30 May 2009


Changes, plainly, have been made.  Now, look at that header and subheader.  Aren't they great?  S.A. did them for me.  The subheader is in a font based on Lord Byron's handwriting.  He found that for me. There it is in action, people:  Good Things about Boys.

Having had a good weekend, I don't have much to say.  So instead, two random thoughts...

First thought:
Tonight I packed away my fall and winter clothes, and sometime over the next couple of weeks I'll have to pack up all the rest of my belongings, some to put in store and many fewer to take back to the States and drop off. When I return, I'll be living in a different room, in a different house.  I find the idea of that very odd, just as I find odd the realisation that when I return I'll be returning as a resident, rather than a visitor.  I mean, I will be extending my visiting position for another year, but having lived here for one full set of seasons and now (then) returning for one set more, I can't really be considered to be visiting anymore:  I live here, even if it is (and hopefully it isn't) for just one more year.

Second thought:
When I was in graduate school, I was in the unenviable and unpleasant position of deeply disliking - which is to say, disliking with a dislike that verged on enraged disgust - two people. After being in this position for a short while, I came to feel that it was simply untenable:  you can't hate everyone, as I said to myself.  So I forced myself to pick one of the two, and that's the one for whom I held onto my dislike, allowed myself to, if you will, roll around in it for a few idle seconds whenever I encountered the person.  I never did come to like the other person, - the one I hadn't picked - but I was able to table that dislike, and I acted, even to myself, as if I did like them.  And it didn't go so badly, in the end. Moral?  If you dislike two people, just pick one:  one hatred is more than enough at a time.

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28 May 2009

Being and Nothingness

Other people are almost always surprised to hear how tall I am (well, I guess, strictly speaking, am not):  they assume me to be taller.  I never assume me to be taller, of course, since I know how tall I am.  

(Having said this, here is a vaguely interesting fact about me and my height:  I am extremely vain about my shortness.  I love being short - luuuuhhhhhhhve it.  Almost the most certain way to make me happy is to remark on my lack of tallness.  If you do this using the word "small" or "little," it's like petting a cat in the sun: I practically smirk with pleasure.)

Tonight when I arrived at tango, however, I discovered I had left one of my tango shoes behind. This meant that if I wanted to stay and dance, which I did, I had to dance in the flats I was wearing.  Which I did.  And for the first time in a long time, I had a realisation: I am really short.  There was Dave, he of The Cheek, whose face at the all-night milonga and at every milonga since then has been right at the level of my face.  In order to dance at this usual level with him tonight, I had to go up on my toes!  And when I stopped to talk to my VTTT, he was HUGE.  I think he had to lean down, and I certainly had to do that thing where I bend  over backwards a little bit (incidentally, he remarked that I looked "diminutive," another good word.  I love my VTTT!).

Who knew 2.5 inches could make such a difference? (yes, yes, that joke occurred to me, too.  I mean 2.5 inches of shoe heel.)

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27 May 2009


First I got asked on a date; then I found 5p on the floor.  So one way and another it's been an eventful night.

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24 May 2009

That Time of Year Thou Mayest in Me Behold

In many ways, I am not a very nice person.  Trust me:  if you knew me, you would know this. And one of the ways in which I am not a very nice person (although you might not spot this in action, unless you knew me well) is that I have zero patience with and interest in people I don't like.  If I don't like you, what I really want to do is simply turn on my heel and walk away from you.  And if I don't do that, you can be certain that inside I am roiling with rage that I have to be polite to you.

But while I am not a very nice person, what I mostly am these days is a very sad person.  Please note that this is different from unhappy:  I'm sad.  Now, I'm under a lot of stress about the book, and I have no doubt that my decision to remain here is causing me a lot of stress that I don't feel consciously, but I suspect what's causing me the most stress is the re-evaluating that I do every year as my birthday approaches.

If you knew very little about me, you would imagine that I am feeling stress because I'm getting older.  In this case, you would be wrong (although you might be righter than I think).  I don't really think of my birthday as a day when I get older, exactly: I think of it more as a time when I examine my life and see if I'm where I want to be.  And since that where I want to be has been pretty much the same since I was about 21, it's hard to say that the passing of time is what affects me.

Here is what I wanted when I was 21:  a job I liked and a boyfriend.  And here is what I want now that I'm about to be 41:  a job I like and a boyfriend.  And you got it; it's the boyfriend I mind the most.

In Slings & Arrows, as you know one of my favourite TV shows, there comes a point when the main character is kicked out of their house by his girlfriend.  He has nowhere to stay, so he lives in the theatre storeroom, and the ghost who appears to him moves in with him.  Towards the end of this set of episodes, when he reaches a certain low point, he looks at the bowl of soup his dead roommate has made for him, and he says, "This is my life:  I live in a storage room; I eat soup with a dead man" (here, at 7:47). Well, that is my life.  And maybe I don't live in a storage room as much as I used to, because I've cast my lot in here for the next year, but I sure as hell eat soup with a dead man.

Sometimes at night, or in the afternoon when I'm working, I try to trace back to the moment that I made the terrible mistake that got me where I am.  Was it when I got divorced?  Should I have stuck with my husband?  We would have got divorced anyway, but maybe the delay of that would have made my life go differently, in that "butterfly flaps its wings" way.  Was it the collection of moments in which I decided not to go to graduate school for five years?  If I'd gone earlier, I certainly would have been mid-career by now, and that would at least mean I was settled in my job.  Was it when I decided to take the job at my present university?  If I'd stayed where I lived and done adjuncting, I would at least have been in a bigger city when Dr. Higher and I had our inevitable break-up. Was it all those times I decided not to break up with Dr. Higher?  Maybe if I'd ended it after two years, or one, or even the six months it probably should have got, I'd have met someone else.

I had a student once, now a friend, who, when I was telling her after Mr. Fallen let me go how sad I was, said to me, "Your students love you; that must count for something!"  I appreciated the effort, but it doesn't.  For me, you can't count up what you have against what you want and make the first cancel the second out.  If you don't have a job, the fact that you have feet isn't going to make you feel much better about that - even when you reflect, as I frequently do, that there are lots of people with no feet, or no arms, or Parkinson's, or caring for their dying, carping parents with little or no acknowledgement.  Indeed, when you feel unloved in an important way, the knowledge that you are loved can be an added thorn.  I used to say to people, and sometimes still do say, that when someone breaks up with you, your friends shouldn't tell you that you're fabulous and someone else will come along.  They should say, "Yeah, there are a lot of irritating things about you.  I'd dump you, too."  Because knowing that other people love you just makes it more inexplicable, and more hurtful, that the breaker-up didn't love you.  (who but the comfortably middle-class could make such an utterance?)

