Tuesday, August 24, 2010

think with your legs

oh lord. what did i get myself into.

i'm going outside my comfort zone here. there's a cool blog called the 10th daughter of memory and they're holding a contest: write a short piece (in this case, fiction!) in answer to a prompt. this month's challenge is below the neck.

so i did. you might want to check out their site and read the other entries, if so inclined......

in the mean time, feeling terrified.............. she hits publish.



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"Think with your legs!"

Zoya had to shout to be heard over the fan. Ancient and clattering, a medusa's head of wires sprouting from the ceiling, it swirled dangerously above the poorly lit studio.

"Poor pup," she thought, watching the dancer at the barre. Nadia was the girl's name; flat-chested, malnourished skin, clavicles protruding above her leotard. Head down and tilted sideways, her hair was pulled back severely, slick and pinned. Watching herself in the mirror, her mouth set in a grim line, the girl worked the movements repeatedly. Why did she seem like a prisoner with a life sentence? Nadia was the best of this year's crop. She would try again and again to do a decent pas de bouree - a pas de bouree with meaning - and fail miserably, again and again.

Zoya tapped the wooden floor with her cane to the beat of the music. What was it about these children? They don't feel what they're doing: they are performing automatons, all machine and no soul. The girl had perfect technique, there was no question. In and out, foot arched, toe pointed, arm held, just so. All correct.

But no soul.

Many years ago, Zoya learned the secret. It was a lesson she would never forget, but it was the one thing that could not be taught.

If the girl could only think with her legs, Zoya mused, then she would forget her training, her genetics, her fear. She would forget herself and let the dance come through her.

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"All style and no substance," her old friend, Nemerovsky, had once told her.

He had said that about his own writing, and he was nothing if not self-effacing. At his funeral, she had used the phrase in her eulogy, but Zoya didn't believe it about him. His writing had a plenty of substance. He just never took himself seriously. Why did he have to smoke those awful Gauloises and get throat cancer, the big lug? He had so many more poems percolating, waiting to be given birth, but they died along with him, their edges burning, slowly, like the flame creeping down one of his stubby cigarettes.

There was that day, long ago, when he took her to the Sea of Azov. He loved to float for hours in the black water. She hated black water..... especially this water, because of the whirlpools. Many people had gotten caught in them and died, but Nemerovsky, like most everything in his life, was not interested in avoiding risk.

They laid on the beach - no towels! he said, they're only for the weak! They watched the clouds ball up like angry gangs on the horizon and then float overhead, he waving his arms in the air and conducting them like music. But with no towels, there was always so much tar from the tankers; the black and gray monsters that chugged up through the Bosphorus, a boring migration on the horizon, depositing bauxite and wheat to nearby Mariupol. Every evening she would have to harvest the greasy specks from her hair, and still they would leave stains, constellations of black stars, on her pillowcase.

He stood up. His arms swinging bearlike, he lumbered across the sand and into the sea, pushing the water away in thick, glassy waves. Looking at him, it seemed almost impossible that such delicate language could flow from the brain of a man his size and apparent clumsiness.

Her arms wrapped around her legs, she balanced her chin on her knees and watched him. He never really swam, just floated on his back, his white belly breaching the surface like a baby beluga.

He had a dacha here and in the evenings they would retreat inside and light a fire, but they would always end up sitting by the window. Listening to the cormorants and eating scallions and butter smeared on bread, they would toast each other with cold vodka.

She loved his mess. He - the writer - could afford to be the crazy one. Papers strewn everywhere, crumpled words of genius just missing the waste bin, eloquent stanzas thrown carelessly aside. She wished she could be insane like him. Carefree.

But no, it wasn't so for the dance. Not until years later, when she knew better, a ballerina had always been a creature of mechanics, a wind up doll, a trained chimp. Over time she felt her soul leaching away, another casualty of the State. But not so for Nemerovsky. If she could just pull some of his nonchalance into her sphere, by process of osmosis, maybe she could learn from him. Maybe it wasn't too late for her.

"Idite syuda!"

He had surfaced and was entertaining her by spewing seawater from his mouth; for a moment he looked like Poseidon in a Roman fountain. She had seen pictures of such statues in crumbling artbooks, years ago, in the ballet master's office when he had stepped outside for a smoke.

"Come here!" he shouted to her again, the words skipping across the water like minnows escaping a shark.

She was afraid. It was already evening and the light left quickly at this time of year. Soon it would be dark, and the only thing she hated more than black water, was black water at night. She started towards the path to the dacha, but she heard him bark at her again, his words shrapnel in her back. He was too persuasive. She turned around, nervously wiping the tar from her flesh.

"That's better," he said when she reached him. He held her and she put her head against his chest, wet, salty, the swoosh swoosh of his heartbeat slapping her temple. Her feet sank into the mud but she held on, watching the sun sizzle against the horizon. More than the mud, the fading light, the growing heaviness of the water, now the color of diorite, she feared the swirling sea, the suction, being pulled into a vortex she couldn't escape.

