Thursday, January 18, 2007

Finding The Part That Always Works

The last week has been full of exercises that are wonderful, intense, and just about impossible to explain without leaving the impression that all we do is spend each day being hypnotized - whether by Sue or by each other. I'd say it all started when, last Wednesday we did an exercise called "Creator & Masterpiece", which Sue actually introduced by saying she didn't know how or why it worked it but that for some unknown reason it always did. And Barnaby, who had been bringing in his camcorder every day thus far to film the workshop (even if this was only the third day), said this is one of the exercises he wasn't going to film because to someone watching from the outside, it just wouldn't make any sense.

To start things off, half the class was assigned the role of being the Creator and the other to being the Masterpiece. Then everyone was told to shut their eyes. To stand in the space blind, to not have to worry about thinking anything, and just wait there until Sue took your hand and guided you somewhere else. You knew that if you were a Masterpiece you were being brought to your potential Creator and if you were the Creator you were being brought to your Masterpiece to be. For now, these were just labels. I had been given the role of Creator (later we would reverse roles) and waited until Sue came for me. When she did, we laughed together as she walked my two left feet to someone I wouldn't see and who wouldn't see me for quite some time.

Me and this other person sat down across from each other. The class had been given instructions beforehand so the Creators knew that this was when they should gently place their hands on their Masterpiece's face. Having only known whoever this person was for only two and some odd days, we had been told to move our hands around freely, to feel the texture of this person's skin, the curves of their cheeks, to fully explore the terrain of their nose, lips, chin -- to use the sense of touch to experience this person's face completely.

The goal was to do this until we thought of a sound. Any sound that this face led us to think of. And for a back-up plan, if we couldn't think of one, we could just make one up. That tid bit of advice that often follows Sue's instructions for various exercises is a virtual lifesaver since it relieves so much unproductive pressure from any given task. Once we were satisfied with the sound we were supposed to drop our hands to signify to Sue that we were done.

My hands draped over this person's face and my fingers went to work, moving up and down, riding the bumps and feeling their warm skin stretch in response. This was such an instant intimacy. At first, though, I instinctively avoided touching the person's lips directly - until I realized that I really did have complete freedom and unconditional permission to explore as I pleased. It was then that I let my fingers lightly graze over this person's lips to get a better idea of what they were like (later a Masterpiece even mentioned that their Creator had explored his or her nostrils). We weren't supposed to think about who it might be or if it was a male or female. Of course I spent some time on that ("is this a girl, if not, am i gay?") but I did my best to concentrate and continued to move my fingertips up and down over the person's face.

After some time, I started to focus on what appeared to be a dangerously steep downward slope of their cheek bones which then leveled off on what felt like a slightly long chin, surely a safe strip for emergency landings. After some internal revisions and without vocalizing any of them (we weren't allowed to just yet), I decided upon a sound that moved from what seemed like utter desperation and panic to a relatively long sigh of relief: "EEEEEYYY!!!!! Laaaahh..."
And then I removed my hands and brought them down to my side.

When everyone was finished, still not allowed to open our eyes, Sue separated us. She guided the Creators and Masterpieces to different parts of the room. Then one by one the Creators were told to make their sounds. Throughout the day these sounds were all different -- from a deep "Buh--ooooom!!! -Chaka!-Chaka!-Chaka!-Chaka!" to a loud meditative "Ohhhhhmmm!!" to an odd but still unmistakable orgasmic sigh. And then there was mine which I thought sounded the least melodic but as far as I was concerned was the only one that actually made sense.

As the creators made their sounds, the Masterpieces were told to carefully listen to each one and to think about which one sounded like it was created using their face. Then all the Creators were told to make their sounds at once. While this was happening, the Masterpieces were told to blindly walk towards which sound they felt was theirs. What followed was a brilliant cacophony of primal mating calls that ended up going for some time....

In between screaming "EEEEEYYY!!!!! Laaaahh..."I, for one, had to reject a number of Masterpieces who thought I was their sound. They would stumble up to and when I touched their face either I didn't recognize the angle of their jaw line or their skin was just too cold. So I cupped the ball of their shoulder and sent them away. Meanwhile, I continued exclaiming "EEEEEYYY!!!!! Laaaahh..." until finally, I found my match. Or rather - my match found me. Only then were we allowed to open our eyes and I saw that the face I had traced and then recognized belonged to Charmaine - one of the friendliest female clowns in the class. And while it wasn't someone I had expected, for some reason, I wasn't surprised. I mean, her face didn't look at all like the black diamond ski slope I had imagined. But the Earthy feeling I had gotten from spending time with her did much to shed light on the person it seemed I was only now looking at for the first time.

