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In Search of Tao in my Tai Chi

February 14th, 2011 No comments

Last night I attended the Chinese New Year banquet of that was organized by the Taoist Tai Chi club in Vancouver.  Tai Chi-ers were there from across the lower mainland.  We occupied the entire Gain Wah restaurant in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown.  Six platters of different seafood (oysters, crab, lobster, squid), chicken and pork were served before any vegetables.  I think I sat with an empty plate and a sorry little cup of tea for the first hour and a half watching the other eight people feast with regular looks and comments of concern (or other thoughts I could not interpret) for my stomach-in-waiting.

At first I was really disappointed that I was the only vegetarian there because on previous occassions at the club, there were at least 10%  vegetarians and the orders for food were made to meet that demand.  Did all those values and principles go out the window for the sake of observing a Chinese New Year feast?

“How long have you been vegetarian?” one woman asked me.  “Since October,” I said, “about the same time I started Tai Chi.  By the silent response and gaze down, I take it that my fledgling status as either or both were not substantive enough to be taken seriously.  In her senior position (as tai chi student and by age) I bet she was thinking, ‘Why don’t you just eat something?  It’s not going to kill you!’  In fact, that’s what my mom’s says in an effort to get me to eat her cooking with fish or chicken in it.  And it’s true, it wouldn’t kill me on the spot, but nothing about it would feel good.

I enjoy the challenge of refining the moves of Tai Chi and meeting people in the club.  I enjoy the challenge of eating a plant-based diet in a culture addicted to animal products.  And both of these lifestyle choices support each other and me in my constant movement towards optimal health.  Learning about Tai Chi principles and practicing them requires attention, and in a similar manner, so does eating a plant-based diet.

It felt a bit lonely for the first hour and a half being the only one not feasting, but not one moment passed that I wished to join the meat feast.  “You’re demonstrating a lot of discipline, Janice,” another woman said.

I replied, “I started Tai Chi to help me with my discipline, so I guess it’s working.”  In actuality, there was no temptation so it wasn’t much of a demonstration of discipline.

Call me crazy, but to exercise in a practice like Tai Chi and then feast out on loads of animals seems like a sanity I would rather not be.

Why Theatre? Revisited, I of II

February 1st, 2011 No comments

Today, through my facebook news feed, the question was posted, “Why do theatre?”  To people who have yet to experience the joy of analyzing the great many benefits for human development and cognition that theatre offers, I can appreciate that the answer to that question is not obvious.  At a time when much of the world is habitually turning to screens of all sizes for their information and communication needs for convenience, novelty or cost-effectiveness, it seems far easier to list reasons of why not to do theatre.

Theatre, in the most common of professional forms, is costly to produce, promote and limited for reproducing beyond the run of live shows, thereby limited for potential revenue.  And so came film.  I get it.  Why, indeed?  Sometimes, I am persuaded to focus on other forms of “work” by their mere practicality in the current economic climate.  Then comes along a day like today when I come across this question, “Why Theatre?”, followed by lunch with a friend and three different, but related videos.  The first one below started my morning after breakfast; posted by a theatre colleague, it had me laughing out loud!

Can you relate?  I could!   And not because I identify as having a disorder or being of the elderly demographic, but because in particular states of mind, I have experienced this unstoppable stream of linked, but seemingly disorganized thoughts and impulses that I act upon, taking me from one incomplete task to start another activity that is interrupted by a thought which brings me into another frame of focus, and so on.  Sometimes, I do return back to my initial activity, but it is highly problematic for productivity in the workforce, when I don’t.  And it seems that many many people, often creatives and innovators are often misplaced, misunderstood and highly undervalued in most workplaces and schools.  What is interesting is that others who have shared a similar experience also exhibit a great tendency – nay, an insuppressible drive for artistic expression that is as strong as the “ADD” behaviour.   Perhaps they are connected to, or inform each other.   I’m not of the opinion, however, that they are exclusive to each other, nor do I buy the claim that there is an epidemic.  If you keep reading and watch the second video in this post, you may further understand why I go on to say here that it is the larger societal structures ie. schools, laws, medicine, that are not evolving, or tranforming, at a rate which supports the human response to what is current and true.

