Three Days of Grace

 

I believe we are given moments of grace – just when we need them the most. When our hearts are sore, when we are afraid, when we don’t know which way to turn. Three days last week were moments of grace I desperately needed. And now, it is as if I have turned a corner, and while the path is not entirely clear, there are brilliant splashes of sunshine.

Matt and I reached Rosie’s in Mill City at 7:45 a.m., and we waited in the cool sunshine for it to open at 8:00 a.m. I settled myself on the deck, while he drove back to Portland to make it to work (mostly) on time.

Cookie and Darlene picked me up about 10:00 a.m., a hike up the Blue Pool trail on the McKenzie River was in the offing, and we were anxious to get started before the temperature climbed into the 90s.

It was a beautiful hike, and I was humbled as my two good friends took great care that I stay safe. Dar started in the lead, and was soon pointing out potential tripping hazards.

Tap with her hiking pole. “Rock,” she said quietly.

“Rock!” I yelled back to Cookie.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Rock! Root! Root!”

We hiked on, occasionally asking those coming down the trail how much further it was. It took two children to tell us the truth.

“It’s hot up there!”

“Yeah! It’s a long way up!”

Halfway up the trail, Cookie decided to stop and wait for Dar and me to reach the top and come back down. The sun was blazing through the trees and it would be hotter and steeper up ahead.

Covered in sweat and trail dust, Dar and I reached the waterfall and brilliant blue pool. It was beautiful, and I’m so glad we made it up there together.

We began the climb down, and I was acutely aware of how much my vision has deteriorated since climbing Black Butte in September 2017. I was so careful, though, using my poles to help compensate for my lack of depth perception and balance. Until, for a split second, I wasn’t.

Falling is  a bone-chilling, terrifying event. As I saw the  rock-strewn ground coming at me, I did everything I could to protect my face. I slowly caught my breath and dried my tears. Dar helped me sit up, and we assessed the damage. A bloody, swollen knee, scrapes, and bruises. Painful but fine. It was my right forearm and elbow, though, that had borne the brunt, and we were both afraid my arm was broken.

It was a slow, hot, painful descent as we met up with Cookie and made our way to urgent care. X-rays showed nothing broken, just badly bruised. A wrap and sling, and out we went to find dinner and tequila.

This latest fall shook me up – the swiftness, the damage done, and the fact that I have no idea why or how I fell. My blood pressure at urgent care was 93/65 when pain alone should have been enough to elevate it to normal. Maybe it was that. No idea. It would be good to know if only to lighten the months I’ve spent full of  self-doubt and critical thoughts. That it’s ok, people fall, sometimes because of Parkinson’s, sometimes because of low blood pressure, and sometimes because it’s just an accident.

The effects of the fall slowed me down, but Cookie and I made our way around Sisters and Bend promoting the hike I’m trying to organize this summer. We left flyers and sponsorship packets, and talked about the hike on South Sister. Most everyone was excited to help, and I am hopeful this will work out!

Cookie, one of the most wonderful, gracious ladies I have ever met, held a happy hour get-together at her house on Wednesday. So that evening found nine of us gathered on the back deck, cooled by  a passing thunderstorm, surrounded by her English country garden. A hodgepodge of salads, sandwiches, cookies, and wine was laid out as friends arrived, hugging our hellos, marveling at the passing of time. How quickly it flies by, and how suddenly it can stop, as if nothing exists outside of where we are at that moment.

We talked and laughed. Shared and listened. Planning our futures, remembering our pasts. And always a smile. A look. Eyes that said what our hearts were thinking. We are safe here. We are together here. And we will help each other.

I have been blessed with wonderful women who gather ‘round and help. My sorority, my sistahs in the hood, my Sisters yoga ladies, my boxing buddies … There are no longer sisters in the hood in Sisters. Three of us have moved away, one is about to …  but I realized on the drive back to Rosie’s on Thursday afternoon, we don’t need a place. Our sisters are in our hearts. We will carry each other there forever.

