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Rehearsal Today

5 Jan

This morning, Ida accompanied me to rehearsal.  I am working on a piece that I presented for the first time a few months ago called Best Wishes.  It will be presented in a couple of weeks as part of Rhino Fest in the Food and Performance Cabaret.  I get to do it on 4 consecutive Mondays in January and February.  As I planned my rehearsal schedule for this show, I decided that it would be loads easier if I just took Ida with me.  I like to work early in the mornings, often, and for short periods of time, so coordinating childcare is nightmarish.  I also decided that Ida would probably enjoy these outings, and would probably be a very nicely behaved companion.  I congratulated myself on making a well-reasoned decision, and for not putting off the planning until the last possible minute.  Being organized feels so satisfying.

We woke, I gave Ida breakfast and got her ready, and then I rushed around trying to get myself ready (abandoning breakfast and a semi-urgent shower in the fray) and gathering our supplies.  I was feeling harried and irritated that I hadn’t just arranged for someone to look after her.  I felt the injustice of living with a two-year-old’s sense of time and urgency.

  • Use toilet:  5 minutes
  • Put on shoes, coat, gloves, hat:  2 minutes
  • Negotiate and broker willing participation in the above activities:  45 + minutes

We got out the back door, me having just eaten a fist-full of cold spaghetti for fortification, and briskly hustled down the alley and to the train.  I swiped my transit card, ushered Ida through the turnstile, yanked on the stroller-handle to fold it up, and dragged us and our baggage up the two flights of stairs to the platform.  We just made it onto the train that pulled in as we rushed up the last few steps and instantly knew who in that train car has done this before (look of solidarity) and who has/will not (irritation upon getting banged in the shin with stroller – not that I really blame them, but what exactly do they suggest I do?).  We sat.  We exhaled.  We watched as neighborhoods came and went.  Ida and I both love riding the train.

We arrived and walked to the rehearsal space.  More stairs.  More schlep.  I tried to focus my attention on being grateful that my strong body could move and haul with relative ease.  It helped.

Ida was nervous to enter the rehearsal space.  She’d been there before to see me perform, but something about it made her scared this morning.  She took my hand and was, like always, very brave.  We set up our stuff.  I explained again what we were doing here.  “Mama is going to do some dance work now.  We can share this space for the next hour – you can play with your toys, eat your snacks, or you can do some dance work if you want to.  Please don’t touch the stereo or my laptop.  And please don’t yell.  There are going to be sometimes this morning when I won’t answer you if you ask me a question or need help – I’ll be able to do it in a few minutes, but sometimes I am going to be busy even though I’m right here.”

I started warming up.  Ida watched for a few minutes and then joined me – walking around the room, rolling her head, moving her arms.  It was beautiful and so much fun.  For the rest of the rehearsal, she would alternate between snacking/playing in a spot in the folding chairs set up in the back, and dancing with/near me.  It was peaceful, and easy, and even better than I imagined it.  It worked.  More than that, I loved it.  I really like being alone, but sometimes being alone in rehearsal feels endless in the bad way – empty and cold.  Ida provided warmth and accountability.  She would know if I just sat there staring off into space rather than dancing like I said I would.

Later in the hour, it was time for me to do a run-through of the piece I’m working on.  I explained this to Ida and asked if she might like to draw.  She said yes.  I started and had a (predictably) rough and frustrating go of it – this piece has been sitting unattended for a long time and I knew it would be tough to get back in, having had this same experience the last time I worked on it.  “This is why I’m rehearsing” I reminded myself.  Although, that makes having to perform shitty run-throughs only marginally more palatable.  Improvisation is no joke – the idea of “making it up as you go” seems so care-free and easy, and it can be, but, in my experience, it only becomes easy and fun after you’ve worked really hard at it – turning the possibilities inside and out, tearing out seams, adjusting, calibrating feelings/presence – basically just being tenaciously bad at it until you start being good.  Showing up.  Laying your self out for it.

Anyway, I’m thinking about all of these things, and slogging through this run-through that just will not end, and doesn’t seem to ever be going well, and suddenly Ida is standing in front of me.  She’s holding up a granola bar and she says “Please open this Mama.”  I know what I said, and I’m a big believer in consistency, but it was exactly what I needed, so I did it selfishly.  My own recorded voice was reading this overly emotional thing about baking bread and then my daughter was right there and I was already so far tangled in the weeds, so I reached out and opened the granola bar.  I did it improvisationally.  I did it with my full attention.  Ida took a bite and then offered me some.  I took it and the moment deepened and became even more perfect.  And I finished the run-through – breezed through it – coming to the end feeling grateful to have been in it rather than grateful that it was over.  More than anything, I finished feeling grateful for Ida.

