On Point

I grew up in a typical, suburban, curb and gutters neighborhood, in a cookie cutter house, with manicured lawn, in a small Northern California town. A couple of years ago, I moved back home. Same bedroom, same house, same street, same neighborhood, same town. Though much has changed. There are only a very small handful of “original neighbors”, those people who moved here when the houses were first built nearly fifty years ago. My mom is an original neighbor, now, so am I.

Scarlette Begonia

I took ballet lessons, like most young girls in my neighborhood, from the lady around the corner. An original neighbor, still in the original house. She was a bit strict, but she was passionate about ballet. Her strictness intimidated me some, but I respected her. I needed that strictness, I needed the structure and the discipline of ballet. I was chaos in pink tights and a black leotard, otherwise. She would pick us up from school in her big station wagon. I thought it was so cool to have a station wagon, she had five children, and a flat tummy, strong slender arms, and long, thin, legs. She wore her hair long, tied back in a ponytail, or up in a bun. She looked the part. I was an only child, so the dreamy thought of being part of her family, with so many brothers and sisters, was almost more than I could bear. And they all danced. In the station wagon, after school, every seat was filled with a tiny, young, dancer. After ballet lessons, she’d drive us all home, one by one, around the block, all the neighborhood children. There were other children who attended her ballet school, many other children. They came from other neighborhoods and went to different schools. Ballet school was one of the few places where I made friends with children from other schools and neighborhoods; ballet, Sunday school, honor band, and, in later years, at the stables where I kept my horse.

Scarlette Begonia

I have always been motivated, when interested, and a little bit competitive. I really wanted to move quickly from beginning ballet class, which was held in one of the upstairs bedrooms of the old, repurposed white and pink Victorian house, to the next level. Eventually, I’d be promoted to “the living room”, downstairs, where the real ballet dancers, the “big kids”, practiced, all I wanted in life was to go up “on toe” or “on point”. Being ready to wear toe shoes, that meant you were a “real” ballerina. You attended a different class and got to learn the things the ballerinas who danced in the Nutcracker performed. Once you were up “on point” you got to wear “toe shoes”, which required all kinds of special care and had ribbons that laced up your legs. Once you made it up “on point”, the next thing to aspire for, was to be chosen to be part of the “troupe”. Each summer the ballet troupe got to travel to a faraway place, like Japan, and perform.

Scarlette Begonia

That was all I wanted. No, it wasn’t. There was one thing I wanted slightly more; a horse. A horse of my own. When my eleventh birthday rolled around, I was, I felt confidently, close to going up “on point”. But, as I’d been begging for a horse for as long as I can remember, it may have, in fact, been the first phrase I constructed, “I want a horse”, when I was given the chance to empty my savings account and buy a horse, I jumped at the chance. The only caveat was, since I was purchasing the beast, but lived in a curb and gutters, cookie cutter, suburban, neighborhood, the horse would require boarding. Mom and Dad were going to pay for that. Which, as I was told, meant I could not also have ballet lessons. It was dance, or a horse. I traded in my ballet slippers for cowboy boots. And while I won’t say I ever regretted the decision, I did regret the situation, being made to choose.

In college, after selling my horse, I enrolled, again, in ballet, as a P.E. class, for college credit. It was fun, but I remember nothing about my instructor. He, or she, (I meant it, I don’t remember anything about the instructor) just kind of was there, fulfilling some sort of job description. I don’t remember any passion, or taking away any life lessons. Perhaps I was just beyond my impressionable stage.

To this day, I love dance, and I wish I were better at it. I will often seek out and participate in the new barre fitness classes, they are rooted in the concepts of ballet, but are more contemporary, so, it’s like ballet moves to Zumba loud music, and with instructors I doubt ever trained in ballet, classically speaking. Still a good workout, but no chance to go up “on point” or to perform in Japan.

The youngest of my ballet teacher’s five children was a couple of years younger than me. The next oldest child was in my class in school, from kindergarten clear through high school. Grown up and married and with two sons of her own, she ended up settling, teaching school, and raising her boys, not far from where I raised my family. We connected from time to time when our kids were very young, and met up at class reunions thereafter. Once Facebook became the platform for staying in touch, while she doesn’t have a profile, her husband, also a local boy, does. News is shared.

