Archive for May, 2007

Homework

May 28, 2007

All this recent travel has left me a bowl of stewed prunes – soft, wrinkly, and full of farts.

One packs a lot into this week at home – Quan and I have to readjust to each other, each having been ruler of our respective domains. I need a day of de(com)pression, and hours in the office with Tammy to keep Kinesis rolling.

So it is with great pleasure – no matter how I grumble – that I turn to the physical work of making the waterfront ready for the summer.

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional cusp between winter and summer here, spring being non-existent in Maine. This year is no exception – it’s the end of May and spring has been so cold that we are just between the forsythia and the lilacs even now, when suddenly we have a day so hot and still none of us can move, and in 48 hours bare trees are fully-leaved, the apple trees are in full blossom, the rhubarb has bolted, and the yard is yellow with dents-des-leons.

And the black flies appear in the garden, making weeding a misery. Annie, fully sleeved and wearing her bug-net hat tucked into her shirt, looks as if she has adopted radical Islam. Mosquitoes are bad – and they’ll be here soon – but the two weeks of black flies are worse, going for your eyes and under your hair in the back of your neck, leaving bleeding holes that scab and itch.

But I to the shore must go: the rowboats must be launched and commissioned, my mooring chain pulled up from the bottom and the bridle and ball reattached, the water turned on and flushed in the summer cottage, its swimming float and runway lifted into place, an iron rod driven through the rusty metal fittings, and most of all, my father’s old scow must be wedged down the ways into the water, in a yearly ritual even though it gets very little use any more.

Each task requires more tools than I remember to bring, so at first I curse my inefficiency and resent the time, but gradually the joy of work returns, and I warm to the simple use of muscles against something other than these computer keys, even welcoming the blisters and splinters and gouged knuckles as I lay the wooden ways with grease, lever the heavy old scow 1/2″ at a time at each end with a long iron pry until it gets over the lubrication. Then each pry gets a gratifying three or four inches until the big old thing hits the water for another year.

Over a couple of days, the working waterfront loses its winter feeling of terse abandonment into the luxuriant burble of bobbing boats, rubbing against the dock like happy kittens nosing your hand. The last task, after the heavy old outboard has been clamped and cursed into grudging life, is to fix the fendering – the rope and fire hose that lines the docks – so damaged in last fall’s hurricane (see the entry ‘Black-Clad Char’ for a description of this storm).

The fishermen are there too – the lobsters have just started to move from their winter torpor, and they are busy transporting traps from their yard to a pile of 20 or more on the pickup, swung into the boat and dropped into the ‘holes’ in the river bottom, there to feed the young lobsters (who can move in and out of the traps easily, feeding on the bait) and to catch the market size ones, who can get in but not out, spiky bugs that they are.

Lobster fishing is now essentially a large unfenced aquaculture project, with millions of pounds of bait put out to catch slightly fewer millions of pounds of lobster – the young ‘uns are essentially supported by the bait until they’re large enough for market.

We celebrate the completion of the work (and the departure of a friend from the community) with a lobster feed, the first of the year. At this time of year, before these exoskeletal bugs ‘shed’, the meat is tight against the very hard shells, and we squeal as we ‘get’ each other with bits of shell or juice when we use the ‘crackers’ on the claws. Bacchanalia ensues, and Quan and I are up late washing every surface around the table, for nothing smells like old lobster.

This early in the season, we pay a ‘high’ price to Timmy – nearly $6/lb for the freshest seafood imaginable. Lobsters were so plentiful here in the 1700’s that they were gathered in barrels on the shoreside and used as garden mulch (what a smell that must have been). Because they were bottom feeders, they were thought of as ‘trash fish’, and eaten only sparingly – along with that other bottom feeder, the oyster – by the lower classes, like the indentured servants. In those days it was the cod – high in the water column – that was most highly prized.

