“Jutting her hips, torso, and pelvis this way and that, bending now at the waist and thrusting one or both arms in the air, she shifts her feet about in a clumsy but concerted pirouette. All the while she tracks me with her large, black eyes.” – In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Gabor Matè
This is a familiar sight for Dr. Matè throughout his collection of work at the Portland Hotel Society. The remarkable part about In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, for me, is that it just so happened to be the next recovery book on my list after reading Drink, and this is significant because of its timing with our physical location on tour. The Vancouver connection is an unreal and unexpected aspect of my experience through Matè’s world because his addiction research literally plays out in front of my eyes. Walking the streets as he describes them makes it all the more haunting and heart melting as I recognize that his patients walk here. This is the place where he opened our eyes to their otherwise forgotten stories. The Portland Hotel Society is only a few blocks away from where we live in the heart of the Vancouver, so those “close encounters with addiction” breeze just around our backdoor. They are so much more than stories. This connection also brings light to the confusion and wonderment of Vancouver’s underbelly: it brings to mind that every city has a shadow side. The Downtown Eastside environment is considered the most dangerous street in North America, but Vancouver is one of world’s most desirable places to live. The drug addicts walk around us, and next to us like they are from some other time or world completely – two dimensions side by side. I see myself in their distant eyes and unshared pain. These are people who were once filled with hope of some kind. It is hard to imagine that these people had the conditions required to reach their full potential. Sensitive beyond measure from an early age perhaps. I know once we leave this city I will see them everywhere we go. Thank you for putting the people aspect back in the wild things struggling to save themselves. We are the same.
“In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside this piece of crack-driven improvisational ballet is known as the Hastings Shuffle.”(Matè)
If the way we dance reflects our mental stability, I have soared beyond sanity and back again with the swinging of my shoulders. I have “lost it” in movement over and over again where it felt normal in movement for me, but it may have been just the right amount of out of focus to feel just at home. THIS is right for my mind like if recreating a memory for a play. You move enough to get it just right… and yes.
I am barely 20 years old as I find this split rhythm dance, panting in the back of the studio, in the loop hole away from the mirror. I realize that I can finally respond to that deepest, oldest, unanswered call without interruption. Let there be peace in the craziness by letting it out, undisturbed. Improvisation like ours only comes from that honest place with however sticky you go, it does not matter. Go with your tragic and romantic, with your beautiful and terrifying. Go with with whatever it is that is really going on in there beyond words or clear memories. I have a little more drama in my hand expressions because everything is structurally dramatic in my mind, and Matè says that “Extreme circumstances breed extremist brains”. Think about the stress of your whole self from every age that you have ever been. This is where the mapping fades out. There is an echo of something unfinished still waiting for its turn to find resolve. Spread me out evenly it says, but we do not have a method or means of doing that really in a conventional sense. It may be extreme, but perhaps we are extreme. This theory makes sense to me. My improv is extreme and reflects my life at 20 years old. It looks insane now, but this felt normal inside back then. I know that I know insane. It is the lowest of low and the highest of high in the black and white thinking of any trauma survivor. There is a lack of compromise between good and bad, so our brains continue to float back and forth from “idealized and degraded perceptions of [ourselves], other people, and the world.”(Matè)
“Her grief is oceanic, her sense of guilt fathomless.” (Matè)
The lifelong whisper and want, the insatiable hunger left unfed finally finds a place to go, and however crack driven the dance convulsions on East Hastings may be, they still hold a deeper meaning and layer. Each person, however ghostly, has their own back story of immeasurable sadness and anger unique to them. These people are still human, and they are desperate to share a lifetime of silenced pain whether they understand what that means anymore or not. Whatever it is that makes the Downtown Eastside move comes from something before the drugs began. I know the Hastings shuffle is slang for a drug fueled dance of shame, but reading about it, in In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts and seeing it on the streets, I see something like a spirit there. I do look and relate with fear and with heart of the human parts in the crack ballet. There are stories in those erratic and confusing gestures that I relate to from simply knowing unrest and obsession. Empathizing with what Matè says about the mind of an addict complete with unfulfilled inner peace and “the lack of integration between the two halves of the brain”. This improvisational ballet reflects more of a structural split in the brain hemispheres between positive and negative. The comfort of classical choreography is an aspiration, but it does not reflect or release the fact that my bones need to jolt and blow, to curve and to recede with more intensity at times. Before mind altering substances are involved, this theory of positive and negative brain hemispheres makes complete sense in the losing a middle ground idea. These are high stakes of all or nothing that could alter a person’s ability to choose or find common ground in anything but wonderful or horrible. Swinging on a pendulum much wilder and more erratic than that of some other people in a state of extreme weariness of life, Taedium Vitae.
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Downtown Eastside Video (click link for news coverage)
Portland Hotel Society (click link for info on the shelter)