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:
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.