In which I learn from my ten year old self, how to stay focused. How I made my first youtube video and how Catherine's illness changed my perspective.
To improve my Shamanic practice I was advised by my Grandmother Spirit to journey every day and write down questions. I was not a very questioning sort of person it turns out. There is an art to asking questions. Most big questions I didn't want to know the answers to; it required a different kind of mind. One that is concerned with shaping the future and I had been raised to allow things to unfold and to pounce when the opportunity presented itself. I wanted to learn to master the art of the question, but meanwhile I could just hang out.
My power animals were very affectionate when I came just to hang out. We moved languidly as if on vacation. On my first hanging out visit, Mongoose and I rode on Bear who made himself as big as an elephant and thus we sat on his back in an elephant chair much like the ones used on Thai elephants. We decided to visit Leopard. I told Mongoose I loved Leopard. "She is your heart", he said.
We found Leopard sunning herself on her usual rock. She licked my face in greeting and I asked her what to do about Lenore. This was not actually a question on my list, but hey as long as we were hanging out I asked it as one would a friend.
After I wrote about my crush on Lenore I had sent her the link to the story along with all the other stories during those prolific few weeks when I was being reacquainted with my returning soul parts. I wanted to know if she minded being a part of my story. People do not always take kindly to being written about and I was prepared for this. Prepared to walk away. I had an entire flow chart in my head about how many ways I was prepared to walk away, but she gave me a big hug when I saw her next and told me how well I wrote. I did not expect her to follow the writing at all. I was so prepared to be rejected, I had to reorient myself to this warm reception and was not sure how to proceed; how to trust it.
"Lenore will be there for you as long as you need her," Leopard said. "Stay open for what is offered," she added wisely. And so I let go of my second guessing mind.
I asked Leopard if we could visit my 10 year old. We all walked down to the River and got in a small dinghy. The River drifted us downstream a little ways and stopped at the opposite bank beaching on a little spit of land bordered by some reeds. We jumped out and the 10 year old emerged from the reeds. She was eager to show us her house, a little round adobe house, whitewashed, with a single window and a thatched roof. I could build one myself from what I learned at a workshop in Northern Thailand. There was nothing inside.
"It's round," she explained, "because it is more productive; it is the corners that are distracting and catch hold of extraneous stuff." I had to agree with that. Then she ran very fast around and around inside the house to demonstrate. We walked outside again and in the clearing next to the house was a little writing desk. She said she was the one who recorded everything and did the accounting. I had also been a very diligent diarist from the age of eight. I asked her what else kept her focused. She took from her pocket a sling shot with a carved wood handle and gum colored band. It was much like the ones I remembered from childhood. I had not dared own one for my mother was against weapons. I knew these slingshots to be lethal.
"I use it for target practice," she said pointing to the target on a tree 25 yards or so to the left of the camp. I looked at the circles of the red target. (It was much like the logo of the store of the same name.) And suddenly I felt I understood something about having goals and plans for action. It was a brief, but clear message for I was not given to goals or any kind of plans for myself though I admired it intensely in others.
Before we left, the 10 year old also admitted that she hunted squirrels to eat. Such a wild child, I thought. I mused for a moment how this tale could be told from the point of view of the unincorporated 10 year old soul part hanging around for 44 years watching me live my life and waiting for an opportunity to join in—or not. I was reminded of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.
I went to e-bay and looked for slingshots. There were lots and one was even from Thailand with a lovely green stained hardwood handle. I was the only one who bid on it. I sent the seller a picture of myself when I was ten. He/she wrote back in a Thai sort of English, a tender note of appreciation.
Meanwhile I returned to my leadership obligations and prompted by my conference team, decided to make a video announcement about the conference and all the great speakers we were having. A quick look at similar videos made by colleagues and others showed that there was much room for improvement. This always inspired me, but my standards were already high. I also wanted it to be memorable and entertaining. I could not pull off a professional business attire thing as others would do, but Jim at ICD headquarters encouraged me to go with the same mountain climber costume schtick I had created for my introduction at our last conference and that was enough to set me off and running.
I had no equipment to speak of. Just my iPod touch. Kids were using it to make their movies so how hard could it be? The only thing needed, said the after school tutorial I found, was something to hold up the iPod. I looked around my room and my eye fell on the movie splicer I had unearthed from the basement for my soul retrieval ceremony. It was now sitting on my desk like a giant talisman. Heavy and sturdy, it had flaps to hold the 35 mm film down on a flat bed. I discovered that the flaps would hold the iPod upright and allow easy installation and removal for downloading. I set the splicer on a stack of books on my sewing table in my room. The repurposing of this old movie technology to support the new, pleased me with its poetic symmetry.
I did not have a backdrop of our conference location in the mountains of Denver as I envisioned, but I had a world map someone gave me. I pinned it to my louvered closet doors which looked so obviously like closet doors it added to the improvisational aspect, plus closets have much significance for organizers. Over the doors was a mask of a whiskered wild cat of some sort. It gave my set an explorer flavor and a spirit protector.
