Archive for June, 2010

Student Of Myself

June 28, 2010

I felt revived by writing “Tribute To A Lady”. For the rest of the day my memories of J in her sixties, leaping for joy in the Sunday afternoon Airth class, stayed with me. She seemed an example for me in my older years, a reminder of my own dance – albeit changing. That evening as the light still lingered in the room that J had graced, I took my usual place in the circle – prepared myself to breathe my way into the oh so familiar exercises so long resisted.  I stood alone. If any shared my circle, they were phantoms of my memory – not sturdy enough to stay with me as I made my way. Still, I persevered through the movements, even as my body strained or became imbalanced seeking to regain its old ability. The will of the dancer reactivated in the older, less agile body, and I completed the circle – accepting the momentary drive aroused by recalling J’s  courage – though I didn’t make it as far as the leaps.

I liked the energy that followed me out of the studio into the kitchen to prepare my supper – liked the sheen of sweat on my usually dry skin. The sweet sense of my own vitality was strong enough that the following morning saw me hearkening to the possibility of staying with the practice that, in years past, was as natural as breathing. When evening came, I went again into the glowing room, now cluttered with the accumulated art of recent years as well as bits of furniture and toys belonging to dogs and grandchildren. The central area has been kept clear. Kicking a dog toy away from my spot led to a moment of doggy participation, but just enough determination returned me to my purpose. I admit it took a mite more effort to ignore the twinges in my tendons – a mite more effort to keep on when the body faltered and fell sideways with a strange fatigue. I admit that, on completion, I was far more  ready to leave the room – to grab a frozen dinner to feed my obvious hunger – my obvious need for something more.

This morning I am not so sure the old circle is the answer. I find it somewhat forced. My body – tendons especially – protest. They ask me: “Is this natural – after so long? I have changed, you know. Perhaps this is not the true way anymore.” I answer: “Perhaps I am simply showing the inner muse that I am willing. Perhaps the body will adapt once more – or perhaps I will discover a gentler approach.”

One thing I realized yesterday, as I went through the circle of exercises again, is that they are not as natural as they seemed back then. To some of my students they may have been difficult – even discouraging.  Mastering some of them may have been too much to ask of people who hadn’t danced – or who had aged and become less flexible and strong. Standing on one leg long enough to find one’s balance may have been downright painful. The supporting circle may have helped, but it remains that I was asking others to attain or come close to what I could do – still can do to some extent. Ideally, the dance should begin where you are, and progress be so gradual that it is hardly noticed. This is what I encouraged in students  such as J. Possibly, not having the ballet background that pushed to the unattainable, they were closer to what was true to them. Possibly I was the only one who couldn’t accept my changing body – still took pride in my high extensions and my variety of motion – pressing myself to astound my students and audiences ( in the manner of the highly trained youngsters on “So You Think You Can Dance”).  

I think of the performance done a few weeks after surgery two years ago – of how I worked with my limitations using my poetry to guide the dance, to support and even rest the body. My sister said that it was the most powerful dancing she had seen me do  – that restraint and stillness freed the interior flight. I suppose that the memorized poetry – the truth in the words, and the rhythm of the spoken phrases – was the basis and the music for my gestures. The breath was at the core:  the starting point, as it must be again – and yet again. Each time I brave the dance I must accept the role of student and surrender to the unformed dance within the breath. Once more it is time to allow the dance to be formed anew.

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Tribute To A Lady

June 26, 2010

I first met J when she was a little younger than I am now. She was brought to an Airth class by another “older” lady, who had been dancing with me for some time. J was small, dark and energetic, with a tendency to nervous chatter. The chatter was well-meaning, enthusiastic – often complimentary of her teacher, but not always appropriate to a dance class. J came to be a regular in my Sunday afternoon class, and I grew accustomed to her inimicable presence. 

