Carpe Diem, and All That

Ballet Workshop Clock

When you discover two of your favorite people are performing in the same weekend in separate but (kinda) nearby venues, albeit in completely different kinds of shows, and you think you can somehow make it to see them both, you tell them, Heck yeah, I’ll be there. Every opportunity to go to the the theatre for a performance of merit is a golden one, more glowing still when you know somebody on the stage. And if it requires travel to two cities (and neighboring states) in the same day, well so be it. Maybe it is a function of age, but more and more I feel a sense of urgency about doing things, and seeing people who are important to me. I would not go so far as to call it a bucket list. Just urgency.

See that ugly flower clock up there? It was part of a most impressive collection in a Massachusetts dive where Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I stopped on our way down to his sister’s on Friday night. The place was full of clocks and plates and needlepoint, a lifetime supply of them, clearly somebody’s labor of love. And there were wagon wheel light fixtures for days. This funk-vibe little eatery may have been firmly rooted in about 1972, but it was clean as a whistle, staffed by earnest young folk, and offered a superlative and surprisingly forward-thinking menu. Here is the authentic-tasting falafel sandwich I had as evidence (trust me):

Wagon Wheel Falafel

Betcha it was not on the menu when they opened.

Anyway, that clock. It struck me (ha ha) I’d seen it somewhere before: that clock was one and the same hanging on the ballet classroom wall at my mom’s small 1970s school, the erstwhile Ballet Workshop in Memphis, Tennessee, where I trained for a few years of many, from about age twelve ’til fifteen or so. Hideous clock. But it brought back a groundswell of memories.

Like the first time my mama took me to the theatre as a spectator. I imagine I was held in her lap, but what I recall was the tiny sliver of glowing blue escaping from the bottom edge of the curtain as the house lights came down—magical. It was a beautiful mystery that held so much promise.

Hanover Theatre II

Or the moment when I first saw the stage lights come up behind a scrim that seconds before seemed opaque, but now revealed an entire world behind it. Magical.

Or the boom of a live orchestra in the pit when you least expected it.

Or the smell of the theatre; it changes when the cutain opens, whatever lingered behind it spilling into the house. (You can see the air moving whenever there is fog; fog will always tell you which way the wind is blowing as it curls over the lip of the stage. I’ve always wondered how it feels to the musicians in the pit—does it mess with their instruments? Make playing more difficult? Or do they get caught up in the magic, too?)

That silly clock made me think about the ballet. But as HCB and I sat in the Massachusetts dive and ate dinner, I also thought about whether we could realistically make both performances: a Broadway show in Worcester at 2 and a 7:30 ballet in Providence. HCB was powering out of a week of illness, and I was feeling its first symptoms.

Damn.

We warned his sister we were sick; she was a saint for still taking us in for the weekend. We decided we’d keep our date for the first show (and our breakfast with Ryan Carroll, my friend in the show), and then reassess afterwards how we felt about going to the ballet in Providence later that night.

HCB Deb Ry

That is moi, sandwiched between Handsome Chef Boyfriend (a rare sighting, I know), and Ryan. I’ve known Ryan for about a decade or so; he more or less showed up out of the ether in Knoxville looking for guest teaching gigs early in Knoxville Ballet School’s history. Southerners to the bone (Ry is from Montgomery, Alabama), we became fast friends and our connection continued to grow through the years with his frequent visits to the school. He always stayed at my place and we enjoyed late nights watching videos and talking ballet trash.

I also saw him on several occasions in NYC (where he lives) over the years when I was in the city for teacher training at American Ballet Theatre. We both had the proverbial rug yanked out from under us (in different ways), and in more or less the same time frame. He is a dear person who was always a champion of Knoxville Ballet School; so many young students, even outside the immediate school community, benefitted from his generosity.

Ryan is also a beautiful ballet dancer with impressive Broadway credentials. At the moment he is touring with The Producers in the role of Carmen Ghia.  The first time he guested for me I had the great fortune of observing him teach Bye Bye Blackbird from Fosse (a show he had danced for a very long run with the likes of Ben Vereen, et al.) to a roomful of teenage girls. That was magical, too, and I shall never forget it.

