Final Blog Post for Writing and Experiment

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Look up! My favorite spot for trees in Florida. 

I’m just going to say it: never in my life has a class made me feel so uncomfortable. Ever.

Having said that, I am thankful for the course. Why? Because that sort of discomfort was intentional. It was meant to challenge us, engage us, and urge us to look at the world around us a little bit differently.

Even though I felt extraordinarily embarrassed at times, I also knew this was precisely the kind of class I needed. As a very worrisome and neurotic person, I know the importance of letting loose and learning to be comfortable in your own skin and around others as well. It can be hard to  relax in a group of strangers, but week after week, I found myself more at home with not only what we were doing every Tuesday, but with the people, too.

For those of us who are naturally confident and at ease with others, maybe all of this was no big deal. But for me, a highly sensitive and shy person, this course helped me a lot.

I was especially glad that closer to the end of our time together, our own work was also integrated into the physical work we had been doing in the course. We drew on past feelings, situations, and experiences to ultimately craft personal writings as well as a final project that was all about us. It was our chance to say what we wanted to say. What is more exciting to a writer than that?

As writers, we can be very rigid. I know I am. I am traditional in the sense that I like to sit at my desk, have a clear direction, and write quietly. I don’t want any distractions. I don’t often think about my body or my movements as I write. I think about my idea, my keyboard, my cup of coffee…and that’s about it. It is easy to get stuck in that cycle.

In Writing and Experiment, however, we rarely sat down. We embraced distractions. We moved around the room, we took walks, we rubbed each others backs, we held hands, etc. I think it is easy to find this stuff weird–and maybe it is–but I am also a believer in being present, aware, and noticing everything. I find that endlessly valuable and this course heightened that sense of mindfulness which, at the end of the day, can only help my writing. The more alive we are, the better we will see things and the better we will write.

We all approach our creative work differently and I think this class made us see that. While I might not use the actual performative, physical exercises for my own personal work, I will absolutely take what those exercises taught me about the art of observation, perception, and attention. I think the first step to writing well exists long before the first idea or image or even the characters. It exists before what we want to say and what the theme will be. The first true step of writing centers on letting go and feeling your feelings. That might sound silly, but we have to notice the world and be unendingly touched by it day after day. If we’re not, why write?  Look at the trees, feel the wind, hug the people you love. We need to be sensitive; we need to be emotional to the point of insanity; we need to be aware that being alive is a gift in itself. That is the heart of writing. That is the pulse of creation. Writing and Experiment taught me to tap into that pulse specifically. It taught me to pay attention, to feel whatever I need to feel, and by all means… Go a little crazy.

Blanca

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Walking into the Light

Blanca used dance, sound, and visuals to tell the story of a journey. As I watched, I got the sense of a profound struggle over the course of a long, otherworldly voyage that spanned different areas, seasons, and maybe even planets.

At times, Maria Nilsson Waller’s movements were slow, controlled, sweet, and playful. It struck me that perhaps she was seeing something for the first time and was trying to make sense of it. At the end of each sequence, however, the dance changed. It became repetitive, pained, restricted, intense. It seems the wanderer grew not only tired, but endangered. The music built up to a climax, the images on the screen shook and sped up, and Waller’s almost ragged dancing mirrored the change beautifully. Then, she would fall. All would go silent. I could be way off base here, but to me that spoke of a “sort” of death or demise–but ultimately, Waller rose again stronger than ever.

Because of that shift, Blanca illustrated a definite image of rebirth and regeneration for me, which of course feeds into the themes of Alchemy and perpetual transformation. No matter how many times Waller seemingly succumbed to her environment, she always came back, giving the viewer the feeling of immortality and perpetuity. That idea of dying and rising anew inspired the writing below. I also used the images (stars, trees, water, etc.) showcased in the performance to give the “wanderer” a landscape for her journey.

I knew when I started this journey that I would not come out of it alive. I would have to die. 

But maybe, maybe…I’d come back.

I walked across deserts; I hiked through lush, green forests. The mountains called so I scaled those, too. I ran through valleys and picked wildflowers–I put some in my hair for decoration. At night I slept beneath the moon and in the mornings I watched the sun usher in a new day. 

The journey was important. I left my old home in search of a new one. A better life. Because of this, I saw so much of the world. Up close. Alive. I heard the call of wild animals. Sometimes the rain poured and I ran through it as it beat down on my back.

