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Messy Workspace and a bit of Found Art

So, lately I’ve been using my big ol’ bed as a workspace – with this fabulous cutting board as a bit of a desk-like apparatus … so my room is an absolute mess but I’m enjoying playing with this fusion of word and image …

And this is an assemblage I was working on, which has since been deconstructed by my 4 year old … oh well, I’ve always said deconstruction was good …

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Grants & Hermitage

I know I have been a recluse recently: shutting off my email, not answering my phone, missing all your shows, but, as many of you know, I’ve been working on a grant application. So, to share a bit with you and break out of my reclusive pattern, I am posting a couple of the responses here.

One essay asked for a response about what your writing means to you, and another was a personal response to a quote from Virginia Woolf’s, A Room of Her Own, which the award is based on. If I get the grant it would allow me time to write my book and offer some validation.

As many of you know, I am in the middle of a divorce and my “late night poetry events” and “out of town protests” are being used as examples of my cruel and intolerable treatment of my former partner and of my neglect of my children. So, this kind of validation (both in being chosen and in being funded) would be amazing.

I like to think that when one door closes another opens (to be cliche about it) or that the universe is always offering us gifts and we just need to be open to them, from the smallest to the largest things in life, everything is a gift: our very existence is a gift. But as (who was it that said this? Alexander Graham Bell? I think) said, about the door thing “we often look so long upon the door that has closed behind us that we don’t see the doors that have opened in front of us,” or something to that point.

I am grateful for everyone and everything in my life and I am trying to be open to all the universe has to offer me. This seems like it would be such an easy thing to do, but I have found it is actually quite hard. We have so many defenses and issues and complications that staying open to possibility is a conscious struggle. But it is worth it, after all.

I think it was Abe Lincoln who said, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and only have lived the length of it, I want to have lived the depth and breadth as well.” Yeah … me too.

Essay: What does my writing mean to me?

i just write about
what i should have done
i just sing what i wish i could say
and hope somewhere some woman hears my music
and it helps her through her day
ani difranco

I have always written. Even before I believed I had anything worthwhile to say, I wrote. And I read; pulled myself through childhood on one word or another; mine or someone else’s, whatever filled the need. Initially, I wrote thinly veiled, abstracted poetry, which felt safe because it was so open to interpretation. I found in it a way for me to say what I needed to say without giving myself away, without telling any of the secrets I knew I was supposed to keep. A way to rid myself of the toxicity of experiencing reality in a world where illusion was taken to be fact, of being taught to tell the truth in a world based on lies, no one was allowed to question, and seeing the consequences involved for those who did.

Back then, I wrote for myself. And if someone else got something from it, if it meant something to them, then all the better. But I was my focus. It was all about finding ways to work things out, to get all these images, all these ideas, all these emotions and juxtapositions and paradoxes out of my mind and onto the page, where I could sort them out, where I could isolate inconsistencies, where I could pinpoint inaccuracies, where I could search for truth among the chaos. When I understood my reality was based on a series of agreements, with myself and with others, and not on anything absolute and unchanging, I became addicted to truth. At that point I didn’t recognize the possibility of truths and spent my time searching, instead, for The Truth. I found myself unable to write.

As artists, as people, we are constantly changing perspectives, making new realizations, finding new fixations. We alter our realities when alter our level of acceptance, when we let go of beliefs that limits us, that are not true for us, that are not for us. Along the way, all we can ever do is tell our own truth, how we perceive things based on our own collection of recollections, obsessions and perspectives. That is what I committed myself to: to creating, to recognizing, to sharing truth. I no longer believe truth exists as an absolute, but I do believe that there are truths to be found, to be acknowledged, to be accepted.

Toni Morrison found a way to recognize a life that was lived but not valued, a voice that was raised but not heard, a story that was made but not told. She found a way to reconstruct history in her fictionalization of the life of Margaret Garner. Took a life, depicted so crudely in history, simplified and damned by the majority, dehumanized and objectified by slavery, by an acceptance of a reality in which human beings were deemed property, and allowing us to experience the complexities of her situation, her motivation, her subjugation, and she made it into a story, into an experience, into a truth, we could internalize and feel, rather than just memorize but not recognize. This allowed me to see how using a story can have more of an effect than all the proselytizing, lecturing, protesting, boycotting, and ranting I could ever do. We open ourselves up to stories, to the characters in those stories.

