Friday, December 24, 2010

Glædelig Jul til alle!

A friend of mine once did her own version of 'My Favorite Things,' and inspired by her (and Christmas), I'm going to try my own version. A Merry, Happy, Wonderful Christmas to everyone...

A Charlie Brown Christmas and hot cups of cocoa,
oversized sweaters and candlelights' glow,
holiday songs that make me want to sing,
these are a few of my favorite things.

Eskimo kisses that melt the mean chill,
carolers singing tidings of good will,
cinnamon buns and snow angels with wings,
these are a few of my favorite things.

When the snow falls, when the wind stings,
when I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things--
and then I don't feel so bad.

Stockings hung over the mantle with care,
bright lights and mistletoe placed everywhere,
pine trees all dressed up as though they were kings,
these are a few of my favorite things.

Rosy red cheeks on cold smiling faces,
huge winter boots with millions of laces,
parkas and mittens and lights hung on strings,
these are a few of my favorite things.

When my toes freeze on the ice rink,
when I'm feeling mad,
I simply remember my favorite things--
and then I don't feel so bad.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Giving Tree

To begin with, I would like to thank everybody who read my last post, and those who sent such kind words about it: the thoughts and comments meant a lot to me. It was a difficult post to write (and perhaps even harder to post), but I am lucky to be both in a ballet company and in a personal place where I felt it was the right time and supportive environment in which to finally, fully let go.

In three days, it is Christmas--perhaps my favorite holiday aside from Talk Like a Pirate Day. The decorations, general atmosphere, eggnog, cheesy television specials (and their cheesier accompanying soundtracks)...I love it all. My favorite Christmas things are not always traditional, though, and so today I'd like to share with you one of them. Though it is not by definition a 'Christmas story,' I really love to read it at this time of year; and that book is Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. The simplicity and beauty of the story, coupled with his childlike drawings and that perfectly bright green cover make this one of the best books to read any time of year, for 'kids from 1 to 92.' And so, Shel Silverstein's text, with a photograph by someone very special to me...

Once there was a tree...and she loved a little boy.
And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples.
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.
And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree ... very much.
And the tree was happy.

But time went by.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.
Then one day the boy came to the tree and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy."
"I am too big to climb and play," said the boy.
"I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money. Can you give me some money?"
"I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy."
And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away.
And the tree was happy.

But the boy stayed away for a long time ...and the tree was sad.
And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy."
"I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy.
"I want a house to keep me warm," he said.
"I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?"
“I have no house," said the tree.
"The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy."
And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house.
And the tree was happy.

But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak.
"Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play."
"I am too old and sad to play," said the boy.
"I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?"
"Cut down my trunk and make a boat." said the tree. "Then you can sail away ... and be happy."
And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away.
And the tree was happy ... but not really.

And after a long time the boy came back again.
"I am sorry, Boy," said the tree, "but I have nothing left to give you, my apples are gone."
"My teeth are too weak for apples", said the boy.
"My branches are gone", said the tree. "You cannot swing on them -"
"I am too old to swing on branches," said the boy.
"My trunk is gone," said the tree. "You cannot climb -"
"I am too tired to climb," said the boy.
"I am sorry," sighed the tree. I wish that I could give you something...but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I am sorry...."
"I don't need very much now," said the boy,
"Just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired."
"Well," said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could,
"Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."
And the boy did.

And the tree was happy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Portions for Foxes

Though sprinkled with sarcasm, this blog of mine has maintained a fairly sunny sort of appearance. (I mean, hello: one of my recent posts was a few thousand words on unicorns. Doesn't get much more magical than that.) I don't plan on changing things, but I now feel comfortable enough to include a post on a partly cloudy subject I know far too much about, and that is the ever-so-touchy subject of eating disorders.

Yes, I used that phrase. The one so often associated with ballerina dancers (though I can vouch for my colleagues over on this side of the pond and say: we eat). It's a combination of words that has become a cliche in this profession, and yet has achieved this "cliche status" in whispered tones and behind closed doors.

Recently, however, a dance critic for the New York Times stirred up quite a fuss when he wrote some very uncomplimentary things about the appearances of two New York City Ballet principals, each of whom he apparently found to be looking too heavy for his taste. I’m sure he thought that he was being clever, but really his comments were just mean. (I’m not going to dignify it with a link; if you can use Google, you can find it.) So the topic of dancers and their weight problems has, for the moment at least, emerged from its closet.

And so now may be a particularly good time for me to share my story. As someone who has been down in that dark, addictive, and yes, empty vortex, I can tell you firsthand that it's not fun, it's not pretty, but it's not impossible to climb back out.

I grew up in a large, loud, typically dysfunctional Irish-Catholic family. With four siblings, multiple pets, busy schedules, and lawyers for parents, I was raised in a loving environment of organized chaos. There was a strict "no bullshit" policy in effect at all times; democracy stopped at the front door; if questions were not answered directly, the phrase "move to strike as non-responsive" was a perfectly acceptable request. And when it came to food--well, it wasn't really an issue. We ate healthy, we ate until we were full, we had desserts (after dinner, of course). The only "rules" applied to eating were: (1) my parents weren't chefs, home was not a restaurant, so eat what you were served, make something yourself, or don't eat; and (2) soda was only on the menu on special occasions--even at McDonald's, even on pizza night, the choices were milk, juice, or water. (Always stated in that order, I can remember so clearly.)

So. I grew up not thinking twice about food. Like most children growing up in America, I of course had an exaggerated sweet tooth, but my parents did make sure I ingested the occasional bit of the good stuff. I didn't know what calories were until middle school age; I was blithely unaware that there were heaps of people who believed carbohydrates to be evil; I had no qualms ordering (and consuming, with gusto!) a large chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream with cookie dough toppings and chocolate syrup when my grandparents took us to Carvel for "special order night." Blessed with a quick metabolism and a heavy after-school schedule of ballerina dancing, the only thing I was told to think about was my genetically high cholesterol. I didn't think about it, but I was the reason for the skim or 1% milk in the fridge.

As I got older, I only got more serious about ballet. But I never once thought about my body shape. I was getting accepted into very good schools and summer programs. My parents had generously given me a favorable combination of genes which resulted in my legs being noticeably longer than my torso. My boobs fell into the "slim-to-none" category, and my leg muscles were long; I was oddly toned for a young teenager, but aside from that and my canoe sized feet, I didn't think twice about facing a wall of mirrors clad only in a leotard and tights every day. I never weighed myself except at the doctor's for my yearly checkup, and even then, I was more concerned with being taller than my mother. (Mission accomplished, and easily. The woman is 5'1" (1.55 m) on a good day.)

And then, things started to change. I was never "big," not for life and not for ballet. I wasn't a waif, but I was ok. I turned 16, and it started to become clear to me that maybe my tendency to consume large amounts of chocolate and generally unhealthy, teenagerish sorts of foods every day wasn't really going to help my energy or my figure; I knew that this speed-of-light metabolism thing wasn't going to last forever. I knew that one year I would wake up and those quarts of eggnog consumed during the Christmas season would suddenly show themselves somewhere between my hips and my thighs. So, on an Easter vacation to Disney World of all places, I ate healthier. And I found I did have more energy, and hey! I did like sushi. Salad wasn't bad either. And when I got back home and back to ballerina class, other people told me the part that I hadn't noticed: I got compliments on losing a few pounds. This, I think, is when it started.

I had never before been much concerned with my physical appearance. I didn't consider myself to be beautiful, and I'm not writing this to throw myself a pity party: I didn't think I was hideous, but I convinced myself I was too smart and too serious to be worried about my body shape or my face or even how I dressed. But with these first compliments, I realized that it felt good to be noticed for my appearance. I had a new goal: to be the epitome of fitness and health and overall awesomeness. Achieving this goal would, in my head, make me a better dancer, generally improve my life, and maybe even erase those two or three years when I had the trifecta of awkwardness--braces, glasses, and a bad haircut. (Yes, there's blackmail photographic evidence.)

So I amped things up. I kept eating healthy. I replaced the frappuccinos with coffee, like a real grownup. I joined a gym with my dad, and worked out on the elliptical machine for 45 minutes to an hour almost every day, usually after I got home from ballet, to Green Day's American Idiot album. (It was a place called Planet Fitness, which advertised itself as a "judgment-free zone." But I was, in fact, totally judging myself.) I started weighing myself, and saw the evidence that the pounds were dropping off. That scale rapidly became my altar, and the numbers could make or break my day.

