Hanging Out Amongst the Shadows

Abiding is an in-between experience. Because of that, it gets less attention. It’s not a peak event such as arriving or departing or even an intentional action such as accumulating or releasing. Lacking an obvious drama to pull you in, it is easy to miss or ignore or avoid.

But if you do place your attention on the liminal, allowing yourself to feel the threshold-space of richness of neither here nor there, you discover that this is where the magic happens. It’s when things start to cook.

A good yoga brew is made of the universal elements of heat and exertion, breath, sweaty muscles, and strong bones. In life, these same ingredients show up as tears and love, anger and fear, hope and confusion, sometimes nausea, sometimes heartbreak, sometimes joy.

The thing is, the alchemy only happens if you include everything. You can’t leave out the dirty stuff that makes you antsy or scared or ashamed. It all goes into the pot, and then you watch and wait.

If you are impatient or pushy, the flavors won’t blend properly, and you’ll end up with clumps of unprocessed emotion. Sadness won’t temper the anger, kindness won’t quiet the boss of the brain, the fragrance of delight won’t seduce the fear.

What do you get in the end? Nothing. Nothing solid, that is. Just a gut knowing that everything is really a ‘tween, anyway. This knowing, which helps you stay the course no matter what, is the knowing that arises from abiding.

 ~ Cyndi Lee, “May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind”~

 

lost

photo: Tokyo Space Dance / Tetsuro Fukuhara

 

最近、迷っている感じでした。lately i’ve been feeling a little lost. i think part of the reason is because right before that, i knew exactly what i was doing.

it all started with grad school.

in 2009, i was working on a project that is very dear to my heart with one of my favorite collaborators, Jimena Duca. we were making this multimedia piece called ATOMIC, based on Huzir Sulaiman’s fantastical play, Atomic Jaya. part of the challenge of this piece is that one actor plays 11 different characters. i was completely up for the challenge as an actor and as a theater-maker, and i was in love with this play. Jimena and i worked together so well, drawing on our shared training of Suzuki and Viewpoints (we met at Saratoga Springs with SITI Company in 2008.) our approach was eccentric, yet extremely focused. we had so many great ideas, many of which involved technology that we both knew very little about. this led to personal frustration for me. then one day after a rant about what i felt like was lacking in my artistic training, Jimena said the thing that would change the course of my artistic career. she said, “I know you don’t want to go to grad school, but there is this program at Brooklyn College that is basically everything you are saying. You should just look it up.” Jimena found it while she was already getting her Directing MFA from Brooklyn College. i think if she could have gone to this other program, she would have.

you see, i was anti-grad school and i used to talk about it a lot. not for everyone and not across all situations, but as a performer i witnessed so many of my talented cohorts having “the grad school dilemma.” being a performer is a business just like any other and a lot of times people don’t even get looked at if they don’t have an MFA. and yet grad school is expensive and it takes you out of the performance world and into a little bubble where you get some experience and a degree that doesn’t necessarily equal getting more work. sometimes it does because one makes important connections there and sometimes it just doesn’t. it’s a gamble, really.

and so when i would see my talented friends who honestly didn’t need more training but were considering doing it to help their careers, i couldn’t help but think that they should spend their time and money making their own work. it would also be a gamble, but at least they would have their own work to show for it and possibly be more fulfilled.

i just didn’t want to buy into this system that i thought only perpetuated the problem.

and yet, i am also a firm believer that when someone who you trust tells you to do something, you should look into it with an open heart and try it if you can. even if you think you can’t do it or don’t want to do it, by trying it you might find that you can do more than you thought.

so that day i did a Google search for “PIMA Brooklyn College.”

one thing led to another and Jimena introduced me to Jared Mezzochi—an actor turned video designer turned art supergenius. i knew by the end of my sandwich at the Tick Tock Diner that i was going to grad school. like our old friend Goldilocks, it was just right for me. PIMA was indeed offering everything that i was looking for. it wouldn’t completely break my imaginary bank because it’s part of the City University of New York. and PIMA is special because an inherent part of the program is to work on professional projects outside of the program that can count towards your degree. this is why we are going to grad school, right? so that we are equipped with what we need to work professionally in our field. in PIMA, it’s a requirement of the program to reach outside of it. it is a magical program and i had a universe-expanding time there. it was the catalyst for many wonderful things, including big breakthroughs in my career.

