilege gets sticky. I’m not always sure how to manage that, either.
I suspect nobody is. We all have the basics: listen, be compassionate, don’t be a jerk. The devil, as always, is in the details. Sometimes, our best efforts still go awry. Sometimes, we poke people in the eyes with the banners we’re unfurling in solidarity.
I guess, in the long run, this is a pretty good problem for a culture to have: a better one than that of knee-jerk prejudice and socially-sanctioned oppression (not that those are entirely gone, by any means).
I’m still working on all this stuff. If I’m actually a good human being, I’m be working on it, with greater or lesser focus, til the day I die.
I like to think of this as a mitzvah — an extension of tikkun olam, repairing the world. I can work to undo injustices I have done, and I can work with others to right injustices that began long before I was born. I can look at that as an onerous duty or as a joy (hence the word mitzvah, literally “commandment” or “obligation,” but also an opportunity for human kindness, for justice, for celebration of the divine spark in ordinary things).
My efforts at likely to be flawed — after all, I’m human — but with successive approximations, I can improve not only my life, but the world around me … without, I hope, giving out too many pokes in the eye.
It’s been a long, long time since I did any serious web programming — about four years, in fact.
Basically, when I left the world of banking, I left the world of web development. I had discovered that WordPress did a perfectly reasonable job creating a framework for whatever content I wanted to throw up on the web (which is different than simply wanting to throw up on the web, period, which is what you might want to do if you spend too much time exploring Vincent Flanders’ Web Pages That Suck).
Since then, I’ve frequently thought about the principles of usability and good web design (in fact, I think about them every time I encounter poorly-designed user interfaces and badly-designed websites!) — but I’ve spent basically no time doing actual web design work.
Along the way, I rather forgot how satisfying I find it.
This isn’t to say that it’s quite as satisfying as dancing or riding a bike — but it turns out that solving web-design problems is still pretty fun.
Today I learned how to pop custom CSS classes into WordPress themes in such a way that they’ll actually work. Theoretically, this shouldn’t be hard if you’re already familiar with CSS classes — but it had been a while since I built a CSS framework from scratch, and I had to think about where to put my classes in the main stylesheet for the theme.
A flash of intuition (“DERP! SEE IF THERE’S A ‘BODY’ SECTION, YOU MORON!”) solved that problem for me, and the result was immediately, immensely, deeply satisfying. I may — MAY — have gotten up and done a little dance. It’s possible that I also sang a ridiculous song about being awesome*.
So, anyway. I am surprised by how happy I am to be doing web work again.
Maybe not so happy that I want to do it all the time for the rest of my life (too … much … sitting!), but definitely happy enough to think that I’d like to keep cracking away at it so maybe I can do it part-time while I’m working on my graduate degree or something.
In other news, the Tricross’ rear brake has lost most of its stopping power, so the Tricross will probably go to the shop tomorrow (where it will definitely get a tuneup, new rear brake pads, and a new chain, and possibly get a new rear hub or wheel). While I’m there, I might see about finding some kind of ridiculous swept-back bars for the Karakoram, because Dave just built up a gorgeous Bridgestone with lovely swept-back bars and now I’m riddled with envy or something.
Also because I am unlikely to do any serious off-road riding soon, and the Karakoram mostly lives its life as a grocery-getter.
Still practicing balances all the dang time. My balance à la seconde is starting to come together rather nicely. Boy, does that one work the ol’ turnout.
That’s it for now. Back to work!
It’s Spring Break week for Ballet this week, so I have no class (I’m trying to avoid the obvious jokes here, since I’m sure I’ve used them all before). This is handy, because I’m in the middle of writing my final paper for my Buddhism class, preparing for the final exam in my Entomology class, and finishing the PorchLight Express website.
Yesterday, I met with my boss for my performance review, and it was great. That was a huge relief, as it’s actually kind of hard to figure out how well you’re doing your job when you’re in your first term as an SI leader. At one point, Ryan said, “When are you graduating, in May? That’s too bad. I mean — not for you! But it would’ve been nice to have you around longer.”
That felt really good!
