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February 21, 2006

Tempus Fugit (II)

On both directions of a subway ride the other day I started a conversation with a handsome young man reading a book. It didn’t hurt that they were handsome, but it was the books I was interested in: Gravity's Rainbow and Private Domain. The man reading Gravity’s Rainbow was the older of the two, probably 26 or 27, and worked for a literary magazine. He was within the first few pages from the beginning; I jokingly asked if he knew what he was getting into.

I read Gravity’s Rainbow in the summer of 1979, the summer before I went to college. I was 15; I didn’t get most of it. I told the young man that it helped to have a solid background in physics and that there were formulas as part of the novel. “Yeah, but they weren’t real?” he asked. No, I averred, Pynchon studied physics at Cornell – more accurately, he studied engineering physics, but completed his degree as an English major after his Naval service.

We talked about writing classes. He didn’t believe in them; I understand why, but said I had a few very good teachers (Geoffrey Woolf) as well as some dreadful ones (Alice Walker – the worst teacher I ever encountered). When I mentioned reading books to prepare for St. Petersburg he mentioned Ryszard Kapuściński’s Imperium; I’ll check it out.

Heading back home, a young man trundled into the subway car and sprawled open-legged on the seat. He pulled out his book; when I noticed Private Domain I had to comment once more. “It’s a great book, but don’t forget that you can’t trust him. He’s like Ford Maddox Ford, what he says may or may not be true.” He smiled; he was planning to audition for the company so he wanted to read it.

I wished him luck and refrained from mentioning that he’d probably need to bulk up to get into Taylor. We got to talking. He got his training in college in Maryland, had been here for a year. Medium height, slender build, pretty hair, bright eyed and bushy tailed. He was taking class at Cunningham, so we played the “do you know” game – but we didn’t really know the same people – his favorite teacher at the studio is Jeff Moen.

“I’m in 10:00 am class at Cunningham every day so if you’re ever around . . .” I laughed. I stopped taking class in 1998 and my body stopped hurting. When I was studying at Ballet Arts with Jan Miller, Nina Stroganova used to teach class before hand, one that was frequented by many older dancers from the Ballets Russes and other companies. There was tons of amazing history in that class that went foolishly unexplored, but they looked ridiculous to us – they weren’t dancers, they were old people who could barely lift their legs. I promised myself that I would stop taking class before I looked like that.

It’s funny to see books I read as a student being read by new students. It’s funny to talk to a young dancer with his career in front of him pointing to the unknown. Those books, those boys and their place in time remind me of where I am presently suspended in time – not old, but no longer young.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at February 21, 2006 11:41 PM

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Hey Leigh...

Okay, so I've gotten sucked into your blog, so to speak. Guess what? Jeff Moen is my favorite teacher at Cunningham too. I too am walking steadily into "the no longer young" phase of my life and it is interesting to wonder how terrifying I will look hobbling to a yoga or dance class in my 60s.

Posted by: Andrea Shasgus Parkinson at March 16, 2006 8:26 PM

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