Archive for ‘Serious Biz-ness’

January 31, 2012

Something Worth Doing

This morning, the husband sent me an article by a woman who, a few  years after a major medical emergency, picked herself up and said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

All I could think to tell him was “thank you.”

Here’s my favorite bit:

I decided to up the ante and go balls-to-the-wall … I decided that I wanted to do it right now and not wait, because waiting is never a guarantee … I decided to become an ass-kicker, take no prisoners, say ‘Yes’ more, and stop pansy-footing around. I decided that fuck it, we’re damn worth it, and if you don’t stand up for yourself…well then who the hell will do it for you?

I mean, right?

What an inspiration to really just do it. Waiting is never a guarantee. Holy crap. How often do we do this? How often did I say “January is 5 years from the accident. I’ll try … everything … again then.” ?

I want to challenge myself … and all of you … to do one thing in February, that you’ve been putting off. Just one thing. Mine will be swimming (something I did competitively in HS and college). What will yours be?

Read her whole story here.

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January 20, 2012

Sometimes They Come True

So … with tomorrow being the 5 YEAR anniversary of the accident (fondly known as “Hooray! Sarah’s Still Alive! Day”), I feel it appropriate to post a reflection today.

In late fall, after much cheering on from all of you, I signed up for a Master Class with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

I was scared, then I was nervous, then I was excited.

So, I did some reasearch and ordered some new dancewear. Paid for fast shipping and everything. (Thanks a lot DC area and your 2 dancewear stores. You fail.) Got it. Got super excited. Tried it all on.

And cried. Hard.

Putting on a leotard and capris for the first time in 5 years really magnified what I’d lost. Wearing something I’d basically LIVED in for 23 years, I hated how I looked. HATED it. And I’ve never been one to hate my body. I mean, yes, I knew I’d put on some weight … but to have a leotard that was ALREADY a size up from all my old ones be too small? To have the one-size-fits-all capris pull to nearly transparent across my thighs?

Yah, lots of crying.

Considering I didn’t have time to order a new leotard, or exchange it, I was stuck. And the idea of wearing things too small (to a class I wasn’t sure I could make it though in the first place)  was enough for me to cry myself to sleep, thinking my idea of going was misguided and really, I should just forget all about it.

No bueno.

Saturday morning dawned, and the husband … who HATES it when money is wasted … dragged me out of bed and told me I was going, as I’d already paid. So I shoved myself into the too small dancewear, pulled my hair into a bun, grabbed a pair of sweats just in case. And sniffled my way there.

Getting to the Kennedy Center I was greeted by a beautiful elderly lady, who moved with a fluidity you rarely see. I would not be shocked in the slightest if she was a prima ballerina in her youth. While escorting me upstairs she asked how long I’d been dancing. I told her my story (the short version) and she leaned over and hugged me.

“Ballet … no, modern, I think. Am I right?” She was. “I’m so very glad you’re back to dance today. Congratulations.”

Oh man. After that it was ALRIGHT CLASS, LET’S DO THIS.

Walking into the room, there were about 10 other students. And clearly, I was nearly a decade older than every. single. one of them. I tossed my stuff in a corner, and began to stretch. After about 5 minutes of this, our instructor walked in. Quite unexpectedly, he was the company’s director of choreography, Robert Swinston.* With no warning (and no time to shed my sweatpants), he launched us into the first routine.

I’d forgotten that in a Master Class nothing is taught at half speed. It’s full on, full out, from the very first step.

90 minutes. 90 minutes of steps deceptively simple looking. Of twists and leaps and quite literally flinging ourselves around the room. 90 minutes physically harder than anything I remember doing.

I fell … often … in the first 15 minutes. And I laughed … every time. Which earned glares from other dancers. But also the praise of our instructor “Why shouldn’t she laugh? Falling is silly. You have to have fun with it, laugh, pick yourself back up. If you’re not enjoying yourself, if you’re taking yourself too seriously, you shouldn’t have the honor of calling yourself a dancer.”

That didn’t win me any friends … but it did make me glow. And gave me the courage to get up and re-attempt the step I’d just crashed out of.

