Friday, December 28, 2012

What's Your Thing?

Is there something you feel like you missed out on when you were younger? Some path you feel drawn to that you didn't take the chance with back when you had developing talents that could have been harnessed? I think everyone has something like that.
It's not ballet for me. Sure, when I was six or seven I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up, but I have yet to meet the six year old girl who doesn't want to be a ballerina when she grows up. I was dissuaded when my mother told me two things (they say that the way you speak to your children becomes their inner voice. With three very different parents it's quite the cacophony in here, sometimes). She said 1) that ballerinas have junky feet. Which seemed important at the time but that was before I grew up and realized I have junky feet anyway, so what the hell is the difference? and 2) that they have to go to class every day. I hated school, I always did. (From grade one through college. I just never enjoyed it the way that some people seem to. I was not interested in what they were saying, or at least not in the manner in which they were saying it. And the other kids were dreadful and the teachers were too overworked to attempt to engage the smart kids. I figure it's probably even worse, now, with the horrible state of modern education. Anyway.) There was no freaking way I wanted to go to class even when I was a grown up. PSSH! Of course, now I realize that going to ballet class is not even remotely like going to school.
But oh well, because I know now, intellectually, that I am a super-perfectionist who gets easily discouraged and fatalistic when I feel like I can't do something perfectly right away. It would have been totally awful if I had been put in to a high-stakes competitive environment as a kid. I would have torn myself to shreds and would never have continued doing it long enough to be any good at it. I just wouldn't. It takes all the adult strength of will and disregard for looking stupid that I can muster. In the end it's better that it worked out this way (though I may, of course, still bemoan the fact that my creaky 31-year-old body simply can't do the things I want it too all the time.)
No, for me, the great skill I passed up on that I really think I could have pursued professionally is voice work. No, really. I think I had a certain innate vocal talent when I was younger and I knew that quite well at the time, too. I adored singing. But, as a kid I was utterly convinced that I could basically do anything I wanted to without having to work at it and so I never took voice lessons. I have a miserably flat and raw singing voice, now, because it's never done much of anything, but I think with proper training I totally could have been a singer. Opera, baby, that's where my money is. I freakin' LOVE opera. And when I was a kid I could mimic words in other languages really well. If I could pull off Enya at 10 then I totally could have wrapped my sh*t around the queen of the night's aria from the Magic Flute.

Okay, maybe not. But still.
(Only click play on this is you are prepared to hear the most alien sounds that a human vocal system can produce. 2 minutes in, give it a try, you'll die from the awesome.)

Or, I could have been a groovy lounge singer! GROOVY! When I watch old movies where women (maybe draped over a piano, I don't know) do a little sultry song routine in a club? Total pangs of regret. That is my ideal job, right there. I basically wanted to be Jessica Rabbit when I was growing up. But I thought I could totally pull that stuff out of a hat whenever I wanted it and oh no, you have to actually practice! Sigh...
I'm not saying I could make a respectable living that way (but I don't make one now, either) but I could have at least fronted a band dedicated to covers of Billie Holiday songs on weekends or something.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Crackin' Those Nuts

So, how are the holidays progressing for you? My family gave me several ballerina-related gifts and we all got together in the bay area to visit my sister and her children. On Christmas eve we all piled on the couch and attempted to make an eight year old girl and a six year old boy sit still long enough to watch the Maurice Sendak version of the Nutcracker (it's on Netflix, FYI) which I hadn't seen since I was a little girl. At one point I picked up my nephew and rolled him bodily on to my lap and tried to pin him to my chest so I could watch the TV rather than him. This worked for about five minutes. You do what you can.
When the first "doll" hops onto pointe my niece said "wo, how did that happen?" and I said "magic". My mother offered "practice" but I insisted. No. It's magic.
I remember watching this version of the Nutcracker on TV with my mother and being kind of confused because the story is so different from the usual Nutcrackers. Clara morphs in to a grown-up and then lots of weird things happen with Drosslemeyer wearing a series of great big hats. But, you miss out on the best stuff, like the candy canes, Mother Ginger, and the Arabian dance. And, in my opinion, the Sugarplum Fairy is not a suggestion, it's a requirement.
Clara's tutu seems so strange to me. Unreal. It looks like it's injection molded. Totally unmoving. I am sure it's just a condition of the plate/overskirt being so wavy (like a cartoon tutu) and the whole thing being tacked very firmly together. But still, weird.
Also, I'd forgotten that the mouse king in this one has a varying quantity of heads, a nod to the original. I am pretty sure that this company is still doing a variation of this production.