Having Parkinson’s Sucks, but Life Doesn’t Have To

Having Parkinson’s sucks, but life doesn’t have to. 

It will, mind you. Life will most definitely suck. You will be plunged into the deepest pits, from which, you will fear, escape is impossible. You will endure the most dreadful physical pain that, you will fear, will never end. You will suffer the scars, inside and out, that, you will fear, will never fade.

I know these to be true. I have also learned that while the immediate white-hot pain fades, it leaves behind reminders. Shadows that lurk inside darkened corners. Memories triggered by seemingly innocuous events, a careless phrase, the scent of the ocean, the glimpse of a sailboat.  

And I realize that even though I am a helper by nature, I cannot always help myself. So I keep busy, not necessarily happy, but busy. Many people think busy equals happy, but don’t conflate the two. They are different.

Busy just takes my mind off the dark places – a temporary occupation, not a real cure.                      

But busy I have been. Boxing three times a week. Dancing a few times a week. Volunteering at PRO. Training my puppy. Being active in my sorority alumnae chapter.

And I have added another … I am organizing the First Annual Hike for PD – “Hiking Sisters and Misters.” If you have not seen us on FB, climb out from under the rock, and go to the page “Hiking4PD.”

My goal is to make this an annual fund-raising hike, and move it around the state. To that end I have taken the next step and bought the domain, “Hiking4PD.com”

I am very excited about this, and committed to this endeavor. Working to raise awareness that we – Hiking Sisters and Misters, and Hiking4PD – even exist, crafting a 6-point belief statement, contacting potential sponsors.

Yes. I am very busy. And sometimes I am happy. And that does not suck.

 

For Those to Whom This Matters

After three weeks of more meds and hoping this hiccup did not count as ¨unstable,¨ I received some good news at the retinologist on Friday.

Hgh doses of steroids, whether focused or systemic, have some unpleasant side effects. Ophthalmic steroids can increase eye pressure a lot … and quickly. This time it did not.

Steroids can also have a paradoxical  side effect and increase what we are rightfully trying to decrease. This time it did not, and the fluid in my retina has gone down.

This is more good news.

Also good is the news that this recent increase in the amount of fluid in my retina is just a blip, and not another episode of ¨unstable.¨ Early on in my treatment, Dr. Lin said I need to be stable for 3 years – that’s 36 consecutive  months. I do not need to start counting to 36 months all over again.

As is usually the case, though, there is another side to the story. Before December of 2017, an ¨epiretinal membrane¨  (ERM) grew over my retina. The depth (height?) of the ERM is called the ¨central macular thickness¨ and it continues to increase. Between 300 and 350 is normal. I have never been ¨normal¨ amd am up to 488.

This is not good. Some people can have relatively high numbers and not be symptomatic (they can still see just fine). I am symptomatic.  After I had my glasses fixed this past winter, I could read license plates and street signs. I can no longer do that. With glasses on, my vision is 20/50, which is better than it was before new glasses, and worse than it was after.

Which leaves us with the discussion of surgery. There are a number of problems to consider … Including that I have just the one eye left, and no matter how safe this surgery technically is, there are always complications. There is also the fact that ERMs don’t often cure themselves, and there is a risk of decreased visual acuity regardless. And by ¨decreased visual acuity,¨ I mean ¨blindness.¨

However, since Dr. Lin, who is out on maternity leave, would be the surgeon should I decide to go this route, and she doesn´t return till July … I have plenty of time to compartmentalize this away for awhile.

I do not have to make this decision in haste.

There is time.

Humira Again

Last week began with a call from Walgreens Alliance Pharmacy, asking if I needed to arrange for another month’s supply of Humira.

“Yes,” I said. “That would be great.”

We went through timing, delivery, the regular questions, and then she mentioned the $1200 co-pay.

“Were you expecting that?” she asked.

“Um, no.”

The conversation deteriorated from there, partly because it came just days after I learned my remaining eye was not as “stable” as it had been. Humira is the main drug I have been depending on to save my sight.

