In the Spring of 2002, Diane made a special trip to the University of Wyoming at Laramie, as part of the cast for a ballet version of the Sumerian epic of Inanna. What follow are some of her thoughts and experiences while in Laramie, Wyoming, and later in Boulder, Colorado.
Saturday, March 17th, 2002
Here I am in Laramie. No easy advent. With the weather, it took 24 hours from LaGuardia Airport in New York, about the time it takes to get to Australia.
And about the same time in culture change. It is relaxed and very easy here. And beautiful. Open vistas, juniper trees, strange rock formations.
And then theres news: The ballet is going to be extraordinary! If I could have chosen any ballerina, living or dead, the one who is playing Inanna would be my choice! Shes a gorgeous dancer, and she moves with grace, assurance, and fluidity. But what she has that Ive never seen is a face that perfectly mirrors every emotion she is dancing — tenderness, terror, excitement, grief, joy, so that as you watch her, you are experiencing radiance. In the story of Psyche and Eros, people journeyed from far and wide just to look at the face of Psyche (and they called her Aphrodite because she was so beautiful). Thats what it is like to watch this Inanna. One cannot take her eyes away from her and it is fitting this young dancer, Kirstie, dance Inanna, for Inanna is the Goddess of Love and Kirstie is radiant!
Of course, I would not be so in love with her if what she is dancing were not also gripping. Marsha Knight, the choreographer, has created a unique and brilliant masterpiece: epic, movement, music all flowing in and out of each other. And the dancers, twenty-four of them. theyre young, fresh, full of energy, vigor and lovely comraderie. Marshas added wonderful images that in eighteen years of telling Inanna I had never imagined. The ballet unfolds with the birth of the sisters, Inanna and Ereshkigal, who are children wrapped together in the womb (played by two nine year old girls). Later, Inanna and her minister, Ninshubur sit on the ground and embrace before Inanna sets out for the underworld. Marsha choreographed a glorious lovemaking scene between a sheet and a fierce fight in the underworld between Inanna and Ereshkigal.
Heres the dream part: I walk around the stage among the dancers. Sometimes I talk to them directly. Other times I talk to the audience. I skirt the river, climb the 14 foot platform (yikes), avoid the galla, and watch the dancers whirl and unfurl, helping to bring Inannas story to life once again in a completely new medium.
Hopefully, a lot of this will be captured on video, but if there is any chance that any of you could be here to see the glorious Inanna, well, I wanted to give you a tiny push in the Laramie direction.
Sunday, March 25th, 2002
WOW! This has been an amazing experience. This morning is the first day since Ive arrived that Ive had a moment to catch my breath. I realize Ive been catapulted into a Broadway show 7,200 feet in the air, in Laramie, Wyoming, with rehearsals and classes lasting as long as ten and twelve hours a day.
The last time I was working in theatre with other actors was thirty years ago in Paris. Everyone here is friendly, polite, deadly punctual, and completely professional. The dancers, and Anne, a lovely replacement acting as narrator, have been in rehearsal for Inanna for eight weeks. The dancers tell me they know the lines by heart and if one person says a line, the next one can give the following line. Last night, they caught me in two mistakes.
What makes the theatre department at Laramie so professional? Most of the faculty came here sixteen years ago because they loved the land and the freedom and have stayed. During the summer, the stage and costume people are invited to create sets and costumes for ballet companies throughout the United States. Their students have won more acting awards than students from New York University, Yale, and Berkeley. The faculty is dedicated and very talented, and the students are eager to learn, polite, and disciplined, but not robots. (At any minutes break they chatter incessantly.)
