The R Word Part II: Giving Up the Search

I don’t mean to dwell on it, but, ok, I’m dwelling. The issue of retirement for dancers, like professional athletes, is a big one for us, so please indulge me a second entry on the topic.

A good dancer friend of mine said it took her four years to land on her feet after she called it quits. Well into my second year of transitioning, I still sometimes struggle with it all. Besides, I finished reading Middlesex on my Thanksgiving break and it got me thinking about my own need to recreate myself. I wanted that change to appear dramatically, forcefully, phoenix-like. I wanted a new hair-do, a soft wing to be under, a new dragon to slay.

But none of those things mattered.

What mattered most was the way I thought. See, I thought the new phase would in many ways resemble the old one. I would have an intuition about some new goal and pursue it voraciously until I could stand on the chest of the bloody beast with its severed head in my hands. But no new passion came. And that victorious vision was mostly fantasy. A fantasy of the past and of the future. The only blood shed was my own, usually mixed with a little green pus from and infected corn. And, I rarely felt victorious during my career. Fear and humility were more often the dominant emotions. Being honest with myself about this, I wondered if a new passion would only bring more of the same.

If I did manage to find something that I was at least curious about, as was occasionally the case, I would easily become discouraged. I just didn’t think I had the strength or talent to master the guitar, for example, and if I couldn’t be a master at it, what was the point? The threat of mediocrity hung over my shoulder like a devil and devils were all I had when it came to trying something new. The thought of doing something just for the fun of it seemed absurd. I knew that this line of thought was ridiculous. I knew I needed to lighten up, but I didn’t know how. I had been a ballerina after all, which was sort of like a cross between being in the military and being in a convent.

But over vacation, I saw an old friend. Her mother has cancer. After a round of chemo and radiation, the cancer went to sleep for a while, but then it came back. She has to do another round of chemo, and after that, who knows? My friend said that her mother’s cancer has taught her to take life one day at a time.

I know this is a common lesson in the presence of death, but it’s one thing to give lip service to it and another thing to really live that way. To enjoy the moments you have. And as she was speaking, something clicked for me.

Perhaps this part of my life is about learning to take things one day at a time. I used to wake up in the morning with a laser-like focus upon my career and all the things I had to do: sew pointe shoes, class, rehearsal, break in pointe shoes, hair and make-up, perform, ice my broken parts, try to get to bed before 2 am so I could do it again tomorrow, better than I did it today. Always, this unquenchable thirst for improvement. Having fun and eating were not part of the list. I did occasionally have fun and/or eat, but not without a twinge of guilt. Even though this to-do list was well etched, I wasn’t necessarily happy. I just liked knowing (or thinking I knew) where I was going.

Now, when I wake up, I try to see the day before me as an opportunity, a gift. The question is not what do I have to do, but what do I want to do. How will I enjoy this day? The only goal is to make a little work of art out of what I currently have in my life: family, teaching, yoga, friends, laundry. It’s sort of like making a sculpture out of found objects. Making something special out of what is all around you. Maybe this was always the goal.

I am no longer searching for the next big thing. I’ve given up my addiction. I guess I felt burdened by the thought that there was something really important that I had to do! And, well, there is, but the thing is right here. It is to live, to be, life itself.

And maybe the phoenix doesn’t fly off in a blaze of glory, leaving flames in its wake. Maybe it just stands up, wiggles its butt like a good little duck and takes the next step.

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