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An Open Letter to Calories

It is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I won’t go into the details now, but I have struggled with disordered eating for much of my life. Some of the issues I am only just now starting to confront, thanks to a wonderful show and blog called Size Ate and some relapsing of old disordered habits earlier in the year. I am working on developing the traits of “evolved eating” that I believe we are all born with–eating what I want when I am hungry and stopping when I am satisfied. I have always been the type who enjoys eating smaller amounts at several intervals throughout the day, yet due to social conditioning and starvation patterns, I pretty much lost touch with my body’s nutritive clock. I’d focus so much on making sure I was eating only “healthy” foods or the right number of calories that I didn’t think to just listen to what my body wanted. Sure, maybe one day it’s all bread and sweets, but the next day it’s usually all salad and apples. Over the course of the week, it tends to balance out. It’s pretty amazing what bodies can do. Since I’ve stopped trying to diet, I’ve actually lost about 4 pounds. I am no longer starving myself and then over eating, but letting my body do what it needs to do. It’s difficult sometimes, but it gets easier.

As I’ve become more aware of the way our culture characterizes food and eating, I’ve noticed how much we obsess about calories. Even systems like Weight Watchers which claims not to be a “diet” puts so much emphasis on “points” which is just another name for calories. It’s just another way to drive us crazy. It’s time calories got an apology. After all, what have they ever done to us? Saying that calories make people fat is like saying that pencils make spelling errors.

*******

Dear Calories,
Thank you for existing. Thank you for continually fueling our bodies, nourishing them, repairing them in sickness and health, good times and bad. Thank you for existing sparingly in fresh, crunchy celery stalks and abundantly in decadent peanut butter brownies. You allow us to dance, breathe, cry, laugh and be. You do your job well.    You and I haven’t always gotten along. Over and over again, I tried to pluck you out of my life completely. I longed for absolute control over you; I thought I could do your job better, thought I could live happier without your help. I saw you as the enemy, an evil collection of digits maniacally scribbled over and over again on the corners of my notebooks, repeated like a mantra under my breath while I watched the digits on the scale drop. With every hour spent on the elliptical, every meal skipped I pushed you farther and farther away while my body yearned for you more and more. Eventually, we reconciled our differences. You helped me rebuild and I learned to live with you again. I turned myself, my own mind and body, into the subject of my fear instead. I sometimes ate too much of you to hide my uncertainties. I still didn’t trust you, but I trusted myself less. Caught in an endless cycle of staying far away from you and getting just a little too close,  I decided once and for all, to break free.
You get such a bad rap, little friends. Our culture perpetually counts you, the fewer the better, like you are the difficult variable in the equation for happiness. Instead of enjoying our brownies, we swallow them with a horse pill of guilt and a spoonful of promises:  No carbs for the rest of the week or I will workout for three more hours tonight. Penance to the gods of our insecurity.  On behalf of human beings, I extend this apology. I apologize for abusing you, for misunderstanding you, for not appreciating you all these years. I promise never to take advantage of you. I promise to get you to starving people who need you more than I do and I promise to always enjoy every morsel of my brownie. No shame.

Sincerely,

Sarah

Today’s Post is Brought to You by Walt Whitman

Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling,
Give me autumnal fruit ripe and red from the orchard,
Give me a field where the unmow’d grass grows,
Give me an arbor, give me the trellis’d grape,
Give me fresh corn and wheat, give me serene-moving animals teaching
content,
Give me nights perfectly quiet as on high plateaus west of the
Mississippi, and I looking up at the stars,
Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can
walk undisturb’d,
Give me for marriage a sweet-breath’d woman of whom I should never tire,
Give me a perfect child, give me away aside from the noise of the
world a rural domestic life,
Give me to warble spontaneous songs recluse by myself, for my own ears
only,
Give me solitude, give me Nature, give me again O Nature your primal
sanities!
These demanding to have them, (tired with ceaseless excitement, and
rack’d by the war-strife,)
These to procure incessantly asking, rising in cries from my heart,
While yet incessantly asking still I adhere to my city,
Day upon day and year upon year O city, walking your streets,
Where you hold me enchain’d a certain time refusing to give me up,
Yet giving to make me glutted, enrich’d of soul, you give me forever
faces;
(O I see what I sought to escape, confronting, reversing my cries,
see my own soul trampling down what it ask’d for.)
2
Keep your splendid silent sun,
Keep your woods O Nature, and the quiet places by the woods,
Keep your fields of clover and timothy, and your corn-fields and orchards,
Keep the blossoming buckwheat fields where the Ninth-month bees hum;
Give me faces and streets–give me these phantoms incessant and
endless along the trottoirs!
Give me interminable eyes–give me women–give me comrades and
lovers by the thousand!
Let me see new ones every day–let me hold new ones by the hand every day!
Give me such shows–give me the streets of Manhattan!
Give me Broadway, with the soldiers marching–give me the sound of
the trumpets and drums!
(The soldiers in companies or regiments–some starting away, flush’d
and reckless,
Some, their time up, returning with thinn’d ranks, young, yet very
old, worn, marching, noticing nothing;)
Give me the shores and wharves heavy-fringed with black ships!
O such for me! O an intense life, full to repletion and varied!
The life of the theatre, bar-room, huge hotel, for me!
The saloon of the steamer! the crowded excursion for me! the
torchlight procession!
The dense brigade bound for the war, with high piled military wagons
following;
People, endless, streaming, with strong voices, passions, pageants,
Manhattan streets with their powerful throbs, with beating drums as now,
The endless and noisy chorus, the rustle and clank of muskets, (even
the sight of the wounded,)
Manhattan crowds, with their turbulent musical chorus!
Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me.

