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Sunday, November 6, 2011

My Latest Excuse for Not Writing, and a Good One, Too

Here’s my latest excuse for not writing.  My spouse had knee replacement surgery.  Boy, was that an ordeal.  And it was no picnic for him, either.  That was almost a month ago, and he’s just now able to hobble around without assistance, and, thank goodness, to drive.  For a couple of weeks there, my life consisted of driving back and forth to visit him at the hospital, then at the rehab place.  I use the term “visiting” loosely.  Most of the time, James was out of it.  He couldn’t carry on a coherent conversation, and he couldn’t remember anything, even if it just happened.  It was like a premature peek at senility.  Yikes.  Not ready for that quite yet.  Much to the relief of both of us, his mind went back to normal once they cranked down the pain meds.  Then when he finally came home, I was busy doing things like cooking him special meals, running to the store for this or that, carting him to physical therapy appointments and doctor visits, and shopping for medical equipment.  Plus, I had to do the things he normally does around the house.  Like take the trash out, mow the lawn, clean the pond filter, and manage the sprinkler system.  (I didn’t even know where the controls were.)  Needless to say, I didn’t have time or energy to do a lot of my usual activities, including writing.  I know I’m whining.  I know James had it a lot worse than I did.  Now he’s much better and both our lives can get back to “normal.” 

So now I can get back to writing.  When I don’t write I feel restless and dissatisfied.  There’s a vague awareness that I’m not doing something I should be doing.  Maybe this is what they mean by wasting your gifts.  Not that I’m any Jane Austen, but if I have any talents at all worth developing, it’s probably writing.  So when I avoid it I feel untethered, drifting nowhere when I should be headed toward a destination.  It nags at me. 

When I do write, I feel good.  The day is lighter and so is my mood.  I feel I’m fulfilling my destiny, or at least slogging along the road toward it.  Sort of like the pioneers heading west.  There are distractions and obstacles along the way, Indians to fight off, food to hunt, sick children to tend, wagon wheels to repair.  Still, the pioneer forges ahead, even if the vision ahead is as vague and misty as a distant mountain range.  Even if they don’t make it to the land of their dreams and have to settle down somewhere along the way.  Maybe just attempting the journey is the most important thing.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Why I Haven't Written in Awhile

I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog since September 15.  I also can’t believe I started a blog with “I can’t believe.”  Your writing really starts to stink when you don’t put in the practice, like anything else that requires a regular training routine.

A number of things have been taking time I would otherwise have spent writing.  Not counting plain laziness, we’ve been traveling a lot in the last month.  This not only stole time from writing, but messed up my whole writing schedule.  Normally, I want to write something about our trips.  Fascinating little incidents occur on even the most mundane excursions.  But I try to refrain.  Most people don’t really want to hear about your vacation.  Like so many things, you have to be there.  So I didn’t write about our weekend in Corpus Christi or the week we spent in Playa del Carmen.  People were naturally concerned about the dangers of traveling in Mexico, so they might have perked up if we’d gotten kidnapped and tortured by drug lords or something.  But that didn’t happen.  The scariest people we saw were time share salesmen at the Cancun airport.  Come to think of it, that’s also the nearest we got to being kidnapped. 
My 1992 book.

Another reason I have neglected by blog is I’ve gotten sidetracked by a couple of other writing-related projects.  For one thing, I’ve been working on converting a print book into an ebook.  But allow me to backtrack. 

In 1992, I wrote a book and was lucky enough to have it picked up by a major New York publishing company.  As far as public achievements go, that was probably the high point of my life.  Now, I’m converting my out-of-print book into an e-book.  I purchased some software to accomplish that and have been wrestling with that little project for longer than I care to think about.  Computers are not my forte.  Out of sheer frustration, sometimes I set my e-book project aside for weeks.  It’s still not quite finished.

Another writing project that’s captured my attention involves Texas history, specifically, the Texas border patrol in the decades spanning more or less the late 50’s through the 70’s or 80’s.  James has an elderly uncle who was a border patrol agent during that time.  He worked out of Del Rio and patrolled the Rio Grande on horseback.  Now he’s retired.  He lives peacefully in the Hill Country, where he keeps a pecan orchard and has a few RV hook ups.  One of his regular RV visitors, a couple from Colorado, spent many evenings sitting around with Boyd and hearing about his adventures as a border patrol agent.  They were convinced the stories should be captured and published.  So before returning to Colorado, they left him a tape recorder.  The problem was, Uncle Boyd wasn’t comfortable talking into a machine.  So the project was abandoned. 
That is, until I got wind of it.  I thought, why not visit him in person and capture his stories on a digital voice recorder?  Such recordings are called oral histories.  Places like the Institute of Texan Cultures are keen on collecting them, and his chronicle would be captured for future generations.  Even if it languishes for years in a dusty corner, someday a PH.D. candidate may stumble upon it in his search for obscure dissertation material.  And who knows? I might be able to craft a book or at least an article out of Uncle Boyd's tales. 

