Bird Goes On Vacation


Greetings from a high country Starbucks, fellow Visitors. I’d like to take a minute and introduce you to some of the people who have enriched my world tremendously over the past year. Conventional wisdom says to keep these things short, apparently you people don’t have the patience to actually read so much, with images bombarding you from every venue.

I have faith in you though. I think, somewhere, we are still a nation of readers, just getting buried under Facebook, handheld movies, and High Def GPS devices in our cars.

Meet Catherine Mallicoat. Prior to last Thursday, Catherine and I had never laid eyes on each other. She was my very first “like” when I started victoriasvisits, and I took an interest in this little whippet from the beginning.

We struck up quite a correspondence, and through some similar life choices, came to lean on each other quite a bit. Catherine does the world an enormous public service writing about the raw reality of losing loved ones to methamphetamine. This scourge has raced through her family, decimating relationships and finances, and is simply no respecter of persons.
Catherine has an iron constitution, not a speck of judgement for the idiotic choices I often make, and is absolutely hilarious. I’d encourage you to go back to the beginning, and read this one from the start. Much love, Victoria

Everyone Has A Story... Again

Like probably all the other bloggers in the world, I intend to write a year round-up piece

tomorrow. It’s probably going to be my masterpiece because let’s face it — This year was packed full of drama for me. Luckily, I’m finally able to find some things to laugh about despite the upheaval my life experienced. It would have really blown if the year had ended in October, right?

One of the things that is helping me end the year on a better note is that I got to take a vacation this week to Colorado. In a move that is completely unlike me, I decided to take up a fellow blogger’s invitation to come visit her in her home. I have a lot of friends I’ve developed through blogging, and I am blessed by invitations to visit occasionally. Up until now, I’ve politely declined because in all honesty, I’ve…

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On Intimacy, Touch, and Dates From Hell


So it’s 3:32 am,  and I just put my eighth grader on a plane for the East Coast. I drove through a pounding snowstorm to get to her school, and the possibilities for maudlin analogy are endless.

“Launching the kids”

“Unspooling the kite line”

“Letting loose and letting go”

And on and on. She’s going with her classmates at the local Christian school to see Washington. She danced around with her friends, and I waited in the car to see what would happen next.

Eventually, I hugged her goodbye, and they piled into the buses. The snow kept falling, and I tried to drive home. She’s launching, and I have to let go.  It’s a beautiful thing, and actually does get easier with each child. Slightly.

Tears streamed down my face as I got lost, and missed my daughter.  I am hopeless without Mapquest or a GPS. I found myself on the boulevard of broken dreams, somewhere around Sixth and Wadsworth.

I drove past the dim light of the weed shops, and the grey ghosts of lackluster motels and pawnbrokers.

What would it be like, I wondered, to park the Lexus at the nearest bus station, get on, and  be driven into the unknown? Just me and my computer, an electronic Jack Kerouac, or Least Heat Moon. I didn’t pull over. I continued to drive looking for the equivalent of a twenty first century diner. Starbucks, anyone?

Eventually I found myself at Simms and Union, and pulled into a Denny’s. Astonishing, only  Denny’s is open at this hour. It looked friendly, or at least familiar. Familiar. I grabbed my computer and set up, and was thunderstuck. Of course, this is the Denny’s that my family and I gathered at when my mom died in January. I snapped my computer shut and left.

I drove around aimlessly for a while, thinking about the terrible date I had had several hours earlier. Dante wrote “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here” on the inscription to the first gate of Hell. How appropriate.

Previous that day I had received  a friendly call from a man I had met at a Meetup. I had spent a morning with him on a hike, and thought I might like to get to know him better.  We agreed to meet at a local coffee shop that afternoon, and I still felt dirty that night.

I started to time him, which is rude, I realize. Funny, but rude. He talked for forty seven minutes before asking me a single question. When he started to talk about the kind of birth control he and his wife used, I got out of there in a hurry. What a hopeless, arid waste of time.

It got me to thinking about the lush greenness of  intimacy. I am built to respond to intimacy, personal connections with other human beings. I think most of us are.

The word “intimacy” is a tricky one, like “love”. Most people don’t use either one very well, and Christians often don’t bother to unveil what God wants for us with intimacy. Sexual intimacy is what most people think of when they use the word, and that makes me scratch my head in puzzlement.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

-The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi, when he wants to encourage them to be humble, like Jesus was. (Phil 2:3-4) 

Am I the only one with intimate friends? Friends who will very often humbly set their own interests and needs aside in order to consider mine? I can’t be. Chris’s death has brought me many surprises, and the discovery of intimate friends is one of them.  What does that look like, anyway?

As we can see, God asks us not to do anything out of selfishness or conceit. Instead, to value, or consider, others as more important than ourselves. Not that the other person is more important, but we are to act is if they are.

