Billy Joel Didn't, But I *Totally* Started The Fire

  So, if you follow my blog or social media, you'll know 2 things:

1) The past few weeks have been psychotically stressful for this Pajamazon. 2) I love fire.

Between this, that and the other, I really needed to blow off some steam. Everyone has their own way to let loose. For some it's scrapbooking, rock climbing or yoga. Sane things. Relatively safe things. Me? I put fire in my face (or expel flames from it). This time, though, I upped the ante a little and did so on live television while a former star of Little House on the Prairie looked on. All before breakfast. *flexes*

Madame C -- Crystal Cruz, my Dragon Trainer.

One of my fire teachers was advertising her Dragon Training class on a local morning news show and asked if anyone would be interested in helping her demonstrate the skills being taught. I said sure, got a ride lined up and boom: in like Flynn. Not only did I get to play with fire, I got to engage in one of my other favorite passtimes... It's a little game I like to call, "Scaring the Straights". You know those normal people? I like to freak them out when I get a chance. It's been one of my favorite games since at least junior high when I embraced my weirdness. The tv personalities (I don't know that I can call them "news anchors" with a straight face) gawked at me and my fire partner while Madame C explained what we were doing and participated in the interview. I was focused on my work, but I loved hearing "Oh, my god! What is she doing?!" almost as much as I loved the "woosh!" sound of breathing fireballs.

Something hilarious that happened because of this... Saturday night I got home to find a message on Facebook from a woman I went to college with. We weren't close friends or anything, but we were in marching band together for a few years. Anyway, apparently she lives in the Phoenix metro area now as well because she saw the tv spot!

 "I thought that was you," her message said. "That looked so crazy. That's how I knew it had to be you!"

*blink* Did I really have that much of a reputation in college for doing weird shit? Because I didn't do weird shit then other than say things to freak out the uber straight-laced girls in my classes. Anyway, I got a great laugh out of that one. That's quote of the day, right there.

Yup. That's me. Eating fire.

Saturday night I went to the Dragon Training class and learned more tricks. Favorite new trick involves transferring the flame from one torch to another...while the lit one is in my mouth. I wish I had video of me doing it because it looked beautiful from my point of view. Got more practice with eating. Improved at vapor tricks and "dragon spit" (not the same as breathing). Breathed some more. (Funny, for someone who said a few years ago "I will never breathe fire", I certainly have taken to it.) Once again, it was thrilling for me to get to play. It was doubly fun to watch friends discover fire art and develop their talents.

It's interesting to me. There are a lot of things you can do with fire. Hula hoop, poi spinning, staff spinning, diablo, breathing, eating, palm flames, sword dancing, candling (a vapor trick with the mouth), fleshing (doing fuel/flame transfers on flesh)...lots of room to play in fire arts. I love watching people find niches. I enjoy seeing how one person can love this trick, but hate another.

For example:  I've tried fans, but it's just not my thing. Likewise with palm flames. I have friends who perform those, but I lack the belly dancing skill and sinuous grace to make palm flames interesting. I have a friend who lights a scimitar on fire and puts it on her head. I have some friends who spin staves. Again, I've tried these things but for one reason or other, it's just not mine. Me? I love my poi spinning. It's rhythm and motion and I excel at it. And I dig on torch work. I like some fleshing tricks for flare and I love candling. For some reason, I really like the tricks that involve me lighting my tongue on fire. But I can't hold a torch in my teeth. The heat is too intense and though I've tried it a few times, it's just not something in my bag of tricks. My friend Michelle, though, *loves* this trick and performs it well.

Michelle. That's TWO torches in her teeth. She's a badass.

I loved looking at the pictures and video of Saturday's escapades because there was something I saw about myself that pleased me. I was so peaceful and comfortable playing with the fire. I look so calm, and--oddly enough--I am. Don't get me wrong, I'm scared of doing some of these tricks. There is some pain involved (but no more than drinking a cup of too hot chai, or touching a car that has been sitting out in Arizona summer), and the danger factor is high. I could seriously injure myself, and every time I'm about to do a trick I think about that.

There is an odd sort of focus, though, that comes over me. A tunnel vision of sorts. My hearing is keen. Listening for a safety to tell me if something is wrong, listening for movement of others. And, admittedly, taking in the gasps or "Holy shit!" from the people watching. Kinesthetic awareness goes up so that I can know my surroundings--who is around me? where are they standing? where are trees? are there divots on the ground?--and my vision narrows to the immediate task in front of me. How long has the torch been burning? Where is the wind coming from? Breath control. How much fuel do I take into my mouth? Don't swallow. Lips pursed--wait, how do I do this again? Oh yeah. Hold the fuel away. Bring up the torch. Blow. Open your eyes and watch the fireball filling your vision.

breathing fire dragon

It all happens in a second, blink and you'll miss it. And while all of these things are going on in my mind, I'm at peace. There is a strange relaxation that comes with heightened focus. Perhaps that's the essence of meditation?

