Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 


123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789


You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.


Filtering by Tag: Chrysta Brown

A Guide to Great Arms

Chrysta Brown

Umberto Boccioni, Synthesis of Human Dynamism, 1913, destroyed. My sister and I used to have picnics in our family garden and study Greek Mythology.

Well, not exactly.

What we actually did was sit on a blanket with flowers on it—our mother referred to this as the garden—and watch Xena and Hercules. We probably ate pizza on paper plates. Come to think of it, the paper plate thing may have only happened once and, for reasons I cannot even begin to explain, I just remember that one time quite fondly.

About a month ago, I relived this memory with my fiancé. We sat on the couch, ate pizza (on real plates) drank wine, and prepared to binge watch Hercules. “This is not good,” I said. It wasn’t bad in a way that can be excused by 90’s nostalgia, but it is a poorly designed, written, and acted production. As we watched Kevin Sorbo brood and throw things, I struggled to remember what exactly I, as either a child or adult, liked about this show. I like drawing doodles of cyclops. I like loose, flowing dresses that resemble bed sheets. I have an obsession with deltoids, which I believe is a direct result of a vested Kevin Sorbo and those upper arm bangles that every female character wore. “Nope,” Sean shook his head. “It’s not great. Not at all.”  

The deltoid is one of the muscles in the shoulder. It is used for lifting, hugging, holding, and hanging on. While weight and resistance are great ways to strengthen and sculpt the muscle, there are three main ways to strengthen and sculpt your deltoids without external assistance. The first is abduction. It is the act of moving something away from the center of your body. The second way is a yoga pose known as a downward dog. In addition to forcing the hands and shoulders to endure the weight of an inversion, this pose increases blood circulation and detoxifies the body. It is like the movement version of a juice cleanse. The final way to get Herculean arms is pushups, forcing yourself to get off of the floor, to fall, and to push yourself back up again.

For a muscle to strengthen it has to tear. The tears are small. They are not without pain or discomfort. Science says that when, or if, the muscle repairs, the new muscle is stronger. Tears are real. They hurt. Eyes tear. Muscles tear. Communities tear. We can only hope that when healing has taken place, it has done so with enough precision and strength to make us forget how bad everything was before.

Strange Lands

Chrysta Brown

black-and-white-991996_1920A big bank just released a campaign with the following line, “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today. Let’s get them ready for tomorrow.”  When I saw it, a chuckle snuck out before I could muster up the will to be outraged. And I should be outraged. I should be offended and threaten to pull my patronage, at least, that’s what the dancers that make up a bulk of my Facebook newsfeed tell me. This advertisement is just one more national campaign that invalidates the important contribution artists make to society and discourages young people from careers in the arts, or whatever.

Here are the ways I’ve been compensated as a dancer from least to most frequent:

Cash Food Wine Class Workshops on how to deduct donated (free) labor from my taxes Networking Opportunities Exposure Experience

Here are the forms of compensation accepted by my landlord:


So when I see the advertisement with the young lady leaning over a complicated bit of science, what I feel is closer to envy than anger. To quote Roxanne Gay’s essay, “Strange Lands,” about why she decided against being a New York-based writer, “I’m not as interested in struggling or suffering as I once was.”  In fact, I cannot say, with full certainty that if someone were to approach me with all the expertise necessary to be an engineer or astronaut that I wouldn’t take the skills and request a very large glass of wine to pair with that bowl of porridge and maybe some cheese to go with that wine.

I would look back, though. I'm like Lot's wife, and the music-filled studio, the dimly-lit stage, the blank pages are all different rooms of home.

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy of The Chronicles of Narnia were told at the end of book one, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.”  At the end of book three, they were lovingly, but promptly, kicked out. “You’re too old,” Aslan told them, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”

Though Aslan sent them back to the world of rainy, English afternoons and crowded train stations, he did not take away their crowns, wipe their memories, or reclaim his love. They become members of two realities, both royal and regular at every minute of every day, with the knowledge and experience from one world influencing their decisions in the other.

This multifaceted, dual citizenship is something we admire as long as it stays between the covers of the stories we love.  Once we take that same situation off the page, however, it warrants judgment.  The ballerina who finds just as much pleasure in putting together dances as she does in putting together computers is shamed and pitied, as if she, like the characters we strive to create cannot love the order of the office and the possibilities of blank spaces that exist to be filled with movement, color, or sound.  

The world is strange. It is calm and predictable in one moment, and uncertain and chaotic the next. We honor these things in our work. Perhaps, it would be a good thing to celebrate them in other people.  Perhaps, it would be a good thing to celebrate them in ourselves.

If It Is a Good Morning

Chrysta Brown

dawnThe sun is snuggled still sleeping behind the mountains. He pulls their snowy peaks over his head and indulges in another hour of sleep. Not me, though. I’m awake. I’m out in public. I am caffeinated and somewhat functional. I am not necessarily in a bad mood. It's just a morning one. I am working the opening shift at the cafe. The sky is still dark.

“Why?” a customer asks when I tell her what time I have to leave my apartment, 4:00 AM. “That’s ridiculous,” she says and orders a sugar-free, nonfat, vanilla latte. With whip.

But before that, before the customers, the questions, and the sunrise, I clock in, turn on the lights, the coffee maker, and the espresso machine. The espresso machine yawns out streams of room temperature and then hot water. Two espresso shots pour directly into the sink, and the machine spits out more water to wash away all evidence. Now it is awake and ready to work. Well, good. At least one of us is.

Who told you that you have to write in the morning?

Well, there is Julia Cameron and her morning pages. Somewhere along the line, there was a Christian artist that equated the first hours of the morning with the first fruits of the harvest. The writer of Ecclesiastes spoke of new mercies that come with the morning, and someone convinced me that mercies should be used immediately after arrival. There is also the serpent. I drank the kool-aid that I was told to avoid.

I don’t have a problem writing three pages or setting aside time for writing. My problem is the morning itself. Despite the demands of my profession, I am not a morning person. I despise them. I am like the sun, best and brightest at around 1:00 in the afternoon. Dancers are taught not to read too much of the first dress rehearsal because it will be bad. Writers are told not to judge the first draft. Baristas throw out the first espresso shot. Why, then, do we demand so much from the first hours of the day?

Yes, there are people who thrive in the mornings. As a writer friend of mine once said, “Good for those people. Jesus loves them.”  But I have to wonder if we get so caught up with the Biblical authors’ praise for the morning, that we forget the stories about God walking with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening, or the one about Jesus asking his friends to stay awake a little longer. There is room for them in the Bible. Shouldn’t there also be room for them in our workshops and libraries, or is creativity limited to when and not if it is done at all?

At the literal and figurative end of the day, there are few things like falling into the arms of a good, firm (or even a mediocre and squishy) mattress and feeling the days work drain from your spine. This a gift that, in my mind, is far superior to the first few notes of my alarm clock that stab me awake well before dawn. When it comes, shades of orange and pale pinks stretch and shift across the sky. The sun takes it time rising, and the sky is still dark, but give it a moment. Light always comes later in the day.

Good News

Chrysta Brown

Pulse's motto used to be “Bringing you good news.” You would enter in your favorite news sources and topics of interest, and it would scour the internet and put relevant information on your homepage. It would then take the top headlines from every major publication and put them under the typical headings: Breaking News, Global, Local, Politics, Entertainment, Environmental, Sports, and so on. It became something of a ritual, every morning, I would sit down with a cup of coffee, open the app, and see those four words, “Bringing you good news.” The news was rarely good, but Pulse seemed to at least try, and occasionally, in between the frustrations and setbacks,  there was a feel-good story: a cat that rescued a toddler, an inner city barber offering free haircuts to kids who came in with perfect report cards, a wealthy man using his powers for good, little stories like that, but mostly the news was what news tends to be, bad.

I read the news so I can know what is going on and so I can make informed judgments and decisions. Those who don’t know their history and present, are not only doomed to repeat it, but they are probably going to make things a lot harder for a lot of people in the process. As a dance teacher, my influence is small, but I am determined not to be one of those people, and so I read the news. The headlines I see usually read something  along the lines of:  A white man with an audience said something stupid, offensive, and/or racist. I know I should care. I know I should be enraged. I know I should take to the streets, or at least to Facebook, and quote Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis,  Sonia Sanchez, or whole cornucopia of freedom fighters that came before and fought the same battles, but, more often not my first thought is, “And in related news, ice is cold.” I cannot find the energy to be angry. Here is a lesson I have learned: if you intend to be angry every time someone, either intentionally or unintentionally, says something he should have kept locked away in the deepest corners of his mind, you will be angry every day of your entire life. Being angry is exhausting.

It isn’t apathy that I am struggling from. It is burnout. I am tired. Speaking loud enough to be heard weighs on the vocal cords, walk outs, and picket lines are hard on the soles, and holding up signs causes damage do the shoulders. Every sociopolitical step forward demands two steps backward, and it is not, as the meme suggests, a cha cha. It is an incredibly inefficient way to go about making the world a better place. No one ever moved forward, by traveling backwards.

There is a speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave in 1967 called “Dr. King’s Entrance into the Civil Rights Movement.” He talks about getting home one day and receiving a phone call that threatened him, wife, and his newborn daughter. He says that this particular phone call bothered him more than the others. He says, “Then I went to the kitchen and started warming some coffee thinking that coffee will bring me a little relief.” I’ve always loved the speech for that moment. I know that moment. I know what coffee tastes like when you are less than a second away from giving up. “I think I'm right,” he whispered into the night. I imagine the steam rising up to caress a face too discouraged to hold even onto defeat. “I think the cause that we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now. I'm faltering. I'm losing my courage.”

It is easy to see leaders in social change as strong and steadfast. It is inspiring to see them as smooth-skinned and stone-faced. It is harder to imagine them in a moment when they chose to make coffee because they could make coffee and succeed. It is even harder to acknowledge the whisper that the road to justice will probably never end. Dr. King stood behind a podium in 1965, asked, “How long?” and answered, “Not long.” That was fifty years ago, and we are still walking.

These days I get my news from a service that delivers top headlines to my email inbox every morning by 5 AM. Their motto seems to be that if you must bring bad news, be funny about it. It’s not incredibly intelligent or through-provoking, but it informs without depressing. The other day I entered Pulse’s address into my internet browser, searching for the comfort of an old ritual. “Error,” said the screen that should have read “Bringing you good news.” “Not found.” I pushed the computer away, leaned over my fresh cup of coffee, sat quietly, let the steam rise.

Love Me Tender. Laugh Me True.

Chrysta Brown

Photo by Sara Reid - Flick [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsThe professor had this to say about my work, “Sometimes I get the feeling that you are sitting at your desk and just cracking yourself up.”  She was wrong. I didn’t have a desk. I sat on the bed, at a coffee table at Starbucks, on the train, or on the yoga mat that doubled as an accent rug. She was right about one thing, though. I make a habit of cracking myself up. I had to. I was working full time and in grad school so tears came easily and regularly. Laughter was a bit more elusive. The yoga teacher would begin class by having us set an intention for our work, something that would carry us through the convoluted poses, the unnatural stillness, the words I didn't know. As I sat before whatever surface that got the opportunity to hold the weight of my blank page, my intention was quite simple. It wore brown slacks, a grey shirt, and a tan hat. It contorted its face into funny shapes, it held wordless conversations with headless manikins, it tapped dance in the middle of movie set, and when the big moment came it belted out, “Make ‘em laugh.” My dance students look at me with wide eyes when I ask them if they know the combination well enough for me to turn the music on and stand off to the side. “It’s just hard,” one of them says. “We lift our left leg,” she pauses and performs a small, personal version of the combination. “Then the right and then the left again.”  I nod. “It’s so complicated!” she tells me again. “It really isn’t.” It isn’t like you are an octopus. You only have two legs.” I am serious, but they laugh. They foil my plans to be the “humorless dance teacher” and they laugh. Their eyebrows fall away from their hairlines, and they tell me they are ready to dance. We are rarely short on sources that encourage us to feel our feelings in the corners of dark places, especially in the arts. The goal of a lot of the “successful” works seems to be drama, conviction, introspection, berating self-reflection. It is far too easy to find failures and shortcomings to dwell on and to replay the never-ending movie of images things that we could have done better, or the millions of other choices we could have made. But we have other options. We can laugh. Not a snicker at something stupid, or an academic chuckle at an intelligent joke, but a full-bodied guffaw over something that is actually and simply hilarious. By doing this, we give ourselves a few seconds of love and relief. In the time it takes to squint the eyes, throw the head back, and forget that the world can be a sad and horrible place, we experience an appreciation for our lives and all of the twists, turns, and choices that brought us to the moment that invites us in to take a load off and have a drink. In the movie, the girl who took some creative writing classes in college tells the author that his narrator is narcissistic. The author, wearing khakis and a white t-shirt, both wrinkled, shrugs and says, “Well, somebody’s gotta love me.”

I laugh at this every time.

Weight for it

Chrysta Brown

Rebecca and Eliezer by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 17th century. The story was told to me with flannelgraph figures that effortlessly hopped from one point on flannel to the next. Abraham figured that it was time to find a wife for his son, so he sent his servant back to the old neighborhood to find a wife who had home-training similar to his own son’s. The servant prayed that the right girl for his master’s son would make herself known by giving water to him, his team and all of their camels. The servant made several turns that led him to Rebekah. He asked her for a drink water, and she gave it to him, and offered to get water for his team and their camels until they weren’t thirsty. This was a story about asking God for help with big decisions.

The night before my dance students were congregating in the lobby giving each other the type of hugs where one person is lifted off the ground and spun in circles. “AH!” one carrier exclaims mid-turn. “You are so light!”

“Hey, how much do you weight?”  I ask.

“Um…” the smaller shrugs, “eighty-something pounds.”

“Come here for a second.”  She walks over to me without hesitation. “We’re going to do a lift,” I tell her, and she agrees because she is a dancer and this is what we do to each other. We give, take, and share weight. She prepares to bend her legs in a pliè to help get her high into the air. “No, just give me dead weight.”  Her limbs flop and I hoist her up by her waist. 

“What are we doing?” she asks dangling in midair.

