Muses

Art/Images, Change/Transformation, Creative, Dance, It's Personal, Life, Poetry, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Earlier this year, for the first time in my life, I met someone who inspires me to create art.  Despite my introverted extrovert nature, I meet a lot of people from many different walks of life.  I tend to network in an  unusual variety of circles, and have a knack for remembering and connecting people – often making connections others don’t see.  I don’t actively nurture all these connections, but I keep them in my mental Rolodex.

I’m also a social dancer, and I’ve talked to and danced with thousands of people.  In all those thousands, I’ve met (at most) a dozen or so who truly inspire me to create movement with them.  None of them has ever inspired me to create anything beyond the three to four minutes we spend together in the music.  Those moments are magic, but they’re ephemeral.  The sense of what happened fades, and all my body remembers is the warmth and joy and connection.

This was different, this unexpected inspiration.  I’ve never experienced this type of connection, where all thoughts have the potential to spark the drive to create.  Positive or negative charge is irrelevant, what is relevant is that something emerges from that charge.  I started making art when I was young, wanted to be a musician for a while, and then stopped when I left home.  I dabbled in photography for years, drawing here and there.  When writing became more of a focus, other forms of creativity faded until I discovered dance.

My first experience with dance was with a woman named Fariba, a class named Spiritual Bellydance.  I was living in a conservative area that the time, but was exploring any number of non-traditional interests and hobbies.  For me, this class was a revelation, a revolution.  After years of martial arts training and equestrian activity, I found something that incorporated similar awareness and presence, but for reasons of pure sensuality and beauty.  I did it simply because it brought joy and pleasure into my being.  Fariba inspired me, and her memory continues to visit me when I’m dancing.

When I began to learn salsa, I had any number of teachers, but few true inspirations.  Over the years, that has changed as I discovered Magna Gopal, my good friends Sheena and Asia – the first women I saw lead swapping and dancing together in bachata, my instructor Sarah Riddle, and Stacey, one of my best friends.  All these women inspired me to try different types of movement, to experiment with connection and stillness, excitement and joy, technique and exploration.  I recently had the great good fortune to get social dances with Frankie Martinez and Franklin Diaz, dances I wouldn’t have been brave enough to ask for if I hadn’t been inspired to push myself over all these years.

So to find someone who inspires me to create art – images that convey a feeling, emotions, thoughts – is welcome and scary all at once.  Art has not been a way for me to communicate how I feel.  Until now, writing was that channel.  Now, art has become an outlet, in a way that words aren’t.  I’ve spoken with poets, and this feels like their descriptions of writing poetry – using words to shape a feeling, sensation, experience – an urge I’ve rarely encountered.  But now I feel compelled to release that desire to express…something…through drawing.

I’m not entirely certain how the whole “muse” thing works, but I suppose this is part of it.  They bring energy, alien patterns and dynamics, that demand a response, but the old responses aren’t strong enough, or subtle enough, or bold enough, so I look for alternatives.  How else can I interact with this experience?  How can I hold it, let it go, integrate or spit it out?  Do I hold myself in safety, or expose my vulnerability to risk?  All these questions – unanswerable, rhetorical maybe, but each a challenge to how I see, feel, and think about myself.

It amuses me to think that I’m just the latest in an infinite line of humans, of artists who have struggled to understand the nature and sense of inspiration.  Finding novelty in something as old and well-worn as the creative urge is both precious and fleeting.  I believe the work now is to make the effort to enjoy this time, and whatever it brings.

All-SM

Arrogance

Art/Images, Creative, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

I looked up the word arrogance before writing this post, just to make sure I had selected the correct word.  I’m not convinced it’s the right word, but I can’t think of one better so here we are.  When I started believing I could write about my experience working in prison, I knew (intellectually) it would be a challenge.  Although I have extensive experience in technical and business writing, curriculum development, reflective and academic writing, I have ZERO experience in creative fiction, nonfiction, or memoir.  I knew I was venturing into unknown territory but I’m not the first to do so, nor will I be the last.

One of my reasons for venturing into this wilderness is my tendency to get distracted by intellect, and I often think about this in relationship to dancing. Years ago, I made a clear and specific decision that I wasn’t interested in pursuing the more technical aspects of dance.  I’m a social dancer, I like to experiment and explore, going far outside the choreography and “normal” movement and shapes.  In more recent conversations, I realize that this is a an advanced approach to dance, if not a truly “complete” approach.  The greatest dancers are those who challenge themselves technically, as well as artistically, and I’ve long since left the road to technique.

I made this decision because dance is one of the only places in my life where my brain is OFF.  The minute I start concerning myself with technique (Am I a fast enough spinner?  Are my arms straight?  Am I pointing my toe enough? Are my shine patterns symmetrical?), I am out of my heart and body and into my head.  I’ve got enough technique and body control that I can forget about it and simply enjoy the music, movement, and connection with my partner.  THAT is what I crave in dance – not greater technique or an extensive repertoire – even those things are wonderful.  This is what I thought I could transfer into my writing, this sense of being grounded enough in the technical that I could focus solely on the story.

