Dancing for Dummies

Times I have heard a song and wanted to dance: 5 million

Dance classes I have taken: 6

Offers I have received to dance at Julliard: 0

Last night at book club, one of our members was late because of the tennis lessons she and her husband were taking. Talk turned to which classes we would all like to take, the skills we would like to gain. One said rug tying, which was new to me. A couple of people mentioned some form of dance, like salsa or ballroom. I started telling about my own aborted tries at dance, and we all scaled our expectations down to line dancing. Maybe not even something complex like country western, but something more akin to the Electric Slide.

Dance and I have a sordid history, much like my relationship with orchids, which is fodder for a whole other post some day. Remind me to tell you about my phaleonopsis-murdering tendencies.

I would like to say that my lack of coordination is genetic, like that my long limbs are ungainly and far from the prima ballerinas who top five feet in their pointe shoes. But my sister took ballet for years and was gorgeous and graceful and has cancelled out that particular excuse for me.

Back in college, my best friend and I decided to fulfill our P.E. requirement by taking Intro to Modern Dance. Our instructor was about five feet tall with funky heels on, wore dancer-y clothes that draped just so, and moved like a cat. But better.

The people in our class were ex-high school dancer types who knew how to sashay and leap and curve their pinky fingers. My friend and I looked like elephants in a room full of swans. The teacher kept us up in front so she could keep an eye on us. Or maybe so we didn’t run into anything in the back of the room… she was saving us from ourselves. By the end of the semester, we earned a B+ and felt pretty good about our effort.

For some reason unknown to me in retrospect, we signed up for Intermediate Modern Dance. For those of you who haven’t signed up for any classes in a while, “Intermediate” means “the gloves are coming off” and “beware all who enter here.”

We skipped into Intermediate like innocent little lambs to a slaughter.

Seriously, I have never listened to a Michael Jackson song again without a frisson of anxiety. He had rhythms in his music that make dancers laugh with glee and non-dancers (ie. me) cringe with unworthiness. The entire semester was spent perfecting the first thirty seconds of “The Way You Make Me Feel.” And we didn’t. The basement room with dank smells and wall-to-wall mirrors and 9 a.m. elephantine dancers had become my dance teacher’s prison. Each time we showed up, she seemed both dismayed and incredulous that we kept coming back only to fail miserably.

There was some kind of belly-dancer-esque wiggle thing that we could not even approximate, and there were micro-movements when we couldn’t even get the macro ones. There was a lot of eye-cutting and giggling, but because we respected our very serious teacher, some serious trying on our part. Michael Jackson, who was still alive at the time, would have turned in his grave.

I might have been a Summa Cum Laude type but for the B in that class. The “B” was for “ballsy,” and “better not ever come back.” And I didn’t. Dance instructors across the area have a photo at the registration desk warning them not to sign me up.

And at every wedding reception, I’m the one at the back, no the side, no turn the other way, of the Electric Slide.

To Mud Run or Not To Mud Run

Reasons not to do a mud run: 5

Body parts filled with mud after a mud run: 76

Pairs of boots we got muddy just spectating at a mud run: 3

There are two types of people in the world: those who think participating in a mud run is the best idea ever and those who think, “Ooooh. Gross.”  My husband and several friends are the first type, and I am firmly in the second camp. Here are the reasons I can think of not to do a mud run:

1. The combination of mud, running and obstacles is often used as a form of torture. Have you read the history books? Maybe had someone tell you about the Battle of Leningrad or Vietnam? Mud was involved there, too (or maybe it was frozen over in Leningrad). And mosquitoes. They are like a torture bonus.

2. Mud runs are a trend. Remember oxygen bars? Did they ever get popular in your hometown? Exactly. When your grandkids look at pictures of you covered in mud, they will say, “Oh yeah, we played a retro version of that on the Holodeck. It was too messy for my taste. I had to take a virtual shower afterwards.”

3. You can’t see what’s inside the mud. What would my eye doctor say if all these years I had been cleaning my contacts with Clear Care and not sleeping in them and wearing them the recommended number of hours, then decided to slog through the mud and coat my eyes with red clay paste? I don’t think he’d be very happy with me. All of my calendars with island montages show very clear water, water where you can see down to the bottom. A Caribbean Sand Run sounds like a more sanitary pursuit. And there might be margaritas served by the pool boy at the finish line.

4. Contrary to what you might think, it is eco-unfriendly. Think of all the running shoes, Nike and Asics wicking fabrics and fairy wings (people wear the heck out of fairy wings at mud runs) that you can’t ever wear again. Don’t even get me started on the firehose (all that extra water!) they use to rinse you off afterwards.

5. There are easier ways to get worn out and dirty. Try storytime at the library, finger-painting with preschoolers or spending an entire evening at a beer festival after it rains.

I hope I have convinced you not to ask me to attend or participate in a mud run with you in the future. Please send me the link to your website so I can look at photos of your jubliant face. Then I will wash my hands.

Teeth and the Foreseeable Future

Novel queries I sent today after a hiatus: 1 (yay!)

Teeth my dentist says I have lost in my lifetime: 20

Teeth I remember losing because I have a mental block: 4

Lost teeth creep me out. I am probably revealing a deep, psychological part of myself never before seen in the blog world. But when kids walk up with teeth hanging on by a thread… and they wiggle them? Eeeeek. How weird is it that part of our bodies just drop off, and then more grow in? Am I the only one who thinks it’s like something out of a horror movie?

The other day, it was my turn to do Storytime at lunch for a few of the kids in my daughter’s third grade class. I’ve read parts of personal favorites, like The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, Lawn Boy, The White Giraffe… this time, I brought along Drizzle, one of the books my daughter got for Christmas that I hadn’t read yet.

I say hi to the kiddos, and one of my favorite kids says, “Oh… isn’t it so sad when the grandma dies?”

This was news to me.

“Oh, it happens in the first few pages, so it’s over pretty quickly,” she says. Which was exactly the part I was going to read.

I think I was swayed by the front cover, “Welcome to a magical farm where vegetables taste like chocolate!” Nowhere in that tagline does it mention that a grandma dies. Ooops.

But I start reading, and it’s pretty good, but the boys get wiggly, and there’s no magic yet, except for the word, “castle,” which causes a couple of them to perk up.

“Can we just not read?” one of the boys asks.

“Well, I have two options: you can sit at your desks and not talk for the next 20 minutes, or we can read until the class gets back from lunch,” I say, because I am just that mean.

One of the girls, the one who is chatty and acts about 35, says, “I have another book you can look at–see?” And she hands me Smile, which is a graphic novel about a girl who is in middle school and needs braces.

I start reading it, and the boys get still, and the girls lean forward, and their little breaths are right up close, and they’re clamoring to see what bits of words I’ve left out, because it’s just that compelling to them.

And then the girl in the book trips and knocks her front teeth up into her gums, and the endodontist tries to fix it, and there’s blood right there in the pictures, and the kids love it. Love it.

Maybe they just don’t have my tooth issues.

But it makes me think about an interview I did with a middle school media specialist about how visual kids are today. She has written a book about using graphic novels in the curriculum, and she talked about how teachers can use graphic novels of Shakepeare’s plays to help kids understand the plot.

I saw the effects. I know kids love to press buttons and look at pictures and have things spelled out for them. But I think it goes back to whether you should give kids what they want or what they need. When they grow up and hear a speaker, will they be able to understand what the speaker says without fancy pictures and PowerPoint presentations? When someone says, “Your assignment is due on Friday,” and they don’t send a confirmation email, or a YouTube video showing the assignment’s specifications, will these grown-up kids know what to do?

At least when their kids start losing their teeth, there will be an online tutorial giving explicit instructions for removing the wayward body part. And bloody tissues to illustrate the point.

Waiting for the Big Easy

No, I don’t mean New Orleans. (But it does make me crave a debris sandwich from Mother’s.)

Miles I ran on Wednesday: 11

Miles I ran that were easy: 1

Times I have heard someone say if running were easy, they would do it a lot: 307

Lately, people I know have mentioned that they are waiting for running to “get easy.” Here is a list of things I have learned about running. And writing. And maybe life in general.

1. If you know me, you know that laundry and I are sworn enemies. Let me tell you a little story: Back when we bought our house, I decided to paint pink stripes in the laundry room. You may hate pink. That’s OK. But I like it, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I had a pretty laundry room, I would love like put up with hate doing laundry less. When our old washing machine stopped washing the clothes (I sympathized), my husband even bought me a really wonderful, high-end Maytag washer and dryer.

After 14 months–yes, you heard me–2 months after the warranty ended, I heard the washing machine making this banging noise like it was trying very hard to cut loose from its moorings and fly away. I credit my optimism when I thought to myself, “It’s only 14 months old. There must be a tiny screw that has come undone. I’m sure it’s a simple fix.”

You may laugh like Dr. Duffensmirch now.

Washer repair people: $1,600 to fix it. You may wonder at that number. You may say to yourself, “But the washer can’t have cost that much when it was brand-new.” You are very, very smart and should probably sign up for “The Price is Right.” I will watch and cheer as you blow away the competition.

The bottom line: we were in the market for a new washing machine. In 18 years, I will post the name of my amazing washing machine brand on my blog, because I am very, very sure it will last that long. (Magical thinking at work.)

I would love to tell you that at the end of this epic journey, I love doing laundry. I do not.

2. What I do love is smelling laundry as I coast by on a run. I may not be in a setting conducive to a “Rave Run” like in a Runner’s World spread every day, but I do get to smell laundry, see babies in strollers, hear birdies, eat ShotBloks (see earlier post) and socialize with my BFF/running partner. All for free.

3. For writers, reading is “research.” Writing and editing are “work.”

4. Laundry is not easy. Well, maybe it is. But it’s hateful and Sisyphean and I’ll never learn to like it. If you have something like laundry in your life, painting a room pink stripy and getting cool appliances are only bandages. Get out of the laundry business. Buy your family one shirt, pair of pants and socks and suggest that underwear is highly overrated.

5. Running and writing are not easy. All evidence presented so far seems to suggest they never will be. But after all the gnashing of teeth and manaical laughter and comments I will never forgive my running partner for, like, “Only 6.2 miles left,” (after completing 20) there is a payoff that makes it all worth it for me. Maybe being easy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

What are your most hated tasks? What do you love? What isn’t easy but gives you a payoff that makes it all worth it?

Not Interviewing Mandela

Times I have interviewed a famous rock star: 0

Times I had to admit this fact at Career Day: 8

Kids I caught sleeping with their eyes open while I babbled: 2

I have never kicked back with Nelson Mandela. Or offered a Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut Bar to Daniel Craig.  Now that we have that out in the open, please pretend that you still respect me.

But really, Career Day and the five highly revelatory presentations I gave to the fifth graders were pretty darn good. I did sit through the cardio-thoracic surgeon’s presentation and wonder what I had to show for the last 12 years of my life that was equal to medical school, two residencies and specialized heart transplant surgical training, but otherwise, I came out unscathed.

Question asked with the most frequency: have I ever interviewed anyone famous? This is a loaded question. Maybe some of the people I’ve interviewed have considered themselves famous (writers, artists, politicians), but by fifth grade standards, I was forced to answer a definitive no. I watched as my shining “Writer” badge grew tarnished in front of their very eyes.

But I have held the shiny iridescent fabric to light a reporter’s face while they are speaking on camera. Is that amazing? No? Or what about the time when Steve Miller punched the CNN cameraman while I was working there? No? Or when I helped cover the 1992 elections when Bill Clinton was elected? Seriously. That was a lifetime ago, quite literally, for them.

The Career Day concept was to get the kids thinking about their interests, get them serious about making good grades in the long haul and give them advice about what kind of education they would need for a career in a specific field. It kind of made me tired.

All of the stress, angst, confusion, and self-doubt… it hasn’t even started happening to them yet. They are pre-career worry. They are fifteen career considerations away from an actual career. They haven’t had a nightmare about being back in college and the final exam is here, but they forgot to attend any of the classes. They still believe all that stuff people say about being whatever you want to be, right before you start failing Calculus (just a random example).

What I told them: keep up the grades, keep learning always, keep up your curiosity about the world around you. Take criticism and learn from it. And realize that the bog-standard, regular people around you are pretty amazing. Even if they’ve never interviewed Mandela.

The Glamorous Life

Yes, Sheila E. was singing about me.

Fifth graders I will convince that being a writer is cooler than being a heart surgeon: 2

Loads of laundry I wash per week: 7

Loads of clean laundry in residence on our guest room bed: 7

So, Thursday is Career Day for the fifth graders at my kids’ school. Guess who’s representing the “Artist” category? C’est moi.

The super-organized, kind school counselor has followed up with me… twice. Whether she did this with everyone or only the ditzy writer-y types, I’m not sure. But I’m really going over what nuggets of wisdom I can pass along to inspire the artistically-inclined ones to come over to the dark side. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Freelance writers can wear whatever they like and work wherever they like.

What I want them to envision: Me, sitting at an outdoor cafe in Paris in the springtime, the color of my laptop matched perfectly to the shade of my strappy high heels. I am wearing an Anthropologie-inspired dress in an effortless, detached way, and my light-as-baby’s-breath scarf is being swept up in the wind. I have perfect posture. My agent will meet me in an hour to beg me for something, anything, because everyone is awaiting my next bestseller.

The reality: Me, slumping at the desk in ten-year-old pajamas and a bathrobe, taking breaks every now and then to check out the “Wonderwall” and notice the dust bunnies that my imaginary maid never seems to vacuum up.

2. Being a writer is a calling. It chooses you.

What I want them to envision: God lining up the writers of the world and doing some sort of knighting ritual that bestows us all with excellent word choice and endless amounts of inspiration.

The reality: When people started talking about e-mail and the Information Superhighway in college, I thought they were nuts. Although I had no inclination for techie things, my lack of vision eliminated me from the pool of 401K superheroes who laughed all the way to the bank when they fooled us all about the world coming to an end because of the “Y2K problem.” In addition, it took me too many years (but thankfully, I finally got it) to figure out that in choosing a partner, long hair and the whole “Artist” title meant “broke.”

3. Interviewing and writing about people is fascinating.

What I want them to envision: Me (in a tailored Tahari suit) sitting down to loaded nachos on the Isle of Capri with Eric Clapton, or the President, or no, someone they’d know, like Adele or Flo Rida.

The reality: It really is fascinating. I have met the most amazing people, from a chainsaw sculptor to a couple with two kids with cystic fibrosis who started a local road race to raise funds. For one story, I met a gracious family whose kids got backpacks filled with food so they wouldn’t go hungry over the weekend. The little kindergartner was sitting on the front porch, coloring in a coloring book… and all he had was a pencil. I gave him a pen I kept in my purse that had blue, green, red and black ink and I’ve wished several times over the years that I’d kept the directions and driven back with a pack of crayons.

All these lives, and all these people who allow me to listen to them. And then I get to write about it. How lucky am I?

Magic vs. How Stuff Works

An enigma for some. For others, it just smells pretty.

Times my son has asked to dismantle my perfume bottle: 47

Times I have wanted to take my perfume bottle apart: 0

Times I have read a book without bothering to take it apart: 542 million (or so)

So there I was, sleeping, like you do in the middle of the night. And it was good. No one had come to stand beside the bed and weird me out like creepy ghosty shadows who appear to tell me they are sick or scared or hear the windchimes on the front porch and might I want to go and take them down so they don’t blow away in the tornadic winds?

But then I heard a man’s voice. And he was talking. A lot. And it wasn’t my man, because my man has an English accent, and I would know it anywhere, even downstairs, slightly muffled. And when I turned over to wake up my man to tell him to go look into it, he wasn’t there.

Yes, it was a bit of a concern.

So I creep halfway down the stairs and peek around the corner and see my man crouched down, in the dark, in the middle of the den, wearing not much, being lectured on how to perform magic tricks. Would you be worried?

It’s 2 a.m. It’s dark. The whole scene has a “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” vibe (even though I never saw that, because my parents thought I was too young). And my husband is quietly cursing and clicking things. I’d like to say this sort of scene is a rarity, but I’d be lying.

All of the electronic-y, computer-y, mechanical-ly mayhem that takes place in our house is because our son (genetically, from my husband) has an irrepressible need to find out how stuff works. He studies card tricks, shows me the trick, then asks if I want to know how he does it. I tell him that I’d rather keep the magic alive. This is partly because I have a mind like a sieve about card tricks, and if he tells me, I’ll probably forget anyway.

He wants to know how everything works. He even, on a daily basis, asks me if he can take my (Christmas present to myself!) bottle of Kenzo Amour apart.

He is not interested, not even remotely, in scent. But from inside the opaque fuschia bottle holding one ounce of liquid comes a tiny voice that (I have to imagine) says to him, “Take me apart. See what I look like inside. My atomizer is really neat.” Here is our conversation, varied only slightly, each morning before I have my cup of coffee:

“How will you know when you’re about to run out?”

“I won’t.”

“But why did they do that?”

“Because it doesn’t matter.”

“But what will you do when you get to the end?”

“Buy more.”

“Can’t I just take it apart so we can pour it into a clear bottle? Then I can see what’s inside.”

“No.”

Every morning. Really. And I can say to you that when I saw that bottle in the store, my only thoughts were, “pretty” and “oooh, smells good.”

I am a simple person. And I like to believe in magic and things I can’t understand. I may be the only one on the entire planet, but when I can’t figure something out, the mystique is actually a selling point. When I read a book, I am able to suspend disbelief because it’s a central tenet of my life. I love to get sunk in, way in, to a book to the point where I can’t stop thinking about it.

But as a writer, this is also a problem. I am trying to take notes from my “how stuff works” family and writer friends who excel at picking apart plot devices and scene dissolves. Too many times, I have read books and loved every second. When I finish, I couldn’t tell you how Elizabeth Berg dropped into that conversation and then switched the action seamlessly to another character. Or how Suzanne Collins was able to keep the tension so strong throughout an entire series.

Dyson’s appliance slogan is still mine: “I believe things should work properly.” But I’m also taking it to heart that great design, plot, conversation and description deserve to be picked apart. Maybe I’m starting to hear that little voice, too: “Take me apart. See what I look like inside.”

But my son still needs to keep his little paws off my perfume.