Monday, April 11, 2016

(Don't) Mind the Gap, or Me Lying on this Crash Mat Wailing. It's Fine: A Love Letter to my Aerialist Buddies

Can we talk for a second about how hard aerial training is?

I'm not talking about straight up muscular fatigue and exhaustion. Yes, circus IS hard, but, again, I've been at this a while. It's what I signed up for.

I'm not talking about the pain, either. Sore muscles, twingey shoulders, achey knuckles, raw fabric burns, tender bruises, to say nothing of the space between my big toe and second toe, rubbed raw from toe climbs: all of that is old news. So much of it just doesn't bother me anymore. I feel more out of sorts when I take more than a few days off and don't feel any of those things.

I'm talking about the Ira Glass gap: I'm talking about watching another aerialist, and being able to pinpoint exactly what about their movement looks polished, professional, beautiful...and trying over and over again to replicate those things, and failing.
I'm talking about sprawling on the crash mat and wailing your lament to the world, and having this behavior not surprise or unnerve anyone else in the room, because they've all been there, too.

I'm talking about that feeling of hopelessness turned giddiness that makes you say things like,

"No, it's fine, everything is terrible and I hate my life and I will never have a consistent straight arm inversion. HAHAhaHAhAhahaHAHAHAhahahA!!!!"

We aerialists, at least the ones I know, we've elevated self-deprecation to an art form.

"I don't know anything on lyra!"

"No, OMG, that was so awkward-town, don't look at me!!!"

"I give up. I'm just going to chop off my feet. They won't stop sickling. It's fine, right? I don't need them."

I've had people tell us we need to think positive, to be kinder to ourself, and while in general I am a firm believer in the positive thinking train, in his case I can't agree. We aren't exaggerating, and we aren't beating ourselves up. We're accurately expressing what it feels like to want something really bad, and work our asses off for that thing, and have to keep doing what we know is subpar work for what feels like FOREVER because it's the only way to get to the skill level we want to be at. 

And this is where it gets beautiful: the only reason why we can vent our spleens, the only reason we can express these hyperbolic, and I assure you, completely genuine feelings, is because we are just as good at lifting each other up as we are at expressing our own angsty frustration.

"Dude, no, everything you do is so beautiful in the air. Like, you just goobered out of that move and it was gorgeous."

"Dude, stop it, you are so strong!"

"AAAAHHHH!!!! Your split is killing me, it's soooo gooooood!!!"

"You're an elephant!"

Ok, so sometimes we're pretty weird people in general and that comes through.

When I tell people who aren't familiar with aerial work about what I do, they always want to know if it's safe, if I've ever fallen, if I'm worried (or if my husband's worried because...he owns my body?? But that's another post...) that I'll hurt myself.

And it's funny, because aerial studios are literally the safest spaces I've ever been in, in terms of being able to be real, and honest, weak, and flawed.

Now, disclaimer, as a straight, cis, white, slender woman, I am sitting on a heap of privilege. Circus spaces are absolutely not immune to the issues of oppression that plague the rest of society. In some ways, it can seem like we've got that all figured out: we're a bunch of freaks, right? We accept everyone! I sure wish it was like that, and from my heap of privilege, I used to think it was, but listening to other people has allowed me to read between the lines: we have a long way to go.

So when I say aerial studios are safe spaces for me, that unfortunately doesn't translate to them being safe spaces for everyone.

Also, they aren't safe spaces automatically. They are because we contribute to making it that way (which means that yes, we CAN work at it and make them safe for everyone! Yay!). We get it. You have to be insanely hard on yourself to get to the level you need to be at as an aerialist, so someone has got to pick up the self-love slack. You need your peers to do it for you. And when you see them suffering, writhing in a puddle of self-doubt, the empathy's automatic. And you've seen what they can do. You have the perspective they can't have. It's a symbiotic relationship I never get tired of observing, and being a part of.

It feels so weird to be talking about how hard aerial is outside of an aerial space. I feel compelled to downplay my self-doubt, and frustration with non-aerialists because it feels...selfish? Like, humble-bragging somehow? I don't know.

But I have a sneaking suspicion this phenomenon is not specific to aerialists. I have a feeling writers feel this way, and artists, and musicians, and yoga teachers, and, like, what are some normal jobs? Those, too! And if you don't have anyone to freak out to about how hard this is and how much you suck and how badly you want to stop sucking, I think you end up turning all that inward, until you actually are struggling to think positive, and love yourself.

So, find your team. Find someone, preferably several someones, who you can get real with. Because you need it. Because support is beautiful. Because honesty is essential. Because the gap is real. And it's a dream-killer if you can't acknowledge it. Because it's not self-deprecation if it's an accurate assessment of your feelings, expressed as a request for perspective, for hope, for help.

I'm telling you right now. No matter what it is, you're closer than you think. The seeds of what will make you a unique master of your particular passion are already present. Trust yourself. Don't give up.

Live Omily,
~em