When I left the date I was describing, the man surprised me with a blind grab toward intimacy. He locked me in powerful hug and kissed me on the cheek. Yuck. Doubly offensive, as I am toucher by nature. I hug my friends,  massage my tired children’s shoulders, give footie rubs to fellow dancers, and walk arm in arm. But don’t you dare touch me  romantically unless you have an inkling that I have given you permission to do so. I felt like taking a shower.

This man professed to be a Christian, and was a selfish jackass.  What a depressing, arid waste of time.

I got to thinking about intimacy in detail.  How intricately intimacy and touch are intertwined. My children tell me what is hidden in their innermost hearts when I am scratching their backs as they drowse off to sleep.

My mother gave me some of her most precious memories when I massaged her sore feet before she died.

My coaches have evolved to be some of my most intimate friends as well. If you think about it, it  only makes sense. Brook, one of my first dance coaches, was a deeply caring, concerned man. I started with  him about six months after Chris died, and was in a very odd place. It was as if I was a burn victim, and simply couldn’t stand to be touched. Brook was a great intuitive, and a hard taskmaster.  I was determined to  heal, and one of the things I was going to reclaim was waltz. Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I love to waltz, and Chris and I were good. The first time I told Brook I wanted to waltz again, we made it about halfway across the floor before I soaked his shoulder with tears.

As you know, the ‘advanced embrace’ in ballroom connects the body centers, shoulders and hips, and is energetically drawn UP and TOGETHER. When you get good, the unity of purpose is energizing, and intimate. Partners joke around, ask about families, laugh, get irritable, and in my case, cry until wounds are washed away.  It’s really very safe, if you care even a little about each other.  Brook was the soul of patience, and the dialogue looked something like this:

Victoria: (weeping against Brook’s shoulder) I’m sorry, Brook.

Brook: It’s okay. Dance is like life, it can be hard. Do you need a tissue?

Victoria: Yes. Sorry about your shirt.

Brook: (chuckle) It’s ok. Let’s get back to work.

Brook never go of me, and nearly two years later, I waltz with joy.

Todd, my current dance coach,  often doubles as my therapist. I’ve long thought you can’t be twitchy about being touched if you want to be a better dancer, and the best coaches ignore those kind of boundaries completely.  Todd will adjust my spine, rotate my shoulders, tilt my chin, align my pelvis with my body core, all kind of things while talking a mile a minute.

It’s almost as if vulnerability is automatic, as someone that close to you physically will notice tension instantly. I had had a lesson with Todd a few days ago, and he noticed something wrong immediately.

Todd: (Warming waltz up with me to Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” ) Victooooria, you’re all tense! What’s wrong?

Victoria: (Waltzing in tears)” I fought with someone I care about, Todd.” BOOM! Front and center. It’s hard to be guarded when someone is six inches from your face, and literally connected to your hip.

Intimacy is also a judgement call.  As a single woman, boy, is this difficult! When I was married, it grew easier and easier to read the man I loved as the years flowed by. Not that ours was an easy marriage, by any means, but I grew to be a student of Chris’s, and it got to be pretty easy to figure out what was on his heart.

I misjudged one of my new Meetup friends to be more concerned with me than he actually was, and he blew a cork. I treated him in a way that I treat the ‘top tier’ of my friends, those that I know, from the bottom of my heart, are concerned enough about me that boundaries of all sorts matter very little. I am concerned with them the same way.

Matthew and I are friends, but not for so long. A powerfully built man, he works an upside down schedule, and is often up at odd hours, like me. We have a lot to say, and can keep up.

Matt’s birthday is soon, and in my typical, take-no-prisoners, no negotiations allowed way, I thought about pulling a big, surprising birthday stunt to get a grin out of Matt. I did it surreptitiously, and Matthew got wind of it, and came at me with both guns blazing.

Suddenly I was a ‘plotter’, and a ‘schemer’ and an embarrassment to a new friend.

I was doing what came naturally to me, and trampling completely over what came naturally to someone else.

I related this to a handful of my intimate friends. As they love me, they used words like ‘over reactive’ to describe Matt. Perhaps.  But the few intimate friends also gently remonstrated me. He’s a man, Victoria, so by nature different than you. He’s allowed to be solitary, he’s allowed to be whatever he wants. Go and apologize.

” Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Hmm. Some Christian I was. I apologized.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, Chapter twelve, verse eight.

I guess humility is a part of intimacy as well. Matthew did not humiliate me, and accepted my apology with grace.  He offered a humble apology for his own reactivity.

Whether Matthew and I will actually get to the point of being intimate friends remains to be seen. I couldn’t know this weak spot of his, but now that I do, I’ll protect it.  Perhaps he’ll protect me from my own impulsiveness. Or perhaps not.

As for me? What Jesus and my friends have taught me to do, I’ll do so for others.

We shall see.

