Thoughts Akimbo

Creative observations for sale!

Archive for February, 2009

The day I danced

It was almost midnight. At the far end of the party, a large dance studio stood empty. Someone had turned down the lights and turned up the World Music. Strong African rhythms vibrated just beneath our breastbones and sent tendrils down the backs of our legs.

One by one, people wandered in and stared at the empty dance floor. Colored lights flashed in lonely rainbows. And then a woman with a long, dancer’s body and fuzzy, brown hair walked out to the middle of the room. She half-closed her eyes, and bit her lower lip, listening. We watched as her hips began to move, ever so slightly, until her lower body had established a subtle, complex circular pattern. In another moment, the pattern had swept her feet into the act. And she began to dance.

Her long arms hung loose at first, her fingers tapping an imaginary drum skin. And then her arms, too, were drawn into the dance. She swayed and stepped to the throb of the conga drums. The circle of rhythm surrounding her became magnetic, pulling those who watched closer and closer.

Another woman, wearing a leotard and a flowing skirt, strode confidently out onto the floor; she positioned herself a few feet from the first dancer, and picked up her rhythm. She was a little more aggressive in style. Her feet rose higher and stamped down with more authority. “This, this rhythm!” her body said. The first dancer smiled and spun, her arms painting curved patterns in the air.

More people were entering the room now, and all along the walls, women began to remove their shoes. Within moments, six more women had taken the floor, and then ten more. As newcomers crowded the doorway, the barefoot women danced their patterns, with smiles that were at first shy and then became euphoric.

“I don’t dance,” I murmured to my daughter. I have always been body-shy and clumsy–not a confident physical being. I’m certainly not a dancer. But this time, I didn’t let myself think. I wanted to feel what the dancers felt. Overtaken by some unknown courage, I shook off my jacket and walked out onto the dance floor.

I stood, surrounded by a swirl of skirts and limbs and smiles, feeling the rhythm. I saw how they did it, their hips leading the way. I felt my left hip swing forward in a little circle, pulled by the timbali’s loud bong. Then my right hip described its own circle in response, exactly on the snare’s high snap. Bong snap, bong bong, snap. I let my hips move loosely now from side to side, my palms pressed against my thighs. The movement felt good, smooth, like my heart beating. I lifted my arms and let them move, too. The music pounded and popped. Instinct flexed my knees and drew my hips around in circles, and soon my feet were moving, sliding in joyful cadence. The drums pushed me back and I danced forward to meet them, again and again.

The music spoke of green leaves and humid air on warm brown skin, impossibly tall trees and a high, luminous moon. We were tropical, sub-Saharan, tribal, primitive, and beautiful beneath that moon. Some of the men at the party were pulled in by this energy, but they stood apart from us, leaning against the walls, smiling in amazement. Some of our husbands were out there. These men were witnessing what a woman could be, I thought. I looked across my shoulders one at a time and shrugged to the beat of the music.

We began to dance each other’s moves. I saw a woman who appeared to be stretching her arms out toward an imaginary lover, and I let my arms do the same. Another turned around slowly, led by one softly gyrating hip, and I began to spin. A cloud of warm scent rose from our bodies, soap and perfume and shampoo mingling with the floor polish beneath us and cigarette smoke wafting in from just outside the door. The fragrance affirmed us and intoxicated us.

Something extraordinary was taking place. We breathed together in time with the drums’ pervasive chant, we smiled, we twirled. This was female energy at its most primal level. We were not just dancing, we were women dancing.

I looked across the floor at our bare feet. There was something sensuous about the skin of our soles touching and releasing that polished wood, our toes caressed by gravity and then pulling free of it. But this was not an act of striving toward pleasure–it was pleasure itself, achieved, shared, and reveled in.

I felt my body reach the wall of physical limitation and then soar over that wall. I needed oxygen. I kept dancing. I knew I must slow down. But I could not slow down. The rhythm pushed and I pushed back, and I could not stop my left hip from meeting the timbali, my right from greeting the snare.

