Finding Balance

Still experiencing an evolving process for working through the open routines.

But getting there.

It’s been a little challenging to find the balance between standard and latin, technique and choreography, and working on my own versus with Boss. I actually had a suggestion for Boss last week that we do less dancing together in my lesson.

It was an interesting conclusion to come to, but I noticed that after we worked on something together in my lesson, when I would go to work through the same thing on my own I kept experiencing difficulties (especially in standard, but also in latin) with alignment and remembering the exact points he wanted me to work on.

It was still necessary to do it with him as where he is positioned also was one of the things I was having trouble figuring out some times and doing it with him gave me a good understanding of context, but the focus when working with him is more on how we move as a partnership than how I move myself. That was what I was missing.

My last lesson was a great balance of both.

We were working on the open waltz and while we haven’t gotten very far into it (I think 8 or 12 bars), I know what I need to do on my own and I can do it. The biggest challenge for me are the rotations and making sure I am rotating from my hips, not just my upper body. So that is what we worked on clarifying on my own (and the alignments).

The interesting thing is that we found a couple of places where I actually try to stop my rotation instead of following it all the way through–partly for control and fear of losing my balance and partly for lack of confidence in how much I can rotate. After doing the rotations a few times I felt much better about it and learned that I can still do the full rotation with control.

It’s back to needing to push myself out of my comfort zone and keep myself there. The lesson showed some classic examples where I stay too cautious and don’t stretch myself to the limits of my abilities.

But slowly I am getting there. It’s going to take a lot more exploration and pushing those limits, but if we continue working in my lessons in the way we did last week, I won’t have any choice but to push myself forward to the next level.

Which is really the point right now, and the biggest challenge I am facing. Overall, I have to admit that the progress on the open routines is moving a lot faster than I really thought it would. Of course, we haven’t started Paso or Quickstep…but I hear there may be some work in the near future on at least one of them.

I feel more focused and grounded now than I have in a long time. Not only do I have time to really explore and learn these routines, I seem to slowly be reaching a great balance to doing so. My motivation is high and I am coming out of the murkiness to a place where things more and more make sense.

A great balance.

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Settling into a groove

Finally.

The best thing I can say about this week is that I feel almost normal. The hot flashes have backed off and are down to 4-6 in a day versus 1-2 an hour. My head is clear and I have energy. I am having a little trouble sleeping (can’t have everything I guess), but its more my usual insomnia than waking up all night with hot flashes and weird dreams.

The worse is that my left side is really unhappy. The worse part is my ankle, perhaps my achilles, but my knee, hip and elbow have also been tweaky. I am guessing it is all related and seems to be the small changes in movement I am making–particularly in footwork. It’s still manageable, but I have a suspicion its going to get really angry before it gets better. Something else to follow-up with physio.

All of that aside, I am getting into a regular and consistent pattern of working that already is feeling productive and good. I have worked out a pattern for exercises and feel focused on them, and slowly working through my routines on my own. Samba seems to be the most productive so far, but rumba isn’t that far behind.

In standard, we are working on the open waltz and I haven’t quite found a way to work on it, but I know it will be coming in my lessons. We are going through the steps in detail and differentiating which steps are in CBMP, require more rotation or less, etc. It might seem fairly straight forward and intuitive, but for me it is not.

Building on the work we did in standard, Boss has identified for me about three different ways to place my foot as I move–straight forward, under my head or under my elbow–depending on how much rotation is needed for the step. Under my elbow is usually full CBMP with under my head in the middle.

We are now going through the steps in the open waltz and figuring out which step requires which movement. It’s not quite sticking like I wish it would and when I work on my own I am sure there are times I must be turning the wrong way. It’ll come though.

Tonight my lesson was focused on Latin, which is another way things are getting into a grove–a lesson on standard, a lesson on latin and my third lesson in between.

We were able to clean up some of the sections in both routines I have been working on myself, and after running through them on my own tonight I am ready to head into working through the next section on my own. The latin routines seem to be going easier than standard, but that is not surprise to me.

We also started working on connection and lead and follow, doing exercises in keeping my weight forward and towards my partner while moving and responding to Boss’s lead without losing the connection. It’s a lot of feeling and processing things, so pretty much right up my alley, although still challenging.

