I'm starting off with The Weight of Memories by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu. ~2,800 words, science fiction. While sometimes I give content warnings, I'm choosing not to on this one. (Okay, I'm giving one: I personally found the science to be implausible, but that doesn't bother me in stories so long as the narrative is internally consistent and doesn't bill itself as hard science.)
This is a story about a violent conflict between memories and experiences--the sames memories experienced very differently, with very different results. If we are the sums of our experiences, then is it possible to add up the same things and arrive at two different sums? Yes, says this story, depending on how the addition is done.
As a very visual reader I also loved how spare the story is, and how stark, with almost all the violent bursts of color coming from the memories being relived.
I was also very deeply touched by this story as a Chinese person. I don't talk about it a lot, but that is my heritage. A lot of awful events (check Wikipedia, I don't have it in me to discuss) went on over the last two generations, which my family, especially my parents, somehow survived. I grew up never asking about my family's past because the answer was invariably Yet Another Awful Story. And I feel sometimes—and my parents too—that China is changing so fast that one generation doesn't understand another, and this story touches on that connection/disconnect as well. I'm shivering as I type those words. Read the story to find out why.
You may look over the above and say "gosh, Kara, that's a really dark recommendation." Fair enough. A friend once summed up my authorial obsessions as "memory, death, tragic love." What is there to say other than ... may as well lean in. If you're on my wavelength, this may resonate painfully but wonderfully for days, as it did and still does for me.
* Okay so in reality I reserve the right to recommend whatever piece of writing I feel like, but for now at least, I want to focus on short stories!
Goals for this upcoming week of home practice:
- 2x back workouts
- 2x core workouts
- 3 home barres (any level)
- 1x spotting practice coupled with chainé turn practice, sigh but I want to start getting better at turns
- Every day:
- 4x passé passing front/back on flat, 4x on demipointe
- 8x passé HOLD on each leg (4x on flat, 4x on demipointe)
- 24x elevé on each leg
- Stretches (all splits, the two hip stretches)
But the best prep I actually did was a lot of practicing how to turn at the barre. Most combinations are done first on the right or left, and then switch to the other side. If you are at the barre, this generally means you need to turn 180 degrees so that you can switch hands (and feet). This is not done casually. No. It is accomplished by some variation on:
1) Rise into sous sus
2) Turn 180 degrees on the working leg (defined as the leg away from the barre) towards the barre
3) Come back down on working leg while simultaneously placing the other leg in front of working leg; now it is the new working leg
I'm not sure if that made sense in writing. It certainly did not in speaking, which is why I spent so much time staring at YouTube and tied my ankles into knots at home trying to practice.
The other hard bit about this turn is you don't want to start either too close or too far from the barre; otherwise once you finish the turn you will either end up squeezed into the barre or so far away that your arm can't reach. So you have to place the working foot correctly at the start. Here's where it came in handy to learn that in sous sus, 1) the toes of both feet are supposed to be aligned (this is a very popular pose for pointe photos, especially from the side) 2) when you rise into sous sus from fifth or whatever, you don't shift both feet towards the middle; you pull the working foot to line up with the standing foot. Consequently your working leg will be at the same distance from the barre as your standing leg, thus ensuring that once you've turned around, you will remain at your ideal distance (assuming that you were at a good distance before the sous sus). Clever, that one. Anyway, this sounds like a very small matter, but I assure you that with the amount of turning there was in class, I felt much less awkward compared to last time when I had zero idea what to do. It also helped with other small turns; having the muscle memory to pivot and close in fifth without thinking too hard is very handy. Unfortunately this bit me somewhat when we did a combination with a passe relevé closing in the back. I think out of eight times, I closed in the front seven times.
Now back to staring at videos trying to learn assemblé, which was whipped out last night and I had never heard of it before. I was able to stay late and get some tips but for sheer patience, nothing beats YouTube for a teacher.
In particular, I have (with some embarrassment but obviously not enough to stop me) longed after the leo/skirt outfit worn by certain years/classes of Vaganova swans-in-training. It's the same outfit you see in my DW icon for this post. It took me a stupidly long time and much failed googling before realizing they were probably wearing Grishko, which is the Russian ballet brand. Well, Grishko dancewear is not easily if at all available in the states (although their pointe shoes appear to be readily available). P.S. you can find some creepy yet hilariously awful photoshopping if you trudge through their English website in desperation like I did.