It gives us a window into another life, another frame of reference, another reality. It allows us to see what goes on behind the masks we all have in place in our everyday existence, which serve to divide us even as they protect us. It takes beyond the framework of truth or lie, of us or them, of fact or fiction, and into the realm of experience, of emotion, of intention.

Part of what drives me is this disparity between our actual realities and the illusion collectively agreed upon as reality. We are collections of conversations, recollections, expectations, agreements and fears. We have learned to distinguish fantasy from reality through repetition, reinforcement, and validation of what others believe and the subjugation, mockery, and dismissal of what they do not. We make agreements with ourselves, with others, about what truth is, about what reality is, about what fact is. We can choose to disagree with the collective beliefs, but we must live in this world regardless of what we decide, and it is difficult to remain vigilant to a truth when there is so much based on its fictionalization.

Allowing ourselves to remain consciously aware that we exist in an illusion others take to be fact, to recognize the willful ignorance employed, both individually and as a whole, has never been easy. Perhaps, this is where many artists are born … on the periphery, living in two worlds, aware of the possibility of more than one truth, one reality. Needing to find some way to communicate this understanding, this idea, this burden, to others in some form. Needing to find connections, to find commonalities, to find truths, in a world that defines everything in absolutes.

We are creatures initially defined by our experience, by our environment, by our access to opportunity. We exist, physically and socially, within the narrow framework of our lives; constructed by such a random variety beliefs and assumptions and conclusions, both conscious and subconscious, that it is difficult to understand ourselves, much less another. Stories give us pieces of the puzzle we are continually missing on our lives. Gives us access to the minds of others, what they do behind closed doors, what has happened to lead them up to this moment, what is left unspoken, left unsaid. In our culture of silence, we turn to fiction as a way to play connect the dots, as a way to connect, as a way to re-connect with something essential within ourselves and to see it reflected in others, see it reflected in the “other.”

I am writing my way through my life. I am finding ways to make the personal universal, to make the truth subjective, to make reality authentic. I went from veiled, abstract, imagistic poems that left me feeling safe but uninspired, to blunt, brutal non-fiction pieces that left me feeling cathartic but unsatisfied, to a blend of fiction and fact that has bridged a gap between the two. In my attempt to deal with life honestly, to find my own truths, to trust my own judgment, to understand reality, I have found fiction often tells the truth much more effectively. The thing that brings us back, keeps us reading and re-reading, keeps our focus fixated on books and films and television shows, is our ability to see much more of the whole than we ever can in our lives.

I am inspired by everything around me, by small moments throughout the day that strike me, leave me reeling, leave me feeling like something monumental has occurred, like something inside me has shifted, and it has. A thousand times a day, my perception shifts and I find new ways to see the world around me. Every tiny occurrence, every word spoken with the range of my ears, every movement captured by my vision, has something to say. And I feel I have to find a way to capture it and share it, to recognize and remember it, to acknowledge and honor it. Writing is like breathing, in so many ways I can’t explain. It is necessary to me; I will always write. It’s how I find my focus, how I decide what is real, how I establish priority and importance and intent. Even if I never published anything, shared anything, read anything, I would still write.

But part of the magic of creation is communication, the dialogue we create both between works of art and in response to them. Writing well is finding a way to take this language, created to describe objects and communicate actions and find a way to describe emotions and communicate thoughts. It is a way to remember our shared history, a way to recognize discrepancies, a way to respect our own perceptions. It is a way to acknowledge our responsibilities to ourselves, to each other, to the truth as we see it. A way to allow others in, allow them access to possibilities, to realities, to beliefs other then their own.

It is a way to give back to the world, to the writers of the words I wrapped around my own fragile frame, to the readers searching for something they can’t even define, hoping to find it buried somewhere, in between the lines, hiding behind the subtext or out in plain sight. It is a way to contribute, to participate, to communicate, to relate; a way to play connect the dots with our thoughts, with our experiences, with our personal perspectives based on all the various aspects of this life we’ve been living, on all the connections we have made. My writing is a way, both into, and out of myself. Both the act of reading and the act of writing create bridges, create connections to others, through acknowledging our reflection in their stories, in their actions, in their intentions, and to ourselves, through recognizing our own responses and allowing ourselves to question our motivations, our beliefs, our truths.

“Poetry ought to have a mother as well as a father.”

