Saturday, December 18, 2010

It's like a secret I can't tell you...

This is a picture I took of Dan at a real-life party. It's the closest facsimile of what I experienced this morning. You'll understand all in a moment...

A friend of mine was describing this feeling she felt that I, too, had felt but couldn't quite put into words. Have you ever had something important you wanted to share with someone but the connection couldn't be made? "It's like I have a secret I can't tell you," she said. "And it's not that I can't tell you because you aren't allowed to know; I can't tell you because you wouldn't understand." I've had two experiences of this nature that I can vividly recount. One of them happened eight years ago, and one of them happened just this morning.

First, the one that happened eight years ago. I like to call this "Strangers on a Subway." I was riding the subway in New York to visit a friend of mine in the winter of 2003. This is a person I had known for a very long time, whose actions and words had impacted me greatly over the years. In his mind, he probably hadn't known me quite so well for quite so long. The anticipation of this interaction was very intense for me. It felt like a pilgrimage to get to this almost-arrival -- going back to the Port Authority station a few subway stops ago; the 5-hour bus ride from Massachusetts; the previous California summer where a few casual words he said helped me make a huge life decision; the summer 10 years before that where I had seen him and remembered him, though we never actually met.

I got off the train somewhere on the lower East side. It's been eight years since I visited New York, but the hustle and bustle of that moment still feels very alive. A sea of scurrying people; footsteps echoing; eyes darting; heart pounding; and in the middle of it all, a woman with the guitar, singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Maybe it was the melody itself, bursting with melancholy and soul. Maybe it was the fact that I'd heard someone strumming the song that previous summer at a particularly poignant moment. Or maybe this woman and this song served merely as the sponge for my supersaturated well of emotion. Whatever the case, her song touched me. I wanted to go up to her; hold her callused fingers; tell her how much her song meant to me. I approached her and said, "That was nice." A chink in the floodgates. "Oh, thanks," she replied, followed by something appallingly casual like, "I like that song too" or "It's good to sing in the subway". Looking at her up close, I could see that her eyes were bleary. She was probably drunk or on drugs or in some other kind of weird, happy haze. I could spill her the secrets of my soul, but she wouldn't really get it. At least, not in the way I meant it. A few moments later, I found my friend, filled with the secret of the secret I could not tell.

I went to bed at 5 this morning after an amazing night of music, dancing, and fire spinning with friends who feel like family. Flow Temple, who organizes this mind-blowing monthly jam, is the brainchild of Burning Dan, who left the planet not three months ago. Of course, his essence is infused throughout the event. The entire flow family thinks of him when we spin, and we feel him especially strongly when we gather at this event. I had a particularly intense rush of emotion at the very end of the night when the MC, Alex Polinsky, said, "We honor those who are here, and those who aren't here because they couldn't be..."

Despite not getting home until about 4 AM, it took me a little while to unwind before going to sleep. The fire, the intense creative energy, the amazing conversations, and an idea I had schemed up for a new short film left me buzzing; inspired; unable to enter slumberland. I burned some candles, contemplated, wrote. Normally, I don't burn candles. I think the last time I burned candles was when Dan came over last April. But I was craving the fire or the sense memory or both, and somehow as the wax melted, Dan trickled his way into my dreams.

We were at a party at someone's house; not a location I'd recognize in real life, but it felt familiar in the dream. It was early in the morning. We'd been up all night. He talked to us; smiled; was his usual happy, sparkly Dan self. I think it was after a Flow Temple Party. I'd never gone to a Flow Temple after party with him, but there we were in the dream. Seeing him was bittersweet. It was wonderful to see him, but I knew he was going to die. He kept making these plans for things we were going to do the next time we hung out. He was making these plans with everybody. At one point, he looked at me with a point and a wink and said, "Next Flow Temple party?" "Yeah," I said, knowing that I would be there and he wouldn't. There was no way I could tell him because I couldn't change his future. It was all I could do to keep myself from looking into the crystal ball, predicting his fate, telling him all the things you would say to person if you knew they were going to die. But he was like a kid on Christmas, and I knew it would break his heart if I told him Santa didn't exist. "It's like I have a secret I can't tell you. And it's not that I can't tell you because you aren't allowed to know; I can't tell you because you wouldn't understand..."

There is no Freudian analysis to be had on this dream, nor is it entirely unresolved. It is filled with empty space; ambiguity; possibility...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Trial by Fire

You all probably know I've been spinning fire for a few weeks now. I started writing this two days after the fact and just finished the first part...

Ever had an experience where you feel like you're floating somewhere just outside your physical self? I'm not talking a telephone pole falls and knocks you to Neptune. You're still in the general area; it's just that whatever’s happening is so intense, it's too much for your body to contain so there's a bit of a split. Your spirit becomes an entity in itself, and your body has a mind of its own. They aren't completely disconnected, but the leash loosens -- like the Starship Enterprise pulling a foreign vessel via tractor beam (I don't know which is which in that metaphor). Two days later, it's still a giant blur, but I will do my best to give an accurate account.

The nervous energy has been coursing through my body since 4 in the afternoon as I spin my poi in pale green nurse’s scrubs outside the Seattle hospital which is actually a TV studio in LA. It takes five hours before they call us 20-something fake doctors, nurses, patients, and orderlies to set. I remember a year and a half ago working Grey's Anatomy for the very first time-- bright lights, fancy film equipment, hustle and bustle of "real Hollywood film crew", and HOLY CRAP McDreamy just walked through the door! It's not that I'm jaded, bitter, or unappreciative of this wacky, wonderful world, but tonight I'm on a mission. MUST BURN... MUST BURN...