When Mr. Fallen asked to be friends, and I said yes, what I really longed to say, but didn't have the conviction to, was, "I have enough friends."  And I do have enough friends.  I don't want any more friends who love me, or students who love me.  I want a single male personage to love me romantically.  And I don't give a shit about the rest.  If all my friends went away, I would be hurt, but I know how to be without friends.  It was the condition of my young life, and it's been the beginning condition of every move I've made.  I know how to make new friends, too; that one's easy.  And I know how to have intimate friends.  But the thing about intimate friendship is that eventually I think to myself, "These are things I ought to be sharing with a partner; these are things that ought to be building bricks in a life together."  

And it's not about sex.  I've had sex since I've been here, and I had sex before that, too.  But here's the thing about sex:  just because people have it with you, that doesn't mean they want you.  It just means they want to have sex with you - and sometimes it just means they want to have sex.  Even if they do want to have sex with you, it doesn't necessarily mean they love you (or, in the worst case that thankfully did not happen to me, that they like you): we are, of course, attracted to many people we don't love.  I want to be in loved, to be more special than other special people to someone.  But of course it also sort of is about sex, because if it weren't about sex I could just be satisfied with loving friendships (oh, please).

You could say that in your life you're happy because you have certain things, but I would say that in my life I'm happy despite the fact that I don't have certain things.  If you knew me, you would be proud of me, because you'd never know that.  I've learned how to make my happiness, but it's always been me doing it, and it's always been a nearly physical effort.  I look at myself at the lunch table telling people an exciting story, and I think to myself,  I shouldn't be doing this for this bunch of people who'll all go off to their homes; I should be doing this for someone who'll think of it as another reason to love me tomorrow, or five years from now.  I watch myself discussing some weighty philosophical issue with someone, and I think to myself, This is the use I get out of all that effort to be an interesting, cultured person?  That I'm having this discussion with someone who'll probably go home and forget it, and who certainly won't see it as a reason to be glad he's met me and is together with me? (since he isn't) And it isn't that I'll stop doing those things, or even that they don't make me happy.  They make me happy, but I feel I'm wasting my happiness.  I'm not building anything intransient.

Here is what I will do for my birthday:  I will go out to dinner with my friend M, and I'll have a nice time, and I'll love it, but I'll know that I'd love it more if I were doing it with a partner. Because I'm not a total pessimist, I looked for some reason to celebrate my birthday this year, and I finally decided that I could celebrate the fact that so many people seemed to like me: however sad I am, I seem to make other people happy.  So now I'm celebrating my birthday for a creepily egotistical reason ("I'm great!") instead of a much simpler, much more pleasurable one ("I'm happy!").

And this is where it probably does have to do with age, because although I don't envy young people in any other way, I envy them because they still have time to fuck up.  I look at all the people I sit with sometimes, and I think, not in a cruel way but in a knowing one, You have so much unhappiness ahead of you.  And then I think, But you have time for that; you have time to be hurt and recover, and time to suffer and come out of it.  And that's what I don't have anymore.  My time is dripping away now, like water off your fingertips, and every day I spend alone, or waste on a wrong person, is a day in which I'm losing attraction, or getting further and further into the age group where everyone is taken and I'll be the skeleton at the feast.  And it seems to me such a waste.  In one more year, or five more years, I'll get some guy who can only have sex once a week, or I'll be in such a sorry state that no one will even dream of telling me I have a good body when I take my clothes off.  Me!  Me who loves to have sex, who loves not to wear her clothes, who loves to make her partner happy.  All that lost. (so it is about sex.  But, as that last phrase suggests, also not.) And in one more year, or five more years, I'll have had firsts that will never be replicated (first appearance in a publisher's catalogue; first book; already first month of tango), all of those potential building blocks gone, never to be marked or celebrated with a lover.  And it's a waste of me: I, who am happiest being with another, who was born a twin, trapped in this ridiculous life where I am alone in the sense that really matters to me.

There's a scene in Truly, Madly, Deeply where the female lead says to her therapist, "...and I'm so angry.  I look at people in love, or wasting love, and I'm so angry!"  Well, that's how I feel. I'm sad, but I'm also filled with rage.  I'd like to kill someone over this, if there were someone to blame and kill.  But there isn't, and that just makes me even angrier.  I understand that life doesn't owe me anything.  I never believed it did, but I put so much effort into trying to make myself interesting, into building my confidence, into cultivating my mind and my person, into becoming kind, and forgiving, and understanding, and patient.  And, okay, it's not like I'm perfect in any of those ways, but surely, SURELY you get some reward for that before you're too old to get your leg over athletically, before the thing you really want in a partner is someone who can drive at night.  

And what will you tell me?  Oh, you'll tell me that it'll happen for me.  But you don't know that it will.  You'll tell me that I should try throwing myself around to meet men.  But if I threw myself around any more I'd be a squash ball.  You'll tell me that I should find a young man.  But I don't believe that people in their forties should get involved with people in their twenties and thirties in a long-term way - not because those people are callow, but because I don't believe it's fair to saddle someone with a partner they'll end up taking care of, thus wasting years of their own lives.  And I'm smart enough to see that in any case all my male friends in their twenties look after women their own age, as they should.  I don't want to be the skeleton at that feast, either.  You'll tell me that men in their late thirties and forties are smarter, so when I meet a quality one it won't take very long for him to realise he's met quality, too.  But there are just as many forty-five year-old idiots as twenty-five year old ones.  You'll tell me that what really matters is meeting a partner who values you, and that that's worth waiting for.  But that blanket doesn't keep you very warm at night.  You'll tell me that what matters most is being happy with yourself, and that if I were happy with myself I wouldn't have these feelings. But I AM happy with myself; I'm so happy with myself that I have enough to share, that I want to have someone else to make happy, or to fuse happinesses with.