Anyway. This is how I recharge and let off stress. It's something that I love to do and while I don't feel the need to get back into full on performing again, I'm happy to have the time in my friend's backyard with a can of fuel and a few torches.

And now it's back to the real world with me where I have to think about cars and numbers and medical stuff all the shit that stressed me out in the first place.

DON'T FORGET: Tomorrow I'll be over at Bitten By Books for an all day Q&A. We'll be talking about WILD CARD, Vegas, Satyrs...whatever you want to chat about. And I'll be giving away an Amazon gift card and some more poker chips! RSVP NOW for an additional 25 chances at the swag.

Fire Eating for Fun And Profit

incase of fireSo, as some of you know I'm a fire artist/performer. I started with fire poi in 2006 when I mentioned that I wanted to learn, and my friend Nicki said, "They teach that at the studio I use for bellydance lessons." And thus, my life did change forever. I started taking lessons at the studio from Trishnamurti, and within six weeks I was spinning fire balls around my body. Over the next 2 years I learned advanced fire spinning techniques, how to be a professional fire safety and some of the ins-and-outs of being a performer. I worked with a few troupes and dabbled in fire fan, fire staff spinning and very basic torch work.

SONY DSCAnyway, in 2008 I was spinning constantly, learning to spin 4 poi at one time! I performed at a Dresden Dolls concert and Sin Aesthesia had 3 shows lined up. However, before the first Sin show, I injured my back. Two slipped discs and crazy amounts of nerve damage threw off my ability to balance myself. Not to mention I couldn't stand up straight and I was on enough pain meds and muscle relaxers to make Lindsay Lohan jealous.

For various reasons, I didn't dive back into the fire/circus scene after I healed from my injury. But I've missed it greatly. So, at New Year's 2013, some friends brought up fire art and skills they wanted to learn and the three of us made promises to one another: we will burn in 2014.

An opportunity to put our money--and fire--where our mouths were presented itself rather quickly in the form of a "Dragon Training" workshop at The Circus Farm with local performer Madame C (Link may be NSFW as it goes to a burlesque troupe. Yup, I'm friends with circus freaks and burlesque dancers. Your point?) But I digress, the class would teach fire eating, basic "fleshing" tricks and--the big baddy--breathing a plume of fire.

Hells. Yes.

Madam C breathing fire.

So, the class was last Saturday and it. was. AMAZEBALLS. I went with my friends Inge and Michelle. There were 12 of us in the class, which is a good size for something like this.

Of course we started with fucking breathing fire. (This is the one trick that scares me beyond belief. Always has because if something goes wrong with this trick, it is probably catastrophic.) Rather than just throw us into the deep end of the flaming pool (metaphorically speaking, there was not a flaming pool), we all started with water. We stood around blowing wet raspberries for about 20 minutes, soaking ourselves in the process. Seriously, I looked like I had a drinking problem. ( tip: don't wear a white t-shirt when doing this kind of work.) After working on that for a while and blowing through about 8 ounces of water each, we refilled our bottles with lamp oil--the preferred fuel for breathing fire. Madam C demonstrated a few times and then it was our turn. One by one, we each gave it a shot.

Guys, I breathed fire. I blew a raspberry of lamp oil at a lit torch and when I opened my eyes the world was replaced with a blooming ball of fire. Sweet Jesus, it was spectacular. I did it a few times and felt like a total bad ass. All eyebrows are still in tact and I did not, in fact, die. I was a dragon! RAWR!

visual approximation of my perspective

After everyone had a chance to expectorate flame, we sat down in a circle to begin torch work. Now, I've learned very basic torch work in the past, but I haven't done it since 2011. I have to say, it really is like riding a bike. The muscle memory is still there, as is my tolerance to having an open flame in my face. It was nice to refresh the skills of doing fuel transfers (where one torch is lit from way of one's arm or tongue). And, I learned to properly extinguish fire in my mouth, so I am now a true-honest-to-goodness Fire Eater. I also learned some vapor tricks (aka "candling" -- where you hold an open flame in your mouth sans torch).

