A Serious Poem about Butter

Remember when butter
came wrapped in quarters
with an expiration date
a year and a half,
a full Year and a Half!
from its date of its purchase?

Imagine that–
good butter
from July to the January after next,
and things even more wondrous than that:
water melons at Halloween,
people whose only job it was to deliver couches,
ice cream for dogs
and factories whose only job,
whose only job!
it was to make tiny, tiny, tiny
plastic toys.

Oh, you should have seen the toys!
Rainbows on every surface,
lights so bright you could spend a lifetime
never knowing a star
and music that you could swallow and swallow and swallow,
and never feel full.

Do not cast blame when it comes.
We all ate of that easy butter
like it was nothing.


Poem of Awakening

Oh Boston!
You are my lost city of sorrow,
lost city of light,
of illuminated minds,
illuminate our hearts.
Calling all cars: hear ye! Hear ye!
We make movies of mobsters
with whom we’ve fallen in love
because we see ourselves in them:
We are the underdogs of life.

Oh Boston,
You teach me to look down
when passersby pass,
to pretend we are invisible,
but I see your hidden heart in parks,
in the corridor of London Planes that line the Charles in witness of
your sad soil, your grit and insistence, armies of wasps,
your tribalism and no-nonsense attitude.

Today I was awakened at the Fort
beneath Rapunzel’s tower,
listening to the Grandmother-wisdom of willows.
I witnessed my own mobster movie of rebellion unfolding
from within.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I never thought I could love you,
your fields of broken glass
where things still grow.
Four years ago
I saw a woodcock
undulating in the shade of the
massive puddingstone of Thwing Street.
Our eyes met for a second and
I thought I saw the gaze of my teacher.
The keys, hidden in plain sight.


Finding Your Voice

“The final statement is not a deliberate one. It is a helpless one.”–John Cage

I’ve always been drawn to visual art. As a child, I poured over my mother’s art books. I had an ability to project myself into a scene, to inhabit its world and to immerse myself into a story. This was during a time when we were not so innundated with images. Art was an entry into the magical parts of my own being. It allowed me to experience emotions that, at that tender age, had yet to be named. I think the way art stimulated my imagination served me as a dancer.

There were two paintings in particular that captured my attention: Rousseau’s “The Dream,” and Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” In the first painting, I was drawn to that mysterious woman lying on a couch in the jungle with the tiger lurking in the bushes. It appeared playful, sensual, yet dangerous. It was very exciting to my young mind. I wanted to know what was about to happen. I wanted to be the convergence itself of woman, jungle and tiger.

The Bosch was more complicated. I couldn’t figure out, based on its vision, if the world was a good place or a bad place. It seemed to be both. This terrified and confused me. I stuck with it because I so desperately wanted to understand the nature of things and this painting seemed to hold some kind of truth to my own life.

Now, in the art world, from the beginnings of one’s education, the necessity of finding your own voice is emphasized. You can’t go around doing splatter paintings and expect to be taken seriously. Jackson Pollock did it already. You can be inspired by Pollock, but you have to dig deep into the recesses of your own soul and speak from there.

As dancers, however, this search for one’s own voice is rarely emphasized in traditional training. Most dancers, it is assumed, will be interpreters of another’s vision, namely the choreographer. We are trained, rather, to take direction. To listen. To fit into the line and stay there. To match a previously held standard.

As a teacher of ballet, I try to encourage this individual expression. In my attempt to do that, I have to take a moment to apologize to the great ballerina Sylvie Guillem whom I’ve often used as the butt of a joke: I will often quip that her perfection of line and extension ruined it for everybody. But now I look at Sylvie in another light. She has in fact freed us. I’m not saying you should not get your legs up. I’m saying don’t try to be Jackson Pollock. Leave your own mark.


Abject of Beauty

…and the beauty of the leaf was not lost on him.—from Blood Meridian

Little children have a capacity for pure joy because they don’t yet know that everything is fleeting, mortal. They are still reverberating with the pulse of the other world. You can see it on their skin and on their eyelashes, like dew, and in the perfect, clear whites of their eyes.

