On the fear of being obscure

I am a man with a heart that offends
With its lonely and greedy demands
There’s only a shadow of me, in a manner of speaking I’m dead
[…] Jesus I need you, be near me, come shield me
From fossils that fall on my head
There’s only a shadow of me, in a matter of speaking I’m dead
–Sufjan Stevens, “John My Beloved”

It’s honesty time, friends.

I decided to write the language exercise we discussed in class on Monday. I started with the language of ballet, which is primarily in French, and ended up uncovering something much deeper about myself that I don’t like to think about very much.

I danced classical ballet from elementary school through my junior year of high school in a pre-professional company. A couple of summers I attended dance programs where I was taught by New York City Ballet professionals. As a child, I danced in a couple of performances with the NYCB for which I had auditioned. Until about the ninth grade, I thought I had a shot at being in one of these higher-up dance companies. Unfortunately, I realized when I moved into high school that to be in a top company you are expected to have a certain body type, excellent muscularity, flexibility, and also (likely) money and connections. I was devastated when I realized that I wouldn’t be a professional dancer after spending years of my life in the studio nearly every day.

Similarly, when I was very young I dreamed of being a highly accomplished and recognized author (of novels, specifically). I didn’t realize how competitive the field is and how difficult it is to improve upon your work and be recognized even locally (not to mention nationally).

The white elephant in this post is that my priorities are all out of order. Artistic expression should not be the means to a commercial or public end, but a way to express oneself, to share with others, to build community, for personal satisfaction and pleasure. Dancing and writing started as these for me, when I would skip around my house before being enrolled in classes for hours on end, or write stories to share with my parents and sisters. But as I got older, I felt that there were expectations. Everyone knew me as “the writer” and “the dancer” so I felt that if those were my labels, I had to live up to them. I wanted to be recognized. Seen. Admired for my skills and accomplishments. Without approval of friends, family, and the wider public, I didn’t think that my work had value.

Another facet to this is that I’m a Christian. And as one who has accepted the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ for my sins, I also now belong to Him, and I am called to forsake my need for recognition from other people and to turn to the Lord, who sees me, loves and values me. Isaiah, a prophet to the Israelites, wrote about the LORD,
“To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.” (Isaiah 40:18-19)

For me, my desire to be published or to be a professional comes not always because I want to share with others or express myself but because I want to be recognized or seen for what I do. But this isn’t where I want to be. I want to write and dance because I enjoy them, because I can honor God with them, because I can love others and engage in dialogue and be a part of a community.

The idol of wanting recognition, like any other idol, cannot compare to God’s love and validation of me. I have found, in my moments where I am closest to Him, only Jesus can satisfy me. So why do I keep seeking after worldly recognition and approval?

So here’s the beginnings of the exercise I was working on about language. It got deep and went in a totally different direction:

Obscurity

It was never about perfecting fouettés
or striving at the carriage of my arms.

Balanchine said he doesn’t want people
who want to dance; he wants people

who have to dance; if anything, Mr. Bal
doesn’t want me. It was expensive, shoes

and tuition; I was just in high school; I
pulled out for a semester; felt myself

undevoted. It wasn’t movement or thrill
of thrust and piqué—I wanted my stage,

audience, lights on bare shoulders. On
tighted thighs and tutu-ed waist, on my

working face, or the girl deep inside, wanted
flowers and devotion, professionalism.

This, then, kept me from a company,
because I wanted the company more

than the dance. Is that wrong? I don’t
know. But I can’t do anything to change it,

not even now, as I sit at my laptop writing
poems for publication. Something about

the need to be touched, heard, seen?
If a girl falls in a forest and no one hears,

did she ever even fall? If no one sees me dance
or write, I probably didn’t. Or so I am afraid.

 

3 Replies to “On the fear of being obscure”

  1. That was hella vulnerable. Good for you.

    It’s unfortunate that people who are not us like to give us labels. Really, we should be labeling ourselves, but it’s difficult once we have reputations to live up to. We fail to leave room for growth and change when we label each other. Like, what if one day you find another passion that fulfills more for you than writing or dance does? All the people in your life will be like, “What about dancing? You were such a good dancer!” and you’ll be like, “Um, I found another passion…” [can you tell I’m projecting?]

    Anyway, it takes an absurd amount of security to be totally cool with not necessarily meeting other people’s expectations. Obviously you love to write and dance, and it’s wonderful that you’re embracing both activities as things that are yours, not anyone else’s.

    1. Hey Megan! Thank you for your encouragement. It’s difficult for me to be vulnerable and so I was really scared after I published this onto the blog. I appreciate you reading and commenting.

      It really is frustrating when people label me as writer or dancer, or anything else, even as “that smart person.” Because on one hand, I understand that labels are a necessary part of existence, but on the other hand, I sort of flounder when I can’t live up to them.

      But it’s okay. We can’t live up to others’ expectations of us, or even our own expectations of ourselves. We will fail. That’s something I’m learning (albeit slowly).

  2. Abby~
    Your post is relateable on so many levels! I specifically adhere to your ideas about publication. I think you’ve had several realizations that every writer goes through. If you’re not actually attempting to get a work published, the labor of being a writer isn’t realized. There are so many books in the world, it seems that publication is easy. But it’s very much the contrary.
    I completely agree with you that artistic expression shouldn’t be commercial. I always think its strange when a writer has very specific writer’s tools, like a brand of pen or paper. The belief that I have about writing is that it can be done anywhere, by anyone. Buying into specifics, or placing reliance on comfortablity seems to be straying away from the core of writing. If anything, writing should be more common, since almost everyone knows the alphabet. Keeping the art commercialized definitely weeds out certain writers. But a rejection from the industry of pubishing shouldn’t be discouraging. It’s all about having confidence in your work, of not beating yourself down. Completely trusting in a publication is unwise, because you have no control over what people think of your work.
    I think that your language poem is off to a good start! I hope you keep working on it.
    ~Gabi

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