Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

The Inadequacy of Words (Or, Practicing Difficult Things)

Perhaps it shows some weakness of spirit that it takes the constant nudges of friends (this time, Sahal) for me to post here. But today's entry has been floundering about in my head for weeks, and if nudging will give it voice, then I will gladly submit.

The longest winter finally draws to a close, with sparkling blue-sky days and temperatures reaching above 60. My skin glows with the warming sunshine. Every New Yorker's face that I gaze into seems joyous with relief, utterly captivated by our city that finally bursts with trees full of frothing white petals, massive planters shooting forth collections of crocus and daffodil,  and fountains flowing in anticipation of summer's heat.

The past few weeks have been difficult for me, shot through with loneliness and the sensation that I must fill the new void in my life with a more complete, and better Jen.

Two weekends ago, Dance Legends came to New York City - two marvelous nights of showcase performances by the world's top couples. There was electricity on that stage when certain dancers performed on it. They believed 100% in the emotions they extended toward one another. In this way, they made us feel them too. Human emotions are incredibly complex, and so strongly felt. I feel in some ways that evolution has failed us deeply, to have given us such raw sensations to live inside of us, and to have also given us the inadequacy of words as our main tool of expression.

Oftentimes, rather than even try to express such emotions in words, I am cowed by the fear and the certainty, even, that my words will not be sufficient to say what I feel, and so instead I say nothing. I have preferred to not-bother, to not-disturb, to portray myself as capable rather than muddle through as a failure. Thus, have I robbed others of the chance to reach back out and connect with me, and robbed them of the chance to help a relationship flourish, rather than help it die. Thus have I also I robbed myself of the potential for change. Neil Gaiman once said, "I think hell is something you carry around with you. Not somewhere you go." I created my own small "hell" out of what? The fear of messing up?

As I watched Dance Legends, I realized that one of the reasons I was so deeply touched by certain dancers is that they had the ability to make me feel emotions that words could never express. Through dance, somehow, they could convey being torn apart, that their hearts are breaking or that their hearts were bursting with joy, that they were connected deeply to their partners and therefore to us in the audience. Why do I work so hard at dance? Because when I improve at dance, I can finally communicate that which I feel deeply, yet cannot seem to say.

But just as a dancer cannot express emotion without practicing the technique that will help her convey it, I will never be able to express my thoughts if I don't practice talking.  In some beautiful conversations with my mom during her visit to New York this weekend, both of us searching for the words to express our love and admiration for each other's lives, I discovered that words, even clumsily expressed, can bring another to tears. I don't need to be Shakespeare, or Bob Dylan for my mom to look me in the eye and understand the poetic meaning behind what I am trying to say.  But she's known me my whole life. For everyone else, I must practice talking.

It shocks me sometimes that something which I do so easily in one area of my life - like writing, and dancing - is so difficult to apply in another.

It is so easy for me to become comfortable in a behavior when it seems to be working-well-enough-so-far. When my coaches push me in dance, they urge me to find new feelings, to do something I've never done before. They know that my partnership with C can only become great because we push ourselves when everyone else has decided they are comfortable enough. Last night the yoga instructor told the class the same thing: "How do you know if you can do it, if you never try? Stop getting in your own way."

The changes in my life have prompted me to begin sifting through my identity to understand what I believe, what I love, what kind of person I have been, am, and want to be. I have found pieces here that were always me, pieces that belong to people I have connected closely to throughout my life and that somehow became mine now too, and still other pieces that don't fit and that I never threw away...but that I will now. And then there are the new pieces, the ones that I am building because I see that I need them. I committed a long time ago to being a better dancer through daily, rigorous practice.  Today, I commit to practice speaking up, especially when I don't feel comfortable doing it.

Springtime is felt most fully after the longest of winters. An article in the New York Times pointed out that many flowers and trees which normally bloom in succession are this year blossoming together, and with the extra energy they've saved, are doing so more exuberantly than usual. It might snow again, the week will certainly bring more rain, but one thing is as certain for me these days as it is for the beautiful plants of this city: This is the only life I'll ever get, and I must act now.
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