Talisman

People don’t seem to be at all suspicious of bad fortune.

When something good happens, something we wanted and maybe worked for, we look for the loophole- all of a sudden, we’ve stumbled into the dangerous and unpredictable realm of the Goblins (or Fairies or Elves- all equally twisty for us human folk), and we are wary, tense, ready for the hidden dagger, the tragic trap in the Fairies’ Gold, the hidden twist in the Genie’s wish.

But when something bad happens, we aren’t hunting for the hidden promise, the gift. “Ah! Of course,” we say knowingly, feeling good in a strange, dark (and Goblin-like, if we could only see ourselves) way, that if we didn’t see it coming, we at least foresaw something bad- and even if we weren’t quite as prepared as we thought we would be, at least we knew. We watched the news, didn’t we, in order to know, to be informed, in readiness for just such a happening as this. Dark triumph.

And with the laws of finite probability, we can live years -decades, even- ready for “something bad”; prepping for it, experiencing it internally over and over, and it will come eventually! It is a relative certainty.
And maybe there’s something good – good possibility and promise sparkling around the edges of our life, so we might even get specific and define that something Bad as a threat to the something Good that’s nosing toward us, wagging its tail. “Look out behind you,” we call to Good Thing, even while we absolutely know with every power in our Goblin-made lenses, that the Bad Thing will gobble up the Good before it reaches us.

Until the moment something bad finally actually happens, and we’re almost relieved. “At last- it’s here- I can face it.”

This is how we call in “bad luck,” and make a home for it. This is, in fact, how we create it. Fairies and Goblins alike tremble at the power we humans have to create “bad fortune.”

This is how we fail to use the powerful magic lenses, the talisman we’ve been given. (It was originally supposed to protect us!) We can choose, really. We get to find our way into the Fairy halls, passing the throne and the ballroom, with hardly a wistful glance at the glittering gowns and impeccable tailoring, at the swirling, dancing, laughing party guests in their elaborate masks, with certainly not one single taste of the vast, gleaming array of steaming dishes, savory and sweet, ripe fruit bursting with promise, and every kind of drink or nectar we can imagine (and many we can’t)- we can be strong, ignore it all, and make our purposeful way to the Forge. We can set our lenses there in the crucible that’s been sitting unused, and we can take up the ladle of molten, liquid Dream and pour it gently on our lenses. We can coat them in any powerful transformative substance we wish.

Or, we can stalk through our lives in human instinct, as human beings created with a negative bias in our brains (so we could survive in the caves and dwellings that Bad Experiences taught us to seek, and gather around our campfires and tell stories that taught us all, deeply, how to Survive when the Night gathered outside the ring of our fires) We can magnify our talismanic lenses with Doom and Prediction of Failure and all the substances that fairies find so horribly unfashionable, so they mostly exist right here in our world, all ready to hand – it’s not even hard to gather them. It requires no quest. We can even do the re-coating of our lenses while sitting on the couch!

We can continue to seek and call Bad “fortune” to us, and look for it even when Good is determined to find us- we can continue to look for the Bad as avidly as any lover in the marketplace, sure his heart’s desire is around the next corner.

This is just to say: I am writing fairytales. In them are clues I’ve hidden; clues that will help any humans that should happen to stumble accidentally into the Other realm. The hidden things will help you survive, and they’ll even help you build a kingdom successfully, if that is what you desire.

I’ve been forbidden to simply tell these rules outright, because it is another truth of humans that we have to work for things, or we don’t see their sovereign nature, and run the risk of simply discarding that which is valuable beyond our ability to imagine.

Do you have what it takes to craft your talisman? You will need it – your very life depends on it.

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While My Guitar Gently

About two years ago, I fell in love.

You know what that’s like…? Or maybe I’m talking about lust, infatuation, because love is something that incorporates and transcends those things…and lasts, through devotion and work and growth…

So at first, let’s call it lust.  Though this was more than lust, this was sublime – I actually can still feel it.  My heart swoops when I remember the day, the moment that I was overtaken by this ecstatic feeling that raised everything around me along with me to an elevated state – gosh, even the dingy Portland streets shone and gleamed with it .