Each class I taught evolved in a gradual way – from the delicate swaying, attentive to the breath and its circular path, through the series of increasingly demanding exercises done in a stationary circle – to the walking, skipping, running and leaping. J loved to leap, and from that first afternoon when she surprised me with her sprightly bounding, I looked forward to seeing the pure joy that radiated from her: body and soul. I can see that great room at sunset time – dimming slightly as night approached. J would spring easily from her cushion on the floor beside the other students and be instantly airborne. Her face, childlike, reflecting delight in the limitless freedom of the moment, lit up  the room.  Then came improvisation. J’s musical knowledge was expansive, but it was the classical genre that she favored: Chopin, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms. She was willing, but less that charmed by my occasional experiments with the new age stuff. J was a classicist, I guess, quoting nineteenth century poets, novelists, and philosophers. I have thank you notes from that time, each one demonstrating lively intelligence. Tastefully chosen, they exude old-fashioned elegance.

J never reproached me when I withdrew from teaching, though I knew she missed the Airth classes and the freedom of the dance. Living near to me as she did, inhabiting a postcard pretty cottage with the “love of her life”, I often saw her when I walked my dogs. If she happened to be outside, just leaving or returning from one of her own still vigorous walks, or tending to the circular flower bed in front of the house, I would pause for a visit that could tax the patience of my little dogs. She always hearkened back to the classes, claiming I saved her life at the time. She had undergone surgery that had left her fragile and depressed. She would hold up an index finger and say: “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” Apparently, I was that teacher for dear J.

It was good to be remembered fondly – and good that the dance we shared stayed alive beyond the cessation of the classes, but occasionally I would walk away feelling the tears of regret well up in my eyes from a tight, sad place in my heart.

About two years ago, J lost her beloved husband to prostate cancer, and in the months following I watched her visibly diminish. I saw the vines grow rampant and consuming, shrouding the cottage in greenery once controlled by her handsome partner. Weeds now shared the circle with her tired perennials.  She still made the effort to call out: “Bonjour, mes petites…” But visits grew rare, and almost before I realized it, she was gone, whisked off to be near her daughter, grand daughters, and son-in-law somewhere in Michigan. In the last few weeks I have noticed that the cottage has been tidied up; looks well-kept if not loved. The sign of a local real estate agent is thrust into the lawn. This morning as I set out with the little dogs, I saw numerous cars lining the side of the road. I almost turned back. Perhaps I had to see the hordes moving in and out of of J’s sanctuary, strangers attracted to a sign announcing an estate sale. Otherwise, I would not be sitting here now recalling a lady who played a surprisingly large part in my life for someone so petite in size – for someone seemingly on the fringe of my existence. Dear J, I miss you. My heart is acheing with the knowledge that your physical presence is forever lost to me. But I pray that your heart remembers, now and then, what it was to leap with limitless joy in a room that remembers your light as I do your courage.

Let Me Entertain You

June 24, 2010

The prep for the colonoscopy was bad enough that toward the end – when drinking the second bottle of Magnesium of Citrate – I thought I would rather die than go through this again. It made me terribly ill; wouldn’t stay down and my stomach was screaming for mercy. That was at nine in the evening. It was midnight before I could even consider trying to sleep.  Still I woke several times to “go” before my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. Time for  a series of enemas in a last ditch effort at clarity. Pure torture. Not surprising to be diagnosed later with a torturous colon.

My daughter brought the children along, stopping at Tatonut on the way. An adventure! Doughnuts on the side would sweeten the experience. This nanny: she is always entertaining – even when nauseous, sore of tum, and holding on to her acheing head. Actually, even as I began the various rituals leading up to the prodedure itself, I was entertaining – funny even, like I was really two people. One was definitely suffering, longing for the drug that would  gift me with unconsciousness. The other was lively, charming, wittty -appreciative of the nurses just doing their jobs. I would make them remember me. But it wasn’t an effort; I simply said what spilled from my exhausted mind.  Walking out of the bathroom, attired in the singular garment designed to open in the back, I spotted a man standing just across the hallway. He was dressed identically, and looked embarrassed and desparate. We stood there, trying not to look at one another, but clearly inhabiting the same nightmare. As the nurse escorted me back to my bed, I whispered “Don’t you hate it when some man appears at a party in the same dress as you?” She giggled for the next fifteen minutes, even while inserting the IV needle in my elusive vein. Yes… I would be remembered.

