Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An Open Letter to Kaeshi Chai

Update as of 9/19/13:  It has come to my attention that a rumor has been spreading that Kaeshi and I "had a falling out." This is not true.  A "falling out" is "a serious argument or disagreement." But she and I did not have any argument or disagreement leading up to her actions against me. When we were in Florida for PURE Reflections in November 2011 she accused me of "stepping on [her] toes" but when I asked what I had done, she had no answer. 

During that week, she was increasingly irrational and abusive towards me, often attempting to humiliate me in front of the group. For example, when I stepped forward to lead a choreography in rehearsal -- as I had done a few days before -- she yelled things like, "Oh are YOU leading now??" This shocked and disturbed other participants who brought their concerns to me afterwards.

Within two weeks of our return to NYC, she informed me via email that I was no longer in PURE -- with no warning -- no chance to figure out what was going on, much less do anything about it. She removed my name from the PURE website, and has since entirely removed my credit from PURE Reflections -- my writing of the story and my original direction, which was set in place as the work was created on its feet in September 2009, and which I refined and developed as the show's primary director over the following two years.

This act is both unprofessional and unethical.

She has never given any reasonable explanation for her actions, yet has continued to defame me personally and professionally. She also appears to have abused the faith of the PURE members and donors to further her various personal agendas. During 2012, I tried to make her aware of the severity of her actions in private correspondence; she abused me verbally in return, and then ignored my communications altogether. 

The below critique was my first public attempt to bring awareness to her behavior: If she will not or cannot change, at least those working with her will be given an opportunity to more fully understand what may be in store for them -- an opportunity that I wish had been given to me.

For further info, please see the below entries, which refute a long, defamatory letter that Kaeshi sent to a large group in the dance community:
            *                                             *                                             *
What follows is a series of comments I posted to a Facebook thread about PURE's procession event this past weekend.

PURE, as many of you know, is an international community of dancers and musicians co-founded in 2004 by  three well-known dancers, Kaeshi, Darshan and Sarah Locke, who had experienced healing and peace through their practice and performance of bellydance.

Its purpose is to "bring positive change, beauty and awareness to the world through the power of dance and music."

I joined this group in 2006 and became a key member in 2009 during the creation of our dance-theater show PURE Reflections: Beauty Reimagined, which explores body-image and the struggle to come to terms with media-driven beauty standards.

The narrative is one of feminine individuation, which I developed from my work with Jungian psychology, so it is very dear to my heart and one which reached deeply into every cast and audience.

Over the following years, we recreated the show several times -- in NY, CT, Japan, Taiwan and Florida -- where Kaeshi and I led a series of workshops bringing each group through the painful but rewarding emotions of the show's journey.

With each successive show, I took on a more central role, partly due to my experience as an actor and director, and partly due to Kaeshi's increasing professional conflicts with her other projects.

When we produced the show last year in Florida, my centrality became untenable for her; after we returned, she ejected me from PURE with no recourse.

Last weekend, PURE performed its annual procession and premiered a choreography called "War & Peace." I and many others believe that this piece was her effort to come to terms with the conflict she felt towards me, but sadly it was ineffectual in its intended message of peace and reconciliation.

While the presentation itself is enjoyable and entertaining ... it is senselessly violent and sadly off-the-rails from the message of PURE that I and others have embraced these many years.

When I saw a thread appear on Kaeshi's wall proclaiming it the "best PURE performance" I was dismayed -- especially knowing the sad backstory and posted the below comments.



Unfortunately, I was not able to attend this event, although I did watch the video and the choreography is indeed impressive and exciting; it is clear everyone worked very hard on it to a stunning effect.

There are some aspects of the narrative, however, that are a bit confusing.

Is there a reason that everyone is in the same uniform? The division into sides indicates two warring factions, but are these the same people? And if they are the same people, what is the reason they are fighting? Further, are Kaeshi and Elisheva merely survivors of the battle or are they leaders?  And if they are leaders, why are they not clothed differently and stepping forward to incite/lead their troops into battle? Is the military not by definition hierarchical?

If, however, there are no leaders, then what you are depicting is a riot, not a battle. But again, there seems no visible reason for it; it is just fighting for fighting’s sake.