Much love,

Victoria


Dancing With The Stars


Orion. What I would give to go visit.

Rachael got out our telescope tonight. This thing is enormous. I don’t know the specifications of this beast, but the 8 x 50 on the little lens on top gave me a clue that the bigger one must be darn powerful. We fooled around with it quite a bit before getting it to work, and were treated to dazzling views of the stars in Orion’s belt.

She started to bounce around the deck, babbling on about the Pleiades, Castor and Pollux, Venus, Mars and both of the Ursas. I watched this kid, delighting in her delight, and felt the wonder again of the gift of parenthood.

The Pleiades. I wonder who lives there?

The Bible says that “Children are a gift of the Lord”, a crown” a “grace” and all kinds of other complimentary things.  Mine are rocketing toward adulthood, heading for unknown galaxies far, far away. It’s just the coolest thing to watch.

I’m grateful for you people, because I feel the lack of a partner acutely in times like this.  Chris was as much into parenting as I am, and sometimes we would just look at each other and shake our heads. What a riot, what an amazement this whole gig has turned out to be.

I mean, four kids? What the hell were we thinking? Actually, I wanted to adopt a fifth, but someone was too chickenhearted to take the plunge. (You listening up there, honey?)

Those of you who started with me know their stories, and I know  you are all holding your breath a bit too, wondering how this is going to play out. Traumatized children can easily go bananas, and I was warned. They were so brave during Chris’s ordeal, treating him with love while watching him undergo this horrifying transformation.

When he died, everyone I respected warned me, as gently as they could, that they would probably crater in some way or another. While I have found that too be true to a limited degree, the bomb really hasn’t blasted us apart.

The past six months have been very intense for us on many levels, mainly because the girls are going to college. Gracious, certain words are just giant buttons for me now : applications, early decisions, roommate, Ivy, financial aid, FAFSA (Oh, just writing that one incites an inner desire for violence) and lastly, tuition. ARGH!

The Lierheimer ship is beginning to right itself now, though. Abigail is four for 4 on her first choices, the most exciting of which is admission to Boston University School of Fine Arts. Imagine this, people, forty four THOUSAND young people applied for thirty nine HUNDRED  freshman spots. Abi got one of them! Isn’t that fabulous? The kid’s a rock star.

Both of them got into DU, with a sizeable basket of merit scholarship cash handed to them, thank God. Both of them have worked so hard, they deserve every penny, and I’m grateful.

So, here we are. Part of me is dancing for joy for these kids. I am thoroughly delighted to see them gathering the fruits of their labor, particularly given the events of the past two years.

Part of me though, the part that walks down my father’s driveway alone, the part that scuffs the crack in the pavement and misses my mother, part of me is very sad.

She’d be thrilled, the poor coal miner’s daughter from Pennsylvania. The only one in her family who went to college. I so wish I could tell her.

I wish I could go with them, I wish I could learn about medicine with Faith, about art with Abi, and understand the Swahili that Christopher speaks in Fluid Dynamics, whatever that is.

But it is not to be. The tendrils of family stretch tight, and farther than I thought possible. They will always be my kids, these wonderful young adults, but they’re not children anymore.

It’s all good though. Sickness and death have taken a reprieve from our household, and the possibilities are endless. Just like God, the universe for them seems eternal. They are dancing among the stars, and I get to clap. How great is that!

Much love,

Victoria

Making Connections


   I went dancing last Friday, after a particularly difficult week. It was glorious. My usual partner was there, as well as several other partners who are just a joy to dance with. My coach Todd, of Todd Munson Studios, is like a little yapping terrier. Annoying, until you realize what treasure he is, and how much you’d miss him if he weren’t there. Todd has group lessons twice a week, and then a social event afterwords, mainly to practice new skills.

As a group, we continued to refine our tango skills. Todd flitted around from couple to couple, nitpicking posture here, lead there, and rhythm all around. During the hour, we rotate partners, and stay out of the way of the beginners, who are learning basic patterns behind us.

I noticed an attractive woman in the beginning class. She was tall, blonde and slender, but her shoulders were hunched, and her steps were tentative. Something about her body language pinged my memory.

Not for long, though, because tango is hard. Concentrate! I also had Rick whispering funny comments in my ear, so it was hard to dance the patterns without cracking up. After the lesson was over, I went to the table to get a drink.

“Hi! I’m Victoria. Are you new here?” The music started to play.

“Yes, my name is Maria. You look like you’ve been dancing a while.”

“Oh, it’s a long story. How about you? Have you been dancing long?” I sat beside her.

“Actually, I’m just trying to be less of a hermit. A year ago last July I lost my husband, so I’m trying to get out more.” Chills ran down my arms.

“Really? You lost your husband? I’m so sorry.”

“Yes, me too. He had colon cancer, so young for something so tragic. He died on July 17, 2010. ” I could feel my face start to go numb.