My own daughter, who was a young teenager right at the leading edge of womanhood, watched as I danced to her again and again, trying to motion her to her feet. The raw energy of the dance embarrassed her at first, I think. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. But a moment later, she found her courage, and there she was, dancing in front of me, smiling broadly, her own body pulled and pushed by the drumbeats. Our moves were graceful, honest, and unapologetic. Our bodies felt the same.

A Kindergarten-aged girl ran over to her dancing mother and watched us, enthralled and delighted. She was inspired by our grace, as we were by her unbridled enthusiasm. She jumped and let her limbs fly wildly. Our limbs drew wider arcs in response.

My daughter seemed to fall into a trance, following intricacies beyond description with her feet, her hands, her hips. She had become an elfen spirit. The brown-haired woman who had first taken the floor had transformed into a Maori warrior. And me … sometimes I was a Flamenco dancer, one arm crooked up, the other palm resting on my belly. Sometimes I was a tribal princess, dipping down, letting my hips pull my torso forward to punctuate the end of a rhythm phrase. The mirrors along the far wall showed swaying bodies and bare, flashing limbs. We were the many fingers of a supreme being, undulating and beckoning.

I was exhausted, my breath ragged, my hands and feet tingling, but I could not stop dancing. My body had become a long, flexible stalk, loose, moving in time. A light blanket of sweat covered my skin and the air felt suddenly chilly, but so much heat pounded out through my heart, I was ablaze within the icy room.

I reached up to push my damp hair back, and even that became a part of the dance. Every gesture, every movement was a comment on the music. I tried to slow down and breathe more deeply, to feel the exhilaration of dancing beyond my own limits, beyond all reason. The air felt thick with joy and scent and sound.

Some women had begun to drop out now, sinking onto the chairs, inhaling deeply and slowly, closing their eyes. The remaining dancers had grown wilder still, snapping their heads back and forth to the beat, leaping up into the air like shamans frightening away evil spirits, glorying in the power of the dance.

The tiny girl spun and spun until her mother had to pick her up to still her frenzy. I reached out to my daughter, and together we moved, still in time to the rhythm, but dancing now toward our shoes and chairs and rest. The music pulsed on.
The remaining women became more exaggerated in their movements, as if they were absorbing all the magic we had left behind out there on the dance floor. They watched themselves in the mirrors, amazed at their metamorphosis into wild-haired, magical beings.

And then, with a loud roll of drums ending in a sharp pop, the music stopped.

A soft, melodic hum of delight rose from the women in the room, a high-pitched, single tone of triumph. We smiled at each other and wiped our brows and retied our shoes.

It was after midnight now. While we had danced, one day had transformed into the next. We were secret goddesses who had created the new day with our shared celebration of drum and spirit and heartbeat, dancing to the pulse of life.



Worst contest entries ever, and why they did so well

Crammed full of awful prose, filed under an alias, these are the worst contest entries I could possibly write. The full explanation of why I decided to write them is at the bottom. I’m posting them here for entertainment purposes only.


Their sobbing brown eyes blinking up at you from behind the cruel steel bars of their cages tell you the sickening truth: these animals have seen the great sorrow of life, and they desperately deserve a second chance at happiness. If they could make their whiskered mouths form the words, they’d say “HELP ME.” But high-quality dog food costs thousands of dollars, and someone has to pay big bucks every month to keep electricity surging through the lights at the shelter. If you don’t help the homeless animals, you know what they face? Horrific death in the decompression chamber, in which baby puppies and kittens wail mercilessly until the machinery sucks their last breath from their tiny, furry bodies.

I remember the first time I picked up a little puppy who had been run over by a diamond-ring-wearing Democratic Chicago alderman’s big Lincoln Continental. He never even slowed down. I dragged her mangled body into my cold, grim apartment spent my whole week’s beer money on ice and Bactine to get her patched up. Lucky Little Sunshine, as we named her, walked with a limp from then on, and she was always in pain, but at least she had a warm place to sleep by the radiator and nourishing table scraps in her furry tummy. She never complained. She didn’t hate all politicians after that, or even start to vote Republican. Don’t all mangled and abandoned animals deserve the same chance at life?