When working on the routines, I could start to understand where developing that sensitivity is going to help and already I am starting to apply it to the routines in little pieces. I just have to work on doing so more consistently because when I do it Boss can respond and actually lead me, but if I don’t we are both stuck trying to dance on our own.

Similarly, in standard Boss was telling me that I have to make sure I stay consistent with my upper body and head position and stretching–even when we are not moving at full strength in our feet–so that we can consistently counter-balance each other. If we don’t, the entire movement of the dance changes and again we are each then trying to dance separately.

Its given me a lot to process this week in a good way, including a better understanding of the demands that this next level is going to make on me and how I need to respond to move into it. I am not there yet, but I have a better understanding already of the amount of work ahead of me and what it is going to take to get there.

I feel better prepared to move ahead and much less out of my depth. I am starting to feel these routines are doable, and able to do well.

It’s a good grove to be in.

Making Sacrifices (again)

The time has come to accept that I still can’t do everything I would like…again.

I have really been struggling lately. My energy levels are just not where I would like them to be. I am struggling through the week (and granted weeks have been hard lately), but I am finding myself unable to fully recharge during the time off on the weekend.

I have one week to go until 2 weeks of vacation. I hope that the 2 weeks will give me a chance to reset my energy levels.

But that doesn’t really solve the problem overall. I don’t seem to have a baseline right now that I can maintain, let alone build on. I keep hoping my body will adjust to what seems to me to be a minimal activity level, but I keep hitting road blocks.

That said, the little I am doing seems to be stabilizing a little…but only when the menopause symptoms are set to low.

It seems these are the centre of the issue right now. I have noticed that when the intensity and frequency of the hot flashes are high, its all I can do to get through a day. My energy seems to be used up producing the hot flashes. They also wake me up at night meaning I am not getting as rested as I am at other times.

Cutting back on activity does seem to make the symptoms worse. That in itself is a good reason to try and keep up some level of activity throughout the day. My current baseline is 3 hours of strength training with 3 dance lessons and about an hour and a half of practice in a week. I would like to double the practice time, but for now I am letting my energy levels dictate how much I do, without pushing too hard. I came close to that goal last week.

Where the sacrifices have really come are the group classes. I enjoy doing them but they are at 8 pm at night and it is turning out that is too late for me, even twice a week. My energy levels are regularly sending me to bed just after 9 right now.

So I am accepting a little bit of temporary defeat right now for group classes and reducing my goal activity level overall until I reach a point where I can consistently maintain the basic level without feeling exhausted all the time.

I am optimistic that as I continue to settle into a regular schedule I will notice an improvement overall–not only with energy but also with the menopause symptoms.

The worse thing about the menopause symptoms is that there is no way of knowing how long my body will continue to produce them. I could experience them until the age when my body would have naturally finished menopause in my 50s or even 60s. I am trying to accept them as the new normal and keeping an eye on them because if they do get severe there are some (although limited in my case) options for treating them. Unfortunately most of those options are not without their own side effects.

So a period of sacrifice, although I hope temporary. I am working to try to reduce the strain and demands on my body through weight management and getting a lot of rest, but both of those are dependent on a lot of different things.

Until then, I hope to be able to get through 12 weeks of relatively consistent minimal (to me) activity levels and then re-evaluate everything from there.

On a dance note, Boss and I seem to have finished up going through the exercises and we both seem to be on the same page about where to focus my energy right now. I am excited and optimistic about what we will be doing, and after a long period of flux it seems things are settling into a routine again.

As much as sacrifices suck, when done for the right reason they are worth it. Getting back to a ‘normal’ level of activity that will allow for increases in the future is the short term pain for long term gain.

Consistent work should bring consistent results.

All in good time.

Refocusing Exercises

My last two lessons have been about exercises.

It’s a refreshing change actually as it has been a while since I have focused on exercises and what I was doing got a bit lost in the shuffle between surgery, Christmas and a high work tempo. Actually, because work has been quite challenging lately, working on the exercises has been quite welcomed.

I am a bit of a strange nut (in case you haven’t figured that out). I like working on exercises. It’s ‘me’ time and very meditative. I enjoy doing the repetitions as it’s a time to focus inward and just allow myself to feel how my body is moving. It’s a time to connect with me. I have missed it during the last few weeks when between neck issues and crazy work and school schedules I haven’t been able to do it.