So far, the oral history project has entailed mostly research.  As usually happens once you start learning about something, you find out there’s a lot more to it than you thought.  First, I looked into the whole topic of oral histories:  what they are, how to conduct them, what questions to ask, how to preserve the oral history, and so on. 

 Now I’m finishing the second phase of my research:  the background of the border patrol and its place in Texas history.  I’ve thumbed through books about the history of cattle in Texas, cattle rustling (Uncle Boyd’s field), law enforcement in general, and so on.  I even skimmed the official history of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.  I’ve read about the legendary Texas Rangers, whose duties and responsibilities often overlap with those of other law enforcement agencies, including the border patrol.  In that vein, I’ve read Joaquin Jackson’s fascinating memoirs, One Ranger and One Ranger Returns. 

The third part of my research I’m not looking forward to.  It’s learning how to use that digital voice recorder.  I’ve been putting that off until the last.  But it’s a pretty nifty little tool.  You can transfer the recording into a computer by just plugging it in.  Even fancier software exists that will convert the recording into print.  Wow!  I don’t know yet whether I’ll avail myself of that – these little toys are not cheap. 

They say that every time someone over 70 dies, it’s like losing a library.  And Uncle Boyd is undeniably a dying breed.  He’s a gentleman cowboy, polite and tough at the same time, a man of few words who means what he says.  Put it this way - I’d hate to be the cattle rustler who had to tangle with Uncle Boyd back when he patrolled the Big River on horseback. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Chance to Dance with the Bellydance Superstars, sort of

I’m getting my sea legs back, so to speak, after the two week hiatus in classes following the recital.  It was slow getting back into it, but now I’m all enthusiasm again.  One reason for that is:  THE BELLY DANCE SUPERSTARS ARE COMING TO TOWN! 

I marked the date on my calendar.  The BD Superstars tour all over the world and are featured on TV shows and in Vegas.  So they are la crème de la crème of belly dancers.  Some of the original Superstars have branched off and started their own schools and dance groups (like Kaeshi, whom I wrote about in a recent blog), but the current batch is still top-notch.  And in their sweep through Texas, they are actually making a stop here in San Antonio! 

This is unprecedented.  San Antonio is not high on the list of cities with a big audience for cultural events.  Sure, it’s a big city, but what it has in size it makes up for in lack of sophistication.  The average education and income level is way below that of Austin, our smaller neighbor up the highway.  San Antonio is sometimes referred to the biggest small town in Texas. 
Even more exciting, our studio has been asked to open for the Superstars in San Antonio.   The dance chosen for our opening is “Amani Rap,” a saucy number in which the dancers wear jeans with a coin belt and regular costume top.   Miss K has put out the call for anyone who wants to participate to sign up for a 6-week crash course in "Amani Rap."  They can then perform it at the Superstars show. 

At first, I didn’t even consider it.  "Amani  Rap" is way above my skill level.  Plus it's about 5 minutes long with no repetition, so there's a lot of memorization on top of technical expertise.  It would be impossible for me to learn in six weeks.

However, Miss K kept encouraging everyone (well, almost everyone) to sign up.  It's a big stage at the Josephine Street Theater, she said.  Plus she wants everyone to have this once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform on the same stage as the Superstars.  So I reconsidered.  But I had lingering doubts.  So last night before class I tried to pin her down on specifics. 

“So, what if somebody signed up for this crash course, like me, f'rinstance, and on the eve of performance, I still looked really bad.  Of course, I know when I look bad; everybody knows that--" 

“Not necessarily!”  Miss K interjected. 

 “OK, let’s say someone looks really bad and doesn’t realize it, would you tell them?  Would you still let that person be in the performance?” 

Karen stared at me for a long moment, no doubt searching for tactful words.  I realized she would never be that blunt to anyone.  She’s far too kind, and, besides, she's running a business, not a professional dance company.

‘I’m sorry,” I said.  “I’ve put you on the spot.”  

She answered with a question. “Bad in whose opinion?  The public’s?  Mine?”

“The public’s.” 

She waved that away.  “The public doesn't know the difference.” 

