The word of the month for May is “akimbo.”
Akimbo is a description of a stance: arms and legs flung out haphazardly (or sometimes, less chaotically, hands on hips with elbows turned out). Something that’s akimbo is less controlled, less predictable, and less coordinated. It’s an unexpected juxtaposition of body and limbs.
Nominated for eight Tony awards this year is the musical Kimberly Akimbo, a story of a teenager with a rare genetic condition that has sped up her aging process. At the start of the musical, Kimberly Levaco is fifteen but looks much older (the actress playing Kimberly is in her sixties). Kimberly’s sixteenth birthday is just around the corner, bittersweet because the average lifespan of people with Kimberly’s condition is sixteen.
It’s a heartbreaking story but also beautiful and uplifting. The story provides a reminder that what we “know” about ourselves and others benefits from constant reexamination.
Early in the show, Kimberly and her classmate Seth decide to do their science presentation together. Seth’s hobby is making anagrams of people’s names, and as they sit together on beanbag chairs in the library, he works through an anagram of Kimberly’s name while she thinks about how much she likes his way of looking at the world. In the song “Anagram,” available here (I recommend listening to it–so good!), she sings:
I like the way you see the world
I like your point of view
A little sly, a little strange, a little bit askew
I like the way you look at life
And think outside the box
A little odd, a little off, a bit unorthodox
As she sings, Seth keeps working through the possibilities (“okra, cobra, marble, barley …”) and Kimberly realizes that the exercise is more than a language game:
Oh, with the turn of a letter
Oh, everything’s better
I wonder how you see the things you see
With a change of perspective
Kimberly’s recognition at this moment of the central role of perspective creates more open space and possibility in her own life, which is especially meaningful given her circumstances. The willingness to see things another way–to have a perspective capable of going “akimbo”–is often a necessary condition to making progress in conflict and difficult situations more generally.
Seth finally comes up with “cleverly akimbo,” perfectly capturing the unique, wise, adolescent, off-kilter Kimberly.
Without giving too much more of the story away, allow me to recommend one more song, Great Adventure. Have a wonderful May!