Scarlette Begonia

The next oldest child is only a year older than me. She, too, is on Facebook. The other two, a bit older, and, in fact, the next oldest, the second oldest of the five, was my first, beginning ballet teacher in the bedroom, upstairs in the repurposed, pink and white Victorian house, downtown.

Scarlette Begonia

I remember being very young, probably even before kindergarten, and the three youngest children would come over to play. While I don’t specifically remember, my mom often tells a tale of the youngest of the five, still in diapers, requiring some attendance with said diaper. We go back that far. He, too, is on Facebook.

Down the street from my ballet teacher lived a family with three kids, one boy a year older than me, a girl, a year behind me in school, and another boy, a couple of years younger than me. Grown now, of course, the youngest is on Facebook, and is, and has always been, best friends with my ballet teacher’s youngest son.

I have been, somewhat purposely, not paying Facebook all that much attention. I go on daily, dole out birthday wishes, quickly scroll through the New Feed, and, truthfully, kind of fed up with the same old, same old, I close out and turn my attention to other more interesting and entertaining social media platforms.

Scarlette Begonia

I recently noticed a few posts about the ballet school, still in the repurposed, white and pink, Victorian house, downtown; they have their own Facebook page, with I began following not too long ago. I often see posts from the two friends, my ballet teacher’s youngest son and the youngest boy from the family a bit further down the block, now, if not fifty years old, darned close. And, they remain close, living not far from one another, sharing activities, and Facebook posts. I enjoy their contributions to the social media platform, more than many. I also saw, fairly recently, a picture of my ballet teacher, her husband, and their two small dogs. All smiles and the picture of familiar vibrancy and joy, my ballet teacher, apparently, was in the hospital and the dogs were “snuck in” for a visit. She looked bright, happy, and, really, quite healthy, so I assumed it was something minor, nothing serious. I did, however, in the weeks that followed, notice old family photos being posted, and photos of her as a performer. Still, I thought little of it. She was several years younger than my own mother, only in her early eighties. The ballet school celebrated its fiftieth year this year, I related the photos to that, and perhaps that was their purpose.

Scarlette Begonia

After a week of self-absorption, with work, and my birthday, and sneaking away for an adventure in celebration of my own dance towards old age, I returned home, and to Facebook, and, partially out of boredom, caught up after checking all the likes and comments on my own, self-indulgent posts of my, recent, “me-centered” life, I scrolled through the News Feed, a little further than I have been, as of late. I was shocked, but not totally surprised, when I saw a post from the best friend, to the youngest son of my ballet teacher. It was lengthy. Lengthy posts are usually a rant, a tirade, or something like that, or, they are really important, meaningful, worthy. As it was authored by someone with a history of worthy posts, I deemed it important enough to stop scrolling and actually read.

She died.

The Facebook post was a lovely, heartfelt tribute to this woman who touched and shaped this man’s life, from the earliest of memory. I immediately clicked through to her youngest son’s profile and Timeline. There were many such posts, and more photos of my ballet teacher, throughout the years; dancing, performing, teaching, some more recently, at the ballet school, in celebration of the fifty years, with family, pictures spanning decades. A woman with five children she gave birth to, and a whole community of children, for generations, that she taught, helped raise.

Scarlette Begonia

I quickly drafted a tribute of my own, then wrote a second one to her daughter’s Timeline. In writing, I reflected and discovered, perhaps for the first time, that I too, was really shaped by the lessons offered by this teacher. That’s what teachers, good teachers, do; they offer lessons. As students, it is entirely up to us to accept them or reject them. A truly good teacher finds a way to deliver lessons in a more acceptable manner. That way, the only way, is through passion.

