The Calder Conundrum, or Lack Thereof

Artist Alexander Calder is the subject of a homegrown musical—written, choreographed, designed and directed by local talent. Calder was an artist who played with movement—in wire figures, sculptures, and mobiles. His whimsical work brought joy and wonder to people in troubled times, particularly during the Depression.

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By Alexander Calder via Wikimedia Commons

I absolutely loved the uplift of the musical, which was fun and campy as well as inspiring. The show offered a celebration of artistic commitment.

Here’s something that struck me as I watched the show: Calder (as depicted onstage) feared his work was juvenile, and at times he internalized other people’s disdain. Self-doubt, the enemy of creativity. A state familiar to many of us.

What struck me also was the way the co-directors of this musical framed our evening as an “escape” from today’s tense times. When I thought about it later, this felt like an extension of the “juvenile” indictment.

I felt that by connecting Calder—and this gorgeous production—to escapism, we did him and his art an injustice. I thought to myself: Joy is not an escape. Joy is fuel. And wonder is not distraction. Wonder is an engine.

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By Caracas1830 – Own work, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I wanted to declare that art is not optional, nor is wonder, nor is joy, nor is love. That these are essential pieces in an activated human’s soul.

The next morning I read Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Poets” in Chasing Utopia. It says in part:

Poets shouldn’t commit suicide. That would leave the world to those without imaginations or hearts. That would bequeath to the world a mangled syntax and no love of champagne…

I thought, yes! For a poet, certain activities are suicide.

My mind went to a sentiment I’ve seen expressed: “People need to stop complaining and run for office if they are serious about change.” For some of us, running for office—let alone holding an office—would be death.

My inner argument ended up here: There are many ways to make change, and we all have our part to play. Some of us will create art that brings joy, or show people a different way of living. Let’s respect and praise and enjoy each other for the countless ways our souls shine while we do our best work, whatever that may be.

Postscript
Interestingly, after I drafted this argument, I mentioned my thoughts to my spouse on the dismissiveness of the term “escape.” (“Escapist drivel” is what I judgmentally “heard.”)

She responded that she doesn’t think of escape in that vein at all. To her, it evokes a pleasant place to go in one’s mind. Nothing negative or demeaning about it.

Apparently I got all up in arms over something that was in my own head. There I go again, doing battle when there’s nothing to battle.

Now, of course,  I realize that this internal argument has everything to do with feeling OK about myself and the level of activism I choose to undertake. With the new administration in the White House, every day there are new actions that pain me. And I want to take part in righting wrongs.

The many requests to call decision-makers…flat out drain me. It’s been tricky to figure out where to direct my time and energy. And I’m constantly judging and pressuring myself.

An underlying story informs my need to prove that I’m good enough through activism. It’s what Charles Eisenstein calls the cultural myth of Separation. The story that says I’m separate from you (whether better—if I make more calls than you!—or worse—if you are one of my many super-engaged friends whose activism goes beyond a mere phone call).

This idea of “I’m bad/wrong for not doing x” leads to …

“I’ll force myself and then I will be worthwhile” which leads to…

“I’m better than you because I care more, and look at what I forced myself to do.”

Basically, I’ve been using the master’s tools (of domination, control, force, separation) in an attempt to bring down the master’s house, to paraphrase Audre Lorde.

This underlying Story of Separation, Eisenstein would say, gets to the root of the interlocked problems we face. It’s the same root that underlies the very problems I do or don’t call about. A sense of humanity as separate from nature, from each other, from the magic of an intelligent cosmos. Which we know now isn’t true.

Now we’re getting somewhere. We’re talking about a cultural shift from old story to new story.

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By Manuelarosi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s funny how keying into this bigger picture brings me back to a place of joy, wonder, and activation. So that even if I choose do the exact same actions I previously forced myself to do, the energy behind the tasks feels different. More spacious.

How

“How do we apologize to the plants, the oceans, the air? The Mexicans?”

Asked by a dear friend who came to this country decades ago, wearing skin that makes her a target to some—and now more than ever.

I don’t know the answer.

I can say a mantra learned from the Hawaiian healing tradition of ho’opono pono. I take full responsibility. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

Everything that comes up to confront me is a part of me already, says this tradition. So I take responsibility for it all.

With this mantra comes a sense of settling, and sometimes a bit of clarity. Perhaps an idea arises that may or may not by Divinely inspired: I will join the local Amnesty International group and write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience. I will volunteer with Exodus Refugee, which works to resettle displaced people in my community. I will look up what Charles Eisenstein  and Starhawk have to say.

Or sometimes it’s an idea like: I will take my dog to the park and reconnect to trees and earth and sky.

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Opal and the Wise Old Oak.

Or simply: I will sit and feel into my body. I will allow my heart to be heard.

