Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Universal Ordering

I've decided to bring my tour with Quidam to an end. It's a whopping big leap and as usual I'm counting on the net to appear. Counterintuitively, it was a much bigger deal to commit to NOT performing next year than to passively pledge another twelve months of shows. In one sense it is easy to continue the tour lifestyle indefinitely; everything from plane tickets to laundry are taken care of, lobster dinners and champagne fĂȘtes accompany each premiere, and a good massage is never more than a week away. But I am restless. It's as if I have reached the top of a mountain I yearned so long to climb, and instead of contentedly perching there, I see only more peaks to explore.

Going in to work now, I must face the disappointed looks of my coworkers, and struggle to find the voice to explain myself. I must watch as the company launches into a full-fledged search for my replacement, right down to weight and measurements, and I cannot help but feel commodified and expendable.

I realize how much of my current identity is wrapped up in my job. I am no Pinstripe Power Barbie or Type A career gal, and I despise the thought of clambering blindly up a corporate ladder. Yet for as long as I remember, my tag line has included either wanting to join or being a part of the circus. I wrote research reports on the history of the circus and brought in Cirque du Soleil VHS tapes for French class presentations. The danger and romance, the beautiful transience... I could not help myself from auditioning, could not stop the process once I got started. I've used this circus dream to justify many a hellish year spent in competitive gymnastics (where I always preferred aesthetics over scores), and even now I use my performer status to explain away ever-present bruises and back pain.

I won't say I've escaped the trap of my circus obsession. It would be much too tragic to say right here and now that I will never perform again, so I am calling this instead a leave of absence, or if I wish to sound distinguished, a sabbatical. I cannot and will not retire to a desk, a keyboard, and one of those rolling chairs just yet (though I must admit that's my current blogging set-up). It's all in how I frame it, I think; whether I feel scared shoeless or infinitely inspired will depend on my own and no one else's interpretation of my decision.

You know when you repeat something out loud, not for the benefit of others but for your personal reassurance and understanding? It's what I like to call "ordering of the universe through narration," and while it may drive others nuts (Andy?), it looks as though there is work to be done in my now-chaotic cosmos. I guess I didn't anticipate this blog's evolution, and as a reader, it may be looking a bit hairy, but if you enjoy the unforseeable, stick with me, please.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Boiled and Eaten Alive

My first experience at a public bathhouse was as a 13-year old exchange student in Japan. We were told that the private showers at our lodge would cost extra and that the immaculate, boiling hot tubs were not only traditional, but therapeutic as well. I went for it, feeling mature and cultured at the time, even if I could stand the hot water only briefly while turning a florid shade of pink.

Ten years later, and with a greater need for the therapeutic effects of such places, I have tried out two traditional Korean bathhouses. The first was Icheon, a little over an hour outside Seoul under ideal conditions (once you take the right subway to the right station and manage to board the right bus, that is). Famous for its hot springs, Icheon boasts of its healing waters, which bubble naturally from underground and are said to treat any ailment from neurosis to hiccups.

On the way there, I pictured 19th Century seaside retreats where the ill and infirm were taken to breathe curative airs and recover their strength. I imagined a serene mountaintop sanctuary where guests meditated, drank medicinal teas, and cultivated health while making progress towards enlightenment. Looking back on my hyperbolic expectations, I can now laugh, but at the moment I arrived at the Icheon Hot Springs Resort, its resemblance to a water park was an utter disappointment. Despite the family fun atmosphere, it was certainly unlike any U.S. water park; there were no tacky inner tubes or carts selling Dippin' Dots. Instead, there were pools of brightly colored mineral waters "flavored" with everything from lemon essence to ginseng to mugwort. Infants, the elderly, and everyone in between took part in a communal and sedative soak, as though liquid calm were seeping through our pores.

For the adventurous, there were other exotic features of the spa that took a little nerve but were worth it for the story if nothing else. The first was the traditional Korean sauna, which looked out of place in the ultra-modern facility, as it was formed of circular stacked stones with a chimney on top. I had to crouch down low to enter through a glass portal that looked frighteningly like the door that covers my grandmother's fireplace, and indeed, I was met by a pyretic blast of furnace-hot air. Inside, people moved slowly in the dim light and smothering heat, laying themselves on woven mats to sweat out impurities and breathe in the scent of cedarwood. Remaining even a few moments took a mind-over-matter resolve not to leap from the sauna like the gingerbread man escaping the oven.

