Boundaries Practice 005
A return to travel; its wonders and woes
I’ve spent the better part of this month away from home, tracing an ‘L’ shape first across the country by plane to Florida where my parents live, and then driving with my husband to a cabin on a river in Idaho where our two friends eloped. Being in motion usually allows my thoughts to flow, and perhaps my feelings as well; that’s one reason I like to choreograph.
Travel disrupts the normal order of things and puts us in unusual contexts that have the ability to overwhelm and disorient us. I don’t necessarily mean negatively. This temporary way of being—literally navigating, accommodating changing circumstances, being accommodated, feeling trapped, feeling free—can threaten to put us over the edge emotionally in all kinds of ways. I’ve been noticing how shedding tears is a way of taking up more space, and of affecting space, and how we tend to take on the uncomfortable responsibility of making other people feel uncomfortable, even if that’s not our responsibility. Surrounded by people we trust, on the other hand, showing emotion and allowing it to be received, understood, and reciprocated can bring us closer. (If I’ve learned anything from reality television, it’s this.)
As I read on a plane in a few-weeks-old New Yorker this month: “Hypersensitivity and the will of the devil.” That’s what Alice Neel said it takes to be an artist. Last time, I wrote about letting go of shame, which was enlightening in the sense that it unencumbered me. It lifted a real burden. The experiment, I would say, is working. But I wonder if that baseline of guilt-for-no-reason-other-than-being-socialized-to-feel-it helped to dull the experience of other intense emotions. It was maybe a clumsy protective mechanism, a boundary or layer of padding that wasn’t particularly useful other than as a distraction from even sharper feelings: sadness, anger, grief, resentment, not-knowing, anxiety, fear, wondering, excitement, warmth, comfort, appreciation, love. Higher highs, lower lows.
In Clubhouse, in the weeks before and while I visited my parents, we talked about Parents, Approval, and Mentorship. With each conversation, the group has been supportive, open, and insightful. Still, I found myself treading in deeper waters, struggling to locate any boundary that would serve me. Each topic conjured all kinds of things that I am in the process of figuring out but haven't figured out yet. In therapy and in Boundaries Practice, it’s as if I’m poking at pebbles I placed over a geyser decades ago. As a facilitator, it’s uncomfortable to disclose that I don’t know, let alone let deep, energetic feeling shoot to the surface. And since the beginning, I’ve struggled to identify the bounds of this writing practice. What kinds of things do I put here, and what don’t I?
The thing is, when I first started thinking about boundaries, it was in a very practical manner. I looked for physical boundaries in the form of space and walls; acknowledged my own limitations of time and ability and learned how to stop working for free, delegate, and press pause. I realized that some people assumed that I wouldn’t say no to them and taught myself—am teaching myself—how to orchestrate a subtle (or obvious) “fuck off.” I want to somehow impart these things to people: you can take control of your time and focus, say no, gain power, recognize your value, grow wealth.
So as you can see, boundaries have been relatively material for me until recently, and I also have a long history of intellectualizing things that might fit more appropriately into emotional or spiritual realms. Critics have commented on my choreography that it’s cerebral, too in my head, not enough in the body. And I’m understanding that I may have entered dance life in the first place as a way of institutionalizing and controlling my emotions; they were fine on command, fine on stage, fine as felt by others in my work or in the audience, but often dismissed at home, not fine to share in everyday life or randomly put on the Internet as I’m doing now. (This newsletter had several fitful starts; I almost wrote to you about sobbing on a plane in the presence of strangers, but ultimately I threw it out.)
On my journey home from Idaho, as we slowly inched across the map through Nevada and through long stretches without service, I allowed myself to notice the in-between spaces. When we travel by plane we are protected from the reality that there’s really nothing between towns, there’s so much space, so much of our country inhospitable and grand and beautiful and depressing and yet, after all of our embarrassing and crumbling development, after broken-down towns and garish cities (hi, Las Vegas), it’s still available to us, even if the only infrastructure is one road going in only two directions. I allowed boundaries-thoughts to slowly drift through my mind, jotting them down once home.
Boundaries are about how we share space, and indeed how we share our lives. They are about finding our place in the world—always a moving target.
Not to be self-helpy (lol), but I resumed listening to Ezra Klein’s show with this episode on unlearning anxiety. My favorite takeaway was near the end, when guest Jud Brewer describes anxiety as a sweater one can freely take off (and cautions against identifying as anxious).
I am slightly hesitant to recommend Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler only because I thought it did such a good job of capturing the absurdity of our present day, specifically Twitter.
On our road trip, we listened to The Line, which is all about the fine distinction between right and wrong in combat.
I’m reading Hunger by Roxane Gay. She writes, heartbreakingly: “Men could smell it on me, that I had lost my body, that they could avail themselves of my body, that I wouldn’t say no because I knew my no didn’t matter.”
The Weekly Stretch
by Taylor Unwin
This from Parents week: Laying on your back, hug your knees into your chest and rock from side to side. Letting the knees fall open, reach for the arches of the feet with your hands and open your hips in 'happy baby' pose. Allow the weight of the legs to fall down towards the floor, take a few deep breaths into the belly, and rock side to side. For a deeper stretch, make small circles with the feet by initiating movement from the hands, press the knees deeper towards the ground, and move the feet towards and away from your chest.