"The key in letting go is practice. Each time we let go, we disentangle ourselves from our expectations and begin to experience things as they are. We can be with. We can show ourselves repeatedly that letting go is actually a healthy foundation upon which we can open up to real love-- to giving, receiving, and experiencing it authentically and originally."
—Sharon Salzberg, Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection
“You came to get better, right?”
“You deserve to do something you enjoy.”
Writing is my primary mode of communication (given the fact that I teach writing as a living). So, content warning: this letter is long, for I have much to unpack.
What has marching this summer with CVCG 2019 meant to me? More so, what do these quotes above have to do with color guard?
First, it’s necessary to start at the beginning and how someone such as myself decided to enter back into the color guard and drum corps arena after eleven years. In July 2018, I was visiting a friend in Seattle when I happened to stumble upon CV’s 2017 show (the infamous “skittles” show). I honestly have no idea how I came upon it on YouTube (probably viewing DCI drum corps given that it was July).
My familiarity with DCA at that time was rather limited, having only experienced DCA corps when I marched in the mid-2000s. Then, DCA was not known for being a rigorous activity (or at least that’s my memory of it). Obviously, DCA has changed dramatically since those years, and I was stunned at the level of artistry and physical demands of the 2017 show. It never occurred to me to ever do color guard again after my age-out with The Cavaliers in 2008. But watching the 2017 show immediately sparked my desire to march again.
However, that journey, to “doing it again,” was an incredibly long and emotionally difficult one. The initial idea was a brief, fleeting thought, but the more I ruinated on its possibility the more I wanted to do it. So, in December of 2018, I started to train to audition in April 2019. After all, it was eleven years since I last did this, and entering back into this arena has been my biggest personal challenge to date.
On the way to auditions at the end of April, I listened to the Audible version of Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly on repeat. For those who are unfamiliar with Brown’s work, in Daring Greatly, she discusses the importance of simply showing up to a challenge without attaching ourselves to expectations. Moreover, she argues that reality-checking our expectations actually allows us to lean in to our most vulnerable moments rather than run away from them. When we reality-check our expectations, we often exceed our own goals.
Following Brené Brown’s argument, for audition weekend, I honestly had no expectations for even making the cut for the color guard. Despite letting go of my expectations, stealth ones managed to surface. Since I was a young child, I was mystified by the colors of the color guard anytime I watched a marching band or drum corps perform. Color guard was my first drag, having been involved with color guard since age 12. (And, despite what Alan said about the uniform not changing your experience when performing, I would argue that putting on the uniform changes your experience in some capacities, as it can be transformative in many ways). Consequently, for me, entering back into this arena conjured many uncertainties, not unlike going on a first date with an ex that you haven’t spoken to in over a decade.
Thus, my inner critic was quite loud that weekend. On the lower end of the scale, questions surfaced: What would everyone be like? Will I fit in? Will I pick up on the choreography in time? Will I even like doing this activity again? These internal anxieties were supported by several close friends and family members who were shocked at my wanting to do this again, replying to my idea with “WHY?!”
On the higher end of the scale manifested greater anxieties with higher stakes: What will my colleagues think of me for not spending my summer pursuing an “active scholarly agenda” (e.g., research…)? What impact will this have on my career? What impact will this have on my marriage? Am I masking a deeper problem by doing this again?
Once I received my contract for the summer, I still was unsure whether or not to do this again. My husband, JD, gave me the best advice: “You deserve to do something you enjoy.” As the summer progressed, these anxieties never completely dissipated, as homesickness and loneliness would settle in early on Fridays (yes, even though this was only a weekend gig). I soon realized that my inner critic, fondly known as the ego, was not allowing me to enjoy this activity again. Making peace with my inner critic has been by far my greatest challenge this summer. It took well into July for me to quiet down my inner critic and to reality check the negative reactions my ego was having with my newfound pursuit of rekindling my love for this activity (fun fact: the human brain has a negativity bias; you can thank evolutionary biology for this).