The crux of it all is that since I now receive Medicare – well, “receive” is the wrong word – I pay for Medicare as well as supplemental insurance – I no longer qualify for the “Complete” Humira financial help program I worked so hard to find and apply for. That process had taken months, but it was worth it. Humira is unbelievably expensive. Costing tens of thousands of dollars at “retail,” it is usually paid by insurers or the government under a non-negotiable arrangement passed by corrupt members of  congress decades ago.

So, because I am now on government-funded insurance, I no longer qualify for that financial assistance program. It doesn’t matter that I am paying for this insurance.

My first option offered by Abbvie, the company that makes Humira, was to pay $1600 for the first month of Humira, then $1200 the second month, then about $300/month for the rest of the year. $5,800. Oh, and it starts over yearly. This is on top of my premiums, other medications, monthly specialist appointments and lab tests. That much extra I do not have.

By then I was in tears. I was passed along to Abbvie’s pharmacy assistance program. They said I had to apply, although I had already applied and been accepted to the program I was being kicked off. If I qualify, the lady said, I could get Humira “free.” She told me that each case was decided individually so even if it looked like I wasn’t going to qualify, I might still.

Why Abbvie makes people apply and reapply and go through hoops – and maybe not even find these programs because they don’t know how to research or ask – in order not to go blind – is beyond me. It’s evil.

I always cry when I talk to these “case managers” or “ambassadors.” I tell myself they really believe they are doing positive work for the people who desperately need their product. After all, they did not come up with these draconian plans. That’s the committee of people I want access to.

Sometimes in my darkness, I realize that nothing changes, except to get worse. I have been through issues like this since “the fall.” Actually since before that, back when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I’m tired of working so hard at working so hard. I want to go away, but for so many reasons right now I cannot.

But I will work to make today a better day, and I will hope that you are doing better than you were yesterday. If you have insomnia, check Messenger and see if I’m awake. Maybe we can chat for a bit

And So I Persist

Boxing Gloves

I live by the words, “What doesn’t kill you gives you a set of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a dark sense of humor.”

They help me face Parkinson’s and life with a combination of cheer, sarcasm, and darkness. And a dose of refusal.

I refuse to let this insidious, sneaky, passive aggressive  coward of a disease rob me of anything easily. No. It will have to fight harder  for what it wants to steal than I fight to keep it. Parkinson’s has taken too much already. None of it without a fight, but taken nonetheless.

I refuse to quit. I persist. In the face of sadness, of loss, of darkness. I persist.

My history of falling is widely known. Down staircases. Down mountains. Off curbs. Across cockpits.

I have seriously sprained ankles. Broken a wrist. Broken vertebrae that resulted in cervical spine surgery, limited mobility, and chronic pain. I have broken, crushed really, exploded truthfully, half of my face. From my nose to my maxilla, to my skull, including my eye and orbit. I was immediately blind in one eye, fighting blindness in the other.

I box my muscles to pain. Stretching and hitting as hard as I can. Running up the stairs. Moving faster than is comfortable. I dance to dizziness, repeating and repeating until I have it right. Only to repeat the process at the next lesson.

The ankle I twisted in dance class last week is worse. “Could it be,” asked my son with a touch of I-told-you-so, “because you push yourself to exhaustion on a daily basis and have continued to dance and box on it?”

I persist anyway.

I lose things – often the same things – regularly. Everyone misplaces their stuff on occasion, and I lose the usual small things throughout the day – keys, lists – the nuisance items. But I also lose the ridiculous – phone, glasses, shoes, purse, coffee cup – all at once. I JUST had it! shouts the voice in my head.

And so began the game “Where is Mom’s [insert noun here]?”

I lose words. Devastating for an English teacher, editor, writer.

“Just give me a noun,” says he.“If I had a f’ing noun, I would,” says she.

And so began the game “What word did Janie mean to use?” Now perverted to “What word can we use instead that would be really funny?”

But I persist. Crossword puzzles. Word games. Organizing my thoughts and space as I once organized multi-million dollar projects.