An aside: this obsession set in just before Worldcon, so I had the genius thought "Finland is close to Russia, maybe in Helsinki ..." and so I spent my first sleep-deprived day pounding some pavement at dancewear stores instead of, you know, going to the con. Anyway it was a bust. I should've gone to some panels ...
But I was undeterred! And after weeks of googling for various combinations of "cornflower" "periwinkle" "[insert other blue-purple shades here]" "leotard" and "skirt" I hit lookalike paydirt. I am now the proud owner of a Dansko leotard in perris lilac and a Mirella skirt in periwinkle.
Having obtained my objective, the real question is, how shameless do I have to be to go to class dressed like that?! Answer: I have less ballet budget then shame, so I'm not letting these acquisitions go to waste. Do svidanya, see you in the studio.
(Where was the class post last week? Out sick, like myself. Hopefully I will be able to attend a class tomorrow night.)
It was much more hardcore, complete with a live pianist, what riches! And it was wonderful. The class was pretty large—16 people, when I'm used to under 10—and it was a notch above the beginner class I had been attending. I wasn't too surprised by this because I knew this studio offered an "adult fundamentals" class. The "beginner" class assumed a lot of knowledge. Fortunately I knew almost everything, if not from my class then from YouTube. The only things I missed were the turns, and if I had had the time/confidence I think I could have stayed after class to ask questions. Two other girls (whom I observed in class as being REALLY GOOD) were doing just that.
The class was 1.5 hours, and I'm used to 1 hour, but at least everyone was flagging in the last half hour. Which was of course when center practice is. LBR I started flagging in the second half of the barre, and of course combinations are most complex near the end. Life is cruel like that. Stress testing was interesting, however, personally speaking. I could tell that things were easier on my right side, whether it was balancing on the right foot or doing fancy combinations with the right working leg. And there was much balancing. So ... much ... passé. And arabesque. And attitude, which is more accurately 'assitude' when I do it. And then it was demi-pointe. So ... much ... sous sus. Shockingly, I stayed up most of the time, and even managed a few balanced moments on demi-pointe in passé. I think it was partly that I had no time to think, hey I can't do that, but instead just shrugged and went with it. Kathryn Morgan, my lady and savior of ballet, once said in an interview on getting through performances that she aims to get completely exhausted ASAP, and as soon as that happens, the rest is easy. I didn't believe her at the time but now I see what she means. If your muscles know the steps, then you're too tired to think about how you can't do this or that, and you just do.
The class was faster paced so I didn't have a lot of time to slow down and contemplate technique. For instance, when we were in the center, it wasn't until the fourth repeat of a combination that I remembered: draw the toes up the leg in a passé. And my feet fell out of turnout because my muscles aren't strong enough to maintain the rotation. Of course that kind of thing needs to get baked in to the cerebellum, but these moments are what do the baking, I figure. In addition, in such a large class we also got almost no individual attention, but the teacher did correct my arm placement on the barre (way too far back for good balance in attitude!) and at one point turned my leg out more during a dégagé to the side.
Lastly, the studio is clever: your second class is free, good for 60 days. I'm definitely going back. I'm seriously trying to figure out whether I can arrange to make this my new weekly class. It's more expensive than the other area studios, and more of a PITA to get to (bike ride to metro for a ride with a transfer!) but it's also obviously better. Of course if I had the time I would probably do as many others and take both classes: slower one for refining technique, faster one for learning new techniques. Shhhhh. I can dream.
Other discovery: one major reason that turning is hard is because no matter how good your spotting is, your damn body has to support the spot. If your body can't maintain a vertical line and keep your eyes at the same level in all three axes, you're sunk. This discovery brought to you by trying to do chainé turns quickly, which required going on demipointe, which I was not terribly stable on.