Essentially, marching this summer has been the longest, most intense four-month therapy session ever. As an example, in doing this activity again, I have begun to slowly unravel the stealth expectations I unknowingly impose upon myself. Each weekend, I have had to actively practice letting go (albeit slowly) of fear, uncertainty of the unknown, perfectionism, and my innate over-achieving sensibility, all of which were cultivated by many years of sustained scholarly training in graduate school. I could not have imagined doing this work with a better group of individuals than this season’s color guard.
So, in short, to revisit my earlier question, what has CVCG 2019 meant to me?
Too simply put, a lot. More than can be adequately captured in this letter.
For the last several years, my life has been riddled with depression and anxiety, both of which have ebbed and flowed with various types of traumas. Almost all of my 20s was spent cultivating and pursuing an active career in academia and making my way up the ladder of success. A few years ago, I would endure the loss of my father-in-law; additionally, my worst nightmare came true due a panic attack during a conference presentation at a major academic conference. While depression marked the former event, my anxiety manifested in the latter one. Reconnecting with color guard has been a pivotal step in reclaiming my life from these two traumas.
As is true for any professional in any career, the higher I climbed in my career path, the more severe my anxieties became and the louder my inner critic grew. My accomplishments were never enough, and I would constantly move the goal posts on myself. Until finally, a year before I would march CV, I decided to make drastic changes to my life. So, when Rodney once said during rehearsal that “you came to get better,” those words meant more to me than simply spinning in time and catching a turn-around 6 on rifle (although these things are important in their own right).
For me, these words meant reclaiming parts of my life that I had cut off because I thought I had outgrown these things like color guard. For me, these words meant making myself whole, including the flaws and imperfections that I slowly learned to hide from everyone else, the vulnerable parts that trick us into making ourselves unseen and unheard. I’m here to say that one can never be too old to do color guard. Yes, this activity is ridiculous (for folks unfamiliar to drum corps, I often describe this activity as the Scientology of the marching arts). But doing color guard and drum corps again has allowed me to reclaim my whole self. Being a part of a team again in a supportive and educational environment has been more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined.
There were quite a few people who made this season quite special though.
To Grayson: I will forever have in my mind your affection for the cucumber. I will also miss seeing your face light up before each run of the show, our only set together.
To Michelle: The best show-two ever! Your warm spirit and infectious attitude were a joy to experience this summer.
To Garry: Thank you for being our fearless leader this summer and helping us keep it together. It has been truly a pleasure to get to know you and you’re an inspiration for everyone in this drum corps.
To Diane: I don’t know you do this with two kids!! You are truly an inspiration to me, and I will miss seeing your infectious smile.
To the lightning bolts: My god, you are guys are awesome. The talent this year pushed me beyond my own expectations.
To Jamon and Evan: I could not have made it through the summer without both of you. Our conversations have sustained me in unthinkable ways. Evan, I will always remember our incredibly deep conversation on the bus ride to Pennsylvania in July. You both are the most talented and most gracious individuals I have ever met in this activity, and I will forever treasure our summer weekends together.
To Rodney, Tita, Caitlin, Cody, and Jennifer: Thank you for an amazing and challenging summer. Rodney, I’ve said it before, but I want to say it again: thank you for taking a chance on me. You created an environment this summer that I think has allowed each person to develop into their full potential.
To the entire crew for CVCG 2019: Thank you for allowing me to be myself and make myself vulnerable. It has been beyond rewarding to spend a summer in this arena again, one that doesn’t have me labeled as “Dr. McCoy.” I’m glad to have spent my on-going mid-life crisis with each and every one of you.
The outcome of this summer won’t be measured on finals night nor will it be measured a year or so from now. The outcome of this summer will manifest in years and decades to come, in each one of us and in how we carry forward the lessons learned and the friendships cultivated. As for next year and the years to come, I honestly have no expectations to be involved with color guard again. If the stars align, then I will march again in the future. But I cannot imagine future CVCGs coming close to matching my experience this summer. The energy and enthusiasm so many of you brought with you to this activity including during the bad times when most (if not all) of us wanted to quit.
With gratitude, I thank each of you.