Love Each Other & Destroy Culture: Keith Backhaus Talks To Me About Rituals, Writing, and Making Books



I, Dagger by Keith Backhaus

Keith Backhaus was teaching conjure magic under the guise of facilitating a workshop for writers. I found him listed in the catalog alongside the title: DIScourse: Mysticism, Allegory, and the Adversarial in Writing Practice. I read the title again and probably again, it was a kind of fate and I knew that much.

The lesson was an experience. We were charged by the topics we covered and talked  happily over one another even though we were missing dinner service. Of course, that is what we all came for anyway; a dose of the medicine that affirms life and creation and manages to hold the truth that our worst fears are utterly applicable. It is a special kind of medicine, a terribly rare potion, honestly.

Keith Backhaus carries himself with the confidence of a man who simply does not care what other people think or what other people fear. His presence is both compelling and endearing. As a writer and a teacher, Keith openly invites us into his thoughts and his complicated renderings of what it means to be human, he just doesn’t care if you approve. It stands out as an aspect of his person because for Keith Backhaus this is real, not a posture to throw you off guard. In a world that worships popularity, Keith Backhaus leans outside of the paradigm and questions the verisimilitude within our desires.

 If we are to exist at all, we must tell our stories beyond the purview of the colonists, the conquerors of the human spirit, the money changers through time. To exist at all, we must determine our own value and from there, our own lives. To exist at all, we must conjure ourselves where we stand, every day.

Enjoy these words. Absorb this medicine.


Keith Backhaus

Michelle Embree: What did you first begin with in creating? When you were a kid, what did you start doing first?

Keith Backhaus: Well, quite honestly my first artistic memory doesn’t truly come from my own experience. Both my mother and father are artists (among other things), a painter and a musician respectively. So I can honestly say it is a kind of messy splatter of color and sound–very likely a kind of bricolage experience that first characterized what ‘art’ would be for me. Myself, I did not have a knack for art when I was younger…I spent most of my time playing in the woods or the dirt looking for bugs and other things that crawled/flew/etc.

Most of my ‘makings’ were stories filled with these beings–to me, that miniature world was so much larger than my own. I can remember wanting to be small all the way back to my very first experiences. The first tangible object that I truly remember was a book that I wrote in 4th grade (I think)–it was for a bookmaking project–mine was about monsters; everything for me is about monsters if you get right down to it.

Michelle: Did you ever get other people involved in the stories you made up about


I, Dagger by Keith Backhaus


Keith: Absolutely. In fact, that collaborative experience is the foundation of all the art that I make. It was that very same year that one of my friends from school (prompted and introduced by older brothers) began to play Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (2nd Edition) with me. Those experiences have continued through the present day, and friends of mine and I still regularly get together to ‘tell stories’ together in that uniquely participatory and fluid manner.

At any given time, I am likely involved in at least a few ‘games.’I think, in a way, that process of game-making becomes a kind of predictive/reactive space not unlike the work you do with tarot/i-ching etc. Both, I think, have a foundation in that connective space that exists between participants.

Michelle: When you start a process of writing a story with multiple authors, where does it begin, what might that process look like?

Keith: Well I think ultimately that entire structure has a number of factors that are somewhat difficult to quantify. I think the stories that are created in the process of the lived-experience of a ‘game’ and a story that one deliberately attempts to fabricate alongside another author are two different animals. And these, of course, separate from the stories created when any thinking or living beings decide to exist in consensus-reality.

Books, that is, formal stories that have been codified for ritual purpose and these begin with the shared act–the decision ‘to make’ with set purpose. In ‘game’ the process is much more messy, as the experience of the making and the making coexist in real-time in a different way; they layer multiple perspectives both within the story and within the process itself. 



Axiom Radnor: Year One by Keith Backhaus & Meghan Guidry

For me, I’ve always been interested in collaborative work despite the pitfalls and the seeming disinterest in the literary community, and I got to realize that process more fully working with my dear friend Meghan Guidry–our collaborative work  Axiom Radnor: Year One explored a world-making process as essentially reactive: a kind of call-and-response process that changed the world as we wrote it. I think that was as close as I’ve ever gotten to recreating that more dynamic story-making.

I think it is necessary to formalize the process of living in ritual–writing a book is just one way of accomplishing that.

Michelle: Tell me a little about Meghan Guidry and give me an idea of what small things happened in the process, this call and response? Were you working by e-mail or from shared files, how did it work in a practical sense?

Keith: Meghan has been with me since the earliest beginnings of the press (Empty City Press).  Probably the most innately empathetic human being I have ever met, Meghan knows how to really dig down to the very depths of human experience; she and I exist on the same ‘plane’ but move very differently–our worldviews are not drastically different in tone, but our operation in them is a pretty serious contrast.  We complement one another very well emotionally/spiritually and consistently challenge one another intellectually.  I would not have been able to write what I’ve been able to write without her.

 She has two manuscripts currently in process that will be put out through Empty City Press.  Both are going to blow people away, and I am not a person prone to hyperbolic p.r. garbage.  Our first true connection came by the way of a shared project.  Meghan, myself, and fellow Goddard alums Michael Dobos and Daniel Heacox embarked on a rather ambitious collaborative project–what would later become Axiom Radnor.  Meghan and I had been orbiting one another for a year or so at Goddard; we were part of different cliques, but had some tangential meetings due to the fact that we were both working within speculative fiction (though I would say in the amorphous edges).  She had a similar interest in rigorous language and the construction of complex ‘puzzles’ and so it seemed natural.  

I did not want to tackle publishing without some confidants, and the idea of a shared work that would keep each member accountable really appealed to me.  We set up a plan to essentially do a serial.  Each week we would all put up a post.  Those posts would immediately become canon; the only rule was that we could never directly jump into another’s story–everything that touched would be at the barest edges, or to display the ripples that happened from the narratives.  Thus, for the next week, I would have to respond to what my friends had put up…  This meant that if there was a bar on ‘x street’ then that was to be so for the remainder of the project.  If someone burns down that bar, then that was to be the new reality.  But it could also play out in more subtle ways–the fashion in which different characters and narratives (for the narratives themselves build a kind of gestalt perspective) perceive that same event and respond to it.

 The possibilities really did feel endless, and we really pushed one another.  Thus, we had


Axiom Radner: Year One by Keith Backhaus & Meghan Guidry

a constantly reflexive setting that responded to the stories more or less as they happened. Daniel and Michael unfortunately had to drop out due to a variety of life-factors (though who knows, we may be able to release some of their contributions in a volume of ephemera someday), but Meghan and I kept the process going whilst spending copious time on gchat hashing out world-rules and the philosophic principles behind the narratives.  And I mean copious time.

There is actually an entire second volume that has not yet been published; I still bug Meghan about it now and again, but I think in some ways she may feel she has grown past Radnor as a space, which is totally fair–it was a very temporal experience I think.  Someday I’ll be able to convince her and we’ll release a really badass omnibus volume of both years alongside extra materials.  The original plan was to make the whole project a massive multimedia experience with soundtracks played by friends’ band projects etc etc.  It would be awesome to return to the decaying city someday, or even to work with some other authors.

Michelle: The book as object, as a ritual object, just talk about that . . .



I, Dagger by Keith Backhaus

Keith: Well I’ll start with something silly… Which is, I’m sort of nuts about books. The books that I own are kept in immaculate condition; I let no one touch them. I clean and arrange them regularly. I think of them as loved ones essentially, which likely makes me some kind of psychopath. But consider this, I guess: if we can indeed prove (as we have) that emotions/thought/etc have direct physical manifestation (whether biochemical or physical in the ‘physics’ sort of way) in the world, then clearly intention does as well, as does the somewhat shakier idea of connection. People tend to get on their high horses about so called possessions as indicative of all the damage bourgeois values have inflicted on culture, but those possessions carry weight. This weight is all the more serious if you infuse your being into those objects. Is your boyfriend really more important than that beloved stuffed animal from childhood? What about that bicycle that carries you to safety every day? I have lived in books for much of my life, and I don’t identify or define my life by what I find in them, but I do recognize their significance in the shaping of myself and the necessary sacrifices made in order to infuse them WITH that meaning. But that’s the silly.

I think ultimately a book acts as a very important conduit. I wrote about this in a recent essay for the Grey Alley anthology… Essentially a book is a fetish–not in the sexual sense, but the classification of idol/spiritual conduit that is both symbol AND thing. It is a space we briefly enter/occupy and that occupies us–it is a kind of mutual possession (do we not love the double meanings here?) that reifies our world.

Books are a way for us to view our own perspective with at least the illusion of difference. This is because we can offer a fragment of ourselves to a book or other ritual object in a way that we cannot with another person–that other person’s personhood gets in the way–we become preoccupied in colonizing or being colonized by their perspective. We cannot truly explore our own. A book allows for us to read ourselves–and that is the key, for reading is an exercise in transformation–of TRYING to separate the symbol and the thing WHILE TRYING to unify them. It is about as dynamic experience as a human being can have. In formalizing it, in giving it clear edges (which is important to us all not going out and trying to be Ishmael or what have you) we briefly occupy a space as creator and experiencer both–reflecting the divine experience.

Michelle: I follow. That is all very true, our need to enact our will in a space that leaves others to their own lives/selves, it is the biggest story of our own moment in time. It is a clear rendering of a major imbalance in our interacting and it has solutions, the endless technology of story. The idea that we are in need of formalizing our social rituals, this is a key in my life right now. What I go to do, whether it is reading stories that I write or leading workshops, I realize at some point in the prep that I have to go have this experience in this room with these people. It’s a ritual disguised as something else. I realize that I have to set up the magical aspects and step away, so to speak. I’m just doing it suddenly. What experiences do you have like this and what are some of your general thoughts; people are starving for ritual, for ritualized devices that will free us to acknowledge the stories we are playing out, or, that is one part. People are starving for ritual .

Keith: I could not agree more. I mean the evidence for this frantic desire is all around us:


I, Dagger by Keith Backhaus

we consistently watch ourselves and watch others doing the watching. I mean we could get into the whole photographic gaze conversation, but I imagine most have an understanding of that. More disturbing, I think, than the realities of that penetrating gaze is the manifestation of ready-made as the real–the hyperreal as not a theoretic space but instead as the lived space. We have been infected with a desire that cannot be fulfilled–we seek to duplicate experiences endlessly in order to escape what we perceive as time. The duplication of reality has become the norm for memory. The notion that we can preserve a duplicate reality removes the totality of reality itself–a dangerous prospect I think.

If we remove the totality, however, it becomes much easier to ascribe varying states of value…and thus sell reality–to each other, to ourselves, to reality as brokers. Ritual is quite the opposite of ownership, and yet it has been ruthlessly redirected for that purpose. ‘OUR’ memories, ‘MY’ ‘space’ etc etc There was a period when I really fought with these ideas in a violently directed fashion–two music projects that really sought to subvert and redirect the readymade by breaking it into caricature. Unfortunately, the scary thing about the nature of those ‘discussions’ is that they happen on terms that we as individuals can’t control. The buzzword version is: Capitalism is so deep in everything that infinity itself is a commodity.

I think the attempt at ‘just doing it’ is as close as we can get–and you use a very important term–magic. If we think of the importance of ritual and magic, they are about expansion–our culture is obsessed with reduction.

Michelle: Yes. All of it yes. I appreciate your take on redundancy, that we do it to stop time. I love that. I take redundancy to be the deepest expression of the fear of being wrong. Nostalgia, we know it, AND if we just keep doing it, time stands still. Wow. I’ll be thinking about that for awhile. Infinity as a commodity, it’s true. Infinity as an entity will have to resist, break free. See if you can isolate one thing that desperately needs a ritual. For me, it is adulthood initiations. I feel like I needed several, 13, 16, 23 . . . something like that. What from your life do you feel the loss of ritual surrounding it?

Keith: Well I think there is something that needs a more complete ritual–and that is an actual affirmation of the completeness of suffering or hurt. Part of this commodification process is the notion that one can compartmentalize life and ‘move past’ things–our culture is obsessed with healing, and completely uninterested in investigating hurt. We investigate it to SOLVE it, but never really come to grips with its inevitability and ubiquity. We ignore it, essentially saying ‘suffering is banal’ when it may be the only thing that we can actually use as a true conduit.



Keith Backhaus

So I think the adulthood initiations is absolutely emblematic of that–we move through life in stages, as we experience, reflect and learn. But learning isn’t moving past, its moving with–I think we need to ritualize or come to commune with our hurts. Not to attune with them, but to keep them as part of our own dialogue.

