Monthly Archives: April 2010

Lip Murderer! Lip Murderer!

“I want to write something in my blog, but I’m afraid readers will judge me,” admits Tai.

“Everyone, including you, is constantly judging everything, dahrrrling. You know you’re dying to spill the beans. Besides, I haven’t seen you this excited since Avatarrr,” responds Mr. Octopus as he casually unsticks his tentacles from the kitchen ceiling in order to sidle in a little closer to the conversation. He doesn’t want to strain his voice. He has a performance tonight.

“I know. It’s just that things are getting flakier and flakier around here. And then there’s the tatoo…”

“What? You’re getting the tatoo!” he asks with feigned surprise. Nothing shocks Mr. Octopus. Nothing.

“I told you that.”

“I thought that dreadful business was still up in the airrr. Anyway, getting back to the point, you might as well write about it. At least for the sake of your own sanity.  You are about to turn 40, woman. I think it’s high time you embraced your inner flake.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too. Flake.”

Ok, here it is: I made an appointment with a hypnotist. Big whup. The reason is that ever since I can remember, I have had the compulsion to pick at things. As a kid, I picked at a tiny chip of red paint until the hole got wider and larger and finally resembled a gaping gargantuan reverse wound with the red at the edges and the white underneath. I wonder if that was lead paint? That would explain it. Then there was the finely woven wood that made up my headboard that I picked at until it looked like it had been ravished by a swarm of locusts.

While I no longer have a need to destroy furniture, I have an uncontrollable compunction to destroy my mouth and occasionally the skin around my fingernails. It starts with the gentlest nibble of teeth against inner cheek. Then my mouth twists to one side, as though seductively. Teeth seek out a crusty corner of lip. Gaining confidence, they work their way inward, towards the pulpy middle, pulling off strips of juicy skin. Next, the big guns arrive. Feral fingers tear at flesh until mouth and lips are blood-red raw. At this point, I go into the bathroom to cover up the mess I’ve made with a thick coat of lipstick. A quick clean-up, like a whore getting ready for her next john. Oh, I feel so cheap.

People close to me will catch me mid-pick and wonder what the hell is wrong with me. My grandfather used to tease that if I kept it up, my lips would stretch out until I had to drag them on the floor behind me. On a worse note, my picking has actually led to arguments. Some assume that I am weak for giving into my urge to pick. It makes them uncomfortable. They think I can stop if I want to badly enough.

Now, my mom, Blanche, has since the age of seventeen called me a willful woman. If I had my eye set on something, I went after it tenaciously. I could narrow my focus to a laser beam and thicken my aura until it buzzed around me like an invisible electric fence. Back off, sucka! They didn’t call me the Cobra Woman behind my back for nothin’. Although I’ve softened a lot since my Cobra Woman days, I think it’s safe to say that I possess a virile will.

But this lip-picking thing is something else. Something that I can’t consciously get around. Admitting you have a problem, is as they say, the first step. “Hi my name is Tai and I am a lip murderer.” So one recent morning I woke up and said enough is enough. I fired up the Indispensable Google Search Engine and found a hypnotist nearby.

After a long phone conversation, the hypnotist instructed me to keep a lip-picking journal. Groovy. I like to write. Already, in the space of one day, my habit, or at least the way I look at it has changed from shame to curiosity to fascination. I’m starting to observe it like a living thing with its own needs and routine. I feel compassion for it. I mean, me. If I could draw a picture of it, I would say it’s like a panicked little child.

4/27 11:53am. Just finished lunch. Want to bite bad. What is the emotion I feel now? A kind of frustration? Freud-stration? I love to eat. I love food. I just don’t trust it…hmm…sounds like some relationships I’ve had. After eating, I feel like an animal in a too-small cage. There is no satisfaction whatsoever, no matter how much I eat. Level 7.

See what I mean? It’s dark.

“So, you are really gonna see this…hypnotist?” asks Mr. Octopus.

“Yeah. What do I have to lose?”

“Well, it costs a lot for one thing.”

“Yeah, but just think of what I’ll save in lipstick.”

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A State of Grace

Often, before I teach class, I pray. Although I love teaching, I don’t always feel inspired. Sometimes, I just want to cancel the class and call it a day. But, except for rare exceptions, I don’t. Instead, I pray. In my prayer, I give thanks and set my intentions for the class, particularly for how I would like to show up for the students, as I have no control over others.

Once in a while, as I am setting my intentions I feel…blocked. It feels like I am trying to push against something. In those instances, I have come to learn that something is up. Something beyond my control. When I feel this blockage arise, I set my intention to remain centered, open, deeply present and intuitive. I do my best to handle what arises with grace. I sometimes fail at that.

But generally, if I get into a good flow with my intentions, I have a good class, regardless of how I feel prior to its starting. Recently, I came upon my last class of the day. I was tired but took a moment to go inward. I was getting into a good flow with my list of good intentions when suddenly I switched it up a little. I prayed to be with spirit, with light. To bring light, to be in light and to leave light behind me.

As class progressed, we got into a simple, yet deadly pirouette combination: soutenu to fifth, single pirouette that finishes in tendu a la second, all the way across the floor. Slow. At some point coming from the left side, one student started crying. Then another.

I am no stranger to tears during a ballet class. During my training years, it was not uncommon that at some point during class one or more of us would make a quick escape to the bathroom, just off of the studio, to release a fitful burst of tears. As this distraught student said, “There is this emphasis on getting things right, and at some point you realize that you will never be perfect and somehow you have to make peace with that.” Well put.

