Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dance Class Saved My Life (In Numbers)

Three hours a week.  Three hours out of one hundred and sixty eight hours in a week.  It looks like this:

3:168 or .01785 or 2%

It looks even sadder when you think of it in the context of the whole time I lived in Finland.  I was there for eleven months.

The Finnish equivalent of prom is called vanhat paiva, it's the day that the seniors leave the school to study for their finishing exams and the juniors become the oldest students in the school.  A formal dance is thrown that evening.  And by formal, I mean everyone wears costumes/dresses that would've been appropriate in the 1830s and performs choreographed classical dance.  As in Viennese Waltz and Polonaise.

So we had a three hour class once a week for four months. Forty eight hours out of seven thousand three hundred and ninety two hours in eleven months.

48:7,392 or .00649 or 0.6%

God bless the guy who took pity on the shy exchange student and asked me to the dance class, and therefore vanhat paiva, with him.

I knew nothing about Finland before I left, so it was a surprise to find out that there's little to no physical contact between people.  I'm not talking sexual contact, I'm talking every day contact: no pats on the leg, no quick hugs or kisses, no bumped shoulders, no nothing.  No. Touch.

It was half a year before dance class started.  And it wasn't like I was a touchy person to begin with.  But then that first dance class.  The first one was tricky, we were all giggly and shy, uncomfortable.  But even so, the structured intimacy, even just for brief moments, was blissful.  Those later classes would become easier and easier, when our hands dropped, we remained within a breath of each other, easy.

It was like being drunk.  Like being a drunk - and the only time I could get the goods was for three hours a week.  Everything in me pointed towards those three hours.  Up until that point, I had never needed anything so badly.

And what if I hadn't been asked to the dance?  What if it had been

0:7,932 or 0.00 or 0%?

I don't think I would've made it.  I would've come home early.  Or come home later even more messed up than I did.


Tonight I attended the swing dance class at The Canvas (our local community arts center).  Since Finland, I don't really do dance classes.  I'm not sure why, maybe because that structured intimacy is intimidating outside of a bar without a buzz.  But it was a blast.  And not awkward.  Maybe because I'm mostly past that phase.  Coming home from the class I couldn't help but think of Finland, and the contra dances we went to when I was young, and the Folk Fest contra dances, and the one salsa class Andrew and I took (dis-as-ster), and dancing in Texas dance-halls, and dancing at the festivals in Louisiana.

I love dancing.

I love watching people dance.

I love dancing with a variety of partners.  I love how every dancer has their own style, their own unconscious signature, their own favorite moves.  I love knowing a partner's signature.  I love being surprised by a new partner.  I love that some partners throw you around like a hurricane and some partners hold your hands like they're holding small birds.

I love that dancing makes me laugh and giggle and cackle (at least that's what Andrew calls it).

I love that when you go to the dance-halls in Texas and Louisiana there are distinctly different tones.  I love that when you contra dance it's best to stare as intensely as possible at your partner's shoulder in order to keep from getting dizzy.  I love the way that an entire rowdy bar slows down into a dreamy slow-motion when the dance floor goes into three quarter waltz time.

I don't think that I will ever stop loving dancing.  And I think that I feel most in love with Andrew when we're dancing.

In other words, if you're not already out there on dance floor, get to it!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Learning Lessons - Taking Lumps

Here we are again.  Fall in Juneau.  That dreaded span of months between the hope of summer sun and the hope of winter snow when all that we can look forward to is a break in the perpetual wet and grey.

Today is one of those days.  Clear and bright in the best of ways.

Maybe it’s the weather.  Maybe it’s always been the weather, but fall is a difficult time for me, including in my writing.  But finally, after three years of an MFA program, I’m starting to see a pattern.

This is my third and final year (THESIS YEAR) and, as would be expected, total panic has set in.  But this year, the panic is feeling familiar.  I realized two days ago that my last month and a half of writing has been extremely similar to what happened with my writing in Fall of 2010 and Fall of 2009.  Mainly, that I have been torturing myself by writing the same scenes (or lack of scenes) over and over again without actually moving.

In Fall of 2009 I thought that there was no way I was ever going to write anything good and that I probably wouldn’t finish my first year of the program.  Fall of 2010 I thought that there was no way I would even come close to moving my novel forward, it would never be a novel, just a pitiful collection of mismatched scenes.  Both falls were terrible periods of punishing repetition, no climbing word or pages counts.

But then, in the following Winter/Springs there were major surges.  Last Spring I wrote what I believe to be some of the best work I’ve ever put on paper.  Pages and pages, six, seven, eight pages a day, cramping my hands.

So here I am, complaining to every person within earshot about how miserable I am.  How much the book sucks.  How much I hate it.  How frustrated I am.  How terrible the writing is.  How much I just want to throw the whole thing away, or maybe burn it, or shred it, or use it for papier-mâché piñatas, or weigh it down with bricks and throw it into the center of Lynn Canal.

And then I realized that this has happened before.

I turned back through the pages and realized that even though I was writing the same chapter over and over and over again from scratch, that I had learned something about my book.  I had learned about where I was writing about and who I was writing about.

I’m still terrified.  Still convinced that I no longer know what my book is about.  Still don’t know what is going to happen.

But in the middle of that frantic drowning, it seems like maybe there’s a ray of hope.  That maybe this is part of my process.  And maybe, just maybe, I should stop complaining, stop worrying, and start breathing again.