For me I think, I wish I had taken the time to really slow down and realize the importance of loss in terms of space. I think a lot of the moves that we perform physically in our lives take on significance out of difference, but not out of loss. Even if you hated where you were, that motion reverberates in perpetuity through infinity…if you don’t recognize it, you do not even have the benefit of perspective within that infinity–you’re drifting without purpose.

Place is crucial to the understanding of self, and people tend to imagine it as static, rather than a process that occurs alongside our occupancy. Love where you live (even if you hate it)–recognize that connection.

Michelle: The latest book is I, Dagger. Tell me what you mean when you talk about consciousness as a dis-reality. When I read those words, I think of how much information we assume, impose, infer, expect. I think of how we fill in visual blanks with what we know. What are you getting at in this work?

Keith: Well I think you’re on to something there, in that there is a kind of innate confrontation going on when we experience anything–a kind of conflict between the self and these other things–the things that make up consensus reality or experiential circumstance. I think, perhaps in direct conflict with many of my colleagues, that we should not attempt to reduce this dissonance, but instead push it. The ‘dis’ is kind of an inside joke in a way–in the punk community dis takes on a direct role as an adversarial principle and you can find it placed alongside pretty much any other term. It is used in much the same way as ‘anti’ and serves to provide a kind of knowing wink and stance all at once.

As I outline in an essay before ‘A Fitting Epilogue’–my ‘big’ novel–consciousness itself

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A Fitting Epilogue by Keith Backhaus

as a precept naturally defies divinity. It ‘kills’ it in a sense–we are all born as a kind of luciferian cognate and it is our duty as sentient beings to try and destroy the divine, or merge with it…I think it’s ultimately a choice…but I like having a self, I guess? So I’m going to kill it. It for me is reality itself. That’s why I work in the much maligned (at least in the literary world) genre of ‘fantasy.’ I have absolutely no interest in consensus reality whatsoever; like all reasonable people, however, I fake it in order to function in culture.

The work itself has a bit more of a pointed purpose, but I think that it was the next step in my outlined purpose before ‘Epilogue’ to use fiction to hurt reality.

Michelle: The future is a myth. That is part of the description for I, Dagger on the Empty City Press page, is that the more pointed purpose? Are we in a kind of delusion about what we are truly doing in daily life? I get you on the consensus reality. When I hear someone say something along the lines of: “Well, medical research is always going to benefit the pharmaceutical companies.” I have this shock reaction to that because I know the point of the statement, said with a kind of shrug, is to prevent themselves from attack as an idealist, that the statement is intended to assert their personal reasonableness among other things, but for me, I feel, well, shocked. Disappointed. I feel the future weakened under statements of that sort. We do live in a delusion. Why is the future a myth?



I, Dagger by Keith Backhaus

Keith: Well I think that you’ve hit the real zeitgeist (yes, I did in fact do that…we can all be embarrassed) for the early 21st century in all of its postmodern angst. We have gotten to the point where we recognize the necessity for extremes within ourselves but we dare not live them. Instead people just want to be spider-man or whatever. And I don’t mean want to BE spiderman, but want to entertain the idea of being spider man. Actually being anything terrifies pretty much everyone, myself included.

Instead of being we name constructs and claim those as being: ‘oh I’m progressive’ or ‘I’m a lawyer’–whatever it happens to be. Identity politics as the hallmark of our era, and the nature of identity is division. That way we don’t dare have to be anything, we can just step into these neatly bounded suits. Being requires vulnerability and nakedness. Assuming a mantle is nothing more than building a wall out of insecurity.

So I think that’s it, Michelle, so many people desire those ideals, but we’ve learned to bound ourselves. I mean there is something to be said for community, I’m not arguing against the importance of those labels for how people see themselves…just that we have allowed those lenses to be HOW we see. People tend to think of the Panopticon as a construction of social and temporal power, but I think it is a much deeper, more insidious device. For me, the statement ‘the future is a myth’ has to do with the nature of suffering and how we more or less constantly attempt to reach into/extrapolate into the future and we never can. It’s that desire for being that will never be being because we have to reach into the future to grasp it.

Michelle: It is vulnerable to be something, to be someone. I’ll be thinking a great deal

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A Fitting Epilogue by Keith Backhaus

about what you are saying here, the extra abstraction you are getting at. That we don’t even want to be Rock Stars anymore, we want to entertain that idea. Wow. It can just keep going. I want to entertain the idea of entertaining the idea of entertaining the idea of being a Rock Star. It’s deep.  We do imagine the future without suffering, and so it can never truly be. I get that. What is the outline you made Before A Fitting Epilogue. Are you outlining where you want you overall trajectory of work to take you? Is writing a kind of experience that lifts you over your own sense of limits?

Keith: Well first off–wow, yes. I think that the rockstar example works super well. The idea of the infinite regression is pretty accurate I think, as it mirrors how we think, right? I touch on that in I, Dagger in that awareness itself cannot be removed from the awareness of that awareness etc. And I’m in the same spot…is it a fact, or is it a sort of societal nurturing. I like that! Hah…well as for an outline for A Fitting Epilogue there was none. I had no idea what was going to happen.

In order for the book to work I had to walk alongside Salvador (the main character) the whole way; I did, however, know where he was to be by the end…as the conception for the follow up work (many many many years away) was concurrent. But in terms of ideological focus, I think so. I mean, I’ve always had grand plans for the work--in a pie in the sky sort of way that entire book was to be only a single chapter in a much larger conceptual work…a work that would come out (if all the ‘chapters’ were equal) at around 84,000 pages? And then I wanted to do a set of encyclopedias written ‘in world’ as accompaniment?

But I have to eat and sleep and be a human…so no dice. I could, by then, have immersed myself so completely into the world of the books so as to remove myself completely from this one, or at least that was/is the hope. An analogue virtual reality if you will. I wish writing could get me to where you allude, but I find writing extremely taxing and demanding, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. If anything, the act makes me feel very small and very limited–that may be why I write about fantastic spaces.

Michelle: Writing is physically taxing and, yes, feeling like a tiny, gnat seems to be part of it. I have a moment from time to time where I am exalted by the act, but when I look at it later– it is senseless and possibly even illegible and scribbled in colored pencil on my desk pad. Honestly, those bits of writing will always be my favorite even though I throw them away and don’t remember what it meant when I did it, like dreaming or channeling. Which of your books should a new reader choose first?



The Grey Alley Vol.1 Curated by Keith Backhaus

Keith: Channeling is precisely it. Channeling our true selves–those unbounded things that exist around those constructions we make. Our spirits. It’s so wonderful that you can get to that space. I envy writers that regularly reach that space–for me, that is a very, very rare occurrence. Nihilism has its limits hahah. In terms of my work…heh, I think any of my current readers would be pretty quick to say that I’m an acquired taste, as my style borders on decadence and all of my works tend to be long, deliberately printed in small font, and well, let’s face it, a little hateful of pretty much all of reality. In all honesty, I think a safe bet would be to check out the anthology I curated entitled The Grey Alley Vol. 1–I have a short piece in there that pretty well sets up my stylistic sensibilities; by doing this, readers that feel nauseated by the end can simply turn the page and read someone else’s work! There are numerous very talented folks in the anthology, and I stand by them.


Michelle: You work with a publishing imprint; Empty City Press. Tell me a little about that project and what you are releasing into the world through it.

Keith: Empty City Press is part of a larger lived position for me, so I apologize if I grow a bit less erudite and a bit more ‘mouthy.’  I suppose I should not beat around the bush regarding these things…  I am an anti-capitalist anarcho-individualist (and here I just got finished talking about identity politics hah!).  I take that as seriously as I can, separating myself from the damaging portions of culture around me as much as humanly possible without living in a shack and becoming a cannibal (though someday, god-willing…).

Empty City Press began to breed in my mind after a number of conversations I had while at Goddard with the very talented faculty there.  All of those conversations and wonderful people were extremely helpful, what I needed to hear, and a little harsh for me emotionally at the time…  They boiled down to ‘Keith…no.’  

My writing isn’t marketable, my identity isn’t marketable.  I am precisely the sort of author that is not going to appeal to most, and I certainly won’t sell to the general public.  And I saw all around me folks that were incredibly talented being told ‘no’ again and again–and they weren’t even writing anti-culture, existentialist fantasy!  

Even those that got ‘yes’ seemed to get hammered with ‘no’ right after.  It was (and is)

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Keith Bachaus

total bullshit.  Consider these realities…  Major publishers make millions of dollars a year.  They take what, something like 95% of the profits of the book sales?  And what is it that they do FOR authors?  Promote them?  After that first ‘hit’–the author’s name promotes their work better than any sales campaign or interview where they are paraded around as some kind of celebrity.  Their work, ultimately, promotes them.

The art world is full of middlemen (critics are included in this scumbag universe) who profit from producers…artists.  They profit from pushing papers around and being ‘people people’–making ‘deals’ (whatever the fuck that means).  You make something, and some slick asshole in chinos and a tie or a tailored pantsuit is going to smile, go to a few luncheons and make you a ‘star’–for who?  For them.

I mean that’s just the microcosm; the same principle applies to culture itself–people can even be tricked into becoming middlemen for themselves.  Small presses, however well-intentioned, can also fall into this trap as they grow.  I didn’t want a part of any of it.  I want to write books.  I don’t want to keep a promotional blog.  I don’t want to post shit on social media to try and stay ‘visible’ or ‘relevant.’  I don’t want to go to fucking luncheons and have some false human being tell me they ‘care’ about my work.



The Grey Alley: Vol. 1 Curated by Keith Backhaus

I want to write books.  So that’s what I’m doing.  Other, like-minded authors have joined me, and the press allows them to do that with minimum interference–it facilitates what THEY want to do, not what the ‘market’ dictates.  The press, while run by me, is essentially driven by our members.  You set the price for your books, you decide the content, you make the marketing decisions you want to make.  We are here to help, as a collective–help support one another’s work, help to collaborate and just well…be human beings to each other, not commodities.  Not vectors for money.  There’s no ‘angle,’ no ‘strategy;’ I try to minimize that ‘public’ business speech that people have ALLOWED to somehow hijack our interactions.


 It’s time people start to consider others, and yes, even themselves as people–that’s where value stems from; the fact that authors/artists/performers of all sorts are even the slightest bit concerned about ‘making a living’ doing what they do disgusts me.  Stop thinking about ‘making’ a living.  Live.  We will not change anything from within.  Reform is a convenient, paternalist platitude that comes to us from existing power structures.

 It is not enough to take that power and give it back to the people.  Who has the power isn’t the problem; all human beings are equally exalted and equally garbage.  The notion of ‘power’ itself is the problem.  Write books.  Love each other.  Destroy culture at every opportunity.               

Michelle: Thank you so much for spending some time talking with me. These subjects are truly inspiring for everything I am making right now. We need conversations that make us think. It matters. Thanks for the words, Keith Backhaus.

(More artists and healers and freaks like Keith Backhaus will be having conversations here with me. If YOU LIKE IT, SUBSCRIBE to it and share it with others who need these words today.)



I, Dagger by Keith Backhaus


Check out the new title from Keith Backhaus: I, Dagger



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Keith Backhaus


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Bread And Story: Savannah Reich Talks To Me About Making Theater At your House

Photo Credit Carly Bales.3

Savannah Reich Photo by Carly Bales

This conversation between Savannah Reich and myself actually begins in 2010. This conversation begins because of something that happened in a room behind a record store called Static Age in Asheville, North Carolina. It was a one act play titled  Fanciness VS. The Void. And I was lucky enough to see it.

The story was set on a boat on the Ocean, a boat forever adrift with its little cast of characters. The whole scene was completely vast and that is what I remember even though I know it actually happened in a darkened room behind a vinyl record store, it felt completely vast.

In December of 2015 I have the fortune to witness Toby Johnson Was My Best Friend In Junior  High School . Savannah Reich, Lauren Anderson, and Jon Mac Cole, brought this storytelling adventure through a cold city of St. Louis and we remain grateful.

The show happened in Pete McAvity’s dinning room and it is a permanent memory for me, maybe for all of us who were there. Ten to fifteen people arrive to share an evening of story telling and story making. It was a night of genuine experience. The show holds something of value and what that is exactly is what I feel curious to explore.

I can tell you a few of the things we did: we read from mini-scripts, heard the sad tale of

photo credit Carly Bales

Lauren Anderson in Performance Photo by Carly Bales

two sardines who broke up right next to each other in the can. We mourned the loss of a man’s dreams and listened to the woes his enemies gave him. We sang Bohemian Rhapsody and it wasn’t really ironic. We thought about where we belonged in the world and we ate food.