Producers Playbill

By Saturday morning my voice was already gone. I tried to cram three years’-worth of questions and narrative into an hour-long coffee date with HCB and Ryan at Starbucks. Then quick as a flash it was over. HCB and I had a little rest and made it to the theatre for the 2:00. We made it through the performance with discreet coughing, but it was abundantly clear by then the ballet would have to wait.

Insofar as The Producers—and J. Ryan Carroll—I will only say you should drop what you are doing, check this schedule, and find tickets for a city on the tour near you. Sieze the day: you never know when you will get another chance for a wonderful little piece of magic like that. (‘Til soon, Ms. Gwynn Root.)

Hanover Theatre I

Postscript: A Fire in Her Belly

Celia_1

Yesterday I posted about my former students at Knoxville Ballet School who worked like crazy to achieve high marks on their American Ballet Theatre Affiliate exams, and three of them who went on to attend the Young Dancer Summer Workshop at ABT in August 2012 after a successful video audition.  I wanted to share images of my kids in their last day of classes at ABT. It happened to be my birthday, and it came just before my big reboot and move to Vermont. It was a bittersweet day for me, but also the best possible way to celebrate the mid-century mark in my life. That is monkey #1 in the photo up there.

Abby_1

And that is fearless monkey #2, who attended YDSW at ABT in NYC for three consecutive summers.

Ines_1

And here is leggy and beautiful monkey #3.

Two weeks earlier they had attended placement classes with a couple hundred of their young colleagues. And luckily they were all placed in the same level. I think this was good for them their first time at ABT, and certainly convenient for me when I came to observe them.

When HCB and I traveled to my erstwhile home state of Tennessee last month I was able to visit with monkey #1 and her mama. I was thrilled to hear she is preparing for her first Youth America Grand Prix (classical ballet) competition, coming up in a couple of months. We talked for a long time about the rehearsal process, about her classes, and about constructive criticism.

Then recently I saw this rehearsal photo of her and obtained permission from her parents to share it. I wish all my students well, whichever paths they follow. And I wish them all a fire in their bellies.

Rehearsing Celia_1

A Fire in the Belly

InesAbbyCeliaDansent-softglow

Three tired Knoxville Ballet School monkeys after a <successful> video audition for American Ballet Theatre’s Young Dancer Summer Workshop in 2012

P1000543

The same three monkeys at ABT in NYC later that summer, with their idol, one Catherine Hurlin

Last week during a discussion at a writers’ workshop I attended over in Cambridge, NY, I listened with great interest to a teacher lamenting a new generation of children whose parents are more than happy to complain to school administrators when they feel their young child’s genius is questioned by a teacher. Those are my words, not hers, but that was the gist, I think. The problem, she continued, is reaching a new pitch: last year she had been called into the principal’s office an impossible number of times to defend herself in the face of her cheeky parent critics. Nor had her comments to children been sharp or unfair. Her classroom demeanor had remained unchanged through decades, but she noted parenting attitudes emphatically had not.

So this seasoned professional decided she’d had enough.

That is a tragedy.

My mind wandered to a short video of Catherine Hurlin, a student at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre; the video was made four or five years ago, in studio 9 on ABT’s 4th floor—the very classroom where I undertook my own teacher training at ABT. In the video Catherine explains earnestly to the camera that school principal Franco De Vita could make you cry. She also nods to his humor, to which I can attest firsthand. We see her young self discussing her life at the school, alternating with moments from Franco’s studio company class into which she had been invited on occasion. This is a huge honor for a younger dancer.

I do not know of many scenarios where criticism is offered more intensely than in the ballet classroom. Not only that, once you’ve crossed the threshold from recreational study to pre-professional work (which happens for many kids by age thirteen or fourteen—Catherine was not much older than that in the video), you are about as vulnerable and exposed as it is possible to be.

Those who do not really, really want it will fall by the wayside quickly. There are too many others who do, and are more than happy to step up to the plate and take it.

Academia is different, of course. But if we are content to hand out honors like candy, how is that serving a population of children who do not deserve special recognition? The world will be less forgiving.

