I’m writing this from New York City where I’m taking advantage of Fall Break to revisit the life I lived for six years up until 3 months ago when I moved to Ohio. While seeing friends and loved ones during my time here, I’ll also take some classes, see a show at BAM, and do some reflecting how the first half of my semester has gone.
This time has flied, as I expected it would. When inundated with change and new experiences, time has a tendency to feel groundless (as if it could be anything but?). I have the sense that I’ve just been on a ride for the past 8 weeks. This ride has included getting back into my physical practice after an injury, making lots of solo composition studies, learning how to be a student again, and basically navigating the inner working of the department and how I might place myself in it.
My sense of being a graduate student is twofold: one stream of experiences where I’m asked to be open, to grow, to question, and then a second stream where I’m asked to narrow, to focus, to streamline. Both seem essential, but pursuing both often gives me a feeling of whiplash.
I’m beginning to miss my teaching life. Teaching has a way of helping me find clarity and meaning almost without even trying. I’m pursuing some options for coursework and outside projects next semester where I can tap back into a place of sharing and offering .
In our first-year graduate seminar, several of the faculty have come in to talk to our class about their research interests and career trajectories. I find this endlessly fascinating. I love hearing about the successes and failures and crooked paths and sometimes serendipity that goes into crafting a life in dance. It seems quite like the act of choreographing itself where there’s a constant balance of generating and then listening.
I’ve started reading Susan Rethorst’s A Choreographic Mind: Autobodygraphical Writings. She describes a “cornerness” approach to creative work. She writes “Cornerness too, is best understood as ‘felt, sensous, in some immediate concrete way.’ Perceiving and responding in a ‘sensual and non-intellectual way’ is my number one tool in dance making. Perceiving affect, understanding by feeling the sight of this or that ‘ness’; engaging the self in something between sensation and perception; engage a watching of what’s before me or what’s in my mind’s eye in a manner that resides where sensation and perception meet.” (pg 26).
This sensation is familiar to me as a dance maker who often feels less like I’m “making” a dance or more like I’m waiting for the dance to be revealed to me. My work in the studio feels not so much like creating and more like peeling away layers until I find the real deal underneath.
At this point in the semester, it strikes me that this approach might be a useful application to sculpting my graduate school experience.
I’ve had lots of doubt since starting this program, not about being here, but about how to “do graduate school” and if I’m “doing it right.” I think this idea about cornerness can come in here. Without becoming lazy or apathetic, I believe there is a way to craft graduate school, or a career, or a life in general, that involves a hefty dose of preparation and digging deeper, and then perhaps an even heftier dose of letting go and allow the chips to fall where they may. In that practice of releasing control, an opportunity for rigorous listening presents itself, and in that listening we can find the “corners”, the moments that start to take shape and solidify. This not only gives us something to hold on to, but we’ve also found it without fear and without desperation. In essence, we usually end up fairly close to where we wanted to be all along, but with an element of surprise and fun along the way.
As I move into the second of the semester, this will be my approach: to prepare richly, to listen deeply, to make choices, and then to find moments of fun.