I grew up in the eighties, which means that I cut my teeth watching eighties movies, listening to eighties music and wearing every eighties hairstyle there was. I have the pictures to prove it and the children who won’t let me forget it.
I must have seen Flashdance six or seven times, jealous of the svelte bodies of all the dancers – even though they were strippers in a seedy nightclub (when you’re young that stuff doesn’t matter). The plot of the story was simple: Alex, a steel town girl (on a Saturday night looking for the fight of her life) welds by day, strips at night. In between, she wears cute leg warmers and sloppy sweatshirts and dreams of being a ballerina. She has a dog, good friends, and a rich man lusting after her.
At the end of the movie, that rich man is her boyfriend and actually accuses her of being afraid of her dream: to dance for the prestigious Pittsburgh Dance and Repertory Company.
At the end of the movie, Alex actually tries out for the company, even though she has no formal training. She rocks the audition, promptly going out to the sidewalk where her rich man is waiting for her with a dozen roses.
It only occurred to me later (when I was married with children) that the film never said if Alex made it in to the company. In a way, it didn’t matter if she did. The celebration and joy at the end of the movie was because her happiness came from dancing – and she danced. She wouldn’t be defined by the rules, which implied that formal dance training was required to audition. She faced her fear and gave it everything she had.
All of us uneducated girls with dreams loved Alex for that dance at the end. It was a “fuck you” to the establishment – the ones saying silently that we weren’t good enough to even try.
I have to do my dance in a couple of weeks.
I’m untrained, unschooled and – by all .edu standards –unqualified to enter a writing contest named after one of my heroes: Flannery O’Connor.
I met her when I was 22, reading a collection of short stories from Oxford that was a selection of the Book of the Month Club. “Parker’s Back” was her story, a haunting gripping tale of a tattooed man who inexplicably gets tangled up with a stoic fundamentalist Christian wife with no empathy for him.
While I read, I smelled the grace of God – a precious thing that people long for. Even the Bible says “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.” (Psalm 42:1) The story wasn’t religious by any stretch – in fact, the reverse. It made a mockery of religion while gently alluding to Parker's longing for acceptance and love from God. His wife was adamant he would never receive it.
Over the years, I have read and re-read everything she’s written. Each story is perfect – in mechanics and theme. Each story whispers of God and redemption. Each is special, memorable, occupying a place in my heart so sacred that they are like friends.
Flannery O’Connor is the best writer I have ever read, including James Joyce or Leo Tolstoy. I return to her like a trusted friend, even though she died two years after I was born. As a writer, I have to admit that I seek to emulate her.
The prestigious Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction is open, with a deadline of May 30. Writers are invited to submit a collection of short stories or novellas (40,000 – 80,000 words) to submit to a board that will review their work. Most of the members of the review board have at one time won this prestigious award.
Established by the University of Georgia (Flannery is from Georgia), the prize was established to encourage gifted emerging writers by bringing their work to a national readership. Winners are selected through this annual competition that attracts as many as three hundred manuscripts. The winner receives a publication of their submitted manuscript from the University of Georgia Press.
The competition scares the heck out of me.
As I get my submission together I liken it to a crayon drawing of stick figures drawn on recycled paper. In my trembling hands, I bring my drawing to a Dutch Master who paints flawlessly with oils. I am afraid he will laugh and pat me on the head for my effort.
It’s then I remember Alex.
So what if I’m uneducated? So what if I’m an unpublished wannabe? Hell with you all, I’m doin’ it – my way. My stories. My voice, influenced (like Flannery’s) by my heavenly father who loves me.
Start that music! Hand me my leg warmers…
Here I go.
Pray for me.