Earlier today I saw this thoughtful piece written by a friend who is a professional musician and music teacher. In it she opines about various aspects of feedback I completely understand. There are effective and ineffective ways to offer criticism to a young student. Being unduly harsh does not serve anybody, either.

Franco himself was pretty tough on me the first time he came to my school in Knoxville to look at my kids. After a full day of ballet exams, per the ABT/JKO rules, Franco met with me behind closed doors to critique my teaching. The kids had worked hard to prepare for their exams, but in the end I was accountable, of course. I put my head down and listened, took careful notes, silently kicked myself for some missteps I made in spite of knowing better, but realized I had so much still to learn about teaching classical ballet to a new generation of children. Franco was tired that day; he had a head cold and I imagine was possibly jetlagged. He was in no mood to suffer fools gladly, and I certainly had no intention of being a fool. I shut up and listened.

In the end, my kids did okay on their exams. A few received high marks, most were average, and a couple squeaked by. We had much work to do.

At the beginning of the next term I took my page of Franco notes into the classroom with me and kept them on the console next to my class planner. Every single class I built from that point forward reflected the wisdom he imparted to me on that Saturday in April.

All of us—my students and myself—worked so, so hard the next year; there were even a few tears, and a couple of kids threw in the towel. But when Franco visited again the following spring he was met with a very different looking bunch of young dancers.

With only a couple of exceptions, they blew the tops off their exams.

What if Franco had handed out honors like candy the first time around? How would we—my students and I—have benefitted from that?

The tenor of the ballet classroom has changed quite a bit since I was a young student in the 60s and 70s, mainly for the better: teaching methods have improved, dancer health is a much higher priority where it once was not. But even the ballet world suffers some from the “precious child” syndrome of academia, to wit: you can’t touch a kid in class, not even to make a teeny but important adjustment, for fear of legal action, or the threat of it anyway. I know about this firsthand—it was ultimately why I also left the classroom, ruled as it was at that moment by a very powerful nine-year-old kid. What a shame for all involved.

Anybody who has a real desire—a fire in the belly—to achieve anything, needs desperately to hear the truth from a loving, impassioned teacher or mentor. Undeserved accolades will ultimately extinguish the flame.

Here is the video of Catherine. Oh, and if you’d like to see what ultimately happened to her, you’ll have to go here. Thank you, Franco De Vita.

The Day The Sheep Shearers Came

Sheep Shearing 3

You need not go far in my home state of Vermont to find a farm. Lots of people live and work on them, the rest of us drive past them going to and from. Same thing applies to upstate New York, a stone’s throw away. Writer Jon Katz and his wife, fiber artist Maria Wulf live on a farm there. They have sheep and other animals, but the thing I find most appealing about their sheep in particular is Maria’s use of their wool for her work; she also sells some of it to other artisans.

It was sheep shearing time at Bedlam Farm last weekend.

Sheep Shearing 1

At one point during the nineteenth century sheep outnumbered people in the state of Vermont three to one. (HCB leaned into my ear when Jim-the-Sheep-Shearer said that, and lamented it was too bad they couldn’t be taxed; there are not many of us here in Vermont, which means we can’t put enough into the state coffers for important things like keeping our roads plowed in the winter. If you want to test this theory, drive across the state line after a winter storm and compare.)

Also, Jim-the-Sheep-Shearer said cows have never outnumbered people in Vermont. You’d never know that, judging from our collective waistlines. But not from Jim’s.

Sheep Shearing 7

He is fit as a fiddle, a performance artist through and through (although Jon insisted he never gets the same treatment without a crowd around). Jim and his colleague Liz expertly sheared Jon and Maria’s small flock in a matter of moments and made it look like child’s play. Jim sang and recited poetry while he worked, and at one point even did a little yoga for comic relief. As if any were needed; sheep are so silly.

Sheep Shearing 4

Sheep shearing is athletic and dangerous. I know this to be true after watching Jim and listening to his stories about near misses with private parts. And even here you can see the sheep is all up in his business.

