Wednesday, May 21, 2014

a restless leg

Maybe it's just my group of friends, but there's a hashtag that's become a part of my daily vocabulary: "first world problems." It's a little sassy, more than one word, and self-deprecating--my favorite breed of hashtag. When you just want a pack of gum and you only have a $100 bill. When you need an iPhone 5 charger, but all anyone has is a 4. When your Sunday brunch is running a little long and you're concerned you won't make it to see the ballet on time. All very first world (also acceptable: "not real") problems.

I had what I considered a particularly rough day at work on Monday. I had to wake up at 4.15am; I hurt my foot; I had a good cry (read: several); something at lunch didn't agree so well with my digestive system; and--speaking of iPhone chargers--mine stopped working. Fourteen hours later, the work day was over. I went home to my parents' house on Long Island, had a little cry in the shower, had a pity party while I iced my foot, continued that fiesta a bit on Skype, and finally drifted off into 10 hours of puffy-faced, much-needed sleep. I survived Monday.

Sitting on the floor of Penn Station waiting for a train today, I started to think about this past Monday. I had spent some of today (Wednesday) feeling very tired, and missing a lot of things and places and people, something that happens mostly when I need sleep. And I thought back to two days ago, when everything felt so terrible. I realized that all of it--in fact, nearly 100% of my life problems--would be considered a crapsack of first world problems, albeit on a more "real" level than needing to break $100 or almost-missing the ballet.

I didn't really know how to feel about this. Of course, in the large scheme of things, my daily issues are quite trivial; this usually hits me in a sort of acceptable amount of time. (I'm many things, but completely oblivious isn't one of them. I mean, that awful day at work? Took place on set for a new American television series. That disagreeable lunch was catered and free. Ridiculousness.)

But should I feel bad for feeling so bad about my first world problems when they arise? I don't know how to answer that. Because the thing is this: the world is full of truly, actually, awful things. These things are everywhere, in our faces, on our screens, every day. I see them. I read the news. I recognize that my life, and the lives of most people I know, are comparatively (thankfully) downright idyllic.

So, then: when your foot hurts. Or your wallet goes missing. Or you just have a day: you spill the coffee, and your heating bill comes and it's astronomical, and the dog pees on the carpet, and you get a huge zit, and burn the dinner, and your boyfriend's out of town, and you get your period, and forget to pick up the laundry, and the train is delayed, and then someone in front of you at the grocery store buys that last bottle of red wine you had been looking forward to treating yourself to after such a crappy day. Well, then what? Yes, "it could always be worse." Of course it could. But just because these things aren't national disasters or acts of atrocity or anything necessarily life-threatening doesn't make them any less immediately real, or any less immediately upsetting.

I'm not saying to indulge in shitty days for weeks, or to cry for hours if you drop your phone in the sewer and watch as a rat carries it away forever into the bowels of the NYC subway system. I think what I'm trying to say is: Mondays suck. Life, occasionally, sucks. Sometimes, it feels like a piece of Philip Glass music. As crazy and beautiful as it can be, it just seems to go on and on, and waiting for a break in the pattern can be like trying to find water in a desert.

The thing is, everyone--on a myriad of varying levels and in a million different shades of crappy--has their own shit-baggage to deal with on a daily basis. Whether that luggage is Louis Vuitton or a Hefty trash bag, it's theirs. But at some point, though it sometimes feels like you will never get there, everybody finds a spot on the floor of Penn Station at rush hour to sit, and breathe for a minute.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

primordial chaos

Today, I spent the morning at Louisiana, a wonderful modern art museum a little bit outside of Copenhagen. I went specifically to see the current Hilma af Klint exhibition, but the great thing about Louisiana is that besides the art (and the opportunity to take a train and escape the city for a couple of hours), you can also just sit outside in the beautiful park there, looking at Sweden and being near the water and getting a nice fix of tranquility or whatever until your head explodes.

It was a perfect day for this kind of field trip--not quite nice enough to make you feel obligated to be outside the whole day soaking up all the things, but definitely sunny and pleasant enough to enjoy the magic inside and outside the museum. I got up early, grabbed a coffee and croissant at Hovedbanegården, and took a little train ride. Off the bat, I can say the Hilma af Klint exhibition alone is worth the trip. This Swedish lady was one bitchin cat, holy shamoley. I walked through her exhibit for a while, then made my way through the rest of the museum. I was kind of enjoying the feeling I sometimes get at museums, where your brain is not totally "off," but you're not really thinking either. It's like you're aware of the art, and other people, and the day; but it's not overwhelming, you just kind of become a sponge with arms and legs and a head, absorbing everything but not really letting thoughts get in the way. Or it's like you're thinking with your eyes instead of your brain. I don't know. Suffice to say, it was lovely.

After a while, I started to get museumed-out and felt like fresh air was maybe a good idea, so I walked through the sculpture garden, waved a quick hello to good ol' Sverige, and eventually made it to the lake garden. Which is more like a pond, I think, but it's ok. There's a muddy path that leads you down to some water, and across the way are a couple of fairy-tale picturesque houses, with a weeping willow and little ducks and birds and stuff. (I think the Snapchat I sent a couple of friends was accompanied by the caption: "tranquil as fuck.")

I found a stump for a bench and sat there with my expensive museum coffee. My phone was at 15% battery, so I couldn't really futz around with that much. I'd forgotten my book at home, and had for once cleaned out my bag, so I had nothing to play with. I generally try to avoid these kinds of situations because when I have nothing to play with, my brain decides to make its own entertainment, which is always mildly dangerous. I love nature and peace and quiet and baby animals and all that fuzzy good stuff, I really do. But I like it with a little bit of distraction: a friend, maybe; or at least my phone, so I can just sit and take too many pictures. Today it was just me and my coffee, of which I didn't have much left, and that kind of freaked me out. Tranquility has that effect on me.

