Friday, June 10, 2011

Embracing the Mess

What have I been up to? Well, first of all, there was this:

I spent most of March and early April training to get this down. And when I wasn't physically training, I was dreaming the damn routine in my head, complete with Neko Case's Red Tide ringing in my ears as I awoke.

With no stringent guidelines to follow, the choreography of the piece was primarily left to me, and this song--which I had initially not liked two years ago when I first heard it--became a mantra. It's really about the Pacific Northwest, and, to me, about shedding a layer of skin by leaving it. What I didn't realize until my instructor pointed it out, however, was how forceful all the moves in this routine were. I pictured myself as almost a passive aerialist (is that even possible?); most certainly, I had the sense of being "just a student." She listened to 30 seconds of this song as we sorted options and said "This is the one. This matches the force of the moves you've been showing me." And I thought, "Force? What force?" and promptly spent another hour reassessing what I was doing eight feet off the ground.

Because it was force.It was something I was proving--maybe only to myself, but still. After being so badly injured last summer and unable to perform in the student showcase then, this routine became a hard-fought and hard-won declaration. Sure it feeds a bit into my age-old habit of needing to prove myself, but what training this routine and this song turned into was the liberation I intended it to be. Once I knew how to do it, I felt free. I had no nerves that night. I felt euphoric. I wanted it to keep going. I can't overstate how satisfied I was with the whole process. I don't think it was perfect or anything like that, but I finally learned how to let things go a bit--to enjoy the moment and make it look like it was easy to do. That, after all, is the trick with trapeze. Now you know.

I was balancing training the trapeze stuff with a new position at work that is still its own work in progress, a thing that cannot be perfected, but that is slowly arriving at the same point of excitement and feeling like I understand its execution. It's like I've been in professional boot camp again, which is something I always welcome. I need the influx of ideas and challenges. Which isn't to say it's not totally exhausting sometimes. But I'd rather have my brain whirring along than come to a dead stop.

Add to this that I completed six weeks of training to become a hospice volunteer and you begin to see the compartmentalizing of my brain. How to balance being upside down in the air with professional/mental somersaults and this new endeavor that makes you feel, pardon the metaphor, thrown for a loop. I've already had one patient and somehow convinced myself that this would be an older person with whom I'd simply visit and run errands for--only to feel punched in the heart when she passed away.

There's a push-pull in my brain now--crying in my office over a woman I should have known would die at any moment, deciphering the latest challenge on my desk, and wondering what I will do next to push my body to do something it and my brain never thought was possible. Needless to say, it's a mixture of liberation, fear, and happiness. These things are buzzing in my brain, telling me to enjoy the moment whenever it is possible, to continue to explore, to stop being afraid of making it all perfect and acceptable to everyone.

Life is a mess in the best possible sense.

If I've actually retained the lessons of the last three months, I think this is it. I am reminded almost daily. I don't want to forget.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Self-Discography #16 :The Song You Can't Shake

I will let "When It Don't Come Easy" by Patty Griffin slip away into the back of my brain for months at a time. It lies dormant there, as if it's just waiting for the right sensory trigger to start playing again, like a radio that won't shut off.

On its surface, it's a beautifully wrought ballad about love and strength--the power of a relationship between any two people loyal to each other. In the layers that reveal themselves each time I find it again, I find myself wondering, "Is this about only one relationship?" "Is this about how misguided this country has become?" "Is this something for two friends to share between themselves only?"

The best songs to lay dormant in your head are those that can't be categorized. You know and understand the language, but the interpretation? Well, now, that's a story unto itself.

"Everywhere the water's getting rough/Your best intentions may not be enough."

The year after I first heard this song, I watched as my long-term relationship slowly disintegrated and I made the decision to quit my job of seven years. I felt like I wasn't taking part in any of it at the time. So blocked off from my own emotions, I just saw both events as something that needed to be done, to be endured. Before I quit my job, I'd find myself walking to work, listening to this in the early morning sun. I needed the mixture of peacefulness and sadness it gave me. I needed the reminder that even though all of this was happening now, it would have to be all right at some point, some time. Right? I asked myself that one word question a lot. I never seemed to know the answer in the moment, as I, indeed, felt as if I was on a small boat surrounded by towering waves. All I had were intentions. To get through. To carve some kind of path. To feel again. I stopped listening again for a spell and found the song again later, after the job was gone...after the relationship ended. The water in my head now? Calm.

"So many things that I had before, they don't matter to me now."

I think of this line when I climb up to the top of Griffith Park, when I drive through the desert, when I throw myself in the ocean in the summer heat or see the poppies bloom. What do I need besides these moments with the people I want to be surrounded with? Do I really need more things? Do I need more stuff? Will that make me happier?


I refrain from going all hippie about it--I rarely say it aloud in such a way, after all--but I can't base my happiness on TV, on acquisitions, on tangible objects and tools that are somehow supposed to bring that to me. I need the ephemeral, the flashes of moments, the minute to look around me and simply stop for a second. I need songs to fall madly in love with for the days here during which I get to see this, experience that, and watch others do the same.

"If you break down, I'll drive out and find you/If you forget my love, I try to remind you."

This song has come back to me again right now. For the last few weeks, I've played it as I left weekly training sessions I am attending to become a volunteer with a hospice organization. I am embarking on this because of a mixture of personal experiences and a strong belief in the way people should be treated. I was prepared to be challenged in an entirely new way--to see how I can actually utilize my compassion. It has always seemed something I knew I possessed yet could never find it and share it the way I wanted.

As I left each training session, with more and more information in my head--with a fuller understanding of the very small things I can do that may be perceived as remarkable--I found myself overwhelmed. I could have never had this same awareness at 13 when my father died, at 25 when my stepsister passed away, or at 27 when I lost a very good friend suddenly. It seemed only now that it was possible. The end of the first session I burst into tears as I pulled out of the parking garage and this came on my iPod. It was back. And I needed it.

Each successive week, the tears threatened to come, but I soon realized they weren't about being angry or sad. There was some fear--fear of what might happen to me when I get older (Would I have my family and friends to rally around and help?). There was also a desire to be able to help people whom I'd not thought much about before (Can I be a comfort and something they need?).

As this latest journey starts, I feel like I am looking around for someone to point in a direction and tell me that this is the way I need to go. But that's not true, is it? It's just easier to do what someone else says. I don't think the individuals I am about to meet are going to be doing any finger pointing. I don't think they want a map, either. Maybe they just want me to sit next to them and not say a word. Maybe they want to hear a story about something from my life. And maybe, just maybe, one will simply want to hear a song and remember something from his or her life.