Archive for May, 2012
The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y. K. Lee, is set in Hong Kong during the nineteen forties and fifties. It interlaces two time periods: the early 19402 to the end of World War II and a few months in the 1950s. The two stories are linked through an Englishman named Will and the Chen family.
The piano teacher is Claire, a young Englishwoman who comes to Hong Kong in the fifties with her husband. She is newly married and not in love, though she doesn’t realize that she wants to find love. She starts teaching Locket, the Chen’s daughter. She meets Will, their chauffeur, and becomes enamored of him. They have an affair.
However, as the novel unfolds, so does the other story. Will first came to Hong Kong shortly before the start of WW II. He fell in love with a wild Eurasian cousin of Mrs. Chen, Trudy. When the was started, he ended up in a prisoner camp, while Trudy stayed on the outside and got mixed up with the Japanese, becoming the paramour of the man in charge of the city. We learn about many of the horrors bestowed upon the Chinese by the Japanese. While Trudy is able to help Will for a time, she is eventually murdered. This past makes Will inaccessible to Claire.
I had mixed feelings about this novel. It started very slow. Too slow. But once it gets going it is fascinating. All of the details about the Japanese occupation and their treatment of the conquered bring it to life, along with the reactions of the population and the prisoners to their treatment. The strain on Will and Trudy’s relationship is portrayed well. The way Trudy tries to stay alive by sleeping with the Japanese, and the horrible things it does to her sense of self, really held my attention.
Claire is another matter. She always seems half alive, although she tries to counteract that with her affair, by stealing things from the Chen’s, and by exploring Hong Kong in a way that most of her fellow foreigners deign to do. She likes its lively streets. She is never comfortable with Will, however, and one gets the sense that she never really finds herself. She is one of those almost likeable heroines who never quite becomes interesting enough to invoke the reader’s love or even interest. Trudy, on the other hand, is a passionate character, who turns out to be much deeper and more lovable the more we get to know her. She reminded me of people I have known, who invoke both love and exasperation (if not hate). At least those are strong emotions.
Overall, I enjoyed The Piano Teacher, once I got through the first few chapters and was drawn into the love affair between Trudy and Will and the horrors of the Japanese occupation. I just wish it had started out with more punch. Luckily, since I had it in my car, I kept listening and am so glad I did.
Over the past couple of months I’ve been writing about my personal journey through different forms of bodywork, and the ways they have helped me. I hope that my stories have been entertaining and useful. Here’s my last and final word on the subject, at least for now.
In Part IV of this series I talked about movement therapies. I deliberately left out the one I use the most these days: Structural Reprogramming. This form of postural retraining is the invention of Dr. Vance Bonner, who wrote a book called The Vance Stance*. (Somehow the name she prefers of Structural Reprogramming hasn’t taken among her devotees. We all call it The Vance Stance (sorry Vance, but it’s just a lot catchier!)).
It’s summer, which means I am teaching while Vance herself is in the D.C. area, hanging out in a swimming pool, enjoying the heat. I fell into this work after one of my massage clients took a one day class with her and showed up for her next massage raving about it. I liked it so much that I trained to be an instructor, but my classes pale in comparison to Vance’s.
Vance reminds me of stories I have heard about many pioneers, especially Ida Rolf. Vance is fiercely focused on her students, endlessly curious about how to fix things in their bodies, and she has a keen eye that picks up on things us lesser mortals miss. She’s also quite the cheerleader who pushes us far harder than we ever think is possible. It isn’t easy being one of her students, but we’re not in her class to be pampered – we’re there to change.
And change we do. Through a series of exercises that seem to combine ideas from yoga, Pilates, karate, modern dance (think Martha Graham for those of you who know how precise and tough some of those exercises can be) and even gymnastics, all tweaked majorly by Vance, we push our bodies towards an idealized posture. In the process, every once in a while, I find myself having “breakthroughs.” These are moments where there is often physical pain, followed by a real shift in some aspect of my body and often an emotional release. I’ve been so angry that I never wanted to see Vance again. I’ve cried and I’ve been nauseous. I’ve had thoughts like “I can’t stand straight because I will be too vulnerable.” It’s absolutely fascinating how interconnected my body is with my emotions and my thoughts about myself.
Likewise, when I’ve done effective self-help or therapy, my posture improves and the exercises get easier (until she pushes me to the next level). Talk about interconnection of mind and body! I don’t think one can change without the other changing. As I’ve grown more at ease with people and more confident, especially this past year, my shoulders opened, my chest lost its sunken look, and my back (finally!!!!) reached the point where I could flatten it on the floor. I might wish that I could have clicked my fingers twenty years ago and instantly had all of this, but then I would have missed important pieces of the journey, a journey that certainly isn’t finished.
What about you? Have you found a connection between your body and your mind? Have movement therapies or movement in general helped you? Do you blend? For example, I also get massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic therapy from time to time, I don’t just rely upon movement to change and help my body.
*Please note that I’ve linked to Vance’s WEB site for the book because the person who is selling them for a penny on Amazon somehow got a bunch of her books when Workman Press decided not to carry them any more. Vance supposedly bought all the copies they had. She doesn’t even get a penny for those, which just doesn’t seem fair to me.