Month: March 2013

For creative viewing: Dance Academy

A new show to add to the Supplemental Movies (and TV Shows list):

From the Australian show Dance Academy 2011

Dance Academy depicts the unforgiving world of ballet as seen through the eyes of a group of teens attending a national school in Sydney, Australia. On the surface, it seems like another semi-fluffy teen drama. But when you look just a bit deeper, it talks honestly about art from an artist’s point of view. You learn with the characters the difference between crazy makers and critics, why foundation skills are perishable and why they matter and how competition can be both helpful and hurtful.

When the characters execute perfect coreography or achieve a dancer’s high, the viewer feels it with them.

It’s all the better if you love dance in multiple forms.

The first two seasons are available on Amazon and on Netflix wireless. So if you’re looking for something that connects you to the creative experience, definitely give it a viewing.

Filed under: Art Appreciation

God Is No Laughing Matter: My Childhood Religion

Notre Dame
This has already been well explored. To summarize, there was a marked difference between religion at church and at home. My mother had all sorts of opinions about God as a parent with just about zero faith or trust in his children. My father remained as silent as he could on the subject; when asked he’d tell a mildly disturbing story about a nun slapping everyone in his class or about a buddy of his throwing him out of confession. From what he was willing to say, I don’t think he considered the Catholic church to have much God in it.

I barely remember the Methodist church where I was baptized. I do know my sister had godparents and I didn’t; my mother said that the Methodist church didn’t allow godparents and only made an exception for my father because he was still Catholic at the time. I’m pretty sure she lied to me about that, as I know plenty of Methodist children who still have godparents.

The church I was confirmed in – the UCC – was surface-liberal, welcoming and pretty confrontation avoidant. The only time it got weird was when one of the older women at church started making comments about how my sister and I should hurry up to get married because her granddaughter had “beat us to it.” I never attributed that to the church – I just assumed she was going senile and thought the year was pre-1970. It still had a women’s guild and a few other pieces of oppressive bullshit, but it was bland faced enough not to offend as long as you didn’t look too close. Of course, that was the Indiana-Kentucky conference. I know from living in Minnesota that the western conferences are much more liberal but the eastern ones like their Baby-boomer dogma a bit too much. I’ll never forget the look on my pastor’s and my mother’s face when it came out that a UCC in Washington State was the first Christian church run by a gay couple. My mother had stormed out of the Methodist church when gay people were allowed in the ministry. It was the perfect middle finger from God to my mother and people like her; it stuck with me.

This isn’t the faith I practice now, of course. There were just too many hypocritical pockets even in the more liberal aspects I experienced. While I could feel God in private prayer… all I felt at church was pressure to uphold a culture. God was not part of that culture. The very resistance to change/preservation of values denied the very God I intuitively understood.

My departure had been blamed by others on my feminism, but that’s not even close to what catalyzed my conversion to Wicca. Jesus – not as Paul understood him but as written in the gospels – was a feminist. He had a better appreciation of women than even my ostensibly liberal church did. Ultimately following the path of Jezebel made more sense than did the path of Esther but really neither one was terribly appealing. The insistence of following one path, and only one path, was also suspicious to me.

What caused me to leave was the reality that the values I was taught at church just weren’t working the real world. I also got the sense that my fellow church goers had no intention of actually using those values; they of course would hang little plaques with prayers in their home and send each other semi-competitive cards at Christmas or when someone died. But their religious practice had nothing to do with their daily lives. Yet daily life – how you interact with strangers and friends – is what defines who you are as a person. It’s the very essence of what religion as I grew up knowing it is supposed to address … and didn’t.

I bear no animosity towards my religious upbringing. I see it as something to both cherish and pity – there was so much good, and so much bad. In some ways, I see the humanity in my old church better than I see it in other people.

 

Filed under: Tasks

God is no laughing matter: intro

Hmong Farmer's Market March 2013

One of the odd keys to the Artist’s Way is that it requires an openness to the possibility of God*. It doesn’t need to be one of the bearded male versions out there. It just needs to be some possibility of a force for managed good in the universe. A hard atheist might have a problem… or not. Math could be God. Physics could be God. Both seem like evidence enough of cosmic order to me. Even the natural occurrence to entropy seems pretty godly – like there’s even an intent for chaos out there, somewhere.

