You Dance When There’s Nothing

When I was 21, just before she got married, I took my best friend to watch Flash Dance. She liked it, but it made her sad and a little angry.  It wasn’t what I wanted to achieve. I was trying to tell her there was a path back to the person she used to be.

It’s probably funny that someone like me, the kid built on elephantine proportions (even when I was thin) and with two left feet to go with the two left hands was best friends with a fairy like creature, skinny, graceful, a slip of a thing with grey eyes and dark blond hair.

But it wasn’t funny, you see, because both of us had, for lack of a better word, vocations that consumed us.

By the time we met when I was six (we were desk partners in first grade) I knew I was going to grow up and be a writer.  And she was going to grow up and be a writer.  We were absolutely innocent about any knowledge of how the real world or artistic careers worked, or even that we’d been born in a tiny country that never ever supported artistic (or scientific) careers of the magnitude we dreamed of.

She had found a place in a ballet class for disadvantaged children, and had quickly won various honors as the most promising beginner in the country.

Because we were different from the rest of our class — we were probably different from the rest of the world, truth be told, it was easy to become best friends.  I told her stories, she practiced around me.

Only she was dependent on a program and on learning — so was I, but this was less obvious — and the program was canceled after the revolution since ballet and piano and a lot of other things were rotten bourgeois pursuits. Her family didn’t have the money to continue her lessons. She was then 12. And some light was turned off in her.

She didn’t die. If everyone who is born with a vocation and was thwarted died, there would be a lot of corpses.

By 21, when she was getting married and moving to France, I had slowly come to the cul de sac of my ambitions. I was not going to be an engineer and work in aerospace — that was thwarted by a complex play of forces — and I was not going to be a writer. Being a writer in Portugal would never pay enough to support anyone, anyway. At best, I’d periodically write stories to entertain my friends.

Giving up, forever felt like being buried alive in grey goo.  And I heard about flash dance and I thought maybe I could reawaken the spark in my friend and if she couldn’t be what she’d once dreamed — and she couldn’t. You have to start as a kid for that — she could learn enough and maybe teach dance to little kids. Or rhythmic gymnastics or something.

But the circumstances of her future life didn’t allow for that.

We’ve become estranged since — politics. Well, she acculturated to a very different country — but I still wish there had been something to do to keep the dream alive, because when you are two thirds dream, you die a little when the dream is gone.

And the dream is not the career. It never was.  For me the dream is the worlds, the people in them. They’ve been with me for 57 years.  I don’t know how that translates to dancing, but I’m sure it does.

It’s been weird watching the kids, too because both of them were obviously born with purposes.  They were dreaming and thinking of these vocations since age 4 or 5, even though one of them likes denying it.

No, I don’t understand the process. How the hell can a human be born to be an engineer? Unless you posit a Planner, and though I’m a believer I don’t like to think from there. But I’ve lived long enough to realize some people are born with…. a vocation, a part of them that stretches into a dream world.  You cut off that part and they go on living, but not the same way, like a plant that loses half its root system.

As it happened, I married, and Dan kicked my butt to write every day. He told me that publication wasn’t important, writing every day was.  He was right.

Of course, I’m ambitious and competitive, and I wanted to be published.  Also, I’m one of those people who feel a need to contribute monetarily, and since I also wanted to raise my own kids… well, writing was something I could do from home.

Seven years later, when we moved to Colorado, I was so discouraged. No one was going to ever buy me. All hope was gone.

This is when I stumbled on a book called Writing Down the Bones. It’s incredibly new agey and silly, but it said one thing “Writing is your practice. Do it as such. Never mind results, just do it every day.”

And that brought me back, as a lifeline from the wastelands of despair.  Which I hit again and again, through my checkered career.

Sometimes it helps to remember the words of PTerry talking about the Chalk Horse, through the mouth of one of his characters “It isn’t what a horse looks like. It is what a horse be.”

