Monday, October 31, 2011

Stress or Depression or Both

I am feeling (to say the least) overwhelmed. Since returning from the National Dance Educator's Organization Conference last week, I feel like I can't catch up.  This is the time in the semester when all the "good" ideas are coming to a head, and it is time to pay up. 

But even that isn't entirely true. I don't have THAT much to do. I certainly could achieve most of what I have to get done, but the truth is I am feeling spent.  I was so careful during the first part of the semester to take care of my time and energy, but this still happened.  I still ran out of gas.

I am griping. I guess I am in the mood to gripe.  I am bitter because I have so many ideas going around in my head. Creative ideas that are full of potential. Dance ideas. Teaching ideas. Writing ideas. But I don't want to do the work. I don't want to take the time and energy to actually put my pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.  Even this is feeling awkward. Mostly because I feel like I have some very cool experiences from the NDEO conference which are great blog material, but instead I am caught in this cloudy mess of fatigue, apathy and dejection. 

The stress (which apparently snuck up on me without me knowing it) is taking its toll.  I am feeling depressed.  And, that is the crux of all of this.  I have great things to do, great insights to share, ideas to follow, but I am anchored to the typical symptoms: fatigue, sorrow, obsessive thoughts, anxiety dreams, the desire to just sit for hours on end, preferably with a stream of movies going on end to end to end. 

In the scheme of things, the symptoms are not terrible and will hopefully go away soon. But it is a reminder that even when things are good, stress takes it toll, and for me stress results in depression.  I think it is a chemical thing because there is really nothing wrong. I just feel bad.  Sub-par. 

Good times and a stable life, and I can still get caught in the cloud.  It happens less and less.  But it is a reality for me. Chronic depression doesn't just disappear when things are good and you have a good week, or two or three.  It is a constant practice. 

Side Note:  It doesn't help that my office printer is broken.  It is throwing of my groove and making everything harder.

Perhaps tomorrow the cloud will lift like coastal fog that finally burns off after you have given up on a sunny day.  But at this point I am still hoping for sunny skies.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Another Garden Poem. . .

First Garden

Visions of orange, red and purple roots
lying just under the surface
green sprigs jumps at my ankles as I walk
along the rows
and my feet sink into the soft soil
soft calluses swaddled with each step

Hot days leave my gardenia drooping
but my sunflowers keep smiling
afternoon sun no match for their joy of summer
drinking up every last sip of sunlight
before the fiery sphere slips behind the mountain
yellow petals nod in approval of the breeze

The pear trees are still young
no blossoms this year
perhaps next year will surprise us with soft white blossoms
the closest thing to snow as they fall lightly
on the southern California ground
for now, the green leaves themselves
are a blessing to be enjoyed
filled with promise for future harvests

The marigolds came free in the mail
one plant a lone survivor from the pack
vibrant yellow, orange balls like ornaments
small suns hanging on the leaves in cheerful celebration
grown from seed
predictable miracles proving the debate for both sides

The cucumbers were an unexpected success
a shaky start and a mid-season fallen tree branch
pruney, spikey, dark green
sweet white insides make for perfect sandwiches
add avocado, sprouts and nutty bread
I think there's still another on the vine
for tomorrow's eating
 to taste summer again in each bite

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In Over My Head. Again.

I agree to things before I realize exactly what that means.  I throw caution to the wind an say yes regardless if I am either:

a) am capable
b) have the time

It is my modus operandi really.  It seems to be what makes me tick (and go crazy all at the same time).  So, while I am prepping for 3 presentations I will be giving at the next NDEO conference (National Dance Educators Organization), producing a dance concert, choreographing 3 pieces on my students, planning a special halloween tap dance performance for my Tap I class, and finishing a 52 minute dance piece for my company. . . .


I have also agreed to go on a poetry tour.