What is most confusing is the moment when the leaders/survivors notice the dead and stop fighting. I have never been in battle, but I have spoken to veterans, and my understanding is that in a real battle one fights to the death. It is expected one’s comrades will fall, and awareness of these deaths is no surprise to anyone. It is never a reason to stop fighting; it is, in fact, a reason to fight all the harder until the enemy is vanquished even to the last.

To my understanding, THAT is what war really is.

Did you perhaps talk to any veterans to get a reality-based perspective? There are some, after all, within the PURE community itself as well as many veterans groups within NYC.

To have the leaders/survivors suddenly realize that everyone is dead, and make this the reason for their ending the battle, implies that this is a war game that has gone too far. But if that was the case, shouldn’t awareness of going too far happen sometime before everyone is dead?

And is a portrayal of war as a game consistent with the message of PURE?

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it’s OK for PURE to portray violence as a game -- for the purpose of showing the dire consequences of that violence. And indeed, this message begins to come through as the leaders/survivors express grief at realizing the destructiveness they have wrought.

Grief is very much the first step towards healing. But it is only the first step.

Too often, grief becomes an excuse for vengeance and more violence. And while the leaders’ coming together, facing each other with their heads down (inexplicably on the *tops* of their spears) may indicate some remorse, there is no definitive action demonstrating that they acknowledge responsibility for the atrocity, that they will do things differently in the future, or that they even understand why there was a conflict in the first place.

Instead, with the leaders’ apparent remorse, the angelic PURE dancers enter their space (even though they placidly watched the entire battle unfold and did nothing) and magically bring the fallen soldiers back to life! Or perhaps the soldiers are now spirits -- that, too, is unclear -- and if they are spirits, how is it that they are suddenly OK with having been killed? Has death brought them to enlightenment?

Kaeshi, this is not a message of peace; it is an endorsement of war.

In this choreography, you are saying, “War is fun and exciting, and when you’re done with your rampage of destruction, if you just feel bad enough, your sins are absolved, there are no consequences and everyone will get up and dance!”

It’s like Don Corelone going to confession every Sunday, only to return to more bloodshed on Monday.

It distressing, although not surprising, to see people on this thread call this “one of the best PURE events ever.”

Depictions of warfare and violence are cathartic and adrenaline-pumping; that is the reason violence is ubiquitous in our media. Indeed, such dramatizations have always dominated popular culture -- from Mixed Martial Arts to public executions to gladiatorial bread and circuses!

But since when does PURE kow-tow to lowbrow sensationalism?

The goal of PURE is to “bring positive change to the world through dance and theater.”

The goal of this piece, as stated on the Facebook event is to “explore the conflict between two sides escalating into war and the subsequent consequences, loss of life and eventual evolution to forgiveness, healing, peace and celebration.”

How has this performance effected any of those goals?

Is conflict explored? Is any reason for the conflict given? No. They just start fighting.

Is there an escalation? No. The level of hostility at the beginning is the same throughout.

And are there consequences? Well, the leaders feel really bad for a while, but then the dead are raised and everyone is happy! So I’d say no to that as well.

Would the parent of a fallen soldier appreciate the message of this piece? “Your child is dead, but the leaders feel really bad, so that makes it OK. So all is forgiven, right? Let’s celebrate!”

We are living at a time where a pathetic YouTube film trailer is being exploited politically by self-serving leaders to incite deadly riots. PURE was founded in the wake of 9-11, when thousands of innocents met their deaths; no angels revived them. And while some have found forgiveness, have there been celebrations? Even when Osama bin Laden was killed, many who lost loved ones did NOT celebrate.

Kaeshi, depictions of violence can only bring positive change if they can bring about new awareness of why the violence happened, how it might have been prevented, and what might be done to avert violence in the future.

Indeed, when the project was first proposed here -- -- you wrote that participants would explore: “War and peace within ourselves, communities and countries. What is conflict? What is resolution? Is it possible to forgive even if you perceive someone else has wronged you? How to pinpoint and break through unhealthy patterns for more fulfilling relationships.”