“Maria. That can be Hebrew for ‘bitter’. Do you ever feel bitter?” She looked at me, startled. “Well, sometimes. But I’m really very lucky, I have three children and great friends. Dance is something to help me feel normal again.” Tears started to gather in my eyes.

“Samba, Victoria?” Rick stuck out his hand.

“Of course! See you in a few, Maria!” Rick and I danced across the floor. Rick is perhaps 5 foot 9 and 150 pounds, all muscle and piano wire. He’s also very fluid, and a blast to dance with.  He’s very funny, a great dancer, and a very kind man.

He led me back to Maria after the song concluded. I sat back down.

“Maria, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I lost my husband the day after you lost yours, also to colon cancer.” Her mouth dropped open, her eyes were shiny with tears. I took her hand.

“You’re going to like it here. The people are friendly, and it’s a lot of fun.”

“Tango, Victoria? More practice?” Rick appeared again, big grin on his wiry face. Rick led me onto the dance floor, and I whispered into his ear. He looked at me and nodded, a sympathetic smile on his face. My three hours were almost up, and my chariot was about to turn into a pumpkin, if I didn’t get back home.

Rick led me off the dance floor, and winked at me. I changed my shoes and put on my coat, just into time to hear Rick say:

“Tango, Maria? It’s ok, we can just practice the basic steps. Everyone always needs work on the basics.” I smiled goodbye to Rick, got into the car, and drove home.

Men of a Certain Character


I had sharp disagreement with a friend of mine the other day. Some of you who have been on this journey with me for a while know of him-Brook Metcalf, my dance coach.

I don’t really remember the content, or even how it started, but unfortunate words were exchanged. I believe he used the word ‘abrasive’, and I used the word ‘overbearing’.  Looking back, it seems that both of those words had some truth to them.

We stumbled around in a murky, unpleasant linguistic forest for a while, until he had to get on a plane to return to Colorado. The conversation did not end well.

I sat at my desk for a bit, and mused. Well, that was it, I guessed. Brook and I are only student and coach, and neither of us owed the other much. I composed a what I thought was a conciliatory email, sent it off, teared up a bit and went on with my day.

I continued to ponder the situation as the day wore on.

I find myself more and more an observer of human interaction these days, and it is endlessly fascinating to me.  What do we owe each other? What does God ask of us? How should we treat each other, really? What’s the difference between how spouses, friends, parents and children, bosom buddies or lovers should talk to each other?

In one of my previous posts (since moved to the “Wounded Soldier List”) I frosted over because a friend of mine who laid claim to the words of Jesus Christ acted in a way that I perceived to be dismissive.

Well, he was dismissive. But what did he owe me? Like Brook, my other friend and I are neither lovers or family, so one would think that going the extra mile really isn’t necessary.

Unless it is.

Later that afternoon my cell phone buzzed and “Brook Metcalf” appeared on the caller ID.

Hoo, boy, what did I do now, I wondered, cynically.

Understand that Brook is a performer, vocally musical as well as lyrical in dance. He has a tremendous speaking voice.

“Victoria,” he asked kindly, “what is going on here?”

I was stunned into silence. (Hard to believe, I know.)

People often say that stutterers like me sometimes have crashing torrents of words in their brains that get ahead of their tongues.  The result, like then, can be utter speechlessness. Brook’s opener had rendered me speechless.

I couldn’t believe my dance coach cared enough about a simple friendship to take the time to make it right. Who does that?

Well, it turns out that all of us should. Here’s a good quote from the Apostle Paul in his letter to church in Rome-

Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The Ten Commandments…finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.

I’ve always maintained that English is not a very good language as far as the word ‘love’ is concerned. It’s very limited, and we have to embellish it. I ‘love’ my girlfriends unconditionally, I ‘love’ my children ferociously, I ‘loved’ my husband romantically, and I ‘love’ other friends gratefully. Given preschool administrator job, one could even say I ‘love’ children professionally.  I also love Brook, as his hands were part of a long series that has helped lead me out of a very dark place.

Brook and I are not the same kind of children of God. He has a very colorful history, quite divergent from mine. We share a certain degree of cognitive ability, and a great deal practice and skill in our respective fields.

His past includes all kinds of people, my friend set was fairly homogeneous. His past includes brushes with destiny, mine was insular. But both of us have this burning desire to make a difference in the world, one single person at a time.

Like the Apostle Paul says,  the Ten Commandments simply adds up to ‘love other people as well as you do yourself.’ If you think about it, that’s a tall order. We often love ourselves pretty well, especially to the exclusion of other people.

I took a deep breath, and tried not to stutter into the phone. I was fully aware that it would have been much more convenient for Brook to write this whole thing off, and go on about his business. It showed a certain character, a certain sort of  bravery and risk taking to pick up the phone and call. And much more in line with what the Apostle Paul would have all of us do.