Next year we're hoping to get all the girls in the family together for a trip to San Francisco's production. They aren't shy about declaring themselves the best in the country, and you have to admit: it is certainly shiny!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Looking For Ballerinas in All The Wrong Places

Well, I've done it. I've finished off Nutcracker and Mouseking, the story that the Nutcracker was based on. It was interesting in a few ways. For one, the mouse king was this terrifying 7-headed rodent creature that was obviously inspired by the German folk legend of the rat king. If you've never heard of it before I am terribly sorry to introduce it to you, but it gives you a certain understanding of the story we are working with, here. The little girl (named Marie, not Clara) sort of vaguely helps the nutcracker (Drosselmeyer's bewitched nephew) defeat the mouse king (VERY vaguely) and then she marries him, despite the fact that she is 8 years old. There you go. There is a brief trip through the land of sweets, but they don't stop to talk to anyone on account of the residents all being terribly grumpy (because they all have sore teeth, naturally). Why did we make this story in to a beloved ballet classic, again?

Random write-up in mental_floss magazine this month:

not particularly informative or anything, it just caught my eye.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Brief Briefing

Well, I had my second acupuncture appointment at the beginning of the week. It was dreadful and they crammed needles in my ears and in between my toes and other awful things. It hurt and I bled and I was terribly happy to go home afterward. My knees hurt like the end times for the rest of the day and I spent most of the afternoon lying on the couch watching anime and feeling sorry for myself. The next day, though, class was not nearly as painful as I had feared. Perhaps it just takes a while to have a positive effect? Or is it just that I felt so dreadful the day before that a change back to the status quo seemed like a blessing? I suppose we shall see in time.
In more interesting news I recently downloaded a copy of the original story the Nutcracker was based on, and so far it is a total hallucinatory crazy-fest. I will report back after I've polished it off.

Anyway, in case I don't hit the blog again until next week:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It's All Good, I've Watched the 11 Year Olds Do It So I've Got it Down

So the other night in my level three class (after an exhausting adagio and break-neck marathon pirouette session) the teacher lined us up in the corner and told us to (in groups of two) turn across the floor in whatever way we chose. Now, the only turns I've really been around for are chaînés and pirouettes. And I hate chaînés. But I was ALL OUT of pirouettes for the night. So, after a brief moment (which was all I had) of contemplation I thought to myself "screw this for a lark" and did piqué turns across the floor. Now, you may or may not recall this, but I have NEVER done piqué turns in class, before. I did preparation for piqué turns once... and I sort of popped a couple off in my kitchen the next day, but I have had no actual experience doing them. Not even in slippers. Only a couple of times in baseball socks (my dance footwear of choice, of course)
And it wasn't beauteous. And it wasn't technically proficient. I didn't even know which direction I was supposed to be turning in when moving from stage right to stage left... And maybe the teacher sort of looked at me like I was insane and maybe even declared that next time we would be working on piqué turns as a class...