But would my doctor remember my blurted cry of distress at the effects of Magnesium of Citrate on a sensitive stomach? He said I was not the only one to complain of the stuff; he would think about removing it from the prep. He’s a handsome man with a kind demeanor, even when wearing a neck brace, and I watched his slender back as he went to the back of the cubicle where I was waiting. Watched until a man with a practiced smile bent over me, saying “Just a little sting”, as he delivered the burning elixer that would release me to oblivion.

Coming to, I find my daughter and the two children hovering – willing me to return to them unchanged. My dopey grin is acceptable, and from that point it is rather a party atmosphere. The children, who have eaten too many doughnuts, are a little hyper as they sit on the supposedly germ-free floor and chatter. Their mother coaxes the younger one to finish his milk as I gaze with groggy disbelief that they are really allowed to be here? The oldest and ever curious one stands and begins to read aloud from my chart. “…a redundant tortoise colon.” 

It is all extremely bizarre in retrospect. But, eventually, I was brought home and was left alone to eat a few bites of oatmeal before succumbing.  Four hours later I woke to a blessed realization: Yet another colonoscopy was truly over, the polyps found were surely benign, and I was graced with two whole years during which I was sure to forget the taste and effect of Citrate of Magnesium. I might even forget the redundant tortoise in my colon.

Dance On

June 17, 2010

I walked to the beach this morning – yielding myself to the music of change, yielding also to Music the dog’s strong pull in that direction.  It was good to yield, despite the heat, the  distance, and the fear of what I might find. Yes… Facing even the fearful changes that come our way can be a good thing. I speak of the oil – avoided in this blog for weeks. I have not been unaware. The horror and the growing threat to familiar and beloved environs have accompanied my every moment, even as life continued. My immediate dance kept happening – keeps on happening. Personal joys and sorrows are unavoidable, distracting us momentarily from catastrophic happenings in the world out there. Out there…

As I follow the eager little dogs along the familiar road that culminates in the long sandy beach, the fringe of marshes, the expanse of wind-swept sound, I can smell the oil – stronger, borne by the breezes off the gulf. I let it be. I won’t let it stop me from  my destination – whatever that means. We make the curve, let gravity help us descend the sloping way. The little dogs veer now and then to sniff or to mark where other dogs have trod. They are not looking up when the vista opens before us. I let myself pause to take in the scene. The setting has healed from Katrina. The beauty of young Pines against the sky, the marsh-bordered water, the stretch of sand is undeniable. Also undeniable are the trucks, the workmen, the opaque fencing protruding from the glimmering water. The fencing, along with the long snaking booms of a garish yellow color, are being placed optimisticly all along the coastline. All that can be done is being done – one hopes.

I am not shocked. I expected this. Though the absence of the usual windsurfers, families with small children, bathing beauties, and other dog owners with their happily frolicing pets causes a heaviness to settle on my soul. Still I walk on, for I think I see someone I know: a rather fragile male figure stands between the seawall and the marsh. In his hands a camera is made heavy and unweildy by a large telephoto lens. Beneath the hat that shades his face from the glaring sun, I perceive a smile. He has seen me, too. As we draw close, he acknowledges my delighted tail-wagging companions before speaking.  “I was just taking pictures of these morning glories.” His eyes are bright and his smile has grown wider. I look from him to the lavender-blue faces of his subjects.  The flowers look back at me, nodding gently amidst the cool green grasses of the marsh. I can feel the steady breeze that seems made to refresh the souls of all who would receive.  Suddenly I am a child again. The wide-open gaze of the  flower and of the man are all I know. And it is enough – this moment. It is all there is.

