December 10, 2013

A Night in Waspuko Abajo Nicaragua

Between my 1st and 2nd First Year Of Vet School, I spent the summer studying brucellosis and tuberculosis in diary cattle in the buffer zone of the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua.  I was about as remote as you can get north of the Amazon.  The following is a story about one of the nights I spent at a house in the jungle. (and some old powerpoint slides)


Allegre a Regressar a Siuna…o Informacion Demasiado.

My week was filled with getting up at the crack of dawn, folding my sheets and hammock, eating a breakfast of beans and rice and quehada (the local cheese that’s sort of like feta, only you have to hope it comes from a cow that isn’t infected with the diseases I am studying), mounting my horse and riding all day through mud and rivers, stopping at farms to rope cows, take some blood from their tail vein and give them a subcutaneous PPD shot to screen for TB.  In the afternoon, we would return home or move our things to the next community, eat lunch or dinner (beans and rice and quehada again), and sit around, waiting for dark so we could go to bed.

----At this point, if you are someone who doesn’t like “too much information,” this is your warning to quit reading immediately.  It just gets worse.----

After a week of riding 5 or 10 hours per day, sweating the entire time, I had developed mad saddle sores.  All my myriad bug bites got infected from the mud, sweat, and cow shit, so I had open, red, oozing bumps covering my legs, bikini line and torso.  One of the houses that we stayed at was in a community called Waspuko Abajo, and the house was on the top of a little hill, moated by standing water on 3.5 sides.  That = mosquito haven.  Worse, at the top of the hill, directly surrounding the house was moat of muck.  The muck was comprised of equal parts mud, cow shit, pig shit, chicken and goose shit, trash, dirty dish water, human piss, dog shit, with an even dusting of algae and fungus to top it all off.  The Muck Moat was 20 feet wide and if you fell in, it was shin deep.  There were strategically placed wood planks and plantain trunks/leaves for you to take a running start and hop from one to the next to the house without getting nasty.  Under the house, because it was dry, lived all the animals and the animals’ fleas and other bugs had direct access to us people through the wide cracks in the floorboards.  I slept with my beekeeper’s net on my head, and so my head and neck is the only place without bug bites.  Sleeping in a hammock is not the most comfortable thing in the world, but wasn’t terrible.  There was also a parrot there that whistled songs and imitated horses whinnying.  We thought it was great until he also started to imitate the chickens squawking and the pigs squealing incessantly.

If you have heard my Sleeping At the Masaai Boma story, this runs for a very close 2nd place in the history of Terrible Nights Alyssum Has Had.  It started with hours and hours of the parrot chicken-squawking and pig-squealing before bed.  After dinner, I had to pee, but was not about to brave the Muck Moat after dark.  I set up my hammock, donned my mosquito head-net and climbed in.  Because the family as well as my traveling companions and myself were all sharing a single room, I slept in my “clean” pants (my dirty ones that had 2 cm of mud caked from the knee down were outside hanging to dry a little before the next, the last morning of our week out in the bush).  The culture here includes no concept of “disturbing the peace” and in fact I think silence is somewhat taboo, so the head of the house had his radio going as we fell asleep, and Carlos (the vet student with me) had his radio going as well.  On a different station.  In the same room.  So I had to wait for hours before they finally turned them off.  Then a puppy started whining from hunger pangs under the house.  Whine, whine, whine, puppy squeal.  Sounded like someone was stepping on his tail, except that no one was, and the puppy yelped and whined for hours on end.  I felt like the worst human for being annoyed by a starving puppy's crying.  Eventually he quit, and I just started to fall asleep when the pigs started fighting.  It sounded like I lived in the lake from The Princess Bride with the shrieking eels.  Pigs have the most monstrous, hellish sounding voices, and a chorus of six of them, directly under you is absolutely blood curdling.  On it went, pigs, puppy, puppy, pigs, and I was cursing foully under my breath, “Shut the fuck up!  Goddammit, I can’t sleep!…Stupid fuckers stop it!…Goddamn puppy!”  glad for once my companions couldn’t understand me.  The thing that puts this as 2nd place, rather than 1st with the Masaai, is that I actually did fall asleep at one point.  Unfortunately, it was only long enough to have a dream about luxurious shoes (my leather boots were sprouting 80 types of fungus and mold, and actually the sole fell completely off when I was crossing a river a couple days later), and running to find a bathroom.  So, yes, at the age of 25, I peed in my bed (hammock) because of a dream of going to the bathroom.  I woke up furious and disgusted, and managed to take my pants off, find a piece of cloth to wrap around myself, found my headlamp and braved the Muck Moat to get to the latrine and finish the job.  Next morning, I was faced with Which Pants To Wear.  My dirty pants were not only muddy but also soaked through because it rained in the night, and now my “clean pants” were wet with my urine.  I put off getting dressed as long as possible but eventually had to suck it up and put the “clean pants” on, apologizing to my saddle sores for the insult to injury, and hoping it wouldn’t get hot enough for the smell to reach the noses of my companions.  A few hours later I was checking a cow's tail for evidence of a reaction to the PPD, and--whaddyaknow--she had explosive diarrhea that sprayed me from chest to feet. I thought, “and I was worried about a little human urine on these pants?!”

