GETTING PLASTERED WITH CHAR DOWNS

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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 . . .

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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

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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 (cutoutfoldup.com); and work by the painters George Hofmann (georgehofmann.com) and Richard Garrison (richgarrison.com), 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.

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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

sojovalandgpic

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 BlackWitchChronicles.com 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: 
 Yes!

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.

MICHELLE: Yes!

VALENCIA: 
 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?

sojovalart

Valencia’s Art Work

VALENCIA: 
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.

MICHELLE: 
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!

MICHELLE: 
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.

MICHELLE: 
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.

VALENCIA: 
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.

MICHELLE: 
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.

DR. G. LOVE: 
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.

VALENCIA:
 “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 Sojourners@riseup.net. 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

 

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SOJOURNERS LAND: Dr. G Reloaded

IMG_1717

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.

MICHELLE: 
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

www.joericker.com

www.280steps.com

Twitter: @professoropiate

 

xxo

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LISTENING TO MY GRANDMOTHER

MEPcenterEnough people have been wondering out loud to me about altars that it makes sense to share a few thoughts on the subject during the beginning process of making an altar for my grandmother.

A friend recommended this altar and I intend to tend it until June 21st–the first day of summer and also my mothers birthday.

I lit three pink candles tonight to celebrate my birthday with my grandmother.

Minnie Emma Pigg 1909-1991.

Nearly twenty-four years ago that she died and this week I am assembling an altar for her.

I have her jewelry box. A cheap cardboard box filled with plastic and glass beads strung together on wire, small objects saved for the memory they held or their own simple oddness or both. I used to buy her rose shaped lapel pins and locket necklaces at thrift stores for a dollar when I was out shopping for my punk clothes as a disaffected youth. There are several of these finds in the box, like they were her favorite things.

And maybe they were.

My mother had a picture of Minnie Emma framed for me; a black and white portrait of my grandmother with her hair done. She’s wearing her best cloth and faux fur coat. I have this coat, still. I don’t wear it because the seams tear as it shifts.

The box and the picture are the main parts of the altar. I have a hand crocheted scarf and a small ceramic figurine of a sitting bear that belonged to her. The bear is something I’ve carried with me for most of two decades to keep me safe.

“Look how good it’s working,” She says as I place it.

The altar is a place to remember ourselves in relation to the person we honor. We remember ourselves in the moments we spent with them. The altar space is for remembering, for listening, for making a focus on tradition. In tradition we remember our ancestors daily and celebrate them often. In tradition we experience connection and communication.

I made a pot roast the day I set-up her altar. I cooked it all day just like she used to do. I’d look forward to it all day as I went in and out playing around her house. I remember that she smiled at me a lot back then.

Today, she gave me a advice about the roast. The altar is for this conversation. To listen and to open up to what she is telling me. In this case, she eliminated an ingredient from the way I cook the pot roast. I’ll never use it again, she’s still teaching me to cook, to mind traditions that keep me grounded in myself. My grandmother is still teaching if I am still listening.

MEPcloseupheartI have rose oil, so I sprinkle that. I have some sachets she would like, I put those on the altar and sprinkle these with rose oil. She smiles, I see it. I see the quality of it, the her of her smile. This is what the altar does. It brings us into contact.

I continue to work on the altar, I bring a pink tree flower and put it in a bottle I like. “I’m actually not sure what this one is,” I tell her. Later someone hands me a treat—something I never get for myself. I start to decline and my grandmother says: those were a favorite when you were a kid. I’d forgotten it all together; Saturday mornings with her—yes, I remembered, Scooby Doo and too many sweets.

I use my own jewelry. A necklace that features a pistol and a bracelet lined with silver bullets. I remember her so well with her gun. Protecting the hen house from snakes and her kitchen from intruders.

MEPcloseupbulletShe was featured in a local headline once: “Shotgun Packing Mama” it read. She’d chased off yet another would be burgler with her .22. Eventually it was that kind of danger that caused her to rent the place and move to her brother’s property. She was a local celebrity with her gun, though her smart mouth came in handy too. That last part she just said to me now.

That’s the point and the power of the altar for an ancestor. It’s an invitation to communicate in subtle awareness with that history as it lives through us.

I remember a dream I had about my grandmother when I was very small—we were playing hide and seek and I was so happy. Even when I was very small I dreamed of my grandmother’s love and remember it felt very wonderful and fun and I was excited to have her for my grandmother.

MEPcandleThe altar does this; it connects my grandmother and myself through time and memory. It brings us together across the divide we hold in mind now, the divide of death, the legacy of the veil.

Tend to your altar for as long as you need or want. Add memories written down or photographs or objects. Take things away and rearrange. Tend it. Spend time with your altar. Light candles and write letters and talk it out. Just talk it out. Do what you need to do, but tend the altar. Add and remove and rearrange objects. Light candles and incense, talk and tend.

You may wish to offer ancestors their favorite vices or comforts: their crossword puzzles and glasses of sherry, gardenia bath powders or BBQ pork rinds. Feed them if you like. If you do this, it is a best idea to bury the food offerings before they go bad. And no nibbling! If the truffle is for your ancestor then—well, you wouldn’t have taken it out of their mouth in life, so don’t do it at their altar either.

Play music they liked. Look through pictures. Make a list of traits you want to MEPcandleboxremember, of memories you want to hold close.

Most of all—listen. Listen to their voice in your life. What did they teach you, give you? How do you act with and from this person everyday? What can they see in you that you don’t see in yourself? What mystery can they solve for you?

Write down traditions you learned from this person and make them a seamless part of your life, of your thoughts. Use the altar to honor and to open communication. How we live shows our reverence for where we have been. 

We are our ancestors.

MEPfull

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TRYING HARD TO STAY HERE

bkgrndbirdThe following ‘fragments’ of thoughts came in a message the other day and I asked permission share because there is an urgency here that applies to the way life is lived here in America everyday.

A depression—or a series of small but relentless and irrefutable episodes of tiny depressions—will overwhelm in places where we feel the most alone.

You are not alone. The pressures and disappointments—the longings and the nostalgia—the struggle to be in your own skin—you are not alone. 

