The Secret To It All Is Twirling (for KWM)

Fall, 1999. I was fourteen years old and it was my first homecoming. My first “dance” and entrance into high school and the years of “teendom” that plague every one of us. I was thrilled! I couldn’t wait to go to the game, be a part of the marching band, the dance, and the dress.

The summer before, I had fallen in love with the ugliest dress known to man. It was a bluish, charcoal colored dress with capped sleeves and a print of black pineapples along with bottom. It was also not my size. It was a misses’ size eight, and I wore a junior’s size three. But, I begged my mom for it anyway, promising I would wear it to a dance that following school year.

“It is too big for you; you know that right?” she asked. “And it’s not really you at all.”

It was $10.00 on clearance and I thought it was just perfect. So, I defied all human logic and bought it. It remained in my closet all summer, and I had my heart set on wearing it.

Then, two weeks before the dance, I pulled it out to try it on and model my beautiful dress again for my mom and dad.

It looked like an ugly potato sack. It hung loosely on my shoulders and I looked like a little girl playing dress-up in her grandmother’s closet. My mom had been correct, and the dress was truly the ugliest creation known to man.

I walked out into the living room with my moo-moo on and wanted to cry. What on earth had I been thinking? It was a suitable only to be a thrift store reject and I’d purchased thinking I was ready for the Oscars.

My mom stifled a laugh. Or maybe she didn’t because I don’t remember. I do remember her telling me that she thought we could do better and she had an idea. She was going to take me to my favorite store for a new dress.

Later in the week, we headed to the Fashion Bug in Lapeer, not far from my childhood home. In no time, I had “the” dress.

It was a formal, black velour with a high halter. It had a rhinestone pattern along the front and side. It had a small slit on the right side that allowed me to show off my fancy shoes. And! A matching jacket.

The day of the event, my friend Lindsey’s mom came over to do my hair. She did my hair in a long, blonde French braid and my mom threaded baby’s breath through it.

My date for the evening was my first boyfriend. He was dashing in his formal wear and bought me my very first corsage. We went to dinner with our friends and our moms snapped photos before shuttling us to the dance at our high school.

It was a perfect evening. The “stuff” that a teenaged girl’s dreams fill.

I kept a photo from that evening on my dresser for years. Long after high school romances end and friends grow and change both together and apart.

Last Saturday, seventeen years after my own first homecoming, I got to see the first homecoming of a young friend whom I love with all my heart.

She’s the daughter of our family’s friends, and when I was seventeen, she became the first baby that I ever loved, and she was the first young child that I ever wanted to spend time with.

Ready for her first big dance, she looked like a prima ballerina.  Her pink dress and silver shoes sparkled and when she did “the twirl” she looked better than any princess that Disney has, or could ever, create.

She was perfect.

And this wasn’t the first time I had seen her dressed up for a big event. When she was nine, she stood as my maid of honor in my wedding. A spot that only she could occupy then, and now. But at the time, she was a lovely little girl. Now, she’s a beautiful young woman.

Last weekend, she was stunning.

She was charming and fun, full of energy and excitement as she posed for photographs with her friends. I was overwhelmingly proud of her.

There she was: a teenager.

And in the back of my mind, my fourteen-year-old self, in my black velour dress was smiling at me too.

Today, I don’t often get to put on a fancy dress. I suppose I could, but it might look strange going to work in a formal gown. Then again, it’s me… who would think it’s all “that” bizarre?

I have many great memories of growing up and having fun with my friends. We always laughed and had adventures, or misadventures, it depended on which way the wind just happened to be blowing that day. And if I trace the roadmap of my teenaged life backward, it all began with that dance.

My entre into the world of “teendom” began with my first homecoming dance. And I remember it being fun and exciting. I remember laughing with my friends and thinking that it would never end. I don’t ever hear Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock And Roll” without thinking of my friend Kim. And I have a framed photo of me and my best friend Jil at age fifteen, still sitting in my office, right next to the one we recreated this past spring.

Truth be told, being a teenager isn’t easy. In fact, there were many days that it was pretty horrible. Being “dumped” the night after your sixteenth birthday. Having the “new girl” immediately hate you and begin talking about you behind your back. Watching your friends grow up too fast and being powerless to stop it.