In a minute after I finished, and before I needed to start hustling Ida into her winter gear and out the door so that the next artist could get into the space on time, I wrote this about our morning:


Ida with me at rehearsal.  She walks in circles, rolling her head – just like i walk in circles, rolling my head.  We’re warming up.  This is a huge success.  She is engaged, interested, and free – sometimes participating as a mover with me, sometimes as a watcher.  She claps.  I realize, at one point, that I’m sick of working on this, and she offers me a peeled clementine – the first time she’s done this without help.  I start the run-through – the thing we – I – came here to do.  She watches for a while, and then I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye.  She’s entered the dance space, left her folding chair surrounded with notebook, pencils, charlie brown and her dustpan and broom.  She is bringing me a granola bar as I hear my own voice recite a slick/sweet thing about baking bread.  And all of a sudden, a shift -we share the granola bar, performing, eating, blurring even more the lines between us, our work, our roles.  Wednesday morning.  We are learning.


Fashion, Crimes Against

27 Oct

I used to be someone else.  A subscriber to Vogue, a discerning and frequent shopper, a collector of eccentric shoes, and yes, of course, a devotee to Pat Fields via Carrie Bradshaw.  I used to carefully consider additions to my closet, viewing each new piece as a resource – tools to be carefully calibrated.  I mean, I won “Best Dressed” at my 8th grade graduation.  I also won “Best Hair.”  I used to have it going on.

At present, my wardrobe can best be described as nudity-preventing.  That is the function it has come to serve.  It contains some nice pieces from “before” – pre move-to-chicago-jobless-vagabond-pregnancy-baby.  The pieces that I have added “after” are an amalgamation of clearance rack finds from Target and Old Navy, some hastily-grabbed bad decisions from Forever 21, and a healthy collection of things-I’ll-maybe-never-wear/needs-a-few-tweeks-with-my-sewing-machine thrift store finds.   Oh, and a rainbow assortment of American Apparel tees and sweatshirts, purchased once a year as generous Christmas gifts from my parents.  I’m not looking great, guys.  My daily uniform is typically some version of jeans, tee-shirt, sweatshirt, Toms, and my signature scarf – a blue beach cover-up that I got in Mexico when I was in 5th grade.  I looked in the mirror the other day and realized that Justin Bieber, that little shit, has co-opted my look.  I realized later that he also looks better than I do.

I also notice, as I look in the mirror, that those tee-shirts just don’t quite fit like they used to.  There is an………… area of concern.  It’s right in the middle of my body and it looks like it needs a bra for support.  I’ve always been a solid gal – never one to say no to cheese or a beer, but I think this excess is child-bearing related.  I’ve made my peace with my new shape (or the augmented version of my old shape).  I get a fair amount of exercise and I eat a decently healthy diet (full disclosure – I am drinking coffee with a can of left-over reddiwip as a sidecar).  But my clothing has come to no such resolution.  As I assess my body in these clothes, it becomes clear to me that nobody is happy with the arrangement.  My clothes, stretched to capacity, are starting to abandon their posts while my body makes frantic moves for the exits.  In every direction, flesh is trying to escape – up the back of my pants, out the bottom of my shirts.  My cup runneth over.  Even my gangly wrists and ankles are struggling for freedom.  It’s time for a change.

Other catalysts include:

  • A TSA agent asking if I was going camping while searching through my luggage packed to attend a friend’s wedding
  • Frequent closet crisis’ which culminate in depressed resignation and the wearing of a sweatshirt on a date

So I’ve decided to take myself shopping.  I’ve chosen a day (friday), arranged childcare, and made a list of some must-find pieces (ex:  shirt without stain).  In preparation, I have been doing some research in the hopes of getting on board with what the kids are wearing these days.  I have made the following discoveries:

  • Anything looks pretty good if you’re thin
  • Anything looks positively chic if you’re thin and rich.
  • Anything goes together if you’ve got long hair and sunglasses
  • Men are not wearing socks anymore, women are wearing them with sandals
  • It is never winter anywhere
  • Casually roll up your pants
  • Everyone in the fashion industry wants you to have a tailored white shirt
  • No actual people wear tailored white shirts
  • I never should have thrown away all of those long flowing skirts from my high school days
  • Ditto my ruffle-y peasant blouses and silk (suppress the throw-up)shirts
  • Extreme haircuts make jean-jumpers okay
  • Advanced style is my new favorite blog
So, basically, I’m as confused as where I started.  I do have a sense of current trends in shape and color and I’ve always had a good eye for prints.  Armed with this and a week’s steady visual diet of The Sartorialist’s archives, I will board the redline on friday morning with a latte and the redeye sudoku puzzle whilst Ida spends the day with her Gigi, eating candy and making messes.  I plant to hit (in this carefully considered order):  Topshop, Zara, and H&M, with possible stops after as specific needs arise/time allows.  I am also planning to relish the opportunity to people-watch downtown.
Now I know that there are real things happening in the world right now.  As I posted on facebook soliciting recommendations for fashion blogs a couple of days ago, several friends were posting on the terrible things happening at Occupy Oakland.  I know that fashion doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.  Except that it does a little bit.  I’m not trying to say that my little shopping trip is important (I’m not even arguing that it’s entirely responsible), but I am saying that fashion is in the mix of things we think about.  We’re going to think about it at least a little bit (some of us are going to think about it a lot).  If we engage with it, it can become like anything else – like food, or architecture, or transportation – it can serve as an outlet – an opportunity – for art and joy.  It can be fun.  It can be provocative.  It can be smart.
I’m not sure about you, but I feel like I just can’t pass up another opportunity to be thoughtful and creative in my life.  I can’t pass up a chance to flourish, which is how I see this little project I’m undertaking.

Best Wishes – Advice About Food

26 Oct

I was recently invited to participate in one of the Chicago dance community’s very coolest events, Poonie’s Cabaret.  Poonie’s is a dance and performance variety show curated by the truly hip Jyl Ferhenkamp and held at one of my favorite venues for dance, Links Hall.  As an audience member, I love Poonie’s because I get to see lots of really great artists in an evening, often showing new works, works in progress and pieces that are amazing, but that don’t fit within the rigid format of an evening-length dance concert.  I also get to see up and coming artists who might not otherwise have the resources to produce their own work.   Jyl is up-to-the-minute on top of what’s happening in the dance scene and is a really gifted curator.  And all of this is in addition to saying the word “Poonie’s” over and over again.

I have been attending Poonie’s performances since before I lived in Chicago and remember very distinctly thinking to myself “Man.  If I ever got invited to participate in Poonie’s, I’d really feel like I was part of things here (cue cloying day-dreamy look).”

Anyway, here’s what I made.  The piece is called Best Wishes – it’s improvised movement (me), improvised music (Matthew Joynt and Nathan Sandberg), and a text I wrote that is advice about food culled from my considerable musings on the subject.  All of the advice is directly related to things I have witnessed/experienced/imagined.  Nathan generously donated his time and skillz to record my god-awful voice reading the “advice” and I sometimes spoke them aloud live along with the pre-recorded audio.  I hope I get the chance to re-work this piece and perform it again sometime as I had a really great time working on it and performing it.

Easter Inspirations

21 Apr

Remember college?  Man, I sure do.  I loved college.  College was my favorite (except for right now, which is also my favorite).  I found out that I wasn’t stupid!  Readers who spent their youths perfecting dazzling jazz dance routines and singing soprano can understand what this revelation meant to me, and why it came as such a surprise.  Well, a more accurate description might be that I discovered that I was arm’s length from this particular kind of smart with the ability to generate pensive looks and a tolerance for silence that made up the difference.  In other words, I am one hell of a faker, which is almost better if you want to know the truth (turns out that jazz dancing and singing soprano have paid off after all).  Less burdensome.   I quit singing seriously.  I underlined.  I highlighted.  I spent a lot of time sitting still and wondering if anyone was looking at me.  I wrote furiously scribbled essays on both Old and New Testaments of The Holy Bible in cursive (because one of my religion profs. was apparently a member of The Church of Cursive Penmanship – seriously, I’ve not experienced such zeal since).  Speaking of religion and college, I remembered a college story while I was making dinner tonight and since it made me laugh out loud and splash daal on my shirt, I thought you might enjoy it too.

