Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bridal Bootcamp

Back in February, I joined an all-women's gym in Somerville, hoping I might finally have found an empowering, feminist fitness environment oriented toward staying healthy and strong without encouraging obsessions about weight loss.

My third week as a member, I came across a flyer in the bathroom for an upcoming class. Here is what it said:

Bridal Bootcamp
Complimentary Group, 2/28 at 10am
Come to this Bootcamp designed to get you and your bridesmaids ready for that wedding! Initial and final assessments will be taken to help you track your achievements. Come relieve some stress, laugh, and enjoy working out with some new brides-to-be!!

I was horrified. Being confronted with the notion that a woman is not "ready" for her wedding day unless she is thin made me want to bash someone over the head with a treadmill. It also gets me that (of course) this would be a featured class at a gym designed for women. You can bet your buns they aren't advertising classes like this aimed at men at Gold's Gym. This "women's gym" was clearly about as feminist in its worldview as "women's magazines" are. Which is to say, NOT.

Rather than wailing in despair at the state of our culture and launching myself out the window, I opted for something more constructive: I forwarded the class listing to my roommate and her boyfriend and we held a contest to see who could come up with the best parody text. Our results (reprinted with permission) are here:

Bridal Bootcamp: Take 2
Have you noticed a nervous look in your fiancĂ©’s eye when he sees you naked? Is your BMI higher than your dress size? Come train with us in relaxing, empowering environment designed to transform you from a disgusting fatass into someone that a man might actually be attracted to!

Bridal Bootcamp: Take 3
Come to this bootcamp and shed unsightly wedding pounds in a potent atmosphere of shame and mutual self-disgust!! Act quickly before he changes his mind and tries to pry his ring off your fat finger to give to someone else. You don't want to end up like Great Aunt Gladys of the twelve cats, do you? (Although Gladys was probably a lesbian, and didn't live in a progressive-enough era to be able to indulge in the sapphic love she truly craved, so it's not a fair comparison)

Bridal Bootcamp: Take 4
Ever look in the mirror and realize that that ring isn't going to be enough to tie him down if you keep letting yourself go? You're not alone. Most brides realize that they will be a disappointment to their husbands on their wedding night if they get married looking like THAT. No self-esteem? No problem! We can help you change yourself to please the person who supposedly loves you in a fun and stress-free environment, surrounded by other women who feel terrible about themselves! Every girl knows, deep down inside, that love and love handles just don't mix. So give yourself the gift of a whole new, temporary, unsustainable you, and gear up for your big day secure in the knowledge that thin is beautiful, his love is contingent, and you're never good enough the way you are.

FDI: A Short Screenplay

Today's show is brought to you by my parents, who taught me to be ever-vigilant about grammar, punctuation, and spelling. In addition to the usual social capital benefits, this lesson has provided me with countless moments of mirth over the years as I discover amusing errors in other people's (and my own) writing.

For example, as I was wading through the introduction to a paper on the political economy of foreign direct investment this afternoon, I noticed a good one. The author, who shall remain unnamed since I am mocking him,* had the following to say about the effect of foreign direct investment on developing economies.

"FDI is also a means of generating employment--both directly, though the foreign firm, and through the indirect effects on the economy, such as domestic industries emerging to compliment the new foreign firms."

Without further ado, I bring you...

By Emily Clough

Scene: A developing country.

Domestic industry [emerging]: Hi there.

New foreign firm: Oh, hello.

Domestic industry: Your potential for technology transfer is very becoming.

New foreign firm: Uhhh, thanks. Um, I actually need some inputs from you so I can launch local production. Do you have any?

Domestic industry: No. But has anyone ever told you that your income projections really sparkle when you invest?

New foreign firm: [confused] Uh...okay. I just need some raw materials and manufactured inputs so that I can thrive as a domestic subsidiary of a multinational enterprise. Don't you have any of those things?

Domestic industry: [chipper] Can't say that I do. But you're cute when you search for sourcing opportunities.

New foreign firm: [frustrated] I thought when I arrived, domestic industries were supposed to emerge to complement my firm!

Domestic industry: I don't know what you're talking about, but your production plans are so clever and compelling! And I LOVE how your labor policy emphasizes your corporate ethics. Smashing.

New foreign firm: [exasperated] CURSES! WHY CAN'T POLITICAL ECONOMISTS SPELL?!?!?!

*Jensen, Nathan. "Democratic Governance and Multinational Corporations: Political Regimes and Inflows of Foreign Direct Investment" International Organization Summer 2003.