Sisters And Other Angels

June 15, 2010

Over a week since I’ve written here. Is it even possible to pick up the thread of my blogging dance. I shall try. A smidgeon of hope accompanied me as the week began, and Tuesday morning saw me visiting the angelic doctor. Trust carried me through an office visit and, prescription filled, I went home believing life could be lived, or danced, with greater ease. Yet life is full of tricks, and ease tends to be of temporal duration. I found on my answering machine a message that changed the whole gist of the week in a flash. My sister had suffered a fall, had been taken by ambulance to the hospital with a head injury. CAT scans and various other tests added to her suffering and her family’s fears and concerns.

Days went by. My sampling of the anti-depressants happened in the midst, leading to a re-inflamation of my esophagus and stomach lining. I visited my sister, discussed her condition with other family members, fielded countless calls of inquirey, all the time keeping one hand pressed to my belly as if to calm and conceal my own pain. My heart seemed big enough to commiserate with both sisters – sisters who in a few short days were meant to host a joint art exhibit. At night, worn out from the stressful nature of each day, I completed the last of the  “Winged Messengers” – the delicate wire sculptures that would be my contribution to the exhibit. That last one: “Rabbit with Celestial Bouquet,” was privately named “Rabbit with Inadequate Ears. They were shorter than they might have been,  and somewhat lopsided. I was numbly trusting that the bouquet consisting of a moon, a sun, and a star would balance things out. He is what he is, born of the moment – telling more truth than anyone viewing him would know.

The reception took place, but only one sister greeted the numerous guests.  I stood in the midst, feeling very much the youngest sister, a bit too small – inadequate for the task. Everyone missed the absent sister, back in her hospital bed, better, but not well enough to attend.  Cards were filled with best wishes and compliments from attendees. In some way she seemed more present than I.  People were delighted and awed by my shining other-wordly creatures against their black cloth, and a few were purchased, but my sister’s glowing oils of familiar natural settings were far more accessible to most – easily imagined gracing the walls of a variety of homes.

With all honesty, I went home from the exceedingly successful evening depleted and rather blue.  And the next morning sought some comfort from telephoning my dearest friend, Kendall. This helped considerably, and perhaps left me open and receptive to my afternoon visitors.  A dear man, more my sister’s friend than my own, called and came by with his partner, and the two lovely men, whom I’d casually invited the night before, brought warmth and interest into my space. I found myself come alive in a way I hadn’t the night before, embracing the whole experience with gratitude and joy.  At one point I found myself demonstrating how to fall without tensing up and being hurt. (We had been speaking of getting older and more vulnerable to falls.) Then they joined me on the floor, as though we were where we were meant to be all along, relaxed and intimate in our conversation.  When they finally took their leave,  a sense of completion was in the air. Yet one more exchange took place.  They asked to see a bronze sculpture, one of three I’d had cast a few years ago. In this wonderfully palatable way another sale was made. This “Angel” was heavier and more abstract than those of the night before, but I knew for certain that she would be winging her way with the perfect companions for the rest of her journey. And part of me went with her gladly as the rest of me rejoiced anew in the world I inhabit.

Out Of The Blue

June 6, 2010

This morning, after days of frequent thunderstorms, I heard no rumbling threat of rain and ventured out. The dogs were happy and co-operative, and I was thankful to be walking on a Sunday when the traffic is less and freedom of movement seems more possible. My mind was hopeful, too – the spirit easier. I was simply a woman taking her dogs for a Sunday walk – certainly not expecting to be hailed from behind. My name rang out, and I turned to see a bicyclist. He wore goggles and helmet and seemed a stranger. But off came the goggles and I recognized the doctor I had visited about two months ago, when my cold was at its worst and Laryngitus had stolen my voice. Right away he began to speak of b-12 shots for chronic fatigue. It was as if this were a continuation of our office visit – as if he had been mulling over my state of health since last we met, except that I was being diagnosed on the side of the road on a Sunday morning. Did he seek me out? By now the dogs had lain down as though in cahoots with the earnest doctor. He wasn’t done yet. Seeing that I was receptive to the possible benefits of b-12 shots, he carefully brought up the possibility of depression as a cause of fatigue. He had noticed, himself, that getting older was hard to cope with, and honestly, there were some gentle drugs that could help. All of this could have been very bizarre, or even offensive, except that I trusted the moment, believed in the strangely intuitive powers of of this surprising man. He was as though delivering a message, and once he was satisfied that I had received it, he could go on is way. When  at last I said I would come by his office this week, he took his leave – peddling off slowly down the road.

