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WestSideStoryI’m under ten years old, anticipating that magical double-digit landmark, and whirling around the living room in my pajamas, waving scarves and wrapping them around me. “I feel pretty, oh, so pretty,” I sing. On the stereo, my father plays the soundtrack of West Side Story, either the original Broadway cast of 1957 or the 1961 movie.

My sisters and I played that record and other musicals over and over: Oklahoma, The Music Man, South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady. We sang all the songs and knew all the lyrics. But we weren’t allowed to see West Side Story when the movie came out. Even though we snapped our fingers to the “Jet Song” and “Cool,” and sang “I like to be in America!” and my father’s favorite “Gee, Officer Krupke,” my parents thought us too young to experience such violence.

Last week, Keith and I watched West Side Story, starring beautiful Natalie Wood. The movie’s violence seemed incredibly tame compared to what’s on TV and in theaters these days. No blood, not even when Tony was shot and killed at the end.

But the songs had me singing along, moving to the sounds I’d heard as a child but didn’t see. In memory, I was not quite ten years old again, creating spontaneous choreography, designing costumes from pajamas and scarves, and staging my performance in the living room of my childhood home in Connecticut.

Patrick Ross explores the concept of creativity in Committed: A Memoir of the Artist’s Road. I’ve followed his blog for some time and was delighted to read his book this past weekend.

Ross weaves strands of three stories: a cross-country journey to interview artists, his personal quest to understand his family and himself, and the search for creativity where gift and passion intersect. True, we need to pay the bills… but. For Patrick Ross, a decision to change course was not a “but” in his life; it was an “and.” That is, he had learned to pay the bills and now wanted to become more true to his gifts.

I didn’t end up as a professional singer, dancer, choreographer, costume designer, director or playwright. Some became hobbies but none my gifts. How did I ‘just know’ where passion and gift intersected during my early double-digit years? As a teacher, I experienced simultaneity, both disciplined snap and freewheeling whirl.

And I still ‘just know’ as I, like Patrick Ross, change course. One strand in my story happened when I was Ross’ age two decades ago. The road ahead was in darkness, and I decided not to walk alone. As Thomas Merton wrote:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think that I am following your will

does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always,

though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,

and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

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