The PA releases me at 10:18 on the dot, which gives me an hour and 42 minutes to motor my tuchus down to an abandoned park in Culver City where I will meet up with some shady characters and lose my virginity, so to speak...

I scoot up to Burbank to pick up my friend Eric at Bob's Big Boy, and we make the drive down. We walk down the hill and slosh through a lawn that feels like a swamp down to the basketball court where our people are gathered. A small group of people spin hoops, staff, poi, and other exotic objects I don't know by name. Normally, fire fills me with a feeling of serene awe, but tonight I am giddy. My time has come-- not because anyone demands it, not because a decree has spoken it so, but because something inside has told me I must. I ask Muse if I can give his fire poi a dry run and he kindly agrees. I feel as if I am picking up poi for the very first time, taking guidance from Sean as I fumble the leather loops. "How do I hold these?" I ask. It's not that I haven't done this before; more like I'm starting to freak the fuck out. He helps me thread my fingers through. First obstacle down. Once I have them in my hands, my muscle memory returns. Yes, I can do this. I can do this. I can DO this!

The clock strikes a few minutes before midnight. Someone yells the lighter fluid equivalent of "last call." "Wait!" I holler. "Is there time for me to spin?" I squeak in at the very last minute. Sean takes me to the fuel station, and I take a double dip. He walks me over to the "spin-off" area and instructs me to spin hard and fast with an emphasis on the down-motion so the lighter fluid won't splatter during my spin. He gives me a few words of advice and reassurance before I make my way to center court. "Stick to what you know, but don't worry too much; it takes a lot to light yourself on fire, and you've got two safeties even though you really only need one. Emma and I both have your back." On the way back to the basketball court, I take a deep inhale. My nostrils are invaded by a pungent toxicity. In any other situation, I would cringe and turn away, but right now it is sacred. So this is what spinning smells like…

That's all anyone can say or do. Now, it's really time. Sean and Emma have their safety blankets. Muse has his camera. I pause for a moment, lifting the poi in the air as a gesture of honor. I don't know if it’s a lighter or candle or what, but something ignites me. It’s a strange sensation, and we’re not talking flowery, land-of-the-poet, metaphorical feeling. These things are BRIGHT. These things are HOT. And they are dangling in front of my face! Well don’t just stand there, spin!” And really, what else can I do?

Here’s where it gets fuzzy. Some things heighten. The rest falls away. Emma’s voice giving me guidance is vaguely comprehensible past the whoosh whoosh whoosh of flames streaking beside me, above me, around me every which way. Two blazing balls overpower my vision. Everything else goes black. The dance is wild; uncontrollable; takes me everywhere; makes my heart pound and my voice shriek. At least once, a flame catches my shirt. I keep yelling, “Am I on fire? Am I on fire?” “You’re fine,” they tell me, galaxies away. There is the cold air and the warm flames and my body, shaking from them both. I am in the tornado. I am over the rainbow. I am a million miles from where I’ve been. I am home.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Who'd 'a thunk???

Albert Einstein once said, “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Sounds nice on paper, right? I mean, in theory, it's true. What's the use of rehashing the same old same old? Sure people do it, but it isn't what goes down in history. It's only the really insane stuff -- the Earth revolves around the sun, E=MC squared, "Nah nah nah nah, hey Jude" -- that stands the test of time. Once the universe gives its seal of approval -- a place in the science textbooks, the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, whatever -- it seems obvious that the thing was a work of genius. But until then, it was nothing but a silly idea; probably a silly idea that somebody grappled endlessly over following through with, because who in the world would ever be into THAT???

Thus was the case with Ballads to the Buffy Big Bads. It was the crazy little brainchild that wreaked havoc in my head, and no matter how odd and out of place it seemed; no matter how many bewildered responses it elicited; no matter how badly I wanted to get rid of it, I couldn't. It was untamable. It had a mind of its own. Eventually, I realized that the only way to make peace with it was to bend to its will. Seriously, it was like chasing a misbehaved five-year-old. The harder I tried to punish it, the faster it ran. When I let go of the idea of punishment, it slowed to a reasonable pace. And when I finally sat down with it face to face, it was so darn lovable, I couldn't bring myself to put it in a corner for a timeout.

Every step of the way, I have doubted this project. With each new song, I am consumed by self-judgment. This is so insanely ridiculous! I think to myself. Yes, it is. Of course it is. That's the reason you are doing the project in the first place. It's the reason people like it. And it's the reason you must continue doing it -- because NO ONE ELSE IN THE UNIVERSE CAN! This past song was no exception. I struggled with the music and lyrics a lot. No matter how happy I am with the outcome, part of me can't help but cringe, laugh nervously, or feel randomly awkward when I think about these songs. But I keep going with them, and I'm always glad I do.

This weekend, I feel particularly victorious. We shot "If I Were a Robot" on Friday evening. I posted it Saturday morning. By Saturday evening, it had about 24 hits. Sunday morning, it had 200 more, PLUS a plug and a tweet by By the time Sunday evening rolled around, there were over 500 hits. Right now, Monday morning, there are 726. I have no idea who all of the viewers are. They could be anybody, from Joe Computer Geek to Joss Whedon himself. And I know if you're a celebrity or some kind of public figure, you're probably used to people talking about you in the third person, but for me at this moment, it's totally trippy to go on a widely known website and see:
Karuna Tanahashi who gave us such great songs as "Ooh, Mr Mayor" and "You Renegade Vamp" now presents Ballads to the Buffy Big Bads #4 "If I Were A Robot" about the nastiest of nerdboys.