It took some time, but within a couple of months I had crossed over from looking healthy and fit to looking like I really could have used a month of those Carvel ice cream nights my grandparents used to take us out for. Teachers spoke to me, my friends and of course my parents expressed concern, but I didn't need to hear it. I saw it. For me, the problem wasn't that I wanted to be so thin. I could see that I looked sick in the mirror. I was actually embarrassed to put on a leotard; I grew to loathe my workouts because they just made me exhausted; I hated thinking about food and weighing myself all the time. I wanted to be normal again, to order an ice cream and not feel an obsessive need to go do situps right afterwards. But I couldn't stop. Somehow, it was easier to exhaust myself maintaining an underweight status, armed with the knowledge that at any moment I could legitimately pig out and it would in fact be good for me; it was easier than just admitting I had a problem.

During this first trip down the dark and twisty rabbit hole, I went away to a wonderful summer program for ballerina dancing where they helped me put on 15 much-needed pounds while still letting me participate in the program. (I had auditioned for them when I was at a happier physical place.) And I felt better. In the summer dorms, I had no scale--I had friends, sunshine, a summer schedule of nothing but ballerina dancing, and direct orders to enjoy food. I learned to enjoy my life again, and in the process improved my dancing enormously over the course of the summer program.

But the dark empty pantry that was my "safe haven" was still there. I had just taken a little summer vacation away from it. After the summer program ended, I moved away from home for the first time (for ballet, natch) that fall, when I was 17. Suddenly, I had grownup things to think about on top of my ballerina dancing and making sure to avoid the dark scary place. I had to clean an apartment; I had to buy groceries and remember toilet paper and get up with the alarm and all of this business. I had to put up with a roommate who could have been, shall we say, second cast for a part in the ballet version of “Mean Girls.” On top of this, I was getting wonderful opportunities at the ballet, and I have a type-A personality. So in times of stress, I chose to not eat. Or rather, I ate "just enough." And down the rabbit hole I went again, this time further than I'd gone before. By Christmas break of that year, I was 5'7" (1.7m) and tipped the scales at under 100 pounds. I had not gotten a correction or compliment in class since November.

The school where I was studying at the time did not sit idly by while I wasted away, I should note; and nor were my parents uninvolved. I was sent to the ballet school's psychologist--a wonderful woman who was the mother of two dancers, and so understood the added pressures beyond the physical ones. But as a then-stoic person determined to guard what I thought to be my one control in life, she could only help me to the extent that I was willing to open up and start helping myself. My ballet teachers also reached out. (Outside of the classroom, everyone wanted to help me except for me.)

I understood why my teachers felt they could not and should not correct or compliment me in class: not only would it send the wrong message to the other students, but it would certainly be sending the wrong message to me. My parents, from home, did what they could in terms of emails and keeping in contact with the ballet school and phoning me often. I had to keep a food log for them, but it was easy enough to invent a menu. The lies were somehow easier to digest than actual food.

Things got so bad that just before Thanksgiving, my father made a trip to visit me. It was, to say the least, not the most pleasant of visits--for him or for me. There was a weigh-in, at which point I faced the normal daily sight of numeric, black-and-white proof that I was literally fading away, only this time, my father saw it too. The sudden lack of privacy at my newly-found altar turned what had become a normal daily ritual into a painful experience. I remember distinctly that right after this, he cooked me a delicious (if oddly-themed) Indian masala dish for dinner, which in typical Irish-Catholic fashion, we ate in uncomfortable silence/awkward conversation in my courtyard. I remember him having to force me to eat a large brownie sundae from Ghirardelli, something I previously would have devoured with glee; and that the last meal before he left consisted of me crying at a crowded outdoor cafe and him looking so incredibly sad. This I will never forget.

The holidays that year were not much better. At Thanksgiving, I can recall my mother serving me a second helping of spinach pie, and me eating it in tears. Christmas was virtually treat-free for me that year, something I shan't soon repeat. After every meal at home, I was miserable. Not because I wanted to look this way, not because I enjoyed being cold all the time or because I liked circles under my eyes or because I was losing my hair more than the usual "shedding." It was because I was exhausted, and I desperately wanted to shake myself awake, to climb out of this hole I had dug myself so deeply into. But I couldn't stop. Part of me actually feared reaching a "normal" weight--in a sick way, it was sort of enjoyable to be in a position where I could have pigged out, eaten everything in sight, and still have eaten more.

I went back to ballet school in January, no better mentally or physically. But then, one Friday night, my mom called. In an over-two-hour conversation, she asked of me one thing: to please not make her bury her child. And I don't know if it was what she said, or how she said it, or the fact that my mother--always a very strong person--was crying. But I hung up the phone, and somehow I knew that in the morning, I was going to wake up and start eating like it was my job. Because I wanted two things more than anything, to achieve what I had trained for the better part of my life to do; and to not end up in a coffin any sooner than necessary. And so I did.

I remember getting up that Saturday morning and stopping on the way to ballet class for one of my favorite breakfasts since I was little: egg-and-cheese on a roll, with chocolate milk. And slowly but surely, I kept eating. I started to put on much-needed weight. My color (well, what little I had even before the problems started) returned, the circles under my eyes went away, and I started to realize that not only did I feel better in the studio, but I had extra energy for life in general. And by the year's end, I was getting corrections again; the other students and faculty had stopped looking at me like I was on the verge of death; and I was able to face myself in the mirror for the first time in a long time.

For the next three years, I stayed out of the rabbit hole, though I had half an eye on it. Things were good: I was healthy and happy and ballerina dancing. And then things were fantastic. In the winter of 2009, I auditioned for and got a dream job here, in Denmark, with the Royal Danish Ballet. I could not have been more scared-excited-but-mostly-excited. When my season ended, I went home for the summer to spend time with my family, get my life into four 50-pound bags to move overseas, and to experience my first summer-program-free vacation ever. And during what should have been a summer of relaxing and enjoying family and having a good time before turning my life upside down, I went to my favorite dark scary place. I ignored my parents this time, consciously realizing what I was doing--or rather, not doing, aka putting enough good food in my mouth.

My initial reasoning for cutting back on the whole eating thing was multi-faceted. By my logic, during the summer I was “only” going to be taking one class a day, at best; not being in a full-fledged summer program meant no five-classes-a-day schedule for me. Thus, I would not be burning nearly as many calories, and so would not be able to take the "eat whatever I want" approach I normally would during the summertime.

Furthermore, I was suddenly faced with the reality that I was moving across an ocean to dance ballet in Europe, the home continent of ballerina dancing. On top of the giant stress of leaving everything I knew behind for a strange new city and culture, where I may or may not have fit in or adapted or made friends, I had this thought: this was Europe. I had to arrive thin and in shape and not look like I had spent the summer sitting on my butt doing nothing. And so this time, despite the warnings of my mom and dad, I ignored them. This time I was doing it for my fantastic new job, so their words fell on my deaf--and hungry!--ears. Once again, a time I should have enjoyed was spent worrying, packing up, and wasting energy on not eating.

And so I arrived for my brand new job looking frail and small and suddenly realizing that my physical state could very well get me sent right back home. I was embarrassed. I felt like a foreign idiot.

Luckily for me, however, my airplane had taken me to a very excellent place. When my dad left me in Copenhagen, after spending a little over a week helping me get settled (and trying to feed me), it was hard. I was suddenly all alone, with a big problem of being frighteningly small. I didn't understand the language or the currency. I knew no one, and from my appearance upon my arrival, had understandably alienated a good chunk of possible friends for the time being.

After a start-of-season meeting with my boss, who was amazingly understanding about the whole situation, I was sent to a nutritionist. The ground rules were simple: I understood that I would not be put on stage until I got better. (And if I didn't get better...well. I would not be a dancer. Simple as that.) The instructors were very encouraging in terms of making it clear that I was being given a very big chance to get better. And there were several people in the company who did overlook my scary physique--some treated me normally, and some were there for me to talk to about it directly, but they all ended up making me feel what I had been searching for all along: I felt accepted, and like I could possibly fit in as myself.

There were a couple of dancers who reached out to me from the beginning. It was uncomfortable for me to open up to new people about something that had become so intensely personal, so much mine in a way, but I realized that these people wanted to help me. And as a new foreigner with a lot of baggage, I had to make a choice: I could keep on keeping to myself, keep hanging out in my little empty corner (because that had worked so well before). Or I could bite the bullet--and maybe a burger while I was at it--and step out of my comfort zone and start talking honestly to these people, and to myself, and hopefully make friends in the process.

