A podcast about movie making and the scifi featurette, Daughter of God, with Director Shri Fugi Spilt, (Dan Kelly). The failure of generosity sans awareness.
This is the 20th episode of the Daughter of Godcast. In 6 more episodes, we'll have been podcasting for 1/2 year. Amazing, incredible. We might be starting the second act, where things go horribly wrong, if we're talking in the tongue of jackals. Shatter. Endings. Stars exploding. Running out of money. Gaffs. Training missions with live ammo. Heart break. A peak at the wiring behind the control panel.
Episode 020 Generosity
In 2007, I was enjoying a sleek, happy life. Combining Tai Chi with extreme urban biking, and becoming something of a bad ass. I had access to amazing organic produce and grains as a working member of the Park Slope Food Coop, a paragon of democracy and cooperation. The United Gardens hosted regular artist gatherings, so I was singing and playing consistently. I counted on steady if modest income doing dance documentation, which l really enjoyed. I was connected to a diverse friend network. Two of my most beloved comrades were living just across the back yard, Laura and Jon. I had soaked up Michigan several times and connected with my tribe there. Best of all, I had changed my perspective on DOG, emphasizing getting it right over getting it done.
I hinted in 019 about shaky foundations, like linking happiness to optimal external conditions and trying to play the hand the government dealt me. Giving of my time and energy as a way of rigging the universe to bless me.
I'm a transactive person, I love giving and getting. I was taught early on about generosity from my grandmother Redling and then later by my friend Bob, who flowed out his love and energy to his friends without keeping score. He showed me not only was it ok to be generous but it was a sort of super power and this became like a game for us, who could take care of the other more. I usually let Bob win, but I also became pretty protective of him, if I saw others taking advantage of his generosity, I'd do my best to nudge him out of that situation.
For those of us who are tuned to generosity, cultivating keen perception and consciousness is very important. Taking care of someone isn't always the best thing for them or us. This I learned in 2008. The funny thing is, generosity alone can be a kick ass strategy to get our own dreams come true, for a little while.
On December 13, 2007 I purchased plane tickets for Carmen. She had agreed to come over from Zurich to do ADR with me in the Brooklyn apartment. My magical space was a far cry from a professional studio, but by recording in the evening when the commercial traffic on St Marks Ave calmed down, we could pull of a clean dialog recording. She arrived in January, now more than 2 years since the inception of the project.
She wanted to try out for films in Switzerland, so the plan was to give some of her work from DOG. With the finish date beyond my ability to predict, giving her actual takes seemed problematic, so we compromised on a great in character improv that wasn't in the rough cut. After the ADR was wrapped, she left to visit friends.
I edited and titled up her media and made her a DV tape and a DVD. I was going to meet her in the train station and hand everything off. Things went awry and I ended up feeling very frustrated, taken for granted. I didn't see her again and she went home without her media. This was the opening gambit of 2008, an ominous harbinger.
Prospect Heights Community Farm
Next to the United Gardens was the Prospect Heights Community Farm, established on 3 vacant lots in the 90s. Volunteers from the neighborhood swapped out the trash and old furniture for raised growing beds with veggies, trees and flowers. This was the urban homesteading movement, squatting and improving abandoned properties owned by the city. If a community garden was well organized, the city might sanction it's existence. Prospect Heights Community Farm became official around 2000.
Fabrice, Trevor and I called PHCF The Garden, because it predated the establishment of the United Gardens, which we created when we got our landlords to let us remove the rickity fence between our backyards.
In my first weeks at Apartment 3 of 250 St Marks Ave, I looked out my rear window at the vast space walled in by the houses of our block. All the little backyards divided by fences. I had a vision of seeing those fences taken away and a vast communal green space established. The United Gardens was this dream starting to come true. Junior's family owned the building next to Trevor's, and after watching the United Garden's experiment for a few years, he took his fence down too. The United Garden's was a movement!
