I am a dancer in the New York City Ballet. I wrote the pages that follow during one ballet season. I began on November 21, 1980, and finished on February 15, 1981. I was lonely; I was sad. I had decided to be alone, but I had never decided to be lonely. I started writing on a yellow pad. I wrote, and I smoked. Every page was covered with a film of smoke.

If you like that, you will like this book. It's one of those slim but pithy volumes that precisely captures a time, a place, and a state of mind.

I've always had a fascination with ballet, ever since my second-grade teacher offered a trip to see the Nutcracker Suite (it was at least ten years before I realized that the second word was not "sweet") to her top three students. I had no idea what that was, other than that it was clearly desirable, so I went all-out to make sure that I'd get the prize. I was sufficiently enchanted with The Nutcracker and the general air of specialness surrounding the entire experience that I begged my parents for ballet lessons, at which I lasted something like three sessions. I don't recall the exact problem, but based on my age I'm guessing that there was too much standing around.

After that I confined myself to reading ballet books, which was more fun that actually doing it. Had I tried when I was older, I might have stuck with it for longer. Based on Bentley book and everything else I've read about ballet dancing, it has an austere, stoic, boot camp, push your limits atmosphere that would have really appealed to me if I'd been three to five years older. And then I would have gotten my heart broken, because I am not built to be a ballerina.

Winter Season beautifully depicts the illusion shown to the audience and the reality experienced by the dancers, and how the dancers live the illusion as well. It's got all the fascinating details of any good backstage memoir, without bitterness or cynicism. Even as it ground down her body, Bentley never stopped loving ballet; she seems to feel that she was lucky to have the chance to live the dream, just for the opportunity to spend a few minutes every day being the perfect expression of her body and the choreographer's art.

Winter Season: A Dancer's Journal, with a new preface

And I will place the next bit under a cut in case you just want to read about Winter Season. As opposed to ass. Read more... )
I went to Brentano's to look for Saiyuki # 8, which they didn't have, and then became transfixed by Toni Bentley's butt-fuck memoir, The Surrender (The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir), about how she found God up her ass. I'm serious.

"I came to know God experientially, from being fucked in the ass—over and over and over again."

"I want to die with him in my ass"

It's... well... a pretty good read, I have to say, although I wish I knew exactly how much of the humor was intentional. A lot of it reads like Mad Libs entries where all the inserted words and phrases involve ass: "True happiness can be found... in the ass." "Love is... taking it up the ass." "The last taboo is... ass." "I never got over my childhood until I explored the joy of... ass" "My training as a ballerina prepared me for... ass."

Then I heard the sound of clapping. I went to see what was going on, and saw an author standing by a table of books, with a small audience. I went closer to see who it was, thinking that if it wasn't anyone I'd heard of, I'd check her out anyway because hey, she's on tour and some day that'll be me and maybe her book would be really cool and something I'd want to read and then I'd buy it and make her happy and justify this leg of her tour.

When I got close enough to read the sign, which advertised "Barbara DeAngelis: author of How Did I Get Here? : Finding Your Way to Renewed Hope and Happiness When Life and Love Take Unexpected Turns and
Are You the One for Me?: Knowing Who's Right and Avoiding Who's Wrong
," three things happened:

1. I realized that I knew who the author was, and that I'd flipped through some of her books before, and that I'd found them insipid, cliched, and unquestioning of defunct gender roles.

2. A woman in the audience said, quite loudly, "There's a seat here in the front!"

3. Barbara DeAngelis said, "Come on in, there's a seat right here."

Since, after all, some day it would be me up there... I pretended that I had intended to attend the thing, and obediently sat down.

Barbara DeAngelis proceeded to talk for forty minutes without break. She used words like "authenticity," "healing," "wholeness," and "transformative." She referred to Native American vision quests. She asked all of us who had had an experience we didn't expect to have happen to us occur in the last year to raise our hands. She said that we thought we'd had a good day when things like our job, our family, and our friends were all doing well, and a bad day when bad things happened to those things that we cared about, but we should have a good day because of what's inside of us, not because of outside events-- that if we were dying, we'd say it was a good day just because we were alive, so we should always say it's a good day because we're alive. She said that we don't have mid-life crises, we have mid-life opportunities for change.

I didn't want to be horribly rude and walk out, especially from my first row seat, so I amused myself by imagining how Toni Bentley would have written DeAngelis' books: How Did I Get Up Your Ass? : Finding Your Way to Renewed Hope and Happiness in the Ass When Life and Love Take Unexpected Turns into Ass and Are You the One for My Ass?: Knowing Who's Right for Your Ass and Avoiding Who's Wrong for Your Ass.

Barbara DeAngelis informed us that she had built a career out of total honesty and straightforwardness, and yet she realized that there were parts of herself that she had been hiding from the world, and so she decided that in order to be a truly authentic person, she would have to come out of the closet and reveal those significant aspects of herself that she'd been holding back out of fear.

Ass, I thought. Ass, ass, ass! Please tell us that authenticity lies in ass!.

"My psychic talents," she said. "My great work as a spiritual healer and counselor. I have helped so many people, I have so much compassion, and I wish to share that... Now... With all of you."

She looked into all our eyes, dramatically, one by one. I sat there until it went to question and answers, then I ostentatiously checked my watch, mimed "Eeek, it's late!" and fled. Even so, I'm sure she thought I was an ass.
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