Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Relationships are like bodies. There needs to be a solid balance in order to maintain optimal health. If you throw one tiny part off balance you disrupt the whole system, it falls apart and death comes shortly thereafter. Maintaining a healthy balance with a body is hard work. One must eat right, get enough exercise, drink enough water, create good emotional states, minimize toxins, get enough love, meditate, feed the brain and these are just a few. Almost 2 years ago I watched my mother die in a hospital because the balance was completely thrown out of whack and as her body struggled to regain that balance something else would go out and it was like watching an avalanche as her health deteriorated and she slipped away from us. Watching a relationship go through that same downward spiral can be just as painful and horrendous. It’s hard work to keep a relationship going; feeding it, exercising it, giving enough time to it, creating good emotional states, minimizing toxins, getting enough love, solitude, feeding each other’s brains and these are just a few. But if one area gets out of whack then the whole is disrupted and like an avalanche it falls apart and dies.

Like a person who uses vitamins or drugs, we can use artificial means to boost and aid but eventually the natural body has to learn how to maintain itself. What if a body never really had a healthy balance in the first place? Like my mother, who struggled with obesity and poor nutrition for her entire life. Her body learned to balance itself thru the imbalance of her choices, so she didn’t eat right, exercise, drink enough water, etc and still her body created balance, albeit an extremely precarious one. The problem arises that when you run such a delicate system on a series of imbalanced balances and one thing slips up the whole system more easily crumbles whereas if you started with a healthy, solid balance then you could afford to make several mistakes and the system would maintain itself. Like the game Jengo, if you start with a solid set of blocks and you remove some in strategic places you can keep the structure from collapsing but if you are missing some in the first place you’re starting out with an imbalanced system, which will collapse more quickly. But ideally you would like to not weaken the structure with depletions or poor choices in the first place, only adding appropriate foundational elements that will strengthen the system. Ideally.

Now, what about a relationship? Say you start with a weakened foundation. For instance, I had a bad relationship with my father; it was missing lots of critical parts, it was abusive, conditional, it was unsteady from the start (my Jengo structure had a whole lot of holes in it). Now I go through my life and every man I meet it’s like starting with this faulty structure, so I struggle to put band-aids, contraptions, contrivances onto it, anything that will help me hold it together and pretend that my structure is solid and whole. But the truth is it’s not. It never was. Now, on the other hand my mother and I had a wonderfully, unconditional love for one another. She fed me everything I needed to build good strong relationships. With women. I am caring, loving, and participative in all my relationships with women. But due to the lack of understanding that is needed in a male/female relationship, I cannot seem to make them work. The balance is precarious and every little tremor seems to rock the foundation like a major earthquake threatening annihilation. For those who had strong, healthy relationships with males in their lives they can weather the small stuff, their foundations are solid and a few blocks removed from the structure will not cause it to completely collapse. But my structure is not so solid. And I cannot afford to lose a few blocks. What do I do? How do I go back, rebuild the structure stronger so that it can withstand the small stuff? Part of my problem is the idea that I believe that the love I receive from a man is conditional. If I don’t do this just right he won’t love me. If I mess up here he will leave me. It’s always imbalanced. It starts with imbalance and along the way I struggle and grapple with keeping it balanced. I walk that tightrope like I could fall at any moment. There is never a time of solidity. The foundation is cracked and I sense that collapse is eminent. So, is it enough for me to just know this? Can I fix the problem by acknowledging the problem? Is it possible for me to maintain a healthy relationship with a man or is every one doomed? Or can I transpose the loving, unconditional relationship I had with my mother on my male/female relationships? Applying the standards that I had with mom onto my marriage? I will give it a try and let you know how it works.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


When I was a little girl, about 7 or 8 years old I would spend weekends with my cousins in the gorgeous countryside of Fincastle, VA. They had rolling fields, horses, and a creek that wound through the surrounding land where we would spend hours digging up herkemer diamonds. One day it was raining and raining and we were stuck inside. I stood at the door that faced the barn and a large field where the horses grazed. They had just put up hay so the big bales were scattered throughout the field. As I stared out through the rain I saw one of the hay bales get up and transform into a huge hay monster, it had legs and short arms and dark eyes that seemed to look right at me. I rubbed my eyes, shook my head and peered through the rain to see if my eyes were playing tricks and again I saw the creature lumbering towards me. I turned to Gwen who was peacefully breastfeeding Trevor in an old rocking chair and asked what the creature in the field was, to which she responded that they were just hay bales.

When I was 39 years old I was watching a performance of Chuck Davis's African American Dance Ensemble at the American Dance Festival. My son Mark who was 2 years old was with me. At one point a small hay bale sitting upstage left began to rise and stood up and danced to the driving drum beats. This scared Mark and he kept asking very loudly, "What is that?! is it a wolf? Or a monster??" As soon as I saw it the above memory came back to me, long forgotten until that very moment. I think the dance was in honor and celebration of harvest time.

