Monday, February 20, 2012

A Belated, Bedraggled Valentine

It's been a bad month for horndogs.

We've had our share of really sad, scary, too-close-to home cases where someone's sex drive caused a lot of hurt in our community. I don't want to enumerate them; if you live in the Pioneer Valley, you know what I am talking about anyway. I haven't wanted to write about this because 1. it's really painful, and 2. my parents raised me not to talk about sex in public. I do fervently believe in privacy. But what comes up for me, as a mother and a feminist and someone who believes equally fervently in the power and sanctity and preciousness of community, is this question: how do we mothers of boys raise them to respect women, to respect themselves, and to see that their actions, no matter how private (and sometimes secret) have ramifications throughout their community? As Garrison Keillor once wrote, infidelity somehow seeps into the soil and poisons one's neighbor's tomato plants.

I don't know, but I suspect the answer, as usual, is love.

The latest scandal rocking our little world is the revelations that Anusara yoga founder John Friend might have cheated employees out of their benefits, made them purchase marijuana in their names for his use, engaged in extramarital sex with students and Anusara instructors as part of some Wiccan ceremonies (and also engaged in a lot of sex, just because.) While John Friend was never that interesting or inspiring to me, he was very important to my own teachers, and they are women whom I love and revere. His actions have caused a lot of hurt, and have caused my yoga teacher to sever all ties with him. This is no small thing. Her studio has been a sanctuary for so many in our community and the teachings of John Friend, which I studied intensely from 2009-2011 when I was taking the first part of the yoga teacher training (called "Immersion"), greatly impressed me and many others. John Friend may have caused a lot of harm, but he also did a lot of good.

This is the way it goes, it seems, whenever we elevate a brilliant leader to guru status, whenever a teacher begins to believe his own press releases. And it's a good reminder not to put anyone on a pedestal. Other noteworthy horndogs: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, JFK, FDR. What would the world be without them?

And yet, today I have to say I'd rather my son grow up to be a kind and faithful husband than a spiritual or political leader if by being so he was duped into thinking his behavior was excusable. Call me old-fashioned or moralistic. I don't care.

And. Where is forgiveness and what place does it have in cases like this? Where is mercy? When is it appropriate to keep what was meant to be private, private? Where are the boundaries? Where are the containers?

I went to my yoga class today. The teachers didn't mention the scandal, but one of them did say that when we come together to practice, we create a container for each other. That's exactly what I say about my writing classes, Writing It Up in the Garden, where somehow the act of coming together to write strengthens and honors each of us. I write better when I am sitting with my fellows, all of us focused on our individual goals. We keep each other honest, or at least we keep each other from getting up thirty times an hour to open the fridge, check our email or re-apply mascara. We sit, instead, and do our work.

The containers of our bodies are punctured when we love someone. We spill into and out of each other. That is how the love gets around. Sometimes it's so right, so healthy, so joyous that we weep tears of relief. We feel we are immortal, centered, egoless, complete.

I can't help but think that when people get raised so high up above others that it causes a kind of mental illness. The sense of "I" gets inflated and we start to serve that "I" even when we know perfectly well that "I" is myself, that familiar container of ecstasy and grumpiness and foibles and justifications. Even if we have committed to serving others, we still have those strange mental blind spots where it somehow can seem appropriate to take the best portion for ourselves. It's a hardening of that ego membrane, a replacing of the real spiritual fluidity that passes between us all naturally with a more graphic, literal version. It's at its root a power disorder, a confusion that comes when love gets to big, so powerful that instead of riding its current, being a channel for that Power, we reach around and wield it ourselves. For awhile, this works and we rise even higher, but eventually this misuse chokes off the source, and we start hurting people.

Yoga teaches about the hard and the soft, the pulling in of muscular energy (to use some John Friend terms) in order to unleash the organic energy which is what radiates out to the community. As Douglas Brooks says, "We are already free beings. The challenge is choosing what we yoke ourselves to."

What does love ask of us? That is the question I would give my son, the question I hope he finds on his own. I would hope he would let that question guide him in each and every interaction. And if that question could be his guide, if he could yoke himself to love, real love, the kind that is firm and muscular and masculine and honest, then I'd want nothing more.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ten Year Tin

This is the first in a series of posts about the songs on our new CD The Full Catastrophe which is due out on April 1 2012. Today, Dave Chalfant did what may well be the final mixes of the last song. As I write this, Katryna is making a valentine for our fans: a video for Ten Year Tin, which is a song about marriage. Here are the lyrics and video.