I made this stuff up in my bedroom, and there it is, being talked about by all those people! I guess Einstein really was onto something. He probably fiddled around in his bedroom with a million ideas, including that awesome absurdity quote. We all do, hopefully. Concepts of great genius float around like dust particles, and we just need to keep our eyes open and our fingers ready to see them and catch them as they pass us by. Also, we need to be confident enough in ourselves to know that it is worth our time to seize them and doubly worth our time to give them away. I was in an amazing workshop today with the illustrious Barbara Deutsch, who said, "It's criminal not to let the world have your gifts." As artists, we always wonder whether we are being overly indulgent by putting our work on display. But if it's done from a place of truth, it's actually the opposite; sharing your creativity is an act of selflessness.

So now that I've shared mine, I invite you to share yours. Tell me about a time when you followed through with something seemingly absurd. How was that experience for you? Were you glad you did it? What did you learn? Or if you'd rather just show me (and the rest of the world), that totally works too.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Bolt from the Blue

I'd originally planned on giving you the sequel to yesterday's story today, but something came up in the meantime, and I couldn't resist. Yesterday, as I was lollygagging around on Facebook, I noticed a new friend request. I assumed it was one of the people I had met at Thanksgiving the night before. Turned out to be Ruth Ozeki!!!

I've never been much of a diligent recreational reader, but Ruth Ozeki’s first novel, My Year of Meats, captivated the crap out of my 17-year-old self, and by the time it was assigned as summer reading between my freshman and sophomore years at Smith, I had read it at least twice. She came to speak during the first week of classes, and my heart went pitter-pat. Kickass, half-Japanese writer-filmmaker, Smith alum who spoke with such eloquently delicious spunk. I couldn't decide if I wanted to be her or just marry her. Every delightful nugget of wisdom in her lecture is tucked away in one of my old journals. And as for the signed, tattered paperback I lent to so many and loved to pieces, I recently recovered it from a friend in Dallas, Texas. "If you still have that book you borrowed from me five years ago, could you please send it back? It's got sentimental value..."

If I had looked her up on Facebook, that would've been one thing. But the fact is, she found me. Whether she had met my dad at a Zen retreat center, or found me through our "mutual friends" (of which there are 7 according to the Book of Face), or my name popped up randomly on her feeds from my "favorite books" list, I don't know and I don't care. Someday, I'll learn of the hand that threw the candy from the rooftop. For now, I'm just going to bask in the idea that it's raining lemon drops.

It's the greatest feeling in the world when something like that hits you completely out of the blue. We all wish it would happen more often. Sometimes, we might wonder what we can do to "make" those moments happen. The answer is sadly, we can't. All we can do is notice them when they arise. And when we acknowledge them deeply in whatever way we do -- be it putting it down on paper, meditating for a minute, or having a good laugh -- they stay with us longer and permeate our entire being. It also makes us more attentive to future amazing moments. This is what The Page of Possibility is about for me; making physical and mental notes about those eye-catching, sparkly things in my life so I can share them with the rest of the world and, on the gloomy days when my pockets aren't jingling and my voice can't seem to find a happy tune, not feel quite so bereft. It isn't every day that we meet the love of our life, get inspired to create our next masterpiece, or get Facebook friend requested from one of our childhood heroes. But more often than not, we find that other earring we've been missing for weeks, or our favorite food at the grocery store is 50% off, or someone says that perfect little thing that makes us smile through our stress.

I'm trying to take note of these things, which is hard to do at times, especially when I'm in a huge hurry. Being the slightly disorganized person I am, I tend to lose my keys on a pretty frequent basis. Sometimes I will be trying to leave the house, already late, frazzled out of my mind, and the last thing I need is my keys. I used to search and search and, upon finding them, say "Ugh, finally!" and run out the door in a tizzy. Now, I really make an effort to stop, no matter how much of a hurry I’m in, throw my hands in the air, and go, "Yes!"

Now, you tell me about something that has completely delighted you -- be it meeting your idol or buttering your bread.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sacred Longing

In lieu of taking a picture of the celebrity mentioned below, I took a picture of myself as I torturously contemplated taking a picture of him.


A group of us are gathered around the fire as a friend talks about somebody she loved. "We were friends long before anything romantic or sexual ever happened," she says. "We were super close in this way that was like sixth grade buddies where we would share secrets and go on adventures, and that was totally cool. I took it as a given that he was completely unavailable. And eventually I realized I loved him as something more. I knew I wasn't going to get him, or so I thought. It's agonizing to want something so bad, but want it as deeply as you can because that's what's going to bring it about. And there's the sacredness to the longing."



So I'm sitting at Aroma with my friends Robert and Jay. Robert and I have ordered the jerk chicken wrap and Jay is working on a lox plate. We are catching up, cracking a few distasteful jokes, and laughing at them like high school teenagers. Then, the teacher comes in and ruins all the fun. But not in the way you might think...

We're sitting outside, and Robert and Jay have the seats facing the street. "Do you watch Glee?" says Robert in a hushed tone. "If by 'watch' you mean ‘up till 3 in the morning yesterday in a marathon of back-to-back reruns on Netflix’ I guess the answer would be yes." "Will Schuster is standing right in front of us waiting to order." I crane my neck all slow and sneaky-like. Yes, it is he -- TV star; triple threat; show choir director hunk in residence... of my heart. I'm officially in Fan Girl shock. I can't hold a conversation; can't eat a bite; every circuit in my body goes haywire.