“I’m buying a couch tomorrow, and I don’t know if I can lift it. It weighs more than you though, so I’m really just preparing you for partnering.”  I laughed.

“Do you have help?” asked the girl’s mother, who was standing nearby.

I shook my head.  I was still new to the area, a recent transplant who hadn’t yet gotten all of the necessary home furnishings or friends to invite over to enjoy them, but I still had hope.  I put the tiny dancer down, and we all sauntered out into the night air.

The IKEA trip itself was uneventful. I’d shopped online and figured out where in the store’s underbelly my couch was and could therefore avoid having to meander through a store that is the size of some small cities. I could skip the carelessly blended together consonants that someone assures me mean things like “loft bed,”  “TV stand,” “duvet cover with clowns,” and the misleading sign that says shortcut, but really just leads to more words I do not understand.

In the warehouse, I held the cart in place with one foot and pulled then dropped the couch onto the basket. An IKEA associate jammed the about 60 percent of it into my Corolla and tied the trunk down. “Good luck getting this home,” he said in a tone that I perceived to be dripping with doubt.

To get to the door of my apartment building, one must walk about 30 feet uphill. It is hard on a normal day because there is no oxygen in the Colorado air. It is even harder when you have a couch. “You don’t have to carry it the full 30 feet,” my dad assured me when I expressed concern about how I was going to get the couch from the warehouse to my car to my apartment building to my actual apartment. “You only have to move it a few feet at a time.”

A few feet a time sounds like a nice idea when it is only an idea and  there is no actually weight involved. It sounds possible, before you actually have to attempt the task. Half-way through the task, it sounds downright stupid. I tried pushing. Then, after my straight path went awry and I almost pushed the couch into a bush, I tried pulling and end up ripping several holes into the protective plastic cover. I tried creating a sort of sled out of cardboard. The couch moved a bit; the cardboard stayed put. I tried praying. 

I adjusted the cardboard and hugged the frame and pulled it backwards. Adjusted, hugged, and pulled. I heard voices exit the apartment building, and I felt hope. It must have been how the beaten, and robbed man from the Good Samaritan story felt when he heard footsteps approach. The voice sighed. “Can I just get past you?” I let the weight of the couch lean on me and tried to make our join form small enough for the man and his companion to get by. I watched them converse around the cardboard, the plastic, the couch, and me. I watched them walk away. My heart beat several levels lower.

Here’s the math. A camel can drink an average of 20 gallons of water a day. A gallon  of water weighs about 8 pounds. There were ten camels. This makes for a total of 1,600 pounds. 

My questions are as follows:  How long did it take Rebekah to gather and carry over a thousand pounds of water? How many trips did it take for her to regret her offer?  Did it occur to any of the people within visual range to offer assistance, not because she was a woman, but because over a thousand pounds of water is kind of a heavy load for anyone to deal with alone.

I do not understand this story. The servant could have prayed for any type of sign and the story could have still ended with the desired wedding and moral intact, but instead, he prayed a prayer that placed a 1,600-pound burden on someone's shoulders and he stood by watched her suffer through it all by herself.

But she did it. She carried the water and did it well enough to warrant being someone's else bride and, according to an internet commentator I read once, she did so quietly and without complaining. She survived the burden, one gallon at time.

Writing for Sport

Chrysta Brown

Photo by martha_chapa95 / CC BY 2.0  

“I have never stopped considering not becoming a writer.”  — Joshua Ferris

A woman I barely knew once asked me what I would be if I weren't a writer. The list was not a prepared one, but it flowed with that sort of ease. In fact, I had, and have, no trouble thinking of other things I’d could spend my time and emotional energy doing. The list ranges from the realistic (a dancer), to the unlikely (a CIA agent), to the completely ridiculous (a house cat).

Only after listing my career ambitions did I pause to consider that I probably should have an all-or-nothing relationship with writing and that my answer should have sounded something like, “Oh, I don’t know. I would waste away into emotional turmoil if I could bring the pen to the page every day.”  I know for a fact that this simply is not true. There are days when I don’t write, and I survive to tell the tale.

I was a soccer fan once. I was living in Philadelphia at the time, which, it should go without saying,  meant that I was a very passionate Eagles fan. Being a Philadelphia Eagles fan means that you own a jersey (or because the roster changes so frequently, a selection of Eagles-praising t-shirts). It means that you hate the Dallas Cowboys, tolerate the New York Giants, and don’t really care about any other team in the league. It means that you know the lyrics to “Fly, Eagles, Fly” or at least know when to join in for the spelling of the team name and the subsequent cheer. Sometimes, it also requires some familiarity with the defeat song to the same tune, “Cry Eagles Cry.”

I reveled in all of this:  the regalia, the trash talk, the drama, the game. However, after the final loss of the 2013/2014 season and a rather spirited rendition of the defeat song, I came to a decision. “I am done with football!” I announced. “I’m switching to rugby, and I’ll be an All Blacks fan because they rarely lose.” As it turns out, though, rugby games are surprisingly difficult to find in a city dominated by football enthusiasts or without the added cable package, and since I was broke grad student, I decided on soccer instead which was an easier ship to climb aboard.

That summer, the World Cup was on, and my friend who had moved to Philly from Amsterdam dragged me a bar to watch the Netherlands vs. Spain game. I say “dragged” because, at this point, my passion for soccer was no longer fueled by the betrayal that comes with unsuccessful Eagles season. But something happened at that game. The team that had my support won, and by a ridiculous amount by soccer standards, and I got to cheer with, high five, and hug total strangers, and gloat at the end of the game. I suppose that was wanted from a sport. I wanted to write self-congratulating statuses, and work long-past victories into conversations about completely unrelated things.

Netherlands would go on to beat Australia, then Chile, and then meet up with Argentina for the semi-finals. My friend and I caught the bus to New York to watch it with like-minded fans.The bar was crowded, there was a cover charge, and the kitchen was closed even though the game was happening in the middle of the day. 

“Exciting game, right?”  a bearded man asked me during a commercial break. I smiled and made a sound that could pass for a yes. "We’ve waited four years for this,” he told me. 

“What did you do in the meantime?” I asked shifting my weight from one foot to the other. My feet hurt and because it was New York there were more people than seats.

He told me how the teams come together for the World Cup, but between that some of them who were playing together that day were rivals during the regional season. “It’s more like the Olympics than your Super Bowl,” he said. And that was it. That little comparison, the vocally italicized use of “your,” the too-long line to both the bathroom and the bar, and a game that seemed to be the athletic equivalent of “The Song That Never Ends,” putting all of that together meant that I was done with soccer. It also meant that I would care less than the people around me when Argentina won the game during overtime.

“You just don’t understand,” the bearded man, now close to tears, told me. “You’re American.”  

“I don’t understand?”  I muttered angrily. “You feel this way once every four years. I’m Eagles fan. This,” I looked at the defeat all around me, “is what I do.”