There was a chain link fence between The Garden and the United Gardens but at the very back of that fence, there was a space to slip by and pass. We knew many of the Garden members and often helped them out with favors, labor and transport of materials.
I loved the idea of living next to a community garden. In a rural setting, this was like living next to a state forest or national park. There was a big Mulberry tree in the Garden that overhung my building, and in May I used climb out the roof hatch and feast on the sweet, black fruit, said by Master Ru to be very good for health. "I ate 100 mulberry today" he would tell me.
The PHCF was amazing but the gardeners' relations weren't always harmonious. I witnessed some rather zany behavior by the members, deep resentments and personal protection orders. The current coordinator was burning out. I had plenty on my plate just earning a living and developing my movie, but somehow, in the spring of 2008, I allowed myself to become entangled in the management of PHCF and was elected a co-coordinator.
Much was accomplished during my tenure. We got a rought iron fence facing the street, so we looked just like a real park, we clarified our priorities, cleared out accumulated clutter, put in a new storage shed and paving stones, established and maintained super successful composting bins under the leadership of Jon Pope, installed water storage tanks and drip irrigation infrastructure and generally tried to run things more consistently. We even launched a web site to make the PHCF more accessible to the public.
Co-coordinating the garden was a distraction from my movie, but I convinced myself that I was contributing, strengthening my local community. This was pure generosity, but clearly lacking crucial awareness. A well organized, safe and thriving community garden wasn't a passion, just seemed like a general good in some abstract sense.
What about the feisty members who made garden life turbulent? I was blithely confident that good vibes, clear communication and significant progress on shared objectives would minimize their influence. There's a new sheriff in town, that was my tongue and cheek motto.
A year later, my enlightened leadership had coalesced an unlikely alliance united in vehement opposition to me, my co-coordinator and ex-ally prominent among them. I was formally ousted at the May 2009 meeting.
I made some wonderful friends, and the garden might have gotten less bells and whistles without me. Or different ones. I was never really needed there, the garden would have found another schmo to herd those cats. The PHCF is still going strong today, if the website and Facebook page are any indication.
The slow implosion of my garden stewardship was not an isolated event, but part of a general trend of unraveling - of friendships, of the jam group, of collaborations, of my performance documentation work and of Daughter of God.
Amidst the slurry of discouraging trends were sharp flashes of revelation. Funny how they went together. In February of 2007 the Puerto Rican love goddess Marsha sent an email that she had seen The Secret, but I didn’t know anything about this movie or Abraham Hicks at the time. A year later, I was poised for a whirlwind tour of ultimate reality, and I didn't even have to buy a movie ticket.
Reality creation doesn’t have to get all meta-physical and spooky. Feel fearful and insecure, perform poorly. Feel relaxed and confident, perform well.
Coach Ralph Lindamood brought in a trainer to teach my college crew team about relaxing for optimal performance. “Calm and serene” was our mantra. We won a lot of shirts from the other boats. That’s what you get when you win in rowing, the other team’s shirts.
We also trained for hours and hours on the river and on the ergometer. Hard work. When we got in the boats for a race though, we were chill and focused. Made a huge difference. Made us winners. So there’s the most pragmatic example I can offer. We created our experience with perspective.
2007 was a demonstration of the apparent efficacy of finessing conditions and then celebrating success. The more success, the more celebration and confidence to finesse still further. The slow boat to living your dreams, however, totally backwards. Ultimately unsustainable. In 2007, I only suspected this. In 2008, confirmation.
Falling into Me
With the new year I started to realize my dance collaborations weren’t optimal. I was not feeling valued. Back then, the only way to feel valued was to have others value me. I was stuck in the success and celebration loop. To keep the external strokes coming, I had to keep finessing conditions, getting things better. Instead of taking care of my needs, I’d just go the extra mile for my collaborators. They'd have to appreciate me then.
Today January 11, 2017 is the last day of my latest master cleanser by Stanley Burroughs. For the last 10 days, I have ingested only a spicy lemonade concoction, a little tea, and salt water in the mornings. Over the last decade I've done the master cleanse many times. I was cleansing back in May of 2008, right around the time my friendship ended with Laura and then inevitably, Jon.
Before the sad events, I'd often hop the fence between our back yards, cross their little lawn and climb the steep narrow stairs up to the tiny wooden deck outside their kitchen window. The stairs actually bridged over a deep concrete stairwell leading down to the unused basement. From their deck to the concrete landing below was a drop of 12 feet.
I had so much fun sharing food or just hanging and visioning about the dance world. Laura had taken over Marion's role as my wing man for dance documentation.
One misty and drizzly evening in early February, I hopped the fence to hash out some project details with Laura about the upcoming Electrolux project. We had a meeting of the minds and though they offered to feed me I turned them down and decided to head back home. I stepped out of the kitchen window and onto the rain slick deck. The next thing I knew, I was horizontal in midair, hanging over the dark void of the concrete stairwell.
It's no time/slow time. I'm lying on my back over a yawning drop into darkness, just hanging in space. An involuntary inventory is presented - I am healthy, whole, about to fall. I'm the observer, a war correspondent reporting the trajectory of the shell as it arcs down on my position. The situation is dire, unpredictible, lethal. Everything is about to change.
I opened the window of Laura and Jons apartment and stepped out onto the landing of the stairs that led down to their garden. Jon and Laura are my backyard neighbors, their garden backs up against my building's garden. Their apartment is on the ground floor, which is a little misleading - the actual floor of their apartment is a good five feet above the garden, hence the stairs to the window. The stairs are a narrow wooden affair without handrails, just seven treads and a tiny landing that tend towards slippery when the weather is wet. Not only do the stairs afford access to the first floor window, but they also bridge a kind of concrete moat or well that connects to the basement apartment, currently unused. At the bottom of the well, five feet below the garden is a cracked slab patched with black ashy soil washed down from above. Before Jon and Laura showed up, the well had been an impromptu landfill of broken chairs, garbage and random crap but they had scraped it pretty much clean upon moving in. [Just a push lawnmower.]
Now I was in the air over that well, about 12 feet above the slab. I had stepped out the window and become stuck in time. Somehow, I had launched off sideways in a prone position with my ass towards the slab, the length of my body in nearly perfect alignment with the narrow moat below. That at least was what the observer reported. I have no doubt that something very complex had happened after stepping onto (and perhaps missing) the first tread of the stairs. My body had committed to this moment regardless of how it had been initiated. I had thrown myself out over the blackness in a perfectly acrobatic and absolutely automatic maneuver, instantaneously. Moved so fast that I arrived slightly ahead of the fall, between what I had been and what was about to happen, with just enough time to take stock, to notice. I wasn't flashing on possible outcomes like pain, paralysis or death... only here i am, and here i go.
Laura and I are collaborating artists. We hadn't visited in weeks and some issues needed to be hashed out. We talked and argued a bit. I often stay for dinner but that night oddly, I didn't feel hungry. This is doubly unusual because 1) I can eat and 2) Jon is a pretty swell cook. Here perhaps is evidence of consciousness traveling forward in time, preparing for the transformation to come. I was glad to have worked out things with Laura, but I still felt mildly unsettled.
Falling 12 ft takes roughly 3/4 of second. The speed at impact is about 20 mph or 32 kmph.
A sensation of falling and an almost immediate impact, hard. Flat on my back. I felt myself peeing weakly, no control. I was the participant again, and I thought, that has never happened to me before. I've never pissed myself after an injury, perhaps that's a bad sign? I moaned long and hard. Laura and Jon were yelling down asking if I was ok. I told them harshly to leave me alone, don't come down, don't touch me. I had taken almost the entire impact on my coccyx and pelvis and there was a wave of intense sensation, i hesitate to call it pain because it was beyond pain, another category completely. It seemed very important that they not touch me or disturb the process. There was a little flashlight beam playing around my body. It felt very lonely and forlorn down there just then. That flashlight was the feeling of something really bad. They were telling me not to move but I was merely a rider on the body, it was in control, doing whatever it needed to instinctively. I carefully rolled on my side and suddenly felt calmer as a wave of healing energy washed over and through me. Though the pain was very intense, it shifted to something almost sacred. I felt peaceful and spoke to them in a comforting way,
"It's ok you guys, don't worry. I am going to be alright. I can feel it, I am ok. I just need time for myself. Just wait, wait, it's ok."
