ETUDE

She is inside me. She is outside me. She surrounds me.

She is chewed fingernails. She is exalted esteem.

She is drowning in the distance.

She is floating in a tomb.

In a womb, she is floating. Face down, she is floating.

She flops herself over. She is breathing through her nose, her mouth.

The water rushes in. She is full, not choking.

She spits as needed. She knows how to spit. She knows when to spit.

She spits well. She spits far. She has learned.

No longer choked full, she gags with a force that cries “No more!” And she is quiet.

She is resting. She is listening. She is waiting.

She speaks. I’m not listening. She cries. I’m not listening.

She pleads. She whines. She screams. I’m not listening.

She is silent. Where did she go?

In her silence she knows I am seeking.

We play a game of mouse who is quiet and cat who does not chase,

but runs away all the way around until it’s coming back.

When you run in circles, halfway around is as far as you can go.

She waits for me to run halfway around and back. I find her waiting.

I ask her to speak and she answers with a caress that soothes,

with tears that fall,

with truth that beckons.

“Who are you?” I ask and she answers “Just me.”

Wisdom drawn from simplicity.

She holds strength like a volcano that lies dormant.

She holds pain like a fire that has settled.

She holds truth like a mirror that reflects.

She holds so much she needs to be held.

Not by some anonymous someone….she needs to be held by me.

She beckons, “Come closer.” On hands and knees I inch.

She beckons “Come closer.” On my belly I approach.

She beckons “Come closer.”

“I am right beside you,” I answer. “How much closer can I get?”

She does not speak. She crawls inside and settles. She is floating face up. She is alive.

She is breathing. Through nose and mouth water rushes in.

She does not choke. She does not spit. She swallows.

She absorbs me. I am embodied, a container unto myself.

I evolve neither chewed nor exalted.

I am just me.

I am whole.

I am divine, a six-pointed star.

I am the one who.

This is an excerpt from my new, recently-completed one-woman show, I Am the One Who. This biomythography portrays my healing journey from childhood trauma to empowerment.  The debut performance will be presented October 12, 7:00 pm at the Red Sands Castle Theatre in Toronto, Canada and will feature internationally renowned taiko drummer Tiffany Tamaribuchi!  (Yahoo!) Come check it out, but be aware that even though it’s grounded in a message of hope, it includes portrayals of 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!

 

 

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.