These themes are so vital.

Their fruitful exploration is imperative if we are to truly understand the cause of violence -- “within ourselves” as you say -- because truly it is the violence *within* each of us that is ultimately what is meted out upon each other, from interpersonal squabbles to large-scale warfare.

Indeed, throughout history, the most effective warfare leaders have been able to channel their people’s internal conflict, and aim it at the Other (as is happening now in the Middle East).

But no such internal exploration happens here. There is only a hint of remorse which is rewarded quickly with absolution and celebration.

Even the most riveting choreography and skillful dance does not disguise the fact that this performance portrays nothing more than a senseless massacre, a violent fantasy with a saccharine Disney ending.

Yes, the violence stops, but if I may quote your quoting of Reagan in this event’s promotional material:  “Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”

And that very “ability to handle conflict by peaceful means” is precisely what is missing in this piece, and from PURE in general.

When you first proposed “War & Peace,” I believe your intentions were sincere and that you wanted to explore the stated themes, to understand more fully what lies at the root of conflict. I suggested to you and the group that “the process of creating an authentic peace is rigorous and often painful; it requires honest self-reflection, humility, communication and compromise.”

And you seemed to acknowledge that by quoting JFK: “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”

But in this piece, and in PURE, you have not set about that difficult and gradual process; you have not eroded barriers; rather, you have erected the cruelest barriers and mercilessly defended them, at the expense of PURE itself.

And it is for that reason, that I feel it is appropriate to now come forward publicly in this forum -- for those who have questioned the agenda behind “War & Peace,” and those who cherish the ideals of PURE and who have committed faith and passion to this project.

Kaeshi, you have not honored the tenets of PURE -- tenets which you, yourself, crafted -- in your cruel and inexcusable behavior towards me and Liz Free, and in your creation of this highly inappropriate “War & Peace” project; indeed, you have abused and violated them.

I have debated whether to finally speak directly and honestly about the conflict underlying your preoccupation with violence, as it would appear I am a part of it -- and I’m still not sure it’s the right thing to do -- but consider this:  If you learned that the Director of Greenpeace clubbed baby seals in his spare time, would you say something?

Well, it’s like that.

What is most heartbreaking to me is that even now you do not recognize your own hand in creating the conflict that continues to trouble you so much that you needed to enact it in PURE’s dance. Rather than squarely look at your own Demons, you created an army of Demons and set them to murder each other for fun and entertainment.

And you have asserted that it has all been done in the name of peace.

But how many wartime leaders have convinced their devout followers of the same? Throughout history, how many atrocities have been committed in the name of creating peace and purity? How many peoples have subscribed to the belief that all one need do is expunge whatever and whomever is unwanted, and life will be wonderful?

Would you say it is ironic that this beautiful organization of PURE, that has inspired so many extraordinary artists throughout the world, should find so venomously within its very core the seed of violence it had sought to cure?

Actually, it isn’t ironic at all.

It is the way of all things.

There is a principle called enantiodromia, articulated expertly by John Perry Barlow in this TEDx Talk -- it is “the process by which everything is becoming its opposite at all times … That which is peaceful becomes warlike.”

For example, the more one focuses militantly on what one associates with peace/positivity, the more necessary it becomes to purge -- forcefully, even violently -- that which one sees as against peace/negative. And so the one who sought to create peace becomes the very embodiment of violence.

The only antidote to this baleful pendulum, Barlow notes, is offered by the Tao Te Ching: We must stop seeing the world in terms of positive and negative, where we purge the negative:  “It's not 'either or' it's 'both and.' And that [may give us our] turning point."

So, how do end the cycle of violence that must needs result from the “either or” perspective, to find our way the peaceful “both and” perspective?

According to Jonathan Sacks, one of the world’s great thinkers on religion and peace:  “The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation -- speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities, discovering a genesis of hope.” (From On Being’s “The Dignity of Difference”)

And I believe at some level you agree with this, Kaeshi, as when we returned from Florida in December, you asked to meet and talk.

When I agreed, but asked for a mediator, you then refused saying, “We seem to be in a constant state of mediation... where others are either mediating for you and I, or I am mediating between you and others.”