We became a community of witnesses to this event. We invested our trust and something special happened. We were entertained. We laughed. We sang. We vented. We socialized, we were fed. There was a sense of something being completed. I know I won’t forget it. I learned something and I can’t exactly explain it, but I know I’ll think of it again and again.

With years of experience in making collaborative projects and terrific theater happen already behind her, Savannah Reich earned her MFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 2015.

I love the words Savannah uses to talk about the over-lapping subjects of making art and ritual, of writing scripts and finding stories, of taking the steps to make these gems happen in real time. This conversation is pure fuel.

ENJOY . . .


Photo Credit Carly Bales.3

Savannah Reich in Performance Photo by Carly Bales

Michelle Embree: When did you start making things? How old were you and what were you doing? What got your attention first?

Savannah Reich: I know that I wrote a play when I was in second grade. I recently found some pieces of it in a box at my parents house, and a lot of it is in purple marker in my dad’s handwriting, so I definitely had some help. It was about orphans at an orphanage that is secretly run by witches who are turning orphans into chickens and eating them. I think I had seen the movie The Witches based on the Roald Dahl book. Similar idea. I don’t actually remember this but apparently the second grade class performed the play.

I wrote plays in high school, and in college, and then when I dropped out of college and was running around and going to punk shows, I wrote plays about that. I remember having periods of being like “I’m not going to do this any more because it is too hard/ too uncool/ too whatever” but those periods only lasted like six months and then I would go back to it.

Photo credit Savannah Reich.3

‘Toby Johnson’ in Performance Photo by Savannah Reich

Michelle: Tell me what you like about it best, why do you think you keep going back to theater?

Savannah: I have thought about this a lot recently because I’ve been doing some screenwriting, and I’m shocked by how different of a form it is.

Film and television is this totally different world from theater. Something I’ve been saying about it is that film feels story based to me. Like the basic unit of it is story, and the form of delivering the story is very important, but the basic relationship is that the film is telling the audience a story. And we love that, we need that.

Theater feels like something else to me. It contains story, but story isn’t the most important part of what it is. It’s more like ritual. It’s fulfilling the weird, specific human need to be together in a room in a group, watching this ritual that stands for our experience.

I don’t know why humans need that. I feel like I need it more than most. I need to do it all the time. If there was a religion where everyone in the congregation got to take a turn making up the service and leading everyone else through it, I think that would be a really good religion.

Michelle: I get the ritual and I get needing it. Bearing witness to one another. Just writing those few words feels emotional. I relate to the sense that I need it more than most– I relate to those words. We sit in the dark with one another’s heartbeats and something happens. I would love that church! So, let’s talk about  Toby Johnson Was My Best Friend In Junior High— how did you approach the writing, where did you start?


Photo Credit Lisa Channer. 2

Savannah Reich in Performance Photo by Lisa Channer

Savannah: Yeah! ‘Toby Johnson’ was written with those ideas really directly in mind, of course. It was inspired by a couple of things- 1, a play I love by Young Jean Lee called Church, and 2, a play by the Medium Company in Philly called Nobody’s Home. Morgan Andrews and Mason Rosenthal made this play where they went into different people’s bedrooms, and when they came to Pittsburgh they did the play in my bedroom.


There were about twelve to fifteen people there, and they all sat on the floor in my bedroom, and Mason sat on my bed and did this very strange, intimate, sad play. And I was so excited by that quality of “bearing witness” to each other- I love that phrase!- and that they could make something that was very funny and odd while having that kind of gentleness.

Church has the form of a church service, but the content is all jumbled. Partly nonsense and partly horrifying and funny and, although I haven’t seen it, I think it would be partly inspiring anyways. It seems like it would re-create the experience of going to church, how going to church feels to her.

So I started writing ‘Toby Johnson’ to re-create what a Passover Seder feels like to me. That includes feeling like Judaism is important to me, but also sort of foreign. I personally feel like Passover is all about the idea of being in a group, of belonging to a group, in this case, The Jews. And the Jews are only one of many groups that I belong to but also have mixed feelings of alienation / loyalty / resentment about.

Michelle: Right! You start ‘Toby Johnson’ by asking us to think about our groups. It is so effective, too. The whole piece is effective. When you did the show in St. Louis, I had never met half the people there and the other half went far back in my life but afterward, after we sang a Queen song together, after we made all these intentional acts of solidarity, I felt real love for the people I shared it with. I continue to feel it.

It is so exciting to hear you talk about these very interesting plays and the intimacy– that word– I was struck by the fact that sharing the actions we shared at ‘Toby Johhnson’ transcended any opinions or experiences that any of us may have had, the ideas we might hold are less important than the shared experience. What were some of your experiences with the show that stand out to you?

Photo Credit Savannah Reich.2

Lauren Anderson & Jon Mac Cole in Performance Photo by Savannah Reich

Savannah: I actually think about the St. Louis show a lot! There was that guy that told that very long, intimate story about his evolving politics right after dinner. I don’t want to share it because it isn’t my story, but it was so amazing, and I was thinking that I literally do not know this person’s name, but it feels very natural for us all to be sitting around and hearing about this personal / emotional experience he had, because we had committed to each other as a group.


We did the show a lot of times, I don’t remember the exact number- around twenty? So there were a lot of different groups and they all had different feelings to them. Some groups, you could tell they were not wanting to have this experience right now. Which is fine! The play asked a lot of people. There was one group where they were all really close friends, and two of the couples in the friend group had just broken up, and some people were going to have to move away, and everyone was feeling kind of raw and traumatized. So that group told me afterwards that the show was a little too appropriate to the situation. We all got really drunk that night.

In Asheville we all sang Christmas carols together after the show. In Detroit we did a show on Thanksgiving for six people. In Philly we had someone who only spoke French, and sometimes people would translate for her, and sometimes she would just sit and watch what was happening and smile even though she didn’t know the words. After that show a whole bunch of people crowded around her and started talking in French, and there ended up being a whole group conversation of people who had taken French in high school. We had a dance party after that night too. There were so many things that happened after that show that felt so funny and intimate, like we had known the people for a very long time, and I think it was because we had just done this thing together.

Photo credit Carly Bales.2

Jon Mac Cole & Lauren Anderson performing ‘Toby Johnson’ Photo by Carly Bales

Michelle: When you wrote ‘Toby Johnson’, or when you write in general, how does the script work go? Do you incorporate what the players/actors you work with are putting forward? How do you work as a group?

Savannah: Usually I like to come into rehearsal with a draft that feels like I have pushed it as far as I can on my own, but of course that doesn’t always happen. It always changes a lot in rehearsal.

For ‘Toby Johnson’ I worked really collaboratively with Jon Mac Cole and Lauren Anderson. I brought the piece in a sort of half baked state to Jon, and then we started doing workshop nights with invited test audiences at the Bedlam Studio space last summer.

After Lauren came on board, she was there at every workshop too, and we ended up re-writing the show a bunch because she is such an amazing performer that we wanted to give her more to do. So we would try it out, talk about it, and then I would go off and revise and try some new stuff and bring it back again. It was the only way I could figure out to write this show, since it is so participatory and game-based. We had to play the games and do the things with audience members to figure out how it was going to work.

I have worked with Jon for a really long time, and I definitely was writing with him in mind. He’s one of my favorite performers on the planet, this is our fifth tour together and it is easy to bounce ideas off each other.  Much of my aesthetic comes from stuff Jon was doing at Bedlam, from the work so many amazing artists were doing at Bedlam Theater when I first started working with them.

‘Toby Johnson’ is an Eternal Cult production, which is a name we are using to refer to any collaborations between Jon, me, Carly Wicks and Christopher Allen. Jon also is a wizard at coming up with lists of funny names.

We had a lot of friends and collaborators who came to the’ Toby Johnson’ workshops and

Photo credit Lisa Channer (1)

Jon Mac Cole, Savannah Reich, Lauren Anderson Photo by Lisa Channer

participated as test audiences, then told us what worked for them and what felt weird or uncomfortable in the wrong way. That was so helpful. Most shows I wouldn’t be comfortable crowd-sourcing like that, but for this show it felt really right.

Michelle: The performance is so special and that work with your co-players and audience is very much felt in the experience. What is next? What are you focused on now or what feels like it is brewing? I love these house shows and the feel they bring, the difference in culture making that comes from this type of traveling and performing. Do you have more ideas for working in that way?

Savannah: I do want to work that way again at some point, but I’m not sure when. My friend Samantha Johns once talked about going back and forth from directed scripted work and devising as “rotating the crops”, and I kind of feel like I need to rotate my crops. I love to create work with my friends and self-produce it (both because of the control it gives me and because it is really, really fun), but I also want to sometimes have work where I am just the writer and I have more of a traditional playwright’s role in the rehearsal room. So I am working on a piece like that right now- a “play-play” as they say.

We are also booking a Midwest mini-tour for Toby Johnson Was My Best Friend In High School at some point this summer. We’re going to do another week in Chicago and another week in Minneapolis. We’re really excited to get to do the show again.

Michelle: And you are venturing into screenwriting. I’ll be excited to see what you do with both.

What is something you would like to say to artists working right now to make work that fulfills the needs we have for creation– that is to say, artists working outside the restrictions of ‘art’for pay’– what do you need to hear? How can we validate one another at this moment in cultural history?

Savannah: I am struggling with this idea a lot right now. I am having conversations about

Photo Credit Savannah Reich

Jon Mac Cole in Performance Photo by Savannah Reich

it with so many different friends and artists, and none of us can explain it to each other or fix it for each other, and it’s so hard.


I just graduated with my MFA in playwriting, so I feel this new pressure to be “succeeding” in a different way than I was before I went to school. I am working full time for a decorative painting company right now. We do high end kitchen cabinets. And I feel like maybe there is something else that I am supposed to be doing, something more impressive, something that will make people think I am a “real artist”.

But we’re all just trying to make it work. I see people posting inspirational stuff on Facebook like, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”, but I honestly think that it’s more like Calvin-ball.

I feel like I could talk a lot about this but it’s all so fraught. And I am really conscious of the fact that other artists that I respect have made different choices than I have, and we all feel really defensive about our choices and I don’t want to seem like I am saying that I think any one way is the right way. I have dear friends right now that are in LA working to get into screenwriting. And they can make a good living from that. And I know wonderful people who have decided to divorce their art practice from their money making completely. And I haven’t figured any of that out for myself yet.

Photo Credit Willis Gilliard

Savannah Reich in Performance Photo by Willis Gilliard

Michelle: What you do is food. There is a wonderful bit from Barry Lopez in the voice of the Badger. Badger says something along these lines: “sometimes people need a story more than food to stay alive. We put these memories into one another, it is how we care for ourselves.”

This is what creation has always been, from stories, to rituals, to beautiful objects, we feed one another as spirits and as creators.

Thank you for what you are doing. In all the ways you choose to put creativity into the world. Thank you for coming through St. Louis and giving us all this moment of grace and story and connection, a moment of commitment to our own humanity.

It matters. Thank you for taking time to talk with me and I truly look forward to what you will do in the future and how you will inspire people to create and be better to themselves and each other. You do that, whether it is your intention or not. Thanks again.

Photo Credit Pete Mcavity

Savannah Reich, Lauren Anderson, Jon Mac Cole Photo by Pete McAvity

Savannah:  Thank you Michelle. That is the answer to “what do you need to hear”. And what we all need to say to each other more often I think.

Photo Credit Willis Gilliard.2

Lauren Anderson in Performance Photo by Willis Gilliard

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Char Downs (center) with a couple of ladies she got plastered with.

CHAR DOWNS became one of my favorite people the very moment we made eye contact. We met at her studio, Pinecone Studio, in
Paducah Kentucky. When she swung the door open and said hello, I was met with a rush of energy from her smile.

It is a unique life that is able to hold joy on its own, a unique energy that meets strangers with an open heart. In a world so gaurded, I knew immediately that I had met someone special.

Char and I spent a few minutes going over the details of the project she was puttiing together that would include an effort from me, if I chose to accept the challenge. My stress at that time in my life was high. I was experiencing great uncertainty and disappointment, sitting across from Char that day reminded me that eventually my current struggle would eventually become just another aspect of having lived a very human life.

I apprecaited Char’s energy so much, I decided to make my contributuion performative and was able to spend the evening of Halloween 2014 in the company of Char and her wonderful husband Jay.

