Apryl's Musings

Space in Broken Hearts (part 2)

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The project is starting to grow.  There are a few people on board already.  I’m quite excited about that.  On the flip side, I continue to unpack a lot on a personal level.

This meme popped up on my Facebook feed: 

One day you will tell your story of how you overcome what you are going through now, and it will become part of someone else’s survival guide.

This is at the heart of Something is wrong with me.  I firmly believe that sharing our stories with each other becomes part of our own personal survival guide.  Maybe even a pathway to thriving. 

The surviving, healing, thriving can’t wait for the mess to clear up.  It’s diving in deep; witnessing and feeling.  Looking into the muck and toxic materials that has been internalized and reincarnated as self-harm in our lives; potentially harm we have unwittingly done to others.   

Over the past weekend, I have been doing this very thing.  It’s emotionally exhausting because I’ve been seeing myself and my habits in a different light.  It’s not being my usual hypercritical self.  It’s more of an awareness of how I fall down the same rabbit hole time and time again.  The obsessive grasping.  The contorting and wedging into limited emotional spaces.  The co-dependent helper still seeking external acceptance. 

The results are the same.  Anger over feeling ignored and disrespected.  The hurt of rejection.  Re-enforcing that ancient narrative that I internalized almost a half a century ago that:

  • There is something horribly wrong with me

  • I’m stupid

  • Not deserving. Not good enough. Not important enough.

Growing up never feeling that I was enough and easy to throw aside.  As I became an adult, I have re-invented that narrative over and over again.  Not only was I the expendable daughter.  I became the expendable partner/lover and expendable worker. 

A painful realization and difficult one to witness in action to say the least.  While I have felt overwhelming anxiety over this deeper awareness, there is seems to be a twinge of self-acceptance. 

I’m a whole lot of fucked up and a walking contradiction.  I want to be loud and proud yet feel I must hide away in shame and/or fear.  Again, an old narrative tied to my step-father; always hidden when there was company over.

I sit here writing this feeling deep heart ache and on the verge of tears.  The characteristics that make me an amazing person are equally my Achilles heel.  I know I’m not alone. 

I suppose it’s finally time to abandon that narrative.  It’s time to stop being expendable.  To stop contorting.  To stop hiding.  To be loud, proud and unabashedly visible.

Space in Broken Hearts

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“To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feelings of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening.  Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.  Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves is the path of the warrior.”

~ Pema Chodron

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about broken hearts; the big T and little t traumas we sustained from childhood; the wounds inflicted on our very spirits and souls.  Those who know me well, know I’ve had a challenging past.  One filled with emotional/psychological abuse and neglect. My biological father was in my life till I was about 5 years old.  The few memories I have from this time, I wish I could forget.  The best thing he ever did for me was leave.

My step-father was rather young and ill-prepared for an instant family, at 20 years old.  When he married my mother, I was someone else’s kid; the step-daughter.  I grew up feeling like an unwanted house guest.  I was told I was stupid.  When I hit adolescence, I was shamed about my body, as well. 

By 8, I already developed a low sense of self-worth.  I became very quiet.  It was mistaken for shyness.  It wasn’t. I started to withdrawal, often hiding in my room.

It was at this time, my mother enrolled me into ballet classes.  This experience saved me on a subconscious level.  Dance gave me a safe emotional outlet.  It put me in contact with adults who saw something in me.  Something I couldn’t see or even knew existed.

It didn’t repair the damage done.  It didn’t stop me from internalizing the shame.  Or recover memories that long buried.  It didn’t stop me from engaging in failed relationship after failed relationship. 

However, dance did give me a place where I felt engaged.  Where I learned I had something to offer.  It gave me something to strive for.  It encouraged me pursuit an education beyond high school.  From there I discovered, I loved the process of learning. 

While it has kept a spark alive in me, I hit a wall in my late 30s to early 40s.  Financial hardship.  A string of abusive relationships.  Depression.  Anxiety.  Again, life became incredibly messy and overwhelming.  There were days I fantasized about disappearing because non-existence seemed liberating.

Over the past year, I have committed myself to paying attention and trying to unpack all this shit by looking deep into my heart.  Its battered from a lifetime of trauma (self-inflicted and imposed by others).  Two weeks ago, I think I felt that softening in the heart that Pema Chodron talks about.  It was a dull pronounced ache and sadness.  It travelled throughout my body for over a week and a half.  It has made me feel ancy; anxious.  I found it difficult sitting still for any length of time. 

As I tried to sit with that feeling, I realized how I have shrunk myself to fit within someone else’s available emotional crevices.  I’ve contorted and limited myself, clinging to a hope of acceptance.  The act of constricting and reducing myself has led to choices and behaviors I’m not proud of, reaffirming the shame I felt years ago.

While this is sad in one sense, there is a strength and resilience.  In those wounds there is space.  There is opening.  This makes me curious. 