As we grow, we inevitably come to realize the fact of death, and it forever shadows our experience of joy; true beauty has an element of sadness because we know it will not last.

I wonder if this is the reason why, in our modern culture, we have fabricated a sort of fake, superficial, soulless standard of beauty with our Kim Kardashians, our shopping malls, our manicured lawns, our home theaters and botox parties. It’s an attempt to experience beauty without its aftertaste of loss.

Of course it doesn’t work. But we will keep pretending.

It’s no wonder that art is a constant threat to a culture that cannot grieve.

The latest thing in Boston is that everyone is perpetually in exercise clothes. Customized sneakers and Lulu Lemons have replaced boat shoes and khakis. People are running along the Charles with a possessed gleam in their eyes. I suppose they are slimming down for their Match.com photos, polishing their armor with each stride.

I don’t get it. I walk slowly in the midst of things. In the mist. So I don’t miss. Things. The Is-ness that is everywhere.

I look at my little one with awe. She is two. Her beauty has a translucent, shimmery quality. At times it seems that she is made of magic. While watching an episode of surprise eggs on youtube, she said with perfect articulation and fake exasperation, “It’s so boring. I want a cup of tea.” I felt that familiar twinge between laughter and tears that only the coyote can speak.


Letter from Peter Martins (and my response)

April 6, 2015

Dear Tai,

Greetings from the School of American Ballet. I am writing to invite you to become part of a very important program at SAB.

As a new component of our ongoing diversity initiative, we are currently in the process of forming a committee consisting of a select group of alumni who are active in the dance world. Members of the SAB Alumni Advisory Committee on Diversity & Inclusion will be asked to provide input to help shape and enhance SAB’s ongoing work to broaden recruiting, outreach, and student life programs, with the ultimate goal of increasing diversity on ballet stages around the globe.

I believe that your experience and insight into SAB and the broader dance world will be an invaluable addition to our efforts and sincerely hope that you will accept this invitation to become a member of the Committee for its 2015-2016 inaugural session.

SAB’s Diversity Program Manager, Leah Qunitiliano, will reach out to you next week to discuss in more detail the goals and expectations….etc.

With warm wishes,
Peter Martins
Artistic Director and Chairman of Faculty

*

Hi Leah. I have been giving the matter of whether or not to join the Diversity Committee some thought. With all do respect, if the School of American Ballet is serious about diversifying, they can start by hiring me as a ballet teacher. I am great.

This is not about me, and it is about me. Please tell Peter Martins that true diversity means the whole structure has to change. Is he ready for that?

Sincerely,
Tai Jimenez
Former Principal Dancer of The Dance Theatre of Harlem
Former Principal Dancer with the Boston Ballet


Shared Music

I am a truthful man from this land of palm trees.

Before dying I want to share these poems of my soul. –Guantanamera

People are always telling me I’m too much in my head. I think I know what that means now. I think it means that I hold myself apart from things as they happen, from people, so that I can analyze the moment while it’s happening. The majority of my being is focused on this analysis, instead of being in the moment, as they say. It’s like, I don’t trust myself to simply respond to things as they arise, but you can’t look at it and be it at the same time. Wave vs. particle.

Sometimes, I could let go and be it when I danced. I think I do that when I’m teaching dance class as well. I can clearly see when the dancers are too much in their heads. But when the music stops, back in my head I go. Maybe it would be useful to think of everything as a dance. Well, it’s one thing to think it and another to dance it. Thoughts are things but they are not the thing, I’m learning.

Tomorrow, I’m going to try that. I’m going to have my coffee like it’s a dance. I’m going to go to work like it’s a dance. I’m going to listen like it’s a dance of sound. I’m going to eat a turkey burger like it’s a dance. I’m even going to let my thoughts flow like they are dancing.

Maybe that’s why people listen to music with their earphones all the time these days. They want to be in the dance. The only quarrel I have with that is that it seems a bit isolating. You are not dancing with others, but I think that’s when the dance gets really interesting.