And in the annals of "skills I have but did not find them as helpful as I had hoped," an interesting divide was visible in this week's class. The teacher doesn't always follow the musical pattern during combinations, which drives me batty. Why are you doing four count combinations on music with 3/4 time? Unless you are combining three beats into one. Anyway, at one point she said to do eight jumps, but the music was in 6/8, so a couple of us just ... kept going ... because the measure wasn't over! (And sometimes the teacher totally goes off the beat, and then I just can't follow at all, because the movements and the music don't mesh in my head, and it all gets tossed out of short term memory.)
The other bit where classical piano training made dance hard for me at first is that in ballet, steps are often syncopated. Hence the joke that "and" is a number. At first I was really annoyed by this and thought it was irrational, then realized I was the irrational one. This happens because these movements are usually in two parts: you do the step, then you pull back into the starting position. So if you are doing four tendus in a 4/4 measure, you should extend on 0.5, then close on 1. So that you can extend on 1.5, and be closed again on 2. Etc., with the goal of finishing on the last beat. And if you are doing the steps slower, then you are effectively working in 2/4, and you're still moving on the off-beat. It was a revelation. (I suppose those who did marching band would have understood immediately!)
Unbelievably, however, the best skill I brought to ballet was something I learned from doing junior high musicals. Now I was too terrible to get a real part—four failed tryouts ha ha ha are testament to this fact—but the chorus line (essentially) was come one come all. The pas de bourrée (youtube link)—a really common step in Broadway-ish dancing—was drilled into our skulls and feet. So thanks, Mrs. Hoffenberg. You might have taught me the most out of anyone else in that school, in the end. (Teach the arts in public school! /soapbox)
Speaking of classes, I have now used up the 10-lesson card that I purchased at my current studio. I love my teacher but it is a long drive (now that I've moved) and conflicts with another need for the car this school semester. There's a studio closer to me that I can bike to and gives beginner class on the same night. Am contemplating trying it out next week, although it makes me sad. We shall see. Worst case, I can go back in January.
And I could deceive myself thus because there was no time to check in the mirror. A ballet studio is the one place where an entire wall covered in mirrors is not vanity, it is the opposite. It shows not only the inadequacy of my technique, it reveals the difference between what I feel my body is doing, and what I can see it to be doing. Mind you, I know I'm doing everything imperfectly, but the disparity between "bad" and "worse" is enormous. The really cruel irony is that I can't actually take that much time in the mirror anyways as long as I'm doing something—the amount of concentration it takes to check my form interferes with, you know, counting to eight. Or remembering the combination. Or keeping my form. The mirror works better if I'm already standing still while being instructed, trying to carve a form into muscle memory so that it can then be done again, sight unseen.
* Hips remain the worst. I feel like the pregnancy actually messed with my hip sockets (not medically impossible) and that I had more turnout before it happened. Still, after a lot of sulky reading, it was nice to discover that almost nobody had perfect turnout. Even at Vaganova, which rumor says chooses its entering students 99% based on proximity to the Ideal Ballet Skeleton (talent is an afterthought**; five hours of dancing six days a week will train that into you) you still see via YouTube that most of them aren't doing 180.
** I feel like writers can also learn from this XD In fact the lesson is an optimistic one! Turnout is restricted by the genetics of one's hip socket. Last I heard, there are many ways to get words down on a page/computer screen.
As ever I had trouble with passé relevé but was lucky enough to find a great demo from Ballet In Form. The tip about the toes drawing lines is fantastic and has really helped. I'm not on pointe, but having enough trouble with the demi-pointe as it is. That said the issue is honestly that my calf muscles aren't strong enough to support anything on one leg in demi-pointe–but while I slowly train them with daily elevés (on both legs & one at a time), I'm also practicing finding my center with passé while standing flat. Someone had a tip about doing so while facing a wall, forcing you to reflexively turn out. So far so good. Now I just need to clear enough space to actually do a full barre at home again ...
And there’s no remedy for memory
Your face is like a melody
It won’t leave my head …
— Lana Del Rey, “Dark Paradise”
P.S. While you’re at it, may I suggest you try the other stories in the issue? I am personally very fond of “Oscars on the Rue Jules Verne.”