There is nothing you can tell me to make me feel better.  I'm sorry.  It transpires that another way I'm not a very nice person is that I'm filled with unjustified rage that refuses to be assuaged.  But this is my life, and I hate it.  Oh, I can do it, like some Beckett character with her sack, but it's looking more and more to me like a great waste of my time.  And that might not be what I think, or how I act, and I might know it's not true (my mother told me once that I always paint my life as bleaker than it is, but she didn't need to tell me - I already knew).  But it's how I feel.

It turns out it's quite hard to find a picture to illustrate this one.

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21 May 2009


It's been a while since I posted anything that might give you some idea of what I've been seeing during my time in England, so I thought I'd put up some photos.

First:  I went to Nottingham for a conference on Lord Byron, and while I was there I found this cafe next to the station:

How could you not want to go in there?  If I lived in Nottingham (which, incidentally, heaven forfend), I'd come here to have a cup of tea every day!

Then, last time I went to London, I saw the following in a shop window:

As I think I've mentioned before, I love big things made tiny, so of course the conceit of this would crack me up.  But what I also love is the way that something so clearly not alive has been made to look as if it had volition and determination.  You go, tiny wooden armatures!

And how about this utterly British magazine title?

Or this?  When my parents came to visit me last week they stayed in a room in Trinity College engaged for them by a friend who teaches there.  This was their room!  (I took this with the at-that-time malfunctioning phone camera, which is why it has that curious ghostly shimmer. That figure that looks like a Victorian apparition is my father):

And here are the ducks that apparently live at my college.  I see them in the morning and at night, and they're always together.  A duck couple!  They waddle along in that way that makes ducks and small dogs look as if they are determined to make it to a very important appointment, and their cuteness always makes me smile:

And this is my very favourite sight of all.  I see it every week when I travel home on the train from tango.  Look at the lowest line of text:

Yes, I think, in the sense that it overlooks the train tracks.  Way to turn a disadvantage into a selling point!

And finally finally, a picture of Neil Hannon I found on the web today.  It's not hilarious, but it's certainly the wittiest thing anyone's done with this icon since the cartoon in the New Yorker:  

The Hannon photo made me laugh:

A more nervous-looking Che I don't think could exist.

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Now I'm Down in It

The book is not going well; I'm feeling under the gun and inadequate; I have tensions and angers; I'm stressed about deadlines, about time, about arrangements for going back and then coming back.  This is one of those times when I suddenly have many, many stressors.

I know all of this will pass, but this is undoubtedly one of those life moments when I could use a Fantasy Dad.  Or, really, a partner.  No dad or friend, however fantastical, could produce the feeling provided by the knowledge that someone has chosen to support you: that someone is absolutely on your side, is just for you, and has voluntarily elected to be in that position.  And I could use such support right now.

Failing that, I would take a long hug or a little hand-holding from someone who values me. Preferably male, but I'm not picky.

In other musings, talking to someone at tango last night I remarked on the strangeness of the milonga set-up, something I've been struck by before.  Although there are people chatting on the side, the dance floor itself is filled with couples dancing with great intensity in what appears to be total silence.  The only sound you hear besides the music, if you listen toward the dance floor, is the shuffle of shoe bottoms.  I said to the person, "If you just happened upon it, you would think that it was a bunch of people all of whom knew each other very well, who had gathered to rehearse with great intensity for some important performance later on.  Whereas what it really is, is a bunch of people who don't necessarily know each other at all performing a leisure activity in and for the present moment."   

And I think for once I got it exactly right.

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19 May 2009

...And Then Be Wise?

Long ago, when I was a little more than a slip of a girl, there was a Mr. Me.  But before there was a Mr. Me, there was S.  Whom I loved perhaps more than you can conceive, certainly more than I ever loved anyone else for a long time, and certainly more intensely than I have ever loved anyone.

I don't know if I loved S. when I met my husband.  By that time I'd loved him for almost two years, without hope, and when I met my husband I certainly believed I didn't love him anymore - that's the best I can say.  I went into my relationship with my husband believing that I was attached to only him.  And I did fall in love with him.  

I know that I was in love with my husband, but I also know that if you asked me I would have to tell you that my greater attachment was to S:  he gave me more life pleasure than my husband did.  He and I have since discussed this, and we have both acknowledged that we ought to have married each other at that time - that I married not the person who made me laugh over the dinner table and to whom I could have talked for hours, but the friend of the person who made me laugh over the dinner table and to whom I could have talked for hours.  I was in love with my husband, surely surely, but my heart inclined toward S.

At the time, however, S. and I never said one word about the situation to each other.  One way and another I was in love with him for somewhere between six and eleven years all told (depending on how you count it up), and except for four months in the second year, we never spoke a word about it.  He must have known I loved him - he must have thought about it at least sometimes, surely - but he never said a thing.  Nor did I.  We were friends.  I take a moment to remark on this complicity, a curious mutual decision to lie a lie that wasn't really a lie, since each of us knew it was a lie - so a curious complicity to pretend to lie, so that we might remain close (of course, as is the way with, I think, all long-told lies, for certain lengthy periods of time the lie became so natural and accepted that, while it did not become the truth, it went underground and unremembered).

I have said very carefully here that I was in love with my husband, because I never loved him. For me, in love is the stage after infatuation, where your feelings for the person are genuine, and you are attached to them, but your heart is not settled; love is the last stage, the stage where you cleave to them in some way, where your heart settles on them in a way that is not exciting but simply a fact.  S. I loved, and love.  My husband I was in love with.

I have had many occasions since that time to wonder if my heart was never going to be my husband's (we weren't really suited in many ways, and we were both young and unformed, I certainly very much so), or if it never became my husband's because of S.  I still don't know.

The heart - or at least my heart - seems to me a contrary and self-minded organ indeed.  One cannot change its direction by will or intention, no matter how hard one tries ("But [Juan] had got Haidee into his head; / However strange, he could not yet forget her").  Even if there is no love, one is helpless to control the heart's inclinings, or to reverse them once they have occurred.  And my heart, at least, is so enduring in its attachments:  once made, they seem to stay forever, willy nilly.  I suspect it's the same for other people.  You can move on, but there is no guarantee that your heart will move with you.