The vision in my left eye has been a little more limited the past few weeks. My usual check-up revealed an increase in fluid in the center of my retina. There were no signs of new inflammation, just the fluid. So, my doctor increased my prednisolone eye drops from one to four times a day. And I go back in three weeks. I didn’t ask if this event classified as “not stable.” I couldn’t bring myself to do it. To hear those words would have been more than I could handle by myself.

But I persist. I sew great big blankets with little tiny stitches. I bead bracelets with narrow wire. Not a big deal, perhaps, for someone with average vision. Mine is not average.

I read once, “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise don’t even start … If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

Everything worth having is worth fighting to keep.

And so I persist.

Showcase Weekend

On Monday, after an intense ballroom dance coaching session, I spent a couple of hours watching, ok, crying through a Netflix movie called Dumplin’. Set in Texas, chock full of Dolly Parton aphorisms, it’s a little gem of a tear jerker. Plus, if you watch it as I did, and if you’re the mimic that I am, you will start talking to the dog in a Texas drawl. Oh, good Lord, I thought. I’m going crazy talkin’ in a southern accent to the dog.

Aside from that, though, was the realization that I was hearing some real truths.

  • Stop rejecting people for things they can’t change.
  • To hell with what everyone else thinks. [Or my interpretation, To hell with what anyone else thinks.]New Blog 9_Red shoes
  • Find out who you are and do it on purpose. — Dolly Parton

Oh, and something about the importance of wearing red shoes.

Back up to two days ago. To this Saturday’s dance showcase at Step It Up in Lake Oswego. I did not sleep the night before but I set an alarm for 7:00 am, just in case. Becky was coming over at 8:15 to help me with my hair. She drove past the house just once, my hairstyle was simple, and we headed out the door to my makeup appointment relatively on time. Then, because I was chatting and not thinking, we drove straight past the salon. We couldn’t make Google maps work in the cell hole we used for a turnaround, which cost us valuable time, and we arrived a wee bit late. Time sped up exponentially from there.

Not before 9:45, definitely before 10:00. Kristy’s last words to me. I am always early to dance class. I was late to my first showcase. I walked through the doors at 10:01 as Kristy was giving final directions. I passed my teacher Mason who said that we were in the first heat. In a controlled panic  I struggled to put on my dance shoes, take off my new dance jacket, and meet Mason in time to start a waltz.

Relax.

Shoulders down.

Look left over Mason’s shoulder.

Head held high.

Oh, relax.

Shoulders down.

Good gawd, I thought. What makes me think I can do this?

It wasn’t until I sat down after the dance that I realized I was trembling. I realized a lot that day, but strangely, I’m not in the mood to dwell, or analyze, or even think. Just relate.

I am exhausted. I am sad. I am busy. I am grateful.

My teacher, Mason, is a wonderful young man who cares so much about what he does. He is learning about the limits that Parkinson’s disease brings to bear, and he is trying his damndest to help me move past them. Plus, he’s my friend.

My circles were just about all represented at the Showcase. Becky from my race track family. A dear, vital, vibrant friend.

Tracy from Oregon State Gamma Phi Beta. My friend since 1979. Wow! A more caring person would be impossible to find.

Jean and Diane from Parkinson’s Boxing. Diane is 74 and just learning to play the violin. She is an amazing writer and has the sweetest heart. Jean is my workout buddy and friend, a ray of light on cloudy mornings.

My new dancing friends have been so kind and encouraging. Applauding my progress and successes. Ignoring the rest.

My ability to time my meds and food was taxed on Saturday, but Erik’s voice in my head steadied and reminded me.

I made it through the day’s 20 dances. Exhausted. A little bleary eyed. Definitely hungry. Exhilarated.

What made me do this? Ballroom dance. Showcase. A competition in Indianapolis in less than two weeks. Practices. Shoes. Dresses. Everything.

Which brings me back to the movie. We have all been rejected for things we cannot change. To those who have done the rejecting – stop it. To those who have been rejected – there’s a fine line between loyal perseverance and just plain pathetic. Walk it carefully.

