Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Time to Mourn, a Time to Dance

I’m going to miss Trey McIntyre’s ballets, but I’m excited about what’s next
My little dancer

On Mother’s Day in 2013, my children and sweetheart took me out for brunch at the Griddle. My youngest daughter, then seven, became restless as we waited for our pancakes. She stood up suddenly and launched herself across the room in a series of tilted pirouettes, to the delight of a group seated in a booth across the way who happened to be Trey McIntyre Project’s elite dancers. They laughed and smiled at her, then came over to tell her what a fun little dancer she was as she beamed at them.

In my family, it’s always time to dance, so it goes without saying that we are big Trey McIntyre fans. With some excitement but mostly sadness, I hopped on my bike and headed down the Greenbelt to see the company’s final dance performance on Saturday, March 15, the Ides of March (aside: is it permissible for a Boisean to travel to a Trey McIntyre program any other way except by bicycle?). I was excited to see how Trey would translate Edward Gorey’s delightfully macabre illustrations into movement. The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction, perfectly accompanied by a discordant Shostakovich piano trio, did not disappoint: the dancers captured the dark whimsy that makes Edward Gorey’s work so “road accident” gripping.

I was sad because it was the last dance.

McIntyre uses the language of classical ballet and makes it relevant. I know that language because like many 40-something middle class white women, I spent several girlhood years at the barre, hair pulled in a tight bun, pink tights, black leotard, head erect, hips square as headlamps, moving to the mechanical time of a piano: “Plie, releve, plie, releve.” The year I started ninth grade, I had to make a choice: piano, or ballet. It was not an easy one, because I loved both. But at that level, the practice time required would not allow me to excel in both, and I wanted to excel.

So I went to the experts. I asked my ballet teacher, Gilbert Rome, whether I had a chance at being a prima ballerina. He looked at me critically, sizing me up. “Look, you’re a good, solid dancer,” he said. “You practice hard, you learn the steps quickly. I can always count on you to lead the line. But your body’s not built for what the big companies are looking for. You’d have a shot as a corps dancer, but nothing more.”

Fair enough. Then I asked my piano teacher, Linda Anthony. “Sky’s the limit,” she said. “You’re a natural. You play with a musicality that can’t be taught.”


Note: I’ve never performed as a pianist with a symphony orchestra. But I have played professionally for years, and piano continues to be one of the great joys of my life. I compose a Christmas carol every year and have even started a musical, based on the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.”

Now I’m no Trey McIntyre. He is one of those rare artistic geniuses that pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, every generation or so. Boise has been lucky to have him and his world-class troupe. But I’m definitely a creative type. So I get his creative itch, that fear of complacency leading to mediocrity, the need for the next big artistic challenge. Sometimes it means sacrificing everything you have and starting over. Been there.

The Trey McIntyre project has meant so many things to so many people in Boise. For me, the work that stands out most is “Bad Winter,” the painful pas de deux danced by Lauren Edson and Travis Walker, which pretty much summed up my failed marriage, right there on the stage. Watching it the first time, I escaped the auditorium to collapse in a thunderstorm of tears. The second time, oddly, was soothing and cathartic.

Whatever he does next, I’m confident in Trey McIntyre’s ability to tell stories that have meaning. So I mourn the last dance with a tear in my eye but a lilt in my step, a shuffle off to Buffalo, and excitement for the next Big Thing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Answer

What do you get when you multiply six times nine?
May 11, 2001, the day Douglas Adams died

When I was 12 years old, a Mormon missionary gave me a book that would change my life forever. No, I’m not talking about The Book of Mormon; I’m talking about Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Thanks to this book, I always travel with a towel. I generally don’t panic. And I know that it’s okay that I can never quite get the hang of Thursdays (I really can’t).

I just turned 42 (thank you for asking!), and already I have a feeling it’s going to be a bang-up year. For those of you who haven’t read Adams’s four-book trilogy, 42 is The Answer to the Ultimate Question, the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. This is my year to be the Answer.

Only it turns out that no one really knows what that pesky question is.

And that’s okay. I don’t know what the question is either, and I don’t want to know. Who am I, why am I here, and where am I going? Not particularly interesting to me anymore. More interesting: where shall we hike? What shall we drink? And where shall we go for lunch?

The day after my birthday, The New Yorker published Andrew Solomon’s intense, compassionate interview with Peter Lanza, Adam Lanza’s father. In light of my viral December 14, 2012 blog post, asked me to write a response. It seemed like all the major news outlets focused on a few sensational quotes (shocking!), which I feel were taken out of context. Take Yahoo News, for example: "Conn. shooter's dad: 'You can't get any more evil." 