Scarlette Begonia

In my tributes, both, I told of how I only allowed a handful of people, in my young life, to actually teach me. The rest, I tolerated, and performed at some level of competency, near, but not exceeding the expectation, only for a few did I excel, only for a few did I feel like it mattered. Passion made that difference, perhaps flavored with kindness, sincerity, generosity, and compassion. I can count, on my fingers, the teachers that made that kind of impression, that kind of difference for me, throughout my life, to date. On one hand, I can count the teachers, from my youth, who I still quote often, their voices I hear as clearly as if still speaking, those who offered the lessons I allowed to shape me, to define me, to make me the person I am, and the person I still strive to become. The teachers in whose steps I sought to follow, still seek to follow; my first grade teacher, my third grade teacher, my Girl Scout leader, one of my 4-H leaders, and my ballet teacher. It is in their footsteps, whether in practical loafers, pretty pumps, hiking boots, cowboy boots, or point shoes, I aimed to follow, in raising my own family, in being a youth leader, that I still try to follow, in writing, and in sharing my little stories.

The unspoken lesson these great teachers taught me, I now recognize; it is about passion. A fulfilling and joyful life is based on finding our passion, living our passion, working our passion, and sharing our passion. Without passion as our purpose, we are merely performing at some level of competency, near, but not exceeding expectation. We are going through motions, but we aren’t dancing.

I faithfully follow a YouTube artist and vlogger, I am totally inspired by his talent, but more by his passion, and the example he sets in following his passion. He exudes it. He tells stories, and one in particular, of the person in his life he most admires; his nana. She was a dancer in New York City. She danced with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall during World War II, and she was absolutely passionate about dance. Her father died of cancer a month before her first Rockettes recital, this shaped her life, her purpose, and her passion. When she married and raised her family, she began to teach tap dancing lessons in the attic of her house. She had seventy students and taught six days a week. Every year, she would hold a recital and the proceeds were all donated to cancer research in honor of her father, in hopes that a cure will be found and there will be no more missed, first, recitals. Out of passion, she taught tap dance, in her attic, six days a week, for 45 years, until she was 92 years old. She taught until the day before she died. That is passion, “on point”.

Scarlette Begonia

The point, I think, is to listen to your heart, to find your passion, that which moves you, causes you to feel like dancing, and then to just keep dancing. In living your passion, you inspire others to seek out and live their passion, that one by one, example by example, we may all someday learn to be “on point”.

Will and Grace

I don’t watch much television and what I do watch is a decade or so old via Netflix or something. One of my favorite old series I’ve been cycling through recently is “Will and Grace”. Yesterday, two “Will and Grace” DVDs showed up in my mailbox, so I spent a rather self-indulgent evening enjoying a “Will and Grace” watch-a-thon.

I find inspiration everywhere I look, even the splash screen of a decade old TV series on DVD.

On will. And grace.

We all have things we’d like to improve in our lives. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t. Some folks are able to improve some things in their lives, and not other things. Other folks have a hard time even knowing where to begin with one wish or desire. Whether it’s weight loss or fitness, education, job skills, magic tricks, or career gains, debt, spending, saving and investing, or self-confidence, happiness or spirituality, we all have a wish list.

How are some folks better at making desired improvements and others aren’t? Will and grace.

Most kids, at some point in time, desire to learn to ride a bicycle. There are usually training wheels to assist while the new cyclist learns to balance, then, one day, the training wheels are gone and some family member is customarily tasked with running down the sidewalk, hunched awkwardly over the tiny cycle, gripping some portion of the bike, the child, or both, while the new rider wobbles and pedals furiously, trying to take flight like a fledgling leaving the nest. For most of us, we eventually get it and a whole new sense of freedom and independence opens up for us. By sheer will, we learn to balance, pedal and steer, simultaneously. Those first few rides begin a little shaky as we try to pedal fast enough and prevent seesawing the handlebars back and forth frantically until that magical moment when everything is in synchronization. Within a week, we look as though we’ve been cycling for years. Grace.

Have you ever noticed that children run everywhere? From the family room to the kitchen, from the front door to the car, from the classroom to the playground at recess. At some point in life, we just stop, it becomes “uncool” to run from point to point and we begin a long life of ambling. For most of us, as adults, we don’t run. Period. Don’t run. Ever. Unless zombies attack, and then, as out of practice as we are, we become zombie chow. There are adults who run, voluntarily, without a zombie breathing down their neck. They run for fitness and, yes, for pleasure. A couple of years ago I decided I wanted to move from the ranks of probable zombie chow to “runner”. Have you seen the movie “Zombieland”? Rule number one, of thirty-two, is cardio. To survive in Zombieland you have to be able to outrun the zombies. No, I don’t believe in zombies, but I decided to “learn” to run, as an adult. For fitness and to prove to myself I could. Now I run for pleasure.