I feel like I’m learning and growing a lot this semester — not just as a student, but as a person. The whole past year has been an exercise in figuring out who I am and where I fit and where I want to go … and also in learning how to be happy even though I’m not there yet.
By analogy, I came to a realization not long ago that has been bizarrely helpful (though, to be fair, if you’d told me the same thing maybe a year ago, I would’ve said you were full of crap). I was reflecting on why I liked making bread, but didn’t like putting the dishes away. Both are basically repetitive activities that you do in one place, and yet I find one of them enjoyable (even when it makes my wrists hurt) and the other tedious.
I came to the conclusion that there was, in fact, no good reason that I didn’t like putting dishes away. It was a mental thing. If I could like making bread, I could like putting the clean dishes back in the cupboards. The main difference is that putting clean dishes away involves working with a lot of small elements, much like de-cluttering does (this explains why I enjoy housework but hate de-cluttering; it took me the longest time to figure out that that was my biggest problem as a homemaker).
The working-with-lots-of-small elements part is difficult for me as someone with my particular flavor of ADHD. I think this is also why I enjoy bike maintenance, but not so much repairs — maintenance mostly involves fiddling with a whole bike; repairs often involve lots of fiddly parts that can escape and roll away and basically stress me out until they’re back on the bike.
That doesn’t mean I can’t come up with ways to find either process enjoyable, though — so I’m working in learning to like putting the dishes away, or at least not hate it. As for bike repairs — meh. Some of them I’ll definitely do (changing tires and sometimes repairing tires; fixing broken chains; stuff like that), but some I don’t mind paying someone else to do. Besides, that helps good bike wrenches stay in business, which I really appreciate when something major that I don’t know how to fix happens to one of my bikes.
On the “learning to like putting away dishes” front, I’m not going to say I’m entirely there yet. Nor am I going to say that this is something everyone can or should do — there’s lots of things that lots of people would say I “should” be able to learn to do or to like, but I either can’t or won’t, and I think that’s basically okay. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.
I feel like other people deserve the same consideration. People live in different ways and prioritize different things, and it’s totally okay to feel like putting dishes away is anathema to your soul. It’s okay to pay someone else do it, or bribe your spouse to do it, or just plain not do it. I personally know a couple people who have dishwashers solely so they don’t have to put the dishes away — they just put the dishes in, wash them, and then that’s where the dishes live until they’re all used, and then the cycle begins again. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.
So that’s a thing I think I’ll probably write about some more at some point.
In other news, I finally took the last dose of my tendon-exploding antibiotic this morning, so I rather expect to stop feeling exhausted and bedraggled in the next few days. I was so tired last night that I conked out before Denis got home from his night out with Kelly, and I didn’t even wake up when he got home and came to bed.
I’m looking forward to having my usual energy level back, but also glad that the break in ballet classes allows me to get more done while I’m still feeling the fatigue. The main part of my PLX job is just about done, too, so when ballet class resumes next week, I should be able to enjoy it without having to dash around quite so frenetically.
Frenetic dashing just isn’t really my style.
I am, in some matters — mostly the ones that involve heights, speed, agility, risk of falling, large animals, stuff like that; physical dangers — a fearless idiot.
In other matters, however — basically, in matter that involve interacting with humans in new ways — I am a giant chicken.
About a week ago, I approached some friends of mine who are members of an online bike-geek community that now spans the globe and asked if they wanted to get involved in a fund-raising thing I was thinking about doing for another friend of ours.
That was surprisingly scary. I thought everyone would say, “What? That’s a terrible idea! Why don’t we just do something through one of the existing fundraising organizations out there?”
Instead, my ideas were met with enthusiasm, and then with more ideas, and from the resulting seven-way brainstorm, Cabal Aid was born.
That was scary, too: taking this idea, and building something around it, and then setting the thing that we’d made together loose in the world in hopes that people would receive it in the spirit of good-hearted meddling that we intented. Heck, just showing the rest of the team my contribution — the WP-based website and Google forms I’d cobbled together in a rather unprecedented storm of productivity — was pretty scary.