“Well, Brook, …..”

About thirty minutes later, we had made our way out of the dense forest of misunderstanding, and into the clear sunlight of friendship.

I had a lesson to look forward to, a friend to cherish, and another one of a long list of very cool people who have influenced me positively and I am very blessed to know.

Be well, Brook.

Much love,

Victoria

Victoria’s List of What Makes a Real Man
1. Someone who treasures me more than himself. One might almost think that’s Biblical.
2. Courage. Take heart. Never, never give up.
3. Must Love Kids.  The greatest strength is shown through gentleness. Jesus himself had a special place in his heart for children.
4Cheerfulness!     Make me laugh, and I’ll follow you anywhere.
5.Be a true Warrior Prince, Son of the King of Heaven.  
6. A Certain Depth of Character. Taking the time, especially when it could cost you.

“Places, Everyone!” Moving on with Evita.


 

Evergreen has a surprising amount of cultural activity for such a little, spread out town. Late last spring the local community theater, the Evergreen Chorale, had auditions for the musical Evita.

Faith was all over the auditions, of course. I had gotten in several months of coaching with Brook, my ballroom teacher, and thought I might give it a go. As the time drew nearer, I wondered what on earth had gotten in to me.

I could sing a bit, dance more, and act some. But really, Faith is dazzling on stage, and everyone else very likely inhabited that orbit. What on God’s green earth made me think I could keep up?

Besides, some of you know about the terrible unexplained neuropathy that took over my feet during the last months of Chris’s cancer. It got so bad at one point that I could not stand without the sensation of walking on a sharpened bed of knives. That lasted for months. (What a great example of sin inhabiting our very DNA. Dance is one of the great loves of my life, and the stress of it all taking over my feet was just a killer.)

Well, what the heck. What’s the worst that could happen? Certainly no one was going to die, right? No one would throw a tomato at me if I muffed Amazing Grace for the singing audition, and the pain in my feet had receded quite a bit. I could (probably) keep the staggering to a minimum.

Besides, how cool would it be to see Faith’s name in lights someday, and to know that I had shared a stage with her long ago?

So, music in hand, off I went. I sang for a gentle-looking man named John, and a completely terrifying little German woman named Christine.

The pianist was already familiar, as he played piano for Faith’s choir at school. DJ is one of the most fascinating characters I know. Sort of like a taller, younger Billy Joel, DJ is keyboard wizard, as well as a private investigator and attorney. What a combination!

The dance audition was for a perky, smiley little firecracker of a choreographer named Melissa.

The choreography was simple, but nerves and nerve pain are very real. I shuffled my way through the steps, near tears about what I used to be able to do, and clenching my teeth through the excruciating pain. Ah, well, at least I had tried!

When we were done, I hid my dismay from Faith, and we went out for ice cream. Several days later, to my surprise, I got a call back for the singing chorus! A few days after that, Hank, the production manager, asked if I would fill in a space for the dance chorus. Hank is a handsome specimen of a former leading man, and I was delighted.

The man I had auditioned for turned out to be John Thornberry, the director.  As this process continued, it was fascinating to listen to this thing take shape. The language of creating dance and the language of creating musical theater are completely different, but if you listen closely, you can hear similar patterns. Sort of like listening to French and German.

I thought it would be better for me if I kept my mouth shut and my ears open during rehearsals. No one needed to know the last time I stepped on a stage was with a community dance troupe in Schenectady, in the early 90’s. My voice? Well, children are a wonderful audience. I sing all the time in school, and they always clap!

It turned out this was a good call. The experience of this group simply overflowed. It was fascinating to listen to one cast member named Bethany talk about her husband Mark’s creepy hair extensions during a production of Jekyll and Hyde. Another gal named Stacey told me a tale about singing “Breath of Heaven” in front of a church with thousands of people listening. Her husband Chad had had too many roles to count, and a dashing gentleman named Wendall had been in over 30 productions. Lori Atkinson had just finished a lead part in Once Upon a Mattress. The first time I sat beside her during the music rehearsal, I was dumbstruck for just a moment. She sang alto next to me, and was so accurate with every note, I just had to  listen. This was going to be great! What an opportunity!

Becky Donnella, an aspiring nurse, was cast as Eva. Brian Sides, in intimidating bear of a police detective, was Peron. That these two were also engaged in real life, only added to the color and charm of the  theatrical  experience they displayed on stage.

The rehearsals ramped up as time went by. First weekly, then twice weekly. As the production dates drew near, we had two weeks of several hours every day. I suddenly understood what had exhausted Faith about “Hell Week”.

As a chorus member, I got a surprising amount of stage time. It was a twelve show run, and I was in about a third of the scenes. In between scenes, I often stood and watched the other cast members perform. Some of the songs and scenes just never got old!

