BUTTERFLY DANCE

I hit the play button on the CD player and feel a satisfying rush as drum music booms out of the speakers. I turn around to find that all the 3- and 4-year-olds in my creative movement class have stopped dead in their tracks. Their free-spirited, pre-class running has come to a complete standstill and been replaced by stunned, pained expressions.  Some of them are even covering their ears with their hands.

Ah-oh! Maybe this music wasn’t such a good idea. I find the relentless beat of intense, driving percussion soothing. Reassuring. The more intense, the better. Add a layer of sinister mixed with volume and the recipe improves. Throw in some thrashing and you have a full-course meal.

I have been spending long late-night hours thrash dancing to pounding music at local clubs after putting my own young children to bed. It’s not a social event; it’s a purge. I rarely talk to anyone and seldom do I drink alcohol. I carry in a bottle of purified water and thrash, sweat, guzzle, then thrash, sweat, guzzle some more. I go home exhausted, gratefully sleep through the night and wake up, muscles sore, wanting more. When I can’t go out, I thrash at home to my own personal collection of percussion music. But apparently, this is not the best musical choice for these young, carefree hearts. I desperately need a quick transition. I stab the stop button, grab a nearby djembe drum and strap it across my chest.

“Let’s see if we can stomp like monsters!” I say. Their faces burst into relieved smiles and they stomp around the room while I play a steady pulse, a base beat that guides their movement and steadies my heart and mind. My body-mind. It is becoming harder and harder for me to separate the two. And that, I am finding, may be a good thing, thrash dancing and all.

“1, 2, 3, 4, stop!” I play an accented beat and they all stop on cue and freeze in shapes with twisted spines and curved arms and bent legs and I revel in the simple landscaped beauty of these young bodies. “1, 2, 3, 4, skip!” My drum and I continue guiding them through a sequence of locomotor and non-locomotor movements. Uninhibited, they sneak and slither and gallop and turn and jump and reach and freeze and freeze and freeze all prompted by the louds and softs and fast and slows and starts and stops that come out of my drum until it rumbles quietly into silence. Somehow, this little drum organizes all my internal chatter into rhythmic patterns that anchor both them and me. I play. They dance. Cause and effect. Action, reaction. A simple, satisfying symbiotic relationship sprinkled with fun.

I feel blissfully connected. I am not wandering through the void. I am not distant and detached. I am not crouched and hiding. I am not thrashing into purged oblivion. I am here. I am present. I am now. I am the afternoon light that filters through the window creating shadows in the studio. I am the oiled wood floor under bare feet. I am the smooth skin of the drum under swollen fingers. I am stretching muscles and beating heart. I am breath moving around and through.

A new sensation shimmers and floats lightly like a butterfly dancing. It flutters and pauses and invites me to give it a name. I watch it closely as it flickers and whispers and beckons. It seems vaguely familiar–it looks like, sounds like, feels like…I think…I think…I think it might be hope.

I play my drum while the children twirl and run and smile.

ALL EARS

The flowers sing. And I listen. To whispered chants that murmur through my garden. To the lilting psalm of my shovel as it grates against freshly-turned dirt. To quiet incantations that rise up out of the earth, bounce off blue skies and grow into perennial promises, annual sprays and trellised vines. To arias that burst into operatic foliage adorned by colorful blooms.

I listen to rain that drips and drops and pounds and patters and mists and pools in ostinato puddles. I listen to the sometimes soft, sometimes piercing sun that warms and warms then burns and browns my now-no-longer-tender skin. And I listen to the quiet serenade of night, wooed by the drone of rest and restoration that comes gift-wrapped in the soft lullabies of stillness.

I listen. To trilling birds and buzzing bees and tinkling chimes. I dig. I plant. I water. I think. I sit. For hours I sit. Still. And listen. To silence. To wordless mantras made of sun and wind and sky and rain and dirt. Each serene voice offering its own unique harmonizing song. Subtle, quiet, almost imperceptible melodies….so different from the pounding, booming rhythms that fill my taiko drumming world.

My summer schedule moves slowly like the oozing heat and drizzling rain and shifting shadows. My body is tired. My mind and soul are tired. My ears are tired. And so I grow a garden full of quiet song. A place where I can sit. Still. And listen.

THE BEAT OF SUMMER (finding the 1)

Sometimes I just do the best I can. I’d like to think that I am sometimes brilliant, but I know that sometimes I’m not even striving to be brilliant…sometimes I just buckle down, white knuckle through and do the best I can.