Probably the biggest new happiness multiplier in recent memory: I (re)started taking ballet at local studio. Although I am a complete beginner, I grew up on a steady diet of ballet books at varying qualities. I don't remember when I first saw the photos but I remember being completely entranced by the unparalleled beauty of the form. Lessons were not possible, so I read books, which is always the next best thing. I read all the Noel Streatfeild books, random teen serials where no book is complete without someone bursting into tears mid-dress rehearsal, and of course I read Jill Krementz's "A Very Young Dancer" so many times that it's burned into my mind. I also read all kinds of books about technique, and pored over photographs of classical ballets. Thanks, well-stocked childhood library!
One of the really flattering things that a teacher said at my very first lesson was "I can't believe you've never taken ballet before." And no matter how failhard I am at every lesson, I definitely laid up that comment to live by whenever I feel discouraged (the adagios in center practice, they slay me). And I do fail pretty hard, even for a beginner. My hips are stiff, I can barely follow simple choreography, and my placement is a mess. But I flatter myself that I have been mentally dancing for a very long time. So even when my feet are not right, I do know exactly what I am supposed to have done, and that sometimes--somehow--just a bit--shines through the mess of bad posture and worse turnout.
The other thing I love about ballet is that ... I am a fairly competitive and perfectionist person in most areas of my life, but dancing shuts down that part of my brain. That makes it freeing and meditative--I suspect that ballet is to me as yoga is to a lot of people. If my steps are not perfect, that's just my version of it and it's as valid as anyone else's, and I am shockingly content with that.
Which is the complete opposite of how I feel about writing! I submit my stories for publication, and I love it when people read and hopefully enjoy my stories. Part of me feels that a story is not real until it is shared--that it's just a hallucination in my brain until someone else confirms that they heard those voices too.
In ballet, I do not feel that way. I am overjoyed just to be in the studio. I could do endless tendus alone save for the accompanying music on my phone. I feel absolutely no need to be on a stage.
I wonder if I would be a better writer, if I also felt that way about my writing?
Anyway, this was a rambling post. If you want to read a serious post about taking ballet as an adult, I wholeheartedly recommend the excellent essay "Swan, Late: The unexpected joys of adult beginner ballet."
If she logs into Wordpress, she will see that she needs to update her Wordpress installation.
If she tries to update her Wordpress installation via wp cli, she will get weird cURL errors.
If she tries to investigate the cURL errors, she will discover her MySQL process is obsolete and needs updating via migrating data. This has nothing to do with her error which turns out to be a hosting issue, but she's still going to want to fix it.
If she tries to migrate data, she will have to make a new user for the new MySQL process.
If she makes a new user, she will have to figure out why she can't seen to grant it @#$%&*! privileges.
If she figures out all of the above, then voila, she will have successfully migrated her data and her website is loading correctly!
... and then she will want to write a new blog post all about the experience.
(By which time the cURL issue will have magically resolved itself, because it was completely unrelated ... but it's good web admin practice even for a n00b, right? laughingcrying.gif)
I love sewing but don't usually have enough uninterrupted free time for a project. So on Memorial Day, I treated myself to a morning spent making Wiksten bloomers for my almost-two-year-old Bean. Three hours to make and three weeks to outgrow! If I'm lucky.
Now for a brief review of the pattern, followed by process photos under the cut. I consider myself an adventurous beginner (applies to sewing and pretty much the rest of my life). The pattern was perfect for my level. Highly recommended, especially if you have a small human on hand. If not, perhaps you will make a relative or friend very happy.
( Process photos under cut. )
I enjoy many creative endeavors but sewing and knitting are special to me. I think it's because of the unspoken the guarantee of the craft: if I do all the preparations and follow all the instructions correctly, I will end up with exactly what I intended. For this writer, that is the true treat above all treats.
I love all my children equally ... said the parent of one child (and this is true, she said, in Peter Sagal's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me voice). But in all earnestness, A Remedy for Memory represents something special to me, not least that I don't know when to quit. I wrote my first version of this story back in 2009, and since then I've lost count of the number of times I revised or completely rewrote the piece. I was going to rewrite it again--I still have the outline in my Google Docs--if there were no takers this year. But I am beyond happy that someone does want it.