I know myself well enough by now to understand that this is something I do. I am new to LA. I get starstruck. I admire the value in others' work while acknowledging the value of my own. I have deep respect for many people's accomplishments, both in the entertainment industry and out. And I don't go gaga over every celebrity I see. If it had been any other character on the show, I probably would've been like, "Huh, cool," and returned to my meal. That actually did happen with Jane Lynch when I was eating breakfast with another friend in Studio City. He said, "Is that Sue Sylvester taking the table outside?" I said, "Oh yeah, I think it is," and that was the end of that. Not to say that the actress and the character aren't equally awesome, but there's one other factor involved -- sex appeal. For any of you who have not seen Glee (which means you're probably a hermit camping out in the Mongolian desert completely deprived of pop culture of any kind), Matthew Morrison -- the actor who plays "Mr. Shue”-- is just about the biggest heartthrob imaginable. And that's BEFORE he opens his mouth to sing or busts a move on the dance floor, which exponentially increase his attractiveness by 500 and 25,000, respectively. Also, the fact that I had been watching him feverishly not 10 hours before made it all the more intense.

"I want to talk to him. I want to ask him for a picture. I want to tell him I love him to pieces," I rattle as Jay and Robert smile and shake their heads. "Don't do it," they warn, "It could be a very baaaad idea." "But it worked for Drusilla," I plead. (I had previously approached Juliet Landau, who plays Drusilla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, told her she was awesome, and asked her for a picture. She kindly obliged, I subsequently wrote her vampire alter ego a love song, and now we are on friendly terms.) "That was a completely different context,” they tell me. "She was at an industry event that lent itself to hobnobbing. He's eating lunch. He doesn't want to be bothered." I refuse to take no for an answer just yet. I think, “I need to prove my audacity (if only to myself). I need to live without regret. I need to go after the things I want... with a vengeance."

And then I remember my dear friend's words around the fire. Sacred longing, sacred longing, how about that sacred FREAKING longing??? When I think of the word “sacred,” a specific set of images comes to mind. Candles. Churches. People overtaken by magical trance states dancing and praying to the rain gods. This feeling I have is icky; unpleasant; borderline unbearable. Robert quietly snickers as he watches my face contort like an electric shock victim. "You’re adorable," he says. I say, "You think this is adorable for ME?" And then I take a step outside of myself to see what is really going on. My hands shake. My body twitches. Heart pounds like a jackhammer. This is a heightened state; an altered state; yes, a sacred state of being.

Part of me thinks, "If only this longing could be fulfilled..." as if this moment were somehow empty. In fact, this moment is FULL. It is, perhaps, fuller than any moment when our desires have been met or goals achieved. A desire can feel like a pothole; a big chunk of negative space just waiting for a trowel-full of cement to eliminate the clunk in the road. But once the pavement is poured, it just feels neutral. Nobody notices their tires gliding across it; at least not in the way they would have noticed the sink, bounce, and rattle as they passed through its previous state. Furthermore, save maybe a black hole or two in another part of the universe, there is no such thing as "empty." Even if the moment isn't filled with our substance of choice, it is buzzing with all sorts of other things -- physical sensations; tsunamis of emotions; epiphanies of all shapes and sizes.

As a multi-tasking overachiever, I want everything to serve a higher purpose, or at least many lower and medium-height purposes. I want to connect with Matthew Morrison; get over my fan girl neuroses; get a picture for my blog; prove I've got chutzpah; slip him a flyer for my Buffy project, thereby owning my identity as an actress, singer, writer, creative person, human being worthy of eating food and breathing air. And then I realize his purpose has already been served. Twice, in fact. He has given me something awesome to reflect on AND he has given me a story for my blog. It isn't the purpose I had wanted or expected, but I honor it; respect it; embrace it fully for what it is.

A folded-up Buffy flyer remains tucked away in the back pocket of my cutoff jeans; a reminder that I don't have to give it away all here, all now. My future self is kicking it with Matthew Morrison a few months or years later, laughing about the whole darn thing. And my future self a few hours from now is handing another Buffy flyer to a random stranger who turns out to be a record producer for Alice in Chains, Billy Idol, and The Offspring. But that's a story for another day…

My cigar needs a light. Anyone got a blowtorch?

Immediately after the whole Matthew Morrison shenanigans, Robert, Jay, and I head over to Priscilla's in Burbank to chat about our lives and creative endeavors. Toward the end of our conversation, we see a guy sitting behind us doing the most peculiar thing: lighting a cigar with a blowtorch. And we're not talking dainty, crème brûlée-decorating tool here. You see the picture. You get the picture. "Oh my goodness, that's totally AWESOME!" I say to him on our way out. "Can I please get a picture of that?" "Sure," he says. So I snap the photo at the top of this page. I tell him I'd like to write about him in my blog and hand him a Buffy flyer. He, in turn, writes his info in my notebook. "What do you do?" I ask him, almost as an afterthought. "I'm a record producer," he tells me. Lots of people in this town say they do lots of things, and they could be triple-platinum, Academy award-winning, Emmies-and-Grammys-up-the-wazoo industry executives or they could be blowing smoke up your ying-yang. Granted, this guy is blowing literal smoke, but -- as I later discover when I look at his website,-- he actually is a record producer/engineer/mixer/songwriter whose credits include Alice in Chains, Queen, The Offspring, Social Distortion, and Billy Idol to name a few. My first thought is, "How crazy is it that the character lighting his cigar with a blowtorch happens to be this mega-successful music guy?" And then I think to myself, "Maybe the cigar-blowtorch thing is the reason for his success."

I know it sounds kooky, but hear me out. Lighting a cigar with a blowtorch is extravagant and illogical. Why would one carry around such an unwieldy object when all one needs is a lighter or a match? Why would one waste money and fuel on such a frivolous pursuit? And who in the world would think to do such a thing in the first place? You have to admit, though, it adds a certain effect. It gives the message: "Any old schmo would think to use a match. But not me, no sirree. I may be doing what everybody and their mother already does, but I'm gonna do it with pizzazz like you wouldn't believe. And you can bet your britches I'm gonna flaunt it."