So Some People Say that God is No Laughing Matter is, while technically spiritual, really more on creative exercise on a deep level. I need it.

I’ve been feeling a little disconnected lately – lots of things ending and beginning – and getting back in touch with my own sense of the sacred will help me fill that very necessary creative pool.

I like my gods fluid, picturesque, occasionally female or literal in a hard polytheist sort of way. Sometimes, though, I like my god metaphorical. I have even warmed up to the possibility that I am God (and you are, and your uncle is, and your dog is and that blade of grass is.) I’d grin and say a lazy “It’s all good,” but the ex-boyfriend that tweaks out is long gone in a puff of neurosis, so it’s just not as fun to say as it used to be.

However that is, I am definitely not an atheist and only occasionally agnostic.

I am optimistic about this work through. It will take the time it takes – and hopefully give me more ways to engage with other artists and with other Pagans as well. I am going to skip the stuff about parents and family; that territory has been well explored. I know how they attempted to form me and how their failed dogmas just obviously didn’t work; I’m also aware I’m a free-thinker who just hasn’t, for whatever neurochemical  reason, landed on atheism.

So on I forge, for who knows how long! I meant it when I said I planned to work through every single one of Julia Cameron’s books. Some aren’t particularly bloggable – the Creative Life, like her prayer books, works best as short snippets for daily meditation.

Maybe I’ll post here daily, or find myself resisting a question. Happens with every passage. As it is, I’m slowly coming to the creative coaching I’d still like to see that Cameron hasn’t written/has yet to write. Meditations on taking criticism and giving feedback, coaching through the revising process – perhaps more crassly commercial, but creativity for those in the land of social media.

Eventually there will be things here from other creativity gurus. Things like War of Art and Writing Down the Bones. Maybe a few Wrecked Journals here and there. Right now I’m still following the Artist’s Way path, book by book, date by date, morning page by morning pages.

Right now it’s leading me to a straight on look at God.

*Perhaps not so odd if you’re aware of the influence of 12-step programs on its creation.

Filed under: God Is No Laughing Matter

Thoughts on Julia Cameron’s the Creative Life

English: A logical fallacy. Statement 1: Most ...
English: A logical fallacy. Statement 1: Most of the green is touching the red. Statement 2: Most of the red is touching the blue. Logical fallacy: Since most of the green is touching red, and most of the red is touching blue, most of the green must be touching blue. This, however, is a false statement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At least according to GoodReads, the book has not been well received. People that enthusiastically follow Cameron’s work post disappointed, confused statements speculating on Cameron’s mental health at the time she wrote it and a few other opinions based on one logical fallacy or another. There were similar responses to her book Answered Prayers.

I consider both books excellent, but only if absorbed in a non-linear manner. The Creative Life is not meant for one sitting. I read it every day for a month as part of my morning pages and meditation time. In small chunks like that, it makes sense – my own artistic life happens in small chunks, influenced by weather, visits with friends, travel. The same is true of Answered Prayers: it’s not meant for reading straight through. I keep it in my desk drawer and in moments of question I open a page at random.

There is the prayer that speaks in that moment. When it happens it doesn’t read as patronizing – it reads as relevant.

We tend to think of books as linear. Most of the time they are. But every so often there’s a good one out there that you just can’t absorb in a single, straight line.

Sickness and Creativity

Hmong Farmer's Market March 2013

Creative energy is a funny thing. It is universally available but not universally constant. I’ve read accounts of mothers, brilliant productive aritsts in their own right, who can not write during pregnancy. Why? Because their body is using that creative energy to make a new life. Once the child is born the creativity returns. I will never have the experience of baby creation – but based on how I feel when I get sick, I think it’s true.

Lately this blog has flowed more easily than it ever has. Part of it is maintaining my artist’s way work. Part of it is all the work I’ve done in therapy, in ritual, in every day life to overcome the voices and cultures that kept me from my best self. I’m even getting more comfortable writing and saying things I know some of my own  just won’t like.

So when I sat down at the keyboard last week and not even the slightest dribble would come… I knew that cold that had chased me for weeks finally caught me. Even now, my face hurts – an impacted sinus kept me from taking my nasal inhalant medication. My coordination all but disappeared. I used what energy I had left to tag and sort my flickr account and then I lay on the couch watching Reno 911 and sleeping while my partner tappa-tapped on his laptop beside me.

Sometimes – rarely – I can keep working through illness. If I maintain a good schedule of artist’s dates then I can usually muster some basic work. But since moving, I haven’t as much. So yesterday I made sure I got a good one. Over the summer I’ll be doing all I can to refill that well – because it makes the dryer times much easier to work.

 

In support of equal rights in marriage for ALL

Portal of the Church of Pilgrims, in Washingto...
Portal of the Church of Pilgrims, in Washington, DC, with a LGBT banner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is an account of an argument I made when I was 18/19. I was still breaking with my home culture, so please be forgiving.

The first time happened in 1994. It was an exercise for class – a mini debate to demonstrate use of logos, pathos and ethos for my persuasive writing class. The assignment: pro or con same sex marriage. To me it was a non-issue. I’d only met two gay people at that point. One did untold damage to my neighborhood and family. The other, a mentor at one of those don’t-use-drug love-ins popular in the late 90s, came out to our entire group. He hugged me later – I was the only person who did not immediately withdraw from him. I didn’t care if it was pro or con; while at the time still a Bible-believing Christian, I’d already found the Bible pretty useless as much more than a doorstop in most real life situations. I was already struggling to reconcile the meaning of bacon.

It gave me an excuse to hit the library – always a favorite visit for me – and what I turned up suggested that modern information once again unplugged the cultural concepts enforced in my home. This was when the first research on sexual orientation as a neurological condition surfaced. Being gay was something people were born with, it looked like. Within my then Christian understanding of science and God as hand-holding buddies, that meant God MADE them gay. So God wanted gay people. I also turned up the tidbit about how animal populations have homosexual partnerings that increase when overpopulation happens. It looked to me like one of nature’s rare kindnessness: still joy, just no kiddies.

No matter how I dug, I could find no quanitative information on how gay people hurt society or hurt marriage. At the time, the AIDS epidemic was still a chilling crisis. It had also become clear that it was not just a disease for gay people and while its origins were vague, it was something that destroyed everyone who came within its fluid grasp – it was not just a scourge of the homosexual.

I thought of the images of the gay men with cut out butt flaps running around San Francisco. While crass, when I thought about it critically – if they removed the disease risks, they weren’t harming anyone. It didn’t occur to me until years later that my health teacher was issuing propaganda from the same emotional cloth that spun both anti Soviet and anti drug propaganda. He was aiming to induce disgust – not to help us look at these sexual behaviors critically and scientifically, to understand how we fit into this natural system of kinks quiet and loud.

The path my mind took, upon considering these realities and my own pathos masquerading as ethos at the time, was this:

God is nature.

God made gay people.

Homosexuality is natural.

God is also not an asshole. He didn’t make gay people just to be a jerk.

The Bible actually said something pretty explicit in the New Testament about either a)not having sex or b)getting married if you just can’t control yourself.

The AIDs epidemic was (and is) tearing up Africa and did untold damage to people I knew I hadn’t even met yet but was going to.

Gay people should get married, too. If straight people couldn’t supress their sex urges why on earth should gay people have to?

Marriage – increased monogamous unions – might positively contribute to reducing the AIDS epidemic.

When time came to debate, I went up against Brad. We were friendly; neither cared who won. He believed in what he said. I personally wasn’t sure but after all my reading I was starting to persuade myself.

He began. “The Bible says it’s wrong.”

I rebutted, “The Bible says marriage is a substandard option.” I proceeded to enumerate my research.

Brad threw up his hands and laughed. “That’s all I’ve got.”

The debate came to an end.