We just went live a little while ago, so it’s still scary. I’m afraid nobody else will join our roster of riders; afraid that if people do, they’ll have trouble finding sponsors; afraid that some Great Authority in the Sky is going to come down and tell us to cease and desist.
For what it’s worth, I was even kind of afraid to talk specifically about that project, here. It was one thing to mention it in passing as a theoretical thing; another thing entirely to put up a link that people can visit and, like, judge and stuff (BTW, the purpose of the link isn’t to try to drum up still more support, though if you want to take part, that’s cool, too).
It’s scary and challenging to take a piece of your heart and put it out there for the world to see.
Oddly enough, though, that’s what we all do just about every day in our blogs here.
In a sense, that’s what every adult amateur ballet student does every time he or she sets foot in the studio; what every hopeful grad student does when she or he applies to a much-desired program. The world is full of scary opportunities; perilous places where we pin our hearts to our sleeves and take gigantic leaps of faith.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to observe that bravery isn’t fearlessness — it’s being afraid and doing stuff anyway. Sometimes it starts with having faith that you actually have wings; sometimes it starts with being fed up and feeling like you have to do something, even if it turns out to be wrong.
In the end, we overcome fear by doing scary things.
We start with Small Scary Things, and we work our way up to Bigger Scary Things, and then one day we do something that would once have seemed like a Huge Scary Thing, only it turns out that we’ve grown stronger by doing all those Small Scary Things and Bigger Scary Things and living through them.
The hardest part, it turns out, is finding the first Small Scary Thing that you can do.
For me, the Huge Scary Thing here was actually approaching Scott, who’s going to be the recipient of this month’s fundraising efforts. I really kind of thought he might be offended or something (you never know!). Fortunately, he was cool with our meddling. Because that was a Huge Scary Thing, and because we had a contingency plan in case Scott said no, I left that for last. Well, that and announcing the creation of our new do-gooding wing to the broader membership of the Bike Commuter Cabal.
The Small Scary Things?
I’m not even sure what they were. I can tell you that there were a lot of them, because I had to practice a lot before I was ready to start doing Big Scary Things.
There are more Huge Scary Things on my horizon. Figuring out how to use the next year and a half in a way that creates growth — Huge Scary Thing. Applying to grad school — another Huge Scary Thing. Starting to forge my path forward, now that I kind of want to know where I want to go. Huge. Scary.
I guess as long as we live, we’re going to face Huge Scary Things. Sometimes it will take us a while to be ready to meet them, and that’s okay. Sometimes, we’ll have to practice on a lot of Small Scary Things and Big Scary Things first.
Over time, Scary Things that were once Huge diminish into the distance. By the ends of our lives, if we work hard, we’ll have grown enough to step over mountains.
Today I took my usual “Hey, it’s my day off!” morning soak in the tub and read for a while, and in the middle of that process realized that in putting together a little presentation on Dance-Movement Therapy for Psychology Club at IUS, I’ve overlooked the fact that one of my co-presenters is blind and that the opening exercise I chose might not work for her.
So, like any good child of the internet age, I hopped on the Innertubes to look for an answer.
Predictably, this meant rolling over to facebook to query the wonderful ADTA community … and an hour later I’m like, “WHY???”
Not, mind you, because of anything the ADTA folks have said or done, but because the internet is full of sand-traps crafted from adorable cat videos and their ilk, and facebook is the pinnacle (or should I say nadir?) of those sand-traps, and I’m now scrabbling on the walls of the slippery slope1.
D’oh. Best laid plans.
That said, I was immensely productive over the majority of Spring Break. Basically, between last Tuesday and now, I’ve installed and configured two iterations of WordPress on third-party web servers and banged out an enormous amount of work on two web projects. One is a fundraiser thing for our Burning Man camp; the other is for a newly formalizing do-gooding arm of the Bike Commuter Cabal.
I’m pretty proud of both of them, and pretty pleased with myself for managing to keep my waterfowls sufficiently linear-arrayed to accomplish a not-insignificant amount of work in a fairly-insignificant amount of time.