I think if we approached our projects with this much bravado and panache, we would all be multi-platinum. Think about it. We all have this feeling of trepidation about our creative projects; our entrepreneurial business plans; our big life goals. We want to be discreet about them because what if someone else doesn't think they are as great as we do? At least we didn't break out our big guns. Or worse, what if we go in full force with our fanciest flourish of flame and “they”-- the all-encompassing "they" -- snuff it out? Okay, that could happen, but I'm too idealistic to buy into that school of thought. How about we bring out our biggest blowtorch for even our tiniest stuff?

The day before the blowtorch encounter, I had driven down from Berkeley with the future president of Nigeria. Craigslist can attract some potentially sketchy people, but I happened to get lucky. Bisi Obateru is a Nigerian-born, like-minded, visionary creative soul who is currently an urban planning major at SF State University. Over the course of our long ride, we got to talking about many things, including his big plan to re-imagine the urban infrastructure of Nigeria. (This guy is 20 years old, and he has a plan to restructure a freaking country!) I said to him, "So do you want to be the president of Nigeria?" to which he responded, "Everybody always asks me that, and it isn't my goal, but in a way I almost have to be in order to do what I want to do." I've met a lot of people with visions of false grandeur, but when he said that to me, I honestly believed it was true. "Wow," I thought. "I am sharing the car with the future president of Nigeria. What an honor and delight!" We totally took a picture together at one of the rest stops doing the cheesy celebrity shaking-hands thing. This could be worth something someday, you never know. I kept thinking about that picture of young Bill Clinton shaking hands with JFK.

I will forever think of Bisi as the future president of Nigeria, just as I call The Page of Possibility my attempt at world domination. Maybe they will come true, maybe they won't. And even if they don't, what's the worst that could happen? People find me incredibly silly for saying so? Furthermore, maybe they will come true precisely because I think and talk about them in this way. Sometimes, people need to see the blowtorch, even if it is really all just for show. And it may make them see an elaborate, multi-mouthpieced hookah even if all you've got is a Marlboro mini.

Here's another hypothesis about the blowtorch theory. Say the scope of even our smallest pet projects is bigger than we could ever imagine. We need a huge, honking blowtorch to account for that possibility. In fact, this is not just a possibility; it is a definite truth. If you are an artist or an entrepreneur of any kind, the fact is it wasn't a choice. All of the people who had that choice became stockbrokers and insurance salespeople and desk clerks. As for the rest of us crazies, we are not acting entirely of our own accord. We are bitten by the bug; called by the muse; possessed by something outside of ourselves. We may think we only contain half an ounce of lighter fluid, but in order for us to endure all that we have to in order to make our art and live the lives that we live, something much greater than we can possibly fathom is fueling our fire. So let's give that flame its proper due.

Now, I give the floor to you. Describe one of your projects or artistic/life goals, but 10 times more spectacular than you're comfortable doing. Believe it or not, that's at LEAST equal to the credit it deserves.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Step AWAY From the Humble Pie!

Being as how it's Thanksgiving, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about moderation with regards to pie. But don't panic, I am NOT the dietitian/personal trainer/spouse trying to fill you with guilt about the decadent food you are probably going to eat no matter what they say. Feel free to gorge yourself with abandon on double-decker pumpkin pecan sweet potato cheesecake marmalade mousse cradled in crunchy, crusty deliciousness. But please LAY OFF THE HUMBLE PIE!

I know it's tempting. It's staring you down at the dessert table; perhaps not the yummiest or prettiest thing on the spread; it's the dish that "looks like it needs to be eaten." Maybe someone decided to rescue it from the day-old discounts, or maybe it was made from a mediocre mix, or maybe someone made a valiant effort to bake it from scratch but ended up miscalculating the ratios, burning the edges, or leaving the middle section cold and uncooked. You glance over to the far end of the table and see the dessert you really want to eat but stop yourself, thinking, "If I don't sympathize with this sad little slice, who the heck will?"

Allow me to let you in on a big, little secret. I have partaken of said pie on many, many occasions. It's a habit that haunts me in moments of weakness still. But I've also had the grand tour of the factory that makes this variety of pie, and YES it is a factory! The owners of the company are very manipulative and have a way of tailoring each pie to make it look like it was baked just for you. Truthfully, every pie that slides off the assembly line contains the same addictive, crappy quality ingredients that make you feel sick to your stomach, emotionally icky, and keep you coming back for more. People ask me, as they have all through my adolescent and adult life, "Are you an actor/writer/artist/fill-in-the-blank? What do you love? What do you want to do with your life?” The answer to the first question was most frequently, "I try..." The second question would have varying answers depending on the chapter in my life -- juggling, puppetry, and moviemaking to name a few. Whatever it happened to be, I would mumble, stammer, and swallow my words. As for the third question, you'd be lucky if you could hear my answer... if I was able to even utter it in the first place. I hear other people saying the same things -- "I'm learning..." or "I wouldn't dare to call myself that, but..." or "I can only begin to hope that someday I might be worthy to say..."

Can we cut the crap and own up to our awesome? If you are one of the 99.9% of Americans celebrating this holiday in the typical fashion, you will be stuffing your face with all sorts of decadent goodies. (If not, just go with me for a second...) Can you imagine, even for a moment, being equally indulgent with your own self worth? Let's take a second to turn the image around. Instead of being the person with the dessert plate in hand, visualize actually BEING the pie. How could you mix yourself, bake yourself, decorate yourself in a way that would make other people unable to resist piling their dessert plates high with you? Not because they feel obliged to; not because it's "just there"; but because the very sight, smell, and flavor of you sends them into spastic salivation.