I will take this deep breath in, and let it go, and know that no one can steal my peace from me, because I make it myself and receive it as I ask.

Yes, all of these and more. And I still don’t know the answer.

This is Humanity

Charles Eisenstein, in this interview, challenges me to something more radical than empathy. What if we believe everything we read and hear? Not in the sense of “That’s Absolute Truth,” but in the sense of: This is what’s real for this person.

It’s a difficult assignment, because it requires giving up being right. But practicing it would open up the potential for new learning.

What life circumstances could I imagine that would give rise to the various stories I hear? What enculturation/emotions/experiences underlie people’s opinions? Or the scenarios being played out, which are expressions of the stories people know to be true?

What stories must be firmly in place for so many African-Americans to be brutalized and killed at the hands of authorities, so often with impunity?

As this writer posits, “America has conditioned society to regard us (African-Americans) as beasts, superhuman, faster, and stronger. So when we are killed, it’s easy to rationalize and accept.”

That’s one possible story. A painful one. Giving rise to the need for all of us to say, unequivocally, Black Lives Matter.

This morning in meditation I saw a flower with countless small petals. One bloom, many petals: This is humanity. A flower doesn’t have to be told that it’s insanity to pluck out some petals. It is all one whole, one body.

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From my journal after one such shooting:

Is it possible that I carry all the permutations of humanity in my cells, in a more literal way than I ever imagined?

What if: I am the police officer who killed the black teenager. And I am the teenager who died. I am the crowd that formed. I am the mother. I am the judge, the jury, the media, the Facebook storm, the Twittersphere.

All of these are within me and I must must must love them now. The young woman wanting to smash up stores in anger. The older folks grieving. The Fox News people spinning. The truckers in the truck stop, the teens at the mall, the babies in wombs ready to be born into a quaking world. The deflection. The pain. The heartache. The horror.

The fear. Everywhere fear. I am that. And I must love that.

I am the return, too. The opening.

Can we imagine a story that would solidify our shared humanity, and our mutuality, and our need for everyone to feel safe and respected as they walk through the world?

Hiatus!

Time to make official what’s been in the works for a few weeks months now. I’m putting the blog on hiatus for at least the first quarter of 2016. It’s time to retool everything on my to-do list to align better with my current focus (or foci?).

In a nutshell: My work is moving more into the healing arts arena, while I continue to write nonfiction. In both of these areas, I’m part of an ever-growing “Team,” as author Martha Beck calls it—working to bring about a new Story of Connection.

Photo by Michael Lokner, via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Michael Lokner, via Flickr Creative Commons

I see energy work as a way to raise our collective vibration, which we need to do—at least if we’re going to birth a  new and resilient future. So I’m getting certified in ThetaHealing, one of the energy techniques I practice.

Here is a workshop series I’m bringing to Indy in February. If you’re interested in joining me, which would be lovely, you can sign up at instructor Jean Shinners’ website.ThetaHealing Flier

I have a series of smaller workshops planned for the coming months in Indianapolis. The first one, Empath 101, will cover how manage being “so dang empathic,” as one of my empath friends puts it.

If you’d like to have a heads-up on these opportunities, or to learn more about my work, please sign up for my (revamped) e-newsletter.

And Now for Something Completely Different

I don’t very often blog about my personal writing project(s), but the terrific nature writer Katherine Hauswirth nominated me for a “blog hop” (writers sharing about their work). So, bear with me as I answer a few questions…

What is the working title of your book (or story)?
Thrivalists: Reimagining the World in an Age of Crisis is the working title of the nonfiction book I’m currently “shopping.” It’s in research/pitching phase, and in the meantime I’ve started work on another project, as yet untitled. Also, some of my articles and essays are linked here.

Where did the idea come from for these books?
Thrivalists came about when I realized how little media attention goes to the people who are pulling together to make a major shift on our planet. I’m so inspired by the community resilience movement and all its permutations. My goal with the book is to shine a light on folks working toward greater ecological/economic/social balance. (Secondary goal and total bonus: to get to rub elbows with fun people and learn all kinds of mad skillz.)

A sister volunteer/learner at an Olympia Mycelial Network project in Washington State

A sister volunteer/learner at an Olympia Mycelial Network project in Washington State

The second project is a work of creative nonfiction exploring my 15-year recovery from fibromyalgia, culminating in emergence of my own healing abilities. Part of my inspiration came from Seven Steeples Farm, where I’m helping to grow produce right where an 1880s-era women’s mental institution once stood.

What genre do your books fall under?
Creative nonfiction, tending toward memoir on the new project. Thrivalists is closer to immersion journalism, still with an element of memoir, and the book would be shelved under Green Living/Activism.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m thinking Julianne Moore could play this Mudgirl, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten on that question!

Rose (inside wall) facilitates a Mudgirls workshop.

