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

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.

LAKE MICHIGAN JULY 2018

Sun. Sand. Water. Wind. Waves. I sit on a beach at Lake Michigan. I sit for hours, doing nothing in particular. I stare at water so big it meets the horizon in one expansive curved line. I position and re-position in awkward angles to catch the sun. I brush at sand that clings and dries and grates against tender, sunburned skin. I swat at flies. I shift my hat. Guzzle water. Turn my head. This is the extent of my effort. I am simply being. Here and now.

Here comes a wave….and now it is gone. There’s a shaft of light…and now it is gone. A cloud… a breeze… a thought…they ruffle by and rifle through and they are gone. What lingers is the sense that I should be doing….something. But if I sit here long enough, that too will be gone. If I sit here long enough, the impulse to take action will dissipate like the eroding beach.

I float in this new rhythm of nothingness knowing that even my sitting is an act of doing. Even as I sit, Fort Wayne Taiko moves forward. I founded the group in 1998 as a program of the Fort Wayne Dance Collective. At the time, we were the only performing taiko group in Indiana and one of the few in the midwest. I have continued directing the group since that time.

Under my direction, we have developed a group of four core drummers and a larger group of 15 practicing enthusiasts, learned repertoire and composed original music, built and acquired instruments, created youth outreach programs, presented guest artists, developed mentoring relationships with nationally/internationally renowned taiko drummers, become mentors to regional emerging groups, been recognized and celebrated by our local/state arts and funding communities, attended conferences and workshops, spent three weeks in Japan studying with Japanese taiko masters, presented original performances and played at schools, community events, corporations and the 2014 World Taiko Gathering in Los Angeles. All while I worked to make a living, maintain a household and raise kids as a single parent. No wonder I’m tired!

In my absence, Fort Wayne Taiko drummers are teaching classes, performing at festivals, learning repertoire, assessing equipment and expanding skills. Seasoned drummers are assuming new leadership roles. New drummers are learning to create energy and become their own anchors. The next wave is gaining momentum even as I sit.

I am not finished drumming. Or teaching. Or serving. I am not finished leading. Or holding vision, Or strategizing next steps. But today I simply sit. Today, that is my offering. I honor the foundation I have left in my wake by getting out of the way. I yield to sun, sand, water, wind. I resist the impulse to take action. Today I simply sit and let the next wave move through.

LANDING ON MY FEET

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Impact was inevitable. The car was turning left in front of us and we had no time to stop. I was riding passenger on the back of the motorcycle I bought myself for my 40th birthday. (A 1982 450 Honda Nighthawk rebuilt and custom painted glitter blue with silver flames!) I did not yet trust myself on busy streets, so I had asked a friend to take me for a ride. It was a gorgeous August day. In spite of the promise I had made to my children to always wear protective gear, I skanked out of the house with no helmet, wearing a sundress, barelegged.

Time has a funny way of being distorted during crises. A moment becomes long enough for a million thoughts to scramble through one’s head. My first thought was “This is bad!” Pictures floated through my mind of my buddy and me mangled on the pavement, of my children being told I was injured or dead. It was my son’s birthday. Family and friends were meeting that evening for a celebration. My children’s Dad had died suddenly on Christmas Eve. I knew if I died in a motorcycle accident on my son’s birthday, my children would kill me. As I watched the car turning in front of us, the loudest thought in my head was a simple, resounding declaration, “This will not happen!”

My buddy swerved the bike slightly to the right so that we hit the front of the car at an angle instead of head-on. The front grill of the car was inches away and I saw the very real likelihood of my bare leg (or my head!) being crushed between the car and the bike…or between the tire and the pavement. But I also saw the hood of the car–it spread out before me like a field of opportunity.

With one swift, definitive movement, I placed my forearm down on the hood, pushed myself off from the foot peg, tucked my head and rolled. After years of taking dance classes, I could hear my dance teacher coaching me to keep my weight moving. “Momentum is your friend!” she yelled in my head. I yielded to momentum’s lead and allowed it to propel me across an endless acre of metal.

I rolled by the car’s windshield and saw the driver, a young woman with a horrified look on her face. I rolled through images of friends and family. I rolled over sweet recollections of simple moments. I rolled into the promise of future possibilities. I rolled until I felt nothing underneath me. Again, I heard my dance teacher’s voice. “Extend into yur six-pointed star!” I intuitively uncurled and extended arms and legs, head and tail.  I landed on my feet, standing on the street on the other side of the car… ta da!

The driver jumped out and hugged me. Witnesses gathered. “Are you all right?”  everyone asked. I swept my hands down my body. There was not a bruise or a scratch. I was completely unblemished. My motorcycle was down on its side. My buddy was also standing uninjured. (We believe his leg was saved by the crash bar.) I looked over and found him sprawl-legged, helmet off, shaking his head. “How did you do that?” he asked.

In moments of crises, one instinctively does what one knows. I have spent hours rolling in dance classes. I have been taught to roll with initiation from my hand, from my foot, from my center. I have rolled over physio-balls and bodies. I have rolled across the smooth wood floor of the dance studio and, while teaching dance classes at schools, across the floors of gymnasiums sticky with who knows what. I have learned to roll effortlessly, rising and falling through high, medium and low levels. In the moments after the motorcycle accident, I stood on the street as witnesses stared incredulously and I whispered a reverent thank you to the dance community and all who support it.

Since 1990, I have been a dance student, teacher and audience member. From 1992 to 1998, I worked as Development Director for a non-profit dance organization, spreading the word about the benefits of movement education. Through the years I have tried to explain how dance classes do more than teach people a series of steps–when explored from a wholistic perspective, movement experiences develop human potential, enhance body awareness, create a more cohesive sense of self and facilitate mind-body integration. Such outcomes can be hard to measure, but this one is simple: Dancing taught me how to roll. I went over the hood of a car and landed on my feet.