Tonight we should be able to see the aurora borealis. There is a website with the forecast, but this part of the country isn’t included there. We are too far south of the arctic circle. Today, however, there is a solar flare and the sky is supposed to dance all over Europe. I’ve got an eye on the window. Watching the clouds. The sun sinking.

Last night I met with L. What should have been a leisurely dinner, had I not been so hungry for injera and chilies. She actually told me to slow down. Take a breath. She’s feeling grief now, flowing in like a tide. She’s aware of her own breathing. Her mother-in-law has been moved to palliative care. A matter of days. A matter of hours. The kind of uncertainty that crowds the present with future sorrow. We are both twisting and untwisting – in varying tempos. She’s having trouble sleeping. I understand.

After dinner, we went to see Elizabeth Schwartz dancing several of Isadora Duncan’s works. Schwartz began studying Duncan’s work in 1977. Before that she studied under Merce Cunningham. She is now 72.

She performed the pieces first with music, then with a narration of words to describe each movement: wave, wave, sustain, splash… Then again. With music.

She wore Duncan’s thin, Grecian dress. Two tears in the front panel, running up along her thighs. She desired. She reached-toward. Then she skipped, hopped, arched her back and surrendered. A bacchae, a mother, a comrade. She is exhausted.

Her body wore years of experience, a wisdom in the movements, an aesthetic in the presentation that touches deeper than ornamentation: This is not for you. It is more than you can conquer. It has already survived you and your desire to possess. It beat you to it. Mocks you for your tiny reach. Tiny desires. It is a glimpse of your future. Your impotence.

Doesn’t that scare you? Doesn’t she scare you?

The indigenous people of the Pacific regions say that humans walk backward into the future. I don’t think they mean that as a criticism. Though I do.

I write. Glancing towards the window occasionally. One thought for next week’s doctor’s appointments. One reminder to pull my shoulders back and lock the root – mula bandha for a moment. Breathe. Hum. Ah-men. So be it.

A new thought: L.’s mother-in-law is 72.

Duncun did not dance at 72, her bones were bare in the grave by then. What we get – what we leave from this life is so arbitrary.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question: Who tells your story? And whose story do you tell?

There were about forty people in the audience last night. And when invited, about a third of them took to the stage to learn one of the dances. To make it theirs. As usual: I observed. And I found myself close to tears at this play-acting of what used to be the transference of memory – long before film, before Laban notations. When memory was a living entity that evolved in the physical, metaphysical transference. When it wasn’t faithfully preserved as a single story mediated by the cognitive abilities of a single brain. When gods were greater than humans. Myths greater than fame.

Maybe that time never was at all. Maybe this is my pathetic recognition of mortality, a pathetic still-longing for a union with something lasting.

Meanwhile, I prepare for this year’s production, an adaptation of Maeterlinck’s Blue Bird. I am trying to stay in the moment of flow. “Yes, and…” I say to myself, acknowledging all that washes in (the doubts, the obvious) without becoming overwhelmed. Trusting. Wondering at the Blue Bird‘s diamond hat that allows the children to see the living soul of everything on earth. Water’s wantonness, Fire’s temper. “The soul of sugar is no more interesting than the soul of pepper”, says the fairy. But what of our souls, I wonder?

There is a line from the original Blue Bird just as the trees of the forest, and the animals – domesticated and not – distraught and desperate move to kill the humans in an act of vengeance and self-defense, Light advises the frightened child: “But, my poor boy, didn’t you know?… Turn the diamond! They will return into silence and obscurity and you will no longer [need to] perceive their hidden feelings.”

In other words: Walk backward into the future.

But no. I’m going to look. Even when the darkness comes – with the aurora borealis, whether I see it or not.

Every story ends, is picked up, and reborn.

Right?

photo: Ren Powell

Last night I watched a documentary about children with cancer. One of the things that struck me was the humor: the parents and siblings with their steady stream of comments that wouldn’t make sense in a transcript but conveyed such complex experiences- their purposeful weaving of lightness with darkness to make the experience more complex. To create meaning in every moment.

But another thing that struck me so many times was the gathering of families for birthday parties, for funerals: the blowing-out of candles, the hugging.

The touching.

I thought a lot about touching at the beginning of all this. But how quickly things become habitual. How quickly a culture can change. When a nurse on the tv screen reaches over to comfort another nurse with a hug: my body responds by tightening, “No!”

I wondered what this documentary would look like had it been filmed this past year. If the one doctor, with his arms tightly crossed over his chest while he talk to the family about end-of-life decisions would seem… unremarkable?


This week I have been thinking about how much I miss mentoring. I miss my job. Since March, my role has changed drastically. The physical distance has created a kind of objectivity and hands-off mentality that I get no pleasure from. I can count on one hand how many times I have been able to sit in a room with students and work on a scene – jumping up and down from the floor to interrupt, to find a new perspective, to coach: “Take it again, from your upstage cross” – when I’ve been able to see the learning process – or see that I need to come at it from another angle.

The conscious physical restraint has restrained me creatively.

It feels like I’m trying to teach a child to swim while sitting on the bleachers. I can’t explain why. Objectively, I don’t think much has changed in terms of my actual behavior. I wonder what one would observe comparing film clips of my work before and after the Corona restrictions. If I would seem “normal” now. In the classroom, in the conference room: now sitting across the table and down one seat to measure out a meter.

The students come into the room single file now, and we spray their hands with anti-bac. They leave the same way, and we mop the floor after every class. There’s no logical reason my relationships with the students should be different because of these little rituals. But they are different. I have a whole new understanding of what makes a “safe space” in a rehearsal room: where I am allowed to touch a finger lightly to a sternum and say: “Move from here,” reminding the student that the theater is where the imagination creates an alternative and shared reality through our physical presence. Our physical energy. Our physicalized intentions – whether or not they are followed through – whether or not they are played against.

Fear is a wild creature, that doesn’t respect boundaries or arguments. Fear is a great, gaping mouth that latches onto whatever it can to feed.

I try to get a student’s attention in the hallway. I lightly touch my finger to her down jacket and everyone’s heads whip around: shame.

In the rehearsal room, the students can touch one another. It has to do with the subject’s egenart, it’s specific nature. We’re still unsure whether instructors are allowed to touch the students. The logic evades us all.

A distraught student comes to me in tears. I find the appropriate telephone numbers, write the emails, help him make a plan to get through the next day or two. I reach out to touch his arm… isn’t this the specific nature of the moment?

My role?

Some habits are hard to break, and any acting teacher knows that playing against the impulse heightens the emotion of the moment.

Adds complexity – which seems to be the specific nature of human nature.