Nice theory, right? Now, let's put it into practice. In what way are you irresistibly scrumptious, from baking to plating to smelling to tasting? What makes you the kind of pie every single dinner guest wants to sink their teeth into? And taking it one step further, what makes you so stupendous, you have all the people who claim your flavor isn't their a dessert of choice coming back for seconds and thirds?

Since I'm the one who came up with this crazy idea, I'll go first. You don't have to do more than one, but I'm challenging myself to three.

-First, this journal entry. I was totally planning on ditching the pie metaphor after Paragraph 1, but once I sat down to write it kept going and going. I had no idea at the start that eating the pie would transform into being the pie, but I rolled with it, and I feel delighted, excited, empowered by the way it turned out.

-Second, I recently recorded the music track for "If I Were a Robot," installment #4 of Ballads to the Buffy Big Bads. David Bickford, my friend and co-conspirator, worked wonders with the musical arrangement. He has made this project way cooler than anything I could have done on my own, but I'll let him sing his own accolades. Now, back to me. I'm a total nerd hottie who has mad skills writing kickbutt music and lyrics and rocks the living socks off of them when I perform. I'm especially proud of this song because it is triple-threateningly star-studded, with references to Star Wars, Star Trek: the Next Generation, and Battlestar Galactica. (My cameraman is away for the holidays so we will record it and reveal it in its full geeky glory once he returns next week.)

-The third one is the hardest to talk about but also the most important because it is less about what I'm doing and more about who I'm being. The other night, a friend of mine told me I was "painfully passionate." It was a deep compliment because he said it with such sincerity. In a way, we all want to be told those things, but what in the world do you do when somebody suddenly sees you, really sees you, and shows you the beautiful being you truly are? It was like he handed me a pod full of organic Madagascar vanilla beans. I know what to do with the artificial stuff, or the stuff sold in bottles that's watered down with alcohol, but in its pure, untainted form it’s almost too much to handle. But I know better than to conveniently throw it away. I will own it, absorb it, and incorporate it into my spectacular baked confection, and I -- along with the rest of the world -- will be all the richer because of it.

I really, really, REALLY want you to think about this and answer honestly to yourself. Take a few deep breaths. A moment of silence. See what comes to you, and spill it. Don't be shy; I wasn't. After all, it's not about you anyway; it's about giving it to all of us. Think of this as a virtual potluck. Even if you are reticent about your baking skills, we are all counting on you not to deny us our dessert!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Is the Opposite of Grief???

Since Dan's death, I've been doing a lot of musing and brooding on the topic of grief. I was out at Green Gulch Farm the other week, a lovely Zen Buddhist retreat center tucked away along the shoreline of Northern California. It was cold, wet. The trees were heavy with rain. Standing under a massive pine tree, I thought to myself, "Grief in this life is as inevitable as getting dripped on when standing under a rain-soaked tree." The weather, the scenery, the mood of the moment all felt very contemplative; very Zen.

Okay, so we've covered that topic. Now, let's look at the flip side. I with spending the weekend with my family in Berkeley to celebrate the release of my dad’s immensely huge translation of the life's work of Zen master Dogen Zenji, which has taken my father exactly 50 years to complete. Along with the fancy dinners, Buddhist lectures, and meet-and-greets with all of the heavy hitters in the American Zen Buddhist community, I have attended what feels like panel after panel of scholarly discussion on various subjects relating to Dogen, poetry translation, and the practice of Zen. I had an exciting insight during one such lecture.

As one of the women gave her presentation, she referenced a Dogen quote from a movie called "Zen" that had been screened the night before. Just to give you a little background, this was a Japanese biopic on the life of Dogen, and by Japanese I don't just mean it was set in East Asia with Asian-looking characters and English subtitles. This film was JAPANESE to the bone-- cheesy, sentimental, blandly written and un-creatively executed. Also, it was chalk full of utterly campy, cheap-looking visual effects. In the scene where Dogen gets enlightened, he closes his eyes and a giant floating lotus appears, and somehow he ends up sitting on top of the lotus and the lotus shoots straight into the sky with him right along with it. There's another scene where a war has just broken out and we see a pile of severed heads on the ground with bad CG butterflies flying all around them. Suddenly one of the heads opens its eyes, screams, and shoots into the lens of the camera. My friend Brad and I had a good laugh when the movie was through. We brainstormed a bunch of ideas about an interactive Rocky horror-type showing where we all throw paper butterflies at the screen.

The quote this woman referred to in her lecture was completely un-funny. It had more to do with Dogen's philosophy than any of the movie’s corndog camp. But to me, the corndog camp was so overpowering, I burst out laughing at the movie’s mere mention. It was totally inappropriate, especially given that we were sitting in a very formal-looking meditation hall. I hid behind my hair so I could avoid being too conspicuous. But I didn't hold back because I was experiencing something truly awesome: THE OPPOSITE OF GRIEF.

I've experienced the other sensation a lot lately in the process of grieving Dan. "Dammit," I would think, "Every time I see this thing or think that thought that reminds me of him, I'm going to get really sad and PROBABLY cry, PROBABLY in an embarrassing public situation. Or if not, I'll it least go into that heavy, contemplative, reflect-on-life mode." But let's flip that coin onto the backside of our opposite hand and notice, just NOTICE, the things that make us reflexively, unquestionably, unconditionally happy. What is that thing for you? Also, let's think of a word to describe the experience so we can call it by its proper name.

Side Note: The above picture is my dad and my brother at one of the weekend's panels being simultaneously goofy in that subtle, Japanese sort of way. I don't yet have a verbal answer for the question I posed in this entry. This picture is the closest I could come.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Who the heck WAS that? Parking Lot Poi Joy

Ever get the feeling you are being overtaken by a person or force outside of yourself?

