When I was a kid, my grandmother used to send me and my sister DVD box sets of TV shows. Usually it was only one or two DVDS of each show, so we’d only watch the first few episodes, and never find out the end. This was how I first watched Charmed, one of my favourite shows of all time. I’ve seen the first episodes countless times, and when I found reruns on TV, I watched all 8 seasons about five times. Another DVD my grandmother sent was a show called Dance Academy, an Australian teen drama set in a ballet school. I watched the first six episodes when I was in my early teens, and forgot it existed.
As I was perusing Netflix the other week, I came across the show again, and am now deep into the second season. I love it for many reasons, primarily the nostalgia. Watching it reminds me of my childhood, and it is a form of escapism. I can get lost in the world of these 16-year-olds and their drama, and not think so much about my own (though some of the storylines in recent episodes were a little too close to home, so the escapism element wasn’t quite so strong). As I was watching it earlier, I realised that the other appeal of the show is the dancing itself.
I watch these characters dancing ballet and hip hop and jazz, I watch the things they can do with their bodies, and it’s something I long for. My body often feels like an alien to me. My mind is my home, but my body is foreign country where I can’t speak the language. It is too long, too awkward, everything is an excess or deficiency. I don’t hate my body anymore, I love it, in theory. But it’s not a body that was made for dancing, or any kind of “beautiful” movement. It’s a body made for stupid happy dances in front of the mirror, or dancing to songs I vaguely recognise on the radio in a supermarket.
I went to one ballet lesson when I was three, and they kept telling me to bow, and I didn’t know what the word meant, and that was the end of that. I’ve never thought of it before, but even my astrology tells me I could have been a dancer, in a different life. I have Mars in Pisces in the 6th house. Mars is the physical body, and exercise. Pisces rules the feet, it rules dance. And the sixth house is the house of routine, of day-to-day work. I’ve never had any particular inclination towards dance, it’s not like I’m looking back at my life and wishing I’d taken a different path. It’s more that I’m picturing a world in which I’m comfortable with my body, and to dance is to have immense trust in your body’s capability to not let you down.
I remember at an improv rehearsal last month, I sat watching my friends perform, and I couldn’t help noticing how at ease they were in themselves. Maybe I looked like that too, but I somehow doubt it. For improv, you don’t just have to be at ease in your body, you also have to be at ease in your mind. There is no script, there is nothing to fall back on except yourself and your scene partner. The longer you do it, the more your confidence grows. You have to have faith in your ability to be creative and funny on command. I’ve been improvising for just over two years. I know I’m reasonably good at it, I know I’m funny, I know I’ve made so much progress with it.
I’ve never been one to get performance anxiety. A little nervousness, sure. But I love an audience far too much to be afraid of them. Lately, that’s changed. During the past few improv workshops, I’ve been overcome with an anxiety that is unfamiliar to me. I am used to social anxiety, I’m used to being paralysed with fear at even the most basic social interaction. But I’m not used to feeling that way about improv, I’m not used to being so nervous that I barely participate at all.
At first I thought it was because of the added responsibility of being a committee member this year. I feel like I have to set a good example, that everything I do matters more than it did in previous year. Now I think it goes deeper than that, because improv isn’t the only place I’ve been feeling this anxiety.
I’ve hardly worked on my novel in weeks. Every time I have the opportunity, I come up with an excuse or distraction. I thought I was just procrastinating, until I recognised that anxious feeling. I can’t fathom why my novel would make me anxious. My novel, like improv, is my safe space. It’s where I go to hide from the anxiety.
I felt the feeling again yesterday. I’ve decided that this year I’m going to travel over Christmas. My plan is to go to Estonia, and escape my life for a little while. Yet every time I go to book the flights, something stops me. Maybe it’s simply that I’m too lazy to cross the room and get my bank card out my bag. Maybe it’s that this will be the first Christmas I won’t spend with my family, and that feels weird. Maybe it’s a warning sign that I shouldn’t go. All I know is that I feel anxious. I’ve been wanting to run away to Estonia again for the past year, this anxiety doesn’t make sense.