Friday, October 17, 2008

You know it's a good day in grad school when...(#2) spend 10 hours in a single day writing R code for your Quantitative Methods course. After 1.5 additional hours of stats class, you and some friends hang around for a few minutes, chatting and looking slightly traumatized. Then someone points out that it's Wing Wednesday (25 cents per buffalo wing!) and trivia night at a nearby pub. Mentally fried and happy to be out of the lab, you head over to the pub with your friends. As pubs go, it is slightly cafeteria-like and filled with undergrads, but you don't care. Munching on sauce-smothered buffalo wings and sipping your Harpoon Octoberfest, you reflect on the intensity of your day and let your friends take the lead in trivia. Secretly, you've never really liked pub trivia all that much, anyway. But the energy begins to build as your team's answers prove correct again and again. Somebody tells you that the first-place prize is a gift certificate for more delicious appetizers at the same pub, and your team's focus intensifies. Finally, the game concludes, and after several tense minutes of point tallying, they announce that (drum roll, please) your team has won!!! Your booth erupts in cheers, and your friends have their picture taken with your newly-minted gift certificate (which, you note, is worth the dollar equivalent of 60 buffalo wings on Wing Wednesdays). Triumphant and slightly tipsy, you bike home.

Upon arriving at your apartment, you begin to write an email to your friend Jen, trying to explain that you don't normally like trivia much, but that winning is so fun that overall the evening was great. But the words don't come easily after a full day of writing R code and a few beers. You do the best you can, falling into a bit of a trance as you write. At the end of your email, you stare at the screen, your eyes widening in horror and disbelief. This is what you've written:

winning.utiles <- 25

trivia.utiles <- -3

tonight <-sum(winning.utiles, trivia.utiles)

how.awesome.was.tonight <- function(x) {
if (x=>22){
out <- ("great")
else {
out <- ("next time I'm staying home with my problem set")

[1] great

But then you realize that, even though the Quant Jocks have taken over your brain, and even though you are now irreparably the nerdiest person you know,* at least you have found a way to make yourself laugh at the end of another crazy day in grad school.

*This is actually a potentially controversial claim, since I tend to hang out with a pretty nerdtastic set. I'm not sure I'm willing to relinquish the title entirely, but I am happy to share it...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

You Know It's Been a Good Day at Grad School When...(#1) spend 10 hours writing code in a freezing-cold basement computer lab, surrounded by your classmates (who are doing the same thing), and toward the end of the evening, a friend looks over your shoulder, sees a section of code that you've just written (which, when run, produces a simple but--you'd like to think--elegant 5x6 table), and begins to tear up. There is a moment of hushed stillness. "It's beautiful," she says softly. And you sigh in happiness, because you know she is right.

And then you realize that the two of you have managed to generate an alarming amount of emotion in reaction to ten lines of nonsensical-looking characters. But you don't care. Because your problem set is done, and you leave the lab to find food and a debate-watching spot with the knowledge that you Kicked Your Problem Set's Ass! Plus, you've got an evening of hilarity ahead: what could be more entertaining than a carbon copy of Miss Teen South Carolina 2007 trying to run for Vice President of the United States?!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You Know It's Been A Bad Day In Grad School When...(#1) leave class determined to go to your professor's office hours in order to pose questions that will help you better understand what he was talking about in class, but then you realize that the most precise question you can come up with is, "What?"

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Child Labor and Writer's Block

Last night I had the latest in a series of compelling conversations about how obvious it is that I should write something about my visits to child labor sweatshops in India last summer. I've spent the last 24 hours wondering why I haven't written this article any time in the seven months since my return. Looking back, I can see that the paralysis that is keeping the article locked inside my head closed its fist around me gradually. When my British Airways plane landed at Dulles, I was still so fired up about the injustice of what I had seen in the sweatshops only weeks before that I could think of little else. The images I had captured on camera were burning a proverbial hole in my laptop, s0 eager was I to show them to everyone I knew who had any kind of heart. They still haunted me (they still do).

I wanted to give a slide show for my friends. I wanted to present my photos and tell my story to students at local high schools. I wanted to get appointments with the head buyers of Pier One Imports, Cost Plus World Markets, and Target, so I could show them my photos and demand acknowledgement, contrition, and action. Above all, I wanted to write it all down so people could read what I had seen and begin to think.