Today I looked out of the window at the driving rain and tried to blur my eyes as I looked at a beautiful maple tree with green lichen growing on its limbs willing whatever spirit resides in her to show me something, anything. I wondered why it is that I don't see things like that anymore. Does the veil get more opaque the older we get? Because when I stop to think about it, I used to see tiny people too. I had an imaginary friend named Duffy who used to join us for dinner on occasion. I would sit and talk to him while my mother rejoiced in what a wonderfully imaginative young daughter she had. Was Duffy a figment of my imagination? Was the hay monster real? Did I build the tiny villages out of sticks and leaves in the woods for the tiny people? And why have they left me now?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Deception, a short story

by Lisa A. Thomas

It started with tiny plankton-like creatures floating across the surface of her eyeball, and progressed to large black spots obscuring her field of vision and eventually ended in near darkness. Grace was 44 years old when she was diagnosed with macular degeneration. She was a mother of 2 and a devoted wife. She was well respected in her community as an activist and artist and practically everyone knew her by sight. She was an elegant woman with an ease of movement that made her appear like she was floating. She always dressed fashionably and immaculately; every hair, accessory and detail in place before leaving the house. Each morning she would rise, feed her children, put them on the bus, kiss her husband goodbye as he left for work then go upstairs, strip down to full nudity and examine her body in a full-length mirror for at least an hour before showering. She knew every single line, crease, and mole that marred the topography of her body and face. Grace was meticulous to a fault. Every detail of her life was thoroughly thought out, examined and executed according to an elaborately engineered plan, whether it was a visit to the grocery store or a holiday party. So when the ophthalmologist gave her the fateful prognosis she stared at him blankly without emotion. She gathered her things, picked up her matching purse and coat and walked out of the office. They told her that her vision would deteriorate gradually over the next 2 years ending in full blindness.

Grace went home and began to memorize every detail of her house, at which point she realized that she had already committed the entire layout of her meticulously organized home to memory in photographic detail. In her yoga classes she would practice with her eyes closed for the entire time. She didn’t mention the diagnosis to her husband or her children, not wanting them to worry or simply not wanting to disrupt the peaceful continuity of their lives. While having lunch with her friends she discussed a recent art exhibit and the opening of a new local foods market around the corner from her, never bringing the topic around to herself. She spoke with her normal enthusiasm and eloquence. She had made a decision. She was not going to share this information with anyone. It was her secret. An experiment.

She had been a professional ballerina before committing herself to motherhood and domestic management. She continued to maintain her health and fit physique with daily yoga and running. As she ran she would memorize the route, closing her eyes for long stretches of time as she sensed the end of the sidewalk, the sound of the nearby traffic, and the smells of the pine trees. Every detail of her life was put under a microscope and this process gave her purpose, it somehow distracted her from the fearful reality of her imminent future. She decided to stop driving early on, which was not strange to anyone because her family was environmentally conscious and had talked about trying to cut out petroleum run vehicles. They lived in a small city, their home within walking distance of grocery stores, shops, markets and everything she would need. She began reducing her life down to as few trips as she could make and committed them to a rigid regimen each day. Every millisecond of her day became an intense study, she examined every tiny detail. Like zooming in on a fractal and finding more and more detail with each magnification. She took pleasure in placing her life under such intense scrutiny. Every eventuality was considered. She began to adjust her behavior and her gestures, such as not making eye contact with people while talking to them; she developed ways to glance furtively their way establishing the right amount of connection. She memorized every detail of her family members and friends bodies; height, colorations, idiosyncrasies and incorporated them into the way she would interact with them. She knew that her children would grow and change and she would have to take that into consideration. She started becoming more tactile and affectionate with her children. Sitting close and snuggling with them and getting down on the floor to engage them on all levels of physicality. Her sex life experienced a new and sensual upgrade as she attempted to memorize every curve and detail of her husband’s body. Her new purpose enlivened her and she embraced her project with religious zeal. Over the course of 2 years she narrowed her life down to only the most necessary events. Slowly she cut out the more daring aspects of her life. No more biking, hiking or activities that involved risk. She had always been a graceful, fluid mover but over the course of those years she became almost ethereal like smoke moving through a crowded room. At her husband’s Christmas office party she mercurially maneuvered through the crowd feeling the warmth and energy emanating off the bodies of her husband’s friends and colleagues. She spent hours of her day with her eyes closed walking through her house acquainting herself with the sensations thrown off by the furniture, walls, and appliances. Out in her garden she would close her eyes as she’d finger and caress every ridge and fold of the leaves of her newly sprung kale. She memorized her space in minute detail and began to spend most of her time before the kids and her husband came home with her eyes closed.