The Sandanista's colors are black and red.
My legs were red with bug bites and black/hairy.

November 20, 2013

Finding Inspiration Through Dance

What a pleasure.

This past Saturday night, I attended a modern dance performance by Dance Ethos in which my friend Althea Skinner (seen here) was performing.  Every time I see a dance performance outside the genre that I participate most actively in (bellydance), I am reminded of the countless dance performances that my parents took me to see as a kid, of the thousands of hours of rehearsal and classes that I have participated in over the years, and how much I appreciate this education and practice.  Dance, no matter the genre, is a language that I speak.  I understand it, I feel connected to humankind and to my core self when I am engaged with it, either as a dancer or an audience member.  I am inspired creatively by others' expression of movement or choreography.  And I tend to become overwhelmed emotionally by these experiences, eliciting tears that underscore the magnitude of personal gratitude, and motivation I feel.  Despite however pressured I may feel for a sense of balance in my life ("Just say 'No' to more work and activities!"), watching a dance performance inspires me to reach deep in my own dance to manifest the creative ideas I have, including making a difference in the environmental realm through dance ("Don't stop now! You can do more!").  Sometimes I get scared that I will lose the ability to speak this language, or that I will stop making sense in this language, the same way I have forgotten much of my veterinary training since leaving vet school.  I want to be taken seriously, and seeing the result of dancers working very hard to accomplish the performance I'm watching motivates me to take my own dance practice very seriously, and to devote more time and effort to it. I don't necessarily need more motivation, but the fact that it's available for the taking is luxurious and makes me feel like I'm living life fully.

Because I missed Althea's solo piece in the Saturday show, I took the opportunity to see it performed at the Harman Center for the Arts during today's Happenings, their weekly free lunchtime show.  Talk about being overwhelmed.  Not only was I watching some really beautiful dance (sight/kinesthetic sense), to some really beautiful music (sound), for free (important to my measly Fellowship income), near work (exercise/biking midday, yay!), but I was also eating simultaneously (autumn-fresh roasted butternut squash with carraway seeds and nuts from the farmer's market--a yummy taste and smell-explosion).  My senses were attended to. I was so grateful for that moment.  *cue tears*.

The performance today included several pieces from Saturday's show, as well as a couple from an earlier show that I had seen this summer.  I really enjoy the work that Dance Ethos supports and creates.  The fabric in Tiffany Haughn's "The Lines We Draw" reminded me of all the possibilities that exist for each of us.  Possibility can support and carry us, or it can hold us back and cause tension.  Even if we are aware of these issues--they are transparent--that doesn't mean that navigating them is any easier. We struggle or glide through, past, with, in spite of, or linked to possibilities.   Althea's piece (choreographed by Vladimir Angelov) was stirring, dynamic, beautiful, thoughtful, curious, and expertly executed. I was struck in her piece and a few others at the use of explosive movement followed by stillness or slow movement.  It's a technique that I use less emphatically in my own dance, and it reminded me to go whole hog in that direction.

I had to leave early to get back to work, but my lunchtime inspiration infusion will last for quite some time.

October 23, 2013

Toledo's Chronic Urban Flooding

One of the projects I have been working on as a Digital Coast Fellow is researching and writing up this mini-case study about Toledo's chronic flooding issues for the Great Lakes Planning Guide.  Two thoughts about this process:
1.  It's really hard to distill such a rich story into just a couple paragraphs!!  Research took quite a while, and locating appropriate images that really do help tell the story (with attendant sources and permissions) was a bear of a project in and of itself.
2.  Although this is a local story, as part of the Planning Guide, it reminds me that individual stories like this are a part of the whole.  Climate change causes more frequent and heavier rainfall in many places, and stories like Toledo's help bring peoples' attention to the importance of mitigating climate change itself by decreasing our individual engagement in carbon-emitting practices, as well as proactive planning and management of infrastructure.  I am proud that this is a piece of the repertoire of work that I do.