I often feel that way at the end of the academic year as I move through final classes and performances exhausted. I show up on time (hopefully!). I smile (at least I think I’m smiling!). I try to be organized and prepared. I try to stay focused and present…but one foot is already out the door as I find my way through those final, year-end commitments….in my mind’s eye, I am already floating around the lake, kayaking down the river, riding horses, spending time with family…

The funny thing is, once the classes and performances are over and I am actually out there floating on that lake or paddling down that river, I am usually thinking about taiko. I am either composing or arranging music or planning the next strategic steps we need to take as a group or envisioning new costumes or thinking about next year’s classes and performances or throwing drum sticks and a drum pad in my suitcase as I head out the door. Good grief. It’s hard to shut it down.

And of course I don’t really want to. I am a taiko drummer. Removing taiko from my life would be like cutting off my arm: an extremely painful loss that I would grieve for a long time as I would struggle to readjust. Taiko is no longer something I do; it’s a way of being in the world. At some point, taiko became a lifestyle, part of my identity. I play taiko because it’s fun, but I am a taiko drummer because, well… because I am. It’s become a personal demographic, like being a Caucasian, middle-aged female or a Midwestern American. It just is.

Like most things that are meaningful, “doing” taiko as a job requires more than just showing up…it requires an investment, an extension of myself that needs to be balanced. And counter-balanced… I don’t want to shut down the drumming, but for a while I am happy to not be expected to show up and drum at a certain time and place. I am happy to not be responsible for guiding a group through a process. I am happy to float around the lake, soak up the sun and splash out random rhythms with my hands on the water…

I only have two more residencies before I am officially on taiko summer break. During the month of June, I’ll be teaching taiko as part of two different art camps. This is not my first rodeo….I don’t know exactly what will happen, but I can make some best guesses based on past experience. I’ll pack my taiko kit, travel to location and work with whoever shows up. They’ll come in curious. Sometimes excited. Frequently wary. Usually willing. We’ll only have a few days to explore the vast world of taiko. A few days. Where does one start?

I’ll first show them photos of taiko drummers from the book The Way of Taiko. I want them to know I haven’t made this stuff up. That taiko is an ancient art form based on Japanese tradition and that even though there’s not much taiko here in Indiana, there are places in the world where taiko is rampant. Then I’ll get them moving.

“We’re going to learn how to find the 1,” I’ll tell them as I put a stool or a chair or a box or my backpack or something (anything!) in the middle of the room. I’ll line them up against a wall and put two sticks down on the floor end to end to mark a starting line. “You’re going to go one at a time, run and jump over the stool (or chair or box), keep running until you touch the chair on the other side of the room and then circle back to the end of the line.” At this point, they’re usually smiling and whoever is in front has leaned down into a “start” position like a racer about to run around a track.

I’ll point to the sticks on the floor and add, “But no one can cross that line until s/he hears the 1.” Now they look confused. I walk to a drum and begin improvising. “Ready and go,” I say. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…” The first person usually misses the first 1 and takes off on beats 3 or 4. I’ll let the moment pass and keep going. Part of the game is letting them figure it out. And so the line continues with running and jumping and circling and drumming and counting and smiling and panting. I wonder if they realize that a good portion of this game is about letting them burn off energy so we can sit and do activities that require more focus. And of course we are building relationship. Quickly. (We don’t have much time together!)

About the time they figure it out, I’ll pause the game and explain we’re going to do it in sets of 4. Before I start counting again, I’ll ask if anyone wants to join me on the drum. Usually at least one hand goes up. I’ll give this new drummer sticks and a smile. No instruction. This moment isn’t about technique or rhythmic accuracy. This is about the joy of drumming, of making spontaneous music with friends. And of course, finding the 1. We’ll continue with me counting, “1, 2, 3, 4…” and so on. Then we’ll do it in sets of two. Usually I increase the tempo. And at some point, I quit counting for them. They’re on their own, moving faster and faster, trying to keep up, trying to hold on to the 1, until the whole game deteriorates into exhausted laughter (and sometimes rolling on the floor!) I’ll call them to a circle and prepare to hand out sticks.  But first I’ll ask, “What does that have to do with taiko?” Then I’ll let the group sort out the answer.

Taiko is so much more than beating on a barrel. More often than not, the best way to teach the art of taiko is to let students experience it from the inside out–especially when you only have a few days! Some of them will think taiko is weird (it’s certainly unusual here in Indiana) and hard (indeed it is) and they’ll be glad when the whole thing is over. For others, this experience will launch a whole new way of being. Some will intuitively sense that this whole idea of “finding the 1” is about some bigger truth (even if they don’t yet understand what that might be). They’ll have the fever and will continue exploring their world from a new perspective whether or not they ever drum again.