My first day of running as an adult, and we’re talking way adult, I’m not twenty-two, or thirty-two, or forty-two. My first day of running as an adult was sort of an “audition” run, if you will. I’d joined a running club on the advice of my friend Miles. I’d expressed an interest in running, he recommended this club. I signed up online and showed up to run. My first run would be a mile and it would be used to identify which “pace group” I would train with. I’d been doing cardio, religiously, at the gym, so I was in pretty good shape. I just didn’t run. Knowing that my performance would determine how far and how fast I’d have to run for the next several months, I was a little concerned. I may have held back a little. When I stepped out onto the paved bike path and was told to begin running, I felt sort of like the tin man from Wizard of Oz, before being adequately oiled. Creaky, kind of spastic and jerky, lurching along, propelling myself forward with a complete lack of rhythm or form. It was my will to run. Two years later, I run a full three minutes per mile faster than that first mile and I’ve finished a full marathon. I have some form and a little bit or rhythm. Grace? Well, yes, comparatively speaking.

I took a job nearly six years ago that required significant travel and having to speak, out loud, for eight hours at a time, standing up in front of really smart people. Neither of these requirements were really okay with me. Like running, I did not fly comfortably and I most certainly did not speak in front of a group of people, voluntarily. Except for Cub Scouts. And Brownies. But never in front of grown ups. But, I needed the job and so I had to do what had to be done. Will.

Six years later, I fly all over the country on all manner of aircraft without a second thought. I’m like George Clooney in “Up in the Air”, but not really. I’m a road warrior, though, but I check my bags, George was all carry-on. I can stand up in front of a group of really smart people and talk and talk and talk. I teach them what they need to know, I tell stories and joke and quite enjoy myself. Grace.

So, what’s on our list? Do we want to get fit? Eat less processed food? Improve our self-esteem? Practice yoga? Learn a foreign language? Learn to master our smartphone? Whatever it is we desire, we can accomplish. “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” to quote Napoleon Hill from his book, “Think and Grow Rich.” We just need the will.

Let’s look at the word “will.” It is used in many ways, both as a verb and as a noun.

will
wil/Submit

verb

1. Expressing the future tense.

2. Expressing inevitable events.

3. To decide on; choose.

4. To yearn for; desire.

5. To decree, dictate, or order.

6. To resolve with a forceful will; determine.

7. To induce or try to induce by sheer force of will.

8. To grant in a legal will; bequeath.

noun

1. The mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action

2.  a. Diligent purposefulness; determination.

b. Self-control; self-discipline.

3. A desire, purpose, or determination, especially of one in authority.

4. Deliberate intention or wish.

5. Free discretion.

6. Bearing or attitude toward others; disposition.

7.  a. A legal declaration of how a person wishes his or her possessions to be disposed of after death.

b. A legally executed document containing this declaration.

For the purpose of our discussion, I am particularly fond of the following selections from above:

As a verb, “diligent purposefulness; determination, self-control; self-discipline, deliberate intention or wish.” That is the secret ingredient to accomplishing any desire or goal we have. We’re all familiar with the common saying, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” Sadly, most of us don’t live that truth. We are truly limitless. The only limitations we have are the ones we’ve made ourselves believe. If we set to any one of our desires with “diligent purposefulness, determination, self-control, self-discipline”, if what we desire is a “deliberate intention or wish”, we can achieve it, at which point, “will” becomes a noun; “expressing inevitable events.” With “will”, it “will” happen.