Sunday, December 9, 2012


In my ballet world:
I'm starting to champ a little on the proverbial bit. I'm certainly struggling with my level 3 class but I feel like I could do better faster if I could work on the level 3 stuff more than once a week. Because let's face it, my kitchen floor is something like 3-4 feet across. Tombé-pas de bourré-pirouette combinations aren't happening in here. Especially when there is a great big box taking up half my floor space that is filled with everything that I can no longer put under my sink because my landlord never fixed the gaping hole the plumber punched in the cabinet floor. BUT that is another story.
Anyway. So, I am feeling a little held back in my level 1-2 class, but there is no other dedicated level 3 class. The only other option is a level 3-5 class on Thursdays that most of the girls are taking as a pre-req for pointe. I've talked to my classmates about it and they all agree that it's way more advanced than my level three class. And so I am a bit terrified about it. I'm sort of working myself up to asking about it. I almost fell over doing pirouettes on Tuesday, so maybe I will ask about it later.
The level 1-2 class has so many new students that we don't all fit at the barre, anymore. We don't even all fit at the barre plus two portable barres with some people hanging off the ends. It's crazy. I guess ballet is the hip new thing for grown-ups? It's a little difficult getting through everything in an hour and a quarter, now. And sometimes people just plain get on my nerves. Don't get me wrong, I think that it's great to have new people! And, of course, I am thrilled that my studio is able to support itself and my wonderful teacher (she said "I don't know why we have so many new students! Is it that Black Swan movie?" I, for one, don't know why the hell anyone would watch that movie then WANT to learn ballet. UCK.)

****at this point you may stop reading if the health stuff bores you****

In my rheumatism world:
I hurt. Like hell, to be honest. I am not pointing fingers and saying that the acupuncture was to blame. I do think I tend to flare up worse right before my period (Retaining water? More inflammatory whats-it in my system? More sensitivity to pain?) so this could have a hormonal component, and it was already starting to act up before I set foot in the clinic. But it sure hasn't helped, either.
This particular flare-up is coming with much more intense pain smack-dab right in the heart of my knee joints. I often get a lot of the worst pain as a kind of peripheral action all along the connective tissues that hold your kneecap in place. But, I fear this is a new development that will continue to vex me. It's keeping me awake a lot at night which sucks because one of the most unmanageble parts of this whole thing is that flare-ups come with this overwhelming exhaustion. I eventually have to drag myself out of bed at some point in the day, but I could quite easily sleep past 1pm, no problem.
I talked to an old family friend (whom I recently realized I have known since I was FIVE. Holy crap!) who has been having acupuncture for years with great success. She said she didn't get any results for a while, either, so I should hang in there. I figure I have nothing to lose, and for 15 bucks I can't beat the price of a treatment, so they can basically try anything they want. I believe it was sterling author Terry Pratchett who, when questioned about the lengths to which he would go to beat his debilitating Alzheimer's disease, said "Personally, I'd eat the arse out of a dead mole if it offered a fighting chance."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Acupuncture: Step Three

