Tomorrow night I am performing in the student showcase at my aerial studio. I’ve been doing trapeze for two years but this will be my first time doing trapeze in front of an audience. To say I am nervous would be an understatement.
PEOPLE. Will be WATCHING ME. LOTS OF PEOPLE. Well, they’ll be watching me and five other aerialists, because I’m in a group act, thank god. But I’m still terrified.
I haven’t failed the performance (yet?) because it hasn’t happened, but I still want to talk about failure. I’ve had to take three things out of my routine because I can’t do them properly.
Three things seems like a lot to me. I was okay when we took out my fireman’s down/twirl to sit because I couldn’t do it without crashing down onto the bar and making the ropes twist the wrong way. I was okay when we took out my seahorse/gazelle roll (I can do that one but not 100% reliably) and replaced it with scissor roll. My scissor roll is passable, right? I should be able to polish it up by showcase, right?
People who do athletic/physical stuff rarely talk about their failures. They show pictures and videos of themselves doing the thing and doing it really well, and all their friends say YAY, LOOK AT YOU GO, YOU’RE THE BEST! I’m guilty of this. Yesterday I posted this video to Instagram:
That’s me doing the scissor roll and doing it fine. But I cut off the part of the video where I can’t get myself out of the scissor roll without facing the wrong way or coming off the bar altogether. I know exactly what I need to do to make it work (slow the whole thing down, straighten right leg and make it go up and over the bar, lower hips, etc), but I can’t get my body to do it.
I’m not super used to failing. Given enough time and practice and ingenuity I feel like I can accomplish any task or master any skill I want. I’m pretty good at a lot of things, and it doesn’t take me that long to figure out new concepts.
Trapeze is different.
I’ve never been much for physical activity before. Outside of a few ill-advised forays into softball, basketball, gymnastics, etc as a kid, none of the skills I’ve mastered in my life have had anything to do with physical strength or agility. This thing where my stupid meatsack body won’t do what I want it to do because it’s not strong enough or flexible enough is new for me, and I don’t like it.
Tuesday night I went to the studio and practiced my scissor roll a lot of times, but I couldn’t master the exit. Last night I went to the studio and practiced my scissor roll a lot of times, but I still couldn’t master the exit. I’d wrapped up my left leg in fleece and an ace bandage to protect it from the ropes, but by the end of the evening, my leg was screaming in pain and I had to stop practicing and go home. Here’s what my leg looks like this morning:
(good thing I stopped internet dating; I’d never be able to wear a skirt on a date looking like this)
So I made the sad decision to take scissor roll out of my routine. I can’t get it right if I don’t practice it more, I can’t practice it any more without my leg falling off, and if I don’t feel confident about something in my routine, it’s just going to make me more nervous to perform.
I feel terrible about it. I feel angry at my body and its limitations. I feel like cutting THREE things out of my routine means I’m not good enough at trapeze to be performing in the first place. I feel like my part in the act will be boring and not impressive enough. I feel like I’ve let the other people in my group down. That last part makes no sense at all, because the other people in my group are doing their own routines on their own apparatuses at the same time, and who the hell cares what I’m doing 10 feet from them? They’re also all lovely people who have probably been through this exact thing before and understand how I feel.
We don’t talk about our failures much, do we? But any skill that’s worth mastering is, at its core, a million little failures all balled up together and compressed until they’ve formed something solid. And maybe I’d feel better about my failures if other people talked about theirs.
Here, I’ll go first: Trapeze is fucking hard and I fail at it on the regular and sometimes it makes me cry. HERE IS A VIDEO OF ME FALLING RIGHT THE HELL OUT OF SCISSOR ROLL:
Picture me doing this 40 more times or until my leg snaps off and you’ve got an idea of what it’s like to learn new things in aerials.
Anyway, wish me luck! If I don’t fall off I’ll call it a win.
I fell off the trapeze a few weeks ago.
I’ve fallen off before. There are in fact several videos in my possession of me falling off the trapeze. I tell my mother that I hardly ever fall off! Really! And it’s true now, but at first I fell off a lot.
This time was different, though. This was at a birthday party for my aerial studio. Amid all the other birthday activities, the studio had an area with a trapeze and some silks and a crash mat underneath for new people to try out aerials and for students to show off for their friends and family.
My friend Laura was there with me and she said, “Why don’t you show off?” So I got on the trapeze and did (most of) the moves you see me do in this old video below.
I did fine for awhile. When I did the thing where I swung around, grabbed the other rope behind me and turned around, people clapped, and I realized I had an audience. I’ve never had an audience before. People were CLAPPING?!?! People who weren’t my instructor or classmates, but strangers? It felt weird.
At 0:58 in the video, you can see that I’m upside-down, and I kind of fling myself up and grab the ropes to stand. It’s fine in the video, but in front of my audience at my new(ish) aerial studio, my feet slipped off the bar and I slammed onto the crash mat below me, landing on my stomach.
There was nothing for me to do but stand up and walk away. I had the wind knocked out of me, and I was trembling and struggling to catch my breath. The instructor who had been watching came over and asked if I was all right. “I don’t know what happened!” I said. “I’ve done that trick a million times. I’ve never fallen out like that. Could you tell what I did wrong?”