Let me remind you that I am not really a poet. Sure I call myself a poetess. But that is more of a dream identity that an actual one.  I write poetry because I know nothing about it, how to do it, history of it nor whether I am making a complete ass of myself. Basically, I do it because I can write really bad poems and have no real-life repercussions.  It is just fun.

Well. Until now.

Now, I am obligated.  I am actually going to have to write something that I will then memorize and perform in front of unsuspecting audiences in the Bay Area next May.  I hope they aren't paying. But I am getting ahead of myself.

What plague me currently is a project we poets are organizing to raise funds for the trip.  A Poet/Pinup Calendar.   Yes, you read right! We poets from the ages of roughly 20 to about 70 will be dressing up for your pleasure (and belly laughter) in a brand-spanking-new 2012 calendar.  Oh, yeah.

Alas, our theme is fantastic: S/heroes and Villians.

I have decided to be a Garden S/hero. Mostly because I like dressing in gingham and like getting dirty.  None of this troubles me. I can put on fake eyelashes and hold a bunch of carrots, no problem. The hitch comes in that I have to write a garden poem to go along with my Garden Hero character.  And, I have yet to even try. 

So, I hereby dedicate myself to writing at least one garden poem a day and posting it here for your reading pleasure (and daily laughter medicine -- because it may be funny or more likely so bad you will have to laugh out of pity).  I promise they will be terrible, perhaps ridiculous, funny if I'm lucky, irrational and only maybe good. Read because it will make you feel good about yourself and your own art. Let me be your sacrificial lamb to the creative gods. I don't mind, really.

The poem needs to be done by Halloween.  So, I had better get crackin'.

Garden Poem #1

They seem to be of a different variety
Not quite the usual white aphids or black beetles
Brown spiders of Black widows
I like the tarantulas I see every once in a while.
Fuzzy. Kind of Cute.
No, these bugs are blue.
Unlike any bug I've ever seen.
Creeping in
Nesting under leaves in invisible webs of confusion
The garden soil gives them all the nutrients they need
Fertile, dark, moist and healthy
They feed on whatever crosses their paths
But I never see them swallow
They grow and multiply whether I ignore them
or expose their bellies to the sun.
It doesn't make sense
Sensing time pass
They are blue
But blue sometimes feel closer to black
Patterns obscured by morning moods and recently upturned soil
Deep blue.
Blue of a time that does not fit in today
Shiny exoskeleton, armored from my pesticides of care
This bug,
Bugging me
On days
Making days I don't want
Days that make my Hydrangeas wilt and my zucchini leaves turn yellow
I take my spade and fight them off
Falling through the finger of my rake
Not to be captured
Not to be tamed
I feed my plants with extra Nitrogen
but even the lavender grows crisp and brittle from their bites
Blue bug
Deep blue and shiny
Hiding in shadows
Mocking me on my sunny sidewalk.
I throw down the shovel
I dedicate tomorrow to stamping you out.
But today
is blue.

(Didn't expect it to take that turn. Did I mention I just write poems without editing them? Well, I do. I just let them flow. So, this is what you got for now.  But. . . at least the poem is done for the day.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ich kann nicht mehr. Ich brech' zusammen

Ich kann nicht mehr. Ich brech' zusammen

There is this fantastic phrase in German.  (My German friends who read this will promptly tell me what I have misspelled; I am sure. But, having learned this phrase over a decade ago and still remembering it as well as I do, I give myself props.)

It means: "I can do no more. I break together." 

Well, that is the literal translation. The meaning translates into. "I am done. I can't do anymore."

But it just doesn't sound as good in English.

I have been ill with a cold and today I stayed home to rest. While I committed myself to resting physically, today quickly became a guilt ridden day of following up on old emails that have long since been pushed into the "next" pages of my Yahoo mail, catching up with grading and following up with work emails that needed to be addressed in a timely manner regardless of whether or not snot is running out my nose.