Naval Observatory Digital Coast presentation and tour

My favorite part of going to present at the Naval Observatory was all the really cool old telescopes and rare books I got to see during the tour we had after my presentation.  They were edited out of the blog post that I wrote for work, but I'll share them here for you because they're awesome.  But, yeah, I got to present Digital Coast to a bunch of Dept of Defense folks.  Yippee!
An original edition of Copernicus’ book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium from 1543, in which he describes that Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around

The observatory’s 26-inch diameter refracting telescope from 1873

October 17, 2013

Old Buildings on Stilts

Back in February of last year, I was riding my bike near Mt. Vernon Square in DC, and I noticed a parking lot that had four old buildings on stilts parked in the lot.  I thought it was very strange at the time.

Since then, what I think is happening is that they are utilizing the structure of these old buildings to build a new, modern building around, so that it maintains a sort of "Main Street, USA" feel.  What do you think?

October 13, 2013

Contortionist's Mat for Performance

When I perform contortion, I almost always have a move or two that necessitate my back being hard against the floor.  If I have no padding, I end up with a bruised spine.  Frown.  So, I use a yoga mat to keep me safe.  But I have been embarrassed at how unprofessional it looks to have an ugly green yoga mat on a stage.  It looks like an ugly green yoga mat, not like the supporting prop of a professional contortionist.

Right?  It'd be such a rad performance photo, but that damn mat just looks janky!  Photo by Brian Hoeg
I have been on the lookout for an answer to my problem for a very, very long time.  I found a company that makes circular yoga mats, which is pretty cool, but they're hella expensive, and they also come in bright colors that indicate that it's yoga class time instead of professional gig time. So I was delighted to find a BLACK yoga mat (I thought they just didn't exist!) on clearance at T.J. Maxx the other day!  I decided to take matters into my own hands and create what I needed.

First I made a compass with a thumbtack, piece of string, and a white marker,
and I created two large and two small semicircles (ignore the mistaken attempts)

Secondly, I cut them out and made sure the edges met perfectly.
I cut small pieces to support the large pieces (so it could all be glued together).  

Here they are centered and perpendicular to one another.
First I hot glued down the centerline of the large pieces.
Then I glued the centerline of the small pieces.
Finally I glued the small circle to the large circle.  

Okay, it is all stuck together. Maybe I need to iron that edge down?

Ta-Da!  It works!

Vintage Brass Corners to the Rescue

Someone gave me this wooden box a while back and I like it but was afraid i'd either really hurt someone or something with the corners, or that the corners would chip off.  So I found some vintage brass corners to wrap around that will both bolster and smooth-ify the corners.  I finally found a flat-head screwdriver small enough to do the work today.

September 20, 2013

Individual's condition expressed through visual sexual signals.

This is why people wear make-up, more or less.  This seems like a no-doi experiment.

From Science magazine:
Be Honest
Sacha Vignieri
Sexual signals, such as plumage color, are thought to reflect an individual's condition and thus to be a relatively honest indicator of quality to those seeking a mate. The condition of individuals, however, can change over time, leaving one to wonder if such traits only provide honest information about condition at a specific point in the past. Vitousek et al. tested whether signals themselves may influence an individual's condition and thus provide a more accurate indicator of current quality. Specifically, they experimentally darkened the underside of female North American barn swallows and measured indicators of physiological state, such as reactive oxidative metabolites and circulating testosterone. Manipulated birds had consistently lower levels than controls. Naturally darker birds have greater resistance to oxidative stress and reproductively dominate lighter birds. The authors suggest that darkening the birds led to altered social interactions, including fewer challenges and greater mating success. Further, they suggest that the reduced stress experienced by darkened birds left them in better condition, one more reflective of the high-quality trait they displayed. These results suggest that feedback between a signal, its bearer, and recipients may help keep both the signal, and the signaler, honest.
Biol. Lett. 9, 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0539 (2013).

September 3, 2013

Tribal Fest 13 Critique

I have never written a critique about an entire dance festival before, but I was sick during Tribal Fest which meant I was at home and had the time to watch every performance video that came out.  Well, actually, I got better and had to go back to work half-way through the release of all the videos, so I didn't see them all, but I did watch every video that came out for the first couple days, as they were released, and didn't skip unknown dancers, or rush to watch the famous dancers. I held off on posting this til I could go through them all, but you know what? I've been too busy to actually finish watching them all with the attention that they deserve.  So, please recognize that this is a partial critique.  As someone who has participated in the tribal fusion dance world for more than 15 years, I feel like one way that I can give back to the community is by voicing my opinions and observations, and hopefully these will be constructive, even if my opinions and observations reflect an incomplete selection of the festival. Of course everything herein is my own opinion, and is not meant to offend.  Do I even need to say that? 

