I’ve been a weekend subscriber to the New York Times for about five years now. I’ve always enjoyed reading a newspaper, even though times have changed. Skimming the Times online, I really miss those clunky advertisements for old-lady orthopedic shoes or the obituaries about all sorts of people who must have been a hoot to know. Depending on what life is like, sometimes the papers tend to pile up on the shelf under the coffee table and I make a ritual of putting them into chronological order and reading them section by section, usually saving the Book Review or the Magazine section for later.
But, I have to admit. The New York Times makes me feel dumb.
When the paper thumps against the door in the morning, she already has internalized the unspoken understanding we have. Yes. The paper is a she. Kind of a know-it-all and definitely way smarter than I am. And she knows it. No lady who can pull off wearing a blue polyethelene bag everyday when she arrives would be the kind of girl to fade into the wallpaper. My New York Times is no “gray lady”. She is electric and she wants you to know it.
Recently I’ve felt a deep attraction to ballet. The concept of dance has always intrigued me, but I’ve never made an effort to see a performance. Having frugal tendencies, I’ve always feared that I would shell out a ton of cash for a performance and then fall asleep like I did the last time I saw The Nutcracker over twenty years ago.
Maybe the passage of time has made me more curious and open-minded to take in new things. I linger on all the articles I come across in the Times about dance. I study the pictures, the forms of the body and the sinewy leg muscles that I have desired my whole life. I ask myself what this art form is saying. What could this be telling me about the world that visual art or music is unable to communicate?
An article I found very enjoyable recently was about a 47 year-old woman who is about to retire from the New York City Ballet. Plenty of people are mentioned in the article, but with the understanding that the reader knows exactly who they are. I only recognize a couple of the names (Millepied is married to some famous actress with dark hair and I was first introduced to Baryshnikov when I saw him in the video for “Say You, Say Me”), but I imagine that sophisticated New Yorkers know who they are by mere mention of their last names. Ballet feels like a world so far removed from my own that I don’t mind wondering who half these people are. It thrills me to sit out in the suburbs on my couch and stick my sturdy Ukrainian nose into the business of this mysterious world.
This lackadaisical attitude shifts when it comes to articles about music. I can’t even read the advertisements for Lincoln Center without flying into a guilt-filled pity party. It’s rare for me to see an article about a performance by the New York Philharmonic, drive right in, and consume it with glee. Every sentence ends with a reflex statement I hear said, in my head, in my own voice: I don’t know what that means. With ballet, I have no frame of reference, except for the couple of months I took ballet in the church basement as a little girl. An institution of higher learning gave me a music degree and I should at least have some idea of what is going on at the New York Philharmonic, right?
Music has been both a joy and a lifelong struggle for me. I have always felt pulled toward music and started taking piano lessons the year after the ballet teacher packed up and left town. I’ve been fortunate to make a living as a musician off and on for several years. And I always say that one of the few places that I completely lose all sense of time is when I’m singing with an ensemble. Music matters to my soul, like it does for probably almost every human being on the planet. But I’ve been caught in this middle place between being truly in love and striving to improve my own practice of it.
Reading the music articles in the paper feel like all the times I felt like I didn’t know what in the world I was doing in music – as a youngster, a student, and as an adult. What business did I have taking lessons or declaring music as my major? Reading about music baffles me because I never understood how music could be described by words, only by the burning fire I feel in my gut when something I hear or play just feels right. I’ve struggled with the rudiments of learning technique and the repetitive execution of scales and Hanon exercises because I simply didn’t feel anything. And writing countless papers on music history in college and getting average grades always seemed like pushing a boulder up a hill.
And that is where the joy of this newfound love of ballet comes in. There is no middle place about it. Dance is completely foreign to me, other than what I learn when I take the shiny plastic overcoat off the newspaper every weekend. A few more weeks of reading ballet articles on the sly and I think I better buy myself some tickets. I think I’ll stay away from The Nutcracker to be on the safe side.