Thursday, March 24, 2005
Tapping the SourceTook the kids to see Savion Glover tonight. A tap dancer who was sooo much more than a tap dancer.
I never quite got it before, but tap dancers -- at least of his caliber, of which I doubt there are more than a small handful -- are not dancers at all. They are musicians. He riffed with his jazz ensemble and they watched him as sharply as they would any lead player. He would dance in front of the sax player, mimicking riffs, bantering back and forth. Then, almost dismissively, he'd end that section with some heavy repeated stomps ... and then move on to dialog with the pianist.
I realized that when you get to be an artist of supreme mastery, you are using your art form to tell a story, to weave a spell, to entertain and please and beguile and seduce. We are all Sheherazades, saving our lives by spinning out fantasies.
I have it the easiest, some would argue, because I use words. I use building blocks for my tales that everyone else is familiar with and uses daily. This makes my job both easier and harder. I did not have to learn a second language. I also have to live with people mutilating my art form constantly.
Visual artists, whatever their medium, can choose to create pictures that in some way reference the reality we all see with our eyes. Musicians have it a bit harder, but humans can hum and sing and so we can hear their music (most of the time) and understand what it is we're supposed to be feeling. Viscerally at least, the story line can be perceived.
But what about an artist who uses his feet to tell his story? Feet on an amplified piece of wood. Tapping out wild intricate syncopated rhythms. Some of his riffs I could count out in series of 8s. That helped me understand what he was saying. He would say one thing several times until we got the way the story was going. Then he'd stray away, getting further and further away, but always coming back to the original pattern. It was playful, it was a display of virtuousity, and I got it.
Other times, though, he tapped like Charlie Parker played sax. He was doing rhythms upon rhythms, playing the harmonics of the rhythms until all we could do was sit there, jaw agape, and go on the journey. We didn't know where we were going or what we were seeing. It was beyond words and all that was left was pure awe and wonderment.
With tap, and probably with other art forms that I haven't been thinking about all evening, there is nothing denoted whatsoever. It is all connotation. Words have specific meanings and we know what those meanings are. A foot pounding on a piece of wood and amplified to fill a theatre has zero intrinsic meaning. There is nothing there whatsoever to read.
So all that's left is the connotation. It's as if the words suddenly lose all meaning and all we are left with is pure subtext. In a sense it's just like listening to a different language. But the messages were way more primitive and deep than just listening to Chinese. When you walk by two people speaking Chinese (if you're not Chinese and don't know Chinese), it sounds soooo intricate and mysterious. But if you watch them for awhile and look at their faces and gestures, pretty much you eventually get the feeling that they are, indeed, pretty much standing around yakking. It sounds like they are discussing the wild giraffes of Ghengis Khan, but really they're complaining about how the trash guys always drop a plastic bag or two as they drive off down the street.
Listening and watching Mr. Glover dance was like being escorted into a world of meaning and harmonics of meaning. The stomps sounded angry and the twirling tapping slides felt like pure ecstasy. The rhythms were his words and paragraphs and he wove them together with intention and skill. Pretty soon the language processing part of the brain shut down and all that was left was the part that marvels and is renewed in the presence of artistic mastery.
I don't know what other people think about when the watch a master at his art. All I can think about is that I crave to reach that pinnacle of excellence. I become refocused and re-energized, thinking that if this person can achieve what I'm experiencing, then I can reach my own heights as well.
My kids watched with big eyes and open mouths. It was the first time they'd been exposed to so much jazz and I could tell that it got in under their skin. I can only hope that's true. Great jazz well played is orgasmic. The biggest problem I've ever found with great jazz is that my brain shuts down after a certain amount of time. It's too much, it's too good, it's too beautiful, it's too inspiring.
So thank you, Mr. Glover. You gave my children an example of supreme mastery that they will carry with them the rest of their lives. And you gave my soul a necessary respite. It felt like it was sinking into a hot pool of utterly luxurious mud. The muscles unkinked, the relish of the goodness of it all was complete.
