Prom, 1984

In 1984, I was a senior in high school, and prom was looming on the horizon.  Yes, I was planning to go to college (at least until my mom suggested in frustration that I stay home, marry Terry, and have babies, but that is a story for another day), and I was working hard in school.  But, prom was prom.

I am one of those people who now shakes her head, and makes tsk noises when the cost of prom dresses and transportation becomes part of the conversation.  I am admittedly judgmental about the trappings of such an outmoded, clearly patriarchal establishment; and yet when it was my turn, and when I was 17, I bought wholesale into the rhetoric and hoopla.

With chagrin, I admit that I attended three proms my senior year; however, in an act of thriftiness, I did wear the same dress to all three proms.  Why not make the most of the outrageous cost of the dress?

I do remember shopping for the coveted prom dress with my mom at J. C. Penny in Ford City Shopping Mall.  My mom and I scoured the racks.  She was the one who selected the black taffeta dress with the pink rosette trim. When I think of it now, it seems ridiculous. How on earth could such a thing be attractive?

I remember trying on some dresses — rejecting the entirely pink dresses — and finally settling on this one.  It seemed a victory; the dress was something my mom and I agreed upon, a rarity in the days leading to my high school graduation. It was also on sale! I remember that some girlfriends bought prom dresses at bridal shops, and they paid much more dearly than I for the swath of taffeta adorning their frames.

The prom dress, for me, symbolizes the contradictions of youth.  I was fiercely independent as a high school student, obnoxious in my rebellion, certain of my righteousness–a firm believer in ERA, a fighter for women’s rights.  Yet, in this moment of narrowly defined entrance into womanhood, I was like crusader, galloping to my certain doom, assured in my heart of the adventure that lay ahead.  I participated in the activities of prom as if they were normal.  I acquiesced to the rituals of teenage romantic notions.

I am not blaming myself, nor my mother, but rather am reminded of the story  and meaning behind my dress. The connection to my mom,  in those hours of searching, brought us into a union that was not easily achieved for most of my senior year. We were on the same page for once.  We wanted a bargain, a dress that could withstand a few wearings, something lasting, something that we would remember.

Too bad I no longer have the dress — it would be vintage by now.

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Personal Art: Patti Smith’s Just Kids

booksI finished Patti Smith’s Just Kids late last night.  For a poet, Smith’s prose was decidedly banal, and though I admire her premise — a coming of age/muse and artist/love and friendship story — the memoir read more like a who’s who of rock n’ roll, art high society, and fashion than a heartfelt and inspiring tale of following one’s dreams.  I admire Smith and her work, and though I don’t know much about Robert Mapplethorpe (and oddly, feel that I still don’t, even after reading Smith’s memoir of her relationship with him), but wonder if Smith could have infused her memoir with more of what makes her tick.

Smith notes often the hunger, real and symbolic,  she and Mapplethorpe felt, the odd jobs that kept them going, two young kids newly arrived in New York City, desirous only of making art–being true to their work. Smith held many odd jobs to support herself and Mapplethorpe, but her move from bookstore shop girl to rock n’ roll band leader seemed quick, even without effort.  I am sure that Smith’s gradual coming in to her own, her creation of her poetry, and her development of her musical side, took time, but it seemed to happen almost overnight in the memoir.  Perhaps the rise did seem to Smith instantaneous, or miraculous, and thus her rendition that made the climb seem insignificant. Smith and Mapplethorpe shared an intense and profound love, and  a mutual support of one another’s artistic development, but without the poignant ending of the book, I might not have fully appreciated that relationship.  As Smith recounts Mapplethorpe’s death, she narrates a tragic story of loss for a generation of young men who succumbed to the horrors of AIDS. It is then that she seems to reveal more about her profound connection to Mapplethorpe.

My belief in artists, whether they are photographers, painters, poets, or musicians (or all of the above), to help the rest of us be centered, connected, and rooted in what is meaningful,  might be unrealistic.  I wanted not Smith’s list of who she saw and talked to each time she entered The Chelsea Hotel or Max’s Restaurant, but the story of the relationships and struggles that brought her to the poetry, the story of the inspiration from other artists.  To her credit, she does note that Jimi Hendrix inspired her, and that she recorded her first album in his studio, but beyond Hendrix as cultural icon, I was uncertain that Smith had much more relationship to him that I have — that is to say, not much. I suppose if I wanted to read her poetry, I should buy her collections of poems.  I wanted more of her creativity in the memoir than was offered.  What I got was name dropping, as JY noted, and a meticulously detailed description of what she and Mapplethorpe wore.  What relevance this had to her life, or to the story she wanted to tell, is debatable.