The other day, I was working downtown on the set of a strange Japanese film. It was an early-morning call. We were stationed outside, and luckily the day turned out to be gorgeous. The sun was shining, we had a splendid view of the city from our little parking lot base camp, and the downtime was plentiful. I found a relatively secluded spot and, as I'm accustomed to doing these days, started spinning my poi. I still consider myself a toddler in the art so I don't like to call too much attention to myself. At the same time, it wasn't like I was completely hidden. If somebody wanted to find me, they could. And eventually, they did.

After a good chunk of solitary spinning -- in which I was able to drink in the day, relish the dance, and drench myself in sunlight and gratitude -- I was approached by a girl who called herself Ray. She said, "Those are awesome. Can I see them? I know a few tricks." I handed them over to her, and she immediately engaged in some delightful twirls and flourishes. She told me that spinning was less her cup of tea, and most of the tricks she knew were from her background in flag baton twirling. "I have my flags in my car," she said, "Maybe I'll grab them." I said to her, "Well what are you waiting for?!"

She dashed off to her car and quickly returned with her toys. I'd never seen anything like them! She maneuvered them quite deftly. The tricks she performed were very similar to poi tricks. Of course, they had a different look and feel since the objects she was manipulating moved through time and space in their own distinct way. There was one particular trick I enjoyed watching her do, which involved a certain symmetrical pattern of circular motions going in front of and behind the head in the parallel-to-your-body plane. (If I were a real poi Jedi like Burning Dan, I'd have the correct terminology to describe this maneuver, but I don't so I'm making it up as I go along.) I asked her to teach me the trick, requesting her to break it down into its teeniest tiniest elements, since it usually takes me a while to "get it" with poi. She showed me, and surprisingly it wasn't that hard. In fact, she said, "You're really good. You learned that trick way faster than I did." This was a rather miraculous moment, and here's why.

It's always been a struggle for me to grasp the concept of poi. Until that point, I’d considered myself a poi dummy -- a "spinvalid" if you will. At that moment, it was like I had my hands on a Ouija board. The board was moving, but it sure as heck wasn't me! So if it wasn't me, who was it? And then I thought, "Dan, you sly bastard..."

My decision to break out my poi led to a few delightful events that morning. I made a new friend and learned a new trick. I found out I was ACTUALLY good at spinning after previously convincing myself I was a klutz. Ray with her baton and me with my poi attracted further attention, which resulted in a visit from one of the crew members, who told her that "The catering guys want you to do your flag routine near the crafty table to keep the flies away." Also, my conversation with Ray about the myriad of fire arts gave way to my favorite quote of the day: "Flaming staff -- that sounds like a REALLY nasty infection!"

It was a beautiful moment, and I sincerely feel Dan was with us; like he was making it happen. And even if he himself was not the direct cause, he had given me the courage to initiate it on my own. That very last spin jam at Venice Beach, the day he died, he showed me a couple of tricks that were exactly what I needed to take my poi practice to the next level. I didn't entirely grasp them at the time, but I tucked them away in my back pocket, letting them simmer and steep. The day I heard the news of his death, I went out to the Berkeley Marina and spun. Suddenly, I got it. It was like he had passed a piece of himself along to me.

I think that when somebody disappears so suddenly, their energy scatters in a weird way. I can only imagine that when somebody dies slowly of some drawn-out, terminal disease, all the little bits of themselves -- their essence, if you will -- slowly deplete as their body withers and gives way. With Dan, it was like his body went proof before his essence had the chance to figure out what to do. It's an obvious metaphor, a writer's worst cliché, but the truth of the matter is he WAS a ball of fire. When he died, his energy went everywhere, and if we were lucky enough to be in the splash zone of the Shamu show, we, too, caught on fire. Every time I spin my poi, I feel like he is with me. And every time I miss him, I need only spin my poi. I feel so lucky to have interacted with Dan, meaningfully if briefly, and to be the keeper -- and spreader -- of the flame.

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Was the Moment the String Struck?

So I was listening to a concert by my amazing Indian singer friend, Tara Kini, and my ear caught on to the drone of the tambura, which got me thinking about chance, which got me thinking about turtles and donuts, which got me thinking about Dan and poi, and how these things all factor into my life. I'll explain the chain of association momentarily, but first a little aside...

You'll hear me mention Dan and poi a lot in these entries. Burning Dan is a friend of mine who recently passed away. He was a teacher and master of the art of spinning poi , and he inspired me in a lot of ways. The Page of Possibility is my way of honoring him and passing along the awesome energy he transmitted to me. Poi is also a way I channel him and keep his memory alive.

Okay, onto turtles and donuts. My mother, who is a Zen Buddhist, told me a story when I was a kid about the odds of being born human. She said, "If a single innertube is floating in the sea, the chances of a turtle swimming up to the surface and sticking its head through the hole are about the same as the chances of becoming a human." In a teen meditation group, I heard the story retold with a different twist. “Imagine there's a donut floating in the sea. It's a vanilla donut with chocolate glaze and crushed peanuts decorating the top. If such a donut even exists, and a turtle pokes its head through the hole before it disintegrates in the salt water, you MIGHT be born a human."

Now let's take that image and microcosmify it just a smidge. We’re human; we made it past the first hoop, donut, whatever. How about all of the other things and people and practices in our lives? I watched the tambura player's fingers pluck the strings, and thought about all of the empty space around those fingers and those strings. Because his fingers were so intimately connecting with the strings at that particular moment, it seemed obviously meant to be. But at some point in time, that instrument, those hands, and this particular permutation of singer, musicians, and audience were totally distant; unimaginable even. This is how I feel about Dan and poi.