In the same way, as the world upends itself and nothing makes sense, as a writing career is … who knows in this strange new world, as my chances of ever being published traditionally again got utterly blighted (Ah, politics again. So nice. What a time to live in, ladies and dragons) and as now I can’t even figure out if there will be a market or what the market will be, I despair, and then I come back.

I’m not what a writer looks like. I am what a writer BE.  And though none of it matters, and myself and my writing will be forgotten ten minutes after I’m dead, there is something there that must be done, a dream that’s too big a part of me to give up.  Because if I do, might as well be dead.  Humans don’t live from bread alone. Some of us are 3/4 dream, and our roots extend somewhere we don’t even understand.

It’s important to keep those roots growing, because they feed all that we are.

I haven’t talked to my friend in almost twenty years.  I hope she found her way to those roots, and that she’s feeding her mind and heart and is whole.

I hope she learned to dance when there’s nothing, but a slow glowing dream.



  1. My dream was to sing professionally, especially opera. That was destroyed, literally, by a very bad choir teacher. She didn’t know what would happen to my voice when I was moved from first soprano to bass (so her pet would quit picking on me. Which was my fault, of course, because I was not her pet). I didn’t know that I’d have been better off dropping choir than trying to force my voice that low. The scars are still audible, and I still have physical pain when I’m not hyper careful.

    My calling? Something with stories and history, especially the history of the land and water. Beyond that I have no idea. I know what satisfies me, what helps other people sometimes.

  2. That’s amazingly sad, I must say. The dancer not allowed to dance anymore.

    I’ve got a Young Relative who is an artist. The kid does art. Incessantly. The Phantom’s biggest problem right now is to make the kid strong like bull so they can find a way to Art their way to victory. Other Young Relative is engineer, has been since age 3. No question.

    This is pretty hard, because The Phantom has gained victory by doing any job that came along, for 40 years. I think my vocation might be warp drive mechanic or ansible wrangler.

      1. Right? You can tell when they start whipping the Lego Bionicle together in five minutes, no instructions. Art kid never did build a Bionicle, instructions or not. But Art Kid spontaneously produced drawings of favorite cartoon characters, whereas Engineer kid produced drafting.

  3. Indie has done wonders for the writing dream. I still wrote before I found out about it, but I had no serious plans for publication. Now? Well, my plans may not qualify as “serious” but at least I can put things up where people could potentially buy it. That’s something.

    I wish there was an equivalent of “going indie” for the sciences. That dream of mine has been slowly dying for a while as I’ve come to accept that I’ll never be a professor and may never again find a job in that area. I can console myself that I made some contributions before I left, and every now and then I get an email notification that “so-and-so has cited your paper on X,” but there was a part of me that died when I cleaned out my desk for good.

    1. In the past a lot of science and math research (including a lot (most?) of the true advances) was not done by professors. Einstein is just the most famous example.

      1. Depends on the period, and what you are looking at.

        Some periods some of the innovators were at least math adjacent enough to be teaching math at a more basic level.

        Some of these histories seem to be written by looking at textbooks. So they might be overemphasizing the professors. I do see mentions of figures like ‘this guy is brilliant, but a poor teacher’, who was appointed a professor, but then left soon because it wasn’t working out. Plus a fair number of ‘the first documented discovery is this guy who could not get any interest in his ideas’.

      2. Oh, yes. I could do some of my research on my own based on free data sites, and I could put the results up on the web, but (a) I couldn’t publish in any of the major journals of my field, given that I don’t have the thousands of dollars that they require in publication fees, and (b) I couldn’t make a living at it.

        1. I don’t know about the journals, but I am seeing more and more books on scientific topics published indie. Things like Stephanie Osborne’s series of non-fiction. Might be worth taking a stab at it? May not scratch all the itch, but may scratch some of it. beyond that… *passes tea and snickerdoodles*

        2. Something about the current system of scientific publication feels vastly unstable to me.

          There’s adding to the body of knowledge in theory, and there is adding in practice. Official narrative is that the currently leading journals are the place to go. But those are expensive to access, and the volume makes finding stuff difficult. The accepted practice is universities buy access, and talking to professors gives you keywords for finding the body of knowledge you need.

