Gero-Punk Preoccupations: Spotting in the Spin

An essay by Guest Gero-Punk

Stephanie Lillegard


You know what’s a funny word? “Spot.” Spot is a very funny word. And don’t stare at it too long, or it will stop looking like a word altogether. Fair warning.

Spot can be a dog, of course. I know this because I work in a public library, and also because Eric Hill started publishing books in the early 80’s, and that was when my children began to enter our family.

wheres_spot__fullThis Spot goes in the “board book” section of our library, where things are not alphabetized unless some new or randomly zealous employee gets a sudden fit of Straightening Against the Chaos, ignoring the fact that this will be the shortest lived straightening possible. Board books are like the beings who love them – they are joyously unstraightenable.

Spot can also be the thing you’re trying to eliminate when you’re doing laundry. (Please use something nontoxic for this spot removal.) Or, spot can be something you do (“spot the error”) or it can be something you have to live with (the spots in vision that tend to come with age are called “floaters,” for example). There are also spot lights, spot fish (also called the “spot croaker,” a saltwater fish). And people sometimes pause for a spot of lunch. See?

It’s a very funny word, spot.

Spot is also a ballet technique. That’s what keeps going through my head lately. Spotting is a ballet technique that combats dizziness.

balletOur teacher taught it to us in the class full of little girls who were also learning the five positions and the plié. It goes like this: you find a spot – a place across the room, or a room’s corner or something on the wall – something that remains stationary – and you keep your eyes on it while you rotate your body in a turn … until you can’t. When you begin to lose sight of it, you whip your little head around and catch it again. When a dancer is “spotting,” the head turns faster than the body, even though both head and body turn the same number of times.

You can try it if you want. It’s not that hard if you do it slowly enough at first. Go ahead. Try it. (Did you try it?)

Feel that?

Feel how the management of the dizziness sort of causes its own disorientation? In order to remain upright and to continue to spin, one kind of dizziness is exchanged for another – the debilitating is exchanged for the deliberate. And lately I’ve been thinking that this is exactly how I feel. I feel like a little kid again, trying to stay on my slippery slippers instead of ending up on the floor, while I spin. This is a familiar sensation.

By now, I’ve had to learn to spot while spinning a lot of times. I’m in the middle third of my fifties (never mind how a decade gets cut into thirds), and every few years since I was one of the little girls in that ballet class, I’ve had to learn it all over again in my life.

One of Louise Darling's wonderful drawings done for the Beverly Cleary books; this one is from Beezus and Ramona.

One of Louise Darling’s wonderful drawings done for the Beverly Cleary books; this one is from Beezus and Ramona.

When I went away to college for my first degree, I had to learn to spot the certainties of my family and friends at home in order to keep my balance across the country as I spun into my adult life. When I got married, had babies, lived at 12 addresses in 15 years (my husband was in school and we moved a lot), I kept my eye on what would hold still so that I would not end up spinning out of control. My husband held still. My faith (usually) held still, even if my practice of my faith learned to twirl, and to leap, and to take new positions. In the first five and a half decades of my life, I learned to find the place of stillness and whip my head around just in time to keep from falling.

But now something has changed.

Health problems have converged with healthy aging, and financial problems have joined hands with new opportunities, and new habits that will have to be learned are butting heads with old habits that are hard to avoid, and it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but that’s not because the old dog can’t learn. Old dogs have a problem with new tricks because every new trick has to fit in with the old ones and there are so many old tricks when you’re an old dog.

Lately life feels as if we’re all living in a shoebox diorama, and the diorama has been grabbed by one of the children in the board book section, so that our whole world seems to have shifted. The dollhouse furniture of our lives has toppled over again. Our little mountains and our glitter stream are acting like the paper and glue they’re made of. There have been so many changes so rapidly that I’ve just written a paragraph with far too many metaphorical images in it because the particulars are still something I’m avoiding and they’re not holding still – or not still enough so that I can keep them in view.

But really, the particulars are somewhat of a different question, right?