For the first four nights, I kept forgetting my lines. I would watch the dancers and tears came to my eyes. Here I was in the middle of an epic I had only imagined. And now Ningal, the moon goodess was pulling back her forty foot white silk cape and revealing the birth of her two daughters (nine year–old dancers), Inanna and Ereshkigal, whose arms are wrapped about each other. At another moment, the radiant Inanna is standing on a 30 foot platform, opening up her legs to reveal her wondrous vulva. At another moment, Inanna is warning her servant that she may not return from the underworld and the two women are seated in the center of the stage facing each other, embracing. When it comes to Inanna entering the underworld, Marsha, the choreographer from heaven, created a battle between the two sisters worthy of all female battles. Watching the five minute battle each night, between Inanna and the ferocious Ereshkigal played by Kate Brogen, I rejoice in their passion and fury. Ive come to love Enki, the God of Wisdom — Aaron Wood, a young blond headed student who is full of kindness and fine dancing. I always wait for his entrance. And Dumuzi, each night, is becoming more cocky and arrogant. A special surprise last night was the crown of the steppe that Inanna puts on. Lee Hodgson, the costume designer, fashioned an exquisite replica of the 4,000 year old Sumerian crown out of painted aluminum cans!
At last, after ten days, I am remembering my blocking and most of my lines, and as I wander about the stage inside the epic of Inanna, Im beginning to feel at home. One of the thrilling moments is the curtain calls. As with everything else she does, Marsha has meticulously choreographed the casts final bows. When Inanna comes off the stage and takes my hand to bring me on stage, I am speechless. I cannot begin to describe how radiant, Kirsty MacKellar is as Inanna. The best I can say is that wherever she is in on the stage there is light. She began dancing at three and dances effortlessly with joy and delight. She shines! I feel like a little kid in wonder at her magic and when this twenty year old takes my hand, inviting me onto the stage, I am in awe. Clay tablets four thousand years old alive and vibrant with life!
Thats it from Laramie. We open in two days!!
Tuesday, March 27th, 2002
We opened. Yes, we opened tonight punctually at 7:30 p.m., with no latecomers seated after the performance began.
Two nights ago, one calamity after another happened. The largest dancer in the cast, the great, gorgeous, all–muscle, 6 foot 5 hunk who plays Gilgamesh, collided with me during the blackout between scenes, and I thought Id had a concussion. The set designer fell onto the hook from which Inanna hangs and had to go to the emergency room for stitches. The Sun God collided with one of the galla in the next blackout. As I came down the 20 foot platform I was late for my cue. Inannas lapis necklaces wouldnt come undone. The glorious crown of the steppe would not stay on. Last night, when it was videotaped, there were fewer mishaps. Tonight was smooth sailing. We had about 350 people, nearly a full house. Inanna was radiant and Dumuzi let loose. I was so glad Regina Ress was in the audience. It was good to have a dear friend from home.
My performance leaped about 40 percent from where it had been crawling to nearly 85 per cent. I always forget, although my director Richard Armstrong reminds me, that I come alive with an audience. I was in my voice and remembered all my lines and blocking. (I had thought it was Alzheimers disease creeping in for the past week, but I think a lot of it was the altitude and having to assimilate in ten days what the cast had been learning for two months.) The lead dancers and I are becoming one body. I speak what they are expressing and they express my words. We are becoming more and more organic. They are developing their characters and dancing more full out. Inanna and Ereshkigal leapt onto their poles and flashed with fury! The set and lighting, Regina and two friends of mine who drove up from Boulder, Colorado agreed, is exquisite. Marsha was very pleased. Me, too. The hurdle of the perfection of the myriad of details is over. And now, hopefully, we play and dance!!
After the performance, Regina and her friend Martha wanted to take me to a Laramie bar. So we went to the Bullhorn and drank non-alcholic beers at a bar filled with bullet holes and stuffed carcasses of bear, mountain lions, badgers, elk, moose, and a golden eagle. A graduate student in soil analysis came over to our table wondering if we were new in town or from out of state. (We were all wearing bright colors.) She told us that she left Boulder because it was so boring whereas here in Laramie horses come down the street, or from time to time moose. Regina and I looked at each other: Northern Exposure. We stayed about twenty minutes. Regina went home. She had to get up at 6:30 in the morning to tell stories at a local school to finance her trip out here.