My normal anxiety hasn’t been bad since January, and it came back with a vengeance last week. I was terrified to interact with the new improv members, because I didn’t trust myself to be a likable person. I found myself leaving early, keeping quiet, hiding behind my friends. It’s only now that I realise all these things are connected. The reason my regular anxiety wasn’t so bad for most of this year was because I stopped listening to other people, and followed my gut. When I trust my intuition, the anxiety goes away. Because I have faith in myself.
The only problem is, my intuition has been a train wreck lately. I trusted myself, I followed my instincts, and it was a disaster. When I improvise, I have to trust the words that come out of my mouth will be the right ones. When I edit my novel, I have to trust that I know which words to remove, and which to keep. When I travel, I have to trust myself completely, because there is no one else to rely on, I am completely on my own. The reason improv, and writing, and travelling are the places I go to escape from the world is because these are the places where I don’t let myself down.
I believe everything happens for a reason, and I have learnt important lessons from the times my intuition failed me. I don’t resent what happened, because I understand why it had to happen. Yet I don’t know how to trust myself anymore. I’m used to trusting my inner self, and questioning my outer self. Now the tables have turned. My outer self is solid, I know she’ll ask your star sign within two minutes of conversation, I know she’ll make bad puns, and smirk to herself every time someone makes an inappropriate joke (though she rarely makes them herself anymore). For once, my outer self is predictable and reliable. My inner self is in turmoil. I keep flip-flopping between feelings. One minute I’m doing a happy dance because some parts of my life are finally going my way, and the next minute I’m inexplicably sad, or distracted in class, or sitting on a bench in the botanic gardens staring into the rain and simultaneously feeling everything and nothing.
I tell myself to focus on the present, focus on the future, don’t live in the past. But time isn’t linear the way we make it out to be. Everything is connected, the past informs the future. It’s time to choose which parts of the past to relinquish, and which to carry into the future with me. I don’t trust my choices. I’m analysing the evidence, but I can’t see what’s real. I’m holding onto the words people said to me when they thought I wouldn’t remember, they’re written on my memory in indelible ink.
I’m like an elephant, I don’t forget. I cling onto honest conversations, drunken compliments, the things people say when their walls are down. And maybe that’s where my intuition’s been going wrong. I’ve read between too many lines, and I see a projected image rather than the reality. I need to look at the norm, base my evidence on what I see day-to-day, rather than comments that slip out when guards are down.
But intuition is all about those things that occur between the lines. I am a writer, I know stories are as much about the absent words as the ones that appear on the page. I also know that when a chapter closes, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the book. But what happens if you want to stop reading half way through? The story doesn’t add up, there are plot holes left right and centre, you don’t know if you want to be invested in this narrative anymore, because the author has let you down.
Perhaps my problems lie in the fact that I expect my life to be like a novel or a TV series (even the frequency with which I use this as a metaphor says a lot). I want the plot to tie up neatly. I don’t necessarily need a happy ending, but I need one that makes sense. The foreshadowing was just sloppy writing, the mysteries I thought I’d solved were merely red herrings. I am a disillusioned reader of my own life story.
So what do I do to regain faith in my intuition? I don’t know. Once trust is broken, it’s near impossible to repair. When other people break my trust, I give them the INFJ doorslam and go “bye, bitch” and cut them out of my life forever. (Okay, it’s usually less extreme than that). It’s different this time. I can’t distance myself from myself, that’s impossible. I’m stuck inside the mind and body of a person who let me down. That person is also me, and she needs to find a way to prove her worth, before I disregard her altogether.
There are two Elizas at play right now. The first Eliza majorly fucked up, and she has to somehow make amends to the second Eliza. Because the second Eliza does not tolerate missteps, and she needs to keep a tight rein on her words and actions to make sure she doesn’t screw up again. Control Freak Eliza is at war with Wishy-Washy Spiritual Esoteric Eliza.