But we have never had a mediated discussion -- not once, not ever.

Your very distorted perception of this reality, along with the many cruel, blaming, defamatory, and accusatory statements in your letter to me made it very clear that you did not accept even the tiniest bit of responsibility for your actions or emotions.

It seemed to me that your perspective was that we were “constantly fighting” during the production of PURE Reflections in Florida last November; that this was “not fair to PURE or the rest of the team” and, most incomprehensibly, that “[You] don’t like who [you] become when [you are] trying to share the leadership role with [me.]”

This was absolutely shocking.

Kaeshi: I am not responsible for you “becoming” one thing or another. And even if my presence brings qualities out of you that you find difficult to stomach -- those are still YOUR qualities!

To blame me for this -- to summarily eject me from PURE, the Bellyqueen school, from a community in dance which had been a home to me for the better part of a decade, and deprive me of appropriate credit for my work on PURE Reflections -- simply because you refuse to see “negative” qualities in yourself is an act of unabashed interpersonal violence; it is emotional scapegoating of the highest order and ethically questionable.

Do you really not see this?

You quote Albert Einstein: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”

And yet you *forced* me out of PURE to preserve your personal “peace.”

You have never tried to understand my perspective; and when I have expressed it, you have shot back that I am, “depressed, bitter and angry...[and] dripping with vehemence and hate toward [you].”

And then, incomprehensibly, you offered to “send [me] positive energy … and love.”

Well, OK. I suppose that’s nice of you. But isn’t it a little bit like breaking someone’s legs and then sending them a “get well” card.

When I read that, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud -- because I think you really did mean it in a “positive” way.

But do you not see that characterizing me negatively is just a poor defense? You are saying, “Well, she’s just bitter, angry so I don’t need to listen to what she has to say.”

First of all -- when one is abused, anger is a pretty natural response.

Second, and more importantly, even if words are spoken in anger, that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. In fact, it is often in anger that we say what we feel most deeply -- and what the other most needs to hear.

And speaking of anger, I must again address your treatment of Liz Free -- PURE’s most enduring and devoted member.

“Forgiveness” was one of the goals of “War & Peace” -- yet you had none for Liz. Yes, she had wronged you; but she never denied it. When called on it, she owned up immediately and did her best to redeem herself. Indeed, she offered no excuse and begged for forgiveness.

But did you offer her any understanding? Any compassion for her?

No. You levied at her a stream of the most angry, vicious invective. You called her a criminal, threatened her, and ejected her from your “circle of friends.”

Is that the path to peace? To forgiveness and understanding?

Is that consistent with the mission of PURE?

How can you expect to forge a path to healing and peace in the world when you can’t create peace within your own organization?

Or worse, when your method of creating the illusion “peace” includes hurting others, don’t you see that the wound will only fester? That is what it is to scapegoat: when you take feelings you can’t handle and project them on others, then destroy the other so you can live “purely.” (And thus has many a woman been burned as a witch....)

Do you not think this has already had a negative effect on the ranks of PURE?

You may think that what I am doing here is destructive; perhaps it is. But truth is important to me -- especially inconvenient truths.

How can we grow as people, as true peacemakers in the world, if we can’t own our truths and speak them to others -- and offer to listen to others’ truths -- even if it causes some discord and discomfort in the short term?

Must PURE be a place of shame and “dirty little secrets”?

Does it not trouble you that my former sisters in PURE can’t look me in the eye? Don’t you feel even a bit of remorse for having forced them to feel they must “choose sides” -- that they must accept your version of reality or risk being “no longer welcome in [your] circle of friends”? That they are afraid to question your actions or motives or face your stony wrath?

They saw how you treated me and Liz; do you really think that hasn’t had a very negative effect on them?

Is that the kind of leader you want to be? Can a leader who controls by fear also be a leader for peace?

Have you not wondered why both Florida chapters have chosen not to embrace the “War & Peace” theme?

Do you not suspect that your behavior during the PURE Reflections project last year, as well as subsequently, may have given both of the Florida chapters pause regarding your intentions and agenda?