Sheep Shearing 5

From observers came questions about shaving all that wool just before winter: wouldn’t they be too cold? I get that all the time, he said. Turns out sheep don’t actually need their wool anywhere near as much as people do. At least, that is what I understood from his answer. He said before cold weather arrives in earnest the sheep will have had a chance to grow about three inches of new wool.

Sheep Shearing 9

The white sheep go first so that their wool is not “dirtied” by stray fibers from the black sheep when it goes to the mill. Jim told us all kinds of other relevant stuff about sheep, shearing, and shearing equipment, including the shearer’s clothing, which is pocketless for safety reasons (take a look at the photos above and you’ll understand), and the shoes, which are specially made for comfort and pliancy.

Red-the-Border-Collie was invited into the barn enclosure to keep the flock cornered as they waited. I have never really seen Red stop working, at least not in earnest, but it did not take much for him to maintain order. The sheep have a profound respect for him.

Sheep Shearing 6

And lo there were nekkid sheep, who seemed relieved to be out of the barn.

Sheep Shearing 8

Observing someone who clearly loves what he does, and who is an expert: that is a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon.

There was a lot of that going around last weekend on a perfect New England fall Saturday.

Sheep Shearing 2

 

Pruning Away Neurons (And Re-Growing Them)

IMG_20151013_183742

Of his own writing Evelyn Waugh famously quipped, “I put the words down and push them around a bit.” In Freshman Comp 101 you’d identify that literary device as understatement, of course.

Sometimes I worry an entire generation of writers may be losing the penchant for pushing words around a bit.

If I could distill writer Jon Katz’ message to a roomful of engaged writers and writer wannabes last weekend, it would go something like this: publishing is no longer the sole domain of the traditional publishing house—anyone who desires to write and publish can do so without running the gauntlet of the old-style vetting process. And a subset of this idea: the World Wide Web is the primary venue for writing these days, romantic or wistful notions of conventional books notwithstanding.

The very idea of putting down your thoughts on (virtual) paper, clicking “publish,” and then broadcasting them across the world thrills and inspires the imagination. It’s also terrifying: in the last few years social media sharing has become a big part of the publishing equation. Incredible, powerful relationships have been forged in this way. But that platform—social media—also serves as a voice for the deranged, the unstable, and the downright idiotic. Plenty of their work has also been published in the traditional way, but never before has it reached so many so quickly, and so (sometimes) anonymously. It reminds me of hideous billboards dotting an otherwise unspoiled landscape.

Lately I’ve observed what I think you could fairly call a lack of substantive content in many online publications: websites are littered with adverts, banners, and popups that disrupt the reading experience. And once you’ve peeled back all the layers of that onion, you’re often left with little language at all. (It is true of print publications, too.) I wonder what this experience is doing to our collective intellects. If we could compare a PET scan of our modern brains with one of our century-ago brains, would we see something shocking? Some piece of higher functioning anatomy reduced to a peanut?

I have no scientific evidence, but for my own part, I am more likely to pass over a lengthy bit of online prose for something shorter. Tight schedules, distractions, mental and physical fatigue,—especially at the end of a long workday—these could be the culprits. But sometimes I wonder.

Jon sat next to me during our lunch at the workshop. I was a bit whiny, complaining about the difficulty of working on my own writing when I have just spent the last eight hours sitting at a desk and writing professionally. I explained I am a copywriter and editor by day, for a digital marketing company.

Do you enjoy your job, he asked? Yes, I said: I get to earn my keep using the only other marketable skill I possess besides teaching classical ballet, an avocation that is out of reach for the time being.

I’ve had occasion to reflect on my answer to this question in the intervening days, and of course there is much more to it. The expanded answer goes something like this: I am thrilled and delighted to write professionally. The work I have is hard to come by. It is not unlike the work I once produced in grad school: I am assigned a piece of writing, I research it as thoroughly as time permits for that particular assignment, and I synthesize my findings in a document I hope our company’s clients appreciate. I also hope it is interesting reading.