And I listen to my fingers as they tap on the keyboard and I think, oh. I get it. I'm tapping out words, too. I'm always looking to be "tapped in." And when things get too much in JKD, we "tap out." Tapping is a word that connotes getting right there down into the source. It's the perfect word for the kind of art we saw tonight.
The results of my tapping appear on the screen, but they follow the same vibe, the same rhythm, the same intent as Savion Glover's feet do. They tap in, literally and figuratively. They have their own patterns and fire off rapidly, in spurts, in crazy trills and lovely extended beats that start to have long lovely patterns of their own. Whether it's with the tapping of the feet or the tapping of fingers on keyboard, they are both the tapping out of the creative heart, communicating with others of similar species.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:17 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Cafeteria PlanBeadle's Cafeteria, in Pasadena, California, is a place I've been eating at for more than 40 years.
It has changed location since I first went there with my mom. The old place was wood-panelled, with a long hallway lined with oil paintings; I knew them intimately after years of standing in long lines waiting to get our trays. I can almost still see the paintings . . . one looked like summer, I think, with a boathouse and a lake. Another was autumnal, with brilliant foliage and a path through the woods.
Last night I went back. It was stormy and raining and I needed something warm, soothing and simple. I rode the elevator from the parking lot with an older couple. I stepped out of the elevator, shaking off the cold, and suddenly felt like I was in another time, or another part of the world. The cashier greeted the couple by name.
The green trays are exactly the same as they were 40 years ago. The dining room is empty. No long lines. No oil paintings for a young child to memorize as she waits.
The room contains a smattering of diners, all old. There are two or three couples. A pair of men heatedly talking about something. A TV is on in the corner, for people who want to watch the news as they eat. A couple of people eat alone.
Cafeterias are such old-fashioned places. The food is laid out, waiting for you. The people behind the counter are subservient, almost invisible. There's almost no interaction with them. No one comes up and introduces themselves by name or asks how "you guys are doing." In a cafeteria, that part of the personality of the restaurant is eliminated.
Cafeterias are simple and efficient. You can be an individual there; if you want four helpings of boysenberry pie, you don't have to confess that need to anyone. You just take it. If you want three mashed potatoes and a green jello mold, that's fine. It's easier than cooking and there's a variety of simple things to choose from.
I watch the couples in the room covertly. They have sat across from each other for decades. What must it be like to be them? To have their memories, their history? Where did they come from on this cold rainy night? Do they come here every night, wordlessly, without even thinking about it any more?
It's like a collective dining room. A commons area like we had in college. You meet your friends or sit alone with your thoughts.
What is it that's so gracious about a cafeteria? I think it's that the marketing spin has been removed. You don't have a menu describing the "house-made vinaigrette" or the "sauce beurre blanc" or perky little servers rattling off today's specials and leaving off the prices. The atmosphere is designed to make you comfortable -- not lure you in with seductive lighting and recessed fountains, or drive you away with tile floors and a bright acoustical clamor.
A cafeteria is like a well-worn relationship. There are no secrets. No special surprises. You don't have to talk too much. The nourishment is given to you in any way you choose. Nothing manipulative. No hidden agendas.
Funny how cafeterias are places we go when we're very young and very old. In between I think we like the dance of presentation and anticipation. We want to believe in the promise of the menu description. We want to find romance in the darkened corners. At the ends of our lives (and sometimes in the middle!) it's nicer to just take things at face value. To enjoy the conversation, sink into the newspaper, take a moment away from the sales pitches out there in the world.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 3:09 PM 1 comments
Monday, March 14, 2005
"Manifesting"I have 24 minutes to write this blog.
One of my closest readers made a comment to me today that my blogs are all uniformly... positive. He said they're, like, polished and happy.
I obviously have not been whining enough.
We can fix that.
