The Case Against Dreams

Since graduation, people have increasingly been asking me what my dream jobs, dream companies, and dreams for the future are. Which is leading me to realize that I no longer have any. And I say that in the most optimistic way possible.

Dreams are made of ideas alone, floating in a weightless world with no bodies to bump up against them and shake them off course. So they go in straight lines, mostly just up.

But try to follow a dream in a world of matter, and things get far more twisted. You’ll hit walls and laws and ceilings, and have to recalculate your route to dodge, climb, or break them. When your ideas spill onto the scene and cause reactions, they’ll fizzle and change colors and explode, until you can barely recognize what you started with. You’ll collect dirt and leave a trail of elaborate curlicues as you spin your way into places you never planned to see.

And at some point, you’re likely to find that you and the dream have left each other’s sights. You might scan your surroundings, looking for another nearby dream to start your next game of obstacle-tag. It’s a game that can keep you moving for a lifetime, if that’s your thing.

Lately though, I’ve become more inclined to let those naked ideas float by as I turn my sights downward for inspiration, following the landscape of reality itself.

People say that dreams are about imagination, but when I listen to most of their dreams, the scope of possibilities is far more square and narrow than anything reality could devise. In those dreams, you know that the good guys win, and the girl marries the boy and stays that way, and success comes in windfalls and stays that way, and matter is different from energy and stays that way, and everything happens for a reason.

Some people get so caught up in those limited dream-worlds that their imaginations shrink to that scope. And with imaginations so narrow, they can’t envision the full range of reality, even as it stands right in front of them.

If you want your brain to buzz with things you never dreamed possible, try really exploring reality. Run your fingers into the crevices you used to step over, and trace the wrinkled pathways all the way out to the fringes. Look close at the frayed and jagged edges. (Truth be told, it’s all rather broken and messed-up, but so are most things worth spending time with. So are most things I love.) Now stand on the edges, and look at it from far away.

Once, I dreamed I could just spread my arms and fly. So I started running and jumping and falling and building to try and get up there. Until I was just running and jumping and falling and building to get somewhereSo far, that has been remarkably more interesting.

just say no

Okay, this is a bit extreme.

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Open Ballet Classes and Impostor Syndrome (aka It Doesn’t Get Better)

As I’ve been realizing lately, adult open ballet classes can do a lot to knock out feelings of illegitimacy. And not in the ways you might expect.

You know that pesky impostor syndrome which is always reminding you that you don’t deserve to be where you are or doing what you’re doing? As if that there is some line that divides the legitimate from the illegitimate, and you can’t feel comfortable or confident with yourself until you cross it. What and where that line is can be shifting and uncertain: would perfect turnout make you legit? A spot in a conservatory? A company contract? Still, you remain convinced that this line exists and that the end to your insecurities, the point where it all gets better, lies somewhere above your head.

Impostor syndrome definitely isn’t unique to dancers, but in such an uncertain profession, it can be particularly hard to shake. That’s where open classes come in.

Open classes bring together a wide assortment of people ranging in age, background, ability, and relationship to dance. The class probably has a level specified (beginner, intermediate advanced), but that doesn’t stop people outside that range from showing up (this is particularly the case in smaller cities with fewer classes and therefore less stratification between professional and recreational classes). There are current professionals, tech employees who danced as kids, 70-year-olds who took up ballet at 65, teenage bunheads, 50-year-old retired principal dancers, college students, and oftentimes someone pregnant. There’s people with their legs by their ears and people with their legs barely off the floor.

And what’s beautiful is seeing all these people not just dancing together, but also all working their butts off, struggling, and messing up at times. Not necessarily struggling with the same issues–one person might be figuring out how to squeeze out that fourth pirouette while another is working on a single–but nonetheless working through issues related to their respective points in their dance journeys with the same focus and energy.

There’s something about seeing a gorgeous professional falling out of turns or a beginner standing in the center with unwavering presence that will crush your lingering impostor syndrome. Your weaknesses and and challenges don’t mean that you don’t belong there–they mean that you very much belong there and you can be comfortable and confident about your place in the struggle.

Because no matter how good or bad you are, there is no line of legitimacy that will fix everything: the struggle never ends! And that’s a good thing, I promise.

See, most popular depictions of ballet focus on the “obsession with perfection” aspect. But in reality, while perfectionistic ideals are a thing, dancers learn that actually being perfect is clearly not.

This never happens. Really.

So you have to get pretty comfortable with perpetual imperfection. That’s not always easy, but it can be pretty awesome if you approach it the right way.

There’s a certain sense of liberation in knowing that anything you do will fail in some form or another: then you can toss out that annoying fear of failure and just focus on failing better, failing the way you want to.

And once you realize that you’ll never “arrive”–that really no one will–you can stop freaking out about not being “there” yet and just immerse yourself in the journey: the plies, the tendus, the sweat, the studio full of warm stinky bodies, the music, the mistakes, the tiny adjustments, the joy of movement, and that glorious daily grind.

Perseverance and Insanity

I got my wisdom teeth out today and there is nothing like a residually drugged state to spur some vaguely deep thinking. Here’s what’s on my mind:

I’ve been thinking a bit about the difference between perseverance and insanity. If you go with Einstein’s definition of insanity:

it seems a whole lot like this:

Perseverance: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

-Oxford Dictionary

Even if you take a look at the classic examples of perseverance that go on inspirational memes–JK Rowling unsuccessfully applying to 12 publishers before being accepted by one or Michael Jordan getting cut from high school basketball–they seem to fit the first definition at least as well as the second.

It seems that we judge the difference by the results. We decide that the wildly successful author/artist/athlete/entrepreneur was right all along and true to their convictions, while the struggling and unemployed one was simply a delusional kid with an overinflated sense of self-worth and a refusal to grow up. But if we judge by their actions alone, these people are often indistinguishable.

I guess we try to separate these people with two labels because we don’t want to admit that our futures can be out of our control. It’s far easier to attribute success to moral superiority and failure to moral faults than to acknowledge that a fine line of luck and timing often separates the two.

So where do I fit in to all of this? I sometimes question my commitment to dance (but in a detached, hypothetical way, knowing that giving up isn’t a real possibility for me). Some people praise my persistence, while others try to convince me that it’s insane and immature, and truthfully, I can’t really argue with either. Without the results, I don’t know. I just keep going with faith that something in me can make me more than a statistic in world with really crappy odds. Just like everyone else. Or not.