I think I have a long list of things I would rather do with my time because I want the soccer equivalent of a career. I want something that is easy and glamorous. Plus, since any particular world cup team only exists once every four years, I don’t need to put that much time or effort into it. What I think that means, is that there is a part of me that wants the victory without the fight. I  suppose it was easy for me to give up on soccer and start counting down the days until football season because I never tried or fought for soccer and therefore, didn’t feel the need to hold on to it. It is difficult to like things that don’t challenge your loyalty, your will, and your patience. Along with the challenge comes the choice to continue trying being a fan. Simply liking something is easy. You can walk away from it and never look back. Being a fan is hard because it is a choice not to walk away just because thing are going awry. It is a choice to keep believing in your team’s ability even while belting the words to the defeat song.

Being a writer is also a choice and not an obligation. Like being an Eagles fan, it is one I have to make, and make again, and again, through rejection letters, writers block, un-liked blog posts, and other people’s success. I sometimes forget that I can walk away, but if sports imitate life the way that art does, I can, and probably will, walk back, pick up my pen, and think of something to say. Why?  Because I am a writer, and this is what I do.

The One You Know vs. The One You Need

Chrysta Brown

10 Chrysta Brown I had a really good idea a few weeks ago. I was going to dance, teach dance, and sell brightly-colored spandex thereby reinventing and mastering the concept of a triple threat. I was already doing the first two, and was spending the few minutes before a job interview meandering around a store of overpriced workout attire so I could accomplish the third. The hiring manager rounded up two other hopefuls and led us to an empty table in front of a Nordstroms Cafe.  

Did you know this was going to be a group interview?one of them asked quietly. I had no idea,she said. But maybe well all get hired together.”  

That would be so cool.The other girl said. I smiled and nodded wondering just how many positions there were to be filled. 

So this is a super casual interview,the manager said smiling. As you guys probably know we are all about helping all types of women. We really want every woman to feel comfortable from the outside in, and we just want to get to know and figure out where youd fit within the company. So just go ahead and introduce yourself and just tell us why you want to work here.”  

That is a question I have always hated. "I like to eat food, and my landlord won't let me pay him in experience and bragging rights," though perfectly true, isnt exactly the answer potential employers want to hear. 

During a mock group interview, in college, the presenter posed a question, If you could be any type of tree what kind would you be and why?”  

"I'd be a Christmas tree,I said, because it's a symbol that represents a time of year that makes a lot of people happy regardless of whether celebrate the actual holiday."   

The boy next to me answered, Id be a carrot tree because Im unlike other youve ever seen.”  He was pleased with himself, and the workshop leader thought his answer was memorable and clever. I disagreed. The reason you have never seen a carrot tree is because carrots do not grow on trees, and if they did it would be an entirely different plant. The fact that he didnt know this mean that he either did not absorb or retain information or didnt eat vegetables which would result in a host of health problems and neither of those things would be very useful to the company. 

That, however, is the type of thing we do in those situations. We try to be remembered and impressive. We paint a picture of ourselves that adheres to what we think people want to see. Id argue that one of the most detrimental things you can do in an interview is believe them when they say,We want to see that real you.”  In most cases, what they really want is to see if you fit into the strangely snapped box they created before they knew that you ever existed. And we want to fit. No one seems to grow out of the elementary school need to fit in with the kids who have what we dont, and so, like the line of dancers, in the musical, A Chorus Line, we step-kick-kick and smile on cue all while singing I really need this job. Please, God, I need this job. Ive got to get this job!

Tell us about a time when you received great customer service at. It can be at any store. It doesnt have to be here," said the manager.

Starbucks,I said, automatically. I told them how the baristas knew my name, would notice when I hadnt been in for a while, and how they knew that something was wrong when I ordered a white mocha. I know they arent my friends,I said, but I would go out of my way to go to that Starbucks because it felt like they knew me.”  

The other girls nodded and hummed, and then they proceeded to say that they loved shopping at the very establishment that had gathered us together that afternoon for an interview. As an explanation, they both offered individualized versions of what sounded to me like Blah blah blah blah blah bloppity bloopity bloop bloop.”  The manager applauded the other applicants for their answers and said how their experiences were really what the company was about, We just want to help each person find that one item of clothing that makes them feel beautiful on the outside so they can start to make changes on the inside.”  

I felt so betrayed and annoyed, naming the company you are interviewing for as your favorite store is the equivalent of reminding your teacher that he forgot to give you homework. It is sucking up 101. It is deplorable behavior that warrants being ignored at recess, and for the life of me,  I cannot tell you why I didn't do it.

In the introduction of Neil Gaimans Trigger Warnings: Fictions and Disturbances, he writes, “I find myself, at the start of each flight, meditating and pondering the wisdom offered by the flight attendants as if it were a koan, or a tiny parable, or the high point of all wisdom.With a mother as a flight attendant and the Philadelphia International Airport on my list favorite places I grew up hearing the pre-flight instructions, but until that moment they had never been about more than oxygen. Secure your own mask before helping others. I think about the need to help others,Gaiman writes, "and how we mask ourselves to do it and how unmasking makes us vulnerable.He goes on to describe people who trade fictions for a living.He was talking about authors, but sitting in the group interview answering questions that aimed to prove that I would be of some value to this national corporation, Im pretty sure everyone does it. 

The manager rolled our applications into a tube and shoved them into the pocket of her jacket. “It was nice to meet you girls.We will call you by Monday if we have a place for you.Instead of walking back to my car, I rode up the escalator and walked to Starbucks.

Hey!the barista said pulling out sharpie and preparing to mark the familiar green and white cup. What are we doing for you today?”  

Hi,I said, Can I have a grande white mocha, please?”  he nodded, scanned my phone, and told my drink would be ready soon. When the cup came, I took a swig. On the white lid was the shape of my mouth printed in a wine-colored shade of lipgloss called "Desire."  I took another sip and sighed. 


Chrysta Brown


On August 30, Kanye West won an award for being a brilliant artist of some sort. During his acceptance speech he claimed that awards shows were ridiculous, called himself an artist’s messiah, confessed to smoking pot, and announced that he would be running for president. A year ago, maybe even a month ago, I might have sighed and muttered, “Oh, Kanye,” but this time, with the nagging realization that I probably have more deadlines than talent, all I could do was think about how I will never be able to write like that and have people support it. Everything felt so meaningless.

There is a picture of Idris Elba saved on my computer. His hands are folded and he wears an expression that quite attractively blends judgment and concern. “Shouldn’t you be writing?” the caption asks. Yes. Yes, Idris, I should be writing. I should be penning down my every thought, victory, tragedy, and curiosity on paper and online, but the blank page and I are in the midst of a staring contest, and so neither one of us has much to say.

That may not be exactly true. There are a lot of things going on that would make excellent essays, or at least mediocre essays that I could edit into readable ones, but I don’t feel like talking about those things. It doesn’t matter, though. The lack of something to say and the lack of will to say something both yield the same result. Nothing. Yet, I’m still suffering from the urge to create. In spite of the fact that millions of thoughts get published and posted every minute of every day, I have the tiniest bit of hope that I can water and nurture and grow something special where nothing used to be.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God introduces himself as a character by speaking light, ecosystems, and cows into existence. I know what the Bible says. I know what the lesson is for the artist: Words have power. I guess that is true. Words do things, change things, create and destroy things. But, is the inverse also true? Is the artist powerless when he can’t find the words or when he isn’t big enough to speak them? It feels that way. I feel drained and empty when I sit down to write and all I can do is stare out of the open window and watch the trees let go of leaves that weren’t strong enough to keep trying.