Because I have a solid grounding in writing technique, even if it is largely informal, I thought I had a decent chance at putting together a story people would want to read.  I wasn’t naive enough to think it would be perfect, but I did feel I was competent.  As of today, that feeling has entirely evaporated.   I realize this is probably a normal part of the process for any writer, but I am keenly feeling my lack of formal training, experience in creative writing and storytelling, and in the craft itself.  I’ve realized that the “how” of storytelling – all the decisions about timeline, details, organization, setting (you know – all the things that make up a story) – is not some magic combination of luck and brilliance, it is grounded in technique and exposure and work work work.

I’m not sure I was arrogant when I began this project but I definitely didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Today, my lack of confidence is showing up as “what made you think you could do this?  you don’t know shit about writing anything other than program outlines and lesson plans?  how could you be so disrespectful of all those people who have spent years learning the craft by thinking you could just sit down and pound out something decent – with no experience or training?  who do you think you are?”

I realized recently that I have several well-known, well-respected authors and storytellers in my bigger circle of acquaintances and I cringe when I think about my arrogance.  They’ve spent *years* working and perfecting their crafts and I think I can come along in a few months and produce a top quality piece of work?  Even though I’m posting this online, I’m kind of hoping none of them read it (I’m pretty sure none will) – I don’t want them to know how clueless I really am.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this feeling, this terrible and crippling lack of confidence, is another obstacle to overcome, another block on the road to shipping.  It’s an unexpected and unfamiliar feeling – this lack of confidence with regard to writing, with regard to work.  I’ve been confident in my ability to complete, to execute, to ship, for years and years.  Even when I was unemployed and desperate, I was still able to scrabble together enough gigs to limp along – I was still able to make things happen.

But I can’t “make” this happen, and that is an unknown, uncomfortable feeling.  I can’t brain-muscle my way through, force the words I know are “right,” or build an outline and follow the bread crumbs backwards.  None of those things are working, and they’re the majority of my toolkit.  My unconscious competence isn’t unconscious anymore, and my skillset needs to change and grow.  I’m afraid that learning what I need to learn (or think I do) will take too long, that I’ll never get it done or the story will no longer be relevant.

As I typed that, my head realized that it’s nonsense but my heart still feels afraid and worried.  I drew this a week or two ago, on a really really bad day.  Today isn’t that bad and writing this post helped.

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Vacation Time

Creative, Laughter, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Uncategorized, Writing

The last two months have been a combination of incredibly stressful and oddly blissful.  I unexpectedly lost my job, have started to revitalize the toxic wasteland prison life created in my soul, have found space and time for creative endeavors, socializing, and even an occasional date.  Despite all of these unexpected benefits or, perhaps, because of them, I found myself freaking out on more than one occasion.  To clarify – the freakouts happened INSIDE my head, which makes me quite proud.  Because no one wants that level of crazy happening In Real Life – no one.

Last week, the level of Inside Insanity reached a new height and I decided that I Had Had Enough.  The rampaging, never-ending merry-go-round of ruminations, fears, projections, assumptions, worst case scenarios, *every* case scenarios, and constant attempts to foresee every possible circumstance in order to have a defense ready was O.V.E.R.  I was lying (or laying) in bed and could feel my brain juices whirling around and around and around and around, the spin cycle on the washer going fasterfasterfasterfaster until everything disintegrated.

So I decided to send Fear on a vacation.

I very gently told poor, shivering, nearly senseless Fear that she could take some time off, get a tan, drink some margaritas, and enjoy white sand and blue oceans for a while.  “I’ll keep things going while you’re on break” I assured her, stroking her sweaty, crusty hair, “It’ll be okay, we can get along for a bit without you.”  She was reluctant, and it took a few days and several false starts, but she eventually headed out, luggage in tow.  She’s dropped an occasional postcard, but it seems that taking some time for herself was just what we all needed.

And holy shit is my life better.  Sending that cray cray on vacay was the best decision I’ve made in a LONG time! Not that she isn’t helpful from time to time, and I know she has my survival and protection always on her mind, but DAMN – that girl can freak the fuck out like nobody’s business!

I know she’ll come back eventually, probably when the next new thing comes along, but I believe our time apart is making our relationship more healthy.  I know I feel more capable of setting good boundaries with her, not letting her get so caught up that she’s not giving anyone else a chance to take the wheel.  She means well, but she’s high maintenance and I just don’t have time for that right now.  Here’s to hoping the vacation lasts a long long time.

