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.