What makes the personal universal? Gaining the courage to share personal stories.

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So, I was talking to my friend Alina about memoir the other day or week or whatever – 

But, who really cares what day it was? One of my favorite poets, Jack Spicer, wrote, “An English major can tell you the date / I was lonelier than you are now/or will be/ September something 1958.” 

There is so much you can take from that, but one idea that comes through is that the emotional reality is more important than any trivial details about what day it is or isn’t. This is how I live my life. I can remember facts and details, if I really try, but that’s not how my brain automatically works. I run on intuition and feeling, automatically sifting out facts and details as “trivial information.” It’s my greatest super power, and also my Achilles heel. (In my experience, our greatest super power and our Achilles heel are usually the same thing.)

OK. End of tangent – let’s try again. 

I was talking to my friend Alina about memoir because it’s all I want to read lately – it just feeds me! But, also, it’s research. I am trying to figure out what transforms the personal into something universal, shared. Like, how can you tell personal stories that resonate with other people, that aren’t just trite, self-indulgent garbage?

To me, it is really important that art connects to others, that it is helpful, that it leaves you with new insights, revelations, curiosities, that it maybe even inspires you to be a better person. “Art for art’s sake” was never enough for me. 

I want to share more of myself with others, but whenever I sit down to write I’m overwhelmed with this mean, critical voice that tells me that my stories don’t matter, that no one wants to hear my trite bullshit, and it stops me from sharing. It really comes from a painful drive toward perfection. But, here’s the thing:

No matter what I create, it will never be perfect. I will never be perfect, so there’s a lesson here about learning to fail in public, using failure as a way to learn to get better at whatever I’m trying to do.  

But something that Alina pointed out that really made me think, (yes, we’re FINALLY getting to what she actually said): a lot of this critical self-talk that I’m struggling with is gendered. When cis men write personal stories, they feel like they are automatically tapping into some kind of universal shared reality, but when women write about themselves, they their work is often considered a self-indulgent diary entry, and female writers (including myself) internalize that negativity. 

That kind of pissed me off because I think she’s probably right, so I decided to re-name this blog “Diary,” and tell my personal stories here. It feels powerful to me to own and reclaim the diary entry as something that can be deep and transformational for me and others.

I’ll share stories from my life and what I learned or am learning, and maybe, just maybe we can both take one step closer to healing our wounds, together.  

Also, if you’re interested, here are some fantastic memoirs that I’ve read recently that I recommend. Have you read any good memoirs lately? How do you deal with your inner critic and move forward?

Men We Reaped
by Jesmyn Ward 

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates 

Angela’s Ashes
by Frank McCourt

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
by Patrisse Khan-Cullors  

Teacher Man
by Frank McCourt

SOUND:POETREE:: Fanzine Archives

From 2016-2017 I curated a web-based magazine that featured interdisciplinary artists from around the world. It was called SOUND:POETREE:: Fanzine, and these are the archives. Enjoy!

summer 2016

Oa
Valerie Fox
Jacklynn Niemiec
Jungwoong Kim
Susan Yount
Kendra Amalie
Jia Qian
Martha Grover
Andrew S. Nicholson
nommo

spring 2016

Arelene Ang
Valerie Fox
Micah Domingo
Sarah Fontaine
Lala Abbadon
Jerod Sommerfeldt
Jean-Marc Yee
Erik Schoster

winter 2016

Tim Lelen
Maggie Sawkins
Abigail Norris
Junior Clemons
Nicholas Bohac
Rex Leonowicz
Nicole Zdeb
to[r]entjet
Justine Reimnitz
The Bag People

fall 2015

Loud Thought Look
Extreme Vulnerability
Listen, Together
A-N-D Bleep. 
About the Artists

Alex Ayling
Michael Brandonisio
Christine Choi
Dara Khan
Yaquelin Laporte
Joseph Martin
Luigi Porto
Denise Newman
Sean Ogilvie
Kate Salvi
Standard Schaefer’s
He Can Jog
tor[r]entjet (by N. Syverson) 

The Stories We Tell Ourselves: Light, Transformation + Music Vid!

It's been an intense week (or two) - a lot of things bubbled to the surface for me that were uncomfortable and frightening, and I didn't see it at first, but I recognize it now as transformation. 

We are all master storytellers. We have this internal monologue that runs all day - where we tell ourselves about who we are, what we want, what we believe, etc. We learn to think of this as our "identity." But I don't think of these things as "identity"; they are stories that we can choose to identify with - or not. 

I've been practicing mindfulness for almost a decade now - daily, and in every moment, so - at this point - it's not often that a story I tell myself gets a grip on me. Mostly, I see them, say hi to them, and let them pass along the highway.

But, sometimes, a story comes up that is painful because it doesn't resonate with the current state of your heart/mind. And you get in the car and go for a ride. It's extremely unpleasant, but what's happening is that something is coming into the light where you can see it. Because maybe you're ready to heal it now. You're ready to transform into the next version of you. 

I guess that's what this video is about. I wrote the song/poetry portion almost a month ago, but then set it down - didn't feel drawn to work on it. But, it has resonated with me tonight. And, it feels like a more honest expression than trying to explain in anymore detail what I mean - about light, about transformation. Sometimes words just aren't enough. 

On Choosing the Right Friends (Why it Matters)

"If you are striving to do something you value, it is so important to surround yourself with people who unequivocally support your work. It is both a trap and a poison to have so-called friends who have the same injuries but no real desire to heal them."  

