A Tradition of Originality
During our last conversation Marj said to me that one person can only do so much. She was thinking about her life and her contributions but she was, in her understated way, also telling me to get going.
Marj opened important doors for us. Most importantly, she kept the door of originality wide open. F.M. was original. So was Marj. I felt and still feel obligated to carry this tradition of originality forward.
Being original doesn’t mean being different just to be different. It means being in touch with the origins. It means dipping way down into that deep well of nothingness from which grace appears. “All I’m trying to do is show you a little bit of nothing.” She did, and it was everything.
This nothingness from which true originality springs is the source of our work. You cannot copy originality, because once you copy it it’s no longer original. Being original happens when we dip down into that deep well of emptiness which is forever alive and fresh. Marj drew her work out of that deep well, day in and day out, for so many of us.
Marj kept doors open that, without her, might have closed forever. Sometimes Alexander worked with people in activities. Marj found this way of working to be the most direct and personal approach to helping people become sensitive and capable of putting into practice what they were beginning to understand about themselves.
Marj enjoyed her training, which took place in the context of a group, and she saw no good reason why group teaching should only be limited to trainees. Everyone could benefit from watching and listening to others.
Marj wove together these two aspects of Alexander’s work – working in activity and group study – magically transforming and enlivening Alexander’s work for us.
Marj admired and respected her teachers: F.M. and A.R. Alexander, Ethel Webb, Irenie Stuart, and Irene Tasker. She knew that none of these fine teachers had ever graduated from a three-year teacher-training course. She knew that a small group of F.M.’s teachers had learned from him more informally, over a longer period of time. She admired these teachers, and she decided to bring about Alexander teachers based on this older, original model of training through apprenticeship.
Marj didn’t want people to stop living their lives to study Alexander’s work. She wanted us to bring Alexander’s work into the lives that we were currently living. For many of us that meant incorporating the work into our lives as performing artists, and as teachers.
I remember the first time I ever spoke to Marj. At Ed Maisel’s recommendation, I called her up and asked if I could study with her in Lincoln, Nebraska, at her Winter of 1975 workshop. She asked me what I did. I told her I studied the Alexander Technique. She said, “Is that all? Is that all you do?” I said no, I also was a modern dancer, and studied T’ai Chi Chu’an and Aikido. Then she said, “Now that sounds like fun. You can come along.”
Marj liked working with people who were passionate about what they did. She liked working with people exactly when they were doing what they loved doing most, whatever that was… singing, dancing, acting, playing instruments, icing a cake, juggling, fencing, gardening, or throwing horse shoes, which was something Marj liked and that I liked doing with her. Marj brought life to the work, and the work to life. It was as simple as that.
Like Alexander, Marj felt that institutions could not hold the truth, so she kept to herself, did her work, and made certain it was good. She kept the original apprenticeship model of becoming an Alexander teacher open, and for me, and for many of my colleagues, this approach to training was joyous, powerful and effective. Without this model of training it would have been impossible for many of us to become teachers.
There is one last door that Marj opened for which she remains relatively unknown. In fact, by some odd twist of fate Marj seems to have become known for attempting to close this door!
I had just finished teaching a workshop for teachers in Berlin. The head, of what was then GLAT, had experienced my work at the Australian Congress and then and there invited me to teach in Berlin. He went on to teach at my school in Germany, and even came to America to study at my school in America. One of the teachers at this workshop in Berlin remarked about how skillfully I worked with my hands and how much I used my hands when I taught. She was under the impression that Barstow teachers didn’t use their hands much when they taught.
My heart sank. What moved me most about Marj was how she used her hands as a teacher. I fell deeply in love with her ability to bring about such beauty with utterly no force. For many years I watched people unfold and grow under Marj’s hands. I made a vow never to stop teaching until my hands were at least as good as Marj’s hands. I’ve held true to that vow.
When Marj died I was teaching in Japan. For a couple days I seemed fine, and then it hit me. I was overwhelmed by dread, by doubt, that I had missed something, not heard something, that I didn’t learn what I was supposed to learn, that I failed her as a student. I didn’t know what to do. And then, suddenly, I knew.
I knew finally and completely that even though Marj is gone, the source remains. There in that deep well of nothingness is everything that I missed, everything that I did not hear, everything that I have yet to learn.