Friday, October 31, 2014

Friends Who Read

A few weekends ago, I sent a facebook message to a woman I wasn't facebook friends with:
This is, perhaps, an odd message to receive [no duh!]. To put me in context: go back to second grade playing Nancy Drew detectives and swapping chapter book readers. I saw your mother last year at my cousin's wedding and learned that you were at Cornell. I am currently getting my masters at Bucknell in English. Seems we both ended up majoring in reading to some extent.
In the end, I asked if we could get lunch together when I was in town.
I sent this to a girl I had known in childhood, a best friend of sorts from the age of 5 or 6 to the age of 9 when my family moved away from Georgia to Pennsylvania. We had been, what I can only describe as Reading Friends. We weren't too many years into the skill when we became addicted. We read a lot and shared a lot of books, starting with the American Girl Doll stories that accompanied our multiple American Girl Dolls, and continuing into the Nancy Drew chapter books and other adventures. There were sleep overs where we traded books and told stories. There were play dates where we wandered my house in search of secret passages and hidden rooms. There were so many afternoons in the yard of her house and the tree house.
But a friendship started that young, without too many visits... we lost contact.
Curiosity prompted me to write her. What was she doing now? Who did she become? How did she think about the church we attended at the same time? AWANA clubs? The books we used to love? She kindly replied to my strange invitation and on a cold and rainy Ithaca afternoon, she picked me up and we had lunch at her house.
Later, my sister asked me if it was weird. I replied: "No. Not at all." To which, my sister replied, "Now that is weird." Yes. The fact that it was not weird is very weird. And it was not weird for this reason:
We still love all the same things.
The journey we started as kids  had led us, somehow, despite our differences in high school experiences, our choices of colleges, the locations of our growing up, our differences in religious belief and practices, the friends we kept or didn't keep, it all led us to the same tastes and opinions in music, film, tv, books, short stories. And not merely the same tastes but the same reasons for liking and disliking. It wasn't enough that we were deeply committed to questions about young adult dystopias and has a special love for the recent book "Divergent" by Veronica Roth. We had the same reasons for being devastatingly angry with the final novel: too political, unnecessary disruption of universe, lacking in narrative consistency, manipulation of structure for unnatural plot ending, etc.
 These trails were through our whole conversation.
I really couldn't get into Madmen. Here is why. Yes, exactly. I'm more of a Parenthood fan myself even though it makes me cry. Of course, that's the point of Parenthood: real life fighting and lots of crying. Did you go through fantasy in middle school? Oh yes. Lot's of Tolkien and high fantasy.  Let's be honest, I'm still there. Totally. I'm very committed to young adult fiction. I keep it on my shelf to balance the snooty Ivy League book shelves of Goethe and Nietche trying to seem smart. It's still the best stuff out there. Yes. What do you feel about John Green? Good writer. Not sure what to make of him all the time. He seems to be an odd choice but yes, can't argue with his styling.
It seems we were still, as Anne of Green Gables would say, "Kindred Spirits."
Our lunch ran like a love song to reading. Reading matters. What kids love to read matters. It runs as a thread through life and at age 25, two women who at one point both loved Nancy Drew, can sit down with 16years of silence and growing up between them, and find the world they once shared still there, still waiting, still as rich and fascinating as it was when they were kids. 

At the end of our visit, she handed me a book, "Graceling" by Kristin Cashore. "I love this series and have an extra of the first book I wanted to get rid of. But I wanted it to go to a good home. Take it." It was a "high fantasy" book, one from a few years ago that I hadn't heard of. When I sat down with it the next week, I stayed up late to finish it.



Monday, October 27, 2014

The Returns of Returning: Ballroom Dance (cont.)

Robbie and I
The last post you heard from me, I was talking about the vulnerability of returning to the competition. Heck, the vulnerability of returning to the dance floor. Period.

I went to the Cornell Competition. I Returned to Ballroom Competing.

And I'm grateful.

The moment that moved me from the woman who wrote the blog post  to a woman ready to dance, happened sometime in the early morning hours of the competition day. I went off by myself, found a corner of the unused weight room, and spent some alone time. I had my "Wailin'Jenny's" on the ipod, a book of poetry, some favorite stretches. I prayed. I was alone for an hour, let my body be wakefully restful, and I found a center.

I came to a point where I had nothing to lose. I was able to wave farewell to my embarrassment of not having a costume. I was able to say No to my fear of humiliation, to the desire to look good in front of my peers, to letting Robbie down, to my fear that I'd never be able to dance the way I had before.