I’m definitely feeling more positive about the idea of, you know, like, getting a job and being a productive member of society in the intervening year between my terrifyingly-close graduation and the beginning of grad school (I should totally add a countdown timer plugin to my blog, here, so I can terrify myself even more every time I look at it).
Tomorrow I go to see my dentist, Dr. Shay, to have a crown put in (I broke a molar >.<), so I'm not sure whether I'm going to Wednesday evening class or not. Depends on how functional I am. The root canal portion of this exercise, which took place on Friday, was painless but actually rather exhausting, and Dr. Norton's assistant ruled out any ballet for Friday (which was an easy call, since the root canal procedure was scheduled for the same time as class).
If Dr. Shay says no to Wednesday class, I will behave myself (even though LBS has its spring break next week). The antibiotic I'm taking (for the tooth) is an iffy proposition with ballet anyway — it's one of the ones that comes with the rare but still frightening possibility of tendon rupture which is significantly heightened by the use of corticosteroids.
Since I take fluticasone (a corticosteroid) every day in order to be able to breathe through my nose, part of me worries about that (probably more so than necessary, but I don't want another mandatory 6-week-or-longer break from jumps, or worse, from ballet in entirety!).
You know what they say:
"Good things come to those who don't asplode their tendons."
Anyway, just in case you weren't sufficiently distracted, here's a great video to get you started!
A little more than a year ago, I returned to the ballet studio after a long break from all forms of theatrical dance (note that I didn’t say all forms of dance, period: historically, every time an opportunity to own the floor has arisen, I’ve grabbed it by the horns and spun it like a top).
I didn’t see that as the Beginning of Something, because of course we almost never* spot the Beginnings in the ongoing string of serial novels that comprise our lifetimes, but that’s what it was: a Beginning.
It was a beginning that had been much-rehearsed and much-prepared-for, in a way.
I’d made a lot of changes in the three years prior: met the love of my life; figured out I was unhappy not just with my job, but with my entire career path; left a stable job with decent pay and fair opportunities for advancement; left the field in which I’d accrued all of my meaningful professional experience; returned to school; got married (another Beginning); finally started to get my head around the fact that bipolar disorder was a thing in my life whether I admitted it or not, so I’d better just admit it; etc.
I had been doing a lot of foundational work on myself. Returning to ballet was the outgrowth of that foundational work.
What I didn’t expect was the transformative effect of that return to the studio.
If you’d asked me before I returned to ballet what kind of dancer I expected to grow into, I probably would have pointed to the most fluid, most gender-bending member of the Ballets Trockaderos and said, “I’m going to be him.” If you’d asked whether and how I expected ballet to transform the rest of my life, I might have said, “I dunno, I’ll be more fit, I guess?”
Instead it turns out that, as a dancer, my style is traditionally masculine in the balletic sense (I’m trying to figure out how describe what I mean, here), and that ballet has sent its tentacles into every nook and cranny of my life. Surprise**?
I suppose I can’t be entirely surprised that ballet just kind of took over. That’s how I roll. I don’t do hobbies; I do consuming passions.
That said, I was quite surprised when ballet almost immediately eclipsed cycling. Somehow, I expected them to coexist. Instead, cycling has been recast in a subservient role — still wildly fun, still great for keeping up the cardio and getting from here to there, but let’s not overdo it, because it’s bad for the turnout. Casual centuries are still A Thing from time to time, but racing? Not so much.
Perhaps more genuinely surprising is the fact that I — perhaps not the most incendiary of flamers, but still sufficiently alight to say of my husband, “His steadiness allows me to be the airy-fairy faggot I was built to be” — feel so at home and “right” and comfortable as a danseur.
Historically, I’ve found it kind of awkward to be who and what I am: this boy who is not “straight acting” and has no desire to be, but who nonetheless doesn’t fit neatly into the “total flamer” box either.
I recognize that this is mainly because the limits we’ve drawn around that box are, well, silly — and, actually, quite sexist, in a “flamers are like girls and girls aren’t bold and athletic” kind of way. I’d like to see someone tell Misty Copeland or cycling great Marianne Vos that girls aren’t bold and athletic!