We are starting a bit fresh on these exercises. Many of them are things I have done before, but we are breaking them down a bit further into finer details than previously. Looking at those details, should help correct some of the enduring issues that are a bit of a gap in my dancing.

I group my exercises into three groups right now. The first two should be obvious–latin and standard–but the third I call my strength/gym exercises. That is because I do them at the end of my strength training, while at the gym, and in sneakers instead of dance shoes. There are strengthening elements to them more so than specific techniques like working on foot and body rise as well as hip mobility and core endurance to support it. They take about 10 minutes at the end of my gym time during the day.

We have the latin exercises more or less worked out and for now, I am doing them slow so I can pay attention to the details, but also build some muscle memory and give time for me to think about what I need to do. They are focused on hip settling movements, back steps and the foot work for back steps and some elements from my open routines. It’s a good combination of exercises and right now I just need to figure out how much time to spend on each–whether a block of time or number of repetitions and how to track that. I should figure that out by Friday.

We just started to dig into the standard exercises tonight. They seem to have two focuses–footwork, or upper body work–both of which need some fine tuning for open routines. We are working on foot and body rise as well as the connection between the two sides of my upper body. Some of them I am doing in socks, and some in shoes. I have found some new muscles, in particular how to engage my inner thigh muscles and my lats. I am looking forward to sussing them out a bit more during my next lesson on Sunday.

Because of my next, we also got away from doing cardio rounds, so I hope we will get back to doing those next week as things settle into a grove.

Boss and I seem to be pretty agreed to give about 2 weeks for me to work through the new exercises and build up my muscle memory before revisiting and pushing them forward a bit. I feel it’s important to establish that time line because I have a tendency to get too comfortable in an exercises, especially when it is slow, and need a bit of a regular push to move it forward. It’s not so much about progressing as allowing myself to get too bogged in the details going slow that I end up over-thinking when I try to do things faster instead of trusting what I learn. If I am not pushed out of my slow and steady comfort zone, I would happily never leave it.

It’s interesting what we have already discovered in breaking down these exercises. Among other things, my tendency to over turn out my right hip actually limits my mobility on my left. It’s amazing how often we have discovered that when working in latin its quite common for me to end up with my right foot facing almost sideways, while my left foot is forward to compensate. When moving my right foot backward, I have a tendency to put my heel down to the side instead of straight back which leaves my right hip too turned out and facing towards the right instead of forward. Its really highlighted the difference between my two sides.

I have also found the mirror to be a bit of a hindrance because it confuses me a little (I can’t quite wrap my head around what I see being the opposite of what I feel) and it encourages me to look down at my feet when I need to be looking up. It’s also become a bit of a crutch for how I move my feet as in order to make a correction I need to understand the feeling of what is turned out too much or too little and the mirror takes away an element of trial and error that I personally need to go through. So in the studio I am moving away from the mirror.

On a slightly different note, I found out this week that I will be in Europe for training for 2 weeks in March. I am also going to take a week of vacation while I am there, so I won’t have lessons for 3 weeks then. Boss told me tonight he hopes to have some sort of update about competing when I get back and I hope it is a positive one or at least something that gives some direction. I guess I will see then.

I will also be away for the first week in May and the last week followed by the first week of June. There is also a strong possibility I will be away for work again over the summer, but it will be a little while before I hear more about that. As I said at the beginning of the year, it is shaping up to be a busy one.

Already, I have one more full week of work then I am off for two weeks of vacation. It’s a little bittersweet because I originally took the time off because there was a plan to compete then, but that isn’t going to happen now. My father is coming to visit for the first time since I moved here, so at least there will be something interesting going on. I haven’t seen him since I went back east between chemo and radiation so I am looking forward to the visit.

I can’t believe that January is already over. Usually this time of year seems so slow! Guess that is what happens when you get busy. I also finally have my physio appointment tomorrow to see what is going on with my neck.  That should help all over.

I did start tracking my menopausal symptoms, BTW. Already, it’s been interesting what I have found out. Following the terrible week of not being able to think, I suddenly had things come into focus and sharpen up, but with it came a bout of incredibly intense hot flashes that are sapping my energy and strength while making it difficult to sleep. I figure after a couple more days it should shift again, hopefully to the ‘mini-flashes’ that are much easier to deal with. It should be interesting to see if there is a cyclical pattern.

