Monday, November 20, 2006

Being there

I've been thinking lately about how very lucky I am to have the job I do.

This weekend, one of my best regular clients hired me to drive out to Long Island and give her mother a massage. She paid for gas and travel time, plus a long session, and told her mother that my fee was $50. I wasn't entirely comfortable with this, but my client is like that, and presumably her mother knows her fairly well. Also I really enjoyed the excuse to get out of the city for a few hours.

When I arrived, I honestly believed that my client had put far too much faith in me. Her mother cannot be younger than seventy; she was in so much back pain that she could scarcely walk, sit or lie down. It was quite a job getting her onto the table at all, and she certainly wasn't about to lie on her stomach.

I know from long experience that very old people are the hardest to treat. Problems that have been developing for decades do not respond readily to an hour and a half treatment, particularly a subtle one; older bodies, as well as older minds, are much less responsive, and less resilient. As I stood there, planning out a strategy for how to address the severe back pain of a person whose back was almost inaccessible to me, physically and otherwise, I felt like the biggest fraud on the planet.

About ten minutes after I'd started work, she said calmly, "That seems to be taking the pain away."

At the end of the session she got up and said, "Wow, I haven't felt this good in...I can't tell how long. I don't have any pain. Just kind of the memory of pain. I have to remember how to walk!"

The daughter called me up later and said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you. My mother actually went to a party this evening."

After awhile, maybe a day or two, it dawned on me--I'm a success. I set out to help people heal, and I'm actually doing it. Wow. I hadn't noticed.

The reason I'm lucky, though, is that in my job, people are almost always present with me. They show up and tell me the truth. They're not making nice, defending, trying to prove something, trying to manipulate, extract, put up a smokescreen, or otherwise imposing an agenda on the interaction. They just tell me, "I hurt here. This is the story. This is what's going on."

Since they're present, telling me the truth, any communication we have is genuine, whether or not I'm able to do them any good. This is both a necessary part of the healing process, and something that is rare, in most ordinary social interactions. Not only do most people have a false self on, while charging through their lives; they're constantly telegraphing both an agenda (get this thing, make you think this, change this person's mind), and the woundedness underlying the agenda, without acknowledging either one. If you call them on it--if you say, "I perceive that you're trying to achieve this thing in the physical world. I perceive that you're doing this in order to avoid or work out some pain," they respond as if attacked. Properly so; that type of perception is almost indecent in its presumption of intimacy.

So of course, I don't do this. It's rude. But it means that it is almost completely impossible to genuinely communicate with most people, most of the time.

Since the vast majority of my human contact these days is with clients, family, or close friends, I forget how rough it can be, out in the social world. It's quite shocking, actually, running into an old acquaintance and having them hoosh me with "career this, politics that, oh I must run here do this schmooze this person fix that problem oh could you drop me off here I'm sick and tired NO I don't need a back rub."

Yikes. I'm just not used to it.

Moreover, since I'm spending the vast majority of my time listening, absorbing, assisting, paying attention, working to make sense, working to remain grounded and peaceful and supportive, I can't really tolerate much craziness from actual 'friends' anymore. I need to be listened to, all the way through, as well. My friends aren't my clients. I can't sit there and absorb the shrapnel, in my 'time off.' For me, friendship is no longer about dovetailing agendas. If people can't be as present as a person who is lying silently on a table, they're not friendship material any longer.

It's important for me and my clients to understand that I cannot 'fix' anything, ever. I have noticed that the number of astonishing occurences in my healing practice has sharply increased, once I started telling people, "I can't fix this problem. I'm not going to try. We're just going to find out what's there, what's going on, and see what feels good for a bit." Healing happens when you let go and allow it to happen. Trying gets in the way.

