backstage in the green room

December 5, 2012 – 10:41 pm

At Purdue, we call the week before finals “Dead Week.” And I am dead — or rather, pretending to be. It’s tech week for PCDC, our contemporary dance company, and I’m one of a dozen or so stand-in extras playing a dead body in Rebecca’s piece (about images of death and violence), which is two pieces before mine. The job involves hauling Katie across the floor by her feet, then staggering and collapsing myself and staying a corpse through the remainder of the piece and through the bows. It’s oddly relaxing, playing dead. Another thing to add to my list of methods of forced relaxation.

It’s the last week of classes, and everything is due, but I’m glad for tech week and sitting with my fellow dancers in the green room, curled up beside everyone’s homework and costumes and jackets and Gatorade and chips somebody got in bulk for super-cheap because they expire next week (but a company full of hungry dancers will finish them before they do). Dancing demands awareness, presence, resting, self-care. So I’m eating carefully and well, and sleeping as much as I can manage, and still getting work done in small sprints during pieces. And for 5 minutes at a time, I’m onstage, quirking and bouncing and jumping with the rest of Kelley’s dancers, and there’s nothing else there but the lights and the music and my fellow dancers in their brightly colored shirts and ties. (To my great joy, I play a geek in that piece, so I get to keep my glasses on and see the stage — if I continue with this dancing thing, I might need to get contacts.)

Right now, while Sally’s piece (inspired by the moon, with female dancers dressed in white dresses whirling and stretching through the space) is running, I’m trying to write a paper, start to finish. Not sure if I’ll finish, but I know everything I want to write, which makes it all about the typing (and I’ve gotten so many comments on my typing speed backstage already — ah, being surrounded by humanities rather than engineering majors!).
Actually, I probably won’t finish it tonight. I’m tired enough that I’m pretty sure I’ll finish my statistics plots and writeup in the morning before my last dance class (which is an evaluation day, so I’d better get there early and dance well and remember all my phrases). Then statistics class, then an audiogram, then a meeting with Robin, then a dress rehearsal I’ll be writing papers all the way through. If that works, tomorrow I’ll be done with both statistics and dance homework. Since I finished my seminar homework last week and my design homework today (although I need to scan and turn my final project in), that will leave just one class to finish up over the performance weekend. Then it’s all research and class design for next semester and figuring out funding for next year and finding an apartment in Columbus and…

But breathing, first.

Today I had a triumphant presentation and got back a sub-par exam; I’m going to need to bust my ass on my hearing aids class to pull up into a B- this semester (by the skin of my teeth and the kindness of my professor, who really wants me to do well). A container of lamb biryani is on the floor next to me because I wasn’t able to walk home and back for dinner before tech rehearsal without a car (my car is on the verge of breaking and is therefore in Glenview; I’ll ask Ryan for a lift home tonight since he lives down the street). My mom was here over the weekend to help me disassemble my aparment in preparation for move-out next week, so the fridge is also full of pre-cooked food (thanks, Mom). My apartment feels foreign and minimalist and also very, very clean (thanks again, Mom; turns out that cleaning chemicals are magic).

And the breathing, and the quiet, and the taking care of things, including me. It’s good to have the concert as a forcing function; without it, I’d be far more tempted to dive into the dangerous spiral of overwork that I’ve often fallen into when the end of term crunch time looms near.

It’s nice to find out that I can rest and do things that aren’t school and still pull off work that’s just as good or better as I would have if I pushed myself too hard. That presentation that got rave reviews? I started the slide deck last night, finished it this morning. (Granted, I’d been thinking about it for a while beforehand, had my data, knew the subject. Still!) Letting things percolate and finishing them in a strong, short drive is better in every way than forced endurance through a deathmarch. It’s harder to learn how to relax than how to work harder, but that’s exactly what I have been working on.

I have been working on doing fewer things with more depth, building room into my life; next semester is so full of shiny things, it will be hard to cut some and prioritize the others. But I need that space. I’m often running to be busy, prioritizing perpetual motion rather than learning (which sometimes involves stillness). I’ve been learning this in sometimes painful ways on a wide variety of fronts. I’m not a raw beginner in the things I’m doing, but I’m still an apprentice in a lot of ways, and sometimes I need to be okay with being quiet.

The greatest mistake you can make in the initial months of your apprenticeship is to imagine that you have to get attention, impress people, and prove yourself. These thoughts will dominate your mind and close it off from the reality around you… Instead, you will want to acknowledge the reality and submit to it, muting your colors and keeping in the background as much as possible, remaining passive and giving yourself the space to observe… If you impress people in these first months, it should be because of the seriousness of your desire to learn, not because you are trying to rise to the top before you are ready. (emphasis mine, section from Mastery)

I’m still afraid that being quiet means I won’t be able to overhear enough to learn. Information (data, conversations to overhear, events to see) is usually not accessible to me by default, and sometimes I only get access when I stand out, prove myself worth giving information to. But I do have enough access to information, and mentorship, and resources now; I can fluently get them and ask for them when I need it. What I need now is the time to process and digest them.

Funny, how that flips. When I was little, I had too much time to process and digest, and no access to information and mentorship and resources, so the important thing to do was to fight and claw my way into spaces where I could get them. Now it’s the reverse, so what do I do? Learn, I suppose.

I’m circling around the same sorts of thoughts and topics as I write, which is a good indication that I’m tired, but gently so; that I have many things on my mind, but non-anxiously so, that I’m aware of my non-awareness, and that I’m willing to be gentle with that.

Let’s see how far I can get with the paper I’m supposed to write about this concert before the run-through for my piece starts. However far I get (or don’t get) is okay. My abilities are there, more than capable of doing all the work I need to do and doing it well; I just need to trust that they’ll come through, and take care of myself so that they can.

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