The Drongo, Interview #11: Hayley VanderJagt

Published on June 15, 2021
Categories: drongo, firespinning, interview, music, newsletter and psychology

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Desire for an Interview

The Drongo: Our eleventh interview guest is Hayley VanderJagt.

Hayley VanderJagt: Oh shit, I'm talking about myself! My name is Bloo, and I'm currently passing the time in my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, fittingly called "The Land of Entrapment." The prodigal daughter has returned to her old stomping grounds to start graduate school after seven years in the Pacific Northwest.

Hayley's pit bull, with blanket headdress.

Hayley VanderJagt: Folks have called me multifaceted, offbeat, and maybe even mercurial, but these days I mainly just do a lot of schoolwork grinding. When I'm not cosplaying as a professional, you'll probably find me yelling at video games, ripping bongs, or wrestling with my pit bull. Social isolation has unexpectedly been pretty great!

The Drongo: I couldn't help but notice you left out your most drongeriffic hobby: fire spinning!

Hayley, how and why did you take up the forbidden fire arts? What are your secret techniques?

Hayley VanderJagt: There's a part of me has always had this adorably naïve belief that I could do anything I really, really wanted to. When I was an undergrad, I saw the fire troupe at my school perform. Like most people with an intact sense of wonderment, I was immediately turned on. Not in the literal sense although in retrospect, maybe in the literal sense point is, I was totally inspired.

The Drongo: More like in-fired, dohoho.

Behold! The Viking mistress in all her fiery glory.

Hayley VanderJagt: I used to be pretty shit at orienting my body in space and recruiting my brain to coordinate my movement, so I figured ... might as well see what I learn from trying something I know I'll be abjectly terrible at! Any behavioralist will tell you that punishment is not a very good teaching tool, but getting repeatedly smacked by an incredibly-dense pronged staff is actually pretty instructive.

With more motivation than I tend to bring to most things, I practiced all the time. I'd go to class with bruises everywhere, which definitely concerned some observant teachers. Anyway, after a while, the staff just became some sort of extension of my body. I started trusting that it would move with me when I moved.

In fire spinning (and, I imagine, other flow arts) there's a pretty big difference between "static" props and "dynamic" props. My prop, the dragon staff, is a static prop. The planes on which you can orient it are more limited, and the prop itself doesn't have joints, which would allow it additional ways to rotate around itself. In comparison, fire poi are way more dynamic (and I've never been able to figure them out.)

Lately, I've been playing with some fans, and this neat toy called a levi-wand, so I'm hoping someday I'll round out my skills a little more.

The Drongo: What feelings go through you during a fire performance?

Hayley VanderJagt: It really depends on the day. Sometimes, I feel badass; most of the time, I feel mildly terrified. The first show I was supposed to perform in was one of the annual gigs most popular for the troupe, so I remember drilling my choreography in the gym real hardcore-like. I was a little more Type A back then, I guess.

The Drongo: Oh, you're still Type A! (I would know, readers: I lived with her.)

Hayley VanderJagt: On the night of the performance, I drank quite a bit more than I intended. Call it nerves? Right as the curtain was rising, I definitely panicked and considering dropping out, but was convinced otherwise by an upperclassman who said I was probably more anxious than drunk. Was that true? Who knows. Don't flail flaming objects around while intoxicated, guys (unless the audience is 20 feet away, like mine was.)

So: my music starts, people are cheering, and basically ... my mind goes blank for the entire performance. I notice myself standing in my body again once the song ends. I know I didn't drop the prop the entire time, and thus probably nailed the routine I had turned into muscle memory. No clue, really. At least the crowd was stoked.

Behold again!

The Drongo: As if prancing around with a flaming staff wasn't drongo enough, you went and did it while so drunk and nervous that your spirit left your body. I assume Satan held on to it for safekeeping.

Ever since the night we became friends, when you told me over beers about the psychological effects of alcohol, I've known you to be as hardcore about education as you are about fire spinning.

I understand you're about to finish your first year of PhD studies in clinical neuroscience.

Hayley VanderJagt: So actually, I'm currently studying clinical psychology! My background was real heavy in the hard (neuro)sciences, so I know my way around mice brains, rat brains, monkey brains ... but in the years after graduating, I definitely realized I wasn't using a lot of my more innate skills professionally.

The Drongo: My mistake, Hayley! For the laymen among us, what separates clinical psychology from other subfields of psychology?