I am definitely ready to slow down a little and refocus.

What’s next?

I am really growing to hate that question.

It seems like every time I am at the studio someone asks me that. It’s not any malice on their part, they have just seen me working in my lesson and they are genuinely curious about what I am training for.

The problem is that I don’t know the answer to that. And every time someone asks me, it makes it harder to convince myself that it doesn’t bother me.

It does. A lot.

I feel like I am coasting along and I can feel it starting to wear on me. My motivation is down and it has become too easy to decide not to go to the studio or do a class because I don’t have anything to prepare for. Just from that alone, I know I have to find some time to take a hard look at how I am approaching dance right now and figure out what works for my new reality. Until then, I have pretty much been approaching dance in the same way as though nothing has changed and I have some sort of competitive goal or event I am preparing for.

It doesn’t upset me. I am beyond that part of this, but it is more acceptance and the realization that things have changed so I have to adapt my approach until things change again.

And it is more than just dance. There have been a lot of other changes in my life I have to adapt to as well. As I am turning the corner in my recovery, the time has come for me to start focusing on opportunities for my career. It is once again moving forward in a big way, similarly to how it was before I got sick, and it has recently gained a lot of momentum. I am really fortunate that I truly love and am passionate about what I do.

Before I got sick, I did very well in balancing work and dance. When I was away for work, I had exercises I would do in the confined spaces to maintain my dance fitness and growth even without lessons or a studio.

But in those days, a lot of the work I did needed to be done on my own. I still need to develop myself but partner work has become more important. The things I was doing then were also much easier.

That said, I know I will adapt and figure out a way to balance both again.

I know that Boss has a plan, or is figuring out a plan. I also know that he won’t share that plan with me until he is ready and there is really no point in asking until he does. Otherwise, asking tends to add pressure and that leads to conflict. I have learned it is best to just him go through his process and figure things out on his own and let him tell me.

I can tell that there is something percolating because he told me yesterday that I need to get my neck figured out so we can start working on things other than choreography. There has also been some focus on latin technique lately and new elements added to it, which also speaks to their being a plan or evolving plan.

At this point, I think he is waiting for me to be ready to work and focus again, which I openly admit during the last few weeks with a lot of stress at work and school and my neck issues I haven’t been ready to do. But perhaps how I am feeling tonight is a sign that I am ready to refocus and figure out how to do that and what that means without a competitive goal.

I think a lot of what I am feeling has nothing to do with not competing, but more that I feel my dance is unstructured right now. I am not even really sure what to do for exercises. The ones that I have I don’t understand enough for them to have meaning for me and that is probably the biggest problem. I had asked Boss to go over my exercises, but then my neck acted up and I haven’t been able to practice and working on the exercises just wasn’t a good idea.

So a lot of things are riding on getting my neck back to normal. There is small progress, but it is still short-lived and the end of the day still finds my next burning with fatigue and tightness that is an aching pain. I really hope that the small exercises I am doing keeps it moving in a positive direction. I would really really like to get back to the gym and practice next week, especially since both the work and school stress is moving behind me.

Despite the barriers that I feel are blocking me, they still don’t affect the fact that I just don’t know what is next or when. It doesn’t make being asked that question any easier.

For now, I just hope there will be an answer some day.

As a quick aside, I read an excellent article from one of the instructors in my region about personality types and how they affect how you dance. It’s a great overview so I wanted to share it: Personality Types in Dance . If you don’t follow George’s blog, I highly recommend it, and hope you enjoy his articles as much as I do.

Adding Technique

Because we have been working on learning choreography, technique has fallen a little to the side recently.

Part of that is because I am limited in the amount I can do and the amount of time I am spending dancing because of my neck issue.

I saw the acupuncturist yesterday and got a little bit of relief for my neck which has mostly shifted the pain from stabbing burning pain to more of an ache. In some ways it is almost worse, but I have more mobility in the others and I am not experiencing spasms. This freed me up a bit.

We were able to work all the way through the rest of the samba today as well.

Both of those factors together led to some time to talk about two aspects of technique. The first deals with my foot position when moving backward in latin and the other deals with swiveling my hips without moving my shoulders and keeping my weight forward into my partner. Both of these are going to be a big focus for a while.