The Flying Scotsman

May 24, 2007

British Rail is a thing of the past, but the British railroad experience is alive and well. It was more than a four-hour ride up from Leeds to Edinburgh, sliding through flat country carpeted with the spring grasses, sweater-pills of sheep, with four black threads on the bottom, angled on the hillsides. Change trains at Newcastle, an old mill town unexpectedly clean and bright – you might even want to carry some coals here, just to dust it up a little. Makes me think of the Mark Knopfler song, Sailing to Philadelphia – Mason and Dixon came across from ‘the coaly Tyne’ to survey the line drawn between the slave and free states, an abortive attempt to forestall the civil war.

Elsevier treats me nicely, and Sarena has booked me into a great hotel down by the Leith docks, Edinburgh’s port. My window overlooks the water, soothing – so I walk along the canal before sleep. It’s 11:15, and though it’s dark, I can still see twilight in the west. The sun awakens me at 5 am. In a month it’ll be scarcely dark all night.

Climbing the hill of arguably the world’s most beautiful city, sheathed in grey stone as solid, large, and soft-complexioned as the Scots themselves. Edinburgh’s streets wind around – overhead walks and tunnels revealing spires above and low doors all lend an air of mystery – you really could find a wizard’s shop right ‘round the corner. You don’t get long views until you reach the Bridges between the old and ‘new’ (15th century) city, where it opens up the high medieval castle and the observatory capping the hill.

Sarena presides over issues of the artwork and production schedules, and then the book designer joins us, a woman of such quiet spiritual power she fills the room immediately on entering. She rounds the table awkwardly with a limp, and forces me to shake her left hand, and I notice my offer has been to a gnarled right hand, with the flexed arm in a splint, held to her side. Sparked by the splint, I ask her what she did before I catch myself – that hand is not injured, it’s contractured – and indeed Charlie had a stroke at 29.

Without surface beauty or eloquence, and an unsure new employee to boot, Charlie nevertheless holds the room for the entire time she is there. I like her ideas, I want her to design my book.

After work, I ask her ‘round to the hotel, and we sit outside in the sun and the lapping waves for a drink’s worth, talking poetry and her history. Poor girl, she had too much power to be contained within her body, though she says the stroke was a gift – a benefit it may have been, but she paid for it. The sun fading and the drinks empty, we go in so we can work with her arm. Nothing to be done with the brain damage itself, but so little rehabilitation is done with the compensations for these brain injuries, so we set about mobilizing her neck, back, shoulder, and then centering in on her cranium – looking for the avenues of availability in movement. It seizes up whenever she thinks too hard – I can track her mind in the tension in her arm as I unravel it.

It was a gesture to a large but wounded soul, I would have to see her regularly to really move her up to her level of potential, and it would not be easy work. I want to help, make it better, fix it, but I am accustoming myself to play only the role as it is written in, not to try to write scenes on my own.

Later I realize I could have contacted my signing editor Mary Law, and gone to see her and Hamish in retirement, but it is too late. Along with Leon Chaitow, I owe her so much.

Putting paid to what I wrote a few days ago, the plane comes right up the Thames toward Heathrow, over the flood barricades, sneaking over to the left side of the plane I can see the blackened hull of the clipper Cutty Sark, burned out yesterday morning, they think by vandals. Greenwich, with the observatory, Gypsy Moth, and the Cutty Sark, was a favorite haunt of mine when I was in London – take a boat from the Embankment right past St Pauls, the docklands, and all the strange oddments of architecture that hang off the houses and walls,

Over Tower Bridge, St Paul’s itself looking so uncharacteristically small the spiky Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, #10, The Mall straight from there to Buck House (no sign of any queens), which is linked to St James Park, to Hyde Park, and ultimately to Kensington Gardens where Diana lived… London has so many large swatches of green. Track then up and north and my old haunts come into view – Soho for music and theater, Regents Park and the zoo and wide bridle pathways, Primrose Hill where, for a summer, I tried to throw the Frisbee left-handed. Highgate Cemetery, Hamsptead Heath, Parliament Hill, and Golders Green – a linked triangle that was my Sunday walk. Karl Marx’s grave usually began my route – the inscription runs something like: “The philosophers have merely interpreted the world in many ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

And I thought I would give it a go…

But the rude truth is that it’s a day-to-day world that requires a lot of changing. Kew Gardens – huge arboreta and flocks of deer – is the last spot for this nostalgia tour, and we’re down from the north, back into the Mainstream, swim with the fish toward Terminal 3.

Bowen Arrow II – Robin Hood

May 21, 2007

North this time, well past Oxford, into Yorkshire. Although we are a bit north of Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, Kirkburton is where the Robin Hood is said to be buried.

I suppose it is beautiful, but it is industrial, untidy, not the ‘chocolate box’ England of last weekend’s Oxfordshire. Back to the Bowen-ites, but the northern branch this time – lilting close-lipped, cheeky Scots, Geordies from Newcastle, Scouses from Liverpool, Mancunians, a smart girl from Teeside great with child, a clot of bright-eyes from Cheshire – all seemingly dour at first, but soon full of alert merriment and deviltry – I wish I could convey their accents.

But honestly – and no offense intended –my interest here is in Julian. The musty hotel room, the disappointing food, the warm beer, and the dingy hall in the former asylum are not a draw. The students are great fun, but their background training is nearly nil, so they have much interest in the hi-falutin’ theories of fascial energy, but zero facility with the practicalities of finding their way around the structural body – they only know the Bowen moves, and to stray outside that fenced-in pasture is to leave many of them lost in the woods. If a bodyworker with claims to competency is asked, “Put your fingers on the iliac crest” and their hands wander all over the thigh and belly in search of they know not what, well… And as for the coracoid process, few in the room knew what it was part of, where to find it, or what it was for.

The Bowen teachers are better informed, but the rank and file act like 4-day wonders, clinging to a few key concepts for dear life – O Lord, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small! In the breaks and at the tables, they come to me with their doubts about Bowen, their attempts to mix and match methods, their questions about particular clients – and asking about my techniques, which I resolutely refuse to give them – you don’t hand a babe a gun. During lecture, however, with the charismatic Julian present, the students toe the party line – nothing but Bowen, Bowen cures all. A few actually believe it.

Regardless of the thin-ness of the method, Julian has engaged me with the simple (but damning to my approach) assertion that I work too hard, that one can reach deep into the body by means of these simple Bowen ‘moves’ – rolling the skin and superficial fascia over tendons (mostly). He has kindly given me two sessions while I was here, and they are very pleasant (though I cannot get used to him clacking on the computer doing email in the five-minute ‘breaks’ between moves). Thus there are around a dozen of these light-handed moves in a 45-minute session. If I squint and mentally focus on them, I can conjure feelings proceeding out from these ‘moves’, but even in Julian’s obviously competent hands, I feel no noticeable lasting effects. This is no guarantee of invalidity, however – I am a bodywork oaf.

(I don’t think he got much out of my session on him either – sometimes people just miss – how can we be so engaged verbally and yet work on such a different level?)

No matter the small quibbles above, his question requires an answer: Is there a way to soften / engage / open / balance the deep neuromyofascial holding in the gluteus minimus (say) without actually reaching into the tissue itself? Julian says these moves on the surface show such penetrating effects, but offers no mechanism other than reflexes or piezo-electricity or similar generalities.

In class, Julian and I lead a merry tune, dialoguing in the serious-wrapped-in-stinging-humor-wrapped-in-politeness common to England, almost literally over the heads of the students in this second course (having taken each other’s measure in the first). Such a dialogue in class with an American teacher would be impossible – too threatening. But Julian and I are having fun. Occasionally we come close enough to the bone for the students to freeze temporarily in cognitive dissonance and worry that the ‘parents’ are fighting To use the images from Julian’s beloved cricket, we are seriously trying to bowl each other out by hurling challenges to each other’s concepts. The balls, however, are batted away for runs or just batted down to protect our respective wickets, and when it’s all over we go happily as gentlemen to tea. For this ‘test match’, there was ‘no result’, as the commentators would say.

Julian is an able and transcendent leader who broke away from the main Bowen group to form his own organization, and man, he is good at it – straight, efficient, sincere, dedicated, organized without fuss, and salted with a healthy dose of skepticism. Mid-forties, strong as an ox, arms akimbo, energy to burn, engaging, mad as a hatter, supremely confident, awake to the ways of the world, cognizant of his own needs (and thus not run by them). He is blessed with a wit that could bite through chain mail, but is instead extraordinarily finely tuned to each individual – he shocks, teases, and exposes, but does not wound.

He leaves me by the wayside in accents, jumping from Geourdie to South Efrica to souf’ London to every corner of evangeline ‘merica. I half want to know what he says about me about my back, and half don’t – such a keen observer and good mimic would make mincemeat out of anyone as satirizable as me. But I know I have his friendship and respect, as he has mine. I hope, even though I cannot yet see how this art of his works, that we can continue to play – he’s a ‘worthy opponent’, and real people are few and far between.

Immigrant

May 19, 2007

It’s a four-hour drive (1.5 usually) into London on Monday morning, the M25 a slow-moving worm – how do people do this every day? – so Julian and I are late (and stiff) for our own dissection course.  Down in the bowels of a those institutional National Health hospitals – but the course is great, with four ‘soft-fixed’ legs to work with, a friendly if skeptical doctor, and the students are delighted to experience ‘fascia!’  Julian and I bat the ping-pong ball of questions back and forth to each other.  He is a madman with a passion and a wicked mimic and piss-taker with a relaxed insouciance that leaves no doubt where he stands – an outsider.

Back in London, it feels grim – grimmer and harder than ever before.   Even the rain, which creates such a lovely soundscape among the walls and trees of this city, is not enough to dull the raspy edge to its voice.  London, always cosmopolitan, has shouldered three huge immigrations from the east.  The first from the sub-continent – Indians and Pakistanis.  The Indians were predominantly Hindus, of course, and the so-called ‘Paki’s’ were Moslem.  But both these groups were former colonies, part of the British Raj, and however much the home-grown Brits might have complained at the time, these holders of British passports loved English culture and endeavoured to fit right in – and ultimately did.  More recently came the Arabs in large numbers – an immigration of a people who don’t like England.  They are nevertheless being absorbed and everyone is slowly learning tolerance, though the bombings last year did not help that process; nor has England’s participation in the Iraq War..

But now the Arabs are being superseded by a new immigration, this one from an even nearer east – the former communist bloc.  The coffee shops are stocked with girls with the round accents, hardened souls, wide-set eyes and shoulders, and enigmatic smiles of Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Belarus.  My friend in the sex industry says it’s been overrun by these girls who, some for fun and some in slavery, will do anything for a few pounds.

These immigrants do not dislike London, they simply don’t care.  You can see these young Russian men on the streets – hungry, watchful, as menacing and cowardly as packs of dogs.  Will they be assimilated?  Am I displaying the prejudice that slows such a process, just nostalgic for an earlier, simpler time – one that was not so simple anyway?  Maybe – nevertheless, I want my old soft city back, but London is pretty large in all senses, so perhaps – as I wrote of Tokyo earlier – it can absorb everything, and need concede nothing. But meantime it feels hard.

I leave my phone in the cab, and spend an evening tracking it down and getting it back.  Slippage – I am getting tired with the relentless days of teaching, lonely hotels, rain, questionable food.

