THE PEOPLE IN THE CLOSET

In my dream, my mother asks my husband James, “Would you set the table?” In my dream, he moves towards the pantry to get plates.  “Oh, don’t go in there,” she says. “We never go in there. The plates are over here.” She gestures towards the cabinets hanging above her head.

He pivots and heads towards the cabinets instead. “What’s in the closet?” he asks. She takes the muffin tin out of the oven and begins spooning cornbread mix over the hot oil that lies waiting at the bottom of each gaping hole. “Oh, that’s where we keep the people. You know, the People in the Closet.” The mix of cornmeal, egg and milk drops down the sides of the bowl. She wipes it clean with a wet cloth. “We don’t ever open that door.”

James stops mid-reach. “What do you mean the ‘People in the Closet?’”

My dream mom wraps a hot pad around the filled muffin tin, puts it back in the oven, closes the door, wipes her hands on a nearby towel and turns to look at him. She takes a deep breath and speaks slowly, so he’ll understand. “You know, the People. The People in the Closet.” Conversation over, she sets the oven timer and walks out of the room. “We’ll be eating in about 20 minutes,” she announces to the family. It is an ordinary day blessed with an ordinary family meal.

Later in my dream, James and I continue this conversation back at home. He is outraged.“What did your mother mean?” he demands. “Is your family really keeping people in the closet?” I shrug dismissively. It’s no big deal. I don’t understand why he is so upset. They are just the People in the Closet. They don’t deserve to be treated like real people.

“Don’t you ever let them out? Do you ever feed them?”  He is livid. And it doesn’t stop. Weeks pass and he is ranting and raving and carrying on and I am tired of it. “Allison, this is criminal!” he says. “It needs to stop!”

“Okay, okay,” I finally relent. “I’ll let them out, but not now. I’m too busy right now.” I realize how much time and energy they are going to need once they’re released. Between the kids and my job, I just don’t have time to deal with them right now.

But he doesn’t let up. “When are you going to let the people out of the closet?” he asks me while I am washing dishes, running the kids’ bath, folding clothes. I come in from work and instead of “Hello, how was your day?” he says, “When are you going to let the people out of the closet?” I sit down with a book and he interrupts my few rare, sacred minutes of quiet. “When are you going to let the people out of the closet?”

Finally, I’ve had enough. “You want me to let those people out of the closet?” I yell. “Fine!” I march over to the closet that is strangely now in my house and not my mother’s. I open the door and the people fall out. They lay in the middle of the floor: a starved, dirty little girl underneath an old man drooling tobacco juice. “There. They are now out of the closet! Are you happy? And now I have to go to work.” I step over them, grab my briefcase and purse and head out the door.  I step over them when I return home. I walk around them when I am talking on the phone and cooking dinner. I continue stepping over and around until James’ mantra changes.

“When are you going to deal with these people on the floor?” he starts asking.

“When I have time,” I say, avoiding the look in the little girl’s eyes. Enough already.

I wake up with the dream echoing through my head like a muffled scream. I am terrified. My fear devours me slowly, but not completely. I have not yet disappeared. I am still here to feel every agonizing moment. The terror straitjackets my heart and my blood runs cold. I am frozen. Literally, I cannot move. Not arms or my legs; not a single finger can I even twitch. Only my eyes can move. I throw my focus frantically around the room. My wild mind is searching for an escape route, a safe place to land so I can stop free falling through space and time.  James is sleeping beside me. I want to wake him up. If I can just wake him up, I’ll be safe. There is safety in numbers, isn’t there? This terror can’t stand true before a witness.

I try to move my hand to shake him awake, but it is glued to the bed. I try to call to him, but my voice is silent, my breathing quick and shallow. Something is dragging me to a place where everything is dark and cold. A closet. A demon is dragging me into the closet saying, “I’m here to take your soul.” I am desperate. Helpless. Frantically clawing inside, frozen outside, I am alone. Except for a small voice that calls to me from beyond. Barely discernible, it whispers, “It can’t control your breath. Breathe. It can’t control your thoughts. Surround yourself with light.”

In a last-ditch effort to claim sanity, I force myself to breathe. Slowly. Deeply. This is Custer’s last stand. With every ounce of energy, focus and courage I can summon, I visualize light all around me, inside and out. I breathe light into every cell. Open the closet door. Open all the closet doors. I breathe light into every crack and corner and crevice of my mind and heart and soul and house. I breathe light into the people I love and the people I don’t. If light is everywhere, there is no room for darkness. I breathe light until I am a bright, shimmering ball free to move and feel and be as I choose.

