OK. I am giving you the first chapter of my memoir. Giving it away… that’s right. But not the whole story. Not the part about drowning. Not the part about the angel that gave Wing it! it’s wings. Not the part about adopting Katie after Mary-the-mother-of-you-know-who told me I was going to have my own immaculate beyond conception conception, not the part about holy nipples, or my PHD death in dying, and not the part about why after loving those gotta-love-em churches, I undid my oath to the church in exchange for my real oath, the vow I made decades ago. This chapter is for you… because InterPlay is what rose from the ashes of my passion and because it takes us years to tell our story and when we go that is all we ever leave behind.
The Fire in My Flesh
“Your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
OK, I admit it. I hear voices. I see things. Especially when I dance. Flannery O’Connor said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” I’ve had mystical experiences that are barely footnoted in America’s everyday lexicon and charted my life course by them. As a result, my work is not only difficult to describe, but I can’t decide what to wear to work: a suit, a funny hat, a robe or sweatpants? Being the Gemini I am, I change costumes as needed.
What do you do if you hear voices or see things? As an American woman with plenty of common sense, I’ll tell you what you should do. You should shut up. However, if there are voices that prod you to quench the thirst for big human needs like Love, Justice, and Freedom, you might become a blabbermouth performance artist like me. You might try to demystify dance, healing rituals and communal peacemaking enough to wave a flag in sight of the mainstream. The Voice of Love is that compelling. Mechtilde de Magdeberg, a twelfth century mystic said, “Love transforms, love makes empty hearts overflow. This happens even more when we have to struggle through without assurance all unready for the play of love.” She understood.
By the time I was thirty I was well prepared for the voice that gave me my “instructions.” Driving down the freeway on my way to see a horrific movie about nuclear holocaust, a neutral voice simply and clearly spoke to me and said, “Here are your three directives: Clarity of Vision. Efficiency of Energy. Courage to Love.” Being both undeniably gullible and unflinchingly faithful, I listened, not realizing I was downloading a mystic’s grocery list.
The voices I hear are always wiser than I am. Their messages are to the point, astute, and take me off guard. When I share them with other people they often ask me to repeat them. Should I warn them that when you actually follow the advice you get from “on high” you get into trouble? Things that make sense in a spiritual realm can make you look unusual in ordinary time. “Voices” have incited me to dance in academia, sing improvisational ditties at United Nations Association meetings, and confess mystical encounters from rational, left-leaning pulpits. They made me an iconoclastic prophet of the body and its one true love, play. In spite of all of my best attempts at being taken seriously, my voices have doomed me.
Today, I live on the bread of dance and sense things on freeways and in malls that others do or don’t see: spirits, voices, hungers, and curses. Hunting for a tribal dance to feed the soul, I gather people to song, story, beat, and breath. I seduce the cosmic dance out of a thousand starry gaps. I ponder all of this constantly like a mad scientist. Add my troublesome tendency to wax poetic and use jargon that people don’t quite get, and you get my problem. Chasing the dance of life inspires me like nothing else. It has also gotten me into trouble.
You’d think that dancing and loving the Divine would create bliss, but putting these two together is like playing with dynamite. Maybe that’s why the western world split them apart. Anytime you put your body where your spirit is even the mundane becomes extraordinary.
Jeremiah, that insanely upset Old Testament prophet scribed, “I will not mention God, I will not speak in God’s name any more. But then it becomes a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, and I cannot.” Jeremiah’s pals called him a laughingstock. No one wants to go that far over the edge of mystery, be denounced for loving God, or cursed as touchy-feely. Not Jeremiah. Not me. But the costs of shutting down the wild ambushes of compassionate imagination are also great. I’ve met many a person whose body screamed with the symptoms of repressed dreams. Their throats are on fire and their bowels scream with ulcers. Giving up one’s imagination isn’t worth the price of admission you pay to a “dominant” culture.
I’ve reassured myself that the ancestors knew what they were doing. They sent us into the woods to receive visions and meet our guides. Initiations and vision quests gave us strength to do great work. Thank God I am an artist. When I tire of trying to fit in I remember that an artist who isn’t weird is in the wrong profession.
So why go on about this? Because I believe that it is our weird lives that lead to answers needed for a world in dire shape. I think we need to reclaim our wisest magic, not the puff and zap kind, but the kind that employs imagination to attract solutions when nothing else works. In my case, dancing, improvising, seeing things, and listening to the wisdom of my body has shown me how to accelerate peace and grace in a world that dances too vigorously, too mechanically, and too violently. I’ve seen peace born between people who bring their hand to a partner’s hand in an extemporaneous, experimental two-minute hand dance. I’ve seen walls crumble as a person describes to a coworker what they had for breakfast, a favorite place in their home, or someone who has come to their mind. Without effort people can move mountains of division. I’ve even seen individuals recover from depression to take on their life’s work with the support of an imaginative, embodied community.
The big challenge is creating a society that is willing to bet its future on such practices. Usually it’s only the desperate who are open to radically simple and crazy ideas: the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, women, the disabled, the oppressed, visionaries in developing countries, people of color, the usual revolutionary suspects.
I learned that you have to be sneaky to subvert the average person’s self-conscious fear of flakiness. If you want to nudge someone to fall down the rabbit hole of mysticism into Wonderland, humor helps. So do parables and enticing, insignificant little steps.
Once in a worship service with an academic crowd, I placed boxes of corn flakes on pedestals. We confessed our overwhelming fear of flakiness and how fear keeps us from admitting our strangest encounters with each other and the Divine. From puberty, it too often keeps us from doing normal things like dancing, laughing, breathing, and offering affection. I should know. My own fear of flakiness is why I wrote all this down. There is some relief in seeing one’s truth in black and white.