20.Perched up High,no Wings to Fly

WHEN DID YOU FIND PEACE IN THE MOST UNLIKELY PLACES?

BLOG 20: July, 1997—I am sitting in my bed in the livingroom of my home in California’s Oakland hills. I have nowhere to go now, no matter what I want to do. I am no longer working and I’ve applied for temporary disability. It’s a strange feeling to be in such a beautiful place with a gorgeous view of San Francisco, the bay, and mountains all around. I am a bird perched up high, on a bed of all things, and yet with no wings to fly. I’m only able to watch and to be still. I am strangely feeling a sense of peace with not moving. I have nothing to prove, nothing to become, nowhere to go. I am here, just me, with permission—possibly for the first time in my life—to be with me.

Prior to coming out west, and before living in New York City for a year, I had spent a summer at Omega, a holistic retreat center in New York State. I had lived in a tent and was first introduced to dance, shamanism, and earth-based cultures then. I used to stay up at night, reading Federico García Lorca’s poems in my tent under the rain, and I felt the preciousness of those moments where art and nature held me in their embrace. Back then, I tried meditating under the trees, but I kept hearing my father’s voice, telling me to be useful. It was a challenge being still, being with myself. This meant defying how I had been raised.

But here I am, and for the first time, I am not hearing my father’s voice, or maybe that of my ancestors, telling me to keep moving, to keep making something of myself, to be tough. I’m broken here in my bed, surrendered in my brokenness. There’s space for me to listen. There’s peace for me to be. During the day, my downstairs neighbor plays Roberta Flack on his record player, and rather than ask him to turn it down, I yell down for him to turn it up. Roberta Flack’s voice resonates “Killing me Softly with his Song” over the hills as my neighbor enjoys a moment of spontaneity. I make the most of life that happens around me, since it’s all I’ve got. And I stop for once in these hills of Oakland.

WHEN DID YOU FIND PEACE IN THE MOST UNLIKELY PLACES?

19. Crawling on my Knees

WHEN HAS YOUR STRENGTH BEEN YOUR DOWNFALL?

 BLOG 19: July, 1997—Life has never been the same since my ballet class in San Francisco. I’ve been in perpetual pain, despite the help I received from the chiropractor. When I walk, my hips swell up, becoming inflamed and making it too painful to dance, let alone move around. My injury that began as a groin pull when I stopped in New Mexico for eight months on my way to California has now become a chronic hip problem with little remedy.

Given that I’m in Northern California—the land of every kind of healer—I try them all. From regular doctors, who claim that my x-rays and MRIs are perfect, to the most out-there psychic surgeon visiting from the Philippines. I receive no relief, and in many cases, I only get worse with each treatment I try.

At one point, an orthopedic doctor explains to me my problem: “You’re too strong,” he tells me. You were able to push through your pain and not feel it, he says, and then goes on to explain that most bodies can handle up to 80 percent not working before hitting a tipping point. At that point the body breaks down completely and it’s hard to turn any damage around, he adds. I had done too much to my right hip by ignoring my groin injury, and this doctor, who works with professional football players, amazingly tells me that my biggest downfall has been that I’m too tough. I have never been accused of that!

I don’t consider taking drugs of any kind to lessen the pain, and instead, I begin living out of my bed, which my housemate suggested I move into the livingroom, one floor below my bedroom in our shared house in the Oakland Hills. It hurts so much to move that I crawl from one room to another—a sight that devastates my friend Jane, who, when she sees me, tells me I remind her of beggars she saw in India who crawled because they had no legs.

I do what I can to survive. I try working, but sitting for more than an hour is extremely painful. The muscles around my hip tighten so much that I want to sit on a small tennis ball all day to break up the tension in my butt.

The man who lives in the loft across from my work sees me in my new crutches and pain and gives me a piece of his Martial Arts wisdom. He tells me that any time he gets injured he gets real still with himself, for days if needed, and becomes clear on the lesson he needs to learn. Once he does, the injury heals. What is my lesson? he asks me. There may be one for me, I think, but either I’m too oblivious, too determined, or it just too late for awareness to change my fate.

WHEN HAS YOUR STRENGTH BEEN YOUR DOWNFALL?

18. The Last Dance: The Last Straw

WHAT WAS THE LAST STRAW THAT BROKE YOU (or said “enough!”)?  

BLOG 18: June-July, 1997—I am sharing dinner with my friend Jane and her girlfriend on the patio of my new home in Oakland, California. With good wine, food, and a view that looks out over the entire San Francisco Bay, it’s hard to imagine a better place to be. We are living in paradise, I think. The water and the outlying mountains feel like a tropical Asian land far away from the Americas.

I am excited to have finally made it here after an eight-month hiatus in New Mexico. I am back on track with my original plan to relocate in this dynamic area of the country. Despite my injury that slowed me down in the desert lands—and my calves that feel as hard as surfboards from having moved all of my belongings up four flights of stairs—I’m now taking modern dance classes in San Francisco and Berkeley. I surrender my body to the music, and move through the pain and tightness in my body, and my limited training among dancers with many more years of experience.

