my house was made of straw

Hello again, dear carrots readers! I apologize for my absence. I blame the perils of academia. It’s been a stressful month, but now I’m back and ready to pro-blog-stinate. Or procrasti-blog? I’ll have to consult my Lewis Carroll portmanteau dictionary.

Onward!

At six or seven, I tapped to a stirring rendition of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” See exhibit A: an early dance portrait. It was a bittersweet experience. The satin bows on my patent leather tap shoes were glorious. The costume involved gratuitous sequins. But I had not scored the solo at the end of the number: a brief moment in which a carefully selected young girl pig screeched in terror as a wolf hefted her onto his shoulder and ran off-stage. The wolf in question was an employee of the dance studio in a musty suit that read more dog than wolf, and the whole scenario was a little too redolent of abduction. But I was still crestfallen when my dance teacher chose Julia instead of me. My squeal, apparently, was not convincingly porcine. I should have tried method acting.

Despite such setbacks, I continued dancing.I spent a few summers with my high school dance team at a Universal Dance Association summer camp, where I learned pom routines in fast succession, vied for the illusive Spirit Stick, and performed a series of pseudo-military commands (parade rest!) with such precision that I won the coveted title of Drill Downs Champion. I’m serious, people. I HAVE A TROPHY.

[Side note: One year’s camp was hosted by UNC-Greensboro. The cafeteria served breaded fish fingers called “C Nuggets.” That’s right. Not “sea nuggets” — which would also be questionable — but “C Nuggets.”]

My high school team performed at football and basketball games. We also competed and failed miserably at a competition in Florida. It seemed terrible at the time — it’s the little pigs all over again! — but losing at Nationals in Florida really means you have more time to enjoy Universal Studios while the winning teams nurse blisters and wait for their turn on a blistering-hot stage. We tried again and fared much better in Myrtle Beach. Somewhere in my collection of embarrassing high school snapshots is a photo of my team on the garishly carpeted steps of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. We’re all dressed in Carolina blue tank tops and sport curled high ponies.

We were called the Showcats.

(Shut up, Brian Soja. We were awesome.)

I danced for a few years in college, as well, mostly at scantily attended basketball games. The team’s coach my freshman year was a muscled guy named Ray Monte — although I cannot vouch for that spelling. He drove a car with vanity plates that spelled his name and running lights that reflected blue on the pavement.

[Another side note: I just asked Danny what such lights were called. “Running lights.” “Really? That’s it?” “Well, they probably have some street name I don’t know. Like pimpin lights.”]

Both dance team experiences were, for the most part, fantastic. I enjoyed them much more for the companionship than the showmanship, as I knew I wasn’t going to pursue dance post-college. Other girls on the team were far more talented than I was. I always felt a little juvenile and ridiculous around those skilled dancers — felt like I wore ghostly red satin bows above my dance shoes like phantoms of my early ineptitude.

But now, sometimes, I miss dancing. There is certainly satisfaction in mastering that series of small, swift movements that, together, make sense. I miss finding my pocket of space in a piece of choreography — feeling that bounded, predictable orbit where I move, next to another dancer in her own hemisphere. And I miss understanding that the great, polished swath of a dance floor was open for me to fill.

I’m a little too strapped for time — and a little too shy — to try out dance classes again, at least for now. In the meantime I’m working out my anxious energy through some exercise. Danny and I just started P90X, a home fitness program designed by Tony Horton. His enthusiasm isn’t as irritating as Billy Blanks of Tae Bo fame, and I do appreciate the slight bulge to his eyes whenever he gets into the zone. Look at that form! It’s GOOOOOORGEOUSSSS!

I think I’ll stick with it as long as possible. Academia, after all, is largely a sedentary affair. I might be able to pace the front of a classroom a few times a week, but that doesn’t compensate for the hours parked in front of a laptop.

Although I’m considering breaking out the tap shoes this semester. Comp classes can get dull, and nothing livens up a room like a kick-ball-change.

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high school deja vu

I’m sitting at a high school geography teacher’s desk while two students take a practice SAT.  My job is to walk up to the dry erase board every twenty minutes or so and tell them that they’re running out of time.  That last geometry problem will go unanswered.  And your carefully planned five-paragraph essay is a sad four and three quarters.

(These students are, actually, uncannily expedient test takers.  So far the final moments of each section have been an uncomfortable staring contest, in which I require them to sit still for the allotted twenty-five minutes and they accost me with their eyes, demanding that they just be allowed to complete the test already.)

This is the second test I’ve proctored this semester.  While I don’t particularly like arriving at 8:30 am on a Saturday to oversee standardized testing, this is an easy way for a poor graduate student to earn $60.  Because these are practice tests, I’m not required to walk the aisles, scowling away any attempts to cheat.  Instead, I work on my own research and writing, or read, or stare off into the distance reminiscing about my own high school days, when SAT scores seemed really important.  Those were the days when the SATs included analogies, which was awesome.  Because I am the analogy master.

Carrots is to analogies as Yo-Yo Ma is to the cello.

This morning, I’m proctoring at a big high school west of Houston, a school is much bigger than my alma matter in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Their hallways require cardinal directions:  North Hall, East Wing.  The military precision of the school rules posted near lockers and restrooms suggest a student body much bigger than my high school’s.  You can only visit the registrar’s office before and after school or in the twenty minutes between Lunch A and Lunch B.  And the students filing in for what I’m assuming is Saturday detention are required to show IDs and initial beside their names on a pre-printed roster.

But high schools are like Target stores.  No matter where you are in the country, you will be able to navigate through the building with relative ease.  There will be recognizable fixtures, standard signage to guide you if you become momentarily disoriented, and even familiar odors.  If Target smells like popcorn, synthetic fabrics, and floor wax, high schools smell like copy machines, stale cafeteria french fries, varsity basketball sweat, and puppy-love desperation.  When I was in high school, that desperation smelled a lot like an overdose of Blue Water cologne.  These days I suspect it might smell of Axe body spray.

I can’t decide if this predictability is soothing or a cruel cosmic joke meant to recall adolescent anxieties.  Probably both, because high school nostalgia seems to be organized spatially.  The cafeteria recalls lunch hour with Bee, Rin, and Noel.  Soothing.  The gym evokes at best a heavy-headed malaise about physical education and at worst a desire to leave, immediately, or I may have to participate in some sort of fitness test in front of my peers.  (The flight impulse would not be so powerful, of course, if this fitness test includes the flex-arm hang.  Carrots is to the flex-arm hang as Roger Federer is to the high-speed serve.)  Anxiety.  High school classrooms recall either hijinks in Mrs. Baker’s junior AP English class or that stomach-sinking moment when, during a Calculus test, I realize (again) that I am not meant for math.

Mixed bag.