The first sentence of the Bible does not interest me because I do not understand people who always have something to say. I do not trust people who brag about how easy creation is. What grabs me is second sentence. I like the part where the narrator reveals with a sort of flyaway detail that, prior to everything, there was a whole lot of nothing. If I were given this manuscript in a workshop, this is the part I would circle and highlight as the big point. As both a reader and a writer, I would ask the author, “How long did you stare at nothing before you found something to say?”

Moving the Wild

Chrysta Brown

10 Brown PhotoSomewhere between Philadelphia and Baltimore there is a poorly marked road. It is a suspicious dirt path lined with tall trees. While a normal person would perceive the sound of the wind rustling through the trees as one of the God-given gifts of nature, I understand it to be the spirit of the forest whispering an ominous and scratchy, “Get out!” My parents, however, are braver than I am, and we keep driving until we reach a wooden sign in the shape of a giraffe that reads “Zoo.” This zoo is home to a random assortment of animals: buffalo, goats, a porcupine, alpacas, zebras, some bears, two tigers, a wolf, some chickens, some turkeys, rabbits, and several peacocks that run around screaming like children in need of attention. There is also a giraffe named Geoffrey. For about five dollars, you can feed Geoffrey a few twigs of leaves from trees grown at the zoo. That is why we are here.

When my turn comes, I give Geoffrey the first offering. He his sticks tongue out and wraps it around the branch, tickling my fingers in the process. “His tongue is scratchy!” I tell the zoo employee. She is immune to this wonder, and she nods her head the way someone would if you just told them that ice was cold.

My mom, camera in hand, asks, “Are you going to get him a friend?” The male employee tells us that the zoo is currently raising money for a larger giraffe habitat that will accommodate multiple giraffes. He then informs us that in the wild giraffes do not travel in traditional herds. “They are always coming and going.” I read this fact on Wikipedia a few years earlier. Apparently, giraffe groups are in a constant state of evolution. Giraffes come and go every few hours and scientists define their community as “a collection of individuals moving in the same direction.” I love that phrase. It makes me want to leap in circles.

“Do the other giraffes get mad when one leaves?” I ask. The female zoo employee looks at me with a face of sheer boredom. She’s probably going to make fun of me on Twitter later. The male employee shrugs, “They are probably used to it.” I look at Geoffrey. Does the decision to leave come with weeks of emotional turmoil and guilt? Do the giraffes who choose to stay abruptly cut off communication with the deserter because forgetting that someone existed is easier than missing them? Does the departing giraffe spends the entire journey from point A to point B thinking about going back to his friends. Geoffrey doesn’t provide an answer to any of these questions. Instead, he sticks his tongue out and takes a branch this time sticking around to pose for a picture.


One quiet morning I am sitting in my bed holding a copy of the entire The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m supposed to be packing because I'm preparing for a move of my own, but I am begging C.S Lewis, (Uncle Clive, as I like to call him) to give me a reason to stay nestled in the comforts of where I am. "He'll be coming and going," I read about Aslan. "One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down—and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right.”

I’ve always seen Aslan as a character who arrives, but this is the first time I've realized that he is also someone who leaves. It has never occurred to me that Aslan spent most of the books traveling, arriving, and walking away. Moreover, while the characters who knew and loved him missed him, they didn’t hate him for leaving because they recognized that where he was going was somewhere he needed to be.

I have moved at least eleven times in 27 years. I don’t have to wonder for very long what would possess a giraffe, a lion, or a person to leave familiar surroundings and communities to wander to somewhere new. When I moved to Philadelphia, I wanted it to be my forever home. I wanted this to be the place where I planted roots that would grow deep and wide. But I am not a tree, and physical roots do not come to me naturally no matter how much I want them to. Today, however, I don't feel so convicted. I think about the way Aslan does what he needs to and quietly slips away, and the giraffe who wakes up one morning and decides to turn left instead of staying with the group. I think it is time for me to go and I think it might be all right. I think it is quite all right.


Chrysta Brown

10 icebreakers  

It is a Saturday. I am 18. I’m at one of too-many college orientation events.

Even though all of my materials read “Chrysta,” my nametag reads “Crysta.” I added in an “h” with a black sharpie. They’ve assured me that the spelling will be fixed in time for tomorrow's activities and I am oh-so-thoroughly relieved and stick the typo on my jeans, out of site.

The introductory activity is an acrostic poem using the letters of our name. My subsequent eye roll is unavoidable. Whenever I am in a situation in which adult says “We’re going to start with a quick ice breaker,” my eyes take the path of least resistance toward the back of my skull. My neck throws itself back, and my nostrils flare. The act is not quick. It is not unnoticeable, but I pick up the pen and write.

C-Creative H-helpful R-Real Y-Why did you spell my name without an “h" STA-Start from the beginning and do it right this time.

It would probably shock you to know that I have never made a friend because of an icebreaker. Not one.


It is a Wednesday. I am 26. I am at Starbucks.

I've asked the barista for a London fog. She calls her manager who informs me that Starbucks doesn’t carry London Fogs. “You do,” I say, weary and un-caffeinated. “It’s an Earl Grey tea latte with vanilla syrup.”

“Oh,” the manager says. “So you would order that by asking for an Earl Grey latte with vanilla syrup.”

The outer edge of my left eye twitches behind my glasses. “I think," I smile in a way that's really just cheek flexion, “that is what I did when I ordered a London Fog!" But what the barista hears is “Okay, great.”

“What’s your name?” she asks with her Sharpie at the ready.

“Chrysta,” I answer. I pay with my Starbucks app and walk over to the pick-up counter.

“Would you like to add a tip?” the app prompts.

The barista slides my drink over to me and I stared at the cup that reads “Krystal” in scratchy black letters.

I clear the notification and put my phone back into my purse.


People are always misspelling my name. My least favorite misspelling is anything that ends with l or n. Those letters create a different name and were combined to describe a different person who is not me. My favorite misspelling happened at a bookstore coffee shop. I picked up my coffee and saw “Christ” written on the cup. That is also not my name, but wouldn’t that be fun? Just imagine.

Introductions: Hi, I’m Christ. Restaurants reservations: Christ table for 13! Picking someone up: Christ is here for you.

When I was growing up, I wanted my name to be Tia. Tia was mature, had a leather jacket, wore heels, and she was extroverted, easily approachable, and likable. Tia is made up of three easy letters. You have to try really hard to misspell it. Chrysta, on the other hand, aspires to maturity. She loves sweatpants and flip-flops. She is quiet. The spelling is not instinctual. You have to spend time with it, figure it out, and remember it. She is me.

In Sloane Crosley’s essay collection, I Was Told There Would Be Cake, she writes of her own struggles with an atypical name and its spelling. “Yes, my name is my cross and my co-pilot.” In place of the exotic, affluent, or adventurous childhoods that other children had, the terrain of her upbringing was contoured by her “vowel-heavy name inscrutable to people of all nationalities.”

That's not completely true for me. Upon hearing my name, a Greek man paused and said, “Chrysta…. Are you Greek?"

