I have been sick for almost a solid month, with only a teeny window of wellness timed fortuitously during my Aunt Jane’s recent visit; on her last day with me I felt something insinuating itself into an otherwise good time and sure enough I had a taken on a new and improved upper respiratory bug that knocked the wind out of my sails and left me almost completely without a voice. Unfortunately I’ve had to table my daily runs to give myself a chance to heal, which means Clarence has suffered right along with me. He has been coming out of his skin for lack of exercise. This week however, I have felt well enough to lace up my running shoes and jump back in the game, if a little gingerly. A year ago I was running about thirty-five miles a week: those distant memories are excellent motivation for me now. And Handsome Chef Boyfriend’s talk of spring training for the races he likes to run during the warm weather months has inspired me still more. I will be a runner so long as my old lady ballerina legs allow it; nothing quite like it for clearing the head and jump starting the day.
A recent phone conversation between Handsome Chef Boyfriend and myself:
Me: I had this guy on my tail in his pickup truck heading towards Bromley, trying to pass me in the right lane. Big beard, baseball cap, checked wool jacket, sitting in his huge-ass truck.
HCB: Why were you driving in the wrong lane?
Me: No, you don’t understand. There were two lanes—the driving lane and the right turn only lane, and he was in that one, so I assumed he was turning right, but when his lane ended he was still right there, so I realized he was trying to pass me.
HCB: You should have been in the other lane.
Me: <growing frustrated> No! You don’t get it! Let me just clarify—I was in the driving lane, he was in the right turn only lane, and then he tried to pass me instead of turning right. And then when the road became a two-lane road I moved into the right lane so he could pass me, and he decided to tailgate me.
HCB: <poor attempt to cover sniggering and giggling>
Me: ARE YOU LAUGHING AT ME?
HCB: <speaking through giggles> No, I know you were right. I am just imagining an exchange between you and that guy.
On a sweltering day in August of 2009 a hundred or so ballet teachers in training at American Ballet Theatre’s New York City flagship facility shuffled back into muggy Studio 9 on ABT’s 4th floor following an hour lunch break; it was difficult to hear much except the clang of metal folding chairs over the death rattle of the ancient window air conditioners. From the start of the training session a few days earlier the iconic Raymond Lukens—co-creator of ABT’s National Training Curriculum, and our mentor at the teacher training—had fiddled each morning with a tiny, wireless mic attached to his t-shirt collar, bellowing, “This is the voice of GOD!” to get our attention. Smiles and giggles all around.
Now he was wearing his Serious Hat. As we all settled down he tapped on the mic and began speaking. “It has been brought to my attention,” he began, “that some of you are uncomfortable standing up and demonstrating classroom work in our small group sessions, that this exercise is embarrassing and making you nervous.” <Pregnant pause, and penetrating stare, with slightest hint of a sardonic grin.> He continued: “You have no choice except to get over it,” allowing this to sink in for a moment before he went on to explain that this exercise had been optional with the inaugural group of trainees the prior summer, and that there was a marked difference in examination scores among the trainees who elected not to participate in the exercise.
You have no choice. Funny that a sentiment so seemingly disconnected from classical ballet training would leave such a profound and lasting impression on me. But those four words have seen me through some difficult times in my recent past—times that one of my very best friends would say were fraught with peril. Indeed. And we have no choice except to soldier on; better that than the alternative.
So many among my friends and family—and even complete strangers—have mentioned to me how brave I am to embark on this journey, how my story inspires them. Each time I hear that I feel humbled and flattered that anyone would think this about me. And then I am scared down to my socks, because there are still so many questions about my decision to uproot myself at the half-century mark in my life and move a thousand miles from the place I have called home for three decades, thinking I could make a go of it. Here is the reality: it might not work. I still have some huge hurdles to clear, sometimes with only a vague plan, but I intend to make every effort to stay focused on the prize. And what is that? Financial solvency. A tiny bit of security. Peace of mind. Not spending every waking moment of the day biting my fingernails because there are too many moving parts. But the very notion that I have no choice—except to try to make things work—continues to fuel forward motion, however foolhardy this vague plan may be. Time will tell.
