<![CDATA[Dawn Downey's Blog - Home]]>Fri, 19 Jan 2018 06:41:40 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[A Ghost from 1976]]>Fri, 19 Jan 2018 14:06:41 GMThttp://dawndowneyblog.com/home/a-ghost-from-1976I cringed after I read the email.

“Dear Dawn Downey. I am writing a book on the Grand Union … dance… group that performed at UC Santa Barbara in 1976. I read an astute review you wrote …. I wonder if you could tell me more …. Best, Wendy Perron.”

1976? I was only three years out of college. Lots of opinions. No wisdom. No tact.

Astute? I had taken dance classes—modern, ballet, African, but I knew nothing about dance.

Review? Our daily newspaper had let me see performances for free; I wasn’t really a writer.

Back in the '70s I’d written dance reviews for the Santa Barbara News-Press. I’d scribbled notes in darkened theaters during performances. Remembered the deserted newsroom afterward, where the smell of ink kept me company. I stuck a sheet of paper into a typewriter, scared I didn't have anything to say. I remembered the tap-tap-tap of the keys, remembered the wall clock ticking away the minutes until deadline. A deadline the News-Press paid me to meet.

I did not remember the Grand Union dance group.

Google explained. In the history of dance, Grand Union was a big deal. Groundbreaking. Improvisational. Postmodern. Audiences were lucky to have witnessed them, because they lasted only six years. I’d reviewed them in their final year.

This was bad news. I doubted my immature eyes had recognized groundbreaking. I’d probably called Grand Union weird.

Very bad news. How embarrassing to have a god-awful piece of writing surface on the eve of my third book, like being confronted by an old photo of myself with a pimple on my nose.

And who was Wendy Perron?

Her website explained. A dance historian. Dance critic. Author of two scholarly books. She’d spent ten years as editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine—the New York Times of the dance world. In the universe of dance, Wendy Perron was a big deal.

This big deal had complimented my writing. This professional user of words would not use any of them lightly. If she said astute, astute is what she meant.

I had to get my hands on the review.

“Dear Ms. Perron, Thank you for contacting me. I’m afraid I don’t remember the company or the performance. I’ve searched YouTube and Google, and still nothing jogs my memory. The review might help. Where did you find it? Cordially, Dawn Downey.”

She responded. “In the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.”
(Oh my God. I’m in the New York Public Library.)
“Here’s a photocopy of your review.”
(Gulp.)

I clicked on the attachment, a nicely yellowed newspaper clipping. I could smell the ink. I glanced at the opening paragraph. “The strains of a mellow piano solo waft over a stage that is bare except for ….”

Wow. Good start. Not embarrassing.

I skimmed the article. The sentences made sense. The performance came alive.

I was shocked. Relieved. I couldn't find a single pimple.

But where was the astute?

Feeling more courageous, I re-read the article, examining every line.

“ … dance as a theater art, removing the emphasis from the body and placing it on movement as a part of the total theater production.”

Oooh, I wrote that? Nice.

Astute.
 
My apologies to Wendy Perron. I was unable to help her. But she sure helped me.

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<![CDATA[What's Going On?]]>Sat, 13 Jan 2018 11:45:49 GMThttp://dawndowneyblog.com/home/whats-going-onDid you ever have the feeling something’s about to happen?
Or something's already happened, and you don’t know it yet?
That's how I've been feeling.

Last Friday I forgot to write to you. Simply forgot. Friday came and went without me. I only realized it the next day when my yoga body took me to Saturday morning yoga as usual. As I rolled out my mat, it occurred to me I’d completely missed Friday. I thought that was the end of it. At least I could rely on my yoga body to kick in on Tuesdays and Saturdays, reset my weekly calendar, and get me back on track. Then last Tuesday I forgot to go to yoga.

I’m a cartoon character blithely rowing down a stream, the scenery so monotonous I swear I've passed the same tree five times, and suddenly, blam—Niagara Falls. My little canoe goes over so fast I paddle through midair before gravity kicks in.

