Someone forwarded to me Jessica Hart's blog post on increasing emotional intensity in writing. It's a great post but it's her post from Moday that really resonated with me. The post is all about the ways to trick yourself into the right frame of mind to write. It's got some good ideas but what I've been thinking about this week is how people have reacted to the New Voices competition. What surprised me most of all is my own reaction. I have never been much of an optimist, yet I have certainly come away from the competition with that attitude and I wondered how I've changed that much.
The answer is my kids ballet dancing. Or to be more frank, my absolute refusal to allow my daughters into the jealousy and bitterness that some of their peers indulged in. Seems an odd thing, but preprofessional dance training is much like any other athletic endeavor. Some dancers excel from an early age, only to be overtaken by a late bloomer. Some kids just don't have the body or aptitude to ever be able compete with other kids their age. And some kids just have everything they need; they are just better without trying as hard. And at every casting for a ballet or recital it is a question of not only what did I get, but what did the other girls get. Who's better than me? Who am I better than?
Let me tell you, you take a bunch of young teenaged girls and give them something to compete for and it can be a recipe for disaster. If they do well, they forget that it might not always be that way. They forget that if they do poorly as well. And then they all have to go and stand next to each other at barre. And dance for two and half hours. Things are said. Teachers, and other dancers, criticisms and compliments take on a disproportionate weight. That burden can weigh on a child. And so I have spent years now teaching my kids to be gracious and kind (even if you're sure the other girl doesn't deserve it) when things are going your way, to be patient and determined when they aren't. The girls who are able to put all of that aside, both the good and the bad, and refocus on their classes those are the kids who survive.
Neither of them are dancing this year. The mental toughness they gained from all those years of training remains. They both have had more academic challenges this year than ever before, but they never gave up. They both have thrown themselves into new pursuits with the same passion they had for ballet. So should I be tempted to sit in front of my computer screen and question my goals or be tempted by frustration to give in to despair, I just whip out one of my well worn little pep talks and try it out on myself.