I did an ayahuasca (shamanic drug) ceremony once and I could feel how energy moves in waves. I could actually feel it moving through the room and could witness its affects on people. By observing others, even the dog and myself, I could follow the energy’s path and see how it connects us all. We become individual expressions of the wave but we are connected by it at the same time.

I never wear headphones because I know about the wave. I want to see it coming. You can’t do that with headphones on. I mean, talk about being in your head! I don’t like being out in the world, yet cut off from it at the same time. We have to stop and ask ourselves what are we cutting off?

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of things I’d like to avoid in this crazy rag-tag world of ours, but I just don’t think that’s useful or healthy in the long run. What we resist persists. And as one of my teachers, Ken Ludden, said: “The lessons we avoid in life come back around with interest and the interest is pain.” Yeah.

I look upon those ever-present ear-buds, generally, as a numbing mechanism. Same thing with those hand-computers we call phones. Sure, they are useful, but we are often on them with no real use in mind other than to escape. Everybody, Tai says put down your phones. Put them down. Well, it was worth a try.

There is something in me that wants us all to look in the same direction, even if it’s just for a moment. But oh, what a moment it could be. Like when Michael Jackson first did the moonwalk. Like when Obama got elected. Like when the wall came down. Maybe in that terrific moment we could all just look at each other. Really look. The music that unites us is the music that is shared.


The Art of Making Time

Before I had my daughter, I was lost in a maze of mirrors. At every angle, I’d see a new face reflected eternally, like a scene in one of those crime dramas where the hero shoots  the villian in the maze and only shatters the glass. The villian’s laughter can be heard, even seen. But we don’t know what’s real, what’s reflection.

I kept asking the mirrors Who am I? What am I doing here? What do I want? Who’s asking these questions?

It seemed as though hours, years, decades of time yawned before me in infinite reflection. I was pulled against my will into its hungry, empty, sharpened jaws.

I did not have a baby to fill my time or complete my sense of self. I had one because I heard a calling in my heart and I accepted that calling without expectation.

Now that she’s here, however, time has taken on new dimensions, new value. There never seems to be enough. Seriously, if you asked me right now to choose between a 5 carat sapphire and 5 hours of free time to do what I want, I would choose the hunk of time.

I’d spend it lavishly on myself, reading that new novel by Miranda July, while soaking in a hot bubble bath. I’d do a meditation, get a massage, make love, take a yoga class, write this blog, feed, feed, feed myself with beauty.

Suddenly, now that time is scarce, I know exactly what I want to do. I know who Tai is. She is ready to saturate the world with her juices and she is a lot less afraid of what people think.

She is learning, through the fierce initiation of motherhood, that time has a texture, like dough, that can be kneaded and expanded. It’s the raw stuff of existence that you can shape by hand.

I’m not going to take on more than I can chew with this time thing. But I promise to make it. For myself.

And the infinite reflection?

Maybe it’s all there is. Now, that doesn’t scare me one bit.


Back to School

Last night I had a recurring anxiety dream: that I was back in high-school taking a math test.

Upon waking, I wondered why that dream was resurfacing now, and admitted to myself that I was having some anxiety about the start of the Spring semester in a few days. I’m sure this anxiety is common for teachers just as much as students.

Bashar tells us that anxiety occurs when excitement gets obscured by a negative belief. I wondered what belief I held that soured my excitement about returning to the classroom and found that it was this: the fear of not being good enough. We meet again, old friend. I suddenly felt with compassion towards the students who often struggle with that same fear.

When confronted with a fear, I do my best to just sit with it. Invite it in. Say hello. As fear and I looked at each other over our cups of tea, I remembered something Malidoma Some said: that Spirit often works better with the part of us that doesn’t know.

And what is the fear of not being good enough but the fear of the unknown? Realizing that, my grasp on that fear softened. I didn’t have to conquer my fear. I didn’t have to transcend it. I could instead honor it as a necessary element to the inner opening I sought through my teaching.

In a sense, I could place my trust in fear. I could trust in the unknown. We can trust in the unknown.