I mean, if you’re spinning, you’re spinning.

What I learned to do when I was a child was to find the thing that did not move, and then to move myself while keeping the still things in view. Children who do not have the privilege of stability all around them cannot learn this. The human brain rebels. The chemical imbalance begins. Attachments are more difficult because in order to grow roots, the soil has to remain where it is for long enough for a growth cycle to complete itself. I had that. I had enough stability to have enough of a childhood that was enough like a child’s ballet lesson that I learned to spot stability in my life.

And then, while I was concentrating so hard on staying upright that the beads of sweat gathered on my face and shoulders, while my sweat turned into little streams that dripped into my leotard, I grew up.

Did you know that when ballet dancers get more advanced, they learn to spot off each other? The dancers learn to find stability in movement. I found that out today when I began to research the whole skill and phenomenon of the ballet dancer’s spotting, because I had wondered if I could discover some technique for avoiding the dizziness. The metaphor is a good one for me. It explains things to me. I searched the sensations in my body, trying to remember where this particular kind of disorientation had been felt before, and eventually I thought of the ballet lessons of my childhood. So I looked it up. And it turns out that to learn to dance – to really truly dance – is to learn to find stability in movement. That’s the new trick I’ve been trying to learn. That’s the name of it. I’ve been trying to learn spotting in a part of my life when everything has been set in motion. (It’s a relief to know why I keep smacking into things and falling over lately – metaphorically, of course – well, mostly metaphorically.)

A spot can be a dog, and a spot can be an eye floater or something you have to take care of before you put your shirt into the washing machine. A spot can also be a place on the wall on the other side of the gym, or it can be another dancer, or it can even be a star so far away it almost disappears from view if you look too hard. And a sky full of those spots, all in motion, all the time, is how a sailor finds a way home.

star chart

Stephanie Lillegard is a writer and teacher, living in the Columbia River Gorge. She has recently graduated from Marylhurst University with an Interdisciplinary Studies major, and is looking toward an MFA in Creative Writing. In the meantime, she keeps finding ways to spin and keep her balance – mostly.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Gero-Punk Lexicon: Legacy

Legacy can transcend the bounds of time-place-space.

Legacy can be transmitted through a fig. Or a raspberry.

Legacy goes in all directions, is deeply, fundamentally relational, and encompasses much more than mere material resources.

By “all directions,” I mean that legacy is trans- and inter-generational and not exclusively about transmission of something important to younger generations from older generations. Legacy can be transmitted in the other direction, as well, and in all directions at once.

By “fundamentally relational,” I mean that the creation of legacy happens in the context of cultivated, on-going relationships (And between both the “living” and the “no-longer-living”; that is, a member of a legacy-creating relationship may no longer be alive but still very present and influential to others, such as the role my friend Fred plays in my life); it is an expression of deep, consequential connections between humans.

By “encompasses much more than mere material resources,” I am pushing back at the perennial idea that legacy should be primarily about the transmission from elders to “youngers” of material resources: money, property, possessions.

A larger-mind view of legacy is that it is about intentionally creating the conditions necessary for a vital present and future life for not only our family members and other closest-in people, but for all living creatures. As such, members of multiple generations traveling through the life course simultaneously join together to pass-around (rather than pass-down) resources. These resources certainly may be material in the traditional sense of legacy – money, property, possessions – but also ethical, intellectual, spiritual and emotional (for example, “ethical wills,” spiritual traditions, creative projects, family traditions and practices).

Legacy may entail carrying on the traditions and practices of another person who is no longer living (or perhaps whom we never met in person but only through stories told about them), as well as adopting – embodying and enacting – their quintessential characteristics or commitments: a particular habit-of-speech, a jaunty hat they always wore, or their singular role in a larger system. In this way, the special person continues to exist but in a different form, and we are forever changed – and changing — because of our relationship with them.

Lastly, a larger trans-personal view of legacy encompasses non-human creatures, the planet, and our universe, as well as future humans whom we’ll not know because we will no longer be living, but for whom we care nonetheless (and who may someday in the future learn and care about us, their ancestors, as well.).


