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The Boss: Personal Indulgences No. 21

Just when the Seventies were starting, I looked up from my overlapping worlds of academia, motherhood, and housewifery and decided I wanted to write about dancing. Having managed to publish two pieces—both, fairly accidentally, about Twyla Tharp's early ventures—in little-read journals, I proceeded, with the faith of the innocent, to disperse these samples among the bigger guns, offering them my services. Bill Como, Dance magazine's editor in chief, as a staff member told me later, rescued my maiden efforts from the pile of unsolicited … [Read more...]

On the Steps: Personal Indulgences No. 20

FIRST MEMORY My first memory of steps dates back to my childhood--extreme infancy, to be exact. Science tells us we don't remember the earliest part of life, and no one I know has ever claimed to. So what makes me think that I can remember--actually feel again--the slow bump, bump, bump as my beloved Aunt Ann, my mother's elder sister, cradling me carefully in her arms, descended to the street via the front steps of the hospital in which I'd been born just a few days before? Friends tell me I must have made up that memory a few years later, … [Read more...]

La Plume de Ma Tante: Personal Indulgences No. 19

My mother must have had a decent command of French. Sometimes, as I was growing up, she'd refer to it, though always briefly and casually, as if the subject had little importance. All I ever found out was that she had taught elementary--perhaps even intermediate--French as well as English literature (using a textbook called From Beowulf to Thomas Hardy) at New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn in the 1930s. That was before my father and then I came into her life and changed her career to that of housewife and mother. But she had kept some of … [Read more...]

Crying in the Subway: Personal Indulgences No. 18

Every once in so often, a friend or colleague asks to read the manuscript of a children's book I've written and am trying to place, The (True) Life Story of a Dancing Cat. A number of these readers subsequently report that the story made them cry in the subway. Although I've published over two dozen books for young people, this is the only fiction that deals with dancing (my more visible beat). It has been sold three times and each time--talk about bad luck!--catastrophe kept it from being published, though I was allowed to keep the advance … [Read more...]

Pick-Up Danish: Personal Indulgences No. 17

On Christmas morning last year, I walked the reservoir track in New York's Central Park, since the gym was, naturally, closed for you-know-who's birthday. Hundreds of people, most of them armed with cameras, were strolling around the loop in the delicious sunshine. Few of them were speaking English. I stopped to chat with a family of Danes who were typically unaffected, friendly, and charming. Ten minutes after our conversation, I realized I had been using the wrong word for and. Well, my Danish is admittedly rusty, but with a little … [Read more...]

You Are What You Wore: Personal Indulgences No.16

It isn't easy, trying to buy clothes now that the years have beset the body with flaws. You can't find garments that cover all of them except, of course, a shroud. But not yet. Sometimes I think I should wear one of those Asian or African or Indian outfits that simply swathe you in fabulous fabric. Then all I'd have to do is develop an undulating walk for allure. The clothes of my childhood were a different matter. Some of them were memorable for the pleasure they gave me, others because they--I really mean this--left permanent aesthetic … [Read more...]

Dr. Bill: Personal Indulgences No. 15

My father was a doctor, a general practitioner--G.P.--as his type was called back then when it was very common. Regular patients called him "Dr. Bill," instinctively combining honorific with nickname to indicate their respect and affection. At the age of 12 he had emigrated from Russia to the States with his mother and siblings, his father having preceded them. His name is listed in the archives at the Ellis Island Museum: "William S. Bernstein, Russian (Jewish)." His first job in America was driving a laundry truck. Needless to say, he was … [Read more...]

Pen Pals: Personal Indulgences No. 14

During a time in my life when I was feeling sad and isolated, and my own immediate circle--splendid, stimulating, and supportive people though it contained--was not offering me a certain kind of sensibility I craved, I had the maverick idea of augmenting my circle of friends with people I did not know but who were writers like me, so in some way kindred souls. These writers might have lived in times and places very different from my New York contemporary situation, but all such were permissible, the whole affair taking place in my … [Read more...]

Why I Live in New York: Personal Indulgences No. 13

Why I live in New York. New York City, that is. Manhattan, to be exact. Dirty. Dangerous. Expensive (so much so today that people who once thought of themselves as middle class now fear they're only a few ladder-rungs above the have-nots. And the number of have-nots is heart-rending. But still . . . I was born and raised in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood and time suited only to people with a deep tolerance--or even need--for boredom. (Boredom precludes risk and can be very soothing.) I was not one of them. Even before I had two numbers to my … [Read more...]

Pink: Personal Indulgences No. 12

A young girl of my intimate acquaintance, let's call her Eve, decided at the age of three or so that, when she grew up, she was going to be a boy. She liked to play pretend games. You may remember them from your own childhood--those acted-out narratives, full of exciting incident, that have an endless life, with plots and characters repeating variations on a few themes presumably of deep significance to the players. In her "pertends," as Eve called them, she invariably assigned herself the role of a man or boy. She was Joe. She was Nick. She … [Read more...]

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