Writer and dancer Marlee Grace explores the practice of returning (again and again) to center.
Mercury is in retrograde as I write this. It was in retrograde when I queued the Zoom link and Marlee Grace clicked on to my computer screen, too. “I actually write a lot about Mercury in retrograde in my book,” she mentioned, and as I continued to read that book—Getting to Center—in the days that followed, I noticed. And it felt important. Not just because the timing made sense, but because suddenly I was feeling the cosmic drag that supposedly comes with Mercury doing that loop in the sky that looks so much like moving backward from down here. Any time Mercury is stationed in retrograde, I have an opportunity to learn a lot about the BENEFITS of the mess, Grace writes.
My dog had just died, I felt the loneliness of social distancing, election dread, guilt over what I was or was not making. I was in the mess (I still am). I truly have to ‘act my way into right thinking,’ she also writes, in a book whose subtitle, appropriately, is Pathways to Finding Yourself Within the Great Unknown.
What a time to release a book that so directly addresses the not knowing, the mystery, and the inevitability of endings—the daily sunsets and tiny stops as well as the monumental endings that can throw us into such a metaphorical dark it’s hard to act at all, let alone act your way into right thinking.
“I think the foundation for the book was—what if you had something so reliable that no matter what was happening around you, you could always go back to it?” Grace explained on the call, cozied up at home in a colorful fleece snap-up. Her fixation with practice—the word, the idea, the ongoingness of it—started in 2015 on the heels of a divorce and in the midst of a cross country move. It was during that time that Grace—a professionally trained dancer who has also been dancing in living rooms since the age of five—started Personal Practice, an Instagram account that documented more than a year and a half of daily dance.
Anything is practice. In fact, everything is practice. Returning to your craft is practice (no matter how long you’ve been away). Caring for yourself—the little things like standing over the kitchen sink and scrubbing your coffee cup or making your bed—is practice. Thinking through your own mess and acting as right as you can throughout it are practice. And because it’s all practice, it doesn’t have to be perfect or pretty. That’s the mess. You just commit to doing it better next time.
Which is perhaps the crux of the book, though there’s much more here, because there’s more that comes with the process, right? Practice isn’t simple because we’re all complex people carrying the weight of our own histories. Within the book—which, as Grace describes is more like a collection of 19 essays-turned-offerings rather than chapters—are meditations on grief, devotion, discomfort, and vulnerability. How any of these things have the power to throw us off center and can also be used as tethers to draw us back in.
“I have to be in acceptance of the fact that I am in process and will always be in process,” she explained. And for that reason, “I’m not trying to give advice. I’m just trying to explain how I did something so that you might be able to apply some of it to your own experience.” Finished objects are not finished, she writes in the book, they are just invitations for more understanding.
Because it’s all practice, it doesn’t have to be perfect or pretty. That’s the mess. You just commit to doing it better next time.
Appropriate then that as she wrapped up the final pieces of the book—her second, though considerably longer than her first, How To Not Always Be Working—she was thrown, as ever, into the mess. Grace and her partner moved to New Mexico on March 15 of this year, “then the world closed down on March 17, and then my partner [a wildland firefighter] went to fight fires for six months. I’ve never spent so much time alone. It’s been fucking weird,” she said. And for most of us—destabilizing, unsettling, and isolating. “I feel like my higher power really catapulted me into the extreme lessons to close out this process.” There it is—the ongoingness. The invitation for more understanding. Life, in all its variance, a practice.
“It feels like a gift that the book is coming out right now,” she went on, though it was conceived of and written well before the tumult of 2020. It felt like a gift that it came to me as a reader in the moment it did, too. Life is magic, and we have to keep trying, Grace writes. Throughout a dark week, I returned again and again to a reading practice that brought me back to that magic. At this particular time, Grace said, “this book feels like a worthy offering.” And it is.
Getting to Center: Pathways to Finding Yourself Within the Great Unknown was released Tuesday, October 27 and is available for order or purchase at local book dealers and at marleegrace.space.