And there is another dimension to my job, Search Engine Optimization. So I am not merely producing an online publication, but one designed—through the strategic placement of keywords—to drive readers to the doorstep of a particular client, versus someone else’s. It is a huge challenge to do this and to do it well: to write something that “reads” genuinely, that various search engine bots will grasp as authoritative and not “spammy.” Depending on the type of content I am asked to produce, I can be on a single piece of writing for a couple of days. There is nothing diminutive about that, nothing abbreviated. And because I always felt comfortable in an academic setting, and because there is most definitely an academic piece to this work, I thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, I am privileged to do it.

So until I find my tempo, to borrow language from my erstwhile career in classical ballet, my own personal writing and publishing probably will suffer indeed, and that is how the cookie bounces, as one of my professors liked to say many years ago.

I wonder how Mr. Waugh would view the writer’s landscape nowadays. One thing is certain: my own writing muscle is actively engaged. Every single day.

 

Homecoming Finale: In the Company of Artists

Jonesborough 4

That is one Gwynn Root, a beautiful professional ballerina who currently dances for Festival Ballet in Providence, Rhode Island, although she has danced professionally with several other companies in her career to date. Here she is more recently, with Festival this past summer, in an image from the WaterFire Providence website:

Gwynn Festival

I met Gwynn eight or nine years ago, just as she was preparing to embark on her life as a dancer; the connection was my mom, who was and is still occasionally Gwynn’s coach. In the intervening years since our first meeting I’ve had the great privilege of also meeting and spending time with Gwynn’s family, who are among the most talented DNA-sharing people I know. Gwynn’s mom and dad are artists, Peggy and Tom Root, Peggy known mainly for her lush landscapes, and Tom for his incredible portraiture. Tom made that picture of Gwynn when she was little and uses it on a professional brochure.

And there is also younger brother Charles, probably the most gifted twelve-year-old kid I’ve ever encountered. He comes by it honestly.

They are also quite possibly the kindest people I know. I really, really miss the Roots. When HCB and I started planning our Way Down South trip, I suggested we set aside a day to go and see them (all except Gwynn, who had already launched for the fall season in Providence) in their home city of Jonesborough, TN. If you have never heard of Jonesborough, you should know it holds the distinction of being the oldest town in the state (challenged by some), and also the storytelling capital of the world.

Amazingly, despite having grown up in Tennessee and living there most of my life, I had never been to Jonesborough. I wanted to go there to see the Roots, to see their new art school on Main Street, and to see the town. And to have another chance to spend a few moments with my mom and her husband and their young daughter Grace (who is officially and incredibly my 50-years-younger sister).

So that is what we did. Peggy opened up her huge, huge heart and the school to host a potluck lunch for us. Mom and Peggy did all the work, we did none of it. It was incredibly incovenient, and they were unbelievably gracious to do it.

Jonesborough 1

Jonesborough 1

Jonesborough 3

That’s Grace, who needed to sample some of the chocolate cake she helped bake for this event. She needed to sample it often.

Charles was also able to join us. I shot one photo of him, which does not represent his demeanor at all, but does capture his handsomeness (the Roots are all beautiful people).

Jonesborough 9

It was a bright, hot summer afternoon in the South, and I think that is clear in Charles’ expression. He is growing up in a way that is rare indeed these days, with ready access to the businesses that dot Jonesborough’s Main Street, ducking into them as time and temperament allow, helping out when he is needed. Everybody knows Charles. It is a wholesome existence that is a throwback to another time. Not surprisingly, he is already an accomplished musician and artist. This is a piece inspired by his sister Gwynn and her life as a dancer. They love each other very much.

Charles Root Dancers

I also had permission to shoot some of the work hanging on the walls at the school.

Jonesborough 6

Jonesborough 5

Jonesborough 5

And my own handsome son B continued his theme of selfie photo bombing.

We abandoned ship when Tom came in to set up an afternoon session with his students.

Jonesborough 25

Which was the perfect opportunity for chocolate from the shop adjacent to the art school.

Jonesborough 3

Jonesborough 4

And then Peggy (who somehow escaped my camera lens) walked up and down Main Street with us. For me, this was a delicious, indulgent sampling of the vernacular architecture I love so much, led by someone who knows the town intimately.

