Saturday, November 11, 2017

Remembering the Double-Xanax Tanguera

Once I danced tango with a woman who was tall, with short hair that revealed an incredibly slender and beautiful neck. She was nervous and told me so, something I would have done when I first began dancing tango: put words to the awkward truth of my situation so I could forge ahead with this invasion of my personal space. For me it was an exhortation of my partner’s allure, which was not meant as a come-on, only something I needed to say so I could maintain control of my faculties and attempt to lead with some amount of proficiency.

That was years ago but I often think about her and how hard it must have been for her to attend the tango workshop where we met. In doing so, I realize what an amazing transformation I have gone through myself.

When I first started dancing anything I was full of preconceived notions that homosexuals were everywhere and all women were laughing at me...and that my stupidity was obvious to all. That last part would be true until I learned to keep my mouth shut. In retrospect, I think we all would appear foolish if we didn’t apply a filter to our thoughts which I did not do at the time.

Here is an example of my idiocy. I burned my hands with a rope during a rock climbing accident and both my palms were nothing but giant blister burns. I put gauze and ointment on my wounds and covered my hands with winter gloves when I went to my dance lesson at the local high school that night. I thought it would be cool, kind of like something Michael Jackson would do only with a full set of gloves. Eventually, one of my partners who happened to be a doctor, convinced me to take off my gloves. It took her just a few moments to conclude that I needed to go to the hospital which was advice I did not heed because I am a stubborn man.

That’s who I am: a man who doesn’t go to hospitals. It’s a wonder I am still alive at fifty-seven. I don’t like to go to four star hotels either. The formality of these places is too terrifying a situation for me to endure. I didn’t go to the prom and would have skipped my graduation if it wasn’t necessary for me to get my diploma and escape high school forever.

I tell you this to let you know how hard it was for me attend my first public dances. I wouldn’t have endured the immense anxiety if I hadn’t been involuntarily celibate the three years before I began my education in dance. I was extremely paranoid of being laughed at, of being accused of being a homosexual, of becoming visibly aroused before an audience and of being exposed as a failure. In hindsight, I can see that I was overly self-conscious. All those things happened to me but they didn’t destroy me, in fact, they had quite the opposite effect: they made me stronger and more confident in myself. I had broken through!

I met her somewhere out West at a tango workshop.

“I’m so nervous,” she said, “I had to take two Xanax just to get myself to come here.”

I was flattered to have been the recipient of such an honest insight and responded in kind with a stupid revelation of my own, “Once I told my wife I was taking out the trash and came back drunk three hours later. I think she’d have been happy if I had gone to church and not gone to the bar.”

She responded by saying, “I would have been more mad if you had gone to church.”

Wow! This blew me away. It was then that I realized I had just made a new friend. We had something in common, we were both on journeys of self-exploration and were equally daunted by the task. I liked her, not in a sexual way although I cannot deny that I have entertained those thoughts; I liked her because of her courage which I knew from experience that was needed to throw herself into such a public confrontation with a member of the opposite sex.

My memories of her are my reward for having undertaken an adventure in tango. We had a platonic relationship that was not without moments of sensuality.

I started a practica in the small town where we both lived, an event held only a handful of times and attended by her, me and two others. I showed her how to do a proper molinete and we practiced it over and over in many different ways. I moved on but returned to the area a few times afterwards. Each time we danced was a delight in spite of the fact that she did not pursue tango instruction beyond that which was offered in the remote area where she lived. Our encounters were delightful because she focused on the perfect execution of the molinete which made me proud.

I have rarely taken it upon myself to teach a woman anything, she was one of the few exceptions and, even more rare, she was one of my few successes. Remembering this makes me happy because I know she could go anywhere and dance tango. She might not realize that but I do and I am glad. Once I taught a woman how to kayak in whitewater rivers. It was much harder but in the end she was able to go off on her own and paddle whitewater rivers throughout the world.

Knowledge of my success gives me satisfaction to this day.

