I’m watching my former teacher perform, and I realize that this may be his last performance of such magnitude and gravity before his retirement. He’s playing for the victims of the Touhoku region, but he’s also playing for something greater than himself, greater than all of us in the theater. I look at my own bleeding hands, and I remember the day he made me hold a stance until I was no longer able to stand. I remember the days he made me run in the rain, he made me kiai until I lost my voice. Discipline, a commitment to an art form, a way of life. Nature polishes the spirit, he would say, for the taiko is a collision of natural elements that we interact with as a kind of spirit, one that challenges and invigorates our own. A meeting of living forces that changes both parties.
I needed to be shaken after this year. A kind of purifying shake-up of my assumptions, my sense of being, my orientation toward the world that has only worked like a lure for other demons. These days have been filled with inspiration, lots of breathing.
I’m dressed down: tank, athletic shorts, bare feet. I am here with my body among other bodies drawn together by a particular interest in how we might tailor our embodied experience as drummers and as those who must navigate ourselves through space and time. Taiko, for me, has been a series of lessons about phenomenology. Those parts of your body that fade into the background, what becomes muscle memory, what we shape and condition in terms of corporeal response. I forget in the six years I’ve been pursuing this how I’ve pushed my body in exciting yet equally dangerous directions. An overstretch, a pronation, a hyperextension. Tears and damage I will never see. To stand at the drum has been a constant reminder that I can persist in spite of my own body, yet I am left with doubts about whether or not this sustainable in the long run. This antagonism, this game of trying to one-up my body with my mind and spirit, every bit Descartes’ little game. If I am training myself to inhabit more fully moments, experiences, tension, difficulty, can I not also find the best means to inhabit my body truthfully, respectfully?
Denim jacket, khakis, and brogues. He’s reading Gide while trying to keep his balance as the train throttles forward. He’s folded the front cover behind the back, and I know exactly where he is in the plot. I feel like a voyeur witnessing his seduction by the text. We make brief eye contact and the energy transfers. He peels me away from my motion sickness and my dereliction, and I am held there in the density of his gaze. The meeting of two immoralists.
I slip into Dog Eared to pick up the fresh copies of Bolano and Calvino on sale. A fellow customer, too engrossed in Stein’s Tender Buttons bumps me with his elbow. There are quick apologies exchanged, and he teases me for being on my phone while being in the company of so many books. A religious experience, he calls it, whenever he comes in here after work. I fumble a response, and he merely laughs. I’m distracted by the tailoring of his suit, the way it hugs the body in the right ways. But these encounters of organic hesitancy when I fail to force word into sense and phrase happen all too often. The way the fog forces me down paths of construction and colloquialism that leave a bitter taste in my mouth, tongue in knots. Not an inability to make the words but a failure of execution because the words become matted into clumps that tumble and fall out of rhythm, meaning. Grade school teachers and ex-boyfriends used to call it poetry, but I think I’m getting too old for euphemisms. My little agon needs no more sugaring.
The familiarity of fog in my cup. Nostoi are few and far between, but I come back into his arms, back into the veins of this living body of a city. There’s the pleasure of auto-piloting through the streets for old time’s sake. Then there are good friends who will drink to your health, trade wit for sarcasm. These are the days I feel, the ones that escape the written form. I have a little box full of notes to days like this. Reminders of my youth, that I’m capable of being happy even if my winters last six months, and I’m beginning to have marriage anxiety about my dissertation-to-be. The morning air cuts into my lungs, but my feet carry me forward. Handfuls, breathfuls of nerves and butterflies. They’re with the fog now.
When you love a city and have explored it frequently on foot, your body, not to mention your soul, gets to know the streets so well after a number of years that in a fit of melancholy, perhaps stirred by a light snow falling ever so sorrowfully, you’ll discover your legs carrying you of their own accord toward one of your favorite promontories.
—Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red.Vintage, 2002
There are penalties for going to bed with a mouthful of ill will. It decays on the breath, and you are left with the residues of rot that are at once a reminder of the irrecoverable hours that have passed and of the body that persists. I want to channel that ancient way of mourning, but I know my ranting and raving reaches no gods even if I pull out every follice. I have no body to drag, no tomb to drag a body around. Instead, I spit a few lines into the flicker that hisses back, and I feel the fantasy for a moment that I am heard at a distance. That his indecencies, that his improprieties, that his immaturity will not leave me a fury, chthonic and hideous.
The summer storms shake the wooden foundations. 2 AM quickens my blood, a paranoid sublime.
He had said this to me once as a concluding line of a monologue I think he had prepared the night before the whole ordeal over the phone. No, it isn’t pleasant to hear the ties being torn, especially when you have a touchscreen pressed against your ear. But he told me I had boxed him in, and it is in his nature to rebel when he is cornered. Fight or flight, but I still think there wasn’t really an “either/or.” He flees because he takes inspiration from Daphne, yet there is no rootedness that comes from his flight. I am Apollo in so much that my head is too busy dunking in verse epistles. A pause. A meditation on my thumbs, sutras about the force of non-force. Know thyself, I say in cheaper words. But he’s gone before the syllables alight.
Donna-Marie Riley, from Love and Other Small Wars.
I know how to make the broth myself, but I feign ignorance because this is her kitchen, her house. She puts the daikon in, the tofu, the three kinds of mushrooms that I happen to like. A rehearsal of movements, her kind of culinary grace that I have yet to be able to emulate. I am too hasty for the kind of timing that Chinese cooking requires. I am too easily overwhelmed by the series of small tasks that need to be done in sequence. I am also too reluctant to plan my cooking by the step. So I fumble, and she helps me, in person or in spirit. She laughs at my inability, and I take it in stride because she’s probably the only one I’ll allow to mock me in this way. Her frankness, her abrasive way of turning a phrase. I’ve inherited her fire, and I fear for the day when I alone must carry the torch.
Only yesterday a smart young Ph.D. student told me his supreme goal was to keep himself from checking his email more than once an hour, though he doubted he would achieve such iron discipline in the near future. At present it was more like every five to ten minutes. So when we read there are more breaks, ever more frequent stops and restarts, more input from elsewhere, fewer refuges where the mind can settle. It is not simply that one is interrupted; it is that one is actually inclined to interruption. Hence more and more energy is required to stay in contact with a book, particularly something long and complex.Reading: The Struggle by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books (via infoneer-pulse)
(much of my struggle as a graduate student alongside my anxiety. this sense that I am never fully immersed in that which I am reading. i feel like a passive reader even when I believe myself to be at my most active. what does close-reading mean in our world of over-stimulation?)
I find my maroon infinity scarf in a parcel outside my door. He has the courtesy to send it back to me since he knows how much I’ve become attached to it since I moved to Philly. As the paper falls away, I see it there folded nicely, clearly dry-cleaned and pressed. I forget just how attentive he is to detail, to the necessity of an execution in proper form. I also feel like he did it to erase the tracks, to give me no breadcrumbs to follow back to him. Doors are slammed shut, and the dust has finally cleared. But there are things like this scarf that are inevitably caught in the crossfire that somehow find their way back to their sides. Bodies move, boxes are packed. Put it in the box, put it in the box. But he knows my deliberateness. I may have left hastily, but I took what I needed to take with me. I hoped this would help him brave the coming winter, but he seems to think I’ll need it more.