Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting the Friday Fictioneers, a group of writers who gather to compose a 100-word story based on a photo prompt. This week’s photo was brought to us bySandra Crook.Sandra, thanks for the inspiration.
When I look at a sewing machine, I think of costumes. My story is a tribute to all the costume makers out there. They work hard and, of course, there’s always drama!
A Day in the Life of a Ballet Seamstress
Reza didn’t look up as she pumped the foot plate of her sewing machine.
Marilyn entered with a notebook pressed to her chest, “Alain wants the birds blue, not green, and not so shiny.”
“So, we’ll throw some powder on them,” Reza said, and then squinted at her.
In the corner, a sea of tulle swallowed Liliana’s tiny frame. Her tutu hung on her like a potato sack. “What happened to my costume!”
“Again! Just eat already,” Reza said.
Liliana erupted, her body shaking with tears, and dropped her head on Reza’s shoulder.
I figure Sunday is as good as any day for a story! I have a quick confession. Somehow I thought I saw the prompt come up in my Reader, thinking it was this other, older one we had before and I wrote a new story (for a prompt used before!). Maybe because it was Friday the 13th?! I don’t have a good reason. I mixed myself up.
And, I took this prompt to be a theater. But here’s my story anyway.
From behind creaky doors to the spotlight down to the pit of darkness, theaters hold a history all their own. Gossip, rumors, it’s all part of the show. The final review is the truth whispered in the wings.
Like the one about the dancer who languished in the back row, her arms like lead, her head drooping, a flower wilting past her prime. Except she burst; spinning in front of the star with such speed and bravado, she flew into the orchestra, toppling the cellist and his instrument.
Her abrupt entrance was their exit and they left hand-in-hand, stars of their own show.
Please visit the linkup for more stories from Fictioneers who know what they’re doing. 🙂
The latest Writer’s Digest July/August issue focuses on creativity. I’m all ears when it comes to learning about the creative process. It’s something I take to heart, believing more often it’s the journey and not the final destination that counts. That sentiment applies to so many things in life, whether it be professional or personal, a hobby or a serious endeavor. How you get there is every bit as fascinating as the final product.
The article, “Creative Under Pressure: How to Write Yourself Out of a Corner,” by Steven James mentioned that people tend to pursue creativity with the brainstorming approach. He suggests that really your first step should be just the opposite.
Although it may sound counterintuitive, the first step is limiting yourself.
After reading this quote, instantly I had flashbacks to a dance workshop I attended decades ago with the late modern dance pioneer Bella Lewitsky (1916-2004).
Below are a few postcards that accompanied the workshop mailings.
I could do these poses, so let me into the company already:
I had dreamed of being in her dance company and here I was in the same room with her and her dancers, awestruck. Let me just pause to say my hamstrings had never felt so long and stretched as they did after taking her class. It was amazing. I felt like I had jumped into someone’s else’s body.
After the workshop audition, I learned I was placed in the intermediate technique class, but had also achieved a spot in the advanced composition class, taught by none other than Ms. Lewitsky herself. Of course, I fretted about being in the intermediate class, focusing on how I could possibly ever achieve a spot in her company if I was only in the intermediate technique class. I think I even cried about it.
Still, I was in the advanced choreography class and knew what a honor it was to learn from a true master. It was a smallish class of only fifteen students in a beautiful, spacious studio. Bella Lewitsky gathered us around on the first day to talk about our goal for the class. First, she told us, “Structure is what gives you freedom.” It’s as if, she went on to say, your dance is a problem that must be solved.
That problem and the structure she provided for us was to focus on these three things and these three things only:
spiral, run, fall
Yeah. For the next two weeks from 3:00-6:00 pm (that’s three hours!), we explored these three items. I remember you could hear a pin drop, the concentration in the room was so intense.
You may be saying to yourself, I get what it means to run and fall, but how do you spiral? A spiral looks exactly as you think it does. See here:
In the Universe:
I’m sure you’ll be seeing spirals all over the place now, right?
My “problem” in my dance composition workshop class was to turn this spiral into movement, as well as the other isolated ideas of “fall” and “run” however I could, however I felt inspired, however I was moved to move.
You might ask yourself, “Could you spiral with a coat? Could you, would you, spiral on a boat?” Allow me to elaborate. I asked these questions and more:
Can you spiral your hand? Your head? How about on one leg? Add some movement. Why don’t you spiral as you walk. Will you make it fast? Slow? Slow motion? Can you do two spirals in a row, crawling?
And if you were to connect it to a fall, how will you fall if you are on the floor crawling? And, if you do manage it, will you fall on your nose or on your head? Can you spiral from your head while positioned on the floor?