Eventually, I told them I was going to move. As we were going through this together and I knew they were very scared and worried about me, I told them I was going to slowly get up, and that they shouldn't worry. Jon didn't like that idea and told me not to move.
I said something like, "Jon, it's me. I am alright, I am not out of my mind, I need to move now."
I rolled over onto my belly and slowly started to go up on all fours. Then I was somewhere else.
I was someplace important, watching or doing something important. It was intensely significant, engaging and interesting. I was deeply engaged... but being pulled away. I wanted to stay there, it was a kind of clarity and completion, like i knew what I was, what I was up to. Something was out of place, strident, a noise I had to acknowledge. "Dan Kelly!... Dan Kelly!" It's a name, whose name is that? A noise anchoring me back to another scenario. I was being summoned back to my body with my name, by Jon. "Oh yes, my friends are back there, worried about me." I returned realizing that I had actually been away, unconscious. Jon was calling my name. My mouth tasted of earth, of rich wild soil - comforting. There was grit in my mouth. I was back in the scenario with my friends who were desperately worried about me, frantic, focused.
"It's ok", I said, "I'm here, I'm back".
"You were out man, you were gone."
"You were on your hands and knees and then collapsed, smashed your face into the concrete. you were lying there twitching."
"Jon, I was someplace amazing, i went someplace incredible!"
"I am sure you did man," he said in his matter of fact way.
I wanted to convince him, to share it with him, I was a traveler in spacetime back from the mystery, I wanted to report. Then I heard Laura say the ambulance is coming.
"You called an ambulance?"
"Yeah, well you passed out man."
"Ok ok," i said, "it's fine."
I had made up my mind to stand up and recover. I certainly didn't want to be down there when the paramedics showed up, I wanted to manage the situation. It was important to bring peace to all, to demonstrate clearly that it was going to be ok. I wanted everyone to be ok, and mostly I wanted to know myself that i was ok, I wanted to show myself. I told jon.
"I am going to stand up."
"Don't do it," he said.
"Look, I can do it, i need to do this, ok?"
He was like "Ok I'll help you."
"No, no, ok fine, you can help me,"
He was going to help me no matter what, the fucker. I stood slowly with Jon around me, and together we took the concrete steps up and emerged from the well. I had been sort of crouched over, and I slowly stood up and farted. We all smiled a little.
"That was intense," I said, "super intense." I started to laugh, "I'm ok." laura was looking fragile and i wanted her to know it was ok. She had seen me fall, then pass out. She had called an ambulance and managed her own terror enough to tell them where to come, what had happened. And then there i was resurrected, stiff, face covered with ash, telling her i was ok. She stood back from the window in the kitchen, framed in the opening, traumatized and looky shakey all of the sudden. I tried to say, "I am ok, really. I am going to be ok." I said "Let's go inside." Jon was on me telling me he was behind me, he was watching. Jon handled this so well, because many of the things I said must have sounded utterly crazy and he kept a healthy skepticism god bless him, but he also believed what i was saying.
It was crazy - how could i have fallen down that hole, passed out and be up here now, stiff but functional, making somewhat coherent noises? I couldn't believe my good fortune, my utter excellent and generous luck. Of course it was the training too. The tai chi and the energy practice. I have been and am lucky, but I've been changing over the last 4 years too, and 15 years of foundation before that. Battle and disaster are what the warrior is trained to manage, to move with. Ru's way working, couldn't be a clearer proof. Well, how come you fell off the stairs in the first place Mr Tai Chi? It's a mystery - I'd been up and down those stairs a lot, in snow and ice and rain. Why at that moment had i basically flung myself into the black void? accident or something else? The body knows. The body is the awakening incarnate. Laura makes me promise to get xrays. For her. Fine. I am lucky.