“But," I persisted,  "I thought you wanted this performance to be really sharp.” 

 She laughed.  “If you want sharp and precise, you go to New York City.  This is San Antonio.”  She went on to explain that it's part of the choreographer’s job to camouflage and blend in the weaker dancers.  She's going to restage the dance for that, as well as to highlight individual dancers’ strengths. 

In the end I signed up, of course.  For the next six weeks I'm going to be working my buns off.   

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Recital Photos

I know we are always most critical of ourselves in photos, but these are just OK.  I didn't even know a photographer was there.  He took a slew of photos of the whole three nights of the recital.  You have to buy them from him online, and they aren't cheap, so naturally I bought only the ones that single me out.  These are all from the "Elsekka" dance.  It's not the photographer's fault that the stage was so dark.  That explains the fact the photos are overexposed  and therefore too bright.  I'm kinda disappointed he didn't catch me in better parts of the dance.  I look rather wooden in these.  You can tell in the first photo below that I'm actually moving my hips because of the flying beads.  And I really don't know what I was doing in the second photo.  It must have been some kind of transition.  And, yes, I look like a deer in headlights.  I was nervous.

These might be good photos for a caption contest.  
The flying beads prove
 I was in motion.

And this is NOT my best belly dance costume.  It is only my second string outfit.  I'm going to have someone take a photo of me in my best costume and I'll post that.  But then, to make the look complete, I'll need to put on full war paint, fix my hair, and all that.  So much trouble.  But I've been gushing about that costume for so long that it's time I coughed up a photo of me actually wearing it.  I wore it for the TV spot, but did not get any photos at the time.

Not sure where this pose came from. 
"Cuff me, Officer!"
Meanwhile, classes have started up again.  I'm taking three choreography classes, and it's a little confusing right now.  But it will all sort out with time.  In one of them we get to dance with veils for a few minutes, which is a whole new challenge.  Those veils are beautiful and floaty, but it's easy to get tangled up in them.  And another dance includes the use of zils, the finger cymbals, which is really fun but also adds a level of difficulty (one more thing to think about). 

Almost smiling!
In fact, I'm getting ready to go to class now.  Just needed to get a blog out, at least ONE this week.  So this is written in haste.  I apologize for the lack of editing and polish. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Belly Dance Workshop by Kaeshi

A couple of weeks ago I drove to Austin to take a couple of belly dance workshops taught by Kaeshi.   She’s part of the well known belly dance school Bellyqueen and the dance troupe of the same name.  I didn’t know much about her going in.  The draw for me was the gypsy fusion workshop on Friday night.  I was hoping this would be a Spanish-Arabe style, with beautiful flamenco arms and lots of fiery turns and skirt flinging.  And that’s exactly what it was, so I was happy.   We were advised to wear a gypsy skirt, because this dance style involves a lot of “skirt work.”  This means holding the sides of the skirt up and swooping it back and forth and around the body.  Very dramatic. 

Kaesha turned out to be a tiny Asian-American woman, and a beautiful dancer, full of grace and precision.   She looked exotic, not only because of her Asian features, but her hair.  It was partly dyed red, and she had it pulled up in back with feathers sticking out here and there.   Plus she had two long braids framing her face, much like the photo I’ve attached.  She also wore some really cool dancewear, stuff I’ve never seen around here. 

Like most good dancers, Kaeshi has had ballet training.  She also does beautiful “floreos,” the twisting, floaty arm and hand movements that are a characteristic of flamenco dance.  Turns out she used to be a member of the Belly Dance Superstars, so no wonder she's a great dancer.  She was also a good teacher, smiling and encouraging all the way, yet keeping the class  moving at a fast clip.  After all, she had to teach us a 3 or 4 minute choreography in two hours.  Normally, it would take 3 or 4 months of weekly classes to learn a dance. 

The workshop was held in a huge dance studio at Café Dance in Austin.  There must have been 50 or 60 women there, most of them from Austin, and most of them, I quickly realized, with a lot more experience and competence than I have.  Some of them are professionals with studios of their own.  They picked up the choreography quickly, while I struggled earnestly if sloppily through the whole two hours. 

I discovered the YouTube video of her dancing the very same gypsy fusion choreography she taught us in Austin.  It started out as an improvisation, amazingly enough, and she changed it a bit for the choreography she taught at the workshop.  I’ll attach the video for your viewing pleasure. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, skip about halfway through to see some beautiful flamenco turns and skirt work. 

