Dancing with Corbusier: A Story of Life in Architecture

At first, I don’t think I even knew it was his building.

When I started taking classes in the Visual and Environmental Studies department, the fact that I was in one of the most famous buildings in North America wasn’t uppermost in my mind. I’m sure someone told me – at Harvard, these things don’t go unremarked – but what I remember most about the building wasn’t the architecture.

Twice a week, before my class, I would dance. The room was quiet and had plenty of open space; I could put on my Walkman and use the room as a different kind of studio. The windows facing the ramps even acted as mirrors, although I sometimes suffered a bit of embarrassment as passerby would wonder about the strange lady twirling through the room to the strains of Enya. But the freedom of movement, the absorption in the music, the transformation of my lunch hour into an experience of passion and power – this made the brief space before class into one of the most enjoyable memories of my college experience.

In truth, I did notice the architecture. Without Le Corbusier’s free design and horizontal windows, my dance studio might neve have come to be. What I find interesting, however, is how little I enjoyed the architecture when using it for its intended purposes – as a design studio classroom, it was an unfriendly and uncomfortable space, with poor lighting and environmental controls. It wasn’t a building that you wanted to cozy up to, as most of its surfaces were bare concrete; it often felt dark and dismal, not an inspiration for creativity or camraderie.

Yet for an hour, I could make those hard surfaces into something wonderful and welcoming. That’s the power of people in buildings: we can make them real, living things. Not frozen music, but music for dancing.

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Charade

Lightly men talk of saying what they mean … When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years … you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces? (C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold)

I don’t bother hiding from God, because I know he knows anyway; it’s a comfort, in fact, not to have to play games, and yet to know that He loves me regardless. But with people, who can you trust to be like that? It is safer to put on a façade, to be careful, correct, distant; to remain guarded and in control as much as you are able.

I wonder if it would be a good thing for us all to be laid bare. Oftentimes it is said to be good that we can’t read each other’s minds, because we won’t want to know the things we find out. But I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off that way, if we wouldn’t learn how to deal with others and ourselves truthfully for a change, and to accept our differences and peculiarities because it is so evident that we all have them. We might not be able to manipulate each other any more; we might have to face the results of our actions; we might have to learn how to change our hearts and attitudes instead of just our sound bites and slogans. Probably, though, we hide mostly because we don’t want to see our own faces; the greatest fear may not be having to live with other people, but having to live with ourselves.

First love and healing

Out of the blue, I got an email this morning from my college boyfriend (the “evil ex,” as he was informally named). It had been two years since we last communicated, and at the time he asked me to stop talking to him because I was part of a bad sex addiction pattern that he was engaging in therapy to get free from. That was definitely one of the stranger emails of my life, but now it seems that he’s well and happy and doing fine.

It got me to thinking about the oddity that was our relationship, and about the time it really takes to get over someone. You could probably say that we were involved with each other for nigh on 7 years, even though our official dating period was about 3 or 4 months. While my habit of making bad relationship choices started up a few years earlier, Dan was my first really damaging relationship, the kind that just messes you up in the head for a long time and takes therapy to get over. I sometimes think he was the start of the karma for the stupid, hurtful things I did in my high school “experimentation” phase. All that said, though, he was also the first guy I ever really gave my heart to, and because of that, I always had this connection to him that made me happy despite the crap.

There’s some weird way in which being held by Dan always felt like coming home, and we always seemed to fit together and understand each other, even when we were hurting each other. So much of what we were doing was crappily using each other, but when we would hug … it was like being safe and protected and I never wanted to leave. I remember one party where we just stood there, holding each other; and I could tell that the people around us in this crowded kitchen didn’t know what the heck was going on, but I don’t think eaither of us really cared because we were in our own little world of good things without bad words for those few minutes.

We weren’t good with words; we were better with our bodies. Things were easier if we didn’t try to confuse them with all the hard thoughts from outside. Of course, that ended up being the problem, since we didn’t know how to exist in a relationship when we were out of bed and dealing with the real world, and so he was distant and cheated on me and I tried to get back at him by flirting with other guys and I got really hurt and put a stop to the whole thing but then he told me how much he missed me and we had sex again … and on and on, every few months for years. It became a game at some point, counting how many months it had been since I had sex with Dan. Sometimes we went for a long time and I managed to fit whole other relationships in between.

