Things I’ve Learned This Year (2019)

Hey all and congrats on revolving around the sun again! It’s truly revolutionary. Though I haven’t been as present here lately, I’m back with little assortment of things I learned this year  (like last year). 

Input and environment are as much a part of artmaking as output.

I began the year feeling that I didn’t have the right environment, audience, collaborators, or knowledge to effectively make the work I was most interested in. While prior commitments kept me making, I decided to spend more of my spare energy surrounding myself with people and ideas that inspired me, rather than initiating projects. My choices may not have seemed productive or professionally focused from the outside, but I trusted (correctly) that my work would be soon to follow my changes in perspective. 

Exceptionalism is usually incorrect and deeply overrated.

What’s better than claiming a trophy spot as the first and only something? Researching and highlighting the (perhaps under-acknowledged) work of those who came before you. Connecting with and supporting others with similar experiences and aspirations. Holding the door open for others to join you. 

Hierarchies of performance are pretty arbitrary.

I’ve continued to perform in a variety of environments from concert stages to nightclubs to schools to art exhibits to festivals.  Things that are not as correlated as I once believed: many people attend, how much rehearsal (or even training) is needed, how much it’s paid, how invested I feel in the work, and how “impressive” the gig looks on my resume. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–each performance experience offers a different type of value–but it has made me further detach from hierarchies of prestige within the dance world and prioritize projects on my own terms. 

No level of wokeness exempts people from human psychology.

No one is too feminist to remain in an abusive relationship. No one is too vocally body positive to struggle with eating disorders. No one is too informed about psychology to need therapy. Human brains remain human regardless of education or politics. Let’s accept this reality for ourselves and others so we don’t overlook or further stigmatize our struggles.

If you’re terribly embarrassed by your past self, that’s just a sign that you’re growing as a person…

…so I guess I should be proud to be deeply embarrassed by who I was less than a year ago. Though I cringe, I also thank previous versions of myself for awkwardly and openly stumbling through ideas, spaces, and roles they didn’t yet know how to navigate so that I can move through the world a bit more smoothly today.

People can have great politics but be bad humans.

(For the record, no, I don’t think the reverse of this statement is equally true.)

A healthy relationship with conflict is essential. 

It’s equally harmful to arbitrarily stir up conflict with no purpose and to be too averse to conflict to assert any values. (I have sometimes fallen into the latter category.) Choosing when and how to productively engage in with disagreement and criticism is a skill that I’ve come to really respect and prioritize developing.

Words are less important than the meanings behind them.

People can use the same word to mean different things and different words to mean the same thing. There are people doing great work without the perfect terminology attached to it, and there are people skillfully co-opting the language of social justice for marketing or personal manipulation. Language is an important tool to help us understand each other’s perspectives but when we over-fixate on words and miss the perspectives behind them, we end up picking the wrong battles.

Everyone is an authority on their own experience.

Any room I am in is filled with people who have lived different lives than me and know things I don’t. Though this once made me afraid of leader/teacher/facilitator roles, I am learning how leading a room can be about authorizing, organizing, and channeling the wealth of knowledge, rather than trying to provide all of it. 

Should We Stop People From Drowning?: The Discourse

Drowning Dude: I’m drowning!

Lifeguard: I’m coming!

Commentator: I think we need to step back and reassess the implications of this interventionist approach. Would this promote the narrative that all swimmers are helpless and in need of saving–especially in a time when public swimming areas are being increasingly restricted?

Lifeguard: I mean this dude looks like he could use help now, but I guess I could think about…

LifeForce GuardTM: Wow is this wavering fool what passes as security these days? Our state-of-the-art LifeForce GuardTM is prepared to launch a team of high-powered motorboats. 

Journalist: Dude, how do you feel about encouraging the presence of dangerous and high-pollution vehicles in a previously clean and open swimming environment?

Dude: I–I didn’t–just help, I’m drowning!

Swimmer’s Rights Organizer: We’d like to clarify that this dude’s statements are in no way representative of all swimmers. Our recent research indicates that the vast majority of swimmers are highly competent and never drown. 

Thinkpiece Writer: Is this fixation on drowning just a distraction from the more pressing issue of sharks? Why is no one talking about sharks right now? Is it because pop culture figures such as “Baby Shark” and  “Left Shark” have convinced us that sharks are innocuous or even friendly?

Drowning Dude: Just help, I’m drowning!

Hydration Advocate: Dude, would you consider adjusting your rhetoric to equally emphasize the positive impact of water in your life? While water is negatively impacting your experience through drowning, it is also responsible for all of your essential biological functions. With widespread trends in dehydration, we can’t afford to let water be demonized like this.

Dude: *blub*

Academic: This fascinating discourse is as historically rooted as it is timely. I’d like to announce my presentation next month on “Enforcing the Air-Water Binary: On the Geological Prescriptivism of Dominant Interventions to Human-Immersion Phenomena”

Dude: …

Internet: Why did he go swimming though?

You ask me to bring my whole self into the room

You ask me to bring my whole self into the room,
and I wonder if you know what you’re asking for. 

See, some parts of myself haven’t spoken to each other in years.
Some parts have yet to meet, and fear the day they will.

You hardly seem prepared for that kind of reunion.

Some parts only emerge from their shells to the call of their kind.
(They’re adapted to survive that way.)

To pry them open for your viewing would be death.

Some parts of me aren’t made for rooms like this.
They’d scratch up the floor with their jittering claws,
Dent the ceiling as they leap too high,
Fill the space with unruly screeches,
Until you’re sorry you invited them in.

And maybe my self isn’t a whole,
but merely a part–
a part of many
that is fully alive only when rooted into those circles and lineages

that have shaped and are shaped by it–
So no:
It can’t really live as an uprooted centerpiece at your table. 

You tell me to bring my whole self into the room,
and I wonder:

What do you think you’ve done for me
that I owe you such an impossible feat?

If my Arabic could talk back to me:

You have the audacity
to sigh and roll your eyes at me
when I seem a little distant
or take some time to come when you call for me?

After you hid me in your closet
refused to be heard with me in public;
After you left me
shunned and neglected me;
And after all those years
When you wouldn’t speak with me
even when I called

Now somehow,
you expect me to leap back wholeheartedly
the moment you want me to be your little side bitch?

Well forgive me
if I take some time to warm up to the idea
If I have some trepidations
about touching your lips again.

Because bitch, I am beautiful.
Do you know how many artists
have drawn testaments to my infinite curves?
How many poets have blown their minds 

just trying to channel the shades
of sonics and meaning
resonating from my every syllable?
And the bits of me that felt too rough for your mouth—
that’s the stuff that music is built upon.

You had your chance with me, but do you even know what you turned down?

Nadia, ya habibti
You say you miss me
And I want to believe you
We can talk, and see where this goes
But I have to take this slow.