Let's talk about my schedule. And let's talk about "manifesting." Personally, I think I'm manifesting like a mofo these days. Over the past 18 months I've manifested two of my lifelong dreams: a house and the soon-to-be published book. Other dreams are perched on the horizon, waiting to swoop down on me and take me off to lovely distant places.
I am working on expanding my thoughts, exploring possibilities, never saying no to the impossible.. and the impossible is happening.
But wait a sec. What's this passive voice crap? The impossible is happening... what does that mean? Does it mean I'm sitting here in a lotus position, thinking wide expansive thoughts and then someone walks up to me and hands me a house key? Does it mean that I'm breathing deeply and becoming one with my inner non-wounded child and reuniting with my innocent, wide-open self -- and then waking up to find my preview book all lovely and perfect and waiting for me at the printers?
It means I'm working my ass off.
Let me rephrase that and I'm really sorry about any FCC implications.
I'm working my fucking ass off.
In the course of my week (here comes the whining), I work a full time job, I have my kids three to four nights and every other weekend. On the nights I have the kids we have about two hours to finish homework, pack lunches, eat dinner, play a bunch of video games (while I sort mail, pay bills, clean dishes, buy and put away groceries and all that other boring crap that goes into the barest possible maintenance of a house.) On the nights I don't have the kids I usually do acupuncture and one form of exercise -- yoga or JKD (martial arts, Jeet Kune Do... you've gotta keep up with me here.) I have a chiropractor appointment every other week. I see a therapist weekly. I have a variety of other doctors I see for a variety of other things. The kids have basketball practice twice a week and on saturdays we are currently committed to no less than SIX activities, including two basketball games, three martial arts classes and one drumming (Kulintang) class. (Gotta keep up... or stay tuned.. I'll explain Kulintang some other time.) On the mornings I don't have the kids I go to the gym. The goal for me is to exercise 3 - 5 times a week, which has to be wedged into the weekends, the mornings and/or the nights I have the kids.
Am I whining enough yet for ya?
There's more. There's my drive time phone queue. My close friends and associates know that I am usually booked up for drive time phone calls about two commutes in advance. I'm the only lunatic on the planet who sometimes wishes her commute were LONGER so I can get more of my personal biz phone calls in during drive time. During the day, of course, I do nothing but my assigned work for UMG, focussing studiously on functional specs and the intricacies of writing down the process of our process, thus complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of something something something that is currently taking my work day and making it a festival of minutia and militaristic acronyms. (Actually, yes, this is true, but I also cram in everything I can at the same time... but don't tell anyone from UMG that I would ever THINK of doing personal work while at the office. That would be unethical.)
I'm also fixing up and leasing my mom's condo in Pasadena. It's really nice. You should rent it. We put in all new appliances, painted everything, new carpet, new sinks and faucets. It's in a quiet building on a tree-lined street. I think you'd like it. I really do.
Then there's the opera job, which luckily isn't happening right now. But it will be in April. You should come down and see us. It's really good. We're doing Trial By Jury and The Zoo down in Escondido. I think you'd like it. I really do.
I maintain my relationships with my girlfriends. I try to maintain my relationship with my boyfriend. I keep the cat fed (mostly). I pay my bills on time and keep my house clean and am nice to the gardener and tip generously.
And I have this BOOK. This book is not actually writing itself. I'M writing it. I'm writing it at 6 in the morning and at about 11:30 at night. I fall asleep writing it. I actually dreamed the other night that I was curled up on the bed looking at the laptop monitor (which usually ends up next to me) and in my sleep I was looking at it and trying to keep working.
I'm working on the design of the preview book, the look of the site, the marketing and the promo of the whole thing. And writing these blogs.
SO YEAH. I'm manifesting all right. And it's ALL wonderful. It really really is. I'm actually NOT getting sick and I'm NOT getting headaches ... well, actually I think I am but I'm too busy to stop and take any meds for them and by the time I get back to checking in with them, they're usually gone. With the help of the therapist and the exercise and the incredible grounding of actually getting to do the writing at least once a day... it's all working.
