Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Here come those Crickets Again!

You hear them don’t you?    As evening falls: brreet, brreet, brreet!  The broken up, rhythmic brreeting, at once comforting—it happens this way every year and there’s something to be said for consistency—and disheartening: summer is ending!  Fall is coming!

Don’t confuse their song with the spiral-sounding, siren wailing of the cicadas up in the trees: a long low, buzzing, unbroken, getting higher, higher, more and more shrill, as if someone is swinging a pygmy cat with a kazoo around by the tail—then it stops.  Silence.  Then it starts again, low to high to silence.  Cicada song goes on for the better part of the summer anyway; you hear it during the day.  I associate it with heat and humidity, because that’s what summers are like where I’m from.   Cricket song comes at night.  Brreet, brreet, breet!  And you know just what they mean:

Brreet, brreet, brreet! Grab those last rays of summer, those last days at the shore, over the grill, over drinks with the far-flung relatives whose kids don’t have the same vacation schedule as yours so you won’t get to see them unless someone’s willing to travel on really major holidays.  Brreet, brreet, brreet!  Grab the back-to-school supplies in a hurry: remember how last year you couldn’t find a single pencil sharpener anywhere in your county?  Make your kids try on their old school clothes; make up a bag for good will; find those lunch boxes and see if nothing can be done about the stickiness in hers or the eerie smell in his.

Brreet, brreet, brreet!  I think with nostalgia about Chester Cricket of The Cricket in Times Square, the wonderful 1960 children’s book by George Selden (illustrated by the incomparable Garth Williams, who also illustrated E.B. White’s Stewart Little and Charlotte’s Web among others).  Chester is a country cricket, who—due to a series of picnic snafus, winds up living in the Times Square subway station—where he is befriended by the resourceful, liverwurst-loving Tucker Mouse and the honorable, if wily, Harry Cat.  Chester, adopted by little Mario Bellini (whose parents own the newsstand inhabited by Tucker), is soon discovered to be a deeply talented musician, able to whip off symphonies any time he is inspired, giving one impromptu concert after another.

I’m nostalgic for Chester, not only because my mother read me the story so many years ago, but also because it seems a very long time since I read the story to my own children.  My littlest, Theo, my baby boy, will turn nine at the end of this month.  Funny, when the crickets start singing each year, that’s often my reminder to start planning his birthday party.

Theo at three with a special friend

Theo was already a big fan of Tucker and Harry when I read him Cricket.  He was also interested in music, so the story meant even more to him.  Chester could touch people with the power of his song, even though he was so tiny and, in other ways (being a bug), fairly powerless.  I think, being such a small boy at the time, Theo liked the idea of music magnifying the person playing it.   I think he still does.  Though it can be tough sometimes to get him to practice, he’ll frequently remain at the piano long after he’s finished what I’ve asked him to play.  Theo can spend hours banging out dark, heavy chords, rain-like runs and arpeggios that roll like waves.

“Did you like that?” He’ll say.  “That one was called Midnight.”  Another is Halloween.  Theo’s musical compositions tend to be minor and haunting with names like the above.  (Lately, he’s been working out the Harry Potter movie theme by ear.) He loves playing, even if he’d rather do it only when the mood strikes.

“The only reason you’re making me practice,” he roared at me once, “is because you like how it sounds!”

The truth is that I do like how it sounds though, of course, that’s not the only reason I make him do it.  I make him do it because he’s good.  He’s got something that he’ll be able to do long after he’s done playing basketball and tennis and all the other sports he loves.  Something he can do when it’s raining or when he wants to impress someone or just feel good playing on his own.  Something beautiful and consistent and reliable.  Like the crickets.   And there they are again.

Brreet, brreet, brreet!   Your baby is nine!  You’re not getting any younger either!  Brreet, brreet!  There it goes, another beautiful summer!  Brreet!  Here it comes:  another fall.

To Dance Again: Confessions of a Masochist Part 4

In the Sleeping Beauty Pas de Trois, 1984

About that shoulder injury I mentioned in my last post.  I skipped last week’s ballet class because of one silly maneuver I tried to pull off during the class before.  There’s an exercise known as grand battement en cloche: the standing leg remains straight while the working leg swings from a high front kick to a high back kick, then repeats: front and back and front and back, like a pendulum or a real swing (your foot is the kid going higher and higher, you’re the tree and the mirror is the fence over which your foot can see the whole world).  Just as there’s some give to the rope of a swing, it’s okay to bend your leg in attitude as you cloche.  The idea is to free your hip and get a great stretch without straining.  Grand battement en cloche happens toward the end of barre when your body is pretty warm and at its most flexible.  When nothing particularly hurts it’s kind of fun, especially if you’re sixteen and each leg weighs about ten pounds.  When I was younger, my favorite thing to do was grab my foot at the end of the combination and pull it down over my head to touch my nose.