It's not that I haven't written anything about it. There was the original piece of writing I did the day I visited the sweatshops. It's a hand-wringing narration of my sweatshop visits, told from the perspective of My Emotions, without much reference to broader context about the child labor problem in India. I followed it with another thought piece that attempts to analyze the problem and examines several possible solutions. This second piece reflects a little more complexity of thought, but neither is publishable in its current form.

What has happened since I stepped off of that plane? It's easy to say that "life" got in the way: a dear friend's whirlwind (and wonderful) wedding was rapidly followed by cheerful reunions with friends, a move into a new apartment in Oakland, travel, and three months of grad school applications. But I think it's been more than that. I think, fundamentally, I just don't know what to say.

And that's because there aren't any easy answers. I feel compelled to offer a solution alongside the problem I present; in this case, I'm really not sure what to recommend. Sure, I can tell people how to avoid buying handcrafted products made by child laborers--that part is simple: 1) Buy from fair trade companies, like World of Good, Ten Thousand Villages, Global Exchange, or Mercado Global; or 2) Buy fine items whose craftsmanship is too advanced to have been done by children (read: don't shop at Claire's or Target for jewelry!). That ensures that your dollars don't directly support the mafia-run contractors who employ child laborers (or the corporations that sell those products to Western consumers for a profit). But it doesn't ensure that the children who lose their jobs because demand has shifted away from mainstream products will be okay.

This is my biggest hang-up: children who are employed as laborers in India typically contribute 20% of their family's total income, which averages at about $500/year: barely enough to survive. When a child laborer loses his* job, his family will struggle with starvation. As far as I can tell, there isn't much of a bridge in place to transition child laborers out of the work force and back into school with some kind of financial safety net for their families. A mechanism like that is necessary to ensure that drawing demand away from mainstream production toward fair trade production is beneficial to children on the margin. Now, you could make the argument that the long term gains of raising work standards are worth the short-term pain of shifting children out of the workforce, but when short-term pain means families--lots and LOTS of families--starving to death because their children cannot find work, it is a difficult call to make.

Looking back at history, most society-wide shifts in work standards (think the introduction of minimum wages in the U.S.) involve initial worker suffering that brings about long-term improvement in working conditions. Perhaps I can wholeheartedly endorse the shifting of demand toward fair trade products, knowing that if the market truly swings in that direction, children will suffer initially but those who survive the shift will live in a more just world. I'm fumbling toward a conclusion, but my lack of clarity on this point is confounding my attempts to begin writing about the experience. It brings me back to questions about authority and my voice as a writer. How can I claim the authority to write about something--especially something so important--when I don't completely understand it myself? And when I'm not even sure what my own observations mean, can I in good faith pass them along to an audience that might be even less well-informed than I am? Is this productive consciousness-raising, or is it a counterproductive, nonsensical game of telephone?

I think I need to write this article. I think I need to push past these uncertainties and Just. Write. It. Down. I think it will get easier once I get started.

And now I think I need to get some sleep.

*I say "his" because all the child workers I met in the handicrafts industry were boys. While I initially thought this might mean that child laborers in general tend to be predominantly boys, I was mistaken: I asked whether girls are spared from child labor for cultural reasons, and my colleague replied that girls are also working, but mostly as sex workers or domestic servants.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Costco-chondritis and campaigning for Obama on Vicodin

After two weeks of coughing, I was finally feeling better on Wednesday, and decided to go to a Pilates class. It felt wonderful to begin stretching and twisting and waking muscles and tendons that had been dormant for weeks. But it was difficult, and my quickened breathing brought the coughs back.

That evening, I began to feel sharp pain in my chest every time I took a breath. By 11 p.m., as I was trying to fall asleep, the pain became so severe that my internal "you-are-actually-not-ok" alarm began going off, and I asked my roommate to take me to the ER.

Feeling sheepish, I filled out the paperwork and waited to be seen, certain that I was overreacting. What if it was nothing more than sore muscles from my Pilates workout, I thought. Pathetic! Finally, a nice P.A. sat me down, asked me what was up, and poked at my ribs until I screeched. Then they x-rayed my chest. Sometimes I think those x-ray technicians are just out to have a bit of fun with you: "Now raise your arms up above your head...good...stick your chest forward, toward the screen...uh-huh...tip your head to the left...just a bit...and make chicken noises. Good, good, hold it...and...done!"

After feeling certain that I had come to the ER for nothing, it was almost as gratifying as it was surprising when the results came in: it turns out that I managed to cough so hard that I popped a rib out of place!