I am doing this for me. Parkinson’s is progressive, but it doesn’t have to be fast. I am doing what I can to slow it down. And pushing myself to do things that are scary or difficult or exhausting or new is how I can do that. So to anyone who asks why, I tell them.

“This is the last time I will be this good. I don’t know when I’ll be bad, but right now, with a lot of pushing, I am going to do this.” As long as even one person understands the struggle and the cost, I can make it.

I am still finding out who I am. I am thinking this will be a continual process. For the last few years, I thought I knew, but life changes. So I’m searching again. When I find it out, I’ll do it on purpose.

And I will wear red shoes.

Get A Move On

I get tired of the platitudes.

“I am bigger than Parkinson’s.”

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”

“If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Because there are times when Parkinson’s is bigger than I am, when life is scarier than dreams, when I’m surrounded by lemons but not vodka or sugar.

The existential argument I’m having with my belief system is reaching a draw with no clear winner. Because sometimes Parkinson’s wins. Sometimes my lack of vision wins. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if I’m stronger. Or if I’ve gained weight (muscles or alcohol, it’s hard to tell). Or if I can or can’t organize my way out of a wet paper bag.

Everyone has their own issues. Some are bigger than others, it’s just not anyone’s place to judge the depth of someone else’s suffering. But no one wants to hear you complain about lost love, lost life, lost health, lost vision, lost hope. And those who suffer don’t really want to hear another story about overcoming the odds and obstacles. At least I don’t.

Now, I am simply trying to find a way back to the life I loved. Of course, it sucks that the main reason I loved it has gone, but no one wants to hear about THAT either.

As I walk to the kitchen in the pre-dawn light, words I have lived by  all my life begin to echo around my head.

Suck it up, buttercup.  It’s time to get a move on.

 

Warriors

I met the most amazing group of warriors yesterday. 

I fall asleep with difficulty, wake at the drop of a hat, and spend most of every night awake. Night before last was no exception. I woke up at 3:00 and lay in bed – awake – until 5:00.

Something compelled me to leave the pocket of warm I had created around myself, throw on sweatshirt and sweatpants, panda slippers, and take the first of my daily Parkinson’s meds. I finished preparations for coffee begun the night before and went back to my room. This was going to be an organizing morning.

It was also going to be a boxing morning.

I’ve had to miss a few of my Tues/Thurs boxing classes, and even though I had tried to make it – I had not yet made it to the 8:30 Saturday morning Ladies Only class. Fatigue from dancing more often, lack of sleep, depression, loneliness, meds, are just some of the factors that combine to rob me of energy and purpose.

This morning, though, I kept the promise to myself and was out the door before 8:00 for the highway drive to Tigard.

There were introductions and re-introductions as the usual ladies, and a few newcomers, arrived. I noticed with a lump in my throat the different stages we are all in our struggle against the insidious nature of Parkinson’s.

I remember few  names – personality flaw, I’m afraid – but everyone was so kind, concerned, and welcoming. 

Women like Kat, a beautiful spirit inside and out. We  knew each other form our participation in a monthly teleconference support group. I was so happy to put name with face. Her giving heart puts people at ease from the start.

And Claudia, a spitfire from my other class. She is fierce! A relentless participant, she pushes herself, constantly trying to move faster, reach further, hit harder. And she introduced me as an inspiration because I dance through every workout. She inspires me.

And Jean, my lovely friend from the weekday class, who gave me a hug as we whispered about being workout partners  like we were 10 years old on the playground.

The workout was tough, but we laughed and sang our way through it. Shania Twain was drowned out by a dozen women shouting, “I FEEL LIKE A WOMAN!”

And I danced my way through what I could of the workout. Skater slides. Boxing. And then we went out for coffee!

A table full of unique, talented, beautiful women. Sharing experiences  – medications and side effects, direct brain stimulation (DBS), the value of counseling. Sharing our art and the projects carried close to our hearts – beading jewelry, writing, painting watercolors.

We talked about dance. And Parkinson’s. And hiking.