My own mother was a writer, though you’d never know it by looking at her life. She never published anything, never collected her works, never entered any competitions or received any degrees. But even now, almost a decade after her death, her writing exists. Mostly tucked away in people’s memory boxes, or wherever they keep things that mean something to them: drawers, boxes, trunks, books. With my mother it was in books, encyclopedias to be exact, in the volume that corresponded the first letter of the person’s first name. Her main form of writing was letters; she was always writing people letters and sending cards with notes inside.

Often, she wrote poems for people on special occasions. I have several such poems in my own memory box: from my sixteenth birthday, high school graduation, the birth of my daughter. Over the years, many people have told me how she helped them through difficult times in their lives, how she always knew just what to say to make you feel better about your life, about yourself, how she had sent them a letter or poem or card that changed something for them, allowed them to see things differently, gave them the hope they needed to keep going. And I like that about her.

Her poems were never something I would write. They were full of her faith in her God, her belief in the essential goodness of people, her advice on dealing with grief. Conversely, she never would have written the things I write. She used to always ask me, why I couldn’t write about happy things once in a while. I used to tell her happiness was an illusion and I wasn’t buying. The way I saw it, she used happiness as a mask: buried reality in mass graves behind her eyes, put on a smile, and called it a life. There was truth to this. Many terrible things happened in our youth, continued to happen, even after she knew, because she couldn’t or wouldn’t accept that they were true.

If a story were written about her life, one that took everything into account, it would be difficult for the reader to decide if she was a good mother. It is difficult for her own children to decide. In a family of eleven, each with our own experiences, our own individual and shared histories, our own memories, there are those who feel she did no wrong, those who feel she did everything wrong, and those who feel she did the best she could. I find myself in that last category. I recognize how she was defined by her generation, confined by expectations of what it was to be a wife, a mother, a woman, limited both by her beliefs and by her fears. I can understand her inclination to remain silent, to deny a reality she felt powerless change, to repress the truth of what was happening to her children, and to invest in a belief that removed responsibility from her shoulders and placed it in God’s hands.

But I also recognize the repercussions of her choices. I also still suffer the consequences of having had a mother who lived in denial, in willful ignorance of the reality of our lives. It is lovely that she touched so many lives within her community, that so many have fond memories of her, but it is unbearably sad that she dedicated her entire life to being a wife and a mother and in the end understood that she had failed. Failed to protect her children when they needed her protection, failed to take action when they action needed to be taken, failed to believe them when they needed to be believed.

I often wonder what would have been different if she had been encouraged to pursue her own interests, if she had found a way to consider realities outside her own experience, if she had received validation for something other than her role as wife and mother. Often wonder what it would have been like to grow up with a mother who believed in herself, who understood her own worth, who was secure enough to take action. I think it would have made all the difference: to her, to us.

It is not my mother’s generation. Many doors have been opened, or at least defined as doors, which were nothing more than brick walls in her time. There is much to be grateful for, many achievements to recognize, many women and men who have come before us, who have worked to gain ground, to create possibilities. It is up to us, it is our responsibility, our obligation, our way of validating their work, of recognizing their sacrifice, of honoring their lives, to continue. We make stepping-stones with our lives; allow future generations to find ways to cross rivers which once seemed impassible, to remove obstacles which once seemed immovable, to live lives which once seemed improbable. The way we do this is by making choices, taking action in our lives that create stepping-stones for ourselves.

I have done many things in my life I was once sure I could not do, changed many things I was once sure I could not change, forgiven many people I was once sure I could not forgive. At points, I have limited myself in many ways. I allowed my difficulties in school, my learning disability, my lack of access to money, and my belief that I was stupid to keep me from even considering going to college. I only went because my mother asked me to, asked me to try, at least, before she died. Despite fears that they wouldn’t let me in, that even if they did I wouldn’t be able to afford it, that even if I could, I was too stupid to learn anything, I got in, I got grants, and I did amazingly well. If you had told me ten years ago, however, that I would graduate summa cum laude, with honors, from college, I would have thought you were on crack. That is, I would have been incapable of believing that could ever be true.

I limited myself by accepting the message that being a fat girl meant no man would ever love you. That a women’s value, a woman’s worth, was in direct correlation to her attractiveness to the opposite sex. Latched onto the first man who ever said he loved me and stayed with him for years. Because I was afraid that he was right, that they were right, that no one else would ever love me. Ironically, being with him was what exposed me to a culture in which the traits that had garnered such negative attention, in the white, rural community where I grew up, were suddenly seen as strengths. My sarcasm, my stubbornness, my issues with authority, my propensity for “back talk,” even my weight, was no longer met with negativity. Being with him exposed me to the existence of a whole other reality, made me question beliefs I had accepted as fact. Being with him exposed me a mother unlike any mother I had known: Mama Lena.