I went for the latter. And it worked: these friends let me whine and cry and be scared. And in return they gave me lots of hugs, lots of advice, and lots of free therapy dressing room cot time. I got help, I woke myself up, I developed some truly wonderful friendships from it--and I haven’t shut up since.

Some of the other dancers who at first seemed distant or reluctant to talk to me later told me that they were just wary about making a connection. This company does have a (dysfunctional, awesome) family atmosphere, and when I arrived, I certainly didn’t look like I was going to be around for very long--forget in Denmark, I’m just talking about planet Earth. But as I gained weight and confidence, and continued my new-found hobby of not-being-quiet, I found that a lot more people started to talk back. I didn’t look so much like the Grim Reaper’s girlfriend anymore. When people weren’t distracted by the bones jutting out and the malnutritioned translucence of my already-fair skin, I think I was a lot easier to talk to and look at--not Audrey Hepburn, mind you, but also? Not dying.

The nutritionist helped, to be sure, but what really made me "get over myself" and start eating--and liking it!--was the strange sensation that in this weird, lovely new place, I could just start over. Life was exciting here; I had found people, places, and a culture that made me want to get out of bed every morning and soak it all in. And on top of that, my new job and the theatre where I got to go in to work every day quickly became the best things about my daily life. (Also, it's one of the most difficult things on planet Earth to resist the powers of Copenhagen’s famous bakery, Lagkagehuset.)

So I started eating again; and I won’t lie, the occasional beer didn't hurt either. And it paid off--once I started looking and feeling healthier, I started getting onstage.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m “all better.” I’m not sure I’ll ever be “all better.” There are still days where the last thing I want to do is put on a leotard and tights and stare at myself in the mirror. There are days where all I want to do is curl up under the covers and maybe skip lunch and then everything would feel "under control." But unlike before, I know better now; I know that skipping a meal is not going to make anything better. Besides, quite frankly, things--work, personal, etc.--go better when I execute the simple task of putting food in my mouth. Plus, dinner parties and in fact most events involving large groups of friends usually involve good food (and often, good wine!). And for me, right now, my life is too good to waste away.

This post is not meant to be a guidebook on how to overcome an eating disorder. It’s not, by any means, a sort of “Dr. Hamburger, or: How I Learned to Stop Hating Myself and Start Loving Food.” This disorder is highly personal, and my experience is just one of many. I consider myself lucky every day to have gotten out of the dark place when I did, and yeah--I am proud of it. But it was such a big part of my life during an important period of growing up, and so it will be with me in some ways forever.

Writing this was sort of like getting over a breakup. For a while after the fact, you know it was the right thing to do, but you still can’t really talk about the relationship without feeling crappy; there are even days when you miss things about it. But then, so slowly you don’t even notice it, those feelings stop. You find you don’t think about your ex-whomever so much, and when the subject does come up, you can talk about it--maybe even laugh about it--without wanting to cry and run into bed with a tub of Chunky Monkey and watch all six seasons of Sex and the City.

I had to go through the same sort of process with anorexia. It had become the most personal, deep-rooted part of me over a long period of time. And even when I let it go, I was not immediately ready to talk about it, or even to be truly, totally “okay” with food. It took a very long time for the scars to heal, for me to realize that I really am indescribably better off without this thing in my life. It took time and effort and daily, conscious thought, but I managed to swap my former scary “safe haven” for a much nicer new one: life, warts and all.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

In Honor of a Bear on a Unicycle

I have a dear friend who dedicated a survey-post to me on her blog, and so this dark and snowy Sunday morning, I will return the favor. In Lily Watkins' honor, then, I fill out this survey...

- When’s the last time you ran?
Surely, dear survey-writer, you jest: this ballerina child can barely manage walking (in boat-sized Adidas sneakers, natch) the relatively flat terrain which makes up Copenhagen. Unless someone is chasing after me, or trying to steal my tropical-flower-themed purse, I generally try to avoid maintaining a gait in which both feet are suspended in the air for any amount of time. For one thing, I am not very quick. For another, I look like a moron--I distinctly recall attempting to run in order to retrieve a stray tennis ball during a match my mother was having with some friends. Upon seeing me "run," one of my mother's friends inquired, "Is she joking?" To which my loving mother responded, "You know that Friends episode with Phoebe running? Yeah..."

- Do your jeans have rips, tears, and holes in them?
No. I did go through my Mary Kate Olsen-let's-pay-out-the-butt-for-destroyed-denim phase, but thankfully for me, my bank account, and my general dignity, I find I now prefer jeans sans holes. (I will not, however, deny owning a beloved pair of high-waisted black jeans, a style which my dad might dub "mom jeans.")

- What are you dreading right now?
I'm not dreading much. Except there is one distressing thing. It's Sunday morning, pre-9am, and this is a time/day combination I haven't experienced in a while. I'm wondering how I'm going to be once I really wake up, and hoping the answer isn't "nightmarish." Also, just in unrelated news, I need coffee like...ten minutes ago. Preferably a vat-sized serving.

- Do you celebrate 420?
Does this numerical figure carry any significance beyond being just that: a numerical figure? Because if not, I do not know what you're talking about.

- Do you get the full 8 hours of sleep a night?
Ha! As a ballerina child/amateur insomniac, I'm lucky if I get eight hours of snooze time a night. But you know, I once read that some major geniuses in history didn't sleep much. I'm sort of hoping that one day, after a night of restlessness and normal sub-par sleeping time, I wake up to find I am armed with knowledge about EVERYTHING.

- The last person who grabbed your ass?
It's funny this question should be included, since in this country, people really seem to enjoy that area of my body. I'm not a fan of my rump, to be honest, but I'm glad that other people find it pleasant. For example, the other day, nine individuals found some reason or other to touch the junk in my trunk. I'm just sayin'.

- Have you ever been on your school’s track team?

Please refer to question 1, and afterwards enjoy the fact that I will admit to being a baton twirler for several years before the "toss-turn-around" proved to be my downfall.

- Do you own a pair of Converse?
Is this even a question? Of course I do. As a New Yorker, as someone who enjoys shoes that look better when almost-gross...of course I do. Canoe-size, full of holes, perfect.

- Have you ever kicked a vending machine?
No. Vending machines often dispense chocolate, which is equal with puppies (and just below unicorns) on my "things-I-love" scale. And I would never kick a puppy.

- Do you watch Trading Spaces?
No. I did, though, and I will say this: that one episode where the designer put fake flowers on a bathroom wall? Maybe it was cute for a hot second--and that's a BIG maybe--but can we just say one word: MOLD.

- How do you eat Oreos?
Better question: How could anyone not eat Oreos?!

- Could you live without a computer?
As much as I cherish the idea of the Pony Express and snail mail and sock hops and all thatn...hell no. Lord knows I love me some Information Superhighway. Plus, I Google everything. I'm not even exaggerating.

- Who or what sleeps with you?
Robert Downey Jr. BUT DON'T TELL ANYONE.

- What do you do when you’re sad?
Oh, I am the queen of a good pity party. One of my very best friends once told me, "I feel like you're either laughing hysterically or crying." And, being a person of major excellence, he's completely correct--I'm not often ambivalent (or, to use popular vernacular, meh). When I'm upset, tears are always involved. I will call my dad and tell him everything, usually twice since the first time around he's often unable to understand me because the snottiness and sniffling that accompany my tears get in the way of normal comprehension. Then I'll take a shower, because as everyone knows, when you are crying a lot, nothing is better than sitting in a nice warm shower for a very long time, mixing the water from the shower head with the water pouring out of your face. And finally, I go home and put on pajamas. I always have chocolate milk and maybe a few cookies, and I will watch a proper fantastic movie to take my mind off of upsetting things. (This is usually Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in times of distress, since Robert Downey Jr. can take my mind off of the worst sort of day.) Then I usually sleep like a log, and wake up with those I-went-to-bed-after-crying, puffy eyes that look horrendous but feel really fantastic.

- Last time you saw your best friend?
Well...I have a couple of "best" friends. My dad, for one; I haven't seen him since he left me in Copenhagen a year and a half ago, returning to the homeland with a new cargo bike and minus a kid. But I get to see him--and my mom and super sibs, other best friends--in about a month when I finally return for some "vinterferie" fun back in the good ol' USofA. This brings me large amounts of happiness. Plus, I can restock up on peanut butter, the real(ly-fake) kind that I grew up on. And my Copenhagen best friend is currently taking some time back in the States as well. It is a bit weird to not have him around every day, considering he can more often than not finish my sentences; I was getting used to only saying half-thoughts. (I kid, of course.) He'll be back soon enough though, and when he returns I expect we'll have a proper reunion involving food, beverages, and maybe even Kiki & Herb...