Each day she sank deeper and deeper into the observation of the minutiae of her daily routines. She began to habitually carry a book or a notebook around with her so that while she waited she could bury her head in the book. So if she were meeting a dear friend for coffee she would appear to be immersed in reading before her friend called her name and she gently raised her beatific smile of greeting. The darkness finally consumed her vision but not before she had completely transformed herself into a full-sensing being. People were constantly asking, “Grace, did you change your hair or is that a new dress, something seems different about you?” By her 47th birthday Grace was completely without sight. She floated through her day continuing her routines of yoga and running as if nothing happened. Her house continued to be immaculate. Her appearance was beyond compare. And her family was happy and totally ignorant.

She watched her children graduate from high school, then college, marry and have children. She held her grandchildren and played on the floor with them throughout their toddler years. She held dinner parties and attended functions; always appearing to float through the crowd like an angel.

One day while Grace was vacuuming she felt a tightening of her chest. Calmly and quickly she showered, walked to her closet and changed into her favorite aqua blue dress, put on a pair of earrings that her husband had bought for her on their last anniversary, and laid down on her newly made bed, crossed her arms and quietly died of a heart attack. Her funeral was attended by over 350 friends and admirers and everyone had nothing but glowing words to say about her exemplary life.

6 months after her death her ophthalmologist called and left a message on their voicemail. “This message is for Mrs. Grace Armstrong, I noticed that you missed your last appointment and wanted to check in with you to make sure everything was alright, please return my call at your earliest convenience.” Her husband picked up the phone and dialed the number and asked for the doctor. As he listened, the blood drained from his face, he slowly hung up and stood staring blankly out in space as the shadows slid down the wall with the setting sun.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Salem County Fair

July 4, 2010

Written and witnessed by Lisa Thomas

Salem County Fair

Crowds, neon lights, Ferris wheels, the smell of cotton candy, funnel cakes, and animal dung. There’s nothing more American than a county fair. White, black, Latino, Indian, all mixed together for the sake of fun. Bright, cheap over-sized stuffed animals and ancient looking amusement rides. Mark and I stand in line waiting to ride the Tilt-o-whirl while hordes of people swarm around us. The boy in front of us twitches like a broken toy, head jerking from side to side on his neck as he jumps like he’s dancing to the ever-present music coming from who knows where. I look at his over grown toenails and wonder if he is on drugs or just suffering a nervous condition, or maybe he’s just feeling the coming revolution. He waits, blankly staring ahead of him, long thin hair hanging in his face, twitching arrhythmically to the music. Mark and I get into our round pod and hold on to the guardrail and swirl around making my stomach turn upside down.

Drinking over-priced lemonade and sno-cones we sit on the hard asphalt waiting for the Hansen’s Family acrobatic show. A blonde couple comes out with great flourish, climb onto a small round platform, he in roller-skates, she bear footed. He swings her around like a child by her hands, feet and finally her neck as the grand finale. They look tired and second rate. Later a 6 year old girl comes out in an ill-fitting sparkly biker short costume and does some mediocre tricks on a suspended trapeze, basically hanging from it and making dramatic flourishes. Then her sister, a 4 year old, accompanies her and they jump on a trampoline, jumping, landing on their seats, jumping, then on their feet alternately. The man juggles with bowling pins and then sets them on fire and drops one of them. The audience is harsh. No one applauds or yells. I am too kind, I hoop and holler and try to give them love even though they are tired and broke down. The grand finale is a young gangly woman dressed in a gaudy, sparkly, cheap costume, who climbs the trapeze while the man hoists her higher and higher into the air above our heads, she swings back and forth, back and forth until she is perilously suspended above the audience, finally the audience wakes up with oooo’s and aaawwww’s. She swings with great effort, shoulders hunkered up, neck disappearing, feet stiff like sickles, and stiffened arm muscles and hands clenched holding onto the ropes. Swinging back and forth as she fumbles with another rope at her feet and then suddenly (but not surprisingly) she drops from her perch and dangles like an awkward spider from her ankles, with feet curled inward into small sickles, and ending in an awkward upside down flourish as the audience erupts into sparse, not impressed applause. She dismounts, slips into her tacky little high heels and clumsily walks back to the tent. I try to imagine them by day. What must their lives be like? They are living the real circus dream, traveling from small town to small town performing for low-caste audiences. A far cry from Cirque de Soleil.

