Sunday, January 23, 2011

Beginning Again

"Girls, make your life a dance!" our Orange High School PE teacher, Mrs. Weatherill, would exhort us. She of the black tights, the blacker ponytail, the Kathyrn Crosby demi curl-bang, a big apostrophe resting on the right side of her forehead. Smartly keeping time, Mrs. Weatherill beat a hand-held drum and dispatched us in choreographed lines across the gym to the music of Carlos Santana. But as sixteen-year-olds, my friends and I skimmed past our teacher's advice, preferring giggles and gossip.

Yet over the years, I decided Mrs. Weatherill may have been a few beats ahead after all. She meant that we would need to muster all the grace, stamina, and joy we could in order to face what life was about to present to us. And with advancing age, it is easy to overlook making your life a dance: at every turn someone new is undergoing chemotherapy or learning a grim diagnosis or losing someone dear. The drum now beats mortality.

However, sometimes I use these heavy realizations to initiate something new. I found my latest pursuit at Pasadena City College Extended Learning. Yesterday was my first session of Beginning Ballet. You don't have to be thin! You don't have to be nimble! You don't have to have a neck like a swan! You only have to own a pair of ballet shoes.

Teacher Catherine Round is warmly emphatic, technically astute, and a dead ringer for kin of Amy Adams. She believes women of all ages can learn balletic movement and benefit from improved posture. Instruction involves explanation, modeling, guided practice, and gentle correction. Many of us arrived with childhood ballet experience, and it is the funniest sensation to return to positions you haven't held since the 1960s. Our class also learned practical tips for leg beauty, such as grasping a towel from the floor with bare toes in daily repetitions. Prehensile pulchritude? What's not to like?

Beginning Ballet is full for the current session through March 5. Still, there are many other non-credit options at . Meantime, ballet queries to Ms. Round are welcome at

Monday, January 3, 2011

Note to Self: Read 365 Thank Yous

On New Year's Eve I waited with several friends to watch Rose Parade floats being towed along Huntington Drive. We were seated in a car parked at San Marino High School plowing through two boxes of See's candy and dissecting our dinner at Gus's BBQ. Then one friend mentioned a gathering she had just attended at a South Pasadena home where she had met a new author celebrating his book. She sensed he was "...a really nice, nice man."

"New author?" said I, holding the See's momentarily. I can't help myself. I am enamored of the local lit scene. Now here comes a book by our latest Pasadena-area author, John Kralik. Its title is 365 THANK YOUS: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life. It's a petite memoir and meditation which contains a lot in a little.

Vroman's Bookstore stocks the book. Its cover is dominated by blue, but at center there sits a red mailbox on a white post resembling a match from afar,a match waiting to be struck. But a match's bright flare is better utilized when transferred to the slower, softer glow of a candle. Under the harsh glare of resentment, self-loathing, and anger, Mr. Kralik starts to examine the events of his life. As he realizes that negativity and disconnection are rapidly consuming any chance for happiness, he also hears a mystical reminder that he MUST learn gratitude. Profound message that it is, Mr. Kralik vows to himself that he will take action: he will handwrite a series of thank-you notes to others for an entire year. Now whether the act of writing propels gratitude or the gratitude promotes writing is moot to me. The reward is Mr. Kralik's subtle change in attitude, and then behavior, and then an incandescent peace that his book reveals. As his self-scrutiny process burrows deeper inside, the reader realizes this too is me; I too bear loss and disaster, and yet we all must live. How can we light the way for ourselves? How can we live with integrity and grace?

What is unusual about this book is that it lacks archness. It is forthright and generous, implying that any of us can rediscover our balance. Maybe the hope and the actuality of change for the better are unsung benefits of middle age.

John Kralik will discuss his book at Vroman's Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, on Wednesday, January 26 at 7 pm.