I actually think the emphasis we place on “narrative” is, at times, oppressive. I’m not interested in telling my reader “a story.” I’m interested in giving my reader an experience…I’m much more interested in the ways in which a poem can be a two-word experience that disarms the reader, that takes the reader back toward a place they have forgotten, or plunges the reader forward into a wordless dream they never imagined possible.
~ Robin Coste Lewis
A mustard seed is the tiniest seed I’ve held in my palm. I bet every household in India uses mustard seeds to make curries, dal. They’re available everywhere and not expensive. It’s also the roundest seed I’ve ever held. Rounder than cardamom. In this story the tiny mustard seed holds the person, not the other way around:
A woman wracked with tears carries the body of her dead child to the Buddha.
“Bring my child, my baby, back to life!” she wails.
“Collect a mustard seed from a home that has never been touched by death and I’ll make a medicine for your child to bring him back.” The Buddha says.
She runs from home to home. The women of the households know what she needs from the way she carrys her body forward, and the expression on her face. They meet her at their threshold, pull back their curtains.
“Has this house seen loss, death?”
“Please come in, sit here, drink this tea. Tell me what happened. I’ll tell you about my parent, brother, my friend, neighbor.”
Of course, there was no house untouched; no mustard seed. She buried her precious child in the forest and grew a community around her.
This approach, one of gentle and clever questions, asks the student to investigate their own sensations and thoughts. It’s a great way to teach if you can pull it off. Rather than tell a person what she should do, what the reality is, ask a question. This seems to be key to Awareness Through Movement Method. On Thursday, with Kim, I tap into my own awareness. We are asked to turn our head to the right while looking left and then eyes and head together. In the end, after many resting periods and lots of movement I feel I have more choices in my life. If I decide I can vacuum with both hands, then what about how I’d like to spend my day, or days. Perhaps I could free myself from the entrenched.
Two years ago, a big car hit the back wheel of my bike, fast and hard and I fell in slow motion, breaking my tibial plateau. They call it a break, and yeah, things broke, but really it was a hole, as deep and wide as a sake cup.
Two and a half years later I’m talking with Dee Dee Baze, who helps people like me with their money. Now I have money, from the insurance, from the accident. I’m worried about what I’m supposed to do. I read on DeeDee’s website that she works with people who have wealth. (More wealth than I do but she takes me on anyway).
“When are you thinking of retiring?” She asks.
“Ok,” she says.
“How long do you plan to live?” She asks.
“To 97, maybe 100.”
“OK,” she says, and writes this out.
Later she shows me the spread sheet of my money numbers and work income, and my life span.
She plugged my numbers into the spinning wheel of fortune where the colors go around, the confetti of odds and balances. Out spits many charts with pies and columns, and many numbers and percentages of how it’s going to be.
“Here, you’re working till 97.”
“I won’t be working at 97!” I say. Something will stop me!
“OK, well how long do you think you’ll be working,”
“Eighty, I say.”
“Retire at 70. Work until 80. How does that sound?” She asks.
It’s not like she tricked me; she used my own ideas and showed me, asked the questions at the right time, and I realize what I need to do.
(She was a math teacher for children first).
(I don’t like the word, “retire,” I realized later).
Ten at night I call the card fraud number from the credit union.
“Did you recently shop at Macy’s or Bloomingdales?” the phone voice said.
“We’ll cancel this card,” she said, “It’s fraud.”
“Do we have to?” I asked.
“We could not protect your money,” she said. “You could lose all your money.”
“Oh.Thank you so much,” I said.
“Is there anything I could have done to make your experience better?”
“Experience?” I asked.
“I wasn’t aware I was trying to have an experience? It’s part of the script, right?” I said, trying to break the fourth wall.
“Your experience. Is there anything I could have done?” She repeats.
“My experience was magnificent. Absolutely you helped me, saved my life really.
And I meant it.
“The world is an adult world,” the radio lady said.
In the late 1970’s Choreographer Mel Wong set an outdoor dance on the students at CU. We’re spread out in dance pods in front of the Irey building.
He goes over to my group and says: “Ready?”
We are ready.
Mel crosses his foot over his other foot, twists on the balls of his feet and lifts a heel and then toes. Simultaneously he side-bends, twists, turns his head and looks up, mumbles to us quietly, “look, look.” He lifts his torso, and elbows are into the movement. He spins and jumps, crouches, then up. Grazes his fingers down.
Some of us watch over our shoulders and try to do the movement as he does it. Others try to memorize it only by watching.
He stops and says quietly, “Ok. Work on that.” And walks to the next group.
“That’s Mel” someone says.
Usually, a choreographer shows a sequence two or three times before teaching us. She gets to the studio way before anyone else with her tea and water, works through the pauses and flurries, drops and suspensions.
Mel’s sequence was raw and flung but in tiny, intricate ways. At the same time, it felt big. Even together we couldn’t copy it. We dancers create a sequence that at least resembled a sense of what he did. We made it up based on something we felt, saw, heard. Each of us contributed, and we patched it together. We all remembered the beginning, foot over foot, lift heel. And we remembered, “Look, look!”
I took class with Rosalind Newman when I was a teenager. I performed as part of a movement chorus with her in Cambridge, Mass in a church with its pews removed. We wore white drawstring pants and t-shirts we bought ourselves, and danced as close together as we could, doing small leaps and skips. We traveled in a circular floor pattern. I dropped my head down on the beat of five, shrugged shoulders at eight, and jumped with my heels underneath at nine.
When Mel died suddenly in 2003 at 64 years old from his heart Ros Newman wrote this:
Mel could spill out a whole realm of movement. He never went back and edited. He would make it and then it would be made. The movement would fall out of him—action-oriented kind of movement. He was interested in the visual big picture, not very detailed. His sense of time was very different, more like a block of time rather than thinking of it like a melody. It didn’t have phrasing, and he would let me put that in myself. He allowed me the freedom to change the tempo inside of it . . .Being in his pieces always felt spacious and open. Even though they were choreographed, they still felt so open and free. And it was exciting physically: you had to just go for it. Afterwards, you felt like you just ran five miles.
After he showed other clusters of dancers what to do, Mel Wong walked back to us, and on the grass, under the big Ash trees on the CU campus Mel said:
“That’s good, fine,” he said.
“Go all into what you think it is,” he said softly. “Even if it may be a mistake. Then you’ll know.”
~ o ~