And then, other people's hearts are uncontrollable, too.  We cannot say to them, "Turn toward me!" or, "Don't leave me!"  We cannot say, "You would get a better deal with me!" just as we cannot say, "I would get a better deal with you!"  And yet so often time proves that the person would have got a better deal with us, or we with them.  But the heart doesn't learn lessons from that.  We attach without being attached to similarly; we cannot attach to those who attach to us; we cannot unattach despite recognising the wisdom of doing so; we cannot let go of old attachments to take on new, perhaps better, ones.  But we don't will any of this, and we can't stop it, so we aren't really to blame.  But we can't do anything to alleviate it, either.

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18 May 2009


It behooves one, as ends draw nigh, to reflect upon what is past, or passing (as Yeats would say). Because I am leaving Cambridge, and the U.K., on 22 June, now seems a good time to muse upon what I've done.  Therefore, a list:

  • I have made many useful professional contacts.
  • I have made friends.
  • I have (will have) completed a full-length book for publication.
  • Because in October the leaves on the great tree near my building turned yellow and dropped, I have in fact seen Goldengrove unleaving.
  • I have stayed up all night enough times, and happily enough all those times, to make up for my terrible birthday all-nighter last year.
  • I have arrived in the U.K. in love, had my heart broken, and recovered from heartbreak.
  • I have cried every day for months on end, and because of that, and because a change from that occurred, I have learned in a very real way what it feels like to become, and to be, happy.
  • I have been happy (something I seriously believed I might never be again).
  • I have cycled home in the damp evening mist, cutting air as silent and breathing as myself.
  • I have learnt the right dance.
  • I have sat on a bench in a private garden.
  • I have danced with a man who smells like comfort.
  • I have sat outside at night talking, and sat inside at night talking, and stood outside at night talking.  And talking and talking.
  • I have engaged in intimate relations.  Because I do not kiss and tell, I choose not to reveal if these relations were corporeal, or if the intimacy was of a higher sort.  Or both.  (If the construction of that first sentence reminds you, as it does me, of Byron's remark that "Bread has been made (indifferent) from potatoes," I leave it to you to draw what conclusion you will from that.)
  • I have become a cosmopolitan cheek kisser.
  • I have practised both wisdom and restraint.
  • I have told secrets and had secrets told.
  • I have unmade, and learned how to remake the unmade.
  • I have worn a pvc dress.
  • I have laughed more with other people, and at remarks others have made, than I had in the preceding three years.  I have known the pleasure of having others be funny, and funnier than I.
  • I have been a Pygmalion and a Galatea.
  • I have done things for which I give quiet secret thanks and smile.
I think we can agree, gent. reader, that that is quite a list.  And what makes it even better is the only thing that could make it even better:  although I am indeed leaving Cambridge and the UK on 22 June, I am returning on 20 August.  I WILL BE HERE FOR A SECOND YEAR.  I am not going home.  Or perhaps, rather, I am returning home.

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Under the Elms

Desire, dear reader, is a strange phenomenon.  There is no reason why some attract a good deal of it, while some attract relatively little.  There is no reason why some choose to act on it, while some do not.  Choosing not to act is an active choice, and it's unclear why some seem able to make that active choice, while some seem not.  Why it should be that some people, experiencing desire, should possess the ability to think coolly in another part of themselves, to weigh up and hence resist, while some do not, is a great mystery to me.  Why it is that we should choose to control desire, even when not controlling might be greatly relieving, puzzles me.  That we are able to do so, I find extraordinary.

On a totally different note, I wish I had a name that could be made into a cool Russian diminutive.  Misha, Natasha, Masha, Olenka, Tonya:  cool all.  But Emily cannot, I suspect, be shortened this way, even when it's Emilia, which is what I imagine it would be in Russian.  Yet again my name fails me!  I knew my parents should have named me Catherine.

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17 May 2009

Swan, Late

I love Mikhail Baryshnikov.  In fact, I love him so much I might add him to my list of things I love, which is the list of those things or people I love absolutely and unchangeably:

1.  Water
2.  Brushing my teeth
3.  Target
4.  Martin Sheen
5.  Mikhail Baryshnikov

This post,  however, is not about the list of things I love.  It is about Mikhail Baryshnikov.  In today's New York Times there was an article about him, and it prompted me to think about him again, something I do from time to time anyway.

I have always like Baryshnikov.  Part of this no doubt has to do with the fact that he was the dancer when I was little:  he was the latest Russian defector, and the latest sensation in the ballet world. He was also very glamorous, with one of those elegant, soulful, vaguely sad Russian faces one sometimes sees (although, in fact, he is not 
Russian:  he's Latvian).  I didn't find him good-looking then, but he certainly had a striking face.

I'm not as shallow as all that, however, and the real reason I've always like Baryshnikov, or at least half of it, is that he is literally a magnificent dancer.  I think he's probably the most complete male ballet dancer of the 20th century - he has emotionality, technique, musicality, and grace.  In this Le Corsaire clip, for example, you can see the way his landings are absolutely certain, in comparison to Corella at the beginning here; but in this Giselle you can see the way he can treat the steps and music very gently (look at the head in those attitude turns, for example); and in this Push Comes to Shove you not only see him being playful, but also see a moment of extreme technical skill at 7:54 or so. I also like the fact that, as Push Comes to Shove shows, he was interested in pushing himself beyond ballet, into areas that required real stretching technically and physically, as here.  For me all this is summed up by the hands in this photo (I'm sorry; I couldn't enlarge it):

These hands look as if they're in motion, changing from one position to another, and even in that case they're remarkably elegant, relaxed, and graceful.  But as I've looked at the photo more closely, I've gradually come to the conclusion that the hands are not in motion; the arms are being held in that position as the legs move.  And if that's the case, that's even more remarkable, to create a tensed position that looks so relaxed, a firm position that looks
so soft, and a static position that looks so passing.  That requires both great technical skill and great softness.

But as he got older, and I grew up and became a person, I started to like Baryshnikov for other reasons, too.  For one thing, he's one of those lucky people who got better looking as he got older:  more intelligent, more complex, and way more sexy.  As it happens, I generally find older people more interesting to look at than younger people, and often more attractive. Young people don't have much in their faces, and as a result they usually don't hold my attention for very long, or in any depth.  But they are usually better-looking.  This is not true of Baryshnikov, and I like that.

