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Under the big top, my sister and I both felt it, a stab of regret, like an exquisite shadow cast against an elegant sky, as we sat on the bleachers and watched the young woman execute a lovely dismount from her swinging perch above us in the circus tent. She came down from her solo trapeze act, sailed gracefully through the air, and landed in the net. My sister turned to me and said, “That’s the one thing I really regret—that I never learned a good dismount.

“I know,” I said. “I didn’t learn one, either.”

For my sister and me, both graduates of Florida State University—one of only two colleges in the U.S. with student circuses—the occasional return, like this one a year ago, to the sawdust and the sprawling tent comes close to being an experience of the sacred. As alumni of the Flying High Circus (, we still hunger, decades later, for the sights, the sounds, the acrobatics of the show.

In the late 1960’s, my sister and I each performed solo acts, she on a trapeze, and I on a rope-like swing, both acts requiring a safety net, into which we “landed” after the performance. It is that final departure from the trapeze or swing that is called the dismount. This can involve a beautiful descent, with flips and turns, or simply a letting go. While we both perfected many tricks, for various reasons, we never learned a fancy dismount.

We also performed in other acts, each of us being pioneers in the institution of the FSU Circus. I was the first, with my two male partners, to perform

an act called the “Sky Pole” (this was a pole-vaulting pole) and my sister was the first and only female ever to perform in a trapeze act called “Low Casting.”

When she and I watch the circus, we are seeing college-aged performers, replicas of our former selves, swinging, leaping, skating, balancing, juggling, wearing gorgeous or funky, or funny costumes. We are seeing ourselves, again, and again, and it is bittersweet, this remembrance of the past, of what we once did.

The past comes back in furious form in “You Again.” This “chick flick” (as my sister described it) offers fluff and slapstick, suffused with a few fine jewels of truth about the ways in which we humans can hurt each other and humiliate ourselves.

And, there were wrinkles! “You Again” features some youthful actors and actresses as well as Sigourney Weaver, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Ms. Curtis, with her shorter-than-short hair and her publicly avowed commitment to age naturally, was a delight to watch. Her facial wrinkles were right there, onscreen, big, bright and beautiful.

The most notable scene for me was this: the character played by Ms. Curtis was cajoled into reliving her youth as a cheerleader by launching into a full-scale rendition of a cheer from her high school days. The scene was played for its comedic effect, but Ms. Curtis poignantly embodied the exhilaration of her youthful self, her body “remembering” what she once was—a comely young thing shaking pom-poms in front of a crowd.

The body remembers everything it has experienced. I wonder whether much of what drives us to create, to live to the fullest, is grounded in the body’s desire to feel this exhilaration, to feel its own aliveness.

Early this week, when I visited my parents, I brought out my guitar and played and sang “Amazing Grace” for my ninety-one-year-old father. Having more and more difficulty walking now, he nonetheless got up from his recliner, took his cane in hand, and gingerly danced around the living room. Tears in his eyes, a childish smile on his face, the force of life itself seemed to bring him to his feet. Why not waltz to the words of gospel music?

Exhilaration and creativity are possible even within the confines of extreme frailty.

Whether we are remembering what we once could do, or creating something we believe to be entirely new in our lives, I suspect that we are simply meeting and expressing ourselves, again and again, in slightly different forms. Gaea Yudron ( has passed along a link to a New York Times article at on Cher, whose career has been long, varied, and rich. Cher is appearing in a new movie, “Burlesque,” just now in the theatres in my area. The author of the New York Times article quotes Cher: “I’ve never tried anything more than playing who I am. If you look at my characters, they’re all me.”

Whether we are informed by regrets, wishes unfulfilled, by a serene commitment to the here and now, or by something grand that arises from a musty corner of our psyches, we are really only being and seeing more of who we are. It’s just us, again.

In reference to wrinkles, and the art of the lines and creases on our faces, Rose Rosetree ( puts it this way: “With each passing year, your face becomes more your own.” (The Power of Face Reading, 2001) It’s just you, again.

It may be, in part, the sense of regret, of incompletion from our circus days, which pushes my sister and me now. She becomes a more expert equestrian; and I work at my crafts, as well as fumble, with sheer determination, through my newest endeavor: learning to play the guitar. It’s just me, again.

Gaea Yudron’s wisdom is this: “It seems wise to me to continue to dream big, or if one never has dreamed big, to pull out the stops and go for it. What is there to lose?” Indeed.

Please see Gaea’s most recent post, “The Call to Creativity,” at and the wonderful video of a 91-year-old Costa Rican singer she includes in this post.

The black and white photos above are of my sister. They were taken by Barry Mittan (, a multi-talented man and an amazing photographer, who has taken pictures of the FSU circus since 1968. He has also specialized in photographing and writing about skating (

even old things bloom

by Ellen Hamilton

I am looking for the beauty in wrinkles, those maligned signs of aging. Peering into the mirror at my own fears and prejudices, I hope to write some new songs about living in the land of the wrinkled, the wobbly, and brave. I welcome your comments and input about your own experience with aging and your struggles and successes in finding beauty in your wrinkles.

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