Have you not wondered why Rita bent over backwards to bring my solo show to Orlando, and why the Florida community supported it? If, indeed, I were the person you have tried to portray me as being -- angry, bitter, hateful, etc. -- why was I showered with such love and support there?

The truth is:  They saw what happened during PURE Reflections; they saw how badly you behaved, how badly you had treated me, and how well I took it. And they respected me for it. And while I believe they still love you, I sense there was some serious damage done in their perception of you.

And it was in this that you became the person you don’t like, and for which you blame me.

Ironically, I believe the real reason you can no longer tolerate my presence is not that I have some wild temper, but rather that you are no longer able to push my buttons. Even at your worst in Florida, when you verbally abused me in front of the group for no reason, I did not lose my temper.

In short, you found you could no longer control me; so you had to get rid of me.

At least that is what I suspect.

You have never really offered me your side of the story -- other than to blame me for pretty much anything in your world that you didn’t like (including, it seems, dislocating your shoulder).

But I would welcome that discussion. Perhaps now, nearly a year later, if you are able to speak from your heart without blame, accusation or invective, I am open to speaking with you.

We can do it here, through Facebook, and give our friends a real-life version of the peace process at work; or we can do it face-to-face with, of course, a mediator.

Or we can continue to ignore each other at workshops and haflas and continue to make everyone else around us feel uncomfortable.

What do you think?

You’ve walked across hot coals, but can you hold your feet to the flame? Would you be able to face me -- to hear my truth and speak your own -- and ultimately face yourself?

Or will you simply delete my words?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thoughts on Emotion: Processing, Processing....

"I'll give you something to cry about!!!"

A young mother slaps her crying toddler on a subway; the kid shrieks even louder. In another car, a mom continues chatting with her friend while her own child wails.

In both cars, onlookers have a variety of reactions: Horror, impatience, resentment, resignation. In the second car a woman makes faces to amuse the bawling child. But really, no one knows quite what to do.

And that is the problem with emotion -- whether we experience it in the form of a screaming baby, or in the writhing tensions of our own bodies as life throws events and experiences at us that confound and flummox us -- we just don't quite know how to handle it... because most of us never learn how.

Growing up a sensitive child in a nuclear family, I was too soon aware of the profound effect my emotional states had on my parents. If I cried, threw a tantrum, was unreasonable or contradictory  ... then I was a Bad Girl. Or my parents were Bad Parents (the worse option, I felt). Or in other cases, a well-placed tear was a way to get attention and affection. And explosions of laughter could do the same -- or the reverse.

In other words, my family was pretty typical: Emotion provoked reaction, for good or ill; it wasn't an expression for its own sake, but rather carried a volatile meaning to my parents or other adults that told them  not only whether whether I was "good" or bad, but whether they were "good" or "bad." This is a huge burden to place on a kid, yet adults blithely do it consistently and persistently ... because they don't know how to do otherwise.

And children learn from this that emotion is a means to an end, a way to get a reaction in others. Ironically,  this use of emotion to extract emotion from others -- by expressing or suppressing it in just the right way at the right time for the right adult -- diminishes the child's ability to allow emotion to do its necessary internal processing. Worse, the attention and control of others becomes an ersatz substitute for that internal processing -- a lot of storm and drama but with no useful effect.

It becomes like eating junk food: You go through the motions of eating, your mouth is stuffed, your belly feels full (at least in the short term), but you are not nourished and end up starving to death.

Is it any wonder that emotion and any expression thereof is viewed with grudging tolerance, if not outright disdain?

So what purpose, then, does emotion have?

Well... this is my theory:

I believe emotion is an indicator of our sense of life force q'i or prana or kundalini or whatever you want to call it.

It can be compared to a flow of energy/vitality, and when it is flowing smoothly and without obstruction, then we feel safe, wanted, loved, of value, and have a sense that our natural expression is accepted by the world around us. Conversely, when we feel safe, wanted, loved, etc. then the energy flows smoothly and creates positive emotion. (The former method is employed by spiritual practices -- get your energy flowing and positive experience will follow; the latter, ideally, in child rearing practices -- protect, care for your child and s/he will feel loved.)

