As babies, we start out with a clean slate. For most of us, the world is shiny, everyone is good, nothing is terrible. Our biggest fears result from overactive imaginations--monsters, unseen things in the dark, kidnappers. We have the naive ability (or, perhaps, the innocent confidence) to harbor dreams The Grownups deem fanciful or ridiculous. We want to be astronauts, Olympic gold medalists, Batman,...and, ok, some of us? Ballerinas. When we are little, parents are wrong, with our friends we are the best, life is easy. But as we get older, and learn more, see more, start to think too much, and the doubts creep in. That confidence, that six-year-old swagger? Somewhere along the line, right around the time boys go from stupid to fascinating and mirrors go from inanimate objects to surfaces perfect for intense self-scrutiny, some of us forget how to just be. Some of us try to blend in so much we lose ourselves; some of us try to stand out so much we lose others. And everyone goes through a phase of not knowing what they want, of not knowing who they are, and perhaps more importantly, of not having the faintest idea of who they want to be. I haven't figured out any of this life business yet, and I have spent the better part of 21 years on this planet trying. But as the oldest of five children, as a girl with severe self-confidence issues, and as a person who has chosen to work at an art form in which we as professionals are eternally striving for some unattainable aesthetic ideal, it helps every once in a while to remind myself what makes me...me. In a foreign country, as a member of the corps de ballet of a very big, world-renowned ballet company, it's frighteningly easy to feel lost. In a company of about 94 fantastic friends, it is not as hard as one might expect to occasionally feel alone. I might preface the body of this post by saying I'm not clinically depressed; I am not an unhappy person. On the contrary, my colleagues will tell you that my laugh is frequent, snort-filled, and entirely too loud, akin to me having my own personal, permanent cowbell. But I'm not a sunny, girly ballerina child. If I was a weather forecast, I'd be like Denmark most of the time: partly cloudy. The other shoe is a size 40, and it's always ready to drop. So. Every once in a while, in an ongoing attempt to cure myself of what could be mildly crippling insecurity (both in and outside the theatre) and to remind myself of who I am, I make a list. Of things I hate about myself. Of things I like about myself. Of things that should perhaps cause me concern for my sanity. Today's list.
- I have a lazy eyelid, my left. It just doesn't want to keep up. When I'm especially tired, it's out of control. I am not a fan of the Lazy Left, but I will say this: I can close it completely independently of the right. Which, as it turns out, is a freaky party trick. Silver linings.
- My ears move up when I smile. And I don't mean a little bit; this isn't like a zit you get where you think it looks like a small planet growing out of your face, but it turns out no one else sees it (until, of course, you mention it). No, my ears go up a lot when I smile. I don't necessarily dislike this, but you know, with the shorter hair now, it looks a bit like I'm a Dopey impersonator.
- I'm really bad at chores. I hate cleaning, particularly the bathroom. I hate taking out the trash. I hate doing the dishes. I hate sweeping, and vacuuming, and stepping up on things so I can dust the corners of the ceiling, where all the dust bunnies hang out. I like the result--I get a clean apartment that smells like popular chemicals--but I abhor the process. (I don't mind laundry, actually; and I legitimately love ironing.) The one thing that gets me through cleaning is my Cleaning Playlist, a compilation of only guilty pleasures: Hanson, the Bangles, Queen, Ike & Tina, Meat Loaf, Metallica, Billy Idol, Madonna, Cher, Jimmy Buffett...I clean in my pajamas, always, with these top-notch tunes, and the job magically, eventually gets done.
- I watch a lot of medical shows, which feeds my hypochondria. Since I can remember, I overplay minor maladies. This is just how I'm wired. I thought a chest rash from a new detergent was inflammatory breast cancer. (A $300-something emergency room bill and a diagnosis of "Get some of that $2 cream at the drugstore" confirmed: it was not.) I was convinced that the lump below my left armpit was a tumor. (An ultrasound showed me that it is just a place where two veins in my arm share a ventricle, or pathway or whatever it is.) If I get a migraine, it's cancer. If I get a bad cold, it's swine flu. If I get a stomach virus, I am actually dying. But if I learned one thing from House, it's this: It's never lupus. And if I learned one thing from Grey's Anatomy, it's this: The best doctors are hot, and actually spend more time sleeping around with each other than practicing medicine.
- My eyes involve three different colors. I like this, actually--my eyes, I will admit to liking.
- I have very large feet, and the second toe on each foot is much longer than the first. I've been told that if I ever lose a finger, I can just do a little amputation-and-swap. My feet are the opposite of beautiful. I once had an old woman on the subway scold me for wearing flip flops: "You should really wear closed shoes so the rest of us don't have to look at those." But in a way, I'm proud of the corns and calluses and bumps (which I know aren't tumors). They're a sign of hard work, a lifetime of hard work. So to that woman on the subway, I say: I don't ask you to put tape over your mouth so the rest of us don't have to listen to your cranky comments. Flip flops are for everybody.