So what's all this manifesting shit anyway? Can you just work your ass off and your dreams will all come true? Nope. I don't think so. I think you have to read all my other blogs and follow your bliss and know your facehugger and THEN work your ass off. THEN I think it has a chance of working.
Sometimes, seriously (and yes I'm sick I know it)... sometimes I think it just can't get more fun than this. That I'm seriously having the time of my life here. And then someone will mention that maybe someday I can have this much fun AND not be working until I'm stupid and tired and dreaming of looking at the monitor. Maybe I can have this much fun AND take a little time to breathe and contemplate my navel and ... who knows???... manifest something like leisure.
How do you work your ass off to get leisure?
I'm open for suggestions on that one.
(Two minutes to spare. Time to get the kids to bed.)
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 9:15 PM 0 comments
Friday, March 11, 2005
Money For NothingThere's a look my brother has when he's sailing his boat. It is centered, alert, serene, and makes me feel he is exactly in the moment.
I've always paid attention to that look. When I see someone doing something and that look comes over their face, I pay attention. This is what that person was put on this planet to do. This is the look of a perfectly congruent being: who they are equals what they are doing.
Skye, my photographer, has that look when she's taking pictures. And she managed to sneak inside my soul and capture that look for me. That's the picture of me on the website and the back of the preview book. I look at that and I see the feeling I feel when I'm writing - exactly in the moment, tapped in, listening.
As I was writing yesterday's blog, the Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing" came on. Love that song. And it goes along with this powerful one-two punch of understanding I'm getting these days. Do that thing you do when you get that look - and great things inevitably happen. The money will flow. The chicks are free.
The more drilled down I get into that great cosmic source these days, the more sure I am that old Joseph Campbell was really REALLY right. Follow your bliss. Go to that place where you have and feel that look, and stay there as much as you can. No, I'm not the first person to get this, and it feels trite to say it again - but I will say it again. For my benefit as well as anyone else's who cares to listen.
It's the Indiana Jones thing. In the third movie, he has to cross an abyss. No way down, no way across. Except by taking a blind, crazy, leap of faith. He must step out over this abyss and just know that a flagstone appears.
And of course it does.
When you step out, in your bliss, the next step appears. I don't know how it does it, but it does. If you wait for it to appear, it will not appear. If you think about it hard enough and draw a bunch of diagrams and map it out in an Excel spreadsheet, it will not appear. If you wait until you have a nice safety cushion just in case it won't appear... guess what? It won't appear.
It appears when you move your foot forward and expect it to be there. That simple. That mysterious. That amazing. And that certain.
And the thing to listen to? It's FUN. Fun fun fun. Fun like a Corvette with the top down going 80 on the PCH. Fun as a really rip-roaring orgasm. Fun as the prospect of Disneyland felt when we were kids.
The bliss is that kind of fun. And when you're there and you're walking across that chasm and the flagstones keep appearing -- man, it rocks. And the money appears. For nothing... and for everything you did to gear yourself up for that first monumental and simple step.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:58 AM 0 comments
Thursday, March 10, 2005
FacehuggersOK. Maybe I don't get out enough. Nor does my friend, Cindy, who is an amazing sculptor and spends her life creating magnificent bronzes (for love) and carving out Barbie's toes (for money). But the day we went shopping for jeans for the photo shoot, we found ourselves at the Santa Anita mall gawking at all the people Just Out Shopping.
"You think this is what people, like, do? Like, a lot?" I whispered to her.
Women walked by carrying shopping bags full of stuff. Families had kids with them. Couples were holding hands. They didn't look like they'd just crawled out from beneath an avalanche of words and pixels, or clay and metal, like we did.
They looked like the did this mall thing all .. the ... time.
