The Art of Over-Interpretation: O Christmas Tree

So we’re listening to Christmas songs, and I’m like:

It has kind of a cruel irony to it, right? Because it seems to be talking about something that’s constant and reliable in an otherwise changing world. But if you think about it, it’s a Christmas tree. It’s probably already been chopped down and it’s gonna get thrown out on the curb some time between February and March. So even though they’re singing about how it will stay green through all the seasons, you know the tree isn’t even gonna last to summer.

It’s like everything is temporary, even the things that have given you the impression of permanence and constancy in the past.

Then again, my Christmas tree is plastic, so . . .

Reality note: turns out (according to Wikipedia, the true source of all knowledge) even though the original song wasn’t about cut Christmas trees (just evergreens), historical interpretations were pretty much just as sad:

“Joachim August Zarnack (de) (1777–1827) in 1819 wrote a tragic love song inspired by this folk song, taking the evergreen, “faithful” fir tree as contrasting with a faithless lover.”

So Merry Christmas people! And/or good luck on your post-Hanukah recovery! And/or Happy Kwanzaa’s Eve! And/or Happy Thursday!

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Flakes (The Semesterly Poetry Attempt)

It’s that time of the semester again when I write poems to make up for absences in Allegra Kent’s ballet class. I think I deserve brownie points for this one because I made it rhyme and I never make stuff rhyme. In other news, it snowed.

Flakes

Every snowflake is different

I’ve heard them say

But will each still be so special

On a warmer day?

 

When the flakes turn to slush

To murky rivers on the street

A faceless soup

Of flakes once discrete?

 

Were they ever really special

If no one stopped to see

Their brilliant little moments

Of ephemerality?

It’s Not You, It’s Society: “It’s Just a Phase”

“It’s not you, it’s society” is a series of rants about socially acceptable and polite comments that bother me. Read more here.

“It’s just a phase.”

I’m sure you’ve heard it before. It’s a common way to dismiss some aspect of a person’s identity or life that you don’t want to acknowledge, while claiming to know that person better than they know themself. It can refer to sexuality, gender identity, interests, career aspirations, political/religious beliefs, and basically anything else. Younger people tend get it a lot.

Usually, people defend themselves by trying to prove that the aforementioned quality is not a temporary phase and is instead a permanent part of who they are. This is completely valid and I have done it in more than one context, BUT I also believe that no one should ever even have to make that argument because the entire idea behind “it’s just a phase” is really an awful and illogical reason to trivialize someone’s identity, experiences, or desires.

Like this guy.

The assumption is that whatever someone is right now is more of an transient experience on the way to becoming the fully-fledged, real, predestined, unchanging “true” self. They’re more of a pre-person than an actual current human being.

But when exactly do people turn into their “real” self instead of some less-real self-in-transition. When they’re 30? 40? When they completely stop changing? For how long? 5 years? 20 years? Forever?

If we’re going to take those standards to their logical extension, pretty much nothing is real. Imagine these conversations:

  • Yeah, he retired from his hospital job. He always told me he was a doctor, but I guess he was just going through a 40-year “practicing medicine” phase.
  • At 90, he doesn’t seem to be into women in the same way he used to be. I guess he was just going through a 80-year heterosexual phase.
It's okay, we all go through hetero phases.

It’s okay, we all go through hetero phases.

  • Turns out she’s dead now. I knew she was just going through a little “alive” phase.
This guy knows.

This guy knows it.

Sorry, was that last one too morbid? But lets be real, the only permanent state in human existence is death (maybe–even that one is arguable). If we’re going to use permanence as the golden standard of legitimacy and “realness,” we’re left with a very narrow and pretty depressing view of reality.

Of course, no one claiming “it’s just a phase” actually comes to this conclusion because they don’t actually apply that permanence standard universally. It’s not exactly a coincidence that people only declare qualities that they dislike or don’t understand to be “phases” while automatically assuming qualities they like or identify with to be legitimate. Since we’ve established that permanence isn’t an actual thing, can we agree that “it’s a phase” is just a method of dismissing a present reality that you don’t like/understand by assigning more legitimacy to an imagined future which you like better?

So, yes it may be very likely that “it” (what ever it may be) is actually not a phase (relative to a person’s life span, anyway). But so what if it was? Even then, it still wouldn’t be “just” a phase. People have every right to go through phases, because humans are living, breathing, dynamic beings who are don’t have to be the same people today as we will be tomorrow to prove that we exist.

If phases aren’t real and important . . . what is?

So go along with your little “living” phase and make it as real and fabulous as you want to, without challenging the existence of anyone else’s. Have fun!

Dance Writing and Killing Butterflies

I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing about dance performances lately. And I feel kind of guilty.

A dance is alive. It’s made up of infinitesimal moments of movement with emotional flavors which occupy a space not necessarily beyond words, but between words, in the range of deeply specific experiences that our linguistic boxes forget to catch. It’s alive because people make it and people do it and people watch it and people are never the same from moment to moment. It’s alive because sometimes dancers fall and sometimes they don’t. It’s alive because it’s fleeting, morphing, dying before you. It’s alive because, at least on some level, people usually don’t really know what it means (even in super literal narratives, all the dancing in between the narrative landmarks is up for interpretation). This way, it can mean everything at same time, or a strange mix of things, or whatever you at that moment need it to mean, and you don’t have to describe any of it.

And then there’s words. Words are definite and limited and discreet. At best, they can hint at the essence of an experience. At worst, they reduce it. Words can be vague (and I like this kind), but we usually (at least in the case of performance papers) try to make them clear, so that their meaning is stable and universal. This makes words immortal. It also makes them dead. A clearly worded sentence will still be there tomorrow, telling you the same thing it did yesterday.

When I was in second grade, someone from a museum came to my class to talk about butterflies. I loved butterflies. I loved trying to catch the ones that fluttered around my back yard in the spring. And I never succeeded.

But this lady brought in some glass frames with pinned down dead butterflies. She pointed out colors and talked about species, but all I could think about was the fact that they were dead. She said that they had saved the butterflies so that we could learn about and understand them more. She said that they wouldn’t have lived long anyway.

But they were still killed and pinned down. Their flurry of movement was reduced to a single static moment, forever. I could catch them now, but that was no fun.

And that’s how I feel when I write about dance performances. A one-time experience is pinned down so that it lasts, but isn’t really the same. Intangible moments are reduced to a crude linguistic approximation. I write down one interpretation and kill the rest.

I still like writing about dance. There are advantages to killing butterflies. You can look at their colors up close and point out their patterns. You can discover and classify the range of types. You can introduce them to people who don’t have butterflies in their yard or those who never thought to go outside and look. But lets not forget the violence that’s involved.