Sunday, November 30, 2003

beer is not my friend

Raining steadily today, cold and dark. I rose at 1 pm, feeling incredibly stupid, just in time for Mama Bear to inform me that she and her boyfriend had been talking about moving in together, and it looked like sooner rather than later, and gosh his stuff wasn't going to fit into the apartment with me there, so I shouldn't worry about writing a rent check tomorrow, she'd just take the last month's rent I'd paid when I moved in, two months ago.

Excuse me?

Boy, she's really sorry, because I'm a great roommate (read: I do everyone else's dishes and only complain about it here), and she's happy to write me a good letter of reference. It only just occurred to me now, hours later, that said letter would probably be written in crayon on the back of some other piece of paper, if our rental agreement is any guide, but whatever. She's resourceful.

Cranky is not exactly the word. Angry is not even it, although David Richo makes a wonderful point about the disservice we do ourselves when we try to represent our anger as something else: disappointment, sadness, peevishness, whatever. But I digress. I mean, I am angry, but mostly I'm surprised. If they've been discussing this, why didn't she say something when she showed me the room? It would have been the responsible thing to do, and she seems (for all of the mess and so forth) to be a pretty responsible person. I don't know.

So, it looks like I jump back into the scary Craig's List pool. Sigh. Princess will have a guest room open soon, and ArchitectX's roommate is moving out to get married, so I have a couple of gracious offers to consider. And I can always sleep in my studio if it comes to it, although I prefer not to. I can't help but think that there's a message in this that I'm not hearing yet.

Other than seeing a cat get hit by a car, which was horrible and haunted me all day (why, if you know you've hit an animal, do you drive away? Bastards. Props to the older gentleman who did stop and scoop up the cat and promise to take it to the SPCA), yesterday was a much bigger and better day than today has proven to be. There was enough material in yesterday to cut out three whole regular days. The kids' class went really well in the morning--my students are really much better aikidoists than they think they are, and Big D was helping me out, which was great. He's 200+ pounds, shaved head, wide as a barn door, and totally sweet. He's also a really good uke (attacker) for me to demonstrate the effectiveness of aikido, because he's a fair bit larger than I am, so when I throw him it looks impressive. We made it through class without having to play the dreaded 'Warball', and they were asking good questions. In a few weeks, on the last day of class, I'm going have their parents come on the mat, and have the kids teach their parents how to roll--I expect it to be a very entertaining morning. Then I went over to the Fat Chance Belly Dance studio to buy a set of zills and a choli top; they have all sorts of awesome books and videos and so forth, and I had to restrain myself.

Speaking of which, not having to work last night meant that I could do both of Jill's classes--beginning and intermediate--which felt totally luxurious. We spent some time experimenting with floorwork in the intermediate class, and while my knees are pretty sore today, it was really interesting. She's showing things in the advanced classes that she doesn't in the beginning class, and I can see that this will continue to be a complex and vexing study--which makes me happy. She had us break into small groups and develop short choreographies where we got to the floor (harder than aikido, although the latter does actually help a bit), did something there, and then came back up. Then we had to show what we had to the rest of the group, which wasn't nearly as nervewracking as I expected, and our classmates made the supportive noises and the zaghareets and so on. Then she taught us something that involved swinging our heads around with our hair loose, which defies description when she does it and made me dizzy and ecstatic when I did it.

There's a debate raging on med-dance, the Middle Eastern Dance listserv, about authenticity and culture and so on. I've stayed out of it, mostly because I'm studying with one of the more cutting-edge teachers and feeling almost personally attacked by all the dancers who say what we're doing (tribal/fusion/industrial/gothic/flamenco-influenced/whatever) is killing the form. Oh, please. I just finished reading Palace Walk, the first book in Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo trilogy (set around World War I), and while I am interested in and respectful of Arabic culture, I don't understand people who seem to believe that we need to be slavish in our replication thereof. I mean, Amina (the mother of the family) is threatened with divorce because she dared to leave the house when her husband was away so she could go to the shrine of a beloved saint to make obeisance. The women wait to eat until after the men have finished. The women who dance the form from which ours is drawn are generally understood to be lower than 'ladies', no matter how gracious, refined, and self-reliant they were. Do we need to replicate all of that as well as making sure our costumes and movements are perfectly authentic? And do I need to point out that we're Americans, dancing here, with our own histories of movement and culture? We're not going to move the same way, the music doesn't necessarily stir us in the same way (how many bellydancers know the words of the songs they dance to? Although many do admittedly make an effort to find out), we're not dancing in the same settings in front of the same people.