While I am here, Tony Blair is in the process of resigning, and Gordon Brown has been (finally) given the green light to ascend.  Labour or not, the government is out of touch with its people – increased surveillance, increased taxes, decreased services – and it’s incredibly expensive in London – for me, of course, at $2 to the £, but also for Londoners, squeezed by VAT and other taxes – but the English, they muddle through.

On the last free morning, I find I am a tourist in my old home.  I left almost 20 years ago – most friends I might pop in on would require advance notice, a gift, and something to say.  I am a stranger, unable to cop a good accent any more, and with nowhere quiet and secret to go.  So I will make a virtue of a necessity and do touristy things I never did while living here.

On the southern Embankment of the Thames, I search out the New Globe – the copy of Shakespeare’s original – and look for the ironmongered flowers that my nephew Eben contributed to the gates.  The tide is running strong under the graceful bridges that lead to the baroque Houses of Parliament, to the broad dome of St Paul’s, to the new office tower called the Big Gherkin (Pickle) – it looks just like one.

The Eye is a total tourist attraction, a big Ferris wheel with gondolas instead of seats.  It moves slowly, gradually revealing the bird’s eye view of London – so slowly it loses dramatic impact – this is a trip best made with friends, not alone.  My gondola mates are all fellow tourists who make predictable noises like herd animals. Though to look down on so great a city from the peak of the wheel is still an unforgettable view, since the planes never fly in over the town any more.

Down from these heights into the Tube – more grimness, though the quality of busking musicians is much better than I remember, judging by the snatches of blues and jazz I hear as I schlep my suitcase through the gritty resounding corridors from one platform to the next.  Don’t take a suitcase onto London trains – no elevators, no ramps, and gushes of people flowing around your slow progress.

Bowen Arrow

May 19, 2007

Dear Olde Englande!  Despite the sterling efforts of its best and brightest, the malady lingers on.  And a haunting, plaintive, lilting tune it is.  With a 60-hour hiatus at home in between, I have moved from the luxuriant rain forest of Central America to the luxuriantly rainy gardens of an English spring.

Cold and wet – no surprise, really – and that’s holding the blossoms up nicely, all perky and rigid, as if cold predisposed them to eroticism – poisonous yellow labernum, fragrant lilacs, a gnarly pink chestnut, redolent honeysuckle, golden gorse, and, just outside my window, white (and literally ephemeral) sistus – the hundred blossoms on this bush die and fall each evening, but a hundred more appear by the time I return each night.  All these and more nod in the wind around the thatched-roof cottage called Stapleton’s Chantry, where Julian, my sponsor and head of the European College of Bowen Studies, has put us for the weekend.

From Heathrow to Paddington, from Paddington out into South Oxfordshire, with easily satirzable names like Didccot and Aston Upthorpe, Tiddington and Wittenham Clumps, Blewbury and Shabbington – hard to even say them with a straight face.  But a morning walk is always a pleasure in UK, where the automobile has not yet stamped out all sense of humanness.  Past walls of brick and flint, strangely-angled corners of homes poking into the tiny roadway, an old church mottled with lichen and numerous repairs – who owns a Boxster way out here and parks it on the street?

Everyone names their house here – here’s a sampling from my morning walks:  Cobbles, Cromlix, The Apples, Chapeley’s, Riddle House, Seton Cottage, Forge Cottage, Orchard Cottage…

Last night it was up to the pub in the dark and the rain for a $7 glass of beer and a tough sirloin drowned in chips (fries) for a mere $35.  Tonight was a long drive for a pale imitation of an Indian curry.  There is no respite from bad food except for the breakfast at the B&B.  In the rooms, tiny TV’s, repetitive condescending news, a slightly musty smell, the tatter of the rain on the window.

C. R. 3: A Walk in the Rain

May 9, 2007

In the end, after everyone has left and Quan is being Aryuvedically oiled, I go for a walk in the rain – out of the center, down the street – coffee plantations on one side, and the cacophony of radio and TV pouring from the shacks on the other, a taggle of coffee-coloured kids playing marbles around a puddle.