When I finished the book, I was dismayed that Smith did not live up to my expectations, and maybe that is not her fault, but rather my mistake.  Maybe I am guilty of the very trap that I warn my students about when we study history.  Our heroes and role models, the people we look to for inspiration, are only human, after all, and we have to see them for who they are as three dimensional people, not who we hope them to be.  Perhaps the banality of Smith’s story shows some of the mundane aspects of her life in New York as a young artist seeking meaning–the daily trek to work, the grind of city living.  The trouble, even with this interpretation, is that what she seems to be looking for is the right connection with the right famous person, the open door, that will allow her to express her work to a larger audience.  Even though what artists like Smith seem to express is not about commercial success, she and Mapplethorpe were seemingly drawn to the “right places” with the right people.

pattismithSmith does mention a few times that she was often misread — directors thought she was a lesbian and drug user and she was neither.  Because she dressed androgynously, she was misunderstood.  Perhaps Smith’s focus on her wardrobe illustrates how all of us perform various roles — we express our gender and sexuality by our choices about dress.  Maybe Smith’s focus on what she was wearing acknowledges this performance — that all aspects of how we present ourselves to others is performance.  Just as Mapplethorpe pushed the boundaries of art with images that crossed dangerous sexually demarcated lines, Smith was on the path to question other divisions of life in the 70s, and maybe dress was part of her performance.

What I do appreciate about Smith’s narrative is the insight into the world of the late 60s and early 70s music and art scene in New York, the intensity of the creative moment there, and the response to world events.  What I struggled with was the purported commitment to making art, but sometimes without the connection to its purpose in the world.  In this time of great protest and cultural shifts, Smith barely seems to acknowledge that as an impetus for creative output. Art, perhaps for her, is much more personal than political.

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The face of determination

Monkey Man heads to kindergarten in the fall, a year behind his sister and his chronological mates.  It was a decision that seemed right given his physical challenges.  In some ways, though, it does seems strange to hold him back from first grade, as EE says, “He can read, but he can’t pull up his own pants, so he has to stay in kindergarten.”  It is true that Monkey Man was an early reader, and he has become even more able.  It isn’t that he reads War and Peace or anything — more like Mutant Ninja Turtle comic books and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales – but he is reading. 

Despite the physical challenge of pulling up his pants with one working arm, Monkey Man often amazes me when it comes to facing obstacles with undaunted courage.  In particular, Monkey Man has become interested in running, something that he does quite slowly and a bit awkwardly.  However, he does not stop.  On the track with his dad, Monkey Man runs four laps, or a mile, staying in his lane.

Monkey Man imitated “running” on the treadmill recently at his physical therapy session.

Monkey Man’s most challenging run was at the Tryon Farms 50K/10K/5K and kids race.  He gamely set off with the other kids, hopping over giant weeds, negotiating forest and prairie trails. I was working the finish line for the race, and when the adult who led the kids off on the 3/4 mile run came back, with most of the other kids, but without Monkey Man, I began to worry.  Could he be down in the field?  Did he get lost on the trail, which was, to say the least, not well-marked.  I followed the course backwards to see if I could intercept him, and when I finally found him about a quarter of a mile away, he was tromping through tall prairie grasses that reached over his head.  I asked him if he needed help, and if I should stay with him.  His answer, “No, Mommy, I can do it by myself.”   Monkey Man finished the race on his own.  When he came across the line, to much cheering and shouting of the spectating crowd, I had tears in my eyes.  For a kid with the physical challenges he faces, including poor eyesight, his was the face of determination and fortitude grinning with pride across that finish line.

Since I did not manage to get a picture of the finish line, I found one instead of Monkey Man, using two hands on his mower, helping his dad. Another of his favorite physical activities.