I know I'm making a rather absurd argument here. But bellydance isn't even specifically, purely, Arabic; the gypsies initiated it. Belly dance and flamenco share roots. The Tsingano, to whom I am tangentially connected, were as responsible for its manifestation as the Egyptians or the Turkish or the Lebanese. So should we be making sure that we're doing it exactly like the gypsies, who themselves adjusted what they were doing according to taste, whim, and audience? I appreciate the poster who says bellydance isn't a ladder with narrow rungs where we have to step on fellow dancers to rise; it's a series of wide plateaus with room for everyone.

Anyway. Later I got a chance to show what I've learned when I went to see my buds the Red Elvises at Slim's, and they played "I Wanna See You Bellydance", a song I've been dancing to on stage for, what, five years now? I'd had this idea that I was going to do something relatively polished, but of course that went all to heck, surrounded by cables and amps and the new drummer's kit and of course all the other people who wanted to shake their hips with Oleg and Igor and Oleg (yes, they now have TWO Olegs, an embarrassment of riches). I was also right behind Igor, who was wearing a pretty wide zebra-print suit, so if anyone could see me besides the drummer, I'd be amazed. So I danced with the other crazed audience members (including several guys, which was a nice change) and tried to build on what they were doing, and was entirely too conscious of a postural problem Jill had identified earlier in the day, and had a good time. Slice did turn out to be there, which I'd expected and braced myself for, but I didn't see him until after the show. Oddly enough, Bride of Slice wasn't there with him, but her friend was--"are you the stunt double?" I asked, managing to stop myself from asking if she was the body double--we all chatted nicely for a moment; he and I said nothing about the whole wedding registry ugliness, he didn't mention the wedding and I didn't ask. So. Better than expected. And then I went and hung out with the guys until about four, which mostly consisted of watching other people trying to impress them (including an insanely long story about how this one fella smoked out Jimi Hendrix's bass player at the Boom Boom Room) and wishing I had some Doritoes to go with my cerveza.

I think I've written before that it's sort of a struggle dancing socially now, because every time I'm out on the floor I'm thinking about stuff like my posture, or how a certain move will work, or practicing a turn. The first time I noticed this, I was dancing to house music with PRobot in a gay club, and I was able to stop caring what I looked like in motion because house is so forgiving. I'm trying to not worry about this, that my natural intuitive form might suffer from the domestifying effects of dance classes; eventually I usually relax enough to get out into the wild places. I have a plan for Burning Man 2004; I want to go out onto the playa with a big rug and a boombox and just dance, intuitively, for hours. Until I drop, maybe. I'll have a thermos of iced tea to share with anyone who comes by to watch or dance with me. This is a little different than dancing in one of the clubs, mostly because I'll have chosen my own music, and because I don't want to be enclosed. It's like the '50 drawings' exercise my drawing teacher gave us years ago. We set up a still life, and had to make fifty drawings of it without changing the arrangement of the objects. We could change everything else: our perspective, our materials, whatever. The idea was that after we had exhausted everything we thought we could do with the set-up, we would have to dig deeper to find something new, and we might be surprised by what we found.

I think about '50 Drawings' a lot. It's a great exercise, and can be applied to so many other things.

Friday, November 28, 2003

clean, follow, or get out of the way

The one truly useful facet of my monthly visitor is that the week before she arrives, arrayed in all her sanguine glory, I get incredibly inspired to clean. The rest of the month, of course, I'm kind of a slob. But for a few brief, shiny hours, I become the raging bull of domesticity.