Hayley VanderJagt: Despite being majorly introverted, I find people really interesting, and I think the trajectory from research to real-world impact moves a lot more quickly in clinical psychology than in more micro-scale niches in the field. If I'm devoting so much energy into developing treatments to help folks, it'd be nice to live long enough to see them implemented.

In grad school, I get to design studies and take on clients from the university's psychology clinic, which is really awesome. It's a good reminder of why the rigor of grad school is necessary, and the reasons why I'm doing it.

The Drongo: What's your focus within clinical psych, and what do you hope to achieve in your own research?

Hayley VanderJagt: My special interest is in the realm of eating behavior, weight management, and disordered eating. Food is obviously an integral part of being alive, but, particularly in this society, I think the way we eat is sort of taken for granted.

I mean, the majority of processed foods are deliberately manufactured to be "craveable", convenient, and cheap. Food is dishonest now, in the sense that the dietary staples we're habituated to might not always reliably deliver accurate indicators of the amount of nourishment or energy we're receiving. When we unknowingly develop problems with eating, like putting on too much weight, bingeing, yo-yo dieting, or malnourishment, we're treated like idiots with no willpower.

We get fat on food we're taught is acceptable to eat regularly, and then society stigmatizes us for it and tries to sell us a "cure" in the form of pills, diet plans, seaweed wraps, whatever. It's really ugly.

I'm currently looking at interventions for psychological issues like disordered eating and depression, from the angle of improving nutritional composition. There's a lot of research showing that a suboptimal diet contributes to a whole host of issues beyond simply being overweight which, by the way, is NOT the issue I care about fixing. I just think we can drastically improve our mental wellbeing with good food!

It's all about balance, really. Many animals are quite "nutritionally wise," and can tell when and what to eat based on physiological hunger cues. I think it would be really cool if we could reinvite that mind-body connection back into food-eating culture.

The Drongo: One way we might make that happen is by reintroducing cooking classes to middle and high schools. In comparison to school material which is entirely oriented toward college-track advancement and which most students will forget unless it's used in their career cooking can be used by someone from any segment of society, and will remain useful for as long as humans need to eat. That's an ironclad defense against "when are we ever going to use this?" if I've ever heard one.

Let's conclude our visit to the Blooniverse with ear pleasures. You've told me that music is your "fourth base." Can The Drongo get lucky and hear you play?

If not, you can stem my weeping by recommending your favorite tunes (at least one each, please, in the categories happy, mopey, and weeby.)

Hayley VanderJagt: To be totally honest, I put off completing this interview because this question tossed me into an internal tug-o-war!

I've been playing music since I was 10, and have dabbled in songwriting, but I'm so damn weird about it to this day. It just feels very intimate. But, I think the fundamental reason people are put on this earth is to express themselves to others, to see and be seen. So just for you, Maxie I've attached a couple (janky) recordings of short little songs which have been sitting in my pocket for a while.

The Drongo: Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing. I'm partial to the first one (and not only because I have fond memories of hearing it through your door while you practiced.)

Hayley VanderJagt: I'm going to recommend some tunes too, just because I'm hoping someone out there will jive to these bangers like I do!

The Drongo: Hurray! An entree from you, and side dishes, too.

Hayley VanderJagt: It was really hard to choose just one for each category, but I went with things that are fresh on my radar at the moment.

For happy: this one is just a fucking funky bop. The artist owns a farm in Iceland, but does music on the side, and actually entered a song into Eurovision recently! Look up the lyrics in English if you get the chance, because they're really nice.

"Skiptir Ekki Mali" by Daði Freyr (English lyrics)

For mopey: this is tricky. Usually when I'm moping, I still choose things that are upbeat, like, "Let's ruminate ... while dancing!"

"Hunting for Reason" by Folded Like Fabric

For weeby: y'all ever seen Samurai Champloo? Check out this sweet cover. You don't even need to like anime to like this one, I promise. It just TASTES good in your ears.

"Shiki no Uta" by Sapphire

The Drongo: Readers, I've tried all three of these boppity bops, and I advise you to follow our guest's spectacular taste.

That's all for this issue of The Drongo. Hayley, thank you so much for participating. May readers get in touch with you after they've seen your interview?

Hayley VanderJagt: Sure! I guess I sort of fly under the social media radar, since I don't have any links to share. I have an Instagram (@b.l.o.o.m.y.m.i.n.d) that I use as a photo-diary, if you'd like to see that. Mainly, it's for sliding into cuties' DMs. Just kidding. Or am I?

The Drongo: You heard it here first, cuties. And for the non-cuties among us, there's always email:

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