I happen on a horse – free in a pasture, in contradiction of what Theresa said was common practice here – but he is antsy.  My ability to read animals is rudimentary compared to Quan’s, but this is easy – something in his groin makes him toss and jump – like the ‘cribber’ set free the other day, but with none of the joy – it’s all agitation.  With a 5’ barbed-wire fence between me and him, I am little help, but he is glad for someone to play with, to distract him for even a few minutes.

On into the little town set into the hill, I pass the trucking firm with flatbeds stacked with old axles and other parts, smelling of grease and rust.  In fact, the whole town in the rain is a profusion of smells.  Underlying sewer gives way to diesel smoke rolling over me with each passing truck, replaced by the two boys’ overblown cologne as they wander in search of the heart of a Saturday night – but it’s still afternoon.  Fragrant yellow flowers give way to pungent smoke and beer from a bar.  As I wander farther up, newly turned earth and sawdust in the Saturday afternoon labors of the suburban house-proud.  The rich houses on the crest have no smell at all.  Behind that crest is another little country slum facing the hill, more coffee, and I turn reluctantly short of the top, as the light fails fast in tropical climes, and by 6:30 it will be dark. In the west, a glorious Old Testament swath of sun is sweeping through the clouds, and the beads of water on the leaves burnish into amber.

On the way back the rain stops and my green umbrella turns into a walking stick, as I wash downhill in time to the happy rushes of the streams in the gutters.  Each person here, no matter how tattered, is so clean, I am ashamed in my T-shirt smeared by the horse’s nose.  As I repass him, I let him nuzzle me again; his jock itch is still driving him crazy.

Slipping quietly through the gate to Pura Vida, I feel I have been given a window into Costa Rica.  Not the gated community of Theresa (or Pura Vida), not the mountain refuge of the shaman who ceremonied Quan before disappearing into the cloud forest again, not the coastal idyll of the tourist, and not the hustling crackerbox of San Jose, but a life lived for a long time out of the trafficked way, full of the stories that are everywhere generated in small towns.  In such a place might sit some Jorge Luis Borges.

C.R. 2: Trouble in Paradise

May 9, 2007

By three days in the paradise of Pura Vida, Quan and I are bored and ready to go home. The place is great, the food is superb, the treatments are terrific – but we’re ready for our animals, for a movie, for more stimulation from the central aorta of life. Don’t send me to heaven; I’ll join my friends in hell.

So on the fourth day – a day off – Quan and I descend into San Jose to meet a friend of a friend who – you guessed it – rescues animals. (Quan is under strict orders that she cannot bring home any animals from this trip.)

We wait for her to arrive, watching an American mall-copy wake up – the smell of cleaning mixing with fry grease firing up in the food court, the clacking of the metal guards going up as owners arrive to do inventory, cheery girls with bouncing ponytails and super-clean shirts reporting for work, middle-aged women with more time and money then most, window-shopping ahead of time.

We all pile into Theresa’s Hummer and plumb our way through the chaotic streets and freeways of this ‘developing’ country. (‘Ruined’, more like it.) Her 19-year old daughter Holly is with us, raised her whole life here – speaking English with a combination of Spanish and a southern accent.

First stop are the stables where her horses are kept – a whole slew of Andalusians and Hanoverians, beautiful horses, well cared for and worth hundreds of thousands, as well as a few she has rescued from starvation. Most horses in this country are kept in stalls all day (fear of theft is a factor, but it shows no knowledge of how horses work) with a result that they have a life expectancy of nine or ten. Some in the stalls, particularly an old stallion with a long mane, have the saddest eyes. Another with a broken hip stands all day in pain, so someone can say, “I own a Hanoverian.” Holly knows each one, and moves from one to the other, soothing and communicating.

