Tag Archives: Grier Cooper

The Gift Everyone Wants This Holiday

present

During the holidays It’s easy to get swept up in the pursuit of getting and giving stuff but with the end of 2014 looming just around the corner it’s also a time to take stock of where you are in life and where you want to go next. Whether you are a dancer or not, all of us secretly want the same thing: to be the best version of ourselves we can be. Even though you may ask for that new, perfect leotard in the hopes that you’ll stand out in a crowd or a pair of jeans that make your butt look good in those rare moments when you’re completely honest with yourself, you’ll see that this is true. Since the beginning of my less is more holiday approach I’ve had more time to consider what’s important and how I can be the best version of myself. One thought that really stood out was to look at the ways I am already blessed. So often we forget. Here are a few of those blessings:

A roof over my head. California has been hit with so much rain that every time I go for a walk I see water flowing down hillsides and trickling down stairways, hear it gushing through sewers. I’m seeing waterfalls in places where I’ve never seen waterfalls before. In the midst of these recent rainy weeks a homeless man took up residence in a tunnel. Initially it seemed like a strange choice–tons of people walk, bike and jog through the tunnel every day, not to mention the constant traffic booming through every few seconds. I wondered how the poor guy got any sleep. But then I realized it was dry–one of the few dry places for someone who had no home.

Good health. One of my oldest and dearest friends died this year. She was only in her 50s and she passed away only a few months after she was diagnosed with advanced liver disease. Losing a close friend was hard in ways I’d never imagined; it felt like she was by my side one moment and ripped away the next. I think of all the things we used to do together that we won’t share again, all the days I have before me without her in my life and I miss her terribly. But it’s reminded me of how precious and fleeting this life is, how lucky I am to be healthy and able to do the things I want to do.

Friends, family and community. I’m constantly amazed by the love and generosity from the people in my life. Enough said.

The freedom to choose. It may not always feel like we have the freedom of choice but we do. We can choose a career, the person we marry (or whether we marry at all), where to live, the way we dress, even which thoughts we cultivate into beliefs.

Somewhere in the midst of the holiday rush I hope you find the time to remember how you are blessed…and I hope the list is long.

 

FURTHER READING:

Ballet fiction must-haves

The one habit you can’t live without

 

 

My Holiday Motto: Less is More

The past few months have reached new heights of hectic-ness, just in time for the end-of-year push of the holiday season. Every year I tell myself I want to do things differently; to slow down, do less, enjoy more, but my good intentions get swallowed up and buried in the middle of too many activities (setting up a tree, shopping, decorating, baking and parties, parties, parties). This year is going to be different–not only because I’ve been super sick for the past six weeks and don’t have the energy to do everything I usually do–but because I don’t want to do all of those things. Instead, I want to simplify. Here is the new holiday motto that’s echoing through my mind:

© 2014 Grier Cooper

© 2014 Grier Cooper

This definitely means less shopping. I honestly don’t like to shop, even on a good day. Is it just me or does it seem kinda crazy to try to give cool gifts to every meaningful person in your life all on the same day? The other day I was forced to visit a shopping mall (in the middle of holiday craziness) to find my daughter something to wear for a school event. The parking lot was a giant knot of frantic, agro drivers caught in traffic. I’m so glad I walked.

Why do we do this to ourselves, people?

Instead, I’m giving the gift of reading–magazines. Not only does this gift keep giving all year round, I don’t have to wait in line at the post office to mail it. The list of magazines I’ve found cover an amazing array of topics: classical music, German language, bicycling, Paleo living, and yoga. Younger readers are getting Discovery Girls and Cricket. Who wouldn’t appreciate a magazine dedicated to their passion?

We’re also choosing to do less socializing. I want to celebrate just like anyone else but I don’t want to end up burned out and sick, which is exactly what would happen if I said yes to everything. There are invitations from friends, community events, school events, and the annual party we always throw…it all adds up to too much running around.

It’s supposed to be the season to be jolly, not the season to be stressed out, right?

Instead of trying to do it all we’ve focused on doing a few of our favorite things: baking cookies with friends, decorating our house, a holiday meal with close friends. We aren’t throwing a party this year, either, and it’s a huge relief.

First ever batch of linzer cookies

First ever batch of linzer cookies

Choosing to adopt the less is more motto has paid off in some unexpected ways. Slowing down and remembering to breathe feels really good (especially after getting over a nasty bout of bronchitis). I find I notice and appreciate more of what’s going on around me, like the other morning when I was able to watch one of the most magnificent sunrises I’ve ever seen. It was a real-life Maxfield Parrish painting, the azure blue sky filled with fluffy pink and peach clouds streaked with stripes of glowing gold. The sky blazed a brilliant orange against the dark silhouette of the hills as the sun came up and bathed the entire San Francisco Bay in a swath of golden light. Words can’t really describe, so let’s just say it was stunning.

