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.