And if you’re a student reading this, let me clarify that trusting the unknown is not an excuse to not do one’s work. It’s just a different kind of work, wink, wink.

 


Prayer for Dancers

 

Dear Universe,

 

Help me to love myself as I am.

 

Let my dancing be an expression of that love.

 

Help me to recognize the Light in others without diminishing my own Light by falling into jealousy.

 

Help me to move through doubt, fear and self-hatred into the dance of Love.

 

Help me to love every part of my body without exception.

 

Help me to practice recovering quickly from my mistakes,

and to honor my limitations with patience

so that I may uncover the gift in the disguise of that limitation.

 

Help me to see through the obstacle of the Ideal Image and to trust that my best is good enough.

 

Help me to nourish myself mind, body and soul so that I may be a vessel for Grace,

and help me to let go so that I may be One with ecstasy.

 

Thank you for this day of dancing.

 


Happy Snake Day

I lifted the lid of the diaper genie with my foot and there it was again: a whiff of fear so strong it cut right through me. I got angry. “How the fuck am I supposed to deal with this?” I asked out loud.

What I was referring to were the tsunami-like waves of worry that I experience with regard to my new daughter. She is a plump, healthy little thing. I have no logical reason for this overwhelming fear response but sometimes gruesome images suddenly snap into my brain without warning. I call them panic-visions. I asked my husband if he had them, in general, and he said yes. I’d had them before too: of the truck plowing into me, of the subway blowing up, but now, with my baby bird, these visions have spun out of control. A couple of times every day, I am reduced to tears that I will lose my hold on her while falling down the stairs and she will be sent tumbling, or I will get into some other kind of accident, or worse yet, that someone else will be holding her at the time of said accident, for which I will feel guilt as well as grief.

I wonder if I am experiencing postpartum depression. A friend of mine once brilliantly described depression as the result of refusing to change when it’s time to change. Then, what is depression if not a form of fear? Images of depression on tv are of listless, un-showered people, staring off into space, refusing to play with their dog. I don’t feel like I fit that description exactly. I’m still wearing lip-gloss and have moments of downright perkiness. What I’m feeling is a little more violent. More passionate. But maybe it is a form of depression after all.

I know with postpartum, there are hormones involved. Women are often told that our experiences are due to hormones, as though that makes it less real. But maybe the added impact of hormones upon depression makes things more real and adds to the urgency of needing to change. I’m not saying this is my fault. I’m saying, hormones or not, it’s my responsibility.

Makarta, a spiritual teacher, channeled by Ken Ludden and a few others, once said that one of the purposes of incarnating as a female is that it forces you to deal with your emotions. I thought of this now, in the wake of one of my panic-visions. Either I learn to put my fear in a box or it will eat me from the inside. I can already literally feel it draining my life-force.

I take a deep breath. I think of the multitudes of mothers who have come before me and have suffered The Worry. This gives me strength, knowing that others have endured this aspect of motherhood. I check in on my little one, sleeping soundly. I try very hard to receive this moment with gratitude. On some remote level, I know it is helping me to grow. Helping me to appreciate life. Also, it’s one thing to meditate when everything’s hunky dory. It’s quite another to find stillness in the heat of the blaze.

I am stripped and raw. I had no idea what this would cost me. Yet, I have no regrets. I am in love. I have wanted love more than anything. And love this big brings about a restructuring of sorts. Maybe part of what I’m feeling is the fear of the snake the first time it sheds its skin, the fear of the tree in its first autumn, mistaking the loss of leaves as a sign of death. And it is a little death. If I can manage it with a measure of grace, who knows, maybe I’ll manage the big death with some of that same grace. That is my hope.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  At this point, motherhood is teaching me, through its sheer impact, to live one day at a time. Today, I took us all out for a walk, baby, dog and me. We watched the leaves falling in the breeze and the light peeking through the trees, teasingly. We stood beneath the noble evergreen and for a moment, embraced in that green, I felt safe.

And of course, writing always helps. Being heard is the icing on the cake, so thank you.

Happy Snake Day to me.


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