- Is anyone on your bad side now?
Oh, for sure: SUNDAY MORNING. Also, I'm not a huge fan of Mother Nature at the moment. Because of her, I am forced to dress like an oversized onion--in layers--every morning, and you know, snow is beautiful, really I do love it, but enough with the biting wind already. My face is angry enough about all the ballerina stage makeup I'm wearing at the moment, it doesn't really need any other things drying it out and making it stage a protest on my skin. Thank you very little.

- What’s the first thing you do when you get online?
I usually open three tabs: GMail, my virtual mailbox of choice; Facebook, my virtual drug of choice; and BoingBoing, my virtual source of necessary "weird news" of choice. The most entertaining part usually is a tie between BoingBoing and my Spam folder in GMail, the contents of which never cease to make me wonder about the source.

- What are you doing tomorrow?
Tomorrow is Monday, a day usually reserved for sending out angry signals to the universe. But during December at the ballet, Sunday is the new Monday; and Monday is the new Saturday night, so I have a free day tomorrow! And a special free day at that: we're having the annual Julefrokost (Christmas lunch) tomorrow night, and a right proper party after the sit-down bit, so I am eagerly awaiting the plates and plates of yummy food in my near future. The schnapps? Not so much. But whatever, I got a new LBD and everything, so bring on the buffet, please!

- Do you return your cart?
No, and I'll tell you why: I always use a basket. (I assume this question refers to the grocery store and not, I don't know, go-carting.)

- What noise do you hear?
There is a cacophony of sounds going on in my head every time I take a glimpse out my bedroom window at the snowy outdoors. It sounds something like: "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" Also, my stomach is growling. I'm hungry. And in the mood for the best meal ever invented, aka brunch, but no: I have a ballerina show to do. Gotta give Princess Aurora some Temperament at lunchtime.

- What’s the last thing you purchased?
Last night, I was really exciting. Too lazy to cook, I stopped by a pizza shop on my way home and got a pizza sandwich. I love pizza sandwiches. And this one had like fancy ham and some cheese and vegetables all warm and melty and delicious...anyway. Oh and for some reason, I was totally craving Orangina--a drink I haven't had for, like, ever--and I went a little nuts and picked up one of those.

- What brand are your pants right now?
I am currently wearing my favorite, aforementioned (see that question about jeans) high-waisted black jeans, and they're from a wonderful Swedish brand called Acne. Who also created the LBD I'm wearing to Julefrokost tomorrow, by the way. And may I just say: Kudos to them for such good clothing, but also for managing to create a successful brand named after what I know to be an often crippling teenage skin ailment. I mean that takes skill.

- Ever been to Georgia (the state)?
I have been to the Atlanta airport. Which, for the record, is HUGE, and made me really really frantic. Thanks a heap, Georgia, your ginormous airport's a real peach.

- Do you watch movies with your parents?
I always did. And perhaps the most awkward of these magic moments occurred when my father and I went to the movies in Miami. We saw that classic father/daughter film--wait for it--Borat. Ah, the many moments to pretend I wasn't sitting next to my dad...

- What song best describes your life right now?
Is there a tune that basically says, "My apartment's kind of messy but it's ok, and my job is actually fun, and aside from the minus-temperature weather I'm actually really enjoying life right now, plus I have a new LBD that is comfy, and dinner plans with good friends tonight that I'm really looking forward to?" That'd be great.

Monday, November 22, 2010


With the premiere of Tornerose a mere four days from now (coinciding with one of the most beloved homeland holidays, Black Friday!), life in Det Kongelige Teater has been very busy and stressful and anxious and sparkly. Ergo, lack of posting is a result of lack of free time/energy. And because my recent existence revolves around all things related to a certain princess who is fond of really, really, ridiculously long naps, this post will have nothing to do with ballerina dancing or Tornerose or the theatre, but everything to do with a subject near and dear to my heart: unicorns.

The word unicorn comes from the Latin unus ('one') and cornu ('horn'). Today, when we think of a unicorn--and when do we not?!--we basically picture a horse, only with a fancy horn on its forehead. But the traditional image of a unicorn also has a billy-goat beard, a lion's tail, and cloven hooves added to the already-fabulous mix. In The Unicorn and The Lake, children's book author Marianna Mayer waxed poetic about my favorite equine: "The unicorn is the only fabulous beast that does not seem to have been conceived out of human fears. In even the earliest references he is fierce yet good, selfless yet solitary, but always mysteriously beautiful. He could be captured only by unfair means, and his single horn was said to neutralize poison." Basically, Mayer is eloquently saying what I already know to be true, which is: Unicorns are perfect, plus they can neutralize poison.

A lot of people probably think unicorns are found in Greek mythology--because let's face it, there's tons of magic in Greek myths. But unicorns were actually first noted in Greek accounts of natural history. Like many rational-thinking people, Greek writers of natural history were convinced of the reality of the unicorn. Which they of course found in India. The earliest description of a unicorn comes from Greek physician/historian Ctesias who described them as "wild asses, fleet of foot, having a horn a cubit and a half in length and colored white, red and black." That famous thinker Aristotle comes next, talking about two one-horned animals, the oryx (a kind of antelope) and the so-called "Indian ass". Greek geographer Strabo says that in the Caucasus there were "one-horned horses with stag-like heads." Pliny the Elder (a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher with an awesome nickname) tells tales of three one-horned beasts: the oryx, an Indian ox, and finally, "a very fierce animal called the monoceros which has the head of the stag, the feet of the elephant, and the tail of the boar, while the rest of the body is like that of the horse; it makes a deep lowing noise, and has a single black horn, which projects from the middle of its forehead, two cubits in length." We've also got Cosmas Indicopleustes, a 6th century merchant of Alexandria (who I'm guessing just went by "Cosmas"). He made a voyage to India, and in his subsequent works on cosmography, describes a unicorn--but not, as he puts it, from actually seeing one. His description comes from four figures of unicorns in brass held in the palace of the King of Ethiopia. Cosmas reports that "it is impossible to take this ferocious beast alive; and that all its strength lies in its horn. When it finds itself pursued and in danger of capture, it throws itself from a precipice, and turns so aptly in falling, that it receives all the shock upon the horn, and so escapes safe and sound." So his description is a little less magical than Mayer's, and also apparently, unicorns were sort of like cats when it came to falling, in the sense that they always landed on their horns.

Unicorns are all up in the Bible, too: an animal called the re’em is mentioned quite a few times in the Hebrew Bible, usually as a metaphor for strength. The re'em is described as a wild animal of great strength and agility, with a mighty horn or horns. This description fits the Assyrian rimu, another creature often used to personify strength. The rimu is shown as a powerful, wild mountain bull with large horns, and was often used in ancient Mesopotamian art, with only one horn visible. The Authorized King James Version of the Bible used "unicorn" as a translation for re'em, and thus gave us a familiar animal known for its wild nature. The American Standard Version translates this term to "wild ox", which is not nearly as magical, in my opinion. But perhaps my favorite Biblical unicorn use comes in the classical Jewish understanding of bible. This did not identify the re'em as a unicorn but instead spoke of the Tahash animal. The Tahash was thought to be a "kosher unicorn" (Wikipedia's words, not mine!) with a multi-colored coat, and it only existed in biblical times.

Fast forward to medieval times. There's a popular story going around in which a unicorn, representing the Incarnation, is trapped by a maiden (who is obviously the Virgin Mary). As soon as the unicorn sees her, it lays its head on her lap and falls asleep. MAGIC. The medieval idea of the unicorn was related to the popular tales of "beguiled lovers." Then you also had some medieval religious writers interpret the unicorn and its death as the Passion of Christ. Older myths often referred to a one-horned beast that could only be tamed by a virgin, so of course, many medieval authors turned this into an allegory for Christ's relationship with the Virgin Mary. The unicorn was also big with the court people--for some 13th century French authors, "the lover is attracted to his lady as the unicorn is to the virgin." And when humanism became popular, the unicorn got a bit more secular; it started to symbolize "chaste love and faithful marriage." But perhaps my favorite medieval use of the unicorn occurred in my current country of residence. Way back in the good old days, the royal throne of Denmark was made of "unicorn horns." (Which we now know were almost definitely the horns of the Narwhal, a medium-sized Arctic whale, but whatever.) Danes used the same material for ceremonial cups because the belief that unicorn's horns could neutralize poison was still the cool way to think. At this time, unicorn products were not cheap, since everyone was hearing about their aphrodisiac qualities and other alleged medicinal virtues. Plus, unicorns were said to be able to determine whether or not a woman was a virgin. Which I'm sure on more than one occasion would have been very useful, if that sort of thing was considered an important factor.