I found these words satisfying and healing and connective and that is why I wanted to put them here for you. Whether you need them right now or not—here they are.

Thank you to the author of these ‘fragments’ for allowing me to share—and the rest of you—you take care out there.

xxomichelle

seed1Unedited Fragments (edited version II)

woke up unfrozen in ten years back time,

walking in circles around

a bottomless pit of need, grinding molars and incisors flat,

ego bruised, unrested.

 

what accomplishments? i feel fake,

a survivor clinging remnants of the wrecked medusa

of a would-be career,

and these gleaming speedboats

yachts piloted by calvin klein models-

craft white as bleach creekbed shark teeth

circle around in the waning sun.

 

someday.

will i be able to stand on my own two feet?

will i sail-walk on the water?

will i drown in the water?

will a big shark take me for a ride?

 

how long before i get to plant

a thing

in some ground mommy

a dogs age since held with care

soil warm not attall

held by someone

other than myself

body chemically rusted shut acidly pissed from ignoring itall

this time.

 

i miss sylvia, my grandmother who loved me.

i wish she was around to see me all manly

and full of all these crusty man regrets

that never get aired out-

me and my boys have a lot of good reasons not to respect our fathers

not much there to miss little to nothing human to reconcile with

but we learned soo well how to stuff

our emotions beneath

our work boots / keep on truckin.

where i’m from its only ever foaming out over a train a fire a shot the bottle.

 

I just watched times goin by unsloshed on the hoppy drink

from a purple haze all saucy with youth,

failing to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk

everyone around me- to a friend, to a lover, running the jagged path,

there in an eyeblink went ten years.

Hey now a slew of my close friends from my 20s

are still finding oblivion the daily meal of FUBAR

harder and harder to reach packing snow

 

cross electricless space

ninety degrees

mores of east coast/midwest,

 

canyon deep familial love,

the kind you can only have

when your bedrock is pocked, cratered with

bad jokes

bad poems

good poems

dead friends

smashed plates

ghosts

dancing

kitchen explosions that burn off your eyebrows

sex magic

the plague from Canada

campfires

sweet music time for it all starlight.

 

i used to smoke vanguards

and basics

and top

and wind up sucking vapor from a ventilator in ER

b/c chronic lungs-dead poems no future

i cant wait do it now

 

think of a trick to shock and amaze

transform oppression impossibility

and human suffering into beautiful possibility.

teach me to not quit i have to keep learning this

and i forget unlearn to next forget and forget

keep relearning.

 

practice.

because when fighting powerful

entrenched evil institutions

so unlike my youthful dreams of freedom,

the adult dream of collective freedom fails

does not fill me with optimism

or a sense of possibility

but a kind

of grim acceptance

of the material fact. rewards can only

be reached, in half measures, puttering, across

the hostile moonscape, desert of logistics,

fighting guns and dogs

with pebbles, bloody paper.

 

i am trying so hard to stay here

in this hostile and lonely place

to engage the enemy

of all of us in this

capitalist warmongering

racist beast

the prison system,

amidst impossible tumult,

on ground that wont stay fixed.

 

i cant walk on the water

float and survive for awhile on my belly fat,

eat onesself if necessary.

i try to explain the feeling of loss

that is a tiny death when i lose track

of one of my boys

thinking they are in the rearguard of my army,

and suddenly they shock me mad max

out of my complacency

with a racist or sexist outburst

on social media.

 

steel myself against good news.

my greatest antiracist white allies,

always riteous,

looking after the soup kitchen babies

they’re gonna have white children

in a black city

but suddenly plan to move away

because the drunks and the ghosts of drunk dead friends and the schools are so v. fucked up and the lead levels so high cause

they can plan to sell the house the garden

they can move on up

to a farm, a whiter, less perma-fucked enclave.

 

i renew my antiracist tirade to the void.

feel all smelly with self-riteousness

spectacularly failing again and again,

my body goes on

and wakes up

and i shower

get dressed

take selfies

i get to eat

and drink,

and worry

about my computer breaking

and how the dollarstore underwear

has holes after one week

how everything is always breaking

and being maintained and mended over and over

yet always full of holes,

but I get to have my medicine

and my woo and my queer sex

and maybe someday therapy

maybe blossom

into my own beautious manhood

wracked with the vile aspirations of others

 

because i have somehow but not really

but almost

escaped working class addiction,

working class early death from

construction accidents,

instead i can have my own

big city heart attack death

on this shattered raft

that i never wanted.

 

fucking jesus probably felt empty

walking on water.

feeling empty because

i am scared of all the things

i think i want,

these big adult goals are so wracked with anxiety,

unlike my youthful dreams

that were all about freedom,

exploring the cosmos… endless possibility.

 

i dont want to let go of any of my

youthful dreams either,

and i am not unappreciative

of the richness of this

adult life of minutiae.

i am in a body.

living.

and it just needs needs needs

but i like to forget that…

can’t remember how it feels

to wake up feeling safe

in the oasis of someones arms

who can handle every part of me.

 

more of my real friends

can hold up tiny little parts,

sometimes substantial parts of me

and it makes my steps lighter,

and that gives me an army of real friends

that makes it possible to put on my

shit kicking boots,

i still have these dreams,

raw jerky art,

moonlight

somewhere behind the smog,

there are campfires next to rivers,

somewhere beyond the strangle

of streets

and life in the matrix

of dreaming,

a hope for love,

a knowledge that it is out there

across the desert,

across the sky,

across the ocean too.

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Cuba, Yoga, Love And Writing Memoir With Sarah Shellow

Sarah Shellow headshot 2-2

Listening to Sarah Shellow read from the early versions of her memoir Undocumented–which didn’t have a title at the time–remains a visceral memory. The lighting. The big room. The muffled coughs in the dark. I remember listening because I remember the story of two small objects very clearly. It was two bottles of essential oil. I’m fairly sure one of them was Ginger. In Sarah’s story of leaving Cuba she is in line with her luggage at the airport when she looks up and sees the pain on the face of a man whom she loves and she rushes to him dropping the two small bottles containing the fragrances she wore everyday. Years go by and I can still see the picture it made in my mind when she told the story that night. I can still see that room where we all sat to listen. Good story telling does that, it captures a world of meaning and experience in small images. Good story telling wraps the stick-to-your bones part of the story in a manageable package and gives it to you for keeps. Sarah is a skilled storyteller and a narrator I find easy to trust. The territory of memory can be sly and mutable. Memory reveals new details that may, in fact, alter our entire perception of something we felt certain we understood. A trustworthy narrator will tell you where she got it wrong and be grateful when she gets it right. I trust Sarah Shellow’s voice and the quality of learning and relearning that comes through her work as a storyteller and here in this delicious talk. Sarah’s words and insights always feel both illuminating and calming and I add this talk to a list of recent talks that feel as if they create shift. I feel something very alive in this talk that is such a pleasure to share. Please find more of Sarah Shellow’s hypnotic prose and the insights she collects on her blog: Tidal Basin. Sarah works as a teacher for those who teach writing to young people. She writes poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. She has just completed her first novel: Slack Tide. Her work has appeared in The Atticus Review, The Pitkin Review and she is currently the editor for Clockhouse. On The Writer In The World  Sarah describes her work as follows: “My memoir, UNDOCUMENTED, is my attempt to reconcile love transmuted by politics and circumstance. I also explore my relationship with the yoga communities in Cuba and our continued efforts to build a bridge between our nations through yoga and meditation. On the cusp of thawing relations between our two countries, UNDOCUMENTED reflects the on-going love affair that exists between the people of the United States and Cuba despite government interference.” Please Enjoy . . .

MICHELLE: In your memoir—Undocumentedyou share the story of a love affair across a forbidden line drawn between the United States and Cuba. What was the primary drive to make—it takes a kind of primal drive to make a memoir happen—what did you need to see in the world; to articulate and put into the world as a result of your experience?

SARAH: I love your first question because it did feel like a primal drive to write the memoir. The funny thing was that the drive appeared before the experience. I had several dear Cuban friends in New York and we all danced Cuban salsa. The more I became integrated into their way of thinking and their approach to life, the more I wanted to go to Cuba. I systematically prepared for the experience by saving money and easing out of my teaching responsibilities—really, making space for the experience to capture me. When I arrived in Cuba, I can honestly say a story unfolded almost cinema graphically. When I fell in love with not only the country but with a Cuban man, it was the longing we shared and the impossibility of the union that then fueled my need to document my experiences. What I felt needed to be put out into the world was an American’s first-hand experience in Cuba because such little information was available due to the embargo and our (the U.S. citizens’) inability to travel to Cuba. I thought there might be misconceptions on both ends. MICHELLE: You’re a writer! You had the desire to live a story before it happened. Of course! What were you writing at the time? When you were dancing with your friends and creating this adventure, what were you working on? SARAH: At the time I went, I was not writing very much. I had been a school teacher for many years, one who loved reading and writing and used writing as a form of self-expression when I had the time. But going to Cuba to write (and that is what I told myself) was my first real promise to myself to pursue my love of writing more seriously. A bit of backstory~ I had already fallen in love with a Cuban, one who remains a dear friend today. For various reasons, our relationship was not moving in the direction of something more permanent. But I had gotten a taste of a new way of being in a relationship, not only with a person, but also with a culture that was different from my own in several ways that were very appealing to me. One thing I learned from my Cuban friends was how to always look for ways to connect with others, even when differences seemed large. I also learned how to laugh despite difficult circumstances — or perhaps even because of them. When I went to Cuba, I don’t think I was looking for love, but perhaps I felt in some ways as if I was coming home. MICHELLE: That is an appealing approach, to look for the connection between ones self and another as the first move. So, you made arrangements to go to Cuba and you were staying with a family? What were your accommodations going to be like and how long were you planning to stay? I’m curious, also, about what you thought you were going to be writing in Cuba? What were you passionate about working on then? SARAH: Here is the question that I’ve both dreamed about answering and been worried about answering since I first went to Cuba in 2003; though with the policies changing, I am less afraid, in a sense, to “out” myself. When I first decided to go to Cuba, I called the Treasury Department who was in charge of enforcing a law that stated that a citizen of the United States could not spend money in Cuba (hence, making it difficult to go there.) I tried very hard to go as an educator and as a writer (a journalist of sorts.) I was told not to bother. So, I had to make a decision. It was very important to me to experience Cubans in Cuba on their terms and in their country. I believed and still do very strongly that people in the world should not be prevented from knowing and understanding each other. I decided to go through a third country. I was quite involved in the yoga community in my town, so I googled “Yoga in Cuba” and came up with a couple of names. One yoga teacher had what is called a “casa particular,” which is a bed and breakfast. I made arrangements to stay with him when I arrived in Havana. It was a wonderful way to enter Cuba, being guided by someone with whom I shared the practice and philosophy of yoga! In Santiago, I was to stay with the friends of a dear friend in Brooklyn. At the last minute, that arrangement fell through and my friend’s brother, who picked me up at the Santiago airport, found a new place for me to stay. I lived with a dear woman, Carmen, who, together with her sister, became my Cuban mamas. I planned on staying for almost three months and was able to do so, gratefully. As far as writing was concerned, there were so many impressions, sensations, feelings, and confusions. I simply let them all into my heart and jotted down notes. I couldn’t keep up with the story that was happening to me and in me, so I recorded it the best I could with phrases and simply decided to let Cuba impress my heart, somewhat like taking a photo, and I would retrieve it all later, which is what ended up happening. MICHELLE: How did the yoga community figure into your experience, tell me a little about that work, especially in terms of meeting Cubans on their own terms as you said you needed to do? SARAH: The yoga practice itself– the act of connecting with my breath and my body and re-membering my essence — all of that practice I’d been doing helped me enter this experience with a sense of calm and ease and what I can only describe now as purpose. I had learned how to keep my heart open and alive, even when things got tough. And one of my favorite teachings, if you will, was this idea of living from the place of the heart–the French word, “coeur” meaning heart and also the root of the word “courage.” I found that Cubans, for the most part, love to talk about everything–philosophy, love, art, everything. Perhaps because there is not the option of buying things and accumulating material wealth as a form of distraction, the conversations tended to be rather deep. My first substantive conversation was that first afternoon on Leo’s balcony, talking about what yoga meant to us and how we saw the world. {This is the conversation excerpted from Undocumented}: “Sarah, how do you imagine this world that we share?” “I imagine being able to talk with anyone I want to know. I imagine us dancing together. I imagine countries making plans to meet like kids after school. What do you see, Leo?” “That the color of our blood when the skin splits open on a thorn is the same red. We share the same miseries, the same joys. Inside, we all want to be happy.” “How do you become happy?” “You are happy. The question is, how do you remember?” “How do you remember?” “You must do something each day that helps you remember. I practice yoga. I imagine hundreds of years ago, some Indian man doing these same postures and remembering his own delight, like a baby discovering his toes. I rediscover myself everyday. I still have to do the laundry, make a juice, buy tomatoes, teach a class, but I am new. Each day, Sarah. Brand new!” “How do you imagine our world, Leo?” “New everyday with possibility. Just because our world looks like this today, doesn’t mean it will look the same tomorrow. If we are new every day, our world is new, too.” “Can we do this together?” “We have to do this together, holding hands down the line into the past with everyone who has done this before, and then we will make a circle around the world starting from right here, Sarah, in Vedado, on this balcony. Here, hold my hand.” {end excerpt}