The last couple of weeks have exposed a new challenge for me that is significant, and emphatically not what I was hoping for. I am working on a solution; I still can’t quite see the end yet. There is no way in hell I will throw in the towel and quit. No way. I have no choice. (And thank you, Raymond—you have no idea.)
Anyone who knew Violet well could tell she was thinking hard, because her long hair was tied up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. Violet had a real knack for inventing and building strange devices, so her brain was often filled with images of pulleys, levers, and gears, and she never wanted to be distracted by something as trivial as her hair.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning
This is my Fairy Godmother, my “Auntie” Jane, who also happens to be one of my former ballet teachers, currently visiting all the way from Memphis. This picture of her was made just before a spring workshop performance there in about 1975; I was among those young ballerinas in the photo somewhere. Although we are very close and have kept in tight contact through the years, I have not actually seen Jane in a couple of decades. We have had so much fun during her visit: lots of cutting up, a little bit of bad behavior, amazing food (some of it courtesy of Handsome Chef Boyfriend), and plenty of time at ballet school. She is bravely venturing out and doing new things; later this evening I will deliver her to some friends on the other side of the state so that she can start the next part of her New England vacation, which will include snowboarding on Bromley (cue the jokes about butt padding). Be reassured, my bloggy friends, that I am still here, joyously busy at the moment.
I regularly get letters from irate MacNeil-Lehrer-watching readers who ask: ”With all the serious problems facing the world, how come you write about your dogs?” To which I answer: Because I don’t know anything about your dogs. —Dave Barry, 1988
November of 2011 was second only to October in its unimaginable rock-bottom misery on the timeline of my life up to then. If you are not a regular reader of this here blog: my now ex walked away from our marriage of twenty-three years in October. By November he had finally moved out of the house, something I had implored him to do, since he was openly and joyously dating a neighbor at that point; but he also took our family dog—a gentle Shiloh Shepherd named Teddy Blue—when he left. And true to his style, he used his most clever, sneaky stealth mode to do it, leaving a note on the kitchen table one morning that he had taken Teddy to the vet, and then ultimately never bringing him home. I knew it was possible I would never again see the dog who came of age as our child’s closest companion; the reality was that I saw him a few times after that, but he looked worse and worse on each visit, and our encounters were detached and tragic. Teddy’s demise came last August, under circumstances that I still do not fully understand; I gather he has since been replaced by a puppy of his ilk whose future well being is tenuous at best, in my humble opinion.
But that is neither here nor there. In November of 2011 I had scheduled cataract surgery for an eye that is already seriously compromised because of a retina disease for which I have been treated since February of 2001. With memories of difficult and painful eye surgery in 2001, I was really sweating this more routine surgery which I would traverse mainly alone this time, save one beautiful, dear friend who drove me to and from the surgery center and made me swear and pinky promise I was okay to be left by myself for the night. My mom and her husband arrived to help the next day in spite of my unwillingness to give up control of anything and everything to do with moi. But by then I found myself completely out of steam and thankful to have a mama who brought me homemade soup and home baked bread—an act of love she would repeat over the course of nearly an entire year as she watched me drop ten, then twenty, then thirty pounds while I navigated clinical depression and destruction left in the wake of my family’s demise. I had my surgery the Tuesday before Thanksgiving; by Thursday I was feeling pretty good, and was happy with my vision, such as it was. We had bread and soup on Thanksgiving Day, and my stalwart mom insisted I go on a long walk with her afterwards. She hung around ‘til Friday, and satisfied that I was okay by myself, headed home with her husband that morning.