Happily, that ephemeral state corresponded to a day off this month, namely Thanksgiving. I woke up too early to the screaming of Mama Bear's children; Mama Bear was taking a bath and apparently pretending that she had no children, so eventually I went into their room to see what was the matter. Apparently Little Howler didn't like one of the donuts she had been dealt for breakfast, and had to make a tremendous amount of noise about it. She would not stop until the offending pastry was removed from her sight. Meanwhile Big Howler explained that I should not be in their room (I'd knocked and asked, mind) and I pointed out that since they'd woken me up, they were just going to have to deal. Mama Bear had set them up with a tape of Legally Blonde, god knows why. What happened to the good old days, when kids watched porn over breakfast?

Anyway. The trajectory of that discarded donut, there's the story. Because as I carried the plate to the kitchen, suddenly I felt it: Must... Clean... Kitchen... Grr. The primal desire to put my hair up and scrub around the stove burners was so strong I nearly released a howl of my own. Fortunately for my compulsion the drawers were a mess and there was baked-on, caked-on, exploding stuff everywhere. I had plenty to occupy me. It was a couple of hours before that picked-over donut finally made it into the trash, before I remembered why I was in the kitchen in the first place.

Something I noticed, living in the Oakland house with all those other people. If you start deep-cleaning, the other inhabitants of the space will generally do one of two things: start cleaning, or beat a hasty retreat. Mama Bear, her boyfriend, and the Howlers naturally took option two, and headed out to the park after much hush-hushing. Ohayoo, to my surprise and delight, came out of his room after I'd been sorting take-out pizza red-pepper packets from plastic forks from birthday cake candles for about an hour and a half and decided that he wanted to clean too. Apparently he was reminded of New Year's in Japan, when--he told me--everybody does a serious cleaning to welcome the new year. We had the longest conversation we've had to date as he methodically took everything out of the refrigerator, one shelf at a time, and scrubbed the fridge interior within an inch of its life. Oh, it was a beautiful thing. Especially as there was some of that weird brown fridge goop juice pooled on the lowest shelf. Ohayoo is the man I want on my side the next time the gunk monsters try to smash our fair city; he must have worked on that fridge for a solid hour or more.

I also swept the area outside our door, and the steps leading down to the street, which I've been itching to do for about a week. It's amazing how much of a difference that alone made. I was really happy when I finally left the house to go to D's for Thanksgiving dinner. Just walking down clean stairs put me in a good mood.

At D's, I got to try playing her husband's accordion. Oh wow. I felt like the heroine of Bread and Tulips, dreamily squeezing away in Venice. Getting those nice rich chords for as long as you want... like piano, but without so much stretching. Poi has an accordion he bought off a friend who was in a bit of a spot. He keeps telling himself he's going to learn to play it, but it's been a year and no squeezes. Maybe I should buy it off him in turn.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

the Virgin Goddess

A small victory last night; ArchitectX thought Artemis and Diana were two different goddesses, I contended that these were different names for the same goddess. "Artemis and Demeter are the same," he insisted. So I made him look it up online, as his Bullfinch's is shamefully old and not as extensive as mine. And... I was right. This came up, of course, because we were talking about comic books yet again, and I was noting how strange it is that in Wonder Woman's current incarnation, Diana has a sister Amazon named Artemis.

This is the sort of thing we can amuse ourselves with endlessly. ArchitectX was the one who broke the news to me about the Fantastic Four's tough-guy Thing being Jewish (Benjamin Jacob Grim--who knew?) and explained the difference between the various kinds of kryptonite. He has an elaborate theory about the Kabbalistic significance of Superman's costume (you did know that Superman is sort of Jewish, right?) and sometimes I can barely keep up.

BUT, I knew that Diana and Artemis are the same. Very pleased about my small victory. Now, Demeter and Ceres are the same goddess. If Ceres sounds familiar, it may be because we get the word "cereal" from her name; she was the goddess of fertility and the harvest.

I also learned about Carna (yes, like carnal and carnation), the goddess responsible for fleshly health. And, for reasons that are still not clear to me, doorhinges. It seems that she gained the favor of two-faced Janus, who's the god of hallways and portals and so on. He liked her, so he let her have doorhinges.


