“No one wins a dance, boy. The point of dancing is the motion that a body makes.” – the Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
The words stared at me from the screen of my iPhone as I indulged in one of the guilty pleasures I allow myself as I travel. I load up some sort of epic fantasy e-book, the kind with a cover I’d be embarassed to show in erudite company. Right now I’m working my way far too quickly through Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear, the second volume in his debut trilogy. I picked it up expecting something like a grown-up Harry Potter, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Mr. Rothfuss doesn’t just spin a good tale. He is actually just a great writer. Much like another of my favorites, Pat Conroy, I would enjoy reading his books regardless of the content simply because the man knows how to craft a sentence in a way that leaves me breathless.
That particular phrase came out and hit me over the head, saying I’m going on Love Life Practice. You know this to be true. And I did, of course, I’ve learned to listen pretty well to the idea fairy when she clubs me over the head. But what I wasn’t sure of was the how.
The Hidden Meaning of Words
I mean, the phrase leads to all sorts of obvious places: another version of the It’s not the destination, it’s the journey idea that we so frequently get reminded of, or its distant cousin, It’s the process, not the product. Very helpful thoughts when you get hit with the inevitable letdown upon achieving a goal or mastering a skill, but there are a lot of people who say it far better than me.
Somehow, though, neither of those ideas resonated with me. I wrote, and deleted, and wrote again, and deleted again; the words seemed to keep tapping me on the shoulder, saying “No, Gray, not that. Sheesh, that’s been done to death!”
So finally I threw my metaphorical hands up in exasperation, deleted everything from the screen except the words, and stared at them. “What? What are you trying to tell me?”
Enter the Ghost of Ms. Couch
Ms. Couch was my teacher for Business English and later Creative Writing in high school. Any good habits I may or may not have I owe to her. It’s actually kind of creepy that her ghost would still haunt me, since she’s not dead, but I swear I heard her voice as I stared at the sentences. Tear it apart, she would say of our writing. Only leave what is necessary.
No one wins a dance, boy. Doesn’t actually give you any information, as it only tells you what does not happen. There are lots of things that don’t happen, and you can’t prove an absence, so really, this sentence doesn’t tell you anything. Semantic value: null.
The point of dancing is the motion a body makes. Two prepositional phrases, get rid of them, by their nature they obfuscate the true meaning.
The point is the motion.
I froze as the words sank in. Not because they are true, necessarily, mind you…but what if they were?
Most of the time the point of a dance is supposed to be some sort of benefit to those dancing. It’s a flirtation between hesitant lovers, or a ritual to invoke some deity (such as Madonna), or it’s a grand social gathering where people feel a sense of belonging as they go through identical steps. The point of a dance can also be personal, for the health and exercise or even just the cathartic release of the dancer.
But what if none of those applied. What if the point of a dance was not for the benefit of either the dancer or the viewer? What if the point was the motion itself?
What is motion, anyway? I’m sure there are a lot of physicists out there who could give me lots of mathematical proofs, but the funny thing about motion is that it really only can be evidenced by change. And even when you see a change – his arm was here, now it’s there – you still can’t see the motion. You just know it happened, or you may have seen it as it was happening.
You can point to the places things were. You can point to the things where they are. But you can’t point to the motion that got them there.
The minute a thing moves, the motion is gone; and yet people pay exorbitant amounts to witness the motion of dancers, of objects, ranging from complicated computer-generated dance to a tiny ball across a large grassy field. They can’t go home with the motion they’ve paid for; at most they can have a talisman of the witnessing, along with the changing and subjective memory of the experience.
The motion was what brought them there. The motion was what gave them a shared experience, even though it was different for everyone. The motion is what conveyed something – triumph, defeat, joy, love, humor – between the shaper of the motion and the witness.
That’s why the point is the motion.
Because (and admit it, you saw this coming) dance is a metaphor for life (you may remember the Dance, don’t scramble metaphor a few weeks ago). And my favorite definition of dance is Intentional Motion.
So if the point of life is not about winning – and let’s face it, no matter how well you play, you end up dead, just like everyone else – then I wonder if it might be about the motion that we create. The way our motion is witnessed, the emotions it communicates. Maybe the point is how well we sense the motion of others, the motion of things.
What kind of dance are you doing with your life?
Are you making the point you want to?