I think the most enlightening moments were when I was watching others...people who are truly new to fire play. One woman, bless her, was trying to put a torch in her mouth and her neck just kept trying to retract like a turtle. I've forgotten what it's like to be new to fire and to fear it. If I ever did, that is. (Yeah, no. I don't think I did. But that just confirms that I'm crazy.) Anyway, I forget that other people don't have that comfort with fire, even if they do have a respect and reverence for it. The body is weird and the act of putting fire in your mouth can be intense--and not just because of the heat. When playing with any fire prop, your body knows on an instinctive level that this is dangerous and wants to get away. The adrenaline pumps in and at times your body will go its own way to protect itself. (Like jerking away from a torch that you're trying to put in your mouth.)

I don't know what that's like, honestly. When the torch comes at my face, I open up and prepare to do something cool. And yet, I can't put a contact lens in my eye on the first go. Seriously... I'm weird.

Our class at the Circus Farm. Practicing with water. I'm in white by the trampoline.

It was a great class. I watched a lot of women do amazing things. I watched friends become dragons. I watched a woman in her sixties snuff out a flame in her mouth. And, I've reignited (pun intended) my love for fire play. I've missed it so much and I don't want to wait another two years before playing again. I've decided that while I'm not interested in performing again (that shit is an expensive ass hobby), I'm going to rebuild my fire kit. (After Nicki died I let my equipment rot away--literally--and disintegrate.) I'm starting from scratch. New poi and chains. New torches. New everything.

There will be another Dragon Training class next month. I may or may not go depending on funds. I will be getting together with friends on a regular basis, though, to play with fire.

I've missed this part of myself.

Dude. I breathed fire.

NOTE: We did this in a controlled environment and took all proper safety precautions. Experienced performers were on hand to supervise. NEVER DO THIS ALONE. ALWAYS LEARN FROM AN EXPERT. For information on what I was learning and how I learned it, you can watch Brian Brushwood's SCAM SCHOOL videos on the topic here. And I know you're probably wanting pics or video, but I don't have those. There was a camera crew at the workshop, but that footage hasn't been posted anywhere. Also, we were all really busy during the workshop, so there wasn't time to grab a camera or phone and snap a few. Soon, though. Sometime when I'm out at the Circus Farm or something I'll get someone to take pictures or video. 

With The Greatest of Ease - Flash Fiction

It's been a while since I played with flash fiction challenges. However, this story practically begged me to tell it. You see, last Monday I was on Facebook and someone posted the formula for your steampunk name. It is as follows:Lord/Lady + The name of the main character in the last video game you played + the kind of tea you last drank + your favorite weapon I was christened Lady Valkyrie Chai Molotov. And I have to say I adore this name. It sounds like the heroine from bad 30s pulp serials. I decided I wanted to do something to that effect with said name. THEN Chuck Wendig posted his weekly flash challenge. This time we penmonkeys are to go here and generate a random crime-fighting duo. Pick your favorite, write it in 1000 words or less, post and have a drink. I realized that this was the perfect time to play with Valkyrie Molotov's character.

What did the random generator come up with for me? Several things. Here's the one that I loved most:

"He's a superhumanly strong zombie matador in drag. She's a cynical cigar-chomping bounty hunter who believes she is the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian Queen. They fight crime!"

In playing with the ideas for this flash piece, I've come to see that I want to do much more with her, Greyson and this idea. Containing her to 1000 words is very difficult and I think this is just too fun. I've decided to turn this into a serial story. Each will be a flash piece (rough draft, 1000 words or less), but they will be a continuing story.

Cheating? Yes. But guess what? I'm the author. I outrank the rules.

Anyway, here's the first in the Valkyrie Molotov serials. I hope you enjoy it.

With the Greatest of Ease by Jamie Wyman

Greyson snapped his feather-fan shut and crossed his arms over the bodice of his gown.  “Well done, Valkyrie,” he sneered. “Once again your tracking prowess has led us straight to the den of evil.”

Teeth tight around her cigar, Valkyrie snarled, “Shut up, rotter. Mobius is here. I can feel it.”

“That’s what you said last month in…Majorca was it? And before that it was a shabby little town in the Italian Alps.”

“My instincts took me there. Just as they’ve led us here.”

“Well, could your instincts please take us to Paris sometime?” Greyson worried at his bustle. “I’m thinking something in an emerald green silk would look fabulous with my complexion.”

Valkyrie spat into the straw beneath her boots. “And here I thought you wouldn’t be caught dead in green.”

“Seasons change, Val. Besides, I’m caught dead in everything.”