Normally, my ribs are attached to my breastbone with some lovely cartilage that holds everything in place. Apparently, the dramatic coughing that has gripped me for the last few weeks finally became so intense on Wednesday that it dislodged one of my ribs from my cartilage. The rib itself is not broken, exactly, but it is broken away from its cartilage connection (ewwwwwwwwwww). The injury falls under a category of conditions called "costochondritis," meaning the inflammation of the cartilage between or around the ribs. (Claire helpfully pointed out that, had the condition arisen during a shopping trip for bulk items, it would have been called Costco-chondritis.)

There's not much they can do to speed the healing. They've put me on Vicodin (wheeeee) as well as prescription-strength Motrin, and told me to rest for a few weeks. It hurts to breathe and to move around, so I'm inclined to obey the doctor's instructions to stay in bed for a few weeks, but I'm disappointed to be missing a planned trip to DC for an annual MLK celebration with dear friends. I'm also heartbroken to be told that I can't dance for a month. I'm trying to resign myself to three weeks of movies, books, and drugged wooziness.

Maybe I'll finally volunteer for Obama, now that I have some enforced free time. I have to say, though, it probably won't help anyone for me to make campaign calls while I'm on Vicodin. Seriously. I'm pretty sensitive to drugs, and these 500 mg doses of Vicodin make me quite silly. I can imagine the conversation now:

"Who is this?"
"Emily. [giggle] Who's this?"
"This is Charles."
"Mmmmm. Charles. Like the river. Or the airport. I knew this guy once whose name was Charles, but he went by Chaz. He was kind of a tool, though, to be honest. Slept with anything that had a pulse."
"Can I help you with something?"
"Oh! Yes! You should vote for Obama because he's super. Even though his health care plan is a liiiiiiiiitle bit weird. But still. He's rad. And he has a messy desk, which means he's human. Do you have a messy desk?"

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Return of the Senses

Last Tuesday, I completely lost my sense of smell, and with it, my sense of taste (more or less). My sinuses were so congested that my olfactory capacity--normally as sensitive as a Geiger counter--was reduced to nothing, leaving me unable to parse scents or flavors for the last six days.

That's probably a strange experience for anyone. To understand why I found it to be particularly disturbing, though, you have to know something about me: my sense of smell--and the related sensitivity of my palate--is high on my list of Features That I Think Define Me. Strange as it may seem, I pride myself on my ability to sense traces of flavors or scents in the air, on my fork, or in my cocktail glass. Let me see if I can explain.

I like to think of my senses as tools I use to interpret the reality outside of my mind, and each one gives me a very different kind of access to that reality. Vision and hearing are essential to my understanding of the physical and social world I inhabit, and I trust them to "tell me the truth" because I perceive them to be fairly literal in the way they explain what I am seeing and hearing. I see a car-shaped thing; I'm pretty sure there's a car there. I hear a bird sing; I assume there is a bird--or a recording of a bird--nearby. Touch seems more abstract to me. Of course, I use my sense of touch to understand my physical world--and particularly my place in it--and it's deeply important to my perception of connectedness to other people, but I think its messages are less concrete than those of vision or hearing.

Most abstract of all are taste and smell. I find both of these senses--so inextricably linked--to be gloriously evocative, but the objects, facts, and ideas they refer to are much more elusive to me than things seen, heard, or touched. Smells and tastes remind me of things more than they directly refer to things. It is then up to me to make sense of the memory or thought that a flavor evokes. In that way, while sights and sounds constitute literal prose through which the world explains to me what it is, smells and tastes are abstract poetry through which the world suggests what it may be and then invites me to take a guess. I think it's notable that we have so few words to describe smells and tastes without reverting to metaphor or abstraction. Try explaining how milk tastes or how sage smells without using the word "like" or using abstract imagery. I can't do it. Milk tastes clean to me (what does that mean??) and sage smells like a dusty, smoked forest glen.

I think this is why I love food. It provides me with an endlessly fascinating puzzle: can a close reading of smells and flavors help me articulate the essential idea in the dish I'm tasting? Always one for a challenge, I am less interested in assertive, robust flavors than in subtlety and nuance. Give me a delicate cream soup and I will try to figure out what herbs created that heady, earth-spiced autumn flavor that makes me think of hot cider and the woods in southern Minnesota. Serve me a vegetable croquette drizzled with some kind of glaze and I will eat it in tiny bites, deliberating over each mouthful until I can tell that it's coconut milk that makes the glaze taste like summer and mustard seed that gives the croquettes their buttery kick. I can almost always get the obvious ones--basil, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg--and I'm getting better at the others all the time.

