Every once in a while something still manages to sweep me away. I see or hear something that strikes a chord in me that feels real. I feel that way when I listen to Karen Carpenter sing. Her voice is perfect and polished and yet there is a painful undertone. It’s a wounded perfection that speaks volumes to those of us who feel it but can’t seem to give it a tangible outlet. Being heard and validated over the radio waves is a very sophisticated form of art. Ears all over the world perk up because she was able to say something we can’t. It feels like looking into a musical mirror and seeing myself–an elusive reflection of validation.
Invalidation. The shame of existence. You have everything you need, what reason could you possibly have for despair? It starts in childhood. They whittle away at the fire inside until it’s nothing but a nostalgic memory. The sandbox was a place we believed we could dig through to the other side of the earth. The pavement was a stage for elaborate theater productions. The trees were enchanting companions with familiar roots and rustling whispers. We played big and had big inspired dreams. Now it’s the strict adherence to a long checklist of stress and strife for a vague, mandatory reward. The joy of the endeavor, just a flat phrase from a self-help book.
One after another everything that once brought joy fades away. The questions of why we’re here and who we are become a desperate, malevolent mystery when once an exhilarating opportunity for play and discovery. What’s left to grapple with but losing loved ones and physical and mental devaluation and depreciation.
They call it depression. Watch out for addiction and disorder. You have to want to get better! You learn to hold it inside because telling anyone means they’ll be looking for an expiration date. They’ll be there for you with a watchful eye waiting for you to say it’s all better. They’ll target you with their religion and advice. It’s a well-intentioned reinforcement of the loneliness of emptiness and shame. There’s no excuse for depression when you have everything they say you need! Deep down inside you know it’ll never really end. There’s no antidote, but there’s music. A momentary escape to a plane of existence where there’s no emptiness because there’s a vibrant, vibratory version of you to fill the airspace.
I’m too fat. I can’t withstand pressure. I’m judgmental. I procrastinate. I waste money. I’m ungrateful. I can’t get along with people. I complain constantly. It’s a never-ending circle of shame, but the songs hold me. If I hear beauty in them, they must be in-sync with something in me. There is still something sweet and beautiful in me. I can’t put it into exact words but thank God for those who compose and bare their musical soul for the rest of us.
Maybe it’s a song or a poem. Maybe it’s a fashion design or a drawing. Whatever you do, if you put yourself in it, others will see you in themselves. Art is the mirror of validation. It allows you to exist despite the shame. It allows you to see yourself and be seen. It’s outside of time and accessible to all, the vehicle of ultimate transcendence. The courage to bare parts of yourself you’re ashamed to indulge in the cage of depression will lead you to the other side of mirror–to yourself.
Stage fright and fears of inferiority annihilated my princess soul. I was born a ballerina and never questioned my place at the barre as a little girl. It was such an integral part of my being that I hardly noticed when it slipped away. I assumed it always would be. I realized some time ago it had been 20 years since I’d been to a ballet class. It didn’t seem real! Ever since then I’ve been keeping a regular practice at home as a supplement to my main engagement of Irish dance. Yesterday as I was feeling the ecstasy of a classical barre workout, something inside me broke free. I felt a sob come from deep within my solar plexus and clutch at my heart. I finished the routine but later began to contemplate this strange, spontaneous fountain of grief.
I’ve never believed I belong anywhere. Everything is for everyone else, but not for me. I repeatedly feel a subconscious obligation to retreat from all that I love. It is a form of deep-seated shame that has held me in its grip since before high school. I feel ashamed to exist and participate. It is a pathological refusal to succeed. Instead of claiming a place in the world, I keep the idea alive in my soul and exile my body. The ballet movements stirred bodily memories of my innocence in pink, satin pointe shoes. They physically reminded me of a time when I belonged and felt my future was mine for the taking. Now I find myself suddenly in my 30s at the tail end of a ten year depressive fog. Everyday is a struggle to convince myself I deserve to be seen and take part anywhere with anyone.
The combination of classical piano music, wearing ballet slippers and the familiar, natural movement gave way to years and years worth of pulsating grief. I am an artist. I am a musician. I feel at home on the stage and anywhere artistic transcendence abounds. Why did I retreat? Why didn’t anyone help me? Where were my teachers? Why couldn’t I help myself? Am I ghost? Why do I feel so lost?
I intend to keep my ballet practice as a form of spiritual meditation. I will treat it as a daily devotional practice of finding myself again. I want to rediscover the childhood innocence that validates the princess and her art. My body will change and feel that it, too belongs. My mind will change and believe that it belongs together with my body and all of its capabilities. Quitting ballet was a form of disembodiment and dissolution of soulful unity. I can only look forward to discovering what a daily, disciplined practice will transform and bring into my life–my life as a dancer.
While moving, twisting and stretching in front of a mirror, something ancient began glistening on her skin. Her dance awakened in her a soreness and longing for something dutifully forsaken. No longer swallowed, given-up or extracted, it began colonizing her movements and burrowing through the fragile layers of deception she wore to maintain sanity. The angelic farce stepped aside in reverence of a deity who dwells in starry night skies and expensive sheets. Something writhing within her insatiable belly displaced every last drop of the guilty plague: the essential unmet need.
She is not cruel, no. She is humbled and overcome, yet free. She bows before passion at liberty and makes legends of every embrace. The confusing glance in the mirror and clinical introspection, diagnosed and dissected, begins to smile. All sickness is a choice and excuse for retreat. What if she chooses to emerge? What if she claims her right to life? Will the scaffolding fall away and the walls crumble?
She is both ends of the cursed dichotomy intertwined. It’s both frightening and exhilarating, scoffing at the scorn and accepting the rightful inheritance of a feminine being. She asserts a secret joy in the delicate art of corruption and the need for adulation. Yes, she demands to feel indispensable, devastating and radiant. She loves with a sense of destruction that satisfies her with recompense for the life stifled in her upbringing. Might devastation be the birthplace of innocence? The place where an invincible and glimmering pearl remains and emerges from beneath the rubble of a battered shell?
Faced with the raging absurdity of repression, the gate must either open or remain closed forever. Will she accept the constellations of her birth? Can she indulge in truth?