I had grand plans for this project.
I was going to practice piano leading up to it. I was going to start playing guitar again. I was going to practice Korean and read in French and it was going to be magnificent. I was going to be good at the things I was learning, even as I began. Honestly, I think I wanted to show off a little, not for accolades, but to prove something to myself.
Then reality hit. The reality that we are (still) in the midst of a pandemic, that this summer was going to be as lonely as last year, that I will not be able to travel until it's cold again (if then). In April, just as I began this project, I began to dip a little and everything became ... really tough. Not the kind that should worry anyone, just the slog where it feels like it takes four times the energy it should to accomplish anything. My plans to do bi-weekly updates, to learn how to edit videos, to share all the fun stuff I was doing... crumbled to dust.
I wanted to be good at all these things, to share the joy in them, but my brain is having trouble processing my first language right now -I keep forgetting basic words, even if I can remember their complicated synonyms- so reading in my second and learning yet another language became impossibly difficult, and picking up two instruments felt equally daunting, even if I've played them before.
We cannot say that the pandemic is to blame for hustle culture, but it sure has made the toxic narrative worse. It is one thing to decide to open a small business, to become an entrepreneur, but with people's incomes disappearing the past year, with the lack of government support for those people, there has been so much pressure the past year to monetize hobbies, to turn everything we do into some sort of side hustle. It all stems from an already pervasive pressure to excel all the things we do. The pressure to be good at everything, the narrative that in order for something to be worth your time you must be inherently good at it (and worthy of selling/making money at it) is, for lack of a politer term, total bullshit.
Most times, when you are new to things, you suck at them. I consider it a deep disadvantage in my childhood that I was naturally talented in a few artistic areas because it honestly prevented me from learning early how to get better at things that *didn't* come naturally to me. I would get discouraged, I would get grumpy, I would want to quit, and my parents let me (except piano, ironically, which I hated The Most but was naturally quite good at). I've spent a long time learning to cultivate the persistence I never learned as a small child.
One of the things I have ALWAYS sucked at is dance.
I did a few months of ballet when I was five years old. I have some memories of being told I was "too energetic" and that my mother would be best to put me in karate. (How someone thought martial arts takes LESS patience and ability to be still than ballet is still beyond me, but I digress... it was mostly a matter of the inherent sexism of the time and how people perceived boys of being ALLOWED to be rambunctious.) In the end, I stopped doing ballet, was later enrolled in Highland dance (which I still sort of sucked at), before quitting dancing entirely for a decade.
In my teens, a classmate convinced me to come out swing dancing one Friday. I have been swing dancing with various degrees of ability ever since. You'd think after so many years, I'd be good. I'm not.
A lot of people in the community ask how long you've been dancing. It's meant to be a safe question but it can be really judgemental too. I hate that question because if I say "since the 90s" they expect me to be AMAZING. I am not. This is not false modesty. I am mediocre, decent on a good day, creative with the right partner. But I'm not a great dancer. I never was and there's a huge chance I never will be.
This is the kicker: I love it anyways. Swing dancing was perhaps the first time where I wasn't self-conscious about being bad at dancing because I wasn't there to be good at it. As a teenager, we went for fun, to go somewhere with music, to be silly, that didn't require spending money on alcohol. Even when we could legally drink, we still went swing dancing instead of to clubs.
In my twenties, I moved and stopped going out dancing, not because I didn't like it but because that group of friends had dispersed to four provinces and three countries to attend university. I missed it.
In my late teens I signed myself up for ballet classes. I still sucked, but I really did love it. I loved the challenge of it, the forced patience, the quiet. Things I am not naturally good at. But I moved again and again and never really found a way to stick with it.
When I moved back to the national capital region in 2012, it was only a few weeks before a friend (a different friend who I didn't know danced) invited me out swing dancing. It had been years since I'd danced, but it was exactly as much fun as I remembered.
One of the things on my bucket list is painfully nebulous: "Become a good dancer." I'm honestly not sure *I* know what this means. I have always been a bit of a jock though, so even when my brain has been having trouble, physical things have been easy. Which is why I signed up for ballet classes (online) last month.
I've had three classes so far. I still suck. I might even suck more now than I did at 19, but I also have been loving it! My instructor is wonderful and the class is really structured and mostly predictable and those things are really calming.
I think it's also really helped me to come to terms with how much I can't handle of other things right now, and the fact that this project is not meant to have Immediate Big Results. The 2557 Project is about longterm changes, about building a new sort of life for myself, and part of that is, by necessity, allowing myself to suck at things as I learn them.