—–

I’ve been really into poetry lately which is weird for me because I’m usually sort of ambivalent about poetry. I end up attending a lot of poetry readings as part of my job and I always leave  annoyed because it all sounds the same, or envious that I don’t have what it takes to turn ordinary words and ideas into verbal masterpieces.

I spent last night reading some Whitman online and. . .wow. I read Leaves of Grass when I was about 12 because I thought it would make me super artsy and mature. Yeah, I was a pretentious 12-year-old.  This time I actually, like, understood some Whitman. I came across “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun” and it might become my Life Poem. I’ve also been reading some Robert Frost and Tony Hoagland whose book, Donkey Gospel, I first read last year as part of my creative writing course. Man he’s good. Like, every word is just so carefully chosen. There’s a song-like quality to his poems though they don’t usually rhyme. He tells real stories without wandering into melodramatic-oh-so-edgy territory. Best of all, there’s muscle in his writing. I find a lot of contemporary poets very airy and abstract but Hoagland’s poems have an athletic, sort-of masculine quality.

Who are your favorite poets? Help me expand my literary mind.

The Secret to Happiness

Things that can go:

social anxiety

grudges

self-loathing

cockroaches

disordered eating

uncomfortable shoes (excluding pointe shoes and character heels)

fake personalities (mine and others)

lying (to myself)

guilt

fear

going to dumb parties

withdrawing from my friends

judging (others, myself)

Things I welcome:

people who strive to create, not destroy

encouragement (from others, for others)

dancing

movement for movement’s sake

earl grey tea

Boy Meets World

knowing my self-worth does not depend on a number, a grade, a freshly-mopped floor, the quality of my banana bread, how many pirouettes I did today

enjoying freshly-mopped floors and banana bread and pirouettes anyway

jazz music circa 1935

reading really, really good books in one sitting

solitary walks

kneading bread dough with my own two hands

long conversations about nothing and everything with my husband

telling the stories I want to tell

being the person I want to be

the grace of a loving God

(Seriously corny guys, possibly lame, but I don’t care. This is where I am. Yay life.)

Save My Former High School!

This week,  I learned that my alma mater, North East School of the Arts is in danger of closure by San Antonio’s North East Independent School District. “NESA” is a magnet program housed on the campus of Robert E. Lee High School and offers majors in seven artistic disciplines: Cinema, Creative Writing, Dance, Instrumental Music, Musical Theater, Technical Theater and Visual Arts. Students are selected via a competitive audition and application process in each major. I majored in Dance (and later, double-majored in Musical Theater) and fulfilled my academic requirements at International School of the Americas (another magnet school on the same campus).

The district wants to close NESA for budget reasons. Arts programs are often the first to go when the economy is poor and funding is tight. NESA also provides small student-to-teacher ratios which, along with other factors, means that NESA students “cost more” than students at other schools. Here, I can sympathize with the district. Sympathy becomes more difficult to procure when I look at the places where the district is planning to spend money in upcoming months. For example,  a $1,250,000 bond to renovate the fine arts facility of another high school and six-figure salaries for district administrative staff. I’m all for the improvement of arts facilities but it’s silly to make additions to the arts program of one school with one hand while shutting down an entire magnet program with one’s left.

