“Don’t be afraid that it won’t be perfect, Bobby. Just be afraid that it won’t be.”
— Stephen Sondheim, Company
I have always treated life as a laboratory. I have always done in order to learn, instead of the other way around — and it’s only in the last couple of years that neuroscientists have caught on that actually, yeah, that is how humans operate.
I’ve spent my whole life discovering myself, subtracting everything that isn’t me, learning my own story chapter by chapter, and throwing my greatest genius into living, with the belief that everything trickles down from that. Life is a daily practice of hitting the mat and working with whatever this “Jordana” version of the Big Universe looks like, no matter what.
I’m a laborator.
What’s great about laborating is that in my Me Laboratory, it’s all me. I have total command of all the resources, total control, total freedom, total power. I can decorate and excruciate and pontificate and ameliorate to a fare-thee-well and sometimes that’s an ideal confluence that optimally benefits the world. Sometimes that’s perfect. Some journeys are solo journeys.
And some journeys are not.
Sometimes it’s time to be an easel artist, and to create something as specifically me as I can, and experience that process of self-discovery and self-exploration and self-growth. And sometimes it’s time to help a friend who already has a sense of what she wants work out a new font and logo for her essential oils collection. Sometimes it’s time to be the US voice, web designer, artist, translator, and PR rep for an Argentinian design company that makes little girls’ party frocks:
….Sometimes it’s time to do production design and set design and storefront window design and scenic art and celebrate the alchemy of working with other people. Sometimes, we exchange some of that solitary creative control for a different creative tool: mutual inspiration.
Because here’s something I learned designing those little movies and plays: there are some visions that only come to life as the fruit of joint creative processes. It’s the difference between sperm in a cup and a baby. Everybody has to do exactly only their job, every time. Everybody contributes their way of seeing the bigger picture. The director has his vision and he does everything he can to make it happen, and if he tried to be a focus puller, it wouldn’t work. The actor has his vision. The cinematographer has his. And it can take time, to learn how to see together. ….I’ve always admired filmmakers like Krystof Kieslowski and Patrice Leconte, who get their team and then stick with them, so that over the years the work becomes progressively less the result of “several people” and progressively more the result of “one group.” My favourite professional dance partners are all pairs who have been dancing together for years. We all need time to become.
“But what about what Diana says? What about the truth that the Kingdom of God is inside us?” If God is inside us, then why don’t we just do everything ourselves? Why exchange even a fraction of the glory of, “I see the truth and it is this and it must be this way and I’m going to make it be this way,” for a conversational process? Rembrandt and Bach and Isadora Duncan could not possibly have created their work with co-authors. We would not have wanted them to.
God has many faces. Our job is to practice seeing them. Some faces you see one way, and some faces you see another.
They say it takes two to tango. What that has looked like for me over the years is, I have my home practice and it’s meditative and beautiful and nit-picky and I go into the kind of full-fathom-five level of somatic detail generally reserved for autists and bodhissatvas. I revel in a fractal awareness of my process, delving and delving and delving and delving. And…delving. I’ll take fifteen minutes to change weight from one foot to another, at the end of which I’ll have had some little epiphany. Or I’ll spend an hour fucking around, not
doing one single thing that “looks like” tango. I’ll wear anything or nothing, I’ll read every kind of medical textbook, I’ll play one song a hundred times, I’ll be various, I’ll be beautiful, I’ll be new. It’s wonderful, and it’s all about meeeee.
And I have to have that space and that time, to laborate. I have to create that.
And then when I dance with an actual human being, it’s different! It’s not about “that” any more, it’s about something else, except for moments when I choose to make it be about “that”. And their dance with me is different from their own practice too. In the immortal words of a friend describing his own process as a dancer, “you do it in a lesson and it’s one way. You do it at home and it’s different. You do it at the milonga and it’s different. You do it in performance and it’s different.”
There are moments when dancing with another person when I think, “well damn, I had that thing all worked out when I was doing it by myself! And now it’s different!” And the adaptation tool overrides the perfectifying tool. ….I remember one jam session with a friend, where I was feeling self-conscious because this Technique I had worked out to my satisfaction at home wasn’t manifesting itself as I chose. And he said, “enh, I like a little chaos.” And I
thought, “that does sound like fun.” And suddenly Technique didn’t matter any more because we were actually dancing, and that was way better. We were creating something I couldn’t have created on my own. We had both put in the time at home learning the music theory and the chord progressions and the mechanical technique, and now we were playing jazz. Together. Because some kinds of artistic growth are about constantly balancing “I’m going to go over here and get really good at playing my instrument by myself” with “and now we play, like kids on a playground,” every step of the way. Balancing structure and unstructure, constantly evolving and progressing.
I love yoga but part of why I’m a tango dancer first and a yogini as a distant, more dilettante-ish second is that tango is a group personal process and yoga is an individual personal process. Tango is “about” everything, and part of that is, it’s “about” listening to everybody. Listening to yourself and the other guy, equally. Constantly becoming aware of and practicing that balance.
But there is a charming element in yoga that I really love. We spend all that time folding ourselves into solitary pretzels on our mats, and then at the very end, we say a blessing and give our practice away, reminding ourselves:
It’s not worth a thing until you share it.
And then when you share it, your laboration creates a beautiful new thing: