The Bathhouse

I must tell you about something I’ve experienced that seems pretty incredible to me. It’s a ladies bathhouse. Before I forget to tell you, it’s called the Herbal Spa Sauna Salon and it’s in Honolulu. I found it through Groupon (love Groupon – between Groupon and Living Social, I have moved into two completely unfamiliar regions and managed to find goods and services that filled my calendar, took care of grooming, shopping and luxury and made local folks jealous of my “insider knowledge.”).

So… I see this offer for a hot tub, cool pool, meditation room, sauna and steam room for $10 for each 24 hour pass. I buy 5 of them.

I go and this is what happens. Following directions, I strip and put my clothes in a locker. I’m given a tray with a doctor’s office type cloth robe, bath towel and hand towel. I’m shown into a large, open room that is divided in two halves. On half has divided massage, scrub areas. The other half has the hot whirl pool and cool tubs. On the end are a sauna, steam room and open standing and sitting showers.

Before I go any further, let me tell you that on the massage and scrub areas, naked ladies are laying on tables and massage/scrub artist ladies (who are wearing what looks like bras and panties) are massaging and scrubbing with vigor. I mean without trying to look (I’m being purposely modest), I can’t help but notice that sometimes the artists are standing on the same tables the customers are laying on… and they’re using their body weight for pressure. Sometimes I hear slapping and a bit of grunting. The rest is left up to my imagination. I can tell you no one leaves suddenly… the customers paid for the pleasure of having their muscles dominated.

So I remove my robe and shower as directed. The key to my locker is on a little plastic spring I assume belongs on my wrist for safe keeping; I put it there. I set down my basket of towels and my modesty. I shower, then barefooted on an incredible tile floor, I pad over to the hot tub, turn on the jets and climb in. I imagine that – were anyone looking at that moment – I looked graceful doing that much.

Since I set the hot tub timer on 20 minutes, I sink down and resign myself to relaxing for that amount of time. As usual in a hot tub, rather than immediately relaxing, I have about 84000 nerve-ending electrical messages per second… but I tell myself it’s relaxing.

Amidst the sound of ladies’ backsides and frontsides being slapped and smacked and the occasional woman moving from one area of the room to the other, I relax… really quickly and fully.

After what I think is 10 minutes, I “gracefully” flop from the hot tub into the cool one. My sigh is audible, but I don’t give a rat’s butt about it (I privately believe my relaxed sigh fuels the room’s vibe). I wait until my skin acclimates, then move back into the hot tub for what I believe will be another 10 minutes.

All this time I’ve had the tubs to myself and I’ve been moving around a bit (fatty parts float… add bubbles and you have quite a bit of movement, even for the most relaxed average sized woman). I suddenly hear the “I’ve just immersed my body in hot water” sighs of two other women… so I no I’m no longer alone in my hot tub. I open my eyes and look at the two breasts in front of me (because that’s what’s in front of me). I look for exactly 3 milliseconds before it all registers in my mind and I have a chance to move my relaxed gaze up to the woman who owns the breasts. I say a quick apology and something about thinking I had the tub to myself. She smiles at me and says something about the fact that I did for awhile. We both do a really lazy, relaxed laugh.

In those 3 milliseconds, I noticed that those breasts were in some ways quite similar and in other ways dissimilar from my own. It registers with me that our 4 boobs have their similarities and dissimilarities as they relate to the breasts we see scantily clad in any form of media.

I tell myself to relax and stop comparing breasts. I lean back and feel the hot bubbly water. I hear the two ladies who have joined me chatting like old friends. I don’t listen to the content of their conversation, but the cadence and tone of their obvious familiarity is really lovely and I sink deeper into my relaxation.

Now my hot tub timer goes off. I climb out, without caring what I look, and ask my new neighbors how much more time they want. I dial it in for them and sink into the cool tub with another audible sigh.

I continue my hot/cool exploration as I move between the cool tub, sauna and steam rooms and shower. I’m there for about an hour total and all of we ladies there walk by each other on our way to this or that – carefully on the wonderful tile floor and with little concern or formality (to cover yourself here would be odd).

