Tuesday, October 19, 2010


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.


  1. I think Ballet is really tough. I use to be a competition dancer (not for Ballet though) and the things that go on in and out of a dance school are just amazing. I can remember the poor mothers sitting in the dressing room together to prevent costume sabotage. Isn't writing much nicer?

    It's wonderful that your girls have gone on to new pursuits with the same passion too!

  2. Oh, we had our moments of costume sabotage. Truthfully, the moms were worse than the girls. I mean, at 13, I just assume the teen is being an idiot because she's, well, 13.

    A grown adult talking about other people's kids? That's just petty.

  3. My Mum always said to me if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. And still, after all these (many, ahem) years, it's stuck with me. I will very often smile and grit my teeth even when i don't want to and I'll end up surprising myself or somebody else or just making it through the day in one piece!

    What Jessica said is just another aspect of writing. Telling yourself you're a good writer (tricking the mind maybe?) was probably the start for me and her points - as always - were spot on.

  4. I've become so good at the if you can't say anything nice thing, it's a bit of a surprise how many people think I'm nice. I'm not. That means I think she's a horrible person for saying somebody's super thin kid has eating problems. I'm just too polite to say it to everyone.

  5. I'm glad to see that inspiration can be found anywhere. To master the art of ballet, or to even try it out is more than I have ever done, those little one's are inspiring. If they can stick with something than I should be able to motivate myself to continue to write, and when I get overwhelmed to push through!

    Wonderful post!!! I'm a new follower *waves* incase you didn't notice!! I'm happy to have found you!!!

    Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? This is my first time! Feel free to add me Jen_Unedited if you'd like!

  6. My first NaNo, too!! I will totally find you over there. We'll need all the encouragement we can get.

  7. Great post :-) Im also from the 'if you cant say something nice' school.

    Another saying, relating to kids activities was that 'the kids get over it long before the parents'.

    I really enjoyed the NV comp (and still enjoying reading and voiting on the top ten - now four). Bring on the next one! :-)

  8. I'm not sure when I'll dive into the next one, but I am so grateful I did this one. I've met so many great people and learned so much. What a great few weeks!

  9. I think one of the problems is that we live in such a competitive world. In the way-back-when-past, people danced just for fun in the same way that they wrote for similar reasons. Now, we seem to do everything in competition with other people. Perhaps it makes us better at what we do but we must never forget the process of doing something just for fun and with no other goal in mind! My daughter's schoolfriends were talking about a citizenship task where their groups had to raise the profile of a chosen charity. Some of the girls chose to buy doughnuts and to re-sell them at school to raise funds for their charity, and that some of the other girls said they wouldn't buy them in case the doughnut team made more money for their charity and beat them in the 'competition'. It never was a competition! But I think we are bringing our children up potentially to be competitive in all things....

  10. Ballet is a particular thing; there is only one Clara in the Nutcracker every year. There are only some many Wilies in Giselle. And even if you are disappointed to be in the corps again, there is some kid who'd give her right arm for your role. As much as I tried to teach my girls to dance for themselves, some competition is a natural part of it.

    I will say my teens have come out of it knowing how to win and lose with grace.