Life With Horace

poetry & essays

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a creative mother, or how I learned to love dance again

Mom once said that one of Martha Graham’s dancers was awful to her husband and little boy, but when one saw her on stage none of that mattered any more. Of course my teenage psyche salted that one away to use later and say “see?”.

Sitting down I was all set to do a “meaningful”, plaintive post about my mother, and life with a parent whose art was in many ways more important to her than her children. Turns out it doesn’t matter as much as it used to, because, along with having a self-absorbed modern dancer mom, I also had an artist mom who painted zoo animals, including a never-forgotten giraffe, all over our Colorado Springs bathroom walls.

I had a mom who continued to learn and grow and create well into her eighties. I had a mom who regained a love life in her sixties after a long drought, meeting a wonderful man who was her partner for almost twenty years, who took photos while she sketched, was her personal “sag wagon” driver on the many Cross Minnesota MS Bike Rides she did, and who showed her she could open up again.

I had a mom who morphed from a modern dance teacher and choreographer into a fitness visionary and advocate for homebound seniors in the Twin Cities. I had a mom who loved me, but couldn’t always show it.

No turnaround happens all at once. There was my culture writer friend Susan who got tickets to everything cultural in Washington, DC. She loved to take friends with her for birthday presents. One year she took me to the Trocks, aka Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

We watched this all male dance troupe perform technically brilliant and hilarious parodies of ballet and modern dance. Re-imagining Pavlova’s “dying Swan” with molting feathers. A hysterical Dance of The Little Swans. Side-splitting send ups of Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Doris Humphrey.

I also realized that I knew what I was watching, understood the parody, appreciated the incredible technique and elegance of those men en pointe. All of it a gift from my mom. Life changing.

I also began to grow up. Not to the point of losing the wonder and delight I cherish in myself. More along the lines of figuring things out, coming to terms with a parent’s humanity and limitations, acknowledging her often ill-expressed love. And simply moving on, putting things I now understood better and no longer feared behind me.

With gobs of emotional dreck hoovered away, the closet cleaner and tidier, some shelves empty (isn’t that a lovely thought), I’m busy filling things up again. I had no clue that I needed to do this. That the best new stuff(ing) would be my own. That I would go on a creative bender of sorts that shows no sign of slowing down.

It helps to be ready to be open. There’s an understatement. Six years ago life took a powerful turn. I joined a virtual creative group, and cannonballed into the deep end with little idea of what I was doing. I still find myself zooming about, trying things that look interesting or challenging. At first I wasn’t sure I could do more than one thing at a time. Now I know the answer is Yes. Of course. The wonderful thing about open thought and its life partner creativity, is that they take up so much less room, feeding the spirit instead of diminishing it.

Best of all, they are infinitely renewable.

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no goodbyes, really

This weekend almost didn’t happen for me because my Newfie was barfing. Fearful of leaving her with some malady that might not turn out well, I stuck around, even unpacked a bit, convinced that she was in a bad way. My very practical husband called, once back in cell phone range (up here that’s an iffy thing) and basically booted me out the door. Go, he said. I’m coming home and will keep an eye on Aggie, he said. No news… he said. Yeah, so I threw everything together again and bolted, muttering thankful prayers for common sense.

The drive to the other side of the Green Mountains from here is always beautiful, even with end of summer tourists milling about in the rain. Coming down into Manchester, Mount Equinox loomed in the mist. I love the immediacy of those mountains. Boom, there they are, looming up right away in your face. I live at the foot of a mountain, a big rocky much climbed hulk, but the outward slope of its arms give it some visual distance.

Once through Dorset, with its Inn and history and everything painted white, the road comes out in a valley that I love because it’s “not”. It’s not fancy, it feels like Columbia County, NY. There are working farms, ramshackle barns, unpruned trees, beautiful old houses.

Of course I’m looking at all this wonderful stuff whizzing by as I’m trying not to go 80 miles an hour, to get to meet friends and kindred spirits I’ve mostly never met. The word lemming comes to mind and I dismiss it. This will be a gathering of a clan. Really. A clan of creative, gifted group of wannabe pirates with a wacky sense of humor who have come together because of the opportunity given us by a man with a vision.

Before you start hearing music from the Outer Limits (although if we were to form a rock group that would be a great name), no brain washing, no personal freedoms were harmed in the making of this story. Jon Katz is an author with a huge following, both in print and in the cyber world. He had the idea to form a creative group using the framework of facebook three months ago. A simple enough concept.

The result (after some necessary growing pains and identity consolidation) has been a miracle. That’s how I think of it. Like he came along and opened up a worm hole into a new place, a safe place to create and express and fall flat on your face, and get wonderful feedback from the rest of the Ministry of Encouragement, as he calls it. Or Jon and the Pirates.

So I got to the weekend’s “opener”, at the home of one of the Group, a beautiful place on a hill with sloping fields and horses, a couple of hours late but not too late. Getting out of the car I felt like jumping up and down with excitement with a good dose of bashful thrown in. You gotta realize that I skipped my 50th high school reunion this summer because, hell, I hadn’t managed to lose the 50 pounds of f*-you weight I was convinced was necessary to show up. Not this time! This was about who we are, everything that makes us the talented, caring members of something unique. I had brought Me there. That’s what mattered,

The rest of the time on the other side of the mountains was all I hoped it would be, from the cookout on Saturday night, to staying with a group member and her wonderful family, to the Open House at Jon and Maria’s farm yesterday. We all gradually met each other (are you an Open Grouper?) and passed each new acquaintance along to the rest. Names turned into people who were as interesting and open in person they were in the ether. Conversation flowed, more stories told, hugs exchanged, delight in one another’s company was evident. As we shared the day’s experiences, I was aware of a strong spiritual current flowing. The Farm is a special place, created by the love and energy of two remarkable people.

By the time we gathered in front of the barn for group shots, the connection was pretty palpable. Standing there I had the strongest feeling of linkage to everyone. While I joked about this feeling like the group shot at the end of A League of Their Own, and “there’s no crying in baseball” was bandied about, I felt replete, peaceful, my soul satisfied. What Jon had started was the real deal.

On the way home, guzzling down as much seltzer as I could after the day’s heat, I felt tired and jubilant and exhilarated. Taking a more southerly route back over the mountains, following some powerful rain storms as I went, it did not surprise me to see multiple rainbows over the valley mists and green of the mountain tops. Only fitting I thought, to mark our day. Sitting here this morning letting the words flow and telling my story, it hits me that I felt no great sense of parting, of regretful goodbyes yesterday. I’m pretty certain that’s because I know everyone is right here, in the group, flowing on. And Aggie is just fine.