School


The other night I was talking with Jenn, who launched into her list of Christmas cookies. There’s the standard cutouts, and chocolate pretzels, and Russian tea balls, (which gets amended to Russian tea cakes with a look at Mark, her husband, who just can’t resist going there with his dirty mind), and Lord knows what else. She has peanut butter dough and gingerbread dough and sugar cookie dough, and then there’s the plans for when she’ll get each kind made, and how she’ll arrange the platters and who she’ll give them to. Her associates at work each get one, and then there’s family, and… yeah, like that.

I remember when that was me. I would be reading the food and housekeeping magazines, with their feature stories on cookies and families who make lots and lots of cookies in a heartwarming and family spirited sort of way. There are gorgeous pictures of these cookies, arranged tastefully and appetizingly in ways that just scream, “Omigosh, the person who made these is amazing!” (No, really! They do!) I would clip recipes and make shopping lists for ingredients and garnishes. I planned out days and baked accordingly. There were some memorable cookies in those years. I particularly remember the chocolate sandwich cookies with Bailey’s Irish Cream flavored filling. And then there was the year of the gingerbread people. I baked bazillions of them, icing them to resemble various members of the family, and hung them up as an edible part of the Christmas decorations. Of course, it was one of those unpredictable southern Ohio Christmases. Somehow we got a spell of humidity, which softened the gingerbread, making them slowly start to fall off their hangers. This meant we had to eat them quick before they fell. I still have the recipe somewhere, along with the one for little gingerbread mice with black licorice tails (too insanely cute) that I just never got around to making.

Then I went back to school, and the first weeks of December became irretrievably associated with exams instead of Christmas preparation. I’m all good with the holiday fun up through Thanksgiving, and then life becomes a blur of final projects, final papers, and tests on books that, oh yeah, I might want to actually read. The holiday hype buildup becomes reduced to vaguely noticing the Christmas songs playing at the grocery store as I’m blearily stocking up on necessities before another all night study session. In my world, school is all there is. People keep inviting me to Christmas parties (I have four this weekend alone), and I think to myself, don’t you people realize it’s exam week? I become very grateful for the liturgical season of Advent, which gives me a good reason not to be thinking about this stuff right now. I’ll do that later. When exams are over, and it’s actually Christmas.

Lately, in the odd moments between writing feminist research papers and studying for Aquinas exams (or, rather, avoiding those things through mad procrastination and science-fiction reading, mostly a lot of Mercedes Lackey and Neal Stephenson), I’ve been musing about why it is that I enjoy ballet so much. It’s not that I’m particularly good at it, my “nice, straight back” aside. I have yet to execute anything like a passable pirouette in class. And there’s no real social interaction as an excuse. After all, you have to admit that half the charm of any social dance is that you get to do it with real, live members of the opposite sex. While in ballet you may dance alongside and, perhaps ideally, in unison with other people, you’re not really dancing with them but next to them. You don’t get to dance with someone else until you’ve gotten higher than I’ll ever go, assuming an obliging member of the opposite sex can be found. Actual men tend to be rather scarce in ballet. So… what is it about ballet that sends me hunting online bargains of cute dance warmups instead slavering over the expensive-but-exquisite goods on the tango shoe websites (ever so nice for Balboa)? What makes me willing to shell out extra money for an adult ballet class, and actually miss part of my university swing club night so I can attend?

So far what I’ve come up with is that ballet is one of the few dance forms where it’s ok for women to look serious. Most dances don’t go well with serious looks. Weekend before last I took a Westie workshop that challenged me in a number of ways, so I was concentrating hard. Towards the end the instructor reproached me a couple of times with, “You’re so serious! Smile!” See, in most dance forms you’re supposed to be happy all the time. “Big smiles, girls!” After all, a bright smile covers a multitude of dancing sins. And if you don’t look like you’re having fun, then, well, you must be doing something wrong. Lindy is very like this. I think of it being a little like Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh: “Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!”