It is incredibly cold here, although the sky has been very bright and shiny. Sunday afternoon, light on sleep and heavy on modeling cash, I spent an unprecedented amount of money on socks. I mean, I bought a pair of wool stockings (magically knit with cotton on the skin side) for more money than I usually spend on a pair of jeans. Oh, but I love them already. It's nice to be able to wear skirts in this weather. I also bought a pair of black-and-red-striped knee socks, because I'd been to an event Friday night that made me realize I am simply not dressing fabulously enough, and some multicolor socks I'm wearing now in anticipation of going to see Cirque du Soleil tonight.

Friday night's performance was just amazing. ArchitectX put on his tux and took me to Paul Nathan's Dark Kabaret. We saw a man put himself through a stringless tennis racket. And George Clinton showed up, beaming, benevolent, and incredibly funky for a man about a year younger than God. There was more to it, of course, but my fingers are too cold to encompass the whole wonderfulness of the evening.

Looking forward to a week with little or no work. Last week flattened me. Of course, I seem to be coming down with something--and one of my roomies has the flu, so I'm a tad concerned--but as long as I can read without having to get up to puke too often, I'm ready if that's what I'm in for.

My other (adult) roomie, the sushi chef, and I now have a little joke based on my limited grasp of Japanese. Yesterday, at, oh, two in the afternoon, I said ohayoo gozaimasu to him as he came into the kitchen. I corrected myself immediately, as I had just bid him good morning. "Or is it still ohayoo?" I asked, referencing the fact that we both work late and sleep late. "It's still ohayoo," he answered. This afternoon, I noticed when he came into the kitchen at two, he said ohayoo to me... this is so tiny, but I love it that we have this joke that nobody else in the house would ever get.

Sunday, November 16, 2003


A couple of months ago, I applied to a program that sends one journalist, photographer or videographer to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil for a month to work on a self-designed project. Wrote the letter, paid the fee, got the forms in and promptly forgot, so that in case I wasn't chosen I wouldn't feel too terrible. The date when they were supposed to announce the finalists came and passed and I heard nothing, then an email came that they had to delay the announcement because they had too many good applicants. Well, that's it, I thought.

Came back to my studio tonight after an incredibly silly musical about nuns on a cruise ship and the world's largest torta con chorizo, and after wrestling with my failing computer for about half an hour finally opened the email revealing that...

I have been chosen as a finalist!

There are nine others, many of whom appear to be older and more experienced than I am, if their profiles are any indication. Some of them are serious heavy hitters; I noticed a couple of daily editors. They want to study things like Candomble and the lives of prostitutes and the Middle Passage. And there I am with my curiosity about the first Sephardim in Brazil and their role in the slave trade, this insane idea involving serious digging around in ancient dusty shit, and they've misspelled my name in the finalist list and I am so, so excited. Now I have to dig through all my files for the perfect clips to send as additional support for my project, since I couldn't send any with the original application. I am incandescent.

The same session netted an email from a guy I'd met at a play; he'd been struck by the fact that I started our first conversation with an explanation of how a left eye/right hand-dominant sniper holds a pistol on its side so she can use the sights properly. He is also a writer who is opening a novel with an image of an exploding hippo. I've been meeting rather a lot of men lately, suprisingly enough off-line. There was a moment last week where I found myself wondering how so many men could be squeezed into the woodwork. It's probably because I have no time to date anyone and not all that much interest, but it's so wonderful when a man makes an effort, and some of these guys are. Might just go out with the exploding hippo fellow. What the heck. The novelty of meeting men off-line is also refreshing--I'm glad to see I'm still capable of it, although it's sort of weird being on a first date and not having been so thoroughly briefed beforehand.

I rather like it.

The interesting piece is that I am exerting very little effort, which is unusual for me. I'm often the one who asks for the first date, primes the steady flow of emails, does the, um, legwork. And I sometimes find myself wondering, in my less certain moments, whether the men I get involved with really want to spend time with me, or if I'm just something that happens to them; if they continue to go out with me because it's easier than saying no. So this new modus operandi--let him call me--makes me a little nervous because I am releasing control of the process, but also makes me feel like I'm not going to get into another situation where I have to bite back the tearful question, "do you really want to be with me, or are you just afraid to hurt my feelings?" Let me be clear: I am NOT turning into a Rules Girl. I just have a lot of other stuff on my plate, and people I want to spend time with that I don't see enough.