On one of my returns to the area where my double-Xanax friend lived, we met at another tango workshop. I enjoyed many dances with her as we explored how to move in balance with each other. Afterwards, we had an early dinner at an Oriental restaurant and parted ways for the last time. She looked so beautiful sitting there across the table from me, her short hair, slender neck and brilliant smile making me feel like I was the luckiest man on Earth; I was absolutely enthralled yet I did not make a pass at her. It was such an enjoyable moment that the memory of it lingered on inside of me for weeks afterward. Eventually I had to put my thoughts into words and sent them to her. That made her feel awkward but I felt good about having done so.

It’s okay to tell someone how you feel about them even though that may make them feel uncomfortable. Dealing with our discomforts is one of the great lessons in life; not mistaking a sensual moment for an invitation to sex is another. Like Odysseus I have heard the sirens’ call and lived to tell about it. I find this incredibly rewarding. I don’t have fame or fortune but I have a wealth of memories that I can be proud of and that is something we should all strive for.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Her Passion for Tango Lives On

Lately I’ve been toying with the idea that certain characteristics of a person can travel independently of the host. A person’s love for gardening, for example, can leave that person to inhabit and inspire another person and that it is not necessarily dependent upon the original host expiring.
I present my Uncle Arthur’s love of dancing as proof. He was always a hit at weddings. My five sisters raved about his ability to lead them in a dance in spite of his old age. One February I was overcome by an incredible urge to learn how to dance; my uncle died the following April just before his one hundredth birthday.
Many of my passions were born after a relationship with someone who had a similar passion. You can say these are examples of learning but I think there is something else at work here, that the passion is an entity capable of moving from one person to another, that it, in effect, has a life of its own and that maybe, our entirely reality is not one of free will, rather, it is a symphony of passionate performances being played out on a universal stage. We are not the audience in this scenario, we are the props.
In my first book, River Tango, I employ the use of a ghost to help the protagonist to understand what is happening to him. I believe ghosts are real; they are not necessarily the remnants of another person, rather, they may be a creation of our own mind, a representation of another person influenced by a passion that has made its way into our brains. Seeing a ghost is often a personal experience, not shared by groups of people because it is something we create on our own.
What has all this got to do with tango? Well, I’ll tell you. Tango is the laboratory where I conduct all my experiments. It is the means by which I meditate upon a specific idea and that idea is a woman’s passion. I can feel it when I am dancing with her as well as the passions of the other dancers in attendance. It is something I struggle to explain through my stories which have not brought me literary success but have given me a place to proclaim my findings.
My latest book, The Tango Doctor, was inspired by an encounter with one of these passions at a milonga. A woman was dying and I believe her passion for tango had left her body for that of another woman whom I ran into on the street outside the dance hall. She was with another lady and telling her about an odd emotion she was experiencing these past few weeks. She said she would cry when she danced and she couldn’t understand why. The only explanation she could come up with was tango.
The woman who was dying was at the dance but not in the same room. One lady I knew went to visit her and returned an hour later, her eyes bloodshot and tearing. There was so much passionate energy in the dance hall that it was burning a hole into my brain, searing an image of the event which I could not let go of until I wrote about it.
That lady is gone now but her love for tango lives on in the body of another. How strange that is that I got to witness it happening? Where have all her other passions gone, I wonder.
There is life after death but it is not the singular one religions try to sell us. Parts of us are gone long before our last breath leaves our body. We may even wind up as a leaf in the forest still inspired by the passion that makes us dance as seen in the video linked below: enjoy:)