I can’t help but toss an eyeroll at the over-compensating “straight acting” types — not the ones who are just being themselves, but the ones who are trying too hard; the ones who make “masculinity” into some kind of cult object and wear its trappings like ill-fitting trousers while cloaking their own feminine or androgynous sides in shame. The problem is, I also don’t quite fit the mold at the opposite end of the spectrum … and, curiously, queer culture seems to leave precious little room for the recognition of anything else (okay, except bears, wolves, and otters — but I’m not any of those).
I am someone who by his nature likes categories and wants to belong to at least one, but I am also someone who appears to have been created specifically to defy categorization. I am eternally consigned to some kind of purple area, when all I want much of the time is to know whether I’m red or blue. Yea verily, this hath vexed me: I have really, really always wanted to fit somewhere. It never occurred to me that maybe part of what I missed about ballet was that I fit.
Ballet embraces a kind of bouyant masculine grace (which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily have to be constrained to male dancers; more on that in another post; G-d help me, I am backlogging myself with “…in another post” posts lately!) that is at once strictly counter-cultural in our modern age of male buffoonery and strictly classical in the sense that gentlemen were expected, Once Upon A Time, to know how to cut a caper or a rug and how to recognize a well-cut suit.
So I am learning to live into this kind of weird masculine grace that’s apparently a native part of my being — I say “weird” because I have, of course, thought of myself as male, but not particularly as an exemplar of any flavor of masculinity; that has, simply put, never been one of my aspirations. And, in so doing, I am learning to live into the whole of my being more thoroughly.
In short, I am feeling at once more whole and more real and developing a burgeoning sense of agency that threatens to topple my lifelong assumption that I would live out my days as a sort of domestic, dependent figure.
I say all this by way of a discovery: earlier today, I read a really cool article on Serious Eats called Friday Night Meatballs, immediately Had A Sad because it reflected something I’ve always wanted to do but felt I couldn’t because The House and Where Will People Park and Nobody Wants To Visit Our Neighborhood and Nobody Ever Comes To Our House, etc…
Then, immediately, I thought, “Well, why don’t I do something about that?”
Like, point the fourth, there? Of course nobody ever comes to our house. We never invite people to our house. Maybe if we invited people over on a regular basis, people would come to our house. Maybe that’s how all this works!
You guys, what the heck is happening to me?
It used to be that I would get to, “…but the house” or whatever and stop.
This isn’t to say that our current house is ever going to be ideal for entertaining. It’s not: but that’s life. I can’t practice big jumps in my basement, either, even though it’s the largest clear-span space in the house (our living room, meanwhile, is roughly one tour-jete across, if I keep it small). I make do: turns in the kitchen (because that, as we have established, is what kitchens are for), the occasional big jump in the living room, adagio in the basement. Balances everywhere, on every possible surface.
So packing ten people in for a sit-down meal in our dining room probably isn’t going to happen, at least not unless we get rid of the china cabinet and buy a different table. So what? Who cares? That’s why the human race invented this little thing called “the buffet.” It worked a treat for our family holiday shindig, and I’d like to do more of that: china and food on the dining room table, however many people arrayed on sofas and loveseats and chairs and giant ottomans in the living room. It works, and it actually feels rather nice and friendly.
I’m going to give this a spin, though first I’ll have to get off my butt and finish the Great Spring Break Cleaning.
I’m feeling this way about my life in general. You figure out what you’ve got and you go from there; there’s no point in worrying about what you don’t have right now. I don’t know if coming from a background in which I pretty much had everything made this harder or easier to learn — like, seriously, it seems like it should be easy to learn how to live on a much smaller income. You just spend less, right? But, in fact, it’s actually not all that intuitive when you’ve grown up never really having to worry about the expense of anything.
The difference is that when money really is no object, you can usually make things happen the way you envision them by just laying out some cash. When money is an object, you have to be a little more flexible and a little more creative. You have to learn how to work with what you’ve got.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
You take what you’ve got and you make the most of it, and while you’re doing that you figure out how to make the next step towards realizing the whole of your vision. Except in the most dire of circumstances, you cancel out the negative side of the equation (our dining room is definitely too small!) by recognizing a positive (but our living room is a really fun place for a group of people to hang out!). Then you figure out how to use that positive to meet your goal.
