Volcanoes on the moon & anyone that ever gave you a chance
Dispatch #6: “Freedom is not a secret, it’s a practice.”
The journal page above reads: YOU HAVE TO GET MESSY IN ORDER TO CLEAN UP. Let’s begin there, shall we?
It’s been, somehow, 3 months since I last wrote you. I’ve been writing a novel. I’ve been trying my best to be a good partner, pet parent, friend, sister, self. I’ve been ordering take-out for dinner more often than not. I’ve been playing intense pinball-esque indoor soccer, & obsessively thinking about how there have been volcanoes on the moon, & preparing for a long stay at the country’s oldest artist residency, MacDowell, where I find myself now – 3 weeks into a 6 week residency to work on said novel.
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Of the moon’s volcanic activity over the last 100 million years, planetary scientist Mark Wieczorek had this to say: “The body is still warm. From time to time, you'll still see a few twitches." I think this could also be applied to me.
I know that balance is a verb, not a noun – & yet I’ve found the verb tricky as of late. In the midst of the balancing act, my shoulds loom: I should meditate, I should send out my newsletter, I should wake up earlier, I should, shouldn’t I?! When I do make time to meditate, it’s been at 1 AM, horizontal with my knees up, practically falling asleep. When I do send out my newsletter, it’s sporadic. When I wake up earlier, I can’t seem to maintain that winning streak.
What is this seemingly graceless state? This trying & trying, suffering & hoping, doing & falling down on the couch, exhausted? Hang tight, let me look it up. Oh! Found it! (Noun) Human.
It’s not, ahem, in my nature to be easy on myself. I constantly try to subvert this indoctrinated belief of shouldness; that there’s a right way to meditate, a right time to wake up, a right amount of take-outs per week & so on & so on & so on. “Is this good enough?” haunts even my simplest, daily efforts. I have to look that ghost in the eye & say, “Hey, lil’ buddy, how about releasing the measuring stick every once in a while?”
My entire life, my good friend Art has been the tried-&-true way I practice the subversion of should.
When I’m with Art, I can be anyone, do anything - poorly, well, simplistically, masterfully - it doesn’t matter. Art only wants me to be free.
Art & I have spent a lifetime exploring the toppling of perfection. We get messy together. We clean up the mess in a sing-song, jumble-jangle manner. Sometimes it takes a day. Sometimes it takes years. Art believes in me, I feel it deep in my bones, & I believe in Art.
Because when I’m with Art, I’m with a thrilling combination of Mister Rogers, Audre Lorde, a bloom of jellyfish, physicist Carlo Rovelli & everyone who has every loved me or believed in me or given me a chance. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Sodano, my beloved partner Angel, my wide-eyed mutt Odyssey, my entire soccer team. With my friend Art beside me, I’ll say it, I feel Godfull.
I think God is that feeling you get when you think of everyone you’ve ever loved or has loved you. Anyone who has ever given you a chance. People without this feeling, without God, tend to be in trouble. It’s lonely. It’s isolating. It’s dangerous. To be without the warmth, the being-known-ness, the community inside that Godfull feeling is a hopeless stasis. To be with it is to be possible.
Perhaps it’s just you who has given you a chance in your life. That’s God. Still, I can’t help but think of the late Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, what he might say. That we “inter-are.” There is no “just you.” Impossible. Oxygen has given you a chance, the trees, the sky, the water.
I’d love to know: Who or what is your friend Art a combination of? Who do you sit down with, what constellated-spirits, when you start to make? Who encourages you along the way? Who gives you a deep-in-the-bones belief that you can do it, you will do it, however long it takes, however it arrives?
Speaking of Audre Lorde, I’m sitting in the very room she worked in. I’m sleeping & eating & dreaming in the same little cottage that was her studio.
• What I’m reading: The galley of NOTES ON COMPLEXITY by Neil Theise. “An electrifying introduction to complexity theory, the science of how complex systems behave—from cells to human beings, ecosystems, the known universe, and beyond—that profoundly reframes our understanding and illuminates our interconnectedness.” So far, so amazing. // While here at MacDowell, I also read Haruki Murakami’s new release NOVELSIT AS A VOCATION & Joan Didion’s classic novel PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, my first dip into her fiction.
• What I’m watching: Can’t stop watching re-runs of NEW GIRL at the end of a full writing day. // I’m also watching therapist Kirk Honda’s many takes on LOVE IS BLIND.
• What I’m considering: Frankly, I’m thinking a lot about cruelty. Perhaps it’s in considering my novel’s characters, or because recently on a long train ride I got sucked into a horrendous YouTube wormhole of police interrogations of (very-soon-to-be-convicted) murderers, but I’m wondering about the spectrum of humanness that allows for cruelty in its most stomach-turning expressions. Is cruelty just a fact of being human - an expression of humanness ? Or is cruelty an aberration from true humanness, a warp in the system? What does it mean to claim & include cruelty as a human experience?
• What I’m celebrating: I celebrate her every day, but Angel just had her 34th birthday which heralded many celebrations, the likes of which ran the gamut from the quiet to the communal to the pizzalicious. // Here at MacDowell I have a Sofie Birkin DYKETOPIA sticker sitting on my desk. I’m celebrating dykes & the heavens we make, always. // I’m celebrating setting my cell phone to grey scale to make it a little less appealing to get lost in throughout the day.
• Today’s guiding quote: “Freedom is not a secret, it’s a practice.” – Alexis Pauline Gumbs
The January session of In Surreal Life is now taking applications! We welcome Marlee Grace, Krista Franklin, Carrie Fountain, & Renia White as our Winter Faculty. Our amazing new 2023 Fellows are Ashna Ali & Judith Ohikuare. We’re also thrilled to welcome Colleen Callery as our Marketing Manager. Big changes are afoot (afoot, ahead, aheart, amind, abutt) here at ISL HQ & we’re so excited to share with you what we’ve been cooking up!
Come join our unique global community of writers, makers, quilters, thinkers, & believers. Come January, we’re going to dive deep into creativity itself - in all its mess & joy & quirks with dynamic daily prompts & generous Faculty visits & more. We’re here to expand our creative practice & our process, together. Scholarships available for BIPOC applicants - trans & queer BIPOC folks to the front!
Dear ones, I hope you purposefully stitch some joy(s) into your day. Remember, your body is still warm! Right now! You twitch, you buzz, you flow, you glimmer. Like volcanoes on the moon, who could have seen you coming?! You arrived, free. You are meant to be here. Free. Practice it. I’ll join you. Even as I collapse onto the couch after a day of chasing my to-do list, I know this much is true. Let’s close this digital communion with Alice Walker’s laws:
“Death is the direction we are always facing.
Because of this I stroll leisurely.
The right to exist is fundamental.
My presence proves it.
I am certain that we were meant to be creative,
to make love, to sing and dance and play.
Everything else was dreamed up for us.”
With ample maple syrup,
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ugh ugh ughhh ❤️‼️🎈
Wow, Shira - again, you had just the words I needed today (and maybe EVERY day??) Been pondering so many of these areas. Just started doing a new practice of what I'm calling Journal of Light journaling - taking various things from early morning readings/meditations, etc., and creating art from what is inspiring me - mostly via collage work - sectioning the writing I'm finding into different colored printing and going from there. Bits of this Freer Form dispatch took front and center today. And this also helped me to get to a juicy place in terms of manuscript work. SO grateful!!! 🙏🏻 🙏🏻 🙏🏻