It was a job, like any other. In the armory - a massive space filled with dysfunction and confusion - was an antique show, or at least the early skeleton of what would be walkways and Grecian inspired booths for people to wander, with their thousands of dollars to spend for their private collections.
My fierce, feminine little self faced a wall of tired, surly, uninspired men, with a Union mood and Union attitudes I would have to battle to get any work done, while they related to me in the only way they know how to relate to women. The first thing I have to do is size up the skills and temperaments of the individuals in my crew so I can affectively play them off each other and assign responsibilities they might prefer. There is always a Rooster, he is usually taller and better looking than most of the other guys, and often wields the most power to set the pace and productivity, and he is the one that I must convince to align their purpose with mine. The Rooster on this crew still has mostly dark hair, resonates with an old school nyc cop vibe, painfully good natured, even when weighing the combative desires of the crew against the venue's needs of speed and accuracy. He is impossibly tall with large carpenter's hands and a thick nasally accent, a direct manner of speech that is easy for me to catch and twist and trap him inside of. His desire to prove himself to me as both a competent carpenter and as a man is the currency in which I am dealing, a system that sits outside of the monetary one, invoking a kind of ancient exchange.
I always think of old Celtic rituals, where the priestesses represent an eternal female god, and the seasons are marked by the choosing and eventually consuming of her consort, after he has served his divine purpose of inspiring an act of creation.
It is rare, on my own, to have a sense of my femaleness, I often feel completely genderless until I show up at work. The ability to flip on that character has become a unique signature that I get hired for, when the floor thunders with my footsteps and the power of my voice reaches the rafters of the massive armory. But I have to make that space to be filled with something greater than myself, and it leaves me exhausted by the end of the day, and in the moments when it slips, someone always comes up to ask me if I am ok. Finding the male energy that calls her out of me is vital, my approach to this work is almost ritual, I even fast to keep my messy vulnerable selfness out of the way, to maintain a clarity of the overarching vision and all of the elements involved in the manifesting I've been hired to orchestrate.
I read once that to cast a truly effective love spell, it necessarily affects the one doing the casting in equal measure.
This particular Rooster was keenly interested in the selfness that I set aside to be a crew chief. I watched him as he tried valiantly to penetrate my Cat Mother mystique, with my sharp and sometimes loving tongue. 'She's not so tough under that hat' he kept saying when I was in earshot. I wore a winter knit cap that covered most of my head, containing my hair has been a method for removing my sexuality from most situations, ever since I started working with steel, and I saw his sheepishly hungry glance when my hat fell off at one point. He had daughters not much younger than me, and I suspect he was trying to reconcile his frame of reference with the character I played. I appreciated his attempt to see the wholeness of me, so I started to call his interest out by suggesting I would answer his questions over beers. I heard him call me 'his woman' when he thought I wasn't nearby, and the other men joked amongst each other that he would get angry if he saw any of the other guys talking to me. Its a game they all play, I pick and choose when I think it is valuable and when it is problematic.
On the final evening of the build he hung back in the lift as I surveyed the room, so I asked him flippantly when we were getting drinks. He turned towards me and asked me how old I thought he was. I had assumed around 48 or 50, but lowballed, partially in hope, and a little bit to flatter him. '42' I responded. Right in front of my eyes, I saw the energy leave his body. I suddenly realized just how grey his hair was, noticed the slightly sunken flesh around his eyes. '58' he said back. He climbed down from the lift as if he were 1,000 years old and slowly walked over to me as if he were too exhausted to find the movements, and extended his large hand to engulf my small, childish one in a farewell salute.
I barely made it to the train before I started crying, and I didn't stop for 3 days.
For the first time in my life I had a clear sense of my relationship to time. I could see the ship that was myself with its wide vista full of possibilities and potential paths, and his ship, far out, so close to the horizon I could never catch up, his Union world and sense of place holding him fast to the direction he probably chose when he was my age. Asking him to spend any time with me was kind of like asking him to be in two places at once, in his current worn flesh and in his memories of when he was my age, and possibly introducing the weight of regret in choices made ages ago that cannot be unchosen.
In this primal confusion of the role I play in time, perhaps it's a question of being a Daughter. Before we are almost anything else, we are formed out of a relationship to a parent, it is an identity that defines our connection to history, a way of knowing ourselves and our place in the world. I realized I didn't really know what it felt like to be one - I've never had a boundary I wasn't able to dance across with anger or laughter. Maybe I have been clinging to the earth, pouring myself into places of contact between self and other, wheeling around the axis of that contact to compensate for the lack of clarity about what holds me together in an ocean of relationships and feelings and exchanges and unwritten social expectations. It was bizarre, this strange feeling that something huge had happened, yet I had no clear sense of what - I know it's related to that missing Daughterness, and this overlapping of timelines that may resemble Father, but I have no idea. I am starting to understand that I must make a choice and begin following some sort of path, even though it will necessarily move me towards the horizon. I can't live forever in the pregnant space of possibility, and I first have to let go of the anchor point through which I have been clinging to the edges of the earth, the Mothership. I can't avoid entropy, I can't live outside of time and society and the place waiting for me inside of it. I have to learn what it means to be bound. Tamed. Claimed by something.
One of the other men on my crew was retired, I was told. Apparently he keeps showing up anyways. With so much of his lifetime devoted to this work, how could he not desire the purpose, the usefulness one feels on a team? And after so much time amongst this brotherhood, how is it anything else, but a social experience that is vital to his lifeblood? I'm starting to notice how many of the people I work around have become the source of family that we used to go home to in the past. Our blood families often pull us away from the vibrant communities and deep love and trust we have come to know amongst the people we work with.
At the end of the month I was back running the same crew to break down and pack the pieces of the event we were responsible for and send into storage for next year. As I was assisting the forklift load the last of it, my crew's Union Rep called me over and sent me inside - my men were waiting in a lopsided circle and they declared that none of them were leaving until I had hugged each of them goodbye. In the history of Union jobs, I doubt a hugging circle with the crew boss has happened more than a handful of times, if at all.
These men, from all these different crews, have taught me so much about myself, and I have found a voice I didn't get to have growing up. Because I see them as Men, let them be strong for me, they care about their work and they give me what I need. I love them for it, in the face of their eroded knee caps and calcified lower backs, grumbling ancient attitudes and beer bellies. Someone has to love them. I have only just begun to understand the depth of their affect on me and my relationship to the world. This too is my family, this ragtag band of old habits and weathered flesh, these silly, misunderstood, idiosyncratic men.
Maybe I'm not an orphan.
The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj means to yoke or bind