Following this hot house with a shudderingly-cold shower, I was ready to try the main attraction at Icheon: the so-called "Doctor Fish" therapy, a pool inhabited by tiny fish whose raison d'etre is to feast on the dead skin of bathers in need of exfoliation. I'll admit I was squeamish and ill at ease with the idea of being gnawed at by piscine scavengers. The other bathers somehow remained still enough to let the little ones attack rough elbows and scaly knees, and as my friend Cory said, "They're doctors, I mean, they must know what they're doing, right?" Still, the moment I felt them swarming around my feet or hands, having an absolute field day with my callouses (the scars of circus work), I cut short my half-hour treatment and ran for the nearest shower.

I didn't let the fish scare me away from the Korean baths completely, though. Having suffered from an intense migraine during the work week, I chose to visit a second spa, this one in the heart of Myong-dong, a downtown shopping hub where street vendors sell one-size-fits-all-Koreans clothing for much cheaper than in the department stores. (Luckily, my own height is along the lines of the Korean norm, so shopping this way was surprisingly fruitful.) This time, the spa was ladies-only (i.e. naked), but offered all manner of beauty-enhancing treatments to turn one from homely to comely. There were the baths enfused with green tea and lavendar, the steam shower, and the mud mask. In hopes of relieving my migraine, I opted for the invigorating head massage - thirty minutes of scalp scrating, hair-pulling, and temple-rubbing that was surprisingly effective. Throughout the visit, I was shuttled around by countless female attendants eager to wrap me in towels, dry my hair, and clothe me in the silliest pink fuzzy robe and slippers. I left in a drowsy daze, high on pampering and relaxation.

So am I radiantly beautiful now after so much washing? Am I scrubbed clean and glowing with all my cares washed down the drain? One step into this polluted metropolis and I understand the Korean desire for a good bath.

Negotiation, Schmegotiation

The title of this post could also be, "You're better off taking care of yourself." I saw these words framed by my sister's bed recently, and learned that she had discovered them stuck between the pages of a book she inherited from our Aunt Eunice, who passed away recently. With the inherent tendency for humans to look out for themselves, to shelter their bodies, material assets, loved ones, and egos from life's harsh assaults, why is it sometimes so difficult to do what is best for oneself (and to admit to doing it)?

Starting today, I find myself embroiled in the thorny process of contract negotiations. I am not a confrontational person, though I am an introspective one, and the combination of these two attributes has brought me to formulate excellent points and rational conclusions in my mind. Yet somehow, this is as far as they get. Intuition and reason tell me it is time to make a change in my career and lifestyle, but somewhere between my head and my voice, a muddling occurs that throws all my legitimacy to the wind. I am left now with 14 days to put a pen to paper or not, a decision which appears simple but is decidely complex.

In pre-negotiation talks, I was articulate - diplomatic almost to a fault. The discussion was rich with understanding nods, supportive words, encouraging gestures, and mutual respect. For personal, professional, and physical reasons, I explained, it is time for me to make a transition. However, as negotiations turn serious, all sympathy has been withdrawn along with arms that now fold tightly across chests. The distance widens between myself and those seated across a chasm of a conference room table. The ball is in the corporation's court, I am told, and any boat-rocking I intend to do is ill-advised.

Yet is escaping the disappointment of others enough to justify abandoning yourself?

Friday, May 4, 2007


You know those one-inch-thick fashion magazines full of designer styles? Those impractical clothes of catwalk couture that leave the average reader with the same "I don't get it" feeling evoked by modern art? The outlandish clothing and freakish models seem part of a one-upmanship in which the weirdest wins. I guess I have now contributed this bewildering industry by modeling for Noblesse Fashion Magazine, an Asian publication a la Vogue. It occurs to me now just how foolish I was to think this would be in any way a demure and elegant photo shoot; in constrast to my Cirque make-up and costume, I assumed anything else would fall into the category of "normal."
Instead, I found myself transformed into a 1960's style Gucci present wrapped in a bow. Orange lipstick, green eye make-up, and a black and silver dress that could have landed me in an Austin Powers flick. Suffice it to say, I was held together with scotch tape and bobby pins and told to pose on my hoop. I'm anticipating with more than a little trepidation the appearance of our May 23rd photo spread. I'll post the pictures once they're out, and I'm just trusting that a professional lens does wonders...
Regardless of how my modeling stint turns out, what fun!