I focused instead on Peter Lanza’s inability to find answers, on how a “normal weird kid” who was loved by both parents became a killer. Because that’s what life is like when you have a child with mental illness. There are no easy answers.

This is the year I’m finally starting to feel comfortable with my ambiguities, in my 15-pounds-too-heavy body. My children aren’t little anymore. We’ve left Thomas the Tank Engine and Dora the Explorer behind, trading them for Sherlock, Dr. Who, and Battlestar Galactica. We still like the Lego movie, but in that “ironic/cool we are way too old for it” sort of way.

This is the year I’m finally not afraid to say what I think. Guns on Idaho college campuses? It’s an expensive, moronic example of unwarranted government intrusion. Gay marriage? Though I pride myself on trying to see all sides of an issue, I really cannot understand a single argument against it. Mental illness? Sometimes we have to talk about violence, even when we don’t want to.

Douglas Adams died in 2001 at the age of 49 while working out in a Santa Barbara gym. The day he died, I took my two boys, then ages two and four, to the Santa Barbara zoo where I took the picture above.  That picture, my boy and a gorilla, still brings me to tears. I don’t know what it means, or what questions it answers. But I do know that I never want to feel like Peter Lanza did. I never want to wish my children had never been born. I never want these pictures to disappear, or this narrative we've shared so far to lose its meaning.

For a writer, 42 is young. When I was 22, I thought I was a great writer, but what can a 22 year old know? The truth is that I know so much less now, but I am so much more compassionate and accepting. So if you need a towel, let me know. Mine’s big enough for two.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lent by Proxy

What if I want to give up everybody else’s annoying habits for Lent?

‘Tis the season when I start thinking about what Father Len likes to call “weeding the garden.” Yes, it’s officially the Lenten Season, and as a relatively new Catholic, I still look forward to these 40 days of fish on Fridays, culminating in a glorious celebration of renewal and rebirth that is Easter. Like a lot of my Facebook friends, I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about what to give up for Lent, with the full knowledge that whatever I choose may end up leaving my life permanently, and that might be a good thing.

Some of my friends are giving up Facebook. Not me. I don’t need that kind of personal growth (though I think I should negotiate full credit with God for all 40 days if I agree to give up my smartphone for a weekend).  

There’s the obvious stuff: sugar/wine/coffee/refined carbohydrates or whatever else is keeping a few extra pounds on my waistline while also greasing the wheels of my incredibly “intense” (my fiance’s carefully thought out word choice, not mine) lifestyle.  If I take the results of this Buzzfeed quiz as valid, I should give up caffeine. Really? I’m a mother of four children, in graduate school, working full time, and on the planning committee for Idaho’s Children’s Mental Health Week in May. I think there’s a scripture somewhere, probably the Book of Esther, that says, “Thou shalt not give up caffeine for Lent, lest thou drive thy coworkers crazy.”

In fact, I’m going with Father Len on this one. In one of my favorite homilies of all time, he said not to give up chocolate or wine or things that make you happy, because that’s not what Lent is about. Lent is actually a celebration. We are celebrating the death of our sins, the weeding of the soul’s garden, a new simplicity in our relationship with ourselves and with God.

When my kids asked me about what I planned to give up for Lent, I said, “I’m giving up your Xbox. I’ve decided on Lent by proxy.” Hey, I was raised as a Mormon, and we used to baptize people who were dead—why not outsource Lent?

This year, I can think of plenty of things other people ought to give up, starting with fear, hate, and bigotry that has characterized this year’s session of the Idaho Legislature.

But that’s not the point. Neither is telling everybody what you’re giving up. The point is the journey. The point is simplicity, reflexivity, self-awareness.

In that spirit, I recall some of the more meaningful Lenten journeys I have taken. One year I decided to give up dating, after a string of unhappy and unfulfilling relationships with men who could definitely be described as invasive species. Three years later, I looked at a kind, joy-filled friend and realized I was hopefully (not hopelessly) in love. And now we are planning a wedding. If by planning, you mean, which lake should we hike into?

I will freely admit that I am kind of God-challenged, meaning I just can’t quite buy in to the idea of a big man in the sky telling me what to do. But I can totally understand the statement, “God is love.” If God is love, then Lent is an act of love, of self-abnegation, not glorification. I’m not going to give up caffeine. I’m not going to give up my kids’ Xbox. I’m going to pull some weeds, to work on things I need to work on. And what those things are is none of your business. In the words of Voltaire, "Let us cultivate our gardens."