I fell a lot. (So did everyone else.) I missed nearly every single arm movement (it’s been oh … 15 years since I’ve taken ballet. You don’t use matched arm and foot placements in modern!). I had to stop twice, as my back wouldn’t support holding a certain position. I laughed (loudly),  I sweated (heavily), I made a fool of myself (often), and I forgot that my leotard didn’t fit.

When he began to cool us down I started to get excited. I’d made it! I’d actually made it though a class, NOW, that I’d been too chicken to take back in the height of my dance career.

As we were all packing up I overheard a couple local college kids complaining that the choreography had been “too easy” and they’d been “expecting … MORE.” Made bold by my sense of accomplishment I walked over and snapped “You’ve CLEARLY never seen this company perform. Their entire style is based on doing basic movements PERFECTLY.” From behind me, someone else piped up, addressing the girl I’d just scolded. “Doing one movement perfectly, holding it, really feeling it and making your audience feel it, too, is much MUCH harder than going through a series where you only need to hit the end step on the right beat. Go back to your ballet class, little girl. Leave this to the adults.”

Um. Wow.

Turns out, the company was rehearsing for the night’s performance, just after our class. The company dancers had begun filing into the room as we packed up.

The complainer flounced away, and the woman laughed. The DoC walked up, clearly amused by what had just happened, and turned to me. “So what’s your story? You clearly have modern training … some Martha Graham, right? You were the only one in the room who knew what they were doing or even TRIED. But something’s off. You were rock solid on your left, but every time we focused on the right, you fell. Why?”

As I explained about the accident and my resulting back issues, you could see the wheels turning. Without asking permission (a dance master never does), he started probing my back, and taking me through some steps. Then, standing back, he asked me to cover some of the steps we’d done in class. While going through them, a couple of the company members came up and began to fill in the empty spaces. It turns out, the series of steps that we’d done in class were actually one member’s movements from a full routine. As the empty spaces with filled with others, it all made sense.

It was magical. And stunningly beautiful.

After many, many thanks to everyone, I left. By the time I got outside, guests were arriving for another afternoon show. Standing there in my leotard and sweats, I was quite the standout among the formalwear. But I barely noticed.

I found a place to wait for my ride, and slowly … as the adrenaline slipped away … what had happened started to hit me. I’d danced, something I’d never thought I would do again. And I’d done so for the DoC of my dream company … with the company members themselves. I’d had two major players in the dance world recognize me for what I once was and encourage me back. And I’d thrown it all in the face of that voice inside me that echoed what so many doctors have been telling me for the last five years.

I started shaking. And I cried. And felt the urge to vomit from the emotion of it all.

And as the cool December air dried my tears, I looked down at my feet…

 

… and thought maybe, JUST MAYBE, they would lead me back to a place where what I’d once been would become what I AM.

 

* A quick excerpt from his bio: “… attended the Juilliard School, where he received a BFA in Dance. He danced with the Martha Graham Apprentice Company, the José Limón Dance Company, and with Kazuko Hirabayashi Dance Theatre.” Holy big deal, Batman. o_O

** Photo taken about 20 minutes after I left the studio. This really was the moment it hit me.

November 16, 2011

Brat

Stumbling around on FB last week I came across a post from an acquaintance saying roughly (I cannot find the post again to save my life, it may have been taken down) that “Military Brat” is not a term of honor, “your kid is a brat because you’re not there to teach them not to be.”

Now, this struck me as odd, and as a misreading of a common term. I was put off, but ignored it.

But then this popped up:

I think it’s irresponsible to make babies and war at the same time. My dad was gone a lot when I was a kid, and my mom was busy, and I grew up feeling alone in the world, with the belief that nobody was there to take care of me. I wondered if my dad had another family in Germany, and I wondered if terrorists were going to kill my mom today, or if the bomb threats were just rumors.

I don’t want that for your kids. If you are unwilling to wait to the end of your contract to start a family, that’s your choice. But if you pretend your kids aren’t losing out by not having you around, you’re delusional.

I’m sorry, what?

I am not a child of the military, though several family members have served. I have many friends in various branches, some on contracts, some career. Some with families, some without. And that post struck me as insulting. (Judging from the response she got to it, I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.)

