Friday, August 12, 2016

How to paint the perfect picture: A tribute to Joe Ramas

It has been 3 months since Joe and Stacey were in the accident that changed all of our lives.  It seems like only yesterday that I was walking and talking with Joe about his father's last moments.  He wrote and read the eulogy at his fathers funeral less than two weeks before the car accident.  He shared with me what he had wrote and I, in turn, would like to share what he wrote with the community.  In the week after Joe had returned from West Virginia, he mentioned to me that a lot of what he had written in the eulogy for his father reminded him of himself.  He told me that he was considering sharing the eulogy and asked me to give him feedback about whether or not it would be something people would be interested in hearing.  I said he should absolutely share it, but sadly he didn't have the opportunity.  I'm grateful that he shared it with me and that I can pass it on, so that everyone can better understand another side of Joe, and to learn a little about his father, Dr. Mario Ramas.

(The eulogy is written below in italics.  I added a few thoughts afterwords about what I took from it and the similarities I saw between him and what he wrote about his father.  I've also added some personal notes about my connection with Joe).

My father and i used to roast pigs together.  This involved long hours of cleaning, dressing, stuffing, suturing, cooking, and talking.  We talked for hours about how to roast a pig.  We didn’t talk about the game, the last episode of something, or about our lives.  We talked about how to roast this pig.  For 30 years he would start;

"I have an idea” or “This time, i want to try something different.”  
I watched him engage in the development of a single recipe for 3 decades.  My father believed in sustained effort and hard work.  I know that almost everyone here knew his love of lechon, but i suspect almost no one understood that it wasn’t the lechon that he loved, but all of you.  I know that he didn’t express himself with words often, but if you could hear his recipe as he thought of it:

-I leave this union like this for Uncle Pros.  
-I put extra bay leaves here for Tito Peps, he’s has been asking for cuts closer to the hip.  
-Put garlic under the cheeks for Tita Lita; she always takes the head.

The list is quite literally endless.  Hours upon hours of careful dedication to each of you individually.  He was always changing it, always trying to keep up with everyone’s tastes.  I’m sure you have noticed that he always did the carving himself, but i’m guessing few of you knew why.  He was paying attention to what cuts you wanted.  If you started asking for something different, he would note that and change how he seasoned the entire pig.  He listened to your comments at the party and changed the recipe accordingly.  

“I put more salt on this side because your sister thought it was too salty last time, but your mother thought it was bland.”  He never made excuses about the quality and  he was always humble.

Sustained hard work, patience, and attention to detail; these are the things that people think of when they think of my father’s lechon.  What people probably don’t realize is that his secret ingredients are loyalty, integrity, compassion, and love of this community.  I don’t mean that he loved this group of people, i mean that he loved each of you individually.  I know that there are many more important details about my father’s life, like surviving the Japanese invasion, or that time he saved a man’s arm that no other doctor would operate on, the year after year of shipping containers full of medical supplies he collected for the Philippines, the strength he offered my mother, his dedication to his children and grandchild, or any of the other countless things my father did of much greater importance than something as mundane as roasting a pig.  But this, he and i did together.  It was the one thing that gave me real insight into how he thought, what he valued, and how he expressed his love.

I once read that creating the perfect painting was simple.  First, learn to live perfectly.  Next, paint naturally.  My father’s lechon may not have been perfect, but it was close.

As Joe said, I see a lot of similarities between him and what he wrote about his father.  His belief in sustained effort and hard work, patience, and attention to detail; but more importantly, loyalty, compassion, and the love of his community.  He truly loved his community and each person individually.  He had a power to draw out the creative talents of everyone he met.  He was genuinely excited about meeting and connecting with new people, learning what they were passionate about, and finding ways to collaborate with them and make them a part of the community.  I will forever remember the way his face would light up when he was deep in conversation with someone, brainstorming ideas, or geeking out over the new knot he had learned to tie.  Everything Joe did, he did with 100% effort and conviction.  He didn't always succeed at everything, in fact he failed quite often (as he himself would tell you), but one of the things I always admired about him, is that he was never afraid to try.  In everything that Joe did, he strove for efficiency and quality.  He was constantly working to make his life and the lives of the people around him more awesome.