The next time I visit this incredible place, which by the way, is scented with rosemary and lavender, I don’t bother with any attempt at frantic eye aversion. It’s almost like we’re all looking at the lovely garments each woman is wearing, and tacitly approving of them. Only we’re not wearing anything. We just smile and nod as we pass.

I know I’m not describing that accurately, but this is so foreign to me, I’m at a bit of a loss for words…

There’s a nurturing, feminine, beautiful and warm atmosphere in this room where no model body exists and underwear clad workers assume awkward positions in order to slap with efficacy. There’s this… celebration of our need for relaxation and respit here. This lovely release of everything other than that relaxation and respit. Who gives a hoot about the geometric shape or mass of your breasts, bottom, thighs or upper arms here?

I honestly don’t know if all of this wonderful mental relaxation is a product of the heat and cold, scents, sounds or intention. I don’t care. I just know that it relaxes my body and soul.

Perfekshunism

I bought an ukulele and have begun teaching myself a few cords. I’m also taking a script writing class and continue experimentation with watercolors (as opposed to the acrylic paints, with which I’m much more comfortable). I’m really making a lot of effort to continue learning wherever and whenever possible.

All this on an island where I am constantly surrounded by and do not speak the native language and am trying to absorb and understand a culture that is seemingly entirely separate from my own.

… and it’s working. I’m not putting pressure on myself to learn any of these now. In fact, I’m giving myself permission to be awful at everything I’m attempting to learn. THAT permission to fail is much more foreign to me than the language here and I secretly love it. I love my immature paintings, fumbled strummed cords and garbled language and misunderstandings. Because that permission to fail is so foreign and thrilling… it’s exciting to finish something and say “wow, I really fucked that up – and it’s okay!”

Weeee!

What will I fuck up next? surfing? Well, maybe I won’t go quite that far… but I could try making nice with someone I really don’t like… or perhaps shutting the hell up when every fiber of my being wants to shout about something.

I’ll tell you what – something that’s been really pretty cool is giving myself permission to fail while meditating. Actually, that may just be the key to meditating for me… FAILURE to keep my mind in one place for more than a millisecond!

Okay, so to wrap this up… I’m discovering that my success in any one attempt/field/project does not define me. My ATTEMPT and the honest outcome of it – now that’s the sweet stuff.

Define me? Oh, who the hell cares. I don’t think I really need to do that anymore. Do you?

I know full well that most of these will get better with time. I also know full well that my [perfectionist] nature is also getting better with time. Who knows, a few more awful renditions of Under the Boardwalk on my ukulele, another awful scene written by Donna and another mispronunciation of a really common name here in Hawaii and I just may learn to never again beat myself up for anything less than perfection!

It’s about damn time!

April 23, 2012.  Since I last wrote I have sold most everything I own and moved to Hawaii to follow my dreams.  I chronicled everything via video here.  Have to warn you, some of that video is just me talking to a camera in lieu of a significant other.  So if you watch… I’ll owe you a home cooked dinner… or something.

Anywho, remember my last posts about going on vision quests and figuring out what I wanted and who I am?  Well, it turns out that once you do that, what you want and need starts showing up – and I recognized it when it arrived.  I asked for it, I got it, and I accepted it.

Leading up to that was a lot of muck and mire, but the upshot is good and I honestly expect it to get better.  There really is something to this age/wisdom thing, you know?

Aloha!

 

That Vacation Feeling…

You know the feeling I’m talking about.  It’s what lights up your senses and makes everything – rain or shine – better.  Sunscreen and pine needles smell better, sun rises sing, fires dance, that cup of coffee seems to be roasted just for your and shopping has never been better.   It’s that feeling you swear you’re going to keep after you return home.  It’s that feeling that leaves exactly 13 hours after returning home, no matter what.

Is it just about having control of your schedule?  It can’t be.  I’ve been on vacations with packed calendars under someone else’s control.  I’ve worked on vacation, had colds, hangovers, backaches and one really nasty spider bite that required a trip to the clinic, antibiotics and steroids.  I still had the vacation feeling and it still left once I got home… even though the work, cold, hangover, backache and spider bite didn’t go home with me.  What the hell?