More lessons came later. A slew of friends from high school coming out to me as bi or gay – and no one with a pamphlet on how to be supportive about it. Boyfriends unable to face their own bisexuality and blaming me for not, through femininity alone, reaffirming their manhood. The first woman to openly make a move on me. BDSM. Non-monogamy. Me still straight, mostly vanilla and celebrating all of it while reassuring friends that I loved their weirdness, their queerness, their non-binary-ness and that my choosing not to partake most of the time was not a rejection. The party house on Byron Street in Mankato where all the queers and freaks hung out and the night they beat the crap out of the homophobic bros that crashed the party. Eventually becoming, when it came to all the sexuality in the world, fearless.

My arguments are quite a bit different now – after all, I haven’t been a 19 year old semi-conservative Christian girl in a very long time.  Now it’s simply this:

Gay people are people. They deserve full human rights. That includes the right to marry, the right to divorce, the right to recognition and honor from the military when they lose a partner. They’ve been part of humanity all along – and they deserve to be.

Two keys to meditation

Meditation
Meditation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was cut from an article submitted to Llewellyn annuals for 2014. I still wanted to share it, so here it is.

 The Two Keys

  1. The ability to concentrate on a single idea or object.
  2. The ability to distract your attention from other thoughts, usually by introducing new thoughts.

Controlling your own thoughts seems almost as mad as the madness of completely uncontrolled thoughts! Yet mind control – positive mind control – begins in meditation. In this way, you take control of your own mind.

Because most don’t know what meditation is supposed to feel like, they expect blissful relaxation where lotuses appear while locusts hum. Those, however, who have a few years of experience in meditation built up know that time outs for the mind are not always peaceful or relaxing.

Meditation is a skill. It does involve struggle, setbacks, forgetting and remembering. It may never come easily.

Mosquitoes will bite you while you’re aligning your chakras, the phone will ring just as you get to that point where you can feel an actual “drop down” and your kids will need your help with an overflowing toilet just as you depart on the bliss wagon. That – if the bliss wagon arrives at all. It helps when establishing practice to realize that meditation feels different for everyone. Some do notice a sense of physical relaxation in their bodies. Other people that meditate report no physical changes. These latter meditators only realize that the practice makes a difference when they find their blood pressure doesn’t spike in stressful situations.

Meditation and boredom go hand-in-hand. People do not handle boredom well – we medicate against it in every way possible. So this leads to the tricky part that makes meditation both so miraculous and so banal: boredom is a form of pain. If you feel bored, you are expressing pain. Meditation ultimately takes this base form of pain and turns it into a spiritual practice, and where possible, boredom via meditation leads through alchemy into pleasure. Pleasure itself does require concentration, but we don’t mind it – pleasure is not usually stressful.

Commenting about Comments

Two people of a very real and unrobotic nature have reported trouble with the comment feed on this blog. I’ve tested it and it works for me – which of course doesn’t help you guys. I removed Disqus from here awhile ago. It was causing too much confusion with Fat Chic and really, there just isn’t enough comment traffic here to merit an outside comment system.

A few things that might (?) help:

  • Captcha IS turned off here. In its place I have some heavy duty spam filters.
  • I’ve been pretty liberal with adding IPs to the spam blocker. If you try to comment and get blocked, or inadvertently use a lot of words that trigger spam keywords, that might be part of the problem.
  • If you *really* want to comment and can’t here, you can also comment on my Google Plus page or on my FB fan page. You can also always tumblr it and add comments to it that way.
  • I moderate, with prejudice. Any comment that seems trollish, misses my point altogether, tries to hijack my point or that is just not on topic gets nuked.  Comments that make assumptions about me also get nuked – I have to deal with people projecting their issues onto me on a daily basis. I’m not about to welcome that crap to my blog.
  • I’m open to other perspectives with one exception ((possibly a few more that fall under subcategories of this)): it must be about sharing, not about winning.
  • If you claim something as a fact, it’s up to you to provide your evidence. So if the Higgs-Boson particle was only called the “God particle” as a joke, you need to point out where you got that information from. You lose points if you say something like, “Peter Higgs said …”

The two people I know about have sent me comments either via Facebook or via the web contact form. I find these preferable to the unsolicited guest blog posts from people who misunderstand the “target” part of “target marketing.”

