Dancing with Words


It is 9:30 on Wednesday morning on a hot August morning. The air is thick with smoke from forest fires burning in the mountains. I have traveled the twenty minutes from downtown Denver to the entrance of an experimental enclave built in the 1950’s, to the home of my writing teacher, Anne Randolph.

Twelve years ago, her sunflower covered postcard arrived in my mailbox. Come join me at my kitchen table and “Write Your Life”. The postcard sat on my cluttered desk near the bamboo pencil-holder hand carved for me by a local artisan on the small island Tobago just 80 miles off the coast of Venezuela. The postcard, the islands and a lifetime of the unexpected fed my burning desire to write. What, I am not sure.

As I pull into Anne’s neighborhood filled with mid-century modern Frank Lloyd Wright style homes, I stop at the fourth house on the right. My one hand reaches for the keys in the ignition, the other opens the door to the rapidly building morning heat. Even as I climb out of my 2004 Santa Fe, my legs sticking to the leather seats, my mind sticks to the fact I have no direction in my writing.

Am I too old to tell a good story? Or am I like my Santa Fe a little used and worn but with lots of adventures still ahead. Maybe my writing will surprise me, like this car. For years, I drove a minivan, a practice solution to raising a family, particularly when one child uses a wheelchair. Planning to purchase another vehicle was not on my agenda, but when my best friend died of died of a brain tumor, the same kind that killed Senator John McCain. I decided to buy her car for three thousand dollars. The SUV has brand new “mountain tires” and has almost 200K miles on it, but still it is thrilling to have a car of my own.

Anne’s class is always informal, yet I like to dress up. Not too much, just a sundress and adorable sandals. The heels click on the paver covered path to the front door which contrasts the sleek contemporary lines of the home. The garden path wanders through a wild garden full of untamed sunflowers. Bees circulate from sunflower to yarrow blossom. An old reclining bike leans against the window sills of three large picture windows. It has been parked there since I started coming to Anne’s “Write Your Life” writing class. I reach for the door knob and walk in. No doorbell needed. A black and white puppy, I believe she is an Australian Shepherd, named Boo is waiting by the door. Her puppy eyes make me smile, she immediately rolls over for a belly rub and steals my heart. After a quick rub, she sits up with attention. She knows, what is next. A treat. I remember where they are kept.

Other writers have arrived ahead of me. Some gather at the coffee pot near the table, others are warmly chatting and settling into the seats. I know all of them. These writers range in age from nineteen to nearly eighty. The majority are women, but there are a couple of guys who show up from time to time. Many of us have come for years. Some actually have written their life story. Not me. Not yet. However, at home, I do have a shelf full of spiral notebooks overflowing with my stories written over the years and still looking to see the light of day. Today, I carry a new notebook in my bag. It is fresh as a new morning.

I don’t know what to write about on this day. I am lost at sea, no story on the horizon. I liken my writing to sailing the seas. Lately, my writing seems adrift without anchor or sexton. Vaporous words float on rolling waves of consciousness. I picture a piece of driftwood made of phrases I once celebrated. Their letters are worn by time and life. It floats on the sea of apprehension finally beaching on some deserted beach. The words languishing in the sun, their meaning is bleaching in the hot sun waiting to be discovered by putting the pen on the page.

Of course, I still type pointed and purposeful words limited to blog posts and letters of dissolutionment for a memorandum of misunderstanding in my professional role. But, my stories, the ones that I hold in my heart search for a rising tide, a setting sun or a whisper of inspiration. These life memories, mark for their time waiting to shine, feeling lost the ocean of the twenty-four hour news cycles, breaking news and other distractions.

My conviction of confidence grows dim as I search the horizon. Is writing success harbored along the shore? Can it be found in a blog, a book or a simple memoir for the family? Could it be a respected body of work? One that is, dare I say, financially successful? Once again, the writer within is adrift in stormy waters unclear how to navigate to writing success. Today, I feel like Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. I guess Anne’s writing class is my Wilson.

I pour my cup of coffee, sit at the end of the table and reach for my notebook. I search for my pen. Where is it? My fingers sift through all the ridiculous things women carry with them. A wallet, smart phone, a computer with a snakelike power cord, some gum, a few dozen receipts, two pair of sunglasses, one pair of reading glasses and there it is, the orange and white pen from the bank. My favorite free pen.

Maybe today I will drink from the well spring of determination, sip its pungent and sometimes bitter waters as I settle into my seat at the table draped in plastic covered tablecloth. I wait. It appears the inspirational tides are low, the full moon faint against the summer sky grows heavy weighing down my words. Instead of revealing my poetic past or delving into an uncertain writing future, I attempt to live in the moment choosing to dance. Not at Anne’s, but during the evening hours when I would be writing, if I could find the words.

I began dancing about the same time I started writing. Dancing inspires creative thought. Dance has rhythm, words have rhythm. Music has notes and phrases, beats and melodies, so does writing.

Why start with a simple dance? Let’s Tango. Ironically, Tango was my original muse for both writing and dancing. Both writing and the Tango require a degree of honesty and intimacy. Both are about dynamic tension, conflict and resolution. Energy moves, two become one, time changes, every step is a conversation, every dance a story.

To me, Tango is like dancing on water. A forward ocho kicks the waters, a back ocho, which starts from the heart, travels down the body to the leg, then foot, then the toes slice through the surface only to gather, collect, balance ready to explode into a quick repartee or a sultry solemn step in time’s embrace for eternal seconds as reality is suspended and dance is all that exists.

Every dance has a beginning, middle and end and so does writing. Tango challenges me to see how every muscle moves. How toes drive action, how the upper body works with and against the lower body torquing down, tightening the human spring ready for whatever comes my way. Writing comes from the heart, the words travel through the core up to the shoulder, down the arm and into the hand the holds the imagination as the pen dances across the page.

Not every day is a Tango day. There are other dances that catch my fancy just as in writing and reading. One story or genre might not satisfy my needs. One night, the dance might be a low stretch of a West Coast swing, where partners cruise among the notes, hanging out in the space between settling on the down beat. West Coast is cool and groovy.

Salsa and Bachata, my old favorites, hold my heart as the congas and trumpets call to each ramping up for quick conversation of swaying hips and infinite patterns. Salsa and Bachata are tropical nights and ocean breezes. I can always use this vacation, even if it is just for a few minutes.

Today, as my pen move across my lined paper, as I sip from my coffee cup of inspiration, I hope to walk along the shores of my life, and discover that treasured piece of driftwood phrases on the beach before time takes them way. The perfect words find their place on my page and my story finds its way home.

But, not today. Yet, I will keep dancing and writing as long as the sun shines and the moon rises.

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