I mean, look, I get that because your dad was a military contractor he was gone a lot. And I can sympathise with being a little girl with a wildly active (and morbid) imagination. But guess what? For the first 7 years of my life I barely saw EITHER of my parents, because of their work schedules. I didn’t spend my entire childhood in the same house. And I’m fine. I wasn’t traumatized because my mother wasn’t there to help me with my homework, nor did I feel like I was missing out because my dad wasn’t around to play catch with me.

I guess what’s bothering me is the presumption that because she had a bad experience with being a military child, it’s ok for her to condemn military families as “irresponsible” or (as she later said in the comments) “selfish”. Because seriously, who the hell are you to tell someone when it’s ok for them to have children?

It’s a step off the whole “you can’t have kids until x” conversation that pisses everyone off so much. And I won’t stand for it. You can have opinions, but you sure as hell can’t go guilting someone for doing something you don’t like. ESPECIALLY when it comes to having/not having children.

And taking it a step further, it feels like a condemnation of single parent families. Which REALLY gets my blood boiling. You can’t presume to know the reasons/motives/situations that brought about any particular family unit. You can’t honestly believe that your experience is the experience of everyone in a similar situation.

And you certainly need to stop portraying your opinions as fact. That type of arrogance makes me lose whatever respect I had left.

November 3, 2011

Not There Yet

When Lauren posted her super-brave condemnation of the state of women’s equality yesterday, I was incensed. So much so that I couldn’t form coherent sentences.

Because every word she wrote was true.

In a world where women are supposedly “equal” WHY do we still have these issues? It’s a bunch of bullshit. We still have the men who don’t “lower themselves” to work with women. (This is going on at work right now with one of our contractors.) We still have people who assume it’s fine to refer to a woman as “Andy’s little girlfriend” in the workplace, instead of by her name. (Yep, that one was me. And even better, I wasn’t dating Andy.) Movies that include needless rape scenes, for shock value. (I’m looking at you “The Hills Have Eyes”.) Industries and communities where women are still marginalized. Where a presidential candidate can make a fool of himself paying off the women he’s harassed, and assume he can still win a nomination. Where, as Lauren said, we’ve been taught to keep our heads down, bite our lips, and tolerate it all … just to survive.

And then this, pulled from Twitter yesterday:

“sucks to have to be a rape survivor AND a rape joke survivor”

There is so, so much wrong with this I can barely think.

I’ve touched on it briefly in the past, but let’s get a little background, and a little detail:

A month before my 16th birthday I was raped. By my boyfriend. The boy who’d given me my first kiss, pursued me and made me feel wanted, and then gotten very, very angry when I refused to have sex with him. 3 days after my laughing refusal (I’d thought it was a joke) he drugged my drink* while at a party, and spirited me off to an empty room. He was interrupted after who-knows-how-long by a friend who’d come looking for a sweatshirt. Said friend chased him off, covered me up, and told the girl giving the party to call my mom and let her know I’d stayed over. (He assumed, as did everyone else who noticed my absence, that I’d had too much to drink and passed out. In reality, I’d had no alcohol at all.) The next day, the boyfriend broke up with me via phone (without me fully comprehending what had happened) and started dating a mutual friend, who WOULD sleep with him.

That girl began a smear campaign against me, telling people not to belive a word I said, I was just jealous that he’d dumped me for her. (To this day, I’m not sure if she knew.) Having nearly everyone around you laugh at you for “making up” a trauma? Not exactly helpful during the healing process. But the worst part was yet to come.

Three months after, I confided what had happened to a good friend. Turns out, good friend knew him – they played soccer together. Apparently, during practices, he’d been bragging about what he’d done to me, to a cheering audience. My friend said “I had no idea he was talking about you.”

Let me repeat that. He raped me. And then he bragged about it. And his teammates cheered him on.

What the fuck is wrong with the world when RAPE is a form of amusement? When authorities can’t, or aren’t willing to do anything to help me, though there was a confession? When the media continues to tell girls (enough that it even got in my head) “it’s how you dress, how you act, how you speak … you brought this on yourself” and “boys will be boys, we just have to bear it.”

It’s bullshit. BULLSHIT.

But it can swing wildly in the opposite direction, too. When, three years later, I bolted from a freshman seminar about date rape, a counselor followed me. She was welcoming and comforting, and encouraged me to come back after the seminar was over, to talk to the presenter one-on-one. So I did. Only to be badgered by said presenter to “Take it to the police! It’s your duty as a woman!! We can’t let men get away with this kind of thing!!” It took 45 minutes to get away from her, and changing my phone number (“helpfully” provided to her by the school) to finally get her to leave me alone completely.