SO. I had my first acupuncture treatment today.
I had to drive to this place that was half an hour away and totally unfamiliar, but I survived. I feel like each time I successfully navigate the freeways around here is cause for celebration. Did I tell you that I only started driving on the freeway in October? Because I did. In two months I have blossomed in to a veritable freeway-driving adult. And stuff. I wasn't terribly worried about the being poked with needles thing, I was more worried about the not killing myself on the road thing.
I found the building and went in for my inpokination. Do you like that word? I just made it up. If you couldn't tell. The ambiance of the room left something to be desired:
Hmm. A slightly dinged-up exam room with elderly paint on the walls. This should not be surprising. There is probably a protocol of some sort. You probably have to make every single Kaiser exam room look like every other so that no one feels left out of the fun. I don't know what I was expecting, though. probably dim lights, soothing music... maybe the tinkling of a (digital) waterfall. A smouldering incense burner in the corner. I don't know about you, but I am relaxing just thinking about it.
My acupuncturist was quick and easy to deal with. She bumped (most of them don't feel so much like being pricked as they do like being tapped on) fifteen needles in to my knees and wrists and then left me to sit in the dark under a heat lamp while I recovered from my sudden rush of dizziness (I always get dizzy in doctor's offices. Even if all they do is take my temperature and listen to my heart. Sometimes it's great because it makes them think you are in bad shape and really need some help. Other times it's not so great. Like when you have a bossy OB nurse practitioner who wants to lecture you about how you aren't living right)
It gave me time to feel sort of like taking a nap (that heat lamp is da bomb) and to study the acupuncture chart on the wall. There is one acupuncture point, for guys, that is ... well, I don't know what condition it treats, but you have gotta be in MISERY before you ask for that treatment, is all I'm saying. I don't have a picture for you because I am being mindful of your delicate sensibilities (and because, you know, my camera phone only got half the picture in the frame. Dang.) In 20 minutes she pulled out the needles, while accompanied by two auditors who were apparently there just to count how many needles you were stuck with? Uhm... useful, how? I'm sure it's some silly internal cost-effectiveness thing. Like Kaiser doesn't want them to use more than three packs of needles per patient or something.
I have a few tiny red spots now, but I don't think I even bled. Which is nice, because I was a bit concerned. I take a daily anti-inflammatory and it sort of thins your blood. So, when I poke myself while sewing (oh, two or three times a day at least) I bleed all over the place and it's awkward if I forget to have a pack of band-aids on hand.
Three hours later I can tell you that I don't see a bit of difference so far in my knees. They still hurt, as they did all night. Maybe my wrists are a liiiiittle bit better? Time will tell. Tonight I sew, tomorrow I dance, and the proof will be in the pudding (but not that birthday cake flavored pudding cup I just attempted to eat, which tasted like pure evil coated in artificially colored sprinkles). 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pilates and You. Now on Home Video.

So, I am muddling my way back in to trim, but the fact remains that I need to work on my core strength because it will improve my balance. And I am crazy-interested in improving my balance. On a related but side note my teacher recently realized that I stand a little funny because I have an (not insignificant) curvature of the spine. I've known this since I was 16, at which point it required several trips to various doctors and x-rays and etc etc. The verdict was that if I had come in when I was 11 they would have put me in a brace or something, but at 16 it was too darn late. Which was totally okay with me. I haven't really experienced any serious problems with it. It means I sometimes have to fit my clothing very slightly differently from left to right, but it's usually not noticeable if I don't so mostly I just don't bother. Anyway, my teacher said she's going to work on making me "pretend" to stand straight, and that makes absolute sense. 
ANYWAY. Back to the subject at hand!
The best thing I've found so far for working your core/abs is pilates. I can't say it's a heck of a good time, but I suppose it's better than just doing crunches or sit ups. Boring exercises don't get done, you know? In the past (that is one time in the past. Yeah, yeah, so sue me) when I got interested in trying out some pilates, I just fired up netflix and ta-da, hundreds of videos to choose from. But, this time I discovered that OH NO! Netflix has discontinued ALL of it's fitness videos that were available to watch instantly. Aw man. What are the rest of the unemployed/self employed/stay at home moms/etc going to do now? We are all going to get fat, is what we're going to do.
I eventually decided to gird my proverbial loins and check out the stuff available on YouTube. I did this one, which has left me aching noticeably for the past few days, even though there were moments when I just threw my hands up and said "forget it, lady!". It's dang hard to do the stuff while watching the screen, even with my laptop on the floor with me, but I suppose it has to be done. I thought the instructor was okay on this series, not as good at explanations as some of the sleek crunch and burn instructors, but also a bit less plastic. I love her manner of speaking ("Up you come!" and "butt" instead of ""bum" or "rear" really won me). Next time I am planning on trying out this one, which might be a bit less confusing, but we'll see.
I'm doing this for you, ballet. I hope you appreciate my sacrifice.

Of course, like most people, I never seem to follow through with my big plans for at-home work outs.  This is why you have to go to classes or a gym or something. So you feel guilty if you don't want to bother with it. We'll see how long I hold out before "forgetting" to hit the pad once a week. I'm giving myself three weeks. Hey, at least I have realistic expectations!