I squinted my eyes and shook my head. “…No…” I answered, uncomfortably running my hand through a short afro.


I am 27. Another icebreaker, another team building activity. “Define yourself with one word.”

Our names mark and distinguish us. Look into a container marked with “wires,” “shoes,” or “Butterscotch Krimpets,” and you should find wires, shoes, and Butterscotch Krimpets. Names describe and define, not only things, but also people. There are distinct differences between a Matt, a Mark, and a Britany. Krysta is not to interchangeable with Crysta or Chrysta. They are all different for a variety of reasons, starting with what you call them.

“They,” Crosley writes of her parents “wanted me to have something I could point to and say: This is where I’m from. This is who I am.” So they named her Sloane.

I pick up my navy blue sharpie and write, “Chrysta.” That is it. That is all.

Reading as an Alternative to Injury

Chrysta Brown

10 medical boot During my junior year at a performing arts high school, there was an epidemic of foot and ankle injuries. This is one of the clearest pictures I have of that year: A group of girls sitting against the dance studio mirror with one leg crossed in front of them, and the other elevated on piles of ice packs. It could be the middle of that memory, but at that time there are at least four of them sitting there with their expressions straddling the line between looking sad and trying to look sad.I remember my instructors’ expression more clearly. They were annoyed. They would address us, the uninjured, and say things like “That’s why you all get injured. You’re not warming up properly,” or “Maybe if you would hold your arms properly your ankles wouldn’t hurt.” We would sigh and take it, adjust our arms, and save our sighs and grumblings for the dressing rooms after class.

These hostile attitudes changed a week or so later when one by one the injured girls limped into the studio wearing a sneaker on one foot and a large black and medieval looking boot on the injured leg. “Tendonitis,” they informed anyone who asked and sometimes people who didn’t. They would be unable to dance, climb stairs, carry their books and book bags, go through metal detectors in the morning, or show up to class on time for anywhere from six to twelve weeks. The girls once chastised and accused of simply trying to get out of a dance class where now praised for watching in padded chairs in the back of the studio. Occasionally, the injured few would perform the arm and head positions of the dance we were working on and the teachers would turn their backs to the ones who were dancing with their whole bodies to correct the partial movements of the brave and broken ballerinas. It was impossible not to notice the difference in treatment. I saw the praise, attention, and compassion that came with being hurt. I wanted that. I wanted an injury too.

Two weeks later, I would sneeze in the middle of a math class. When I went to bring my head up from the display, I found that I couldn’t.

“What is wrong with you?” my friend asked, cackling at my crooked neck.

I brought my hand to my cheek and tried to pretend that I was merely leaning on the elbow on the desk thoroughly bored with trinomials. Unfortunately, there were a good six inches between my elbow and the desk. “I think my neck is broken,” I told her. I went to the nurse, who wouldn’t give me Advil or call my parents. Instead, she attempted to cure me with her favorite antidote: a bag of ice cubes that would within ten minutes and send streams of icy water down my shirt.

The diagnosis was whiplash. Whiplash. From a sneeze. Not only is it a ridiculous way to injure yourself, but after that doctor’s visit and a conveniently tied scarf, no one would look at me and know that something was wrong.

The chiropractor nudged my neck back to its rightful place. She cleared me to dance before I could even practice my expression of grief with just the slightest hint of heroic acceptance. She sent me home with a special pillow, a set of exercises, and an ice pack stamped with the name and contact information of the office. “You’re a dancer,” she reminded me. “I know you don’t want to take time off.” I stifled a scowl. She knew nothing.

I think the thing that all bodies have in common is the ability to break and rebel, but not all injuries are external. They don’t all get casts, braces, or doctors notes. Sometimes they are covered with ace bandages, baggy clothing, smiles, or a cheerful “I’m good. How are you?”

In Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake, he talks about his motivation for writing. “Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think as much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don’t care about them. You are not alone.’”

Obviously, Vonnegut and I are talking about two different things. He’s talking about writing, and I’m talking about sacrificing the use of my limbs for a little kindness from my classmates and professors, but even so, I wish I’d read that book during that time period of my life. With the injuries that come with dancing and living, those seen and unseen, that information might have been nice to know.

The Somedays Between Now and Then

Chrysta Brown

10 Detour When I committed to writing about getting older, I thought the words would come easily. After all, aging is something that has been happening to me for my entire life. I was born. I turned 10, 16, 18, 21, and 25, and someday I will be 40, then 60, then maybe 85. But before that, I will turn 27.

When I was 11, I had a very clear picture of what I thought my life would be in my twenties. I remember thinking I would be married and living in New York City. I expected that I would drive to my job as a ballet dancer in a black SUV with tinted windows. I thought that I regularly would take in deep breaths of clean air, revel in unobscured views of blue skies, and shove my manicured fingers into the pockets of one of my many puffy vests. These seemed like perfectly realistic goals.

Now that I am actually in my twenties, here are the things I can check off: puffy vests (without the manicure). There are some days—these are the days when I choose takeout over a Pinterest recipe or store bought cookies over something baked from scratch with love, or the days when I post a picture of coffee instead of a selfie of me and my other half—I feel like a failure as an adult. I feel like, in the words of Nora Ephron in “I Remember Nothing,” “On some level, my life has been wasted on me.”

I have to take a break from musing and confess that, much like my life, this piece is not going as I planned. I thought that at about this point this collection of feelings would culminate into some really hopeful and clever words of wisdom. I was thinking something like, "Here I am, soon to be 27, floating in the ocean of time as my Someday (this is a When Harry Met Sally reference) approaches. I cannot gauge the upcoming wave, but I know how to swim, and I am ready for whatever the future brings.” Every time I read it, my voice changes to something that sounds like the narrator of a My Little Pony audiobook, the one that comes with a booklet of scratch-and-sniff stickers. It is irritating and kind of dumb.

I am struggling to tie these pieces together into a box that looks like it came from Pottery Barn. I am searching for story development, the clear plot structure, the moment where the ending becomes clear. I do recognize that I am searching for this ending in the middle of my story, but it is easy to feel that time is moving faster than my ability to acclimate to being grown up. It turns out that aging, much like writing, is hard. At some point in my life, probably when I thought that writing would be fun, I became obsessed with deadlines. While you can impose deadlines on creative pieces about life, you cannot, it seems, always apply them to life itself.

That's pretty tidy. I could end it there, but the question that I'm trying to answer is what exactly I'm supposed to do with that information. At this age, I should know things, but I don't think I do. I haven’t gotten to the point where I feel like I know what I’m doing. That is probably more frustrating than life's need to ruin my plans.

In “The O Word,” an essay Ephron wrote at 69, she says she spent a bit of time thinking about the secret to getting older. “I would like to have come up with something profound, but I haven’t. I just try to figure out what I really want to do every day…I aim low. My idea of a perfect day is a frozen custard at Shake Shack and a walk in the park (followed by a Lactaid).”