Let us all consider the truth that we do not always know what effect we are having on others. I’m positive neither Char nor Jay was aware that the quality of their spirits were, in fact, leveraging my own and giving me a simple kind of hope. But they were, because they are rather like that.

Char Downs has created a new installation: One Community, One LifeThe feel of this installation is difficult to explain. I was fortunate, in a strange way, to experience the installation under the guidance of Jay rather than Char. I say this because, Jay has no trouble bragging about Char and because the palpable sense of his love for both Char and her vision I find tremendously touching.

Jay took me around the room which is filled with plaster casts of faces, several hundred faces from around the world. Each of these are faces that Char has touched and casted, each of these are connected by, at the least, Char Downs herself. Jay told me stories of Char’s adventures in life and of how she sees the world, and how she managed all the personalities that came to get plastered.

One Community, One Life is an installation about human connection, it is about death as represented by piles of dust beneath the rows of faces. It is about a life of vision as represented by the notes and papers Char has collected to inform her projects over the years. Most importantly, this installation is about the effects we have on each other, it is about life itself as a connection that each of us holds within the mystery of ourselves. When we choose to share that mystery in a generosity, we touch others and become more than the sum of our parts.

One Community, One Life is up at Pinecone Studio through the second weekend of May 2016. Don’t miss this if you are in or near Paducah, Kentucky. This is a very special experience that simply can not be captured by words or photos. You will FEEL it as you move around the room.

The installation itself will move through time and space this summer as it tours a number of places and changes again and again. Find Char Downs on Facebook and follow the adventures of this most unique and emotional statement of the value of being human.

I’ll let Char Downs tell you about it herself . . .


Char Downs (center) with a couple of ladies she got plastered with.

MICHELLE: Tell me about creating when you were a kid. When did you start making art and what were you making it with, what were your materials?

CHAR DOWNS: We always lived out in the country up until 2nd grade. I remember chewing my pink bubble gum when I got it and making all kinds of miniature sculptures when I would finish with the chewing. These little sculptures would then be put in the refrigerator for safekeeping.

I drew and painted so much when I was little that my Mom had to find me a pane of glass to paint on because she couldn’t afford to keep me in paper. I could paint a picture on the glass, enjoy it for a while, then wash it off and do another one.

Sculpture was my first memory of creating, with mud then gum. Then I went 2D and didn’t look back for years.

After the mud and gum I started going to school and of course was introduced to finger IMG_1579painting and such. That was it for outside Art exposure for the next 11 1/2 years of school. I illustrated a lot of my school papers, essays, book reports just because I wanted to. There were NO art programs in schools. But I made shoeboxes full of my own personal paper dolls with my personally designed clothes to go with them. I wish I could see all those designs now! I loved drawing and painting horses, made a whole book of them with stories. Oh yes, sometimes I wrote, but mostly in my head as I was actually creating with my hands.

As a poor country kid, my materials and exposure to art and materials was minimal. But I didn’t know that. I didn’t have an example. Didn’t see a TV until I was 10 years old. I had never seen anyone create a sculpture. I didn’t know people did that. I just loved doing it! Struggling with the medium and then seeing the results. I grew up playing on my own, running around free to do whatever I wanted until we moved to the “city” when i was in 2nd grade.

I don’t remember anyone ever “teaching” me to do these things. I know now that my Mother drew things, but I don’t remember seeing those drawings until I was much, much older. And in a conversation with her when she was in her 80s, I asked “Mom, how come you don’t draw things like you used to?” she said something that really floored me, “I only do that when I’m really sad.”

IMG_1581I didn’t know the definition (or become aware of) ART – ARTIST until my senior year, last semester of High School. I took my only art class. It was there I discovered (and by the way, English class) the deep emotions associated with art and art making. And I discovered that there were actually people called artists that made things. as a baby growing up, I was encouraged to do art by my mother, but not overtly. She provided me things to work with when she could. When I started school teachers would mention my ability to do these things, sort of as an afterthought.

MICHELLE: Your mother sounds like someone with the sort of depth you put into your work. My grandmother was a secret artist, too. Well, a musician. We keep those things hidden or give them away too often when we are working from backgrounds, from places that found art either suspicious or useless or both.

You had a fire, though, that delivered you beyond those limits. In my imagination I see you without any real way around it– you were going to create. That was that. Let’s skip way ahead and tell us about Pinecone Gallery— how did it come about and what were your intentions when you started with it?

CHAR: The Artist Relocation program brought me here. My intention in moving here was IMG_1576to be with and among like-minded people. I was starved for that kind of association. and I found them here. and it is still exciting because I am still finding them. These are people who collect the same things i collect, speak my language, are open minded and are in some way, part of the creative process. The gallery part left me open to bring these people to me and share with them everything that is here. That has always been my focus. To share things that are not quite understandable, but are powerful in our lives, and sometimes so easy to ignore.

MICHELLE: I met you last summer and became part of your Halloween Phantasmagoria. Your gallery filled up with pieces by artists in town and I was doing single card readings in the darkened space. It was such a wonderful night, such good feeling and beautiful, worthwhile presentation. I was so interested in how you had incorporated community into that night, that installation of its own. It was shortly after that why you said, “Do wanna get plastered?” Tell us a little about the installation you have in the studio right now– tell us about getting the faces, first. There is much to say, I know.

CHAR: Mask-making was a method I used to share with others a tiny taste of the experience I have when I am creating. Acceptance. Joy. Trust. Openness. That feeling of leaving the earth behind to connect with something outside myself. The immediate goal of collecting was the intimate face to face exchange between just artist and individual. A single small physical experience representing part of the whole creative art making process. Sharing that process with people and taking them along in the journey towards becoming part of something larger. No one, in reality, allows ANYONE to touch their face, outside of very intimate or family based relationships. Here was, at times, a stranger touching a face, intimately and nothing was threatening dangerous or suggestive. The couple engaged in the creation of something outside themselves, but together. Isn’t that what we do everyday with each human we meet?? Isn’t that the crux of our existence.

IMG_1572MICHELLE: Yes. Very much so. When you speak of creating something outside ourselves, I feel a true swell of emotion in my chest. It is visceral as is the performance. Is that the way you perceive this work– as a performance? How many faces did you gather in total and how far away did you travel to gather.

CHAR: The sharing of each performance was the way stop. Leading me towards the completion of the whole installation. I needed these faces, minimum 300, each one necessary, for my final piece in the gallery. In the end, right before the opening I had 342 face masks. (I’m still collecting – just not as urgently). Many community members, like you, participated. Most traveled far, visiting me in my studio. I have faces from Italy, Argentina, United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Russia….and across the street. Friends and of course family (OK, NJ, VA, FL) also participated. I have faces from my Nephews, Nieces, Grand Nieces, Sisters-in-Law, Brother-in-Law, Sister, etc. What surprised me the most? People from out of state knowing nothing except they were coming in to Paducah, visiting a gallery in Lower Town. They walked in, and after I told them and they saw what I was doing, many volunteered happily. Isn’t that incredible!!??? People also saw the posts by myself and others on FB and made appointments!!! Looking at all the masks hung in the gallery now, I’m still… amazed!! Still makes my heart glad.

MICHELLE: It is an experience in that room. Truly full of feeling. The layers. The layers. All the layers! Can you take us around the room a bit. What are some of the sections dedicated to, and what do the strings between the faces mean to you? What do the chin pieces add to the presentation?

CHAR: First Layer: humans are hard wired to respond to the face. Evolution has done that IMG_1582to us. The face is beautiful. Here in this piece, it is stripped of all colors, eyes, hair (and in some instances, expression). Undeniably, here we see our shared ancestry. There are no “others” only us. No red, brown or black, no republican, no democrats, blue collar, white collar, disabled, etc… The divisions we hear and experience every day, “labels” are not evident.

Second Layer: here we are allowed to see, unencumbered by those labels, with shadows and light, how beautiful EVERYONE is. But the irony? These are masks after all, masks are by their nature, not ourselves, they can also represent illusions, that package we present (each one possibly different) to others. The faces we put on and remove according to who we are with.

Third Layer: the under the chin personal ID’s; I found as I collected these faces and hung them all up on the wall together, people would come back later to the studio looking for themselves to deliver their ID. They could find others they knew, but found it difficult to actually find their own face. We never really see ourselves, except in mirrors, and here there is nothing but light and shadow, colorless structure! I knew from the beginning, this active ID request was very necessary, as well as the passive participation (face mask). So as I made the masks, I requested that an item, (found, made, bought, but not bigger than a closed fist) was required for hanging under the chin of their mask. At the opening it made it much easier to “find themselves”.

Fourth Layer: the gold and black dotted thread webbing is symbolic of the connections weIMG_1574 have to each other. Seen and unseen. Known and unrealized. As you move through the space, the light catches the webbing or makes it disappear. The webbing in the gallery originates from one point up on the back wall making up a three letter word utilizing white lines and white masks (BINARY CODE WORD Art) in the gallery ands extend out towards all the other walls of grouped masks and white lines creating more connections.

Fifth Layer: Binary Code, a system of mechanical communication we use extensively today, (phones, computers, etc..) making personal face to face searching out of true meanings of words almost irrelevant. ZEROS here are the faces = meaning OFF. Here or Not. communicating or not. ONES are the white stripes = ON. Intermittent within the placed faces, they were felt to be voids by most people. And to me they also represent “the missing” in our lives. But those who are missing are still ON, they still influence us personally (say, perpetuating labels …) and in our communities the legacy of their history with us. The masks and lines are arranged in rows of 8 positions. Each of these rows represent a letter from the alphabet. Rows are stacked atop each other to create words. Words are separated by placement on a black paper void. A message behind the message for those appreciating codes and puzzles. Because isn’t all Art a different language? a different code? Another way of communicating?

IMG_1587CHAR: ONE COMMUNITY, ONE LIFE Art Installation: (theme was specifically symbolic about myself as an artist celebrating connections within a rich wonderful 10 years in this community) I will move it to other venues to be reshaped into that institutions available space and the theme or message they wish to emphasize. It may be a larger room or a much smaller space. For example, lets say the theme is gun violence. Using the same BINARY CODE base, I would choose words related to that subject for the arrangement of the faces and lines. I might choose to leave mask personal ID’s as they are, or I might remove them and collect various other theme related items placed in all small plastic bags to hang under each face. In that institutions region, during set times, I intend to collect more faces to include in other venues as the performance continues. This Paducah piece is about KINDNESS & CONNECTIONS.

MICHELLE: Char, thank you for taking time with me to talk about your work and for including me in your wonderful projects. I am always healed and humbled by your light. THAT is no joke. xxo


Michelle Embree’s Cast













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THE BEING OF ART: A Conversation With Carolyn Bardos

Carolyn Bardos 2015

Carolyn Bardos 2015

The first thing to tell about my friend Carolyn Bardos is, don’t make any assumptions about the photo on your left. Really, don’t make any assumptions at all.

When I met Carolyn Bardos, she had already lived many lives. In many places.

She was a potter and had curated and edited a book (Earthen Wonders: Hungarian Ceramics Today) on the subject except better. This is a book that blurs a line between fine art and the crafts of street artists in Hungary. It’s a big art book. A coffee table book with gorgeous pictures. The pieces tell their own stories and in the hands of Carolyn Bardos each work speaks on its own terms.

Carolyn is an accomplished poet, too. You can find her book: Yesterday’s Daybreak right here. Her words are always touching and I don’t know how to talk about poetry that has much meaning beyond the point of each line itself. Carolyn believes in her readers and extends herself as a howling wolf, a fierce mother, and an outcasted, artistic, searching soul. What can I say about poetry that makes more sense than that?

What I want to say about my friend, however, the experience I want to convey is a dreamy one. When I think of the things I want to tell Carolyn or show her or ask her, it’s all a dream. It’s a holiday postcard except depicting real things. I never need to say much because she already knows. She makes me want to do the best that I can do. That is what I wanted to tell you.

Most recently I have been moved by pictures of Carolyn’s paintings and I wanted to get a talk between us started.

Carolyn Bardos, detail

Carolyn Bardos, detail

(**Look to your left. This is a detail from a recent work. I said: What is moving around back there? What is going on? 

The sense that the layers of paint are suspended above one another is strong and urgent, each center point turning and turning. No artist can plan for this, it is an unseen event. It is a moment recorded, somehow, for exactly what it was.)

(**And now to your right. Let me guide this tour a bit. Several portals erupt and open  this canvas. It is as if a hand could reach through and borrow a pen or request a postage stamp. The movement and layers arrest me again and I am lured into that dream, into a belief in something so much bigger than myself.)

Carolyn Bardos, detail

Carolyn Bardos, detail

Of course, by now Carolyn has moved into her work as a novelist–her work now to write a dark comedy, an irish tradition with her specific perspective. Like I say, make no assumptions.

She’s a performer. Did I mention? And a playwright. Did I tell you? She can direct things, too. She is a curator and a promoter of creative genius. She is a true force that changes and changes and changes. She is an imperfect life deepening with every day that passes.

Carolyn Bardos is a teacher in classrooms and in letters to the editor and if you meet her in line at the grocery store. It bursts forward because she is inclined to tell the truth, or at least strenuously and repeatedly elude to it. And she wants you to succeed at meaningful things that reflect the best in yourself.

There is no shortage of either accomplishment or experience. Carolyn Bardos holds a Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree from Goddard College and continues to expand and support the arts in every aspect of her life.

Carolyn Bardos has lived many lives and will live many more. She has lived at points around the globe, experiencing people and art and culture. Look at it all with just the right eye and you’ll see my friend, you’ll see Carolyn Bardos, the artist and the woman. You’ll see a part of my heart and understand much.

Paintings By Carolyn Bardos, Galleria Giovana, Canaan, NH.

Paintings By Carolyn Bardos, Galleria Giovana, Canaan, NH.

ENJOY this talk . . .

MICHELLE: Firstly, what’s on your nightstand? What are you reading? What artists are you crushing on? And/Or are you using a practice of spirit/art to inspire you?

CAROLYN: I’m in a Goddard College advisor/alum mode—reading books by writers I know through Goddard. I’m reading Rebecca Brown‘s The Gifts of the Body. Recently I read Cara Hoffman‘s So Much Pretty and also re-read Jan Clausen‘s Veiled Spills: A Sequence. And I’ve re-read your searing memoir, By the Skin of These Words. Each of these books is the brainchild of a woman, and they address death, the degradation of planet Earth, and the unremitting violence against women in our perverted society. I need these stories. I’m very tuned in right now to the current backlash against women. I am enraged. I need smart women writers to guide me. I need a plan for my own actions or else I risk feeling powerless or, worse, becoming numb.

Next up on my reading list: Encounters with Police: A Black Mans Guide to Survival by Eric C. Broyles and Adrian O. Jackson; The Grey Alley an anthology edited by Goddard alum Keith Backhaus; and Arcadia by Lauren Groff. Way up on the list is Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada. I will read this in its original German. With luck and a good German dictionary, I should finish by spring.

As for spirit and inspiration, I live in the woods in a tiny cottage like a fairytale character. I need only to open my eyes and ears for artistic motivation.

Small 3-D Collage By Carolyn Bardos, Troy Studio

Small Collage By Carolyn Bardos

MICHELLE: Tell me about your work spaces, what do you have around you? And do tell about your fairy cottage.

CAROLYN: When I’m at home base, which is Vermont, I paint in the only room downstairs.

I spread out all over the place, and on the walls around me are a paintings that my children have made; my own paintings; my husband’s geometric paper models (; and work by the painters George Hofmann ( and Richard Garrison (, two artists whom I have represented in my former galleries and who are now friends. I have a couple of pieces by Hungarian artists. My new puppy is always with me, and music. I always have music.

So, my cottage. My family and I moved here (Vermont) last October from just across the river in New Hampshire, where we had lived for 18 years. This new home of ours was built from an old rotting-down sugar house, where once upon a time a farmer performed that marvelous alchemy of turning maple sap into maple syrup.

All around us are woods, and a mile and a bit down the road is a good-sized lake. There are a few summer camps for kids on the lake with canoe rides and smores and ghost stories around a fire and all that good shit. Off season, this area is quiet. The town’s population is six hundred.

The energies here are straight-up nature and all the gifts that nature lavishes on us. Also here is the pure, loving, brilliant energy of my lifelong best friend who died last year–that energy really sustains me. My friend–his name is Richard–was a gifted artist. He taught art at an alternative high school in Greenwich Village. He fought with relentless love and courage for his students in the aftermath of an administrative turnover, an invasion of bean counters. Also he was a botanist and horticulturist and an entomologist.

Where I live now is the kind of place that Richard and I sought out as children and, especially, as teenagers. We used to hike and bike everywhere. We were kids trying to grow in a really fucked-up town, and we spent our social time in nature.

Carolyn Bardos

Many-Headed By Carolyn Bardos, 4 SQ FT, Acrylic {Hidden Fibonacci Sequence: 1,2,3,5,8}

We were artists and we made vows to each other that we would live as artists, and that was a scary idea in our town, where art was not on, not at all. We felt out of place, but we took care of each other and shared a deeply intimate platonic relationship. I carry him with me—literally. I wear around my neck a prayer box, which holds a bone fragment from his cremated ashes.

I planted a garden last spring, a garden containing some of his favorite perennials: lobelia, dianthus, and delphinium. I sprinkled some of Richard’s ashes into every hole that I dug.

I have begun making a shrine in the woods behind my house with prisms and pottery and colored glass bottles stuck upside down in the earth. When the moon is bright, the prisms sparkle. In June, when the fire flies were out, the shrine was a haven of glimmering love. For Richard, who charmed me with his love and knowledge of the natural world, who taught me the names of trees and insects and flowers, I make this simple magic.

As for creative work, that feels fantastic when I’m in a groove, as I am now.

Carolyn Bardos

Small 3-D Collage By Carolyn Bardos Troy Studio

I wake up every morning excited to get to work. Work never goes badly for me, because if I feel that I can’t write, I paint, and vice versa. And now there’s extra work, domestic work, because winter approaches, and two cords of firewood on my lawn need stacking. I should plant garlic soon for next summer, and maybe I’ll mow the lawn one last time before the leaves fall from the trees.

MICHELLE: These are the images of life. The pictures you put in my head. This is the magic of telling stories and of being in art. Doing it as a way if life. It’s a real object to share with one another. It has mass between us. I love the experience I have with other creators in this way. This attempt to give and receive, maybe.

I know some of your stories. You are a deeply interesting person and I have serious meaning in saying that. You have real perspective. Your work whether in words or in visual form, or in the creative way you support and facilitate the artists around you– it is all so rich with meaning and the–to me–classic hunger of the artist: to capture the ineffable moment. Your more recent paintings– the ones that made me gasp upon sight–what is happening in these works.

Paintings By Carolyn Bardos

Untitled Paintings By Carolyn Bardos, Galleria Giovana, Caanan, NH. Acrylic on Canvas, 2014

CAROLYN: The boldness and flourish-y moves in my recent paintings are wild and unaccountable. George Hofmann has called this work “baroque.” The flamboyant swirls in these paintings I can attribute in part to the medium itself, acrylic, and to the canvas size, 36 x 36.

This size ground allows for almost full-body gesturing. I don’t use acrylic often, but I will now because my house is tiny and I don’t want to stink up my living space with fumes. Acrylic dries fast, and there’s no opportunity for second thoughts, as there is with oil paint, and painting over an unsuccessful acrylic piece doesn’t cut it.

This kind of painting is spontaneous, the result of years of experience and increasing self-awareness, increasing willingness to let go of expectations about outcomes. I can’t think my way through this process. There’s no rehearsal. I clear the work space, set out my materials, rev up the music, feed my head, and pace the floor or dance until I am pulled to the canvas, almost in a trance.

Then it’s all splish-splash, go for it, and I’m in a state of creative ecstasy, a state of mind that I feel so privileged to visit every time I go to work. People will ask me what my work means. That shit drives me crazy.

Non-objective painting, when it’s done truthfully, without calculation, is what it is: mystery, music made with color, movement suspended, a lionization of the spirit, a declaration against death.

Michelle Embree: There. Those are the words. That is this making of things in motion. A declaration against death. Right. Thank you for those words.


Carolyn Bardos

 The working title of your novel. A Pendulum Swinging Through Time. It has such a suspenseful vibe. A suspended quality much in the vein of some of the details in your painting work. I’m curious about it right away. I got to hear you read from this a handful of weeks back and I am so taken with the humor. Of course, when you read from it, when you are inflecting, I can hear the comedy. On the page, the humor is so embedded, I can’t pull one thing out from the rest. Is there a writer who makes you laugh out loud or someone in particular that you feel influences your comedic timing?

CAROLYN: I think I get my humor from having grown up with an alcoholic parent. My humor developed as a defense mechanism to cope with life in a pretty small house with six other hurt, angry, confused human beings. When my family wasn’t in emotional crisis, we were laughing and joking in a way that I think Irish people do really well—or, in my case, Irish Americans, many of whom like to identify as Irish, regardless of how many generations back they trace their Irishness.

MICHELLE: Right. I get it. That’s how it is very often. That shit makes for terribly interesting people, though. When we get ourselves functional we are still pretty weird and that’s the funny part, really. Irony? I don’t know, but, Irish humor has done this to me in the past. Like people who are at their best at a funeral. In this novel you have a dead clock maker who had hypnotized himself over his life with the swinging pendulum. It was his whisky, you tell us, to hypnotize himself. Every line of it is a classic Irish comedy a roast that would not consider sparing the dead. Maybe THAT is what leaves me speechless with Irish humor. The butt of the joke is already dead? I dunno. What I love however about this first chapter the novel you are writing is actually told by the child that got away, right? I have not yet heard from the real protagonist?

CAROLYN: You have not yet met the protagonist of the overall tale, but she is

Artist's Carolyn and Aiden Bardos

Artist’s Carolyn and Aiden Bardos

telling the story of her Irish ancestors, and the child is one of those. I don’t understand this novel yet. Everything is on the table. What I have at this point are patches of a quilt not yet sewn into place. Things are shifting all the time, changing and forming and disappearing and reforming. When I’m working on creative writing, I write like I paint. I just try to shush the noise in my head and sit still long enough to allow the characters to curl a finger at me and say, “Follow.” As the late, great Harold Pinter has said, being a writer is like being a bloodhound. You gotta pick up a scent and run like hell after it. For me, at least, I can’t know what’s going to happen, or else I’d become bored. I want to be surprised so that maybe I can surprise the reader. I think that’s what good writers do. They surprise us.


Carolyn Bardos

Headspace. Sculpture By Carolyn Bardos, Troy Studio

MICHELLE: I’ve had the experience of being frustrated with my own characters for not doing what I want them to do. Fiction can surprise.

What are your characters tapping you on the shoulder about? What are their obsessions and desires? I’m curious about the things on your mind as you try to meet these characters and put them in your stories.

CAROLYN: Ha, ha! I know, we think as writers that we control the worlds we create, but nooooo.

One character was easy. I drew him from an interaction that I had with a palm-reading oil-delivery dude in a diner—an interaction that has hung around me for fifteen years.

So here we have a character who was looking for a place in a story, and it just worked out. That kind of character-borrowing does not work if I try to force the character or the story. Patience is key here.

The protagonist is my real problem child—as it should be . . . maybe . . . harrumph! She frustrates the hell outta me! The other characters, sometimes with and other times without enthusiasm, show their feelings and their stories to me, and it’s easy. With the protagonist—well, she’s a “hider.” She would rather open a vein than show her true feelings or intentions to the world—even to the people who love her—except for one character.

One character carries her secrets, and I guess I need to take him out for a beer and see if he’ll talk. He won’t, though—I know it. He’s completely faithful.
Of course, the protagonist will reveal herself—she must. If she didn’t, I’d have no story to tell. Her obsession is to investigate her past and her present—and to keep that shit underground. She thinks that she can outsmart her authentic self, but she can’t.

MICHELLE: No. She can’t. Hahahahaahaha! I LOVE you my friend. And I am so looking forward to this book and the more, more, more of everything you are doing these days.

Your work on all fronts has grown enormously, just like you, just like us. xxo

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HEALING WORLDS: Dr. Geryll Robinson And Valencia Wombone


Valencia Wombone And Dr. G. Love

Rising and rising now are networks of accomplished healers, and writers of stories now being told.

Rising and rising are leaders doing the action of installing working infrastructure for the distribution of education and medicine and markets around the world.

Rising and rising are those who move into the spaces already healed in their vision and continue to heal those spaces.

Rising and rising are the opportunities to contribute and become.

Rising and rising a flood of power, a band of exploding energies, is available to us all as we so choose to become aware.

It is a special moment to have the opportunity to receive and to share the insight, inspiration, and visions of Geryll “Dr. G Love” Robinson and Valencia Wombone.

