Sunday, January 27, 2013


I was watching the World Figure Skating Championships yesterday or Worlds as they're known by the in crowd.  I haven't watched Worlds in forever, I'm not sure why, I guess life just interrupted things...that and living and working in places that don't have TV.  I guess I just fell out of the habit and didn't fall back in when TV reception was again available.  I used to watch every year because...well...I used to be a figure skater and I used to ice dance...not in a Torvill and Dean sort of way, but I did ice dance.  I loved it!  In addition to skating with my partner, every Sunday morning the ice hockey team would show up in their hockey skates (for those of you who don't know, hockey skates are WAY different from figure skates, the blades are much wider, the boots are heavier and there are no toe picks which are essential for jumping).  It always worked out okay though because the guys were GOOD skaters.  We all had a wonderful time and it was pretty fun to be held close by some pretty cute hockey players...what's not to love?

So, as I was watching, I began to remember what our coach used to say about how we should dance.  It is the man's part to present the woman.  It is the man's job to support the woman. It is the man's job to protect the woman.  I'm sure the same is true of ballroom dancing.  This idea is a pretty old because it is tied to a pretty old art form.  I just wonder when it stopped being the norm.  I was just as strong, capable and as good a skater as my partner, but how we ice danced was different.  Our feet were very close together and one misstep and we would both go down.  That's what was pretty impressive about ice dancing with guys in hockey skate, they had to be especially careful to keep from taking us both out in those clodhoppers they called ice skates. We were also often in a rink full of skaters and because I was skating backwards, it was up to my partner to negotiate me around all the other skaters.  I had to keep my eyes on him and trust where he was taking me.

So, I harkened back to the days of Viktor Petrenko.  He used to do a pairs routine...alone.  This wasn't ice dancing, this was a pair routine that involved him lifting the invisible woman over his head, doing death spirals alone and pretending he was actually skating with someone.  It was hilarious!  But it made an interesting point...the man's job is not nearly as complicated as the woman's.  His job is basically to lift her up so she can do pretty things with her body or be thrown through the air while executing a jump.  He holds her off the ice when she is doing a death spiral. In those cases his strength is what keeps her from crashing into the ice. In a lift, he is her only support, in a throw jump, he throws her and then will often catch her, in a death spiral, her face is inches from the ice and has only his hand to support her.

The thing I remember the most is that if you don't trust your partner, you will never be a good team.  If I didn't trust my partner to carry me or support me, I would hold back and when I didn't commit, it never went well. I noticed that at competitions and last night too...the guys always had their eyes on their partners.  They were protective and gentlemanly and considerate.  A carry over, I am sure, from how they were on the ice. The mens' hands were always out to help and the women took those offered hands.

So, my thoughts were that in ice dancing or pairs figure skating or ballroom dancing, the women's part is much more complicated.  She must accomplish a lot more in their time on the ice (not very different from life, I suppose, being the multi-taskers that we are).  The man's job is to watch his partner and figure out when he needs to provide his strength and support and when to let her fly alone.  I can remember those moments in competition when the crowd fell away, when my partner and I only had eyes for each other and when I could do anything because my partner was there to support me and keep me from falling.  It was liberating.

I also think those things are buried deep within each of us, just waiting to be nurtured out into the open.  It makes me a bit sad that in today's culture those supportive hands are frowned upon, because I would never have flown on the ice or made it as far in my life as I have without them. 

Now, I think I need to dig out my skates....

Friday, January 11, 2013

The man in the arena

I have struggled a bit of late, trying to figure out my place in the world.  Times I have wished for many things.  Times I have prayed for less loneliness.  Times I have questioned my place in the fabric of life.  I guess we all do, no matter how accomplished or unaccomplished.  Perhaps we never know the impact of our lives on the world, except when we are old and perhaps not even then.  Perhaps we only know when we are on the other side of the veil of death and then perhaps what we achieved will not matter so much as that we strove to live as best we could.  That we stood again and again despite the stumbles. 

I call to mind a quote from Teddy Roosevelt.  It seems, he, too, asked those questions of life. I'm not sure he had an answer, but here are his thoughts:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

A bit of melancholy as the year turns and as I see another birthday approaching.  But even as I write this I find myself thinking, that every day is the perfect day to start over.  I can't even hang on to a good bit of melancholy. 

Pollyanna always rears her ugly head, doesn't she?   

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Practicing Virtue

It's funny how we see people in life.  I had a conversation with one of my colleagues about a students that I knew what going to be a problem.  My colleague gave him the benefit of the doubt and then told me at the end of the semester that I had been right.  I mentioned another one that was going to be a problem and he was shocked, but I think he trusts my judgement on these students.  I have always been a pretty good judge of character from the first time I meet somebody.  That doesn't mean I don't like or don't get along with people who are going to be a problem.  I am pretty laid back and I really don't get ruffled feathers too much, but I can see what their character is pretty quickly.