Some people apparently found their match right away. They'd hear the sound and just know it was theirs. I obviously hadn't been one of those people. I had to sift through other Masterpieces and Charmaine approached a number of other Creators to boot. At the time, I thought the premise of this exercise was fantastic even if I didn't know how it fit into clowning. That we each gave off a sound. And not only could others perceive it but that if heard, we could recognize it as well. However, it seemed like the number of those who had found each other during their first encounters could be explained by chance. I thought back to when Sue said this exercise always worked.
The thing was, though, this exercise wasn't over.

Once everyone met their original partner, everyone's eyes open, these pairs moved to sit in a wide circle around the green mat. One at a time, each Creator, the one who created the sound from the Masterpiece's face, was directed by Sue to stand up, walk in a circle, and make their their sound. To let the sound run through them, to say it again and again and to not interpret the sound so much as to let go and abandon their body to it. As the Creator walked in a circle, Sue would direct with something like this:

"Sound in your feet and ankles...Sound in your elbows and hands...Sound in your knees...Sound in the small of your back...Sound in your shoulder blades...Sound in your hips...Good, Good. Fall into it, let it fill you up like water. Shoulders, elbows, back of the neck! All that sound! Lovely!"

In the middle of this, Sue told the Creator's matching Masterpiece to get up and catch up to their partner. To follow right behind them and just walk or run as they naturally would. So the Creator was in the lead, letting the sound guide their body, and the Masterpiece was right behind them just being themselves.

For many, this was a moment when something magical happened. You could hear it in their laughter. People were noticing that the Creator was walking in the same way as the Masterpiece. Since they were so close together, the Creator who was in front couldn't see the Masterpiece yet whether it was leg movements or arm swings or the pace or just the way they held themselves, there was this laughter in the recognition of a similarity of movement.

When I got up Sue had to keep reminding me to to repeat "EEEEEYYY!!!!! Laaaahh..." but when Charmaine got up to follow me I heard the class make a sigh of recognition when the movements of our legs apparently lined up. Although being in front, I couldn't see how it looked. And it was difficult to feel much during the process. I didn't really know if my body was replying to the sound itself, to something random like indigestion, or just to Sue's voice.

Others had different experiences. This is another Creator's (Tim's) comments after he had been vocalizing the sound from his Masterpiece, Gabriel:

"I really just let go. He [Gabriel] has just so much masculine energy. I just felt really good, I felt different, I felt like I had to slow down. I wasn't thinking, it just happened. He walks different than me. He walks a lot more heavy..."

And then Gabriel's reaction, which turned out to be pretty common for Masterpieces:

"It's funny to watch yourself walk, that's for sure."

And Sue's comments after the fact:

"...We don't want to comment on the sound! We don't want to -- "This is how the sound would move - Ch, Ch, Ch - Oh I'm moving like this!" This is going to be always an internal motivation, an internal discovery. And because you continue making that sound you continually can discover the movement. You continually meet yourself. You continually meet the sound...So we go away and the sound comes forward."

As for me, I may have caught glimpses and could have seen something but the laughter was more contagious than clarifying when people apparently saw similarities in what were by necessity a likeness of idiosyncratic motions. But really I could have not seen anything. This really troubled me - especially because it was cumulative. Every time I saw a pair walking, the Masterpiece behind the Creator, I kept being pretty sure that I wasn't seeing anything or that if I was I could have just been reading too much into it. And yet it seemed like everyone else was seeing something.

Even when Sue pointed stuff out like:

"Do you hear their feet on the ground, it's the same weight."


"Do you see the way their bodies have the same axis?"

But I didn't hear it, I didn't see it, and knowing that I wasn't picking up what other people were sensing one way or another (you could hear them laughing!), whether it was there or not, I think I lost a little bit of my new-found faith in this thing called clown. To be among believers and not be able to believe, I think that's what happened. To be among believers and to question. As if somewhere in this limbo of wondering if everyone had just been brainwashed or if I wasn't really all that perceptive some of my faith just seeped away.

It was like I was pushed into this funk where my momentum froze and I started questioning things all at once and in the process started forgetting why I came here and what inspired me to study clown in the first place. And I think when that happens, when you lose a new-found faith it makes sense that you go back a few steps, steps which that faith helped you leap over.

That everything came to a head just because I couldn't see matching footsteps really sucked.

And what made matters worse was the exercise wasn't over yet. I had only been the Creator.

The class took a break, we came back and everything happened again. Except this time it was the other way around. I was the Masterpiece.