          Information on the web has bitrot, and in the journals is only as reliable as the ownership of those journals.

          Consider the retracted Indian paper about human manipulation of the novel corona virus. Is this an example of of expanding the circle of researchers well past just those willing to stick to doing sound work? Harmful Chinese influence causing censorship of the literature?

          If the mechanisms are flawed, this will eventually be noticed, and cause a replacement. Flaws has seemed plausible to interested observers for many years. Is the lay public’s nose being rubbed in it right now?

          I’m very much of the mood “think outside of the box, and work on ways replacement could be made to happen.”

    2. I consider myself fortunate that I went wandering out into the wilds of writing without anyone squashing that interest and inclination. And having a good few years of doing news and spot production as a military professional.
      It was when I actually started putting things out there as a blogger … that readers began saying things like “Hey, this is really good …” and “If I send you some CD media, can you copy these posts to it and post them back to me so that I can read them at home…”

  4. On the plus side, you will be remembered so long as I live.
    On the minus, I’m already 68 years old with medical issues.
    But some of we lot are a good bit younger and have very good memories.
    So, to steal a theme from an old master, writer shape up and write!

  5. I haven’t reconciled my new, more realistic (I think) view of space industrialization with my classic space opera story.

    The short version: Planets suck. They are giant gravity wells that are unlikely to contain anything worth hauling out of that well. We’re not going to build an interstellar vessel (FTL or not) on Earth and launch it from the ground. It will be built in space – mostly from material also from space. This means space industrialization – and a good deal of it since an interstellar vessel is unlikely to be the first thing we build in space. On the other side, a colony is most likely going to start with space infrastructure while they spend a couple centuries terraforming any semi-habitable planet. “Current” state-of-the-art means you don’t want to be living on the planet while that’s happening. Comet impacts, while handy for adding water and adjusting rotation rates, tend to be a bit destructive and polluting.

    This completely breaks my story. I want an interstellar civilization to play with so I can have aliens. A swarm of habitats in cislunar space provide plenty of humans for most stories, but aliens are missing. Someone might swing by, but that’s a different story. Hmm. I might have just solved my problem: Write that one first.

    1. Funny, I’ve been thinking along these lines for a while. If we could figure out how to ‘mine’ Black Holes (that gravitational pressure could lead to creation of many heavy metals, including those that on Earth are rare (hence, Rare Earth Metals), and Dark Matter, life outside of a gravity well might be do-able. If that isn’t feasible, or would take too long, well, there are always asteroids and comets.

      I do think that it would take years before the yearning for a planet existence would fade. It may be inherent in us.

  6. Now me, I started writing when going into word deprivation after being forced to return all my books to the library and get NONE out a WEEK before we went on vacation.

    But I was vaguely aware that what you did when you wrote was publish.

  7. …there is something there that must be done, a dream that’s too big a part of me to give up. Because if I do, might as well be dead.

    Yes. It took me a long time and a lot of searching to find my way to writing. So I’ve done the living while half-dead, and I didn’t like it at all. I’m never going there again. Now that I’ve found writing, I will never allow anything to take it away from me.

  8. hence why i am going to try covers. I know way too much about 3d art to do none of it.

  9. I wanted to be an astronautical engineer, I became one. I wanted to write Sci Fi. Now I am on the shelf I am “too old” so now I’m working on eriting

  10. I always wanted to be a professor. And, now I am and have been for 20 years.. And, I’m leaving that. To write (extremely supportive spouse). I’ve always read and read sci-fi/fantasy and always envied people who were able to create those worlds. But, I was always told, writing is not a way to make a living. My mother gave up photography (which she excelled at) because “that’s not a way to make a living”. So, I’ve created a couple of worlds…and I’m writing them. At 59. As someone once told me, “Jump and the net will appear.” Geronimo!

      1. Trick is, you’ve written fiction before (at least once or twice as I recall…;-) ). I’ve only ever written non-fiction. But, as you say…f*ck it! *runs for edge of cliff*

Comments are closed.