So, I spent the day "resting" in front of my computer screen, in a hard backed chair with a wicker seat that has left permanent imprints on the backs of my thighs.  I don't own a computer chair.  Why would I when I can enjoy the ripples of red indentations for hours after a computer session? Sexy.

I got a lot done today.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that I have nearly given myself an anxiety attack in the meantime.  Sometimes being less reminded of your commitments and obligations really is better for the mental health.  But, alas, then on your day of rest you can't rest at all.  Hence today. 

I tested my conviction for getting things done on the computer by NOT opening up Twitter, Facebook or this blog until the end.  That wasn't the hard part for me.  The hardest part (beside the wicker seat and wooden chair back) was knowing that some people sit at their computers all day everyday.  I would probably die. Or at least gain 400 pounds. As it was I ate, 2 slices of PB toast, coffee, a pot of Rostaroma tea with soy milk, two HUGE steamed artichokes (with mayo of course),  and four healthy sized pancakes with maple syrup for dinner. All while sitting at the good ol' computer.   Oh, and nearly the whole dish of raw almonds sitting to my left.

Side Note: Artichokes are not the best food to eat at the computer because you can't type and eat them very well at the same time, and if you alternate the keyboard gets all messy.

With all that said and done, Ich kann nicht mehr.  I think I might actually break together. Right onto my bed. Teaches me to try to stay home and rest.  Good riddance.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Political Shadows

I am not a particularly politically minded person. Meaning: I don't follow the daily news on who said what to whom and who is denying or apologizing for saying something they "didn't mean".  I generally don't talk about politics in my social circles or at work where I teach.  But, every once in a while, I get a hankering to dive in and see what I can discern from all that is American politics.

Unfortunately, this time around the investigation made just as depressed as it has in the past.  (And, I mean I really am experiencing some symptoms of depression, and I think it might be due to my recent political undertakings. NOT a good sign.)

Because I don't really have time to devote to researching the political scene and the historical background, I don't feel confident in discussing politics with many people.  I often feel that I simply don't know enough to make political decisions at all, so when voting time comes around, I struggle. I know lot of wonderful and smart people from both major parties as well as a smattering from the libertarian, green and independent alternatives.  I see their passion and conviction. I witness their care for the people around them and the health of their world.  I believe they all mean well.  I know they all believe they have the best answers and solutions. 

I mostly stay quiet or ask basic questions on their understandings but never make declarations of my own.  It seems to keep my personal interactions healthiest while I get more information to unobtrusively file away in my rusty mental file cabinet of national politics. 

I write about this only because, this occasional hankering to connect with the political world inevitably makes me a little sad and makes me wonder what I could possible do about it.  I try to stay unaffected, but I am too sensitive to steel myself from the conflict I see and feel in the political arena.  I see people shouting at each other, frustrated, angry, and defensive, and I can't help but recoil from the whole situation.  I can't watch smart people turned into animals fighting over the last scraps of a carcass. 

I realized today that I feel powerless in politics.  That's probably why I donate to charities like Heifer International instead of political campaigns.  I mistrust politicians, and mistrust is not something I experience very often. I am really a rose-colored-glasses type of person so when it comes to distrusting politicians (while it doesn't seem outrageous to most) it does to me.  I fear double talk and pandering at every turn.  I see everything as a potential stratagem for reelection rather than a choice of integrity and values.   I suspect everyone of making deals like I saw on the West Wing.  "I will give you this, if you give me that."  "Compromise" done behind doors and for political gain. 

I do vote. I do encourage my students to vote. But, as a constituent, I don't feel heard, and I don't have the wealth or clout to buy my way into being heard. 

The only way I feel empowered is knowing that when I teach my classroom of students, I can encourage them to live with integrity.  I can encourage my students to be strong, independent thinking individuals who make choices that maintain their integrity and the integrity of others.  Honest. True. Just. Compassionate.

