Coping and Creating

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I will try to keep this somewhat brief as, really, we’re all in the same boat (or at least getting through the same storm on the same ocean…some people have yachts and some of us have, ya know, paddle boats and others are treading water gripping onto debris). For me, figuring out employment and feeling okay during this time has been challenging, but it’s hard to complain when I have such a supportive network of humans. For this post, I am focusing on all the gratitude I feel for the connections I have, even if they cannot include hugs.

Here are some projects that have helped me focus my melting mind:

I wrote a short “Missing Ingredients” featuring the directing talents of Michael Oatman, the editing skillz of Katie McGill, and the acting chops of Britta Tollesfrud and Leah Cardenas.

These actresses are just the best.

I have teamed with that same Katie McGill on a comedic (well…it’s fun to make anyway…) Instagram project: “Hungerbaiting.” It is such a wonderful gift to have friends that can also be collaborators, and so much more a gift when they are talented and have been in your life for approaching 2 decades (I feel old).

This is an organization of saints, I tell you.

I help lead a writing workshop for Project Everlast every week and if you don’t know about that organization…please support it every way you can. Truly a gem in Omaha. The woman who leads their programming, Schalisha, deserves canonization into sainthood at this stage. I’ve volunteered a few times at the Food Bank, and that’s another group of people that work so hard and care so deeply for their community. If you have money or time, both of those organizations have certainly made a place in my heart, and I think they’d fit snugly in yours.

Several amazing actors in town (and out of town) lent their talents for me recently to a zoom reading of an incredibly rough-as-hell first draft of a musical I wrote (thanks again Britta for lending music talents I do NOT have) . Other projects are on the way and in the works.

If you are having trouble doing anything right now, that’s so very very okay, too. I have days I can’t really think, let alone write. These are scary times we’re living in, to put it lightly. If I have hours or moments I’m pulling it together to work or create, or even just get out of bed, it’s because I have the ridiculous level of luck to have people in my life that love me into a better version of myself than I could be otherwise. Working on these projects and having these people in my life has helped me in ways I can’t really quantify. If you are reading this, I hope you have the same, and if not, I’ve got some room in my paddle boat, so feel free to reach out.

The solace art offers

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“Grief fills the room up of my absent child,

Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,

Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,

Remembers me of all his gracious parts,

Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form:

Then have I reason to be fond of grief?”

Shakespeare (also known as my personal Jesus)

My heart! How can you not be moved?

I’ve been thinking about losses lately, and how we find comfort for them. There are a lot of reasons this topic has been jangling about in my head: I facilitate groups where people often talk about their big life losses; I had a breakup; a dear friend’s brother died on Halloween, and I always think about her this time of year; and some other friends of mine have been going through losses in various forms. Then today I had a couple of experiences that really got me thinking about loss’ palpable shadow: grief.

First, I had some time before I had to go to a writing group, and so I dropped by the Joslyn Art Museum There is this painting there that always moves me, called The Grief of the Pasha. I don’t know why it pulls my heart’s muscle fibers, but it does. Is it the slumped, broken-looking pasha? The big, strong tiger looking so vulnerable with its little tongue sticking out? The way the tiger is so lovingly placed on flower petals? The giant hall with its emptiness that is like a third character in the scene? I just don’t know.

At any rate, that painting was freshly in my mind when I got to the writing group. During the session, this nice man with whom I get to work sometimes shared about a tremendous loss he experienced several years ago. The anniversary of his loss happens to fall on the same date as my beloved brother’s death, May 29th, which brought up that piece of grief for me. He then shared a stunning poem and song about grieving, Nocturne, and spoke about the solace music and poetry gave him. It was incredibly touching and impressive that he shared this personal loss with the group. I also felt a deep resonance with his experience of art as a source of comfort.

I know some people find respite from loss, from grief, in prayer, in faith. That has never been the case for me. I know a lot of other people, too, who just cannot get the relief they need from a religion or the concept of a god. Yet, we all need something that offers us shelter from the overwhelming storm that is grief when it hits. For some of us, it’s art in its many wonderful forms. The Grief of the Pasha is one example of art that comforts me, but there are so many others. A friend let me read her upcoming book where she wrote about her very painful divorce, and it brought me some much-needed understanding and hope. I’ve been reading Waiting by Marya Hornbacher, and it gave insight I craved. I discovered this wonderful poem, What the Living Do, and it soothed my soul, I tell you. Reading, writing, movies, creating art…all the products and acts of creation are what get me through those times when absence kicks me in the teeth. It was cool to hear somebody else articulate that function of art today. I hope if you are reading this and going through any kind of grief, or even just have one in your past and it bubbles up, that you find whatever that grief-healer is for you, whether it’s art, god or a favorite blanket.

Also, if you need more bad-ass recommendations of paintings, poems, books or songs, let me know. We who are converts to art-as-religion always have suggestions. It’s what gets us through.

The absence of voices

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“The writer is deceived who thinks he has some other choice. The question is not whether one will make a social statement in one’s work – but only what the statement will say, for if it says anything at all, it will be social.” -Lorraine Hansberry

            I am very fortunate to be a paid creative writing teacher. It’s part-time, as I am truly of this whole gig-economy life, but it is some of the most engaging and fulfilling work I do. There is a group I work with that is composed of mostly young adults aging out of the foster care system, and I look forward to working with them every year. They’re talented, insightful, witty and just plain fun.

            The other night, I asked this group why they write. Most of them talked about how it helped them to process their internal worlds, make sense of life’s ups and downs. We then began writing on some prompts. One wrote about rage as a snake, making amazing use of her metaphor to break down the emotion. Another wrote short pieces, one with an amazing image using quicksand. Another personified euphoria, another made use of shoulder blades in an image I won’t soon forget.

            The pieces they shared reflected very much their stated purpose for writing; their poems were about their struggles with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and also their joys in life. Yet, perhaps because of their life experiences, the fact they are not perched in a privileged social position, their writings also commented on and encompassed issues bigger than just their own emotional lives. This has been the case every year I’ve worked with this group (this is my 4th year with them).

            Writings from this group have always, intentionally or unintentionally, commented on the overwhelming frustration that comes from chronic financial struggles, on the ways our courts underserve the poor and on society and how it treats some of its most vulnerable (and God knows we have so far to go in how we support our foster care youth in this society). When I saw the Hansberry quote at the top of this post, I immediately thought of them. Their writings are mirrors back at us as a community. They are bright, kind, hard-working people and many of them have had to struggle, still have to struggle, because of situations over which they’ve had very little control.

            Their writings are social statements, but I don’t think they often realize it, realize the real value and importance of their insights. In a culture that exalts and gives undeserving amounts of air and screen and page time to celebrities and the super-rich, it is wholly unsurprising that artists like these, who have ample talent but not wealth, go mostly unheard. That absence of their voices, and voices like theirs, in the larger artistic world is in itself a social statement. One I hope we can all work to change.