The scale has gotten significantly smaller; let's say a tadpole in a tide pool with a cheerio. Maybe that tadpole will stick its head through the cheerio, but it'll probably take a few tries. It might swim right past it, not paying the cheerio any mind. It might see it and decide not to go through. It might try to poke its head, miscalculate, and knock up against the side. But hey, it's closer than it ever was before, right? And then, one day, BULLSEYE!!!

A million circumstances led me to Dan and poi. I had encountered poi at Camp Winnarainbow 10 years before, learned a trick or two, hadn't been bitten. Met Dan at a party and saw him spin fire; impressive, but not for me. Went to spin jams and parties, learned a few more tricks; fun, but totally over my head. And just at that bridge time -- the electric overlap of Dan's last moments as a person on the planet and the moments after he merged with The Force -- it caught. Returning to the tambura metaphor, I had found the instrument. I had struck the note many times with varying degrees of success. Now, the note was striking a chord in me. Dan, I wish you were around for this, but I thank you for passing along the gift that now resonates through my entire being.

There's my story. Now, tell me yours. What person, practice, or thing came into your life and touched you deeply, and when was the moment the string struck?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Where Does It All Begin?

Sometimes it begins with a walk. I am visiting Berkeley on the most joyous occasion -- the completion of my father's epic translation of the Shobogenzo-- Treasury of the True Dharma Eye-- a translation of Zen master Ehei Dogen’s life work which has taken him 50 years to complete. A morning walk is part of my daily routine, and I normally cherish the opportunity to walk around my old neighborhood. Today, I decide to explore someplace new. I jump in my car and find myself on a beautiful sidestreet in the North Shattuck neighborhood. The South-drooping autumn sun glints off the tall trees. Upon taking a turn down a different block, I see an old man coming toward me at snail's pace. He is framed by a flurry of flora. Deep green leaves create a canopy over his head. His movements are slow so I have ample time to record the moment in my mind. I want to take a picture of him, but he's far away, I don't want to be rude, and by the time ask permission the moment will be lost. So I wait till he passes and snap a photo of a rosebud instead. I reach the end of the block, turn around, and find myself on north Shattuck Avenue, smack in front of Philz Coffee -- one of the most phenomenally amazing cafés in the whole wide universe. I left everything, including my wallet, in my car when I set out on my walk, but I tucked $5 in my pocket specifically for an occasion like this.

Sometimes it begins with a cup of tea. "One small herbal mint," I tell the woman behind the counter. Sounds like a boring drink, but this isn't any ordinary cup of mint tea. It's brewed on the spot with fresh mint, cardamom, anise, and enigma (the secret ingredient that makes every mouthful magical). I kid you not -- I was talking to a lady who said she got the coffee they use, along with all the corresponding ingredients, and attempted to re-create her favorite Philz drink at home. Not even close!

I plop myself down on one of the couches and take my first sip. This is the first time I've ordered this particular drink. It is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Also, there's something about their coffee cups, which are dark brown, printed with the curly queue Philz logo, and slightly ribbed in texture, which adds a whole other sensory element of the experience. Normally, I come to a café with a laptop, a load of books, and an overwhelmingly ambitious agenda. Today, I decide, no such thing. I will sit here holding my cup of tea, sipping my cup of tea, giving my undivided attention to this cup of tea.

Sometimes it begins with a question. I look into the milky brown beverage that belongs to the woman sitting across from me, who later introduces herself as Sarah. "Is that the Philz Fresh Chai?" I ask her, which is my favorite drink here. She says, "No, it's the Swiss Water Coffee. I used to order the Ecstatic Iced Coffee, but I switched to decaf and this is my new favorite." Two guys sit next to us on our corresponding couches. "What’s your beverage of choice?” I ask them. The guy next to me, Jason, says he loves the Turkish coffee. For Jonathan, Sarah's couch buddy, it's the Istanbul Treat-- a blend of black and green tea with cardamom and other spices. How cool, I think, that all our drinks are different and we love them all so much!

"Do you want to try a taste of mine?" Sarah asks me. "Sure," I say. I lift it to my lips; sip; melt. "Want some of mine?" I offer in return. "No thanks," she says, "I don't think I'll be able to taste the tea since I've been drinking my coffee." "Come on," I urge, "It's really, REALLY good." "Okay," she says. I can tell she's doing it to humor me. She reluctantly takes my cup. "Take a deep breath, clear your mind," I say. She does. She then takes a sip. Her eyes pop. "Oh my God; it's like a whole new world!"

By this time, the guys are in on our interaction. We've been casually conversing until this point. All of a sudden, there's a buzz in the air. It's like Sarah's whole universe opened up in front of our eyes! One single, skeptical sip, and this matrix of possibilities suddenly appeared. I have the feeling that if, in that moment, she decided to lift a house or shoot laser beams from her eyes or juggle flaming torches on 100 foot tall unicycle, she totally could.

I drink in the moment. Something in Sarah's coffee is now percolating the possibility in me. Our couches are parallel and identical in length. They have different designs -- hers is cloth with flowery green-brown print and mine is mahogany leather -- symmetrical but not the same. The two women and two men sit across from each other in perfect balance, but Sarah, Jason, and Jonathan all have their laptops and I just have my tea. I'm like the "One of These Things Is Not like the Other" in the Sesame Street song. A fly on the ceiling would see our heads like dots on the "4" slab of a 6-sided die. And wouldn't it be nice if I had my journal to write this all down? But then again, none of this would be possible if I had been lugging my load.

I chew on a mint leaf that's been steeping in my cup as the girl with the floppy gray sweater that looks like a blanket moves from one table to the next, and I think to myself, "We need to make spaces for things like this. Physical spaces. Head spaces. Spaces on the web."

And so arose the idea for this vessel -- this perfect combination of solid matter and empty space -- into which possibility can pour.