Could have done

Every blog post I write in my mind is AMAZING. When I sit down to write, however, all my ideas feel like an outfit on the morning after a night out, and I am left with a memory of the possibility of something awesome that I haven’t actually done - of something that I could have done.

Except that I didn’t do it. Obviously. So is it really true that I could have?

Well. While I prefer to hold the door open for possibility and try to blur the line between probable and improbable, whether or not I could is an unknowable, a made-up reference point only, a diversion. Unless I do the thing, whether or not I could is a moot point. And if I do, whether or not I could is not a question.

This particular speculation is a waste of time. And it has taken me a very long time to recognize that it is a waste of time. The majority of my career. Actually, make that life – the majority of my life.

Do the thing. Then we can talk about it.

Parenthetical Aside: Making sense of life, Lesson #73

Believing one can do something, being able to do something, and actually doing something are independent things. Related, but not interdependent.

There was an older lady sitting in front of me at a Merce Cunningham Dance Company performance in Austin, TX, in 1992. At the end of the concert she turned to the woman seated next to her and said, “Well, I could have done that.” This proved to be an important moment in my life.

I was a freshman in college, and I was taking my first semester of Modern Dance after a young lifetime of ballet. All of us dance students had the opportunity to have class with Meg Harper (Cunningham dancer 1968-1977, Rehearsal Director) for an entire week leading up to the performance, and we were able to experience first-hand how the appearance of simplicity and clarity in the Cunningham technique exists in direct relation to its difficulty of execution.

I always think one of the superpowers dancers have is the ability to make an insane statement about physicality true. Like this: have your weigh evenly distributed between both legs even when one leg is off the ground. Or another way to say it: don’t shift your pelvis when you lift one foot off the ground. That’s just crazy. That’s one of the things we had been working on and after 5 days, I could kind of do it, or rather I could do it, just not consistently – and I was not untalented as a dancer. I knew how much effort and practice went into the appearance of ease that led an elderly woman to believe that she could be a Cunningham dancer.

As for the performance, I didn’t get it at all, and frankly, I was more than a bit put off by this whole “Modern” thing. But even though I did not understand the performance, I could recognize that there was something happening – there was a syntax, a thing to be gotten, I just didn’t know how to get it. Like I was somehow a puzzle piece that didn’t have the right shape to complete the image.

I was learning about Cunningham’s process involving chance operations, and his lifetime collaboration with John Cage. It was a process that seemed simple: make a bunch of material, roll the dice, assign the parts and call it a choreography. But my experience with the physicality of the technique was that simplicity was an aesthetic choice that seemed to create more possibility, not less. Because of this, I was open to the possibility that the simplicity of his creative process also created more possibility and complexity, not less, even if I wasn’t able to understand it yet. And I knew there was no way that “I could have done that.”

“I could have done that.”

I don’t think it is ever true. What I have come to understand is that the work is made in the making, and that it is deeply personal. I can work with the same idea and utilize the same process as another choreographer, and even if we start with the same movement, the physical sequencing will be unique to each of us and the piece I make will always be different than hers.

In the same way that I have written an infinite number of interesting and intelligent imaginary blog posts, I have also started a million dances in my head – super exciting dances with perfectly sequenced phrases - that I have yet to make.  

The only piece that matters is the one you make.