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tango vs. West Coast Swing

Often times I have heard people say that Tango is the hardest dance to learn; that statement is then usually followed by a disclaimer that West Coast Swing may be just as difficult. I think your adaptation to either dance depends on how you are introduced to it, the people you do it with and what your natural inclinations are towards each activity.
Me personally, I think West Coast is sexy and Tango is sensual. Again, that depends on the person. I was at a dance last night, California mix: swing, latin and ballroom dancing, and danced close embrace to a slow song with a woman who is new to the pastime. She did pretty good and didn't melt into my arms the way some ladies do when they haven’t been hugged in a long time. I didn’t try to overwhelm her with complex movements and all we really did were basic Tango steps without the pivots.
We danced the Cha-cha-cha after that to another song and sat down. We started talking about the different types of dances. She knew I was partial to Tango and the current song everyone was dancing to was a West Coast Swing. I presented my aforementioned opinion and she disagreed saying Tango was much more sexual because we were so close.
It's not fair to compare the two dances because everyone experiences them differently. One similarity I’ve noticed between the two activities is in the pauses. There is an incredible amount of expression that goes into that moment where everything seems to stops but doesn’t really.
In Tango they say, “the passion isn’t in the’s in the pauses.”
The same goes for West Coast, when the action suddenly stops it can be like a firecracker exploding or a silent moment of capitulation. A pause in dancing conveys so much more meaning than a simple lack of movement, in fact, it often says much more than any motion can ever express.
When I started dancing Tango I was fortunate to find a large group of people all training with the same instructor who had returned from Buenos Aires to care for her ailing parent. She taught Tango immersion classes designed to get us up to speed in no time. It was a fortunate moment for us all. In no time we all found milongas, the name for those places where Tango is danced, to go to and never looked back. I hooked up with another group who all went to the same milongas. I found the women and the music addicting and couldn’t stop myself from going almost every every weekend.
A year later that instructor had moved on but she had planted seeds in fertile soil and we were growing like trees.
I took West Coast Swing lessons at a dance studio for a year before I got into Tango. After that year I tried going to other places to dance West Coast and failed...miserably. The only person I could do it with was my instructor. That was over ten years ago and I’ve started anew my efforts to attain proficiency. After a year and a half of learning West Coast Swing I feel safe in offering some thoughts at this time.
The biggest difference between West Coast Swing and Tango, in my opinion, is freedom. The best analogy I could give is that West Coast is like the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The lesson I gleaned from that short novel so popular in the 1970s was that if you love something you should let it go; if that something comes back to you then it is your forever. Individual freedom is contemplated throughout the book as seagulls fall in love while mastering the art of flight. Boy meets Girl, Girl dumps Boy and Jonathan searches for meaning to his heartache. To be with someone who chooses to be with you, he one day discovers, is the best outcome of any relationship and that to cling too tightly to someone is not good.
West Coast gives the couples the opportunity to express themselves to the music while revolving around each other connected simply by the fingertips. It is this amazing amount of freedom that results in glorious exultation of joy and amazing acts of flirtation.
Tango is more like the Odyssey by Homer where a man sails a sea of temptations to reach his one true love. Tango dancers do not go blindly into the unknown, they choose, rather, to sail past the sirens bound to the mast and ears free of cotton; they succumb to infatuation but still find the strength to break away and continue towards the goal.
Odysseus makes it home through his incredible ingenuity and it takes a similar kind of ingenuity to learn how to move with another person in close embrace while maintaining your own balance and without breaking the connection. There are so many mental, emotional and physical roadblocks encountered on this voyage that there is only one way to overcome them all and that is to give up your freedom.
Our hero is free to move about the world but he is bound by an oath to another that keeps him making his way homeward. He is in the world but not of it. He is a man of respect for the woman he loves but that does not keep him from experiencing the world in full, moving from one adventure to another, obstructed by his constant foe, the god of the sea. To escape from each predicament he must solve the riddle or make sense of a paradox.
Tango is full of riddles and paradoxes that must be solved by each dancer: how to give the intention of moving without moving, how to ignore primal instincts yet still exude a natural desire, to move on your own axis while sharing a point of balance with another or to choreograph a song you’ve never heard before with a person you’ve never met.
To do these things you must give yourself to your partner. You do this by sharing your thoughts, emotions and body to bind yourself to that person. To dance Tango your head must be clear for your thoughts are only of the song and your emotions arise to the surface unfettered. Your bodies cling together willfully and not by any restraint from the person within your embrace.
It is this voluntary abdication of freedom that makes Tango Tango but it can only happen if the partners do it with absolute respect for each other; it takes a commitment to a higher ideal that what you do together is art and something that must be done even if your work is only as fleeting as a footstep. Together you can solve the riddles and understand the paradoxes but only if the woman feels free to break away at anytime or to move in any direction she chooses, for the dance is all about her and the respect for her balance be it physical, mental or emotional.