As for the story sitting in my revised outline, I still plan to write it, or something like it, one day. Like I said, I don't know when to quit.
I was still waffling until last week when a close friend, who is not generally given to Acts of Carpe Diem, announced that he was going to climb freaking Kilimanjaro next month. I've never been one to give in to peer pressure, but that was a challenge I couldn't entirely ignore. Also, I've been feeling a bit in a rut lately, and this was a kick that I needed.
So I made some spreadsheets and then decided to go for it. Aside from the excitement and opportunities of Worldcon, I just want to see Helsinki! I also have very probably unrealistic dreams of doing some light hiking with my DSLR in tow.
I still haven't decided how many days I'll go for--in any case I can't be there the entire time, my employer beckons--but I'm full of excitement and plans. Which is, if you will permit the cheesiness, my absolute favorite state of mind.
Me: move to Colorado, try not to wipe out in Camry, live too far to bike to work so drive everywhere, give up. Leave Colorado for Maryland, buy a Subaru, bike everywhere.
And the day after purchasing the car, I ordered some wool socks and merino leggings.
Spousal Unit: What are you going to do, turn on the a/c in the Subaru while wearing them?
Now, because I have a very poor sense of direction, the household joke/diagnosis is that I live in my own personal TARDIS. I usually only get lost in space, but you could argue that in this instance, I've once again* gotten lost in time and I was actually buying all these things two years ago in Colorado, when they would have been much more useful.
* So there was also the incident when we were trying to go to a Moscow museum of classical art and I somehow navigated us to a modern art museum. Artistic satire in the form of a Stalinist-era golden toilet stall is really something, let me tell you.
Usually this results in a few days of wallowing in all my failures of the year, followed by a few days of vowing to do better and scrambling to put systems in place to do so. This year was no exception, and my brain fixated on my fiction writing, which I didn't work on as much as I would have liked in 2016.
The reasons aren't all bad. Some of it was failure and procrastination and laziness. But I also burned the candle at both ends successfully developing my career in writing non-fiction. That job keeps my family fed and sheltered and warm, and I'm also pretty fond of it for its own sake. So I'm happy and proud of what I've accomplished in that arena.
Still, we all only have so many Action Points in a day. If nothing else, 2016 taught me to honor my limits. And I had to admit that I simply didn't have the resources to spend as much time grinding at my fiction tech tree*. And that was okay. Everything builds on everything else, and what I did accomplish is not a waste. It's only a waste if I forget what it's all pointing towards.
So in 2017, my goal is to rekindle that love, commit to finishing more stories whether or not I submit them for publication, and in general rebuild the foundation (of love, and squee, and passions both dark and light) that drive me to tell stories.
*If it wasn't already obvious, I view life as a mostly frustrating RPG.
This will be interesting because I am petite (5'3") as well as--not to put too fine a point on it--not a cylinder. So customization is mandatory in all sweater patterns. I had previously sworn up and down I was only going to do top down raglans in the future because it's SO EASY to adjust the most troublesome measurement areas for me. Also because seaming is the worst. So really, what I did last night shows that I had completely taken leave of my senses. XD However, the pattern very thoughtfully provides line drawings with all the measurements for all the sizes, so hopefully I should be able to mix and match? Thank you, Dianna Walla, for being so considerate of non-fit-model figures.
I don't get a lot of time to knit, so it's always special when I finish something. This weekend I bound off / washed / blocked my Mother of Pearl sweater, which is pretty much the sweetest little thing. (I prefer simple shapes in clothing, and until Bean has the words to tell me what she likes, so does she by proxy. Haha.)
Knitting is by far the biggest competitor for my writing time (the relatively quick gratification is so nice as a writer!), and if good yarn weren't so expensive it would win a lot more often. So you see, Madelinetosh et al's price points are a good thing ...
For any knitters who may be reading this: I made the 1 year old size with a lot of adjustments. The yarn was Dream In Color Classy (worsted) in the blue sulk colorway, which is obviously very different from my photo—I think they changed it though, because my yarn does not look like that at all, even allowing for lighting/monitor differences. Anyway, you can find the details on my Ravelry page.