The carnies are grizzled, pot-bellied men with a hard-edged sweetness toward the children. Tattooed, over tanned, mostly white, sometimes black men operating machinery with determined focus as if they were preparing for a rocket launch for NASA. Several of them taking great pride in their work, busily pushing buttons, pulling levers, unlocking gates and taking tickets. There are people everywhere; it is more crowded than I ever remembered it. Bodies flying above us on the big swing ride, lights blinking, blaring all around us and all the while screams permeating the soundtrack of the fair. We eat funnel cakes, greasy with white powdered sugar melting into the freshly fried dough. Neon colored sno-cones full of artificial food coloring. And young lovers giddy while they feel each other up on the carousel. Scantily clad teenage girls stalking boys and getting into who knows what kind of trouble. You can feel the crystal meth coursing through the veins of ropey, grizzled suburban boys with wild looks and baseball caps on.

The petting zoo is full of sad, over-fed animals that don’t even have the energy to lift their heads for a pet. They sit in their smelly, filthy pens not making eye contact and dreaming of better days. They are not so different from the humans who shove small Dixie cups of grains toward their mouths. The humans are also over-fed, trapped, under-exercised animals laying in their pens with no hopes left while they watch TV, brains turning to mush.

I love fairs. They are truly American traditions. The ethnic diversity makes my heart smile. Overwhelmed children staring up at the terrifying rides, young teenagers playing at their games of love and lust, old tired adults sitting with half-eaten funnel cakes as they watch their children scream overhead on the fireball. The Drown-a-Clown making blatant racial slurs at the Mexican throwing baseballs in an effort to dunk him. “Yea, beaner!! Just try to drown me, Ha Ha, you missed, now you can come mow my lawn tomorrow! Isn’t that what you people are best at, ha ha ha!!” As bystanders stand back watching not understanding what this blathering fool is saying. I am aghast and thinking that only at the county fair can Dunking Clowns be so racist and offensive. County fairs are lowbrow and that’s why I love them. They represent the lowest common denominator; they are a barometer of the status quo. Every now and then you must jump into the pool in order to know the temperature and volatility. The revolution is coming and these folks will be on the front lines but first, let’s have some funnel cake, fries, and lemonade.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Paper Doll

Today I went to the graveyard by the school, an old graveyard, a long forgotten place where the markers are like jagged teeth sticking up haphazardly along the sloping overgrown grounds. I was called there, I am often called there, usually I ignore the call, this time I could not.

I sat down under a tree. It was night.

I took an offering.

A small sad paper doll with eyes like mine. She pleaded with me and I said that it had to be.

I buried her under the tree.

With her I buried my sadness…

my loneliness




and the possibility of anything that could grow from the tie between her and me.

I gave her a headstone of a rock that glowed in the darkness.

Her small white foot stuck out from the bottom of the grave.

I told her that I could not keep her, I pushed her tiny foot into the dirt and mashed it down.

I threw dirt on a grave once.

I said goodbye to someone once.

I can do it again.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tracy would come to visit his grandparents every summer. I would also visit my grandparents who lived next door to them. We were both 5 years old and were playmates but every time Tracy would encounter me for the first time of the summer I would run away from him, feigning disinterest. I would ignore him, overtly or subtly, coquetishly evading him.

I recall running in and around my Papa's grapevine into the open field behind Tracy’s grandparents' house and along the tree line with Tracy’s voice trailing behind me sweetly, “Lisa! Lisa! Where are you going, come back, let’s play!!” I have no idea how I knew to run from him and evade him for just the right amount of time. Eventually I would succumb and we would play together all summer long.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I am

I am a dancer.

I am a teacher.

I am an artist.

As a dancer I have learned where my body ends and the world begins. I have learned about limitations as well as the unlimited potential of the effects of my dancing. I have learned that I can make people laugh, cry, or feel ecstasy through my dance. I have learned that I can mobilize people through dance. I can create alternate realities through my dancing. I can ignite love between two people through dance. As a dancer I have become a fuller human being. As a dancer I continue to grow and expand into deeper, farther-reaching potentialities. I continue to evolve, spin, roll, creep, and seep into the interstices of this thing called dance.

As a teacher I have learned where my experiences end and my students’ begin. I have seen that the process of teaching is a two way street, that as much as I give to my students I receive from them equal amounts of knowledge and nourishment. I have realized that I have so much more to learn. I have come to understand and admire my own teachers even more. I have come to the crossroads of contradiction and bivouacked through to create new roads. I have broken rules that my teachers said should never be broken and yet I have carried on the traditions with reverence and respect. As a teacher I am an ever evolving, revolving creator.

As an artist I have been given a gift. I have been given the freedom to push past the boundaries and delineations of our isolated arts fields. I can invert the floor and dance on the side of a building. I can create dances on a computer screen. I can draw dances in the sand. I can inscribe my experiences in the wind and never worry about the ethereality of the result. I can write the unending story of dance without an audience. I can dance in the middle of the grocery store. And I can sit in my living room and create an entire world without moving a muscle.