Negative emotion is the blockage of that energy, and strong negative emotion is an attempt to restore the flow by quite literally blasting out the blocks.

I read once that any emotion, fully and honestly experienced, will always return to love (i.e. positive emotion). So if something upsets me, I can usually find something in myself -- some belief I have about the world, myself, etc. that says, "You will never be happy/have what you want/etc. because you are/aren't/have/don't have such-and-such..." that is causing me to have the negative emotion.

Now, because these processes operate at psychical levels that are far deeper than intellect or will, simply isolating the limiting belief is not enough. You need some serious force to blast it away -- or melt it down.

I particularly like the metaphor of melting -- of emotion being an intense heat that helps us reform our psyches to grow into what we need to be, what we are meant to be.

Think of it like this:  Imagine the psyche as a portal through which this energy is flowing. In its initial state, it is small and connected strongly to the beings supporting its existence (i.e. the parents), it is open and flowing ... until it isn't. It gets hungry or cranky or it's not being soothed enough or it's being discomfited in any number of ways.  Its world is quite literally falling apart; it is in pain and for all it knows will be in pain forever.

The child is in a primitive agony, what pediatric psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called a state of "unthinkable anxiety" -- a dread of annihilation.

In response to this state it writhes and screams and cries. Now, yes, I agree that a tantrum is a method of communication geared towards getting a caretaker's attention, and therefore the crying can be seen as evolution's way of guaranteeing survival. But I believe it is more than that...

Tears are to the injured psyche what bleeding is to the injured body.

In a physical injury, blood rushes to the wound and in doing so it cleanses and brings clotting factors that allow the wound to heal.

In a psychical injury -- where a young psyche encounters circumstances that tear at its grasp of self and world -- the psyche bleeds, and in doing so brings healing factors to the wound.

Imagine the psyche, and in particular the ego (the sense of self that knows itself to be itself -- say that three times fast), as a portal-like physical construct composed of beliefs about self and world. As it goes through life experience, it must needs encounter circumstances that confound, contradict or altogether violate those beliefs.

At each such encounter, a "tearing" occurs; the ego construct begins to collapse, indeed a kind of death is experienced as the psyche cracks apart, and so a great force of life energy is needed first to keep the portal open, and second to repair and expand the ego so that it can accommodate the "new" world it has experienced. And the process by which this happens is a tantrum.

So really the parent's role in a tantrum is to do nothing more than simply contain it; to let the child know that its expression is not destructive, that in fact it is very natural, and that it will resolve itself if it is merely borne through, and that s/he will be loved unconditionally throughout.

If the child comes to believe that this expression is destructive, however (as many of us have), then s/he will try to gain control over it and, in doing so, numb the pain of the body -- which is a short-term solution to the pain which ultimately and unfortunately causes greater and more untenable pain in both psyche and body.

Paraplegic yoga teacher Matthew Sanford eloquently describes how this process metes out with his young son (segment starts at 26:05 of this interview in On Being), and the consequence of not allowing pain to be felt and expressed:

There is a reason why when my son -- he's six -- is  crying, he needs a hug. It's not just that he needs my love, he needs boundary around his experience. He needs to know that the pain is contained, and can be housed. And it won't be limiting his whole being. He gets a hug and he drops into his body.
And when you drop into your body, paradoxically, typically pain gets less. Pain gets more intense ... [when you're afraid and pull out of your body] .. it really denies freedom. And it's a great short-term strategy. That's what I did as a thirteen-year-old [in the wake of my accident]. I pulled out of my body to get it, but that's a short-term strategy and a lot of the process of my life is ... embodying again and surrounding what's going on, so I can be part of the world. 
If the child is not made to feel safe in the trauma of this experience, if s/he is not allowed to "drop into [his/her] body," then not only does the necessary process of healing, growing and transforming not occur, the unprocessed experience remains in the body. Rather than allowing the psyche to transform to accommodate the experience, the experience and accompanying emotion gets shunted off into the unconscious, leaving the psyche worse than its initial immature state: Not only has it not grown, it has learned to fear the very pain that makes growth possible.

