What do writers, sword dancers, and zombies have in common?

I write. I dance, sometimes with a sword balanced on my head. Google ‘bellydance sword’ if you’re curious what that looks like.

Writers aren’t as interesting to watch as dancers. ‘America’s Top Writer’ is not the hot new reality show for a reason. Paint drying has far more glamor. When I’m trying to get my writer’s head on, I look and sound like a zombie. Most of me is elsewhere.

At this moment, I am trying to send most of my self back to 1941-1945 Malaya, where there was a war and an Occupation on, and once I’m there I am planning on watching and eavesdropping and sniffing out secrets and the scents of wartime food. I will have imaginary people in my head.

Some dancers wear a very serious face as they dance. Dance swords are hollow, but. Drop one on and you’ll see, it has impact. Serious business, like most dropped things in life; something breaks, possibly your foot.

Nevertheless, I personally can’t help grinning like a loon when I do sword. The sheer improbability of the thing makes me feel like a child blowing a first soap bubble, or lighting a sparkler for the first time. A thing turns into something other than itself: I, a perfectly (more or less) normal human being am standing here, dancing, even, with the edge of a blade sitting on my head, and it’s easy.

Yup. Easy. But only after you know how, after you’ve practiced, and only when you’re in the zone. In the zone, magic keeps it up, body and sword and music are one. Unfortunately this is related to the zone where soufflés never fall, stocks yield steady profits, kids never get sick, it never snows more than is pretty but not a nuisance, your nearest and dearest never irritate you…. Impossible and good things happen – for a while.

It’s easy in the zone. It’s hard to get there, and unfortunately it’s all to easy to leave it. (One tiny wrong move of the head, and boom: sword’s on your foot, have a nice day.)

Writing larger pieces is like keeping the sword up for longer periods of time. 20 secs even a beginner can do by a fluke. Couple of minutes, still not so hard. 10 – 20 mins, that’s a real challenge. It takes prep time and focus or a crazy high level of expertise (Google ‘Parri double sword’ to see what crazy high level of expertise looks like. She dances with two swords balanced at right angles to each other, on her head. Extreme expert.)

No writer finds balancing a book in their head easy. But once you’re in the zone, it’s fun. That’s you sledding down that hill, skating on that pond, skydiving, balancing that sword…

Unfortunately, sledding downhill and trying not to fall out is not the best time to, say, balance your checkbook, help a friend decide who to date or figure out why their printer won’t work. Braincells are busy elsewhere and everyday life gets interesting. Trees jump out to ambush your car when you’re parking (really, at least they do me).

In this silly place, company is a blessing. It’s lonely, not to mention slightly loony, to be stuck alone with a headful of imaginary people. But conversations in words of one syllable or less are best, and what someone’s cat did or, ‘Isn’t that a gorgeous tree’ is probably the right speed. Calm voices and emotions are best (sudden loud noise, sword or book on head, isn’t going anywhere pretty). Ladies and gentlemen, assume your writer friends are slightly deranged if they’re inside a book, and be gentle. We can be quite entertaining in that state.


Dance, then writing

Dance practice last night slightly less resembling a hippopotamus in drink and today a scene, a whole (well, almost) whole scene of a short story that has nothing whatsoever to do with the book, I had forgotten how much release there was in writing new material. and now, proceeding in order of necessity, I go to seek calories, perhaps made out of chocolate.

Slow isolations and poses tonight, I will never understand why this is so much harder than the rapid movement but it is: and also more beautiful.


Mounted mirrors for dance practice, or rather cooked a meal which induced a construction-savvy friend to do the mirrors. I dislike admitting to artistic temperament, but it really has been difficult, these past few months, to work while the space around me shifted like the inside of a kaleidoscope. Glad it’s almost over.

The joys of 1st belly-dance practice with mirror in 6 months: I find out I’ve forgotten how to stand up straight, also that someone has sneaked in and put my hips in a plaster cast at some point. The subtext to this is, it’s good to have a sense of humor. Also I am sweaty (NYC, August, no AC in the room with the mirrors) and happy.


Dance and dreams

Wobbled through a full-ish dance practice on the injured foot for the first time last night, woke this morning to a dream of not spending Christmas as the designated hausfrau (which will be true), burst into tears, and am now icing the foot, which I should have done last night. Dreams are odd, as are mind-body interactions.

Flatpack attack

Just dropped a 100 lb box on my foot. There are more fun things to have done.

4/23, 3pm: Just tried to run a short errand. Foot + shoe + mobility = stunningly not. NYC friends: orthopedist recommendations please. Someone good, Manhattan/Brooklyn, x-rays in the office if possible and also someone who is inclined to pin rather than cast if it’s broken. I’d like to keep mobile.

4/25, 6am: Cancellation at a good doctor’s and I win the emergency list lottery. This afternoon I will know whether the foot’s broken or only bruised in which case I will be free to kick back analgesics and be non-sensible. Yes. (Warning, if I wind up on crutches I shall complain.) Also yesterday 3 friends came over and we failed to assemble a wardrobe but I had a very sweet evening.

4/25 2pm: Don’t quote me but it’s something like I’ve broken the outside of a bone (1st metatarsal) and if I don’t behave myself and stay off it — as little walking as possible, no dance — it can easily break and if I do behave myself it’s only a week or 2 healing. I’ve to go back next week as the doctor doesn’t trust me to behave (man has a lot of dancers in his practice). But I will be good. I stocked up on supplies while I was out anyway and am now a vegetable.

5/8, 1pm: Weight off my feet be damned. I’m cleaning. I can’t help myself.