Of course, I couldn't handle all that calm, relaxing atmosphere--like really, how do monks do this?--so my immediate, involuntary reaction was to start thinking. About all the things. I thought about what a seance must be like. Hilma was really into them, and I've never tried one. Then I wondered if maybe the fact that I haven't done a seance or anything even remotely like that meant I wasn't living enough. (For a brief moment, this led to some contemplation about how American Horror Story is so popular; I just can't take it seriously, I mean at one point you had Kathy Bates locked in a cage being yelled at by voodoo mistress Angela Bassett.) I realized I'll be 25 in exactly a week, and I started to wonder how old I would get, and if I should have done more things by now. Like, I've never been camping. Only glamping, which apparently "doesn't count," according to multiple people. I should do that. I still bite my nails. I should stop doing that. Maybe my love of naps is unhealthy and in the time I spend napping, I could be doing really cool things, like napping outside and calling it camping.

I started thinking about my upcoming trip to New York. Since I moved to Copenhagen five years ago(!), I realize now I have never been away for more than eight weeks at a time--and that was one time. This is going to be a four-month break. Whenever I leave this city, I get really emotionally selfish. I love traveling and visiting other places, don't get me wrong; and this pause spent in New York is going to be a new adventure for me, about which I'm so excited and so terrified (more thoughts). But every time I leave Copenhagen, I get paranoid that I will miss out on so many things, that my friends here will just forget about me or make new friends with better hair and less mess, that I will come back and have forgotten what I've learned of the language, that a McDonald's will replace yet another one of my favorite cafes, that my phone bill will be astronomically high... Maybe because I am not from here, I think that by leaving, I'm going to offend I don't know who, exactly. The city of Copenhagen? The nation of Denmark? The Viking gods? And then "they" won't let me back in. Or I will come back and all of a sudden not feel like it's home anymore, and I'll feel orphaned by my adopted city. I don't really know.

Then New York started to freak me out. I know I'm from there, but it's so overwhelming. It's enormous and exhausting, everyone is so "cool," and because everything is awake and on and going all the time, you feel like you should be doing things all the time. (Napping in New York makes me feel guilty.) It's an eight hour flight that I'm already dreading. I hate not peeing for that long, but my fear of dying on an airplane toilet far outweighs the physical discomfort that accompanies consuming as little liquid as possible on flights. I haven't really started packing, because I can't decide what and how much stuff to pack. I don't know how I'm going to deal with toe pads for my pointe shoes, because I can never find the perfect paper towels they have at the theatre here in Denmark anywhere else. I will be with my family for a long time, and I'm really hoping we all don't murder each other. I mean, I love them, but you know. Will my phone work? Did the guy at 3 who gave me free cookies yesterday mean it when he said my iPhone was already unlocked, and all I had to do was reset it in iTunes? What if resetting my phone means I lose everything on it, how am I going to remember my life? Also, what if I hate this new adventure? Of course I think it's going to be so fun and cool, and I'm happy I will get to meet new people and try all this new stuff, but...I mean, there is a tiny dark side of the coin like, what if I think it's the worst?

I kind of started to mentally slap myself in the face at this point. Sometimes I can feel when my brain goes into overdrive and even I think I'm being ridiculous. (Usually this mess stays inside my brain, away from the rest of humanity.) I have no problem making a complete ass of myself quite regularly; I do immature stupid things on a near-daily basis, and my mouth occasionally just says things without bothering to let me know about it first. I do and say these silly things without really overthinking them until later, and I get along just fine. But sit me down by a quiet lake in sunshine with no technology or distraction, and suddenly everything I have ever done, thought, said, or considered talking about possibly doing comes rushing back into my head. And then these thoughts grow arms and legs and what ifs, spinning off to create a whole other galaxy of horrifying future possibilities. I have a tendency to constantly believe I am annoying people and ruining my own life, as untrue as that might be. I can--and do!--enjoy life, sometimes maybe too much, but more often than not, for a second, there'll be a tiny nugget in the back of my head sowing a smidgen of mild panic.

Anyway. I continued in this vein for a little while longer, worrying about smaller things for a minute, until I decided to try my dad's fake Buddhist stuff and just let it go. It didn't really work--my brain was still working like a maniac--but for a second, at least, I found out I could enjoy the lake and the ducks and the cute house without a head full of crap. And for a minute, I kind of had the balls to think that maybe all these neurotic what ifs I was worrying about (a) probably wouldn't happen and (b) were, in fact, a little ridiculous. My friends probably wouldn't stop talking to me--I've certainly done enough stupid stuff by now where they all should have been done with me a long time ago. Copenhagen wouldn't change that much in four months (exhibit A: the metro still isn't finished), and would in fact still be there, and maybe time away to miss it will be a healthy thing. As for New York, I'll figure out what to pack and get my hands on some relaxing tea or pills or whatever for the long flight, though I should really get over the whole death-on-the-plane-toilet phobia. It will be a whole new set of worries and challenges, but it will also be a whole new set of fun things and people and endless Snapchat possibilities. And hey, maybe I'll even get a seance in there.