I begin my work as at a temporary agency for artists, helping artists find jobs in creative industries. It’s a nice part of town, along Berkeley’s bay, and in a loft area shared with other artists and residents. When I’m not working, though, I’m in dance studios where, especially in San Francisco, I feel out of my league. Fit, trim, elegant dancers move across the floor with much more grace than I feel I have (or a lot more training to make it look easy).

My passion for dance inspires me to keep going, though, until I take a ballet class. As I am lifting up my right leg and pivoting it around my body, my legs begin to weaken below me. It’s only one movement, but just the perfect one to break my innate strength and stubborn disposition that has kept me going so far since having pulled a tendon or ligament, possibly off the bone, in my inner thigh eight months ago. When I finish the class, I sit on the studio floor and stretch my legs along with other dancers. But I feel it. My body is crying what my eyes dare not show. This was the last straw. My body has had enough.

For weeks after that class, I walk as well as I can. But something is wrong. I feel as if I am walking over my right hip joint. My femur is not moving correctly in my hip socket. The more I walk, the more inflamed my hip becomes, and the less I am able to move. I begin walking with crutches and become desperate to find relief from my pain. I seek out healers, but little helps until my friend Geri drives me out of the city to a highly recommended chiropractor. After looking at my condition, the chiropractor jerks my right leg and returns the femur bone to its correct position.

I was out of alignment; the bone was stuck in the joint. He fixed the issue and my hip feels better, but it seems it never quite returns to the hip I had taken for granted for almost thirty years of my life.

WHAT WAS THE LAST STRAW THAT BROKE YOU (or said, “enough!”)?

17. California, Here I Come!

WHAT WAS YOUR MOST RANDOM NEW BEGINNING?

BLOG 17: June, 1997—I look up, from my car, at this beautiful house towering over me in the hills of Oakland, California. I’ve just completed 16 hours of driving, with a night’s sleep in between, and before me are three tall sets of stairs to merely enter the house. Once inside, I discover another two full sets of stairs to get to my new bedroom. It is beautiful, all of it—a house with glass windows that look out at the entire Bay Area—but my legs are extremely tired, and I have yet to carry a car-load of things up these steps.

Paula, my new housemate, helps me move in. It takes some maneuvering around her dog, a boxer that drools excessively and is fixated on licking Paula’s nylons. When the dog does this, her tongue sounds like a nail file, and I cringe.

By the time I’ve moved everything into the house, my calves feel like washboards, hard and unforgiving. I push through what I need to and then enjoy the view of my new house in the hills of Oakland. It’s a good life, if my body can handle it.

My new job with a temporary artist agency begins soon, and can’t wait to go into San Francisco to begin dancing at top-notch modern dance studios. I trust my body will relax in a few days from my long drive and I’ll be ready to begin my next life phase on the West Coast.

In the meantime, I look out these big windows that open out to the bay, and the hills in the distance, as the sun sets over this place that feels the most foreign and new I’ve ever experienced. I’m finally following through on my original plan to live in the San Francisco area, and now—after an eight-month spontaneous hiatus in New Mexico, and a groin-pull injury—I’m here. This place seems more like an Asian paradise of some past life (if at all, and if there is such a thing), but it has nothing to do with my current journey. It’s a new beginning, tied to nothing I’ve ever lived.

WHAT WAS YOUR MOST RANDOM NEW BEGINNING?

16. Winter into Spring: Move On!

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOUR RESTLESSNESS? (especially during younger years)

BLOG 16: January- June, 1997—The surrounding Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains, roads, and buildings that make up Santa Fe, this “City of Faith” in the high desert of New Mexico, are now covered in more than a foot of snow. This small city slows down, while inside homes, fires burn, warming old adobe walls, and filling the crisp, clean air with the scent of piñon smoke.

Days pass like this as I housesit, sitting by my fire, reading spiritual books and discovering a bit more of who I am—or more specifically, who I’m not. During the daytime, I take dance classes, turning, jumping across the dance floor with as much grace as I can muster. Mariko, a visiting dancer from Canada who used to perform with a modern dance group in New York City, watches me move, and at one point shares with my teacher that I am using too much muscle when I dance—not enough grace as I’d like. Her comments seem to sum up my life.

After dancing, I work in the evenings at a restaurant, but my groin and hips are getting tired. They are done with all my pushing, all my determination to dance despite having severely pulled my groin muscle months ago when I spontaneously stopped and decided to stay in New Mexico on my way to California. Working as a waitress seems to just make matters worse. I feel a dull ache as if I have an eternal bruise, and it’s tightening my muscles and making it more painful to sit and walk with each day that passes.

In order to stay in Santa Fe through the winter and into spring, I find another housesitting situation, and then rent a room during my final stay in this city. I move a carful of boxes from one place another, which puts more pressure on my back and hips.

