I’ve never quite been before where I am right now.
I have a piece premiering with San Francisco Ballet on Thursday and then on Monday, I begin rehearsals for a brand new work for Smuin Ballet in the same city. Premieres are a hell of a thing. So much preparation and thought, attention to detail gets squeezed out the tip of the needle into one tiny cohesion. Everything changes and this intimate pyramid of uncovering, filled with schedules and rehearsal clothes and conversations about intent is suddenly inverted and squeezed down and you are inside that one tiny bead of water. A magnifier. And the walls of your house are ripped away to surprise you that you were on a gameshow the whole time and everyone can see you. I don’t get the narcissistic pride that I did as a performer from the opening. The show feels like something is getting taken away. And so I usually right myself after a premiere by disappearing from the world. It is usually set up so beautifully in that I fly back home the very next day, back to reality. But this time is different. The ramp up into the performance is simultaneously the ramp up into beginning something brand new. The moment when I want to retreat will be the moment of slipping into exposure. This feels like falling through space. I do not know where I will land.
One of the clear benefits of the strangeness of this arrangement is that the piece I am doing for Smuin Ballet is about the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love and to have more than a week to immerse myself in in San Francisco is helpful in the development of the work. I’m not sure exactly how yet, but I am comforted to be here now instead of the day before the first rehearsal. Speaking of “Be Here Now”, I wanted to pick up a copy of the book by the same name by the spiritual leader Ram Dass. It was a book my friends passed around when I was on the verge of 20 and experimenting with psychedelic drugs. One of the few consistencies in the many, many versions of what the Summer of Love was about was prevalence of LSD and the use of it as a tool for fast enlightenment. It never exactly had that effect on me. Those experiences for me were an amusement park where any notion I might have about an object would come to life and a pure, shining escape from the mundanity of life. The real pursuit of spirit came after for me and I have recently rediscovered Ram Dass in a way that was not possible for me to hear back then. It seems the long-game fits me better in the pursuit of love.
I looked for the hippiest bookstore I could find, a quest that took me about 10 minutes to fulfill and the owner found me a copy pronto. We got to talking about my ballet and he told me about the author, Mat Callahan, who had just lectured at the store about the music from the Summer of Love. His perspective was that the summer was mostly political and was called by locals the “Summer of Vietnam” – the sex and drugs are all pr. That summer was a bit of a Rorschach for its participants. It depended on where you were, who you were, who you interacted with to determine what it was all about. I want to see this as liberating rather than confounding. This conversation with the bookstore owner is another reason it is so good to be here right now.
There is a page in the book Be Here Now that is an illustration of a chicken with the headline in bold print “The Chicken Sees”. I remember I tore it out and hung it on my bedroom wall, mostly because I found it funny. The humor was 1/2 because it really was a groovy (not a word that I use, but it illustrates the way that I felt it at that time) idea that even a chicken had the understanding of what is truly important and truly meaningful. The other 1/2 was because chickens are inherently funny. I found this story that gives a more nuanced explanation of the image:
“An aged spiritual master calls his two most devoted disciples to the garden in front of his hut. Gravely, he gives each one a chicken and instructs them, ‘Go to where no one can see, and kill the chicken.’ One of the men immediately goes behind his shed, picks up an ax and chops off his chicken’s head. The other wanders around for hours, and finally returns to his master, the chicken still alive in hand. ‘Well, what happened?’ the teacher asks. The disciple responds, ‘I can’t find a place to kill the chicken where no one can see me. Everywhere I go, the chicken sees.’”
My friend super-athlete Kevin Everett has been showing up as my spirit animal in my dreams, so I am experiencing San Francisco in the way I think he would, which is to immerse myself in the insane nature everywhere. My calves are about to split at the seams from all of the hill running I have been doing. The apartment I’m staying in has one of the most glorious panoramic views of San Francisco I have ever seen, but there is a price to pay. It’s at the top of one of the steepest hills in the city. The kind of hills where if you are in a car, you are pretty sure you are going to flip forward going downhill. I like this at every moment except the one at the end of a rehearsal day where there is no other option but to marathon up it. So many times I have to stop halfway and laugh at the absurdity.
I’m also right near Buena Vista Park. It’s a spot I passed all the time when I lived in Upper Haight, but never visited. It looked small before but now that I’m near the top, it is AMAZING. It’s a staunchly vertical stretch of land and the views through the trees are inspiring. I shot some photos there with model John Kwon over the weekend.