Other nights the wind blew so fiercely it almost carried me away. It was the Earth. It breathed. It spoke. I had to listen. 

My end came quickly one sunny afternoon. I tried to cross an icy river, but lost my footing and fell beneath the surface. The chill shocked me. It froze my heart. The water was deep and fast and pushed me down. I lost control. I needed air but couldn’t find it. I sunk. I let go. I detached from the world.

Hope was lost and all was dark. The journey was over. I had failed.

Then, a beam of light. I felt my heartbeat again. I breathed but it burned. I grabbed hold of the world again. I fought, I struggled. I sprouted arms and legs. I came back. I stood up and took off. I was flying–over stars and around the moon, through galaxies and past black holes. The light grew brighter. Stars attached themselves to me. My body warmed. I could breathe evenly now, the burn long gone. The stars glowed on and around me. I smiled. I was transformed. I blossomed. I burst to life.

I found my home.

 

 

Dusk Ahead

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This photo was taken at dusk in the Smoky Mountains, North Carolina. It is my favorite place to get lost.

Don’t think. Keep your head low. Don’t see everything or you’ll see too much. We should keep to the road and never venture into the woods. That is just irresponsible. It invites all sorts of ferocious, unpredictable monsters to step out from behind the trees and take you away. We should be safe. Comfortable. Go inside before dark. We should choose a partner that will keep us happy–and never hurt us. We cannot deal with broken hearts. Any pang of feeling and we’ll crave more of it. Instead, keep things neat. Orderly. Clean. Easy. It’s the only way to protect yourself.

Dusk Ahead surprised me. I have no experience with dance theatre and rarely see it performed. However, the whole time I watched this performance, I felt it. There was something beautifully profound being expressed through dance. It was careful, yet raw. I cannot say I understood it completely, but it certainly inspired a reaction in me. From exploring blindness and contact/attachment, this performance communicated a certain blur between reality and fantasy, between rationality and romanticism.

To me, Dusk Ahead was a ME-morial in the sense that it inspired awareness. In the start of the production, the dancers were rigid, blinded, lost, confused. It made me think of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I got the feeling that they were afraid to see and go out into the “world.” They acted as prisoners. Then, when their blindfolds were removed, they became free. They moved with each other, danced with each other, fought each other, kissed each other. In short, they were alive

There was definite pain in some of the performances, but isn’t it better to experience pain than never experience anything at all?

It seems that in life we are cautioned away from doing anything different. I have experienced this personally throughout a lot of my life and I know I’m not alone. We are told it is too “risky” to take chances. We need to be “smart” and take the obvious, traditional path. We are weak if we feel too strongly about anything (I’ve always been called “too sensitive”). We are “restless” if we question the norm or seek something new. We are “children left behind” if we stray too far off the predetermined road. The “plan.” Funny thing is, I’ve always preferred being a child left behind. I don’t want to be stuck. I think this was something Dusk Ahead explored and, in my opinion, was the resounding ME-morial message. Open your eyes. Get out there. Get messy. Go crazy. Feel all you can. Love who you love. Get hurt. Just be alive. It is better to be informed rather than ignorant. It is better to see everything–the good and the bad–rather than hide away from it.

The Great Book of Ireland

This past Tuesday we got the opportunity to view The Great Book of Ireland. Everyone from Seamus Heaney to Samuel Beckett to Ted Hughes, and yes, even Bono, appeared in this book. It should also be noted that Daniel Day-Lewis had a page as well and I, considering the fact I have been in love with him for much of my life, had to stifle a scream/shameless fan-girl reaction. Needless to say, it was an amazing experience to see this book up close.

Some contributed poems and songs, others contributed art. It got me thinking about what I would add myself. I found it interesting and inspiring that each artist brought themselves into the book; it’s special to think that their work will exist in a timeless way.