“There’s someone else, isn’t there? I can sense something.”  My (at the time) long-distance boyfriend asked.

He knew I couldn’t lie; I don’t do that.

“Well…yes. Yes, there is, in a way.”

“In a way?”

“I fell in love today…I fell in love…

with a guitar.”  There was an awkward pause.

“I … I can’t…explain.  A guitar.”  I was incoherent with longing; with the desire to share this beauty but the impossibility of communicating it to him, because he just didn’t understand.

This guitar was …oh… its song was molten honey.  It turned my bones into tuning forks and I had embarrassing tears standing in my eyes every time I heard it; it was like the time I sat in a room and heard Wynton Marsalis play – the notes were thrown out so lightly, to hang impossibly suspended in heart-shattering delicate crystal pure perfection in the middle of the room. The sound didn’t seem like it came from him- it somehow enveloped all of us who sat there… my heart stopped…

that’s what this guitar is like,

even if my teacher was playing scales.

I was in Portland to study Hebrew, and I also took a class in my secret passion – classical guitar.
I can’t hear a well-played classical guitar without tearing up.  It’s embarrassing. My Mom and (ex)boyfriend took me to a restaurant in Jacksonville for my birthday, and there happened to be a classical guitarist (my Mom knows about my kryptonite…it is my kryptonite…) and I sat there with tears running down my face for a while.  My Mom held my hand and grinned at me, with joy that she had given me such a beautiful, absolutely perfect birthday surprise… My boyfriend looked wildly uncomfortable. I just can’t help it. It reaches inside my chest and squeezes my heart so painfully. so beautifully.

It happens even if I’m trying very hard to block it, trying to think about other things, remain sane-ish…

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(This isn’t my teacher. This is a Cervantes guitar. oh my heaven…gulp…that guitarrrrrr) 

I still love this guitar. I lust after it. I long for it. I can hear its notes still …

Oh, I’m heavy with longing. To play like that. To play like that.

I can’t even tell you.

I plunk away at Greensleeves or Redemption Song and long , long, long for something I will never touch.

it’s a beautiful feeling, and it reminds me that I am alive….and it reminds me that I am mortal, and that in this lifetime there are some things that are not for me, but that I get to hear and appreciate and love them.
It is so bittersweet.

It stretches me, and challenges me, and sometimes I despair, but the listening is sweetly painful and so it will have to be enough.

This is love.

Elevator Master Class (warning: contains more parentheticals than an amateur one-act)

“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” –Mikhail Baryshnikov

Because one of my boxing teachers reminds me of a young Baryshnikov,

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(doesn’t he? That’s him in the photo.)

I was catapulted into a memory this morning.

My mind flew back to a day at the very beginning of my Juilliard Adventure, when a young, dewy me (in my early 20’s, probably around the age my boxing teacher is now, in fact-) stepped onto an elevator in the Lincoln Center, my new home. The large silver elevator doors, the red accents in the carpet and hall, the hush in the building, the coolness of the air- everything etched on my mind with wonder, with the sharpness of a dream come impossibly to life- made my breathing quicken. I looked at every door down those long halls, wondering what was behind it, enchanted at the faint sound of string instruments in practice rooms. The smell in the air (that theater smell, mixed with new carpet, classroom and the smell of wood for some reason) made my heart leap about- I was at Juilliard! Everything was tinged with magic, the tingling energy of boundless possibility.

I was very self-contained in those days. Quieter. Tried to take up less space. One of my acting teachers once compared me to Jane Eyre. (Most of my present friends will laugh hysterically at this. It is true, I was very mousy and Brontë-esque.)

I walked politely into the elevator, turned around and pushed the 3rd floor button, (this was the very beginning, before I had found the stairwells and walked up and down every day)

and the doors jammed suddenly in mid-close because in leaped – leaped –

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Mikhail Baryshnikov. 