About persevering. And loving. And relying on each other.

Their open hearts, genuine concern, and joyful souls drew me in and gave me a place.

I don’t know if I will fully recover from the heartache I am feeling. I honestly don’t.

I do know if I make it, it will be with the help of women like these.

 

Be Your Own Tiara

By Jane Miller

My life is turning out neither the way I planned it, nor dreamed it.

I dreamed of happy. Of belonging. Of place. Of love everlasting.

Of a tiara.

I have always wanted a tiara. A sparkly symbol of something … I don’t know. Acceptance? Esteem? Beauty? Altruism?

One year, as we were searching for decorations for the prom, my students found an old box up in the attic of the high school in Gold Beach. A veritable cornucopia of prom treasures. Sashes. Gold pins. Glitter and sparkles. And … a tiara. I put it on to a round of applause.

I wore that tiara all day. Then I put it away. After all, I did not earn it. No one voted for me. I didn’t inherit it from some other princess. I found it in a dusty old box.

Someone once promised to buy me a tiara. It never materialized, so I stopped asking and I did what I should have done years (decades) ago.

I bought my own tiara. The tiara doesn’t have a name the way many of my favorite objects do. But it is sitting in a place of honor atop Molly’s head on my jewelry box.

img_4640

Last fall, my Sole Support for Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon team was comprised of friends from near and far. We ranged in age from 70-ish to four. From 6’ 7” to 22”. (The four-year old was Lily, daughter of my sorority sister, Christy. The 22” was Nettle, a lovely golden retriever.) In addition to the tutus we all made, I made bracelets for the team to commemorate the walk and thank them for their love and friendship. I even made one I hoped would be small enough for Lily.

The bracelet for Lily was big, and early on she began to play with it, causing it to slip up and down her arm. Christy matter of factly notified Lily that the bracelet had been a present from “Princess” Jane and she had better not lose it. Lily’s eyes widened as Christy went on to explain.

“See?” she asked, pointing to my tiara. “Princess Jane is a real princess, she has a tiara. She gave you that bracelet, and you need to take care of it.”

Not being privy to this exchange, I began to wonder why this lovely little girl kept stealing surreptitious glances my way. Lily wore that bracelet all day, taking care that it didn’t slip off her wrist, making sure nothing happened to it.

The walk began, and shortly into it, Lily made it known that she was no longer enamored with this whole 5K idea. Christy made it known that she was not about to schlep a 4-year-old around the streets of Portland.

“Look at Princess Jane,” Christy explained. “If she can walk, so can you.” Lily cast glances my direction throughout the brief walk, my migraine causing me to cut my participation short.

After our walk, we sat at picnic tables, snacking and talking about our day – the vendors, the crowd, the joy of friends you’ve known for almost 40 years. Christy began taking pictures of Lily as she stood between the tables, still resplendent in her tulle tutu, numerous leis, and bracelet.

I walked softly over to Lily and knelt down to look into her eyes.

“Lily, would you like to wear my tiara for a little bit?”

img_4638Her small hands went to her mouth as she almost trembled with excitement. She looked to Christy, then back to me, and nodded just a touch. I took the tiara off my  head and placed it gently atop hers, making sure it was perched snuggly.

Lily stood rooted to her spot, as if the slightest move would break the spell. Christy kept taking pictures while I quietly talked to Lily about tiaras and princesses.

How Lily could have a tiara of her own. How important it was to be a good princess, help other people, and be kind. She nodded but didn’t say a word.

After just a few minutes I sat down while Lily continued to stand straight and tall. Then she pivoted ever so slowly and carefully toward me, took the tiara gently from her head, cradled it securely in her tiny hands, and gave it back to me.

“Thank you for taking such good care,” I praised her, then whispered, “Are you sure you don’t want to wear it more?”

Lily gave a quick shake of her head, smiled again, and went back to her mother. Christy knelt down and hugged her, as Lily started to recount the story of how she wore a real princess’ tiara.