She didn’t look at him but sensed the grin on his face and imagined the wink of his long lashes. Valkyrie Molotov had no glances to spare for Greyson when the bounty was so close.

“He’s here,” she growled.

“But where, oh wise one?”

She’d been hot on his trail from London south to the peaks of Gibraltar. They’d played a vicious game of hopscotch across the islands of the Mediterranean, danced up into the Continent proper. But Vlakyrie had always been a step behind. Now, though, she’d caught up to him. No more chasing a ghost. No more dancing with shadows. Her white whale swam in this sea of rubes and circus performers.

However unlikely it might be, this place reeked of Victor Mobius’s greasy presence.  The slime of his shadow coated everything: the muddy earth, the pennants snapping in the wind and cars of the train snoozing on the rails. Valkyrie let her eyes sweep over the tattered tents, their squat forms reminding her of mushrooms. Somewhere in that fungal forest lurked a creature more deadly than the most toxic of spores.

Valkyrie closed her eyes, listening. Barkers crowed of bearded women and sword-swallowing men. Games jangled in a cacophony, dissonant with the music of a calliope. As the crowd milled about, they created their own music of rustles, bustles, ohs and ahs. She had to dig down beneath the din of the circus and find the signature drag-thump of Mobius’s awkward gait, the metallic clicking of his clockwork leg and the jingle of his ornate pocket watch.

“Bast,” she cursed under her breath.  “Come on, Greyson. Let’s find the bastard before Mobius has a chance to get up to mischief. And keep your head down,” she added. “Wouldn’t want someone to add you to the freak show.”

Valkyrie barged into the crowd, her broad shoulders cutting a swath through humanity as she followed her instincts. The carousel. Was it spinning a little too fast? Over to the menagerie. Would he cause the elephants to stampede? As a child passed nearby with penny candy, Valkyrie wondered if the fiendish doctor would poison the lemonade.

As if he heard her thoughts,  Greyson bent and whispered into her ear. “He’ll be where he can cause the most damage.”

From the largest of the squat tents, a brass band blazed a fanfare. The crowd’s current shifted to flow under the big top. Valkyrie eyed the glowing portal ahead of them. The flickering lights within the tent showed the hunter pictures, strange silhouettes of too-large men and gargantuan creatures. Something called to her bones. Perhaps the gods of old whispered to her. She needed no clearer sign than the dancing shadows to know…

Valkyrie puffed once more on her cigar before throwing it to the ground and stamping it dead with the heel of her boot. “Finally.”

She led the zombie out of the sea of people and into the dark recesses of the lot. The stink of greasepaint, manure and grain alcohol grew thick as they edged around the rear of the main tent.  Valkyrie slipped in, her gaze alighting up to the center of the big top. Squinting, she could just make out something strapped to the king pole. Something all too familiar. The phantom scent of a charred village outside of Turin filled her nostrils.

“There,” she said.

Greyson gasped with understanding. “He’ll bring down the whole tent.”

“And burn everyone inside,” Valkyrie confirmed.

Valkyrie wrenched off her leather coat and thrust it into the zombie’s arms.  Twisting her braid and knotting it at the base of her neck she barked, “Find him! I’ll get up there and see if I can disarm whatever he’s cooked up this time.”


“Isis, grant me your wings!” Vakyrie breathed.

And then she was off, scaling rope ladders and shinnying up the poles. She climbed higher until the audience was little more than a blur below.  At the center of the big top, she examined the glass canisters secured there. Amber fluid bubbled and gurgled inside while watch parts ticked a wicked rhythm. She had no idea how much time she had, or what precisely would happen when those minutes expired. Experience warned her, however, that it would be catastrophic if she failed to stop Mobius’s plot.

“My dear friend,” sang an unctuous voice.

Her blood simmered. “Mobius.”

Join us next time for the continuing story of Valkyrie Molotov.

Brain Stew

This is a potpourri of random thoughts that I've had recently. They're too long for tweets, but too short for their own posts, so you get mental ramblings. Dive on in the stream of consciousness, kids! The water's warm!

Looks like I am now officially a Denver Broncos fan. Don't get me wrong, I'll still be pulling for my hometown boys in Indy, but with Manning joining the Mile High club, I'm going to be sporting some orange with my blue.