It may be hard, it may take time, and it will likely take commitment and even some set backs to accomplish any one thing on our list, but it can be done. It will be done. With will. And then, we achieve grace.

grace noun \ˈgrās\

1. a way of moving that is smooth and attractive and that is not stiff or awkward

2. a controlled, polite, and pleasant way of behaving

3. ease and suppleness of movement or bearing

I grew up around the corner from a friend who’s mother taught ballet. She had a ballet school in an old, white Victorian house, with pink trim, that smelled of old wood floors and resin. I was enchanted and wanted nothing more than to take ballet lessons, that is, if I couldn’t have a pony. A pony would totally trump ballet lessons, but I wasn’t making much headway on that “will” at the age of eight. I was eventually enrolled in ballet, along with most of my Girl Scout troop, which was handy, since ballet was shortly after Girl Scouts. We could car pool. I think it worked out well for my mom, too. I walked to school in the morning, stayed after school for Girl Scouts, hitched a ride to ballet and showed up at home, completely exhausted, just in time for dinner. I probably went right to bed after dinner. I was a very busy child with lots of activities. I think I now know why. It was my mom’s will.

Most of the rooms in the old white and pink Victorian were converted into ballet studios. Upstairs, the bedrooms were reserved for the beginners. Once you were “good enough”, you got “promoted” to the big kids class in the living room, downstairs. It had a bay window at the front, barres along one wall and mirrors on every wall. I started lessons after some of my classmates and I remember my despair at still being upstairs when they were all downstairs. As Liz Lemon would say, “I want(ed) to go to there.” I remember trying so, so, so hard to plié perfectly, to jeté just right and to arabesque absolutely divinely, that I might get to practice in the studio downstairs, with my friends. Ballet is not easy, it takes a great deal of strength and practice. That the dancers make it look easy is the magic. The simplest looking move is really a symphony of coordination, strength, balance and, well, grace. Grace does not come easily or naturally for many, for most, it is only achieved when the coordination, strength and balance have been very well developed. Will.

And that is no different than anything else we have to will to achieve. Grace will only come after much practice and after looking like a goof for a while.

I went to yoga tonight. One of my favorite instructors was teaching. Her class is very rejuvenating. The other yoga instructor I like does a lot of power poses and I am left trembling with muscle fatigue afterwards. Tonight’s instructor teaches more flexibility and relaxation. I am left like putty afterwards, sort of like having a glass of wine and a bubble bath after a massage. Same difference. The class is designed for “all levels”, moves are easily modified for the less, or more experienced yogi. Because it is still January and there are still a few resolutionists around the gym, I arrived early. In fact, I was the first to arrive. There was a picture on Facebook of a yoga class at my gym over the weekend with forty people in it! The “energy” studio has room for about twenty, comfortably. So, I arrived early to be sure to secure my spot. I guess Tuesday night and Saturday mid-morning are a bit different. I set my mat front and center, right where I like it. About twenty minutes after I arrived another fellow showed up. I’ve seen him before, he is a show off. No, not really. He has definitely been practicing yoga for a long time, though. He has grace. He set his mat up next to mine and started practicing some flows. I was trying to meditate and his ankles kept popping and cracking. All decorum was lost and we both started laughing, I told him it sounded like firecrackers, he thought they sounded like snapping twigs. Right. Twigs being stepped on by a really, really large animal. Anyway. Soon, others began to assemble in the classroom. I think there were about ten of us, a good number. After a while, the door opened and an older lady, in yoga pants, wandered in one door. She looked around at all of us pretty much just sitting on our mats waiting for the instructor. We were just chilling. She walked through the classroom and exited out the other door. I observed her and wondered why she didn’t just stay in the hallway to get from one point to the other. A moment later, another lady, in yoga pants, peeked into the room. The first lady kind of peeked around behind her and exclaimed, “This is too advanced for me!” We were sitting on our mats, doing nothing, even “snap, crackle and pop” was sitting still. She totally lacked the will, she wouldn’t even try. Her friend advanced cautiously into the studio and asked the instructor a few questions. She was given gentle reassurance and was advised how to modify the moves for her comfort as a beginner and she stayed for the whole class. She seemed to enjoy it and even said she’d come again. She had the will! And, if she comes back, she will soon have the grace, too!  That’s how it goes. Will and grace.

Will and Grace, Jack and Karen.
Will and Grace, Jack and Karen. Actually, Jack, Grace, Will and Karen.

Whatever it is you desire, whatever it is you wish to accomplish or achieve, whatever it is you wish to improve, just remember Jack and Karen, Will and Grace. Especially, Will and Grace.