Lily will someday know that I am not a real princess. But she will also know that you don’t have to wait for someone to give you a tiara. You make your own tiara every day of your life.

img_4639

Be responsible for those who depend on you.

Be kind to all.

Be a person you would be proud of.

And I have realized that I DO have what I dreamed of.

 

(Almost) Everything I Need To Know, I Learned from Dance

I’ve had a tough time this New Years. Given my track record with new years lately, you can understand. I really don’t look forward to the future with a great deal of hope, confident that everything will work out.

So it was with a low heart that I went to the ballroom dance technique and group classes last night. I left the studio, however, with an improved attitude.

I have discovered that almost everything I need to know I learned in dance class. 

The first lesson from dance is “NEVER STOP MOVING OR DANCING. EVER.” I have a tendency to stop when I’ve made a mistake or get off rhythm. I feel like I have to stop, regroup, and then move on. My dance teachers keep trying to make us understand that we don’t need to stop. We can’t stop. We have to keep moving, dancing, until we catch up or slow down, or just plain relax into the dance.

My conversations with my instructors – while I’m learning or practicing often go like this.

Instructor, “Wait, why are you stopping? Don’t stop.”

Me, “I was off-beat.”

Instructor, “No you weren’t.”

OR

Instructor, “Don’t stop. You were almost there!”

I have nothing to reply to that one.

So, don’t stop moving. Never stop dancing. You’ll catch up, or get it right next time, or maybe you won’t. But you will eventually, and then it will be beautiful. Just don’t stop.

Lesson 2 is “MOVE YOUR FEET OUT OF THE WAY, OR THEY WILL BE STEPPED ON, AND IT WILL BE YOUR OWN FAULT.” There are a number of smooth (ballroom) dances designed to move around the floor, with the follower going backwards, counter-clockwise in an oval. The lead steps directly at the follower in regular steps. The follower steps directly back, moving smoothly through the hips. It doesn’t always work, but the follower’s job is to move! We know the lead is coming, we know the steps, it’s our responsibility to move ourselves out of the way.

The foxtrot, slow-slow-quick-quick, is easier for me simply because we start each sequence on the same foot. The waltz, however pretty, is not easy for those of us with balance and gait issues who can’t tell left from right. This lovely Beauty and the Beast dance, with its flowing up-and-down cadence, requires that you change feet. So it’s back with your right for the first 3-count, then back with your left for the second, then change, then change … All around the dance floor.

And don’t get me started on the tango.

No matter what, though, I am responsible for not getting stepped on. I always have been.

Lesson 3, “LOOK OUT YOUR OWN WINDOW,” is difficult for me because I smile like a goon when I dance and have a habit of looking my dance partner in the face.

This is all well and good in some dances, but in many others, each dancer looks out their own window, head turned, shoulders down, spine in place, and arms relaxed but in position. I mean, what could be more natural? But looking where you’re supposed to look helps craft the portrait of the dance and dancers. It also keeps you safe on the dance floor. It’s a little difficult to avoid the 12-pair pile up in the corner if you’re not looking where you’re supposed to.

So look out your window, tune in to what you’re responsible for, and smile (I have that one down cold.)

Lesson four is my favorite. DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR FEET! OR ANYONE’S FEET! If you look down you’re lost! You will have broken hold, distracted your partner, and likely stopped in a bad place. Your feet won’t automatically start doing it right if you stare at them. They’re worse than a gym full of high school students. I could make them behave with a glance. I’m not so good with my feet.

What to do? Well, see Rule 3 for starters, then always remember –

Looking down gets you nowhere. Looking down breaks every rule with a single movement. “Down” is the same as “The Past.” Too much looking back will only lead backwards. Looking down, you will see only what you are doing wrong. Looking up will show you the possibilities.

So listen to the music, that’s where the rhythm begins. Keep moving and dancing. Be responsible for your own feet. Look out your window, not anyone else’s. Look up, never down.

And relax, you’ll make it. It’s all about that breathtaking moment when you feel the beauty of the dance and the trust between partners, and simply let the music carry you.