Who are we after the last stroke of midnight?
And when we spend more time being that person, how does it affect how we connect with others?
I went to a milonga, for the first time in months. I had sworn I would never go again
after the Troubles. I had sworn that going to a milonga would undo all the hard work I had started on rebuilding a new life. I had no money. I didn't want to dance with anyone. But some old butterfly of my past self, who ached to go out and be pretty and be with my people, beat its rainbow wings and shook up the dust in my heart and, thanks to a little help from my Fairy Toddmother, off I went to the ball....
One of the first three people whom I saw there was the one I had most feared seeing. Yes, it initially sucked. But it turned out, it was a big room with a lot of people in it, and I didn't have to be next to him if I didn't want to be. Best of all, I no longer saw the trademarked persona. For the first time, the magic was gone. He had lost his coating of pixie dust and was just a scared boy with a tough past and a lot to learn.
I looked around, and the whole room had lost its pixie dust. So this was a milonga with no bullshit. I had never been to one before! My inner Jimmy Cliff gazed from person to person and sang, “I can see clearly now....” So this was what a milonga was like when there was no social hierarchy. So this was what a milonga was like with no kings, no It Girls, and no scandal.
It was boring. But calm.
All the same players were there. They had shuffled the deck so now they were sleeping with different people. But it was still the same. Fat old men sleeping with lissome PhD's in their 20s. Friends thrilled to see each other. Lazy people mooching off of hard workers. Old connections rekindled and new connections brought to life. Bad dancing. Pretty clothes. Sincere catching-up. Women paying their entire way and obsessing over every detail of their appearance. Men desensitizing their palette for women with the endless glut thrown their way. Gorgeous, sexy, wise, amazing women with grey hair sitting all night long. —It happened to be the US Championships, and the competitors were exactly the same as every year. Except this year a few women had sleeves.
I had changed. I knew all these people, and I knew from intimate personal experience that not one single one of them was any better than me. I hadn't known that before (despite having seen some of them in compromising positions). I also knew that not only could I go up to them if I felt like it, but they would be lucky if I did. And so it was. When enough midnights have passed, the princes of the realm are just dudes, and the ladies in their glamourous clothes are just chicks. When enough midnights have passed, I no longer felt any kind of negative emotional charge at turning men down. It's no big deal—I'm just not going to dance with you. I danced half a tanda with an old friend. It was fine. It was like warm milk. I had no desire for any more dancing afterward. I hugged, chatted, and left.
The next day I mourned the death of my sex drive (tragically lost a number of months ago; let's hope it's just in a coma). But I revelled in the peace of the no-bullshit milonga. When there's no emotional charge, it's not exciting, but, no pain is possible. When the magic has worn away, we can see people as they really are, and that's when the real diamonds shine. When none of those people had power over me any more, I was free to be happy with the people genuinely worth my time and nobody else mattered.
….In the meantime, I've been learning how to get to know people outside of milongas, and without dancing with them. Yes, this is as challenging and unaccustomed as it sounds. However, the same pitfalls and discoveries have lain in wait for me in this new nondancing world as in the normal old way of doing things!
I used to get to know people by nuzzling their necks, sniffing their DNA, feeling their warmth and listening to their heart beat, synchronizing my breathing with theirs, observing how their bodies wrapped around my body and mine wrapped around theirs, pouring my heart into theirs,
and pulling their souls out of them through their gizzards. Afterwards I might ask them their name. Maybe.
I don't know how you do it.
Now in this post-dance world there's a lot of talking. This gives people a chance to observe one another's biorhythms at arm's length and watch their energy spikes in response to abstract stimulus. I'm not sure what else it's for.
But, there is the same general idea of, “first you get to see people dressed up at the ball, and it takes a while for your joint midnight to come. After that, you finally start to get to know each other.”
It's natural and important for us to start out at the party. It's right that we show off what a makeup artist of my acquaintance once called “You+.” We are very much our public personae, we are absolutely who we are in fancy dress, we are who we are in our most exciting new embrace, and we are who we are when we are charming and funny and accomplished and cute. This is all real.
But it's just one part of a big bucket of stuff, and we can't let anyone in or start to know others until the magic fairy dust wears off and the clock strikes midnight and the coach turns into a pumpkin again. Then...that supercute guy is also the guy who totally does not have his shit
together. That hot chick has a past that you could write several operas about. That talented genius is terrified of commitment. That gorgeous artist has a temper that could light firecrackers. That Renaissance dude has so many skeletons in his closet you're actually glad he refuses to say one word about them. That brilliant beauty has epic root chakra issues that might be here to stay.
And it's not just that kind of stuff that you learn about, after the clock strikes midnight. You also learn...who speaks Japanese. Who likes bacon. Who's allergic to cats. Who hates to be cold. Who knows their Coleridge from their Tennyson. Who has never been to England. Who has the Moon in Virgo. Who has stepsisters. You learn the thousand little details that gradually turn a persona into a human being.
I don't know about you, but I've never been friends with an idea. I have, however, been lucky enough to be friends with numerous really frickin' awesomehuman beings over the course of my life.
And that means coming as you are. That means coming with your Pepsodent smile and your unpaid student loans. It means coming with your pheromones that make men and women alike throw their thongs in the air, and your love of Humphrey Slocombe ice cream, and the memory of that argument that you handled just horribly and will regret until the end of time, and your new small furry pet.
No matter how we get to know people, the best and scariest gift we can share with them is the gift of us in our “off” mode. We've all got our “on” mode and it's awesome. But the real magic can only start once we've put all our magic tricks aside. ….Lately I've been exploring movement in the “off” mode, which is a challenge for me. But it's the easiest on the body, healthiest for the nervous system, and most artistically interesting. “This is not Les Miz,” said my dear old structural integration teacher, in a catch-up session to bring mobility to my sleeping thoracic spine. And as soon as I turned myself “off”, the real work fell effortlessly into place. “But who am I if I'm nobody special,” I fretted to myself, and then had one pure moment of being nobody special, and in that one pure moment, I had perfect body mechanics.
The same is true of great musicians and great artists. We're all at our best when we're not doing anything. The greatest tango singers are the ones who don't do anything at all, they just sing the song. Sushi is the humble art of not doing anything to the fish. Shakespeare will tell you how to be the greatest actor ever: “speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you.” Period. Do not saw the air thus with your hand. The greatest artists have no technique (or, if you're Buddhist, you could say they have No Technique). The greatest sages and spiritual leaders have no doctrine. What they do all do is—they all come as they are and operate from their “off” positions.
So...my love of Sherlock, my total disinterest in doing laundry, my love of new ideas and my
horror of boredom, and my preference for over-the-ear headphones are an integral part of what make me an artist, and without these things I would not be who I am, my art would not be what it is, and your relationship with me would be flat and shallow and would have no room to grow.
I just saw the new Cinderella. It's great. It's a Cinderella I'll be proud to share with my son, and not just because it's visually stunning. It's great because it takes the great American weakness of the heavy-handed moral and turns it into a great American strength. Because this time around, it's a story about an actual relationship between two people who actually know each other (ok, a little bit), and the heavy-handed moral is that the most precious gift we can share with anyone is the gift of who we are with no magic tricks. Who we are after the clock strikes midnight. Who we are when we're nobody special. Who we are when we've broken up with people, when we don't know where the next paycheck is coming from, when we have petty tics, when we have a gap in our front teeth, when we have to choose our socks for the morning, and most importantly, when we're not trying.
That. That right there. That's the human being I can't wait to love. So what are you waiting for?
Come as you are.
Come As You Are. Nirvana.