If you’re not being happy, then you’re being sexy. Think Blues. Or Tango. Tango is a very serious dance, but it’s in a we’re-barely-restraining-ourselves-from- ripping-each-other’s-clothes-off sort of way. You can be angry with Hip Hop, but otherwise it’s all looking languidly bored or playing up the sex. There’s very few dances where you get to be just plain serious. Or sad. It’s like sadness is the unacceptable emotion. Women can be happy, sexy, or (rarely) angry, but they can’t be serious or sad.

Not in ballet. This is a dance form in which one of the definitive performances is Anna Pavlova performing The Dying Swan. Death, sorrow, revenge – it’s all there along with the lighter, more acceptable emotions. You don’t have to be happy or sexy all the time, although ballet can definitely be both. When I dance ballet I can be myself, concentrating hard on the muscles I’m using, the line I’m reaching for, not worrying whether I’m looking happy or cute. When it comes time to let the emotions through I can mourn my friend’s rapidly approaching death from liver cancer. I can express how much I miss Joe. I can be myself, my whole self, not just the fun parts of me. And that, I think, is why I love ballet.

Former Wine RackOnce upon a time, I had a cabinet with a wine rack and holders for wine glasses, etc. in my kitchen. It was mounted on the chimney next to the refrigerator, right behind the chair at the kitchen table where I sit to do my homework. I would bump it every once in a while and hear the glasses in the holders tinkle against each other, which reminded me to scoot my chair forward. This is a picture I took of it in happier days when I was trying out my mom’s blurry digital camera.

Tuesday morning I wandered into the kitchen bleary eyed, getting ready to buckle down to my usual cram session prepping for my MA level Aquinas class that afternoon. I woke up my laptop, then randomly got up and went over to the other side of the kitchen for a drink of water. Just then, behind me I heard a huge crash followed by the sound of much glass breaking. I turned to see the entire cabinet off the wall, still more or less upright, crushing some boxes that had been stored underneath. Almost all of the wineglasses had slid out of the holder and smashed on the floor, along with the bottles of alcohol that used to be on the top of the cabinet. Shards of glass were completely covering the area where I had been sitting only moments before, and had shot out to cover most of the kitchen. The place where I was standing was almost completely untouched, although my socks were quickly soaked by either Port or Apricot Brandy flooding across the floor. If I hadn’t gotten up to get that class of water, there is a good chance that the cabinet and the smashing glass would have been right on top of me.

I was able to pick my way to the kitchen door, where Liv brought me a pair of shoes to wear. She couldn’t help with the cleanup, the glass would have punctured her wheelchair tires. It took me three hours to pick up all the glass and clean up the alcohol. It was especially interesting because as the alcohol dried it started to glue the smaller pieces down to the floor.

Unfortunately, this consumed all of the time I’d set aside for school work. Consequently, I found myself at 1pm, just starting my prep for Aquinas at 3pm. There was no way I could get everything done. This meant that I had to send an e-mail off to my professor, asking for an extension because the wine rack fell off the wall.

If I were a teacher, I wouldn’t believe it either.

I remember the first time I got a blister from dancing. I’d only been dancing a few months, but I’d heard people talking about dancing so much they got blisters. That, plus the vague memories of foot machismo from my childhood ballet days, gave me a sense of awe at such things. Those must be the real dancers, the ones who were really passionate and cool. Then I organized a mini-swing dance for some friends from out of town, complete with a lesson (taught by other friends who had also just learned) and dj-ing by yours truly. It was in a basement with a patterned linoleum floor over concrete, and I danced in my socks. By the end of the night I had a truly impressive blood blister on my big toe. It didn’t hurt at all, and for the first time, I really felt like a dancer.