When it comes to conjuring up a profound ending to my own musings, I too come up short. At 26, there's no way to talk about aging without sounding like those newlyweds that love to give out relationships advice. While I may be old to my five-year-old students, and old enough to switch to an anti-aging moisturizer, according to the expected lifespan in the US, this is only a quarter-life crisis and not one in the middle. So here is what I am going to do. I will call the Thai restaurant down the street. When the owner asks for my name, I will tell him, and he will say “Ah, yes, Chrysta Spicy Gluten-free,” as if that is what is printed on my ID. I will find it endearing and also a little embarrassing, but I will get over it long enough to find satisfaction in eating the food straight from the container and not having dishes to wash afterwards. Then I will go to sleep, and when I wake up, I will be one day older.

Taking Advice From The Police

Chrysta Brown

enjoying-the-rain “I’m so tired, and I have so much homework.” In the space between ballet and rehearsal, I asked my student how she is doing, and I receive a diatribe about the hardship of being eleven. I’m tempted to tell her to wait until college when she tells me that that she has track and field day tomorrow.

“What?” How has this ridiculous tradition survived years of educational advancements? I am convinced that there is no day more pointless than track and field day. For one day in grade school, we were bussed to a school with a proper track, and, under the guise of testing our fitness levels, we spent the whole day running around it. Of course it was more involved than this, there are races of various lengths and styles and a long-jump competition.

My saving grace came in high school when the dreaded day came during rehearsals for Nutcracker. My ballet teacher called my high school and told them that her students wouldn’t be participating. With her aggressively animated South Philadelphia sensibilities, she explained that we danced for five hours, six days a week and didn’t need to spend a day running in circles to prove that we were physically fit, and with that, track and field was over for good.

I tell my own student this story when the subject of fitness testing comes up. “Lucky,” she says as she ruffles through her dance bag.


Sting, and the Police by association, serenade me on my way to work more often than any 20-something should admit. It’s “Roxanne” that they sing on repeat today. Sting tells her that she can change her life by changing her mind. It's a cliché piece of good advice that the band has set to musical excellence of the ‘80s.

My college classmates and I used to joke that a table is just another kind of stage and that a pole is just a different kind of barre. It was one of those jokes birthed from fear that we were only good enough for academic dance and not good enough to be actual artists. With that fear always in the back of my mind, it isn’t hard for me to insert myself into Roxanne’s headspace and see her as someone who could only see her obligations and not her options. What happens to a student loan payment deferred seems far worse and costly than a dream that suffers the same fate.

On a literal level, I think what I love most about this song is the advice Sting gives her. He could have easily told her that she was lucky to have some form of income, to use these humiliating experiences as fodder for her artistry, or that all of the bad things she was experiencing were necessary parts of the path to greatness. That is what we tell artists after all. The fact that Sting had to cross a street of prostitutes on the dimly lit walk from his sketchy hotel to his performance at a nightclub suggests that it was the advice he had received, but it is not the advice he gave.

There is value in persevering. There is honor is making a commitment and following through. But, as any non-athletic student who had to participate in track and field activities will tell you, sometimes the only thing you get for finishing what you started is a urine-colored participation ribbon that you’ll drop and forget on the mud-streaked floor of the school bus. As the song suggests, sometimes quitting can be the best and wisest course of action. Sometimes the best advice you can give someone is “You don’t have to do this anymore.”


 “Miss Chrysta,” my student asks changing her shoes for her next class, “can you write me a note so I can get out of track and field day?”

I’m tempted to tell her that the complete waste of her life that is track and field day is a rite of passage and an opportunity for growth not only as a student of the public school system, but also as an artist subjecting herself to artless standards, a fish being judged by its ability to climb a tree, so to speak, but I remember the grace that was given to me.

“Who do I make this letter out to?”

How to Be Quiet in Other Languages

Chrysta Brown

10 desert wilderness I have always wondered why Jesus chose the wilderness for his little getaways, but I think I can answer that question with my latest fascination, which is the fact that no one followed him there. Jesus’ disciples and fans followed him across cities and towns and even on water, but it is like He announced that He would be going to the wilderness, and everyone sort of slunk away with a sort of “Have fun with that!” shrug and nod.

With this in mind, I am actively seeking the wilderness. Not the literal wilderness, mind you, but just a place where people will not follow me.

I realize that this little practice may look like I am running away from my problems. Not really. My life as of late seems so plagued with so many problems that I have started to learn from them. I do not mean this in a “Count it all joy, my brothers,” sense, but rather that waiting patiently, then pouncing and crushing, and sinking your fangs and claws into something until you’ve exhausted it into submission might actually be an effective way to get what you want. I would try that except I am the “something” in this metaphor, and I am no match for the problems that hide in the shadows. Retreating to my cave and hiding seem like the most logical solution.

I think of Jesus telling the religious leaders that if the disciples' voices were to be stifled the rocks would start talking. “That would suck,” I think, "If rocks could talk, then every time Jesus went to the desert, He’d have to listen to them too." (There are very clear reasons for why people trust Jesus with their souls and not me.)

It takes a federal regulation to disconnect me from all methods of wireless and electronic communication and these retreats do not start until a flight attendant announces that I am required by law to turn my cell phone off. Then she repeats the law in a language that I don’t understand. The plane lifts, and I am disconnected. I am in my cave. I am free.

I can say three phrases in about five different languages: Is this gluten free? Thank you. Where is the library? I know my lack of cultural initiative makes it seem like I am the typical American tourist who expects everyone to cater to her linguistic needs. It isn’t that at all. I neither expect nor want in-depth conversations with the locals. I am craving conversations made of awkward laughs, smiles, and single words. I need relationships where neither one of us expects anything from the other and wouldn’t know how to ask for it if we did.

Over the summer, I went to Copenhagen armed with my journal, my iPod, and questions about gluten and libraries. I have this practice of leaving a building and asking myself, “If I lived here and needed coffee, which way would I go?” That navigational method has only worked once. Most of the time, I end up finding things I didn’t plan to see.

This time, I ended up in the center of a labyrinth. I liked the way the view of the water poked through the spaces in the bushes, so I sat down and took off my headphones. There was no need to try and cancel out the noise because, for the first time in a while, there wasn’t any. It was just me, quiet and alone, but hardly lonely.

In her book, A Year In the World, Frances Mayes talks about traveling with a transforming angel. “You go out, far out, and when you return, you have the power to transform your life.” I don’t know if I encountered the transforming angel in the center of my Danish wilderness, but the rising moon brought with it a comforting blend of grace and peace. When I was ready, I stood up and followed the winding path back towards home.

Life Imitating Art Imitating Pain

Chrysta Brown

Dancer's feet “Ladies, I don’t know who told you that dance was easy.” I use an admittedly unnecessary amount of force on the pause button on my computer. “You were misled.”

That, it seems, is how corrections are going to go today. I go back and forth with my intermediate students. Sometimes they need to calm down because “we are only doing pliès” and other times “pliès are the hardest thing we’re going to do all week.” I don’t think there is any logic or pattern to which days get which corrections. This particular class falls after a series of bad days. I am both pressed and crushed, persecuted and abandoned, struck down and one best-laid plan away from destruction, and so, in a "life imitating art imitating life" sort of way, pliès are hard today.

“You want to know what else is hard?” I continue.

