I AM THE ONE WHO

Breathing underwater. That’s my earliest memory. I know it sounds absurd, but there you have it. I don’t know if I was in the womb or floating in some primordial soup or a mermaid lurking in some long-ago myth. Long ago perhaps, but not forgotten because I remember. Still.

I remember a sea of light beings gathered before the Council, each one of us a vibrant splash of crystal light. I was a resonating drop in this big crystal pool. I remember my arm shooting up when they asked for a volunteer to go anchor light on Earth.

“Pick me! Pick me!” I called from the crowd. “I can dive into the deepest darkness! I can anchor light better than anybody!”

I remember my thighs, monstrous five-foot femurs and how they moved when I went up for my screening. And the chair I sat in…. It was more like a throne, a crystal throne carved into a crystal mountain. There were a dozen or so, arranged in a semi-circle, each occupied by a Council member who was very, very tall. A Council of giants discussing a big topic. They were sending a team to Earth. They were recruiting volunteers to anchor light on Gaia.

I remember how everything shimmered with a rippling radiance that could change with a single thought or feeling. Even the mountain….it could stay a mountain or it could just as easily melt into a river and flow into something new. I loved this ever-changing landscape I called home. I was connected to this group by a deep, timeless bond. But I knew I needed to go to Earth. Go back to Earth. I had been there before. Lots of times, but never with such an important mission. My resume made me the perfect candidate. I was experienced. I was motivated. I was bright. I was ready. Let’s get it done!

The Light Council cautioned me: “To anchor light on Earth, you will need to penetrate the darkness of the third dimension and remain whole. Are you up for the task?”

I brazenly replied, “Yes! I can do it! Let me do it!”

And with that, I spiraled through the void, faster and faster, until I slipped into stillness, warm and wet, floating in my mother’s womb. I knew that soon the birth process would start and so would my Earth-bound rendezvous with darkness. And suddenly, I had second thoughts.

“Hey!” I called out to the void. “I’ve changed my mind!” I don’t want to do this. Get me out of here! I can’t do this. I’ve changed my mind!”

But there was no answer. I resisted to the very end. I was born three weeks late with the cord wrapped around my neck. I was born breech, feet first; actually, foot first, a single foot… I tore my mother wide open, but there was no way I was coming in head-on. I stuck a foot out first, just tentatively testing the water….

This is an excerpted scene from my new, recently-completed one-woman show titled, I Am the One Who. This biomythography portrays my healing journey from childhood trauma to empowerment.  I am performing its debut on October 12, 7:00 pm at the Red Sands Castle Theatre in Toronto, Canada. This debut performance will feature internationally renowned taiko drummer Tiffany Tamaribuchi!  (Yahoo!) Come check it out, but be aware that even though its grounded in a message of hope, it does include scenes that portray and reference sexual violence and childhood ritual abuse. Run time is 2 hours and includes a 15-minute intermission. A post-performance discussion will be held.

For tickets, go to universe.com/iamtheonewho

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.