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.