This conversation is what it looks and feels like to catch onto the flood of power that now rushes through all of us and through the quakes of a shifting world.

The vision of Sojourners Land Movement spills from a rising spirit calling all healers wincrystaland visionaries to materialize a sacred world (s). SLM is one such world currently in co-creation and emerging materialization. These words are presented to honor the rising of this particular sacred world and to pay due respect to these divine beings now working to do the action of materialization.

I ask all who read these words to consider the gravity of the call. Consider a sacred world. What does it look like and sound like and feel like to live in a sacred world? To behave in the truth of one another as sacred beings? What does it mean to heal from the dreadful delusion that any other world, a world other than sacred,  could be acceptable at all?

My pleasure in this conversation is equal only to the enthusiasm I hold for breathing into, leaning into the power we have collectively to create healed bodies, healed spaces, healed spirits, and healed communities. We sit on a brink of possibility.

Welcome to the Vision of Sojourners Land Movement:

“Sojourners Land is an eco-spiritual practice space for Prismatic, Queer, Transgender, Intergender and Two-Spirit People of Color. Our roots are with Black Queer and Transgender Women and, from loving there, we branch to connect with our whole Earth family to bring about healing that only we are capable of.

An autonomous space where QTI2PoC survivor healers can connect with and celebrate our heritage as earth lovers, story-keepers and community leaders.

We are committed to healing the traumatic effects of indigenous peoples being removed from home land and becoming re-indigenous while both the land and people are under conditions of slavery.

We proactively respond to life-threatening violence, poverty and homelessness which overwhelmingly targets transgender and queer women of color and gender non-conforming individuals.

Sojourners Land is a radical eco-spiritual practice space for Prismatic QTI2PoC survival, resistance and rejuvenation.”

Find Sojourners Land Movement On Facebook 

And meet my guests, please:

Dr. G Love Channeling The Ancestors/Sepia Bear Claw /Photo By: Jeri Hilt

Dr. G Love Channeling The Ancestors/Sepia Bear Claw /Photo By: Jeri Hilt

Geryll “Dr. G. Love” Robinson, is an internationally appreciated healer, diviner, teacher, artist and change maker. She has participated in the conscious awakening of thousands of people who know that they are more complex than the world has taught them to believe.

Dr. G Love is also a writer and performer and an artist living deep in this dream of life. She is currently healing clients with Five Directions Wellness, conjuring worlds with The Black Witch Chronicles, and co-creating the dream of Sojourners Land Movement as a healing world that goes with you everywhere you are. Her skills remain too numerous to name.

Find Black Witch Chronicles on Facebook         Find Black Witch Chronicles On Youtube

Find Five Directions Wellness On Facebook     Find Sojos Land Movement On Facebook

Valencia Wombone is a spirit-guided artist whose work is expressed through various media including writing, linoleum prints, embroidery, zine design, poetry, divination, and self-sustaining safe-space carpentry in the building of Homes on Wheels. Valencia is also the grounder of Sojourners Land Movement, an emerging QTI2POC Eco-Spiritual practice space.

“Everything I do with my life force is a creation of art”. -Valencia Wombone

Valencia’s ‘Homes On Wheels’ is an emerging form of healing, creating/building a safe space that travels with you. Valencia and Sojourners will be offering skill shares to teach and support others in designing and building their own traveling homes. Please enjoy pictures of Valencia’s beautiful traveling home on wheels sprinkled throughout the following conversation.

Experience some of Valencia’s linoleum cut prints of ancestors who left Imprints of Love.  Her wonderful visual and flowing writing work is also to be experienced on the Imprints of Love tumblr page.

Valencia Wombone/Photo by: Fabiola Jean-Louis

Valencia Wombone/Photo by: Fabiola Jean-Louis


Find SoJos Land Movement On Facebook

Read Cosmic Roots Right Here 

Support The Work

No words can do for either of these golden spirits, the best way to go is to feel and see and hear the power that radiates from the following transmissions.

Thank you for joining us. Relax and expand. Big love. XXO

MICHELLE: Good Morning and Hello! I’m so happy to gather with you both today. Sojourners* Land Movement is an energizing project. We are alive at a dynamic moment and there exists the very real tension between the excitement of creating the future by living in it now and the reality that healing old wounds is part of bringing our bodies into an alignment strong enough to do that creating and living.

The balance between future creation and healing wounds is an exquisite and difficult balance that the vision of Sojourners Land Movement openly embraces. It’s thrilling. 
Would you speak on an aspect of how gaining a sense of place/connection to land works as a medicine?

*Originally I had inserted an apostrophe, which does not belong; Valencia brings this text into alignment as follows . . .

VALENCIA: What a pleasure it is on this new moon (We gathered July 15th 2015) to share the seed stories of Sojourners Land Movement. It is difficult for folks like me, trained in English grammar, to accept the accuracy of the

Valencia's Home On Wheels Early Phase

Valencia’s Home On Wheels Stage One

missing apostrophe in Sojourners Land Movement. But our omission is intentional and rooted in the spell that we are moving in our relationship to land. We want to emphasize the plural versus the possessive to honor the many beings with connection to the land, rather than follow the models of ownership and possession.

SLM begins to address the fundamental reality of our wounded disconnection from Earth by situating in organic healing relationships and practices. When I tune into the energies of the environment, I am cultivating listening to the messages and medicine that are always present.

DR. G: 
 Good Morning. Today I awoke in my mountain retreat with a clear message to make a Bleeding Heart Flower Essence for myself and as part of my Enigma Flower Essence Line that will be available through the web store soon. Sleeping on the earth clears the mind so I can hear the messages of elemental allies.

The nature spirits of the Earth are in fact hystorically understood to be the true stewards of this planet. When I am immersed and held in a safe natural space without the distractions of two-legged creation, I am better able to hear the messages of my body and emotions.

Bleeding Heart, for instance, is an essence that heals the wounds of grief and heartbreak. Last night I went to sleep with the loss of three animal familiars weighing heavy on my heart. In 24 hours my family lost a hummingbird visitor, a Love Bird we have lived with for 15 years, and a family dog. I awoke with the message that the Bleeding Heart plant medicine growing in our garden will help me and my family move through the loss of our familiars.

This is one of many examples of how nature speaks to us and works with us in service to balance and co-creative harmony.

VALENCIA: With SLM we are working on connecting ourselves with Earth and Ancestors as living spiritual beings, dynamic in us.

DR. G: 

MICHELLE: You use ritual practices to keep connections? To create connections? Would you speak of the use of ritual and relationship to land/place?

VALENCIA: We recognize the stellar nature of all beings by getting ourselves in relationship with Earth that reflects this.

I am ALL about the everyday ritual of composting!

Valencia's Home On Wheels

Valencia’s Home On Wheels Stage Two

DR. G: Valencia often speaks of how our organ bodies and emotional states are reflections of nature…. I would love to hear more from you on that, Valencia.

The rituals of breathing, walking, dreaming, intuition, nourishing ourselves, loving, and being in community are some of the most powerful tools we have available to us.

We often don’t think of something as basic as respiration or preparing a meal as ritual… Yet these patterned actions are powerful portals to healing and transformation.


 When creating compost, I connect myself with Earth-loving mythologies and practices. With the topsoil on the planet thinned to crisis by industrial agriculture and the world´s potable water privatized for profit, composting is a radical liberating ritual.

DR. G: 
 When we are in nature we can re-member to drop into ourselves as perfect reflections of nature and use our own patterns as roadmaps to divinity and wholeness. What I love most about this approach is that concepts of “pathology” and “brokenness” are not applicable. Every being is a divine reflection of the whole.

Can you explain more about composting?

Valencia's Home On Wheels Interior

Valencia’s Home On Wheels Interior

VALENCIA: In the same way that we have a consumerist throw-away culture that makes trash of our physical world, we are taught to discard our emotions and to accumulate energetic trash heaps. When I am composting my physical waste rather than turning it into toxic trash, I am also doing inner composting with my emotional and organ body. You know the saying, ¨Everything you do to the Earth, you do to yourself¨.? Well the same applies here and it goes both ways, what we do to ourselves we do to Earth, as we are inextricably bound. The ways that I practice handling my physical waste to build soil are applied inwardly to cultivate deeper inner capacities, emotional, mental and spiritual.

DR. G: Transforming our inner and outer waste into inner and outer wealth! Transmutation on the physical realms informs the Transmutation of the psycho/emotional spirit realms.

MICHELLE: What are some of the visualizations you use in your daily rituals? Do you imagine the threads of connections between self and earth? Do you use poetry/prayer during your daily rituals?


Valencia’s Art Work

I am a crafty witch who relies heavily on images to create from the abundance that Earth offers. I made a lino-cut from a photograph of me hugging myself, then printed it in the colors of the emotional composting practice; white, blue, green, red and yellow (pictured to the left). A visualization ritual emerged when I hung the prints on the walls as I started to meditate on the colors, sounds and corresponding emotions and organs.

DR. G: I like to use altars as the catalysts for my daily rituals. The act of creating an altar or honoring a circle of trees as Earth altar often opens my awareness up to the universal web of interconnection. From there poetry, prayer, art, and vision often begin to flow. Or the right person contacts me, or I see an image on social media that inspires me…. As one of my teachers often says, “Ritual begets Relationship”. Each person has their own best rituals.

YES! I see Valencia mirroring herself in drawings and I think I see a little

Dr. G's Altar

Dr. G’s Altar

hand mirror on your altar, Dr. G (Photo to the right). Can you give a few words on mirrors and their meaning and purpose in our lives?

DR. G: 
I often forget to include myself in the work I do and the visions I express. I fall for the outmoded paradigm of healer as sacrifice. When I mirror myself and center myself in the ritual healing work, I am reminded that I am my greatest resource. I am my best patient. I am my best guide. My wholeness reflects and encourages the wholeness of all.

For much of my life I have been trained/tricked into looking outside of myself for validation, abundance, approval, and love. The mirror reminds me to reflect all of this to and from self.

I also find my fellow co-creators and Black Witches to be divine reflections of self. I am capable of seeing and loving in others some of what I may be incapable of seeing or loving in myself.

VALENCIA: My home on wheels is a mobile altar full of mirrors. Gazing at myself in daily ritual has allowed me to create more loving images of myself in the world. I feel more capable of offering loving kindness to others because I am in practice moving this energy with myself. Mirrors are central to the altars that I keep for these self-loving rituals.

Yes, Geryll, as divine healing reflections, we must remember to implement the wisdom in the expression: ¨Give to yourself what you so easily give to others¨.

DR. G: 
Turns out that has been easier said than done!

YES! I want to repeat the words . . . allowed me to create more loving images of myself. Thank you for those, Valencia. And a big yes to seeing our selves with more compassion through our compassion for others.

I want to ask about giving and receiving.

DR. G: 
The messages of the dominant culture I was raised in taught me that it was

Dr. G Love Channeling The Ancestors/Shamana/Photo By: Jeri Hilt

Dr. G Love Channeling The Ancestors/Shamana/Photo By: Jeri Hilt

better to give than to receive. That giving would lead to rewards in another land or in an unseen future. I fell for that pile of uncomposted shit for a long time and came up feeling depleted and taken advantage of. So for me, true receptivity is a relatively new practice.

Wow! It’s frightening too. Receiving is terrifying. The risk can feel overwhelming and giving to keep safe is too common.

DR. G: 
”Ayni” is a Quechua concept for “divine reciprocity”. A true act of co-creative balance is the most organic thing the earth has to offer. The Tree exhales Oxygen, the Mammal inhales Oxygen. The Mammal exhales Carbon Dioxide, The Tree inhales Carbon Dioxide…. Ayni.

Everything is energy and we are energy workers learning to balance both what we take on and receive from a severely traumatized world and what we give out from our own often depleted energy bodies. Having secure connections to the regenerative powers of Earth help keep us healers/wholers in sane and well.

I give out a lot of energy in huge crowds and then find that I must retreat to weeks of few encounters with humyns.

Beautiful! If you would both be willing you speak on the story as medicine as our last topic today I would be grateful to you.

DR. G: This is what SoJos is so capable of offering. A safer space to practice receptivity.

Sojourners Land is actually everywhere our community of Prizmatic Queer People of Color are gathering to co-create realities of Wholeness. We have just this year been called to steward land in Tennessee where we will be building space to host healing ritual retreats, artist vision journeys, and Eco-Spiritual collaborative process. Sojourners Land will eventually be offering Earth guided apprenticeships in a variety of Earth Centered practices.