I hadnt had dinner so I drove to the only open restaurant in town and discovered eight members of the cast eating dinner together. There was an empty seat at the table and I sat down next to Inannas boyfriend who turned out to be a poet who publishes a poetry magazine. I believe its called Strong Wind. I told him about my daughter, Rachel and her poetry magazine Boomerang. Then came my opportunity to show a photo of Rachel and my grandson, Moses, and happily pass around the table my laminated photo of Moses, watching the faces of the dancers and loving them say, Hes so cute! The desire of grandparents to share their grandchildren with all the world is a reflex that feels as irresistible as the sun appearing each dawn. Even if its cloudy, the sun is there, eager!
I really enjoy talking with the cast members; theyre young and lively and so girlish. Tonight as four of us were waiting in the wings for Inanna before the Second Act, I remarked to the galaturthat she had beautiful eyelashes. Theyre false, she said. Mine, too, said the kurgarra. Oh, I said, Ive always wanted to wear false eyelashes. Just go to WalMart and get the Maybelline brand; theyre the best. Ill put them on for you, if you want. Its very easy. Black of brown? I naively asked. The galatur (remember, she gives Inanna the water of life) said, They only come in one color. And then she added playfully, Every night when I take them off, I moan and groan and pretend it hurts, so my boyfriend comforts me. Tomorrow will be my initiation!
And tonight, Inanna (a/k/a Venus) for the first time in months appears both in the evening and morning sky — this bit of serendipitous news which I heard this afternoon over NPR, I mentioned in my introduction to the audience.
At 6:10 this evening, before the performance and the dancers warm-up, I gave each of the dancers a present. I told them that I had dreamed for many years of Inanna being a ballet and they had each helped to give that dream life. I offered them a choice of The Glass Mountain, Bouki Dances the Kokioko, or Esthers Story (Esther is Ishtar, aka Inanna). And when I explained that The Glass Mountain was a story about the Underworld, to my surprise and delight most of them wanted a story about the underworld. So as the line goes in Inanna, let it pass from old to young. That is happening. And, as well, it is passing from young to old!
Long live Inanna! one of the male cast members shouted before we went on. Blessings on Marsha Knight who conceived, guided, nourished and brought honor again to the Goddess.
Wednesday, March 28th, 2002
The Initiation turned out not to be the false eyelashes, but driving home after the performance in my first blinding snowstorm.
Im staying next to a state park about 35 minutes in the mountains between Cheyenne and Laramie. Its quiet, beautiful, desolate, and there are no signs. The first four nights I was here there were snow storms and I would drive back and forth for between a half hour and an hour looking for the house. There are no lights, no guideposts, no telephones. After five days, I got the location down. But tonight was a different kind of snow. It was horizontal. This is not my specialty as I dont own a car and really dont know how you drive up and down hills in blinding storms with large trucks surrounding you.
As the snow pelts the windows straight on, its both terrifying and beautiful, like being inside one of those glass prisms. As I was driving, I remembered being in the 6.6 Los Angeles Earthquake in 1994. I woke at 3:30 in the morning. I was staying in a cabin near a friends house. I thought, Gee, why didnt they tell me they put in new subways in L.A.? That would make life so much easier. At the next rumble, I thought, wait, no, they didnt put in subways. This isnt a subway. This is — whoops — an earthquake. I forgot to ask what you do in earthquakes. I also forgot to ask the people in Laramie what you do in a blinding snowstorm. Of course, I knew I could just stop the car and wait but the snow was getting thicker and icier and I really wanted to go home and take off my false eyelashes! And drink some sleepy–time tea. so I thought, slow and steady. I listened to the music on NPR, tried to hold the rhythm and went slow and steady except when the brakes wouldnt hold. Fortunately, there were very few other cars on the road as I slid from one side of the road to the other.
When I finally made it home and asked advice from my host, he asked me, How fast were you going?
25 – 30.
Hmm. That sounds a bit risky, sometimes 2 MPH is right, just depends on the feel of the road. You could put the car in first gear.
Viva Inanna. Viva the snow! Viva the gift of life!!
Thursday, March 29th, 2002
I woke up this morning at 4 a.m., and my head was cold. I checked the thermometer. It was at 62 [degrees Farenheit], but I could see my breath. There was no heat. I put on all my turtlenecks, my jackets, and down coat and waited for dawn. We must have run out of gas. I figured Id go to town for breakfast. I was supposed to give a lecture for Womens Studies at the University from 9:30 to 11:00. It was my last lecture for the Humanities Grant that helped to bring me to Laramie.
At 7:00 a.m., I opened the back door. Six deer were about three feet away. The two older ones stopped and stared as if to say, Havent seen you before. Hmmm. The younger ones continued on. The soft light of the morning was on the snow. The deer and I were still for a long time, contemplating each other. Then, they went on as if to say All right, weve seen you. And I thought, Good thing the heat went off.
I drove to Laramie and had breakfast at the Village Inn. I ordered scrambled eggs and coffee. I never drink coffee. It charges me up as if Im about to enter a bullring. But I was about to lecture on two hours sleep. The coffee was delicious. I wanted more and then I noticed that on my table was a thermos. I looked around. There was a thermos on everyones table. When you order coffee in Laramie, you get a thermos.
At the booth next to me were two highway patrolmen also drinking coffee. At a pause in their conversation, I went over to them and said, Good morning, Im from New York and not used to driving in Wyoming. I wonder if you could give me some tips. Last night I was pretty scared in the blizzard. There were no cars on the road and I wondered, since I dont have a cell phone, what would happen if I skidded off the road into a ditch?
Nothing to worry about, one of them said. No driver in Wyoming would pass you by. Drivers in Wyoming would stop and help you.
Yea, often there are trucks, but last night there werent any cars on the road.
Well, one would come by for sure. Of course, you should not open your window if the person looks suspicious.
I tried another tact. I was going about 25 to 30. Do you think thats the right thing?
What? they said in seeming dismay. Youre a hazard. Cars are going 50 to 70. You could cause an accident.
But I couldnt see a thing.
If youre going to drive so slowly, then be sure to put your hazards on, and dont worry.
Thanks, I said, not sure if they were putting me on. I drank some more coffee and some more. It was really good coffee. Heck, why not finish the thermos? This was my last lecture at the University. Why not say what I wanted to say? I was at a loss about driving, but I was from New York and there were things I wanted to say.
There were about 35 young women in Sheilas Womens Studies classes and one male professor who taught classics. My first question to the class was How many of you have a wondrous vulva? Eyes opened very wide. No hands went up. Well, thats how it is, I said. We dont even realize what we have. We all have wondrous vulvas and dont even stand up to applaud ourselves.
It was a rip–roaring discussion. The best Id had, maybe ever. Of course, Im writing now at three in the morning because I cant sleep. Four cups of coffee! But I did have fun. And then, after the performance, as I drove home across the road that goes from Laramie to Cheyenne, there were great gusts of wind that nearly blew my car off the road. I tried to brake and swerved. Fortunately, I stayed on the road and was able to get the car to slow down to under five miles an hour.
I thought of what my host Rick had said the night before: Just depends on the road how fast to go. I bet those patrolmen had spent the day telling their buddies about how they put on the lady from New York.
Im going back to the Village Inn and find out what brand of coffee they use.
Friday, March 30th, 2002
Tonight was a one hundred per cent performance! Surely it was several factors. Weve been running for four nights. All the technical kinks had been worked out. The faculty was there, the patrons of the theatre in Laramie were there. The four hundred seats in the house were sold out. And Mel Whipple, Marsha Knights mother was here from Richmond, Virginia. It was Mel who twelve years ago took a workshop on Inanna and sent Marsha the book Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, suggesting that it might make a fascinating ballet. Twelve years ago, Marsha couldnt quite fathom it, but the story never left her. It seeped in and when the time was right, she knew she wanted to do it.
As for me, when I woke up, I looked out the window. The sun was shining! I called the Denver Airport. Sun shining there too! Yippee! My dear dear friend Olivier Bernier was flying out from New York just for the performance. He had lectured Thursday night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and had to leave at six in the morning the next day after the performance to lecture Sunday afternoon in Westchester, New York. The idea that he would make such an extraordinary effort made me want to give everything I had. I did.
Last night, I heard one of the dancers friends after the performance say to her, Wow! This piece could go to Hollywood. It has everything: sex, murder! He probably got it but didnt say it, that Inanna also has compassion.
Each time I speak the lines of the end of Inanna, I am more and more moved. Inanna is furious with her husband for disregarding her, she angrily curses him to die. But her husband, Dumuzi, has a sister, and Dumuzis sister so deeply loves Dumuzi that when she finds out that he has been taken away, she says: I would find my brother. I would comfort him. I would share his fate. Inanna sees the grief of Dumuzis sister and lets go of her fury.
This amazing openness to seeing the other — ah. That we are all connected to each other, that Olivier would care so much made me want to return all that I had. My niece, Rebekah, also flew to Denver from Cleveland where she is studying at the Cleveland Conservatory. She came with her violin strapped on her back. Her first words to me on the phone were, I have to practice. Are there practice rooms at the University? Such a devoted life the artist has, wishing to find the perfect form, but without another to give it to, what purpose? Thats the loveliness of performing, getting it to a place of beauty and then giving the offering to those who want to and are capable of receiving it.
Before the performance, I took Olivier and my niece into the dancers dressing room and introduced them to the dancers. Wow! they said, you came from New York. Thank you. Thank you for coming. And Olivier, in his magnificent generosity, answered, I am sure your performance will be well worth the trip. Olivier went down to watch the dancers warm up, and Rebekah went off to practice in one of the music rooms.
It was heaven to fall into Oliviers arms after the performance and hear him say, It was all you had said. It was wonderful! Rebekah, who is 19 said, Youre my aunt and Im so proud of you. But you know last year, I would have been too young to have understood all of that. I kept wishing my boyfriend was here. Im going to call him as soon as soon as I get back to the hotel. Instead, she called her parents who are coming tonight and told them it was worth the trip!
Afterwards, the president of the University of Wyoming had a reception, and I met Marshas mother who said with tears in her eyes, I was so proud. All those ballet classes, all those piano lessons, all those schools Marsha went to. What a beautiful work of art she created. My own daughter. I wept with her. It was a very happy night. The dancers were proud and radiant. Only Ereshkigal was not there, she had a 103 [degree Farenheit] temperature and had danced anyhow — and brilliantly!
I had a chance to speak with Ron Steger, the stage designer. Hes a laid back man with long loose white hair, who wears jeans and flannel shirts. I said to him, You had quite a challenge meeting the demands of Marsha and myself. I know Marsha wanted a vertical scaffold strong enough to hold 24 dancers, and every time I was faxed the plans for the set to New York I would write back not right angles — the set needs to look like a vulva!
Yea, he agreed, it was a little difficult.
But you were a mensche.
He looked puzzled. Do you know what mensche means? I asked.
Ive heard the word, but I dont really know what it means.
A mensche is not petty. A petty person would have said, Hey, you want one thing and you want another. Give me a break. But a mensche takes in two opposing views, figures both have merit, and imagines a third possibility to encompass both. Thats what you did. [You] constructed a 30 feet scaffolding with curved connections that give the set the look of a vulva.
Well, I always knew it was there. I just needed time to bring it out.
Like a sculptor who sees the form in the rock and keeps chiseling.
Yes, Ron agreed. And then my wifes a goddess, so that helps. Let me introduce you to my wife, Trish.
Rons wife is a big, ample woman, easy with herself, easy with Ron and it is clear they are deeply in love.
What made you stay in Laramie? I asked Ron.
I came out here from Iowa 20 years ago because of the job and stayed because the work situation is right. Each person in the theatre department is equally good at what they do. We respect each other. We work together. And then the department encourages me when I get work from the outside in the summer so I leave and get to travel. Its a good life and Im married to a goddess from Laramie.
Later, one of the women who lives in Laramie came up to me beaming and full of praise. She said, My husband and I go to all the shows at the theatre in Laramie. The lighting and sets are always wonderful. But tonight, it all came together in a spectacular way. The content was riveting and it was just beautiful to watch. This is one of the few times in all the years Ive been going to our theatre that we had a standing ovation. We hope you come back.
Olivier whispered to me that he was about to melt. As I accompanied him and Rebekah to the door, an older man from the Laramie community cornered Olivier and said, I usually fall asleep during ballets, but your wife is an outstanding performer.
Olivier answered abruptly, She is, but she is not my wife.
Actually, Olivier is an outstanding performer, I said. Last night he lectured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and there were 500 people in the audience. Hes not my husband, were just very good friends, very good friends.
Ah, the gentleman said, with a twinkle in his eye. Well put. He elbowed his wife as if to let her in on the secret. But there is no secret. We are just friends, very good friends. And the man is delighted with his secret knowledge.
April 4th, 2002: Watsu!
My brother Gary and his wife Elizabeth drove me Monday night from Laramie to Boulder, Colorado, where I was to perform Exodus at the Boulder Public Library on Tuesday night. Gary and Elizabeth and their children, Nathaniel and Hannah, had seen the ballet twice and were all full with its words. Elizabeth had had a very difficult week just before coming to Laramie, so when she returned Hannahs costume to Hannahs dance teacher and the dance teacher refused to take it because Hannah had not sewn sequins on the costume, Elizabeth said to her: You need mental help.
This struck me as completely hysterical from Elizabeth, who is one of the most patient people I know. Of course, Gary wasnt happy because they live in Madison, Wisconsin, which is a very community–minded place. I just kept laughing and Elizabeth said, With all the troubles in the world, shes worrying about sequins. Next time, Ill just send her directly to the Underworld.
Yeah, Mom, nine year old Nathaniel piped up, Send her to the seventh gate! Garys last words to me as we kissed good–bye were not to, by mistake, speak some of Inannas lines while telling Exodus.
I spent Tuesday going over the lines and the Plague complications. In the second, fourth, seventh and eighth plagues, Pharaoh agrees to release the Hebrews. In the others, he is steadfast. In the sixth and seventh plagues, the plagues dont reach Goshen; in the eighth and ninth plagues they do. Each time Ive taken up the telling of Exodus, Im intrigued by the Plagues, which I feel hold the mysteries. Thinking about the first plague, changing the water to blood, it dawned on me that both Inanna and Exodus begin in the same way: a life form is floating in the river, and a woman rescues that life. The huluppu tree, which is ripped up from its roots, is carried away by the waters of the Euphrates until Inanna rescues it from the Euphrates river, brings it to her city, Uruk, and plants it in her holy garden. A radiant infant child is floating in an ark until the Pharaohs daughter, Bithiah, rescues the child from the Nile and saves it. From the tree comes Inannas throne and bed: the foundation for the story. From the ark comes the hero of the story (who is always watched over by his sister).
Arent you exhausted, telling Exodusafter Inanna? my hostess Joan Froede asked on Tuesday.
No, Im in training.
And although I rarely put on a lot of make–up, I put on all my Inanna stage make–up for Exodus. Ive been so geared up, I figured it would be best to just keep in training.
I love the Boulder Public Library Auditorium. It seats about 200 and each seat is excellent. Its friendly, live, and relaxed; the people, too. When the program director dimmed the lights, some of the people shouted out: Too dark! Others shouted out: Just right. What would you like? I asked. I was grateful to all of them.
Its hard to get an audience for Bible stories. Most people I know hate institutions with the church close to the top of the list, so why would they want to hear more lies?
We had nearly a full house. When I suggested to Carol Heepke, the program director, that I tell Exodus, she thought that it was a great idea because her 14 year old son had just decided he wanted to go to Sunday school. Unlike Laramie, which, although two hours away, is in a very conservative state and things run with little dissension from below, I was in Boulder and we were all going to decide how much light there would be in the theatre. Years ago, this might have thrown me — about to begin a major epic — and the audience speaks up. Now, after collisions and blackouts, I figured we were just warming up. The majority of the audience agreed they wanted it black in the house, so I began.
Two paragraphs into the story as I said, The Hebrews had children and more children and more children, a voice from the back shouted out, Speak up! I cant hear you! So I stopped and asked the audience, Can you hear? And again, half said they could and half say they couldnt. I waited. Carol turned up the sound and I was off again. No mishaps until the end.
The best part was the discussion following the story. It began with the intriguing question: Why does God harden Pharaohs heart? I have my answer which is that five earthly plagues arent quite enough to convince people to leave the place they know. Five plagues may be enough to convince Pharaoh to say All right, go, but the stubborn Hebrews need the entire world to change: boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death. They need the heavenly forces to descend so that they will do what no one wants to do: risk the unknown. But this answer doesnt quite explain that mysterious happening that we all know. We feel one way and then we feel it much more than we really need to be feeling it. Our hearts get harder than they need to be. I like hearing the question, hoping someone else might have a better answer.
Another person asked: How would you relate this story to the oppression going on in our country now? Could you interweave into your story?
Im at the first step, I said. Maybe you or someone else in the audience will do that. My intention has been to listen to the voices of the women and to bring out their role in the story.
I loved the midwives, an audience member said, They were the courageous ones, daring to disregard Pharaohs order. My name is Shifrah. I never realized Im one of the midwives.
The discussion went on for a half hour. It continued another forty-five minutes while I signed books. People crowded around and we talked about the novel The Red Tent and Alicia Oistrikers book The Nakedness of the Fathers. People were eager to tell me which story they had heard me tell ten and twenty and thirty years ago and not forgotten. It seems that Boulder is a stopping place on the hippy silk road. Lots of Californians and New Yorkers. One woman had heard the story Im Tipingee, Shes Tipingee, Were Tipingee, Too from The Magic Orange Tree in 1981 at the Philadelphia Free Library — and become a storyteller. A beautiful white–haired woman had changed her middle name to Inanna after watching the 1988 [VHS] video of Inanna.
For some reason, my favorite response was from a tall thin young man named Jon Baribeau who said, I went to New York University in 1990 and heard you tell a love story when I was a freshman. It was the best love story I ever heard. It was sad, so sad, and passionate. Do you remember?
It was probably Layla and Majnun.
Oh my God, he said, That was it. I really have to have it. Where can I get it?
There was one copy of The First Love Stories left on the table. He looked through it. Thats it! Thats it! Can I buy it? He bought one and he looked as happy as a person could be.
My hostess Joan asked me what I wanted to do as we were driving home. Drink Margueritas! I said. No one was permitted to drink or even inhale during the running of Inanna, because the set was too dangerous. I thought one good Marguerita would put me to sleep early. But no, I laid down to sleep and my mind went through the blocking of Inanna. I moved upstage left to watch Inanna swimming in the Euphrates. I went downstage right to watch her pluck the tree from the river. I went up the 20 foot scaffolding to watch Lilith build her home in the trunk and got back onto the stage in time to say, Inanna asked Gilgamesh for help. Help! I wanted to get out of Inanna. But having finally conquered the blocking, I was running it for an audience of one in the dark. How many more nights would I be running Inanna?
When I woke the next morning, I called Maya.
During the book signing the night before, a young woman mentioned that she was going to drive into the mountains. That would be a treat, I said. Well, heres my card, give me a call in the morning. As I dialed her number, I looked at her card. Maya Dincin. Under her name, it said Aromatherapy Facials. Hmm, Id never had one. One of my favorite lines in Exodus is when Moses asks his mother Jocheved where to find Josephs bones and she answers, Look with your nose for a fragrance rising from the earth.
I asked Maya, You do Aromatherapy?
Yes, I also do Watsu® — thats water therapy. Its done in a hot pool.
A hot tub?
No, a large hot swimming pool.
Oh, my goodness. I felt like Jon, the young man last night who had bought The First Love Stories. I might get just what Id been yearning for and didnt even know could be mine.
Can we do it today? I asked.
Ill call the woman who lives in the mountains and ask if we can use her pool.
Two hours later, we arrived at a large redwood house surrounded by mountains and pines with a ceramic twenty foot swimming pool with a skylight.
I put my finger in the water. Its probably 97 degrees [Farenheit], Maya said. Watsus are always between 96 and 98. I went in naked. Maya wore a bathing suit.
Do you know anything about Watsu? she asked me.
No, I figured water and massage, what could be more wonderful?
Let me explain how it works. Watsu means water shiatsu. It lasts for an hour. I hold you in the water and you go under, but I hold you so your nose doesnt go under.
You mean your ears go under the water?
Oh yes, she said.
Oh no, I said. I dont like to get my ears wet. I never put my head under the water when I swim. I get ear infections. I have terrible trouble with my ears. I–I…
She was looking at me as if to say, well, what do you want to do? Thats how its done. And I thought, well I just drove in blinding snow storms in Wyoming, I could try getting my ears wet. All right, I said, lets start slowly and see how I do.
Good, she said.
She took me in her arms, cradling my head, trying to keep it above the water. As she slowly moved me, the water entered my ears, and I realized that the whole point was to be under the water, not resisting. The point was no resistance, no control. Its all right, you can let my ears get wet, I said. It was a little scary at first. I dont think Ive let my ears get wet since I was six or seven years old and ordered by doctors not to let my ears get wet. But then, I started to enjoy the quiet, the slow undulating movement. Maya put her hand on my lower back and I groaned. She put her hand on my middle back, I groaned. They were deep, low, wonderful groans that came from a place I knew and didnt know. It was Ereshkigal moaning, Oh my back, oh, oh, my back. Then I understood: if I relaxed I would let go, let go of what I had no idea of what I had to let go of.
Maya moved me slowly, back and forth between the fetal position, and I thought of the Hebrews walking out of the Red Sea, reborn. That was the connection between Inanna and Exodus. Inanna arrived in the Underworld with all her powers, and at each of the seven gates her powers were removed so that she, the great light, became darkness and naked spirit. The Hebrews, who were shepherds who relied on the earth and sky for security, had to have the world taken from them by the Plagues until they were in total darkness and understood it was not the earth or the heavens or Pharaoh who kept them alive, but Spirit. As I was being whirled by Maya (goodness, I had to repeat that in my mind, as I was being whirled by Maya), I had a new grasp of the Plagues. Theyre the powers we rely on. As I was happily moaning and groaning under the water, I was feeling more and more peaceful. The stories of Inanna and Exodus are about rebirth. They begin in water, and if we understand Enki, the Sumerian God of Wisdom and Water to represent water, the protagonists are liberated in water. Watsu!!
Blessings, dear friends, as Passover begins tomorrow evening and we walk through the Plagues into the Sea of Rebirth.
Northern Exposure is a trademark of Universal Studios, a Comcast company.
Watsu® is a registered service mark of Harold Dull being assigned to the Worldwide Aquatic Bodywork Association.