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Three dark blondes

Creative, Life, Random Observations, Uncategorized, Writing

I’m sitting in a bubble tea shop in the Pacific Northwest and watching a woman and her two daughters.  They all have the same dark blonde hair, the youngest has lighter, cornsilky streaks. Mom seems distracted and remote, checking her phone and not interacting much.  The girls speak to each other, quietly.  The older girl and the mother are quite serious, but the younger one looks like she’s not loving the “how to be serious” lessons the older two are laying down.  I’m guessing she’s a much more playful child, but mom and older sis aren’t having it.  I’ve been casually watching them for probably 20 minutes, and I’m not sure they’ve smiled once.

My interest in people-watching is moderate, but I know some people truly love it.  There are times when it’s interesting, and the part I enjoy is imagining some type of interaction, their response to interruption.  This trio caught my eye because of their hair, and their collective demeanor.  I wanted to take a picture of them, capture their gravity and likeness, but it was too much of  an intrusion into their unknown world.

Conversations with Life, #1

Creative, It's Personal, Life, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Life,

My name is M and I’m a middle-aged single woman who chose not to have children.  I have a wonderful group of friends, work I care about and am good at, access to lots of social activities, a living wage job with an ethical employer, and a safe, beautiful place to live.  As I type all those things, I wonder why the hell I’m writing you, but I’m doing it anyway because I feel trapped and dissatisfied and I need guidance.

Feeling trapped and dissatisfied, in turn, makes me feel like a bad, ungrateful person so let’s say right now, for all future conversations, I’m grateful for what I have, but I want more.  I crave more, and I’m trying to create a path that integrates gratitude and desire.

How do I do that?

Dear M,

I don’t know.  No one does.  All the big brains and hearts and voices have been trying to figure it out since you had more than one cell to rub together.  Remember, I’m only an anthropomorphic idea you decided to write to, I don’t know much beyond what you know, but I’ll offer you this image:

When I look at a person, I don’t see the physical body that you see.  What I see is a light surrounded by an infinite number of intricate layers – like those Chinese lanterns with all the patterns?  Those are all meshed together – thick, thin, lacy, solid, dark, light, permeable, fluid, rigid, and so on.  The light shines out, but it has to make its way through all those layers, through the little chinks and cracks where the gaps line up.

Every so often, everything lines up perfectly and a lot of light gets out – that’s when you get those transcendent pieces of creation or messages that endure and survive and inspire for hundreds and hundreds of years.

I’m telling you this because the desire you feel is to shine more of that light.  You crave the sensation of having more and more clear space for that inner light to expose itself, to shine on the world around you.  It’s what all humans want – it’s the reason you are here.

There is no difference in experiencing immense gratitude for the light that already shines, and desiring more of the same.  That desire is what leads you forward, and inspires you to be more fully yourself.  And that is where the magic happens.

Always,

Life

TEDx comes to prison

Change/Transformation, Corrections, Creative, Reflection, Social Justice, Uncategorized

There have been a number of TEDx events in prisons, both in the US and internationally.  Now, TEDx is coming to Oregon.  More specifically, it’s coming to Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Oregon’s women’s prison.  I and six of my students are auditioning, I feel confident I’ll see at least two of them onstage.  Their audition pieces are stellar, and they’ve been working on them nonstop.  I did my audition early because I’m out of town next week, here’s the video.

I wrote the piece for this blog several months ago.  I wanted to do something else, but simply didn’t have time to create and polish something entirely new.  I hope it’s good enough to make it through to the end, but I’ll be even more happy if some of my students make it.  I can always audition for another TEDx event, this may be their best shot for a long time.  GO STUDENTS!!

Everyday loneliness

Creative, Uncategorized, Writing

One

The minutiae of the every day
overwhelms my being
I can’t
let
it
go.
it has no Exit
there are no signs to show it out
no words outlining its path to freedom

I am trapped by my own experience
thrashing, longing
for the simple kindness of someone
else

Two

I want to share myself with others
but there is no room
for my mistakes,
the common ugliness
anger, blame, bitterness
all part of who I am

hidden from disinterested eyes
bottled
tucked away
they get the good stuff

I live alone
with everything else

Three

There is room only for coffee shop conversations
fleeting and surface, full of humor and wit, or intensely moving stories
of suffering and beauty
no space for talk about the officemate I can’t stand,
my loneliness and self-imposed restrictions,
feeling unappreciated and overlooked, invisible

forced laughs when it gets too close to my everyday pettiness,
making sure my “attitude of gratitude” shows; that I know how good I got it.

I see the silver linings and own my feelings, not making them someone else’s responsibility
or burden

there is no place for my regularness to show itself; my not-reasonable human-ness is not-welcome.

I am caught in my own hall of mirrors, the sole reflection. My throat bulges, stretched with all the unacceptable, indigestible me

Four

“No one likes a complainer”
they say
but what they mean
is that no one wants to find out
why they complain.
the real reason
the bleakness that lies underneath

It’s too hard
to bear someone else’s daily grief
with our own so ever-present