I certainly have the fever. Rhythms play in my head on a more or less ongoing basis. Apparently, my subconscious drums a lot–at least that’s what friends and family tell me. Apparently, I unconsciously drum while driving. (As evidenced by several accidents resulting in several totaled cars!) I drum while day dreaming. Even while sleeping. (Or so I’m told!) And since taiko is a mind-body form, this practice frequently involves movement and draws some unusual and curious attention from bystanders. Sometimes it’s full-out rhythms being played mindlessly on the steering wheel or grocery cart or kitchen table or my body. Sometimes it’s just small movement impulses that don’t appear at first glance to have any organized meaning but just look like bizarre tics. (This can create some embarrassing moments when out in public!) Sometimes it’s verbal rhythms articulated through “taiko” language muttered under my breath. (don, doko don, doko don, kata ka ka!) Sometimes it’s just a far-off stare that causes me to appear to be disconnected from my immediate environment. Someone who knows me well will say, “You’re drumming right now, aren’t you?” And I’ll return from my reverie back to a shared reality.

Once when I was coming out of anesthetic from a medical procedure, I started moving my arms and wrists in an odd manner. The observing nurse expressed some concern, commenting that she had never seen that reaction before and asked my mother if she knew what I was doing.

I was told my mother sighed and said, “She’s probably drumming.”

To confirm, Mom prodded me. “Hey, what are you doing right now?”

“Just making sure my wrists still work!” I answered in a drug-induced haze as I continued moving my arms in a rhythmic sequence. “Don do ko don, kata ka ka.” I said, muttering taiko language under my breath.

“Yep, she’s drumming!” Mom concluded.

Just goes to show…when push comes to shove, the beat goes on. Here’s to the beat of summer….and finding the 1!

 

 

INFINITE POSSIBILITIES

The game emerged spontaneously when my daughter, India, was about 5 years old. The two of us were enjoying a rare moment together on the upstairs deck of our rambling Victorian. That upper porch was one of our favorite places in that big, dilapidated house and the sun felt so good that spring day that I found myself basking in a rare moment of reprieve. I was drowning in financial stress, pending foreclosure and an unhappy marriage. Frozen by an uncertain future, I had grown so accustomed to everything being so hard that the warmth of the sun on my skin melted my heart. It felt so good, it was almost more than I could stand.

India had her Pocahontas toys spread out on a blanket. I laid down beside her, closed my eyes and breathed. I was mindful of the warm sun on my closed eyelids, my arms, my legs….but I wanted more. I jumped up and took off my dress in one swift motion revealing the bathing suit I happened to have on underneath. (It was not unusual in those days for me to wear a one-piece under my clothes. Somehow it helped me feel contained; somehow it helped me hold myself together.) I laid back down. Oh, so much better! I could feel the sun on all those places that had been covered.

“What are you doing?” India had stopped playing and was looking at me.

“Mommy’s just lying in the sun,” I reassured her.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because it feels good.”

“But why did you take off your clothes?”

“Because I want to feel the sun all over!”

“Oh, can I lie in the sun too?”

“Sure you can!” I sat up. “We can do whatever we want!” I scooted toys over to make a place for her to lie down next to me. By the time I looked up, she had ripped off her dress and underwear and was standing there stark naked.

“Oh, that does feel good!” she smiled and pranced. “I like doing whatever we want!” I was momentarily aghast, but that fleeting feeling was quickly replaced with joy. India started jumping up and down, chanting, “We can do whatever we want!”

I stood up and joined her as the creative movement teacher in me took over. “I can march like this!” I said. We both started marching around the porch as we chanted, “We can do whatever we want!” I quickly realized our chant needed three quarter rests at the end to make it an eight-count rhythmic phrase, so I snorted like a pig and jumped three times. India squealed with delight, then snorted and jumped with me. One, two, three!

“I can spin like this!” she said and we both started spinning. “We can do whatever we want!” Snort, snort, snort. India squealed again.

My turn. “I can slither like this!” Here we go… “We can do whatever we want!” Snort, snort, snort.  The noise must have called my husband James upstairs because suddenly he stuck his head through the door. “What is going on?” he asked. “India! Put on some clothes!” He looked at me as if to ask, “Have you gone crazy?”