Hopefully this issue can be fixed – but if not, there are other avenues to take.

 

 

 

Ambivalence

Ambivalence
Ambivalence (Photo credit: mag3737)

He’s making excuses again. Each time he launches into a litany of why I haven’t seen him, why I haven’t heard from him, why he’s so busy. That’s nothing new – people make excuses all the time.

What makes his excuses troubling is that I haven’t asked for them.

I recognize that he’s saying these things for himself. It’s a litany, a self-reassurance, a way to justify himself to his own self-image. He needs to perceive himself as a nice guy, and that need is so strong he doesn’t recognize that he’s actually failing at that. Then again, most people wouldn’t see through it as fast as I do.  He has likely used this strategy before, especially on girls. He’s tall, good looking, has the big brown eyes that women melt all over. There are plenty of lookers in my life so that charm doesn’t really work on me, thanks to tolerance built up over years. I live with a man who can turn on anime eyes with enough force to melt the Arctic. This guy doesn’t even compare to that kind of power.

I know what this is about: he doesn’t want to reject a woman and make her feel rejected. He tells himself it’s for her – but really, it’s for him, just in case she turns out to be “cray-cray” or she acts out in other ways. At least, that’s how it looks. I’ve got a pretty good idea where he might get the idea I would be such a person – even if he knows intellectually to question the source.

I’m mildly offended he’s treating me like a girl. Most men don’t. But he doesn’t know that about me.

Actions speak so much louder than words. It’s a cliche so easily forgotten because ultimately, it’s the answer. People make time for what’s important to them.

I am not important in his universe.

And I shouldn’t be.

From what I gather, there’s barely room for him in there right now, and it’s his universe.

His ambivalence towards me is plain  but the reason for it is not. He might not know himself. I think he does – some piece of information or misinformation he acts from. I can’t tweeze it out of his frontal lobe, not in any socially acceptable manner.

When I first saw him again, I was ebullient, open – but able to see that mostly he just felt awkward. He wanted me to go away but it was my job to persist.

Giving him my card was giving him an out – he could just lose it and never contact me again. Business cards are meant as a way of smoothing those rejections. You can always, always lose the card.

He did lose the card. Then he tracked me down anyway. He might as well have opened the first email with “I am ambivalent about you.” Because his actions told me he was. He asked for more contact. I followed up. He took one email too seriously. Then he didn’t acknowledge the next two overtures; I accepted this. Rejection is always the same amount of painful every time but it’s allowed. It has to be. Not everyone in the world enjoys my company. If he wanted my partner’s company, he had plenty of opportunity to connect. The language of men is simple. Just ask the other fellow to join you for a beer.

Then he contacted me again. Excuses, explanations… more information I didn’t request. Thinking we were friendly again, I contacted him informally. No response.

It’s been going this way for awhile now. It’s tiresome. Unnecessary. Dishonest, which is my least favorite flavor of emotional atmosphere.

Actions speak louder. His actions tell me he is ambivalent.

Ambivalence is never good.

There are new people, new conditions that increase the ambivalence. His girlfriend couldn’t have made a worse impression if she’d consciously tried. It’s pretty clear that I burned bridges we once both shared. My partner got weird for a little bit.

I hate that I am someone that evokes ambivalence. Most people come to their decisions about me easily – love, hate or curiosity.

But this is not my experience, it is his.  To try to make myself into someone he is not ambivalent about, whether positive (the more difficult path) or negative (the easy way) would dishonor myself and him.

So I hear the excuses … and do and say nothing more.

Actions speak louder.

The one I forgive anyway

Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At 17, he was a tall, gangly blond thing with a big smile and equally big glasses. His parents put him in the privately owned driver’s ed school because his summers were overtaken with extracurriculars and advanced placement classes.

He made the first move: he asked me about my copy of Lord of the Flies.

It was the first time a boy – well, anyone, really – had asked me about a book for reasons purely social. Most people, male or female, asked what I was reading, and then “Why are you reading that?” in general horror and bewilderment, as though reading anything required a why. I was thrilled. Looks were secondary to me. But any kind of intellectual engagement? The thrill!

