Clearing the decks to write
Finally had a bit of a breakthrough on my dissertation proposal — hallelujah! Working now on getting a dissertation committee Chair, and figuring out all the astonishing amounts of paperwork that must be filed as well. Gah! The Chair is harder than it sounds — this person must be a professor at my school and should be familiar with the niche subject I’m interested in researching, in the niche field which is my corner of the Philosophy & Religion department. Another gah.
So this means I’m frequently kind of out of brain juice, so I’m taking this moment to try and help out a sister scholar who is doing some research for a personal project on menstruation. If you’re willing to answer a few interesting questions regarding menstruation, would you head on over to her site and check it out, please? :)
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A friend asked how I center myself and clear my thoughts prior to writing. Like her, I truly enjoy writing, but I too have had difficulty clearing my mind and getting my butt into the chair and then getting my ideas out there. I’ve found that scheduling regular writing times is an imperative for me — otherwise there is always something I can come up with to distract myself… and you can only floss the cat so many times before she runs at sight of you! :)
However, I think my friend and I differ in how we see the first 10 to 15 minutes after we’ve sat down to begin writing. She feels hers are wasted simply trying to figure out how to begin… whereas I tend to use them to just blather on however I want — and at some point I start sliding into the requisite mind-set to write good academic prose. That’s what this is, in fact: me calming my head down enough to get into a good writing fugue. I start by tossing out the random thoughts that would distract me — like, have you ever had a song that you heard as a kid that you’ve always tried to find since then, but haven’t been able to… and then all of a sudden one day, there it is on the radio?
That happened to me recently — much to my pleasure at rediscovering the song. I had heard it a few times on the radio when I was a kid living in Florida with my family — maybe it had been just released? I don’t know… but I hadn’t been able to hear the whole thing without interruption. When I finally had a chance to do so, my mom was taking me to buy a long dress for… I think it was a cousin’s wedding? I vaguely recall a tiny boutique dress shop in the deep shade of huge old, Spanish moss-draped oaks. I was not wild about dresses — I felt I looked awful in them — but I was hoping this time a long dress would make the difference.
And somebody grabbed me
Threw me out of my chair
Said, “Before you can eat
You gotta dance like Fred Astaire!”
I truly craved the ability to look elegant and graceful; to float effortlessly across the floor as I danced with my admiring partner, the way everyone else seemed to be able to do. I was young; I didn’t realize everyone else was as panicked about looking stupid and clumsy as I was. So the song really spoke to me when it came on, while I was in the changing room. The man’s voice was a bit nasal, nervous and uncertain sounding — the way I usually felt inside — as he repeated himself several times in the chorus:
You know I can’t dance,
You know I can’t dance,
You know I can’t dance —
I can’t dance!
But the singer decides to give it a try because he’s desperate. There’s a spoken, “Hmm… now wait a minute…” — and then, like The Little Engine that Could (another childhood favorite), the singer encourages himself as he gives it his best shot:
Of course I can dance;
I’m sure I can dance;
I can dance!
I really hit the floor!
Ah, it feels good!
Look at me dancing!
…and that’s when he discovers not only that he can indeed dance — but that he loves it!
You should have seen me moving
Right across the floor-
Hand me down my tuxedo!
Next week I’m coming back for more.
Needless to say, my teenaged angst took a bit more than that to be defeated, but I still had this on-going, incredible urge to dance — just no real understanding of how to do it. Oh, I took the occasional square dance or clogging class… but I lacked the confidence or the knowledge to go out on a weekly basis to some place with music, that wasn’t a singles meat market, which would allow me to simply dance for the joy of it.
Curiously enough, it was a somewhat desperate situation for me (like in the song) which finally taught me how to relax enough to just dance. I was at a party some friends were throwing, and they’d turned the backyard into a dance floor by the addition of a stereo system turned to face out of a bedroom window, and a good DJ. Two nice young men I rather liked realized I really really wanted to dance, but had no idea how — so they each took an arm, lifted me up off my feet, walked me out into the middle of the dance floor (dance grass? :) — and refused to let me leave until I danced with them!
They were good enough friends that they knew I would find this sort of exasperatingly funny rather than frightening or annoying, and I knew them both well enough that I was aware if I insisted on leaving they would not stop me. However… I still wanted to dance! They were right there with me, encouraging me to: “just move! It doesn’t have to be perfect — just let your body sway!” — and so, in a sudden fit of nervous courage I gave it a try — and it worked!
I can dance,
Oh yes, I can dance!
Look at me dance on the floor movin’!
I feel good!
I can dance!
Holy cow did I dance! I had a wonderful time! I wore both of my friends out, but kept dancing with others as they cycled on and off the dance floor. I danced all that night with the astonished, delighted shock of someone who had no idea how easy it was, and had a lot of wasted time to make up for — and I didn’t stop until they turned the music off at 2 am and laughingly said, “Collie! Go home!”
With the advent of the internet I tried occasionally to track down that song I’d heard so long ago, but the lyrics “I can’t dance” never brought up the song I remembered. It was one of those wistfully pleasant memories where I wondered sometimes if it had really happened the way my memory said it had — because I couldn’t find any trace of the song anywhere.
All this came rushing back to me as I was driving to my American Tribal Style belly dance class on a recent Saturday morning — when the song came onto the radio! I was shocked and utterly delighted, turning up the music loudly to hear all the words, and singing along with the bits I remembered — correctly even, woo! When it ended I listened carefully for the singer and song title — and that’s when I realized why I’d never been able to track the song down on the internet. The title was “Long Tall Glasses” — but it was also known as: “I Can Dance”! All these years, my insistence on the “can’t” in the lyric had kept me from finding the song.
So to Andrew and John, who carried a nervously protesting (and probably heavy) me out onto the dance floor and stuck with me until I started moving: thank you so much, guys! In retrospect, I’m really glad you did that. And many, many thanks also to Leo Sayer, whose song was one of the first steps in my nervous determination to someday do something I deeply wanted to do: dance.
After all, it may have taken me a while, but now I know I can dance! Can I write a great dissertation? I think I can — I think I can! ;)