In the keen spirit of building up rather than tearing down, I will share a few of my top favorite performances with brief notes on why these particular pieces struck a chord with me, followed by some other notable performances, and general notes for improvement for the community as a whole (check in to see whether they might apply to you, and if not, congratulations on a job well done).  Remember, if you don't see yourself mentioned here, it could be that I haven't seen your performance yet.  Much love, Dancers!

Top 7 Picks (it was going to be top 10, but this is as far as I got):

Rin Ajna.  I have never seen anyone do a drum solo as anything but a drum solo.  Here, Rin expresses "all the emotions dance helps us through".  She is, indeed, possessed by bellydance.  I clutched my face in recognition of my own experiences, and how aptly she portrays them all.  Frenetic but always in control.  Amazing.

Apsara dancers in Angkor

Apsara.  These ladies know how to create visual interest, not just through their incredible costumes, but also in their thoughtful tableaus, use of level changes, and body lines fitting of their name "Apsara".  Their use of stillness makes it perfectly clear to the audience what aspects of their movement they want you to take home with you.

Portico.  Simple and strong.  The Indian styling/mudras comes through loud and clear.  The costuming is no-frills, but elegant, attractive, bold, crisp, and streamlined. Simple 'costume change' utilized to mark the switch into bhangra.

Imajaghan. These dancers dance with abandon.  And they are able to do so effectively because technique and timing come first.  Their simple costumes unite them without distracting from the dance.  I particularly love the peeling, cannons that happen after 6:45.  

Jenna Shear.  Each of her movements is danced all the way through the tips of her fingers and toes, and she completely draws you in, which is difficult to do as a solo dancer in that large space. Beautiful classic costume unaffected by current tribal fads, and a simple/effective 'costume change' of removing the mourning mantilla for the second piece.  

Donna Mejia.  "...with ease and flair," indeed.  She luxuriates in dance, and we are lucky to share in it as her audience.  Her large headdress helps her fit on the stage, but she has the moves to make any costume irrelevant.   Start at 5:30 for the dance section. 

Illan.  An impressive (!!) and emotive piece reminiscent of Amazonian natives with his red face and chest paint and feather headdress.  1:55-7:00

Notable Mentions:

  • Tjarda. She knows how to use her body and costumes like props. She knows exactly the effect she is having on the audience.  Always powerful.  
  • Brenna Crowley.  Everyone wins with Michael Jackson.  She does a good job in this tribute. 
  • Sepiatonic.  It's like they distilled and caricaturized all the crowd pleasers into one piece.  
  • Skella.  You've never seen four swords and two ladies so picturesque.
  • Qabila.  Solid Moroccan shikhat.  Nice to see straight up folk dance. And, (I know this might sound backwards, but...) it's nice to see (in contrast to the widespread skin-exposing dancers which, of course, is fine too) the über modest shikhat costume.  
  • Sassafrass. Hip hop and Etta James fusion, solid costuming, nice use of staging.
  • Bevin Victoria.  Strong pop'n'lock fusion.
  • Persephone Dance Company. Straight up ATS. Bad-ass Turkish drops. 
  • Kumuda Tribal Collection. Beautiful ATS styling to non-traditional music choices.
  • Foxy Cat Alice. Cool peacock styling 1:15-1:45.  Plus her white skirt with peacock feathers reminds me of miniver.  
  • Kendra Katz.  Ease in fusing club dancing with bellydance.
  • Lisa Hyde.  The music she chose perfectly arced with her storyline.  