In particular, the hips movement will be important because so many steps in my new latin routines require exactly that movement and that I am able to maintain my weight forward so that both I and my partner can use each other to execute the steps.

It was a bit refreshing to take a step back from just doing choreography tonight. We were able to dig into the technique of the samba a little. We haven’t run it from top to bottom yet, but I suspect that will be in the near future.

My head feels clearer today and I hope it is the beginning of a period of clarity and sharpness. I could certainly use it.

At my lesson tomorrow, Boss talked a little about potentially working on the waltz or we will finish off the samba. As long as my neck feels up to it, I don’t mind returning to standard for a bit. It will be a nice change.

I still feel scattered, but I know this week is busy and stressful on both work and school fronts, so I am giving myself a break on the dance front. I hope to reset next week when things return more to a normal pace. I have more appointments for my neck which should also hopefully help.

In the meantime, I have a little technique to work on.

Thinking through water…again

And around the circle seems to go.

Just when I think I have a hold on things, I tend to run into something that sets me back a step.

Don’t get me wrong, in general things are going well and my recovery continues. But lately I feel like I am trying to think through water again. My retention level for information is abysmally low and it’s affecting my work. I can’t seem to remember from one moment to the next what I have done.

It’s not helpful that my trapezius continues to act up, requiring muscle relaxants to keep it from locking completely. I finally get to acupuncture tomorrow and I really hope it provides some sort of release to allow the muscle to relax some. Physio isn’t until next week. I don’t do well with muscle relaxants, my body is very slow to metabolize them so I am taking them as little as possible. I can take one in the evening and still feel lingering effects throughout the morning the next day.

It’s really making dance difficult right now. Physical limitations aside (dance actually doesn’t irritate it as much as working at a desk does), we are working to go through the choreography for the new latin routines and I feel slow at picking it up and barely able to retain it. A couple times we have worked on one part of the routine, moved onto the next and I discover I can’t recall the first part.

Considering I am usually pretty sharp and quick at picking things up and remembering choreography this is incredibly frustrating for me. I keep trying to give myself a break but I just feel like I am in a fog all the time. People are talking to me and I am not processing what they are saying. It’s the same in dance.

That said, we have finished the rumba and now we are working on the samba. It seems to be going faster than the rumba, but I can’t help feeling like a bit of a dead weight and that I am not really present in my lesson.

I know that memory issues is a common long-term side effect from chemo, and that menopause can also cause cognitive issues. It seems like it’s a bit of a perfect storm at the moment and I can only hope that it will pass in the near future.

You don’t really realize how much you rely on something until it is gone. I am used to being very focused and not easily distracted. Lately I feel like I am going in twenty different directions.

I have to give some credit to the fact that I am much busier than I am usually. Work is crazy and at school I am also coming to the end of a course which means papers are due. I also think that the more I notice my concentration and focus is off, the more I am stressing about it. I just don’t have the time right now to step back and clear my head and relax like I should. Because of my neck, I haven’t been practicing or going to the gym for almost a week now and that takes it’s toll.

I have been thinking that I need to start tracking these issues to see if there is a pattern. I know I have weeks where I have vivid dreams followed by intense and frequent hot flashes that disrupt my sleep a lot. I also have weeks where I can barely seem to string a sentence together without forgetting what I wanted to say halfway through. I also have weeks where I do feel completely focused and sharp and like I have it all together.

This is just definitely not one of those weeks.

It’s a rumba!

At least it has the appearance of one now.

My last few lessons have been focused on working through the choreography for the new open rumba. It’s taken a few lessons due to the intricacies of the steps, but tonight we were able to go through the entire routine top to bottom with slow music without any major hiccups or restarts.

It’s quite an achievement as its a long routine with a lot of details and changes in timing. It’s also a routine unlike any I have done before so I am giving myself a little pat on the back for being able to get it together. A week ago, I was sure it would be at least another week before we got even close to doing it without stop, let alone to the music.

That’s not to say its good to go. There are definitely a lot more details to work out and technical points that are lacking, but the foundation is there and that is a positive step. I also still need to fully work out my timing and become more confident in it.

Even just working through the choreography I am already understanding where work needs to be done. Just to execute the choreography properly requires a lot of trust and connection through the lead and follow. I can’t do all of the steps on my own as I am used to rely on, or at least it won’t really work if I do that. That has led to a bit of a steep curve, but just the need to use it has already starting clicking into place some of the tactile things I need to understand. I feel there has been some growth in that area. Its interesting how a lack of option can affect things.