To a psyche in this state (which, to greater and lesser degrees is pretty much everyone in our culture), emotion becomes very dangerous indeed.   As we learn to conform socially, we are taught to further suppress emotion, and indeed may be shamed and rejected for its expression -- further compounding the damage done in childhood.

But no matter how much we have learned to suppress, control and deny our expression, rest assured: Each of us has a full complement of these "shunted off " pieces of unprocessed emotional experience, which can emerge, indeed forcefully erupt, when triggered by experiences that resemble or resonate with the initial experience. And then watch out!

Very often, when these unprocessed complexes emerge, they overtake the psyche and leave one feeling quite helpless. Worse, the complex is in whatever level of maturity the psyche was in at the time it was created. Have you ever wondered why an otherwise rational, mature, even impressive adult can suddenly become a squalling 5-year-old if, for example, someone cuts in front of them in line? Well, an unprocessed complex is the reason.

Now, as awful and humiliating as it can be to be held in the throes of a complex, we can still be good parents to ourselves and give ourselves the containment that had not been available in our formative years.

Here is my prescription:

If something happens that drives you looney, for whatever reason -- and do not judge, try to rationalize, justify, or even figure out the reason -- just let it out.  Try, of course, to create a safe space for this. If you are in mixed company, or in a situation where expression could cause undue damage, try to keep the feeling in stasis until you can seclude yourself. But once you are safe, just let it rip.

And when I say rip, I mean RIP.

Wail, scream, cry, punch a pillow (I am a big fan of pillow-bashing) -- but most of all trust that as bad as the pain may be, and as ridiculous as you may feel in letting yourself revert to your two-year-old self, if you let it do its thing, you will emerge safely on the other side.

I liken it to the way a pilot brings a plane out of a stall.

When a plane goes into a stall, it starts to nose-down and the pilot loses control. You would think that bringing the nose up would be the right thing to do; but it isn't. As aviation legend Lincoln Beachy learned, if you push the nose down into the stall, your wings will gather enough lift to recover.

And so it is with the complex-driven tantrum: If you dive straight into it, look squarely into the eye of whatever has got you by the short-and-curlies, and bawl/scream/grieve your face off -- in essence, if you let yourself die a little -- you will get through it, and you will grow.

So, how do you know that the tantrum did the trick? Usually, I find that whatever had triggered the episode will not bother me as much -- or at all.

A good example of this happened in my mid-20s.

I had quit my job to pursue theater as my parents had agreed to let me move back in with them for a few years. One night I came home very late from a show and found my mother had done something that upset me terribly. I don't recall what it was, but whatever it was triggered something HUGE in me. (As Paul Reiser quips: "Want to know why your parents are so good at pushing your buttons? It's because they installed them!")

I wanted to go absolutely ballistic at her, but she was sleeping -- and I knew enough by that point to realize that beating up on another person, even the person whom I held responsible for the injury, would resolve nothing.

So I took a moment, stuffed my face in a pillow (so as not to wake anyone) and screamed and cried. My body wrenched and writhed and I found myself biting the pillow... there was something about biting that was important here. Well, I didn't want to destroy the pillow, so I grabbed the next best thing: a 2-week-old copy of the NY Times Magazine -- something no one would miss.

And I shredded it with my teeth!

Yes, I really did that.

There I was... a mature, sensible 25-year-old, ripping, gnashing, tearing saliva-soaked pages with bestial fury. Tears poured down my face as I crumpled fistsfuls of slick tooth-made confetti, mashing them into the living room rug.  A long breath shuddered into me; I gurgled out a few more sobs ... until the sobs turned into laughs. And I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was I was so upset about.

My mind was completely blank for what seemed like several minutes. I had to reach around, fumbling through my thoughts as I was at that moment fumbling through the confetti, trying to clean up the mess. And when I finally remembered what had moments before been my mother's terrible-horrible-unforgivable act ... I laughed again. "That is what upset me?? Damn...."

And the storm was over. I scooped up the mess, chuckling to myself ... how silly, small things can loom so large when powered by the grief of a tormented inner-child. Having been given her due, the child was calm, contained, cared for and happy. And my mothers momentous offense had returned to life-size.