The same thing is true, I think, of art. The art is back there; I just have to allow it through. Messing around with 'career' concerns creates big whopping huge creative blocks. Which is, perhaps, why I haven't been making any art for the last couple of months. I'm fine with that; it feels like I'm re-calibrating my art-sensors. When I start allowing it again, I think it will be real.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Season

So part of my autumn resolution was to make a point of experiencing more of the Really Good Stuff, the stuff that I moved to NYC to be a part of, which does NOT include community art exhibitions of amateurish kitsch, third-tier gallery openings, non-profit schmooze-a-thons, and 'curator talks' about the Obvious and the Inaccessible. Dropping all of these things really freed up my schedule. Enough so that last Saturday evening, I got to see Meredith Monk at BAM.

I ended up going by myself, even though I've been socializing a lot more with real live humans these days, because Meredith Monk occupies that esoteric space between the avante-garde and the canonized, which, in practice, meant that my friends who might have been interested could not afford it, and those who could afford it would not have been interested.

It was at the Harvey Theatre at BAM, which was appropriate, and which I discovered at the very last second, after finishing an outcall at 7 PM, racing downtown, parking in the miraculous free parking space right outside the main theatre, which I had psychically reserved for myself, and pounding up the steps at 7:23, to see a sign on the closed 'Will Call' window: "'Impermanence' is one block away."

I'm frankly somewhat suprised that there aren't more photos of the BAM Harvey Theatre on the web, because it is so neat. It comes by its post-apocalyptic aesthetic honestly; it was a genuine movie theatre which was genuinely abandoned for twenty years, and when they converted it, they left it the walls as they were, crumbling plaster, rust, water-stains, and all. "Artists attracted to the esthetics of fading grandeur," like me, just love it.

So anyway. About Meredith. I'll spare myself the literal description, and just quote the review:
Impermanence uses music, video, movement, and text to create a celebratory and moving meditation on life. Each section of the work, announced cabaret-style by a spoken title (Last Song; Liminal; Seeds; Particular Dance; Disequilibrium Song, Mieke’s Melody #5), provides a non-narrative look at the different facets of impermanence and the joy and wonder of being. Accompanied by voice, piano, clarinet, breath, bicycle tire and other inventive instrumentation, the many scenes -- a montage of video portraits of extreme close-ups of diverse faces; a playful dance of energy unbound; voices rising from the dark singing a song of beginning and opening; an elegant dance of small gestures, performers balancing on chairs, seemingly floating in space -- create a collage of emotion, image, and sound that gently transport us on a journey that is haunting and mysterious, but at its core, essentially human.
During the first half of the performance, I was on the fence. It was subtle. I couldn't decide if I was bored or not. Some of the sound was sublime, some was silly. The imagery was evocative, if you were in that frame of mind, or tedious, if you weren't. The dance wasn't meaningless and self-indulgent, but since none of the members of the ensemble were exactly spring chickens, it didn't blow you out of your seat. In fact, I could have done most of it, over thirty-five and partially crippled as I am.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. At least I didn't go home in a state of profound depression, trapped in my earthbound corpus, like I do after catching Mark Morris or the NYCB.

But during the intermission, as I scanned the immensely long list of prestigious awards that Meredith Monk has won, and the expensive German-published CDs for sale, I felt just the teensiest bit nonplussed.

I didn't leave, though, like the people sitting next to me did. And I'm glad.

Because it got better. The last piece was the best of all; it hit that sweet spot, the spot where I go off into a trance, and my astral body starts rotating, and seeing stained glass, and choreographing things in real time. And the interesting thing was, when the first member of the ensemble crept out, lay down on the floor, and started rolling, I was rolling right there with him. It was right. It made sense. There was some comprehensive wave which instructed, 'roll here, this way, now' and we all did.

This is the kind of thing that kinesthetic people understand, and other people don't.

So after the show I did go downstairs and pick up a CD, still buzzing on that last piece. They didn't have any recordings of it, but the one I got sounded just like it; I glean from this that if you've heard one Meredith Monk CD, you may not have heard them all, but you can recognize all the rest of it. She's like Philip Glass in that respect.

Anyway, I no longer begrudge her that MacArthur Fellowship.