The second workshop took place on Saturday morning at the Eternal Way Center, which I think is usually a yoga place.  Very Austin.  The studio didn’t have a mirror, but we managed.  This time Kaesha taught a regular belly dance choreography.  But it had a certain funky feel to it and a lot of cool moves, which I can’t remember now, of course. 

The workshops were inspiring and discouraging at the same time.  I think I’ll wait until I’m more proficient before I spend the money on any more of them. 
Here is a video of her dancing a fusion of belly dance and pop & lock, which I think is a type of hip hop.  Quite interesting and different.  Check it out.  It's also done freestyle, that is, on the spur of the moment to the music, not previously choreographed. 

Note about the Austin scene: 

Before the evening workshop I met my brother John and my daughter Jane for lunch at a funky (is there any other kind?) restaurant in East Austin.  This area of town used to be a ghetto avoided by honkies like me, but now parts of it have been “yuppified,” as my brother put it.  This particular street was lined with Airstream RV cafes, which Austin is known for, shops, and a renovated art deco apartment building.  The café where we ate, the Blue Dahlia, was a tiny crowded house with a front and back patio.  Despite the 100 degree heat we ate on the patio.  We had a lively and amusing conversation, as usual. 
I returned the bagful of Lee Childs books John had lent me and took back with me a Robert Parker book.  (Parker created the Spenser character in the old series “Spenser for Hire” as well as the Jesse Stone character in the TV movies starring Tom Selleck.)  I'm looking forward to starting a new series, but I'm going to miss Jack Reacher!  He's the main character in the Lee Childs books.  We all think it's a travesty that they chose Tom Cruise to play Reacher in the movie that's in the making.  He's so NOT Jack Reacher.  Sigh.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why I Won’t Make It to My High School Reunion This Year

The world can be divided into those who love high school reunions and those who don’t.   Sure, I genuinely like many of the people I knew in high school.  But I've seen only a handful of them since I left Odessa many years ago. 

I didn’t actually graduate from Permian High School – we moved to Austin in the summer before my senior year.  I was pretty upset about that.  I had grown up in Odessa and attended elementary, junior high, and high school with the same kids all my life.  Worse, I was going to miss out on being a Pepette as a senior at Permian.  Pepettes are the pep squad for the football team.  They are not cheerleaders.  They do not dance.  They don't play a musical instrument.  They don't parade onto the field at halftime and do anything.  No, they just stood in their own special cheering section in the stands, a magnificent vision in black and white.  They wore matching black and white sweaters and black pleated skirts and white knee socks and black and white saddle oxfords and matching hair ribbons.  Oh, and each one was armed with two pom poms.  Their mission was to cheer on the team, as if there weren’t throngs of others in the stands doing the same. 

Even more exciting, each Pepette was assigned a football player to lavish her attention on.  She made him a hand-painted poster each week to hang in the hallways.  She did supportive things like bake cookies for him during the week.  She was his own personal cheerleader. 

The Pepettes were an elite group.  Of course, they were not as exalted as the cheerleaders.  We had only five cheerleaders, unlike today when schools have whole platoons of them.  Back then, the cheerleaders were elected by the student body.  So, yes, it was a popularity contest, although they all did a bang up job of cheerleading, too. 

So here’s the most amazing part about the fact I was going to be a Pepette:  the Pepettes were also elected by the student body. 

Do you get the implications here?  For the first time in my life, I was elected to something that was more or less a popularity contest.  I still have no idea how it happened.   I was not a member of the in-crowd, not even of its lower rungs.  Sure, I knew most of the popular kids—after all, we lived in the same town all our lives--but that doesn’t mean they invited me to their parties or called me just to chat.  Heck, most of them didn’t even acknowledge me in the halls.  Sure, I had other friends, mostly nerds like me.  I may not have looked like the stereotypical nerd, but inside that’s basically what I was.  So it was heady stuff indeed to think I was going to be a Pepette.  My senior year was going to be glorious.

But it was not to be.  The summer before my senior year, Daddy left his storefront law practice in Odessa for a job with the State in Austin.  We left Odessa, and I spent my senior year in obscurity at a high school in Austin.  To make matters worse, Permian ended up playing the Austin school in the state finals and lost in the final seconds of the game.  It was a bummer of a year all around. 

All this to explain that I didn’t spend that watershed senior year with my old classmates.  So I was somewhat out of the loop when my 30th high school reunion rolled around.  What surprised me the most was how much the social levels had changed.  Upheavals had taken place during that senior year I missed.  Those who had been near the bottom of the social order had risen, and some of those near the top had fallen.  (Sounds biblical:  Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.)  Classmates I’d never seen interact before were now buddies.  Those who were outcasts before were now crowd favorites.  And the in-crowd kids were actually friendly, although they still pretty much hung out with one another.  I had a pretty good time.   

