Drama Department & Malian Blues


Thor’s Well, Cape Perpetua, Oregon. While this doesn’t have anything literal to do with the “NDE” or anything else described below, the volatility of this photo I took on a recent trip to the coast best suited the themes in this lengthy entry.

Last night I had the closest thing to a near-death experience that I’ve probably ever had. Though weak in comparison with a narrowly-missed car collision or a bullet that barely missed a vital organ, it was jarring and sad. And as I’m still resigned to repose and have been reading and feeling all day, trying to recover, I figured I would write about it. *supreme gross warning*

I was having trouble falling asleep in my car and assumed it was exclusively for emotional reasons. I’d bawled my throat raw in the same spot under the pouring rain just hours before. After meditating for a while I grew into a calmer state, but knew I had much more to confront. Tossing and shifting, it finally hit me around 2:30am that I was going to hurl. In a big way. I drove to my 24-hour gym a few blocks away from where I’d stationed my vehicle/bedroom and made a run for it, but it took hours of groaning and writhing in pain on the bathroom floor of the totally empty facility before I produced anything. With my first few retches nothing came out and I found it difficult to breathe. Immediately I recalled a part of an Alan Watts lecture I listened to last summer in my Watts-a-thon portion of invigorating my existential philosophies, in which he describes the ridiculous tendency of people to spend their lives doing things they don’t like in order to make money so they can keep doing those things they don’t like. The talk is about doing only what you love with your life, what grabs you, lights your fire, “makes you itch”. He describes the resistance to this as “all retch and no vomit”. But instead of inspiring me, as this usually does, I became angry and roared with pathetic fierceness into the toilet bowl. That did it, and out came the first bout of the gnarly, unhappy contents of Jane. But when I tried to inhale to keep going, I couldn’t; only tiny wheezing noises coming from my mouth and no air. My head felt more enlarged with each missed breath after shallowly retching. In a panic I fumbled to open the door to see if anyone was in the gym. Negative. A locked gym in the middle of the night was where I’d die, alone and misunderstood, stones unturned, potentials unrealized. Okay then. I fell, body tensed, to the floor, sure I was about to pass out, when I was able to breathe in deeply. I aspirated whatever was blocking my windpipe, which was scary enough, but was able to cough it up as I crawled back to the toilet and continued with another half hour or so of intense vomiting. The acid burned my lungs and the throat I’d screamed bare earlier in the day. My weak body was drenched with sweat and trembling, but I felt some small relief, at least of toxicity. I thought of who I could call, because at that point I felt I needed some help even to get up and take a shower to try and refresh. I ran the list in my mind but came up with nobody…I didn’t feel that I could ask anyone to come help me. They’re out of town; They won’t take my call today; They’ll likely be drunk, just home from the bar; They won’t be able to leave their infant; They live too far. What kind of community have I built? What connections have I made? (Granted a few of those are people who would help but wouldn’t be able). Has a final bridge been burned in the most meaningful friendship I’ve ever had? And is this my pivotal realization that I have no idea what I’m doing? —No. I do know. But I’m not trying hard enough in some aspects and trying too hard in others.

So, I didn’t call anyone but left my phone in my hand with 911 pre-dialed just in case while I laid in the locker room until I had strength enough to rinse off in the shower. At around 4:30am I felt I could go back to my car. I had to leave the parking lot unfortunately, as there is a 24-hour security guard patrolling the lot due to theft in the area, but I just parked a block away and tried sleeping again. It wasn’t happening. I was uncomfortable, frail and perplexed. Come 8am I knew like I had an option: to drive a bit early 45-minutes away to my client’s house where I was always welcomed and would have a bed, bathroom and access to basic resources. I let them know the deal, they said come on down, no problem. I took off, really too exhausted to be driving but I figured the Sunday traffic would be kind, which it was. When I arrived, I was supposed to have the house to myself for 2 days but instead I found the dad in a similar condition to me last night. It wasn’t until then that I realized I probably caught this bug from their 2 1/2 year old son, who I take care of and who’d been sick 2 days ago. Awesome. I ended up getting sick again midday a few times but I’m finally turning a corner after about 24 hours, as is typical of most GI bugs, and can sip water.

Anyways, I got sick, felt the fear of dying alone (if not because of my own stubbornness), and am physically on the mend now. But it leaves me with a lot to consider, like how I spend my short time here and how in moving on I have to be think about what I value and what value I have to offer when I seek authentic, loving experiences and connections.

In non-death-related news, performance is on my mind a lot lately. I’m back in improv after a long break and writing more music to share live and record. I’m filling my nights with music, improv and comedy shows lately and they always inspire me in such a unique way. The vaguely traumatizing experience of the Peter Brotzmann Quartet the other night had me ruminating about passionate, unabashed public expression. These musicians morphed into ultra-beings when they connected with their instruments. How they changed from just milling about the stage beforehand to when they entered into the performance was so mesmerizing and I couldn’t pull my eyes away. My mind couldn’t pull away for hours afterwards. Though, I doubt I’ll be listening to much of this type of experimental jazz in my earbuds very often. (*Before this show I stopped next door for a pastry treat and was handed a free box of two dozen donuts, some of which I proudly gave away as I marched down the street like the Donut Fairy of Mississippi Avenue. It was grand. I brought the rest to a friend who lived close by and happened to be having a late dinner party.) The night after that I caught an amazing improvisational theater piece that included my lovely improv teacher and an ensemble of about 20 others. It was inspiring and eerily close in content to what’s happening in my real life. The actors had no script, no storyline, only a theme of the tendency of humans to ascribe meaning to everyday events/objects. A veiled item was placed on the stage and revealed to the actors for the first time only after the performance started. This was the item on which they based the direction of their improvisation. Another inspiring late night, another heap of things to think and feel. This week it’ll be seeing my favorite podcast, Comedy Bang! Bang! live and a friend’s play. Then who knows. I am stewing over some street and stage performance ideas and on the hunt for a cohort. 

But in the less than stellar news department, I’ve run into a disappointing speed bump with my West Africa travel planning. Now that my tickets repurchased and immunizations received, I’m diving deeper into where exactly to go and what I’d like to experience. Unfortunately, Mali, my focal destination in West Africa for musical discovery, poses the specific safety threat of Islamic terrorism. Prior to a week ago, I had planned to just steer clear of Nigeria as a whole and the northern halves of Mali and Cameroon, but as I stay on top of the travel warnings and reputable news outlets, it is difficult for me to honestly say that I would feel safe traveling to Mali after the attacks this March and last November. The US, Canadian and UK national travel advisories suggest only essential travel in the area, even to the capital, Bamako, which is as far north as I’d planned to go. On top of the obviously horrific bombings, threats and kidnappings (chiefly in Nigeria), I learned that music has also been banned by these radicals in attempt to further rob their expressive rights. Some of you may have heard of the Festival in the Desert, a renowned music festival held just outside of Timbuktu until a few years ago when it was forced out of existence. The festival featured traditional Touareg musicians, Malian desert blues artists, and a taste of tunage from the surrounding countries of West Africa. (Try Rokia Traoré , Ali Farka Touré, and Tinariwen on for size.) Musicians have been tortured and murdered, their homes and instruments destroyed simply for expressing themselves through music. Many are living in exile to be able to create. I wept in a raw, exhaustive gut-punch after learning the extent of this senseless terrorism. I wept for the quieted people themselves, what a ban of expression means like this to us as humans in general, and for the shame I felt in realizing my selfish fear of expressing myself through music in the free world. I currently play music in self-inflicted exile as if an outside force were halting my freedom. I’m heartbroken and ashamed I am having trouble coming to terms with it. I don’t know how to get the perspective to deal without connecting and feeling what is going on in person, and now my chance to do that is looking slim. Having to make the smartest decision for my own safety is difficult when I have such a deep desire to experience something and knowledge that there are people who face these threats on a daily basis. 


Fatoumata Diawara, Malian musician and activist

So there are a few more things to iron out before I take off in under 8 weeks, but I’m mentally ready to leave, switch gears, meet people, extend myself, break further into myself by breaking further out. 

Hats off if you’ve read this far. I’ll end here by telling you I’ve written/am writing a few new songs, one of which I posted the other day and a few more are forthcoming soon. I’m actually pretty excited about them. They’re each quite different stylistically, and the process of shaping them into being further shows me how essential music is to my life. I’m currently scoping for a music partner and will be collaborating with some folks on my trip across the country. If you are or know a musician in the Southern half of the country, hit a lady up.



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