Friday, March 14, 2014

International R. Kelly Day, or: What It Means To Be A Grownup

Today I opened my email to find, amidst generous plastic surgery offers and a Nigerian prince's polite request for monetary assistance, a customary annual notice from the Danish tax authority. I skimmed it over--nothing to be particularly concerned about--and scrolled through the rest of the crap. (Waking up to fifteen emails makes one feel wildly popular for a millisecond, until it is revealed that at least thirteen of these messages are complete worthless pieces of spam.) As I moved on to the morning Facebook binge, it suddenly hit me: I do taxes now. Spam genuinely annoys me. I'm allegedly considered a real, proper grownup in today's society.

This wasn't exactly news to me. I know how old I am. I have a job, I do laundry and buy toilet paper, I have a credit card and pay a (too-high) cell phone bill every month. I can vote and drink alcohol and buy a gun and change my name. I can eat breakfast for dinner whenever I want, and I can eat pizza for breakfast if it strikes my fancy. I can buy plane tickets and rent hotel rooms and feel the pain of an anemic post-vacation bank account. In about two weeks, I will officially be in my mid-20s. Knocking on the door of thirty, and ripe for a quarter-life crisis (if we're being generous with my life expectancy).

The thing is this. When you're little, all you want is to be like the grownups. You want to stay up late, drinking the smelly drinks that make people act funny, watching R-rated movies while wearing makeup and high heels and saying sassy words. Basically you want to do whatever you want when you want. Because when you're little, this is essentially what being a grownup means; it seems like the most exclusive party ever, plus you'll be taller, and just how great is that. You wait and wait for the day to arrive when you will become a grownup. You're not really sure what will happen, but obviously something magnificent will occur. You're not sure when it's going to happen, either--are you a grownup when you turn 18? or is it 21? or maybe 30? or is it tomorrow? (Are we there yet?) But it doesn't matter, because you're spending your youth practicing how to be one of "them" so when the day arrives, that magical day when you wake up and you just ARE an adult, you'll be the coolest, best one ever.

What no one tells you, what you don't realize until you start having to crack your back and neck before getting out of bed in the morning, and you wake up to emails from Scandinavian tax authorities, is that this wondrous day you prepare so meticulously for as a child never really comes. Yes, you get older. You wait in line for hours to vote in an election for the first time: so exciting. You combine the drinking alcohol and the staying up late to experience your first hangover: super awesome. You spend your hard-earned money on a really beautiful thing for yourself, perhaps an antique monocle or a taxidermied fox, because it's a Thursday and the sun is out and you deserve it: you feel like a particularly hip adult, until you realize Mom and Dad aren't buying your groceries and toilet paper anymore, so that foxy monocle cost even more than you thought.

So you get older and you can do more things. But with more things come more "other things". More paperwork. More responsibilities. More messiness. As you become an adult, you realize the secret life horror that grownups are essentially taller, older, potty-trained children, with more substances to enjoy/abuse and more serious consequences for their actions. When you're three, if you're unhappy with someone, you might throw a Lego at their face. When you're twenty-three, if you're unhappy with someone, you might throw a vicious Facebook message in their inbox, peppered with all the negative emojis you can find. Maybe you start to appreciate the things you took for granted as a kid: having a driver/nurse/chef (hey, Mom and Dad), headache-free Sunday mornings, midday naps, discounted meals at restaurants.

I am not a shining example for the youths of today of what a responsible adult should be. Yes, on paper, I'm a quasi-functioning, contributing member of society. I have a great job, a place to live, and taxes and bills and laundry and toilet paper. Boys don't have cooties anymore, I own some high heels, I've seen movies with bad words and sex and violence. But I also wear pigtails on a near-daily basis, fell asleep watching Shrek after eating ice cream the other night, still call my parents for a good vent when I need it, take near-daily naps, and own a 24-year-old stuffed elephant. I named my bike after a TV detective. I still listen to MmmBop every once in a while, though somewhat secretly; and 99% of my Snapchats are Disney princess-themed or intentionally hideous self-portraits with immature captions. (The remaining 1% are mostly devoted to photographing dairy products and puppies.) After all those years of desperately wanting to be old enough to start wearing makeup, I've come to realize I prefer morning sleep time to morning makeup time; society is just going to have to deal with it. When I visit my parents in New York, I fully expect them to simultaneously treat me as a functioning mature adult in her mid-20s while allowing me regress to my bratty 15-year-old self. (Also, they should drive me anywhere, whenever, since I never bothered to get a license.)

I guess my point is that I'm coming to some point in my life where a lot of very grownup things are happening: I've found a city I love to call my adopted home, in which I'm slowly attempting to build a life. I learned a bonus language (mostly, kind of, enoughish). I get legitimate work emails (in addition to the promotionals and penis enlargement ads). I actually use the calendar function on my phone for appointments and things other than birthdays and International R. Kelly Day. But at the end of the day, I still feel like a little kid sometimes, and I'm not sure that's a bad thing at all. On the way home from work this evening, I put my hair in the usual pigtails and stopped by 7-11. I bought myself a chocolate bar and a juice. It was a crappy day, so I came home, put on pajamas, had my snack, and watched Tangled. I texted my dad a bit and he made me feel a little better, and then I crawled under the blanket my mom knit for me and started writing whatever this is. I felt like a seven-year-old again (albeit with technology and a job), and to be honest, today, I don't really mind. It might even be time for a little MmmBop.

Monday, November 25, 2013

a shot at a silver lining

This week, back in my motherland, it is Thanksgiving. (Or actually, my dad told me today that this year it is being referred to as the hashtag-worthy hybrid holiday "Thanksgivukkah.") Say what you will about the dodgy history and mass commercialism of this holiday: personally, I think at its core, it's quite a nice way to introduce Christmastime. You gather with your family--that magnificent group of people who annoys you until you would rather rip your hair out strand by strand while listening to Justin Bieber on repeat than spend another second with them, but without whom you would not survive life on this planet--and you eat and drink too much, and fight and laugh and watch football and a float parade, and then in the good old days of my youth It's A Wonderful Life would come on television to remind you what life is all about, now replaced by the National Dog Show (which is not without its own bizarre entertainment merits and unexpected life lessons, I must admit).

You get a nice four-day weekend out of it. The biggest and most hellish shopping day of the year occurs the following day; this is apparently to balance out the love and coziness of the previous evening's events with angry, headline-making consumerism so we don't overdose on the goodness. Memories are made on this day: there was the Thanksgiving my grandpa dropped the turkey all over the kitchen floor, which he followed with trying to make us children watch that feel-good holiday classic, Saving Private Ryan. Or the year my dad "surprised" us all by ordering Turducken--literally 15 pounds of chicken stuffed inside of duck stuffed inside of turkey. And the momentous year when I was allowed to sit with the grownups after dinner, listening to my parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents engage in spirited debates about Notre Dame football, right-wing politics, religion, and national health care policies.

I had a bad day today. I love Copenhagen, but there is always a time of year when this happens, almost abruptly: the temperature drops, a few more fifty-shades-of-grey days start to creep into the work week, sunset starts at 3:50pm and ends at 3:57pm. After a few such days, my emotional state and mind go from (borderline) socially-acceptable Jennifer Lawrence levels of manageable kookiness to a dark network of rainclouds and whatever the opposite of a unicorn is. (Maybe an Aye-aye? I--aye--don't know.) I can feel it immediately: one day, I am fine; and the next, I wake up and am actively not fine. This is the day I bust out the Vitamin D pills, but it takes a while before those kick in. And you know what, these days are the worst. Everything just sucks.

Like today, for instance. I had a really good morning class, but I still wasn't satisfied; my costumes didn't fit right; I started thinking about the anemic state of my bank account; I got sad about work and personal stuff; I worried about apartment stuff; I worried about my skin and the galactic bruise on my leg I got falling down the stairs leaving my apartment last Saturday morning; I worried about my future; I worried about hypothetical situations. And eventually I felt very completely sad and had myself a tiny cry, which helped, but then made me worry about looking splotchy in my also-pink costume. At least I was having a good hair day.

Anyway, I got through the day. On the boat ride home, I got an SMS from my dad warning me not to indulge myself in this. I snappily replied that I don't enjoy this, and I resented his comment. But then I thought, maybe in a small way--without me even realizing it--he was right; maybe I was, in fact, indulging a little bit without meaning to. Because I certainly don't enjoy when I feel like this. I don't think it's nice or fun, and it definitely isn't endearing to any other member of the human race. And it got me thinking about feelings, and what we allow ourselves to feel.

Most of us love to see others happy, and we are quick to celebrate the achievements and milestones in the lives of those around us. For me, I thought, why is it so difficult to give myself some of that niceness? I wasn't raised to hate myself, or to judge everything I do or think or say or feel. My parents are lovely people who raised four other very successful, (mostly) normal, wonderful humans I am lucky to call my siblings. Maybe it's a bit like advice: so many of us--myself included--are great at helping others with their things. It's only too bad we can't all listen to ourselves...though I suppose that's what friends are for, to keep the circle going.

There is something about misery that is easier to accept than happiness. It is very easy to find reasons to be sad or miserable; honestly, just open a newspaper, forget looking into your own life for problems. Allowing yourself to be happy, admitting that (despite all the problems in this shitty world, added to whatever problems are decorating your own tiny life in it) you do in fact deserve to feel good about things and that maybe you're just scared of happiness: that, in my opinion, is a far more difficult coat to wear than the depressing alternative.

Which brings me back to Thanksgiving. I have never been very good at tooting my own horn, and I deflect any compliment thrown my way with a self-deprecating remark because I am physically unable to just accept it. I far prefer the humor shield to emotional vulnerability; as a result of certain life experiences--though I feel things easily and can cry at a Kleenex commercial--I've become a bit harder, and not a very trusting person. I can talk a lot, and to anyone, and I can tell the same weird anecdotes until the cows come home, to the point of seemingly oversharing. (I am like the Dexter Morgan of socializing and sharing.) But I will always be waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. There is always a line at which I stop myself from really letting most people in. There are things in this life I have only told one or two people; there are things I have never told anyone, which might sound unbelievable considering the amount of things I say on a daily basis.

This isn't to say I wish to be completely open and totally trusting of everyone I meet. I also don't expect to be happy all of the time. I think sadness is beautiful, and necessary: without all the emotions, how are the best of them to be appreciated and fully enjoyed? It's like when I was younger, I used to say I wished Christmas was every day. Of course I did. It is the best time of year, with eggnog, who doesn't want that every day? But now of course I realize that not only would be that be a ridiculously expensive culture in which to live--and we would all get big cholesterol and heart problems from so much delicious, artery-clogging eggnog--but that all of the things I look forward to so much about Christmas would not be things to look forward to anymore. It wouldn't be special. It would be every day.

What I would like is to stop convincing myself out of happiness. I let myself indulge in positive emotions, but always with a quick expiration date. With the knowledge that everything is constantly changing, and every moment--both positive and negative--must eventually be let go of, the thought of what it will feel like when the good moments go away is scary. I have a tendency, then, to push away the sunny moments and pre-prepare myself for a storm. Better to not enjoy life too much. (Welcome to my brain.)

But this is why I always liked Thanksgiving. It is a designated day for everyone where we can all be openly happy about things; we are expected to be openly happy about things. And you don't have to feel weird about it, or question it: you can just say "I am thankful for" in front of whatever you like in life. Ideally, one day I would like to scratch away some of the scar tissue that's been built up around my messy emotional core and be able to express other emotions as easily as I currently use humor to deflect them, and reach a point where I don't have to wait for the fourth Thursday in November to say what's good in life. I'd also like to stop terminating my happy moments prematurely out of some weird fear of losing them. But for now, Thanksgiving will do. And maybe, unlike Christmas, that's a holiday that could be nice to have a tiny part of every day. Without the food coma and family drama...though one's life can always do with more dog shows, and a float or two.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


At the start of my fifth season with The Royal Danish Ballet, I have two thoughts: Madonna had absolutely no concept of how time really works when she sang Hung Up; and it's funny how unexpectedly a place can go from feeling wildly foreign to becoming your home without you even really noticing it. I have come to love Copenhagen more than I ever thought I would, or even could. I have a track record of getting Attention Deficit Disorder when it comes to life in general, of always having a want for some unknown thing or place or situation; of never really allowing myself to feel at home in any one place. (Perhaps this is why I didn't own any furniture up until a year ago, and traveled like a gypsy for seven years.) The Germans have an excellent word for this: fernweh, literally "farsickness" or "an ache for distant places." But I seem to have found my Ritalin in Copenhagen. This cold, tiny slice of planet Earth, with its strange language and open-faced sandwiches and excellent interior design, has become a place I am always eager to return to whenever I have been away. 

It's difficult to pinpoint what exactly it is about this city that I love so much. Like everything in my life that is most important to me, I have a love/hate relationship with Copenhagen. Because there are certainly things about it that I don't like. The endless winters, which inevitably lead to a point--usually around February--when I decide that I must have missed a major news headline because clearly the sun died and will never return, and the sky will be fifty shades of grey forever. The McDonald's that replaced Cafe a Porta makes me a little angry on a daily basis. Banking hours are inconveniently exactly when I work. The general expensive cost of everything also isn't super conducive to me wanting things. There isn't really a solid affordable Mexican or Chinese takeout place, for those days when all I really want is a burrito, or maybe some General Tso's chicken and fried rice that I can then leave in the fridge for a couple days and do a smell test and decide they're probably fine to eat if I keep them cold. While we're on the subject of food: leverpostej, herring, Ga-Jol shots, the deadly Christmas schnapps tradition, whenever I see someone put the baby shrimp things with hard-boiled eggs together on rye bread--I can't. My phone company, 3, isn't really all that helpful, especially to foreigners; although I guess I can say they have a fairly good app for the iPhone, and their employees are impressively stoic and unaffected by crying customers. The lack of respect for the art form that is jaywalking, I find inconceivable. When the gay bar, Cosy, suddenly decides to be "Men Only": I love gay bars, I didn't have a choice in being a female, I just took what the genetic lottery gave me. Dealing with broken beer bottles in the bike lanes on Saturday and Sunday mornings isn't my favorite pasttime, either; I bike poorly enough without added obstacle courses. Danish cafe service occasionally makes me consider running into the establishment's kitchen and just making myself a sandwich and pouring my own damn beer. Also, you have a much better chance of getting struck by lightning or winning the lottery than finding affordable housing that isn't next door to Sweden in a short amount of time. The fact that the shops start pushing Christmas on the people in like, October, because there are no filler autumn holidays gives me agita. And this is a city of people who will bike anywhere, for hours, but as soon as a destination takes more than 30 minutes on public transportation or by car, it's deemed "too far." If I'm being honest, the Little Mermaid is a Little Pathetic. Danish rap is something I actively disagree with. Things that I struggle with include the doors in shops everywhere that you have to pull to exit, and I always forget, and then get embarrassed-pissy and make the "What if there was a fire?" argument. The general distaste for and judgment of wearing sweatpants in public means I get a lot of looks at Irma and Netto that I don't appreciate. Seeing Danes who bike while texting, with coffee, holding hands just pisses me off because I can barely handle making the proper signals. And to the Danish Immigration Service: I think I hate you most of all.