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Small Town Diners, Wave-Particle Duality and Tango

I am in my happy place having eggs at The Family Diner. My favorite waitress just welcomed two new customers with the traditional greeting, “Anywhere’s fine.” I ordered five minutes ago which means I’m already carving up my eggs and folding a slice of toast to receive a piece of bacon. The service here is excellent. .

I am listening to the typical mix of mundane and bizarre conversations: a mystery creature is invading the other waitress’ back porch and an old man is helping her guess what it may be; it rained a lot yesterday; a hillbilly family is laying down the law on grandma and her bad behavior, etc.

I contemplate a line in a Jack Johnson song about all of life being in one drop of the ocean. I think it means there is enough information in that one drop to repopulate the Earth with all that is here now. It must be in the DNA: fascinating stuff those molecular-level acid strings.

It is my day off, a day to ponder my existence and the meaning of life. Oldies music from the sixties pours forth softly from somewhere in the ceiling; nothing too hard, mostly G-rated melodies.

Digital information storage manufacturers have nothing on Nature when it comes to storing data in small spaces. It’s as if the exact angle of an atom alone will yield predetermined outcomes which eventually may become a flower or a bear or me.

Three old men are sitting at the counter re-imagining their youth and spouting all kinds of stupid man-wisdom. King of the Road begins playing on the radio; feet start tapping and the mood improves while I muse about wave-particle duality, tango and eternal life.

Quantum mechanics proposes that the fundamental building blocks of matter can exist as particles or as energy; sometimes they are matter and sometimes they are waves of different frequencies. This theory is postulated after a few millennia of progressive scientific inquiry.

“Never spend all your money on a woman,” one aged coot says, “she’ll get used to it and then you’ll never be able to please her.”

The dialog goes downhill from there. That’s how it is with men. We start at the bottom then break out the shovels to dig deeper.

I tune them out. It is not hard, the music is playing I’m into Something Good by Herman’s Hermits.

It is possible that our entire existence can be encoded onto just a few molecules when we die and float out into the nether with our last breath. Or maybe we cease to exist as matter altogether and that death is the process of transitioning from a solid state to a frequency that is particular to who we are or were.

I like this idea. I find the concept of Heaven and Hell illogical and foolish. They sound too much like the promises Donald Trump makes, “We’re going to win until you’re sick of winning...I’m going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it….balance the budget, healthcare for everybody, better than Obamacare….blah, blah, blah.”

“I was never in the Wawa,” one elderly man says, “I only go in there for some things.”

Life is full of paradoxes and they don’t always have to make sense. The Universe is a very confusing place.

One of the big paradoxes is The Question. Most philosophers say The Question is ‘why’. I think The Question is actually a set of questions that all try to answer the same thing but defining that thing is beyond our ability to do so.

Why am I here? Who am I? What am I? Where am I? How do I be me? The answer to all this is We Are Not Alone. Kind of a vague answer, I know, but that’s how life is: mysterious to the point where it seems the answer was just another question but it is not, it is the answer and you must work to find out what it means.

Work seems to be a common theme in all the answers to my questions. Asking questions is easy, understanding the answers is hard.

Two senior ladies sit in the booth next to mine. They are conversing but I cannot hear a word they are saying. The doddering codgers are halfway across the restaurant and I can hear them plain as day. I conclude that men talk to a crowd whereas women talk to each other. Sometimes I am amazed at our specie's ability to get together long enough to procreate and carry the gene pool into the future. Sometimes the thought of the genes in that pool worries me.

Sitting here I am building up the motivation to propel myself to Philadelphia like a wet watermelon seed shot from between a thumb and a forefinger. I go to dance tango, social tango, not that ballroom tango stuff. It is a dance full of paradoxes, just like me: I live in a town full of people with whom I cannot even carry on a civil conversation.