That’s the secret, apparently. That’s what keeps the here and now from seeming like nothing but a grinding wait ’til you get to where you want to be (now, if I can just figure out how to apply this kind of thinking to our bathroom, which I despise with the fire of a thousand suns, and to the fact that our kitchen feels like the most isolated room in our house…).
It’s like the principle of keeping Shabbos: from every Friday at sunset to every Saturday at sunset, the perfected kingdom of G-d is already present; sacred time descends upon and perfects our imperfect world. We invite the Perfect Someday to be here with us, now, and for a little while even our imperfect world is lifted up and perfected. Things still get spilled and little kids still burst into tears for mysterious reasons, but those things happen in the context of the Perfect Someday, and they too are sacred events.
In a way, Sarah Grey’s Friday Night Meatballs, with its recognition that the house is going to be messy and that you might be asked to read picture books, is its own Shabbos***. The world doesn’t stop being imperfect and chaotic (this isn’t to say that having to read picture books, by the way, is imperfect: it just probably isn’t what people think of when they think “Friday evening dinner party”), but for a little while, a different kind of perfection — a transcendent perfection — is invited in.
I’d like to live my life a little more like that. I realize that’s what I’ve been hunting, in my endless journey for a spiritual practice that answers the calling of my soul: something that lifts up the Holy Sparks in all things. I just didn’t realize that it’s been sitting right here in front of me all along. (Voila! Isn’t that always where it is, though?)
It really helps to have an Organizing Principle, of course: Zen, or Yiddishkeit, or Catholic mysticism, or Quaker discernment, or secular humanist discernment, or bike racing, or ballet. Some organizing force that helps you untangle the threads and gather them together and weave them into a tapestry (and to know with ease that there will be imperfections in the tapestry). For whatever reason, Bike Racing didn’t really work for me — perhaps because it wasn’t my Vocation, in the old-school sense of the word.
Ballet has become exactly that in my life. Ballet is, at the moment, a kind of functional Kashruth. It is the thing that helps me decide, and at the same time it’s a sacred aspiration. This is, I think, the heart of the ballet aphorism, “I can’t; I have class.” What we are saying when we say, “I can’t, I have class,” is that we serve a higher calling, and that calling comes before so many of life’s distractions****.
I am not living the kashruth of ballet perfectly, of course, because I am human and because I am just learning: but still it is working in my life, opening roads for wholeness that weren’t there before. It’s like pruning a tree, in a way: you prune away the suckers and the weak branches, and you are left with a strong and graceful tree that bears good fruit.
Ballet is the thing for which I am willing to shove everything else to the side, to make sacrifices that a year ago I wouldn’t have thought possible (Give up bike racing? Take any old job just so I can afford my training? Do :::shudder::: upper-body work?!).
I don’t think I would actually have bothered seeking out medication for my ADHD if it weren’t for ballet — but I realized that I need to get better at handling the other stuff in my life so I can keep dancing and so I can achieve my long-term goal of becoming a Dance-Movement Therapist, and I realized after a while that I wasn’t going to be able to do it without help.
I don’t know if, without ballet, I would have ever been as comfortable being who and what I am. I would have continued to feel weird, out of place, even in the outsider community that is the queer universe. I would have continued to hem and haw about having surgery for my gynecomastia, forever suspended between “living with this body limits me and makes me uncomfortable” and “the whole idea of surgery both makes Denis uncomfortable and reinforces the idea that there is only one right kind of male body.” I would have gone on not deciding until the accumulation of years rendered a decision for me. Ballet makes that decision easy: this is the thing I need to do to be able to move with freedom and strength. I can’t imagine regretting it, but I can absolutely imagine regretting not doing it.
Then again, that was the first bit of wisdom I learned from Denis: in the long run, you rarely regret what you do — instead, you regret what you don’t do.
So, yeah. I think I’m going to finish cleaning the house and try my own Friday Night Meatballs experiment, though maybe I’ll do something other than meatballs (but maybe not). We’ll figure out where to put people and where to put people’s cars and so forth (and if my friends come, they’ll probably come on bikes anyway).