One of the katrillions of things I love about living in California is the olfactory and gustatory smorgasbord it offers me every day. Driving south along the coast, the aromas of ocean air, cyprus branches, and wildflowers are as breathtaking as the vistas and the sounds of waves crashing into cliffs. The beauty of Muir Woods is made whole by the scent of sequoia needles underfoot, wet eucalyptis bark, and the deep, green smell of old-growth forest. Walking down the street in north Berkeley, I love inhaling its characteristic notes of jasmine, rosemary, and Marina salt.

In addition to its delightful natural perfumes, the Bay Area boasts an array of restaurants that provides a foodie hack like me with endless options for new flavor adventures. My most successful visits to Absinthe (a favorite San Francisco bar known for its expert bartenders, who elevate cocktail mixing to the level of an art) have begun with my request for "something complex and subtle that's difficult to parse." The best drink I've had there is a magical mixture of prosecco, simple syrup, and fig-infused gin topped with a sprig of thyme. As I nurse the cocktail, my nose nuzzles the herb, mixing scent and taste into a dizzyingly delicious sensory experience. Mmmmmmmm. If a chef produces a dish that is eyelid-droppingly delicious but which, try as I might, I have no idea how to decode (a la Brick or O Chame), I throw up my hands in resignation and delight, because I know I'm in the presence of greatness.

So, this has been a strange week. It was as if somebody had suddenly pulled the plug on two of my favorite senses, leaving me to wonder whether taste and smell had ever really existed or if they might have been part of my imagination. Eating became a bizarrely numb endeavour. It all began with a Surreal Snack Experience. I'm sitting on the couch a week ago, curled up under a blanket, ready to eat some crackers. I pluck a cracker from its crinkly package. My thumb brushes across its sharp, salty edge, and I watch its cracker shape move toward my mouth. (So far, so good). I feel its crisp surface break between my teeth, and then--nothing! Just the sensation of chewing something rough and crunchy.

It reminded me of the curious feeling I get when my leg falls asleep. You can see your leg and you can poke it, and all the usual signs suggest that your leg is still attached to your body, except that you can't feel it. If this goes on long enough, you begin to wonder whether you really do have a leg, or whether your leg still counts as a leg, or what legness even means. That's what has been happening to me all week with my senses of taste and smell. I've been experiencing food in shades of gray, with no vivid flavors to differentiate hummus from chocolate pudding. As flavors faded from my memory (and they do very quickly, in my experience), textures and temperature began to stand out as the defining features of my meals. The borscht was worth eating because of the contrast between the hot, juicy crunch of beets and the cold, supple smoothness of sour cream.

You can imagine my delight when, halfway through a completely flavorless muffin before brunch this morning, a small *pop* announced that my sinuses were shifting their priorities, and the flavors of walnuts, bananas, and cappucino tumbled into my head. I can taste again! Never have I appreciated these precious senses so explicitly before. Never will I take them for granted again.

Several minutes after the return of my senses, and just before we served brunch, Nori asked me to taste her tofu scramble. I turned a spoonful over in my mouth, thinking. Plenty of tangy vegetable taste, salt, and rich, bitter turmeric flavor, but it needed something more before it would taste finished--something to complete the thought. "It's not...round enough," I told Nori. "Add some lemon juice." She did. And we both agreed--it was perfect.

I just live for moments like that.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Cold, or, Reasons never to pierce your nipples

At 1:58 a.m., The Coughs are attacking. This nimblest, most weathered brigade of my cold knew to save its onslaught until after dark, when the house is quiet, my zinc has been put away, and my defenses are lowered.

I've been trying to sleep for 3 hours. Consciousness seems to have settled itself comfortably into my mind, in no hurry to slip away tonight. Trying to arrange my limbs into poses so comfortable that they trick my brain into dozing off, I've spent the last 172 minutes restlessly turning onto my side, looping my arm over my eyes, bending my knees, stretching out flat, crossing my arms over my chest in the dark--almost like an insomniac yoga routine.

Then The Coughs came. They're the unstoppable kind, where once the cough takes hold of you, it grips you and bends you double. They're the show-off kind, too--they sound impressively ominous, like what I imagine it would sound like if I had the Black Lung (keep in mind that it is 2 a.m., so I am feeling melodramatic). But I imagine that my Cough had a serious Stage Mom in its formative years ("louder, honey! No, more pathetic. Yes, like you're dying. Think pain. Better.")