What I like most of all, though, is the fact that he has kept on dancing.  I don't just like this because he was a wonderful dancer, and because as he's kept dancing he's investigated new forms, so that his dancing is now both wonderful and original and rich (by the way, the Baryshnikov in this clip is 60).  I like it because he's kept vital and active and interested in the kind of dancer he can be as he gets older, and although he knows he can't be who he was before, he seems eager to explore and engage with the person he is now.  Probably the coolest thing he's been in recently for me, for example, is a piece choreographed by Benjamin Millepied (isn't that a great name for a dancer/choreographer?), in part of which Baryshnikov dances in front of, and sometimes facing, footage of himself as a young dancer, mirroring or imitating the positions and steps.

Please note  that the older person in this photo looks much more interesting than the younger one  behind him.

When I first heard about this piece, I thought, Christ, who would do that?  Why would a ballet dancer, in particular, want to stand face-to-face with the physicality they were?  It seemed to me then a very brave thing to do, and brave precisely because of what Baryshnikov's coming face-to-face with that former self was a coming face-t0-face with.  Thinking about it today, however, I read it totally differently.  Certainly that young Baryshnikov has purity of line and an almost crystalline cleanliness and perfection that this older Baryshnikov does not, but this older Baryshnikov has a complexity and power that the younger does not.  And this power does not come from increased depth - or at least it doesn't come simply from increased depth - but rather in some way, it seems to me, simply from being older - this older Baryshnikov has a sense of assuredness, of control and surety, that the younger cannot.  In this reading, the piece becomes not an exercise in brave masochism, but rather an exercise in confidence or, more simply but I think more accurately, one in simple enjoyment.  Sure, Baryshnikov isn't that guy anymore, but he's this guy, now, and this guy need not regret that guy.  Indeed, this guy can take pleasure from that guy, because that guy possessed attributes magnificent at the time, and still magnificent now, but this older guy, an iteration of the same man (and who doesn't take pride in their own successes, after all?), himself has so much to offer, and in some ways so much more, that he can face his younger self as an equal, and perhaps even a superior.

So snaps to you, Baryshnikov.  Yet another reason to like you.

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No La Tango

I have not been a good tango-er for the last couple of weeks.  I'm not sure why.  For a week or so in there I was actually good, but this week and last week have not gone well.

I think in part it has to do with the fact that tango now comes very close to my real life.  In the last two weeks there have been two occasions where I've sat around chatting with someone until it was time to leave, gone and changed my clothes, then cycled to the milonga with the same person.  Then I've danced very badly.  I've often had a similar problem with ballet:  if I have to rush out the house to get to class, or if I chat until the moment class starts, I don't have a good class.  Dance is, I think, my equivalent to meditation, and if I don't have a little time to get centred and focussed, I can't do it well.

The difficulty being, of course, that one doesn't want to give up the chatting.  

Then the other problem, a strange one, is that it's sort of turned into a social club.  I am, as you know, weird about dance, and one way in which I'm weird, as you also know, is that when I go to dance I like to dance.  My primary focus is on the dancing, and if I'm not dancing I don't really want to be chatting because I'm afraid that said chatting will prevent people from asking me to dance, or that it will destroy my concentration.  This is a problem, no doubt about it, not least because it means that every moment that I'm standing around talking I'm actually paying about half my attention to the music and the wish to be dancing, which makes me a less-than-pleasant conversation companion. 

Then there is the fact that I just don't get asked to dance that much. O. is a wonderful dancer, so she gets asked all the time.  I am not so wonderful, so I don't get asked all the time.  But how do I get wonderful if I don't get the practice, and the practice with really good people?  I think I feel a certain amount of frustration that I'm sitting around what seems like a good deal to me, and that probably doesn't help when I actually get up to dance.

And finally, I have a lot of stuff going on in my self these days.  There's a lot of kerfuffle and organising my return to the States, plus it's that time of year.   I don't see how all that could not impact on my dancing.

S.A. said to me tonight about a particular move that I just needed to worry about it less.  Last week the VTTT said I shouldn't be so frustrated with myself; I should remember that I'd only been doing it for ten weeks.  These are both wise pieces of advice (the first widened to be about the whole tango enterprise, obviously).  I've made tango too important in my own mind; I need to make it matter less.  If it matters less, it will be less anxiety-provoking and more enjoyable.

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13 May 2009

How Are the Mighty Fallen

I'm doing some supervisions here this week, and one of my students is a boy.  He's possibly a slacker, maybe a troubled soul, and certainly in deep trouble with his studying.  He's also got a certain kind of nascent twinkly charm.  And a big nose.  I have always been a sucker for a charming slacker, and when charming slackerdom comes combined with a big nose I find a lot to like.  Not that I'm planning to engage in any way with this post-adolescent student, but the combination of attributes gives an added enjoyment to our supervisions.

Then today, as we faced each  other during the supervision and he turned his face in a certain way, I realised that he doesn't just remind me of legions of charming slackers past:  he reminds me of Mr. Fallen.  And I had to turn my mental face away.  Indeed, several times he reminded me of Mr. Fallen, and each time I had to take care to turn my mind's eyes away from that, to avoid anything more than the beginning twinge of pain.

When does that run out, I wonder?  I know I don't want to be with Mr. Fallen anymore, and I know it wouldn't have worked out, and most importantly of all I know that I would have missed out on large happy portions of my last year if we had continued on, but that doesn't change the fact that I still wish for him, and I'm still pained by the loss of him.

Of course, I suppose I don't miss him. He was just the last person I was involved with, the last person I loved, the last person with whom I had a tender relationship, and what I really miss is the relationship, and the loving.  But I know that even now if I saw him my heart would flip over, and I would incline toward him, and then I would be sad not to have him - even though the wise part of me doesn't want him.  

When does that go, I wonder?

I was going to reproduce Keats's "When I Have Fears" here, but then I realised that I don't have fears that I may cease to be.  All my fears are fears that I will continue to be.

Ah, well, it's that time of year...

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It's Comic But not Divine

Once there was a time
When my mind lay on higher things,
And once there was a time
When I could find pretty words to sing.
But now, well, now I find
It saves time to say what you mean:
I know it seems so unrefined,
But it's time to let off some steam.
Oh, come on!

Everybody knows that no means yes,
Just like glasses come free on the N.H.S.,
But the more I look through them, the more I see
I'm becoming more like Alfie.

