Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rise up Singing

Last night, a year after I began to find my singing voice, I stepped up to the microphone and sang a tiny solo at the Henry Miller Library's "open mike." I am so very grateful to the angelic teacher I found right here in Big Sur: Lisa Goettel, of The Bird Sings.

Lisa's dream is to travel the world teaching people to sing, in the way of the Sufi poet Rumi, who says:
"I want to sing like birds sing. Not worrying about who hears or what they think."

Confident and charming, Lisa teaches at Esalen and at the Spirit Garden, and can travel to your town to guide you and your friends in song. A coltish beauty, she leads students in vocal exercises that expand breath, the key to vocal power. She encourages us to make funny sounds, and instructs us in the fine art of harmonizing. Her repertoire is vast, having sung before she could speak (Mom was an opera diva).

With all the chaos and distraction of life, it helps to sing. To hear and feel your sound resonating in your own body is a fundamental tonic. In addition to diluting the self-consciousness so many of us experience being fully ourselves in front of others, it simply feels good.

If, as another teacher has told me, your body is your designated toy, then the voice is the part that takes play to the next level. Everyone's voice is exquisitely their own, the primary expression of soul. More than just listening to music, making music with our voices can generate and release emotion, cleanse us and set us free.

Singing fills me with love, and the possibilities in song are endless. As long as we breathe, we can sing out who we are to the world. So, dear readers: here's a bit of music that comes to mind just now. I hope it will make you smile!

Photo of Lisa at Easter celebration by Linda Sonrisa

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A prom queen's (not!) rite of passage

Oh yeah, I'm never, ever, going to my high school reunion! I mean, why? I don't get it. What is this absurd American ritual, anyway? Eeeeeewwwwww.

I said this for years, without really exploring why I felt so strongly about it. I tossed the invites, never sent my forwarding address, even changed my maiden name (for other reasons, another story).

This summer, my mother sent me the fateful letter, and this time the number of years between then and now got to me. I started talking to people about reunions, heard their stories, their enthusiasm. Like Grace, who just had to go back and see what happened to the friends that helped her dig her retainer out of the cafeteria trash bins. Or Jay, who was in email contact with former classmates and contemplating going to his 40th reunion on the other side of the country.

Not letting myself think about it much, I sent off the check two weeks beforehand. Then, the day of, this strange thing happened. I began to understand why I'd been feeling so awkward, grumpy and over-sexed for the past week or so. This constellation of emotions reminded me of how I high school! Funniest of all was the sign-up form: in a space of about an inch we were asked to say what we'd been doing since graduation. Oh dear, where to begin?

Packing my bag, I struggled over that eternal question: what to wear? Then I realized that if I wore something that I felt made me feel unattractive, that would be the perfect reminder of my adolescent angst as well. (Yes, I know, it's pathetic, the grief of a mildly neurotic American teenager, 70's style.)

But we work with what we have, and this is what I got: Midwest to California diaspora of job-seeking soon to be divorce-seeking disaffected adults, tidy tract home, public schools, the suburbs, the malls, the funny hair and ridiculous clothes of the time. Aside from books, a few good teachers, and drinking ice tea with my Mom (sitting on the kitchen counter, dispensing advice at the tender age of 13) it, basically, sucked.

So, I didn't want to go back. But something magical happened when I did: it wasn't so bad. Ah, I thought afterwards, this must be the rite of passage part. I connected with a few people, some I remembered from before, some only when I saw them, wearing their name-tag pictures from years ago. We laughed, about who we'd been then, and who we are now. Add to this hugs, dry humor and storytelling and you get a night out that is refreshingly real.

Since I was a hold out, people thought I'd been traipsing about remote corners of the globe for decades, making films. "Didn't you do something with drama?" someone asked and I replied "well, I've certainly done drama in my life..." And again that familiar laughter. "Oh, I remember you, you were one of the super-smart kids," I said to a man who I recalled was also horribly awkward in those years, "Yeah, I think I peaked in 9th grade," he replied as we both sipped our drinks.

That part was fun, too. Hey, we can all drink like fishes together now, legally! The class photo was a bit eerie: all these same spirits together again, on a different planet now, in terms of life experience. Sad faces, thoughtful faces, glowing faces. There was that familiarity, that ever-so-faint whisper of who we were then.

Happy to have my husband with me, we began the evening on the edge of the crowd, looking in (another echo of the past), cracking jokes. In addition to an award for greatest number of children, we decided there should be one for, say, greatest number of sexual partners! Or extra-marital affairs, with bonus points for children out-of-wedlock!

And at the end of the night: pay dirt. A woman emerges from the crowd, and I recognize her first. I grin and watch her face change as she looks at me. "Oh, you brat!" she exclaims, "we were so close!" and we embrace. Her face is the same, her body, larger and softer. My husband sparkles at her, and I see a sudden kinship (she's Welsh, like him).

This is Julie, the pretty young woman I fell in love with when we were both about 9 years old. We were in Camp Fire Girls together, we had sleepovers, we went to Pt. Lobos with her parents, and tidepooling with them one Saturday morning stayed in my consciousness for decades.

We head to the bar together, order drinks, but don't get our talk in because one of those guys, the kind who ignored us when we teenagers but who can't get enough of us now, chats us up. You know the type: married but friendly and quite possibly available for the night. His senior photo on his name-tag literally sends me into a time spiral (or maybe it's the Tequila).

So now, Julie and I are friends again. She has a 19 year old son, an ex-husband, and is about to go to Lake Tahoe on vacation. I have a husband, a great dog, and a wild life in Big Sur. Life, as they say, is strange, wonderfully so. Or, (and you've probably heard this before) as one of my classmates (who no-showed to the reunion) said beneath his photo in the senior yearbook: "What a long, strange trip it's been."

