too much crazy

Vio's Blog: Argentine Tango

These days I rarely leave my hidey-hole. Nevertheless people find me. And regale me with warm compliments: “You are CRAZY!”

Some of them scramble to explain that they really really really do mean it as a compliment.

Friends, and strangers. The other day a friend who doesn’t drive asked me to deliver some friends of his, two young educated European professionals, to the airport. As soon as they closed the doors to the car, they asked for it. “What’s your story?” I stuck to the facts, the list of places I’ve lived, in order, accompanied by my educational credentials and career changes.

Afterwards our mutual friend reported to me that they had pronounced me “crazy”. I was startled and dismayed. My friend said “that’s not negative”. Ok…. Could ‘crazy’ mean brave? Could ‘crazy’ mean adaptive to context? Resilient to change? It’s true that I might have thrown in a few phrases like “by the grace of God” or “brinksmanship”. Does crazy mean writerly, articulate, or charismatic? I think these guys did not mean it as a compliment. I suspect what it means is that they didn’t believe me. They thought I was lying. If not quite that, then they certainly found me to be something outside of their belief, outside of their imagination.

Through three careers and five countries I have been endeavoring to provide ethical public service. I do this through PhD-level research and analysis, precise and honest wording, respect and curiosity with regard to difference and diversity, and (when necessary in the interest of public safety) identification of bigots, fraud, and bullies.

I don’t know what about this is unreasonable or even unexpected.

I also listen to what famous authors and entrepreneurs recommend and try do those things: strategic planning, daily note-taking, challenge myself, listen and ask questions, spend time in contemplation, focus on service and creativity rather than status or wealth, seek pleasure and meaning in everyday life rather than recognition and acquisitions … This all seems so common that I feel quite silly enumerating this agenda.

If the result of these actions are so unbelievably extreme that people can’t help but use the word ‘crazy’, I ask myself, what exactly do other people think they are doing?

Even my most meek, sensitive, and gentle work elicits the identical response. It doesn’t matter how I do my work, people –those who like me no less than those who don’t– invariable and inevitably perceive me as “too much”. The problem is that even when I manage to not say a word, I’m still too much. I’m a lifelong athlete from a family of fashionistas.

Apparently the combination of truth-telling, flexible legs, and hair and shoes inspired by runway fashion is unmanageable.

The chasm between what I think I’m doing and what everybody else perceives is bewildering. And I know that I don’t manage it well. My main coping mechanisms are [1] stare at people like a startled animal [2] cringe like a small child with an angry parent [3] feel hopelessly alienated and retreat [4] emulate gendered stereotypes of the beautiful, serene, and most importantly silent woman. Just smile. And blink.

More recently, I have learned to try to explain what I am doing and why. Mostly I find this strange because I don’t see myself doing abstract art. I see myself generally doing the thing that needs to be done.

In the case of tango, it seems that dancers should aim to master the whole vocabulary. So we need to know what that is. Make a list. And it seems we should do everything both on the right and the left. As a professional dancer, I think I need to prove my competency to do that in both roles in milongas. As teachers, I think we’re responsible to give actionable instruction. As an artist, my partner Roberto should seek to express himself and distinguish himself from others. As performers, I think we should wear entertaining costumes. Could someone tell me where the crazy comes in?

I have also accepted that I don’t get to commune at my cutting edge. The most important work is solitary, and I can’t afford to be concerned with whether people read it, get it, or like it. Lots of famous artists had to stop reading the reviews in order to keep producing gifts now cherished that their world wasn’t ready for.

Silence and retreat are protective, but they are also signs of pride. I have been willing to be increasingly alone rather than accept the compliment.

In tango, the compliment comes in the especially offensive term ‘nuevo’.  That’s been my line in the sand. I will be friendless, but I will not be called ‘nuevo’. I am terribly proud of the work I’ve done to understand tango comprehensively. Too proud to accept mishandled words. There’s nothing wrong with the real history of nuevo. I am indeed part of the movement to analyze and teach tango from the elements, rather than sequences. And I do like Piazzola and the opportunity to dance on songs beyond the narrow genre of ‘tango music’.  But the word ‘nuevo’ has been distorted by bigots who campaign to exile diverse music, athletic movement, flexible legs, and changing embraces. Unfortunately, when it is delivered even by someone whose face glows with admiration, it still feels like exile. I turn to stone, immovable.

Yet I know that boundaries are political constructs. I know that paradigms shift, and this happens when visionary people work diligently to expand territory.

I know that words get weaponized with fearful venom. And can be reclaimed.

How is that done?

Black. Is beautiful.

Nuevo Tango. Is ambitious and athletic. Dynamic and flexible. Powerful and imaginative.


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