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Havana In The Afternoon

I knew that despite the challenges of daily survival at times in Cuba and the pressure of external circumstances, Leo had found in yoga a freedom of the heart. I think I had found the same thing in my own life. And it was this feeling that we both wanted to share with others. MICHELLE: I love that story. Just that short swath of conversation transports me. I can see it all. And this idea of remembering through the knowledge of, and execution of specific postures makes an inherent sense, an inherent human sense. What did you begin learning about yourself at this time? What really stands in your memory from when you first arrived? SARAH: I think I learned something paradoxical. I learned on an external level that I really didn’t know anything, or at least that is how it felt, because the way things worked in Cuba were so different from what I was used to. At the same time, I learned that I was connecting deeply with, at that point, just one yoga teacher, based on the way each of us had lived our lives with the intention to know ourselves as best we could and to move through the limitations that kept us from being our full selves. What stands out for me was a sense of feeling comfortable; but looking back, I see that was not to last. When I set out on my own to Santiago, I had to learn fast and furiously how to navigate a complicated social system that prior I simply had no experience with. In other words, what I had experienced with my Cuban friends in New York did not in some ways prepare me for the Cuba I found, full of layers of survival skills and ways of relating to foreigners as potential income. I learned quickly that I had been very lucky to make connections with Cubans who would watch out for me. I was quite naive. MICHELLE: An experience of kindness when we have been naive can be a profound realization, it can become its’ own cherished memory. You were working with yoga, on the one hand, to remember and, on the other, to move beyond a limit in the self. Were you practicing yoga everyday? What would you say is a common limit we impose on ourselves? Are there ways we sabotage ourselves that are typical among our human kind? SARAH: I love what you say about kindness and naiveté. Perhaps both are our natural states of being. They exude non-judgment. I think one of the ways we, as humans, limit ourselves is through comparing ourselves to others and then judging others and ourselves. Even the word “other” connotes a sense of inherent difference. I think we are as individuals different from each other but sourced from the same place ultimately. When I remember this, it is easier for me to accept where I am and what I am doing as an important part of my path, rather than trying to walk someone else’s walk. It is easy to feel less than, or more than for that matter, each of those feelings taking us away from our creative essence. In my first trip to Cuba in 2003, I practiced yoga almost every day, but my definition of practice (and yoga!) changed. Leo had an astonishing physical practice of yoga. He was sixty at the time. But his approach to his practice was quite compassionate. He was not competitive with himself it seemed. He did it for the sheer pleasure of the experience, linking movement with breath, getting the mind to settle a bit. There were days we did not touch a yoga mat, but our hearts were open to the experience that was unfolding, and that “being present” became our yoga. In Santiago, I would wake up in Carmen’s house and do a little yoga before breakfast to anchor myself in my body and my breath in order to stay open to what Cuba had to offer that day. The practice served me well like that. MICHELLE: So, you left Havana at some point in the story, you stayed somewhere else? SARAH: I was only in Havana for about a week. I was headed to Santiago on the other end of the island for the majority of my stay. Leo connected me with a few women in Santiago who practiced yoga. He sent word ahead of my arrival, telling them I could teach them. I was actually quite horrified. I had never taught yoga before. Once I met up with Leo’s friends– these wonderful, brave, irreverent women in their sixties– they invited me to an alternative health conference at the hospital. “Green medicine,” they called it. Well, we arrived and took our seats among a group of about 100 doctors. We listened to some amazing presentations about the use of crystals and reiki and herbs. During the five-minute intermission, it was determined that the next presenter was not going to be there, so the ladies must have spoken to one of the officials because I was asked to give a demonstration of the kind of yoga I practiced. I scribbled on my napkin as fast as I could everything I thought I knew about yoga, in Spanish, no less. Needless to say, when I got up on that stage in front of 100 doctors practicing green medicine, I was completely terrified. But the warmth of their responses and the curiosity in their questions kept me going. After that, I “taught” yoga classes to the group of five ladies once a week for the rest of my stay in Santiago. And they taught me how to say the names of different body parts and movements. When I returned to Cuba in 2013, I had the honor of teaching a group of twenty students in a park in Santiago. By then, I had been teaching yoga for 10 years, but I still remembered that my journey had begun in that city. MICHELLE: I love the word unfolding and I love that you truly did practice yoga as support for traversing the daily challenge of being in Cuba. Can you talk more about this opening of the heart, the unfoldment, as part of spiritual practice? SARAH: I think what the physical practice of yoga did for me was to open my body to prepare it for the more subtle and sometimes more ferocious practice of meditation (as sitting still with oneself is “not for the faint of heart,” my meditation teacher says.) I had to melt away some of the physical blockages that accumulate in a life. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe way I understand it is that each time we experience trauma or even joy, the body responds in some way, perhaps tightening, perhaps protecting (the slumped shoulders forward to give shelter to an injured heart.) I saw my body shifting and reorganizing as I did poses that invited me to literally open my heart physically, which later translated into a sense of open-hardheartedness and often fearlessness. I remember daily making the commitment to meet Cuba from that stance. It felt like it was the difference between being bandied about by circumstances versus responding to life from a deep place of connection— connection to myself but also to something bigger, which I hesitate to label because it seems un-labelable, though there exist many names for that energy. MICHELLE: Yes! I love how you worded all of that. It makes sense that we get tossed around by life when we stand outside of our own experience and try to control the environment instead of connecting with it. Yes. I just love your way of telling it. What else does Cuba mean to you from this time there? You have kind strangers and yoga practice, what else are you experiencing? Are you dancing Salsa? 