i started this blog to document my independent projects in PIMA. if you go back, there is a trail of some of the life-changing opportunities—from working on other people’s projects that were healthy and fun learning experiences (and sometimes even paid well!) projects like ねじまき鳥クロニクル (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), where i got to work on an adapted Murakami novel, performing Bunraku puppetry and Butoh, and touring the world with people that i genuinely love. Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread was a beautiful and inspiring environment to visit—being in the piece itself was like living inside a dream. it inspired many of my current thoughts on the merging of visual art and performance and it helped me to find my voice (by reading to pigeons).

i also had tremendous opportunities for my own personal artistic work. The Dalí Project, a hybrid puppet play that i created with Serra Hirsch (Puppet Junction), toured to the Detroit Institute of Arts and was highlighted as part of their Spanish Masterpieces exhibit. i got to work and play in the Chelsea Hotel, creating a meaningful soundwalk with fellow grad school companions Andy Goldberg, Radek Konopka, Erik Zambrano and residents of the Chelsea. and i unwittingly formed a company with two kindred spirits John J.A. Jannone and Daniel Munkus, where we make work about the technological singularity that is insane and unique. we went to Greece to create some new work and i did my thesis with Dan (and Tinuade Oyelowo). for my thesis i started working with robotics, telling personal stories of my family’s experiences with immigration and addressing technological and global issues that affect us all. i found a new passion in this work and it is what brought me to Japan.

and then i came to Japan on an incredible journey that i never would have thought was possible. when i looked back on my life, i saw how everything was finally starting to add up. my crazy life and my haphazard career were building in such a clear way. now it all makes so much sense…how wonderful it will be!

until it wasn’t.

i wrote about some of the struggles in my last blog post. i really thought it was because i couldn’t speak or understand any Japanese. in part, it was. but largely it was because that is just how the universe works. there is no white without black. there is no happiness without sadness. there is no good without the bad. and there is no life without death. and everything has its cycle.

you know, i had read Cyndi Lee’s book. i even wrote about it last time and then i (at least consciously) forgot all about it. but i knew somewhere deep inside me that after all this new emotion, experience, and energy had arisen, the next step in the Vinyasa would be abiding. my meditation practice was stronger than it has ever been. i thought, heck yeah, i’ll just sit with this! (or whatever else comes up!)

sitting

photo: The Night Bears / John J.A. Jannone

and truly, my life started to turn into this state of nothingness. i was dancing with Tetsuro twice a week and i started to feel nothing. all of a sudden, i didn’t know why i was even here or what i was even interested in. i couldn’t feel my center. i had lost my purpose and almost any interest in what was going on around me. i had lost my self somewhere along the way and part of the reason is because i didn’t know i had lost it.

still lost

photo: Tokyo Space Dance / Tetsuro Fukuhara

a week before i published my last blog post, i met with my dear friend Leilani. i met Leilani when she was 19 years old and not long after she had moved to NYC. we were puppeteers in one of the most influential projects i’ve ever worked on—Dark Space by Kate Brehm. it was here, also, where i met Serra Hirsch (of The Dalí Project) and it was the beginning of my adult puppetry career. one day i hope to tell the fantastical story of how i met Kate.

but i digress.

photo: Tokyo Space Dance / Tetsuro Fukuhara

photo: Tokyo Space Dance / Tetsuro Fukuhara

for many years after Dark Space, i had lost Leilani to the sea of city lights until we were reunited once again through Butoh. i was in my first semester of grad school and i was compelled by forces beyond myself to also take Akira Kasai’s intensive Butoh workshop at CAVE. this was in the 2 days leading up to the submission of my first theory and criticism paper. it was a crazy time, and it was there that i found Leilani as Kasai sensei’s interpreter. the reunion felt serendipitous and while i didn’t see Leilani again for another 2 years or more, we kept in touch. Leilani even helped me translate a letter to Kasai先生 when i had just begun studying Japanese.

