Thursday, February 7, 2013

Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry

Early in your writing career, your then literary agent suggested you consider moving beyond pulp magazines and their action-oriented narrative focus.  "The slicks,"  he said.  "That's a good place for you.  There's more room for humor in the slicks."

By "slicks," he meant magazine printed on coated stock, magazines printed on paper which, as it was being produced, had talcum pressed into its surface, the better to absorb ink and to enhance the paper's ability to reproduce photographs.  Some, but by no means all, slick magazines in circulation at the time were Esquire, True, Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker, Argosy, and Playboy.

Each of these magazines had budgets which allowed them to pay their authors considerably more than the payment you were used to receiving. Many, if not all, these magazines carried within their pages advertisements from the Arthur Murray Dance Studios, an organization comprised of franchised arenas in which individuals such as yourself could, as the advertising promised, achieve confidence on the ballroom floor.

At the time, you felt confident enough on the ballroom floor, but not so much as a dancer than as a conversationalist or, failing that, confident as a person who knew his way around a short story.  Each of the Arthur Murray Dance Studios advertisements had an illustration, captioned "Arthur Murray's Magic Step."  Were you to follow the diagram, you would be on your way to achieving enough muscle memory to achieve parity with the fox trot, a form of dancing so widespread and popular that it withstood a cultural onslaught known as jitterbugging and is, in fact, still part of the dance floor vocabulary.

Being able to do the Arthur Murray Magic Step, thus achieving some progress toward the metaphoric black belt of true ballroom floor confidence, still reminds you of your high school crush, Lita, whom you admired greatly.  More than once, Lita was apt to remind you that your attempts at fox trot reminded her of the fox fart.

Your attempts to move over to, into, and other suitable prepositions which suggest learning, understanding, and ability, the slicks meant a deliberate and persistent study of slick magazines, activity that brought you face to face with the Arthur Murray Dance Studios advertisement on a regular basis.

By this time, Lita, more of a mood to establish a firm, formal relationship, moved on to a plateau involving early marriage.  This left  you more or less on your own to consider learning to write, learning to write action-based short stories, thinking you might become a journalist, thinking you might find satisfaction writing for television, thinking you might find the cultural equivalency of ballroom confidence with such potential partners as Janet, Enriqueta, Bobbie, and Joe-Ann.

Of the hundreds of slick magazines you studied and the individuals whose stories and essays you read, along with the enormous stacks of rejection slips you collected, Arthur Murray's Magic Step served as a common denominator.  How simple life would become, you decided at one point, if there were a magic step you could approximate.  Then you could achieve slick confidence.

There are no such formulas for you.

Things achieved through formula are mobius strips, appearances of more than one dimension until closer examination reveals only the one and as well the trick whereby the appearance is achieved.  Individuals who rely on formula are the equivalents of Archie and Betty and Veronica.

Lives lived according to a formula are on a collision course with Reality.  Some experiences with loss, despair, and frustration, none of them comfortable or comforting, seem a necessity in order to supply a leavening force that allows the yeast to rise once again, the confidence to be had on the ballroom floor to be established somehow, once more.

Listen, Lita.

They're playing our song.

It appears to be a foxtrot.

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