Friday, January 18, 2008

Getting Real

Another refreshing unpretentious-celebrity article, this one about the actress Keri Russell. Call me a sucker, but I can't help thinking she might actually not be just a PR-manufactured mannequin of a down-to-earth mother but the real thing. (She's even married to a carpenter; reminds me of one of my very favorite anti-celebrity celebrities, Mary Chapin Carpenter, who's married to a contractor and lives on a farm in Virginia.)

I'll probably piss someone off for saying this, but my default assumption about Hollywood celebrities is that they don't really raise their kids but rather farm out the job to full-time nannies. It's a cynical thing to say, but I confess I do believe that until I see convincing evidence to the contrary. And I rarely see convincing evidence to contrary. (No, the "Stars, They're Just Like Us" photos in Us magazine don't do it for me. I always imagine the nanny is just outside the frame.)

I've been taken for a ride before -- remember when I wrote about Jane Seymour's view of plastic surgery? Well, come to find out this (been meaning to write about that for a couple of months now).

I don't spend that much time thinking about celebrities. Honest.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I keep coming across articles or other things I want to blog about but never seem to find the time. Quick -- no one at work is looking. Here goes:

I liked this New York Times article about Robert Redford's daughter, the first film she's directed, and her relationship to her one-bedroom co-op in New York City. As it happens, I have a one-bedroom condo I love -- though it isn't in New York and my father isn't a world-famous movie star/entrepreneur/activist. That's where she and I part ways.

This passage spoke to me:

It’s a great apartment. But it poses the question: Does Robert Redford’s kid really have to be living in a one-bedroom apartment?

"This kid does," Ms. Redford says firmly.

Why is that?

"Because I want to have my life reflect who I am and what I create and what makes me the most comfortable . . ."

As I approach the one-year anniversary of my condo purchase (January 29), I'm reminded so often of how much I love it, how much at home I feel there, and how much potential there is to make it reflect me and my values even more. It was a long time coming.

I've been lighting fires in my fireplace a lot this winter. Weeknight fires, just because.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Forever and for Always

I've been gone a long time. The holidays were very nice. It's a new year. Can we call it a new start?

Yesterday I took part in a 60th-birthday reading for my friend Meredith, a wonderful person and poet. (She and I were in a gay and lesbian writing group years ago.) She invited several writer friends of hers to read whatever they wanted as long as it was three minutes long. Well, mine was pretty close.

Below is what I wrote. It's not an essay. As I said in my introduction, it's just a trifle, but I gave it a grandiose title just for fun -- the reference, for anyone not a fan of cheesy country-pop, being to a Shania Twain song. (As longtime Mantelpiece readers might notice, I've cribbed some moments from old blog posts here and there.) I was surprised how many people came up to me afterward and said that they were two-steppers or contra dancers or about to start salsa lessons or something.

Here, too, is a lovely poem by Meredith.

Forever and for Always: A Midlife Obsession

As I got dressed, I noticed a pair of boots flopped in front of his closet door. “Do you two-step?” I asked.

He said yes, he liked to go dancing at Remington’s, a gay country-western bar.

I said I used to go there years ago, even had tried two-step lessons for a time but had given up, thinking I’d never get the hang of it.

My whole life, I’d never been able to partner dance, other than doing a feeble box step with my mother at a wedding reception or the semblance of a waltz required by a part in a high school play.

“Well,” he said, “we’ll have to go there sometime.”

Two weeks later, on a Friday night in January, he pulled me onto the dance floor. He led, I followed.

“Start on your right foot,” he instructed. “Quick-quick, slow . . . slow. Right-left, right . . left.”

We were moving, merging into a revolving circle of men. It was like being pushed out the door by someone who won’t take any more excuses—you’ve been sitting around the house too damn long. But another door kept opening, I was being pushed through another and then another, through an endless tunnel of music and light.

I may have been a beginner, but I was wearing cowboy boots; I’d prepared for this. I’d gone out on the previous Tuesday night and driven 45 minutes in the dark to replace a pair of boots I’d bought for lessons the first time around, a dozen years before—the ones I’d sold at a yard sale when I realized nothing would ever come of them; they weren’t really me.

I danced badly that January night two years ago. I sweated a lot, like a waiter his first night on the job, stumbling from table to table, unable to remember who’d ordered what: Who had the quick-quick? Who had the slow . . . slow?

But I came back not long after that for formal lessons. I told myself: I’m going to get this down. I am determined to get this down.


There’s something subversive about men dancing together, particularly a partner dance with the courtliness of the Texas two-step. It’s both an affirmation of the traditional dance-partner relationship—leader and follower, dominance and submission—and an upsetting of it: One leader, a slight, preppy young guy, might count off time for his novice partner, a burly older man in flannel and jeans. Gay country-western dance revels in stereotypical masculinity even as it reinvents it: A pair of men take an ecstatic spin around a corner, exchange a hip swivel and a wink, kiss at the end of a Shania Twain love song.

Two-stepping lacks both the preening and the physical abandon of dancing to pop or house music in a nightclub. The inherent cooperation in it—the follower’s hand atop his partner’s shoulder, the leader’s fingertips firmly on the follower’s back, their other hands gently joined midair—leaves little room for grandstanding or competitiveness.

The various men I’ve danced with over the last two years illustrate the particular pleasures of having a commanding leader—a follower’s competence on the dance floor is all about having a commanding leader. But, especially early on, there’s also been the satisfaction, comforting in its way, of a leader as inexperienced as I am. It's when I’ve been paired with someone just good enough to be better than me that I’ve gotten into trouble.

I’m now able to talk while dancing—it took a good six months to get to that stage, six months for the legendary “muscle memory” to kick in—though I prefer not to speak at all. I’m secretly thankful when I’m with a man who doesn’t turn a two-step into an opportunity to chat about his planned trip to Home Depot Saturday morning.

I’d rather not be distracted from the circling train I’m a part of, from catching my reflection in a window as I’m led through one door to the next, the wind whistling between cars, the air cool on my skin as I sweat out my desire and move to the rhythm—quick-quick, slow . . . slow, quick-quick, slow . . . slow—my smile a muscle in itself.