After watching that video in the morning, I spent most of the afternoon becoming re-acquainted with a friend who is on her way towards a medical residency in plastic surgery. We had a delicious meal of Peruvian and South American delights at El Inka Latin Deli in Burnaby.   She shared her stories of a new romance and I, my recurring considerations on taking up filmmaking courses. With the fear of abandoning the riches of my formal training in applied drama and theatre, despite little monetary riches to show for it, I have been reluctant to pursue any further training that diverges from the applied theatre path.

Insightfully, Brandi points out that documentary filmmaking, the genre to which I currently feel drawn, would be bringing together all the previous training I’ve had and incorporate other pleasures of researching, writing, and collaborating with a diversity of people.  I go home with a very satisfied tummy and a full head of questions: Maybe I can still practice theatre and develop my film-making skills in a parallel and complimentary way?  It’s another art form, can I pay the bills with it?  Is it the accessibility of the medium that is my block, or my own internal maze of questions that lead to inaction?  Perhaps what my artistic voice is trying to manifest is a hybrid of these mediums.  Hybridity.  It’s how I’m made! No surprise I would fuse play with work, live performance with digital.  And my friends often check-in with the curious, “Janice, what are you up to now?” It seems adventurous, I suppose, to the observer, but it has largely been frustrating because it’s taken me yeeears, a full decade after finishing 7 years of higher education, to realize the fuller scope of my heart’s desires.  What did I expect?  Well, I’m impatient.

What do you mean, it’s not about me?!

January 31st, 2011 No comments

I am often alarmingly surprised to discover how little people are thinking of others, most of all, me!

Learning to be a great dance partner is about paying attention to another person; receiving and responding. Dancing could save our lives!

Writing is easier when one can use someone else’s words

January 16th, 2011 No comments

This quote speaks of a familiar experience with writing:

” I have a hard time writing. Most writers have a hard time writing. I have a harder time than most because I’m lazier than most. … I would have made a perfect heiress. I enjoy lounging. And reading. The other problem I have is fear of writing. The act of writing puts you in confrontation with yourself, which is why I think writers assiduously avoid writing.” – Fran Lebowitz

The Courage of a Public Voice

January 15th, 2011 No comments

I returned from viewing the award-winning film, “The King’s Speech” for the second time in two weeks. I rarely do that, view a film in the cinema house more than once, but I was happy to with this one for a few reasons:

i. It addresses the manners of a lasting male friendship, something I rarely see expressed or demonstrated, and certainly not as eloquently or witty as between Colin Firth as King George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue played by Geoffrey Rush. The relationship between the two lead characters flows like a waltz, dipping down into the private, Logue masterfully coaching the King on the sensitive matters of his speech and his related fears, allowing the King’s public voice to emerge more smoothly, sweeping across the world via the invention of radio, and rising up to unify a people during war.

ii. The story is about a remarkable historical figure of Royal status and my background could be no more opposite or different than his, and yet I relate to the King’s struggles to offer his voice publicly and taking his place as a leader. We get to see the transition of Firth’s character go from the status of Duke to King in the matter of an hour, and I am left with a new perspective on what it means to cultivate a public voice. This beautifully told story of a husband, a son, a father, a friend and a very courageous learner who overcomes his stammer, will and no doubt has, inspired so many to find the courage to be public beyond the our current comforts.

iii. It has two fun and brilliantly performed scenes of Rush’s character reciting Shakespeare.

iv. This second time around I took more notice of how exquisite Jennifer Ehle is in all her scenes.

v. I often find stories about monarchs difficult to relate to, so the accessible friendly nature of learning about this slice of history is delightful and much appreciated.

vi. The pictures are stunning, colourful and heartfelt, and the words and music move us elegantly through a range of emotions that is exhilerating.

I could keep listing reasons why I whole-heartedly enjoy this film, but that would be nowhere nearly as fun as you going to see it and then coming back to comment here about what you thought.

Dancing more in 2011

January 4th, 2011 No comments

My last article on this website was about dancing for breakfast…four months ago! And while I would very much like to create a regular routine of blogging, to do so is sadly more difficult for me than routinely avoiding meat. It seems a simple task, creating a daily habit of writing; and yet, running 10km every morning for 3 months, or walking across Spain in 30 days has come more easily to me. It is one of the most difficult things I have attempted to do.