One is tied into his stall with a muzzle-like device to keep him from ‘cribbing’, and he tells Quan ‘Get me out of here.’ Theresa must have heard, as she immediately directs the stable-keeper to untie him and let the horse go. In the paddock, he races around, kicking left and right in glee, and stirring up the others.

Theresa’s large Spanish-modern house is dominated by a profusion of animal smells and sounds: fish, ducks, goats, a passel of dogs and cats, and then the rescued ones – possums with opposable thumbs on all four feet and the most articulate prehensile tails, a darling little squirrel who will crawl under your hair for a snooze, or, alternatively, leap three feet to startle someone else by landing on their shoulder. Angelina, the cross-eyed pot-bellied pig, looking for food, birds of various color and song, hedgehogs hiding out – everywhere you look in the wonderfully confused garden under the huge tropical tree, there’s another enclosure, another set of animals. She didn’t have any sloths, which I would like to have seen; they, as the opossums will be, have been repatriated into the wild once they are fully rehabbed.

Will repatriation be part of Theresa’s future? Like many Americans here, Theresa lives the colonial lifestyle, pretty gated away from native life here, except for the employees, who change regularly. The lot next door to her house – a few acres, completely undeveloped – is on the market for $3 million – twice the cost of our farm in Maine. This society is so unbalanced – rich and poor, neither Quan nor I have the slightest desire to follow the American / European rush to Costa Rica.

Theresa’s daughter, raised here, is headed for college in Spain. Although this country grows its own food, free trade may raise even food prices here to near American levels. Right now, greed, not revolution fills the air – Third World quality, first world prices – but Costa Rica does not seem to us to be the alternative to Amerika. Too much like it, too tied in.

Costa Rica 1: Brothers-in-Arms

May 9, 2007

Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker
You can drink all the liquor down in Costa Rica
Ain’t nobody’s business but your own…

That’s an old blues ditty – Mississippi John Hurt?  Dave Van Ronk?  Don’t remember.

But the actual sound track down here is Dire Straits “Brothers in Arms” – so, cue the ascending line on the organ, lay the breathy Andean pipes on top, and open yourself to Mark Knopfler’s snapping lead from A minor to F…

These mist-covered mountains,
Are home now to me…”

In these forested hills above the valley of San Jose, wreathed in morning fogs and sudden afternoon downpours, I have had a meeting with a brother in arms – Erik Dalton.  To be fair, it’s quite a stretch to try to make a revolutionary encampment out of the manicured gardens, endless fresh fruit, and Watsu pool of the Pura Vida retreat, but we each pick a battleground in this life, in the end. Me, I fight under the flag of the kinesthetic, the proprioceptive, the bedrock expression of the fascial net, and the sense of motion in space – the power and value of the culturally ignored inner sense of self.

I wrote about Erik and his work a number of years ago in my abortive “Body Language” series, but here was the first chance for us to work together and see close up what the other was about.  And similar we are: driven to share, entrepreneurial, sensitive, easily hurt, contemptuous / arrogant about other methods / people not measuring up, antsy because we are aware that we don’t measure up either, bad boys at night, enthusiastic small boys in teaching – we each have wives of full heart, each a talented daughter on whom we dote, each heart would rather be working outside, but both our heads are addicted to the connectivity of email and the rush of affecting large numbers of people.  In both of us, the language of music lies behind our way of thinking and presenting.

I struggle in my own short courses to get many techniques across, because each technique requires so much background explanation for the audience to be able to get the intent and take it home with them.  I thought for sure that Erik, with his success in presenting everywhere, would have it down – how to explain a technique quickly, and get people working within minutes.  But sho’ ‘nuff, he started talking about what we were going to do at 2:00 o’clock, and began the first technique at 4:15.  Brothers-in-arms.

But his materials are much better presented.  His ‘product table’ bristles with dynamic point-of-purchase displays, while my simple videos lie scattered on the table, pretty much ignored by the 70 students in the face of his professionally packaged homestudy courses.