So do unicorns exist? Hunts for an actual animal have added a further layer of mystery to the unicorn. Example: There were many prehistoric bones found at Unicorn Cave (new vacation destination!) in Germany's Harz Mountains. In 1663, some of these were picked out and rebuilt by the mayor of Magdeburg, Otto Von Guericke, into a shape resembling a unicorn. Guericke's so-called unicorn had only two legs, and was made from fossil bones of a Woolly rhinoceros and a mammoth, with the horn of a narwhal stuck on for full unicorn effect. Another view came from Baron Georges Cuvier, who said that since the unicorn was apparently cloven-hoofed, it must therefore have a cloven skull--which would make the growth of a single horn impossible. To disprove this, University of Maine professor Dr. W. Franklin Dove, aka A Heroic Man Indeed, artificially fused the horn buds of a calf together, which resulted in the appearance of a one-horned bull.

In addition to actual hunts and experiments, there is historical evidence which makes one trend very clear: Once upon a time, there were a whole bunch of animals that really looked like unicorns. One example comes from the thought that the unicorn is based on the extinct animal Elasmotherium, which is a giant Eurasian rhinoceros. Elasmotherium didn't really look like a horse at all, but its selling point was its large single horn in its forehead. It became extinct about the same time as the rest of the huge ice age animals, but two sources dispute this: Nordisk familjebok (Nordic Familybook) and science writer Willy Ley. These guys say the animal may have survived long enough to be remembered in the legends of the Evenk people of Russia as a huge black bull with a single horn in the forehead. And they might not be crazy--13th century traveller (and inspiration for modern-day children's game) Marco Polo claimed to have seen a unicorn in Java, but his description of the animal makes it clear today that he actually just saw a Javan Rhinoceros. (But he probably died believing he'd seen a unicorn, and how awesome of a thought is that?)

In addition to these examples, there are several other animals who have been mistaken for unicorns throughout history. The Biblical vision of Daniel is to blame for the single-horned goat's confusion with a unicorn (as is the work of self-described "Wizard" Timothy Zell, whose webpage I strongly urge you to visit, because words cannot do justice). And as mentioned before, the narwhal was also falsely identified as a unicorn, along with the oryx--an antelope with two long, slender horns--and the eland, a South African antelope with a history of mythical importance.

But the interest in unicorns is not only in the distant past (and not exclusive to me, which makes me feel marginally better about the state of my brain). Just two years ago, in 2008, a new possibility for the inspiration of the unicorn came with the Italian discovery of a roe deer with a single horn. Single-horned deer are not uncommon, but what is very unique is the placement of the horn in the middle. The scientific director of Rome's zoo, Fulvio Fraticelli, has described the central horn placement as "a complex case." He also says that the placement of the horn could have been the result of some type of trauma in the life of the deer. And according to Gilberto Tozzi, director of the Center of Natural Science in Prato, “this single-horn deer is conscious to its uniqueness and does not come out a lot, always hiding."

So. Unicorns maaaybe don't actually exist. But they were fairly important in a lot of different cultures for many, many years. Plus, they're pretty to look at, and make appearances in current fantasy movies like Harry Potter and Stardust. I say for that, we keep them around. (Also, you never know when one will swoop in to neutralize some pesky poison. I'm just sayin'...)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sleeping Beauty

We have left the Lake known as Svanesøen, and are preparing to enter into a 100-year nap: Christopher Wheeldon's new Tornerose. In plain English, this is Sleeping Beauty. (And in my personal English circa when-I-was-two, due to pronunciation problems, it was known as "Sleeping Doody," but that's just some potty humor for you.) Probably one of the most beloved and well-known story ballets, it is very exciting to be involved in an updated version of a storied classic. Christopher Wheeldon is adding some twists and updates of his own, but I won't spoil the surprise. Instead, I'm here to give a little summary of the basic fairy tale version we all grew up with...

Once upon a time, there was a magical kingdom. All the best fairy tales involve royalty (and, in my opinion, unicorns, but even though this one doesn't have any, it's still pretty good so stick with this). The King and Queen of this kingdom get down to their royal business and make a beautiful pooping, crying toy more commonly known as a baby. A baby girl, to be precise, named Aurora. The sort of name which brings to mind sparkly things and daisy chains and rainbows and yes, unicorns. (Actually, the story says she is named after "the dawn," but whatever.) And because the King and Queen are respectable royal people--who, let's face it, love an excuse to throw a good party--they decide to hold a big Christening for their new bundle of joy. Everyone's invited, including some very special, extra-sparkly guests: the Fairies, led by the Lilac lady. See, the King and Queen are super well-connected, and the Fairies are important. You want them at your baby's Christening. Because even though their names are ridiculous (in this version, Beauty, Grace, Knowledge, Song, Temperament, and Dance; translate into Danish at your own risk!) and thus a bitch to write on the place cards, this bunch gives really good baby presents. Seriously, they'll make your kid sort of fabulous.

Anyway. The Christening is on. The Court is celebrating the new Princess, and the fairies are (literally) flitting about, hither and yon, giving out their presents. Everyone is having a fantastic time; this might be the most fun baptism ever. And then the Big Sack of Crazy crashes the baby bash. The BSoC being the evil fairy Carabosse--sort of the Wicked Witch of the West to the Lilac Fairy's Glinda. Carabosse is not happy. Girl loves a party, and SOMEONE forgot to invite her to this one, which happens to be a biggie. But instead of doing the normal thing and getting wasted and maybe giving a somewhat crude, socially awkward speech at the dinner like any sane uninvited guest would, Carabosse has to go one step further. She has to give a gift, and she has to make that gift totally awful and ruin everybody's fiesta, and also screw up the innocent baby Aurora's life. Which doesn't really seem fair, given that despite all the gifts she's getting, one thing Aurora still lacks is the ability to hold a pen (or quill) and write invitations. It's not her fault, but Carabosse doesn't see it this way, and so her gift to Aurora is that sixteen years from now on her birthday, the Princess will prick her finger on a spindle and die. (Carabosse really knows how to kill a mood. And, apparently, children.) Of course everyone totally freaks out. This is turning into the worst Christening ever. But the Lilac Fairy is all cool as a cucumber and comes up with a solution. She can't undo the curse, which doesn't seem fair to me but whatever, but she can alter it. Princess Aurora will prick her finger on a spindle on her sixteenth birthday, but she won't die. She will just fall asleep for 100 years until wakened by the kiss of a prince. Shockingly (to me), everyone accepts the idea of taking a giant coma sixteen years from now, and Carabosse leaves in a big evil huff. Then the King orders all spindles and needles and sharp things in the whole kingdom to be burned, hoping that will help. Obviously it won't, and clothing is just going to be that much harder to make for the next decade and a half, but the people do it because he's the King and he said so.

Fast forward sixteen years. It's Aurora's birthday, and finally she's getting a party she'll remember. Before, y'know, the Big Nap. Villagers are dancing around with garlands; the Princess and her friends are stupidly playing with roses--hello, Cursed Baby, thorns are spiny!; and the King and Queen present their baby girl with four eligible stud muffins, by which I mean princes. (And to think, all I got for MY sweet sixteen was permission to adopt an adorable mutt from a Harlem dog shelter.) The princes are beautiful and hail from exotic lands, which of course means they're unoriginal and completely unaware that this pretty young thing is not allowed near anything sharp: they all give her roses. Aurora's easily pleased, being a generally happy-go-lucky sort of gal, so she's having a grand old time. And then she gets a creepy present from a disguised guest. It's--wait for it!--a spindle. Aurora's all intrigued, but I gotta say, if someone gave me a GIANT NEEDLE on my birthday, I might wonder about their motives. But it's not my party, so I can't argue (or cry if I want to). Her parentals are freaking out, with good reason, but Aurora's sixteen now. And we've all been there: when you're sixteen, you know everything and are in fact superhuman and can't get hurt. So the Princess ignores her parents and dances around with the spindle before accidentally pricking her finger on it. No one says "I told you so" even though this would be an entirely appropriate time to do so, but I mean come on, everyone's thinking it. Turns out the disguised guest was Carabosse, that sly fox, but she hightails it outta there before the studs in tights (aka the princes) can fight her. And at the perfect moment, the Lilac Fairy appears. (She knows all about being fashionably late.) She reminds the kingdom: "Guys, I fixed this sixteen years ago. Seriously, you don't remember this?" Then she casts a slumber spell over the entire kingdom so that they will only wake up when Aurora does, and everybody falls asleep for a really, really, enviably long nap.

