19 February, 2018

A Night at the Ballet

I've been thinking a lot lately about time and change as it pertains to one's identity. Is the version of me that exists today more or less authentic than the version of me that existed, say, twenty years ago? I'd like to believe that as every day passes, I am becoming more and more authentic to the core of my being and personality, but that's probably just a relativistic fallacy - of course the me that exists now is the best possible me! Which will also be true in a year from now when that's the present me and this me has become the past. Unless I'm in a particularly dark place, of course, and not feeling particularly self-confident. But, even by this reasoning, the me that I was twenty years ago couldn't be any less me than the me I am now.

I think about this because I can see ways that I've changed. Not that I'm a different person, at my core, but in some ways, I'm a very different kind of person. I remember watching an episode of a TV show once when I was younger, about whether or not people can truly change. I think it was actually Dawson's Creek, but I'm not sure. There was a character - an absentee father, maybe? - who had disappeared, and then returned. And he had had a past that involved drug addiction. And the question was, is he really better now, or was Gus right when he said in Breaking Bad, "once an addict, always an addict?"

I don't want to believe that, because I've heard stories of people who've gone through AA and gotten better - although you could argue that they're still alcoholics, they've just learned how to avoid the substance they can't control their usage of. In any case, it turned out that the character in the episode was indeed still an addict, cementing in my growing adolescent brain the alleged fact that people don't ever really change. Yet, my personal experience supports the alternative view - that people can change, at least in some ways. Which is to say, some things change, and others don't.

The things that trouble me somewhat are things that maybe used to bother me, or that I might have disparaged, that today I fight to defend. For example, I am a nudist, yet I remember chastising people when I was younger for showing too much skin in front of others. If anything though, this is firsthand evidence of the possibility that people (perhaps even the people I'm railing against for their lack of tolerance) can indeed, perhaps, change for the better (all the more reason we should be more forgiving, even of things we don't currently understand). I wish I could go back in time and live through my childhood again, and realize what a privilege it was to occasionally be mistaken for a girl, and to have a second chance at preventing the disintegration of a good friendship with someone who turned out to be gay. Not that I realized that until years later, or that it necessarily would have affected the outcome, were it dependent on feelings I just didn't have, but I feel like, as a friend, I let this person down (especially considering who I've become today).

I don't really have serious regrets - I'm mature enough to understand that we do the best we can with the knowledge we have at the time, and we're always working at a disadvantage because nobody can ever know everything, especially that which we inevitably learn in hindsight. I don't take the me of the past to task for these things (most of all because I know it wouldn't change anything, except perhaps to erode my own sense of self-esteem), but it's impossible not to wonder about - as Roger Waters and my brother would put it - my possible pasts. Some things, though, make me wonder about just how much I've changed.

When I was little, my mother (an occasional dance instructor) put me in a gymnastics class. It meant little to nothing to me at the time, and didn't last. But between that and little league (which I also had - and still have - zero interest in), I don't know what I wouldn't give now to have the experience of growing up as a kid surrounded by gymnastics, hanging out and making friends with very flexible girls. But I couldn't have known then what it would mean to me now (never mind the fact that I didn't have the courage to overcome the fear that has always kept me from realizing my greatest potential - even now). To think, could I have been a dancer instead of a scientist? Is that even possible? Would I have really wanted to? Could you even have described that as "me"? But I want to be a part of that world now, such that I sometimes daydream about having a daughter interested in the sport, just so I could be on the periphery as a "dance parent". I know this is an unrealistic fantasy - it's not healthy to "live through" your kids - but in this day and age, merely having an interest in an activity, no matter how strong, doesn't earn you the privilege of a backstage pass. (Mark my words, soon they'll be demanding birth certificates of your offspring just to attend shows as an audience member - never mind the fact that, as far as people go, a child's greatest danger, statistically, is her peers, and her own parents).

Over six years ago, I wrote a post on this very blog on a related subject - titled I Wanna Be Where The Girls Are (a riff on a Runaways song hinting at Joan Jett's non-gender-conforming interests). Although, as a married person now (against all odds) - adding more evidence of the way people can change as they grow and experience new things - I have learned something profound since writing that post. Namely, how little importance and significance that "fluttering heart" feeling has to do with genuine companionship and devotion. Not that the former doesn't continue to move the heavens for me (nearly daily - and it takes a mature person to avoid jealousy and understand how little this constitutes a threat in somebody you can trust, thereby contributing to your partner's happiness rather than driving a possessive wedge between the two of you), but they simply occupy two different categories of phenomena (however mixed up society and/or biology has gotten them). And though less spectacular, perhaps (in the traditional sense of the word), the latter is a much deeper sensation, and no less valuable (by far) to one who desires a fulfilled life.

The point of this rather lengthy preamble (the kind I know how to write best), is that at one point in my life I might very well have scoffed at the ballet as something I wouldn't dream of having any interest in. (Case in point, there was a time when I wouldn't have been caught dead at a Rocky Horror Midnight Showing, yet now it's one of my most exciting memories; to say nothing of my initial scorn at the very concept of Dance Dance Revolution, which was subsequently the centerpiece of some of my most enjoyable nights in college). Yet, it was I who suggested to my partner that we go see Swan Lake (a show I've been itching to catch ever since we started going to the ballet a couple years ago, inspired by Natalie Portman's role in the film Black Swan). What's more, my favorite part of the night might not have even been the show itself (although it was exciting to see - especially the Black Swan's insane spinning routine - forget staying in formation, how does she not get sick and throw up all over the stage?!), but the opportunity to get dressed up (like a girl, mind you) and feel glamorous. This is not a me I would recognize if I bumped into myself at, say, 14 years of age (that is, twenty years ago). But today, I love it! It feels more authentically me (or at least the me I am now) than the XL concert tees and baggy jeans I used to hide in. And it's just fun!

There is, however, a part of me that hasn't changed one bit (to the likely chagrin of any part of society that suspects it) - and that is my childlike wonder and admiration of girls of that same age, who look especially delightful dressed up for the ballet, and whom I have been admiring (silently, from a distance) without interruption since I myself was that age. They are delightful, and it fills my heart with joy even just to lay eyes upon them, and I am not going to apologize to anyone for that. Nor would I change it for the world.

Ah, what a strange, fabulous creature I am. Why'd it take so long for me to discover that?

"When you live your life in fear
hiding who you really are,
you become a stranger to yourself."

- Sailor Earth, TokyoPop forums (circa the '90s)

No comments:

Post a Comment