-excerpt from Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

Ordinary Life (video)

For this one I decided to get really curious about space - in part because I needed to be a little resourceful with my use of space due to limited resources. (I filmed this with an iMac.) 

But also -  carving out spaces in your life for things that really matter to you: space as ritual, space as movement, space as song. The space you cultivate inside of you for spontaneity, for beauty, for love.

Do you have to be an extrovert to be a performer? Reflections on Moving Arts Lab 2017

I've recently been inspired to reinvigorate this site after quite a long hiatus. I've always had trouble with the idea of "marketing" myself as it places my spirit too close to capital, and I don't want to be a brand or just another object for others to consume. So, I sort of let this fall to the wayside because I just didn't have the energy or interest in going around sounding the horn of "ME ME ME!" 

I still feel this way. 

But, I recently attended Moving Arts Lab, and despite a lot of complications with my health, travel arrangements, etc. I had a wonderful time! I've only very recently decided to incorporate movement and dance into my artistic practice, so I was there to do a lot of things that I have never done before - to see if it sparked anything inside me. (Spoiler: It did! Ha.) 

One thing I found out is that I feel really natural as a performer, which was really strange and unexpected. I'm usually kind of a quiet person in life, and I guess I thought performers were those boisterous extroverts who are always talking about something and making everyone laugh. Truth is, some of them are, but some of them are more like me.  

What I found when I was working on these performance art pieces, is that it didn't matter how I identified "me" in life because that's not who was doing the performance. I was able to slip into this other space that I have trouble describing. People I've talked to about it say they feel like they slip into a character, and I guess it's something like that. But, I felt more like I could identify some core feeling I wanted to express, and then I would just become it completely, and "me" would melt away. 

Another thing I loved about Moving Arts Lab is the way all of the workshops were framed. Each teacher had a focus and a series of questions/topics/exercises that they invited us to think deeply about. So we would go off and do our "research" on the topic, and then we would come up with a performance that expresses what our research lead us to think/feel. 

God, I wish school had been more like this... 

It was such a relief to not have to write a fucking term paper - to not use words at all, or to only use them briefly and poetically, or to just think/feel them while you moved. I did this really cathartic performance where I communed deeply with this tree. I performed a kind of massage on its roots and did a short dance laying on the ground, and ended on my back holding its "arm" and looking at the sky like two lovers or best friends. That was the result of my research on what makes me feel safe, comforted, at home. People liked that one. (: 

So, now I wanna do more "research projects," and I want to share them here, but not because I'm sounding the horn of "ME ME ME." I don't think I'll be there, actually. Maybe I'll just be a mirror. Many people have been mirrors for me, and they are my greatest teachers. So I'd like to return the favor - but consciously, compassionately, with all the love I can muster.

Stay tuned! XO. 

m

That Time I Followed Directions

Think that the snow is falling
Think that the snow is falling everywhere
all the time. 
When you talk to a person, think
that snow is falling between you and
on the person. 
Stop conversing when you think the
person is covered in snow.

-Yoko Ono
Instruction poem from Grapefruit, shown above

James Baldwin Talks about Poets

"The greatest poet in the English language found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people. He could have done this only through love — by knowing, which is not the same thing as understanding, that whatever was happening to anyone was happening to him. It is said that his time was easier than ours, but I doubt it — no time can be easy if one is living through it. I think it is simply that he walked his streets and saw them, and tried not to lie about what he saw: his public streets and his private streets, which are always so mysteriously and inexorably connected; but he trusted that connection. And, though I, and many of us, have bitterly bewailed (and will again) the lot of an American writer — to be part of a people who have ears to hear and hear not, who have eyes to see and see not — I am sure that Shakespeare did the same. Only, he saw, as I think we must, that the people who produce the poet are not responsible to him: he is responsible to them.

That is why he is called a poet. And his responsibility, which is also his joy and his strength and his life, is to defeat all labels and complicate all battles by insisting on the human riddle, to bear witness, as long as breath is in him, to that mighty, unnameable, transfiguring force which lives in the soul of man, and to aspire to do his work so well that when the breath has left him, the people — all people! — who search in the rubble for a sign or a witness will be able to find him there."

James Baldwin

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

I had been meaning to read this since it came out, but I finally picked it up from the library yesterday and read the whole thing in one sitting. Then cried for maybe an hour. Then pulled myself together to go out with friends, but cried a little on and off with them too. 

This book changed my life. I can't go on living and doing things the same way. I feel like I've woken up from a dream, but the weird thing is that I've been actively trying to wake up. Thought I was woke. I've read a bunch of other things about racism. white fragility. the prison industrial complex. I educated myself, but was still dreaming on some level.

This was like a punch in the face. It hurt. I didn't like it. But I'm awake now. 

Please read this. Esp. white people or "people who believe they are white" as Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it. People who believe they are white are dreaming, and the dream is killing all of us.

XO. 
melanie

Patience, Presence, and the Life of an Artist

"To be an artist means: not to calculate and count; [but] to grow and ripen like a tree which does not hurry the flow of its sap and stands at ease in the spring gales without fearing that no summer may follow. It will come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are simply there in their vast, quiet tranquility, as if eternity lay before them."

 

 --Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet, as quoted in The New Yorker
Click to read the full article.

Interesting to me that this advice sounds so much like the Buddhist texts I read. The more I practice, the more I think it's true: Zen practice makes you better at everything.

Also, trees. I'm convinced they are the wisest beings among us.