- I can crack almost every joint you can think of. I can crack two joints in my fingers, all of my toes, my cuboids, my ankles, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, neck, and back. I cannot crack my nose. One time, my collarbone cracked. For a minute, I thought I was going to die--it was shockingly unexpected and hurt, for a split second. But the relief felt afterward was pretty sweet, and I have never had it happen since. And I know it's weird and disturbing, but the simple joy of having an uncooperative bone or joint give a little click is a good feeling similar to that of taking one's hair down after having it pinned up the entire day. Trust me: it's wonderful.
- I can't cook. I burn toast. And set frozen bagels on fire in the microwave. I think the slice-and-heat Pillsbury cookies qualify as baking. I don't host dinner parties because if I did, I would end up buying a bunch of different kinds of cereal and some milk, lining everything up with bowls and spoons, and telling everyone to pour themselves a bowl.
- I like that I talk easily enough. So easily that I once had friends ask whether I had ever had an awkward conversation. (I have.)
- I changed my smile when I was eight. I used to grin so big that my lips would almost disappear...it was all teeth and gums. I saw a picture of myself, and I didn't like how it looked. Audrey Hepburn and I had just been introduced, and I wanted to be her. So I practiced. And now, I still grin, but my lips don't disappear. I wish I could be a wise, deep person and say I regret consciously developing a new smile. That I wish I'd loved my smile just the way it was. But if I'm being completely honest? I don't regret it. I have small teeth. I need a smile with a good amount of lip.
- I like that I had parents who wouldn't let me get away with being melodramatic. (A) Because now that I live on my own, I can indulge in self-drama til the cows come home, and (B) because I grew up with a healthy amount of perspective, as well as the phrase, "Save it for the autobiography." And now even when I do go into daytime-soap-series-mode, I'm aware of my own ridiculousness.
- As a result of the summer when I was 13 and became obsessed with improving my feet for ballet, I can now pick up small objects--marbles, ballpoint pens, the like--with my toes. This is handy.
- I have a body that wasn't built for ballerina dancing. I have tight muscles and joints, my feet aren't anything to write home about, and I'm fairly certain that whoever was left in charge of designing humanity built my shoulders with the idea that I would get into football. This, I'm not a huge fan of. But I will say that I like the fact that I've learned to make it look like I was maybe put together with the faint thought of ballet as a career option. And I like that I can go onstage knowing that the things I can do well--and even the things I can't do so wonderfully (I'm looking at you, adagio)--are the result of a lot of hard work. Also of being mildly precocious when I was younger.
- I can't sing for beans. I don't sing in the shower. I don't even sing along to the aforementioned Cleaning Playlist. I literally cannot carry a tune. I don't hum because my range consists of two, maybe two and a half notes. I can't whistle. There is a reason I chose a silent art form.
- I like that my parents signed me up for piano. And I was sort of good, too. I learned to play some pretty hard stuff, by lots of very famous dead guys. I haven't played in years, but I can still read notes. And play Chopsticks, the Linus & Lucy tune from Charlie Brown, the Rugrats theme song, and the first bit of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue from memory. For this I am grateful.
- I really like my photographic memory. This is one thing I don't even feel bad bragging about--I was born with it, so I can thank my parents. It comes in handy all the time, and always has. In school, when I had to take tests, I could pull up a mental image of the page from the textbook and just sort of remember. I wasn't good in gym, I mean I was the girl who couldn't fit the softball helmet over her ballet bun, but the stuff on paper? That stuff I was good at.
- Despite my lack of self-confidence and my various, wide-ranging personal insecurities, I like my life so far. My family encourages my...individuality (code for "weirdness," trust me), and I have found very good friends who might very well enhance it. I'm not a super-girly person. I don't have boyfriends, I don't do makeup well, I don't find window-shopping fun. I make occasionally inappropriate jokes and many cheesy puns, I laugh too loud and cry too easily, I wear knee socks with alarming frequency. I do things like get my shoelaces stuck in the pedals of my bike, and I am usually that girl whose grocery bag breaks on the way home and then everyone sees her tampons and cereal and lack of actual cooking ingredients all over the street. I swear and don't cover my mouth when I yawn. I overthink everything. I am a closeted romantic, but use the weak man's weapon of sarcasm to cloak this. I listen to very bad music, watch bad television, and read good books like all three are going out of style. I'm not, and will never be, cool. I will never be in a fabulous "crowd," I don't ever know the newest bands or fashion or any of that. But I don't mind. I have my good books, my bad TV, my hard work ethic, my big hair, and my perfectly weird family and friends to remind me, when I forget, that I'm not a wallflower. And I'm not alone.
3 hours ago