Once there was a time
When a kind word could be enough,
And once there was a time
When I could blindfold myself with love.
But not now; now I'm resigned
To the kind of life I'd reserved
For other guys less smart than I --
You know:  the kind who will always end up with the girl.

And besides
Everybody knows that no means yes,
Just like glasses come free on the N.H.S.,
But the more I look through them, the more I see
I'm becoming more like Alfie.
I'm becoming more like Alfie.

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10 May 2009

So Here's the Thing

So here's the thing:  I met Mr. Fallen, and he was nice.  And then, once I got here, I met a lot of people, and they were nice, too.  They weren't romantic partners (and they didn't let me go), but they were nice. As a result, pretty much all the new people I've met in the last year and a half have been nice.  And I think as a result of that I've kind of got used to nice people; I don't really remember how to work with people who aren't nice when you first meet them, or who are very defended.  But some people who turn out to be very nice are in fact not nice when you first meet them (one could say this of me, for example), or are very defended (you could have said this of me at one time, for example).  Perhaps I should remember to bear that in mind.

So here's another thing:  Sometimes fate just gets things wrong.  Things that ought to have been are not, or just very nearly are but are not, but if fate had shifted the prism, sometimes even very slightly, they could have been.  Fate has had a hiccup, or a momentary glitch in its system.

Or perhaps it's as Robin Williams says in Dead Again:  fate is the only cosmic force with a tragic sense of humour.  So perhaps it doesn't get it wrong - it just gets it wrong for you.  But for fate, chuckling behind its fateful hand, that wrongness is just right.

But these, as Byron would say, are nugae.  Such thoughts have nothing to do with my life or what's going on it.  Next post:  purely biographical discussion.

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Animal Behaviour

One of the most difficult questions in the world, it seems to me, is how to deal with other people's suckitude.  What do we do if someone we know behaves poorly?  Do we act differently if the behaver is someone we like than we do if the behaver is someone we don't like?  

My friend I.C. and I once discussed the question of how one should behave if one was unfairly or horribly dumped. Should you just let go with the screaming and rage you wanted to scream and rage, or should you behave with dignity?  She told me that she'd once been in a restaurant when a woman had been dumped, and had reacted by becoming enraged and loudly berating her (now ex-)boyfriend for his many bad acts.  I.C. told me that it was plain from what this woman said that the man was a bastard, but still once the woman tromped out you could feel that the sympathy of the restaurant was with him, simply because the woman had embarrassed him by making her huge scene.  I.C.'s moral here was, "Always behave with dignity when being dumped."

Is this also a valid dictum if the issue is not being dumped but rather being faced with poor behaviour not directed at one, but still performed by someone one knows?  If someone I know does something I don't approve of, how do I respond?  Obviously if what the person does has nothing to do with me, or connects to me only randomly (say, I hear they're mean to tramps), I remain silent. But what if someone I know behaves poorly toward someone I like, or love?  Do I still have to treat that person well?  I mean, I know I shouldn't go over and punch them in the head (no matter how much I feel like doing that), but do I have to treat them like we're still all mates together?  Or can I (as I would wish to do) avoid them, or (perhaps better) interact with them with thinly veiled contempt?

Even more knotty is the question of what to do if a friend behaves what I would define as badly, or in a way I feel is wrong.  We take more from our friends than we do from "people we know," and if we're wise we know that friendship is a complex thing that involves a good deal of accommodation, understanding, and acceptance.  But what if a friend does something that we find reprehensible?  We're more likely to find out about our friends' behaviour, since friends tell each other news and confide in each other, but confronting friends is more difficult than confronting strangers:  there is more at stake.  So if a friend tells you they've done something that you think is wrong, what do you do?  Do you say nothing, because friendship involves acceptance and accommodation?  Or do you make your objections known, calmly and coolly, which still risks creating a rift in the friendship?  After all, if my friend behaves badly, what does that have to do with me?  I haven't behaved badly, so what do I care?  I'm not my brother's keeper, right?  But if you do make your objections known, do you make them known, then simply proceed on as if you hadn't said anything?  

A curious one, this.

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07 May 2009

The Bringer of Days

BF is a little down because, when she went a party at an astronomer's house this past weekend, she saw that he'd been awarded one of Canada's "Top 40 under 40" awards (why you would keep such an award in your house didn't occur to me until this moment, but that's an exploration for another day, I think).  She has also seen an article about him online, and he has "won a lot."  So she became a bit gloomy about the state of her own career, which she feels has been less than stellar.

Well, it's an odd thing, comparative envy, isn't it?  Just like resentment, hurt, and to some extent rage, it evokes a deep sense of inadequacy and injustice, and a good deal of the old, "Why him? What's wrong with me?" feeling, too.  And that question is a puzzle. I've written a good deal - one might say ad nauseam - about the issue of cosmic justice on this blog, and the experience BF is having seems to be both similar and different.  No one has done her wrong, but there is a sense that despite having worked as hard, and being just as smart, she is not reaping the rewards - and why should that be?

Over these last months I've come to think something I've thought before but never been able to hold onto; I suspect I won't hold onto it this time, either, but I wish I could.  It is, Time will have its revenge.  I don't mean that in a direct or cruel way:  no tit-for-tat, no great fall for those who have been undeservedly high.  The Mr. Fallen who left me for someone else will not necessarily be left himself, for example.  But he will experience other sorrows or stabs, equal in measure, in his life.  They will come, just as my happinesses will come.  In my more accepting and rational moments I conceive of Time as one of those 3-D maps - not a topographical map, but one of those maps in science fiction moves, where a grid appears, then some three-dimensional peaks, and then they make a person's head and rotate it.  

On one such map, there may be a series of very high peaks, but later on very deep troughs.  On another, the peaks and troughs will come in different places, or be different heights and depths. But in the bounded spaces of the maps, those different places and measurements will work out to be about even in overall height and number of peaks and troughs.  Well, that's how time and life are, I think when I'm more Buddhist: it evens out.

Leigh Hunt calls time, "you thief, who love to get sweets into your chest," and I mean that, only in reverse.  I never think of Time as taking, only bringing, and in the end it brings us all sorrows and happinesses, even Great Sorrows and Great Happinesses.  Just hold on and...wait.