VALENCIA: Yes indeed, Sojourners Land is a movement right now that is everywhere where we are practicing connecting whole in our relationships with Earth. We have been offering ways for our comrades to imagine life beyond rents and mortgages, free from utility bills, with decreased grocery bills while living connected to renewable energy, earthen housing and abundant gardens. The stresses and traumas that keep us in cycles barely surviving as Black and People of Color prismatic beings also keep us from having time and space to imagine ways to free ourselves to address our mental, emotional and spiritual health. SLM offers practice space for healers to strengthen the rituals that harmonize us with Earth and ancestor energies.

wincrystalDR. G. LOVE: Stories are spells that weave themselves into our dreams, hopes, and desires. Stories are the great creators of reality. This is why telling our own stories is such powerful medicine.

VALENCIA: We live in direct relation to the myths and stories of our cultures. When we are raised with inaccurate and malicious stories about who we are, we behave in ways that are destructive to our personal and collective well-beings.

Reclaiming and rewriting the stolen/buried/forgotten stories of our ancestors and legacies in modern day Black Prizmatic Feminine Form is the most potent medicine I have to share as a Diviner, Healer, Lover, and Artist.

 “To enter the realm of the Ancestors with a story to tell¨ as Malidoma Some says, I am constantly writing stories to whole myself, to listen to the ancestors of this physical and energetic form, to put salve on my mother´s unspoken stories, and, as Geryll says, to re-write our cosmic roots.

DR. G. LOVE: Oooh I wish I could take a picture of the cozmic tree that comes to mind right now as we get down to these cosmic roots.

DR. G. LOVE: In this Tree image we are but a leaf on a mighty ancient tree with a vast network of roots that span across the entire globe. Not unlike the worldwide web.

When we speak of ancestors we commonly think of those in our bloodline that we can trace. These ancestors merely make up a small branch on the larger branch that connects to the wide trunk of this tree. Our ancestors cross time and space. Our ancestors may be water spirits, or earth spirits, or intergalactic spirits… they are all webbed in through our Cosmic Roots.

Through the act of decolonization we are able to reclaim and re-member our time honed ancestral practices of reconnection through the cosmic roots. We can shift our collective movements into a cyclical dance that works in harmony with the cycles of the Earth and our balanced place in the Universe.

wincrystalMICHELLE: How may we support Sojourners Land Movement energetically? How may we make offerings of magick and monies to the beautiful emerging world of Sojourners??

Dr. G: Right now we are in the process of gathering funds to pay off the rest of the note as stewards, vision questing on the land to receive clear messages from the land itself about what it needs, and then clearing, planting, and building will be in order for next spring!

We are seeking financial donations, skilled land workers, visionaries, carpenters, and volunteers for each stage of Sojourners Lands becoming. We have a fundraising site
where you can donate to and support this visionary Safer Space for QTI2PoC liberation and conscious evolution.

For a more in-depth discussion on QTI2PoC Spirit Work check out the Black Witch Chronicles video on Queering The Spirit with Sojourners Land ally, Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

Valencia Wombone/Photo By: Fabiola Jean-Louis

Valencia Wombone/Photo By: Fabiola Jean-Louis

VALENCIA: The best way to donate electronically is through paypal to To ensure that we receive all the funds. please ¨send money to family or friends¨. We are also selling handmade original art prints with all funds going to support Sojourners. And, always, all ways, you can support energetically by making a world where Prismatic Black and People of Color Love and Lives are more possible and thriving.

MICHELLE: Yes. Yes, we can all make a sacred world. Everyday we can. Thank you both so much for this time. It matters so very much and my energy flows great abundance towards you personally, towards SLM, toward all bodies and spirits generating a sacred world. I flow great abundance to you. And great abundance flows endlessly to you. Thank you both again, beyond words and worlds BIG LOVE . . . xxo


Posted in The Conversation | 1 Comment



Dr. G and I had this talk a few months back. There is powerful insight and healing words in this talk that are worth sharing again.

As a new development, Dr. G is part of a dream team of healers and visionaries currently creating and holding space for the emergence of this beautiful dream:

Sojourners Land is a rural convergence center and an eco-feminist safer-space for Indigenous Black Queer Women, Indigenous Queer People of Color, Lesbians, Trans and Gender Queer People, Children, Elders and our Allies.

An autonomous space where queer survivor healers can connect with and celebrate our heritage as earth lovers, story-keepers and community leaders.

We are committed to healing the traumatic effects of indigenous peoples being removed from home land and becoming re-indigenous while both the land and people are under conditions of slavery.

We proactively respond to life-threatening violence, poverty ad homelessness which overwhelmingly targets queer women, gender non-conforming individuals and trans women of color.

Sojourners Land is a radical intentional community-space for queer survival, resistance and rejuvenation.”

I encourage everyone to send the best possible energy and/or generous funding toward this emerging space and all the magic it will unleash into the world.

Enter the vision: Sojourners Land

A little more on Dr. G Love:

“Dr. Geryll Robinson aka: Dr. G. Love, is a Naprapath, Shamanic Practitioner, Reiki Master, co-creative artist, and Goddess at Large. Dr. G. Love is also a lifelong spiritual and political activist for Human and Planetary Rights. Dr. G. Love’s work is about Balance. Truth. Reconciliation. Evolution. Re-membering who we are.

Dr. G. Love’s work as an artist, writer, educator, and healer has incarnated in such forms as The Black Witch Chronicles, Legacy Reiki Attunements, workshops in earth honoring traditions (commonly known as Shamanism), teaching artist creations on anti-violence, sexuality awareness, and energy work, Installation art, and Plays.”

Five Directions Wellness

Please enjoy these terrific words from Dr. G:

colorwheelMICHELLE: Let’s start with the deep history of the self. The ancestors. How do you see the relationship we hold with our ancestors and are there special relationships we may hold with some in particular?

DR. G: 
Time is not linear or designed in any of the ways that we are programmed to perceive it. With that said, we really do stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Not just in our blood lineage or on the Earth. All that is and ever was is part of our relationship with our ancestors. Including intergalactic star-being associations, dreams, the collective unconscious, and the embodied souls who have gone before us.

MICHELLE: Okay . . . inter galactic right up front! Cool. I was never a ‘believer’ in past lives and last year– last January exactly– I had an image go through my mind, just quick– I was sweeping the floor or something– and I saw this body of light with thousands of tendrils of light coming off it and going through these passageways-– And I thought, “That’s me!” And through one of those passages is this body and through all the others– the thousands of other passages are thousands of other beings and we are all connected, because we are the same light being. I had this quick epiphany of simultaneous lives, simultaneous beings. Do we live in different periods of time simultaneously? And is that part of the reason we can hold the wounds of our ancestors? Because we are them in a direct sense?

DR. G: Yes!

It’s hard for people to there because of the security and comfort that comes with dimensional singularity. It’s much easier to figure things out if we keep our consciousness focused on the obvious. I believe from a Shamanic/Universal/elemental perspective that we are operating on many levels of perceptions at all times. And that all humans have the ability to tap that connection in ways that will make living this particular incarnation more easeful and meaningful for us. Ultimately co-creating a more harmonious co-existence on the planet and beyond.

I believe that much of our anxiety, depression, and mental/emotional instability comes from the efforts we put into ignoring our awarenesses of multi dimensional existence. When the feelings come up we often squash them or rewrite them to fit our simplistic narratives of safety in this dimension. They then become symptoms that we commonly describe as mental health issues.

When our sense of safety is threatened by these awarenesses we have during dream time, or while sweeping, or driving, or making love for instance, we naturally as mammals respond with defense mechanisms in our Autonomic Nervous Systems (ie: fight, flight, freeze) and play out symptoms of a Nervous system hyper/hypo arousal.

When we allow our conscious selves to be open to possibility, we can create new templates in our neural patterning that allow our consciousness to expand.

Don’t know why the map visited you. But yes, that’s where I’m located in this dimension.

MICHELLE: I have been watching the terrific videos you make for you tube, in one of these you speak of this time as the moment when the snake is eating the tail. You use that famous image as a template for time itself–and you say that those of us here right now are experiencing that specific moment. Do some of us choose this and our work here at this juncture?

DR. G: Thank you. Glad you’re feeling the download on the videos. That’s a way to contextualize it for sure. The idea that we are all star seeded for our time. That we have an innate wisdom (not unlike the migratory instincts of birds and butterflies) about our purpose and work here in service to the evolving consciousness of the planet.

Which is why opening up to a deeper re-membering of ourselves can bring ease and harmony to these very emotionally trying times.

And what we’re talking about, btw is not new news. It certainly has been suppressed and co-opted over the centuries, but mystics, healers, lay people and humans on every inhabited continent have been contemplating these very same interconnected truths since the beginning of recorded human expression.

I think here in the modern US, we like to think of this kind of lifestyle as New Age or Woo, or Hippie $hit. When in fact it’s our natural condition. Always has been.

We’re products of a society founded on very simple esoteric belief systems (BS) around heaven/hell, good/bad, monotheism, and the overall villification of all practices that deviate from those “norms” so in some ways this conversation is an ongoing act of decolonization.

MICHELLE: Okay, so, that’s great, that’s witchcraft. Right now as witches, what are we doing?

DR. G: I’m loving reclaiming the identity of witch. My work with LaKeesha Harris and Zoe Flowers in The Black Witch Chronicles series for instance, is so empowering for us and our viewers. People who use intuition, dreams, plant spirit, animal, and mineral allies have been globally persecuted in one way or another for centuries. I’m enjoying coming out of the broom closet as a Black Witch!

MICHELLE: I love that series. And the body of witch– when decolonization is the topic, that is primary. Reigning in, destroying, humiliating the witch. There is no colonial hegemony without that shit.

DR. G: As witches/lightworkers/indigos/rainbow/crystal children (or whatever star seed identity floats your boat) we are acting as Earth stewards and holding space for the rise of the Divine Feminine which will contribute to balancing the energies of society and therefore the planet.

We see it being played out publicly in our rape culture which at this time is entrained to protect the rapist and persecute the victim.

This protection/persecution pattern can be related to our attachment to the binary. Because a father, husband, friend has good qualities we experience cognitive dissonance when we find out that they were also deeply wounded individuals who acted in ways that perpetuated harm to others.

The creative power of sex is astounding and still impossible to logically explain. We have therefore as a species chosen to try and control it in ways that don’t serve. The mysterious power of the uterus has been seen as a threat to global security for a long time.

 Rape is one of the earliest weapons of mass destruction used during war time. Killing the men of a rival group and impregnating the Womyn with the DNA of the conqueror is about war.

The destruction and “instinction” of the indigenous American populations was BOKwheel10-2methodically planned and charted by European colonial forces. It was believed “scientifically” that the Indian could be bred out of a person in three generations. From Mestizo to Castizo to European, for instance.

So yeah, the bountiful creative power of sexuality has been utilized as a weapon that we are as witches taking back as our natural birth right. It’s a matter of rights as far as I’m concerned — which is ultimately a great part of conscious evolution.

MICHELLE: Yes! We are remembering our birthrights, I have that sense very strongly. 
I speak with so many people who are seeking their/our purpose. This seems to be the cry of the time: “Just tell me my work and I will do it!” I listen to a specific conscious channel (Paul Selig) and his guides say that this is our constant question for them. “What is my purpose?” And remembering is the big message–yet– it frustrates the mind. It frustrates so deeply and it frustrates so many. So many people desperately need/want/desire to contribute to healing and to reordering the social world and feel so thwarted. What are some of the means you use in your practice with yourself and your clients to relax the brain–or however you put it– into remembering our purpose? We are trained to over think everything and it feels like a crisis in spiritual circles particularly because there are so many Hippie $hit practioners who are willing to make promises people want to hear.

bkgrndbirdDR. G: Honestly, the first step is accepting that we have created a reality based on systems that were taught to us. So first off, much of our reasoning even when well intentioned is flawed. Then we must commit to doing some unlearning–which often challenges the ego to do it’s disruptive nature in our day to day constructs. Like “Wow, I invested in 20 years of education and now I’m questioning the validity of it all? Who am I without that wisdom? That accolade? Does the lifestyle I’m leading support me in dismantling preconceived notions? And on and on”. Letting go is mighty hard for most of us because our actual identities and sense of self are tied up in the BS (belief systems) that we built our lives on. Therefore, discussions, meditations, journaling, Support groups, and guidance from healers who have the appropriate tools to assist in ones conscious evolution are very helpful. For some it starts with building an ancestor altar, or making a pilgrimage, or initiating into a mystical school of thought, becoming a healer, channeling through art…. For each of us the path may be different.