Something’s going on. Writing Ghosts are visiting. A friend sent me magazine columns Dad had written in 1994. And then I stumbled across a newspaper article I had written in 1976. Ghosts of Writing Past. Lately I’ve been looking for studio space to lease, a place to call my author home. I don’t know where this idea came from, but I can clearly see myself typing away in a studio. Ghost of Writing Future. And today, even though I know it’s Friday and I’ve been working steadily, once again I couldn’t meet my deadline. Ghost of Writing Present.

Something’s going on. It could be because of the holidays. Schedules get broken, routines upended. Or because it’s winter. Sometimes the urge to hibernate slows me to a standstill. Or because it’s January. Maybe I subconsciously made a New Year’s resolution that’s taken over. This year I resolve to blow up all connections to reality.

Something’s going on. There's a big change in the works. That placid little stream fell out from under my canoe, and here I am rowing through midair.

Not to worry. In the next scene, I land on a cloud.

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<![CDATA[A Christmas Visitor]]>Fri, 29 Dec 2017 14:29:07 GMThttp://dawndowneyblog.com/home/a-christmas-visitorDoug stopped by to deliver his annual home-baked Christmas treats. This year, tins of cookies. I could smell ginger and chocolate as we hugged in the doorway. He was also holding a gift-wrapped box. “This one has a story.”

“Well, sit down,” I said. “Sit down. Nothing beats a good story.” I patted the couch.

He sat beside me, the box balanced on his lap. “Stef collected things.”
 
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My husband, Ben, had married Doug and Stef a decade ago, in the living room of the house they’d bought just about a mile from ours. When they took off for camping weekends, I fed their cat and watered the plants—the tenuous violet on their kitchen counter, the orchid near the window that looked out on the backyard. Doug had built Stef a raised bed on the patio, where marigolds grew in between rows of tomato plants and basil. One summer he planted a clematis that climbed a trellis beside their front porch.

It was the same year Ben and I splurged on landscaping. We hired a nursery to transform half our backyard into a perennial bed, book-ended by twin redbud trees. Ben capped the project by buying me bamboo wind chimes, which he hung from the redbud nearest our bedroom window.

I loved the chimes; my grandmother had a set hanging on her front porch when I was a kid. My chimes lost a leg in a winter storm, and Ben patched them back together. I loved them some more, until March wind gusts dealt a fatal blow, and I finally had to say goodbye.

Our new backyard was a masterpiece, and Stef was the first person I showed it off to. After she and I took morning walks, she’d sometimes come over to witness it growing into its full glory.
 
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Doug fingered the bow on the box. “She collected things. I mean she bought stuff all year, her Christmas shopping. A little something here and there, that she knew somebody would like.”
 
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Stef collected somebodies. She and I were meditation buddies; we attended retreats together on the other side of the country, navigating the airlines, rushing for connecting flights, or waiting around to catch them. She struck up easy conversations in airports.

At retreat, there was always a chatty dinner before our ten days of silence began. I admired how Stef remembered everyone from previous retreats, where their favorite trails were, and whether they biked or hiked them. Their favorite kayaking river.  
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Doug’s eyes moistened. “After she died, I found a box of stuff she’d collected. I haven’t been able to open it for the past four years.”
 
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Those of us she’d collected took turns driving Stef to radiation therapy. She’d scheduled us in shifts. We watched her laugh through the loss of her hair. The knit cap. Remission. Relapse. Until she said no more, it’s time to go. As she lay in a hospital bed at home, each of us in turn sat beside her, held her hand, and wished her a safe journey.
 
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Doug said, “The other day I heard her tell me—not in words—‘open the box, Dougie. Time to open the box.’ And then it was easy. I just did it.”

He handed the box to me. “This had your name on it.”

I was stunned. I stared at the package, slack-jawed, wide-eyed.

Doug said, “I don’t know why this is yours. Or if it will mean anything to you. But it had your name on it. And I wrapped it.”

I felt … cared for. I was precious. Stef had thought of me one day, while she was out and about. Had it been on one of their camping trips? In a coffee shop or café along a trail she and Doug had cycled?

I didn’t want to unwrap the gift, only sit there un-moving, snuggled up with pictures of Stef … in an airport, in her yard, in mine.

Then I ripped through the paper and opened the box.

Wind chimes.

“Stef.” I meant to say more, but no words came. I lifted the chimes from a nest of tissue paper, and held them up. Their song made more sense than anything I could say.

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