NESA students and faculty won’t be the alone on the losing end of NEISD’s financial quick-fix. Lee High School–a school with often ranked among the lowest in the district academically–has benefited greatly from NESA’s presence on campus. NESA students are some of Lee’s best students with over 99% passing the state-mandated TAKS test on the first try, most with commended scores. Last year alone, NESA students received over $10 million in scholarship offers from some of the best universities and conservatories in the nation. (It turns out when you’re actually excited about learning you actually, you know, learn.)  NESA students are active participants in the Lee community serving in student government, performing at pep rallies and assisting with campus-wide events. Lee is a fine school on its own and NESA is a wonderful program, but the community they create together makes the campus one of the most exciting, diverse educational institutions in the city. In college, I often find myself craving the energy I experienced as a member of the NESA/ISA/LEE community. While I love college classes, I miss the exceptional NESA faculty (now in danger of losing their jobs), the challenging ISA projects and the wonderful people at LEE. To remove NESA from this campus is to remove an essential factor of this magical equation. Lee will not be the same without NESA, NEISD will not be the same without NESA, San Antonio will not be the same without NESA.

Faculty, students, parents and NESA supporters are currently brainstorming ways to reduce NESA’s financial burden on NEISD. I hope and pray their efforts are successful. NESA has produced so many bright, talented young artists and people. There are no other schools in the city that send students to the Sundance Film Festival. There are no other schools in the city where young dancers take a Chemistry test in the morning, then work with world-renowned choreographers in the afternoon. ,  I not only cultivated a passion for dance at NESA, but an interest in creative writing, cinema, music and technical theater as I admired and supported the work of fellow students. I maintain a high GPA in college and have received scholarships for dance and writing, all thanks to the self-discipline and work ethic I earned at NESA. As I begin to venture into the world of professional dance, I am more prepared than many dancers my age. NESA taught me how to audition, how to perform and most importantly, how to work hard.

Enough sappy testimonial. The point is, North East School of the Arts is worth saving. Please, NEISD. Don’t lose (or “reassign”) some of your best teachers and best students. Let NESA live!

Show your support by signing the petition here and joining the Keep NESA Open Facebook group.

Blogging Monsters and Sucking at Productivity

Sometimes it’s past midnight and you keep meaning to go to sleep but then the little blogging monster in your chest starts getting restless. Right now my little blogging monster is doing cartwheels to keep me awake. I told him that I have NO REASON to blog but he INSISTS on cartwheeling until quelled by the magical “publish” button.

It is a new year and everyone is blogging about their New Year’s resolutions. Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have any. I have the same goals I had back in 2009, only now all my goals feel colder because it’s January, the month of cold, depressing doom and EVERYTHING is colder. I totally understand why bears hibernate now. In fact, I’m strongly considering joining them this month.

Instead of talking about goals, and resolutions and stuff, let’s talk about how little I’ve accomplished in the first few days of this new year. Like, the most productive actions I’ve taken include buying plastic drawers, taking ballet class and making vegan macaroni and cheese.  My school semester doesn’t start until February and I promised myself I would, like, save the world between now and then. I have two auditions coming up–one for a contemporary ballet company, one for a summer intensive–and I’d really like to be in shape by the time they roll around in, oh, a week. After realizing I actually lost weight over December without really trying, I sabotaged myself by indulging in way too many fatty, comfort foods over New Year’s including fried (vegan) stuffs and the aforementioned mac and cheese. This is the first year in a long time I haven’t made any resolutions about weight, calories or food and it feels SO GOOD. Every January I end up miserable because I try to “atone” for my holiday sins by fasting or detoxing or whatever. This year, I’m just focusing on maintaining a healthy diet, taking lots of pilates and dance classes and listening to my body. It turns out I actually lose and maintain weight better when I’m NOT dieting. Surprise, surprise.

Remember how I’m supposed to be reading Ulysses? Well. Yeah. I started it. I did. I’ve read just a few chapters but it’s super slow going as I find myself pausing every other paragraph to consult my “Bloom’s book” guide just to figure out what the heck is going on. I’m also journaling through it, so hopefully I’ll share some of my thoughts on the book here at some point. At this rate, I should finish the novel by 2050 or so.

I think my blogging monster finally went to sleep. I shall follow suit.

Writing About Dance: My Story, Part 1

Recently, a friend mentioned that I might want to pursue dance journalism somewhere down the line. Maybe that should have been my plan all along–I mean, my two greatest passions are dancing and writing–but it honestly never occurred to me that the two could, like, go together. I’m now working on a piece for an art newsletter about an up-and-coming choreographer and it’s strange. Dance means using my body, using motion to tell a story. Writing means using my own voice to tell a story through words and symbols. Writing about dance feels so foreign and wrong like trying to describe a sunset to someone with no eyes.  With some practice, however, I think I could really love it.