The physical preparation (dressing and make up and warm ups) were then easy, relaxed. Robbie and I laughed and enjoyed ourselves, cheering on the beginner dancers when we could.

At 10am, Robbie and I went on the floor for a vienesse waltz, my first competitive moment since March 2013.

Rocking the Short Hair styling
I had an immediate dance high. It was awesome. The day could have ended there.

And here's the other joy, the one that didn't have to happen for this day to be meaningful, but was a lot of really good icing on a really good cake: we did well. Really well. As in: first place "gold level" standard. First place in syllabus vienesse waltz (a separate event).

It was kind of embarrassing, knowing the terror I had expressed, knowing that the hours we had put in were paltry in comparison to some of our hard working teammates. I mean that as high praise to them. My teammates are hard workers, that they are committed to their art/dance/sport. What I'm trying to say is that it was humbling:  it is often just a few points, a slightly off the bellcurve of marks, that makes a first place from a second.

What I think they saw was this: I danced like I was at peace.

So when it came time to dance "up" a level, stretch ourselves a bit, I was far less scared. I had come to the point where I had nothing to lose and I wouldn't lose anything on the pre-champ floor that I hadn't already said goodbye to before the first round of gold.

We didn't come in last. That's a huge win.

The support from our fellow Penn Staters was also a gift. Emma, one of our teammates in the finals with us, hugged me: "I'm so excited for you. I read your blog. I know what this means to you." I forget that other dancers sometimes read this. They read, remembered, and celebrated with me.

Also a TEAM MATCH is the best way to get school spirit going. Loved getting to dance in that as well.

Next weekend is Competition #2 in DC. I'm so excited. I'm grateful to have passed the first mile marker getting back into this world that I love.

Please don't stop the music!
My people! WE ARE... PENN STATE!

Friday, October 03, 2014

Return to Ballroom

What I've found is that the things I missed the most have been the hardest to return home to.

I missed ballroom more than I had words to express this past year.

Returning to ballroom has been hard.

It's never just ballroom.

My friend Mel said this to me. It's never just ballroom. It's the rest of life. And ballroom. It's ballroom. And the rest of life.

Coming back. I'm doing a lot of "coming back" right now, though it feels like that part should be more concluded than it is. I still cry a lot, the symptom I had early in Bulgaria and that, honestly, lasted long into the year. I cry far more often than I used to, used to being in the years after college. Tears come to me over small and large things, the lovely and the heart breaking.

When you leave a physical activity for a year, the body adjusts to living without it. The muscles forget things.

The mind less so. I know all the things I should be doing. I remember what it should feel like and I can't seem to force my way into dancing that way, the way I used to.

Before, it felt like I was on a constant progression "up", however slow. Now I am covering old territory and wondering when I lost the ground.

The biggest part of this is my fear of what people see in me. That they will know I'm supposed to be a TA, a good one. I have a reputation for being a good dancer. I've said this about myself even. People were excited that Robbie and I were going to be dancing together again too.

But it's slow. We haven't had the time we know we need to make it work. I haven't put in the physical training to make it work. My body didn't take kindly to American food and the stress and there is weight gain. There isn't money for the dress or new latin shoes. And, oddly, I feel the first year of age in my body, the first year I didn't look the odd paradox of young young and more grown up. So I look at students who started in the past year and who are dancing at a level well above me and I think Something is wrong with me.

It's taking more courage and head+heart work to return to the floor than I ever imagined. This weekend, I'm heading to Cornell for my first competition in 1.5 years. The practice hours have been few. I'll be ragged. Exposed. This is how I envision the weekend returning to the floor.

I'm scared of the shame.

There are lots of things I know. Like how I'm in a supportive place. That my dance partner is gracious to me and says that we don't have to compete at a certain level. That he extends a patience to a strained point (and he has a deep patience) at my emotional ups and downs, the way I quit during rounds, my tears, the physical inability and mental inability to push through. That people ultimately don't care at all how I dance and are way more interested in how they themselves will perform on the floor.

It's far more mental. And deeply spiritual.

I need a new story.

I've also realized that what I missed about ballroom included the people I loved, the music, the movement, the competitions, the space. But it was also me missing the person I was in those places. Coming back, a changed person (in ways I'm still discovering), I haven't walked back into the shoes of that confident, a little cocky, sweeping dancer that I loved being. She's gone. On the good days, I'm hoping for a deeper and more mature woman to be in these dance shoes, that my artist friend's idea that as Life grows us, our Art by extension must grow too. But I don't see her yet or the fear is blocking her or... well, it's October. I've only been home a few months. And these things take far more time than I've ever been willing to admit.