1. The flight was five and a half hours from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale, after connecting from Portland, OR. My boyfriend was upgraded to business class, where he was unable to take his cat. So, in a middle seat near the back of the plane, I shuffled his cat and the carrier underneath the seat in front of me. She was asleep, but knowing my luck her tranquilizers were about to wear off. Immediately after takeoff, I heard the strung-out misery song. One snarled yawn, a wide reach for a sound held deep in her throat. Her claws started to scratch at the fabric of her kitty jail; a prisoner on her way to Florida. Florida, where everything will try to kill us all at least once. I slipped my feet out of my shoes and prodded the carrier like a mom trying to comfort her impatient child. Shut up. Two more stores and I’ll get you your damn Dippin’ Dots.
“Sorry about her,” I said to the young woman to my right.
“How is she doing? I haven’t heard anything so far.”
The woman leaned over and peered into the darkness at my feet.
“What’s her name?”
“Pitts, or Pumpernickle.”
“You don’t know? Is that really your cat?”
The woman wrapped her hand around my arm and grinned. Are you hitting on me? As a gay man, I find being hit on by a woman is like being hit on by a cousin; flattering but directionless. Sometimes they seem like the girl next door (Joanna/Chloe/Stacey) you grew up playing with whose brother with the big arms you fancied. Stacey, let’s hang out—will your brother be around? How is he doing? Oh, he broke up with his girlfriend? Does he still need a writing tutor? I’m free now.
The worst part about flying is the lack of room to stretch your legs. Standing up in the aisle is a death wish, since Minnie the flight attendant has no shame taking you down with her drink cart. Aladdin, mermaid, Aladdin, mermaid, Aladdin—flexed, mermaid—pointed. I pointed and flexed my feet in the little space I had. When you point your feet, send the stretch out from between your big toe and second toe. Look how pretty and long your legs are! Don’t worry, the cramps subside in a couple of years. Ballerinas/ballerinos are known to have the ugliest feet from continuous distortion and wear. Behind the pointe shoes are callouses and blisters (some of which possibly filled with blood, but note: they burst quickly and completely if continuously turned on as I learned first-hand). Blood, sweat, and tears. Literally. And a few quick farts backstage.
Poets have similar characteristics and their own unique wounds, but not on their feet. The marks are deep in the throat, and it is the act of writing that opens our mouths for relief—to release the achy sound of a cat whose tranquilizers are wearing off. Don’t lie, you know that when you read that girl’s poetry from that one poetry class you took in undergrad all you heard was meow, meow, meow, meow, hiss, barf. The amateur poet tends to try to cure heartbreak with their writing, singing their misery song and expecting the twenty other students in their poetry class to eat it up like hot cakes. Mmm, your tears really help your words shine on the page, Paul. I enjoy your first line about missing your mother’s womb.
No mark is similar. No sound is the same. This separates writers from each other. The writer must understand himself and his unique marks and remedies to communicate and write well.
2. At the front of the plane, my boyfriend was asleep in business class underneath two blankets, four packaged meals, and a mini bottle of Grey Goose. I had enough. Pitts was fully awake.
“Honey?” I shook his shoulder. “Honey, where are the tranquilizers? Pitts is awake.” Nothing. “Honey, the plane is on fire.” Ugh.
The plane ride was nothing new; moving is in my blood. Boca Raton, Florida only lengthens the list: Surrey, England; Auckland, New Zealand; Holland, Michigan; Annapolis, Maryland; Galesburg, Illinois; Portland, Oregon. As an undergraduate at Knox College, I majored in Creative Writing and minored in Dance Studies. I self-designed three courses to pair the two studies: one on choreographic composition influenced by text, another on text influenced by dance and movement, and the third on the advanced choreographic study of a dance work that I created and was to present at ACDF—the American College Dance Festival—as well as the annual faculty dance concert. First and foremost I researched MFA in Creative Writing programs that motivate interdisciplinary study, eventually applying to twelve.
My time spent studying the similarities between choreographing movement to writing has affected my eye for products, like student papers, that exemplify facets of formal technicality with regard to grammar and rhetoric, and conscious textual musicality. Pieces of text, whatever the size, should flow from one to the next like measures of music. Text relies on rhythm and tempo to sound a certain way on the page. The shifts in these rhythms—a period, an exclamation, a pause—can be translated into physical shifts of movement: a leap, a turn, a run, a fall, (a bruise, a trip to the E.R., a career change, arthritis, a slow dance-less death.)
But can you teach someone rhythm? I’m sure everyone has questioned whether his or her mother, father, or sibling has rhythm after watching them dance, flailing or bobbing like a buoy on turbulent waters. A writer needs some sense of rhythm. Text carries as much movement as dance, and it is obvious when student papers have breath—a life, movement. The student writer must first temporarily abandon the formal “perfection” of technical voice in order to investigate how to access a new level of essay writing. I believe students should come to a place of comfort in their writing to temporarily stray from correctness and investigate how the way they naturally communicate is different from the rules and regulations of standard collegiate rhetoric and composition. With this play of language, the student is able to better understand how he might appropriately implement a personal style into his college papers. Without personal style, the author lacks character or identity—stuck following rules that may be holding them captive to the need to please a scholar of English.
If only Pitts felt the need to please me. After we landed she still didn’t let up, far from lacking character or identity in her traveling attitude. She was probably scared, like an FYC student feeling trapped in the flight of their first semester. Let me out! My goal is to influence my students to want to develop consciousness of textual musicality when at a place of comfort in their writing skills. This place may not be reached during first-year writing courses, and most ‘academic’ writers will argue it need not be reached at any point in a student’s writing career. My time spent dancing and choreographing has clearly influenced this aspect of my teaching, though. Writing students need to be let out of this feeling of entrapment once in a while.
Jamie White is a first year MFA in Poetry student. He does not like blueberries, touching bathroom door handles, or questions in his students’ essays. Some mistake him for fellow student Scott Rachesky—they are indeed two separate people. Jamie intends on becoming a professor of English post-graduation from FAU, and has made amends with his boyfriend’s cat.