By Larry Feinstein

Three hula dancers hold hands in Ken Shutt’s sculpture in front of Kauaʻi Community College Performing Arts Center.

“If it doesn’t look easy it is that we have not tried hard enough yet” — Fred Astaire

I don’t remember when I concocted my Fred Astaire Theory of Life. Believe it or not, in his heyday, he was a big movie star. Hard to believe as well this was even considerably before my time. How do you like that? I guess his star took off during the 1930s in a series of dance-themed movies. He stayed in the public eye well into his 1980s.

I think I first got acquainted with him when he was already entering middle age, and starting to temper his performances in deference to his age. I never, ever remember seeing him and thinking he was too old to be doing what he was trying to do at any point in his life. I fear for rock stars in that regard. I guess that idea got temporarily mothballed, waiting to be brought back into my life, or just disappearing forever into the haze of a prior time. He did come back.

I would divide my life in thirds, having nothing to do with chronology and everything to do with place. I lived in New York City, born and bred, into my early 40s and then moved to northern New Mexico for around 15 years, and now here for nearly 20. I know this whole Astaire thing didn’t happen until I was living here, but precisely when is beyond me.

This morning, I checked the manuscript, written more than 10 years ago, of my published memoir for my grandson, and my theory of Fred was in it, which was at least a little reassuring, if only for the sake of my shaky sanity.

I know I spent time in the book trying to explain my age and my hysterically varied experiences throughout my life. I am guessing I was looking for a way to explain the beauty of aging to my grandson. Mr. Astaire had clearly made some kind of prior impression on me, and he danced into my intention. I always keep thinking there are word maps that get you wherever you want to go. Fred Astaire was in the right place at the right time, the birth and name of my theory.

I think there are always two stories in every story. You start out with that special idea that births the story within you, the one you ultimately share. Of course, the fact that I am a Gemini plays perfectly into the schizoid nature of this creative logic I have just shared.

The longer I stay with any idea, the closer the Buddha gets to it. I confess, he is kind of my go-to-guy. Fred and the Big Guy are perfect bookends for this unfolding tale of embracing grace, the physical life folded and refolded into the spiritual, an endless continuum.

The Buddha is the quintessential essence of the grace you don’t see, you feel. For him, it was not about movement, it was about stillness. He was the personification of the mind seeing beyond the horizon, the place where words disappear and mute awareness reigns, being one with all.

I thought about the duality of movement and stillness while doing my Zen sit a couple of days ago. It’s part of the storytelling, its own story internally and then traveling within the maze of the mind and heart, coming out on the page, changed by the journey within. Personally, I enjoy going along for the ride and then slamming on the brakes, freezing it on the page. God, I hope that makes sense to you.

The idea of grace is how you carry yourself, inside and out. I also think it is a way of being you can only aspire to, knowing it is unattainable, because that’s not the idea. It’s about the journey you choose to take by yourself and for yourself. The fourth vow in Zen goes something like, “The Buddha Way is unsurpassed, I vow to attain it.” The fact that you really can’t get there has nothing to do with the effort you put forth.

Larry Feinstein

I can’t dance to save my life. My sense of rhythm is like “put a bag over my head, cause I got the hiccups of attempted movement.” When I sit, I sometimes look around. I check the time. I think when I am not supposed to. I long ago learned to separate the hopeless quest for perfection from aspiration.

I am definitely not the poster child for poise, inside or out. However, I am fully enamored with the intention behind it and the imperfect pathway to almost get there. I guess that’s the idea. Like Fred said, “If it is coming in hard, you’re not doing the work”. I am positive I’m doing the work. I will be forever looking for that gorgeous fast ball, right over the middle of the plate.

That ball is going, going, gone.


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