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.