Those are the times I wish I could waive a wand and keep away from my young friend.

I wish my young friend the kind of teen years that don’t leave her scarred. I hope she remembers what it feels like to just “be” and be young.

But, if she’s anything like me, and selfishly, I hope she is, she’ll remember to twirl. Because if she can twirl her way through the labyrinth known as the “teens”, she’ll be fine.

And by the time she’s an adult, she will be one hell of a dancer.

 

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Adam, thank you for your permission to use this photograph.

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“Too”

“You will not be the same person you were before you started graduate school. It will change you irrevocably.”

I remember hearing those words at the graduate school open house I attended and I thought, “game on.”  I was ready to be a “changed” person. Ready for the challenge and ready for whatever the program had to throw at me.

Then I started my program and was utterly confused for the first time in my life. Completely. 100%. Lost in the sauce. Undergraduate classes were easy for me. It sounds arrogant, but they were. I studied all the time, and I worked hard, but they were relatively easy for me. During my first semester in graduate school, I cried thinking that the school had made a terrible mistake and that I didn’t belong in the program with people much smarter than I was. I am glad I went to the mentor I trusted who told me that those people were no smarter than me, they were “more adept in the art of bullshit” (and those are his exact words) than I was.

My first class was critical theory and I was a goner from the beginning. I read, read, and re-read every text. It seemed that no matter how many times I read the texts, I was constantly confused. But one theorist stuck with me: Jules Kristeva. I understood her theory of abjection, and before I knew it, I was writing the feminist paper. It was the angle that I understood and saw most clearly.

This evening, I had reason to think of Kristeva again for the first time in years.

I wondered, as I reflected on the day’s events, when kindness became an activity lost in the abject?

Why do some people seem to go out of their way to be cruel? It’s something that I can’t seem to understand, even though I know that it’s a question that I can’t answer.

This year, I have been accused of being “too open hearted”, “too kind”, “too understanding”, “too generous”, “too liberal”, and you name it. If it is in the realm of basic human decency, I have been accused of having “too” much of it. I fail to understand the problem.

I am the person that will compliment a stranger, speak to people in lines, assist someone I don’t know, and become genuinely excited for the good things I see in the lives of my family and my friends.

I didn’t know that was an issue but apparently it is strange. This year, it’s caused some estrangement between me and some family members and it has caused some loss of friends and acquaintances.

When did what I would consider basic human kindness become something abject? When did it fall into the same category as blood, vomit, and human feces? Why do people fear it? Why are some so squeamish?

Today in class, my students and I had a great discussion about authority. Who has the authority to deliver a message? How is that authority measured? How is authority established in writing?

We got around to talking about social media, and one of them made a comment about “everyone” being an authority when behind a computer screen.

Oh how right.

All of the comments made to me this year about how “too” I am have all been made from behind a computer screen.

And acts of kindness are looked at as callous and self-serving.

When a person holds a door for you, chances are that person is doing it to be polite. If another compliments you, chances are, you deserve it. If a person helps you, he or she isn’t trying to “look good.” Kindness often goes unnoticed and can go without thanks.

I’d like to pull kindness out of the abject. Treating people with basic human dignity isn’t “too” much of anything. Is there such a thing as being “too” human? Maybe super human, but don’t we usually call those people superheroes?

It’s the beginning of September, and I am challenging myself. I plan to quietly perform an act of kindness every day this month. You won’t hear about it and you probably won’t see it, but it will be done. Don’t ask me about it, because I’ll be “too” careful not to tell you.

Since 2016 has been the year to tear people down, I want us to try to be “too” something. It irritates people in the best of ways. It makes them uncomfortable. And any day you can make a bigot, a racist, misogynist, ageist, or other assorted brand of creep, uncomfortable because they’re being a jerk, it is a good day.

Be “too” something. “Too nice”, “too kind”, “too big hearted”, “too understanding.” Join the “too” people, even if only in the comments.

But face to face is often nice as well. It’s unexpected, and that’s just “too shocking” to believe.