These were the early days, before I had gotten cynical and used to seeing celebrities everywhere. Before I had descended into Becky’s Blue Period during which I scoffed at them and called them non-artists and sell-outs – still secretly thrilled to see them.  (not sure what I was thinking… I think I actually thought people could make a living doing Shakespeare if they so chose. Or perhaps I thought that true artists didn’t make livings- they starved. Oh dear, that’s embarrassing… but I was cute, I was young, so let’s give me a get-out-of-jail-free card.)
( for the record, I did not ever call Steve Martin a “sellout,” and when I walked to school beside him, I talked about his cheeky grin for months afterwards.)

Anyway. Back to Baryshnikov – It was a small leap. Just a hop, really- who hops onto the elevator? Apparently, Baryshnikov does. (If I were Baryshnikov, I’d freaking hop everywhere.)

He had a stern, imposing and scary bodyguard-minder-aide person with him – a tall bald man, with a thin black wire connected to one of his ears that hung down to disappear mysteriously in the breast of his impeccably tailored and completely nondescript dark suit.  All I remember about this guy was that my eyes couldn’t find any purchase on his person, except for the gleaming of his bald head; my eyes simply slid right off him. Looking back, I’m thinking it’s a talent Bodyguards must have; or perhaps they learn it at Bodyguard Academy.  He possessed a presence and energy precisely equivalent to a concrete wall. The man turned, pushed a button, and promptly became Elevator Wall.
I was alone in an elevator with Baryshnikov. (Baryshnikov! My childhood hero!)

He had lightly drifted in after that initial leap- he settled to the back of the elevator, next to me, his eyes on the ground, (smelling – I must add because I have a nose like a dog -lightly spicy, mysterious, layered, like redwood detritus crushed underfoot.) his face a little troubled.

It was that small frown, that cloudy look on his expressive face, that made me do the mortifying and wonderful thing I did next.  I remember my inner Wee Free Man shrieking “for God’s sake ! Hold your head up! you are Baryshnikov!”
Driven by the wrongness of seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov sulking (sorry- there is no other word for it- he was definitely sulking),

“Please tell me,” I blurted, my voice a little rough so I had to clear my throat softly, “how do you leap so high and so – completely free?”

cringing at my bad grammar, darting glances at him, I waited , wondering whether he would pretend I had not spoken. Wondering…

(I should hit the pause button here in order to give a little background: I have a Wee Free Man in my head who wonders things … like when I had a spear-carrying role at OSF, the naughty Wee Free Man used to drive me nuts wondering what would happen if I just walked out into the center of the Elizabethan stage and started howling or tap dancing and spouting naughty limericks out of sheer boredom; or when I played Maria in Sound of Music and heard the first notes of the orchestra, perched in my starting position at the top of the hill, that darn Wee Free Man wondered how long it would take the audience to notice if I switched the words and started singing “IN the town where I was born, lived a ma-a-an who sailed the seas…and he told us of his liiiife in a ye-e-llow submarine…” instead of “my day in the hills…” that one was a very narrow escape, as I was utterly fed up with that particular Sound of Music. )

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(if you do not know what “Wee Free Men” are, see photo, then read some Terry Pratchett.)


eh hem.  Un-pause. My inner Wee Free Man wondered what would happen if I pushed the “Emergency Stop” button. I didn’t push it.

I began to wonder if I had actually spoken, or if I had dreamt it. I began to wonder if I held my breath, whether I would disappear or become wall-colored like that Bodyguard. Baryshnikov didn’t say anything. ticktock ticktock ticktock went my young, shy, naive, ambitious, idealistic, totally embarrassing 20-year-old heart.

Finally, he dragged those melting eyes up to look straight into mine. (I remember them as brown. I know they are blue, but his pupils were dilated a bit- his eyes were rather like a Golden Retriever’s eyes- large, liquid, and totally unguarded.)

He lit up slowly. That man has a torch inside, I swear.  A smile spread across his face – a smile that ruined me forever for dating, and made it impossible, ever, for any man to totally measure up-

and he said in charmingly halting English, “When I leap, I do not think about the ground.”

and then the doors opened, and with a wink and a knowing smile, (no longer sulking, I couldn’t help but note) with his ambulatory concrete wall preceding him,

he was gone.

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“When I leap, I do not think about the ground.”