Someone, in his effort to encourage me into action, said: “How bad do you want it?” It, being anything in general. I understand what was being asked of me. What am I willing to do to achieve or acquire what I want.

Well, it seems that the more I am in want, the stronger is my resistance to taking action toward the desired. This has been demonstrated by my failure with consistent blog articles. Is it possible then, that I have turned writing into a desire of distraction? This would be a desire I make up in order to distract myself from attaining the mighty important desire that is so much closer to a dream than it is a reasonable goal to pursue. And that word, ‘pursue’…who wants to be chasing something? The connotation and sense memory of that wreaks of desperation and exhausting effort. And if that’s true, that I distract myself away from the things I most want, then I could perpetually be in a state of dissatisfaction. And this, I have read, is what it means to be an artist…to always be dissatisfied. That just won’t do for me. I prefer to think that life can be full of really satisfying achievements. In fact, I’ve known it in my past experiences to be so. But from where I am today, that level of vitality seems a great distance away.

So for this year of 2011, I’m going to use the metaphor of dance and song for how I consider goals and my desire to achieve. Rather than get daunted by the big empty dance floor with the exciting and complex music ( on days of supreme insecurity, add to that the anxiety of being observed), it probably be more gentle on myself to consider each step a small shimmy, a wee head bop, one step forward with a swing of a hip, closer to a goal.

I’m writing this entry at a computer in the majestic building of the Central Vancouver Public Library, the people around me are talking as if they are on a public bus, and my concentration is weakening among these fluorescent lights and chatter. And while I am not thrilled about the content I’ve written here, I am glad that I took a moment to write. Hopefully, you as the reader, aren’t regretting the few minutes you spent here. If you have, make a constructive comment, and if you’ve read this and have questions for yourself or for me then I’d like to get those too!

I have felt concerned that I don’t have a singular theme for my blog because having one subject matter to write about seems to work for so many. Themes are not why I write so themes, it would follow, don’t bring me to the keyboard. That desire to give voice to thought, to take action on an impulse to say something about anything, to update people who want to know what’s up to date with me, and to dance…with words.

It is the large scope of public that I find most challenging with blogging. So while I may have happenings to report, it may take me some time to find the words that can express them in my public voice. What is a public voice? Perhaps I’ll write about that in my next entry. Thanks for reading, and may you enjoy the dances of 2011 to their fullest.

Finding breathe, finding being

July 18th, 2009 No comments

Since I declared my learning to swim goal, I have a renewed commitment to spending time in and around the pool. I say ‘in and around’ the pool because while I go in at about 2pm and leave the locker room an hour later, I spend probably about 15 – 20 minutes of that time swimming; and even that may be a generous estimate.

Getting into the pool is not a problem. It’s breathing while I’m in it. Specifically, breathing with my face in the water. It looks really easy and effortless when I watch others doing their laps, and it’s great to observe so I can see what I’m working towards.

When I’m in, I’m thinking about all the ideal adjustments and this could be a part of my obstacle. When I’m following my thoughts, I am not following my breathe. And if there is anything I’ve learned in acting and voice classes…it is to allow the breathe to lead. Thoughts dictate, “breathe in, relax the neck, take it slow, 1 easy quiet stroke, twist to the side, look ahead, breath out, kick with soft knees, soft quiet stroke, turn head for a breath.” Breathe gives life to motion. Since I have a tendency to be ultra conscientious on proper technique as I’m learning, I just swim half a length of the pool and then turn around. Adding the fear factor of water depth that is beyond my vertical reach can be overwhelming, so easy-does-it as I warm-up my brain and nerves to do a lap.

After I reassure my body that I can, indeed, control my breathing in water, I go for one lap from one end to the other end. And I do this by telling myself, “Slow is good. You’ve done this before. And, if you panic in the deeper end, just flip onto your back and breath.” When I get to the other end, I usually stop and hang off the wall while catching my breath and then head back. It sounds very simple, perhaps, but it is actually really gratifying to make it from one end of the pool to the other end of the pool without an interruption of fear. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel fear in varying degrees as I’m moving along, it just means that I didn’t believe the fear and let it escalate, that time around. That is my version of being in the pool.