Wishy-Washy Spiritual Esoteric Eliza could also be known as Artistic Eliza. It’s the same part of me that loves writing, and improv, and running away to the far corners of north-eastern Europe. I can’t suppress this half of me, because it’s the foundation of who I am.
If I can’t suppress her, I have to listen to her. She tells me to throw myself in at the deep end. Run away from my family and spend Christmas alone in a foreign country, write my novel when my heart tells me rather than when it suits my schedule, put myself on a stage to combat my performance anxiety. Artistic Eliza lives and breathes in extremes. She doesn’t do normal, she doesn’t do complacent, she doesn’t do routine. Control Freak Eliza is running after her, picking up the pieces and praying the storm is over. What Control Freak Eliza doesn’t know is that Artistic Eliza is the storm. I will always be this way, leaving confusion and destruction in my wake.
I crave structure and certainty. If I aim for perfection, I stand a chance. Or at least, that’s what I believe. Look where it’s gotten me! Life isn’t about perfection, and maybe that’s where my intuition went wrong. I got so caught up in delusions of fate, of meant to be. And when that fell through, I could look at the timing and believe the reason for that particular failure was because there was something better out there, something I’d never noticed before because I was so distracted by the bright, shiny fantasy. I could have forgiven my intuition for being wrong the first time, if it had led me to the second. Everything would have made sense. But my intuition deceived me twice. I can’t say the second time hurt worse, because, frankly, it didn’t. Even if I were to compare the strength of emotions in these two situations (which is impossible), it’s not just the feelings themselves that matter, it’s the timing. Wrongly investing emotions in someone for two weeks is never going to sting as bad as wrongly investing emotions in someone for a year and a half. The first time hurt worse, and it changed me as a person. But the second time my intuition lied to me feels like a deeper betrayal. Because it was all for nothing. There was no greater plan, no reason for the first round of suffering.
My pain feels arbitrary. I’m sure I’ll look back in a month or a year and it will all make sense, but right now I am hurting, and I can’t trust myself, and there is no logical explanation for why it occurred. Was is simply that I wanted to believe the fantasy? It can’t be, I pursue truth above all else. Therein lies the juxtaposition of my personality: I crave illusion and truth in equal parts.
There is no neat conclusion to tie this blog together, and there is no lesson to be learned from it yet. In that sense, it is like life: rambling, confusing, nonsensical. I hope you find your own meaning in my words (I’m sure there are plenty of them there), because for once I am writing without ulterior motive or intention. I’m spilling my thoughts out into the void, and praying this time maybe the void will say something back.
Screw that, here’s my nice, neat conclusion: one of my favourite quotes is “if you stumble, make it part of the dance.” I am someone who stumbles a lot, because I sway from side to side for no reason and put too much weight on one leg and accidentally trip myself up, I’m a mess of a human. I digress. As someone who studied English Lit in various forms since I was fifteen years old, I can tell you that this quote is a metaphor. The dance is a metaphor for life. Right now I must dance with my despair. I must look my deceptive intuition in the eye and acknowledge its failure, and turn that betrayal into something beautiful. I don’t know the choreography, I am tripping up on all the steps. But that’s okay. Not all dances are meant to be ballet. My dance is the happy dance I did just before I saw my best friend for the first time after a summer apart, the dance I do when my favourite lecturer acknowledges my existence, the absent-minded dance I do in the kitchen as I wait for pasta to boil. My dance is comprised entirely of stumbles, and it’s beautiful in its own way.
My intuition let me down because I didn’t let it be instinctive. I took my gut feelings and forced them into labels and categories, called them “signs” attached them to particular outcomes. My intuition isn’t a guidebook with clear instructions of which path to walk down. My intuition is a whisper, a sensing that something or someone will be important. If I took my intuition exactly as it is, it wouldn’t have let me down. Instead I forced my instinctive, silly dancing to play the role of ballet, and all I did was stumble.