On Making the Air Space
By Christine Carron
When I was in grade school, I was a member of the Saint Louis Civic Ballet. Stanley Herbert was the company's maestro. I learned so much from Mr. Herbert about discipline, technique, and art. He was also quite a character. A vivid memory is of him sitting in his regular spot on a stool at the front of the class, occasionally banging his cane on the rust colored floor, sometimes to mark the beat, other times to punctuate a correction, and sometimes to amplify his frustration . . . .
An Unhappy Maestro
Once during barre work in our pre-rehearsal technique class, Mr. Herbert was not pleased with us. This was not an unusual condition for him. He pushed off his stool, straightening slowly, his weight on his cane.
We continued to plié or tendu or whatever it was we were doing. The music, courtesy of piano accompaniment, ended and we all held our finishing pose. Feet in fifth position, free arm en bas.
For the arm, which will become important shortly, visualize making a C shape with your arm, your shoulder forming the upper part of the C, your palm (facing toward your thigh) forming the lower end of the C. Now, back to that moment . . .
Our ribs expanded and contracted. Sweat rolled down our faces and between our shoulder blades. (Saint Louis summer humidity, no air conditioning.) No one dared reach up to wipe a brow, or (perish the thought!) relax against the barre.
No, our chins remained lifted, our gazes up and off to the distance, and I am certain each one of us was hoping that we were not the reason that the maestro had abandoned his perch.
The Air Space
Mr. Herbert went to the dancer closest to him. (Not me. Phew!) His cane lifted into the space between her body and her free arm, right up to her armpit.
“Too tight!” he said, joggling the cane. “Air space! Air space!”
Her arm, which had been a stiff, rather anemic C, rounded out into a beautiful, buoyant curve. Like a balloon filling with air.
“Yes!” he said. Then he eyed all of us. “When you dance, you must make the air space. Everywhere. Make”—he banged his cane—“the air space!”
A Dictum Dances Beyond the Dance
Make the air space.
Mr. Herbert’s directive stayed with me. First as a dance mantra but, over time, as a life lesson. It became one of my tools to break out of the trance of tension, no matter the context.
When we create more spaciousness in a situation (and our relationship to it), we have more options, more freedom, more buoyant space in which to move. It’s an especially useful tool on the writing adventure. When you feel constricted, or tense, and/or stressed around some aspect of the writing adventure, ask yourself: How can I make the air space in this situation?
Then, challenge yourself to come up with an option. Actually, challenge yourself to come up with multiple options, because the act of creating an abundant set of choices cranks up some spaciousness all on its own. It makes you feel more in charge of the situation instead of the situation being in charge of you.
Want to see how it works? Here are two different real world situational pickles that you might find yourself in on the writerly adventure. . . .
Making the Air Space Examples
Situation #1: Feeling jealous of another writer’s success.
To make more air space (and release the green-eyed monster), you could:
- Brainstorm ways that jealousy serves you on the adventure, i.e., open to the possibility that jealousy is not ALL bad.
- Give yourself five minutes a day for as many days as needed to let your jealousy out, the full jealousy monty. No editing. Let it flow; let it go.
- Create a Personalized Jealousy Management Worksheet that can be a go-to resource when the green-eyed monster sidles up. Include (a) a scale to assess your jealousy, (b) a set of at least five actions you can choose from to shift the jealousy, and (c) a post-action scale, so you can measure if your jealousy went up or down.
- Get curious about your jealousy so that you can harvest it for your writing. How does jealousy manifest in your body? What are the physical sensations? What beliefs and judgements do you have about jealousy? Do you fight it? Feel bad about it? Once you have clearer insight on how jealousy works inside you, write a scene where one of your characters is in a jealousy snit.
- Consciously choose to let the jealousy be. If it jabs at you, breathe and say to yourself, “Thank you, it is true. I am feeling jealous. Noted.” And then shift back to whatever it was you were doing before jealousy grabbed hold of you.
What do you think? Aren’t you kind of hoping for some writerly envy, just so you can try some of these options out?
Note: Fun and playfulness are awesome for making the air space.
Situation #2: You are completely stuck on how to resolve a plot problem.
Okay, let’s make the air space with the dreaded plot blocks:
- Write a toss-away scene where something totally improbable and totally inappropriate for your story happens. Maybe you are writing an intense, emotionally fraught realistic story. Put your main character in a scene on a spaceship with a bunch of rabble-rousing, irreverent aliens. If your main character is a swashbuckling, all-action heroine, stick her in a therapy group with a very emo, touchy-feely facilitator who wants Ms. Swashbuckler to share her feelings. When we allow ourselves to color way outside the lines of our actual plot, it might give us unexpected ideas to find our way through the snarl.
- Stop working on the plot snarl and work on a part of the story where you know what is needed. This gives you a break from the problem, plus a confidence boost.
- Pull out craft books for inspiration and support. Examples: Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise, Cheryl Klein’s The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults, or Matthew Salesses’s Craft in the Real World. Look for frameworks or exercises that might help you bust through your plot snarl.
- Read what you have already written with the faith that a solution to your plot problem is already there. Go find it. Trust that you already know the answer.
- Take a nap, a shower, a walk, a run, a dance break. Anything that will get you out of your head. Let the plot problem float in the background. Perhaps an answer will sneak up on you.
And there you go. A mini-smorgasbord of options for you to make the air space when you have the plotting blues. Yay!
A Lasting Impression
The memory of that dancer’s arm being joggled from stiff flatness to graceful buoyancy by Mr. Herbert’s cane is imprinted on my mind. A visual representation of make the air space.
So much of the writing adventure seems designed to test our equilibrium, from figuring out how to write, to the critique process, to the querying, the waiting, the revising, the rejecting . . . oh, the challenges just flow from my fingertips. But perhaps that is one of the gifts of the writing adventure. The endless invitations it offers us to practice staying in flow, i.e., to get better at making the air space for ourselves.
Yay! Now, let’s go make Mr. Herbert proud. . . .
The Goodjelly Prompt of the Week
- Post-in-Action Prompt: Pick an area of your writerly adventure where you are feeling a bit constricted, stuck, and/or frustrated. Come up with at least five possible ways you could make the air space for yourself. Once you’ve done that, pick one and make the air space happen.
- Scene Prompt: Write a scene where your character is corrected by a wise but crotchety character. Does the interaction cause your character to shut down, rebel, strive to be better? Let emotion have the air space as you write.
- Journaling Prompt: What is a pithy bit of wisdom you remember learning as a child from a favorite teacher? Write about how that lesson supports you on the writing adventure.
- Connection Prompt: If one of your writer friends is struggling with some aspect of the adventure, send them a quick note of uplift and appreciation. Basically, make the air space on their behalf by sending them a dollop of Goodjelly love.
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