So, I told iTunes to run and play the other day and shuffle came up with a goodie. (Well, several, but this entry is about one in particular.) The song was Electric Head by Rob Zombie. Now, I've mentioned Sin Aesthesia before on this blog. It's the performance troupe that I co-founded. For one of our shows, we used an edited version of this song as our opener. The show was in 2008. We had a very limited budget, handmade/thrift store costumes and a rickety stage. And yet, when I hear that song, I see us as we were meant to be. Colors so vibrant you can taste them. Fierce dancers with swishing skirts and jingling belts. Shadows flickering from fire poi. My own little circus come to life. Strobe lights, absinthe addicts, circus freaks. Insanity and beauty fused together in a high speed collision. I see it all so vividly in my head and wish it could have been. I wish you could see it. I wish so badly that you could experience the way it is in my mind.  That's part of why I write. But there are things you'll never know and I'm alone with those visions.

I saw a pink Smart Car today. These things already look like toys, but when you paint one pink it looks like it should be pulling into Greenpeace Barbie's Malibu Dream Yurt. Speaking of girly things, today someone on Facebook posted a picture of a dress so stunning, so me, that I cannot stop staring at it. I have all sorts of fantasies. One where I'm on the red carpet at the Oscars, celebrating my nomination (and eventual win) of Best Adapted Screenplay. In another I'm just spinning endlessly through a field of daisies. Barefoot of course. Oh, I want this dress.

Circus Maximus

Today was the day! The family and I set out to see the Greatest Show On Earth!

Now, you probably know that I am an avid circus buff. When I was a kid, the circus was one of my favorite things. Ever. I remember keeping my first program for decades. The centerfold was a picture of that year's graduating class from Ringling's Clown College. I looked at that picture a lot and dreamed of a world where I was a pink-haired buffoon bringing joy to millions, travelling all over the country with the Big Show. Some of my most magical memories are from dark arenas, flashlights spinning madly as children of all ages scream into the night because they are astounded by three rings of entertainment. Flying trapeze! Gunther Gabel Williams taming the big cats, even draping one over his shoulders! Human cannonballs, jugglers, clowns... all of it. The smell of the arena, the sound of a brass band... the circus is one of my absolute favorite settings of all time. Many of my dreams take place in a musky tent in the middle of a dusty town.  So... getting to take my five year old daughter to her first circus? Priceless.

Rear tire lost its tread. We limped to my mom's place and arranged alternate means to get to the circus. (After the show, we got all four tires replaced on the car and all is well.)But first, our day started off more like Serenity. You know that opening scene where Mal is all "did the primary bumper panel just fall off my ship?" and Wash is all, "this could get interesting?" Yeah (click that link and watch it if you don't know what I'm talking about)... well, Sean and I were in the car and we had a bit of a moment. In the role of Mal? Your beloved Wahine (me). Playing Wash (even wearing the obligatory Hawaiian shirt) was my husband. So, for the past 6 years, Sean has done most of the driving of my car. I'm usually just the captain while he pilots. It's my boat, he gets to drive. In that time, he's put a few holes in my ship, but my mister and my car have held together. As of late, he says that he's heard a knocking and we'd planned to do car work this weekend. Flash to us on the I-10 toward the circus when this knocking becomes an outright shuddering. Then, there's a loud thud, a smash of something against metal and the back wheels got loose for a moment. But, no body flies like my mister...he righted the car without incident and pulled over to the shoulder to assess the damage.

Now, the show....the lights went down at US Airways Center and flashlights and glow-in-the-dark scimitars came to life. Drums rolled and soon, the arena floor was home to a parade of sequins, brightly colored stilt-walkers and running liberty horses. Elephants lumbered in trunk-to-tail. It's hard to tell which was more stunning, the glittering costumes or the light in my daughter's eyes.

I started crying.

I admit it. I'm a dork. I cried. I have such warm, fond memories of the circus, that getting to share them with my daughter was epic. It was magical in a whole new way. THIS is what makes being a parent so amazing. Sharing experiences with your children that are new to them...remembering what it's like to live in wonder.

Throughout the show, I found myself lamenting that this is not the same show I saw in the '80s. It lacked the spectacle, the pomp...but at the same time, I was under the spell of the circus. The singular charm of the center ring. My kiddo squealed and laughed and screamed and marveled at the whole thing. She loved it.

And she fell asleep during the second half of the show.

*grin* That's part of it, too, isn't it? That kind of safety and innocence. While ponderous pachyderms perched perilously on their plinths, my little girl slept. I wonder what she dreamed of.

We got home safely. New memories. Laughter. And a souvenir program. Sadly, there's no centerfold of clowns like mine had. But this one is just as magical to her as mine was to me. And that's something. Dinner and a Mythbusters mini-marathon have punctuated an adventurous day. An adventurous week!

Tomorrow, we'll rest.