Healing and recovery are long and arduous processes.  However, there is change occurring.  I can’t quite name it or define it.  Maybe it feels more like self-acceptance.  I feel less inclined to hide it and more inclined to ask for help.  I’m less lonely.  Less isolated.  I know who accepts me with all my flaws and warts. 

There is still a mess to clean up.  There are still aspects of my life that are in limbo and not completely stable.  However, at this moment, I am content/comfortable.   

This exercise has compelled me into a deeper exploration through art, story and movement. It’s how I best process issues and it also helps me see the broader context. There are lots of people dealing with these feelings. The working title is something is wrong with me.  The project is in its beginning stage and will be presented June 2020.  Right now, its research and collecting material.  As I gather my thoughts, I will be looking to set up workshop dates.  If you are interested in participating, comfortable sharing your journey, watch for more details in the upcoming month or so.  And feel free to contact me. 

Bittersweet Pill

Our electronic sign not functioning as many of us would lovingly say #TruEMU!

Our electronic sign not functioning as many of us would lovingly say #TruEMU!

During my visit to Portland, I was offered a new job.  It is not as an educator in higher ed yet it is something that I’m equally passionate about.  As of Monday, I will be transitioning from dance instructor and part-time dance lecturer to full-time labor organizer. 

This transition brings up a host of feelings.  I’m excited about my new job.  I am looking forward to this new adventure.  I wonder what I will discover along the way. 

I feel anxiety and trepidation.  For the most part, I feel I am putting all my eggs in one basket.  This terrifies me.  I have spent most of my adult life working multiple jobs; constantly in pursuit of the next gig.  I’ve realized that I have found a strange sense of comfort in the very precarious nature of my income streams.

Those income streams haven’t amounted to much of an income.  That has been a continual source of anxiety.   There have been times I have waited 2+ months for a paycheck as adjunct faculty or for a client to pay for me for my work. 

My gig work is being whittled way as I transition into one job.  One job that promises the highest annual salary I’ve ever been offered with benefits.  I could live life somewhat comfortably for a change.  What a concept.

Finally, I am feel deeply saddened.  I do love my work as a teacher and professor.  It was really difficult to tell my students.  Over the past 2 and a half years, I have taught at my alma mater.  I love all my students.  It’s been deeply meaningful to return to Eastern Michigan University to teach.  It was coming home for me.  Being able to guide, foster and advocate for students in our department was an utter privilege. 

After I told my students, there’s was an unexpected outpouring of support.  I’ve received this from my colleagues as well.  Often times as a teacher, you have no clue as to how you are impacting people.  All I’ve ever hoped for was that maybe I’ve planted a seed that will grow later.  I know there were a few teachers who did this for me and for that I am grateful! 

(Mr. Bott and Viv, I did eventually figure it out.  My deepest gratitude to both of you for believing in me.  Your generosity has meant a lot and I’ve tried my best to pay it forward.)

In a perfect world, I would be a tenured faculty member.  However, I realize that I don’t have the pedigree for such a position.  This doesn’t mean that I can’t be or haven’t been a capable professor.  It simply means that I don’t look attractive enough on my CV to even a third tiered university like my alma mater. 

It doesn’t matter how much I give.  Or how passionate I am (or any of my peers are) about the work, I will not be given the proper chance to prove myself.  This has been a bitter pill to swallow. 

As an adjunct professor, I am not afforded the prestige nor respect I deserve.  I have fallen into a what I have begun to consider as a type of serfdom or caste system that is endemic in academia.   As I became more and more mired in academia, I spent many sleepless night preparing lessons for classes I was offered on a minute’s notice.  I did my best to advocate for my students and colleagues.  I did my best to resist the feelings of isolation, invisibility and veiled academic propriety.  This has left me exhausted and burnt out. 

Furthermore, I didn’t hide this from my students.  I am certain this makes me a bit of a pariah in a university setting but it is what is right.  Academic/professional propriety is an attitude that silences and white washes what are growing inequities in academia. 

Leaving is bittersweet however, it is not the end.  My support and advocacy will continue for students and my colleagues.  It will look different, but it will always be there.  You are my extended family. 

Found this stenciled on the wall outside Porter Hall on Campus a few months back.

Found this stenciled on the wall outside Porter Hall on Campus a few months back.

Soul Mates

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Over the past 10 days, I have been in a process of redefining what “soul mate” means to me.  “Soul Mate” is not a one and only love interest.  It is not a solitary life defining monogamous relationship.  Soul mate is a plural.  It is soul mates.

Soul mates are people who challenge us.  They turn our world upside down.  They get us to think outside our comfort zones.  They are people who agitate and push us to be better people.  They are people who don’t always share our world view.  They are people who make us curious and push us to want to know more.  They question us in ways we may not like.  They are our brothers and sisters in literal and figurative ways.

