Saturday, January 17, 2004

Ahhh... the heat's back on in the apartment. Now I can start thinking forward again, instead of back into the past.

The other day, I interviewed a guy in his gallery. It's a tiny little gallery on N 8th street. And I do mean tiny. I've seen bathrooms that were bigger. And yet, inside this gallery, that was kind of makeshift, kind of like what you'd do if you had a great idea and wanted to do it yourself, was a trove of his work. Beautiful little porcelain figures, little delicate women, based on fashion models, and so near emaciated, but still beautiful, almost unearthly, breakable. And little chihuahuas-- the smallest and most delicate of dogs. THere were translucent sea creatures. Beatiful art work of definite vision, but when I talked to him, he could do nothing by minimize his work. Even he, the man who had created this beautiful stuff, could not take it seriously.

What do I mean, "EVEN he"?

It's the easiest thing in the world to put down your own ability. "We are our own worst enemies," as the saying goes.

I think the biggest block to being creative-- whether with visual art, or writing, or performing of whatever stripe-- is insecurity and fear.

It's so hard to take the things that are inside you, nice and safe and quiet inside your chest, and pull them out into the cold and harsh world. What will people say? What will people think? They'll probably think it's not good enough, or too corny, or really what were you thinking anyway to consider yourself an artist, or a writer, or a musician, or a poet, or a rapper or a dancer or a... dear lord, anything of value. How the hell could you think of yourself as worthy of people's attention? That you have anything to say worth hearing?

Oh, well, look at that. I've just stumbled onto my own story. And I thought I was talking about that guy, or about anyone, certainly not me, who is struggling with their own creativity.

I've been painting since I could hold a brush, and writing since I was twelve. I started my journals twenty years ago, that's two decades!

And yet...

I have 60 journals hiding in a bookcase, hundreds of poems un published (half-hearted attempts to send stuff out notwithstanding) My paintings are scattered through portfolios and drawers and suitcases and bookcases, a few decorating my walls, but really, how many people get to see them? Seven years ago, I wrote a first draft of a novel that is in a briefcase under my desk-- which no one has ever, ever read.

Oh, hiding, Rowena, hiding.

That is no way to open doors. If you spend all your time hiding, you certainly can't accept what comes to you-- because nothing will, it won't be able to find you.

And by the way, hiding isn't just about making stuff and stowing it away, it's also about covering over your every wish and desire with negativity. "Oh, I can't paint, I'm not an artist" "I'll never meet someone because men just don't understand." "No one will ever publish me because my professor once said he didn't think I could do it."

So who are you hiding from then?


"Oh no, here I come! Look how wonderful, how beautiful, how talented, how powerful, how amazing I am! Ackk! Runaway! Runaway!"

How sick and twisted we are to put so many blocks in the way of ourselves. Our best selves.

I suppose our small selves, our scared little four year old selves that are at the mercy of the world, I suppose we want to protect them. It's the self we have always lived with, nice and safe, even though it doesn't really make us happy, because the big self keeps trying to get out. We must really be more powerful than we ever thought we were, if our little scared self is able to hold down that big grand self. What a tight little grip!

So how do we break free of ourselves and become the best us? How do we believe in our own powers? Creative or otherwise?

There are really so many ways. So that's good news. It's not impossible.

You can surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you. People who are on the same journey as you, or people who are willing to travel a little ways with you. Listen to them, try on what they say as if it were a coat you might by. Give them support, attention, love. You'd be surprised how inspiring that is. Join a writing collective, or a band, or be a stage hand, take a class in what you want to do, or in empowering yourself, get together with your best friends, find some people who like doing what you want to do, so you can be in discussion about things you all love.

You can read and read and read anything that inspires you-- whether it's self help books or Tropic of Cancer. For that matter, you can experience anyone's art-- their own struggle, their own journey. Watch movies, listen to music, go to museums and concerts and shows and plays, but the thing is to be there not just as a spectator but a participant. Allow your large self to experience art, interact with, be inspired by it, think beyond what is already there into what could be there.

You can try just playing. I love this one. You say, "hey, it doesn't matter. I'm just messing around" and allow whatever comes out to come out. No high stakes because it's just a game. When I first started painting again after deciding I didn't want to be an artist (turned out I didn't have a choice) I only painted on pages that were post card size. It lowered the anxiety I felt about messing up, because I could just throw it away. Doodles are great, singing while doing dishes, dancing when no one else is there, a morning journal that no one ever reads. Finger painting. Go back to being a child and remember what fun it was just to experience the colors that happened when you mixed blue and red. Not only that, but when you don't hold on to what it's "supposed" to be, and just accept it for what it is, then you end up being able to find beauty in unexpected places. Creation doesn't have to be serious, in fact, it's often more powerful when it comes out of joy and wonder.