Warning: This is my attempt at a “poem-like” piece about one of my favorite places in Ireland. I’m sure it would be rejected from The Great Book of Ireland, but here goes:

I woke up and into my dream again

Standing on the edge, I looked down

Like I always did

I got too close

Stones fell under my feet and hit the rocky shore

It was a long fall

Painful, too, of course

The sea roared and urged me back

But I stayed, I stared

The waves were blue and green and white — a liquid emerald

Salty, tangy, fresh

They rushed, they hit, they slammed into the cliffs

I was the overseer, I was the watcher

Hundreds of feet above it all

I flew with the birds, their calls cheery and playful

I was beckoned

I had been warned of the storm, of the ominous dark clouds and heavy rain

But it never came

Instead, the clouds parted

The sun streamed through

An otherworldly glow

The ocean sparkled like glitter

The green grass blew wildly in the breeze

I started to cry

I was home

Presentation Week

I think it’s safe to say that all of us in the Writing and Experiment course dreaded the day the architecture presentations finally rolled around. We were nervous and worried for obvious reasons, but I think it was exponentially more stressful because we were so out of our element in terms of our projects and what we had been working on. There was no clear, cut-and-dry way to succeed in this task. Our only direction was to remain open to the project and see what came of it.

Personally, I am a traditional writer in the sense that I like to have a clear idea of what I am working on and, hopefully, what the end result will be. This project urged me out of my comfort zone and forced me to trust a somewhat shaky and unpredictable process instead. My architect and I had varying schedules. He took a trip to Milan. E-mailing was spotty. However, we came together toward the end of the three weeks and put together a cohesive, conceptual art piece with clear voice, direction, and imagery. It was great that we sort of surprised each other and worked around conflicting time constraints. I think by the end of it, we were both proud and excited about the work we had done.

I ended up writing with much more concentration on setting, place, and the aesthetics of certain buildings. That is mostly a credit to my architect for talking about his personal style and what drives him in his work. Oppositely, he sent me photographs he put together that had little to nothing to do with architecture at all. Instead, he focused on the mood of my story and was inspired by my character’s journey. In a way, we switched places which created a layered and interesting presentation that showcased a nice combination between writing and architecture. It made me realize that both the writer’s mind and the architect’s mind are rooted in observation–which brings about powerful and creative results.

As for the other presentations, I was truly impressed. Unfortunately, I was only able to catch half of the presentations, but it was great to see the time, work, and thought each and every one of us put into this challenging project. We struggled, we agonized, but we succeeded with flying colors. From what I saw, we all created original and passionate pieces. So, I think we all have something to be happy about.

To me, the purpose of this project was to scare us into changing things up and finding a new way in our work. We were meant to break out of old habits, test ourselves, but still do what we do: tell a story.

Just Breathe

IMG_0076        Photo taken by yours truly in Jacksonville Beach, Florida

The water endlessly flows and moves. Waves travel from far and away to crash into the shore, only to return again. It is never-ending life. It is our pulse. It is breathing. The constant in and out, the push and pull, the life and death and resurrection. Each mounting wave is like a long, grand inhale, and the break is the thunderous, climactic exhale. Then, the immediate rush back out into the sea. Another inhale. This goes on and on, a devoted cycle.

This week seemed to be centered on movement and, in particular, our breath. In class, we were asked to focus on our internal breath vs. our external environment. In this case, we channeled the wind. It was interesting to “search” for breath outside of ourselves, since breathing is a natural bodily movement that one might not think of as existing outside of anything.

In fact, we rarely even think about breathing until we are urged to do so. Once we do, we start to notice our chest, our ribs, the length of each inhale and exhale, and how we function as an almost well-oiled machine. There is a certain rhythm to our breath, and that rhythm also exists all around us. We had to go outside and take note of the wind and what it does to the surrounding world, and there was a noticeable life and tempo to it all. When the wind blows, it scatters leaves, it moves branches, it helps birds take flight. The causes and effects are endless. For my own personal example as seen above, I used the ocean and waves in particular to symbolize breath and its recurring function. The ocean carries a natural beat, an in and out, much in the way waves crash into the shoreline. Immediately, they return to the sea to do it all over again. This makes me think of my own breath and the way it is constantly moving, rushing, and renewing.

As a class, we also attended IndieCork’s Dance on Film showcase. We watched two hours worth of short films that centered on movement and, really, any type of dance. For me, it was especially interesting to see how dance spans different cultures, countries, and personal journeys. Dance can be used to symbolize happiness and togetherness (as in my personal favorite entitled Vanishing Points) or profound pain and sadness (Horizon of Exile). Really, there is no limit. There was an eclectic mixture of artistry, including everything from documentaries, narratives, and even simple performance-based films. The show itself was at once free, playful, but also wholly thought-provoking and, at times, incredibly uncomfortable. But, that is the purpose of art. It tells a story that challenges us and makes us look at the world differently, even when we would rather run away and hide.