Do you see the depth of this problem? Is it becoming any clearer?
Run…how many different ways do you think you are capable of running? Fast, slow, sideways, byways, upside down ways, on your knees or just your hands. Help me understand.
Will you run in a spiral into a fall?
You can always change the order of things. You decide. You can make it spiral, run, fall, three times together or make it a pattern, run, run, fall, fall, spiral. Repeat. Run, fall, spiral, fall, fall. Repeat. Now repeat it many more times. The choices are yours to make in this dance of yours. Make it your own.
But, don’t think too hard. You get dizzy if you think about this too much. Do you see that even in the small confines of these isolated ideas that the possibilities, when brought together, are endless? When you exhaust all the possibilities, what you keep is what is most pure; what does the best job at solving the problem.
Ms. Lewitsky watched us the entire time, and occasionally offered a suggestion to us. I was always grateful; her suggestions always made sense somehow. She saw through your madness. Occasionally, we all gathered for an informal showing of our work. You knew when it was your turn; it was scheduled, although this didn’t necessarily mean you made more progress in time for your showing. We offered our critique and learned from each other how to improve whatever it was we were trying to express (i.e., we may not have known exactly what we were actually doing, just that we weren’t satisfied with it). From time-to-time, in the quiet of the studio while we worked, we would shake our heads at each other in exasperation. There was no music or sound save for our grunting and thrashing on the floor.
At the end of the two weeks, each of us performed our solo choreographic pieces. My family came to view the results; hopefully, they watched. I remember falling a lot, intended or not. Just kidding. I made serious choices, and in the end, I was more than happy with my piece, having exhausted everything until my choices fit together as they should. Because they weren’t forced, the pieces came together in the most organic way.
When we put a structure in place, indeed, these two things happen, as the Writer’s Digest article states:
First, you begin to truly notice what has been right in front of you the whole time.
Second, you free your mind to make connections that you hadn’t at first realized were there.
I can very easily relate my dance composition experience to my writing. I know that if I’ve written myself into a corner, it might be exactly the place I need to be to find that hidden gem, that twist, that a reader won’t see coming. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If I’m surprised, chances are, my reader will be too.
I’ll tell you one thing. I’ve never looked at spirals in the same way.
I’ve always loved this quote. I came across it while going through some of my dad’s boxes. He had been a teacher, so it made me laugh. I think this quote applies in many areas of my life, but I really found this to true when I stood before a classroom of thirty small children with very busy mouths. Gaining control of the classroom meant not letting them see you sweat. Later, when I taught dance, I had the same jolting realization. I could do the steps; teaching them was something altogether different.
But really it’s simply this. If you believe, they will believe. No matter what you do, just do it with conviction.
Of course, as writers, it’s our job to convince, persuade, and make it all up all the time! Personally, I think that’s what I like about it.
How does this quote apply to your life? Does anything stand out as a time when you had to “wing it”?
Here’s my list for the Love/Hate challenge you may have seen going around the blogosphere. After reading Mark’s list on his blog Exile on Pain Street, I felt this rush to write a list of my own and here it is. I wasn’t tagged nor am I going to tag anyone, but if you want to jump in and write one, I’ll certainly read it.
I didn’t think that I “hated” anything, because it can be such a strong, negative, unhealthy emotion. But, I found out I do really hate some things, and some of these things are, of course, of a lesser degree of “hate.”
I also didn’t censor myself too much, and realize that I if I wrote this list at a different point in my life, it may be an altogether different list. Here’s what is today. Read on.
I love curling up with a book I can’t put down.
I love dancing around my house for no apparent reason to my favorite music or to no music at all.
I love fits of laughter when tears are streaming down my cheeks, and I’ve laughed so hard I forget what I’m laughing about. This usually happens with my sisters.
I love watching my children sleep, their gentle breathing and their soft snores; they seem like angelic, peaceful creatures from beyond.
I love that my husband still desires me after twenty-five years.
I love great conversation over a delicious meal and bountiful amounts of wine.
I love coffee, the smell, the taste, and knowing it awaits me (on most days) in the morning.
I love when I absolutely forget about time; when I am so immersed in something I’m not aware of it passing; I’m particularly happy when this happens when I’m creating something I feel passionate about.
I love the kind of peace I feel after swimming in the ocean, the rush of the waves, and the taste of salt or after a good yoga workout lying in the corpse pose; I feel cleansed and relaxed.
I love Mark’s post from Exile on Pain Street – the inspiration for this post – just read it! You’ll see. I’ll add, I love being inspired.
I hate insomnia and waking up tired, and knowing I will be tired all day.
I hate when I worry, especially about money.
I hate boring jobs. It’s not a case of only boring people get bored, which is what I typically say about boredom. A boring job feels like prison.
I hate poverty, hunger and cancer with a capital H.
I hate crystal meth and that it almost killed my brother.
I hate my smart phone. It’s destroying humanity. No, I love my smart phone. The Internet at my fingertips. No, I hate my smart phone. I love my smart phone. Hate. Love. Clearly, this is a love/hate relationship.
I hate it when my Internet breaks down!
I hate getting older. I still feel like I’m in my twenties. Sort of. But I’m not.
When I was small, I danced for hours in the foyer of my house. Most of the house was carpeted, including the kitchen and two bathrooms, but not in this white square speckled with black dots. It was years before tile would replace some of that carpet. In the meantime, that 12 x 12 square feet of space was all I ever needed.
I danced for hours in solitude in this square, and into the space extending into the living room, twirling, composing, tapping, pretending, the music my guide. The music was enchanting. I don’t know where it came it from, what it was called or where it went. It seemed to disappear from my life. I never bothered to know what that music was; I never needed to know. I’ve never heard it since, but I would know if I were ever to hear it again. Still, the memory of it is faint in my head.
I can hear the piano, but it wasn’t necessarily classical. It was scratchy, schmultzy, waltzy, melodic and ethereal. If I had to place it, I’d say it’s the kind of music you might hear in a Parisian cafe with a river running through it. Although that doesn’t describe it at all. The music breathed steps to me and I listened. I danced like no one was watching, because no one was.
My parents had thrown big pool parties back then with lots of activity and drunkenness. They were great fun. After dinner, my mother might lightly encourage me to perform a dance. I was painfully shy, but I was taking lessons, so sometimes I gave it a go.
I might perform for a few moments, looking down at the floor, horrified with all the smiling, googly-eyes on me and the expectation to entertain my drunken audience. I knew my mother would be happy with anything I did. Still, so serious, I would make a feeble attempt and run away. The girl who had once danced with not a care in the world was nowhere.
My childhood dream to dance the Arabian role in The Nutcracker became a reality, marked by tears; I cried before and after the performance because my shoes were too tight and I was too young to know better. My poor prince. He didn’t know what to make of it all.
In college, I danced and I wrote. I was an English major, taking all the technique classes for dance majors. I had the load of a double major, easily. In one modern dance class, we were graced with the presence of a teacher who had been a former dancer with the renowned José Limón Dance Company. We all wanted to impress her. One day, she stopped the pianist and told all the dancers in the room to take their hair down. Astonished, we complied willingly; taking out our ponies, our pins, and our bobbies.
“Try it again,” she said, motioning us to dance the combination across the floor.
You might think it was a moment of bliss, a group of serious dancers in a very serious class asked to dance with their hair down. Not so. Perhaps because I felt it should be this magical moment that I should let loose and dance like the wind, I felt caught instead: first, by my hair in my face and my worry that I might run into a fellow, untamed dancer; second, that I should feel so moved by the permission to be free that my steps would now be executed to my teacher’s satisfaction.
After going across the floor again and again, the energy in the room changed. Sure, we still tried to dance the steps, but a strange thing happened.
Letting our hair down wasn’t an invitation to wildness as it turned out. I found myself turning inward, and I felt all the energy in the room becoming more internalized. We weren’t dancing for her anymore; we were dancing for ourselves. We were still dancing her steps. The difference was exploring what those steps meant.
I asked myself what did I have to say with those steps and why should anyone care? How could I make those steps translate what I felt, because if they didn’t mean anything to me, they sure as hell wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else.
I needed to find the little girl underneath, tapping to her heart’s delight in the foyer to that enchanted music not heard since. Where is she? How can I find her? She was buried deep under layers of indecision, doubt, bad decisions, insecurity, and criticism.
Dancers’ steps are more than a strand of movements committed to muscle memory. Their bodies respond to music. Steps flow through them so that they don’t look like steps anymore, and they’re not. Their movement comes from a deeper place, from a reservoir of time and patience, of knowing their limits and how far they can fly; it’s a combination of concentration and abandon, of technical finesse blended with emotional physicality. It’s what I strove for, but was lucky to feel at all.
Watching an accomplished dancer is a glorious thing. If you’ve never done it, I highly recommend it. It is artistic expression beyond oneself; it touches an audience’s sensibilities and resides in their minds to be recalled long after the experience is over.
Answers you seek, the purpose for your steps, they must come from within. Living with myself all these years has taught me to accept my shortcomings, and I’ve learned I have something to give. That inner child once buried deep is not so deep anymore. She sits beside me now and reminds me she’s still here. The invitation to dance is always open.