Ten Year Tin
Fill me up
Till I’m overflowing
Fill me up
Till I can’t take anymore
Fill me up
Everything is growing
In the garden, in the bedroom
In and out our front door
Wake me up
On our 10 year anniversary
We’ll save up
And take a trip across the sea
We’ll leave the kids with someone vaguely competent
Bon voyage, it’ll be just you and me
I want to swear like a sailor in the storm
I want to stare down the forces of the wind
I want to make love on deck and watch the moon across the sky
I want to put all our pennies in our ten-year tin.

[I see you
I see the man I married
I see you
I see the noble and the beast
And I see the way you treat the one who is serving you
With tenderness and humor, always last but not least] {we cut this verse for the CD}
Look at me
I can’t see my own face
Look at me
You see everything I am
And I’ve seen your worst, and babe, I’d have you anyway
Things do not always go according to our plans
I want to swear like a sailor in the storm
I want to stare down the forces of the wind
I want to make love on deck and watch the moon across the sky
I want to put all our pennies in our ten-year tin.

I want to storm, I want to swear
I want to make sure I get my fair share
I want peace--that's why I hide
I want to know that you're on my side.

Fight with me
I’m not afraid of fighting
Cause I see
That I am safe inside this ring
Fight with me
And I will welcome the battle
Even tell you I’m sorry when the storm is finally passing
I’ll be wrong again
I am wrong so often
Tell me when
You can’t take it any more
I’ll remind you that you took me for better
But when I am worse is what those blessed vows are for

I want to swear like a sailor in the storm
I want to stare down the forces of the wind
I want to make love on deck and watch the moon across the sky
I want to put all our pennies in our ten-year tin.

Nerissa and Katryna Nields
Feb. 2, 2010
History and Writing Process
Katryna called me up in Sept. 2009 when she and Dave were celebrating their 10th anniversary. "Kathy and Henry [Dave's parents] gave us a ten year tin!" Apparently "ten" is the tin anniversary.
"I think we should learn to play it! I think we should name our new CD Ten Year Tin! I think you should write a song called "Ten Year Tin"! And it should have this line:
"I want to swear like a sailor in the storm..." And she sang the line over the phone.

I wrote this song late in the game, relatively. We started recording the new CD in December 2009 and this song came in February 2010. By that time, we'd already done the basic tracks for many of the other songs, and we thought we were done, though in retrospect, we still hadn't written "Creek's Gonna Rise," "The Number One Reason That Parents Are Cranky Is Because They Didn't Get Enough Sleep," or "Your House Is Strong." But we were so giddy about having come up with this one that for a while we really did think we'd name the CD Ten Year Tin.

At first, it was missing its bridge. Dave said, "I think the song needs something. Some progression." Usually, I need to hide away to write something; I remember reading about how Dylan would compose whole sets of lyrics on the spot in the studio. I never thought I'd be able to do that, but for this song, I ducked into the recording booth, sat down with the guitar and wrote the middle eight, which is now my favorite part of the song. We performed "Ten Year Tin" at Falcon Ridge 2010 and then got our rhythm section (Lorne Entress on drums and Paul Kochanski on bass) to record live in Sackamusic studio a couple weeks later while the arrangement was fresh. As I recall, Lorne, who is a wonderful producer himself, helped us figure out the feel.

While this song is for Katryna and Dave in celebration of their amazing, inspiring marriage, I feel funny writing about Dave and Katryna--not being either of them--I will write about myself. I have been married twice. If you add up my married years, I have been married for over a third of my life. And once I celebrated a ten year tin, though we didn't know it, and it was tinnish in a not-good way. But this I know about marriage: it doesn't work to try not to have conflicts. Just as in skiing it's essential to learn to fall properly, in a committed relationship, it's essential to learn to fight fairly. Or if you don't like the word "fighting" then try "exercise ego dominance until you remember that doesn't work for the long term." In my first marriage, I was an excellent jouster. He and I would go at it, and I would best him with my court room logic. That did me no good whatsoever when the marriage fell apart and I was left sputtering at his back. You can win every battle and lose the war.

So I wanted to get at the idea that in a passionate relationship, there are going to be big waves. And in a healthy relationship, there is growth, sometimes an abundance of growth. And what I learned from my first marriage is this: if I wanted a relationship to last forever, I would have to invest in it every single day. This time around, I take nothing for granted.