Oh yeah,and speaking of being a child again, sometimes it's okay to be that frightened four year old. Man, she has a lot to say, as can be evidenced by how strong she is in the middle of an adult life. This one can be scary, but also thrilling. Try listening to the little you. Listen to the fears, the worries, the traumas. Honor them. Make art out of them. If your fears are strong enough to keep you locked up inside of yourself all these years, don't you think they might be strong enough to have impact on a page or in a song or on a stage? We are all different kinds of people, but there are some things that we all share, things that are human, and one of the biggest, is fear. Fear, the great unifier. Even that movie star who makes all the money has fear. Shh. Don't tell anyone.

Another way to go there, to get as big and grand and as wonderful as you are, another way to step into your power and creativity is to just...
eyes closed, breath held, what if you believed that you would fly.

What if you did fly?

Paint that huge canvas. Read at that open mic. Buy a guitar and start playing. Sing at karaoke. Audition for that play. Start that blog and send the addres to all your friends and family.

Now, that's an adventure. What wonder might be yours?

fly, fly, my little pigeons.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Chalk another one up to the remembering of frigid days.

Surfing on line, I came upon one of my ex-boyfriends' blogs. (came upon, googled, same difference) It was interesting and well written, and it kept referring to two years of tragedy and heart break and how before that his life was relatively trauma free. It fucking pissed me off. Looking at the dates I couldn't figure out if he considered breaking up with me part of that trauma, or part of that trauma free life. Was it after he left me that his life started to go down hill, or does he count our relationship as the descent into hell?

I read through as many entries as I could, looking for some hint, some reference to what happened between us. His first entry was only one or two months after we broke up, but it wasn't there, it was blank, gone.

I was in love with him. He said he'd been in love with me. I was searching and searching for some reason, some mention that he'd done something he regretted. Some sort of apology.

Isn't it wierd how we hold on to these things?

I've totally moved on from this guy, I've dated and had sex and flirted with men and had intense spiritual connections, I've even had relationships that could be called boyfriend/girlfriend but I have not been in love since him.

In a way, I think the heartache from that break up really did defeat me-- for a time, anyway. It made me not believe. It made me not trust, when I had worked so hard to be able to trust. But at the same time, I wouldn't have wanted to stay with the guy. I loved him, but he made me doubt myself. He told me all the things I wasn't and all the ways I sucked, all the reasons why he couldn't be with me, and I knew at the time there was something wrong with that, it seemed as if he was trying to convince himself of something, but I was too much in love, too willing to put up with his indecision because I loved him. It wasn't until after he broke up with me, after "you are the most important relationship of my adult life, and I still want to know you," (yeah, right) that I began to think about all those things he said I wasn't enough of.

Maybe somewhere in me, I actually thought those things, too. That I was boring, sedate, too set in my ways, not adventurous enough, or cool enough, or sexual enough, or wild enough. I was just a teacher, not a rock star, and my exboyfriend was a rockstar.

When he broke up with me, I thought about those things, and it was almost as if I checked off a list. Am I boring? Nope. Sedate? Nope. Unsexy? Nope. Uncool? Nope. Nope. Nope. Having this guy be the external voice of my inner insecurities made me able to tell him to fuck off. And the insecurities, too.

Two and a half years later, I can write a poem behind the bar, dressed in skimpy black because it's hot back there (and cleavage makes for better tips), I can tell the bar patrons that, no, they don't get a kiss, or I can lean across the bar and give it to them. I can them show my art book that I am so proud of and have been working on for four months. I can take the compliment when a world class curator says that I am going to be a great artist. I can have intellectual discussions about god or politics or art or The Simpsons, or I can just nod and smile and joke about nothing. I can edit my article for Block Magazine or read a Glamour magazine. I am a rock star, but I don't have to be. I can just be me, and glory in that.

Somebody at the bar said that he thought the reason we were put on this earth was to suffer, and that was what life was about. But if you think that then you're missing the real thing-- maybe we do suffer, but we're here to learn from our suffering, to take the lessons and move forward, get bigger, see farther, open our hearts despite fear, and get beyond our insecurities so that we can take on those real challenges, the ones that we really care about, the ones that give meaning to our lives.

