I was reading an interesting blog by Jane Friedman today, on whether shutting out negative and combative media is good for you. I’ve been considering doing the same, in the light of all the hypocritical, racist and anti-feminist language in the health care debate, and it made me think of Byrne.
She was quite selective in what and whom she listened to for entertainment and information (never missed PBS but hardly watched anything else) but surrounded herself with people who discussed all viewpoints. Where she was utterly unegalitarian was art. To get Byrne Miller’s attention, art had to be serious. No “loving hands at home” attempts at any art form – dance, music, painting, literature – made the grade.
I tend to agree with her but I wonder if disregarding community-level art creates an audience shortage for the greats? Do we need to experience “making art” ourselves at some level to appreciate and support the fine arts? Is the danger only when we congratulate ourselves too much for effort, without serious critique?
What an interesting week. Got notes from my agent on the Byrne Miller Project. It’s wonderful when her team tells me they want to know more about Byrne! Specifically, her intellect. She offered so much love and artistic insight to all her “adopted children” that it’s easy to focus on the emotional. And I do. Still do. Even though she’s been gone nine years.
But there was so much wisdom behind those strengths that she passed along. I started jogging my memory about philosophers she quoted, books in her library, records on her turntable and – of course – reached out to my brothers and sisters by Byrne.
They came through! Dennis Adams – some of you know him as the guru of the Beaufort County Library – was one of Byrne’s extended family. He helped me decipher one of the strangest phrases Byrne dropped into everyday conversations: hoi polloi.
Turns out it’s Greek – describing the masses or commoners. Of which she was definitely not. In the book, here’s the quote I’m now adding:
“Physical pain is something I have learned to accept. All dancers do. To fear pain is for hoi polloi.”
At the time, I didn’t ask her what it meant. I was too distracted by seeing, for the first time, the scars of five different spinal surgeries. Some of you might know, as she did, that a back injury ended my Olympic gymnastics quest. She had listened to my story many times, never “one-upping” me with what must have been ten times worse. Five spinal surgeries! Never an “organ recital” in the years that I knew her.
Dennis has his own theory – which he emailed me the other day. He thinks she used language like hoi polloi intentionally – she was a stoic, as if from some ancient other culture that valued stoicism in contrast to “hoi polloi” – or the Anglo-American way of complaint and excuse. True Dennis, so true.
Just to get things started, here’s one of my favorite photographs of Byrne. She’s posing for some publicity photos, in the early days of the Byrne Miller Dance Theatre. None of her adopted “children” know exactly where it was taken, but we all love the fierceness of it. Don’t you agree?
I promised myself that I would start blogging about my silver muse, Byrne Miller, by the end of this week. (the previous two entries were trial runs by my talented web designer Carla Holzer) And now it’s Friday – time is running out. I’ve been procrastinating, nursing a cold as an excuse. And then I remembered the person I’m blogging about. Nothing so plebian as a common cold would have held her back.
In fact, the one saying I remember most of all was one I didn’t fully understand for years.
“Life is hard to bear: but do not affect to be so delicate! We are all of us fine sumpter asses and assesses.”
I had never heard of Neitzsche, let alone his writings. This 80-something-year-old modern dance pioneer had to explain that sumpter asses was another term for beasts of burden. She used those words to bolster her confidence and take on challenges that would have crushed most ordinary people. She fought on through her daughter’s mental illness, her other daughter’s death by a drunk driver, her husband’s Alzheimers, and her own physical battles with cancer, spinal injuries, blood clots and finally blindness. Life was indeed hard, and she was never delicate.
It’s not that she didn’t notice or care about setbacks. And she certainly made time to comfort others when they needed comforting. It’s just that she had so much to get on with! I couldn’t even fit it all in one book, the memoir I’m writing about my relationship with her. So “Womenisms” is a chance to fill in the gaps, give you the backstory. If anyone reading this knew Byrne, please share your comments. She’s priceless and timeless.
This can be erased but I wanted to see what it looked like to have more than one post. Looks good!
This is where my blogs will be. I can type in this area and the public can read what I write. It should be fun. 🙂