Doing the exercise two weeks ago, I experienced a warm surge of nostalgia, wacked my leg as high as it could go in back and lifted my chin.  Yes!  I could see my foot!  Just like in the old days!  On the next pass I kicked just as high to see if I’d been dreaming.  I hadn’t been: there was my foot, just inches from my forehead.  Then I pushed my luck.  On the last swing, I kicked with total abandon, arm in fifth overhead, turned my face toward the mirror to see if I looked just as fabulous as I felt, and heard a loud snap.   It was the head-turn that did it.  My leg came down, but my arm would not.  Nor would my head comfortably return to the front-facing position.  It shouldn’t have been a surprise; this had happened before.  I can usually recall the origin of my dance injuries—where I was when they started (my Cincinnati Ballet Knee-Blow-Out), what I missed, how my psyche was holding up.  Each old battle wound comes with its emotional baggage (my Pacific Northwest Ballet stress fracture, the subsequent weight gain and depression).  As for this shoulder thing, its era was high school.

So as I stood there, massaging my shoulder blade—two weeks ago, in January, 2012—1983 descended upon me.  Performing Arts High School, Dance Studio A: longer than it was deep, sticky with resin, rank with the bodies of energetic teenagers, of whom only a handful were fastidious about deodorant.  I see my friends in the mirror, dressed in tights, cut-neck t-shirts (we predated Flashdance with that, by the way), chiffon skirts, bunchy leg warmers.  Someone is out on the fire escape smoking a cigarette under the assumption that the teachers can’t see him.  There’s music playing, of course, and there’s me.  Tiny, hyperactive, even for a dancer, dressed all in slimming black, though I don’t quite weigh ninety pounds.  I’m making people laugh with a Gelsey Kirkland imitation,  now an imitation of the teacher himself.  I look like I’m having a blast until I look in the mirror, which I used to do often.  Checking, always checking.  That was how I got the trick shoulder.                                                                                                                                                                                                              I’d take a grande jete  ( a big leap) with my arms overhead, go as high as I could, split my legs 180 degrees, arch my back.  Then I’d toss back my head to look in the mirror.  When I came down, my left arm would stick in place and I’d have to get someone to help me release it.   The teacher would scold me; I shouldn’t turn my head at such a crazy, unnatural angle.  It wasn’t choreographed; it broke the line; it didn’t look right.  But I’d do it again the next time.  Just to see myself fly.  To see a joyous version of me when the real one was anything but.

The mirror was fickle.  Sometimes it showed me the best of me; other times the worst.  It was a crystal ball who reveled in the lies it could make me believe.  It held what I needed: a positive answer to the question on my mind—on the minds of all my friends: Will I make it?  Will I ever get to dance with a ballet company?  That was all that mattered.  We grew up hearing that out of a thousand little girls in pink tights and leotards, only one makes it as a ballet dancer.  But we’d worked so hard for so many years.  We’d passed auditions; we’d performed.  At this point, we all felt we were that one in a thousand.  Not making it would be the end of the world as far as we were concerned.

But Ballet is hard.  If you go to the ballet, look at the girls, the women.  The intricate moves they pull off with superhuman strength and delicacy.  It takes years of daily training, hours and hours each day.  Ballet technique is based on a series of geometric lines that describe impossible images of beauty.   A human body simply cannot do it perfectly, but to be a professional you must come close.

Now take ballet, add teenage girls, and you have a dangerous mix.  Our fear of failure was paralyzing; the likelihood of failure ridiculously high.  Many of us smoked, starved, purged and engaged in other “unhealthy coping behaviors.”  Still, we’d never quit because we loved ballet too much.

There were moments when everything came together.  You’d hit your balance in a pirouette and sail around six times, or take off  in a leap and defy gravity.  When the moment was over, you’d look around hoping someone saw.  But we were often too focused on ourselves to notice one another.  So you’d peak in the mirror as you danced, trying to record those split seconds of success for the darkest hours of self-flagellation.  Those times when you stood in front of the mirror alone, listening to your inner voice tell you how fat you were, how far from being a true dancer.   Compared to you, it said, your friends are perfect.   Then, a small, quiet voice might break through your private torture, whispering: yes, but you can fly.  Yes, but you did six pirouettes.  And you’d survive.

That was long ago, and how I’ve survived.  Suffering only a little from the aftermath of that wild kick and inopportune head turn.  When I was sixteen, a short massage from a friend was all I needed to pop my arm and neck back into alignment.  Since I am not sixteen, this shoulder episode takes several massages from my husband, a week and a half of hot baths and compresses and a whole lot of Ibuprofen to work itself out.   While I am healing, I find a moment to stand in front of the mirror in tights and try to remember what it was that I loathed so much.  I am not perfect—in fact I’m way less perfect than I was at sixteen.  But when I take in my form, the darkness doesn’t come back.  I think of my kids, how special they are, how this body made them, how lucky that I recovered from my eating disorders in time to have them.  I think how cool it is that I get to dance again.