After I sent the ambulance away, I wasn't feeling much like jumping fences. The three of us walked the long way around our block back to my apartment. They left and I ran a hot bath. Out of the blue, Tommy and Eva from Tai Chi showed up. I told them my story from the tub. The next day I got a treatment from Master Ru that was about as painful as the impact itself. I was totally recovered within a month.
Laura wasn't ready to do a full on dance for film project for her March Electrolux performance. I was disappointed, but gave her my best rate for extensive documentation provided she assist with the offline edit as she had with Dan Flavin. In May, Laura wanted the project finished faster than we had agreed. I didn't have the availability to expedite. We had a row and she left angry. I went the extra mile and forfeited my camera fee so she could hire another editor, but she didn't consider this a solution. After days of negotiations we remained at an impasse. Jon couldn't help. Laura pulled back completely from our friendship.
I wanted to make Laura happy, but she had set the bar for her happiness far beyond what I could manage. Beyond what was healthy or sane for me. I was blown away, mystified, shocked but most of all, hurt.
At night, when I would do my dinner dishes, I'd glance across the back yards to their glowing kitchen window and my heart would break a little. I saw a lot of Jon in the PHCF and he was always super friendly but we both knew our friendship was finished. Laura had shunned me. I soothed myself as best I knew how but ultimately, the view from my rear window was ruined. This became a significant factor in my eventually leaving NYC.
Later that month, I joined my other collaborator Philippa and her Humorphous company on an retreat to Dragon's Egg in Ledyard, Connecticut. Marion and Jung Woong had recently returned from traveling and joined Humorphous, so this would be a great time to hang with them and practice my camera chops, or so I thought.
After settling into Dragon's Egg, I was surprised to discover that I wasn't going to be able to meet Philippa's expectations. either. Her happiness bar was also out of my reach. I had driven most of the company there in the Odyssey so I couldn't just leave without stranding my other friends. I decided to stay professional and keep quiet, but this was yet another wake-up call. Why was I sending such confusing signals?
The problematic nature of generosity without awareness was becoming ever clearer.
In June, dance documentation work dried up. I suspect the catastrophic break with my collaborators reverberated through the community. The economy had also started to go south, selling gear on Craigslist was now not so easy.
I was hired by again by Dana Hash, bless her heart and a smattering of other dancers who either didn't know about my imploded collaborations or didn't care. I was now somewhat disenchanted with dance documentation. I had given gobs of energy because I loved the work. Now, feeling valued and appreciated became a higher priority. Maybe in the form of monetary compensation. Diamonds are a girls best friend. Plus all the forfeiting and retreats had me scraping for rent.
A friend had hooked me up with freelance editorial for Edelman in January, a public relations company. $50/hr doing corporate media, a taste of the dark side. They had me cutting big pharma anti-depressant promotions, lucky I didn't spontaneously human combust. I might have stayed longer if they'd paid their invoices a little faster, even a mercenary has gotta eat.
Cash flow continued to be a problem. Not much dance documentation work, commercial clients slow to pay their bills, and equipment liquidation was becoming more difficult as everyone's income took a dive.
I had made two therapeutic trips to Michigan by July. There was a great relief in being back among the trees and by Crystal Lake, in the Artist house. The city was still amazing, the resources extensive. I wasn't quite as successful at finessing conditions. There was clearly something amiss. Generosity had failed. Now in the summer, I longed to burrow into the waters of my lake.
You've been listening to the Daughter of Godcast, episode 020. This has been mostly about the set and setting for the crushing failure of the generosity ploy to get the universe to shower me with blessings. In episode 021, we'll dive deeper into the madness and heart ache of 2008 and perhaps pull the gem from the body of the broken Buddha.