I've given out a ton of gold stars over the last two days. I am amazed, back in a heavily populated place, at all the examples I see around me every second of people trying.
I myself have been trying pretty hard, facing off with the fourth load of laundry, an empty fridge and major make-up homework to oversee among the many things I have to do between back-to-back family trips. I leave for Arizona for my niece's Bat Mitzvah on Thursday. I began to lose any sense of renewal vacation had offered, but then, I did handstands.
I had some help. My headstand teacher, formerly referred to here as Saturday Night Fever, showed up yesterday at the gym, just as I needed him, to offer up his inspirational wisdom on what the body can do if the mind lets it.
"You're thinking too much," he said, as I attempted in vain to throw my legs over my head, against the wall, just as I have so many times in yoga class. "Why aren't you doing it? Just decide you're going to do it and do it, with speed, like this," he said, throwing his hands smack against the blue mat and forcing his feet staunchly against the wall, arms and legs strong and straight.
Next thing you know, can't-do thoughts pushed aside, I was upside down, my arms amazingly holding me straight up. I think, in part, I was so grateful for this near-stranger's help and concern, I couldn't possibly let him down. I had to get up, and I did. He got a gold star, of course.
This morning, I went first thing to the mat to make sure I had the guts to do it again, my handstand, unspotted, and I got up on the first try. I was thrilled, grateful anew for my generous trainer and his efforts to help me get over a major lifelong hurdle, to really try my best.
As I worked out in the weight room, I started chatting with a woman, a college professor, it turns out, who was, like me, feeling the strain of the week ahead. For her, grading papers was looming large.
"What do you teach?" I asked.
"English," she said, "a freshman core course at Seton Hall called Journey of Transformation."
"Wow," I said, "that sounds cool. I want to take that class. What's on the syllabus?"
"A mixture of things, from Plato to the Bible to Dante's Divine Comedy..."
She said her students were writing about the career and/or personal transformations of one of a number of people whose stories she had read about whose names she threw into a hat.
"So cool, to have to think about that..." I said.
Transformation, I know firsthand, is a tricky thing, something it is a luxury to be able to spend time thinking about, writing about. I gave the professor a big gold star for helping these freshmen, these young, eager hopefuls she said were "cute, like puppies, and, like puppies, they sometimes pee on you..." Her role in their transformation is no easy feat, for sure, her extended school vacations hard won.
I hit my fave diner for lunch and was met, as usual, with the friendly smile of my friend behind the counter.
"How are you?" I asked, giving his smile straight back.
"Great," he said, "I'm trying to get laid again tonight."
I threw my head back in laughter. "Really?" I said. "Same girl?"
He shook his head, no. This was a different girl, one he had been eyeing for a while and was finally following to a Brazilian Capoeira dance class to prove his affections.
"Wow," I said, "I hope you're good, otherwise it's going to be a deal breaker," I said.
"Oh, I'm good..." he said. "Plus, I think it just looks good that I'm there, trying." He had a point. I always got annoyed at guys who said they couldn't dance or wouldn't. It showed, I thought, a real lack of fun, though I often regretted forcing someone onto the floor who then flopped around next to me for a bit before I finally relented that maybe they were right to have refused...
Either way, this was my friend's plan and he was not to be thwarted, not even by his colleagues making merciless fun of him. We chatted a little about his sincere interest in this girl, beyond just the sex, which, we agreed, is usually pretty bad if you don't connect with someone's personality too. Pretty can only take a girl so far...
"It's hard, though, you know, to get that perfect balance," he said. He looked off then, in thought and added, "But, sometimes, actually, the not-so-pretty ones work harder, actually. They feel they have to, to make up for it, to compete..."
At this, I died laughing, in both surprise and happiness at his candor. "Wow," I said, "In bed, you mean, the unattractive ones are better?"
He looked at me with the "duh" face I get from my kids. "Yeah," he said. "In order to keep you satisfied, they have to go that extra mile..."
"Amazing," I said. Could this be true? "I love talking to men, honestly," I said. "The things you think about it, the theories that you come up with..."
Mr. Trying to Get Laid grabbed his colleague. "Isn't it true, man, that the not-so-pretty-girls have to try harder in bed?"
The guy looked perplexed, as if asked a totally stupid question. "Of course," he said without skipping a beat.
This was too much. I didn't even want to continue, for I cannot help but put myself into any equation I am given and I began to wonder where I fit into all this, where they might classify me...I didn't want to go down that road. That is the danger of being a woman talking to men about women.
As I left them, though, wishing my friend good luck with his dancing and afterward, I began to think about it. As with me and my handstand teacher, maybe it's gratitude that makes people try harder, makes them want to do the job well, makes them have to work harder to transform. Certainly, a girl who has not had a lot of luck in love, for whom chances don't come around that often, would certainly feel grateful to someone who gave her a shot. Harsh as the whole thing had sounded, it made sense.
I smiled to myself as I walked down 8th Ave. Trying is certainly its own reward, even if I'm not there to give out the gold stars.