“All gems are cut and polished by progressive abrasion using finer and finer grits of harder substances.”
“Know thyself” said the ancients. As I mature (and I’m getting pretty mature), I know more clearly who I am. It’s a natural phenomenon for anyone who lives mindfully…we often call it wisdom. Acquiring wisdom regarding our “true” selves requires years of experimentation (Is this me? Do I like behaving like this or dressing like this or dancing like this?) and then having the courage to discard what didn’t work and to accept what’s left. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful; the idiosyncratic and eccentric; the ordinary and the extraordinary. It’s a process involving self-awareness, a willingness to be honest about the things we become aware of, and it is often difficult. Much like creating a bright, multi-faceted gemstone from the rough shapes we are born with, we chip, shave, cut, sand and polish our selves throughout our lives.
Writing this blog has been a process of cutting and polishing and it has helped me discover who I am as a writer, and to a lesser degree, as a dancer. Although I have practiced dance since I was a girl of seven, I have never known much about who I am as a dancer. I know I prefer dance genres that express passionate emotions—Graham rather than Cunningham technique, bellydancing over sacred circle dancing, for examples. I prefer movement that is initiated from the center of the body, the hips and hara. As a solo performer, I only recently discovered that I lean towards humor, perhaps a kinesthetic expression of my Yankee Jewish verbal style.
I became aware of my lack of self-knowledge as a dancer in part through a blog series I posted—My SITA 2009—in which I document my process of learning how to do solo-improvised bellydance. Here’s a little of what I wrote.
“As a dancer I still have more challenges that I want to face. I want to find out who I am when I’m dancing; I want to trust that. I want to express, reveal, and share what wisdom I may have gained in 50 years of dancing. I sense that I am getting closer to understanding something about what it is to be a dancer.”
“For me, right now, in this time and place, the kinesthetic study of SITA is causing me to turn my attention on my sense of who I am. ”
Unfortunately, my dancer-self-awareness is still underdeveloped because I don’t practice it often enough. Being seen like that is still difficult for me.
I’ve also been writing since I was a girl. Like many young women of my era, I was inspired by Anne Frank’s diaries and began to keep my own. I kept diaries and journals (which are just diaries for grown-ups as far as I can tell) well into my 40s. Because no one else could see them, I felt confident that they couldn’t see me—unlike dancing. I developed the ability to write freely, without fear, without self-editing; I wrote fast, I wrote big and small, I made sense and nonsense. And I had a secret, unspoken dream of someday publishing a book.
DanceDoc’sThinkTank provided me with a chance to practice writing, to discover what I want to write about and how I want to write it. I slowly over-threw the oppressive habits imposed on me by graduate school, habits that nearly obliterated what I had learned as a journal writer. And I’m happy to say that by continually chipping and sawing at my writing, I found my own voice. Here are three things that I know about myself as a writer today:
1) I’m a sprinter. When I was a girl, I could outrun anyone on the block in a sprint. But a marathoner I was and am not. In terms of writing, that means I’m best in short forms: essays, blog posts, et al and deeply vexed by the idea of a monograph on one topic. How I wrote a dissertation is still a mystery to me and I’m not sure I could do it again (nor do I want to).
2) I can’t draw a straight line with a fixed, flat-edged steel ruler. Literally. (I worked in pre-press industries for many years and had plenty of opportunities to try.) My hand seems to resist straight lines as does my thinking. I prefer the meander, lines with curves and swoops, thinking that dances. In my dissertation, for example, you will find layers of juicy bits of information that don’t add up to one overarching theoretical position. It’s just interesting stuff (especially when you leave out all the academic jargon). I think its more like a maze with twists and turns and even dead ends than it is like a thoroughfare that shoots straight to the destination.
3) I don’t give a hoot about meta theory. My graduate school education was overly obsessed with meta theories, no doubt because of its close relationship to the hyper-theoretical History of Consciousness department. I tried to follow suit but the fact is I don’t have anything that grand and profound to say. I just want to point out human behaviors that are interesting: Look at what people create. That’s all I want to say. Look at what humanity can create when it’s behaving itself. Art, landscapes, ceremonies, communities. And here’s how they create. And through these creations we create ourselves: our gender, our bodies, our faith and beliefs, our passions. That’s all I’m sayin’.
This week, my husband, Charles, and I went to a free, public writing workshop with Laura Davis at a local bookstore. Laura gave the group a series of prompts to which we responded in writing. We wrote fast, without edits or pauses, for seven minutes. This process, when developed, has the potential to produce raw and innovative ideas. It helps you break through your inner editor. It’s what I developed through my journals. Part of our group writing practice was to read our work aloud to someone. I listened to my partners and to the few who volunteered to read aloud to the group. (I didn’t volunteer because I didn’t want to appear so bold. Can you believe that?)
Anyway, I looked down to re-read my own flash-writing and found that I really liked what I saw. Some of the content was old news—I’d already hashed out a lot of issues in those old journal—but some was alive and fresh and beautifully stated. Yet, it wasn’t just the content that got my attention: it was the writing itself. It had an original cadence, a rhythm or a dance that was unlike anything else I’d heard from the group. It was my voice, I realized. And I really liked it.
This voice is my gemstone. Its shape is unique. Its colors are bright. Its inner light is in motion. It is my voiced-self and I really like it.This is my 100th blog post on DDTT and I want to thank everyone for following my progress.