Mindfulness in Writing

This week’s class was especially useful to me. We spent the majority of our time together discussing, reading, listening, and…writing! Finally!

Don’t get me wrong. We have written in class before…but this week seemed more concentrated on the technical craft and act of writing. We were urged to notice and pay attention and, from those observations, write what we experienced.

While I do admit that experimentation is valid and helpful in writing, it was nice to switch gears and slow down. We have spent the majority of our class time tapping into our creative, performance-based sides (which is the point), so this particular class felt like coming home. Instead of focusing on writing or experiment, it felt more like a combination of both. We got to take what we had learned over the past few weeks and go out into the world to use it. It felt good to grab a pen and some paper and just go.

The task was simple enough. Go out. Anywhere. Pay attention.

There is a certain freedom in the simple act of noticing things. We are so often bogged down by the mundane duties of life that there are times we don’t really see anything at all. We’re robotic in that way. I find this horrifically sad because I know I’m guilty of it, too. We all are. We rush around. We’re annoyed. We’re angry. We lose something–money, a paper we need, a bus ticket. Our families are stressing us out. We’re fighting with a friend. We’re getting sick. We’re sad and we don’t know why. The list goes on and on. Life can be hard and really discouraging…and all the while we’re missing it.

But then, something changes. You breathe. You relax. You notice the bird or the girl smiling, holding her dad’s hand as they cross the street. Things seem okay again. There is balance. If you just take a minute to look around, everyday life can actually be a really magical place.

I chose a grassy bank on the river. For some of the exercise, I closed my eyes and listened. In other instances, I scanned the sky, the tips of the trees, the water, the people. My objective was to fully immerse myself into my environment and notice as much as I could while using all of my senses.

Here is something I noticed:

The river is clear. Green streams of moss drift with the current, which flows over red and brown and gray rock. Leaves of oranges and yellows and purples and rubies–even crunchy browns–fall from the twisting, thin branches. No. They dance into the river below–and then they are carried. They float on top of the glistening surface, their frail and veiny bodies shivering from the cold breeze, the breeze that carries the tiniest hint of ice. It reminds me of life and death. There is something about the smell of fall. The tang of it. It’s spicy, like cinnamon. It’s smoky, like fire. It’s sweet, like apples.

Connections

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Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky

Everything you knew, or thought you knew, is different. You’re in that nightmare again. It’s sticky and heavy and foreign. You move slowly; the wind is hurling itself at you. Each step is unsure. Usually you’re going up steps and you’re afraid you’ll fall down. Tonight is no different. All that is ahead is dark, but you go anyway. Maybe you’ll reach the top, maybe you won’t. Your heart is beating too fast. You have to slow it down, so you try to breathe. You hear distant screams from those who have failed before you. They are still falling. It’s the worst kind of echo. You can’t see the bottom. You’re not even sure there is one.

There is a growing suspicion that someone–or something–is following you. An old boyfriend or classmate or monster under the bed. You look behind you, but only the night stares back. Your legs begin to shake. You almost miss a step. Your head throbs. Your nose bleeds and the salty taste drips into your mouth. You wipe it away. It stains your skin but you can’t see.

Far down the stairs you hear loud, patient footsteps. Thump. Thump. Drag. They’ll catch you eventually. There’s no need to rush.

You use your hands to find the rail. Finally, guidance. The metal is cold on your hand, but the chill is recognizable. You take the steps faster. Something behind you laughs, its voice high and piercing. You keep going.

Its breath is on your neck. Any minute, you’ll feel a bony hand reach around your waist and pull you back down. All that work for nothing. This is fear, but you don’t allow yourself to look back again. You just keep moving.

Your eyes adjust to the black. You start to make out shapes. The steps. The rail. The ghosts walking beside you. You narrow your gaze. Keep looking up, you think. Over and over. Soothingly. Suddenly, the palest blue light emerges ahead. The darkness itself gasps and screams all around you. It blows your hair back, but you don’t stop. The laughing is getting louder. You feel a finger tickle your neck.

Then you see purple, yellow, pink, orange, and white. Colors erupt all around you. You take the steps two at a time. The laughing turns to crying. The finger turns to dust. You start to hum the song your mother used to sing to you as a baby. You remember.

You reach the top and the room is so bright it hurts your eyes. The ghosts are gone. There is a single door in front of you and you open it. Birds and gray sky and green grass on the other side. You step out, and the door slams shut behind you.