So. Everyone's taking a quick coma. And during the snooze, we meet Prince Desire. (Yes, that's actually his name. I know.) He's the one, the good kisser who's going to wake up the Princess and save the day. He sees this in a vision, put upon him by the Lilac Fairy. In the vision, he's in a forest surrounded by sparkly perky ladies in nymph form, and through them all comes Aurora. She's something of a babe, and Desire is all obsessed with her after this vision. So he does his thing, going through the vines and nature crap that have grown around the castle over the past century, fighting the shrubbery and mossy madness (oh and Carabosse), until he finds her: the Sleeping Beauty (hello, title moment!). And in the easiest part of his journey, he goes over and plants a big wet one on the Princess. She wakes up, followed by the rest of the kingdom. Everyone's a little groggy and covered in cobwebs and probably has a mean case of morning breath and eye boogies, but other than that they all look damn hot for having been in a 100-year nap. (And more importantly, no one seems to have suffered any major brain damage!) Desire and Aurora waste no time. They're like in "move-in-with-me" phase within a few minutes, and declare their love for each other, which is a little fast for my personal taste but I mean, to each his own right? The King and Queen are just happy this strapping young lad woke everybody up on time, and of course they give their blessing. Wedding preparations begin immediately--kudos to this kingdom for party-planning efficiency.

Wedding Day: there's a literal menagerie of guests. Everyone and their mother is invited, plus birds and cats and fairies and all that. Special guests perform for the new couple; court people are dancing; everyone is in hot sparkly royal outfits; and Desire and Aurora are totally that lovey-dovey-we-literally-just-met-but-it's-true-love couple that everyone loves and secretly also hates just a little. Third time's the charm, since at this party, no one gets cursed and no one goes into a coma. The whole thing is a rousing success, the King and Queen can finally take that vacation to Rio they'd been meaning to go on forever, and they all live happily ever after.

Christopher Wheeldon's Tornerose is a bit different from this traditional sequence of events. But I'm not going to let the cat out of the bag, and you get the gist. It's a fairy tale in every sense of the word, with beautiful Tchaikovsky music (and wonderful new costumes and sets by Jerome Kaplan). The only thing that's missing? Unicorns. But I can get over that easily enough--fairies are pretty damn magical, too.

Monday, November 1, 2010


There are many things I love about living in Copenhagen: my work, my friends, the city, the culture and fun new language, the eerily-reliable public transportation system, etc. etc.... But, as with most things in life, there are a couple of things that still take some getting used to. Among this short list of "less-than-desirables" is the fact that the Danes do not celebrate the awesomeness that is Halloween. Sure, they have Fastelavn in February, where children dress up in costumes and hit large barrels--in the good old days, filled with a live black cat; but in these animal-friendly times, filled with candy and oranges. And there's something about "'fastelavnsris', with which children ritually flog their parents to wake them up on the morning of Fastelavns Sunday (Quinquagesima)." But nothing is quite like Halloween, that magical last October day when you can be anyone or anything you want, and even better you can get away with blackmailing strangers for sweets. And so, some friends and I decided to have a little slice of creepy home and had a costume-centric shindig. Preparing for the Halloween fest was maybe even more fun than the party itself, especially since now that we are all alleged grownups, we really went all-out with the costumes. I went as Mrs. Lovett, of Sweeney Todd fame; and my best sassy pal went as the Age of Enlightenment. Here, then, was how I spent my Sunday evening of tricks and treats...

Thanks to the power of makeup in the hands of good friends, I managed to look fabulously undernourished and mildly murderous. This is also photographic evidence that I mysteriously own a rolling pin.

Mrs. Lovett and the Age of Enlightenment.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sol Invictus

In the previous entry, I described the wonderful work of Sophie Calle I saw at Louisiana. I also saw another exhibit, one much darker but no less impressive, by German artist Anselm Kiefer.

I was unfamiliar with Kiefer's work prior to Sunday. His work was mentally exhausting; the Louisiana exhibit spanned five rooms containing art inspired by controversial topics in modern history--in particular, his art took on themes from Nazi rule. The art was fascinating for me. It was sort of the same feeling I get when I watch a particularly depressing, but well-made, movie. I cannot honestly say I "enjoyed" Anselm Kiefer's art. But I can say that to my relatively inexperienced artistic eyes, the work was masterful. Like the Sophie Calle display, Kiefer's exhibition made me feel something; his work was not happy or remotely hopeful, but it brought my mind to a darker place and time in history that I will never be able to truly comprehend. And interestingly enough, I found that his massive, mural-scale pieces were the most effective. His smaller works are excellent, but Kiefer's use of paint coupled with other raw materials on a bigger scale work to his advantage. There was one piece in particular that stuck with me. It spanned an entire wall, and depicted a bleak field scattered with musty pink dots, roses. Clusters of material resembling barbed wire were attached to the canvas, in some places jutting out away from it. And scattered among this beautiful chaos were small, rectangular strips of fabric, onto which Kiefer had written sets of numbers, the meaning of which remains unclear to me, though I have my guesses. Perhaps most stunning of all was its title: Wohin wir uns wenden im Gewitter der Rosen, ist die Nacht mit Dornen erhellt...Wherever we turn in the storm of roses, the night is lit up by thorns. There were other murals, too; and in another room, painting after painting of a man in Nazi uniform, saluting Hitler, in various settings. There was a gigantic book, the pages of which were covered in a metallic sort of material and painted with abstract landscapes, again dotted with sets of numbers. There were smaller books, too, containing pictures of "barren landscapes" onto which Kiefer had glued syringes or surgical scissors. The entire exhibition did not leave me with a good feeling, as Ms. Calle's had, but it did leave me with a strong emotion. And for that, I highly recommend this wonderful German artist.

My favorite Kiefer piece of the day, an enormous painting entitled Sol Invictus [The Unconquered Sun], made using paint and what appeared to be sunflower seeds...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Take Care of Yourself

Today I took a trip out to Louisiana to see Sophie Calle's work. I was introduced to this unique French artist by a good friend of mine this summer, and was very excited to see some of it in person today. And I wasn't disappointed: Calle's work was quirky, serious, whimsical, and relatable, all at once. In one project, she found a man's address book on the streets of Paris. After photocopying the entries, she returned the missing little black book to its owner; she then picked a dozen or so of the addresses and contacted the people to "know" this stranger without ever actually meeting him. In another work, a fan recently separated from his long-time girlfriend wrote to Calle. He explained that he loved her work and wished to spend his time recuperating from the breakup in her house, specifically sleeping in her bed. Not with her, mind you--he just wanted to use her bed. Calle had the bed, mattress and frame and all, shipped overseas to the man, and he returned it several weeks later with a thank-you letter. The bed was on display today, along with the man's bizarrely innocently charming correspondence. Calle's body of work was intriguing and incredibly personal, but the highlight was her 2007 project entitled Take Care of Yourself.

A while back, Calle's then long-time boyfriend broke up with her. The man, dubbed "X" to protect his (now-infamous) identity, did so in the form of a letter, the contents of which would be considered frustrating for most women to read. He ended with the charming sign-off, "Take care of yourself. --X." Not sure of what to make of the letter's contents, and in an effort to move on after the break-up, Calle showed the letter to 107 women in all areas of work and asked them to interpret, explain, react to, answer, etc., in whatever way they wished. The result is a magnificently intimate collection about love, and how we deal with the end of a love. There was a rifle shooter who, from a far distance, shot bullet holes through the word "love" three separate times on the paper. An etoile from the Paris Opera Ballet angrily crumpled the letter, stuffed it into the toe of her pointe shoe, and proceeded to pique around a rehearsal studio before collapsing into a heap on the floor. A zoologist fed the paper to her ill-tempered parrot; a legal expert defined hidden "contractual terms" the anonymous man had laid out in the text; an accountant came to the conclusions that the assets of two separate statements--"I will always love you" and "I can never become your friend"--were equal. I loved this room of women and the strong rawness of their reactions to a break-up which was not even their own. I copy the letter here for you, then, to form your own response. And remember: Take care of yourself.


