Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Late-Bloomers' Prom

May 28, 1994
"Life's a dance, you learn as you go.  Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.  Don't worry 'bout what you don't know.  Life's a dance you learn as you go."  Which Nashville philosopher/poet penned those lines, perhaps over watery coffee at the Waffle House, I don't know.  (I guess I could look it up.)

It's prom season around here.  My friends who are more "normal" than I am on the timeline of life have been posting their kids' prom pictures: the hunt for just the right dress, the shy smiles and fumbling with corsages, the beauty-pageant line-ups of pastels, brights, black, and sparkles, the guys with all their variations on tuxes, from ultra-cool casual to sweetly stiff and formal. My favorite shots are the laughing shots--the ones where somebody kicks up a gown to reveal Toms or sneakers, the bunny-ears, the tongues sticking out.  Those are the kids, who, I suspect, have caught the idea that this is a DANCE, a celebration.

Although I survived the junior-high rite of passage in my hometown, Phil Jones Dancing School, along with the rest of the 7th and 8th graders, to be ready for those formal high school dances, maybe a cotillion or two, and The Prom, I never actually went to anything other than the totally informal, flail-and-jump-around-in-jeans affairs in the school gym or the church youth room.  I was, for some reason, not a girl to be asked to the bigger dances.  Maybe the fact that I was 5'10" by seventh grade had something to do with it.  Or maybe it was my less-than-perfect figure, my acne, my general awkwardness... whatever.

Or maybe it was just one more gift of being a late-bloomer.

Instead, my "prom", my celebration, if you will, began well after those years, in my 20's, when I found myself free to discover how much fun it was to "dance like nobody's watching."  Most of the time, I was right.  Nobody was watching.
Much to my kids' amusement now, I guess somebody, somebody with a camera , was watching from time to time. This was an evidently hilarious two-step with a good-natured friend at the Broken Spoke  in Austin, TX 
Do you remember that moment in "The Sound of Music" when Fraulein Maria  is dancing an Austrian folk-dance with the Captain?  They look at each other through the "window" of their arms and something happens...the camera focus turns all blurry,  cue the violins.   My first serious boyfriend and I (yes, I was 22--a late-bloomer, remember?) had our own Maria/Captain moment in a community folk-dance class, learning that very same dance.  We weren't yet a couple at that class, but shortly after our "looking through the window" moment, he got over his "bachelor-to-the-rapture" shyness and asked me to be his date for "The Great Waltz" -- a quirky tradition at UT Austin: an evening of Strauss waltzes and polkas, played by a live orchestra. Fortunately, someone had a camera that night.  That emerald-green taffeta gown with the huge, full skirt and crinoline was a look that just had to be preserved for posterity, along with the pile of big hair sprigged with baby's breath, and the wrist corsage.  (What?  It was the 80' Texas, for goodness sake.) 
Can't you just feel the sparks between these two ?
No, the romance didn't last, but the memory of that elegant dancing evening did.  Some pretty fun things happen when you're dancing.

 And then there's this sequence, taken by one of my fellow ESL teachers, as students from Iran, Paraguay, and Japan insisted that we line-dance, in our soaking wet clothes, fresh from a water-fight in the river, while waiting for our barbecue at the school picnic.  The woven-straw crown really completes the ripped jeans and soggy tee-shirt look, doesn't it? (Chicken/egg question here:  is it my fashion sense that contributed to my social retardation, or is it the other way 'round?  )
"Start on your right foot..."
Once we got going with the dance that afternoon, even as the rain started pouring down, a bunch of people joined us.  That happens a lot.  You surrender to the music and let yourself be moved along, not caring who's watching, and suddenly, you're not alone. And that seems to be my experience with dancing through life.

I danced my way through my 20's and at the end of that decade I married a brilliant, cute guy I met in a country-western dance bar, a mathematician/physicist/astronomer whose pick-up line was "Can you dance?"  (Notice that it was not "will you dance?"  My now-husband, Andre, was giving me an instant peek into his precision-oriented personality.) Our first dance as husband and wife, not quite a year later, was a fast two-step with all kinds of twirls and fancy footwork: a fitting start to our adventure as husband and wife, an adventure that marks its 18th year next Monday. 

Have you ever noticed that when you put on music and move (running with your iPod, cleaning the kitchen with the radio on, or those hilarious Zumba classes), you just don't get tired until you're completely, utterly spent?  And even then, you can somehow keep moving, right?  As I train for my 13.1 mile run  across the city of San Francisco this July, I'm compiling my playlists for the iPod, and it's a strange mix: U2, Shakira, Christina Aguilera, and The Chieftains, Twang-Twang-Shocka-Boom and Beyonce, Paul Simon, the choir of ChristChurch Nashville, Black-Eyed Peas and a rock version of "Scotland the Brave".  Oh, and there's 2 versions of the Cotton-Eyed Joe, a jig titled "The Wind that Shakes the Barley",  along with Gloria Estefan's "Conga".  Perhaps I should warn anybody who might come to watch me run the race this summer, if you happen to catch me when Asleep at the Wheel starts up "Boogie Back to Texas", you just might find yourself pulled into the 98-step combination that makes up the Sweetheart Schottische.  

"Don't worry about what you don't know.  Life's a dance you learn as you go." 

 Don't stop until you're completely, utterly spent...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Aging backwards, or what if I'm already so nutty that it's impossible to tell when senility begins to set in?