“No!” India protested. “We’re playing We Can Do Whatever We Want! And I don’t want to put on clothes because the sun feels GOOD, doesn’t it Mommy?”  Seeing the look of sheer ecstasy on her face, I smiled in agreement. “That’s right!” Just for good measure I added a snort, snort, snort. India squealed again and echoed three snorts back. James rolled his eyes and left. India and I happily continued our game.

Before too long my son Jacob came out onto the porch. “What are you doing?” he asked, surveying. “Why doesn’t India have on any clothes?”

“Because we can do whatever we want!” she chanted with delight. James must have still been upstairs because I heard him say, “Leave them be Jake. It must be a girl thing.”

Yes, please, please, please just let us be…we danced and chanted and snorted and chanted and danced until we were both exhausted and fell down on the blanket laughing, completely spent. We laid together holding hands, basking in the sun and our joy, panting from all that exertion. When we could both breathe normally again India asked, “Can we really do whatever we want?”

“Absolutely,” I said without hesitation and squeezed her hand. I added no caveats for considering consequences or admonishments about safety or responsibility…I just laid there in the sun and planted seeds for infinite possibilities.

My now-grown daughter and I have revisited that day and its memorable We-Can-Do Whatever-We-Want point of view many times through the years. Whenever I stand at a pivot point, that voice of my younger self calls to me. She inspires and reassures. She reminds me that I am always free to choose whatever courageous future I have the audacity to imagine.

NEW ADVENTURES

Over Memorial Day weekend, I attended a workshop in Toronto Canada with Anne Marie Scheffler on how to create a one-woman show. As I revel in the excitement of this new adventure, I feel a whole new world open before me. I am reminded of other pivotal moments in my life and a dream I had long ago….

I am walking down the street in a hurry. I am having problems finding my way. I am confused, disoriented, distressed. Am I in Chicago? Fort Wayne? Hong Kong? I hear a loud, male voice directing me. I am trying to locate it, but it has no source. It is everywhere and nowhere–it is disembodied. But it is giving me directions, telling me where to go, so I listen and take heed. Turn here, turn there. The voice leads me to a subway portal. I go down the stairs and am standing at a turnstile, hesitant to enter, not wanting to commit. “Take the subway!” The voice booms. So I do. I get on the subway train and take a seat.

I am the only one on the train. The world outside the window races by in a blur. Sometimes the train is below ground and I see only darkness. Sometimes the train is above ground and I see a whirlwind of color and shapes, but I can’t make sense of any of the images. I am blindly traveling through as if I am being carried in a womb. Inside the subway car, the temperature is controlled; the seats are comfortable. I nap, I eat, I read. I am grateful for the opportunity to be still and rest. When I finally get bored, the train stops. I am as hesitant to get off as I was to get on. Where am I? I stand at the open door, unsure. “Get off the train!” The voice booms. So I do.

I take the stairs to the street and emerge at a familiar intersection in Fort Wayne. I look up into a blue sky as a bright sun warms my skin. A soft breeze carries the song of birds and the lively banter of people. A man sitting across the street smiles and beckons me over. As I get closer, I see it is my deceased father. I run up and hug him. “What are you doing here?” I ask. “I am so happy to see you!”

He pats me on the back. “I just want you to know how proud of you I am,” he says. “You’re doing a good job.” There’s that voice. It was his voice directing me!

I burst into tears. “I’m tired all the time,” I say.

“I know,” he nods.

“And I’m afraid. Half the time I have no idea what to do.”

He nods again and gets up as if to leave.

That’s it? That’s all he has to say? The man has traveled beyond and back and all he offers is a nod?

He starts to walk away, then turns. “You don’t have to always know up here.” He taps his head. “Just pick a direction, then go along and enjoy the ride.”  He turns away and disappears.

To new adventures….Bon Voyage!

THE DIGITAL AGE

The box was full of newspaper. It was Christmas morning and I was opening a present from my son–a large box of newspaper. I rummaged through it while he sat laughing until I uncovered a much smaller box wrapped and tied with ribbon. Opening that box, I was stunned to find an iPod. I had mentioned I was finally ready to leave my CDs behind and tentatively enter the new digital age, but I hadn’t expected him to buy me an iPod for goodness’ sake. He was a senior in college, in his last year of design school; he wasn’t yet working. “You have no business buying me an iPod for Christmas!” I said.

He shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said, “You’re my mom.”