“I think you pointed your toes and that made your feet slip out,” she said. My friend Laura was very nice and said she thought it looked like I did it on purpose, but I was still embarrassed. All those people saw me fall. And not a gentle fall, an ungainly slam onto a crash mat.
Things with trapeze have been really difficult since I’ve moved here. I spent several hours a week at my studio in Austin, enough time that I knew most of the students and instructors there. On my last day, my instructor and some friends gave me a card and a little trophy engraved with my name, and I cried. The part of 2015 I spent in Austin was really hard, and the time I spent in the studio was always a lovely respite from everything else going on in my life.
When I moved to St. Louis in April, I knew it would take awhile before I felt at home in my new studio, but I didn’t realize how different everything would be. The students in my Trapeze 2 class were very good at some things I’d barely learned, and I felt conspicuous and embarrassed trying them for the first time in front of everyone. Even the way they all got onto the trapeze was different, and I couldn’t do that either. Some of the tricks had other names or were done in a way I wasn’t used to. I missed my old instructor. I missed my friends.
My first Trapeze 2 experience at my new studio took place in May over six classes, one per week, and I cried during four of them.
I don’t think anyone noticed. Everyone in the class already knew each other and pretty much left me alone, which I found sad at first but became a good thing once all the crying started to happen.
Things got a little better eventually. I got to talk to a few of the students a little before the trapeze series ended (they’re all very nice), and I started taking a bunch of fitness classes at the studio to build up strength and get to know some more people.
Then September and October happened. I went to XOXOFest in Portland, got sick with a bad cold, was busy one weekend selling my jewelry at a craft fair, and something bad occurred that I’m not ready to talk about here. During that time I didn’t do any aerials at all, and also I got really, really depressed.
I mean, I was already depressed, both in the sense that I’ve suffered from chronic depression since I was 12 and in the sense that things aren’t going very well for me right now. But this was the not getting out of bed kind of depressed. The barely eating, sleeping all the time, convinced that no one would ever love me and I may as well not exist kind of depressed.
I started a new Trapeze 2 series a few weeks ago (you have to take the same level over and over again until you acquire certain skills). The second class in the series took place two days after I’d fallen off the trapeze at the party.
I cried again. Again, I don’t think anyone noticed, and if they did they didn’t say anything. But this time I cried not because I felt out of place or because I missed my old aerial studio (though of course I still do). This time I cried because I hadn’t worked out in a month, I’d lost a ton of strength, and I was too depressed to do any of the things I could usually do.
I am intimately familiar with most of the ways in which depression can take a toll on one’s life. It makes everything you do, even the things you usually enjoy, seem like a chore. It makes you feel like you’ll never be okay again. It keeps you from understanding how anyone else is okay. It makes you stupid. It makes you tired. It makes you fucking sad.
But until now I’d never tried to be physically active during a depressive episode, so I was unaware of the physical toll it can take. During that recent trapeze class, I felt like my arms couldn’t even hold a fraction of my weight. I crouched with my toes on the trapeze bar and put my hands on the ropes to pull myself to standing, a thing I’ve done a thousand times, and I couldn’t do it. My arms felt like useless weights too heavy for my body, as if they were going to fall out of their sockets and crash to the floor like I’d crashed onto the mat two days before. I was afraid I might fall off if I kept going, so I sat down on the bar and then dragged myself down off the trapeze.
“I’m not feeling well,” I said to the instructor, “so I think I’m going to sit out for now.” I sat on the floor against the wall for the rest of the class and tried to hold back my tears. When I got home I sobbed.
I have never had that feeling before! The feeling that I physically can’t do something because I’m too depressed. It was frightening, and given how much of a respite aerials have been for me, it was frustrating too.
Before I started doing aerials I always wished I could just be a head in a jar with maybe some robotic arms sticking out so I could still do crafts. Who needed to carry around a dumb high-maintenance meat sack anyway? What was the point?
But aerials have helped me understand why I want to carry around a dumb meat sack and maintain it. I’ve become really strong. I’ve learned how to do a lot of cool things I never thought i could do. I’ve acquired some epic bruises and callouses and rope burns, which I’ve worn like badges of honor. For depression to make my newfound love of physicality betray me was more painful than all those bruises combined.
Things have gotten better over the past few weeks. I’ve sought (additional) help for my depression, and I’m slowly coming out of it. My strength is coming back. I’m showing up to trapeze class and fitness class and I’m in a group performance this December. My leg is currently sporting the grossest bruise I’ve ever had (warning: disgusting image!), and I’m super proud of it.
But the crushed, weak, unable feeling is one I want to remember. Last year in Austin when I took Trapeze 1 for the first time, I would drag myself home, fall into bed exhausted, and cry because I felt like I’d never be able to do any of the things we were learning in class. I fell off the bar at least ten times trying to do gazelle to bat/arrow, and I was 100% sure I’d never be able to do it. Now it’s something I do regularly with few problems.
During that first Trapeze 1 class, I watched a Trapeze 2 class next to us learn Montreal, the trick in the video above. “I will never, ever get there,” I thought at the time. “That will never be me.” But now it is me! I don’t do it perfectly every time, obviously, but I CAN.
My new aerial studio is going to be okay, St. Louis is going to be okay. I’m going to be okay.
*I don’t do flying trapeze and I’m not all that young but whatever.