General Notes for Improvement:
  • Flocking/timing could use some work.  One thing I got really good at from years of practice in ATS-ish dance is looking at (and interacting with) the audience while using my peripheral vision to track and mimic the exact arc of the lead dancer's armwork, body position, timing.  Miniscule (hopefully imperceptible) differences in timing are excusable when the piece is improvised.  However, the majority of pieces at Tribal Fest are choreographed.  I expect, in these cases, that every dancer in the piece should be counting the timing the same way.  AND I expect that dancers will STILL be using their peripheral vision to make sure that their armwork/bodylines are flocking perfectly with those around them, despite the fact that the piece may be choreographed.  You should not ever have to look away from the audience and look, instead, directly at the dancers who know what they're doing; use your peripheral vision to check in to make sure you're on track if you need to, change your sightline if that helps, and know the choreography inside out.  Drill until it's perfect!  Everyone has cameras on their phones these days--use video to see who's arms look different than everyone else's! In short, there is no excuse for sloppy timing. 
  • There is no substitute for good posture, and a strong core.  In bellydance, we often don't think of using our core for strength because we generally think about using our core for isolated belly/hip/chest action.  But guess what?  If the action/attention is in the legs or arms or full body (ie spins), then you should be using that core strength to better improve your balance and lines.  In moments when you are using your core muscles for isolated work, then check your posture to make sure your stance is not unnecessarily wide (i.e. unintentionally vulgar).
  • Limp wrists, please, no more! So many otherwise strong dances lose their impact because the energy fades at the wrists.  The dancer may even have lovely hand gestures, but the gestures must be expressed deliberately, and the lines from elbow to fingers shouldn't be broken unless intentionally, if you want me to see a bubble of energy around you all the way from the back of the room.  
  • A few pieces didn't seem to reflect bellydance or folk or tribal fusion elements.  Therefore, I did not understand why they were on the Tribal Fest stage.  Lack of connection to the already nebulous "tribal" identifiers is super distracting--we (the audience) spend time and energy waiting for the tribal/bellydance/folk influence to show up, which distracts from the gorgeous pieces that you worked so hard to prepare.  In some instances, the performers may have been recognized members of this tribal community (yay, we love you!), and, whether you are new to this genre or not, I am all for avant garde expressions of the art form, but when I see nothing recognizable mixed in--neither in the dance, nor in the music/costume choice--the message that comes across is "I am starving for a venue," rather than whatever the actual point of the piece may be.  Which is unfortunate.  I suppose this bit of critique can be boiled down to "know your audience."
  • Listen to the music.  There is probably a lot more going on than just the phrases of 8 counts.  While dancing to the music in sets of eight can afford more space and stillness in your piece (which is something most people can afford to strive for), if you never change it up, the piece becomes boring and predictable.  Phrases of eight can not only be broken up into 2 sets of 4 counts, or 4 sets of 2 counts, or eight single counts, but a count of six and two, or 3, 4 and 1, or even hemidemisemiquavers!  Listen to the music, and be imaginative with your interpretation. 
  • The face is so expressive, it's a shame to see a blank countenance, especially when the rest of the piece (and your body) is full of emotion.  Are you aware of your face when you practice?  Practicing your performance face when you practice helps to make sure that under the pressure of getting everything else right, your face isn't the only thing not performing.  
  • I guess there's no denying that dubstep is IN.  Though it's not necessarily my 1st choice, I recognize why it inspires and moves people to chose it.  But, see here, as a musical genre, it's pretty darn strong.  Because of that, it can be used super effectively--but requires equally pretty darn strong dancing or else the music can overshadow your skills.  In Swahili, the word for dance is cheza.  Cheza is also the word for music.  In many cultures, dance and music are inseparable.  They should complement one another and be equal in par.  Use the strong music to practice to, and practice to, and practice to until you ARE on par with it! And until then, maintain the sense of confidence and power that dubstep (or bagpipes or other Super Intense music) instills you with, but exercise your discretion and self-awareness so that your dance comes across as compellingly as you mean it to.  I hope it's clear I mean this as encouragement, to help you shine.  

NACo attends Esri Conference

There's a blog post up on the NACo website about the Esri conferences I attended this summer.  Click here to view!

July 19, 2013

On my love story.

These thoughts crowd my head space and I need to get them out so I can sleep better, next time I lay down.

My grandparents have a love story worthy of the fairybooks.  They met in London after WWII.  My grandfather was looking for a pianist to accompany him when he played a Brahms piece on the violin.  A mutual friend introduced them, and they went on their first date less than two weeks after their first rehearsal together, and the rest is history.  They had 5 boys, emigrated from England to America, adopted another boy and 2 girls at the age of 50, and continue, in their late 80s, to fawn over one another.  "Isn't she beautiful!?"  "Aren't we lucky!?"  "Another day postponing the demise with my darling at my side.  'Tis wonderful."  This example of true love serves as a bastion for me.

I have often thought a long-lasting love story like theirs is a human experience that few are lucky enough to include in their lives, and really the only sort that makes sense to want to emulate.  Knowing, of course, that any relationship will have its own particular quibbles, foibles, and antics, I am not interested in exploring deep love relationships with many people for the sake of exploring deep love relationships with many people.  I feel like that's sort of antithetical.  The depth comes largely in part from the time that you spend with a person.  We are only given a brief stay on this earth, and it is my belief that practicing loving the same person for the majority of it is one of the most likely ways to ensure that your life will be imbued with deep, true love.  A worthy endeavor.