Rose (inside wall) facilitates a Mudgirls workshop.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Oof. Can I buy a sentence?

During a season of tending crops at Seven Steeples Farm, where the tomatoes and peas grow from ground that once held a 19th century mental institution for women, Shawndra Miller explores the turn in her own life from a 15-year bout with a debilitating mind/body ailment. While working the land she reflects on a wider societal transformation embodied by Seven Steeples, where something new is growing on the shell of the old.

Will your book(s) be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m open at this point. My book proposal for Thrivalists has been making the rounds of agents and small presses. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the process of discovery on the new project, while continuing to explore and highlight the community resilience movement.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The original Thrivalists book proposal, with a couple sample chapters, took about six months, but I keep adding to it as I travel and research, so it’s a moving target. The new one is still very young.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Thrivalists is a bit like Omnivore’s Dilemma in the way that the author’s process of research and discovery pulls the reader along. In subject matter, it’s close to Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze.

It’s hard to say on the new project since it needs more time to bake, but it might be compared to When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’m inspired by Charles Eisenstein’s work, in particular The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. Without a massive consciousness shift, no amount of environmental activism or social change work will alter the bottom line of a culture built on dominance, control, and fear. That’s part of what I want to explore in the new project.

Thanks to Katherine Hauswirth for tagging me with this assignment! I nominate Julie Stewart, writer-and-farmer-in-residence at Urban Plot, to do the next blog hop.

The Reimagining

Scott Russell Sanders, one of Indiana’s sagest voices for social and ecological justice, led a workshop Sunday called Writing While the World Burns.* His books, from Writing from the Center to A Conservationist Manifesto, have inspired me and countless other readers.

Before I even read the workshop description, I knew I needed to be there.

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I wasn’t disappointed. Scott has a generosity, thoughtfulness, and grace about him that may be a product of his years, or perhaps he’s just built that way. He brought together a disparate group of deeply passionate people and got us talking about where our work and lives fit into the bigger picture.

I know I’ve been on a bit of a Wendell Berry kick of late, but Scott’s the one who gave a Berry quote as context for that exercise:

“The significance—and ultimately the quality—of the work we do is determined by our understanding of the story in which we are taking part.”

Where do we fit? What is our important piece of the puzzle?

In my case, my larger story has to do with lighting the Lights—spreading the word about the tremendous work being done on so many fronts. And not only that, but being a Light, in my own small way.

Earth Hour moment at home - Córdoba Argentina

In fact, “story” is an apt word, because I see all of these efforts as a grand transition to the Story of Reunion (in Charles Eisenstein’s words)—leaving the defunct Story of Separation behind.

As writers, Scott told us, (and as teachers, artists, visionaries, and the like) we enlarge people’s vision of what’s possible. We write a new language that can supplant that tired old ethic of economic gain at any cost. We expand people’s understanding of humanity by sharing our knowledge of those they might consider “other.”

In short, we reimagine the world, and invite others to join us.

*Many thanks to the Indiana Writers Center for offering this tremendous workshop.

Real Security

Last week I heard an NPR story about an interesting social study. Researchers surveyed residents of Palestinian towns before and after dismantling certain checkpoints that had been set up by Israeli forces.

In areas where the checkpoints were removed and people had greater freedom to move about their towns, the local Palestinians expressed much greater support for a peace process with Israel. Not only that, but there was a corresponding behavior change, with a decrease in Palestinian violence against Israelis in these areas.

It seems like a no-brainer that people would soften their attitudes if restrictions are lifted. The report noted that humiliation is a big driver of anger and violence, per numerous other social studies.

But the point the researchers made was this: Checkpoints put in place to increase security for Israelis actually had the effect of decreasing security.

Real security was achieved by dismantling them.

Baby Black Skimmer Barricade

Hearing the story made me think of a workplace dynamic that had upset a dear friend who’s otherwise happy in her job. Her manager had reacted harshly to a decision my friend had made, and expressed a need to control future such decisions. My friend felt hurt and angry, interpreting this as a lack of faith in her judgment.

The manager’s intent may have been to control an outcome, but the end result was employee dissatisfaction. By enforcing her will, the manager stands to lose the contributions of an innovative thinker. Instead of making the team’s work stronger, she’s created insecurity and mistrust.

A security checkpoint, a squelching of autonomy: It feels the same to me, energetically.

I see everything as an opportunity for self-reflection, and I also believe that anything healed within me helps to heal the world. So these stories prompt me to ask where I have played out a similar story within myself.

Have I posted a guard where it’s not needed, cutting me off from people perceived as “other”? Have I jerked the reins of my creativity in an effort to produce? Have I impeded the flow of inner wisdom with my expectation of a particular outcome?

Wisdom (62/365)

How can I personally move from this old story of control and domination to a new story of trust, openness, and listening? What does it take to nurture that movement in myself and others?