When I was a little girl, I thought that the world was made of fixed things. Solid objects. And I thought that the grownups were going to teach me the names and the history of those objects and how to arrange them in such a way like turning the dial on a combination lock so that something would click and the whole world would open up and everything would be available to me.
And I reached with my mind and my heart to try to grasp the solid fixed objects that I thought existed. Objects like: identity, marriage, friendship, achievement, passion, love, money, health, travel, fame. But I couldn’t grasp them. They were unavailable to me. Just out of my reach and I would try to hold them but I couldn’t. They were too watery for me.
I remember a time during ballet class, a class that I attended nearly every day from the time that I was 8 until 18, where I was making my way across the dance floor doing pirouettes. I couldn’t do them right. I couldn’t make them pretty. I couldn’t make them look the way there were supposed to. I stopped half way across the floor in frustration. Exasperated. I proceeded to walk the rest of the way, head down, mumbling to myself.
My teacher said, in very harsh tone, “It’s your attitude, that’s why you can’t do it.” I remember feeling so called-out, so judged, so reprimanded. “It’s your attitude, that’s why you can’t do it.” There was a negativity in my attitude. There was a fear and a self-criticism and a suffering in my attitude about the pirouettes. I wanted to be able to move effortlessly across the floor. I had certainly been practicing pirouettes for a very long time -- as long as the other girls in the room. But it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess. It wasn’t my calling to be a ballerina. Maybe not my gift, not my talent.
Whatever the reason, ballet and I were at odds with one another. I didn’t feel like ballet was within me. It felt like something forced. A forced beauty. A forced poise. A forced elegance. A forced gracefulness. It felt unnatural. It hurt my body. My feet were strapped to satin bricks that caused my feet to bleed and ache. And yes, my attitude about the whole thing sucked.
In contrast, I would also go and take painting classes and spend hours alone drawing and writing in my room. And when I put pen or paintbrush to paper, I felt as if large golden gates between this world and another would open up, and life would flood in and flow through me and everything I wrote or drew would be alive in some magical way, like I was creating worlds, but not creating them like making a clay sculpture, creating them like discovering them, uncovering them, revealing them. Like a pen stroke or brush stroke was wiping away some mist on the glass between this world and another, like wiping your hand on the mirror after a shower so that you can see the reflection of your face.
There was an openness. I would call it love. The way it made me feel was ‘more’ instead of ‘less.’ There were no bloody feet or short angry women pointing at me when I opened up those other worlds. And so drawing and painting became something private and dance became something public. I did well at both. Both had there benefit, both shaped me, carried me through until I was a young adult but in different ways.
One said, “You are an object of beauty for the world. You have to be beautiful for the world.” The other said, “There is beauty within you. You are beautiful because you are.” One said, “Try harder. Be better. Drop your shoulders. Lift your chest. Tuck your pelvis.” The other said, “Where would you like to go today? How can I help you get there?”
And so the pull to go in and out, to go deeper and yet stay visible and graceful pulled on me. “You can do both,” I thought, “You can be pretty. You can be tall. You can do a perfect pirouette and you can hide, and you can dive deep and you can swim with imaginary dolphins, you can even breathe under water. Who says you can’t do both? Why would you choose one over the other?”
Many years later, I find myself facing a new canvas with the desire to create something moving and meaningful. And like a good girl, I walked with bloody feet through a dissertation, fitting tightly into grammatical, structural, logical forms so I could perform for a committee watching me make my way across the hardwood floor. With each revision, I stood up taller and straighter, and arranged the words in a way that was pleasing to them so that they would approve and sign on the dotted line.
And in the in-between moments, the stolen moments, I would shamefully put a word or two on paper without consideration of format or spelling or even punctuation in an attempt to maintain the slight crack in the door, between this world and the other, the world I moved to and from so freely when the when the big golden gates were open.
The bright light forcing its way through the crack in the door beckoned me not to dance too much but to also come out and play, to feel the light on my face and my skin, to feel the light in my heart, to see the other worlds that not many seem to visit so much anymore. And in my determination to be pretty and graceful, I spent much more time working on my dissertation then exploring the light behind the door.
Now my rigid self and non-rigid self stand staring at one another like a mirrored reflection, trying to find something that they have in common. One is tall and lean and calculating and the other is smaller and softer and seems to be carelessly absorbed by a purple flower between her fingertips. One judges and one dreams. One dances and one sings off-key. And if they knew each other, they might be able to create something together. They might be able to speak to the world, to say something meaningful, unlike something that has been said before. If they could find that thing that they had in common, that thing that united them, then maybe the whole thing could move forward.
Then maybe I could write.