He could tell, by the way her heart pounded, what she was thinking.

"Zoyechka, one day you will learn not to fear," he said. "But for now, do what you do best."

All at once he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her further out to sea, her arms fluttering behind like battered wings.

"Think with your legs!" he boomed, now laughing, his eyes wide and his hair, gray-white, a dirty rag flopping over his brows. With his thick torso slicing a path through the water he began a mad waltz, dragging her along to a beat only he heard, in a whirlpool of their own making. The world passed by in a blur, the dacha, glowing in the distance, the sun drowning into the west, the stars whirring above.

To the sea, endlessly deep, still cold and black and filled with demons, she finally surrendered and gave herself to the dance.



footnote: i was honored to learn here that this piece had won.

40 comments:

  1. Oh, man-oh-man, was that nice!! You certainly have no grounds to be dancing the dance of fear with this kind of piece.

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  2. Perhaps it's time to take the dancing class to the Straits of Turkey?

    Welcome to 10thDoM! Willow's right... that left nothing to be afraid of.

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  3. Amanda, I think you have it: a passion to write and a talent to reach your audience. Mesmerizing...

    Don't stop!

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  4. Fabulous, I felt the cold ad the mud and the fear. Wonderful to have some talented new people featuring on our humble blog. Here black water is to be feared, sharks you know! Lovely piece.

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  5. Lovely, strong piece, with a clear point of view.

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  6. I'm proud of you for facing your fearfulness, but i can't imagine why you are, your writing is enthralling. You are a writer Amanda.

    It's a beautiful piece, how did you come to think of it?

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  7. Evocative. Passionate. Sensitive. Wonderful balance of action and detail.

    You're a great writer, Amanada. I could see it all; fell it all.

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  8. that was wonderful! your writing is so lively and enthralling. i am in awe!

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  9. a beautiful text! Congratulations!
    bye...

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  10. Oh how beautiful. Totally enthralling.

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  11. Fantastic!!! Why are you afraid? You are a wonderful writer, and this piece is simply enchanting!
    Whay was your inspiration?


    Ciao
    Eleonora xx

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  12. sister ~ where does this come from? what depths are you plumbing and channeling? my breath is taken away with wonderment of your talents - more please more!

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  13. i have to come back to read this, amanda, but i assure you i will. meanwhile, tsup! and ♥

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  14. what a lovely surprise to sign on and read your comments -- so encouraging as i timidly creep out of my lair.....

    willow - thank you. you are the reason i decided to jump in the deep end.

    jeffscape - thanks for the nice welcome! dancing plus turkey equals whirling dervish......

    genie, you are really kind. i like so much what you said about passion...passion, pathos, a driving force for us all, non?

    baino - nice to meet you! thanks for these nice words, i really appreciate them. and don't worry, you won't find me swimming around sydney harbor anytime soon, deathly afraid of sharks......

    rosaria, you are always a faithful reader. thank you for your writerly eye and insightful comments. xoxo

    lori - thank you so much kind dear♡ and what a great question - the inspiration? watching a movie the other night about dancers was where zoya came from........and a former neighbor, poet laureate (now deceased) whom i've always had a major crush on -- howard nemerov.

    wow, thanks r-bear. bear hugs! xo

    val, you should talk! thanks so much always for reading, commenting......you rock

    hey mahon thanks!! glad you dropped in red cat!! xo

    loree - i appreciate your words and visit -- it means a lot to me.....xoxo

    eleonora - mille grazie! you asked the same question lori did and i answered her (above). it makes me so happy you wanted to know!!

    about that fear thing (lori asked too but didn't answer her!)..... what to say --- it's a threshold that begs to be crossed, don't always do it, but always glad when i have.

    ciao bella xoxo

    bella sorella, thank you. plumbing, channeling, depths? all sound like persephone stuff....don't know the answer but like following the darkness, ya know?

    lovelovexoxo

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  15. kj!! missed ya -- must have been commenting at the same time...

    thank you for reading - i am honored --

    and sometime, please let me know ---- what is the definition of tsup? (the obvious probably being: what's up?) but just making sure - i've long wondered if there's another ---more mysterious meaning? ;-)

    hugs xoxo

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  16. I know I am late, but I must tell you I loved your story! When my daughter was little and afraid to balance on a log I told her to let her feet think. And oh, you are so right - nothing we do should be done mechanically, but always with enthusiasm and soul! Your writing sure has both! Love from Geli

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  17. This seems somehow Turgenev-ish to me, and I love Turgenev. Loved the ending!

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  18. PS--your header really appeals to me. :-) Somehow she reminds me of me.

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  19. Welcome. I'll second (and third and fourth, etc.) the previous comments. With writing like that, you have nothing to fear. But, wow, you convinced me. No back water for me, especially at night. I never could dance.

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  20. Sorry, I meant "black water," of course. It's late. I should go to bed.

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  21. Ah, I am REALLY White-Rabbit-like late.... but I am here now and how wonderful to read this. You write with such FEARLESSNESS and Passion.... YOU dance with your words, soul and heart.