5/16, 7:45pm: They said this morning at physio I could try dancing for 15 mins or so. Once more into the breech.

5/18, 4:45pm: Vaguely wondering why FB picked a Friday for its IPO, also why I settled into the sofa with an ice pack on my foot without putting chocolate within reach first…

5/26, 9pm: Long writing day. Must dance to get the kinks out of my back. Will know after whether it’s sensible or not.

25 mins of dance without leaving out too much stuff. I am *in* my body for the first time since the accident. About ready to cry with relief. Hoping it doesn’t hurt too much in the morning. And now, an icepack.

5/27, 5:30pm: Waiting to start dance practice. postponed first because someone was practicing — doing improv — on trumpet, on the other side of the courtyard and I couldn’t disrupt that music. and now, two breaths after he stopped, the birds have started singing as if they, too, were waiting. (Yes, it was a he. Musical voice has gender.)

Wobbly moving on and thru the ball of the injured foot (don’t ever wrestle with 100 lb flatpacks and lose), and seriously shimmy impaired. A few moments of pain. but I’m dancing again. 25 mins.

Dancing while sleeping

Must be tired: this evening’s dance practice, doing the usual routine, I realize I am shimmying with my eyes closed, doing the right moves on automatic while more or less asleep. Nice to know this is now possible. Goodnight world.

4/2, 7am: And this morning, realizing: strong dance practice while more or less asleep followed by actually falling asleep without remembering to stretch equals strong ow.

Dance and free association

Dance practice is better with a belt (just arrived). Now a mirror… and, for writing, a non-computer/printer covered work table with luxuries such as many colors of paper clips. and pens. and highlighters. and erasers… Early childhood note: white erasers with tiny multicolored dots embedded, did anyone else think the dots tasted like candy?

The Spanish Dancer

Pasted Graphic 1“The Spanish Dancer’, Rainer Maria Rilke


As on all its sides a kitchen-match darts white
flickering tongues before it bursts into flame:
her dance begins to flicker in the dark room.

And then: as if the fire were too tight
around her body, she takes and flings it out
haughtily, with an imperious gesture,
and watches: it lies raging on the floor,
still blazing up, and the flames refuse to die –

Till, moving with total confidence and a sweet
exultant smile, she looks up finally
and stamps it out with powerful small feet.

posting the Rilke in the original German too. It’s rich:

Wie in der Hand ein Schwefelzundholz, weiss,
eh es zur Flamme komt, nach allen Seiten
zuckende Zungen streckt -: beginnt im Kreis
naher Beschauer hastig, hell und heiss
ihr runder Tanz sich zuckend auszubreiten.

Und plotzlich ist er Flamme, ganz und gar.

Mit einem Blick entzundet sie ihr Haar
und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst
ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrunst,
aus welcher sich, wie Schlangen die erschrecken,
die nackten Arme wach und klappernd strecken.

Und dann: als wurde ihr das Feuer knapp,
nimmt sie es ganz zusamm und wirft es ab
sehr herrisch, mit hochmutiger Gebarde
und schaut: da liegt es rasend auf der Erde
und flammt noch immer und ergiebt sich nicht –
Doch sieghaft, sicher und mit einem sussen
grussenden Lacheln hebt sie ihr Gesicht
und stampft es aus mit kleinen festen Fussen.

Dancing feet

One more week in CA to prep for getting self and stuff cross-country, Also for NZ trip, also… It’s getting interesting.

2/4, 10pm: TruthOut: it is perfectly possible to be able to dance with a sword on one’s head and then turn around and sprain an instep while falling out of a shoe. So now you know. Into every life a little embarrassment must fall.

2/5, 12pm: With a little help from my friends: trying to write a sensible proposal while packing to ship my stuff cross country while distracted by nonsense injuries and actually going to get it done because I know some smart and generous people.

2/7, 9am: Pinched nerve and I am still movement challenged. Trying to figure out if travel is possible on saturday. Must get over this tendency to get snake eyes when I roll the dice.

2/9, 2:30pm: 5th chiropractor visit in a week. He’s stopped charging me 🙂 I need to shake this and return you to your regularly scheduled babble. But meanwhile, did you know that taking every muscle relaxing amino acid… at the same time can make one feel quite loopy? No actual happy pills involved but I’m so relaxed I’d swear there had been a bottle of champagne somewhere.

2/12, 5am: In NY. Safe flight, quite pain free. Jammed things up again in a taxi where there wasn’t leg room enough for me and now contemplating the wonder of this (I’m only 5’3″). Several small kids on the flight. 2 year old introduced me to his shoe: held up his foot, pointed, and said, ‘shoe.’ We should all be so simple.

2/13, 2:30pm: First post-travel dance practice, gimpy leg and all. Baby practice, but good enough to remember who I am. In another 1/2 hour I can probably hazz shimmy.

Dance costumes

Switched from dancing in costume to leotard and tights a couple weeks ago because with costume it’s easy to be a little less than precise and get away with it. Now I’m having to switch back because without costume it’s easy to think moves are broad enough when they aren’t. Insufficient dance mojo in costume and one looks like a trainee clown.

يضحك السيف ?

Can anyone tell me how to say, ‘laughing sword’ in Arabic? Online translation tells me: يضحك السيف which I can’t read.

I am trying to pick a dance name. If anyone would care to vote… It should fit me, not be horribly difficult to pronounce, and not resemble my actual name. I had thought to translate ‘laughing sword’ but it sounds not at all like a dancer’s name 🙂 Input?