This huge beast we contend with daily is the monetary/debt system that is currently in place. I try to sit back and appreciate how deeply effective the debt system really is, I admire that quality in it because I feel a need to see it clearly.

Can you speak to the subject of control and the ego?

DR. G:  My first thoughts are around your respect for the effectiveness of the debt system. You got that right! This country and its founding Empire(s) have been built on the enslavement and control of the souls that make up the so-called work force. Sharecropping and indentured servitude is not a thing of the past. It just looks humane and prosperous now that the average American is working to maintain corporate and otherwise power through our endless striving for material wealth at the expense of our health and spiritual well being.

Our best hours and energies are spent working for the visions and power of our so-called employers and we are left little time to do the work of loving family, building community, and following the guidance of our ancestors etc. So yes, spirituality is the work of empowerment and dećolonization. It is therefore, downplayed, ridiculed, and villified unless it fits the pre made mold created by culturally sanctioned religious dogma.

MICHELLE: And straight up sabotaged in some instances. Building communityIMG_0824 especially.

DR. G: In my experience, starting a practice of intentional listening and connecting to Spirit is the first step to increased spiritual freedom. Opening up to guidance by building an ancestor altar and or an altar of personal creation can be surprisingly helpful in bringing clarity. Getting clarity about ones priorities and visions and then holding that list up to view how it compares to ones current choices and energy expenditures can be very instructive and telling.

Disrupting the Building of community is also an age old tactic that can be traced through our hystory as a nation. Right now we often find ourselves moving around the continent and globe in search of employment rather than staying within proximity of our families and/or communities. Enslaved people’s for instance, were systematically separated from family in order to better maintain control over the work force. Many of the same tactics used for the creation of this society continue to be used. Enslavement is not strictly relegated to race. Many people don’t even consider that. The Internet/social media however is being used as a community building tool across time and space and I feel it is helping to facilitate the co-creation of new paradigm conscious evolution that is all about seeing our selves as a microcosm of the macrocosm. “Problems”, as visionary change maker Barbara Marx Hubbard states, “should be used as Evolutionary drivers”. When we have a pain in our physical bodies it is the body signaling us to investigate, not run away or ignore. This is true for all pains and discomforts on every level especially the mental/emotional/psychic planes.

ACESWORDS13As a critical mass / tipping point of global souls re-member our purpose here, we actually shift the collective consciousness of humanity. By just doing our own work we naturally contribute to shifting the frequency of the “hive mind” into a place of personal empowerment and vision that includes the consideration of the health of the planet and the next 7 generations. This is what I see as the paradigm shift of our time.

One of the challenges to doing this work is the anger, grief and denial any of us may feel when we realize we have been manipulated into living outside of our authentic selves. Waking up can cause all kinds of emotional disturbances including depression or a feeling of losing control or losing ones mind. This is where community comes into play and can help us to contextualize our collective conscious evolution in ways that feel safer and saner. This dialogue, for instance, is providing a sense of justice and clarity for me.

MICHELLE: Yes! I hadn’t thought of it like that, but yes, justice does come from these dialogues.

lustDR. G: We are definitely energetic electrical beings. It is the frequency of our life force that keeps the body active, synapses firing, cells reproducing etc. If we look deeper into say the quantum physics research on dark matter and the multiverse we see that everything is a frequency and that we actually know little about the nature of the universe. The observable universe is but a fraction of what we know is there… We just can’t see it or explain it yet scientifically. So, I’m not waiting for an explanation from the powers that be — I’m accessing the frequency of life and learning from my experiences


MICHELLE: There is so much more to ask/say/do here. And we will continue on many planes to do so. Thank You so much, Dr. G for spending some time with me.

DR. G: 
One love and thank you. It’s been a pleasure.


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Talking In The Dark With Crime-Lit Author Joe Ricker

280 Photo 1Sex. Deceit. Murder. A good crime thriller has it all.

For fans of the crime story, darkness and mayhem are a rush of their own. But the best dark tales are those that manage to deliver introspection and poetic insight from a narrative as it wanders inevitably toward doom.

Welcome to the dark world of Joe Ricker as he leads readers of  Walkin’ After Midnight through a series of stories that will, at points, shock even the most versed fans of crime fiction. So, consider yourself warned because the point of no return, as we learn in these stories, can arrive when you least expect it.

Walkin’ After Midnight presents an atmospheric world punctuated by stiff drinks, confused lust, and raw need. There is a dreaminess to this world of damaged lovers and greedy thieves that gives way to moments of poetry and that insight, the introspective quality that makes the crime story something that can inform our understanding and present new questions into our thinking.

Walkin’ After Midnight is AVAILABLE NOW! Published by 280 Steps and available on Amazon! You may pre-order right here.

If you have the chance, listen to Joe Ricker read his work aloud. His sense of timing and dark humor will be memorable. He will be in these lucky places: Bangor, Ithaca, Atlanta, Oxford, Denton. Take a look at dates right here.

It is my pleasure to share this conversation with all of you. Sit back and enjoy.  


walkin-after-midnightMichelle Embree: You do a nice job of creating a dark and ambient world in Walkin’ After Midnight. In the first paragraph–the approach of winter is used to tell us we are entering a world where the best we should hope for, despite our intention or struggle and best effort, the best we should hope for is breaking even. Then, you take us immediately to the bar—to the place where troubles get drown.

This works really well—I woke up in your world instantly. I started circling my foot and humming Walkin’ After Midnight just like the woman in the green dress. Your dreamy bar room got me right away. 
As adult as your stories are, my first wondering about you as a writer is—what were you reading and watching and dreaming up as a kid? When did you start writing or telling stories?

Joe Ricker: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I can’t say what as far as stories, but I always burned through one-subject notebooks. I remember crayons, mostly. Then I started writing actual stories in grade school.

I’d project myself into the narratives of my favorite characters; include myself in their stories. That’s how it started, I think, because I was fatherless for the first part of my life and I’ve always been a loner, so characters like Pinocchio or Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter resonated deeply with me.

ME: In the first story we are reminded that life doesn’t go according to expectation, that we may be the driver in our lives, but not necessarily the architect. 
You have attended to a number of different lines of work that would be excellent for observation. Which ones do you think taught you the most about people?

JR: Most of what I’ve learned about people has come out of my life. I learned a lot about disappointment really young. But I spent a significant amount of time a fucking monster, especially my adolescent and early adult life.

crow13aI grew, somehow, away from that. I learned that my own darkness didn’t have to emerge and be present all the time, so there was this evolution of empathy that I got to experience that really gave me some insight into human nature.

The works that I think helped me to realize this were The Stranger, Bridge to Terabithia, (which was one of my favorite childhood books that I reread as an adult) Jesus’ Son, A Separate Peace, and The Killer Inside Me. I may be cherry picking there, but those are the works that come to the front of my thoughts on this.

ME: “Jesus’ Son” came to my mind quite a bit when I was reading. So– all these characters really are you?

I love the themes in this book. I want to talk about a couple of them. Scars, for one. Your characters talk about physical scars and it’s seamless. When I was reading I would think: “oh, yeah. Scars. That’s what we are talking about.” But it comes up naturally from walkin-after-midnightthe world of your characters. There is no forcing on your part. So– scars?

JR: Have you ever seen a scar that doesn’t come with a story? I think a lot about scars, actually. The ones we have, the ones we observe and the ones we inflict.

The ones we have we give meaning to, we learn from (or at least we try to) and there’s a range of attachment we have to them.

It’s history, and it’s there, even the kinds that we aren’t proud of. I think this develops how we see scars on other people (both physical and the emotional scars people exhibit through their behavior). It affects our empathy.

People without scars haven’t learned a fucking thing about life. There’s that line from Fight Club (All time favorite movie, by the way) “I don’t want to die without any scars.” I get the sense that without scars, there’s no real experience of life. I feel that, deeply.

Scars are tokens of truth. They’re certainly more honest than words. It’s important to think about scars and where we’ve gotten ours. Even the people who don’t have any have left them on someone else.

ME: You are right I never met a scar without a story. And the scars we inflict, I don’t think we really know how to see these or evaluate them. I think we ascribe powers of imperviousness to other people because we are so distracted by our own wounds– which– Fight Club was about making invisible wounds visible. Getting something to work with, so to speak.

walkin-after-midnightThe arc of your book– and I’ll talk more about this– in the first third the question comes up over and over–what’s it like to kill a person? The characters have this wondering and it continuously brought the song– about killing a man in Reno just to watch him die– I was humming this song too. Another dark, dreamy country song. Do you think this is a natural question that people face? Do you think it is somewhat gendered? Do you think it is a cultural phenomenon?

JR: I find it impossible to believe that anyone has never had thoughts of murder or violence, even the slightest glimmer. An individual’s darkness might dictate how long that person thinks about it, but we’re all equipped (in some capacity) to kill. I don’t think this is gendered; however, I think the motivations and methods might be.

rwdeathI don’t know if it’s cultural. There was a time that we brought children to see public executions. Religion enforces a hypocritical justification to killing. I don’t think it’s a matter of ability, but a matter of what would allow us to kill, 

what would make us want to kill enough to actually do it?

ME: Certainly your audience anticipates the erotic scenes; it’s part of the tradition of crime fiction as much as murder is part of the tradition. You still need to get away with though, in a good story, you have to earn it and the more graphic the scenes the more the details of that graphic-ness has to relate to the essence of the story.

So–I’m laughing reading your book and thinking– he’s doing it, he’s earning it and the scenes are relevant. It’s skillful in terms of writing and it makes for a book the reader feels eager to get back to reading. 
Some words from your book: “Sex and murder were about taking control.” If you can illustrate that– you can get away with it– with the graphic nature of both. And you do.
 Do you have a way that you weigh that as a writer? How do you question yourself or make criteria for these scenes?

JR:It has to feel true, to me. I always question this in the same way the characters commit murder. There’s groundwork to put in for that moment to be special, that lustfirst taste of the other person’s breath just before you kiss them, that tense, hesitant pull of that first penetration–that plunge that sometimes makes you feel like you’d swallow your own fucking tongue to hover there for a while. I want to feel that in every scene I write…

If I don’t feel fingers digging into my ribs, it doesn’t feel right.

ME: The sense experience of your book is visceral. You have all of these characters stumbling wildly away from redemption, by either circumstance or choice, or both. They are consumed by desires that pull them under and it comes across so vividly in what you are writing. Do you think we are more willing to do violence for our—possibly perverted—versions of love or is it revenge that does it?

JR: I’d have to choose love. People kill themselves over love, and I think that’s more common than getting revenge against yourself.

walkin-after-midnightME: Your characters play with power dynamics and there is a questioning of authority and legitimacy, moral and legal legitimacy; that underlies the raw material of the stories. You include a story about a police officer committing a terrible crime. Is this stemming from a particular event in your life? A series of observations?

JR: I dealt with cops a lot when I was younger. I had the shit kicked out of me in a parking lot by three or four of them when I lived in Mississippi. Several years later, after three or four more altercations with one of those same cops, he had me tasered in my living room.

The town settled a law suit out of court over that. But, there isn’t a specific event that triggered this story. Of course, though, it’s something I thought about while I was writing “Wood for the Fire.”

ME: There is beautiful prose in these tales of darkness:

“The struck match snapped, jumped wildly into the air then simmered until he could only see her smile.”

Poetic writing and highly cinematic, it’s that hovering quality you mentioned. You clearly love the stories you are telling and your characters.

What do you think we need most from stories about the dark side of being human? You mentioned your own evolution of empathy, is this book part of that?

JR:I think we need to understand that everyone is suffering on some level. I definitely think I developed as a person in writing these stories.

I wrote more than half of them after I got my dog and it was shattering how I could find walkin-after-midnightthe ability to love something so much, but that made me reflect deeply and honestly about my past, the decisions I’d made.

It’s realizing that we could be just as dark, inhuman, evil, unforgivable as the people we think define those things the most. I think a lot of us already have been.

ME: What is the most redemptive quality a person can develop? What do you think makes for the most vital quality of a heroic character/person?

JR: Honesty. If a person/character is honest enough that they have a sense of their own flaws then that is a quality in a character that I really invest in. I’m much more compelled to follow a character, even one who might be a sociopath, than someone who actually believes their own bullshit.

ME: No doubt. It takes courage to be honest.

Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me. This has been fun and I am so glad to have your book on my mind. I’ve learned a lot in this exchange. Best of everything with the release of Walkin’ After Midnight.


280 Photo 1

Twitter: @professoropiate



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