There is something in the slightly buzzy expectation of a bright new year waiting around the corner; a new horizon or a fresh start or, in more recent times, a fervent hope that what has been going on will finally pass and we will be on to something new. That “something” is collective amnesia.
We forget that there is no fresh start. What does exist is simply a moment to reflect; a pause in the daily rush during which we have time to honor accomplishments, and, if we are honest in our self analysis, to accept the hardships, the losses, and the breaks that occured in ourselves, in relationships, in our faith. There can be an opportunity to then take that reflection into account and make different choices going forward. The question is always, and it feels as if I must say “of course,” if we (I) will.
Just like waking up each morning and listing the things for which you are grateful, there is value in noting the accomplishments that dot each year. I find that this year they are even harder than usual to remember, lost in the daily grind, in the constant cacophony of loss, anger, and in a rather calamitous final few months. However, accomplishments do exist and I celebrate them, albeit quietly. I made a beautiful dance film and am in pre-production for another. I have made it to my final semester of grad school, even though I accelerated the process by a semester. I have glowing evaluations from my advisors, assumed an activist role in student council and have earned a full ride through the Carolyn Kelly Educational Foundation. I am getting settled in a new job with an amazing team. There is the potential for me to start to actually create change in the dance world, one institution at a time. A student (many more than one) has come back to or discovered a love of ballet in my class. I have started to write poetry and some day may find the courage to share it. I sometimes still dream.
I often joke that I am indestructible. I never get sore, I can go forever riding or running or walking or dancing. I don’t really need food or water or sleep or love or touch or any other human non-negotiable items. To be perfectly honest, I almost believe that I thrive on the challenge, on the illusion of immortality. However this year brought home to me, in quite a dramatic fashion, the fact that I am indeed quite destructible; physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I learned this year, and it was definitely part of what I took from 2020 (Was there a new year in between the two?I am not sure.) that at some point you will have to stop. You (I) will need to sit in pain, sit in failure, sit with disillusionment and fear and disempowerment. There is a time when your tools for running from it all disappear and you have to feel. And what you feel can hurt so much that you can’t breathe, that you will feel the weight of the world with it’s hard truths.
Sometimes it doesn’t all work out. Sometimes the breaks are permanent. Sometimes ideals fall and illusions shatter. It’s scary and heartbreaking. I leave this year much sadder, much older and much more fragile than I entered it.
I also leave it having done things, over and over, that have historically been incredibly hard for me. I asked, again and again, for help. I showed up the best that I could, knowing that it wasn’t enough but also knowing that it was all I had. I dropped out of commitments because I couldn’t do them and let that be. I slowed down. And all of that was okay.
I learned that when you ask for help, some people show up over and over. Some people don’t and you can’t always predict the outcome. I learned to accept that. I learned that “not perfect” is often enough. I learned that many people don’t take responsibility for their mistakes or moments of carelessness. The results can be devastating. I learned that schools are businesses and to expect administrators to care about individual students or faculty members is often idealistic and unrealistic, that student council and student voices are often the last consideration. I learned that we need to speak up and out in spite of those limitations. I learned that stillness can be terrifying. I learned that I can survive it.
This year has been devastating on a global scale. My challenges, while overwhelming to me in the moment, are minute in comparison to the losses that millions of people experienced. I try to hold that reality when my world turns dark and I can’t see the light. I read student notes and pet Sprite and call my sister, mentor, or best friend (Four hour time difference be damned). I immerse myself in schoolwork or choreography or poetry. I sit in the dark and cry. I move on. I write. I cry again.
I am intensely grateful for my circle of friends and mentors. I am in love with my students and my dancers. I adore my advisors at Goddard. I am grateful that the sun has come out and shines as we turn the page on a new year. I hope that however you acknowledge it, there is both joy and reflection and that you find some space to breathe.
Nancy Dobbs Owen
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