 SARAH: Ah, salsa! You would think Cuba would be the ideal place to dance Cuban salsa! And believe me, I wanted to! Santiago was the birthplace of son—this rhythm came out of the hills of the Sierra Maestra Mountains. On almost every corner, live music the likes of which is hard to imagine would come out of a trio of old men playing guitar, cello, violin, cuatro, you name it. However, as a woman going dancing alone, or even going with other women, I would have been cast as an extranjera (foreigner) trying to pick up a jinetero (a male escort.) When I started spending more time with Ramon, he told me he didn’t dance (though that was relative!) but he graciously took me to listen to music a few times; yet, he was worried, too, that people would think of him as a jinetero. So, we went a couple of times to see his friend, Rosie, play in her all women’s salsa band. Still, I had the itch to dance, and the way I solved that problem was that I took salsa lessons from Maria. Once a week, I would walk 25 minutes to her house near the hills and we would dance on her roof and she would teach me how to really listen to the clave. In a very real way, I was not “allowed” to go dancing in Cuba, unless accompanied by someone I knew. MICHELLE: The music on the corner sounds so dreamy and then here is this reality of gender in a gendered world. It is indeed, very real.   Undocumented is the title of your memoir and I have heard you read parts of it. Your prose is rich and draws the reader/listener into these wide-open scenes. It is unique to find this combination in writing. Rich description kept simple and expansive. I admire your work as a writer very much and I have always admired your spiritual practice. How do the two go together for you? Or one way that writing and spiritual practice relate for you. SARAH: My spiritual practice very much both informs and supports my writing practice. As I mentioned before, the spiritual practice helps me stay open to be impressed by experience, impressed in the sense of being branded, really. And changed. My spiritual practice keeps me malleable, which helps me not too quickly determine a meaning out of a scene, but rather document it as accurately and with as much heart as possible. My spiritual practice, which primarily now is in the form of meditation, informs my writing because when I sit, I clear space for deep listening. Listening to the story that wants to be told. Meditation clears the runway for my work. It helps me sift through the necessary and the unnecessary. I notice that when I meditate, especially before bed, I hear lines from my novel, and now from my memoir. I suspect the practice of meditation creates some sort of channel through which the work is deposited into my awareness. I also have the sense that the story already exists and it is my job to carve it out of language. I think my spiritual practice keeps me wondering, and that helps the story stay alive. There is never this sense that I know exactly what is going on. And I am okay with that. In fact, it keeps me interested in writing.

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The Capital

MICHELLE: Ahhh! That is what Michelangelo said of David from the stone, of all his work, that the art existed already and that he merely performed the labor of exposing the artifact itself. Teaching your self to step back from needing a scene to have a specific meaning, that is a writer’s discipline in itself. Deep listening is ‘extra-cultural’ for Americans, so to speak. We have many obstacles to grasping the value of doing that sort of listening. Thank you for bringing that up. It’s a wonderful pursuit and one that we can reflect on more than we do, I think. MICHELLE: In writing Undocumented is there a scene in particular that stands out as an experience that became a different experience as you listened deeply from your memory? SARAH: Yes. When I first wrote scenes, I felt like I was recording them almost like I would with a video recorder. There were sensations and the details of weather and what we all said to each other. But the deeper meaning still lurked somewhere underneath. And then I remember writing a scene about a few pairs of flip flops I bought for $1.99 at Kmart before I left for Cuba. I honestly had no idea why I was writing about flip flops, but it felt relevant and so I went with it. As I followed these flip flops through my memories, two things emerged. One was a story in which I had dragged Ramon out to the Sierra Maestra Mountains to experience some of the wilderness in Cuba. Mind you, he was a city person through and through and would much rather have been at a poetry reading followed by a hearty drink at the local bar. We were staying in the mountains with a friend’s sister who raised goats. I am laughing now because Ramon took it all in stride, but we were surrounded by dogs and cats and goats. We cooked our meals outside, which was where, of course, the facilities were as well. It was quite lovely from my standpoint and he humored me. On our second morning, we left from our friend’s little cabin to hike thirty minutes down the mountain to the sea where we were going to go swimming. (Again, my idea.) I must have felt omnipotent, tucked away in the Cuban forest where no one knew where I was, having this personal experience of paradise. Well, I donned the flip flops and down we went. Many adventures happened at the beach, including getting caught skinny dipping by two spear fishermen (again, a horrified Ramon had predicted that might happen when I made the suggestion), but as we turned to go back up the mountain, it began to rain. Not just rain, but pour. It was what they call an aguacero—a torrential rainstorm that happens out of nowhere. The small dirt path Ramon and I had walked down had now become a raging river, and as I trudged against its ferocious flow in my flip flops, I literally thought I was going to die. Rocks and sticks and eventually large parts of trees, came tearing down that sudden river. And Ramon looked to me for advice because, as he reminded me, I knew about the wilderness. I was wholly unprepared. Those flip flops, in a sense, represented my ignorance. And it was in the middle of writing down this memory that I had the awful realization that I had also “gifted” a pair of these things to my friend, Lydia, in Santiago. Looking back and listening deeply to memory, as you say, I recall the look on her face. I don’t know what I was thinking. Perhaps, I was thinking that Cubans live on so little and appreciate so much and I was trying to imitate that life style, to some extent in the United States, so I offered her a simple pair of shoes. But the truth was, and still is, Cubans in Cuba don’t want flip flops from Kmart. They are deeply elegant people with a strong sense of outward appearance and style and a great deal of class. I had with my gift insulted her sensibility. And it was awkward for her because she wanted to appreciate what I had given her. I learned that only after the fact as I excavated these memories. MICHELLE: What is one custom you hope Americans will embrace as political relationships may now allow us to know one another? SARAH: I hope Americans embrace a kind of presence and depth in conversation that is not stymied by distractions such as cell phones and to-do lists. Most Cubans I have met love telling and re-telling the stories of their lives. These stories seem to connect them to each other (“Remember when…”) I have enjoyed both listening to these stories as well as living into them– creating stories from shared experiences and then re-telling them, often with gales of laughter, when we recall the craziness and beauty of what life hands us. I’ve noticed that each time a story is retold, it is as if the listeners are hearing it for the first time. There is something magical about the way shared stories bind us and make our relationships stronger. So, I hope that Americans embrace a form of listening that requires time, patience, and curiosity, and that we embrace, too, our own ability to become part of stories that will be told again and again, strengthening our connection to one another. MICHELLE: Thank You Sarah– for sharing your light and experiences with us. Find Sarah on Facebook. Twitter. Shewrites And get posts from this blog delivered to your e-mail for more talks with healers and artists! xxo Sarah Shellow headshot 1

