Ah, the bliss of leotards, leg-warmers and scrunchies! Anyone who lived in the 80s knows that no TV show better illustrated both the accoutrements and the spirit of the Dream-Decade than Fame… It was a groundbreaking show of superior tackiness whose characters were all students at New York City’s famed School for the Performing Arts. They fell in love, their pets died, they flunked auditions, they got hemmoroids…so they sang and danced out their angst, usually on table tops, in the middle of the street, or on fire escapes. (Imagine their insurance premiums!) It was a wonderful, quirky, wannabe-philosophical show—in a “there’s a grand piano and a full band in the cafeteria” kind of way.
And then my buddy Renée got the series on DVD, which means we’ve been diving back into the pre-Baywatch (ie. boob-watch) flat-chested hysterics of the early 80s, wading thigh-deep through thick disco waves of blue eye-shadow, mesh shirts (on guys) and cliché lines like, “Leroy, you’re going to have to accept failure if you’re ever going to be great.” What they should have been saying is, “Leroy, you’re going to have to invest in longer shorts if we’re going to be spared from staring at your dimples…no, not those dimples, Leroy. The ones in your other cheeks!” (Leroy, by the way, is in the top left of the picture above.)
Back in my youth, when we’d watch the episodes so poorly dubbed into French that lips stopped flapping long before the string of words ran out, I admired Miss Grant and Miss Sherwood so much that I wanted to BE them! Miss Grant (Debbie Allen—left) was the dance teacher. She was a hard-driving tyrant with a heart of gold, a taskmaster who liked to carry a stick but often broke into AMAZING dance routines when orchestras appeared out of nowhere and started to play sappy music. And Miss Sherwood (right) was the English teacher who motivated, cajoled and smirked her way into the students’ lives—even Leroy’s—by loving them fiercely whether they liked it or not.
It dawned on me a few weeks ago, when I was tucked into Renée’s couch watching another oh-so-tacky-but-profound episode, that life can sometimes imitate art. Back when I used to watch Fame, I wanted to be a doctor, a psychiatrist, a social worker or…ahem…a pop-ballad singer. I admired and envied Miss Sherwood and Miss Grant, for sure, but I didn’t think I had what it takes to be a teacher. But curve balls aren’t only the stuff of baseball diamonds. They happen to our best laid plans. And though I had intended to pursue a writing career in the States, I ended up at BFA, presumably to work in the Communications office. Instead, I stepped tremulously into the classroom back in 1991 and discovered…wait for it…my “falling.”
My “falling”? We read a play in Creative Writing this week called First Night (we MISSED you, Taelyr!). In the story, a nun reunites with a teenage crush many years later. He asks her, a little awkwardly (after all, flirting with a nun isn’t exactly run-of-the-mill business, particularly with the Big Guy ready to sling lightning bolts from Heaven), “So, uhm, how did you get your calling?” She pauses before saying, “Actually, I just kind of fell into it—it was more of a ‘falling.’”
The same is true of me. I just “fell” into my role at BFA…into my own psychedelic version of Fame. Granted, I don’t see a whole lot of students leaping onto cafeteria tables to sing lyrics like “I sing the body electric” (HUH??), and I’m pretty sure that head-bands aren’t about to make a comeback, but I do try to be a tyrannical taskmaster with a big, imaginary stick in some classes and a motivating cajoler with a deep, smirking love for my students in other classes. Not entirely sure if I always succeed, but I sure enjoy giving it a shot!
So as I watch Fame episodes with frequent thoughts such as “What four-year old wrote this script?” and “I need to marry Bruno—wait—he’s not a real person!” going through my mind, I also ponder the greater reminder the show offers. I might have made a decent doctor. I might also have been an adequate psychiatrist or social worker. But instead, I got to follow my “falling” and become, I hope, at least a pale replica of my Fame heroines, a kind of hybrid à la “Miss Sher-grant.”
rehearsal. It’s been known to wither grown men… Notice my claw hand apparently
reaching for an invisible stick!
My life isn’t really a Fame episode (mostly because God, in his mercy, wanted to spare Kandern from watching me break into spontaneous dance during Creative Writing class, all decked out in pink tights and purple leg-warmers, like a Fantasia hippo gone awry, and singing a rousing chorus of “I’m gonna live forever! I’m gonna learn how to fly—HIGH!”). But I do get to enter two classrooms every day, one populated with whimsical wordsmiths and one infested with demented vocalists…both places bright and challenging and entertaining and exhausting and BELOVED reminders that God knows best. There may be a sociopath somewhere out there wishing I’d become a psychiatrist, but I highly doubt it. Besides, who needs a sociopath when I have the likes of Jack (Raging Sanguine) Young and Aaron (Why the Heck is He Smiling) Kinney in my life?