To that end tomorrow--later today--a new (platonic) friend I met via Tribe is coming over to the studio to teach a workshop in the design and construction of sock monkeys and other critters. He's promised to bring along his Sock Platypus to show us, and he sent out a link to the Socktopus. Of course I'm thinking about making a sock lemur. Although a sock meerkat would probably be pretty easy, seeing that meerkats are sort of sock-shaped to begin with. I'm really pleased that Naiad and Almeida will be coming, neither of whom I've seen in a while, and Snufkina, who just turned 30 and therefore deserves a new sock monkey. Poi might come by, before heading off to fire spinning practice; I love that conjunction of events. Sock monkey construction/fire spinning. AND hopefully we'll use up lots of my buttons and scraps.

From a leftover-Halloween-candy wrapper surfing the pile of stuff on my desk: There are about 9,000 tastebuds on your tongue. I think about this as I walk by the new Cicrcuit City on Van Ness, which features massive photos of people improbably enjoying their gadgets (does ANYONE really use their laptop while lying on their stomach on the floor? For more than a few minutes?) In one, an ecstatic woman is lifting a clump of popcorn to her mouth as she watches what we assume is a Shamu-sized television, and the magnification of her taste buds is sort of unnerving. They're just too Lovecraftian at that scale. She needs some tentacles coming out of her chin, or eyes on slimy stalks.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

here boy

It's not unusual to see a dog carrying a stick. But today I was walking up Van Ness behind some kind of pit bull/terrier beastie and his man, and the dog had a two-foot-long section of two-by-four in his mouth. Seriously. Almost as good as watching the dog was watching other people watching the dog. People smiled, shook their heads, stepped out from bus shelters to get a better look. The man, a rather colorless fellow in a San Francisco Giants T-shirt, didn't seem to notice that everyone was staring at his dog.

Eventually they stopped in an alley between Post and Sutter so the dog could do what dogs do outside, and the dog dropped the board with a resounding thunk. I thought about sticking around to see how s/he picked it back up, but the guy flashed me a glance that didn't suggest he'd appreciate strangers standing around watching his dog squat. So I moved on.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

falling into a pillow of silence

Sometimes I get these little flashes of words I like together, words that nail an image I want to get across. "I should use that in something," I think. Right before I tell myself that the image is so cool that of COURSE I'll remember it. Right before I forget it altogether. I know, I know. Carry a notebook. But then you need to remember to look at the notebook again.

A recent combination I liked and will eventually use: "One leprous olive."

The title is one such phrase. Not brilliant, but captures a moment today while I was at my friend F-Stop's house, waiting around to be an extra in her student film. At one point we all had to be quiet while the sound folks recorded the crackling of the fire in the fireplace. The suddenness of the quiet was extraordinary. It wasn't like the ringing silence you get when you leave a noisy nightclub or concert and find yourself on the street, blinking your ears in disbelief. Oho, say the ears, enough of THAT. This was different. Not as abrupt, as the voices of crew and extras died down by ones and twos. Not as thorough, as the rustling of one of the actresses brushing her hair in the bathroom competed with the clock ticking in the kitchen. Two kinds of percussion. This was quiet with the flavor of gravity; either a silence falling from above, or one falling into silence.

The rest of the shoot was fascinating, and only lasted a couple of hours longer than anticipated, which seems about right. ArchitectX changed his hair and appeared twice; he had a character motivation and everything ("you're going to get a beer".) I kept changing my mind about my turtleneck. We ate string cheese and drank cran-mango from the rapidly warming refrigerator, which had been unplugged (along with almost everything else in the house) so the lights would have enough power. The cats Merlin and Spencer kept breaking through the barricades of helpful girlfriends, trying to sidle through the reaction shots. I've spent worse Sundays, and perhaps when F-Stop is famous I'll be able to point to this film and say, "that's my hip!"

Sunday, November 02, 2003

talking to Jill on the phone

So we finally got a chance to talk about what joining the troupe entails. I was at my desk surrounded by ATM receipts that need to go into Quicken, she was driving home from the dog park where she's trying to teach her new canine charge not to be afraid of larger dogs. A far cry from the shadowy, jingling, whirring, hip-dropping, ululating, rose- and amber-scented world of le danse orientale. As an American Buddhist titled his book, 'after the ecstasy, the laundry.'