it turns out that when i came to Japan, Leilani was also back in Tokyo for a short stint before taking off for 2 years to go to Africa with JICA, which is kind of like the Japanese version on the Peace Corps.

this is where things get super weird. when i met Leilani in Tokyo, she had recently found out, at age 25, that she is half-Japanese, half-Korean. this whole time, she thought she was Japanese (although i believe that something in her heart knew that she wasn’t. i mean, she wrote part of her thesis on the discrimination of Koreans living in Japan before she had any tangible clues.)

when Leilani went to get her birth certificate to submit her paperwork for JICA, she was reading it and realized that she couldn’t read the characters in her father’s parents’ names. so she asked the person working at the city hall what was up with that, and they were all, “That’s a 外人 (gaijin) name. You need to ask your father.”

so she went home and asked her father and he told her that they weren’t Japanese names because they are not Japanese. her grandparents are Korean. but her father was born in Japan and he married a Japanese woman. he has became a Japanese citizen and has never been to Korea, so…

 photo: Tokyo Space Dance / Tetsuro Fukuhara

just like that, Leilani was now ½ Japanese, ½ Korean. and here i am, thinking that i am ¼ Japanese, ¼ Korean. and the kicker was that Leilani is such a spit-fire that when she found all this out, she bought a plane ticket to go to Korea. she was just going to go for 2 days and look around because, hey, she’s Korean now.

and then, as Leilani tends to do, she shined the light back on me. “And what about you? Are you going to Korea?”

i stammered, “Well, I don’t know. I was going to go, but I can only go during Golden Week and because everyone has off work and school it’s really expensive. And I kinda just want to be in Japan, and…”

Leilani cut through my bullshit. “You have to go. You’re here now and it’s right there. If you don’t go now, you might never go.”

as with any good collective consciousness, i knew immediately that resistance was indeed, futile.

“I know.” that was all i could say.

so the next day i woke up and my first thought was: see if you can go to Korea.

photo: The Night Bears / John J.A. Jannone

photo: The Night Bears / John J.A. Jannone

i had planned to go to Osaka during Golden Week. my collaborator, John, was there and i had plans to meet Dr. Ishiguro and Dr. Asada, roboticists who i had met during grad school and offered potential help (and robots!) when i came to Japan. Leilani had been telling me about a boat that you can take from Osaka to Korea, so i started researching boats and, just to see, what about planes?

i still almost can’t believe it, but right there the first thing i found was a one-day sale for plane tickets from Osaka to Korea. tickets from Tokyo to Osaka were also on sale. and the sale ended at midnight.

i don’t think i had very much choice in the matter. that afternoon, i had my plane ticket to go to Korea for the first time in my life. maybe i might meet my family? or maybe i might understand something about who i am and where i came from. at any rate, i was set on eating a boat-load of kimchi.

from there, Leilani and i talked about how we didn’t know why we were in Japan. she just felt she had to be with her family and i just felt that i was supposed to be here. when i was asked to come for work i said yes. we both found each other in the in-between.

photo: Tokyo Space Dance / Tetsuro Fukuhara

Leilani inspired me to just be okay with not knowing. we both knew we wanted to be doing Butoh in Japan. “So let’s just do that!” we said to each other. and off we went.

the very first workshop we went to was Natsu Nakajima’s, a first-generation Butoh master who studied under Tatsumi Hijikata. i was a complete mess the first couple of classes. i realized how much tension was being held in my body and how i had lost the feeling of gravity in my center that i had been cultivating doing Suzuki training all those years. during that first class Natsu gave us a copy of her lecture.

Whatever you may call it, darkness, spirituality, or even something formless, something that cannot be put into words, or simply, the unconscious, the inexplicable, the destroyed and disappeared… …we are actually talking about something that cannot be seen. Something that Hijikata called “ankoku”. Hijikata liked to use the word “yami” (shadowy darkness). It gives the feeling of something that is full of contradiction and irrationality, somewhere like the “chaos of eternal beginning”.