I was fortunate enough to take lots of fun and interesting classes while I was diddling around in the world of higher education, but a stand out is definitely a religion class I took on the topic of Adam and Eve.  This class was taught by a very cool and hip professor and was populated by several of my friends, two ex-boyfriends (Hey!  I was a GIRL in the philosophy department!  What do you want from me?), and my future spouse.  Good times all around.  Plus, you know, lots of interesting discussions and assignments and stuff.

One member of our class was a stalwart college archetype – the stoner/thinker/bathrobe-as-outerwear-trendsetter.  Sam.  I had a few classes with Sam and always found him to be a delight.  He made some particularly show-stopping/train-wreck arguments during a small seminar of the works of David Hume.  I seem to remember something about zombies…  Sam had a strict “no reading, no writing” policy when it came to his college education.  He also had a flexible understanding of “attendance.”

Like marshmallow peeps, or light red kidney beans – nobody was ever clear on Sam’s function or purpose, but that didn’t seem like the point anyway.  One day we were discussing the origins of the names “Adam” and “Eve” and we were asked to speculate (after some instruction on the language, history, and yada yada) as to what significance these names might suggest.  No doubt hyped up on talk of linguistic origins and the deep meaning of it all (and, I’m pretty sure, aided by some fantastic substances), Sam suggested that the name “Adam” was probably a reference to – and I remember this so precisely – “man’s infinite smallness.  Like, you know, atoms?”  Sam was so pleased.  His mind working at a mean clip, he was putting all of the pieces together.

I’m sure you’ve had this opportunity at least once, but I’m here to recommend that you should always relish it when it comes along.  It’s not often that you get to see a professional person deal with madness on this level, and it’s especially rare to get this sort of action in a public forum (such as a large class).  I find that I can learn almost everything I care to know about a person if I’m lucky enough to witness them in confrontation with bat-shit-craziness like this.  So many things to say.  Like, maybe that the words “Adam” and “atom” probably aren’t as similar sounding in hebrew.  Or that atoms weren’t so much understood in the author’s time and so the relationship, even just conceptually, is probably a non-starter.  Or that you’re wearing a bathrobe to a planned engagement for christsakes.

I don’t respect a person who talks right away.  If they have a plan in place to deal with this sort of thing, I feel uneasy about what else they might be incubating upstairs.  I like what my professor did.  He waited for a respectful time – letting the class enjoy the possibility of this radical and hilarious idea – letting Sam experience the flawless feeling of having an idea and knowing that it is awesome.  Then he just said, without any meanness or despair, “I don’t…………… no/know.”  And then he shut it down and took Sam to school utilizing a satisfying combination of the socratic method and naked sarcasm.

I always wondered what he was thinking in the space between “don’t” and “no/know.”  I still think and wonder about which no/know he meant.  Sam, as you may have suspected, was completely undeterred by this lack of confirmation for his theory, and made it clear that he was pretty sure he was right about all of this.  Sam’s chops were bust-resistant and the more he thought about it, the more evidence he discovered to support his theory.  We were not privy to this information, but that was largely irrelevant as it had become clear that we were participating only insofar as witnesses.

While this story cracks me up, it also inspires me.  What must it feel like to go through life like Sam did/does?  Sure at the instant you form a thought that it’s right – that it’s perfect – so perfect in fact that no amount of reasoned criticism can remind you that you’re not an expert.  Free from the feeling that you have no right to trust your ideas.  In my life as a dance improviser, this is always the lofty (and sometimes seemingly impossible) goal that I aspire to.  The ability to always say “yes.”  The suspension of judgement.  The willingness to go, totally alone, into new space.  It’s more than just saying “who cares?”  It’s the forgetting that there is even a “who” in the first place.  It’s ordering something that’s not on the menu with full confidence that it will arrive steaming hot before you.  It’s very Easter-y in a way.

So here’s to Sam, and Adam and Eve, and to the luxury of a deeply pleasurable education followed by a degenerate life in the arts.  Cheers.