I also remember the first time I looked at the strap of my favorite pair of Bleyers, and realized that it had been worn out from much dancing. (Well, and from the buckle slicing it to pieces, but who’s counting?) Then there was the first time I got dumped on my butt (jerky lead doing bad Lindy to a Balboa song + follow with balance issues = disaster), thankfully coming out of it with nothing more than a bruised hip and a dose of humility. Each time it felt like a hurdle successfully cleared, a challenge behind me. I had punched another hole on my swing dancer card, proved once more that I was no poser or amateur, but a real Lindy Hopper.

Last night I was at a dance, part of a regular event the next large town over throws every Saturday after Thanksgiving. I danced quite a bit, and had some truly lovely dances. The problem is, well, my shoulder hurts today. A lot. It’s the muscle of the biceps, and also something in the joint itself that twinges when I hit certain positions, or turn the key in my car ignition. It’s pretty painful. My roommate Liv, no stranger to shoulder injuries, has diagnosed something to do with the rotator cuff, and advised ice and ibuprofen. I’d heard other follows complaining about rough leads, and I’ve danced with guys that left me feeling like I’d been doing push-ups. There’s also been a very few times when Something Unfortunate happened, usually because I wasn’t where I should have been, or didn’t keep my frame. Still, this is the first time it’s been anything like this bad, also the first time that I can’t pinpoint when it happened or who did it to me.

Now, it’s true that along with the lovely dances there were some not so nice ones with newer guys, and some guys who have been around long enough that they should know better (this includes anyone who’s been dancing over a year and still Lindy’s like he’s clogging). I didn’t know a lot of the guys at the dance last night, so I didn’t always realize that I should have begged off until I was already in the middle of the song. I was aware of sometimes having to be very careful with my frame, and that my arms had gotten tired by the end of the night. I didn’t realize how much I was hurt until I woke up this morning and didn’t want to move my arm.

So… who was it? The experienced dancer from Far Away who liked to lead lots of reverse spins using the upper arms? The jerky clogger-Lindy boy? The guy from the scene with lots of turnover who mostly dances with new girls, and leads like it? The brand-new guy who’s so tense in his upper body it’s a little like dancing with a robot (all hard metal and no give)? Or maybe all of them combined. Sigh. I’ll know better next time. Meanwhile, I’ll ice my injury, and chalk one up to experience and the risks you take when you’re a real swing dancer.

So for the last forever Liv’s been cramming for this Huge, Important Test she has to take as part of her Master’s. It’s been an ordeal, not least of which is the two days it takes to actually take the thing. A few days ago when I picked her up from another marathon study session at the library, she declared as soon as she got in the car, “I’m gonna flunk this thing. There’s no question. I’m flunking.” I kinda nodded, and as soon as we got home, looked up the facebook group 30 Things To Do In An Exam When You Know You’re Going To Fail Anyway, and started reading her the suggestions. We especially liked #17: “Come to the exam wearing a black cloak. After about 30 min, put on a white mask and start yelling “I’m here, the phantom of the opera” until they drag you away.” After some discussion we decided that it might not be necessary to sing Phantom of the Opera, that perhaps anything by Andrew Lloyd Weber might do. Then the conversation moved on to other things and we didn’t talk about it again.

Yesterday was the first day of the test. When I got home, Liv was there ahead of me, curled up in her favorite chair under her favorite blanket, watching CSI Miami. I asked her if she’d had to sing any Andrew Lloyd Weber. She said no. I said, “Not even anything from Cats? A little ‘Memory’?” Again she said no, and, well, that Horatio Caine has very blue eyes. So that was the end of the conversation.

This morning I took Liv to school for the second day of her test. As I held the body of her wheelchair so she could put on the wheels, our conversation went a little like this:
Me: “And if necessary, there’s always Andrew Lloyd Weber.”
Liv: “Did he write Into The Woods?”
Me: “No, that’s Sondheim.”
Liv: “Are you sure?”
Me: “Very sure.”
Liv: “Well, I like Into The Woods better. And Rent. I like Rent.”
Me: “Well, what about Cats? Or Evita?”
Liv (singing as she’s wheeling away): “Into the woods, into the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go! And home before dark!”
Me (singing after her as I head the opposite direction): “Don’t cry for me, Argentina! The truth is, I never left you!”