(Interestingly enough, Hunt captures this, too, in the same poem, now that I think of it:

...Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your chest, put that in:
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad;
Say that health and wealth have missed me;
Say I'm growing old, but add -
Jenny kissed me.)

Of course, in my less zen moments I gnash my teeth and think how unfair it is that the shafters do not get shafted themselves, and that the tedious, or no smarter, get the accolades.

(I believe I shall from now on refer to Great Sorrows as "GS."  "Yes," I shall say mysteriously, "Losing his mother was a GS to him..."  They can be like LE's, BE's, and GE's.)

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06 May 2009

Cheek by Jowl

This past weekend the Cambridge Tango Festival was held.  There was an all-night milonga! There was an all-day tango "café"! (with soup made by my very own VTTT)  Homer and Christina were there!  That's right, I said Homer and Christina!! (one of the most charming things about society, for me, is the fact that there are all these little subcultures thriving that you know nothing about until you join them, and that all these subcultures have their own storylines, celebrities, and so on [see 1:53 here].  In the tango subculture - or at least the Cambridge tango subculture - Homer and Christina are a huge big deal.  They are also a huge big deal in tango on youtube, where, if you type in "tango" plus a step name, they will almost certainly be one of the first clips offered).

At the all-night milonga I danced with all the usual suspects, plus a couple of more experienced male dancers that I asked to dance, but also a couple of new people asked me.  One of these people was a man named Dave, who also asked me to dance at the tango café.  Dave (who was an excellent dancer) was wearing a kilt for the all-night milonga:  not your usual milonga outfit choice, I think you'll agree, but since one of my friends felt that  he looked like an idiot and another admired him for making a bold choice, I leave the question of its appropriateness to the individual viewer, and reader.  At the tango café, Dave was not wearing his kilt; he was wearing a normal shirt and trousers.  Kilt or no kilt, however, all-night event or no all-night event, soup or no soup, on both occasions when he danced with me Dave attempted to Give Me the Cheek. To which I say, Hey, now, Dave!  

I don't think people should nestle their cheeks against yours the first time they dance with you
- in fact, I don't think they should do it until they know you quite well.  In fact in fact, I think cheek-nestling in tango should be an indication that the people know each other quite well, or are very comfortable with each other (as it is in life!).  I have already talked about touching my cheek to R's, and how I didn't care for that, and thinking about it now I can count only five tango people against whose cheek I would wish to rest mine while I tango:  the FTT (obviously), my friend O., S.A., the VTTT, and the Guy Who Dances Really Well (hereafter, the GDRW). In the case of S.A. and the VTTT, I can't put my cheek against theirs, as I can't reach their cheeks (with the VTTT, I'd have to wear chopines!); and given that O. is a girl, we're unlikely to be dancing together; and given that I don't actually know the GDRW, we're unlikely to be dancing together.  The point, however, is that in all these cases the wish only occurred after a certain level of comfort and intimacy was reached (well, okay, except for the GDRW - he just looks very comfortable and relaxing.  But, hey: made up comfort is still comfort, until actuality proves it wrong).  So I don't think people should be slapping their cheek against yours the first time they step onto the milonga floor with you.

I Gave Him the Ear.  Not meanly, but just because it seemed the closest thing to the cheek, and thus seemed to me to be polite while still preserving my own ideas about cheekdom.

Which leads me, laterally, to a little rumination on pronunciation.  When I first knew the FTT (see the connection?), when he was just a friend of a friend, we ate a couple of meals together as part of a larger group. And at one of these meals he said the very first thing I remember him saying in my presence (which my memory has made the very first thing he ever did say in my presence).  That was, "Where is Sasha?"  Okay, this hardly seems like a sentence to be burned on the brain, but it is burned on mine, and what's more it's burned to such an extent that it's persistently reproduced:  I have had occasion to ask this question myself, and whenever I do so (even if I'm only asking it to myself), I always hear the FTT's voice saying it immediately afterward.  The reason for this is the name. Everyone else who knows the person pronounces the name with the emphasis slightly on the final syllable - Sa-sha - and with the final "a" slightly drawn out - Sa-shah.  But he shifted both the emphasis and the length, so that the stress fell on the first syllable, and the final syllable was shortened:  Sa-shuh.  This made the name snappier, tighter, and with those tiny changes made the whole utterance somehow 

so memorable that it's associated forever with him (and, incidentally, remembered even when I just say that name).

A person named Sasha

In the same way, I remember once asking another friend if there was any high ground at the Cambridge Botanical Gardens (as opposed to its just being smooth flat rolling greensward).  He answered, "Yes.  There are rogs."  I said incredulously, "There are rugs?!?"  "No," he responded. "ROHKS."  Rohks? Oh, rocks!  And now whenever I look at a rog, or even encounter the word, I think of this pronunciation.  Which makes reading Wordsworth's "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal" quite a difference experience from what it was before:

A slumber did my spirit seal,
I had no human fears;
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees:
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course
With rogs, and stones, and trees.

When I took an introductory linguistics course in college, we learned that everyone has an "idiolect," the particular speech pattern, vocal emphases and pronunciations, and other verbal markers that make their voice theirs.  Whenever I've encountered non-native English speakers, speaking English perfectly, and pronouncing their perfect English perfectly, has been very important to them.  And no wonder:  when I speak French, or German, I want to speak them perfectly (and part of the reason why I don't speak them is that I can't speak them perfectly). But that's a pity, in a way, because part of what makes non-native speakers in any language so charming, and so much themselves, is their slight mispronunciations, or their fractional confusions over things like idioms and phrasal verbs - in short, their idiolects.  When my friend M.X. says, "Let me explain you" when he starts to make a situation clear to me, it makes me smile because I know it's he who is speaking, and these days I say it to myself inside every time I say, "Let me explain it to you."  That's the thing - such arresting quirks make you unforgettable, because different.  When the FTT first learned from me the expression "Knock yourself out," he said it in a way that made it plain it wasn't comfortable in his mouth, that he was still tasting it:  "Knock. Yourself. Out."  Now he just says, "Knock yourself out," and it's nowhere near as delightful or unique:  that's the way everybody says it!  When my friend M mentions the country she's from, she calls it, "POH-lan," and it's lovely.  I think if you really want to be charming in your non-native language, you should keep a couple of mistakes and confusions hanging around.  I endorse linguistic imperfection!