I have only had relationships with a handful of men. I have slept with fewer.  My (limited) experience has taught me that my neuro-chemical pathways function healthily--that oxytocin kicks in strong.  For me, Sex=Being In Love.  Not just "I love that person" as in I care a great deal for them, but full-on deeply in love.  Sex is absolutely fun.  But I am apparently incapable of having sex "just for fun," or casually, or even without a sense of serious commitment.  My heart gets broken if sex is involved and we don't stay together.  Because I'm currently single, that means that in my life, 100% of the time, sex leads to a broken heart.  I know this correlation is likely not strictly causal, but that's how it feels.

I live my life openly.  My private domain is almost non-existant.  I generally don't speak about the ins and outs of my relationships, not because I mind if people know my business, but because I know that my partner might mind.  Sex is the only intimate part of my life that I don't share with the world at large.  It is truly intimate for me, and I feel like that holding that space sacred is important.  I expect that my partner will share this opinion/ideal.  It is soul crushing that the few lucky men who have been with me have known this about me, have tried to fit the bill, and decided that it's not what worked for them after all.  Firstly, I'm sad that they weren't self-confident or self-aware enough to know about themselves that they were not built that way.  Secondly, and related, it is pitiful that they craved vulnerability and intimacy so much that they were willing to betray their true natures.  Finally, it sucks (*understatement*) that they got to enjoy vulnerability and intimacy with me at my cost.

Disclaimer section: (My blog contains my personal thought process, so forgive me if I indulge a bit in heart-broken-victimization here.  This is where not stating the perspectives of my previous partners is a convenient respecting of their privacy.  Should they wish to set the record straight or offer their side of the story, they are welcome to do so.  When talking about these issues, I find myself asking, "What's wrong with me!?" and my best friends say, "Nothing is wrong with you. Those boys just want to fuck sluts and you're not a slut." by writing from the perspective of how I feel, I'm empowering myself and honoring that nothing is wrong with me for feeling the way I do.  And by "slut" I assume my friends mean "person who is capable of and enjoys non-committal sex". Yay for the sexual revolution allowing women to join the slutty ranks of men in this world.  If I don't judge you for being a slut, please don't judge me for being a prude. Obviously, I'm speaking tongue in cheek.)

In the past year or so, a guiding question that I ask myself is, "Does this feel healthy?".  If I ask, instead, "Does this feel right?" or "Does this feel wrong?",  I often get conflicted answers as my heart and mind and gut contradict each other or even themselves.  The question "Does this feel healthy?" may have a muddy answer, but generally the answer is more clear, and feels holistic to my entire being (mind, body, soul).  A friend recently said they wanted to see me "Strong and happy and healthy."   This was a comment that followed seeing me very upset and crying (very upset and sobbing, really, for an extended period of time).  One thought I had about that is that I am strong, and my upset did not represent weakness (opposite of strong), but, rather, vulnerability.  Being vulnerable feels healthy, if not  peachy.  I am not interested in avoiding real moments just because they're not hunky-dory.  It feels healthy to confront them head-on, and move through the unsavory expressions of emotion that wash through me.  It does feel unhealthy, however, to remain in a situation where unsavory emotions tend to be the norm, which is partially why I am not in a relationship currently.

Upon reflection, much of the unsavory emotions related to my relationships stem from my somewhat obsessive analysis of what each aspect of our interactions mean.  I want to know where we both stand at all times, and it's difficult to just "live in the moment" without some assurance that the moment is being invested into a longer-term cache of memories for the two of us.  Having a " be continued..." feeling is really unsettling/stressful for me.  It's not so much that I want(ed) to be married, but that I want(ed) that unsettled feeling to dissipate.  Maybe that's what some people mean when they refer to marriage as "settling down"?  I had always thought of it as meaning living in a single place, but I suppose it could be more abstract too.  In any case, it seems to me that intimate, "living in the moment" and "lighthearted" relationships may be really fun in the short term, but they are also shallow, superficial, ultimately unfulfilling.  I love wholeheartedly--you get the lightheartedness (yay!) and the heavyheartedness (sometimes) with me, but it is balanced, real, deep.  When it is unbalanced, it takes work to correct, but I believe the work is worth it because the love proves to be deep and fulfilling.  I am not interested in investing the best parts of myself in something that will ultimately prove unfulfilling.  If I have a partner, I want to share the best parts of life with that partner, someone who reciprocates and also sees every moment, good and bad, as an investment.