As far as dance and the arts. I want to know:  Where is the Kurt Joss of our time choreographing "The Green Table"? Where are the dances of protest from the 60's? Where is our Doris Humphrey and her "New Dance."  The arts have become an escape from reality. And, I like everyone, love that dance can be an escape from the demands, drudgery and disappointments of life.  But, I want a Josephine Baker who wouldn't dance in a club because it was segregated.  Bill T Jones is here and for him, I am grateful. Perhaps there are others I just can't think of right now. But, what I see on TV, in dance films and the touring repertory of many major companies is missing the mark. 

I see is how the performing arts can't make enough money to get by and make ends meet when they deal with these difficult and controversial issues. They can't take a stand because they can't afford to alienate their audience.  We (the audience) don't seem to want to pay for anything but entertainment.  Times are tough and we want the break.  I know I do. But then every once in a while, like this week, like tonight, I regret my choices and I feel ashamed. 

I have not lived up to my own expectations and my own standard of integrity.  When I see audiences stay home for the risky politically or socially minded work, I see myself not coming out and supporting the risk takers.   I don't even know where the risk takers are right now. 

I want a choreographer to make a dance that chills me to the bone. I want to see a dance or hear a song or a discover painting that dives in and calls the country to action, that wakes me and the rest of my block out of our slumber.  I want this piece of art to be so powerful that we as a country are ashamed of our collapse away from integrity, unity, patriotism and confidence in each other and have no choice but pull together and interact with the highest level of respect, trust and belief in one another.

I believe in people, and I want people to believe in one another a heck of a lot more than they seem to right now.  I don't like feeling sad about the state of affairs in this country. I would much rather write about horses on a hike or the joys of marriage or teaching.  But tonight I only see these political shadows cast over me.

I don't know if I am the one to make this dance I am talking about.  I am not even sure what such a dance would look like or what exactly it would need to say.  But, it has to be out there. 

In the meantime, I will keep at the daily grind with one eye out for an answer. 

Maybe there is a resolution just beyond the hill.

Maybe it is just around the corner.

Maybe I can learn to trust that integrity can be reinstalled.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Being put to use

I have had the joy of feeling very helpful for the past few days. And, let me tell you. It is great!

It started when my sister who is directing a show with tap in it called to see if I knew what "double up" meant (I think they meant double time). She was blocking a scene in which the tap dancing character is demonstrating toe taps while calling out "double up and switch sides."  I told her to see if it worked and if not just change the step (or she suggested the dialogue) to make it match. The audience won't know.

Then my dear (and ever inspiring) choral conducting friend Vail calls me up to see if I can decipher a dance step from a video of gumboot dancers which she is having her students perform in the next concert while singing a South African song.  It took me all of ten seconds to watch the video and figure out the stepping and slapping pattern. Success! I broke it down for you her, and within 3 minutes my job was done.  I am on fire!

But, the greatest experience of feeling helpful was last night as a guest speaker in my friend Joelle's English composition class.  She had invited me to speak on dance and my creative process. Her students are preparing for a field research paper including a personal interview and my visit was to demonstrate how to interview someone (in a group setting) as well as shed some light on how making dances and writing share a similar creative process.  First let me tell you: I had a straight up great time. Perhaps a better time that some of the students.  I felt like I was able to really share.  No restraints or inhibitions. Because I wasn't their primary teacher I could speak openly and freely without worrying about whether they liked me or not (Yes, it does matter to me whether my students like me or at the minimum respect and trust me). I would never see most of these students again. It was time to let her rip!

As I was talking about dance, my company, depression, dance notation, time management, hitting a slump, working through challenge, taking time to reflect and observe and other bits and pieces of my dance and personal life, I realized that I actually knew a lot. I was impressing myself in the process.  The thing is, after pushing against the constant struggle of the daily grind, feeling always overwhelmed and underwater, I still feel like I need to learn more. I still feel like I am somehow behind or uninformed in my field.  So, this was a great relief to feel like I possessed useful information that was both exciting and interesting for this class of English students.  I felt like an expert. Strange but intoxicating.