Take this one, for example.

In this picture, Chad is playing the part of Magaldi, a tango singer who is one of a long list of men for Eva. Lighter than air, and almost too fabulous, Chad milks this part for all it’s cheesy glory. Ever see a lounge singer? The hilarious thing about this is that Chad has a lovely, powerful tenor. I got to sing beside him in several other scenes. He was so spot on, I had to rehearse with DJ several times by myself to make sure I could keep my alto, without accidentally joining Chad!

Every time Chad sang this part, it just cracked me up. I would stand in the wings and listen, and watch Faith and the others consistently give a Beatles-swoon to his song. (Except for Damon, of course, who perfected a magnificent sneer.)

In this picture, Norika is singing the part of Peron’s discarded mistress. Norika is an unusually gifted singer, and 15. Creepily, Peron’s mistress before Eva was also 15. The men in this number have lovely, rumbling harmony.

The big guy Matt, has a fabulous bass, and is an artist by trade.

Once, during an especially tiring rehearsal at the firehouse, all of us were listening to John, and secretly checking the clock.  Our backs were to the dry erase boards against the wall. Except for Matt’s. When we turned around to go, we were treated to this-

Courtesy of Matt. Faith and I still laugh about that one.

We rehearsed more and more, and slowly my own terror began to ebb.

Funny, when Chris was so sick, I developed this irrational fear of falling down. If you think about it, it only makes sense. If I fell down, I might get hurt, and couldn’t take care of him, or the kids, and, horrors, might need to be taken care of myself. This, coupled with the intermittent agony of my feet, made simple walking quite a mental task.

So, now I was in a position of not just walking, but walking in character. Walking in close proximity with other people. Walking around stuff. Walking in time, walking around props, walking backwards, walking in slow motion. When it finally penetrated that I would be doing all of this in front of people who were paying good money to see it, I very nearly fled.

That’s me in the tie. Walking different characters, dontcha know.

But, like Brook says,  perfect practice makes perfect, and my head was in the game, even if my body checked out from time to time. We practiced things endlessly, and slowly I began to really know that I could do this part, and make it fun for people to watch.

Twelve shows is a long time for an amateur like me, and toward the middle of it, it began to slip on like a familiar jacket. Even on a Friday after a long week, when going home and plopping on the couch was a lot more appealing, going to perform in “Evita” was something I looked forward to.

There was constant backstage chatter, especially among the women. With characters like these, who can resist?

I’ve been a teacher my whole life, so I can honestly say it gives me a great deal of pleasure to learn. I learned a so much from every single one of these cast members, and did it while having a blast.

Chris would have smiled.

Stepping out like this has also produced a whole lotta ‘wanta’s. So, here’s my list.

Wanta look like Audrey Hepburn (I mean Stacey)

Wanta adopt both Damon and Alejandro (Hey, maybe there’s a Puerto Rican in my checkered past.)

Wanta have Chad for a ballroom partner

Wanta sing like Norika

Wanta dance with Melissa again .   Wanta have Brian around for any                                                                        trouble

                                          Wanta have Becky as that ultracool, uber talented little sister.

And above all, wanta have that super expressive kid around forever. Wait, got that one covered! Much appreciation to all of you, I couldn’t have asked for a better, more uplifting run!

Sincerely and with much love,

Victoria

Victoria Loves Chocolate


It was a simply gorgeous summer day. The Central Park Mall was unlike any other place to visit. The trees formed an enormous golden green canopy over the forty foot wide walkway, and the pedestrian street was lined with buskers and performers of all sorts.

What to do? I had a whole day to myself,a pearl of great price. I had packed a picnic, with the idea of going to the Central Park pond to row a bit and people watch.

God’s creativity never failed to make me smile. A placard wielding college kid stood in the distance. What-a war protester?  Pro lifer? Gay rights? No- “Jokes, 1$, Laughter guaranteed!” A true American entrepreneur! I pulled out a dollar and tossed it in the bucket.

“Ok, buddy, I’ll bite. Make me laugh and I’ll give you two.” The handsome, clean-shaven college kid faced me full on. Just the size of his ears made me chuckle.

“Did you hear about the hostile Republican who sent a memo around that Obama’s parent’s were monkeys? Clearly they were elephants!” Bada bing.

“What do you call a cane for a blind cow? Hamburger helper! ”

“What kind of guns do honeybees use?BB guns!”  Oh! I laughed at the lameness of it all, and got out of there before he could do any more damage.

Next stop was a little boy juggling. First balls. Then plastic bats. Then giant sticks. Then, things got really interesting, he pulled out a unicycle.

“How old are you, kid?” He jumped on the unicycle, rode around like mad. He made a quick, graceful dip and grabbed five of the plastic bats.

“Eleven! I’m eleven!” He started to juggle the bats and flawlessly kept them all in the air as he cavorted around on the unicycle.