I miss Albuquerque and the Sandia mountains, but I enjoy the solitude and time for myself inside this winter wonderland. I learn to be more still than I have ever been, and embark on spiritual journeys. When I hear songs or talks on the radio about Native American experiences in this country, I cry. I feel lifetimes—or past lives, perhaps—where I have lived as people here have lived. I feel deeply connected to roots of this land. There’s a familiar feeling here that opens my heart.

As spring approaches, though, so does my restlessness. I take a trip to Utah, but I’m disenchanted by the tourist playground there. I also spend time in Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains, camping, and completing my time in New Mexico as I promised the land I would do six months ago.

By late spring I’m ready to go to California as I had originally planned.  My hip hurts more than ever (even after going to a chiropractor and doctor that provided little assistance), but I have a job lined up in Berkeley and a house to share in the mountains of Oakland. I am excited for a new adventure, although I’m not prepared for the reality that lies ahead.

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOUR RESTLESSNESS? (especially during younger years)

15. Sacred Rituals of Ordinary Life

WHAT IS A SACRED RITUAL FOR YOU?

BLOG 15: December, 1996—I’m sitting by the fire in my temporary Santa Fe home in New Mexico’s high desert. Back from a brief trip to California, I’m reading Malidoma Some’s book, Of Water and Spirit. Malidoma’s words transport me to his village of Burkina Faso, West Africa, where he grew up and was later kidnapped by Jesuits who attempted, unsuccessfully, to infuse their values into him before he escaped back home. I’m drawn to Malidoma’s description of his people’s rituals and their deep, deep connection to the unseen world that is intricately and magically woven into their lives. I know that feeling of running from a sterile environment that doesn’t weave the sacred into the ordinary.

I decide not to go home to the East Coast for the holidays this year. I don’t feel my parents are ready to accept the diversity in my life, and I’m not prepared to return.  So, for Christmas, my boyfriend Richard comes up from Albuquerque to visit, along with my friend Eric, who is part Jewish, and his mother who is visiting from Philadelphia. Our eclectic celebration consists of sitting by the fire, exchanging gifts in a silly Yankee Swap (where you pass out cheap, used gifts you don’t want and fight for the best one of the lot), and singing to Eric’s fabulous piano-playing. Eric’s mother has the fortune of getting the gift of a bag of condoms, of all things, and I decide somewhere during that night that I am no longer interested in having a relationship with Richard (it probably didn’t help that Richard, who drove up with Eric and his mother, actually asked Eric’s Jewish mother what she thought of German concentration camps!)

After our indoor festivities, we go out onto Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, a road of galleries that for Christmas Eve is lined with farolitos (paper bags with candles in them) and bonfires where people gather around them singing. Eric eventually gets tired of “baby Jesus songs,” as he puts it, but I’m in awe of the warmth and organic spirit of people gathering together to celebrate life as they have done for centuries. It takes me back to Spain, to when my family and I visited the mountains outside of Granada for Christmas. It was snowing, the smell of fireplace smoke filled the air, and the bells were playing in the distance. My father grabbed my hand, ran me around in circles, proclaiming that Santa Claus was coming. I knew that Santa didn’t exist, but I nonetheless enjoyed the innocent magic of that night that had nothing to do with the modern commercial way of American Christmas.

WHAT IS A SACRED RITUAL FOR YOU?

 

 

14. I Promise to Return

DID YOU EVER LEAVE A PLACE PROMISING TO RETURN?

Blog 14: November 13-19, 1996—I made a promise to these wide-open lands of New Mexico that I would return to them if I took off to California for a short visit. After all, I didn’t want to get into another car accident as I had done when I had tried to leave this state during my first weeks in Albuquerque.

So, with caution, I bid my new Santa Fe home a temporary farewell, and flew out to Los Angeles. My plan was to visit the City of Angels and then to travel up to San Francisco, my planned destination home prior to staying for an extended time in New Mexico on my cross country trip from the East Coast in September. I needed to find out what was there in California, and get it out of my system, if nothing else.

Los Angeles felt like one big haze, all cars moving through fog, through pollution mixing with the sea air along multiple highways. While it looked nothing like New York City, it felt like the Big Apple I had lived in for a year. Where was everyone going? I visited a friend from high school, but there was no ground for me there. Nothing tangible to connect me to the land.

In San Francisco, I saw Jane and Geri, my two friends who had been partners in crime on our cross country trip. They were settling into life in the Bay Area as they had planned, but they understood my call to spend time in New Mexico. I looked at schools, at programs, at jobs, but didn’t settle on anything. With potential job offers, and a possible home to live in with a woman moving into the Oakland hills in several months, I had options.

I would be back to California, I figured, but only after spending the winter in Santa Fe under snow-filled skies and slow-moving days and nights that would give me a chance to be still in a way I had long desired.

DID YOU EVER LEAVE A PLACE PROMISING TO RETURN?