I was putting my years of dance education and experience to use in a single situation all at once.  I answered questions without missing a beat, jotted down Language of Dance© symbols on the board without hesitation, performed mini improvisations from a spontaneous score and made the students laugh and be playful in their inquiry and learning.

I liked seeing them lean forward in their seats. Their eyes focused and alive.  I admitted that making dances (like writing) is tough at times, but worth the challenge because of the long term pay off.  Something we do "only for fun" or only "when we feel like it" usually yields flimsy results that are as fickle as our approach.  But, when we return to something again and again, we can experience moments when it becomes so powerful and real that we know we have created something valuable and precious. 

I wish I could recall everything I said to this class. It was like all my wisdom poured out of me at once.  It all seemed so perfect, true, exciting and urgent. But, my memory fails me as I try to recapture it all now.  It was a stream of consciousness experience never to be exactly recreated.


I do remember this one point with great accuracy: They as artists need to trust themselves because what we feel as normal human beings in our humdrum lives and/or creative endeavors is truly unique and can be fascinating to others. I reminded them that only we live in our own skin and our own lives.  We must share what we know and what we experience, because it opens a window for others to peek inside to our inner workings, and it invites them to reflect on their own. Complex, intricate, spastic, fragile.

I hope that this blog serves you in this way.  The window into who and how I am is open.  I won't always be fascinating, but I promise to always be true.  And, when I can, inspiring. . . or at least funny (every once in a while). 

Some very cool gumboot dancing
(no this is NOT the one I figured out. If it were I should get a prize. But it is still way cool and worth watching):

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Trying out that Twitter thing. . .

It's true. I now have a twitter account and plan to use it. And I am certainly having mixed emotions about it all. One thing I do know is that this social networking stuff is hard work! Time consuming and mentally taxing if nothing else. And, I have the feeling it is harder at the beginning before it becomes a more self perpetuating mechanism. It is like having time for your friends. When you move to a new place you have all the time in the world but no friends to hang out with. But, once you get embedded in a group of friends, then your hanging out perpetuates itself and if anything you don't have enough time to see everyone you want to see.

But, I have to believe that this work will be worth it. My dance company Megill & Company takes my breath away. The dancers are unbelievably beautiful, passionate, easy to work with, funny. . . the list goes on. Bottom line is they need to be seen. They deserve to be seen and enjoyed. The more I see what is happening in the dance world the more I see that we fill a particular niche. Dance theater. Not quite Bill T. Jones. But in concept not too far. We enjoy being playful, making commentary, challenging the line between entertainment and art but working on the other end of the spectrum from the entertainment industry. We tell stories through movement (and sometimes words). Those who have seen us seem to like us. At least that is what I have heard so far.

So, I need to make the effort. Twitter here I am. Subject to your madness and hash tags (also known as a pound sign by the way for the rest of us who are not up to date on the twitter lingo). I want to get the word out, because the work is being made; it is coming together, and before we know it, we will need an audience. Someone to listen to our stories and see us give away our hearts in movement.

Dance, like ensemble music, is a communal phenomenon. It was born out of people coming together and sharing; it thrives under those conditions. Dancing can't be written down in a journal or book to be discovered posthumously. A choreographer can't lock herself up in her room to make dance after dance without any one knowing. Such dances would be lost to the world. Even a video of the dance would be a shadow of its real effect and power.

Dance is a living art and a performance art that is still largely passed down orally, an oral tradition that needs to be seen and experienced in the flesh. Where you can feel the music from the speakers, hear the breath of the dancers, hear the sound of their skin on the floor, and see the beads of sweat that even HD can't fully capture the way it really is.

So, now I tweet. At least I aspire to tweet. And if you would like to follow then I will know that all this Social Networking madness does have a purpose and will pay off in the end when Megill & Company gets to thank its audience with a bow.

twitter: BethMegill
MeCo on YouTube