Posted in The Conversation | 2 Comments

Talking Frequency With Dr. G

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Geryll Robinson

Geryll Robinson puts it this way on Prizmatik Universe:

WE are in a time of possibility. WE are multi-faceted embodiments of our ancestors collective dreaming. WE are black, brown, urban, rural, multi-gender loving, visionary, rageful warriors of peace, peaceful warriors of rage, lovers, haters, co-creators. We are spiral spirited be-ings living in a time of war and dogma. The “label” Prizmatik allows me to be sum of my parts. My sexuality, brilliance, vision and expression is all of what makes me. If you feeling me on this, it is all of what makes you. Prizmatik Universe wants to hear from the future. From the Present. From the Visionaries who can see the we of our ancestors wildest dreams. Love Love and More Love.”

Go To Prizmatik Universe

Geryll Robinson, known to me more precisely as Dr. G, is a powerful healer and luminary. The pleasure of her company is of the variety that can transport you beyond some unnamable hang up—but you have to learn to live there on your own.

Dr. G has a closet full of tools both practical and magickal for individual and collective healing. She works with chakra centers and Reiki energy and also receives plenty of  downloads from higher consciousness and these always resonate with me, so I am so happy to offer her words here and share that energy.

It matters to me every morning to focus my thoughts on the points of light I see all around me. The individual healers and thinkers and makers–the crafts people and the medicine makers. Every morning I think of all the wild spirits I know personally who are creating solutions to our hungers and the strife we face at the current, in the current.

I am very glad to offer this talk and very glad for the day.

It matters to me every morning to see a constellation of medicine makers and the rising  wave of healers entering the current and preserving/creating our possibilities to better adapt/evolve as a species.

I am very glad to offer this talk and very glad for the day.

I asked Dr. G about frequency and she sent me these birds on a wire. It is a perfect thing to take a look at before you read further. Really. Just perfect.

I learn many things from Dr. G, the power of self-care is only one of them, but one that requires consistent attention because care requires consistent attention. The meaning of care must be that; consistent attention.

Community self-care moves beyond the rituals of private grieving and into the open as a series of public practices performed by healers and survivors over time, over the course of our lives. Individuals and communities need mental health and stability over time, over the course of our lives we need these in order to thrive, at all.

Good medicine sees that reality and responds to the extent of healing that is required by planning appropriately to meet that need over time. Private ritual and public practice is self-care. We do it for ourselves for each other. Every day.

Public practice is potent medicine; delivered directly as declaration and open invitation to transform, to act as a creator of the highest order, public practice reaches outward. This is the motion toward creating spaces conducive to our needs for health and the longevity of that health.

 As many seek to create these spaces, these spaces are created.

My experience with this present talk with Dr. G is one of functionality. I have felt highly functional since this conversation and in the re-reads of it too. This is the effect I gain.

Get more medicine and awareness practice with Dr. G on her youtube channel and get connected with Five Directions Wellness, too.

Connect with Dr. G on Facebook.  Twitter. Tumblr.

Enjoy Very Much. . .

ME: 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?

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.

ME: 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?

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.

ME: 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?

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.

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


 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!


 ME: 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.

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 methodically 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.


 ME: 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.

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.

ME: 
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?

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.

ME: And straight up sabotaged in some instances. Building community especially.

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.

As 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.

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

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









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ME: 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.

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

PS: I emailed Dr. G later and asked her to send anything that came to her mind for resources and she sent this my way:

“I actually am so into the kind of downloads that come from living as opposed to reading right now…. I feel researching ones roots and ancestral legacies pre and post US citizenship can b very helpful. For instance reading Isabelle Wilkersons “The Warmth of Other Suns” really opened me up to connections with my legacy as a child of the Great Migration and is helping me contextualize my early childhood experiences with my family.” -Dr. G

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Dr. G. Love

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Discussing Literature In A Time Like This With Matt Runkle

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Conversation with Matt Runkle always brings out the best in me. This has been true for all the years I have known him. When I have the opportunity to engage with Matt the artist in me feels inspired to make worthy objects, to write worthy stories. I’m not making this up–it is one-hundred percent true.

Photo: Barry Phipps

Photo: Barry Phipps

(Click Here to read a story about how I met Matt’s work for the first time.)

Matt Runkle is a man whom it seems, at least to me, to have acquired the patient brilliance to allow his curiosity to trump any need to stand in judgement. He could be faking this, of course. But, I don’t have any reason to think that he is. He always manages to make me think of myself in the best possible terms and this happens with such little effort on his part I am inclined to think of it as genuine.

Matt Runkle will make you want your own masterpiece to exist in the world. This feeling will be both intense and relaxed–as if it is a self-evident fact that your masterpiece will exist in the world. Why wouldn’t it? What sort of world would that be? No world at all, really, if you think about it.

As someone much wiser and famous-er once said: “The greatest achievement in any life is to inspire others.”

