Life is a drag. This is news to no one, particularly recently. Constant pressures weigh us down in countless ways. And in a very literal sense, gravity is dragging us down every second we are here. That’s kind of good, since sailing out into space isn’t preferable, but also has some major downsides. Our bodies sag and droop, our energy wanes. Our minds follow suit, slowing and staring down at what is below us.
Wintertime is when this downward slope can seem most steep. It’s dark, it’s cold, and we are forced to be confined in the spaces of our own making. This is of course why we have holidays with all their artificial glitz and glitter–as the Doctor said in Doctor Who’s “A Christmas Carol,” every culture has its own way of celebrating being “halfway out of the dark.”
Of course I’ll be the first to channel Charlie Brown and admit that the December hubbub is silly and gaudy and hopelessly commercial (especially without Doctor Who’s Christmasy flying fish.) But that hubbub is also hope to rise above the cold, dark gloom. Every little light on every ridiculous reindeer is in defiance of the chill–and I have to love that kind of spunk.
Another very silly thing I love is musical theater, and in particular the show Wicked, which follows the story of Glinda and the “wicked” witch before Dorothy came to Oz. Elphaba, the witch, is green. She’s magical. She’s melodramatic. But I dare anyone who witnesses her number before intermission to try not to cry or be covered in goosebumps by the end of it.
In that scene she is dealing with what is effectively a dystopian society. Personal liberties have been taken and people are losing their agency and even their humanity, all to advance an artificially “good” world. She realizes the horror of what is actually happening, and she is disgusted. But rather than being drawn down by it, she embraces a whole new rebellious side of herself–by flying. As she soars upwards, broom in hand, she belts out the showstopper “Defying Gravity”–look it up on YouTube right now if you’ve never heard it. It’s absolutely gorgeous and gloriously defiant, not only of gravity itself that she is literally overcoming, but also of everything that has ever tried to bring her down from her own self doubts to her unsupportive father and the whole damned patriarchy. It ends with “and nobody in all of Oz, no wizard that there is or was, is ever gonna bring me down!”
So basically, that is what I am singing to myself when I’m upside-down doing a handstand.
Don’t get me wrong, my handstands are the beginner version, with hands on the ground but feet against the wall in an L shape. But you are still upside down in a way that is incredibly satisfying and is actually its own little quiet act of defiance.
When I’m in my handstand, I defy my age–remembering hanging off my bed for fun when I was a kid. I defy my schedule–because especially around the holidays, it feels like every moment must be for something purposeful. But primarily, I defy my perspective–the wall is my floor, the ceiling my wall, and all the stuff around me is sort of floating around like I’m going down Alice’s rabbithole.
When life gets me down, whether it is the cold, my stress, or the whole damned patriarchy, the small act of doing a handstand defies it. In defiance, there is the audacity of hope, even a little bit. It’s hope for Spring, it’s hope for insight and compassion and energy in a better world. And a willingness to fight for it.
It’s that defiance that you also see in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Inner Light,” arguably one of its most beloved. A society without water cares for a tree as a symbol of community hope, and when the people are eventually doomed, they send out a beacon to preserve their memories.
In the end, Picard plays his flute and he does indeed remember. After she flies, Elphaba soars off into intermission to shake up her dystopia. As for me, I hop out of my hand stand, pull on a sweater and maybe even my pink pussy cat hat and get ready in my own way to face and defy Oz and Kansas both.