Sunday, October 2, 2016

Reindeer Games

When I was in the 7th grade I was cast as a reindeer in The Nutcracker. I was NOT happy about it. Prior to this I'd been cast twice as a child party scene guest and once as a polichinelle—two roles that were WAY higher on the Nutcracker food chain. Reindeers tended to be on the taller side, and were too old for the cute young kid roles but not yet experienced enough for the big kid roles. Reindeers were Nutcracker Jan Brady. They didn't even dance. They wore white antlers and pulled a sleigh onto the stage during the snow scene, dropped the Snow Queen and King off in "the forest" and exited stage left. A little while later they pulled the sleigh across the stage to the wings on the other side. I can't remember why? Probably so their parents wouldn't complain that they weren't onstage long enough. At the end of the snow scene they pulled the sleigh back onto the stage, picked up Clara and the Prince, made a U-turn, and peaced out. My mother tried to make me feel better about all of this by saying, "Joyce Kulkawik says she likes the snow scene the best almost every year!" I was, at that time, (and still am) a HUGE Joyce Kulhawik fan, but no. Not having it.

I arrived at the Wang Theatre on Reindeer Cast D's first day of performances, and made a beeline for a folding chair in the corner of the child performer holding pen backstage. I yanked on my stupid white ballet slippers, folded my arms, and began my sulking. A girl who I recognized as a fellow reindeer arrived a few minutes later and sat down nearby. She was close enough so that we could have chatted, but far away enough so that if we didn't, it wouldn't have been too awkward. Occasionally, we'd glance at each other and look away if we made eye contact. I didn't want to talk to her because the fact that I was a reindeer meant the entire Nutcracker experience that year was going to be terrible. In my mind I was a Boston Ballet School loser. I didn't want to get to know anyone or appear to be enjoying myself for even one second, because then everyone would get the impression that I thought being a reindeer was something to celebrate, and they'd think I was pathetic.

So this other reindeer sitting nearby was making me nervous. To be honest, I was getting bored and wouldn't have minded a chat, but then I'd appear to not be miserable. I decided to stay silent and get back to having fun next year when I'd, hopefully, have a more impressive role. I looked at the party scene kids playing cards and unwrapping their Secret Santa gifts and missed being one of them. I saw a group of girls who were part of the Tea divertissement in Act 2 walk by our room with black ballet slippers and their hair into two buns and was so overwhelmed by their coolness I could have passed out. I think some of them were chewing gum. IN THE THEATER. If they saw me enjoying life as a reindeer they'd definitely laugh and I'd definitely never recover. I even saw the other members of our reindeer squad clustered together at the far end of the room talking and laughing and doing the occasional little jump or pirouette. "What for?" I thought. "We're just going to pull a sleigh around a stage and go home. You need to practice and warm up for that?" Ugh.

Now I could feel the other loner reindeer looking at me. I told myself to not engage, to stay silent, freeze, and look down at my stupid white ballet slippers. But then she abruptly uncrossed and crossed her legs and turned towards me and said "So what's new?" I can STILL hear her saying it in my mind. Lauren was her name. I was startled and relieved at the same time and I unfroze and answered her. I asked her a question. She asked me another question. We laughed. I acted like a normal person. It wasn't horrible. No one seemed to be laughing at me. We eventually wandered over to join the rest of our reindeer squad.

It ended up being a wonderful Nutcracker experience for me. Probably the best one I ever had if I'm measuring things by how happy they make me. I got to know a really nice new group of girls my age, there was no sense of competition, and I got to wear a dusting of glitter on my face. I also do think the snow scene is the best part. I'm not sure if anyone thought I was pathetic for enjoying my time as a reindeer because I forgot to look around and check. I'm going to guess they either didn't notice or didn't care. Thank you, Lauren, wherever you are.

Fast forward 25 years and oh look, I'm still me! This time I'm not avoiding making new friends and enjoying being a child performer in a ballet production, I'm avoiding writing - something I really love to do, just like I loved ballet and being onstage.

I haven't been writing because I tend to write about my life, and life hasn't been the best the past few months. I haven't been at my best. And I've been reluctant to write anything because I knew it wouldn't be the best either. I didn't want anyone to read anything I wrote and think I was pathetic for thinking it was good enough to put it out there. Dumb. No one cares. No one cared if I liked my smallish part as a reindeer in The Nutcracker. No one would care if I shared a mediocre blog post about my diabetic old man cat and how his new insulin schedule has turned me into a morning person and I kind of like it.

I appreciate that a lot of you have reached out over the past few months and asked me when I'd be posting here again. I've been at home for several days now recovering from a little procedure I had early last week - I'm 100% fine and it was more inconvenient than serious - and I've been looking at my laptop really wanting to write something. Finally, I did. Thank you for reading it. I'm going to skip apologizing for it, and I hope to be sharing more words with you soon. Happy Sunday.


  1. This is a wonderful, authentic piece of writing Ann, from one writer who only writes for other reasons to one who has more guts than that. Bravo.