I doubt a truer or more important thing has ever been said. And so, Matt, my celebration of your achievement in this regard is as follows:

For all of you reading this: Your masterpiece will exist in the world because it should. Because it must, because we need it whatever it may be. We Need It. Your masterpiece? Yes. That. We need it. We need the artifact of it to map our presence here. We need it to make sense of what has happened. We need it to see where we go from here. We need your masterpiece. Period. And Thank You.

To understand more on why the above is an objective fact please refer yourselves to: The Story of How All Animals Are Equal and Other Tales By Matt Runkle.

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Michelle Embree: Congratulations on the book! Are you doing readings from it? Are you touring with it?

MATT RUNKLE: Thank you! Unfortunately I’m in the middle of my final year of an MFA program, so haven’t had a ton of time or energy to put into promoting it. I read at a release party here in Iowa City, and there are some rumors about possibly reading with my press mates either at Prairie Lights or Mission Creek Festival in the spring. We’ll see!

ME: This collection is striking. I am taken with the use of language– it is almost as if any word could have a double meaning in these stories and that expands to the sentences and the characters. There is a simple eloquence in this book that juxtaposes at times with the strangeness of the stories. This work has an openness that is timely.

The first sentence in the book: “Where you are right now is in a gift shop.” I admire the choice of second person and it worked for me– I thought: “okay. I’m in a gift shop.” I went with you immediately. It set me up to flow through the book. Did you write this story first? How did you decide on the ordering of the stories?

MR: I actually wrote this story later than a lot of the other ones in the collection. It was included at the last minute, as it replaced a story that got cut, and the editor, Joe Pan, decided to put it first. I had nothing to do with the ordering of the stories, but am pleased with the way Joe decided to put it together. I wrote these stories probably over the course of 8 years or so, so the idea of making them all cohere was overwhelming to me. I was happy to have someone else step in.

As far as the opening’s immediacy goes, physical spaces are really important to me — as a Taurus, you can probably relate. I’m very territorial and sensitive to my surroundings. And because I’m often asking the reader to make some pretty big leaps, I figure the least I can do is physically situate them as soon as possible.

ME: Joe did a great job with this order.

The physical spaces in these stories–even when you have characters moving from place to place–the physical spaces where the stories take place are vivid and you did this with efficiency.

Time is a somewhat different issue. In this collection time is– how do I even word it– it feels sparse and like I could fall through it. The way this book comes together captures a number of feelings in relationship to time– I get this sense of loss that history turns out not to be linear and a sense of excitement that so much expanding reality is ahead of us and then I get this awful frustration for all the squandering–all the waste.

Like–I found this thing once, in a box of someone else’s junk I found this thing– you plug it in and it sits on your desk keeps your coffee cup warm and I just felt rage, complete fucking rage. As I read your stories that object was stuck in my head–the waste of it.

Tell me a little bit about your sense of time in the contents of the stories. Just riff on that a little bit for us.

MR: Oooo time. Wow, ok, here we go.

So yes, we are at a point in time where everyone pretty much agrees that it’s the end of the world. Like it felt that way a little bit in the 1990s, but I think there wasn’t a sincere belief in it. It was kind of a pose.

In this decade and the last, things suddenly became much more bleak. And now that this approaching end is pretty much common knowledge, the absurdity of — and resultant rage around — that coffee warmer is way too much to process. I want to be hopeful, but is that possible at this point without a heavy dose of denial? And now I’m wondering, is it actually possible for denial to be healthy and productive?

When I think back on painful events in my life, I can feel reassured by coming loose from that linear illusion of time –by stripping things of their chronological contexts, they suddenly become easier to bear. And then time and space are so related, and thinking about the symbolic weight of a landfill full of coffee warmers, and what that says about our future — it can be so overwhelming. And I guess that’s what drives me to write these things that unfold in slightly different realities than our own. When I’m feeling good about them, I say to myself that through their otherness, they shed a sort of moonlight on whatever time and place we’re each stuck in. And when I’m feeling bad, I fear that they’re pointlessly escapist. I really appreciate a well written realist story or something that is very literal and powerful in its sincerity.

ME: I appreciate your senses in all of this.

The third story in the book– Gridlock– it really set a tone for me for the whole series. The first line is: “First, let me orient you here.” And then we are in this rather terrible place with these characters that live in a car outside a convenience store and it’s winter and everyone reads lines from a script book.

It is bleak and it did make me think of Paul Austers– “The In Country of Last Things”– but where Auster is describing an end, your stories feel more like passage. I fell madly in love with those characters in “Gridlock”, in just a few pages I found two people I miss– two people who are on my mind. It is odd the way these stories are almost realist– in the sense that I find them necessary to who we are collectively right now. We need a sense of patience for the space-time we are occupying at this cultural moment. I mean, everyday is this kind of waiting game where we see if the big fish have eaten enough to collapse everything from their own false economies to the physical reality of the biosphere.

Everyday is a look out the window and “Oh, ok, not today, maybe tomorrow.” And that isn’t wired into us, I don’t think. We are working a new muscle and you and I always get here quickly in conversation which is so interesting because I think we would both rather being doing that realist work in a different sort of world but, your work, and this is my point–makes me feel okay about where I am. What is your inspiration for ‘Gridlock’?

MR: ‘Gridlock’, I think is the oldest story in the collection, and has undergone a lot of revisions. There are a lot of different inspirations for it, but I think of it as exploring a bunch of tensions/paradoxes: That between movement and stasis, and the way our backwards car culture feels like we’re endlessly stuck in this shitty parking lot. There’s a tension between ‘criminals’ and cops, between who gets called good and who gets called evil, and the violence that is inflicted by the state because of this rhetoric, which has really — unexpectedly! — come to mainstream attention this past month. The tension around the narrator’s unrequited love for Irene and the pair’s position of having to sustain themselves on food that’s sold at the gas station — maintaining an existence just short of nourished. And — back to time again — a tension between the past and the future: the way the future keeps happening faster and faster and falls more and more quickly into the past. I set this version of the story in 2015 because I wanted it to be a future that becomes rapidly dated.