But these things, these little annoying things I say I dislike, are far outweighed by everything I really love about this place. I love the funny language, with actual vocabulary like fart and fy for satan. The fact that people will just hang out at the cemeteries, for fun, appeals to something dark inside of me. The bakeries, and their magical products, are worth getting out of bed for; in related news, Danish butter really is superior. The "inbetweens" of Danish architecture, something that's hard to articulate but beautifully seen from the rooftop of, say, The Royal Theatre, give me visual joy every day. Also wonderful: the random holidays that I don't really understand, but many of which are very intelligently placed in the late springtime; the random holidays I do understand, like J-Dag, which is a late November celebration dedicated to the launch of the Christmas Beer. (And on that subject, the beer is excellent.) Lighting design in this country almost makes up for the lack of natural light in winter; I never really paid much attention before moving here, but the Danes know a good lamp. Living in a little-big city means that after a while, you start to run into people you know all the time on the street, and develop relationships with your local kiosk lady where she knows your morning pastry order and that you take your coffee black; these things are comforting. The fact that "small talk", at least in the typical American sense of the word, doesn't really exist here is something I find outstanding. Danes are some of the happiest drunks I have ever met in my life; they might be reserved in working hours, but after a few beers they will be your best friend and illegally drive you around on the back of their bike, and eat late-night shawarma with you. (This isn't to say the language sounds any more graceful, but you will magically be more fluent, so it all evens out.) Biking everywhere: even though I bitch about it, especially in winter, I really do love it; also, bonus, when you bike in the winter, your face kind of freezes, which I'm pretty sure is why Danish people are so good-looking and don't really do the whole Botox culture thing. Every time I take the metro, I get really happy about the fact that it has no driver, and that it runs fairly efficiently. Then there are the amazing, quirky stories (true or not, I don't really care) I've heard about Danish history: narwhal tusks, at the time believed to be unicorn horns, were used in the construction of Danish thrones; the naughty king who had a drunken night on Istedgade and later had to have a resulting tattoo of a girl's name covered up; how my favorite street, Westend, was built for certain chosen women, in Parisian style, with balconies on every apartment and at an angle so that the king at the time could pick a lady to accompany him up to Frederiksberg Slot; en gang til for Prins Knud, ("one more time for Prins Knud") a saying in Danish that many people think originated from the fact that poor Arveprins Knud was a bit dim, but actually comes from this one time he was watching a ballet and because he had crappy eyesight, asked for it to be performed again, so one of his royal assistants was like, "En gang til for Prins Knud" and even though the dancers were probably beat, they did the piece again. Danish summers, though short, are magnificent; as soon as it is nice enough, I virtually move to Islands Brygge to soak up my natural vitamin D for the year. There is no better time of year to fall in love with Copenhagen. The Danish sense of humor is dry and sarcastic and dark, and I like it so much sometimes I think about smiling. Also, apparently sk√•l ("cheers") comes from when the Vikings would drink from the skulls of their victims and this gives me morbid glee every time I hear or say it. There is a widespread approach to fashion here which is very "black goes with everything, especially black," which I am really fine with; it makes putting together an outfit--something I find incredibly stressful, since I'm pretty sure I lack major girly genes--a tiny bit easier. And of course, the whole hygge thing. The combination of coming inside dressed like an onion in a million layers from the depression-inducing weather, to candles and friends and drinks and food and warmth, is something that makes the entire sun-dying phase of the year really okay. It's also impossible to describe the simple niceness of this situation without actually being in it, and the English translation "cozy" doesn't really capture it. 

This isn't close to everything. But it's some of the things. I think it was difficult to admit that I was starting to call somewhere other than my birthplace "home," but maybe I am lucky enough to have found two places that feel like home. And maybe I'm just feeling a bit five-years-sappy or something--I will always love and miss my incomparable New York--but this city has been and continues to be a very bizarre, kind, beautiful host for this neurotic foreigner, in all aspects of life. For that, Copenhagen, I say "tak", and I hope you'll let me stay a while longer. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Drama Queen

Since I can remember, I have had this weird, probably wildly unhealthy obsession with having some sort of major problem just to ensure that I will get attention from at least one person. At first, the issues were simple (#firstworldtoddlerproblems, if you will): the toe lines of my socks or tights weren't lined up perfectly with my anatomy; my bun for ballet class wasn't exactly tight enough to tug at the outer skin of my prematurely neurotic face; my parents had to leave behind an accessory item of clothing when they dropped me off at said ballet class because they were definitely sending me there to abandon me, but if they returned for their accidentally-on-purpose forgotten scarf, then they would also have to take me home with them. (At the tender age of five, I was already prepared for the worst case scenario at all times, even if it took all of my tiny, youthful energy to imagine up the worst case scenario.) I didn't realize yet that I didn't need to waste energy on finding reasons to be a drama queen, that my own innate awkwardness and ability to attract tragic comic situations would do the job for me. My brother hadn't yet poured orange juice over my head at breakfast, apropros of nothing, turning me off orange juice for years. I hadn't yet broken my arm running down a park hill holding hands with my first best friend Charlie Bernstein; I hadn't experienced the ensuing paralyzing fear that gripped every fiber of my being whenever someone asked to sign my cast, which resulted in me being the only six-year-old in the history of broken arms not to have a single signature or heart or doodle of any kind on her plastered broken wing.

I suppose growing up as the oldest child in a family of five kids could explain my need to get attention in the most dramatic ways possible, but if I'm being totally honest with myself, it's far more likely that I was just a born drama queen. I could turn anything into an event. I'd take a frozen bagel and put it into the microwave to defrost, absentmindedly adding a zero to the intended time, and three minutes later would have started a small appliance fire. My mother's request for me to load and unload the dishwasher could easily morph into a task on par with scaling Mt. Everest. I'd breathe heavily and whine about rinsing off the plates the remains of my siblings' downright savage attempts at eating, convinced that my idol Audrey Hepburn would never have deigned to do such disgusting, menial labor. (This was before I read her biography and discovered how great of a human she actually was, during the time when I believed she really was a princess/high class call girl/Eliza Doolittle-post-transformation. Also, I'm fairly certain karma has exacted her bitchy revenge all these years later, considering that since I've moved away from home, none of my apartments has ever had a dishwasher.) Sharing a room with my younger sister, any of her basic bodily functions--breathing, twitching in the early stages of REM, coughing--could simply ruin my evening; I was an aspiring ballerina, I needed sleep and proper rest, didn't anyone understand that I was destined for absolute artistic greatness?! No. Apparently, my sister wasn't doing anything wrong in falling asleep before I did.