Then on Friday afternoon, seventy-five pounds of tail-wagging, shedding, slobbery, German Shepherd Dog crossed my threshold to claim me as his forever human. Clarence. I doubt I will ever be without a dog in my life; I can’t speak for other dog or cat lovers, but for me, I feel a connection when I look into a dog’s eyes in particular. People have attachments to their pets of varying intensity, and mine is on the continuum somewhere. I don’t consider my dog my child, nor relate to him like he’s a human. I think I have a pretty good grasp of where he is in the firmament of creatures. We take care of each other; he is a working dog who needs a job to do, and I am his job. I enjoy his affection and companionship and don’t mind repaying his hard work in kind in the guise of affection, exercise, food, shelter, veterinary care, and of course, play. I don’t think our bond is too much more complicated than that, but it is a tight bond, and is important, and is one of love.
Clarence. Angel, second class. And the name of my maternal granddad. He arrived by way of a high school friend whose life’s work has been animal welfare, and who happened to know of this particular dog and the rescue agency who was fostering him at the time I contacted him. I did not name him, nor do I know exactly his circumstances prior to being placed with a rescue organization, but he just felt right, somehow, and so did his arrival, the day after Thanksgiving, a couple of days after my surgery, when I was quite alone and still grasping that this condition was my new reality. He is a young dog, a dog eager to run with me, and sleep at my feet, hang with me wherever I happen to be in the house, and travel with me. He was content to ride in the back of my car a thousand miles from Knoxville, Tennessee to our new home in Vermont, and he has been content to learn to tolerate New England winter, with its ice and snow and wind and occasional power outages. And he has been surprisingly willing to allow someone new into the pack, whose happy, handsome, playful company Clarence and I both anticipate and enjoy when the opportunity presents itself.
As I have said many times before, I am not kidding anybody. Clarence-the-canine rescued me at a time when I desperately needed rescuing.
This was ice fishing derby weekend on the lake where I live. Last night the people who belong to this particular ice fishing shanty–and who clearly have a sense of humor–were possibly up all night, bright lights ablaze (still shining when I went to sleep past midnight), presumably attempting to hook the prize winning catch. And judging from the message, who knows? Maybe they did. (Note: if you are versed in the ways of the ice fisher, please avert your gaze, gentle reader, as I know not whereof I speak. Not gonna stop me from posting about it one dang second.)
For some time now I have wanted to walk around the lake and snap photos of these shanties, which are as individual as the people who build and trailer them onto the ice. Some are thrown together seemingly almost as an afterthought, some are strictly utilitarian, some are obviously tony and well appointed, and some make what you could call, er, an architectural statement, like the one made entirely of repurposed port-a-potties. Seriously. Sadly missed my chance to capture that one, which deserved some kind of prize, fish notwithstanding.
Today I had every intention of traversing the lake to talk to the fisher folk about the whole business of ice fishing, and most especially, the fine art of building one of these structures. The derby evidently ended earlier in the day, though, as I observed during my walk with Clarence-the-canine that a number of people were hefting their shanties onto trailers and driving them off the ice. I scurried home to grab my camera and get what I could.
It is warm in this part of Vermont right now, with daytime temperatures reaching into the upper thirties and even lower forties most days. This pattern is forecast to continue for the next couple of weeks, and the ice skating trail is officially closed for the season. A number of cars have been skidding around the trail at bruising speeds, throwing up water willy nilly; I can only assume the ice beneath is still plenty thick, or these possibly thick-skulled people would not be flirting with calamity.
I can tell you firsthand that the ice is a huge mess, as I found out a little while ago when I stepped into somebody’s ice fishing hole which had a thin layer of ice on its surface, hidden beneath a dusting of powdery snow. I must report that I was wearing my Vermont Barbie boots, and my foot stayed completely dry. Jeans, not so much. Fodder for weeks, possibly months, of ridicule from Handsome Chef Boyfriend and perhaps others.
So I was able to capture a few, anyway; I kinda like this one, which reminds me a little of the sets from M*A*S*H. There were more across the lake, but after my dip in the icy water–even though it was just one leg–I thought better of it. Still I ask you: where else can you find posts about ballerinas and ice shanties inone blog? I also beseech you, if you are a seasoned ice fisher, to leave a comment to help enlighten those of us who are not.