I am single.  In general, I'm content and happy about that.  I have a lot of love and passion to share, but I am not willing or able to compromise my ideals and constitutional make up in order to be generous in that department.  I would rather be single than compromise on this: I only want a partner to enjoy the lightheartedness and fun of a relationship who is also willing to put in the work to get through the frustrations of living with another person.  I see my grandparents and know it's worth it.

June 2, 2013

In which I acknowledge my perfectionism

Mid despair, I saw this marvelous sliver of a rainbow to knock me out of my circular thoughts.

I have often befriended folks who are better at (enter X skill here) than I, because I am attracted to their drive and talent.  I am inspired by them on some level.  Being surrounded by inspiration means that I'm motivated to keep reaching, working on my own skills, which, in turn, usually leads to a sense of progress, self-sufficiency, productivity, and/or satisfaction.  In my personal "pursuit of happiness" it is the journey of productivity that generally equals happiness for me.

There are some similarities across some of my closest friends who share the trait of doing their particular skill at a world class level.  For one, they achieved their mastery through dedication, practice, and perseverance.  These qualities were often fomented by their perfectionist natures, as were their abilities to hone their practice beyond Really Really Freaking Good (a level infrequently achieved) to Precisely Fucking Amazing (only a few in the world at a time attain this level of excellence).  Unfortunately, a side effect of being a perfectionist seems to be almost constant dissatisfaction.  And for this reason, my most incredibly talented friends often seem to be some of the most angsty, disquieted people.  (Of course, because they're often in the public eye, and because they're perfectionists, they've also crafted a marvelous facade of pleasantness and buoyancy through which they interact with most of the world.)

The stock I come from are A)workaholics, and B)pretty well satisfied with Good Enough.  Generally, that means we're productive, and pretty happy.  "Never let perfect be the enemy of good," could be one of the Pohl mottos.  We do a lot of good work, but rarely achieve or strive for perfection.  This lack of reaching one's potential sort of irked me.  At some point, I thought to myself, "What if I look up to my friends and strive for their amazing levels of skill, but am not hard on myself...Will I achieve near perfectionist levels of accomplishment and avoid the malaise?"  It made sense in my head.  So that's what I've been working on for several years, in several aspects of my life.

I read about people who said things like, "If, on a scale from 1-10, various aspects of your life rank as a bunch of 7's, most people would think, 'Awesome! I'm doing pretty good! Why change anything?'  But think how much better it'd be if you had a bunch of 10s!"  I drunk the Kool-Aid, so to speak, and have changed many things in my life in order to achieve a higher level satisfaction.  My goal was/is to apply myself to all my endeavors with discipline and discernment, while being kind to myself, and it feels great!

...Until it doesn't.  The thought occurred to me a couple months ago during a conversation with a friend, when she suggested that I might actually be a perfectionist despite my careful avoidance attempts.  I banished the notion because I didn't really want to entertain the thought that I could be vulnerable to the negative aspects of perfectionism, and I also didn't think I had really achieved anything worthy of perfectionist levels of skill.  My friend raised her eyebrows at me as if I had just made her point.  By discounting my own skills, I had, in one sense, achieved the central step in perfectionism;  to never think anything I do is particularly noteworthy.  I hadn't really thought about it that way--for me, most of my pleasure is gained from the journey rather than the destination, so it makes sense that the resulting object/performance/etc is more or less irrelevant, and serves merely as a marker for how to steer my personal evolution for the next iteration.  However, what most people see and judge you by is the resulting object/performance/etc...but that's a different tangent.

Today, I experienced several hours where my personal satisfaction with The Journey was fractured (I was frustrated in a dance class heavy in choreography--my nemesis), and rather than brushing it aside as Just One-A-Dem Days, and laughing off my frustration, which is what I usually do, I felt unable to stem the rushing tide that rose and drowned me in a sea of negative self talk.  Hours after the class, I was still wallowing in a general dispair and dissatisfaction with my life.

Oh no!  This is exactly what I wanted to avoid!

I think most of my life I've been able to put my brain power into my schoolwork, and take a break from my thoughts by working with my body in dance.  Now that I'm no longer in school, I have more brainpower to devote to dance, costuming, etc.  (I have seen improvements due to this fact.) Today,  I figured out why I never liked choreography--it's a mental exercise as well as a physical one.  I always sought dance as my escape from mental gymnastics!  I liked that it was a physical and intuitive practice with only light forays into mental effort.

So...what, one frustrating example of applying myself and I become immutably forlorn, a sad victim of perfectionism?  Doubly so because the thing that usually brings me happiness is what is causing this despondency?  Ugh, please, no.