Jonesborough 8

Jonesborough 10

Jonesborough 11

Jonesborough 12

Jonesborough 13

Jonesborough 14

Jonesborough 15

Jonesborough 17

Jonesborough 18

Jonesborough 19

Jonesborough 20

Jonesborough 21

HCB, B and I made a brief detour to the visitors’ center just up the road, where we saw the beautiful mural painted by none other than Tom and Peggy.

Jonesborough 23

And had a moment for a quick game of checkers.

Jonesborough 24

And sadly it was time to say goodbye, but not before a brief chat with Gwynn when she called mer mama.

We finished our day, and our whirlwind tour of East Tennessee, with barbecue at one of B’s favorite eateries:

IMG_20150920_074649

Yes, it was pretty damned amazing. But bittersweet. I hate saying goodbye to my son. I really hate living a thousand miles from him.

That was Friday. Saturday morning launch for Vermont came early, but before we left Tennessee for who-knows-how-long ’til our next visit, we stopped by mom’s to get some of my things she had been storing for me. And I was able to wrestle this out of her hands:

IMG_20151011_195211

It is one of Peggy’s. Mom agreed to make it my Christmas present, a wee bit early.

Our Way Down South trip was stressful, fun, emotional, exhausting. It was important to do. There are things I miss about the South, others not so much. I hope to flesh out these thoughts more.

I’ve spent the last three days in the company of artists from all over the country, about which more very soon.

 

 

Creative Workshop Takeaways: Publish or Perish

IMG_20151009_201319

Today I attended a creative workshop led by New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz at this really groovy yurt in Cambridge, NY. (By the way, yurt is the word of the day.) I attended sessions on writing, photography, and blogging. One thing Jon underscored in his writing and blogging sessions was the importance of producing work and producing it often, even if it is not perfect. I know this to be the truth. I’ve had a hard time practicing this of late because I write all day every day for a living, and when I come home, I just want to be stupid. I think I am still adjusting to what is a new lifestyle for me.

Anyway, here is a blog post about something pretty interesting that happened in my life today. And also, during the photography session, our wonderful teacher Deb Glessner implored us to photograph the things we love. I love food. Lunch at the yurt (prepared by Chef Scott Carino, et al.) included beautiful chili with crème fraiche, brie and freshly baked bread, and a beautiful salad. I also love interesting vintage china. Today I found them both in one place. (Oh, and I am not a photographer yet. I own a Nikon, though. But I made that photo on my cell phone and used Instagram to edit.)

So in the course of a single day I hung out in a yurt, listened to interesting people, and ate beautiful food. It rained all day (I actually love foliage in the rain); several times a very energetic border collie puppy climbed into my lap and slobbered on my face. She also did this while I was eating and actually put her mouth on my bread and brie before I could stop her. I still ate it with exactly no shame. I will always welcome a slobbery dog into my lap, even if she is soaking wet because she’s been outside.

I had so much I wanted say during the various sessions, but mainly did not. I am pretty smart and articulate; I’ve been seizing up like that a lot lately for reasons I don’t understand.

It was a beautiful day.

 

Homecoming, Part the Fifth

Knoxville 5

That’s me up there, flanked by my bosom buddies Bett and Emily. The three of us and our families have known each other for decades. They are the kind of people who see you through everything that happens in your life, and you them. I assumed we’d be together as friends forever. And there are so many more I wish there’d been time to see. If there is a template for Southern graciousness, those two are its exemplars, along with a handful of others I know.

Thursday began early with our breakfast at this eatery, only three blocks from my erstwhile home in Knoxville: I used to walk there routinely to meet friends for coffee or lunch. It was admittedly weird to be in my old neighborhood again; I made myself drive by the house, although I did not linger. I was satisfied that its new people appear to be taking good care of it, but sad for so many other reasons. Anyway, I wanted Handsome Chef Boyfriend to see the setting for so, so many stories I’ve been telling him for three years now. It felt important to do.

But I digress.

HCB was a prince for joining a “girl” breakfast that was mainly about catching up; three years is a long time to go without seeing your homies. But I knew they’d want to meet him, so I pressed him to come. It was a lovely breakfast and I am genuinely pleased to see that the neighborhood bistro is still thriving; others of its ilk were not so fortunate.