I was left to resume my own way. The dogs were ready. But I was affected by the encounter – made vulnerable by having been cared about. I walked and pondered the fact of my aging and my obvious resistance. I remembered last night’s attempts to dance full out to chopin – my longing and frustration at my body’s limitations. And into my mind came the truthful wailing of my youthful heart. ” I still want to dance as I used to dance! I want to feel that old joy of moving fiercely, fearlessly through space, of being transformed by my love of the dance and sharing that love! I still want to dance…” But that last cry was tired and sad, and the sorrow made tears that couldn’t be shed on a Sunday morning walk on a public road. Fortunately, Music chose this moment to deal with his doggie business. It was time to pull out one of the scented bags that I carry for just such a moment. Isn’t life wonderful?

Some Days…

June 5, 2010

As the day advances – close onto evening, I find myself seeking to recover something that might have been – eager to write down my earlier enthusiasm for this Friday. Creative potential leapt within me: I would write; I would dance; I would complete the new wire sculpture of a squirrel. He sits now on my desk, his comical head cocked to one side as if to say:  “Silly woman… You have given me wings, but where is the pinecone you promised to place in my paws?” This must be left over from last night’s bedtime story to my three-year-old granddaughter. Oh dear, I am almost as tired as I was last night  – when that bad squirrel lured the little girl into the woods to see a fairy. 

It is now the next morning – a blessedly open-ended Saturday, and though the blog that longed to spring from my mind on Friday morning is nowhere to be found, I find myself ready to face the events of yesterday.

First came the telephone call that shifted my sweet expectancy into resignation. Last week’s uncompleted installation of the new central air-conditioning unit was ready for completion. The eager young men came into this space – and out, and up and down. They talked and sang, rattled and banged, and I watched them fondly – expressing my interest in all they did. The mother of all who enter her realm… Whoa! That brought on a hot flash.

When they finally left, it was with a promise of returning. Not finished yet… Something didn’t quite fit. By then I had noticed the pile of unpaid bills – recalled the tag I was asked to design to attach to the sculptures for the coming exhibit. A good idea, perhaps; there is no way to sign them. So… To the computer, surprising myself with a practical and attractive use of my earlier impulse. The squirrel – with his plump curving belly and bottom – inclined his head with interest, forgetting his empty paws as an image of a sculpted elephant angel materialized on the  screen. He appeared to approve of the font I had chosen. It was done. I moved on to the bills, letting TCM and Rosalind Russell dressed as a nun keep me company.

But, yet again, a telephone call interrupted the soul’s ability to regain balance. My daughter… It must be about the children; they were due to come that afternoon. I can handle anything. Right? Yet overblown confidence made me unprepared for the avalanche of emotional baggage that was coming toward me. No time to duck… And my stammers of shock and protest only served to bring on more. By the time it was over, I was pretty much convinced I deserved the lot. Of course I was an emotional cripple, an inadequate mother, a self-indulgent eccentric – over-protective of my space – indecisive, defensive, etc. etc. etc.  No one could ever ask me for anything. Right… Right?

Confusion over what had just happened made me wonder why she hadn’t said stupid. The tears slipped out, and I wanted to call her back – make it right.  Somehow…  But I wasn’t that stupid, and besides the friendly young men were back – waving the part they were sure would fit just right.  Distraction… But not for long. Once they’d presented me with the bill, which I tucked away for a later shock to my system, they were on their way, and I was left alone with my bruised and acheing heart. The grandchildren wouldn’t be coming after all.

But, remember, it is Saturday. A new day has come. And whatever sorrowful dregs remain in my heart, I look at my squirrel  companion of yesterday and I have to smile. For  between his paws he now holds a a golden pinecone. It is somewhat prickly, as pinecones tend to be, but the patient creature is sure he can handle it. And so am I.