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Yesterday morning I had to scrape frost off my windshield before I could drive to work. Last night I brought the rosemary and bay plants in off the back porch to what will be their winter homes on the kitchen table. I still have the front porch plants to bring in and find homes for. I’m not such a fan of this cold thing. There are parts of Fall I love: pumpkins, weather cool enough to break out my extensive collection of colorful scarves, wearing fuzzy socks, the trees suddenly turning glorious, and bright blue days with skies so high and clear you can see the moon at noontime. What I don’t like is having to wear a coat, and fingers so stiff with cold I wish I’d worn gloves (scarves I love, but not gloves, and I’m deeply ambivalent about hats. Or at least I would be if I could ever find one that looked good on my odd-shaped head). I really dislike scraping windshields. One time a friend told me about two sweethearts who worked at the same place far up north. Every evening right before the girl was about to be done for the day, the guy would head out to the parking lot, scrape the windshield of her car, and warm in up for her so that she could get straight into a warm car when she went home. I envied that girl so much, not so much for the boyfriend (although I knew the guy in question, and he was a truly excellent young man), but simply because she had someone who would scrape her windshield for her. I was told about this over three years ago, and I’m still sighing about it. A scraped windshield is worth more than roses any day, and you all know how much I love roses.

This afternoon I’m going to an actual college football game. I’ve never been to one of these. I never really wanted to. (“What is this school spirit thing you speak of?”) But my baby brother, Mikey, is crazy for football – a strange and wonderful thing in our artistic, academic family. So we try to encourage him. This afternoon a bunch of us are piling into the family van and heading off to the game. I used to say that I only watched football games for the marching bands. An awful lot of my university’s swing club kids are in the band. I guess now I can see what has been keeping them from going dancing on Wednesday nights. The only question left is what to wear: the traditional jeans and sweatshirt? Or should I go with jean skirt, my new ultra-snuggly knit footless tights, and a sweatshirt? Decisions, decisions…

In other news, I’ve discovered what is turning out to be one of my favorite things ever: Pandora Online Radio. You type in the name of a song or artist you really love, and they create a whole radio station of music like that. You tell them whether or not you like the songs they’ve picked, and it influences the programming. It’s so much fun. I’ve found an incredible amount of good music I would have never known about this way. For example, “Baby Workout” by Jackie Wilson leads to “I Could Never Be President” by Johnnie Taylor, and “Your Replacement Is Here” by Edd Henry, then “Twistin’ With Linda” by The Isley Brothers, etc. Right now I’m listening to what I think of as my lullaby station – soothing classical-ish piano music. I made it by typing in “Brahm’s Lullaby” and finding a version by a classical artist I’d never heard of. Good stuff!

Hugh with babyLast night at Tuesday Night Bal, one of the guys was talking about his experiences as an attractive young man substitute teaching for middle school kids. In the midst of various comments about little girls in the midst of their first crush, I said that the hottest guy I know is teaching 6th graders this year in A Large City Nearby. As I said this, I got a reaction from Trey that let me know that, until that moment, he had assumed he was the hottest guy I know. And, um, no. Trey is plenty cute and all, but Hugh is in a class all by himself. I had thought that there was no way he could get more attractive, and then he posted photos of himself with his new niece and goddaughter, whom he adores. How can one guy really be that hot? It boggles the mind.

The cool thing is that, beyond his looks, Hugh’s a great guy. He’s Catholic, and he takes his faith seriously. He has a social conscience. His dream in life (since a messed up shoulder destroyed his hopes of a pro-baseball career) is to run a soup kitchen. I’m not kidding. He’s respectful towards women. He’s funny. He extemporaneously quotes Walt Whitman while being completely heterosexual.

And, of course, he’s discerning the priesthood.

Remind me again – why do I have that policy against dating guys who are discerning the priesthood?  Oh, yeah.  Joe.

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