On that note, I spent Christmas with a friend.  He has a wife who for all intents and purposes is treated as a child.  She has no responsibilities and rarely has an opinion on anything.  I think my friend likes that.  He likes being responsible for everything.  Many a time when I mention something about a conflict between couples he blames the wife and says he would divorce her if his wife acted that way.  I keep quiet, but I tend to think, "Words are cheap, Buddy. You didn't divorce your wife when early in your marriage she acted that way."

So, he was bad mouthing a mutual friend who he thinks is bossy and was a terrible wife.  Truth be told she can be pretty controlling, but as I tried to explain to him, she was married to a functioning alcoholic.  Which my friend knows, but, of course, the wife (well ex-wife now) is totally at fault and it is his opinion that she wouldn't have acted that way if she didn't already have those tendencies...maybe he is right...but did she come into the marriage behaving that way or did she have to embrace those latent qualities because her husband often didn't behave as an adult? By the way, I love her husband.  I always have.  I'm not sure how easy he would have been to be married to though.  In a nutshell, my friend doesn't like her.  Go figure!  What amused me to no end though, is that the woman he held up as a model of virtue and the perfect wife is about ten times more controlling than the one he doesn't like and she is combative, has few friends because she is so confrontational, and she fights constantly with her husband.  Her husband raves about how great she is and my friend only knows that side of her.  My friend hasn't seen her "in action".

So, now comes the chance to practice being virtuous for me.  I like both of the woman he talked about.  They are both friends and they both have their faults and failings like everyone does.  I know them much, much better than he does.  As I am listening to this diatribe, I think back on the conversation I had with a colleague (written about here) in which he said he was not going to tell me something because he didn't want me to change my opinion about somebody (I think it was his gentle way of saying he wasn't going to gossip).  So, it was the moment of truth, do I tell my friend the truth about the woman he thinks is so great or do I keep my mouth shut? I decided in that moment that it didn't really matter if my friend knew the truth or not.  He is not going to have any sort of relationship with either of the women in anything other than a superficial way.  The one he dislikes he never really associated with so it really wasn't important for me to defend her and it would have been of no good benefit to change his opinion about the one he does like.

Craig Ferguson (the comedian) says the way he judges whether he should speak or not hinges on three things: Does it need to be said?; Does it need to be said by me?; Does it need to be said right now?  The answer to all three of those questions in that moment was no. So, I practiced a little virtue and kept my mouth shut.  Now, if I can just make that a habit!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The value of virginity

Every now and then you hear about a young woman auctioning off her virginity.  I find that really curious.  I would think that an inexperienced woman would want someone who she is at least attracted to show her what sex means.  I would hope even more that she would want to find someone who at least professes love for her, not just some guy who can bid the most for the honor of deflowering her.  I say honor because isn't it an honor?  Does a guy who will pay $780,000 (yes, that is the real figure) consider it an honor?  I wonder.  Is he just in it for himself?  Will he give her all the care and attention that she deserves? I wonder about his motives.  Why would he pay so much?  Is it just because there are so few virgins around anymore?

I know most people "lose" their virginity in high school.  On a side note I have a real problem with the idea of "losing" your virginity.  I think that it should be thought of more as a gift. It shouldn't be "I lost my virginity" but rather "I gifted my virginity" or "I gave my virginity"? The idea of losing it just seems like you have no control and I like to think that you do have a choice and it is a gift.  Does a woman who will sell her virginity on eBay see if as a gift or does she see it as a commodity?  Will she regret it later? Is this 20 year old woman a rarity because at 20 she is still a virgin?  Does virginity lose it's value as a woman ages?  Say the woman was 50 instead of 20, would her virginity still be considered valuable?

Which brings me to the idea of virginity being valuable.  Does it only have monetary value?  Or is there some priceless quality that is attached to it?  Is there some inexplicable value to saying to your spouse, "You are the only one I have been with, I am yours alone.  I have never shared myself this way with anyone but you."

Do men value virginity?  Does a man want a wife who has no experience or does he want a wife who has some experience?  Does a woman want a man with some experience or would she think him being a virgin is a valuable thing?

I find more questions than answers.  It seems in today's society that virginity is more of a thing to be gotten rid of quickly.  It seems to be some sort of burden rather than something of value.  I wonder if this has always been so or if views of sex have changed views of virginity.  There saw much talk of Princess Diana's virginity when she wed Prince Charles and hardly any talk of that when Kate Middleton married Prince William.

Does a virginal bride have value because she is pure and innocent?  I'm just not sure.  I do know that a woman who will auction off her virginity on eBay doesn't think there is intrinsic value in being able to give herself to a man she really loves or thinks she loves and that makes me sad.