An Element of Futility

In ballet class today, we spent almost half an hour on a step that I have never been able to do and will never be able to do, no matter how much I try. As I stood there, feeling utterly frustrated and foolish beyond belief, it occurred to me there is a strong element of futility in my life. I spend too much time trying to do things that are truly impossible for me, such as some parts of dance class, the whole hiking the Pacific Crest Trail thing, or trying to get my poor deformed arm to perform tasks it simply cannot do any more.

I once knew a woman who got upset with anyone who used the word “can’t.” “I can take you to the store and show you a lot of cans,” she would say, “but I won’t be able to show you even one can’t.” (She never appreciated my pointing out that if she can’t show me can’ts, then there was something she can’t do.) Still, there does come a time when we really can’t do things, and refraining from using the word doesn’t make those can’ts any more possible than if we told the unpalatable truth.

It’s important to try new things, but once you reach the point where you know for sure you can’t do that thing, is the frustration of continuing to try to do the impossible worth it? I don’t know. I used to like (or at least not mind) the struggle to do what I can’t do, but now . . . not so much.

Stagnation is not something I appreciate either. Nor is giving up.

Someone pointed out the other day that a common thread with my blog posts is that I have no idea what is around the corner, and this is certainly true with this post today, because I sure as heck have no answer to this conundrum.

Maybe I’ll go take a nap. That, at least, is something that comes without the added element of futility that seems to be haunting me lately because I sure could use the rest!

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Back to Class

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the experience of a break from school, but I’ve been taking dance classes, and since the year-end holidays all fell in the middle of our class week, we haven’t had lessons for a long, long, long time. Well, it wasn’t that long, but considering how important those sessions have become to me, it seemed as if I’d started leading a whole other danceless life during the break.

Luckily today, our first day back, we took it slowly. Much strength and elasticity is lost with just a couple of weeks of inactivity, and there is no way to make up the loss in two-and-a-half hours. (One and a half hours for ballet, one hour for Arabic dancing.) Supposedly every day lost to dancing takes a week to make up when one is young, so there’s no telling how long it will take now. I’ll just be patient with myself and hope the teacher will do the same.

danceStill, it was good to be moving, to feel alive. Since most of today’s ballet class wasn’t taken up with all our usual barre exercises and stretches, we had time to learn a little dance. “Dance” might be too grand a word for those few basic steps, but it was elegant for all that, with développés, pas de bourrées, glissades, sauté arabesques, and soutenu turns. (I’m showing off. Can you tell?)

It’s amazing to me that anyone is willing to teach someone who comes to dance at such an advanced age, particularly since I will never be a “real” dancer, just as I will never be a “real” writer. Neither dance nor writing will ever be the sole focus of my life. I will not tolerate suffering for the sake of either art. (Quite frankly, I have no interest in suffering at all.) I have no passion to bring to either activity — I seem to be missing the passion gene, and the consensus seems to be you need passion to be a dancer or a writer. Although writing and dancing bring much life to my life, both seem to be not ends so much as means to what I really want, though continuing to be frank, I have no idea what I really want. (Which is sort of the problem, because of course, if I knew what I wanted, I could start doing whatever it is I needed to do in order to get what I wanted.)

But I’m getting off the topic of this particular bloggerie, which is today, dance, life.

Today I danced. Today I lived. Can’t ask for better than that.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Point Where You Want to Go

At ballet class the other day, I was practicing chaine turns and not doing a very good job of it. Chaine turns, in case you don’t know, are those often rapid turns performed in a straight line across the floor or a stage, moving from one foot to the other as you go. To keep from getting dizzy, you need to “spot” — to find something to focus on as you’re turning, and when you rotate out of sight of that spot, you need to whip your head around so that you can again focus on the spot. Trying to learn such a step after a certain age is difficult because one’s head does not whip around fast enough, so not only do you get dizzy, you end up not going where you want to go.

Seeing my difficulty, the teacher suggested pointing to the spot as well as looking at it on the assumption that where you are pointing, there you will go. And it worked. I mostly got to where I wanted to go. Still dizzy, but I got there.

twists and turnsIt seemed to me such a profound bit of advice, “Point where you want to go.” If you’re not pointed toward where you want to go, it’s hard to get there because we tend to go where we are looking. If we’re looking behind us or are distracted by side roads, it’s hard to keep focused on the goal. (It seems to me this is both metaphoric and physical, pertaining to actual physical movements and also pertaining to one’s journey through life.) Even something simple like gesticulating as we’re walking tends to keep us from walking in a straight line because we’re pointing everywhere but where we want to go.

One obvious image comes to mind as an example of pointing where you want to go. I’ve seen baseball players sometimes point their bat, in a grandstanding pose, toward the outfield where they aim to hit a home run. (Well, seen it in movies; I don’t know if they actually do it.)

Writers do the same thing, pointing where they want to go. In writing, such pointing is called foreshadowing. We writers need to know where we are going so we don’t get off track. and we need to know where we are going so we know to stop when we get there. We also need to give readers hints of where the story is pointing so they can find their way to the end, but we need to make sure readers don’t know where they are going until they get there, otherwise the suspense is lost. Hence, in writing, dizzying chaine turns keep the reader focused on the constantly changing twists and turns of the plot and not the end.

I feel so very cultured using a ballet term, but ironically, my very use of term is an example of the importance of sometimes not pointing where you want to go. I would never have made a point of taking ballet classes. It would never even have occurred to me, but when the option was offered, I grabbed hold of it. And now I am focused on the classes. (And yet I was looking for something to focus on, so maybe that counts.)

Twists and turns.

It’s what life, dance, and writing is all about.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.