It’s not just about new surroundings either.  I’ve traveled on business too many times to believe that.  So… that feeling is more about FEELING than anything else.  Dammit… once again, the responsibility belongs on my shoulders – or rather, between my ears.  It is actually under my control.

Alright, what are the common denominators of the vacation feeling?

Looking and seeing as though what is in front of you is fresh

That’s really it.  Seeing with a vacation perspective is what gives the vacation feeling and seeing the dull, same old work-a-day world from which one escapes removes the feeling.

So… the difference is just perspective.  THAT MEANS I CAN HAVE THE VACATION FEELING ANY TIME I WANT IT!

So, I’m going to experiment with that.  I figure all I have to do, is do things differently.  I’m about to drink a cup of tea before bed, wear my fancy pajamas, sleep on the other side of the bed… maybe I’ll sleep in the guest room tomorrow night.

As for work tomorrow, lets see… I can drive a different route, take two 30 minute breaks instead of an hour lunch and use a different bathroom.

I need something to remind me to look at things differently.  LOOK differently.  SEE differently.

When I’m on vacation, I take time to appreciate my surroundings and circumstances.  That’s what I need to do.  I need to appreciate – to love what is around me.  Should I wear cocoa butter and that silly little ring I bought at the beach two years ago?  Hell yes – it’s worth a shot.

I’m going on vacation right now!!!

VISION QUEST 2011, Part I

Yes, I have been on a vision quest.  In fact, I’ve been on two, 2010 and 2011.  What exactly constitutes a “vision quest,” you may ask?  For me, it’s a nice, neat package of openness, opportunity and contemplation, all concentrated into a small lump of time and travel.

  • Be open to big changes in your life
  • Have a week to travel and no need to plan most of that time
  • Have enough money and/or creativity to take care of basic needs (eating,  sleeping and getting from A to B to C)
  • Bring at least one big question
  • Bring an open mind and willingness to let answers unfold over the next year or so
  • Bring a journal and write in it every day
  • Bring curiosity and high, but loosely defined expectations
  • Seek adventure and newness every day of the quest – pick up brochures, ask for recommendations and be willing to drive down the road just because it seems like the right thing to do at the moment
  • Talk to strangers with no expectations, but don’t be surprised if they reveal the secrets you’ve been looking for
  • Spend a lot of time alone – in nature if possible – appreciating your surroundings
  • If possible, begin the quest with loved ones who will cheer you on and ask questions about your upcoming days
  • If possible, end the quest with friends who will ask questions and listen – people who help you define the experience
  • Breathe – notice smells, sights, sounds and above all else, feelings

I began both of my vision quests with my darling nephew, Jason.  I ended each with my dear friends, Heather and Michael.  There are hundreds of miles and  a plethora of experiences between said nephew and friends.  This is the meat of the quest.  (but don’t get me wrong, the meat would be little without the dear, cheering and the defining bookends.)

Both of my quests initially centered on visits to a woman named Jo Carson and an art project she inspired.  I read a book of Jo’s and we eventually became acquaintances, and  later friends.   Both times I traveled at Jo’s request, but knew I would not travel that 1000 miles to spend a lot of time with her as she has been very ill and easily exhausted .  I basically traveled both times to spend a total of 8 hours with Jo (that’s another blog).  I appreciated the time I had with her, but also appreciated the time I spent with a waiter in a restaurant one night, a woman who sat next to me at the dining room table in a bed and breakfast one morning, a timber wolf who lazily stared at me through a chain link fence and a ghost named Lydia, with whom I spent two nights… just the two of us in a secluded bed and breakfast that was once her childhood home.

And here’s another piece of the quest: I have felt driven to take each trip, despite bad timing and the necessity for frugality.  I was  certain of the need to travel and circumstances unfolded to allow me to do so.