F*#&ING Fiber Arts

20 Apr

I have always maintained that if you’re not swearing while you’re sewing, you’re probably not doing it right.  Some people say that the secret ingredient in really excellent food is love (these people have obviously not encountered the perfection that is the egg mc muffin which is primarily made of sadness), but in sewing, I find that the secret ingredients are usually sass and fuckwords.  Holding firmly to this conviction, I contemplated naming my sewing “company” (because, let’s face it – sewing a few dozen pairs of baby pants for a craft fair does not make you an entrepreneur….) motherfucker inc. as I focused mostly on products for small children.  I ended up going with Meatloaf Sewing Co instead, but the fact remains – any fabric craft that goes down at the JS compound is fueled largely by foul language (and, indirectly, the aforementioned mc muffins).  That’s why you can imagine my delight upon discovering this little ditty via a pastor friend of mine who makes some seriously badass quilts (I’ve discussed how much I love my church family, yes?).  My birthday is in february.  Just in case you were wondering…


1 Oct

I was very moved a few days ago upon hearing Gillian Welch’s song Everything Is Free.  The particular snippet that caught my attention was:

“If there’s something that you want to hear, sing it yourself.”

I always thought “yes, Gillian – I am so with you.  These jerks always want us to make a thing the way that they think it should be made – they are the worst – trying to squelch our unique voices with their dumb ideas”  I thought of all of the times that someone has said to me “you know what you should make a dance about?” and then proceeded to tell me some crazy-ass idea about how I should make the dance to thriller (um?), or choreograph a dance with a chair (!), or make a dance about (insert ridiculous movie/book/event here).  Parents – I’m pretty sure I don’t need to make the connection here for you about strangers who feel compelled to share their strong feelings on the state of your child’s (certainly frozen) feet.  As an aside, if any of you can share with me how to get a 12 month old to keep shoes and socks on, you should please feel free.  Consider your advice solicited.

But today, I realized that when Gillian (are we on a first name basis?  Should I say Ms. Welch?) says “you” that she might mean “me”.  That perhaps Gillian and I are not being catty jerks together – complaining about all those bozos who think they know best what we should do.  That perhaps Gillian is trying to tell me something.  It’s almost like she made the whole record in order for me to listen to it – to hear it – to be advised; the scope of her work reaching beyond a bitch session with yours truly (unknowable universe!).  Perhaps my looking her up on Wikipedia does not, in fact, make us close acquaintances as I imagine it does (I have a lot of famous friends, if you want to know the truth.  What?  Do you do something else in your free time?).

So anyway, I got to thinking about how I could hear those words in a completely different way.  I could hear them in a way that speaks to my advocacy in making my life exactly what I want it to be.  If I want to eat something, I can make that thing and eat it.  If I want to hear something, I can make that sound and listen.  If I want Ida to keep her shoes and socks on….. okay, so at a certain point this moving revelation breaks down a little bit, but you get the gist, right?  This is particularly relevant to me, because I’m a pretty critical person.  I don’t like much art (unless you make it and I love you – then you could poop on a popsicle stick and I would recognise it’s genius) and it often leaves me feeling frustrated.  I wish it were better, which mostly means that I wish it were what I wanted.  Which mostly means that I should just let someone else’s work be their work and make my own work in the way that makes sense to me.  I should sing the song I want to hear and listen when I do.

Gillian Welch.  That sneaky songstress is back door Ghandi-ing our brains!

The world is not just happening to us – we’re making it.  If I were leading some kind of discussion group about this idea (which, let’s face it, I am almost always imagining – my song has a choir singing backup and YOU are on alto, which is tricky so pay attention) I’d ask what “song’ you want to hear.  Mine has a lot to do with food and education these days…

Cheers, my friends.  Gill wants us to be the change and all that jazz.  I say we do it.


21 May

Behold, whilst I am at work, I am accomplishing things!  And you thought I was just hanging out in my car, eating sandwiches and bad-mood-ed-ly using a breast pump under my trusty blue scarf (okay, well, all of those things are also happening – AND an aside?  Ladies?  If you’ve ever had to pump breast milk in your parked car, I salute you and apologise to you and hope that none of us has to do it again.  Cars?  So not designed with this fun activity in mind.  Show me a minivan with a compartment for my Medela and I will show you a swarm of working, nursing, mothers, wild with fistfuls of cash).

Wow, this took a totally different direction.  Moving on.

So, as I was saying, here are my students!  Dancing!  Just like I taught them to!  They were on Chicago’s WGN Midday News today, and let me tell you, they were more than a little nervous about their television debut.  I am so freaking proud of them that I can hardly stand it.

Click on this link and watch the magic!

AND (shameless promo) check out more info about Chicago Youth Dance – CPS’s truly fantastic dance program.