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Gero-Punk Reverie: Golden Raspberries

Have you ever tasted a golden raspberry? Do golden raspberries grow where you live?


In Portland, Oregon, USA you can sometimes find them at this time of year though they aren’t as plentiful or popular as red raspberries. My daughter Isobel and I saw a few baskets of them at the downtown Portland Farmers Market last Saturday. As we walked past one of the booths selling berries we overhead a conversation in which a confused customer, an older gentleman, asked the seller about the golden raspberries as he’d never seen them before. When the berry farmer told him that the berries are a variety of raspberries that are golden in color, the older gentleman responded by saying that there’s no such thing as golden raspberries, to which the younger gentleman kindly and calmly replied that in fact they do exist and here they are. Perhaps the disbelieving customer had never until now lived in or visited a place where such raspberries grow. Or perhaps he’d never noticed golden raspberries before now. They can be easy to miss, actually.

I never knew about golden raspberries until my old neighbor Fred introduced them to me eleven summers ago when my daughter Isobel and I moved into the house across the street from his little house and huge garden. Some of you might remember Fred from other essays I’ve written. For those of you who are new to the Gero-Punk Project, you should know that by the time Fred died four years ago in his 80s we had become true friends. Our friendship formed and was cultivated in his garden, which was more like a mini urban farm. With each new summer, especially the summers during which he was beginning to physically decline, I was offered an ever greater role as his gardening partner. The two summers after his death I was honored to be entrusted with the primary responsibility for keeping the garden going.

Alas, in 2012 his adult children decided to keep the little house but sell the plot upon which the huge garden had dwelled for almost one-hundred years, having been started by Fred’s parents in the early part of the 20th century. Soon after the plot was sold to a property development company I watched from my front window as the lovely fig tree was dismembered, the asparagus and artichoke patches were bulldozed, and the back garden shed was knocked down and tossed into a heap. But before the well-established raspberry patch could be destroyed we managed to dig up and transplant in my yard some of the canes for both the red and the golden raspberries. I also swiped some broken bricks and pieces of flagstone and marble that Fred had used to border raised beds.

Now what grows in Fred’s garden is the sweet young family that lives in the huge house that was built upon the plot – dad, mom, twin boys, baby brother, and Lucy-the-dog.

Golden raspberries come on a bit later and stick around a bit longer than do the red raspberries. Sometimes I have trouble seeing the golden raspberries tucked behind the canes and leaves as they don’t announce themselves with as much fanfare as the red raspberries do. Anything you can do with a red raspberry you can do with a golden raspberry and a mix of the two together is a lovely and surprising site to behold! To my taste, a golden raspberry is more floral and sweet – though not too sweet — and less tart compared to a red raspberry.

Golden raspberries were Fred’s wife’s favorite fruit and he planted a few canes of them for her when they were first married in the late 1940s or early 1950s. I never met her as Fred had been a widower for decades by the time I moved in across the street as a single mother of a little daughter. Fred told me a lot about his wife and was sure she and I would have been friends had we met. Their relationship is a lovely story. His wife had been married once before and became divorced during a time when that was not common; when she and Fred met, she was a single mother to a young son. They created a new family, eventually adding two more children to the mix: a daughter and a son who are now just a few years older than I am. Fred and his wife and their various kids all lived in the little house across the street, the house in which Fred had grown up, and they all worked in the huge garden together, the garden that Fred’s parents had started so long ago.

I miss Fred at least once each and every day but I miss him more frequently and most intensely during the summer, especially when my little garden really starts growing. Everything reminds me of him and connects me to him through time and space, especially tomatoes and figs and artichokes and escarole. But raspberries, especially golden raspberries, remind me of Fred’s wife. When I eat a golden raspberry, especially if I’ve just plucked one from the cane and popped it into my mouth, I think of her, a woman I never met except through the stories of her Fred shared with me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment