“Be Here Now.”
i remember these words taped onto the wall behind composer Gerald Busby’s head as we interviewed him for This is My Home: Voices from the Chelsea Hotel.
as he immediately won me and the rest of the gang over with his charm, presence, and the inner light that he exudes with every word and every breath that he makes, i have often come back to that mantra that he holds in his sight on a day-to-day basis.
and so hearing it again on this day, i stayed at my parents’ house even though i was supposed to leave earlier with my sister, Alicia. because, well, i am here now. i was torn about going back to NYC—i have so many obligations to take care of, things to do, people to meet with, and cats to take care of (namely my own). but i mistakenly have someone watching them through today because i was confused as to when i was returning. (i have to wonder, is there any such thing as a mistake? then i remember that Everything We Do is Right.)
my collaborator, Serra, with whom i am working on our upcoming Dalí Project is tied up with all kinds of other things anyway. and come to think of it, i haven’t even heard from any of the people that i was supposed to meet with. perhaps most importantly, i feel like my time here is not over. so can’t the rest of those obligations wait?
i also wanted to head back with Alicia. that’s usually part of the journey—i cherish our car time together and those hours that we have to catch up on our lives, undistracted by anything except for the open road. it also saves me some money (which would be a great thing since my return from tour also brought a return to being replaced, or otherwise not needed, at my job.) and i would have a day to adjust before gearing into NYC work mode again.
but like i said, things were un-done here.
it had something to do with my Dad, John. i haven’t been writing about him all that much because, well, he has not been around all that much. that’s kind of the nature of the man. he’s usually working and when he’s not working, he is zoning out to the TV or out walking Roxy. or…oh jeez, it’s so hard to even write the words, he is out at rallies for The Tea Party.
:: cue Death Star music here ::
i hate to even admit that my father (who undoubtedly and unconsciously raised his two daughters to adhere to the exact opposite of the political spectrum) is a member of the Tea Party. but i have to keep writing it so that i can accept it as a fact.
he is a member of the Tea Party. he would be really upset if he knew that i was going around and posting it all over the world wide web, but thankfully for me, my parents have not yet learned how to harness the power of the internet. so when he finds out, hopefully things will have changed.
as a sidebar, not having access to the internet here has been a blessing. i realized that i tend to seek out places where that is the case. in our media-frenzied, everything is accessible, instant gratification culture, i feel like i can breathe again once i disconnect. i believe it is a Sumism (one of my mother’s mantras) that goes, “too much of a good thing is not a good thing.”
but i digress. (or do i???)
it is difficult for Alicia and i to talk to our Dad about politics. also let me qualify this by saying that he has only become preoccupied with it in the past ten years or so. prior to that, he didn’t really think politics and the government applied to him. he credits my sister (who has always been the most socially conscious one in our family) as causing him to think differently about it, especially when she got him Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” for Christmas one year. and boy does he think differently about it.
so during those years while he was formulating his own philosophies and relationship to politics, Alicia and i were out in the world defining our own. so back in the day, when the discussion inevitably turned towards politics, it turned into verbal family warfare. conversion tactics were pursued. one side would try to invade the other. one side would retreat, wounded, the other holding down their strategic position. there would be emotional losses. and most often, neither side would actually win the battle. i think what ended up happening, is that both sides would head back to their respective camps to work on strengthening their troops.
while i certainly side more with my sister’s political stance, i was always a bit of a Switzerland—a kind of neutral zone. my way of understanding the world generally has more to do with asking questions rather than asserting particular points of view. (don’t get me wrong, i definitely have them and when called to do so, i have no problem expressing them. but when there are so many, i have learned to carefully choose my battles.) it is a lot to handle when our father, who otherwise is a mild-mannered and open individual, would clamp down in a conversation about politics which would go on for hours until my mom would have to yell at him to stop. (i guess Sumi is like NATO or some peace-keeping organization in charge of enforcing treaties.)
this went on all throughout our early adult lives and there is very clearly a lot of trauma still associated with these events.
but something happened over last Easter when we came home for the weekend.
i owe this discovery largely to my collaborators, The Night Bears, with whom we address similar kinds of issues (although those subjects may be seen as more of a matter of personal politics rather than governmental ones). when we created our piece, Assumptions Made in the Dark, we were tackling some really personal issues that raised a lot of insecurities and questions about our own beliefs and practices. in particular, John Jannone and i butt heads. a lot. our peace treaty organization, Daniel Munkus, can testify to the rate of these occurrences. and i believe, in the end, what saved us from destroying the piece (and ourselves in the process) was the basis of the breath and vocal work that had become an anchor in the creative process of our work. this daily practice brought us together in a way where, when we skipped or skimped on it, we could feel the difference. it also came through in our work that day as a result.
these hard conversations that work towards greater human understanding can, however, be joyous. but it can only be so for both parties when everyone is breathing together—taking each other in fully with each in-breath and truly expressing what they need to with each exhalation. this requires a constant negotiation of who is speaking at any given time, and whether or not there may be other ways to communicate without using words.
so i tried this last Easter with my dad. we are so far from a point where we are going to lie on the floor and breathe together, but what we are doing is actually speaking to each other—creating a real human understanding of each other and our individual points of view.
what i have come to realize, is that they are actually not that different.
as John Jannone and i breathed together through our differences (by the way, it is not lost on me that my collaborator and father share the same name), i believe we both realized that our ideologies and philosophies are, in fact, not that different at all. what differed were the ways we chose to manifest those in the world. our methodologies were very different, if not completely opposite. (compartmentalizing vs. unifying, for example, was a big one to breathe through.) what we were able to do is find a way for them to both co-exist. we adopted parts of each others’ practices and there is a balance now. this type of adaptable co-existence, to me, is collaboration.
so i wondered if i could collaborate with my dad, John, as well. i applied the techniques of breathing, listening, talking less, and accepting more. i only spoke when i absolutely needed to do so—to clarify a misconception, an assumption, or when he asked me a question. mostly, i just let him talk. i embraced the concept that i would give him the time he needed to express what he needed to. and he did. if he said something i didn’t agree with, i just breathed through it and let it go. and you know what happened? we ended up having a conversation about spirituality that i never, in the wildest depths of my imagination, would have believed possible. even though his Christian ideology differs from the Eastern philosophies that i lean towards, we agreed on that day that the most important thing was that we trust each other to find god in our daily lives, in whatever that means to us, and in whatever idiosyncratic way we choose to do so. this is an unexpected contract that i can happily sign on for.
so this trip home, we attempted to address politics. (or rather, coming from a Tea Party rally yesterday, Dad John brings it up.) we weren’t quite so “Zen” about this topic, but given our family history, we did okay. for the first time in my life, he actually let me have the last word (which was actually just an invitation to discuss his future life plans at a later date). i think he is beginning to realize that we have all-time to continue this conversation—one that i believe has been going on since the very beginning of time. i waited a bit before walking away, just to see if he was going to try and have the last say about something or other. but he just stood there, deep in thought. so i was able to leave my father, feeling at peace that we were able to have a conversation that did not need to extend until the ends of time (at least not in the present moment) or that one of us didn’t leave feeling like we didn’t have the opportunity to express something that was important to us.
and one of the most incredible things that he expressed had to do with our similarity in priorities that had very little to do with governmental politics.
as you may or may not know, i am becoming increasingly more free running around home naked. but today my dad was home and i felt a tension arise in the level of appropriateness contained therein.
i was reminded of the time when i was 14 and i was in my parents’ room watching TV with my mom. my dad was showering in the adjoining bathroom and when he opened the door, for some reason, i looked up. he was naked. and i screamed.
he said, “what? do you think it’s gross because i’m old?”
and i yelled back, “no! i think it’s gross because you’re my dad!!!”
so my 14-year old self came out a little bit today to cause me some insecurity with the natural state of the human body. and i knew i had to let that little punk go and be free.
so off the bathing suit top went! as i practiced yoga within the fenced-off pool area, i could hear my dad blowing the leaves from the driveway—they were everywhere because of the recent storm. then i heard him enter the porch near the pool area. i did not look in his direction.
then he whistled and i thought, great. see, this is why i don’t do stuff like this around you.
i was facing the opposite direction anyway and i waved my right hand, signaling for him to go away. in reply to my gesture he said, “do you have you top off?”
a firm “yes” was my only reply.
he then went into the sun room and quietly asked my mom, “what is she doing out there???”
i’m not sure my mom even answered him. it was probably better that way because it caused him to wonder.
later when he came over to talk, i decided that i wasn’t going to hide my self from him anymore. it doesn’t do my dad, who i love and trust, any good to stop him from seeing who i truly am. of course, my boobs being out is a metaphor for what i really mean here. but hey, as weird as it is, it works on both levels. both of my parents have always been free with their naked bodies, and it has taught me a great deal about my relationship to my own. i can now, at this stage of my life, return the gesture.
my dad told me about his plans for the upcoming year—the primary focus being getting in shape. he realizes that his personal unhappiness very well may extend to his physical unhappiness and that if he feels healthier, he can test whether or not that theory is true.
the only thing i can do is be quietly ecstatic about this experiment and support him in whatever way he needs. i gave him encouragement to start swimming daily. he hadn’t even been in the pool since they opened it. i think he needed some guidance on where to start.
and lo and behold, later that evening when i emerged from the outside shower, my Dad had returned from his walk with Roxy. true to his word about starting a new physical practice, he had begun his new daily swimming regimen. and you know what? he was swimming…naked. and i wasn’t the least bit grossed out.
so it turns out that i did need to stay here. for a little while at least. i needed to figure out what i’m doing and to help my dad figure out what he’s doing. i needed to release everything else that is not a priority in this current moment. that way, i could make space for some important connections and healing of relationships.
i wouldn’t have had this transformative experience with my father if i couldn’t just be here…
:: thank you to all the voices who help me remember this when i begin to doubt my self ::