In the moment of that deadly pirouette combination, she was not quite able to find peace and no wonder. The difficulty of learning ballet, such an unforgiving art form, is that it brings up every limitation. You are challenged physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Any hidden caves inside the self will show up and want attention. And sometimes it gets to be just a little too much.

But the beautiful thing, the miraculous thing is, that it is often at this precise moment of breaking that something else is allowed to flow in; the breaking point is also the moment of opening, of birth, of grace.

Feelings of overwhelm began to spread throughout the class like a wildfire. Like a virus. I realized the futility of continuing with pirouettes, so I sat them down and told them a story instead.

Once upon a time, when I was around the same age as my students, I joined a dance company. Actually, I was not technically in the company yet. I was not even an apprentice. I was in the most advanced level of the school when I was told to learn the corps of Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco. Talk about trial by fire…

I had little help. The women in the company were resentful of me, a peon, getting an opportunity to perform such a difficult ballet. I did my best to pick up steps in the back of the rehearsal room while the other casts danced. I watched endless hours of video and rehearsed by myself after work. I memorized the music until I could sing it myself. The dance has many complex interweaving patterns that involve eight women and are impossible to do alone. I got one rehearsal. I was at my wit’s end. I was afraid. After my one rehearsal, I waited until everyone left the stage. In the wings I let myself have a long cry.

That evening, I stood in line onstage. As the curtain went up an extreme calm descended. It seemed as though a presence (I don’t know what else to call it) was with me. Something, seemingly outside of myself. Throughout the entire dance, this presence told me what to do a split second before it happened. I felt gently, lovingly guided. Warmly held.

Then it was over. I had sweated like never before. I was ecstatic.

To this day, I have no explanation for what happened. Was it a spirit? My own higher self? I have never felt that presence quite that way again but I am so grateful to have felt it at all.

At the end of my story, I looked at these young performers. There was a good feeling all around. The students left in a palpably lighter mood. I remembered my prayer before class and felt deep gratitude. And it occurred to me that perhaps that is the point of practicing such a difficult form: to take one beyond oneself and into a state of grace.


An Engraved Invitation

I have a dance student. I’ll call her…Sally. What’s wrong with the name Sally? Too old fashioned? Ok. How about Salangeliqua. Salangeliqua has a pretty solid foundation in dance and, I think, could be a dancer if she wanted. The only problem is, she kinda doesn’t wanna. I say kinda, because there’s another part of her that does. She’s at war with herself but refuses to acknowledge that fact. She prefers, rather, to text during rehearsals. Normally, I would never stand for such behavior, but in her case I make an exception. I’m taking the Queen of Cups or, you could call it the Willy Wonka approach toward wayward youth. You’re allowed to be naughty, but then you have to suffer the consequences.

Salangeliqua likes certain aspects of dancing such as class, performing, and generally feeling special, while dreading others: the tedium of rehearsals, etc. I can’t be sure but suspect that she’s also waiting for Prince Charming to show up on a white horse.

It’s not entirely her fault, I suppose. As women, not only are we taught by popular culture that we can have it all, but that The All will appear to us in an ideal form and be captured on film for an adoring public. We are tempted to live life in the fab lane a la Kimora Lee Simmons, and are expected to look good doing it. It has become shameful to put on baby weight. To have wrinkles. To wear last season’s jeans. To slow down.

Pardon me for contending with the gods of media, but, gosh darnit, I don’t think one can have it all. I think from time to time, we may be blessed with getting the essence of something we want, in an unexpected way, dressed in unexpected wrappings. To boot, the essence of that wanting generally comes after sacrifice. Furthermore, harumph, the essence comes with challenges and responsibility.

I’m not mainly concerned with whether or not Salangie ever becomes a dancer. She seems hell-bent on pursuing a foggy notion of business, and for all I know, that may be where she belongs, although her academics are poor. What I care about is that she comes to see the world through the eyes of her heart. That she understand the difference between a passion that has expressed itself through repeated action and an idea, especially an idea she got off tv.

One of the great things that dancing, or any art form teaches is the practice of letting go of the idea for the reality of what you have in that moment. It has to be practiced because there is usually resistance towards letting go of the ideal. I remember sometimes in class, a dancer would hesitate before going across the floor. The music would continue playing in the empty space and my teacher would shout, “What are you waiting for? An engraved invitation?”

Another teacher friend of mine recently commented that we dance because it makes us feel beautiful. I never thought about it that way, but it’s true. I would take it a step further, into the impersonal realm, and say that dancing brings us into the presence of Beauty. And not the kind you see in Vogue Magazine. It’s another kind of beauty. An authentic beauty that transcends the stink of sweat, dirt and messed up hair. Some of my best moments were after I passed through the wringer of a tough rehearsal. While there are many things that may bring one into the presence of Beauty externally, art, a baby’s laughter, an horizon, there are not that many things that one does of oneself to make them feel that way. In other words, unless you’re the next Leonardo Da Vinci, you gotta play the hand you’re dealt. Even if it is “just” dance.

From a certain spiritual perspective, perhaps that light can be found everywhere, through the simplest gesture. But how can we learn the mastery of that if we have not even developed the mastery of what is natural to us? I mean, if we haven’t learned to play our strengths, our talents, how do we graduate to other higher forms of mastery, the mastery of life?

I’m sure Sally isn’t thinking on that level. She just wants to get from here to MTV Cribs as quickly as possible and the miracle of tv makes it all seem tangible: if that mediocre character can be rich, why can’t I? Good question. If she wants to pursue dancing, however, I’ll have to be honest. In terms of money, dancing probably won’t provide you with a magnum lifestyle. Pre-op penile implant is more like it. But for what it lacks in size it makes up for in…connection. And that’s a hard sell.


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