I felt the smile spread across my face as I continued down this street of goofy dreams. An elderly black man offered me a bottle of ice.

“For you, a dollar, pretty lady. Usually 2!” I chuckled and pressed the ice against my forehead. “Thanks!”

The mall widens at the Naumberg Band shell, between 66th and 77th streets. Dozens of park benches line the mall there, and a crowd was gathering. I sat on one of the benches, trying to peer into the excitement.

“Who’s the best?” (We are!)

“Ima the best!” (Indeed you are!)

“Ima the Powerhouse” (Yes he is)

“Ima gonna give you da best show in Central Park!” (Yessa we are)

Black English! It galvanized my attention. Black English gained recognition as a legitimate American dialect in the eighties, when linguistics was still fascinating to me.

I stood and bounded over to the edge of the crowd. A group of five men stood in front of a late eighties boom box. One of them was white, sort of, but the other four were so black you would lose them in a dark room. The leader stood in front  of the group, and as he spoke, his gleaming patois was echoed by the rest of the group.

“Mah name is Powerhouse!” (Yes it is! )

“If you wanna see a show, you gonna hold your babies and show us yo love!” (Not yo hate!)

He held up a twenty. “Yo love!” He held up a five. “Not yo hate!” Ha!

“Do you wanna see a show?” The crowd started to whistle and stomp. ‘Powerhouse’ took off his shirt. He started to mug his chiselled physique to the audience.

He cranked the boom box, and the boys started to run through their paces. Each one had a combination. One would break dance, and end with one armed pushups in time. Another, a series of backflips, handsprings and layouts. Another more current kid, looking like a spastic stork, krumped like a madman to the delight of the audience.

Finally, for the grand finale, Powerhouse lined several women and children up side by side.

“Now! You must give us yo purses and yo sunglasses!”

One of the skinnier boys gathered all the gear. He leered at the audience, and took off down the mall trailing purses,  only to be tackled by another krumper, and flattened to  the pavement.

“Nahw! Na stop that! We don’t do that any more! ” Powerhouse winked at the audience. The dancer put the purses in a bucket.

Powerhouse layered the verbosity on like paint. Back up! We were told. Stay Still in line or You Gonna Die!

He walked several yards up the mall.

“Yall watch it! I don’t know if I can do this! Ima Forty Five! ” (Yes he is!)

“Rilly! This is a black man runnin with no cop chasin him! No woman at home, so I just chase ladies all day!” The crowd laughed. I grinned at the self-deprecation.

Then I gaped as Powerhouse raced down toward the quaking line of volunteers. He was fast.

He ran full tilt toward the seven standing people. He punched the ground, executed a perfect front handspring, and flew over all the people with a flawless forward twisting layout, and stuck his landing lightly.

I was flabbergasted. No Cirque de Soleil for me.  I had Central Park. The crowd went wild, and the boys took their cue to pass around the sacks.

Powerhouse made the rounds to me. I pulled out a twenty.

“Say, Powerhouse! Great show! How about twenty bucks for a picture with you and the boys?”

“Yo know it! Boys!” The men materialized around me at lightspeed.  I gave my camera to a passerby, and put my arm around Powerhouse. He put his arm around my waist, and told the man

“You ready? You ready for a special picture?” Suddenly, I was tossed into the air like an armful of autumn leaves.

Decades old training took over and I pointed my feet, positioned my arms and laughed like a child. He caught me lightly, and set me carefully down on my feet.

“Gracious!” I gasped. ” You really are a powerhouse! ” He chuckled and moved on to the next customer. I sat down under a shade tree to recover.

How amazing is that? These boys don’t just develop that kind of skill on their own. They had to have been taught for years, and work out regularly somewhere. I had to get to the bottom of this.

The crowd slowly dispersed, and Powerhouse toweled off.

“Powerhouse! Thanks for the picture! Are you really forty five?”

“Yessm. Work hard every day”.

“Well you look pretty darn sharp. What’s your real name?”

“Martin. These dudes are my cousins, except for the white one. He’s just a friend. We work here every day, during the warm weather, and it’s a pretty good gig.”

We continued to talk, and Martin’s speech began to morph into something more like mine. Martin was amazing, linguistically. He was what people like me call a ‘situational code switcher’.  That means he could speak one dialect for one reason, and switch to another one pretty much instantly, given a reason.

Within about sixty seconds, all of the “Ima’s” and “Yo’s”  and “Yessms” completely disappeared. In their place was what I deemed to be perfectly normal, nearly accentless speech. It was quite a feat. He told me about years of gymnastics training as a younger man, and how he and the boys rehearse as much as other men do pickup basketball.

“Well, it’s been a treat talking to you ,Martin. Are you really single? You have to be kidding me, here.”

