Saturday, January 24, 2004

When I was in college in New York, I frequently found myself at Kate's Paperie on 13th street and 5th Avenue, located in the same building as my school. Kate's Paperie was an extension of Kate's Art Supply, that had extended into another space just beside the school gallery. While Kate's Art Supply was a hardcore art supply store, the paperie sold handmade paper and stationery supplies. Like many buildings in New York, the back of the store looked directly into another building across a dark crevice of fire escapes, air conditioners, and concrete walls. Another building in New York, can sometimes be another world, despite the fact that we are feet from each other. Office buildings can look into art studios, doctor's offices can look into restaurant kitchens, Tower Records on Broadway, when I lived there looked right into a women's exercise class, and I could see the pony tailed heads of women bouncing around off beat from the music I was hearing inside.

Back at Kate's, I was calmly shopping for the right paper for my art project, listening to the ambient, soothing music piped through the store speakers, when a sudden movement from a window one story above in the next building caught my eye. Inside, a man dressed in a business suit was beating a chair with a racquetball racquet as hard as he could. He was on his knees, eyes squeezed shut with his teeth clenched, gripping the handle with two fists and beating the crap out of the over-stuffed chair in front of him. Another man in the room sat on a different chair and watched as a man continued to pound. I realized I was watching a therapy session in progress. The man who sat calmly met my eyes, and over the violent swinging of the racquet, we had a moment of understanding. I understood that I was watching an intensely private moment, and he understood that I was not going to laugh or call attention to them. I don't know how I knew that, but I turned away as if I had seen nothing, and the therapy session went on as if it had never been discovered. There were no swishes of blinds pulled down in haste or chastising looks from the therapist. Curiosity got to me, and I hid behind a card display and looked again, just as the pounding man collapsed into grief and exhaustion as his therapist consoled him. Ashamed of myself, I turned around and never looked back.

I never told anyone what I saw, but I wondered from time to time what had caused that grown man so much pain. For awhile, I looked at the businessmen that I passed on the street differently and saw not cold corporate types, but people who were just as capable and vulnerable to feeling lost as I was. Men who possibly held a secret underneath those pressed and starched clothes but unlike us artists who were free and almost expected to express it on the outside, they had to reserve it for one hour sessions in private rooms. Then, they were to return to their offices where they wore the convincing masks that they were masters of their universe.

Another example of chapters from different New York stories staring at each other's pages, was when I was at American Ballet Theatre. I noticed that Studio One, the studio most commonly reserved by the big names looked right into apartments feet away from its enormous windows. From their homes, these people could watch Baryshnikov, Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris, Susan Jaffe, rehearse, dance, choreograph, and take class in ABT's well-lit studios just feet from their own windows. I could have jumped from one building to the other, the windows were so close. If one had wanted to film the legends at work, all they would have had to do was set a camera up on a tripod and go to work, or sit in a dark room and snap pictures from the privacy of their homes. Whenever they wanted, save for the time that Studio One was dark and empty, they had a front row seat to the who's who of dance that balletophiles around the world would kill for. Not the finished product of lights, music, and costumes on the stage, but the hours of rehearsal, and "once agains," and the legends training the up and comers in stage acting, dancing, and the candid moments that few will ever see. A peek behind that thick velvet curtain where the real work takes place. The work that makes the stage production look so effortless.

One instance of colliding worlds came to my own apartment building. At the time, a huge bar on the corner of 13th and 5th Avenue called the Lone Star Bar butted up against my building. It was host to many big name performers who wanted a smaller venue, and the location of many music video, TV, and movie filmings. It wasn't unusual to see the production trailers lined up the street and the bright lights shining into the windows. On one night, there was a lot of activity in the vacant apartment directly across the hall from me, and I learned that it was being rented out as a make-up station for a music video being shot in front of the Lone Star. I heard more commotion, and just as I opened my door to see what was a clatter, I saw Stevie Wonder walking down the hall directly toward me, one hand clasped around his assistant's arm and his entourage following behind. He was a tall man, had dark sunglasses on and that Stevie Wonder head sway going on as he talked to the people nearby. I remember that he smelled good, and looking at his hands that could play so many instruments without the aid of sight. "Cool," I said, after closing my jaw, "that was rather unexpected," much to the amusement of the group. All night, as I tried to concentrate on my homework, Stevie Wonder was my across the hall neighbor, and since my apartment faced the street and had a balcony, I'd see him walk to the location, then once the scene was finished, back into the apartment across the way. Occasionally I'd go watch the action, then once when they were on their way back, I tailed the group back in, letting them in with my key.

I guess in a way, this blog is my first real attempt at leaving my own windows open, available for view to those who happen to pass by. Some may turn away and never look back, and some will meet my brief glance with an understanding. Others will comment, while some will sit quietly in the darkness and take in what they are seeing. It didn't start out to be that way, but things like this never do. When I write, it's for me. I'm in my apartment alone with my words. I've passed many tests that this blog has presented to me, ones that I wish I'd learned years ago. One, that I'm a lot stronger than I think, even in my weakest moments. And like the ABT rehearsals, this is a simple account of one person's struggle to find her balance while learning the steps. It's a continual process that has brought me to the point of struggling to trust not just my judgment, but that of those whom I choose to work with. I must have faith that they are not going to drop me on my head.

I must also stop hindering my own progress, and trust myself that I will remember the steps, my cues, and like I do with my writing, to dance like no one is watching.

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