To keep your local animal shelter open, you have to help. You just have to help. You really just have to. Really.

Do whatever you must to raise funds for these poor animals, these impoverished parrots and guileless iguanas. Help the battered bunnies and the sick cichlids. Sell something from your home that you really never needed in the first place, like your giant-screen TV or your exercise equipment or your PSP hand-held video gaming system with the extra games you hijacked off the internet. Sell your expensive BMW and start driving a Pontiac. Notify your landlord, to avoid legal consequences, and then move into a cheaper apartment, sending the money you save to the shelter. Take on a second job, or a third job, if you have to; the grateful look on their adorable little faces, the smiles on their snouts and beaks and rigid reptile facial parts, will tell you you’ve done the right thing.

If your shelter still needs money, go farther. Talk your friends and neighbors into giving up the things they no longer need and want, like their winter coats, stocks and bonds, and heirlooms;

if they’re unwilling to help, help yourself to whatever they leave unlocked. Put this booty out on your front lawn, so people driving by will stop and pay you. In some parts of the country, this is called a “yard sale” or even, if a garage is involved, a “garage sale.” Even you get just a fraction of the items’ worth, all that money from your yard sale will buy new collars and leashes for the underprivileged dogs and cat, boxes of tender, flaky fish food for goldfish left to die in unheated apartments, and the occasional cuttle bone for bedraggled birdies.

Or, to really think outside the box, have a bake sale with delicious chocolatey treats, using the nickels and dimes you earn to purchase more kibble and bits for the hungry animals. Hold a car wash yes, it can be done! using warm water and soft, soapy sponges to wipe away grime from SUVs, while your local shelter is wiping away tears from the eyes of abandoned kittens.

Don’t let another animal go homeless for want of adequate funding. Animals like Lucky Little Sunshine are being slaughtered every minute because there isn’t enough money to keep them alive, because you and your fat-cat human friends are sitting around ordering pizzas and failing to get adequately involved in volunteerism. Think about the sad eyes of all those animals, who are counting on you and your creative ideas, and your willingness to do whatever it takes. Help them. Please, help them to live.

(and the even worse)


So you want to start an animal shelter? You’ll save adorable, wide-eyed orange kitties with fuzzy white paws that are being fed to wild animals by laughing zookeepers. You’ll rescue crippled dogs who crawl toward their food, only to have it yanked away by maniacal sadists who want to eat that dog chow themselves. More importantly, you’ll stop soft-bodied animals from being smashed to smithereens on the nation’s highways by ignorant, fast-driving morons in SUVs. Good for you!

Why rescue animals? Because there are just too darned many of them, and they’re expensive to kill. That mother dog who is giving birth in your garage right now, so your children can experience the “miracle of life,” will have litter after litter, flaunting her tail all over the neighborhood, welcoming mutts and currs as well as purebred German Shepherds with monocles and foreign accents. And all of them will get her pregnant! In a year’s time, one female dog can produce more than 100,000 puppies, and many of them will NOT be German Shepherds! Something must be done.

Start a shelter as soon as you can, to:

* Keep strays from facing horrific death in the animal pounds, where dogs are shaved without anesthetic and then forced into a machine that tweezes the remaining fur from their little screaming bodies.

* Prevent young, innocent dogs from being sold on the black market to people who use them for alternative lifestyle activities.

* Rescue dogs and cats who have been on the black market a while, because they have a hard time reintegrating into normal society and might turn to a life of crime.

I started a shelter once. It was in Central Illinois, where some backwoods people actually still eat dogs and cats the way the rest of the world eats pigs and cows. I made it my life’s work to rescue these animals from cooking pots and refrigerators all over town, and then keep them in pens in my backyard, where they lived out their lives in cramped conditions being fed whatever food I could afford. And they were grateful! You could tell by the way they would wag their stumpy tails whenever I came near.