Because here’s the thing … I DON’T THINK MEN, AS A WHOLE, ARE THE PROBLEM. I think SOCIETY is. The fucking permissive, look-the-other-way, make-everthing-a-joke (and call everyone who doesn’t find it funny stuck up) society that we live in … the one that undervalues women in every way (the glass ceiling, women’s health rights, equal rights etc.) … that allows the assholes (male AND female) who actually THINK THAT WAY to do as they please with very little consequence.

Hell, my boss and I had a conversation today about a past harassment charge she’d brought against someone … only to be told by her female HR rep “You really don’t want to do this. You’ve been here 8 years, why would you do this?”

WHAT?!

How do we fix this? How? Lauren is in her space yelling and not taking it, and I do the same here (and in person … I regularly get into it on the street. I don’t take shit from people. Period.). I know many of you do the same. But how do we get it out there? How do we make our voices heard by more than the unlucky few who choose to cross us? How do we take this thing we all know to be so, so wrong, and CHANGE it?

“They” say to be the change. The hard part is finding the place to start.

 

* Little known fact about rohypnol – you’re not actually unconscious. If someone props you up and walks … you’ll walk with them. You look very, very drunk. Which is one of the more terrifying aspects of the drug … no one will notice anything wrong. And while I wasn’t aware of it while it was happening, I have very, VERY vivid memories of that night. So, I don’t stand for “well, date rape isn’t REAL rape” either.

October 17, 2011

Dream Chance

So … we’ve discussed my past in dance, and the reason I can’t anymore, right? Now is one of those times where the Fear comes back.

At the end of this year, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company will be closing its doors. Their final performance will be at the Park Avenue Armory on New Year’s Eve. But before that, they’ll be here, in DC, at the Kennedy Center.

 

It’s been a dream of mine for the past oh, 15 years, to dance with/for Merce Cunningham. My focus was always in modern choreography, and they do it better than anyone I’ve ever seen. I was lucky enough in 2007 (just months after my accident) to  see the company perform three pieces … two of which were premieres.

eyeSPACE was something new and unusual … an hour-long piece of choreography, with no music. Each audience member was given an iPod Shuffle … and told when to begin playing. Each iPod had different accompaniment  … some were music, some were city or nature sounds, and at least one was a spanish lesson. (My date for the night had that one.) You could also choose to take out your headphones, and just listen to the sounds of the dance itself. Everyone in the audience had an entirely unique experience. It was a study in DANCE as a stand alone art form … not just as an accompaniment to music.

It was stunning.

I, of course, cried my way through that performance. For the beauty, and for everything lost. When applying to take classes with the company (in hopes of becoming a company member one day), they put you through a course of back strength testing and build up. Specifically, lower back. The part that was so much trouble for me. So … that was out.

And this year, they’re closing. But as a grand farewell, they’re doing the Legacy Tour … and one stop is here. On December 2nd. Any way I can, I’m going.

Here comes the scary part:

On December 3rd, they’re offering a Master Class for intermediate to advanced dancers. I’m not at that level anymore. I’d say, thanks to my limitations, I’m a low intermediate. (And yes, that just killed me to write.) I don’t know that I could handle it.

My husband last night said “It might hurt.” I thought he was talking physically … he was talking emotionally. God love him for trying to protect me … he knows how upset I get any time I’m faced with something I used to be able to do so easily, and just can’t anymore.

But IT’S A CHANCE TO DANCE WITH MERCE. A chance that will NEVER happen again.

And I’m terrified.

What do I do?

 

As a side bonus … CoisCéim Dance Theatre … from Dublin. I saw this program (Knots) in 2005. This video does NOT do it justice. It’s so much more intricate and dramatic live. The camera work here is just terrible.*

The duet at 4:00 was the last piece I ever performed … just 2 weeks before my accident. It was raw, and emotional … just like you’d expect it to be. Oh … and my shirt wasn’t torn. 

 

 

*Though I do LOVE that they didn’t try to edit the bruises out. That was a dance that left huge welts. It was worth it.