I also think I’m going to keep working on moving forward, on stepping out onto this stage. Because, bizarrely, that’s what this all feels like: so much of my life, up until this point, has been rehearsal.
Now we step onto the stage. Now we take our place before the eyes of the world.
Now we begin to dance.
I finally bit the bullet and returned to intermediate class today.
But first I failed to eat breakfast, so I bought some protein bars (mainly because they were fairly low in sugar). I had plenty of time before class, so I wolfed one down.
Then I noticed a message on the side of the box: “Increase fiber intake gradually to avoid gastric distress.”
I did not proceed to check out the fiber content (update: I did check it after I got home — 20% of your daily diet intake per Bar! No wonder. I mean, that’s great, but maybe better after class, here).
I didn’t want to know. Sometimes — particularly on the way into I(ntermediate) C(lass), Brienne’s IC especially — ignorance is bliss, or at least survival.
Barre went well. As a body, Brienne’s students adore her because she works us like a bunch of cart-horses while providing great guidance and corrections. We suffer under her tutelage and emerge better dancers.
Oh, and her barre is often a full hour long. Spin class got nothin’ on Brienne’s barre.
It turns out that I haven’t lost my ability to learn long combinations and execute them, though I am somewhat out of shape physically.
I suffered like a bike racer through the final fondu adagio (we did, like, three separate slow fondu combos; mine got ugly towards the end) and then somewhat half-assed the frappés, even though that combination was fun (frappe x4, grand battement x2, all the way around and then avant with the inside leg).
At center, it turned out (no pun intended!) that all the work I’ve been doing on balances has greatly improved my turns. They’re now solid in combinations, as long as I don’t psych myself out.
We did a little warm-up thing with tendus and pirouettes from fifth, then some really nice adagio that I freaking well did right (including a double from fourth, Bwahaha!) on the first try…
And then, like a voice from beyond, my stomach spoke.
It spoke inaudibly, but its message was clear: Danseur Ignoble, you are just about done for the day. It was quite firm about that.
I made it through the second side of the adagio combination, but by the end of the first-side repeat my guts were in knots and I was starting to think I might vomit. My leg was also quietly suggesting that it was close to done –and I still needed to haul groceries home on the bike. For that matter, even my brain wasn’t so hot by then: it was busy trying to keep my guts in line, and I soon forgot the combination I’d just done so successfully a moment before.
My leg, my guts, my brain, and I limped through the rest of the adagio. We skipped the allegro: the guts weren’t having it, and the leg felt sufficiently fatigued to suggest a good stopping point anyway.
Needless to say, I followed up my class with an unexpected pit stop. Oy vey.
At any rate, all’s well that ends well. I’m feeling much better now.
And I have learned a valuable lesson: when choosing a pre-class breakfast bar, fiber content is probably as important as sugar and protein content.
1. An effective one for keeping the supporting leg really turned out while in a relevé balance (can’t remember how she said it, but it worked and I’ve got it in my body now).
2. A deeply useful one for hitting the accents and a good line in frappé. Somehow, I haven’t been thinking of where the “picture” is in frappé,perhaps because I keep thinking of it as a passing step, which is a silly thing to think anyway in ballet. In ballet, there’s always a “picture.”
3. An excellent one for being musical and expressive in adagio without squinching up too much in the “small” moments. This one you really had to see. Maybe I’ll make a video?
Even though graduating is, like, terrifying in its own way (I used to kvetch about never finishing anything; now I’m kvetching about how scary finishing is!), I can’t wait to be done with this semester so I can get back to doing Brienne’s class on a regular basis. Also Brian’s Monday class.
Between the two of them and Margie’s and/or Claire’s Saturday classes, I think I’ll be in very good shape when it comes time to do the audition component for various DMT programs. I’m gaining a confidence in my body that I really never expected to achieve (learning to loooooove yourself, it is the greaaaaaatest loooooove o-of all, amirite?).
So that’s it for today. Stay on the ball, dancers!