Listen to the tidbits you don’t want to hear
The Body, Brain, and Books: Eleven Questions with writer and dancer Christine Barker
Christine Barker, author of Third Girl from the Left: A Memoir, was raised in a military family, spending her childhood living in Europe and across the United States. At 20, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in dance and theater. She appeared in national tours and off-Broadway productions before being cast in the London production of the Tony-award-winning A Chorus Line. From London, she joined the Broadway cast in New York City. In addition to her theater credits, she appeared in numerous national television commercials. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and divides her time between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a home in Connecticut. She is married and has two children.
What are you reading now?
When I read, I want to be totally absorbed in a time and place, and with an author who has a gift for language. My last three favorite books are Rules of Civility (Amor Towles), Hamnet (Maggie O’Farrell), and Small Things Like These (Claire Keegan).
What are your most beloved books from your youth? Did you ever hide any from your parents?
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott), The Diary of Anne Frank (Anne Frank) and Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier).
With six children and constant upheaval due to my father’s career in the US Navy, my parents were always busy - too busy to keep track of my reading.
What’s your favorite book to reread? Any that helped you through a dark time?
I don’t reread entire books. Every book I’ve ever read is studded with sticky notes, marking special passages that I have underlined. Beside them in the margins are the notes I have written or the connections I have made. When I read, I like to freely engage with the author, as if their book is a private conversation. I note phrases, twists, anything unusual. Books, for me, are not just stories, but lessons from other writers about how to tell a story.
What’s an article of clothing that makes you feel most like you?
…Anything that lets me move my body freely.
What’s the best piece of wisdom you’ve encountered recently?
Use every experience to its fullest and listen to the tidbits you don’t want to hear. Oftentimes, being provoked moves you forward to greater clarity.
Tell me about a special relationship with an animal, domestic or wild.
I have an imaginary spirit bird who helps me visualize my arms as wings, my feet as powerful talons clinging to a perch. Many dancers use such visualizations to deepen their understanding of muscular systems. Internalizing such knowledge is advantageous when turning, balancing, and leaping. I like to think that as a species we are related to birds through our shoulders, arms, and deltoid muscles. And, while our feet hold us to the ground, they also provide the initial impetus for pushing us aloft. Even though, as structures, feet are relatively small, they are structurally sophisticated, like landing gear.
What’s one thing that worked out differently that you expected?
I have a small orchid collection – some I have bought, and others have been given to me. Last year, I tried hanging them in protected areas outside in my Connecticut garden during the summer and early fall, exposing them to more swings in temperature than they would normally have indoors in my temperature-controlled house. By the end of October, I moved them back inside, placing them on a table under a south facing window. Then, in the dead of last year’s winter, they all burst into a boisterous blooming. I could almost hear them; they were so big, their round saucer-shaped faces, suddenly crowding each other on the table. To accommodate their lack of restraint, I had to move them all over the house.
Singing in the shower or dancing in the kitchen? Or another way your body expresses itself?
With years of training and a career as a professional dancer, I know myself and the world through my body. That knowledge is central to me and my identity. A dancer dances, so I waltz, boogie, or shimmy all through the house, sometimes blasting Adele, other times pretending I am onstage, dancing behind Freddie Mercury at the Live AID concert.
What are your hopes for yourself?
I hope for a long healthy life so I can write more books and spend quality time with my family.
What’s a kindness that changed your life?
The kindness of friends who have believed in me at different points in my life and who have gone out of their way to support me by using their resources to connect me with people who could move me forward in achieving my dreams. These friends have been selfless in their faith in my abilities. Many times, they are more sure about me than I am about myself.
What’s a guiding force in your life?
The creative process. I practice it daily and use it to focus my perspective, inspire me, or explain life.
UP NEXT: interviews and questionnaires with George Saunders, Sari Botton, Emma Gannon, Caroline Cala Donofrio, and more personal essays from me. Plus, heart-centered advice on writing and craft! Don’t miss it. Become a paid subscriber to Beyond.
Meet me in the comment section
Has a friend ever gone out of their way to support you and your dreams? Do you boogie and shimmy around your house? What tidbits have you listened to lately that you initially didn’t want to hear?
Tell me in the comments!