I once took a dance class with a girl who claimed to be a real-life insomniac. Not a semi-insomniac, like my ex-boyfriend, but a true insomniac, one who almost never sleeps. She was a medium-height girl with short, wavy, dark hair, square shoulders, and a jaw that always seemed to be a little bit clenched.

She told me that she never slept. I sympathized (we were both college-age, so I figured she meant it theatrically). No, she says--I mean, never. Seriously? Yeah, never. What do you do instead of sleeping? I do yoga for 4-6 hours every night when everyone else sleeps, she replies--but I can only sleep an hour or so at a time, and not every day. Wow, I say--that's crazy. Then she asks me to imagine my life as a series of little square boxes, all neatly lined up end-to-end, and to imagine that each box represents one day in my life. Ok, I say. Then she says, now imagine that all the lines in between the boxes suddenly collapse, and all you have left is
...stretching out forever and ever until you die.

I also remember one day in the locker room, as we were changing for class, she told me she had gotten her nipples pierced earlier that week. After class, stripping off her clothes, her leotard caught. There was some yelling. I remember thinking, 1. Dear god, no matter what happens, I will never, ever pierce anything below my chin, and 2. well, it serves you right for wearing a leotard a few days after you pierce your nipples.

But yeah. I'm glad I'm not a real insomniac. This sucks.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Hip Hop Memoirs, Part One

My dance mentor has asked me to write her memoirs. I think I'll say yes. What a strange project this will be. A 26-year-old white female from Minnesota with lefty politics, in whose education society has invested an absurd volume of resources, and who has read about adversity mostly in books, will attempt to capture in writing the story of a 41-year-old black female hip hop dance company director, former military woman, and personal counselor from the Bay Area whose childhood and teenage years resemble a Reduced Shakespeare version of a whole season of Oprah episodes. Our life experiences couldn't be more different. Yet ours is a convergence that momentarily silences the hum of identity politics to point out that people are capable of understanding and connecting with people who want to be understood. Simple as that.

Except that I can already tell there won't be anything simple about this project.

My mentor--call her Kim--took me under her wing almost three years ago, soon after I began taking her hip hop class at a studio in north Berkeley. Five years prior, during a summer spent in Berkeley before my junior year in college, I had taken the same class at the same studio, so my bus ride to my first class after the hiatus brought with it the comforting heart warbles and pangs of nostalgia that always accompany the return to an old haunt--and thereby to an old piece of yourself. But stepping into class, I was disconcerted to find that a tiny woman--surely no more than 4'11" in heels--with smooth dark skin, compact muscles, and explosive energy had replaced the gruff, porcelain-skinned instructor with gangly limbs who had inspired both intimidation and scorn in me many summers before. The new instructor was Kim, and her presence was arresting--it's almost as if somebody packed all the energy, ideas, and feelings of an average-sized person into her tiny frame, shrinking the container but not the contents, until her personality was so concentrated that she practically gave off sparks.

We danced. She was a methodical and kind instructor, and exhibited surprising bursts of warmth toward her students, suddenly reaching out to take Kate's hand while explaining a kick-ball-change or to touch Liana's shoulder while recommending that we do it again but "big this time, because it's gonna be much faster with the music." I always had the sense that she was grounding herself and her energy in us, and it worked. We absorbed her electricity, loved it, and kept coming back for more.

Several months after starting her class, I showed up one day to find that Kim had gotten stuck in her driveway, blocked in by a truck parked in front of her car, and wouldn't make it to class. There's a kick of disappointment that follows the phrase "Class is cancelled" that you can only truly understand if you are a dancer. Every time you go to class, you take a risk. Depending on what kind of dancer you are, you risk anxiety, isolation, humiliation, fatigue, pain, or boredom. But the thing that characterizes all dancers is, first, the willingness to take that risk and, second, the skill at self-coaching that makes you decide to get on that bus or hop in the car and Go. To. Class. Once you've made that decision, there's nothing worse than finding out that all that emotional and physical psyching-up was for naught. So, this particular Wednesday, surrounded by fallen faces, I took matters into my own hands and offered to lead class in Kim's absence. I knew all the choreography. I'd had some amateur experience teaching before. I led the group through a warm-up (feeling self-conscious about the well-mannered ghosts of WASP posture and ballet training that haunted my motions) and then went over the choreography. Part-way through: "Does anyone else want to take a turn leading?" Stares, and then, "No. This is good. How did you learn how to teach?"

Kim found out, and she was impressed. The next Wednesday, she asked me if I'd like to be her apprentice.

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