You are on your own but you are not alone. Tango is an education in this fact of life. At the milonga, the place where tango music is played and tango dancers dance, you are one half of a couple that is part of the crowd. It is a lot like the diner in my small town but the men have paired up with the ladies and are expected to keep their mouths shut.

We move to the music which seems to find a variety of ways to pose The Question. She is The Answer. The other dancers are The Answer. Somehow I know this but I still have questions.

After a decade of working on The Answer, here is what I have learned:
I must strive to maintain her balance even though she keeps moving. I must lead the movements but I must wait for her to complete them. I must move in harmony with her and the music as well as with the other dancers on the floor.

“Can I get you anything else?” My favorite waitress asks.

“No thank you.” I reply.

“Okay.” She says with a slight smile, places the bill before me and speeds off to another customer.

I look at the bill and I leave enough money to cover it plus a nice tip. I stare at the money for moment and think about how hard I had to work to make that money. Here, I am just another customer but in my mind I am a tango dancer. When I am at the dance I exist in another state, my other quantum self, continually in motion, moving to the music with The Question and The Answer.

A moment passes and I head for the door; I am done thinking for the day.

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Wiccans, Zombies and the Mayan Blood God

Friday, May 19, 2017



       What is Love? Nobody really knows for certain; it’s kind of like gravity: hard to measure. Like gravity, it is a force of nature yet science refuses to treat it as such. I think Love wants it that way; it is coy.
         One of the best things about being a parent was seeing my children when they were brimming with Love. It was coming out their eyes, filling their cheeks and straightening their spines; it was compelling them to give Love to us, their mother and father; I still have it to this day.
         Love is a dimension all to itself as I tried to describe in my last book, Revelations of Wiccans. It is like a hole in the fabric of the Universe, a hole that I have fallen into four times in my short life. Once you’ve dropped into it there is no getting out although you may feel at times that you have.
         That is what happened to me the first time I fell into Love; I thought I had climbed out of it only to find it was bigger than anything I could ever imagine and that understanding this fact of life, this fact of Love, broke my mind.
         Allow me to provide more information. The first time I encountered Love I chose not to believe in it. Little did I know that was like not believing in gravity or electricity or the sun: you are glued to the planet, awe-struck by lightning and each day the yellow ball rises, like it or not. Like falling off a high cliff or grabbing onto a live wire or wandering into the desert I was devastated beyond my ability to comprehend anything worse.
         I could barely function. I did not know that I could hurt so much and it was a pain I could not escape. It filled my beer, my sleep and everything else I tried to do to escape it. It was like an angry friend that followed me around everywhere who made sure I would always know it was there. I finally had to accept that it was with me always and in doing so I could go on.
         One day, about eight months later, eight months that could easily have been eight eternities, I found myself on a bus full of people traveling down an interstate highway. The bus began to climb a steep mountain and I could see trees whose leaves were beginning to change colors for the Fall. I say ‘I’ but I mean ‘we’, me and my pain and, although I knew the leaves should be red and yellow all I could see were shades of grey.
         As the bus chugged up the hill it occurred to me that the feeling I was experiencing could happen to anybody: white, black or brown, rich or poor, handicapped or able, everyone was susceptible. If you had Love, I pondered, then life was worth living and without it death was certainly not an unpleasant option. That’s when I realized that Love was the great equalizer; it’s what makes us all the same, our ability to feel its warmth or its absence.
         That was the moment I realized I was still in Love and that it would never go away and that it was okay. The object of my Love was gone but Love was still with me and I stood as good a chance at happiness as anyone else on the planet. With that epiphany the trees burst into flaming colors. They were all red and yellow and green as they were supposed to be. My heart lifted and the pain dissipated making it easier for me to carry on with the business of living.
         The next time I fell into Love I was a constant gardener. I tended to it and it gave me two of the most wonderful things a person could ever hope to have: daughters. I knew I was not worthy of these gifts but that is the beauty of Love, it is nonjudgmental. I went in the opposite direction of my first Love experience and found a joy that was beyond my ability to fathom. That friend was back but this time it did not torture me, it showered me with gifts that money could never buy and it continues to this day.