It was good he moved away, and though I was sad at the time I think it was good that we stopped talking, so we could both move on. I was sad not because I missed the sex so much as because by that time, we had almost started behaving like friends and actually being nice to each other. But there was always that undertone of the physical attraction, and we both needed to get away from that. I used to worry that Dan would be able to pop back into my life and disrupt it any time he wanted, and that I would always get sucked back into things with him. It’s not that I haven’t been able to resist him; last time he showed up in the middle of one of my relationships, I told him how happy I was and that I didn’t want to hurt this great guy I was with (the “great guy” part turned out to be a lie, but the not cheating part was good for my spiritual integrity). But I remember how much I wanted him to come in, and how hard it was not to pick up the phone and tell him to come back. I didn’t want that draw on my life forever.

I hope we’re both done with that now. I do wonder if it will be weird should I hang out with him before he goes out west, but I think we’re in such different places than we were three years ago that those intense feelings just aren’t who we are any longer. The thing that really makes me glad about him writing me is that I can think about him and be happy for him without the unresolved angst. I like the idea of being able to see the name of my friend the composer and not feel strange; I like the idea that I could go to a performance he’s conducting without the overarching drama. That was the place I was hoping we’d manage to get to when we were done with all the mess, and I like to think that we might be finally heading that direction.

Trauma and Delays

I guess voting made me so sad that I couldn’t bear to post in my blog for 6 months. Huh, I didn’t think I was that upset.

Actually, it’s just been really busy around here, and I’m starting to realize that I need to take a new, less intensive approach to this whole thing. I don’t have to write a big dissertation every time I come here; if this is mostly for me, I can just write whatever comes into my head. Isn’t that what the internet is all about?

Shame

This is the saddest Election Day in the history of my voting career.

I went out to vote because I feel that a responsible citizen should be an active participant in the politial process. I chose the candidate that I thought would do the best job. Isn’t that supposed to make me feel good?

Instead I feel somehow ashamed, like I let my country down. It can’t be right to cast a vote for someone you don’t like, don’t particularly trust, don’t even feel like you know what they believe. I thought he was less likely to screw more things up than the other guy, but I don’t have any confidence that he’s going to make things better or make them right. I feel like I cheated, like it would have been more intellectually honest to do a write-in for “Jesus” than to do what I did. But that felt like a cop-out, like avoiding making the hard choice that citizenship requires of me. I’ve voted inelections where I had to make hard choices before, but they never mad me feel bad about voting.

When I came out, I consoled myself by saying that it didn’t matter, that my vote wasn’t going to change the Electoral College contribution of my state no matter what I did. But how is that a consolation – that I live in a one-party state, where only 2 of the nine contests I could vote for had more than one name? It just emphasizes my basic problem with this election: despite the wonderful freedom I have to participate in elections without fear, I am also in the midst of a system that offers little choice, in which there’s rarely a candidate I’m truly excited to support, and I’m usually left trying to not to vote for whoever would be worse.

I feel ashamed because instead of protesting this system, I bought into it; I validated it by complacently accepting its offerings. I want to change it, but I just don’t know how. I hope I can figure something out soon.

Chemical Dependency

Increasingly, over the last several years, I find that the maintenance of my health requires prescription medications. Thyroid conditions, birth-control pills – all of a sudden, half the things in my body seem to need external assistance with their proper functioning. During the period a few years back when my migraines were really bad, I had a combination of 5-6 different medications to take on a semi-regular basis. I would look at my sink and think, “What does an able-bodied twentysomething woman need with all these drugs?” I felt very old, and sickly. These days, though, my meds are down to three, and there’s only one of them that really bothers me.

I’ve struggled with depression since I was a young child, and a few years back decide to finally head in for some overdue counseling. I hadn’t exactly looked down on therapy before, I just wasn’t sure that I would find a therapist who understood my worldview and could help mw work through my issues in a way that was consistent with my faith. But it worked out pretty well – I found a series of good psychologists I could trust, and I found that my experience was very positive overall.