Oh, yeah, we're also here to live in the moment, and exist here, breathe in the air and feel the sun on our faces, or the cold in our lungs. Screw the worries the fears from the past, as long as you're obsessing on those, you really CAN'T live now. It's not that the past goes away, but we don't have to be imprisoned by it.

I look back at 2003 and it has been huge in my life. It hasn't all been easy. Half of the year was about letting go of my heart hold on my students and my job as a high school teacher. It was really hard to leave them behind, but the best part of the year was about leaving behind those fears that always kept me back, always had me saying "no,no,no" to the things I REALLY wanted.

I started over. It's extremely hard. I cut out all the things that weren't working, and that's not as easy as it sounds. I've left behind a lot of people who just didn't fit in the life I wanted to live. I've also been trying to pick back up with other people who dropped out of my life, like my sister. You really don't want to leave your sister behind. I've been trying to find people that are in the same place in life as me. I don't really know what that means or how to do it, but I'm open to it.

My life isn't perfect. I don't really want to be a waitress/bartender, but I do want to be a writer and an artist, and that is what I am doing. I may not actually be in love right now, but I have been more open to relationships and men and possibility than at any time in my life. And what that means is anything could happen. I have to remember that during those moments when I get impatient at my life not moving as fast as I'd like it too. But it's not as if you can put in an order for your life and then expect to have that order come through at the next window. I could ask for a big mac and get a burrito, or popcorn, or a pinwheel. Is there something wrong with a pinwheel just because you asked for a big mac? I didn't "get" my exboyfriend, couldn't have him, even though I thought I wanted him. I did though, get something better.
I got me.
I woke up this morning flashing back on my past. Images of being a teenager and working at my mother's job downtown, it wasn't that great of a job, but I remember being sent out to paper the street with flyers, and the thing that struck me, even then, was the beauty of that side street in Chelsea-- the trees full and shady covering the streets, the brownstone buildings with their front stoops and wrought iron railings. I remember thinking, "oh, I'll never be able to live in a place like that. I wish I could," and not five years later I did, in my garden apartment with my sister and her crazy boyfriend. It was a great apartment and a great neighborhood, but it only lasted six months before the boyfriend flipped out and I just wanted out.

Me and my sister found a place on Elizabeth Street, in what is now called "Nolita" (a catchy name, in a gentrifying sort of way). We lived out of boxes for a while, until the landlord could finish it. He'd needed our money so badly that he let us live in half the place, just so he could renovate the other apartments and charge outrageous rents.

Real estate in New York City always shocks me, although it shouldn't.

How can I be paying over a thousand dollars rent and still not have heat on the coldest day of the year? The temperatures haven't been this low for a hundred years, actually. I slept in a sweatshirt and a mound of blankets, and was determined not to get up until I actually had heat in the apartment-- oh well.

The memories took over.

They always talk about the hottest days of the year, and the confrontations that happen then. It makes sense, it does-- the temperature goes up, so do people's tempers, but what about the coldest days?

I think they bring on loneliness, or if not loneliness, then being with one's self.

Thus the memories. Like the ones of winters in the Bronx. I think that was the low point in my life. That was a true slum, and the land lord, a true slum lord. I slept every night in a maroon ski cap, changing from pajamas into school clothes while still underneath the covers. There was never hot water then. My mom and grandma used to heat pots on the stove so we could bathe. The ceiling in the bedroom had fallen in from some leak somewhere, and went for years with a gaping hole. We breathed ancient plaster and who knew what else.

That wasn't a place for children. Or for parents. Or grandparents. Or any type of human being. It was for the cockroaches and the stray cats. And no matter how bad it was inside, how cold, how infested, when you stepped outside it was worse. There was a crack house across the street and gangs running up and down the avenue. I was a tiny blanquita, a half white, half puertorican girl, and I knew better than to spend any time out there. I used to cry if my mom tried to send me to the laundromat. I stayed inside and read books.

I think I knew something on a gut level, even if I didn't see what could happen to me. I wonder if my little brother's life would have been different if he hadn't grown up there. He told me years later that those black eyes he got while "playing football" were actually because he always had to fight to defend himself. My mom took him out of there by the time he was thirteen, the year I went away to college, but I have to wonder if what he saw on those streets during his childhood started the drugs and the trouble. I wonder if he had grown up on those nice, leafy brownstone streets of Chelsea, would he have ended up in jail after a psychotic break induced by drugs? Would he have grabbed the neighbor girl, not doing anything, but scaring her, then sitting down on the neighbor couch to wait for the cops the neighbor grandma called? This was in Florida, where they take "three strikes" seriously. Even if strike one and two are shop lifting and stealing a bike-- kids crimes. If it hadn't been for the Bronx, where would my brother be now?

If. If. If.

But to be fair, I think I gained something in the Bronx. I learned something about survival, about the beauty of people, even people who are discarded by society. You've never seen anything as heart-rendingly glorious as a child who lives through insanity and struggle and comes out with his head held high. And this is not an uncommon thing. It's a very common thing. It's a human thing. We will make it through, if it doesn't break us. And children are the very best at doing it, the most flexible. I guess it's the way we're made.

I wonder if the people who come out of poverty stronger and more beautiful make up for all the people who are broken by it?

This is not something I have an answer for.

I think that I am one of those who made it out. Who transformed the ghetto into a fertile ground for my life. I have to honor it, even if I refuse to live again in the Bronx.

And to be truthful, even though my apartment is freezing on this below zero morning, my landlord has been in the building for the last three days trying to fix the broken pipe and the furnace, and bugging me to no tomorrow about making sure my heat is on. That is not a slum, and I am not back in the Bronx.

So, I'll wrap myself in blankets and put on extra socks and surround myself with the art and poetry of my life. I'll sit in front of my computer and remember.

It's not such a bad thing after all.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Hi there!

ahh, beginnings... the blank page, the new year, the empty slate.

Actually, we make up all those beginnings anyway. What makes this year really new from the old? Someone who decided January first was the reset button. And that's not to say that there is no new beginnings, rather, every moment is the possibility for starting over.

It's a little scary to think that everything in your life could be changed at any moment-- really it could. But it's exciting to think so, also. Any person you meet could be the love of your life, or say that one word that makes you look at life in a different way, or give you a gift you never thought you would recieve.

I suppose also that any moment could be the end. We never really know when our time is going to be up, but that only strengthens the fact that we have to, HAVE to take advantage of the life that is given to us. That's why I've chosen to look at my life as full of wonder, to see the possibilities in front of me as amazing, not cut them off with cynicism and pessimism.

Even love. After all the normal heartbreak and trauma that any thirty three year old woman growing up in New York City, I've come back to believing in love-- True love. Not just regular old love, parental, and platonic and humanitarian, but true love, the kind that our tongue-in-cheek too-cool-to-be-suckered society doesn't admit exists. (but really, deep down, they all want a knight in shining armor, or they want to be one.)

So I believe in the possibility of true love in my life. (I'm hoping that if I say it enough, I won't back slide into my but-not-for-me mindset.)

I also believe in the possibility that I can be an artist. I can be a writer. Published, shown, represented, whatever it is. I believe that I can stay true to myself, and people out there will want to read me, or be inspired by my art.

I believe I have something to say.
I believe that the everyday grind is not going to grind me down.
I believe I can get my ass in gear and do what I need to.
I believe I can fly-- if not literally, and not in the corny ass song way, then at least I am not going to fall when I leap into the void-- leap head first into that rabbit hole.

Don't know where it will take me.

Might as well find out.
This is what life is really about-- opening up doors, windows, mouse holes-- any way in, any way out.

At thirty three years old, I have given my life over to wonder. I have chosen to look at the world, not out of anxiety, or how hard it is to live, or what I don't have, can't get, have never been given, but instead out of joy, and freedom, and adventure.

Oooh. Scary.

I quit my job as a high school teacher, so I could focus on being a writer, and artist, and someone who could teach others to be creative-- which is a far cry from what the New York City Department of Education said I had to do. I quit my job, nice safe secure job with benefits that I never even took advantage. Quit my job even though I loved teaching and loved my kids, because I had to follow my passion, even if I wasn't exactly sure what it would mean to follow my passion.

And of course, in New York City, if you quit a nice safe secure job to follow your passion, you still have to pay the rent. I tried to start some writing workshops, they didn't cover the rent. I hoped that reading tarot cards for my private clients would pay the rent, but it turns out, people only really need a reading once or twice a year-- so no rent there.

Back to the beginning, what I did when I got out of college-- oh yes. Waiting tables. I figured I might as well take advantage of living in Williamsburg Brooklyn