“No, I’m single. I have a son, but I’m single. Why, do you like chocolate?” He pulsed a two handed heart off his chest toward me.

“Very much. Ha!” I pulsed right back. Victoria loves chocolate!

(hee-hee)

Much love,

Victoria

Breathing with Brook


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Author’s note: When Chris was at his sickest, a trusted friend of mine asked me if there was any part of the scripture I still believed to be true. I thought about it, and had to answer her honestly. “No.”

Another friend of mine encouraged me to write down any singular scrap of good that has come to me as a result of this catastrophe.  Jesus’ friend Paul assures us that all things work together for good, for those who love Him and who listen to his call, after all. 

That was a little easier. Here’s one. 

Breathing with Brook

“Click.”

Brook Metcalfe muttered under his breath.  I was in the middle of a very demanding and frustrating tango lesson, and had just settled into the proper position in my instructor’s arms. Tango with Brook was a very different experience than what I had learned with Chris, when we first started coaching together, over twenty years ago.

Communication in Amercian Smooth Dance is puzzling to a beginner like me. There are four dances in American Smooth.  My coach and I are spending a lot of time on three- Waltz, Viennese Waltz, and some American Tango. There is an enormous amount of back and forth that goes on as dancers become more advanced. All kinds of complicated vocabulary and requests are exchanged, by both the men and the women. All through 3 points of contact-the upper body, the hands, and the man’s hand on the ladies back.  It is very much like learning another language.

For me, this kind of dance  is a lot like tunnel flying. As I have described here before, sometimes it is just great to put yourself in a situation where you must empty your mind, and can’t think of anything else except what you are doing in the moment. Tunnel flying is a uniquely non-distracting experience. If I don’t concentrate utterly, I don’t make any progress. Not only that, I might get hurt!  Both of these are  truly undesirable outcomes.

Coaching with Brook is also a focusing experience. Not that Brook isn’t distracting.  In fact, Brook is an archetype. A mythical model of the perfect male that American women want, or at least say they do. Brook is accomplished and fit, his manners and dress are impeccable, his communication style is authoritative but generous and firm.  He is dominant without being domineering, and amenable, within boundaries.He always smells faintly of Armani, and is supremely comfortable in his own skin. Other people’s too, if my tumbling into him during tango is any indication.

And, unfortunately for me, Brook is also very funny. Distracting!

He drives a 1998 Mustang  and is a very much into cars. In the brief time we have coached together, I actually have made some progress. I now can get a glimpse of what an advanced couple might look like and to me the unity of purpose is energizing. To Brook, it’s like a well oiled machine. Gears, in fact!

“Click.”

When we start a number, sometimes I get the stance right from the beginning. Brook will sometimes say “Click!” and it is all I can do to keep from cracking up. Of course! It makes perfect sense from the masculine, mechanistic point of view. Two dancers fitting together correctly is a lot like an engine working properly, a beautiful thing, even poetic somehow.

When I tell people about this coaching experience, I often show them some of the performance pictures my coach has on his website. Inevitably at least one obnoxious question comes up, can you guess?

“So, is this guy straight, or what?”

Our perceptions of masculinity are so rigid sometimes.

I am much tempted to tell my friends to look at some of his performance videos. Chris and I were always intrigued by gender differences, whether they are inborn or nurtured. How fascinating is it to know someone like Brook,  who can wear masculinity like a jacket, to be altered at will.  Brook has the amazing ability to morph into all kinds of masculine incarnations. Brazilian caballero? Got it. Proper Englishman going to see the Queen? No problem. Cowboy line dancing at the Little Bear? Nailed. Even a Lindy-hopping WWII buff swinging his partner around, grinning the entire number.  It is just a riot to go through some of his performance videos, almost impossible to see the same man.  Truly a remarkable ability.

I am so thankful for this whole experience. Before Chris and I had children, we coached for several years with an old Arthur Murray warhorse named Dolph Sands. Dolph had long since departed the Murray franchise and made a name for himself in Albany. Dolph advanced dancers at the pace they were capable of, and Chris and I were always challenged.

Chris was a marvelous pianist, and we discovered we had an affinity for  waltz.

“Click.” We fit together beautifully.

Brook describes each dance as a story, and waltz is one that is marked by longing and pursuit. I  am long past pursuit of my partner. We had a long history of pursuit, attaining each other, and pursuing goals together. But I don’t think I’ll ever be past longing, perhaps that’s part of true love lost.

I’ll be with Brook for as long as I am able, as it is hugely enjoyable for me to take master classes from an expert. That he is personable and friendly is a bonus.

Waltz and Viennese Waltz are my favorites, and I just about beyond the need to soak my partner’s shoulder with tears. But waltzing from one end of the studio to the other with Brook? It’s like breathing again.

Much love,

Victoria

PS- Join me! You have my contact information. Here is Brook Metcalf’s- 702-493-5147.