So what is “ankoku”? This is a very difficult topic to tackle. It is like trying to explain and understand the black-hole in the universe. I am neither a scholar nor a researcher. I am simply a living dancer. But I will have to struggle on with this… …I can only try to share with you my deep personal experience of Ankoku Butoh through my clumsy use of language. In some sense, I feel that we can replace the word “ankoku” with “spirituality”. When I examine in retrospect, my path over the past thirty years, I feel that I did not take up dance in particular, but rather, I have borrowed the “field of the body” to go on a spiritual journey.

~ Natsu Nakajima, Ankoku Butoh, Lecture delivered at Fu Jen University decade conference, Taipei: “Feminine Spirituality in Theatre, Opera, and Dance.” ~

interestingly, i was working with Tetsuro on what he calls “Spiritual Journey.” to my understanding, it’s a series of photographs that capture some essence of a person that they may not know is there. these photographs and this essence emerge through the act of dancing. though i have to admit, i didn’t completely understand it. but i did it because that’s what one should do when they trust somebody.

but when i read Natsu’s words, somehow, something started to make sense. i had to return to the body. i had to find myself through the dance. this is why i’m here and that reason alone is valid. maybe that reason is everything.

back to the body

photo: The Night Bears / John J.A. Jannone

so Leilani and i went to more workshops and Butoh performances, all the while i kept up my yoga practice at home and at the wonderful YogaJaya in Shibuya. during a Skype to Osaka, John said something to me about how technology is just a means for people to get back to what we do naturally. by going back to my body, i actually found technology again. i started to remember my original reasons for applying for funding to come to Japan. i was interested in Human-Robot Interaction—our relationship with technology and the lines that are ever-rapidly blurring between human and machine. i had to come to Japan to focus on this work, where all objects have a 気, their own spirit. to me, it is a place where we can all go on a spiritual journey together.

photo: The Night Bears / John J.A. Jannone

photo: The Night Bears / John J.A. Jannone

so where was i going with all this?

i knew that i was finally ready to face the robots in Osaka and the humans in Seoul. ironically, i realized right before leaving Tokyo that i would be inadvertently retracing my mother’s steps. first to Osaka where she was born, then to Korea where she was raised. and i would be spending my own birthday in Seoul, to boot.

so i made it a decision to be here, in this place/non-place, both knowing and not knowing. i decided that this was exactly where i needed to be. from this confused and shadowy vantage point of the present moment, i could all but reach out and touch a distant past and an infinite future. i could just hang out in the balance and be receptive to the inevitable.

photo: Tokyo Space Dance / Tetsuro Fukuhara

photo: Tokyo Space Dance / Tetsuro Fukuhara

 

Everything in life ebbs and flows, including the body, and that is how it should be. Stability doesn’t come from holding onto extremes. It comes from riding the waves, not holding the water. The very word balance comes from the Latin word balare, which means “to dance.” After awhile, I needed more movement.

 

 The hotel entrance welcomed us with a kneeling Garuda statue—the ancient birdman with a beak-like nose, regal crown, and large red wings. He is said to be a mythical protector…

 Inspired by my friend at the front gate, I did a Garudasana, which is a balancing pose with one leg wrapped around the other, arms intertwined in front of my face. When I teach this pose to my students, I always tell them that the inner quality of the Garuda is said to be Outrageous. The Garuda is outrageous because, although it is a flying being, it never lands. It never lands because it never gets tired. It never gets tired because it rides the wind. I take a deep breath in, remembering that the wind is my breath. When I resist the way things are going, I feel bad. This is not the same as surrendering or being weak. But it does mean that when I look at things as they are and work the situation at hand, I am more likely to make positive choices that make me feel grounded, healthy, and connected to myself and my life. I exhaled for eight slow counts.

 ~ Cyndi Lee, “May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind”~

Related posts:

Written by lobsterbird