Probably the answer is: Keep applying myself, but commit to less productivity.  Commit myself to time off doing nothing.  Become comfortable with doing nothing because it's no good to do, do, do, and then feel poorly about it.  If happiness is dependent on doing, rather than simply being, then I've missed the point.  So I suppose I'm admitting I'm a perfectionist, because admission of a problem is the first step in letting go.

Hah, easier said than done.

May 9, 2013

Friend breakup heartbreak

There are many types of heartbreak:  the death of a loved one, the repeated disappointment you feel from questionable actions of a loved one, breaking up with your significant other, when your significant other leaves you...   And then, there's the heartbreak that stems from losing a close friend.  You thought the two of you were close, and you were enjoying, or wanted to enjoy, continued closeness with this person.  But it turns out they aren't interested in that sort of relationship with you any more.  Their motivations are dictated by shiny, new experiences, and, frankly, your presence in their lives has ceased to be important or a priority.  It's shocking, and yes, heartbreaking.  

I remember the first time I was heartbroken like this.  I was in 2nd grade.  I went to a Montessori school where 3 grade levels of children shared a classroom.  Sarah Shannon, who was a sweet chipmunk-faced 4th grader, and I had befriended one another.  We spent every day sitting on our mat, doing our work, and talking about whatever 2nd and 4th graders talk about.  I spent the night at her house and felt very grown up being her friend.  Then, one day, she didn't want to share a mat with me any more.  She wanted to share a mat with Marcie Schenck instead.  She invited her to spend the night and didn't even say goodbye to me at the end of the day.  I was devastated.  

I spent the evening gathering some peace offerings:  two tiny plastic rabbit figurines I had recently gotten for Easter, and tiny vial of rose water, and a die (as in dice).  Tiny things were my treasures, and I was going to offer Sarah, not one but BOTH of my newest tiny prized possession bunnies.  I hoped that my offering would help her see how much she meant to me, and that she might reconsider, and decide that I could at least join her and Marcie at their mat. 

The next morning, when my mom dropped me off at school, I remember she had to pull over and talk to me because I refused to get out of the car.  I sobbed, slumped down all the way in the back seat, miserable.  I was so embarrassed to be just a little 2nd grader, whose friendship, I inferred, was not nearly as good as Marcie's 3rd grade friendship.  I was so embarrassed that I had pretty much considered a 4th grader my peer.  How could I have been so dumb? But also, why didn't she like me any more?  I was too embarrassed to get out of the car and walk into my classroom like nothing was wrong, when I knew I'd be sad all day long.  Eventually my mom talked me into going into school, walking me in herself, at least 30 minutes late (explaining to the teachers in discrete terms so that they wouldn't draw attention to my predicament, and so I didn't get in trouble for being late).  I gave Sarah my little bunny figurines, and I don't think the gift registered at all with her.  And that was that.  I sucked it up, and had to move on.  But it left a scar on my heart.

May 4, 2013

A(n extreme) Day in the Life

Yesterday provides a caricature of my life.

7:30a Leave from my hotel in Charleston, SC, where I spent a couple days for NOAA Digital Coast partnership meetings.

grey infrastructure (concrete bridge)
green infrastructure (wetland buffer)

9a-3p Invigorating meetings and discussion about how to make government more efficient and help policy makers and planners do their job well, basing their decisions about coastal resiliency using data and digital tools.  Laura (one of the other Digital Coast fellows) and I presented a project we've been working on, and got some great feedback.
Digital Coast partners meeting at NOAA
It's a fun group to work with;
Cinco de Mayo piñata and landsat imagery discussions.
Notes from presentation and discussion

Two NOAA Digital Coast Fellows

3p-6p Walk around downtown Charleston with one of my coworkers.


I love this color

Even the rickety old houses are beautiful

6p-10:30p Fly back to DC, then rush to the 9:30 Club where my friend Zoe's band, Beats Antique, was playing.

10:30p-12:30a Enjoy all-access viewing of the show (still in my work clothes, ha ha!).  Milled around visiting with dance friends and marveling at how packed the venue was (sold out!), and how cute all the baby bellydancer fans were.

Zoe's interpretation of Balinese shadowdance

 12:30a-2:00a Dress in a full-body skeleton unitard, don a vulture head mask (through which I could see approximately zero), get on stage and rock out the encore with Mavi, Zoe, David, & Tommy.  Oh, and a squid, apparently.  (I had no idea until I got these pictures that there was a giant squid! I told you I couldn't see through the mask!).
David rallies the crowd as Mavi and I blindly navigate space.

I brought her some macarons from a cute little French bakery in Charleston. Yum!

 2a-2:30a Cab home. Cuddle kitties.