A little overwhelmed by his generosity and more than a little techno-phobic, I carefully set my new iPod on the table, still in its box, waiting to explore it after all the presents had been opened, all the paper had been gathered and all the chaos had settled. When I returned my attention to my unexpected gift, I carefully opened the hinged plastic cover and found the iPod encased in a plastic sheath with small prongs on each end. Mechanically challenged, I nestled my cup of coffee between my legs so I could use both hands to free the small electronic device. I carefully pulled and turned and twisted the plastic case until the iPod suddenly popped out of its protective cover, flew up into the air, somersaulted and plopped into the cup of coffee in my lap. My hands froze mid-air and silence filled the room as all eyes riveted on the tail end of the now-immersed iPod that peeked over the rim of my coffee cup.

My son broke the silence. “I can’t believe you just did that,” he said shaking his head.

“I can’t believe it either!” I cried in dismay as I yanked the iPod out of its private pool of caffeine. “I have no idea how that just happened! Do you think it still works?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed and continued shaking his head as he walked across the room, sat down next to me on the couch, took it from me and began pushing buttons. He placed the iPod in front of a fan and suggested we give it some time to “dry out.” Apparently, caffeine doesn’t boost electronics the way it does me because about 30 minutes later my son officially pronounced my new gadget was “not responding properly.” Still shaking his head, he repackaged the iPod and handed it to me with the receipt saying, “Maybe you can take it back.”

Looking at the receipt, I once again felt overwhelmed by his selfless act of generosity. It swept over me all night long as I continued reliving that unbelievable moment when my incredible gift somersaulted through the air. The next day I went to the store and handed my iPod and receipt over to the man working the customer service deck. “I received this as a gift and would like to exchange it,” I said.

“Is there anything wrong with it?” he asked.

“It doesn’t seem to be responding properly,” I said as a subtle smell of coffee wafted between us, feeling no desire to describe the caffeine adventure we’d shared during our short time together. “I’d like to exchange it for one just like it,” I smiled. I gratefully took my new iPod home and humbly let my son remove it from its case.

THANKSGIVING GOODBYES

I develop clarity and focus and set my intent. I act on that which comes to me.

My four-year-old grandson died Thanksgiving Day 2018. On Tuesday morning he went to school with a slight cough and no fever. On Tuesday afternoon the school called his parents saying he wasn’t feeling well and they needed to pick him up. Before they got him home, he quit breathing. They started chest compressions and called 911.  By the time they got him to the hospital, his heart had stopped and started three times. They transported him to a larger hospital. He arrived with a pulse, but was not breathing on his own. They put him on a ventilator and began testing for brain activity and there was none.

Tuesday morning he went to school. Tuesday evening he was brain dead. On Thursday, Thanksgiving morning, he was taken off life support. By 7:30 Thanksgiving morning, he was declared dead. The doctors tell us it was a respiratory virus that seized him fast and furious; three strains of parainfluenza narrowed his airway. He was a healthy 4-year-old…it is a harsh truth for my family and me.

We are in shock. Our numbness is penetrated by waves of grief. We have no profound insights; we simply move from one breath to the next.

His parents decided to donate his organs. On Thanksgiving Day, a number of families on organ waiting lists received the call for which they had been waiting. Who is to say our grief is bigger than their joy, relief and gratitude? Talk about an exchange of energy….Donor Alliance tells us that his heart, liver, and kidneys were successfully transplanted, saving four lives; his pancreas and cartilage went to research.

We are grateful even as we grieve. We are grateful that in the wake of this tragedy, in spite of his short time here on earth, his life has meaning…not only to us but to others as well. We are grateful for the opportunity to know him and to love him. I trust he is on his path and his story is unfolding as it should. His mother tells me that out of the blue last Friday he asked her what happens when you die and then he asked what happens when you stop breathing. She said he wasn’t angry or sad or upset or even particularly serious; he just casually asked these profound questions as he continued playing. She explained that if you stop breathing you die and no one really knows what happens when you die and then she asked why he was asking. He said “Because I think I’m going to quit breathing and die.” In typical Mom fashion she exclaimed,  “Don’t say that!” so he dropped it. And then a few days later, that’s exactly what happened. I choose to think an angel was there with him while he raced his toy cars around the room, talking to him quietly, preparing him with a gentle spoiler alert! It reminds me that the veil between the worlds is thin… the veil is very, very thin.

In the midst of all this sadness, I bless and celebrate both his sweet short life and his passage. I develop clarity and focus and set my intent: I intend to explore a new relationship with him now that he has left this 3D world. I trust an exciting journey awaits us. I choose to act on that which comes to me.