I have been meaning to write and reply to your email for a while. At the same time, I thought it would be better to talk to you and tell you what I have to say out loud. Still, at least it will be written.

As you have noticed, I have not been quite right recently. As if I no longer recognized myself in my own existence. A terrible feeling of anxiety, which I cannot really fight, other than keeping on going to try and overtake it, as I have always done. When we met, you laid down one condition: not to become the "fourth." I stood by that promise: it has been months now since I have seen the "others," because I obviously could find no way of seeing them without making you one of them.

I thought that would be enough, I thought that loving you and your love would be enough so that this anxiety--which constantly drives me to look further afield and which means that I will never feel quiet and at rest or probably even just happy or "generous"--would be calmed when I was with you, with the certainty that the love you have for me was the best for me, the best I have ever had, you know that. I thought that my writing would be a remedy, that my "disquiet" would dissolve into it so that I could find you. But no. In fact it even became worse, I cannot even tell you the sort of state I feel I am in. So I started calling the "others" again this week. And I know what that means to me and the cycle that it will drag me into.

I have never lied to you and I do not intend to start lying now.

There was another rule that you laid down at the beginning of our affair: the day we stopped being lovers you would no longer be able to envisage seeing me. You know this constraint can only ever strike me as disastrous, and unjust (when you still see B. and R. ...) and understandable (obviously...), so I can never become your friend.

But now you can gauge how significant my decision is from the fact that I am prepared to bend to your will, even though there are so many things--not seeing you or talking to you or catching the way you look at people and things, and your gentleness towards me--that I will miss terribly. Whatever happens, remember that I will always love you in the same way, my own way, that I have ever since I first met you; that it will carry on within me and, I am sure, will never die.

But it would be the worst kind of masquerade to prolong a situation now when, you know as well as I do, it has become irreparable by the standards of the very love I have for you and you have for me, a love which is now forcing me to be so frank with you, as final proof of what happened between us and will always be unique.

I would have liked things to have turned out differently.

Take care of yourself,


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lille Fredag

For today, Thursday--aka torsdag, aka "lille fredag"--no introspection. No thinking, no lists. Just a dose of happiness in the form of some music from Amelie...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Anatomy Lessons

I'm very into several things lately. Grey's Anatomy, because it's almost too much to handle and thus is a wonderful way to escape real life. Lists, because they're a good way for me to feel organized and neat when in actuality, I'm not either of those things. Chocolate milk, because it's wonderful. So for today, I analyze my anatomy...with a Matilde chokolademælk in hand. From feet to head, then:

- Feet: Approximately size 40 (that's a good old-fashioned American 10; a Freed of London 7X). Ten toes, with a bizarrely long second toe on each foot. Strange bumps protrude from the big, second, fourth, and pinky toes, a result of spending hours on end in what amount to paper-mache shoes. The third toes on each foot are miraculously, strangely okay. A bruised big toenail decorates the left foot; a deteriorating toenail tops off the right second toe. No blisters, but there appears to be a gaping white hole in between the fourth and pinky toes on the right foot. This is a large, persistent corn. It is actively disliked. Heels are fine, minus the callused skin factor. The muscles underneath both feet have an alarming tendency to cramp without warning, but this can be remedied so long as I carry around a tennis or dog toy ball to roll under my arches.

- Lower legs: Ankles are unmemorable, though small. A chronic case of eczema or some other mild skin rash is apparent on both legs, just above the ankles, but it sort of just looks like a band of freckles around each shin, so I'm cool with this. The legs could stand a good session with the Venus razor. Due to pale skin and klutzy tendencies, small bruises scatter both shins, but this can be explained: Each time I extract my bike from the parking rack, I manage to stab one shin or the other into one of the pedals. Since I do this at least four times a day, it's a battered area of my body.

- Knees: Knees are relatively unscathed. Though the aforementioned bruising can be seen in a large, now-faded contusion just below the right kneecap--a result of one-too-many patella-centric positions in Svanesøen.

- Upper Legs: The thighs appear to be healthy, though they too could really use a shave. Like the rest of my physical self, the upper legs are freckled, but--in a Sunday-morning miracle--appear to be completely free of bruising. This is good. The multi-vitamin+iron pill I take every morning appears to be working from the area starting above my knees and ending at my hips. The hamstrings could use a good stretch, but this does not make them any different than most of the other muscles in my body.

- Hips: My hips are not terrifically notable. Neither perfect for child-bearing nor for high-fashion modeling, my hips are relatively nondescript but for the fact that they seem to loathe allowing leg heights above 90, maybe 110 degrees. My hips don't lie: They are not big fans of adagio.

- Butt: A wonderful ballet instructor once told me that it's very difficult to injure your butt, and thus there is no excuse not to use it. I would rather not discuss this particular physical asset. I have a jumper's butt, which basically means: It is certainly not nonexistent. That's all I'm saying about the junk in my trunk.

- Torso: My stomach is freckled, and I have an innie bellybutton. Which is located ridiculously high on my stomach. I have a short torso, shorter than my legs anyway, and it's pretty boring, I think. I don't have a six-pack, due to my general distaste for sit-ups, but my tummy isn't too mushy. I mean, I'm a dancer. The ribs and collarbone are somewhat visible, but nothing to write to a clinic about. I have a fun triangle of freckles down near my appendix area (which I still possess, FYI); when I was younger, I dubbed this cluster the "Bermuda Triangle," but that's just a sign of my bizarre tendency to name things and make bad puns. And as for my chest, well...Pamela Anderson has nothing to worry about.

- Arms: I have ten fingers. One, the right index, underwent plastic surgery to repair a destroyed nail bed and ripped cuticle following a previously-chronicled altercation with a car door. The rest of my fingers are normal, save for the fingernails. I am not a biter, but I pick at them. (I'm a nervous person.) My wrists, like my ankles, are quite small; my arms are freckled and magically unbruised. My elbows are not hyperextended, but if I straighten them as much as I can, I have a sort of exaggerated muscle that sticks out and creates a nice sort of ditch on the outside of the elbow joint. It's not huge, but I can imagine it might be useful for storing something small, like a penny.

- Shoulders: We now come to the part of my body which (along with my gluteus maximus) is the bane of my professional existence--my shoulders. Aside from their alarming tendency to creak and crack, the ball-and-socket joints I have been blessed with are perfectly healthy, for normal life. But their resistance to remaining "down," in a graceful, at-ease position makes them a burden to me. Literally and figuratively.

- Neck & Back: My neck could, in an ideal ballerina world, be longer. More giraffe-like. But as it is, I suppose it is acceptable. It likes to crack first thing in the morning, and while this sounds grotesque, in practice it feels pretty wonderful. And like the rest of me, my back is dotted with "beauty marks" (aka freckles). A very mild case of scoliosis might be noticed upon extremely close inspection, but the real issue lies in the muscles of my lower back. Which are not into being flexible. If the rest of me takes a few hours to fully wake up, and thus classifies me as "so-NOT-a-morning-person," then my lower back is practically nocturnal.

- Face: My face is just that--a face. At the moment, due to a heavy performance schedule (which thus requires a heavy amount of heavy makeup), my epidermis is staging a protest in the form of a few decidedly not-freckle spots decorating my face. My mouth is nothing spectacular, with two lips of fairly normal proportions and a mouth full of (admittedly small) teeth. Unlike my younger sister, I cannot touch my tongue to my nose. My nose is small, and upturned. (And unreachable by my tongue.) I used to like it but have come to fear that as I get older, my nostrils are growing more obvious. If my ears were a cheap tshirt, they'd probably be a size M/L. My eyes are not bad, actually; when the pupils are tiny, I can see a blue outer rim, green in the middle, and goldish specks around the pupils. The eyebrows, however, were a source of great self-consciousness for years, though I've recently come to accept them. Large and defined, they require frequent maintenance. Silver lining is, I don't have to exaggerate them with (even more) makeup for stage. My forehead, mercifully, is not a fivehead and does not require its own zip code. And as for my hair? More often than not, my hair cannot decide which direction it wants to take, and so ends up choosing "all of them."

- Brain: Perhaps the messiest part of my body is locked away, beneath layers of crazy hair and skull flap and bones. My brain. It is constantly too full; I worry or overthink or concentrate or imagine all the time. Literally. I have tried to master the art of meditation, of clearing my head of any thought. But the moment I feel like perhaps I am nearing achievement, of being a total at-peace Zen wonder woman, a thought interrupts my yogi master success. I'm not a very calm person. I used to use the logical side of my brain most of the time--the side involving facts and rules and science and math. I thought and reasoned in very black-and-white terms. But as I get older/none-the-wiser, the more I use that other part of the brain--the creative part, the part with too many words and too many weird day(and night)dreams and too many feelings. I think I prefer this part now, because the more I live life, the more I realize that it is like Scandinavia, and not like Oreos: much of the time, it's not cookie-cutter black-and-white. Life is a grey area.