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When Monkey Man attended his first PE class late in the spring (as a trial run with the other nursery kids soon to be kindergarten kids), he responded, “PE is easy; you just have to listen to the teacher and then do what she says.”   His teachers had worried about how Monkey Man would navigate the challenge of PE next year, so this was a good sign.  Even Gorilla Girl noted that PE might be hard for Monkey Man since he has only one working arm, and sometimes they have to do things, like push ups, with two.  After watching with awe as Monkey Man finished the Tryon kids race, I know he will find his way.

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Reflection on one year of yoga

Just about a year ago, I attended my first yoga class.  I did not really know what to expect, but as a long time runner and cyclist, felt like I could handle whatever challenge was thrown at me.  I did not realize, or even expect, that yoga would not only stretch me physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Maybe that sounds corny, but it is certainly true that while yoga has changed me, its benefits sometimes seem less sustained that I would hope.  This must be an indication that I need to focus on the practice more consistently while also bringing the lessons of the mat to my life.

meditation-poseMy first yoga class was in Three Oaks, at the  Yoga Glow Studio. I did my best to follow the instructions of the teacher who was attentive and patient with me, a new student.  I learned fairly quickly  to respond to the physical cues, and as someone who has some experience with physical demands, I was able to at least be in tune with my body in order to move it in subtle ways. However, the emotional, spiritual, and mental aspect of yoga pushed my boundaries and expectations. Yoga has challenged me to quiet the self-doubt, the noise of every day demands, and the stress of daily life.

I remember a class several months ago that brought me to tears, not because of the physical demands, but rather because the meditation at the end of class forced me to contemplate loss — but from a new perspective.  I thought about how my own experience of loss seems so infinitesimal in the scheme of the universe.  I wondered how I could not be incredibly thankful for the gifts I have been given, for the the opportunity to feel such loss must, in its essence, mean that I have experienced abundance.  Making peace with the present and the now has been my dedication at many classes.  Often, I offer my experience to my family, to seeking confidence, patience, and charity.

In my life away from yoga, I wonder, though, how my dedication works out in the real world of demands — work, family, children.  While I am sitting on my mat, in meditation, dedicating the practice, I feel confident that I will carry that feeling with me all day, and all week, even. However, I know that I fail to bring that with me too many times.  Yoga is making me aware of the distance I have to travel to carry that feeling of peace beyond the mat. I can hope that the work on the mat gives me more reserves for the moments in life  that challenge me.  I know I have a long way to go — that yoga is a process or a road to be on, rather than a destination.

I have also had a couple of months this year when I was not practicing yoga regularly.  I did notice that I was less patient, less resilient, less giving.  I suppose a part of me has always been aware of the connection between the physical and the mental, and my time as a runner has reinforced the positive benefits of exercise.  Yoga is more than just physical exercise, however. The community of practitioners are committed to the philosophy behind the practice, and the conversations I’ve had after class indicate a kinship that exists among those who support each other’s goals both on and off the mat.

Practicing yoga means taking action, but it also means accepting, and letting go — of the negative energy that clouds authentic relationships.  I am trying to work on letting go of that negative force, and I know from reading about those who spend a lifetime in practice that I have much to learn, much to develop.  Yoga has given me a road with many pathways to explore.  I have to be sure to keep focused on putting one foot in front of the other on the road, being patient, being open to the gradual transformation that yoga promises, especially in the moments of letting go.

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Whoa, there!

1017634_10100499644645121_880295589_nNot to be redundant, but Gorilla Girl is amazing.  She has been interested in horses and riding them for a few years now, perhaps because two of her cousins ride, and has been astride a horse only a couple of times previous to Monday.

1013399_10100499616566391_494471862_nGorilla Girl’s first lesson at Spring Creek Equestrian Center was a definite success.  Gorilla Girl didn’t seem shy or nervous, and she was immediately comfortable with AG, the owner and trainer.  AG was patient with Gorilla Girl, explaining how to prepare the horse, groom it, and get it ready to ride.  Gorilla Girl did her part, confidently, and she listened carefully.  When it came time to ride, I expected a quick walk around the arena, but instead, Gorilla Girl spent a good 45-60 minutes astride Smore (a name that struck Gorilla Girl as perfect for her).  I watched in amazement as AG directed GG to ride knees in, toes up, arms out to the side and in front to work on balance.  Gorilla Girl even worked on trotting and slowing her horse.  She practiced standing in the saddle for 20 counts. She held the reins and followed AG’s instructions to a T.