It was during those moments when I remembered how incredible this life can be. Slow down or you’ll miss it.

 

RELATED POSTS:

Ballet Fiction Must-Haves

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WISH Official Release Day! Author Q & A

The countdown is over–today is the big day–the official release of WISH! Today I’d like to share author Q & A to give you a little more background information about the book.

Wish - eBookCover

 

Why did you write WISH?

There were several factors at play when I wrote WISH. I knew I wanted to set the book in the ballet world because dance has shaped who I am and has been one of the few constants in my life. Many people don’t get to experience this world firsthand and I wanted to give readers an insider’s perspective.

I also feel strongly about the difficulties of growing up in a dysfunctional family. I know the longterm implications from personal experience: my mother was an alcoholic. You learn to distrust your instincts and feelings, to play small, and to stay quiet when you know you should speak up.

Even if your family dynamics are healthy young adulthood is a time of huge transition and change. It’s a time to find your voice, to clarify who you are and who you want to be in the future. It’s not an easy road to navigate. I wrote WISH to give readers hope, to show them a path to self-empowerment, and to help them understand they can create change in their lives.
Describe your writing process.

I’m a very visual person so I always begin a project by creating a vision board. I cut out pictures from magazines that resemble the characters and settings I’ve envisioned and put them together in a giant collage. The vision boards hang right next to my desk so I can look at the characters whenever I need to. I also write character sketches for all of my characters before I begin writing. It’s important to know your character before you put them in action.

Next I outline the whole novel, scene by scene. I’m one of those people who likes to plan ahead – my family and friends sometimes give me a hard time about it and call me the cruise ship director. But seriously, it pays to plan ahead…especially when you’re writing a novel. Once I have a complete outline I look at the big picture: I make sure transitions between scenes and chapters work seamlessly and that there’s a good balance and pace throughout. Figuring all of this out before I write anything saves a lot of time and headache.

The first draft took me a little over a year to write because I wrote in very short bursts, in between writing a bunch of other things. A first draft often needs a lot of editing and I spent quite a while combing through my novel and polishing it. I also worked with a group of other YA writers to get feedback and take it to the next level. My critique partners asked a lot of questions, often about things that I hadn’t thought about.

Even after the work I’d done revising and implementing some of their suggestions my novel still wasn’t quite there. That was a little hard to sit with but I wanted the book to be as good as it could possibly be. I tinkered some more, focusing on the parts I felt needed more work. I also read it out loud, word by word, a technique that I’ve found to be really effective because errors or clumsy language are much more obvious when spoken out loud. This really gave it a final polish.

photo by My Lovely Husband

photo by My Lovely Husband

How did you make the transition from dancer to writer?

I’ve written since I was a kid; back then I had a diary with a lock on it, which was necessary growing up in a big family. After I stopped dancing professionally I went back to college and took some writing classes where I started playing around with poetry and short stories. I kept writing throughout the years but once I became a mom I started to think more about writing for kids. Eventually I began to transition into freelance writing and wrote about dance and fitness. I also re-immersed myself in the Bay Area dance scene and wrote a regular dance column where I interviewed top Bay Area dancers, choreographers and directors. I started writing WISH at that time. Along the way I also put a lot of time into educating myself about the craft and business of children’s books by attending conferences, workshops and webinars. Learning to be a writer has definitely been a process; luckily it’s a process I enjoy. I’m still learning now; there’s always something to improve.

What role does dance play in your life today?

I’ve been a dancer since I was five and I don’t see that changing, although my relationship with dance has changed over time. When I was young, dance was something I did for fun. Later it became my profession and now I look at it as a sanctuary, a home, a place to move beyond my small self and connect to something bigger.

The things I’ve learned as a dancer – discipline, dedication and persistence– still serve me now. Without this foundation I couldn’t do what I do. Writing is self-paced and self-driven. No one is telling me what to do or looking over my shoulder to make sure it gets done. It’s all on me.

Today dance is something I do for fun. Sometimes during the workday I’ll take a break, put on some music, and dance to counteract all the sitting and staring at a computer. Dance keeps me happy.

© Grier Cooper

© Grier Cooper

Why did you choose to self-publish?

The publishing industry is changing so much and independent publishing is really growing. In today’s market it’s the author’s name that sells a book. All writers are their own brand and must grow that brand through marketing and promotion, whether they are traditionally published or self-published. That is the reality. I realized if I’m doing the work anyway, why not do it on my terms?

I also didn’t want to wait years to see my book on shelf. I have many other books in the pipeline and I wanted to keep moving forward. I’ve enjoyed maintaining my creative freedom and having the ultimate say on things like cover design. I also like knowing that after all I’ve put into it my book won’t expire or go out of print.

I’ve found the world of indie publishing to be incredibly giving and supportive, which has been a nice surprise. I’m really grateful to the other indie writers out there who share their knowledge and expertise so willingly.

What advice would you give to other young dancers and writers?

