Monday, March 7, 2011

A Brief From My Girlhood

Poetry reading at the ‘brary a couple of weeks ago went really well. The poet, Lightsey Darst, was in the area (from Minnesota) to visit friends of hers who now live in Anniston. Lightsey is a dancer, dance critic, English instructor, and poet. Her first book of poetry, Find the Girl (Coffee House Press), is “A poetic expose of girlhood, obsession, and the CSI industry.” I was very intrigued by this description, and by the cover of the book, which is a grainy photo of caution/crime scene tape. It is a book worth owning, and Lightsey is a poet worth keeping an eye on. She is experimental, and quite fearless. Her reading had a performance art feel to it, and reminded me very much of one of the Merce Cunningham dance pieces (the one choreographed to John Cage’s music) Eric and I saw performed in January. I mentioned thinking this to her and she told me of the time she interviewed Merce Cunningham. She also spoke of the time she saw two of Merce Cunningham’s dancers perform to poetry being read by Anne Carson. How amazing would that be to dance to poetry?

In the meantime, I am prepping for my adult summer dance class here at the GPL. I’ve decided to focus less on traditional ballet (that worked well last summer), and more on world dance. In addition to ballet, we will be covering modern Indian/Hindi dance (Bollywood), Egyptian belly dancing, the Spanish paso doble & flamenco, and Chinese Tai Chi. I am no expert at any of these dances, but I find all of these genres to be very fascinating and beautiful…and I’ve dabbled in them enough to teach and have fun with beginner students. The goal of each class is to learn something new about different forms of dance, to celebrate our differences, and to laugh as much as possible! Life is too short to sweat the small stuff!

Speaking of not sweating the small stuff, I had an interesting conversation with my boss and a coworker last week about just that. In a somewhat circuitous way, we began talking about the mentality of “if I can’t do it right, then I’m just not going to do it.” All three of us are reasonably intelligent people, and all three of us are perfectionists to a certain degree. But clearly, my coworker and my boss are perfectionists in a far different way than I. They do things that they know they can do well, and don’t do things that they don’t do well. They admitted to trying new things that they think they would like to do (painting, sewing, cooking), but when they discover that they are unable to do those things to their perceived standard, they tend to not pursue learning how to do better the thing that they want to do so that they will eventually learn how to do it to their perceived standard. I, on the other hand, do lots of things that I love to do (dance, sew, paint, landscape, cook, write), but that I probably don’t do to perfection. I do get frustrated when I hem a pair of pants wrong (sorry mom), or make a really unpalatable biscuit (sorry Slim, Laura and Kris). But I was encouraged by my mom and dad as a child to not give up when I made mistakes, to keep trying until I learned how to do things right.

My parents’ house is littered with evidence to their crusade to keep me trying. The letter of encouragement that my dad wrote to me on a sheet of my brown tablet paper when I was probably in kindergarten, stating something to the effect that we all have to learn to read and write, how else could he be writing me this letter, and how else could my sister be reading it to me right now. The really bad oil painting I did of a wide-eyed owl perched on a dead branch, in the dead of winter, in the dead of night that my mom STILL insists on leaving hang on the wall behind my dad’s recliner (I had a blue period where I was very prolific in the painting world…of my mind…more on that later)…photos of me as a pudgy child in a purple tutu with a hideous purple bonnet on my head (in an effort to help me build self-confidence and lose weight, my mom enrolled me in dance classes at the age of six…I LOVED dance classes so much that I stuck with it for fourteen years, and even taught dance for many of those years). All of these things (painting, dance, writing, reading) were things that I did not do very well at all when I first started doing them. But my parents always believed in me, and ALWAYS made me feel like my mistakes weren’t really mistakes...they were just signs that I was learning, and that I would get better if I kept at it. It also didn’t hurt that my parents always offered to patronize our hobbies when my sister and I initially embarked upon one. Like the de Medici’s with Michaelangelo, my parents offered to keep me in painting supplies if I would just keep painting. They did the same thing with my dance classes (new point shoes, tights, and costumes whenever I needed them, just KEEP DANCING), with my sewing (any material, buttons, ribbons to help me come one step closer to my dream of winning a 4H first place ribbon…I never came close, not even with my stunning nod to the Kennedy’s of Hyannis Port’s pleated-front Kelly green pants with a baby pink jacket that buttoned up the front with little green alligator buttons), and with my reading (allowing me to read authors and books that my friends were not allowed to read at such a young age…Stephen King, Anne Rice, the occasional bodice-ripper). I learned to learn from my parents. And although I don’t feel like I do any one thing exceptionally well, I enjoy doing the things that I do.

While consolidating the house office the other evening, I found my old mini Boston stapler. This was the stapler I used to staple receipts from the painting sales I made at the art gallery I owned as a child. The gallery was actually our abandoned chicken coop off of the garage, so it wasn’t really mine, but my parents turned it over to me for the sake of my art. I spent many a hot summer’s day with shovel, rake, hammer and nail to make the place opening-night-ready. It didn’t matter that the only guests at the gallery opening were my mom, dad and sister…

In case you haven't read it, here is my Goodreads book review of Lightsey's Find the Girl:
Girls, Girls, Girls. Girls as flowers, blooming into womanhood. Girls as fruits, ripening for consumption. Girls as precious artifacts, waiting impatiently underfoot for someone to discover them, to rescue them, even if it is only their remains that are rescued. Find the Girl, the debut book of poetry by Lightsey Darst, reminds us of our lost girls; the girl who ran away, forever disappearing with her red lips, swinging braids and lunchbox. Or the girl who was taken, snatched by a predator who loved and dreamed her best. Find the Girl…the girl’s name is familiar from our childhood story books, our newspaper headlines, our high school history lectures: Gretel, Helen of Troy, Snow White, JonBenet, Yde Girl, and the Greek Koré. The more venerable girls, beribboned and red fruits to be opened by the Ripper’s knife, go by the names Annie, Liz, Kate, and Mary.

Lightsy’s poems, tucked behind the caution tape, are cautionary (“we escape someone doesn’t/ life for ours”), and remind us of girlhood fears still fresh in our memories (“what’s the worst that can happen”). The final and lasting words of the girl that didn’t get away: “I wish the earth bare myself a throat & nails only so that/ you might hear this, I might dig myself screaming/ free from the moss and the grapevine over me & my call/yes heard though miles away & through a young girl’s fever dream.”

1 comment:

lauri said...

I love this child.