“Life,” they answer in unison, and I am equally amused and concerned that I have conditioned them to answer this way. I wonder if I need to go away to reset, change my attitude, and come back with a more positive sensibility. Then maybe I can be one of those “Your pliè should feel like a rainbow glittered butterfly freely floating on waves of wind,” sort of teachers and less the “Dance is hard. Accept, move on, and point your feet” person that I am in and out of class.

Though the din of their aching muscles will prevent them from believing it, I am somewhat sympathetic to their plight. In fact, I give myself this same pep talk. A couple of days ago, it was me at the barre in a ballet class dripping with sweat and ready to clap, curtsey, and thank the instructor for an excellent class. This was after pliès (and it is here that I should probably mention that pliès are the first exercise in a ballet class).

“We’re going to do that again,” the instructor responded. She told us why and what to change. “This,” I thought to myself as the music began, “maybe the last class I ever take.” I don’t mean that in a “live every moment as if it is your last,” bumper sticker sort of way. It was more a realization that there was a pretty good chance that I was going to pass out before the class ended. I focused on breathing as my right arm floated out, in, up, and open. My hips and knees and ankles cracked harmoniously. My muscles joined and sang long, minor-keyed groans with each action, and then something wonderful happened: I did not break.

There is an Agnes DeMille quote that I am, in Sunday school fashion, trying to write on the door my heart. “Ballet technique is arbitrary and very difficult. It never becomes easy—it becomes possible.” Of course, I want to protect my students from pain. There are moments when I will go to great lengths to avoid it, but my dislike for discomfort doesn't change the fact that it exists.

The other day, one of my students raised her hand in the middle of class and announced that stretching hurt her. “Mhmm…” I nodded, and there was nothing more to say than that. Ballet is hard, demanding, and it hurts. The only way to get the flexibility and strength that dance requires, however, is to endure the pain, and the dancer that runs from it never sees anything become possible. Sometimes there are instances in which the cure for pain is to let yourself experience pain for just a little while longer. If you can ride it, out you just might surprise yourself with the realization that you can bend without breaking, after all.

What This Is

Chrysta Brown

Maggie_Taylor_cloud_sisters “What is that?” It’s more of a reprimand than a question. Across the street is an abandoned umbrella. Its metal arms are upturned and outstretched like a toddler who has only just learned to walk, or even better, to fall.

“It’s art,” I tell him. “This site-specific installment asks when an object, idea, or even human, is broken past the point of value.” We stop. I shift my green umbrella to cover more of me and less of us. Sharing umbrellas has never been a part of my skill set. Perhaps this too is a metaphor.

“What?” he shakes his head. “It’s not art. Somebody’s umbrella flipped and rather than walking five steps to the garbage they threw it on the sidewalk.”

“You are the enemy of metaphor,” I tell him indignantly.

I am only joking, but at the same time I want there to be more to the story of the discarded umbrella. I need the object in front of me to be a sign or a symbol, which I think may be to say that I need it to be something else, something universal, at the very least, something worthy of an academic nod-and-hum. This is the same need that read the Winnie the Pooh quote, “No one can be uncheered by a balloon,” and wondered, “What does the balloon mean?” Of course it means something because it is not at all possible that A.A Milne saw a balloon against a rainy-day sky and thought, “Well, that’s nice.” No, the simplicity of that explanation is unacceptable, even if it may be true.

During the 1950s, modern dance choreographer Merce Cunningham did something revolutionary with his dances. Where prior to this popular productions were about the dancers’ relationship with a story or the music, Cunningham created dances about dance. He gave dance the opportunity to be valuable and important by giving it the freedom to be about itself. In doing so, he challenged audiences appreciate what was right in front of them. “For me,” Cunningham wrote in an essay titled “Space, Time and Dance,” “it seems enough that dancing is a spiritual exercise in physical form, and that what is seen, is what is.” What a challenge this is for minds programmed to value the implication rather than the object. Can we challenge ourselves to look at a thing and value it for what it is, and not what we, for whatever personal reasons that color our experience, need it to be?

Our walk stops on a pier. Boats are docked at the edge of an ocean where wind rouses waves to dance back and forth against a vacant beach. A peach-shaded sun pokes its rays through a sky swirled with blues and grays. I want to comment on textural juxtaposition. I want to talk about beauty in the midst of such an ominous scene. I suppose I want to be thought of as clever and cosmopolitan for noticing it all. But what I need to do is be quiet. This is not a catalyst for an ancient discussion. This is a storm and a shore. This is water and sky. This is us standing quietly and watching it all.

(Art by Maggie Taylor)

A (Wo)Man of Infinite Jest

Chrysta Brown

phone flash_john-stanmeyer My friend and I are in one of those ironic restaurants where everyone wears dark-rimmed, nonprescription eyeglasses and the sommelier fills wine goblets to the rim. On our table is a steak served on thin, waxy cardboard accompanied by a fork and casually tossed chef’s knife; two sweet potatoes snuggled in a brown paper bag; a china bowl filled with an unidentified cream sauce; and a pile of rock salt that the waiter threw onto the table before strutting away to the beat of the techno remix that accompanies our meal.

“I don’t have any silverware,” I whisper to my friend. “I don’t know what to do here.”

He laughs, tears the bag open, and breaks off a corner chunk of the sweet potato. He dips it in salt, then the sauce, and hands it to me. “Eat it.” I replay lessons on dinner table etiquette as I comply.

“Good?” he asks. Warm, smokey-sweet sensations soothe my social anxieties. I’m in Israel with one of my favorite people eating one of my favorite foods. I am happy. I nod and enjoy another bite.

“I should Facebook this,” I think, but that timely process will take me away from what I really want to do, which in this case is eat. On the other hand, a part of me wants to let everyone know that while they were waiting for delivery, I was eating something that was probably a descendant of a sweet potato Jesus ate.

Sometimes my Facebook is this self-controlled paparazzi that transforms every detail, every opinion, every meal of my life into the news the people need, and I wanted those people to feel the twinge of self-loathing that comes with reading statuses like “I am doing amazing things with my life, have just been named ‘Most Amazing Person in the World,’ and had kale for breakfast. #humbledbyhowamazingiam” I realize how that sounds, but before you judge me, consider that the Ten Commandments condemn jealousy, and not gloating.

In Infinite Jest—which I might be mentioning so you’ll be impressed that I’ve read it—David Foster Wallace’s character confesses a similar obsession with fame to his teacher. “You burn for a hunger that does not exist,” his teacher warns. “To be envied and admired is not a feeling. Nor is fame a feeling. There are feelings associated with fame, but few of them are more enjoyable than the feelings associated with the envy of fame…Do not believe the photographs.” Photographs convince us that if something happens in a forest and no one liked it online, it didn’t happen, that the value of our experiences can be judged by likes and retweets, and that food never gets cold. However, no evidence proves that internet recognition changes the taste of a sweet potato, the way the sunset dances with the surface of the water, or the comforting company of a friend. The world was created without any thought to and without ever receiving a hashtag, and it was called good.

Just outside the restaurant, my friend and I prepare to wander the streets of Tel Aviv. “So did you like it?” He reaches out and takes the hand that would have held my phone if I could have found it in the black hole that is my purse.

“Yeah,” I answer.

“Me too.”

I smile with the feeling of this single, physical like far exceeding all the virtual likes in the world.