Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Blood, Sweat, and Tears: A Panegyric

This post is dedicated to some of the hardest-working people I know and some of my dearest friends: my fellow dancers.  Yes, we are amateurs, but we are also passionate about ballet, and particularly during rehearsal season it often feels as if we live at the studio.  From the days when you feel light as a feather, to the evenings you can hardly move, to the nights when you've danced so long that your brain starts bouncing around like a drunken circus spend it all with the same people, and in the end they come to know you in a way few other people can.  There is a bond which grows when you've sweated and laughed and cried and bled side by side with someone.  For me, I always feel that with those people I hold no secrets.  I mean, there may be details about events in my life they don't know about, but of myself, my intrinsic me-ness, there is nothing hidden.  They've seen me at my worst and at my best.  My friend Jocelyn and I used to say that you had to be yourself in class because it is impossible to hide anything under those clothes.  I believe that statement began in a physical sense, in reference to some people's use of padding on certain parts of the anatomy, but it works in the psychological sense as well. :-)

Martha Graham said that "movement never lies" and I've found that to be true.  You can lie to yourself and others, but it is your body that gives you away.  Everybody can feel this, in a blush, in goosebumps, in hands that shake when the mind is gripped by fear.  In a dancer this is magnified.  You cannot sit on your hands to hide the shaking.  You must use your hands, your arms, your legs, every part of you, and in doing so you bare your soul to the audience. If you try to hide it, half your energy will be spent in the hiding and much of the beauty will be lost.

After a time you just love it.  Sometimes you can't remember why, but you don't want to be anywhere else.  And there is always that moment.  The dance is finished, your heart is racing, you've completed the last step, and there is a moment of silence before the audience begins to applaud.  All the best parts of living are contained in that moment.  You've fought, you've sacrificed, and now you've won.

So I would like to raise a glass to some amazing fellow dancers, past and present, and to our incredible (and incredibly demanding) teacher, Ann Marie Benedict.  Here's to another year of striving for an unachievable perfection; another year of blood, sweat, and tears; another year of camaraderie and laughter.  Here's to life, and dance.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

IWU Cookbook

Apparently I am making up for my recent spell of silence on this blog.  I suppose it is a good thing...the making up, not the silence.  I didn't have room in my somewhat lengthy post yesterday to inform the world at large (or rather the world at small, since seventeen followers can hardly be called "large") about a project I've recently become involved with through an awesome group of people known as Indie Writers Unite.  The founder of this mutual encouragement society, Cheryl Bradshaw, has been putting together a cookbook, featuring a number of members, their books, and tasty recipes.  It should be available later this month on Kindle and in paperback form, and it features my recipe for Lemon Syllabub with Raspberries.

The usual question people will ask themselves between these two paragraphs is, "What on earth is Syllabub?"  To them I say, "Syllabub is heaven in a parfait glass" and then I smile mischievously and tell them to buy the cookbook.  As an added bonus, half the proceeds go to UNICEF, so in buying it you're supporting children in need and filling your bellies besides.  And that is my sales pitch.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Question of Intent

First of all, Ashford is free on Kindle today.  Happy Friday the thirteenth!

Lately I have started writing study guides for a curriculum program.  It's a great side job, as I get to reread some of my favorite children's classics (and young adult) and write about them.  The study guides focus on story structure, character, theme, literary devices, etc...

One thing that constantly comes up is the question of symbolism, and for every children's classic written there are hundreds of people willing to tell you all about what the author intended in that department.  My most recent experience was with The Velveteen Rabbit, and I heard so many different ideas concerning the possibly symbolic nature of certain passages (even one claiming that the fact that Skin Horse and the Rabbit are made Real but the mechanical toys are not is symbolic of salvation not being for everyone) that it boggled the mind.

In study guides, certainly, the question is always, "what did the author intend?" and you go from there.  And that brings me to Tolkien.

I must confess, I am a Tolkien nerd.  Always have been, since I was old enough to read the books the first time, and always will be, until I'm blind and senile.  Twice in the last year I have been present at writing-related seminars or workshops where statements were made, as fact, concerning Tolkien's supposed intent of comparing Sauron to Hitler, Mordor to Nazi Germany, etc...  Both were phrased as, "Tolkien created Mordor to represent..."  This bothers me extremely, because Tolkien stated very clearly in his lifetime that he intended no such comparison.  In the preface to the (I believe second) edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, he says:

"As for any inner meaning or "message", it has in the intention of the author none.  It is neither allegorical nor topical.  As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches; but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit.  The crucial chapter, "The Shadow of the Past", is one of the oldest parts of the tale.  It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted.  Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels.

"The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion.  If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied.  Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth.  In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.
"Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference.  But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.  I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.  I think that many confuse "applicability" with "allegory"; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."

That seems fairly definite.

Of course, a good, well-concieved and well-written book will present different ideas to each person who reads it.  Some will agree with the author and some won't.  That is how it should be, and I'm thoroughly honored by anyone who sees my work as relevant to their life in a particular way.  Just don't say I wrote it to say exactly that...because I probably didn't.  Thus the "applicability" vs. "allegory" reasoning.  Thank you Tolkien.