The first trip was initially invited in October of 2009, but circumstances in my life didn’t open up for that… it was delayed until May of 2010.  At that time, I KNEW the time was right and I went.

In August of 2011, similar circumstances drove me to begin readying for another quest.  Along the way, I had doubts.  While doubting, I stopped at a rest area to get something to eat (or perhaps more appropriately, I wanted to assuage my doubting heart with some Oreos).  I stood at a vending machine and reached into my purse for a bill.  My heart nearly stopped when I pulled out a bill that had my name very clearly written on it.  You see, when I began the trip, I had an empty wallet – I stopped for cash in my home town, then got change at a gas station somewhere in Indiana.  That is the origin of the bill.  The poignant moment in front of the vending machine is such a landmark because of the question in my mind as well as the answer… had I not gone on the trip, someone whose name probably wasn’t Donna would have gotten the $5 as change in the gas station somewhere in Indiana.  They probably wouldn’t have had a question of “am I where I should be” on their hearts and they most assuredly wouldn’t have been impressed by seeing my name of a $5 bill.

I suppose that $5 is a good thought to continue on at this point because it sums up all that anyone has to give to receive gain on a vision quest.  Be willing to see visions and ready to allow your heart AND your mind to interpret them.  Bring the journal so you can remember all that you’ve experienced.  Talk to strangers – even let them in on the story – but do not allow their opinions to define your experience.  Frankly,, they may be there specifically to teach you not to allow anyone else to define your world for you.

I don’t want to put to much definition on the rules of this experience.  After all, not having rules is what makes it so special.  On these quests, I have never planned more than thirty-six hours ahead.  Because of this, I’ve received lovely discounts on 4-star available rooms exactly when and where I needed them.  I have also used Priceline to find a good deal on your basic chain hotel.  I’ve written in my journal beside pools, in animal sanctuaries, at highway rest areas, in my nephew’s and friends’ homes, in several restaurants and coffee shops, mountain tops, along rivers and on park benches.  I’ve met people who had recovered from tragic loss, accomplished amazing 18-year journeys, were living their dreams and reaching almost as much as I was.  They all helped me.

That brings me to another type of person – and they helped me too – the people who are not searching, are not happy and don’t believe in hope.  They appear like neon lights above your bed during a lovely dream.  You notice them and they jar you from your peace.  Frankly, you probably jar them as well.  Let them affirm your quest and do not allow them to bring you down.

I once talked with a waiter who first  befriended me, then became cold and literally backed away from me – all while I didn’t say much.  I think the problem was that I was just so frickin’ happy.  I gave him a nice tip.  I remember that because my bill was $41 and I happily rounded it up to $50 to allow for a generous tip (I figured anyone who could turn so chilly and mistrustful to a happy stranger who asked for nothing other than items on the menu, needed a good tip).  When I returned home and sorted through my bank statement, I noted that said waiter refused the tip – I was only charged $41 that night.   I was in the business long enough to know something like that does not happen by accident.  I believe he recognized something only in retrospect.  He recognized something he couldn’t deal with at the time, but in retrospect, he couldn’t accept that gift from someone so foreign.

Okay, I’m wrapping this up now – too much definition of a vision quest is not a good thing.  As I work through my findings from VQ 2011, I’ll post them here.  I will benefit from the thought process behind writing more about it.  Perhaps someone will read and feel inspired to take a VQ of their own.

If you go in the right spirit of open expectation of vision, the time you spend on the quest will reward you hundreds of times over!

It’s just not that big a deal

Note to self:  whatever it is, whatever seems like a life and death situation… for you, your career, your relationship, etc… is probably just not that big a deal.  That monumentally important and earth shattering news/risk/error/whatever is probably the result of a conglomeration of unchecked assumptions and emotions that have cumulatively magnified into an emotional Godzilla, trouncing upon the reality of a simple bit of news/risk/error/whatever.

So take a deep breath and consider the larger picture.  Is anyone you love – including yourself – laying in the hospital or worse?  No?  That’s what I thought.

Whatever it is, it’s just not that big a deal.

Now go on about your business….

Life Gets in the Way

There is a third-to-half finished painting of a willow tree in the snow upstairs and a piece of Private Art [I will not discuss] hidden in the closet behind me.  A friend gave me a gorgeous little “Transition Journal,” in which I’ve only written three pages thus far… and honestly, those were only completed because my routine car maintenance took a little longer than usual and I happened to have that journal in my purse.  There are colorful tales and images and ideas buzzing around in my head, but I don’t have time to extract them, so they keep bumping into each other and – if left to collide with no exit in sight – are quite likely to eventually form a brown slurry with no hope of definition.

You see, life has gotten in the way of my art.  The stuff that drives the paintings and blogs and ideas, is standing in the way of them.  What kind of ride is this?

Meh… I suppose this is the time of my life during which I build the sort of background and character that makes the above more interesting and rich.  I guess that packing and moving and unpacking and major life decisions and actions and a career change are required so that I can give good exposition later.  I’m willing to buy that.  I like to have new stories to tell.

And so, I must get back to all that.  Here’s hoping to return on the other side with more stories!

Yet Another Similarity Between Theatre and Church…

Churches and theatres across the country share a common phenomenon at Christmas time: people you don’t see in those buildings any other time of year walk through the front doors.  I propose that those visitors make their annual appearances at both establishments for some of the same reasons.

I don’t mean to sound trite, but this annual pilgrimage phenomenon is so consistent in the theatre world that we sometimes refer to the Christmas show as our “cash cow,” because we know you will come to that show in droves.  You’ll bring the kids, your employees and their families, grandma, dad and your daughter’s chatty friends.  Not unlike the late December trek to Church, you’ll dress a little nicer.  You will also laugh a little louder and clap a little longer and sometimes you’ll cry softly.  Regardless of the show, the venue or performers, you will most likely enjoy yourself and you’ll be back next year for more of the same.

Much like Christmas services at Church, in the world of Christmas entertainment, relatively little has changed over the years (it seems The Sound of Music has inexplicably slipped into the Christmas movie and music repertoire… but that’s another editorial altogether).  From A Christmas Carol to A Christmas Story, we consumers who love “new” and “better,” find ourselves lining up for “old” and “exactly the same.”

There are three forces converging to make those Christmas shows so special.  First, the stories themselves are wonderful affirmations of humanity and hope.  They are stories of family, redemption, the joy of giving, all-conquering love and of a brilliant little baby’s humble birth.  Whether it is a grand production or a grade school pageant, those stories touch our hearts.

What makes those stories so impactful is the second force at play here: we all want very, very badly to feel those emotions of togetherness, warmth, generosity and the promise of unwavering love.  Let’s face it, we can’t always guarantee those feelings on our own, but we can feel them every year when Ebenezer Scrooge realizes he hasn’t slept through December 25th.  Those warm fuzzies are as reliable as tears at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life every year.

And that brings us to the third wallop delivered by those old stories: we only tell them once a year.  It’s like a fabulous pair of shoes you’ll never get tired of because as soon as you wear them, they get tucked away in your closet for another year.  And by the way, these Christmas shoes never go out of style.

Whether you visit a theatre – or Church – once or several times each year, I’m glad we have this season to affirm our hope and humanity together.  Cherish the stories, relish the feelings and savor the shows.  Let’s hold on to all of it as long as we can and have a very Merry Christmas.

Donna Blanchard is an actor, director and freelance arts grant proposal writer

Wrought Feelings

More from Candace:  “Feelings are a bridge between the inner world of consciousness and the outer world of manifestation, and must be felt and experienced if any kind of real and lasting result is going to come about.”

Okay, so if I don’t feel my emotions, nothing will ever be gained, changed or otherwise affected by what is going on in my head.  Ladies and gentlemen, that is an awful thing to say!  I don’t want to feel half of what is going on in my neurotransmitters on a good day!

Hmmm, have I mentioned I’m going through a lot of transition at this point in my life?  A LOT of transition.  I’m feeling a whole dynamic world of states of consciousness that change like one of those glass-filled kaleidoscopes you saw on well-dressed coffee tables everywhere in the early 90’s.