As I grew up, I became slightly less of a neurotic freak; or rather, I learned to hide my crazy a little better. I was, however, that annoying, hand-raising, straight-A student who did the extra credit anyway--you know, just because. In 7th grade, I got a 98 on an English exam and disagreed with the two points that had been deducted. I went home for proof, and the next day brought in a copy of Strunk & White to my disbelieving teacher to prove that my score should have actually been a perfect 100. That same year, I had a science teacher who employed a grading system by which everyone could take exams using one page of their own notes, to be written on one's own time. I had perfected the art of miniscule, computer-perfect handwriting, and would spend hours writing down as much information as I could fit on both sides of a large index card. In his class, we all began each test with 100 points: incorrect answers would get partial or full deductions, and exceedingly informative answers or correctly answered bonus questions would get you added points. This is how I was embarrassed in front of my entire 7th grade class when Mr Snowden--a white haired, puffy, red faced man who bore a striking resemblance to an actual snowman--gave back our midterms and I had gotten an unheard of 127%. Even writing about it now, I feel ridiculous. That's not a real grade, I remember thinking. Yet another problem; I turned doing extra-well into a preteen anecdote of extreme embarrassment.

I idolized typically tragic figures in history. There were decades' worth of ballerinas I worshiped, and Audrey Hepburn, of course. Amy Winehouse, already then a flailing mess of a human but embodied with the voice of a soulful fallen angel. Kate Moss, thin and beautiful and perfect, but oh all those wrong men...and remember the cocaine? Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol, those brilliant flashes of a fantasy artsy party era gone by: it was these sorts of celebrities my early teenage self felt I deeply identified with. Me, the privileged hopeful ballerina from the Irish Catholic Republican family, really felt like she identified with Sylvia Plath and Fiona Apple. I remember a particularly pathetic moment in the waiting area of Penn Station with my father, going home to Long Island after he'd been at work all day and I at my after-school ballet classes on the Upper West Side. The subject of eating came up after I walked out of McDonald's holding a large milkshake and several oversized cookies, still clinging onto the last days of prepuberty when I could literally eat like a horse and still look like a young thoroughbred. My father expressed concern not for my weight (I was a leggy, flat-chested 13-year-old after all), but more for my health: he hadn't seen me eat fruit "in a while," and just wanted to remind me that I had been born with high cholesterol and maybe should just think about being a bit healthier for my heart's sake. I took this to mean he was calling me fat, and became extremely indignant in the middle of the rush hour commuter crowd. To the dulcet background tones of a funk street band performing outside Track 21, I clearly recall waving around my large beverage, pretending my plain old winter jacket was an oversized fur, and saying, "Do you want me to end up like Kate Moss? I do BALLET. I know people who can get me COCAINE. IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?" Obviously, this is not what my father wanted. And I didn't actually know anything about procuring cocaine; I had never even seen the stuff in real life at that point. I was more pissed that my father was right about the fruit thing. Distraction, that was key to dramatic living.

Eventually I toned down my melodramatic outbursts and channeled them into an actual problem--when I was 16, I became the cliche ballet dancer with anorexia. This problem was so real and so loud, I didn't have to throw any tantrums or expend any energy being dramatic. You just had to take one look at my protruding collarbones and sunken face, and you got the whole damn story. My years of the explosive Oscar-worthy outbursts were over; I had now moved into the method acting phase of my drama queen life. This one lasted a while--I didn't fully recover until about five years later--and was the closest I actually came to a major, concern-worthy problem. After those years of my siblings calling me Drama Queen, teasing me for being a "princess," mocking how easy it was for me to start crying, I'd found a way for me to just turn it all off. Anorexia was my safe haven: it gave me a superlative, finally ("thinnest"); sapped me of any extra energy for life, at last turning me into the emotionally impenetrable ice queen I'd always found so elusive and admirable in others; and it was mine, and mine alone. Like some sort of fucked up emotionally abusive relationship, I hung onto this channel of my theatrical self for a long time. I'd turned from the public tantrum to the private abyss of an eating disorder; this was far more authentic.

After five years of being hungry, repelling every heterosexual male I encountered with my skeletal frame and lack of lust for anything, and generally depriving myself of some really excellent meals, I moved to Denmark. I got the help I needed in that strange, tiny slice of the planet with the funny drunken language. I started to become a person again. Physically, because I started eating food (and, let's be honest, drinking some damn fine Danish beer); and emotionally, because I had energy to, I don't know, live. I put on weight, and with it, something resembling a personality. I started going out again. I had a couple of boyfriends. I quickly regained use of my hair-trigger tear ducts; four years later, I've become known as "an emotional one" due to the fact that my feelings seem to come pouring out of my eyes. (Recently, I've gotten much better about it, but I'm still famous for crying.) I had a couple of incidents where my inner toddler drama queen resurfaced--most memorably, one of my first drunken nights out with my new friends where I screamed at one of them for breaking a beer bottle on the street; there was also an incident during a lost weekend in Hamburg involving a pub crawl with a group of British servicemen in animal costumes, and me slapping the penguin in the face on a dare--but those sorts of performances have been channelled into other avenues. In fact, I find that after all those years I spent craving some sort of special attention, trying to make any kind of scene just to get noticed, what I want most now is a bit of stability. There are weeks where I crave invisibility, a trait my younger self would have thought horrific. But perhaps it's for the best, really--in true minimalist Scandinavian fashion, I seem to have come to the realization that all I really need (besides, you know, the basic life essentials) are my family; a couple of great close friends; just a hint of this inner peace people seem to talk about; good cheese and beer; maybe a nice man at some point; and a fresh pack of tissues, for those moments when all that inner drama queen now comes flowing out of my eyes.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An Ode to the Royal Danish Ballet

I planned to revive my blog after the New Year--after taking a prolonged hiatus from writing publicly, I decided that one New Year's resolution I could gladly keep would be to bring back this virtual project of mine. However, current circumstances have inspired me to fulfill this self-promise a week earlier than planned, and with a more serious post than initially intended.

The present economic woes wreaking havoc across the globe have finally, unfortunately made their way to the little country of Denmark I currently call home. As you can easily guess, this means financial cuts in all professions...and big ones, as recently announced by the Danish government, in the arts. The most recent reports indicate that Det Kongelige Teater will be hit hard by sweeping government cutbacks totalling nearly 100 million kroner, to be implemented over the next four years.

I am not writing to provoke political change (for that is a ship already sailed), or to imply that an artistic profession is above any other. I only write this in the hopes of painting for you a picture of the kind of environment in which I find myself privileged to work, and why it would be incredibly heartbreaking to lose even one part of such a fantastic group of people.

The dedication and work ethic required to become a professional ballet dancer is pretty unbelievable. Most of my colleagues and I have devoted most of our childhoods, teenage years, and adult lives to this one art form. We missed out on normal educations, lazy summers, proms, normal boyfriend and girlfriend experiences. We spent--and continue to spend--hours in front of a mirror every single day, taking class and rehearsing, attempting to create with our bodies an unattainable physical perfection, an impossible beauty. We are the kids who fell in love with ballet and never grew out of it, in the best sense.

There are some people who would argue that ballet--perhaps all artistic endeavor in general--is a frivolous profession in comparison to law, medicine, science, etc. I know this for a fact because I am related to several people like this. I am not writing to declare that what I do is "better" than what anyone else does. I am merely here to say what I, as one corps de ballet member, believe, which is this: for me personally, my profession is not just a job. It is my religion, if you will; it is my hardest, most love-hate relationship, my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Whether you believe it to be "important" or not is up to you, but regardless of your personal opinion, please know this: ballet is difficult, and not only physically. Other dancers have had different paths; personally, mine has not exactly been spoon-fed. For one, I was not altogether built for ballet (very few, very lucky people are!), and I had to almost work my ass off to get where I am today. I gave up school, much to my parents' and relatives' chagrin; I sacrificed my sanity and physical health for what basically amounted to a four year period in my mid- to late-teens; I matured very early in some ways (discipline; focus; sense of responsibility) and simultaneously fell emotionally behind in many others (boys; puberty; self-esteem).

As a profession, ballet is not an easy world in which to work. As dancers, we are paid very little for a lot of work. We spend most of our days physically and mentally exhausted. Most companies can be cutthroat or catty, and ballet can leave mental wounds as harsh as the physical ones. (Furthermore, we can all throw dreams of becoming foot models out the window.) But we all dedicate a good chunk of our lives to this art form because we truly, deeply, insanely love it. In my case, I know that what I do for a living may not cure cancer or discover a new planet. But in this messy modern world of ours, filled with so much hate and destruction, if I can make a theatre full of people forget their problems for a couple of hours by dancing onstage two or three nights a week with others to create some sort of beautiful escape among so much global ugliness, then I have damn well done my job.

The events which led to my employment at the Royal Danish Ballet were actually quite similar to what we dancers here are facing now; my previous company in America was facing a huge financial crisis, and in a rather unfortunately mismanaged firing process, I was one of the unlucky victims. I found it difficult to leave my friends there, but not impossible; as an apprentice, most of my closest friends from the school were also moving other places as we all found jobs elsewhere, which somehow made parting ways a bit easier. I packed up my life to move to a foreign country where I knew virtually nobody, and found myself with a whole new life notebook to fill.

I quickly discovered that the Royal Danish Ballet is unlike any other company I have ever worked with or heard about. This may read like a Hallmark card, but in my two and a half years here, I have found in my colleagues a second family. To be sure, we are slightly dysfunctional, but most of the best families are. I arrived in Denmark a severly underweight, insecure person with an impenetrably thick emotional wall built up around her heart; I wasn't exactly the type to let people in (or, for that matter, food). A mere two and a half years later, I am physically healthy. I have friends who are as close as, or in some cases closer than, family. I have somehow managed to build myself a veritable life here. I have found someone wonderful to love, and who--miraculously, wonderfully!--returns the feeling. And to top it all off I'm now probably one of the most emotional people working at the ballet. (As one of my good friends put it early on in the season: "Carling cried! The season has officially started.")

In the heart of the biggest city of this tiny, cold slice of the planet called Denmark, is situated a stunning royal theatre. This old building has become my second home, and is filled with a group of dancers unlike any other. I have never in my life come across people so brilliantly talented, warm, funny, creative, and incredibly loving outside my own immediate family. I lack a vocabulary adequate enough to describe how amazing it is to work here, or exactly why. I can only say this: I remember my very first company class, when I was in my worst place physically and a very wobbly second worst place mentally, thinking, "God, I'll never fit in here." Two and a half years later, I found myself in company class this morning thinking, "God, it would absolutely break my heart forever to leave these people."

And so, I would just like to say a deep, heartfelt thank you to the Royal Danish Ballet. I may be known as something of a cry-baby and perhaps not exactly one of the "normal ones". Despite this, you have welcomed me, and I have never felt more "at home" away from home than I do now. I can only hope that this post makes others realize how amazingly unbelievable and world-class this company is.  To be a bit more blunt about it, I hope it inspires the Powers that Be (you know who you are) to work creatively to keep together this lovely, fantastic workplace.