Mama Lena was all about action, was all about truth, was all about reckoning. It is her voice I hear, even now, in moments of doubt, in moments of fear. It is her that I see: standing at the stove in her church dress and slippers, telling me, “Ya got it in ya’, girl. Ya got it in ya’.” Even then, when I didn’t really understand what “it” was, I believed her. She made you feel like everything she said was nothing, if not truth. She didn’t care what anybody thought of her and didn’t hesitate to stand up for anyone she loved, no matter what the cost. I never saw her write a word, never saw her read a word, but the way she lived her life, the way she spoke and what she chose to say, was poetry to me. Lifted away veils of confusion and denial and belief. Woke me up to the reality of life, to what was happening before my eyes that I had failed to see because I had chosen to be blind. Healed something in me.

There are not enough mothers in poetry, in fiction, in reality, who are the writers of their own lives. We all need mother who believe in us, who believe in themselves, who are courageous enough to take action, to deal with reality, to seek out the truth: no matter how terrible it may be; no matter what demands it makes of us, once it is known; no matter what action we may have to take by accepting it. We need to see mothers, we need to value mothers, we need to be mothers who accept responsibility for their own actions, for their choices, for their lives. It is good, essential even, that so many women are writing stories of their survival, are writing stories of their experiences with being victimized by people in their lives, by societal expectations, by institutionalized sexism, by our devaluing, objectifying culture, are refusing to be silenced by fears and taboos.

It has been a source of validation and unification for all women, especially for women who felt they were alone in their reality, who had been convinced that they were the only ones. It has been a stepping-stone, without which we would be unable to cross. But we are ready to move on, to take the next step, to fill our pages and our lives with strong, honest, complex women: women who write their own stories; women who are object of their own lives, not the subject of someone else’s; women who are, first and foremost, human beings, whatever roles they may play. We all need these women: in our lives, in our literature, in our shared history. And the only way to fill that need is to create them, to encourage them, to validate them, and, perhaps, most essentially, to be them.

Virtual Tour

Here’s a pic of my my Art Show at Blue Dahlia Coffee in Canandaigua.

The paintings are new (well, one of them is a do-over which was augmented from a previous painting) and the other is new.

The red & black & white one is called Ready to Take Flight and was the one augmented from an abstract portrait I did of my (soon-to-be-ex) husband; which basically looked like a big red & black vortex … All the hopeful, added, bird-like looking part is new …

This is what it originally looked like:

The other one, the woman in the lotus-like-looking flame with the VanGoghish-looking sky, is called From Assent to Ascension.

The other new pieces are Submission, Goddess of Strength, & Armor … well Submission is new, Goddess of Strength is an older drawing I stumbled upon in one of my sketchbooks I just found, and Armor is a piece I drew during World Poetry Days at Saint John Fisher and recently altered.

Submission

Goddess of Strength

Armor

The photos included in the show are 4 altered photographs from the Native American Dance & Music Festival, featured in my first art show and Haz Mat Literary Review, and 4 unaltered photos: 2 of which were included in the Pathways & Doors Exhibit I was part of for the Rochester Ink Festival.

The altered photos from the Dance & Music Festival are titled: Wind Song, Shadow Dancing, Stolen Lands, and Edges of Invisisibility.

The unaltered photos from Pathways and Doors are titled Concrete Meditations (which appeared in Pathways and Doors as Ayden) and Post & Barn.

The two other unaltered photos are photos I took of rocks (which I do quite often since rocks are one of my odd obsessions).

One – Zen Rock – is a large rock with long grass plastered across it which reminded me of a yin-yang. The other are two rocks embedded in a drive in Naples, which reminded me of a mother & child, and is therefore titled Mother & Child.

(The concept of Mother & Child is another one of those obsessions I have which repeats itself in my work quite frequently.)

The final piece is an oil pastel drawing of a mother & child I drew for my sister-in-law for mother’s day while she was pregnant. It reads: Hold Close with Open Arms.

So, for those of you who could not make it … here is your virtual tour … All that’s missing is the bio & the cup of coffee … The bio I can add, the cup of coffee … well … meet me at Blue Dahlia some week and I’ll tell you which is my favorite!