Talking about the book led to passing notes in class – the notes were not of the I <3 you variety but more were a comparison and contrast of our school systems, talks about the strange movie choices of his German teacher, color commentary on the gore in the driver’s ed films we watched. He didn’t care that I was advanced placement in history and English but struggled to maintain a C average in advanced algebra and chemistry. He hated gym too. Because we went to different schools, there was no conflict because I was intellectually curious without being good at everything. The note passing led to thumb wrestling, him teaching me (and failing) on how to do the pen flip that all debaters do, and him saying rude things in sign language.

Eventually he gave me two paper cranes and a frog.

The driver’s ed instructor expressed shock later that I didn’t even know his last name … so he left his attendance book open and walked away so I could see it.

I called 12 numbers, long distance, fully knowing I would get busted, before I found him. He called back that night. We talked about books. He liked Isaac Aasimov. I don’t remember what, if anything I told him about myself. He was the first person to call me Di. I vaguely remember getting a letter from him that summer. It posed some theory about people living in a state of constant cellular death. I pointed that that since we were both under 25, we were still developing cells – no death for the two of us, not yet.

Getting grounded for placing all those calls was totally worth it.

We were together for all of my junior year – a full year, basically hitting the 50th anniversary in high school time. I vaguely remember my home life being unpleasant, with my sister being especially invasive that year because I finally found a boy beyond her reach who was turned off by instead of charmed by her. The daily harassment at home and at school was obscured by the happiness of my first love. Just thinking of him became another place – one where the most malevolent person could not reach me.

Things ended with us twice. The first time, it was his freshman year of college, two states away. He was feeling the pressure and so was I. I had hoped he’d save it for a traditional Thanksgiving breakup, but he just couldn’t do it so he dumped me in October.  The second time he was an outright cad. He admitted to telling his friends I was crazy (despite one of them working with me closely enough to know that wasn’t true) and towards the end he made me feel like I was nothing more than white trash, someone to have sex with and then throw away. I tried to tell him that’s how I felt about our relationship, right before he abandoned me entirely. I was physically unable to do so. I sat across from him at a convenience store booth as he snacked on a doughnut and I could not get the words out of my mouth. Alas, the ability to express displeasure, pain, hurt – that didn’t come to me until I turned 31. What some took for strength in me was really paralysis.

He told me, once, “I never want to love anyone as much as I loved you.”

I didn’t understand. Now, years later, I do see he was blaming me for his own pain. There was probably more to the story on his end, too. More hassle. More put-downs. More comments about his white-trash high school girlfriend who didn’t even go to a good school. He came from a world where mothers wore high heels with their tight jeans around the house. I lived in a world where reading a book without a movie attached was perceived as uppity.

He really hurt me at the end, and he had ignored and pushed most of my boundaries up to that point.

When I found out he married – despite my own marriage a year earlier – I walked around in a rage for two days. It was irrational , but I was still furious. Since it happened in my 20s I was also relatively unable to speak about my feelings although I had just started to find ways to write them.

After my divorce, I did Google search him once or twice. Looks didn’t matter to me as a teenager but as an adult… they’re a factor. I said something rude about dodging a bullet when I saw his picture and I moved on. A handsome younger man was paying me a great deal of attention – the glow of that cast my memories of him into deep shadow.

For most people, after my relationship with them ends all I remember is the bad. But not with him. Even now, when I think of him, I feel like the 17 year old girl who was given an oasis from the daily fear and hell of her family through the simple gift of someone else to think of, outside the storm.

His presence in my life got me to stand up to my parents the first time – and his brief reappearance got me to stand up to them right when they would have taken my entire adult life away from me. He may have been a jerk about it the second time, and with the usual slimy motivations of boys that age … but he also helped me, even as he hurt me by telling me how much his friends though I was awful and proceeded to relegate me to a dirty secret.

It’s odd. I have such a hard time forgiving. But I forgive him. There was much too much good at a time when I needed it more than he could possibly know. Too much good for me to throw out all the love because he turned bad at the end.

He wasn’t my first boyfriend but he was my first love. I guess that’s why I still give him a pass.