The third time Love found me I realized that it has a dark side. Dark does not mean bad. There are plenty of wonderful things that happen in the night and that is where it found me: driving down Interstate 80 on a wintry night going to a dance in New Jersey. I was new to the dance back then and the soundtrack from the movie Amelie was playing on my stereo. Love was all around me in the people I was meeting. I could sense the depth of the pits beneath my feet as I tried to get better at dancing.
         My van climbed a hill and descended the other side; we had forty more miles of New Jersey ahead of us before we reached our destination. All was quiet, the music was playing, soft and lilting if you are familiar with the album, the essence of melancholy. I drove straight into it. I couldn’t turn the wheel though that is what I wanted to do. I went in at 70 mph and didn’t stop until I hit the bottom.
         I have heard that it is impossible for an object to be in two places at once but Love doesn’t give a damn about the possible; it is its own dimension. I was in Love once again and I found the night to be just as beautiful as the day. My life was full. I didn’t sleep for fear of missing all the wonders Love was dropping off at my doorstep.
         The fourth and last time I fell in Love was easy on my heart and soul. I enjoyed the descent into the well, entered at my own pace and landed softly. I filled the base with fertile soil and watered it at regular intervals. Love loves to be fertilized; it is something that is at the core of its nature.
         As sweet as our time was I knew it would not be possible for me to bring this plant to fruit but Love, as I have said, does not care about the possible, it made it happen and the plant continues to bear fruit to this day.
         She was not with me when I plunged into the hole of Love. It was Cinco de Mayo 2012. I was camping in my tent just outside of Durango, CO, after a wonderful night of tango at a place in town. The moon was so bright that I could have read a book inside my tent without a light. It glowed and filled me with its warmth but I knew it was not the moon that was making my blood boil: it was Love.
         I could not stop thinking about her nor did I wish to. I reviewed every moment of our encounters and thought of what I would say to her, what I would do to her when we next met. It was near dawn before I had made a decision. The next time I saw her I would ask if I could hold her hand. That was the thing that was most special about her, she had an extraordinary ability to touch people.
I would spend the next sixteen months touching more than just her hands. Every part of her body was like a profound discovery for me.  I would spend hours exploring a single patch of skin on her shoulder blade or her palm or a finger. I was fascinated by my ability to be fascinated with such incremental pieces of her anatomy. Our time came to an end but my Love for her continues to this day.
There you have it: Love. Get some. You won’t regret it.

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Love’s Cosmic Orchestra

               Some people find it hard to believe that we live in a universe where chaos is the natural order but it is true. The universe is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, something we call entropy, and one day it’s all going to come apart at the seams.
           The world is a confusing place and there are many things we’d like to believe are true that probably aren’t, like people are not inherently good or that men and women can never be just friends. The child in us wants to believe these things but that child also believes in the Easter Bunny.
              This is not a reason for despair. Through restraint of our primal inclinations we discover real pleasure and true love. Men and women are capable of platonic relationships as long as one of them ignores the urge to merge. Unrequited love can be the saddest of stories or the noblest. Admitting to ourselves that we are part of the general cacophony increases the impact of our actions: our sins become that much more evil but our kindnesses shine as bright as stars.    
           Realizing that peace is not the absence of agitation but, rather, the organization of entropy as it proceeds towards its inevitable conclusion, gives us a purpose: we are here to establish rhythm and harmony among the hectic forces playing in the cosmic orchestra.

           Here is the final truth I’d like to impart: you are never going to be a great tango dancer. Tango is not a performance to be graded; it is a state of mind, body and synchronicity to be achieved with your partner.  Dancing tango is beautiful to watch but what is really happening is only revealed to the participants. This is not a spectator sport. It is art for artists and, until you get out on the dance floor, you are never going to know what it is.

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