And a photo of me, on the edge of the crowd, (picture #2) big smile on my face (just like in 1979.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A public service message

Last Tuesday, the Man and I had a little chat. Since there's no cell phone reception on top of the mountain, I make and receive a pathetic number of calls on my sexy red phone, and so I get very, very excited whenever it rings. Like Pavlov's dog, I always pick up the phone. Which is what I did, as I was waiting in the left turn lane, driving from Rio Road onto Highway One.

Whoops! Yes, that squad car is for me, I think, as I pull onto the side of the road near the picturesque fields stretching up and down the corridor of the Carmel Valley meadow. "So," he says, (blond, attired in regulation khaki, holding his clipboard, his shadow falling across me) "Can you tell me why I stopped you?" This is good, I think, as the wheels in my brain start turning, gauging the potential value of clever banter with a man in uniform.

"Um, my car is really dirty?" I ask meekly, glancing at the heavy layer of road dust on my wagon's rear window, the distinctive fan of clear glass shaped by my back wiper blade. Someone has drawn a peace sign in the upper left hand corner. "Nope," he says, "Try again." "Uh, I didn't use my turn signal?" I look up at him and squeak this out.

"No," he says once more. "You were talking on your cell phone." "I bought one of those expensive ear-thingies," I reply, "but I lost it..." "So, why don't you use your speaker phone?" Now it's his turn to sound a bit pleading. I grimace. "I can't figure out where the button is." He sighs. "License and registration, please." Dang. Then, I dive into the well of my passenger seat, digging about for my booklet with registration papers, etc. As I do this I realize my backside is up in the air, giving the cop a good view. This seems to have no effect, either. Oh well.

"Why don't you have your registration in your glove box?" (Like you're supposed to, he adds silently.) "Because I've got too much other stuff in there." Now I'm in the back seat, still looking. I show him a Dinosaur excavation kit I'd just purchased for a friend's 5th birthday. This gets a smile from him. "My life is chaos!" I confess, my car at times doubling as my suitcase, camping kit and mobile office.

As he writes me up, outside, beside his car, I wonder how many locals are observing my mis-adventure. In fact, since this corner of Highway One is the beginning of the main artery all of us use to travel down the coast, my story could make it back to Big Sur before I do. Or at least a version of it. (Yes, the following afternoon a colleague asks me, "Hey, what was up with you and the Sheriff?")

My day had been full of puddles of love. I had lovely exchanges with all the people I met as I took care of a variety of endless items on my many to-do lists. The lady I bought coffee from in the café taught me how to say good morning in Turkish, the sad-faced grocery store clerk and I chuckled over the horrors of holiday Musak, the man at the toy store told me he felt like Tom Hanks in "Big" and so on. Perhaps, in my golden, happy-for-no-reason day, I was due for a friendly interaction with the Law.

So, yes, it's very dangerous to talk (or heaven forbid, text!) while driving. Accidents can and do happen as a result, and often. Officer Dainty (I swear that's what his name looks like on my ticket) shows me where the speaker button is on his cell phone. As I sheepishly return to my dirty blue Subaru, parked beside the highway, broadcasting my rule-breaking to my neighbors, he calls out to me, "And hey, clean your car!"

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Short films under the stars

The Henry Miller Library's 4th annual Big Sur International Short Film Screening Series is drawing to a close this month, as Big Sur's cultural scene achieves its late-summer climax. Every Thursday evening, from June through Labor Day, we gather on the lawn for the best kind of armchair travel, into the hearts of people all over the world.

Who says we are stuck in the boonies, a bunch of hicks at the end of the road? It's certainly not the case this century. The Henry Miller Library and the Big Sur Spirit Garden make countless offerings to our community's cultural life all year long, but especially in the summertime.

Short films, Flamenco classes, singing lessons, concerts, open mikes, art shows, book tours, it's all here, on stages under the redwoods at the Library or in the mural filled sculpture garden at Loma Vista. Plus, in various locations, there are political discussion groups involving the ongoing advocacy of saving our state parks, local musicians performing at restaurants, and the occasional unforgettable memorial.

Since so many of us are now reading our emails, checking social networking sites and (god help us) "twittering", no one misses a beat. I remember asking my elderly neighbor what they did before radio down here in Big Sur, before satellite dishes, cell phones, the Internet. "Well," he replied, "there was always ice cream."

The ball is rolling now and most would say there's an ongoing spike in cultural choices throughout Big Sur, from the Soul River Studio's Film Series, to Big Sur Arts Initiative's Stagekids Theatre Program, to private dinner parties, pool parties, and theme parties involving copious amounts of Tequila (don't ask.) Well, sometimes it's a bit much (as they say on that tiny island in the Atlantic that my husband comes from.)

It's getting to the point where I feel guilty for staying at home and drooling in the sun on my yoga mat. I have so much to read, darn it, and so much to learn (and at this late date I have to learn fast) and so many, many distractions. Not to mention ice cream to eat.

That said, the lure of the epiphany of the short film (and the fabulous popcorn) draws me regularly to the Henry Miller Library series. Last week was especially gratifying: the closing film was Kroeskop (Absolutely Afro) from the Netherlands. Is it possible that my life could be forever altered in just 10 minutes? I think so, and this little cinematic gem did it. Just remembering its ineffable innocence makes me smile.

Then last night, I saw a woman emerge from a shining chrysalis, to dance on stage triumphantly in glowing, enormous wings (everyone should have a pair.) She recalled ancient Ma'at, the Egyptian goddess of Truth, and appeared in my dreams, of a golden summer season in the Sur.

The deliberately low-brow opening cartoon at the HML
World's BEST popcorn by "the popcorn girl"