Really, it started out rather promising.

It wasn't long before I was sitting down and someone's hands were on my face. What struck me right away was how strong and purposeful these fingers were in learning the map of my face. Their hands never held back, never touched my face the same way twice. Their fingers pushed my features together and apart, spread outward and inward, moved from and followed every direction, and finally explored my neck and the space behind my ears. The experience of this person touching me was both majestic and sexual at the same time. Even when making love, I don't think anyone has ever felt me with such intensity and scope...My eyes closed, I thought for sure these hands belonged to a sculptor and since there was a furniture designer/artist I relinquished myself to the thought that it was him. While I prepared to deal with the dissapointment that it wasn't a woman who was touching me I found solace in the thought that the sound being sculpted from these highly perceptive hands would at the very least be something that would be awe-inspiring.

When it came time for all the Creators to make their sounds, I heard mine right away. It was exactly what I thought it would be - long and deep, ending in a string of vocal fireworks. It was one of the examples given earlier -

"Buh--ooooom!!! -Chaka!-Chaka!-Chaka!-Chaka! Chaka!"
"Buh--ooooom!!! -Chaka!-Chaka!-Chaka!-Chaka! Chaka!"
"Buh--ooooom!!! -Chaka!-Chaka!-Chaka!-Chaka! Chaka!"

I immediately went in the direction of this person but right as I was about to reach him he stopped making the sound and since I was blind he instantly dissappeared from my radar. . All of a sudden, I was lost.

I continued to listen to other sounds in the chorus of calls but I couldn't make heads or tails to my attraction to any of them. All I knew was that there was no way one of the sounds in the mix was mine. It began with a bright burst of an "eeee" and ended in a weak moan of "uh" followed by an even even more pathetic "uh". Said together, It went something like "EEE!!! Uhhhh....uh..."

I went up to just about everyone who wasn't exuding this sound only to be turned away. These Creators would just touch my face and then ignore me without even using their body to say goodbye. Each time I had to wander away, missing the sound I swore was mine, overwhelmed in the moment and having no idea where I would go next.

Finally I was one of the last few that was unpaired (the chorus had greatly diminished) and in an act of desperation went up to the sound I just knew couldn't be mine. The hands I never thought I'd seek. These hands searched my face for features to recognize. The hands felt similar -perhaps the same but only cooler. This was not good.

To signify that we had found each other, Sue whispered that we could open our eyes. This unbelievably pathetic and poor excuse of what was supposed to be my awe-inspired sound was mine. It also happned to come from the tiniest and quietest girl in our class. Rachelle.

The rest of the exercise was irrelevant because of how disspointed I felt at that moment. I really did not want to be this sound. It wasn't fair!

It took a little while but I finally realized that Rachelle really did capture how I felt. "EEE!!! Uhhhh......uh..." Huge ambition in the form of expectation instantly blown apart by process. "EEE!!! Uhhhh......uh..." While this discovery should have lifted my spirits, all it did was bring me back full circle and reinforce my own personal shit collection.

My brilliant logic for becoming a clown had vanished but some residual passion was still there -- at the very least in the form of sticking with the workshop and not jumping ship. All that was in the sound:

"EEE!!! Uhhhh......uh..."

This was a hell of a follow-up to what Sue had been talking about when she said, "Expectation cuts off experience." As if so many of Sue's lessons exist on a micro and a macro level. On stage and in the real world. In both, in an infinite number of ways.

Everything was related. I had to re-build. To start over in what felt like the middle and not be bound to who I was coming in. To approach the workshop like a clown and not only work on being a clown during the work. Each moment free to explore something new. Each day not stuck in the drama of the day before. So if for whatever reason one exercise didn't make any sense, to just let it go and get on with it. It doesn't have to be the end of the world.


My motivation gone, I still felt compelled to ask Sue a question: If you could be anything, why be a clown?

"You shouldn't be...For me clowning chooses you, you don't choose it....Why should you do it? Because you do it because you can't not do it. It's not like "Oh, I'm going to do something good for the world, I think I'll be a clown."...It's like, Save your time...It's a process. It's a facing of the self. It's a big deal. It's an incredible act of generosity...Courage. But don't do anybody any favors. You do it because you can't not do it."

I'm here.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

I LOVED READING THIS STORY! It brought tears to my eyes. Seriously.

Don't be so quick to judge. Maybe the exercise is outsmarting you. Could it be that your grievance lies in the participants, not the exercise itself?

Mindfulness. Sue must be into that. It cures depression. So does clowning, sex, and chocolate.