She was trying to gauge my commitment. "Without burdening you with the whole story, and conscious of the fact that you're driving," I said, "there is a major transition going on in my life, of which bellydancing is an outward manifestation, and one to which I am committed to devoting my energy. I am definitely into it."

"That answers my question," she responded. "I didn't know. People have different reasons. Some people are dedicated to performance, some are just interested in it as a mode of expression. But you've been diligent, and you communicate well, and you seem well-adjusted [I am withholding the editorial comment in accordance with an effort to not keep undercutting myself, but it's wriggling pretty hard and I don't know how long I'll be able to hold it down] and those are qualities I want in the group." "My heart's in the right place," I told her, "even if my hips aren't yet." I'm proud of that last, it took a while to come up with. Jill didn't laugh. Oh well. Maybe she was changing lanes. Maybe it's just funny to me.

We spoke more, about the contract (not uncommon in troupes) and dues and rehearsal requirements, picking up troupe responsibilities, supporting the professional troupe, and the advantages of a group of new students coming in all at once instead of in dribs and drabs. I took notes. I told her not to pull over to get the business manager's phone number, I knew where to find her online. We said goodbye and went back to our prosaic days, she to get her house ready for a party, me to scheduling work.

Her comment, though, really stuck. The idea that I appear to have my shit together. Emphasis on the word 'appear', because there have definitely been some days in the past month (uh, call that the past year) where I felt like I was careening wildly, and especially when I first started training with her, I was often fighting back tears in her class. Not because it was hard (although it is) or because I thought I would never get it (I know better; aikido has taught me a lot about perseverance) but because I'd start thinking about E, and how supportive he'd been of my dancing, and the fact that we danced really well together, and how I had let that convince me (along with other things, of course) that we were star-crossed.

Yes, I'm one of those people who starts really focussing on a discipline when I'm recovering from a breakup--I'd been doing aikido for a couple of months when BowlCut moved out of our apartment, and my practice got a lot more serious right afterwards (I've talked to quite a few people of whom this is true, incidentally), and now to some extent the same is true of my break with E. Although I'd always wanted to study bellydance, my incredible desolation post-E was like jet fuel.

I mention this because I've written to him, and told him about being invited to join the troupe, and he has responded very warmly, and asked me to keep in touch. We may be friends yet. I'm not ready to see him, or meet his girlfriend, but we can email each other, gently.

An art therapist whose book I've been skimming talks about making a 'safety box.' You take, oh, a shoebox or cigar box or something, and put the things in it that remind you of whatever you're sad about. Not just to get them out of the way, I mean, you decorate the outside or some such crafty art therapist glue gun and glitter sort of thing, and you treat the object as a sacred receptacle. You have all this intentionality around it. You're not putting these things--or feelings--away for good, you're just sort of giving yourself a little breathing space.

I haven't made my safety box yet. Not for lack of materials, as there is no lack of cigar boxes in either my studio or my family's holdings, but I just haven't had the time. So I have an imaginary safety box in my head. And it's working pretty well. I mean, it's a great replacement for the current system, which is some sort of perverse aversion therapy thing I do where I just wallow. Not a safety box, more like an open strip mine. Anyway. The great advantage to the virtual safety box, besides the fact that it's a lot safer than trusting me with a hot glue gun, is that in my head, I can make it any size I want. Which is a goodness, in light of the past twelve months or so; I don't know that a cigar box would really do it.

And my virtual box has a lid large and strong enough for me to dance on.
relocated to monkey heaven

My college roommate Sharkay spent an exchange year in Delhi, where she was mugged walking down The Street of the Monkeys. Mind you, she was carrying a bunch of bananas and a newspaper in one hand, and eating a banana with the other; so she was fully loaded and distracted when her attacker made his move and divested her of all three items. She now hates monkeys as much as she does squirrels, and with more reason. I can't tell either story nearly as well as she does, and I have a lot of other writing to do tonight, so I'll just point you at the article that made me think of her.

Apparently it's all very funny until it happens to you.