I find all of it fascinating and I have surprised myself in learning pieces of this. I know where I need to focus some of my own practice and I am eager to start digging into this myself.

Unfortunately, that may have to wait a bit. Once again, my neck muscles are acting up, although it appears to be more related to work and sitting at a computer than dance or anything more physical. Despite that, I am at a point where if I can’t get my neck muscles to relax, they are signalling they are going to seize up again. I saw the doc today and was referred for both acupuncture and physio, but was unable to get an appointment for either until next week. In the mean time, I have some stretches and some pain relievers to try and keep it from locking up on me.

Isn’t that always the way?

I did have a productive weekend that allowed me to catch up on work and school as I had hoped, so my stress levels are much better now. Getting through the rumba has contributed to that so I hope my neck will keep playing nice and allowing me to keep dancing until I can get it fully relieved.

In addition to the rumba, we will be continuing to work on the tango and I was told to expect to start working through the samba next week.

Suddenly, learning 9 open routines doesn’t seem as daunting.

All that from learning a rumba.

Made it…

…to the end of the week.

I have two days off physically, but mentally I have a lot to do this weekend, including some school and work, as well as some more transcribing of routines for dance. My work week went a little unexpectedly sideways and left me unable to do the things I wanted to get done to deal with emerging things. I am sure it happens at every job.

My work description itself is changing, almost daily at this point and one of the things I have to do is figure out a structure and plan for my office now that I have more people and more responsibility. That is going to take some heavy thinking.

I had hoped for a bit more of a break this weekend, but if I get the things I hope to finished I know that next weekend I will be able to relax more and focus on the things I want to focus on, rather that those I have to focus on.

Moving from work, it was a productive night at my lesson.

We have been working on the new open rumba routine and we have worked through about 1/2 – 2/3rds of it, and Boss told me he intends to try to finish it up next week.

It is interesting what I am discovering just working through the choreography. It has highlighted some gaps in things I haven’t really worked on and essentially provided a bit of a ‘to do’ list, once we have worked through the routine.

Some of the specific things I know I will need to work on is the connection within the partnership, allowing myself to use my partner to execute more challenging parts, and some elements such as rondes and stylistic details.

As we work through it though, I am feeling better about the routines and that they are doable and achievable and not quite as complicated and complex as they might seem.

It ended a rough week on a positive note, and one which I certainly needed.

It helped me make it through.

Finding something that has been elusive…

Every once in a while something comes together.

Bonus when it is something you have been trying to figure out for a while.

During my last two individual practices, I suddenly was able to pull together something that I have been trying to figure out for longer than I can remember. I could tell it was close, but that it was still just on the cusps of not quite being there.

And now it seems to have finally developed, at least preliminarily.

A feeling of connection complete from one side to the other around my back in standard. Basically, I can finally feel a connection from elbow to elbow when I hold up my arms in standard frame.

It seems strange to say, but it’s an odd sensation for me. It can be a bit fleeting and honestly it feels like there is a band from one elbow to the other, but I can tell when it falls into place and when it doesn’t. Previously, I could connect with one side or the other but not across.

How did this happen?

It is a little strange the steps that seems to have led to this. First it was a matter of developing awareness of moving my shoulder blades separate from my ribs, then it was developing awareness of when one side was leading versus another. This was followed by working to make sure one side or the other was leading and engaged at all times. Once that developed, I noticed that I had to be careful that when I was leading with one side forward, I wasn’t allowing the opposite side to fall back (it still has to stay forward too so I don’t end up turned). Once I added engaging the opposite side to keep it from falling back, suddenly the two sides connected together.

This has been at least a two year process for me, beginning with no awareness or understanding of when one side or the other moved anywhere. I had to keep doing it to figure out what I was feeling, as I wasn’t sure and when it finally clicked together what it was and I realized it was something Boss and other coaches have been telling me to look for it took me a few moments to completely process it. It was the ultimate ‘aha’ moment.

At least I hope I am feeling what I think I am feeling. I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with Boss yet. I could be just doing something completely strange and not realize it.

But there is a glimmer of hope…

I might figure out this whole standard thing yet.