Hard Act To Swallow

by Pele


Before we get into the sideshow aspect of this, please indulge me in a brief tangent into the depths of Pele History.


In each of our lives we have a skeleton that is hiding in our closet, haunting us in ways we don't seem to recognize. For me it is a ceaseless battle with my own body and mind.  In my teen years I felt a lack of control in my life, which manifested in my striving to control my body shape, which lead to a struggle with bulimia. For those who do not fully understand this, it is an illness where, to help bury emotions, a person
will gorge themselves on food until it physically hurts, then force themselves to throw it all up out of a feeling of guilt. This becomes habit and then an uncontrollable need. It gives the comfort of having some form
of control and obviously becomes a form of weight loss. Syrup of Ipecac (medically used to induce vomiting), spoons, and toothbrushes become tools for bulimics until the gag reflex is trained to respond to physical cues. I had progressed to this latter point. Thanks to friendly intervention, I was able to overcome the physical aspects bulimia, or so I thought.


Fast-forward several years. I was already heavily involved in Bellydance and Fire Arts, and had taken on a few object manipulation arts as well. I had accepted the bulimic urge as a lifetime mental struggle, and gotten on with my life. My career was burgeoning and things were going along smoothly. I felt the desire to expand my act to include something totally different than fire and dance, and I decided upon sword swallowing. It was one of those acts I call a "golden act", one that no producer will say is a dime a dozen. I slipped into my usual mode of research. I delved into histories, instructions, tips and tricks from every possible resource I could scrape around in. I enjoyed the seemingly endless piecing together of information.  I had a friend who wanted to do this as well, so we pooled resources until we both felt we were at a comfortable enough point to give it a try.  I believe he used a smallish metal rod with a makeshift handle.
I opted for a variation of a scythe, longer and not so pointy. Both of these were advised to us until we "got used" to the rather obscure feeling of something down our gullet. For my friend things did not go so well from
the start. After about a month he realized he valued his lunch far more than he wanted to sword swallow.  I did well in the short order, but as I ventured into the world of longer options it happened & my gag reflex
kicked in. I am sure this happens with everyone at some point in learning this art, and I comforted myself in this being a very normal reaction. It was certainly not enough to dissuade me. However, after a few days of
shorter practice sessions it was enough to begin to change my mind. The gagging was quicker to come, followed by chronic stomach convulsions. I decided to put my efforts on hold for awhile but it was too late. Body memory had kicked into high gear and the years of work against the bulimic conditioning seemed to dissolve away, as every time I faced a meal nausea took over.  It took a few weeks of minor meals and forcing the food to stay down before things returned to normal for me once again.


I have tried easing myself into sword swallowing only moderately since, without much luck. The entire act has taken on a new meaning to me. It was once a stunt like any other, to be respected and approached with caution, but a stunt none-the-less. Now it is a personal Holy Grail, a brass ring, and the impossible for me. It is more symbolic to me now. I know that the day I succeed in finally getting that sword down my throat will also be the day that I will be able to lock that particular skeleton away for good. It will be my triumph over a personal plague. I have a great deal of resolve in this now and considerably more respect for those that do this art than I had before. I know it will take much more time than I had first considered, and I am alright with that. Through the years I have come to realize and accept that the toughest pills to swallow are often those which give the sweetest medicines.


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