It was some oversight ... knowing her, she probably meant to do well by me in doing what she did, but guessed wrong as so many parents do. But I can't say for sure.

Within moments, it was forgotten -- processed and integrated -- to this day, I can't tell you what it was.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I've been debating whether of not to weigh in on the 9-11 thing.... The only other post I've done on this was last year, about the prescient dream I had a few days before the event.


 Yes, I was in the city that day. Yes, I saw the towers, even from our office window in midtown, I will never forget the giant hole -- like the eye of Jupiter -- in Two World Trade.

 I am still haunted by the fact that I had interviewed for a job in One World Trade the year before, and was one of two final candidates. Yet, even though I recall the stench and dust and burned paper wafting even into Brooklyn, part of me feels removed from the event ... it was too large for me to grasp then, and still is now. 

In subsequent years, I was horrified to see this event used and abused by those who in other contexts loath New York and all it stands for.

These events can't be contained in simplistic definitions; we can only stand in awe of them, grieve for the loss they hand us, and build anew (and hopefully better) upon the ruin.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Thoughts on Emotion: Seeds of Passion

Last week I had the pleasure of dancing to Dim All the Lights for Layla Mary's Donna Summer Tribute Show.

A child of the 70s, I danced at the altar of her music. I clearly remember the peach-and-neon-scripted Casablanca sticker of her single 45 "Spring Affair" (B Side "Winter Melody") which rarely left our turntable until it was usurped by her mega-chart-topping album Bad Girls.

"Um... you do girls know what that song is about?" my mother tentativley asked one sweltering afternoon while my sister and I jammed relentlessly to the whistle rhythm of the title track. She held up the album cover, featuring lady Donna herself in a negligĂ© chatting up a nightstick weilding cop.

"Sure!" we chirped, "It's about prostitutes!" Of course we had no real idea what a prostitute was other than that it involved wearing really sexy clothing.

I suppose this convinced my mother that we were clueless enough to let us keep listening.

But "Bad Girls" wasn't even my favorite track, anyway. When it came to heart-slamming, make-you-wanna-dance disco, there was no substitute for "Hot Stuff."  And for joyful, soul-stirring elation, there was "Dim All the Lights."

"It sounds like she's underwater!" carped my sister when Donna's echoey voice throbbed, "Do it tonight... you know the moments are right..." (And even then that syntactical liberty bothered me, but what the hell, I figured... conjugational accuracy be damned!) My nine-year-old body would writhe down into my most super-sexy dance moves ... "Turn my brown body white..." (OK, I'd think, gotta get a better tan for that line to work...)

And as I'd dance, I'd imagine an enthralled audience ... dozens --  no hundreds -- of people riveted by my powerful embodiment of this music, an absolute union of body, soul and sound. Funny thing is... I never thought about applause -- only the idea of transmitting through movement what the music meant to me.

And, yeah, it was just a disco song. But it brought so much out of me... love, joy, power, sensuality, in short a sense of True Self that I experienced in so little else (this was especially true as I was a pretty depressed kid).

So.... here I was, decades later, dancing to that very song for a cheerfully riveted crowd and I couldn't help noticing the irony:  As a child I had danced this fantasy version of my adult self countless times, yet here I was, now an adult, living the fantasy -- and only able to think of myself as a child.

My first thought was:  Well, don't we just always want to be something we aren't?!

But the opposite was true:  My dance that night was the fruition of the seed planted in that childhood fantasy.

And because that fantasy held a kernel of True Self -- to that experience, those actions, those expressions that brought me deepest, purest joy -- it lived within me all these years and relentlessly (and sometimes painfully) compelled me to live the life I now have, where dance and theater are so essential to who I am that I would shrivel and die if I were denied their expression.

It has become increasingly important to me to become attuned to those feelings of joy, and often to reach back into my earliest childhood memories -- before the time that I started worrying what people thought of me and if my choices were good enough to make me worthy of love -- for those kernels of Who I Really Am.

Those seeds of passion are still waiting, and bit by bit I am dusting them off, warming them, planting and nourishing them because there is nothing more important than this, and no more important time than now.

And I know:  the moments are right.