Guest Post: J.A. Rock talks about "Doing It"

March 31, 2012

Today I am lucky enough to have my friend J.A. Rock, author of the magnificent By His Rules (I gushed about it on GoodReads a while back -- before we actually met) and the upcoming Wacky Wednesday, stop by and discuss doing it.

Well, not, like it. But just, you know. That awesome feeling when you're doing it.

I'm not helping. I need some inspiration, clearly. Take it away, J.A.:

Doing It

It kills me that I can’t dance.

I am a giganto theater nerd and will sing the love hits of Broadway to my dog, Professor Anne, until she looks around the room for my car keys so she can split. But I have never been able to dance to save my life.

Except…I can almost sort of bellydance. A little.

What I like about bellydancing is that it can be slow and sensual. None of those crazy jazz steps that have me tripping and panicking. No high heels. No partners to swing and twirl or be swung and twirled by. I’m actually decent at many of bellydance’s individual moves.

The problem occurs when I try to put the moves together.

I simply can’t move my arms and legs at the same time.

If I could just do hip circles all day, I’d be fine.

If snake arms were all it took, there’d be no issue.

But I can’t figure out how to hip circle while I’m snake arms-ing.

I can’t do drop kicks while I alternate genie arms.

Can’t shimmy while I Egyptian walk.

It’s just too much to ask of my uncoordinated body.

When I rediscovered bellydance last summer after an eight-year break, I bought the DVD Bellydance for Beginners, starring Leila—a sassy, sexy, leopard-print-top-wearing Egyptian dancer who breaks the moves way, way down for Gangly McGawkersons like me.

Leila’s friendly, conversational, encouraging. She gets uncomfortable-giggly when she talks about “accentuating your feminine gooiness,” which in layman’s terms I believe means, “shake your tits.” She tells me that when I do wrist circles I should imagine I’m trying to get cake frosting out of a bowl with my fingers. I can learn anything if it’s phrased as a cake metaphor. If anyone had ever cared enough to cake-ify algebra for me, my SAT scores might have been very different.

A few weeks ago, I reunited with the same bellydance DVD I practiced with in high school: Basic Dance, starring identical Punjabi twins Veena and Neena Bidashi. They look, dress, and wear their hair exactly alike. The only difference is one of them—I think Veena—always looks sultry and vamptastic when she’s dancing, while Neena looks profoundly sad, mildly frightened, or like she’s trying not to laugh. She’ll be dancing away with a smile plastered on her face, and suddenly she’ll get this expression like she just remembered the day they had to put the family dog to sleep. Or she’ll smirk like Veena whispered something hilarious to her in the middle of the Desert Flower.

Veena and Neena don’t mess around. Where Leila sometimes stops to reassure me that while a certain move is tricky, I’ll get it eventually, Veena and Neena never pause. “Look, you’re doing it,” they’ll say, approximately .5 seconds after they’ve demonstrated a new move or combination.

“There’s no way I could possibly be doing it,” I want to shout. “I need to stare at my feet in despair for at least five minutes thinking deeply about how to move them and imagining how foolish I’ll look when I do.”

The thing is, eight times out of ten, I actually am doing it—to my complete astonishment.

The key is the not-thinking. As soon as I remember I’m supposedly incapable of moving my arms and legs at the same time, I’m lost. But on Veena and Neena’s mad gallop through bellydance basics, I forget how incompetent I am.

I just do it.

And yeah, okay, there are moves I might always suck at. I’ve watched myself in the mirror, and when I do shimmies I look like I’m being electrocuted. Aladdin arms make me look like I’ve been shot in the head and am actively trying to hold my brains in. I have absolutely no feminine gooiness to accentuate. But I perform these moves a whole hell of a lot better when I’m not looking in the mirror thinking about how god-freaking-awful I am at them.

I have writerly equivalents to Aladdin arms and shimmies—tricky moves I’m convinced I’ll never master. But my writing, like my dancing, benefits from me sending my rational mind from the room to go check on those rolls in the oven. If I’m not thinking about the things that are hard for me; if I’m not worrying about what I’m doing right or wrong, I look down and oh my god, I’m doing it. I’m creating worlds, building characters, going on a motherfuckin’ journey.

There’s words on that screen, yo.

During the editing process, my rational mind is allowed back into the room. Its job is to dissect my writing coldly and clinically. It can freak out and throw slippers and ask Professor Anne where all the promise I showed as a child has gone, but it has to know how the moves work and how to improve the way I execute them. This is the point where I have to look in the mirror and assess my own shortcomings.

And oh it hurts.

But the initial act of creation, that doesn’t need to hurt. That’s no time to look in the mirror. When I’m meeting my characters and discovering their world, I don’t want anyone stopping me to say, “Oh boy. This is going to be tricky.”

I want to hear, “You’re doing it.”

Because holy crap…I am.

tracykitnreads said...

I suck at dancing. Even bellydancing. I keep trying, because really, how many times can you trip over your own feet before you finally get all the coordination issues sorted out and they figure out where they're supposed to be when? (Answer: Really really a LOT, apparently. I lost track about 11 years ago. I started after my daughter was born and she'll be 12 this summer.)

On the other hand, nobody else but me, the dogs and the cats is ever gonna see me make such a complete idiot of myself, and I have fun, so who cares, right?!

Lisa said...

I love belly-dancing a well, an dI'm also not that great with it! I'm fine on the spot, but when you have to move across the room I'm suddenly out of my depth! But it's so much fun!

I'm also terrible at Zumba, but I keep trying.
And who cares if you look like an idiot as long as you're having fun?

Raven de Hart said...

I always try to make that point to beginning writers, and they never seem to believe me. I might have to borrow your analogy some time...

You might want to try the Goddess Workout by Dolphina. It's really simple, low impact, and she's nice and light. Or you could go for Amira Mor's craziness--you'll sweat, but it's fun. There's also a pretty good one on Netflix, ubut I'm afraid I can't quite remember her name.

J.A. Rock said...

Thank you Katey for having me as a guest, and tracykitn and Lisa for making me feel less alone in the world of stumble-dancing. And thank you Raven for the recommendations. Amira Mor looks fun!

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