It occurred to me when working on the choreographer story, that I’ve never really blogged much about my dance endeavors. I’ve had to make some Big Decisions about dance recently so it seems like now’s the time to fill you in on how and why dance is such a huge part of my identity:

I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a dancer. My earliest memories involve twirling around the living room in my sister’s old pink costume tutu to a worn-out tape of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.” I begged to take dance classes and finally started taking pre-ballet and tap classes at a local studio. After my first recital I was hooked. I got sucked into the whole thing–the costumes, make-up, lights, the sense of accomplishment. It was a five-year old’s version of a legal addictive stimulant. Soon I started taking more and more classes and joined the studio’s competition dance team when I was about 8. “Competitions” are mostly just money-making machines that involve too much body glitter, lots of stage moms and dumb plastic trophies but it gave me the chance to perform almost every weekend and wear pretty clothes, so I was game. After a few years, I started growing tired of competitions and quickly became obsessed with ballet. I read practically every ballet book in existence, painted my walls with ballet slippers and dreamed of dancing in a “real” company. At 11, I hung up my tap shoes and began focusing on ballet exclusively.

I started training at the school of the only professional ballet company nearby and attended my first summer intensives away from home. When I realized my technique was lacking thanks to my years of less-than-perfect training, I worked three times as hard to catch up. I was obsessed. Since I was homeschooled, I could take five or six technique classes a day and a few private lessons every week with no worries about falling behind in school  I improved and excelled immensely but my perfectionist attitude only lead to increased frustration as teachers demanded more and more. I also encountered numerous physiological challenges as I entered my teens. . Thanks to genetics, I don’t have a “ballerina body.” I became increasingly frustrated with my body’s natural limits. The summer before I started high school something snapped–physically and mentally. I’d just been made a trainee with the company but I could not finish a class without bursting into tears. I’d lock myself in the studio bathroom and tell myself I’d never be good enough–as message echoed by some teachers and classmates, at least in my imagination. My back was also a mess thanks to the years I spent contorting my back into weird positions to “make it more flexible” and “lengthen” the muscles. Several vertebrae were tweaked entirely out of place and required expensive physical therapy.

My sister Rachel was in her final year in a high school fine arts program where she studied musical theater. I decided to leave the ballet company and major in dance at the same school.  That same fall a regional theater company based in Austin needed ballet dancers for one of its shows and after a few weeks of performances with them, I was hooked on new kind of dancing. I set my sights on musical theater. I refashioned myself as a dancer, taking voice lessons, jazz, tap, modern, anything I could to make myself more well-rounded. A teacher even had me in a hip-hop class for a while to “loosen me up.” That was a mistake. But dancing became fun again. I danced in musicals, I worked with choreographers from around the world and after a summer workshop in New York vowed that I would do this professionally or die trying. I almost did. Again, my perfectionist tendencies collided with several years of negative self-image and fear of being fat. I crash dieted on and off all through high school at no one’s suggestion but my own. Since this blog ins’t about my eating disorder I won’t go into too much detail, but by my junior year my disordered tendencies had spiraled into full-blown anorexia, depression and over-exercising. Thankfully, my teachers, friends and parents recognized my illness and intervened before I needed hospitalization, but at that point I wasn’t sure I’d ever mentally or physically recover. With some perseverance, I overcame my eating disorder before graduation even more determined than ever to succeed even without the “perfect body.” I was lucky that my first-ever job at sixteen involved performing at a theme park. And by “performing”  I mean smiling and posing a lot while wearing weird unitards, but still. You do what you can, y’know?

Fast forward to high school graduation. I only applied to a handful of schools–one conservatory program where I’d study modern and ballet, one liberal arts college where I would study theater dance, one liberal arts college where I’d study modern and ballet, and one joint program between a university and well-known dance company/school in NYC. (Not using the names just ’cause.) Some programs rejected me, some accepted me.  Because I had certain requirements and desires as far as cost and location I had two options. I could train with the dance company and school in NYC without earning a college degree or I could go to a private, liberal arts college in the city and dance independently. My parents insisted that I earn a degree and because the training program wasn’t quite right for me, I complied. I never  in a million years thought I would major in anything other than dance, but there I was– 17 years old in Manhattan, dance bag on one arm, backpack on the other. I was determined to conquer both worlds. I’d get a liberal arts degree while taking advantage of the New York City dance scene, auditioning at every opportunity, taking time . I knew  it wouldn’t  be easy but I wasn’t prepared for the challenges I’d face as a young dancer on my own.

Continued soon. This is way longer and more boring than expected.