In my previous post, "Dare, Double Dare", I told you a story about about a girl who hated PE class enough to tell her PE coach that she refused to run the 600 yard "Presidential Fitness Test".  It was among my examples of my stubbornly daring nature.  But now I'm wondering if risking a scolding for not running is really all that daring.  Well, Coach Masiuk, wherever you are, I hope you will read this and have a really good laugh.  Not only do I LIKE running now, I'm actually training to run my first-ever half-marathon.  For those of you who are NOT  PE class superstars, that's 13.1 MILES, which is (getting out my calculator ) 23,056 yards.  Um. I wonder if that's cosmic penance for balking at the 600 yards at the age of 10, with some kind of cosmic interest added, given that I'm 47 now... oh, crap... too much math, another subject that used to inspire fear and loathing, and now inspires a kind of awe and fascination. 
To support my craziness, and to honor my life-changing, lifelong friend, Brett, make a donation to the American Brain Tumor Association Team Breakthrough at my ABTA fundraising website

Which brings me to my question:  as we age, is it normal to start knocking at the doors I slammed in youth and to keep finding that what's behind them is actually pretty cool?  What about this "older and wiser" stuff?  I think I'm going backwards, and I'm loving it.   I'm getting older and more of a sky-blue, wide-eyed optimist than I've ever been. It doesn't mean that I'm suddenly one of those super-achievers who gets it all "right".  Just ask any recipient of one of my "artistic" quilts (that means it has goofs in it) , or my  East-Coast friends and relatives who got some of my beginner-knitter neck-warmers with all kinds of "design elements" (that's code for goofs) for Christmas.   I am unlikely to be one of the first to cross the finish line in the San Francisco Half Marathon (2nd half), but I WILL finish.  ( Somebody might have to bring along a Hefty Lawn and Leaf bag and a gurney to haul my dilapidated carcass onto the BART and back home, but I WILL finish.  ) 

If you read "Dare, Double Dare", then you know that I challenged myself to enter a contest to sing the National Anthem at the baseball stadium where the San Francisco Giants play.  Um... I came in 5th.  OK, so that's not first, but it's in the top 10.  And that essay contest for Real Simple Magazine?  Well, let's just say that I am free to submit my essay elsewhere.   But I wrote it.  I gleefully poured my heart into it.  I shared it with some friends.  I did it, freely, with love and optimism.   And I might be way off here, but I'm beginning to think that I might be onto something: if I'm free to fail without being devastated, and if I'm throwing myself into projects ("dares") that I love, then any achievement that gets measured along the way is just, well, wonderful, but it's not the pre-requisite for feeling like a winner.   I'm a winner when I keep living, learning, failing, and trying again, chuckling at myself.   

I read "The Once and Future King" a long time ago, and have watched the movie,"Camelot" more times than I should admit.  The line that sticks with me is what Merlin said to young Wot (later called King Arthur)  "The best thing for being sad is to learn something".   Merlin had it right.  The best thing for being sad is to learn something.  And middle-age brings PLENTY to be sad about... um, gravity, can we talk?  Or those moments when we have to acknowledge that our kids really aren't going to be Rhodes Scholars or Olympic medalists or Van Cliburn Competition winners... (and if yours are, well... why are you reading my blog? You've got places to be right now.)   Relationships that change and maybe end, physical decline...And then there's the basic fact that my journey on earth is probably about half-done.  Yikes.  That's a lot to be sad about.  And if I take my eyes off my own tiny life and look around, there's so much greed, injustice (even within my beloved church), abuse,exploitation... Let's not go there today.  

So, I guess, for me, that means I'd better keep going with the learning-something path.  In the past couple of weeks, I've been sidelined from running by a small stress fracture (check the boxes marked "gravity", "physical decline") in my heel.  I'm wearing a "boot" for about 4 more weeks, but I need to keep training for my half-marathon.  

So that has booted me into the brand-new (for me) world of cross-training--another great adventure in "who knew this was so cool!?"  I'm water-running  (put down your coffee before you watch how funny this looks)

And I'm bike-riding.  No, seriously.  I have pedaled 49 miles this week, and I just bought myself a bike that actually fits my big-ol long legs.  And I am learning, learning, learning things: like "bike shorts with padding that protects one's hoo-hah is truly a necessity and not a luxury" and "don't try to shift gears on the steepest part of the hill".  I've discovered that my part of the East Bay is just riddled with paved bike paths that connect me to all kinds of destinations.  (If it weren't for the rain predicted for this afternoon, I'd be riding my bike to my dentist appointment. )

Oh,and I'm studying barefoot running, as explained in Christopher McDougall's  book, Born to Run .  I've even joined the "100 Up Challenge" to see if I can overhaul my faulty running technique by marching slowly in place, in my bare feet.   Sorry, no snarf-inducing video on that one yet, but stay tuned. (That's either a promise or a threat,depending on how you feel about watching a well-upholstered middle-aged woman march in place.)

Meanwhile, I'm just about $1200 short of my fundraising goal for my run.  I want to raise $3500 for the American Brain Tumor Association, to fund brain-tumor-fighting research and treatment, in honor of my very dear friend (living beautifully and courageously with brain cancer), the friend who helped me kick-off my middle-aged renaissance in 2009 by helping me re-learn to sing.

I was sad.  My friend taught me something new.   It worked!

Who knew?!