ME: Because the future keeps happening faster! Looking at my notes on that story I wrote: The impossibility of apocalypse. We will just keep going, really. The world can/will/is collapse and we will just keep going. And the sense of place in that– again as ‘floaty’ as time may feel–I am squarely in that car with the steamed windows being drawn on. Lovely and harrowing and right on time.

I love that ‘Gridlock’ was the first story you wrote for the book because it underlined the whole thing for me.
Did you know you were working toward a book when you wrote ‘Gridlock’? Were you looking for stories to fill out a book? And where do stories begin for you? A word? A phrase? Do you eavesdrop?

MR: I definitely didn’t know I was working on a book when I wrote ”Gridlock’ — I was just writing. The idea that I might be building a collection came much later. And yes, the stories can start from a word, a phrase, an image, and often a combination of two or more of these things. I enjoy the challenge of taking two seemingly disparate things and working to bring them together to make some sort of narrative sense. As far as eavesdropping goes, yes, I’m guilty, but I justify it by saying it’s fine as long as no one gets hurt.

ME: I teach eavesdropping in writing workshops. I instruct participants to write them down and then we share our best each week. Hilarious. So, no justification needed.

You do a terrific job of making these marriages. One that sticks out for me is– well there are so many juxtapositions in ‘Romantic Comedy’– but the Supervillian drinking from the plastic goblet. You open the story with this image and it just pops.

It is so very skilled for a writer to create a vivid mental picture with a minimal number of objects. This story has so much in this regard–just the coupling of a hairdresser and a Supervillian– its perfect, it’s picturesque.

Are you able to do more–right now in our cultural era it can be both touchy and confusing to point directly at something– I am experiencing a kind of continuous vertigo in terms of my perception. The stories in this collection give succor to that feeling. Are you able to do more, be more insightful with Supervillians and their lackeys and queens and this type of alter-reality than you can with just trying to talk about ‘regular’ people and ‘regular’ life? Why is the realist story so–um–unreal right now?

MR: Oh wow, what a good question. I don’t know if it’s a matter of being able to do more with alter-realities so much as an inability to skillfully engage with ‘the real’. Of course there are so many varieties of realism, and so many of them border on the absurd — I like a story that has this sneaky kind of absurdism, like a real low-level undercurrent of the bizarre.

I have such a love for melodrama, though — I’m drawn towards a theatrical kind of flash, so everything ends up heading in that direction whether I initially intend it to or not. As far as ‘Romantic Comedy’ goes, though, it started out theatrical, obviously — its characters are all archetypes and its setting is basically a stage. I always had the feeling the characters were getting ready to burst into song. And there’s something so villainous about goblets — like, they’re just longing for claws. And making that goblet plastic seemed appropriate to the Supervillain’s tragically undignified air.

ME: It really works. I love the story. I knew he was truly a super villain when he tells his lover, the hairdresser, that she looks like she is still in beauty school. I think– yes what a villain you are, indeed. This story feels instructive both politically in culture and personally in that the reader is returned to her own perception– returned to: “You pull yourself to the edge of the bed and peer down through the medicinal haze.”

There is something emotionally instructive to the story that I can not exactly place but that I truly appreciate. It is a skillful engagement with the real. Truly.
Theatrics.

The visual– I admire your work as a visual artist. I get the same sense from your work as a writer—which is to say there is a sparseness that allows your juxtapositions to appear picturesque in the true definition of the word. And from this I always take away that emotional instruction, I mention.

You talk about theatrics– I think– well, is the work as a visual artist really differentiated from the work of writing? For those of us who do both– and most of us do, I suppose– what is your process like? On a typical day, of having a life what is like– Making art and writing and living– the backstage of all these theatrics– because it looks like magic on the page.

MR: Well, thanks! I do differentiate the verbal from the visual, but am often working toward bringing them together. We use such different parts of our brain when we read than when we see, so it can be a lot to ask of people to switch back and forth. But then look at comics–a mode that does so very successfully. I guess I really love narrative. I think of everything I do — visually and non- — as a kind of writing. There’s a story behind everything, whether it’s a sustained series of events or a glimpse at a moment of something larger that I want the reader/viewer to fill in.

I know you also work in several different visual and literary forms, so I’m curious about what you think joins these different modes for you.

And as far as daily life goes — right now I’m a student, which is a great privilege. My program, the UI Center for the Book, is really unique in that it has allowed me to work toward bridging the visual with the verbal (as well as consider the tactile and sculptural elements of the book as a medium). I get to think about these things as an artist and as a teacher. I graduate this spring, so there will be a re-negotiation then of what my art and writing practice looks like. Striking a balance between making a living and making art, as you know, can be a real challenge.

ME: You are right, it is all narrative. At one time making small visual pieces was a way to relax from writing. It was something tangible to work with, plus the color can be exciting after all day with black words and white back ground. Also to be able to complete something felt good in the middle of a very long writing project. Right now I am working on a Tarot Deck and the writing that goes with it– the deck is actually titled “Book of Keys”— so I have rather literally joined–or confused, the two.Theater always feels like the ultimate bridge between the visual arts and the literary arts.

Your book is filled with such beautiful language. I want to share this before I let you go to enjoy your evening. This is from ‘Warmth’: “Remember now the tender pocket that forms around the moment when, on a winter’s day in a diner, someone comes and drops a ramekin of butter on your table.” Matt, this is exquisite. Again you place us and speak to us directly and it just works and feels like a waking dream, and it comforts.

What author(s) or artists(s) do you look to as a means to inform your thinking. Or scientists or philosophers?

MR: Tarot is such a great way to bridge these things we’ve been talking about! I was just reading about how Pamela Coleman-Smith was a theatrical set designer, and how the horizon line in many of the images in her deck is like the place where the scenery meets the stage. ‘Warmth’ was actually inspired by the Depeche Mode song, ‘Pipeline’. As far as other artists and writers go, there are so many, but I have been thinking a lot about Jane Bowles lately, wanting to re-read her. I haven’t read Two Serious Ladies in years, but I recall it being a book that maintained that low level of absurdity I like so much.

***** THANK YOU MATT RUNKLE–THE WORLD LOVES YOU–xxo—

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