But anti-depressants? That was another matter. I had a lot of hang-ups about meds for my mind; I didn’t like the idea of having to rely on a drug to alter my mental state and keep me functional. I know there’s no shame in it, I have family members who are on anti-depressants and friends who have considered it, and I’ve never looked down on any of them. But somehow, for me, it felt like that would be a failure, a sign of my weakness and inability to control my emotions like a normal human being should be able to. I thought that would be the final signal that there was really, truly something fundamentally wrong with me, and that would justify why other people never seemed to treat me the way that I wanted.

Well, I guess there is something fundamentally wrong with me, because after a few months trial on anti-depressants and a few months unintentional hiatus as I switched doctors and tried to get all my prescriptions re-ordered, I’m discovering that I just don’t cope as well without them. And I do feel ashamed, especially now that I realize I need them to stay on an even keel – before, it was just a trial and something that seemed to help me out a little, but now I feel dependent, and I hate knowing that I can’t respond to things without crying and being hypersensitive unless I’m being chemically aided. Blah blah blah imbalance, blah blah blah there’s no such thing as normal – tell most people on the street that you can’t get through the day without bursting into tears over something, and you can just see the “emotional freakshow” warning sign start flashing in their brain. No matter how much people like you, even if they love you, no one wants to be around a depressed person for very long.

And that’s at the heart of the thing I’m still struggling with, even after all the therapy: I don’t believe that anyone would really accept me as I am, moody, overweight, opinionated, bossy, messy. I know that’s probably partly the depression talking, and that I only listed bad qualities there; but no one stops hanging around me because I’m too nice, or too friendly. I want to know that there’s one person in my life who will be able to look at me and still see that I’m beautiful, fun, sweet, smart and loveable, no matter what other aspects of my personality might be on display. And I feel so tired and so frustrated and so alone when I have to keep fixing myself to be what everyone says I should be; no matter how hard I try, I just don’t seem to be doing it right enough.

At any rate, I hope this stuff starts kicking in soon, because this week is off to a crappy start so far.

Denying My Countrymen

The Olympics are the worst time for me to be an American. Somehow, watching us exhibit our sportiness on the international stage builds up this huge tidal wave of anti-American sentiment that I would never exhibit at any other time. I’m rooting for everyone else to beat us, and part of me is sad every time we do well. It’s a little disturbing, really; and what’s more, it’s not something that has been with me all my life. I remember the 1984 Olympics and how excited I was about everything – I think my family must have taped at least half of the TV coverage, certainly all of the swimming and gymnastics and probably a good portion of the track and field – and I loved America back then. I loved that the games were here, I loved our teams, and i think it might have been one of the last times I remember really loving the Olympics themselves.

Now they make me feel disillusioned, jaded. I’m still not over the professional athletes thing; I hate how much, despite the way everyone talks about showing off the global community and international spirit, the Games make so clear the disparity between rich and poor nations; I hate that the IOC lets China decide what Taiwan ought to be called. I hate Olympic commentators, because they fill the airwaves with stupid, stupid, not even midly entertaining blather. I hate NBC’s super-hyper-America-centric coverage, as if no one in this country wants to see anyone else but us. (What’s that joke about how Americans doesn’t understand the term “other countries”?) I hate that, in the parade of nations, they cut away when all these little, obviously unimportant countries are marching, but they’d never even think of cutting away during America’s or Australia’s million-man marches. I hate that the parade of nations reminds me that the United States, a supposed democracy, holds numerous territories where the people who live there are governed by laws they have no ability to help make or change.

When did I become so bitter?

I don’t know why I can’t see the good in the Olympics. Well, that’s not totally true; I just can’t see the good in America’s part in the Olympics, at least not most of the time. I was really moved by Japan’s win in the men’s team gymnastics finals and, I loved South Africa’s win in the swimming relay the other day. I like the underdog stories, that’s part of it, but I also like the fact that the South Africans wiped that smug look off of Michael Phelps’s face. But why did Japan only matter in the last round, when they beat the American men? This team went from 7th place after the 2nd rotation to a gold medal; that must have been some beautiful gymnastics. Why didn’t I see more of it? Am I just watching the wrong NBC channel, and maybe if I tune into USA, it’ll be better?

I remember how we used to look forward to every 4 years, the Olympics are coming! It was a big deal, we all dropped everything to watch it. It was like the space shuttle going up, but for 2 whole weeks. Now, the space shuttle gets an AP news item, and nobody stops to care unless it blows up. What happened to the world, and to me?