The demon flees. My breath continues, slow and deep and I begin to relax and go back to sleep. In that halfway place between the everyday and the ethereal, the fear returns. I flash awake and am paralyzed again. Again I am frantic. And again, I am reminded to breathe. I focus and regain control. I am caught up in a game against some formidable foe armed with the clammy palm of evil. My ally is a still, small voice. A tiny speck of spirit deep inside that keeps burning when everything goes black.

 

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 Sandcastle 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

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

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!

 

 

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!

BEGINNER’S MIND

I turned to see him carry it in through the front door. My family was exchanging Christmas presents at my mother’s house. My friend had gone out to his car, saying he had forgotten something. I was sitting on the couch with my back towards the front door, but turned to see him carrying in a large black case that looked like it might be housing a large instrument.

“Is that a cello?” I asked curiously as he carried it into the living room.

“Yes it is,” he said and set it down in front of me.

“You’re giving me a cello?” I asked, stunned.

“Yes, I am,” answered the man of few words.

“I’m going to play the cello?” My middle-aged mind raced, trying to make sense out of this interesting turn of events.

“If you want,” he shrugged nonchalantly.

My family watched as I struggled to unzip the case, my fine motor skills failing me in the midst of my excitement. The case finally opened to reveal a cello and bow lying in wait. Joy flooded through me and then I’m not really sure what happened.  I’m told I spent the next 20 minutes or so manhandling my new bow and picking out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star as my family continued opening the presents my friend brought for them…brain teaser puzzles he intentionally selected to give them something to do while I explored my new cello as he anticipated I would. I eventually laid my new instrument to rest as we continued our holiday celebration, but went to bed that night tingling with excitement…I was going to learn to play the cello!

During the two years since, I have been screeching and fingering and bowing my way through this whole new world. Once again, I am a beginner and once again, I am falling in love. I am learning scales and struggling through basic technique. I am becoming reacquainted with pitch. I am playing simple songs. I am working to develop finger agility and striving to coordinate my bow. I am frustrated and elated and inspired. And nervous.

I am about to play my very first cello performance as a member of Fort Wayne’s Terrible Orchestra! This orchestra gives adults playing beginner instruments an opportunity to play in ensemble with other beginning adults.  The name doesn’t insult me; it reassures me. It reminds me that the expectation is low…very low. So low, it’s really hard to fail!

So low, in fact, that no one laughed at me when during my first group rehearsal my bow knocked the music off the stand of the person sitting next to me. (A cello is a large instrument that I am used to playing alone or sitting next to a teacher with plenty of space around us. When playing cello as a member of an orchestra, you sit close together! So close, that spatial awareness has become yet another facet of my learning curve!) Oh, most everyone in the orchestra, including me, did indeed laugh as our song was suddenly interrupted by scattered music cascading to the floor…but no one laughed at me! Everyone realizes that such things are bound to happen when playing in a terrible orchestra.

Attending orchestra has not yet heightened my technique or finger agility or intonation or quality of sound….in fact, those things are suffering because they are no longer getting my attention. Instead, I am learning the bass cleff. I am sight reading real music that doesn’t have fingerings written under the notes. My music at home has fingerings. When I was handed music the first day of orchestra, I realized I didn’t know the notes, much less how to play them. Some of them seemed vaguely familiar, but without the finger markings, my brain simply couldn’t make the transfer. As we played, I would sometimes ask the people sitting nearby, “What is that note?” They would give me a quick answer….which wasn’t particularly helpful because whatever note it was,  I didn’t know how to find it on my instrument. But my eye was able to follow along the path of music and I excitedly played open strings whenever I recognized an A or D. By the end of our first rehearsal, I was doing this fairly consistently so all the As and Ds in the song were nicely accented regardless of whether those accents were part of the composer’s vision!

The first Sunday after rehearsal I spent several hours studying my new music and identifying notes and fingerings which I carefully marked in pencil (I’ve learned it’s not good form to mark music in ink!). When I returned for my second rehearsal, I was given new music and once again I was sight reading. But this time, because of my hours of independent study, I recognized most of the notes AND knew how to play them…I just couldn’t do it fast enough. I trust that speed will come in time. For now, I celebrate my progress.

So much so that I am excited (and nervous) for my orchestral debut. I have invited a few friends and family members and will show up in my performance blacks, ready to play what I can, confident that at the very least I can accent the As and Ds….most of them anyway!