The first dog I rescued was a small, bad-tempered black Lab mix with only one eye and one ear, on opposite sides of her head. Her back leg was mangled from a run-in with a family who wanted to have just a snack-because she was a good dog, and a dog like that you don’t eat all at once. They called her Porkchop, but that was her slave name; we renamed her Savannah’s Sigh of Love, and we bought her a prosthetic leg so she could keep up with us on long hikes in the Illinois
mountains. She lived with us until that day the camping party was stranded without food, and then she gave her life for a good cause. Savannah’s Sigh of Love was happy to be part of the family and help keep our team going.

Don’t let another animal go homeless for want of adequate funding. Animals like Savannah’s Sigh of Love are being slaughtered every minute because there isn’t enough money to keep them alive, because you and your overweight human friends are sitting around drinking wine coolers and watching sports on TV and failing to get adequately involved in volunteerism. Think about the sad eyes of all those animals being prepared for death tonight, who are counting on you and your creative ideas, and your willingness to do whatever it takes. Please, give them a second chance to live!

THE EXPLANATION: contests are a ridiculous concept for one reason: in order to submit your writing, you have to “judge” a seemingly endless string of other entries. The entries are presented in pairs, and your job is to say which is better than the other, and by what degree: much better, slightly better, slightly worse, etc. The first time you do this, you read and ponder the entry, make notes, jot down thoughtful comments, and then compare the two pieces. By the 200th time you do this, you’re skimming, at best, and making snap decisions. I found myself always preferring articles with bulleted items, and always voting against articles in which people mention their pets by name. Hey, that’s just how I roll.

Why would I even enter a contest on this site? I have gotten paid assignments through this site, and I wanted to add a little graphic star to my profile, indicating that I’d won a contest. Shouldn’t be hard, right? It also happened that one contest was on a topic I know a ton about: funding humane societies. Through years of trial and error, I have discovered three unique ways to raise money for rescued animals. These valuable nuggets would help any struggling pet rescue — and there are many — and provide good fodder for thought for anybody looking for an article for a humanitarian site as well. Right?

I wrote my article, proofread it, submitted, and began the process of judging other entries (on similar topics, but not the same contest). After I’d done 20 or so, I logged off and went to sleep, smug in the idea that my work would be recognized and rewarded. I awoke to find that my fellow writers had judged my article 7th out of 8 submitted. It just got worse. I was 13th out of 14 articles, then 17 out of 18 articles. The only article that consistently ranked worse than mine was one that appeared to be about Mardi Gras and had nothing to do with pet rescue.

In horror, I read the entries that were ranking the highest. Their information was dismal: raise money by holding a bake sale or a car wash, etc. (Gee, why has nobody thought of THAT before!) But their language set those high-ranked articles apart. They used absurd metaphors and purple prose, grabbing shamelessly for the emotions at the expense of true information. I decided I could play that game.

I rewrote my article, making it as lurid as I could. I decided to include almost NO information, but more than too much awful imagery. I submitted it under an alias — Lucy Riquardo (she was once married to that Cuban conga player, right?) — and that article began to beat the first one. By a MILE. The total crap article won second place, losing the top spot by an extremely narrow margin. My real article, of course, finished second-from-last, just above that one about the Mardi Gras.

Somehow, being beaten that badly, even by myself, sort of stung.

As actual, non-writer human beings began to read and rank the articles, of course, the really bad one fell in the ratings, although not to the very bottom, where it belonged. It continued to outrank my GOOD article, so I think my point is still valid, whatever that point is. I even let Lucy Riquardo write a second article, more lurid than the first, on a related topic. People didn’t fall as hard for that one. But it’s still fun to read.

The real article is still available on under my real name, in case you ever want to learn how to raise money for animal shelters.