"It's weird," she muttered back. "Don't they have this thing in the back of their heads" she put her hand against her skull, with a death-like grip... "Don't they have this voice that is always telling them to go back to work? Telling them that it must be fed?"
I knew exactly what she meant. For me it's the constant waterfall of words, always raining through my head, seducing me and taunting me and begging me to write them down. For her, I imagine, it must be shapes, forms, images, ever-shifting, demanding to be made real.
I looked at the people's faces that we passed. Honestly, they didn't look like they were walking around with alien life-forms embedded in their craniums. They looked sort of like they were doing exactly what they were doing: shopping, hanging out.
Did this mean that there are people like me and Cindy who are graced and cursed with this creative imperative and there are people who aren't? I totally refuse to believe that. That would make it all so totally unfair, for everyone involved.
So... if these other people don't carry around alien facehuggers like we do... what are they all thinking about anyway?
I considered my friend Steph at work. She's a lively, fabulous, smart little cookie. She turns heads everywhere we go. She is acutely attuned to every aspect of relationships, sexuality, and all things social. And I'm pretty sure she's not kept up at night wondering about whether the second person sounds too preachy or if the first person makes me too vulnerable. I'm pretty sure that's not how her mind works.
Her brilliance lies with people. Attraction. Allure. Allegiances. She instinctively knows and can tell you all about the marketing messages implied in a hint of eye shadow or how to blend lipstick for the exact amount of gloss and shading. (I don't know about Cindy, but I'm pretty much still on the lipstick I bought about three years ago.) Steph's art is created on the canvas of her relationships -- with her kids, her boyfriend, her family and her friends.
Art comes in different ways for different people. I know people who find their creative nirvana in a perfectly prepared filet of Copper River salmon. I have other friends who find it in a sequence of martial arts moves, fusing mind and body and transcending both.
Whatever the nature of your personal facehugger, I've found the only way to deal with mine is to try to cohabit gracefully with it. I listen to the little messages it breathes in my ear. I pay attention to its capricious whims. It's probably around to stay so, as much as possible, I'm trying to make friends with the little bugger and play nice.
And maybe, if I'm good, it'll let me go out shopping again sometime. We never even got around to the shoe department...
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 1:51 PM 1 comments
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Pivot Points: the Photo ShootNotes from the photo shoot for the cover of the book....
Two of my best friends are over and are giving me their time, their physicality, and their expansive creative energy. The photographer is a new friend; she blends seamlessly into our ten-year-old friendships and immediately becomes one of us.
We are four women caught at pivotal points in our lives.
Flash.Disco music and Mustang Sally. We periodically run out into the rain to our cars to get better music. My in-house collection is not designed to be the background to the music video my living room has become.
The photographer weaves in and out of the light, talking to them, pushing a hip to one side, telling them to turn clockwise a hair.
Flash.We talk about our fears. Each one of us hides behind various aspects of our lives: our art, our shyness, our doubts about our place in the world. Who are we to dare to be? We are sure everyone else is more sophisticated, more sure of themselves than we are.
This moment has come about because I was scared to death I'd die without doing anything. I am forcing this book into existence one element at a time. And now a world is springing up around me, full blown. Somehow I found the ability to overcome my fear and my excuses and got it together to get my words read by some people. Now I have this army of creative, smart, driven, talented soldiers, surrounding me. And they will, as one, turn on me and chew the living meat off my bones if I dare stop now.
A reality is being unveiled. It has nothing to do with me. All I've brought to the table is the chutzpah to fake it into happening.
Flash.Act as if you're sexy. You are.
Flash.Act as if you're fully alive. You are.
Flash.Act as if you're glorious. You are.
Flash.Act as if you're an author. You are.
Four women caught at a pivotal moment in their lives.
Never doubt the incredible power of a woman poised at the brink of self-discovery. The sexuality, the power, the joy, the promise is unstoppable.
Act as if you're a force of nature.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 12:34 AM 2 comments