I recently finished reading one of Joe's favorite books, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."  I had originally tried reading it in 2003 when Joe first gave me one of his copies, but had to put it down due to the depth of the subject matter and my state of mind at the time.  I had decided several months ago that I wanted to try reading it again and this time was drawn into the story.  The key concept in the book is the idea of quality.  The narrator describes quality as being the precursor to both the subjective and objective realms of our world and illustrates his point in how quality can be found in the proper maintenance of a motorcycle.  As I was reading the book, I noticed many ideas and theories that fed into Joe's outlook on life and his own personal philosophy.  I had several "a-ha" moments while reading that I was excited to discuss with Joe, and several moments that felt very bittersweet after the accident because I knew I would never have the chance to discuss the book with him.  As I was reading, there was a particular passage that stood out to me as something that Joe had said recently, "You want to know how to paint a perfect painting?  It's easy.  Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally."  As I began writing this blog and I was rereading the eulogy he had written, I realized that he used this quote in the summary about his father's lechon.  Much like his fathers lechon, Joe's vision for the future of Fractal Tribe and the future of his community was on the path to perfection and was about the end of goal of quality.  There's another quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that I would like to share that I feel sums up a few of the ideas that Joe embodied in his life, "The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called yourself.  The machine that appears to be "out there" and the person that appears to be "in here" are not two separate things.  They grow towards Quality or fall away from Quality together."  I believe that's the lesson he wanted us to learn, that by working together as a whole, both internally and externally, we can grow towards quality.

Joe's love of this community and his passion to build something better than our current society is what drove him to form Fractal Tribe.  Fractal Tribe has gone through many ups and downs and several different stages over the years, but with the help of his friends and his community, Joe was able to begin building a foundation for the community he had hoped to create.  I have no doubt that we can continue to carry out Joe's dreams.  Although he is no longer here physically, I believe he is still with us in spirit, guiding us, looking out for us, caring for us, supporting us, loving us, and pushing us towards quality and perfection.  What we do with this energy, what we do to honor Joe and Stacey is what matters now.  As someone that was very close to Joe, I know that it can be difficult to not get bogged down in dwelling on the past and letting all the "what if's" cloud our heads and our hearts... of course we all wish that things could be different and that they were still with us, but we can't change what happened.  have struggled with feelings of blame, feeling that if I had made different choices over the last year that they would still be here... but that line of thinking is a deep dark hole that I am trying to not let myself fall into.  I miss Joe more than I can say; he was my best friend, my confidant, and one of the deepest loves of my life.  My future is forever changed and I'm going to do all that I can to live in a way that would make Joe proud.  I'm going to do what makes my life more awesome.

Jose-Maria L. Ramas
Jaunuary 15, 1977 - May 11, 2016

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Don't Judge Shame By Its Cover

Here’s how i often see people deal with other people’s shame:
The Ashamed: I have shame about attribute A.The Listener: You are great about attribute A.  You have no reason to feel shame.The Ashamed: I feel judged and am now embarrassed about how i feel.  I still feel shame about attribute A.
Instead of telling the shameful that they shouldn’t feel the way they feel, maybe we can all share our stories of the shame we feel and why we hide it.  Here is mine.
I was the fat kid in my school.  I sat in the back, born with a passion for puzzles and a hatred of exercise.  Maybe it was the asthma, the eczema, or that i was just physically lazy.  Maybe it was a psychosomatic manifestation of my internal hatred for physical activity that made my sweat feel like acid and my breath feel like fire.  Whatever the reasons and despite them, i grew up and joined the circus.  I am an amateur member of Fractal Tribe.  I’m almost 40 years old and i am in the best shape of my life.  
But the reality is that, in my circus troupe, I'm still the fat kid.

Granted being the “fat kid” in Fractal Tribe is a bit like being the stupidest Rocket Scientist in the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics, but the point is that i FEEL like the fat kid.  I developed anxiety around eating in high school and have some deep-seated body issues that have never abated.  This is fresh in my mind because of Fractal Tribe’s most recent theatrical production, Sub Rosa.  Sub Rosa explored sexuality in ways that pushed me to my limits and held me there for about a year.  The director requested that i perform the last half of the show shirtless.  I wrestled with this request for months, but in the end i found that i couldn’t do it.  It forced me to deal with all of my body issues in a way that i have  avoided for the bulk of my life.  When trying to convince myself to acquiesce, I tried to hold on to the idea that my inability to perform shirtless was a type of fat shaming in which i claimed, “if you are as fat as me, you should be ashamed of your body” which felt contrary to my value system. I held on to  this reasoning, hoping that it would give me confidence through purpose.  In the end, that thought just made me feel worse.  My shame kept my body concealed, which fed the guilt i felt for the message i thought it sent. Here’s a picture from that show.