What was I saying?

Oh yeah…

When it really gets rough inside my head and the ligands are landing in the most unpleasant of ways, I look for ways to NOT feel.  I think I’m a little upset with Candace for telling me I’m not supposed to run away suppress or otherwise drown those feelings.

I admit it, I’m going through a huge phase of transition in my life (seriously – career, home, geographic region, relationship…).  I love the highs and don’t care at all for the lows.  I’ve spent enough time crying, eating and generally wanting to bang my head against the wall – do I really need more of those emotions?

Apparently, I do.  Perhaps if I feel them, I’ll actually learn to deal with them without the aforementioned behaviors.

Okay, fine, Candace.  If I’m going to make any change, I have to not just ride the shit-storm, but actually smell it.  Whatever.

A very wise friend of mine told me just yesterday that progress requires taking steps up in consciousness, then supporting/sustaining them until you’re ready for the next step up.  Meh, I suppose all of that requires awareness of all that each steps entails, including occasional [incessant] loneliness, mourning and grief…. not to mention the paralyzing questioning insecurity brings.

In moments when I’m most honest, I have to admit I’ve used the banal tool: alcohol, to mask my feelings, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Excessive sleep, movies, performance (read: adrenaline), physical and emotional risk (read: adrenaline) and even Facebook to escape for a little while.  Sometimes all of those things are happy and healthy little choices we make when deciding how to spend our time.  Sometimes, those are ways to divert attention and avoid feeling.

Okay, so now that brings me to another question: what is normal activity and what is escape?  Or the converse: what is sitting and feeling emotions and what is sitting and looking for trouble?  I don’t want to bask/wallow in my emotions to excess.  There’s got to be a good balance…

Don’t we have an entire two generations full of people who want everything now and really have no idea what it’s like to sit in a quiet room along with their feelings?  Oh pong, what hath though wrought?

… I’ll get around to thinking about – but not wallowing in – all of this, just as soon as I finish this drink while watching a movie and posting this very personal blog on the entire world wide web (read: adrenaline).

Jesus, where’s Pythagoras when you need him…

The Definition of Emotion

This is from Dr. Candace Pert:

[I began by defining emotion as] “the flow of information perceived to be essential for the survival of any particular state of consciousness making the observation.”

Candace is one of the small handful of scientists you see in the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?” She’s an internationally recognized pharmacologist who has published over 250 scientific articles on peptides and their receptors and the role of these neuropeptides in the immune system. She spends a lot of time talking about the “molecules of emotion” (she has several books and CD’s REALLY worth checking out).

I gotta look at that again: “the flow of information perceived to be essential for the survival of any particular state of consciousness making the observation.”

A state of consciousness exists/survives – and informs me of its existence – because of certain ligands flowing into receptors (that’s the flow of information).

THAT’S IT? Jesus, God in Heaven, this frickin insanity that has tried to control my feeble little brain since the age of consciousness is a goddamn matter of squiggly things landing in squiggly thing soft spots? AND IF THEY DON’T LAND, THE GOD-AWFUL, IRRATIONAL AND POTENTIALLY LIFE ALTERING – IN A BAD WAY – EMOTION GOES AWAY?

Well, for heaven’s sake, wouldn’t it be nice to imagine controlling those soft-spots? Harumph, I’m pretty sure there’s a whole shelf of expensive prescription drugs surviving on THAT flow of observation… but shouldn’t it be easier? And cheaper… with fewer side-effects?

Seriously, if I can just catch myself in the act of an emotional wallop, shouldn’t I be able to tell myself that’s just ligands landing in soft-spots and this angst/worry/anger (insert your incendiary emotion here) would just pop off to oblivion if I could say… block its conjugal visit with that whore of a receptor?

Well hell if that’s all it is, this should be easy, right? I’m going to give it a try. The next time I want to kill someone, break something or run out of the room screaming, I’ll just remind myself that it’s not the situation that is actually all that bad – it’s the friggin ligands that are making me crazy.

Worth a try…