(just to go off on a tangent, this deep remembering has happened to me only once in English.  My friend J.W. told me once that the first Japanese sentence he learned to say was, "I have an earthquake in my pants" [his Japanese girlfriend taught it to him].  Then he told me that in Japanese the word for earthquake means "confidence," too - so he was also saying, "I have confidence in my pants." From the moment that I heard that ridiculous sentence, I have been unable to say, "I have confidence" without mentally adding, "in my pants," then giggling.  The end result of this is that I've had to tell this story to many people, most of them my students [who need to be told that I have confidence in them, then wonder why I giggle right after I say it], and that we have thus all ended up saying, "I have confidence in my pants about [insert subject or incident here]."  Thanks, J.W.)

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03 May 2009


When I was little, I hated messing up at anything.  If I tried to do something, and I wasn't good at it (and given the kind of child I was, I wasn't good at most things I tried to do), I would become hugely embarrassed, strangely angry, and very upset.  I think the "upset" part may have come later, because also when I was little I was relentlessly teased and mocked by my peers, and if I couldn't do something, or messed up doing something, they would increase the mockery, and add in some cruelty, too.  So I think I became upset at not being good at things by a kind of Pavlovian commutation, wherein doing things badly became associated with the upsetment that had originally been associated with the teasing that I would get for doing something badly.  But the humiliation and anger were original responses.

Now that I'm a grown-up, I'm much better at knowing that no one is born knowing how to do anything, and I'm therefore also much better at not feeling bad when I can't do things first time round, and very patient with myself about learning.  But there remains one exception to this, and that is dance.

When I am faced with a kind of dancing that I don't know - even if it's a kind of dancing I've never seen before in my life - if I can't get it right the first time I try it, I go into what could legitimately be termed a complete meltdown.  I get very tense, and very embarrassed, and if I'm offered any kind of correction or advice I become extremely humiliated and, as a kind of rubber-band popback defence, angry.  If you leave aside the overwhelming and total misery I feel when I consider the shipwreck that is my current macro-life, learning a new dance, or a new dance step, is the only experience that these days makes me want to cry, or vanish, or both.

I think that you wouldn't be able to guess this if you saw me.  I think (and hope) that I suppress these dance-related feelings pretty well most of the time.  Also, although I can't get rid of the feelings, I do know they're coming, I recognise them when they come, and I'm able to be patient enough with them as a result that I think I play them off pretty well.  But they're still there, and it's still true that if given the option I would always prefer to be taught a dance, or a dance step, one-on-one, by someone who I feel will not judge me, or whom I don't see outside the teaching forum (hence the employment of the VTTT).  Although I've learned to work against my own instincts in this case, I hate being taught to dance by most of my friends, because if you are my friend I automatically wish to appear perfect (or at least always in control) in front of you (let's not turn this into a discussion of my ideas about the construction of friendship - I'm aware of their wackiness, and I force myself to act otherwise than I instinctively want to, but nonetheless this underlying feeling remains).  Basically, I don't want to be humiliated in front of people who matter.

But why?  What is so awful and embarrassing about not being able to dance perfectly the first time?  After all, as my friend A. pointed out today, one doesn't get anything perfect the first time.  The obvious answer, and one that is undoubtedly correct, is that dancing is somehow the part of my life in which succeeding is most important - perhaps because of all those years of ballet in which I didn't succeed (and that sediment of failure makes success much more significant); perhaps because it's the one thing I do in my life that gives me unmitigated happiness, and because the doing of it is the one time in my life when I forget myself completely.  So the stakes are highest.  But I think it's also because I always wanted to be wonderful at dance, so to discover that I'm not wonderful is a crushing blow not just to my ego but also to my hopes.

I suspect, though, that the real problem is none of these things.  I suspect the real problem is that I always wanted to be the best at something, and by being that best to be best-loved.  No matter what I do, somebody is always better than me:  that's not surprising, because it's the way of the world, and so I have no problem accepting it in most areas.  But for some reason I cannot accept it when it comes to dance.  It's so important to me to be a wonderful dancer, and I think because it's a skill that doesn't depend on brains (an area which I don't value very much), or physical attractiveness (an area in which I fall down), or coolness (an area in which I always assume I fail), or even likeability (something I achieve only through great effort and attentiveness, and always with a sense of extreme ephemerality), I think I might be in with a shot.  All you have to do is manipulate your body, and I've got the willpower and ability to do that, God knows.  So when it turns out I can't do that, that thing that's so important to me (because I love it so much) and that doesn't involve any of my failure areas, it's crushing to discover I can't.  And when you add to that the fact that if there's failure, even internal failure, I expect the mockery to begin - the situation ain't good. 

When I first started teaching, I said to my then-therapist after a couple of weeks of classes, "I think there just might be enough love in the world after all": the students obviously adored me, and that adoration seemed to fill up what had until then been an abyss of insecurity.  Even now, when I teach is when I'm most truly myself, because it remains the only forum in which I have no insecurities - I can feel the students loving me, and being fascinated, so all my worries and fakery drop away, and I'm able to be my real self.  The difficulty is, there's nowhere in life outside the classroom where that's also true; that is, there's nowhere in real life where I feel so certainly loved and admired.  And of course there isn't:  in the real world, there's no situation in which everyone is inferior to you (as they are if they are your students), and in which attention is concentrated, and in which you can do pretty much whatever you want.  Nor should there be. Nor, after years of work and care, do I seriously believe that everyone hates me, or is just waiting for me to leave the room so they can be released from their boredom or discuss what a loser I am.  Nor am I as solipsistic as this post makes me appear.

But there remains a little chip of me, buried deeply but shallowly enough to poke out sometimes, that longs for someone to say to me, all the time, "You're fabulous!  I can't get over how great you are!"  And this chip seems to come into play most nakedly when I dance.

Good heavens, will I be Stuart Smalley all my life?  Bring on the daily affirmations!

Addendum:  Thinking about this dance issue now, an hour later, it occurs to me that part of the feeling of sadness, at least, may come from the sense I often have that something in life ought to come easily:  somewhere there must be one thing that can be achieved simply and pleasurably, without intense effort and failbettering.  And if that thing can't be the one thing that makes you most purely happy, what can it be, for heaven's sake?

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