Thursday was probably the most ambitious day of our homecoming week; I think HCB was growing weary of somebody’s possibly too-ambitious plans by then, and in the intervening weeks since we’ve been home there has been discussion that somebody’s contract as tour guide may not be renewed next time around. As ambitious as the day was, it is oddly the least represented in photos; I did manage to grab a few.

haircut 4

Yep, I had the mop chopped; plans were hatched weeks earlier. When I moved to Vermont I had very, very short Annie Lennox-style hair. It was a life-simplifying decision I made in 2009 just ahead of the first leg of my teacher training at American Ballet Theatre. I did not do it for vanity, but as time wore on I really appreciated short-short hair even more. And during the worst year of my life, when my family came unglued, hair maintenance was the very last thing on my mind.

When I moved to Vermont, this is how I looked:

2012-09-20_17-37-18_56

I was a hell of a lot skinnier then than I am now, too; that was a selfie I made for HCB, just being silly. I was also terrified, and about to experience all kinds of loss on a monumental scale, not least of which financial. I grew my hair long because it was one less monthly expense. For the better part of two years now it has been getting on my last nerve, as a friend of mine used to say. I called upon the amazing and gifted Sunshine Carter, a Knoxville stylist, to take me back a few years. My hair, anyway—I have to work on the rest of me now. I think she did a beautiful job. There was a long exhale afterwards; props to my son B for shooting photos, and to Sunshine for the cute haircut. I left the salon feeling restored, much more like myself.

haircut 1

People in the South are just friendlier. There. I’ve said it.

This is not a statement about regional character, that people down South are somehow better people than folks in other parts of the world. (And of course the South is beleaguered from time to time by news-making, hate-mongering sociopaths, as the world well knows.) But I do think Southerners—the non-sociopath ones—behave better in day-to-day interactions with others: warm, effusive, friendly exchanges really are a Southern specialty. It does not take all that much effort to smile and be nice to somebody. And you feel better when people are nice to you (at least, I do). A case in point: the fine staff at the salon, who made us—myself, B, and HCB—feel so welcome. And it really was a recurring theme in so many places we went.

After a brief recharging at the hotel it was time for another reunion, this time with a trio of my former ballet students for gelato at Whole Foods Market. (Yet another sign of the burgeoning economy down South, however you may feel about them, ditto Trader Joe’s—Knoxville had neither when I left it in 2012.) This threesome started pre-ballet at Knoxville Ballet School when they were barely bigger than toddlers. And they were on the leading edge of children at the school who had the American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum from the earliest level, which at the time was Primary Level A.

IMG_20150920_074502

As often happens when like-minded families are thrown together by their children’s enrichment activities, the school proved to be a galvanizing experience for these girls and their parents. I can’t believe how much they have grown, truly. Here are the same girls, in the same exact order, just after their affiliate exams in 2011, numbers 3, 2, and 1. (And that is moi, with my brilliant accompanist Eva Holder, and ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School Principal, Franco De Vita. It was the second time Franco had come down from NYC to adjudicate; we were all so very lucky.)

Affiliate Exams 2011 Primary B

And we are still lucky. I am glad to see my young students moving on, whether they choose classical ballet or not, especially glad that they wanted to see their former ballet teacher. Our time together was too brief, then and now.

Our day ended with a blissful dinner at the home of incredibly talented friends Bett (see above) and Doug; I have no photos to show. I could have walked around snapping pictures of their incredible home, the beautiful salmon they smoked for us in the Big Green Egg, the amazing things they’ve done in the patio and yard since last I saw it, Bett’s exquisite artwork (in all kinds of media, most especially pottery and rug hooking), the dog, and the cat. But that would have been, you know, weird. What I can say is being there in that place again, where we often found ourselves when our kids were little, and then slightly bigger, and then all of a sudden teenagers and young adults, was life-restoring. We had a wonderful, relaxing time with friends, telling stories, remembering the fall of the company that brought so many talented people to Knoxville, Tennessee, Doug and Bett among them, and life after big transitions. I did not want to leave.

But we did; Friday’s adventures required a good night’s sleep. About which more soon.