    The story is so (sadly) true these days.... most people don't let themselves FEEL....they live by rote and function on "auto"... fear is the great disabler....

    But you, dear friend, DO NOT suffer from such an affliction!

    Beautiful story!!!! BRAVA!

    Love,

    ♥ Robin ♥

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  22. To be carried along by the pure dance of your words was a delight. In the back waters of my villainous mind rhythm and music rule, but only to the tune of reason. Na'eisai kala, agapi mou.

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  23. glad you gave 10thDom a try...this was a really really good effort

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  24. geli - thanks so much. i love your story about telling your daughter how to balance -- such a good mom with the best advice....hugs back xoxo

    fireblossom - i'm not familiar with turgenev's work but now must do so. love that you identify with the foto - it has that 'about to be yanked into the ground' feeling....is that what spoke to you?

    pattiken - thanks for your kind welcome. i'm honored to be part of a group of such passionate writers.

    robin dear, thank you. as always, your words come directly from the heart - you're the real thing ♡

    bob - my heart leapt to read your comment! and i can handle reason, my friend, as long as it is served with a side of retsina. kai esi. polla filia.

    tom - thanks. and i loved your poem. it made me smile.

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  25. I'm actually crying. You have an amazing gift. This story just resonated on so many levels. The little details, the big ideas...all of it. I used to grade essays for a living (former English teacher) and have no idea what I would have written besides the A+. You took my breath away with this. Please write more. (And I'm new to 10DOM, too. I only have participated once, but hope to make the deadline next time.)

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  26. Hey
    Amanda,
    Don't forget to vote on http://tenthdaughterofmemory.blogspot.com Only contributors can and votes close tomorrow . .

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  27. I see Baino's been here... heh.

    Got your vote. Thanks!

    (although I think you skipped my second entry... cough, cough) ;)

    An aside... would you be willing to unhide your email address? It's a bit easier for the admins to communicate with participants that way. Not a requirement, just a convenience (I, for one, am remarkably lazy).

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  28. tina - wow - how very kind. thank you from my heart for these words of support♡

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  29. oh an excellent write...my wife was a ballerina for 18 years...welcomne to 10 DOM

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  30. 'they died along with him, their edges burning, slowly'

    'pushing the water away in thick glassy waves'

    amanda! i could have chosen a dozen or more really wonderful metaphors and images like these.

    you've spun a terrific story. i mean it totally. you are a VERY good writer. the characters are both vivid and in the way you wanted, i think, bigger than life. i read this completely engaged.

    and what is baino doing here?!! i love that, when i find a friend appears somewhere else, tying our community closer and closer together.

    and TSUP! it just means a kiss, the sound your lips make when you are throwing a kiss. i thought the origin was from anon bird, an australian blogger (sad disapppearance) but the actually term may be filipino. in any case, it's affection being passed from me to you. :)

    so maybe this is a writing group i might check out?

    love love
    kj

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  31. That was absolutely fantastic writing. Wow. I could read this story on and on - a book maybe?

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  32. Woweee!!! Congratulations on winning 10thD!!! Now, aren't you glad you took the plunge into the deep end?

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  33. 10th DoM Winner!

    Look what you've released into the Universe.

    Amanda - the Muse of Passion!

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  34. I saw the cougar this morning! She passed along the fence line, leaped the fence into Bella's dog yard, flushed a family of Hungarian Partridges and strolled down into Willow Creek where your header shot was taken.

    Animal Speak says that when Cougar Totem show up, much of the trial has been worked through. Now it is time to assert personal power.

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  35. brian - a ballerina for 18 years? that's a long career for a dancer -- fantastic! thanks for your kind words.

    kj -- i don't think i KNOW this is a writing group you should check out. please say you will. and so many thanks for your sensitive and caring read of the story. and also for the definition of tsup -- i would never have known.........so big TSUP back to you dear!!
    xoxo

    glynis, thank you for stopping by to read!! xo

    nancy - thanks so much!! a book? you never know when a character will grab you by the throat but we'll see - thanks for that idea!! xoxo

    jeff - thanks man!! but i'm still pinching myself...it's hard for me to believe with all this raw talent floating around in 10thdom

    willow, i am glad i dove in the deep end, but i really have to give proper credit to you, my friend. i read your amazing poem (which i loved), which led me to the contest. i rode in on your bravery coattails.....so thanks go to YOU xoxo

    angelmay - thank you for dropping by and for reading!! xo

    deb, many thanks, dear --- muse of passion - those are big boots to fill....!

    i can't tell you how much i love your story about the cougar sighting. i read it over twice, trying to imagine what that must have looked like. incredible! i will now do some research on the cougar totem, i'd like to know more........so intriguing. love to you and thanks again dear xoxo

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  36. Wow. I was immediately inside the head of your heroine. Only really good writers have that seemingly simple ability that effortlessly transplants and shoots the reader right into the heart of the character portrayed. Quite rare that. Go you!!!.

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  37. wow -- such kind words unstranger, thank you for that - i am honored!

    xo

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