Except for a couple of people, I haven’t seen any of my classmates since that reunion.  But I feel like I’ve somewhat kept in touch--they seem to populate Facebook to an amazing degree.  I don’t even try to keep up with all the chatter.  But I realize there are some really funny, interesting, and creative people among my old classmates.  They share a wide range of fascinating occupations, everything from a botanist studying rare plants to jazz pianists to journalists-turned-ministers.  Who would have thought they would emerge from the isolated backwater town of Odessa? 

Still, in a reunion situation, I fear that conversation with most of my former classmates would bog down after a few short minutes.  So it might be better to be friends from afar and skip the time and expense of traveling to West Texas.  Even attending the Friday night football game isn’t the draw it used to be.  And that’s saying a lot.  Odessa has always been absolutely fanatical about Permian’s football team.  It was Permian’s team that was featured in the book Friday Night Lights.  But since those heady days of state championships won by a wiry, hardscrabble team that was usually up against boys that outweighed them by 30-40 pounds, things have changed.  The football team isn’t what it used to be, that’s for sure.  And some of it is due to that book.  Odessans felt deceived by Pulitzer-prize winning author H.G. Bissinger.  After all, he lived among them and befriended them for a whole year, then turned around and wrote what to them was a scathing betrayal.  I guess they didn’t understand the concept of immersion journalism.  They were surprised, as so many understandably are, when someone masquerades as a friend just to get a good story.      

Anyway, because of Friday Night Lights the town leaders decided to devote more funds and emphasis on academics and cut back on football.  Permian hasn’t won a state championship since 1991. 

Still, I was tempted to go to the reunion, except that we are already booked for a trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  And, yes, I checked into the safety situation there.  My research revealed that the most dangerous situation we may encounter in Playa is a cyclist on the sidewalk.  So it’s more likely we’ll get mowed down by a bicycle than a drug lord’s machine gun.  Besides, rates are great.  That may have something to do with the fact that September is in the middle of hurricane season.  But what are the odds?  I'm not worried.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Now What?

The recital is over.  There’s nothing to practice or rehearse.  There will be no classes for a few weeks.  During the past year I was motivated, almost obsessed, with belly dance, my newfound hobby.  It was exciting to work toward a goal:  to dance in the year-end performance. 

I sweated and struggled and pushed myself.  And I achieved my goal.  I plan to keep dancing.  But now I find myself looking around wondering where to go next.  I’m experiencing that let-down feeling that often happens after a goal is accomplished.  Now what?

In the first few days after the recital I relaxed and celebrated, in my own way.  I ate a lot of bad stuff.  I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies and ate most of them (one of those refrigerated, break-off-little-squares-and-bake-them deals – not the whole batch you make with semi-sweet chocolate morsels.)  I dined on Mexican food:  enchiladas, a chile relleno, greasy bean-and-cheese nachos.  I’ve had pizza, even steak.  I’ve gobbled down potato chips and banana pudding with vanilla wafers.  And I’ve eaten those treats late at night, which for me means after 9 p.m. 

I took a lot of naps. 

I did some good junk reading. 

Not that any of those things are bad, but I did very little that was practical or useful, like grocery shopping or making beds or doing laundry.  (We’re in a drought.  I was saving water.) 

But now it's time to go back to normalcy.  It’s time to think about my next goal.  What will that be?

Yesterday I found myself inside one of those gigantic Super HEBs.  Usually I avoid such places, but it was near the PetSmart where I had just returned something.  I went in to buy a half gallon of milk and on the way wandered into the school supplies aisle.  Spiral notebooks of all colors filled the shelves.  And get this--they were on sale for 20 cents each.  I love spiral notebooks.  Maybe it’s the allure of the blank page, the possibilities lying dormant there, the invitation to fill those pages up.  I bought ten of them.  I think it’s a sign my subconscious is sending me. 

I've been writing this blog for over six months. It’s established a discipline and a writing routine. It’s been great practice. But I want to do something more substantial, maybe even (dare I say it?) meaningful. The hard part is choosing a topic. It’s not that I can’t think of something to write about. The problem is there are too many things I’m interested in, and it's so hard to narrow it down to just one. The temptation is to have two or three writing projects going at once. But I have a feeling that won’t work well.  So, step one:  I'm going to jump into those spiral notebooks and brainstorm.

Last year was the year to dance. Maybe this will be the year to write.