I spent the past 10 days with a soul mate, Jen Gwirtz.  Jen is a friend.  Jen is an artistic colleague.  Jen is one of my soul mates. 

I’ve known Jen for 20+ years now.  Back in the day, Jen showed me a different way of thinking about dance, performance and art.  Her approach was/is outside of the standard academic canon.  She introduced me to new philosophical thought and methodologies.  Jen introduced me to happenings.  She introduced me to pop up performance that was quirky, funny and subversive. 

Through Jen, I started to think of the creative process as modular; as packets of data and information.  That excited me!  That inspired me to go back to school and pursue my master’s degree. 

Jen and I are sisters from another mister.  We agree on most things but not on everything.  She considers herself a liberal capitalist of Jewish heritage.  Myself, I’m a Buddhist with socialist leanings from a working-class background. 

Jen is a woman with strong and stern maternal instincts.  Me, maybe not so much.  I have intentionally dismantled my biological clock.  If you knew my family background, you’d most likely understand my decision.  

Both of us love to cook.  It is one of the ways we explore and share our creativity.  We are both artists who are in the process of continually honing our voices. 

Jen and I started planning my trip to Portland about 7 or 8 months ago.  On Feb. 21st, I flew out to Portland. 

The two of us haven’t inhabited the same physical space for nearly 10 years.  The last time we saw each other was maybe 2010.  During that visit, I might have had an hour or 2 with her, her husband John and their daughter. 

We met at an ice cream shop in the Richmond district in San Francisco.  I remember wanting to spend more time.  I remember feeling a deep need to spend more time with her, John and their daughter.  However, I felt a tension from my husband (now my second ex).  He was anxious to get on the road.  He wanted to head back to Las Vegas so he could gamble with impunity. 

Now it was my/our time.  Someone else’s agenda wasn’t dictating the schedule.  The only limitation was winter break.    

As I rolled my luggage out of baggage claim, I felt a wave of emotion overwhelm me.  There was Jen, all 5’ of her.  I felt a lump grow in my throat.  A quiver in my voice and that all to familiar need to fight back tears. Cause Detroit girls don’t cry.

We gave each other a huge bear hug that felt like home.  Sisters reunited on a creative mission!  We spent 10 days talking about relationships, art, art creation, social issues and politics.  While we were mostly on the same page, there were times we weren’t in lock step.  Then it was listening.  Deep listening that honored each other’s position.

We spent time in rehearsal creating. We paid attention to the differences in our body types and artistic approaches. Deep listening played a crucial part in our collaboration. Now we have a 10 minute piece (a sprout of a piece) about mushrooms, mycelium and trees. Its a metaphor for our long distance relationship and how I seem to just pop up in new locations like a mushroom. (More on that later.)

Jen is a soul mate.  A soul sister who continues to challenge me.  She opens me up.  Makes me feel vulnerable in ways that are safe.  And yes, this woman from Detroit working class roots made room for that vulnerability.  For that I am deeply grateful. 

As my soul mate, she makes me realize that I have many soul mates.  Brothers, sisters, friends, work colleagues.  People who temporarily cross my path.  Others who are there for the long term.  People who make up a vast mycelium network (pun intended) and become family.  Soul mates aren’t a special one and only.  They are a vast network of people who can pop in and out of our lives and they are often right under our noses. 

Dance Hive:  Collective Dance Creation

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In two weeks, I’ll facilitate workshops on movement generation for Diamonds in The Rough Dance Intensive hosted by Dance in the Mitten.  There is something really interesting about the chaotic mess of emergent processes.  For those who know me and have worked with me, you know my obsession for creating performative messes.  This obsession collides with two other passions, interdisciplinary work and creative collaboration.  Ahhhhh!  For me an opportunity to belly flop straight into artistic mayhem! 

For 2 decades, I have created performance work in a collaborative fashion.  In my previous personal artistic narratives, I would say that I create and mold a piece from the margins.  I’ve always appreciated creating work in this way.  Dancers/performers always add their contributions.  The process becomes communal; social; relational. 

The creative work always grows beyond my initial thoughts.  The work needed people; community to evolve.  Without them it just wouldn’t exist.  I guess a question for me is how to do I push this further.  How can dance/performance creation be further decentralized?   What if a dance is created by a swarm? 

Dance Hive will invite participants to generate movement material through open space technology.  If participants wish, it could result in an informal showing a Diamond in the Rough.  A variety of materials will be available for experimentation and foster curiosity. 

  • Text (old books, magazine advertisements, newspaper articles, cookbooks etc)
  • Drama Techniques
  • Computer code and algorithms
  • Collaborative drawings
  • Ordinary objects and props
  • Participants can add to this list

Specific ideas can be generated from the participants themselves.  Groups form around these ideas and begin to generate small modular sections.  The participants can decide how the sections fit together to create non-linear work.  It could be a ritual.  An informal performance.  The sky’s the limit.