The Erik show is supported down here by four assistants, who manage him and take predictable roles – the Mom, the Fixer, Best Boy, and Electrogistics – all able-embodied practitioners, clearly familiar with all the techniques as well as Erik’s quirks.  Although a couple of these handle a few “Freedom From Pain” workshops, he bears the brunt of the large burden himself.

He also has no long trainings, where he can relax and spin out his whole complex – and, man, it is complex, despite the disarming simplicity of what he presents – view of the body in motion, with the result that he seems to be speeding through things at all times – one thinks of an Oklahoma chiropractor like Byron Gentry, with whom he has common traits – headed for a destination he can never reach.  Hard for me to follow sometimes, but the students enjoy the ride.

Besides the packaging, Erik derives success from two factors I have not mastered: 1) he researches what he does – each move is backed up by his extensive study with Greenman, Janda, and his osteopaths, and by scratching through the internet to the bedrock research that supports the technique (I tend to content myself with informed speculation), and 2) his methods are intended to relieve structural pain easily and quickly, whereas I am more interested in the longer process of human development and maturity.  “Symptom-oriented” is an easier sell than “system-oriented”.  These differences are ok with me, though I can learn a lot from him.  I’m not sure what he wants from me – a playmate, perhaps, some kind of approval, it seems, though he had it from me long ago, and I can’t think why he needs it.

We are both part of what I call the après garde – the group of former hippies charged with keeping the next generation apprised of the principles exposed in the 60’s – doing it, however, in a subtle way.  Toward the end of the workshop, one of the participants, an older man into the current fad of ‘archetypes’, casts us a ‘saint and sinner’ – me as saint, and Erik, for his devil-may-care attitude in class, as sinner.  But this is inaccurate – we are the same, saint and sinner in one – the line between good and evil runs straight through the middle of the human heart (stole that from Solzhenytzen).  So if we both are still exploring our darker sides, it is with the intent of having a firm and detailed map of that shadowy valley, so that, when required, we can stay sure-footed on the sunnier mountain of healing.

Some folks come after both of us for being popularizers, for cheapening Ida Rolf’s opus into some kind of McDonald’s of bodywork.  The Rolf Institute has in the past shown a propensity for eating its young, and several people with divergent ideas – Richard Rossiter, Erik, Michael Shea, myself, Stanley Rosenburg, et al – have felt compelled to leave in order to explore these specialized arenas.

But Erik and I have probably been as responsible as any two people for bringing that set of ideas before the manual therapy public (not to denigrate the work of Schwind, Maitland, Heller, Maupin, and others, but in terms of numbers).  And in both cases, it has involved endless years of hard, hard roadwork with little remuneration, large investments with no certainty of return, and the slow, simmering reduction to practice of what remains, within the Rolf and Guild, a largely oral tradition.

As Thomas Browne said: Those who undertake great public schemes must be prepared for the most fatiguing delays, the most mortifying disappointments, and worst of all, the presumptuous judgment of the ignorant upon their design.”

Hail! Bro…

Erik is a master of the ‘inner bag’, the ligamentous bed and the inner layer of musculature just above it.  I would love to bring such expertise to the KMI Klan, but if I bring him onto my turf, I would love to see if he could take the advice offered in the Vagina Monologues and ssssslllllloooooooooowww dddooooooowwwnn.  I know what he’s showing when he abruptly drops a head he’s working on to the table to point out something on the screen – that the body is resilient, the neck especially so, and that it loves movement to strengthen and organize tissues – but it still strikes me as disrespectful, and I think it limits the effect of the treatment, keeps it local.

So: here’s the challenge, Erik: can you do that thumbs under the occiput / walking the elbows up the table move with an awareness of the entire Superficial Back Line?  So that someone gently tractioning the heels could extend your ‘end-feel’ all the way down through the sacrum?

Stay tuned…

Meanwhile I learned a lot, and am very grateful for a great week of team teaching.