My advice is really the same for both. First of all: dream big! Clarify your vision and make it as real as possible in your mind., using all of your senses. Keep your thoughts focused on that vision as often as you can. Believe it is possible. Believe in yourself.

In the meantime, work at your craft. Strive to perfect all aspects of what you do and ask for help and support when you need it.
When you feel ready to find work develop a solid plan. Make a list of all potential places or companies you want to work with. Cast your net wide and see what comes through. Follow up with everyone you talk to. Even if it takes longer than you would hope keep going no matter what. The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is persistence.

Which of your characters is the most like you?

I’m a bit like of many of my characters. I have aspects of Indigo’s emotional sensitivity, Miss Roberta’s work ethic and perfectionist tendencies, and Becky’s supportive nature. I wish I had more of Monique’s sass and Jesse’s laid back attitude.

The cool thing about creating characters is that even though I come up with the initial vision they eventually take on a life of their own. I’m often surprised by some of the things they say or do and I’ll think to myself wow, I never would say that to someone. Which is strange since the idea came out of my head. But it’s what the character would do, not what I would do.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’ll still be sitting at my desk, writing! I hope to have at least 3 more titles out by then and be doing fun events interacting with readers. My daughter will be a junior in high school so I’ll be actively looking for my future home on a tropical beach somewhere.

 

Life Lessons Learned From Ballet: The Official WISH Countdown

One of the first pieces of advice I ever heard about writing was to write what you know. It was natural to set WISH in the world of ballet since it’s defined who I am today. Aside from the obvious things like good posture, body mechanics and spatial awareness, ballet works on a subtle, character-building level. Here are some of the ways ballet helps dancers grow:

mistakes are a good thing

Ballet class is an ongoing experiment for any dancer; a place to try new things, fine tune others, maybe fall flat on your face. By the time a dancer performs something on stage, the mistakes have been made and they’ve practiced so many times they could perform in their sleep.

Mistakes are a part of every dancer’s process, a chance to learn and evolve toward perfection. Asking what went wrong and why, and what you need to do differently in the future means that you will get an improved outcome the next time. Living in fear of making mistakes holds you back from trying new things. There is no mastery without mistakes. Ask Edison. It only took him 10,000 tries to get a light bulb to work.

Stand Up Straight

One of the first things a dancer learns is the importance of proper posture. The elegance of ballet demands it, plus it’s a great party trick. As a fellow dancer friend likes to remind me, “You can always tell when a dancer walks into a room.” I can’t tell you how many times my first ballet teacher had to tell us to “straighten your telephone poles.”

Ballet dancers are meant to be graceful, regal beings with a commanding stage presence; the slumped, hunched-over look just isn’t going to cut it. Yet this is exactly the way most of move through life–study the people waiting in line for Starbucks if you don’t believe me. The older we get the worse our posture becomes until the hunchback effect becomes so pronounced we start to look like turtles.

Listening is critical

Have you ever asked yourself how often you truly listen? Dancers spend a lot of time listening; if not, they run the risk of missing choreography and cues. In every ballet class, dancers spend at least 40% of the time listening to instructions and corrections from teachers. Even when they’re dancing ballet dancers are still listening– to the music, coordinating their steps with each beat.

Listening does not come easily for most humans. Random thoughts often fight for attention, causing us to tune out. Before you know it, minutes have gone by and you’ve missed out. Dancers can’t afford this, and neither can anyone else who plans to get where they need to go on time.

What is the risk of not listening? For a dancer, it might mean missing an important entrance or exit on and off stage, or going right when the rest of the class is going left. Either way, there’s the potential to be embarrassed… or worse.

If you fall, get up again (quickly)

Planet Earth is plagued with a powerful yet pesky force called gravity, which constantly sucks everyone and everything towards the ground. Most of the time this is a good thing, a helpful thing, like in the shower, for instance. However, there are moments when gravity is not your friend.

Nothing is more embarrassing than falling on your face, center stage, in front of thousands. You’ll have to trust me on this; I’ve lived that unfortunate reality. The moment is surreal; it seems like it will never end. When a dancer falls, giving up is not an option. There is only one choice: get up again–quickly– and move on. Everyone else will forget about it…probably more quickly than you will.

No one likes to fall, but it happens. With any fall comes the chance to rediscover the strength and grace to get back up again and keep going.

If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it

Everything that exists begins as an idea. The chair you are sitting on, the book you are reading, even the clothes you are wearing had to be imagined first. It’s the same with dance (or anything else): every dancer starts out with a dream to dance but the most important key to success is a dancer’s belief in themselves.

The biggest, most important dreams don’t happen overnight. Dream, believe, keep your thoughts aligned with your goals…this is what keeps us moving along the path, one step at a time.

 

MORE READING

Bunheads 101: How to be a Ballet Dancer…or just look like one

The Rules of Ballet

A Day in the life of a Professional Ballet Student

How to Become a Professional Ballet Dancer