1011071_10100499873232031_200690365_nAfter the ride, GG helped with grooming and putting away her gear. In the midst of the grooming, another larger show horse that had been working out in the area came galloping down the row of stalls, and AG quickly shoved GG and me into the harness stall while the others chased the loose animal into the outdoor area.  It was a bit intimidating to see that horse coming at us, but thankfully, quick thinking and reaction kept everyone safe.

Gorilla Girl’s only complaint about the whole thing was that she didn’t like the feel of Smore’s lips on her hand when she fed Smore the carrot after the ride. AG assured GG that she’ll get used to the horse lips. Gorilla Girl heads back for lesson two on Monday. I hope this doesn’t mean I have to find a second job!

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Monkey Girl: the super kid formerly known as Gorilla Girl

I must have known when I started writing here about Gorilla Girl that she was gifted with talents I could neither imagine nor predict. I’ve noted here her artistic flair, but have continued to stand in awe at her physical strength and agility.

Monkey/Gorilla Girl’s PE report card noted that she is in the 90-100% range for strength and fitness based on her numbers of push ups, sits ups, and her mile run. Her energy is boundless. M/G Girl seems to relish exploring with her physical being, and even though she eschews formalized lessons (I’ve asked often if dance, gymnastics, soccer were things she wanted to sign up for–with a firm no in response each time), she seems to inhabit her body in ways that make her a “natural.” M/G Girl’s energy and spirit of adventurous exploration come from deep within her. She does not need lessons, or structures, at least for now, to hone her skills. Her skill is all play now, as it should be.

M/G Girl has developed this habit of “showing” what she can do — and our pride in her accomplishments is clearly something that she thrives upon.  However, even when we are not there, M/G Girl climbs, swings, runs, jumps, and plays with her big heart beating along to her inner joy.

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Summer rituals: flag day in three oaks

DSC_8426Before the official arrival of summer, in Three Oaks, Michigan, home of the self-proclaimed “Worlds Largest Flag Day Parade,” summer begins with a  bang on or around June 14th.  The solstice, in its more graceful arrival, its lengthening days and the dusk-filled with fireflies, its s’mores round the fire, and its beach tramps, stands opposite the raucous float-filled, tractor belching, parade.

DSC_8472Of course, solstice celebrating druids probably did as much playing and noise making as the citizens here in Three Oaks, so maybe its just my romantic notions of summer solstice that make Flag Day’s antics well — antics.  I am sure our ancestors welcomed summer with as much imbibing and dancing as we modern flag wavers.

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Flag Day plans are made well in advance, and I knew months ahead of time that I was in charge of appetizers and a cake (blueberry and strawberry bundt — red, white, and blue).  As we become part of the neighborhood here in Three Oaks, we seem to know that our presence is required on Flag Day.  EE might have been in Greensboro, North Carolina for the New Balance Nationals High Schools Championships with his star runner, but aside from the cost, EE would have missed Flag Day. So, he stayed. And our friends and family visited, and even noted, with some sarcasm, my earlier exhortations to attend this annual event.  Foxy said, “Peggy was quite animated in her description of what happens on Flag Day, so I had to see it.” Maybe to outsiders, Flag Day’s appeal is the quaint small-town parade and neighborhood party. But that’s a good a reason as any to celebrate summer.

Monkey Man at the Flag Day party

Monkey Man at the Flag Day party

Foxy also noted — kids love a parade. Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl, armed with a bucket, collected more candy than on Halloween. Clowns apparently are much less frightening when they are tossing fistfuls of Tootise rolls and bubble gum on the parade route.

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My own engagement with Flag Day this year was somewhat less enthusiastic, if only because I had enjoyed the pre-party much too much Saturday night; after a day of dancing in the park, chopping and cooking, and getting fantastically beaten at ping-pong in the barn (all while drinking good beer), it took concerted effort to get to the Parade. I even had to get Foxy to take my place at the bean bag toss game at the party.

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I’ve already started planning for next summer, and those plans include NOT imbibing too much the night before the parade — I want to be as perky as these float wavers next year!

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