One of these is not like the other.  I look at that photo now and all i see is my shame surrounded by their pride.
So i’m left with this question, what should i have done?  I wish i could choose to be proud of my body, but that wasn’t an option then, and might never be.  I tried pretending that i was not ashamed, but that created a deeply embarrassing lie.  I tried making it about me; I tried making it about other people; I tried pretending it didn’t bother me.  All those efforts just made me feel worse.  I know that what i’m supposed to do is accept my body and love myself.  I know that i should be happy just the way i am.  But i’m not.  I am ashamed of my body.  But maybe that’s the part i’m missing.  Maybe it’s ok that i have some shame about something. Maybe i’m psychologically injured and i’ll never be totally happy with my body.  Maybe that’s ok too.  
The whole thing has a different feel if i think of my shame as an injury.  When i was a kid, i was in a terrible psychological accident, that accident being that I was fat.  It caused an injury, that injury being shame, which went untreated for decades and left me chronically handicapped, that being that it left me ashamed of my body.  Just like all old injuries, the older they are the deeper they get and the harder it is to root them out.  My first step is to admit that i was injured.  It doesn’t mean that i am broken; it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with ME.  If there is something wrong, it is how i relate to my body.  Like any injury, it does not define who i am.  If i look at my shame like an injury, i can be ok with it.  I might have an old injury, but i can be ok with myself, shame and all.  
Do you understand what it is like to have shame that you want to hide?  If so, i want you to know that you are not alone.  I don’t claim to have THE answer; i’m not even sure if i really have AN answer.  But i do know that when someone shared her shame around her body issues with me, this got easier.  One of the reasons this article feels so “first person” is that i’m not trying to speak FOR you, but TO you, with the hope that one day we can all have a conversation WITH each other.  

Partner Acro Performer for Fractal Tribe
Calibration and Test Engineer for the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics
I don’t capitalize “i” because it’s silly.
However, i can’t bring myself to kill the apostrophe, even though it too is silly.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Acro Etiquette

Here’s a compilation of little tips that might make for a better experience for you and those around you.  These are not RULES, rather things i’ve picked up from listening to people over the years.  
  • No means NO.
    • If someone tells you they don’t want to do something, resist the temptation to pressure them into it.  True, some people find it easier to get over their fears and out of their comfort zone if you put a little effort in trying to convince them, but it’s a good practice to respect people’s decisions about their own experience and trust that they know themselves better than you know them.
  • Down means down.  
    • If someone says that they want down, let them down.  If someone wants to stop, stop.  There will be times when it feels like you know why they want to come down and it would better for them if you kept them up, but maybe you’re wrong and they have an injury that's flaring up, maybe they're having a heart attack, maybe they reeeeally have to fart and don't want to do it in your face - point is, when someone says down, just down without question.  
  • Say down early.  Say down often.
    • If you say down early, you might come down before you absolutely have to.  If you say down late, you might not be able to go back up.   
  • Ask before giving feedback.
    • If you have a advice or feedback for your partner or your fellow acro practitioners, ask if they are interested in feedback before delivering it.  Just because someone doesn’t want your feedback doesn’t MEAN that they are an asshole or that you are stupid.  It just means that they are not interested in your feedback right now.  The one exception to this rule is if you think that someone’s safety is being compromised.
  • Listen to feedback, even if you don’t follow it.
    • If you’re having a hard time sticking something, ask someone for feedback.  If someone offers you and your partner feedback and you don’t want it, remember, your partner might.  When people offer you feedback, they are offering you a gift.  Be thoughtful before you reject it, especially since you don’t know what’s inside.  You don’t have to keep it, but it would be at least a nice gesture to find out what’s inside.
  • Ask for a spot.
    • If one of you wants a spot, get a spot.  There’s no reason to convince your partner that you don’t need a spot.  If the question comes up “Should we get a spot?” the answer is probably yes.  There is much less regret in having a spot when you don’t need one then not having one when you do.  Communities are built on people helping each other.  
  • Have things you are working on.
    • Have some idea of what you want to be working on.  This is especially important for the less experienced partner. If you’re partner is more experienced than you, you might not be able to do the things that they are most interested in training.  Further, most people don’t show up to jams in order to give free lessons.  Don’t get me wrong, they are probably enjoying themselves and probably like sharing their knowledge, but they’ll like their experience with you more if you don’t try to get them to figure out what it is that you might enjoy doing.  It would be little like a math tutor asking “what would you like help with?” and you responding with “I don’t know.  Teach me something”.  
  • Act gracefully around rejection
    • Jams are places that people go and play acro and that requires a partner, which leads to the potentially awkward part of asking people if they want to play and sometimes it leads to the much more awkward situation where the answer is “no”.  Most people are not going to be that blunt.  If someone says anything other then “yes”, give them the space to exit the situation gracefully.  Try not to hover and be overly persistent.  This person now knows you want to play, and if they want to play, I’m sure they will let you know. Here are something things that people often say INSTEAD of “no”, when they actually mean “no”.
      • I’m still warming up
      • I’m stretching
      • I’m waiting for my partner.
      • I’m just going to watch for a while
      • Anything besides “yes”
    • Alternatively, it could be you that wants to reject someone.  There are many ways to do this gracefully, but here’s a decent rule of thumb: It’s easy for rejection to feel like judgement.  If you can deliver your ‘no’ without making the other person feel judged, it’ll probably be a better experience for both of you.
  • Have FUN.
    • If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.