- Heart: Finally, what might be both the strongest and weakest part of anyone's anatomy--the heart. It's a muscle, and a powerful, resilient one at that. For a long time, in fact, mine was possibly coated in iron or steel. I was not into discussing feelings, or admitting emotions, or really letting anyone in. I wasn't into vulnerability or risk, and this was safe. This, I thought, was a good armor. But you know, walls can't stay up forever. It's too exhausting. And maybe one day, all it takes is a figurative blast to knock it down; for me, moving across the planet did it. I came to this country a sarcastic, somewhat-stoic, occasionally pessimistic, precociously bitter (or maybe jaded), fairly private person. And 14 months later, I'm...well, totally not. I'm still sarcastic. And I'm still not glass-half-full. But I have let people in, and I have even used the word "feelings" in conversations, and I have had heart pain (and I don't mean indigestion; my smuggled Tums cure that easily enough, in smoothie flavors!). Over the past year or so, that wall I spent 20 years carefully building around the muscle I once regarded as my safest, as my most protected, has been broken down to reveal a frightening fact: the heart is alarmingly fragile. And as someone who is a ballet dancer and who is aware of injuries, I can tell you something else. No matter what physical pain you endure--a broken bone; a torn ligament; a stress fracture--the heart takes the longest to heal. There's no ultrasound treatment, no physical therapy, no Band-Aids. But there is time, and very good friends, and yes, (provided the wall has been knocked down) talking. Besides, for all of the badness the heart can endure, it can take a whole lot of goodness too. And trust me: knocking down the wall is totally worth it, just for the good parts.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Partly Cloudy

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 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 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.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

An Education

Growing up: It's an unavoidable, occasionally painful fact of life. And no matter how hard we try, or how much we pretend it's not happening, one day you wake up and realize that you have become what you always dreaded; you have become something resembling an adult, or at least something resembling a human being with adult responsibilities. It happens fast, and without warning. One day you're six years old, and your biggest problem is the fact that the toes of your socks won't line up exactly right; the next you're a twenty-something living on her own in Scandinavia. Life happens. And without little lessons along the way, without teachers and people to give us helpful hints, it can be a scary thing. I've been lucky to learn a few things, to have a few pretty wise people in my life. And so, I give you a list of some of the things I've learned thus far.

- If you've just eaten a bowl of oatmeal, fill it with water and let it soak for a bit before putting it in the dishwasher. Otherwise, the leftover bits will dry and stick to the bowl, and then you'll just have to clean it again, so just save yourself the trouble.

- You can clean silver with toothpaste. And if you're cleaning a mirror, wipe it with newspaper. This won't leave streaks. Plus you can read the comics while cleaning.

- Don't be a backseat driver. Until you get a license, you may not pass judgment. Also, the driver gets first music choice.

- Answer questions directly. As the child of two lawyers, I found that any feeble attempts to avoid answering uncomfortable questions were met with the magical phrase "Move to strike as non-responsive." For example--Mom: "Did you call your sister an idiotic moron?" Me: "She was pillow-surfing down the stairs!" Mom: "And I will deal with her separately. Move to strike as non-responsive. Try again. Did you, or did you not, call your sister an idiotic moron?"

- Beware of yellow snow. Don't eat it.

- Singing, hats, and elbows are not welcome at the dinner table. Particularly the latter. I would be serenaded by my grandfather if my elbows were on the table: "Carling, Carling, if you're able, get your elbows off the table; this is not a horses' stable, but a high-class dining room."

- If you defrost a bagel in the microwave, it does not take more than 1 minute. If you would like to set a bagel on fire in the microwave, it takes about 3 minutes.

- Fighting over seating arrangements in the car is pointless. It just results in something resembling "Car Wars, Episode III: Attack of the Bratty Children."

- On Christmas Eve, if you're out of milk to leave for Santa, apparently Diet Coke and Guinness are perfectly good substitutes. Also, if you're ringing in your first Christmas away from home in Paris with friends, it's totally fine to do so in a gay bar. Gift bags will be involved!

- In matters of the heart, don't play games. According to my mother, life is too short, and emotional games are a waste of time. Boys can be stupid, but I was taught to try not to be. Also, if I end up getting married, ice cream sundae bar > cake.

- Don't wipe your nose or face on your sleeve. There's a new invention for messes, and it's called a napkin.

- We never faked sick. The rule was: If you're too sick for school, then you're too sick for after-school activities. And we liked those a lot. As a result of this no-faking policy, I like to think I'm something of a tough cookie.

- In emergency or even just mildly frantic situations, don't panic. For instance, if you slam your finger in the car door, breathe and open the door. Don't just rip your finger out. Then you'll get plastic surgery, and a gift from your parents--a book called "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking."

- Reading a good book is the best free vacation you can take. Take them often.

- Despite what my brother thinks, the floor is not the biggest shelf in the house. Particularly in the entrance hallway of a house, where according to my parents, "those things, the hooks and hangers in this little room we call a closet? Those are where the coats go, not thrown on the floor so we can all step on them."

- Eat what's on your plate. Home was not a restaurant, so if you didn't like what was served you could make something yourself, not eat, or just eat what was served. We mostly went with the last option.

- Sometimes my mom or dad would ask us to go find one of our siblings. We'd stay put and yell the appropriate name. Turns out my parents could have done that too, so if someone asks you to go get someone, chances are they could yell themselves and thus won't accept you doing so. Just go find the person in question the first time.

- Treat others as you would like to be treated. If you act like you're better than people, and my parents are around, you might get asked awkward questions. Questions like, "How is it that your nose isn't bleeding from being so high up?" or "Who do you think you are, the Queen of Sheba?"

- Living well is the best revenge.

- You catch more flies with honey. If you want something, you'll get it a lot easier if you're nice about it. In related news, it's ok to want to get to the top, but be kind along the way. Otherwise, when you achieve your goals, you'll be alone. And no one wants to get to the top, only to find out it's lonely up there.

- Use a coaster. Magazines can be used as coasters.

- Take responsibility for your actions and be honest. These were two biggies. If you mess up, own up; and don't lie. This includes lies of omission.

- Don't sit too close to the TV, and don't turn it up too loud. Otherwise you might be accused of being my grandfather.

- If you have a ring that's too big for your finger and you're not the type to go get it resized, just wrap a small Band-Aid around the back of it. Bam. Ring fits.

- Never fall asleep with your glasses on. You'll wake up with post-its stuck to them, very confused.

- If you want to decline someone's request, you can always just start singing, "You can't always get what you waaaant..." They will go away faster.

- Get up with your alarm clock. Don't get into the habit of hitting snooze, and you're going to have to get up eventually, so just do it before your dad comes in to wake you by singing one of three hit tunes: Kumbaya; something about Noah's "ark-y ark-y"; or my personal favorite, "Wake up, you sleepyhead! Get yourself outta bed!" repeated over and over.

- Every time you leave the house, brush your teeth first. It's just a good habit.

- Always check your Halloween candy. According to my parents, unwrapped candy was out. And for me, personally, so were apples, thanks to my mother's story about how "back in the day," bad guys would stick razors in apples and give them out to innocent trick-or-treaters.

- If you can't take it, don't dish it out. That is, if you can't take a little fun teasing, you give up your right to tease others. Also, in my family, if we feel comfortable enough to make fun of you, this means we like you and you're in.

- I used to be even more of a hypochondriac. But my dad taught me something: Time really does heal all wounds. Doesn't matter if it's a fracture or a break or a bruise or whatever. Ultimately, injuries and illness need time (in addition to proper treatment, of course). Time and patience.

- Stand up for things: beliefs, yourself, others, favorite sports teams. You'll sleep better, and be able to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning.

- Garages are actually not meant for cars. In three different houses in my childhood, we had a garage. We never used them for a vehicle. Garages are much better for storing crap and can hold a ton of books.

- Be yourself. If you're weird, embrace it; if you have crazy hair or a loud laugh or an inner dork, don't be embarrassed. Wear what you like, do what you like, be with who you like. And most importantly, do what you love, and do it to the best of your ability. That's all any of us can do to be happy.