I want to excel at the things I do. I want to one day be a good dancer. I want to be the best possible writer I can be. But being good requires working through the parts of learning where you are not. It requires experimenting. It requires risk. Especially in a world that can be really mean about being mediocre at things.
The media portrayal of dance teachers as being harsh and wanting perfection has never resonated with me. Perhaps this is true at a high level, but I would not know. What I do know is that I had instructors and coaches who played that "this must be the MOST important thing to you!" game which... does not resonate when you're demanding that of a teenager who is late to an unstructured independent practice because she had to stop at the hospital to see her mother.
I don't believe this pressure is healthy or necessary. I had this type of coach and they played an unfortunately pivotal role in my life. I was a competitive rower in high school. Rowing was another thing I did not have a natural gift for. Olympic rowers are almost always tall, very muscular, most of them in their mid-twenties and older. Rowing is one of the few exclusively adult Olympic sports. I was small when I started rowing (5'3" and 102 lbs), I had practically no muscle, and I could not eat enough to gain the weight I needed to get the muscle I wanted. I was the only 15yo girl I knew who wanted to gain 40 pounds. I had to fight for every PR. I ate ravenously just to maintain a caloric surplus. And I quit when I was 16 because of a horrible coach who made it clear that she expected me to maintain a perfect attendance record while my mother was in hospital with cancer. (Seriously. If you are going WTF??? you are not alone.)
I went back to rowing at 19, at 20 at my first university, at 22 at my second university, but right around this time an autoimmune disorder flared up and made it nearly impossible to be out in chilly environments, making rowing pretty challenging unless I bought my own boat. Paying racking fees and buying a boat aren't the most expensive things in the world, but for the rest of my twenties and through my 30s they've been out of reach for me. I often joke that if I won the lottery, my first frivolous expense would be an Empacher single.
To this day, I miss being on the water at dawn.
A few years ago, shortly after I was diagnosed with bipolar, I had a bit of an existential crisis. Which makes sense when someone tells you that an imbalance in you has been causing perhaps 70% of your behaviour for a decade and a half.
I ended up making a list of all the things I loved about myself, all my personality traits, all of my interests and hobbies and passions, to see how many could truly be chocked up to a psychiatric disorder. (None of them that matter most, it turns out.) On this path of self-discovery I also ended up making a list of every activity, hobby, sport, creative outlet I have ever loved and divided them into categories: which ones had been easy for me and which ones had been challenging. What I discovered is that all the things I love most, all the things I keep coming back to are the ones I find most challenging.
Someone had convinced me years ago that I only loved the things I loved because I was naturally good at them and, because there were a number of things I was quite good at that I did love (sewing and pattern drafting, writing, harp) I took this as fact. But I was NOT a naturally good rower, I have always struggled to find the rhythm naturally talented dancers find innately, and I outright LOATHED playing piano as a child, despite being good at it.
I sing a lot to myself, despite wrecking an otherwise good voice as a kid when I could not stop singing through half a dozen throat infections. I go for long walks because my knees refuse to let me run. I am a mediocre gardener who can grow good orchids mostly because I forget about them just enough to let them thrive. I do these things because I cannot help myself, because they bring me joy.
I do difficult things that bring me joy too, because the bottom line is that last part: it's not so much about ever mastering a thing, sometimes that old saying that it's about the journey not the destination rings true. Sometimes you do a hard thing because you love it even when you suck at it.
For me, dance is like rowing. I keep coming back. I don't care how much I have to work at it. The movements themselves are not always pleasant. I have an old shoulder injury that hates second position. I am horribly inflexible. I have miles to go to get to where I'd like to be, to be able to dance the way I hope to one day. But this whole project is about playing a long game. And you don't often win a game on the first few moves.
I know so many people who are fixated on immediate success. I get it. I absolutely APPLAUD our drive and our ambition and I believe we will all make it. But I do think we should take the time to do the things we suck at a little more often, especially the things that make us happy even as we do them imperfectly.
Which is why I need to start taking my own advice, taking the pressure off myself on this project and let it be what it wants to be rather than what I daydreamed it could be. Better to update this blog more sporadically, to be a little unpredictable, than for me to abandon it completely.
I hope to see you all in a few days, because Day 100 is a Big Day!
Until next time, stay safe, be kind, and most of all,