I wrote the piece, did some takes and realized I would have to memorize it so my eyes wouldn't be tracking back and forth reading the words on a page. It was also hard to remember where to look since the camera lens was the size of a pinhead. By the time I was able to remember everything in one take, I was exhausted and it showed. I asked Catherine's opinion. She had owned her own videography company and was a good resource.
"It drags," she said. It was better before when I was animated, but full of mistakes. Well at least it's done I thought and went to bed. I had already spent most of the weekend on it.
Done was better than perfect as we say to our clients, but these youtube things were forever, would be who you were after you were dead, as I found out when Hester died and that was what we had to remember her by—a lovely series of videos of her talking about being a professional organizer and how she approached various organizing problems. None of us had any idea she had made them, but she must have had help because they were so warm and personable; someone was on the other side of the camera. Too many videos had that dull look about them from people sitting in a room by themselves talking to their computer.
When it came down to it I had my pride, people to impress. My friends, my colleagues, my organization, not to mention Lenore—a filmmaker herself—would all see this thing. And some of my internet friends had never heard me speak. At least I could be more lively. Two days later, I decided to try again.
By then I had memorized my two minute piece. To liven it up I added expressions for each of the topics we were offering; I moved the camera back to make room to move so it would be funnier. I had an opening shot and an exit and little bits with props. Now there was a premise, a story. The mountain climber hefting a packed rucksack, heading out the door then stopping to talk about where she was going and who should come with. I worked so hard on this thing it took a total of ten hours to get it right after over 40 plus takes. But at least I had made it look easy. To seem effortless was a good marker of artistic competence. Catherine gave it the thumbs up.
When the video
was delivered to members in an e-blast, a colleague who had been a long time president of our much bigger umbrella organization sent me an e-mail. "Cute ICD Video. You're quite the actress, ha ha," he wrote. Awe thanks Barry. I had hit my mark with my first attempt, fulfilled my obligations to my colleagues and left my stamp on something.
The vision of the target in the10 year old's camp kept appearing to me. The simplicity of the slingshot representing a few well chosen tools. I could feel the satisfying connection of target and slingshot coming together. How a vision pulled energy to it. How the role of projects worked to sharpen my skills and move my thinking forward.
Before Catherine's diagnosis my ongoing project was to make emergency off grid equipment and practice self sufficiency. This entertained me not because I had fantasies of being a survivalist although I did read their blogs and write for peak oil enthusiasts, but because the simplicity of off grid living reminded me of home. Or what was home before it embraced globalization and became the mega-tropolis Bangkok of high end shopping malls emmeshed in grid lock traffic. Sigh.
My interests covered all the bases—tiny hand built homes, small boats, rainwater irrigation techniques, co-housing, vegetable gardening, solar oven cooking and living without electricity. Not that we didn't have electricity fairly reliably on my family compound and we cooked with propane, but it was there amidst the water jars, the ponds and extensive garden backing up against empty lots of high grass where old things were allowed to rust and fall into ruin, that I played and appreciated a life of simple handmade things. I had kept up an equivalent interest in California where orchards had given way to high tech. Building furniture from scrap wood, sewing my own designs and making simple home cooked meals kept me connected to that other life.
A lot of that is still there within our family compound in Bangkok. Tucked away beyond the sterility of the formal parlors of the three Big Houses, in the core of the half acre property, the staff live in one-room apartments adjoining an open air kitchen. Surrounded by a courtyard full of tropical plants kept tidy with borders of upended beer bottles, it was charming and anachronistic. When I visited I hung out there talking to our cook who remembered me as a child and told me what was really going on in Bangkok. Because I had left Thailand at such a young age, I never really gave up my affinity for that back kitchen living that was so full of life and things to do.
When Catherine entered into what would be a nine month cancer treatment schedule, I took up residence with her in the high tech, disposable, single serving world of modern medicine. Assisted by teams of competent, cheerful nurses there was nothing do-it-yourself about it. I would have to make something else—art. I amassed a collection of origami dinosaurs, a dragon, fish, a kangaroo, a space shuttle, two dogs and several traditional Japanese cranes. I particularly enjoyed folding my origami models when the harpist trundled her harp into the infusion lab and sat playing for us. There was something about the symbiosis of making art with our hands that made both of us smile secretly at each other. She was otherwise rather dour and made little eye contact unless someone clapped.
And as I whiled away the afternoon watching the cancer patients sit patiently reading, I came to appreciate the value of art, music and fiction. Once Catherine felt able to read, she chose those simple, charming stories of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and I was grateful for their ability to comfort and amuse. From the point of view of illness as a personal episode of collapse, the power to entertain and relieve the mind of the angst at hand made the efforts of artists a form of life saving.
After Catherine's treatment was over, I returned to my off grid projects, but I did not feel as compelled to tell myself the scenarios of technological collapse that supported the reason for my projects. It would always be a good idea to be self sufficient and handy and it would still be cool to have an off grid refrigerator, but the stories I wanted to tell now were very different.
Labels: art, Bangkok, cancer journey, cross cultural, Shamanic