Being around the pool, that’s cool too. It’s kind of neat seeing how people move in the water and then when out of the water. So much focus is required while swimming that it is almost impossible to be watching other people while swimming. This makes it distinctly different from other activities like yoga, running, or any activity on land, basically. There is such a lovely lightness, it seems, when people are in the water that is peaceful. People seem to just be in their own movement. But when people get out of the water, there is a subtle to obvious shift that seems to indicate the return of the body image gremlins. If almost all of us are insecure about how our body appears, then essentially, we are just afraid of other people who are also incredibly insecure about the same thing.
“That’s silly!” my 4 year old neice would say.

Another great discovery in and around the pool is the usual peacefulness. I really appreciate that the pool is an indoor fitness environment without tv’s and monitors and loud music. Just my body moving in water….aaahhhh.

Categories: Learning, Swimming Tags:

A Reason to Blog: Learning to Swim

July 15th, 2009 No comments

To give this blog “a point”, I’ve become aware of the importance of having something to write about, other than my random thoughts day-to-day. So I’m going to attempt blogging with a focus. What happens if I write about learning how to swim?

My memory of swimming goes back to swimming lessons in the Tamitik Recreation Centre in Kitimat, BC. When I was younger, I was enrolled in many different physical extra-curricular activities and I enjoyed them all. Ballet, gymnastics, ice skating, and swimming were the most memorable. One year I was in gymnastics and swimming at the same time. That same year, I developed symptoms that were thought, by a team of doctors, to be a brain tumor. I spent a week or more at the BC Children’s Hospital and upon my return home, with no evidence of a tumor found, I was no longer permitted to engage in gymnastics because of the potential harm the tumbling might do (it was thought by the adults). It was sad to stop and especially because it was not my abilities that were preventing me from continuing on with swimming. I think I lost my confidence to be in the water after believing that I was not fit for physical exertion. Not all was lost, though.

I had learned as much as one does at the dolphin level (I think): water safety, breathing, the dog paddle, the back stroke and the front stroke when I was about 6 or 7. Now I’m 32 and beginning again. I started going to the pool in my gym in 2007, inspired by a friend. His fitness activity of choice is swimming and being that I was still strengthening my knee from earlier that year, I decided to try it. It felt a bit intimidating, but it helped a great deal to just do the aqua classes first, getting comfortable with being in the pool. I suppose the easiest way would have been to sign-up for swimming classes. I didn’t have the extra money to pay for lessons so I just went for it on my own and experimented. I have not gotten much better but I know that I have improved. I started doing the front crawl with my head above the water. The first time I did a lap, the lifeguard came over to me to ask if I was okay. I calmly said, “Yes.” She said, “Okay, I just wanted to be sure. You know it’s more difficult to swim with your head above water.” I laughed and replied, “Yes, I know. I’m just not comfortable swimming with my face in the water, yet.” So I went to the ‘multi-purpose’ area, shallow and wide, and just practiced putting my face in the water, going back to basics like blowing bubbles. It was a reminder that one can never be too advanced for the value of basics.

A couple of weeks ago, I took an ‘open water workshop’ with the total immersion coach at the YWCA. Peter was a fantastic teacher! I was pretty scared of looking like a fool and I succeeded, in my own mind at least, of looking like a fool. I don’t know what it is about a group of attractive adults practically naked all learning to do something that feels very complex and unnatural that just begs for some light dialogue. And conversation and eye contact come as easily there as it does while showering naked next to a stranger.

It was only an hour but we covered a lot of really effective techniques. My long-term goal is to be able to freedive in the ocean. A short-term goal to that end is to get through one session of Intro to Masters. I feel a little impatient that the next session doesn’t start until September. If I am still motivated in September to progress with swimming, and I hope I will be, it will be a good indication of the likelihood that I’ll stick with it. I have a tendency to distract myself with so many exciting possibilities that I lose sight of things begun.

I will post about my process of learning to swim here and perhaps in that process I will also learn something about writing.

Categories: Learning, Swimming Tags: