Previously on the balance blog chain:
Mr. Unfocused talked about his return to writing as a way to regain balance in his life. Auria Cortes has weighed in on the possibility that balance is not necessarily imperative in a given moment, but may be best accounted for over the course of a lifetime. Arachne Jericho adds that balance is not always the best way to proceed, that sometimes taking a risk of being out of balance can lead to great things. Kelly M. gets back to the roots of the very definition of balance and looks at the way in which it applies to her life at the moment. Rebecca Laffar-Smith asks the questions, “What does life out of balance do to our writing” and “What do you do to restore balance to your life and to your writing.”
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My sophomore year in college, I dragged a couple of friends to see a midnight screening of Koyaanisqaatsi at the local one-screen movie house, where the movies cost 99 cents and you paid with a dollar and collected your penny change yourself out of a big bowl on the ticket window counter. The night we went to see it, I hadn’t been feeling very well. But it was winter and we all had cabin fever and I was dying for a change of scene. We had all been sitting around in our pajamas, so we just pulled on our winter coats and boots over our pajamas and set off down a deserted Main Street to the theater, skipping all the way to stave off the Arctic chill.
Whether it was my fever or the film itself, I will never be sure, but my experience of the film was hypnotic and transforming. As I leaned back from the third row and the looming images, listening to Philip Glass’s mesmerizing score, I was stunned by the images I saw of the world, the images and sound. It was all familiar and yet amazingly new. I felt like my very body chemistry was changing and knew that somehow the film was responsible.
Afterwards I stumbled back to my dorm, exhausted. It was two a.m. and I wasn’t feeling any better. Two days later I was diagnosed with pneumonia. I spent the rest of the school year struggling to catch up. I slept for days at a time, getting up only to go to class and get the books I needed to work from the library. I spent more and more time alone, as my coughing kept me indoors and drove my roommate to seek another living situation so she could sleep. The balance of my life was completely thrown off. But by the end of the year, I had healed and had, miraculously, improved my grades. I took home my first college report card with straight As.
Today, the word “koyaanisqaatsi” is scribbled on a piece of yellow paper and tacked to the bulletin board next to my desk. It means “life out of balance” in Hopi and hanging in my office, it serves as a reminder of the way in which art can — and maybe should — throw you for a loop. It hangs next to a picture of a butterfly that my son drew, a list of Sanskrit mantras, a strip of old photo booth shots of my husband and a twenty year old ticket for the Paris metro, remnants of the balance of my life.
I’m learning that I don’t love balance, but I love to achieve it. I love balancing. I regularly hurl myself out of balance for the apparent thrill of regaining it. I do this in any number of ways. Sometimes I feel like the star in my own screwball comedy, the one where the heroine hurls herself into ever more hair-brained, ill-advised situations while the audience thinks, “How’s she going to pull herself out if it this time?” But I do. Because being able to save the day, to return chaos to order, is powerful. Most often, though, I seek literal balancing in yoga class. Of the three principle skills of yoga – flexibility, strength and balance – balance is the weakest of my abilities and the slowest to improve. Much of this, I know, is mental. I do not fully believe that I can stand on one leg, making my upper body parallel to the floor, opening my limbs into a jubilant X in ardha chandrasana, half-moon pose. And yet I have done it when no one was watching and it is exhilarating. It is people who throw me off balance. Being able to regain the balance gives me a sense of control over myself, my life that I otherwise tend to lack. I feel less at the mercy of others and solid in my own self-knowledge.
The film Koyaanisqaatsi wordlessly (or nearly so) meditates on the way in which people are fundamentally unbalancing. Scenes of factory machines turning out row after row of identical things are spliced with time lapse photography of clouds scudding across the sky over an open field with no signs of humans in sight. The implication is that people throw the whole world out of balance and nature gets it right. And yet the most moving component of the film is the mechanics of it, the syncing of the images with Philip Glass’s minimalist score, music that mimics the repetition of the images. If ever there is a film about technology, this is it. Technology enables the precise balance between film and score, sight and sound, and makes it breathe.
Like Mr. Unfocused, I came to blogging seeking balance and a reconciliation between my life as an academic and my life as a parent, which at the time seemed like different planets to me. In yoga, the three things needed for balance are proper alignment to optimize gravity, enough strength to hold the pose, and mental focus. When any one of these things falters, you fall down. The same is true of writing. You need to align yourself, to create order in your writing life. You need the strength to write what needs to be written. And you need the focus to make sense of it. And yet to write something powerful, I find that I have to throw the whole balance off. The blog post that I was most satisfied with as a piece of writing is a perfect example. It was, like most of my posts, the story of something that had happened to me the day before. But the event itself happened because I made the choice to act totally out of character, to throw myself out of balance. In turn, my writing style changed completely and I cared much more about the way the story was told than I usually do in my blog, because the story served a purpose – to explain my step into chaos, to tame it, to balance it.
It’s been many years since I’ve seen Koyaanisqaatsi, but I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot lately, even naming a post after it a couple of weeks ago, before the emergence of this blog chain. I’ve been wanting to watch it again, to see what the experience is like now, 20 years later, when in general, social expectations keep my life more balanced than it used to be. I don’t go to movies in my pajamas anymore. I don’t sleep all weekend or work all night. I get up and make breakfast every morning. I help my son with his homework. I wash the laundry, vacuum the living room carpet. But every now and then, I need to throw it off, to do something radical, at least to me. To take the chance of driving with strangers through a snowstorm, not knowing where I’ll land.
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Next up in the blog chain is Williebee, so please follow it along in a day or two. Meanwhile, check out the rest of the chain below.