April 3, 2018

How Blue Can You Go?

by lisa st john

ontology:
1a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being  Ontology deals with abstract entities.
2a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence

How real are Blue Spaces in terms of being good for us?

blue space is defined as; ‘health-enabling places and spaces, where water is at the centre of a range of environments with identifiable potential for the promotion of human wellbeing’. (“Blue Space Geographies: Enabling Health in Place” Foley and Kistemann).

Of course it seems obvious that looking at water or blue skies makes us feel better, but why? How much better? IMG_1610

According to Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist and the managing director of The LightHouse Arabia in Dubai, studies show that spending as little as 15 to 30 minutes in nature can increase positive emotions and the ability to reflect on a life problem. “This is best explained by nature’s effect on physiology – heart rates decrease and blood pressure goes down when people spend time looking at nature. When this happens, we are psychologically in a calmer state,” she explains.
IMG_5819-2867282905-1522773783946.jpg
I like a scientific fact to back up what I already want to believe: the ocean makes me feel as good as I can get. In a recent Widow’s Words blog post, I talk about my connection to the ocean and to my late husband, Kent. There is a purity to the inevitability of waves, a homecoming. I also love the duality of the ocean–beauty and danger, calming and fierce.
Scientists are exploring the idea of blue spaces regarding our health and mental well-being. Groups like BlueHealth and other interdisciplinary research teams are paying more attention to blue spaces.
Here are some of the “what ifs” for me:
A virtual reality headset can put me in the ocean for ten minutes so I feel rejuvenated.
Businesses start giving people “blue” days in addition to sick days.
New stores are created where you can purchase “blue time” in individual IMAX rooms.
Doctors can prescribe “blue time” (and you thought medical marijuana was controversial!)
Urban areas start creating blue parks (intentional water spaces both as horizontal lakes and vertical aquariums). 
Fantasy? Maybe. For now. But the fact that the facts are backing up common wisdom gives me hope. Old wives tales, huh? 

 

 

 

ON MAGRITTE’S THE VOICE OF BLOOD (Originally published in The Ekphrastic Review)

Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist ― René Magritte

I think we should listen more to
old wives and their tales.

Learn how not to get caught in a storm             (of fear),
not to enter the                                                       (wrong)
doors,
how to avoid the falling stars                               (or catch a ride).

How to let go                                                            (and know)
when trees are silent they are free.

The voice of blood is captured in the geometry of trees and the lie of open windows.

Meandering greys bend in
moonlight’s fortune-telling whispers.          Listen.

There is no color without light.

Listen
to the moonlight shape our
monochromatic truth.

Listen, old wives, to our prayers for fairytale endings ever,
ever,
after
grey is washed in morning, graffiti of the light revealed.

 
March 1, 2018

Writers’ Paradise

by lisa st john

#ebags #eaglecreekWelcome to March 1st. From now on, I am going to post here on the first of every month. Not that often, right? Except that I now have another blog: Widows’ Words. This one is focused on my memoir, The Beds We Live and Die In. It’s about loss and widowhood and moving through it all.

I also launched a website to keep everything together: lisachristinastjohn.com

I hope you check them both out. I am excited. I really am living the writer’s life and I wake up every day full of energy and ready to work/write.

I am forever grateful to the International Women’s Writing Guild for starting me on this path. If you haven’t been to their amazing online webinars and real-life conferences you are missing out. They are “a global powerhouse & digital village for mighty, soulful women writers.” I can’t wait for the Boston Retreat in April. The summer IWWG Conference is where I heard about the San Miguel Writers Conference in February. I got to attend, and it was like a gift from the ancient gods.

Parish Church

San Miguel de Allende is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site; it’s a mecca of culture and beauty. I have been to this amazing city before–once with my late husband and our son, twice to visit friends, and now to experience the writing community. It was beyond amazing. Workshops in tents outside the gorgeous grounds of the Hotel Real de Minas, round table discussions with authors, pitch sessions with agents, excursions, and fiesta! The keynote speakers are world famous: Rita Dove, Sandra Cisneros, Wally Lamb, and Joseph Boyden just to name a few. 

The air was electric with creative energy. I re-focused, rejuvenated, remembered, and released. I worked on the memoir, but also crashed into some poetry with the astounding Judyth Hill. Here is an excerpt of a fragment that will someday grow into a poem, thanks to Judyth’s prompts.

“Blue brushstrokes of longing
are the impasto of my memory,
and my heart is in Orion’s star.
La Llorona comes for me in a blood moon the texture of hunger.”

Hill was so right when she said that “poets are the grievers of culture.” It’s our job as artists of all kinds to bear the heart of our time.

Check out the CDC Poetry Project, for example. Check out Amanda Palmer’s “Strength Through Music.” Dictators fear artists and intellectuals. Why?

“Art creates pathways for subversion, for political understanding and solidarity among coalition builders. Art teaches us that lives other than our own have value.” (Eve L. Ewing)

There are beautiful, loving groups everywhere who believe in art, who promote art, who value voice. Check out this Children’s Art Foundation in San Miguel. Check out the American Library Association. They need us now more than ever. 

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By the way, loved Interjet Airlines. I left San Miguel to fly to Puerto Vallarta to visit a jungle village they don’t want me to talk about (even though it’s all over the travel sites). I guess I’ll just say I may not miss the Chachalaca birds in the early morning. 

January 26, 2018

March on 2018

by lisa st john

 

The Women’s March on Washington in 2017 was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. One year later there is still so much work to do, but positivity is key to keep the energy going. And there was some beautiful energy in the New York City Women’s March 2018.

I’m going to rely mostly on images for this post, but one of the best parts about the march was the

abundance of men, boys, young women…families. We are not alone in this fight.

Intersectionality (the theory that the overlap of various social identities, as race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual) is crucial, and the signs showed this idea.

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This talk is wonderful. The video towards the end is disturbing but necessary and artful, with music by Abby Dobson .

 

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Together, we rise.

 

January 9, 2018

Gifts

by lisa st john

“Who is that pretty mask for?”IMG_0018
“For me.”
“You can give yourself presents?”
“Yes. We have to give ourselves presents.”
“Why?”
“To tell the universe how grateful we are.”

“I’m telling Santa.”

If giving feels so good, why don’t we give ourselves gifts more often? And why do we give people gifts on their birthdays? We should give the gifts to their moms, no?

ɡift/
noun
1. a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present. “a Christmas gift”
synonyms: present, handout, donation, offering, bestowal, bonus, award, endowment; More
2. a natural ability or talent. “he has a gift for comedy”
synonyms:talent, flair, aptitude, facility, knack, bent, ability, expertise, capacity, capability, faculty; More

IMG_0020

I am Cleo, and I will be around 21 years old this August.

My old cat wakes up sometimes and yowls like a B horror movie beast. I think she wakes up and wonders where she is, who she is, and why she is still here. But what do I know? Cats can get senile I am told. I give her the gift of gabapentin; she’s lucky I don’t put it in my coffee instead.

The “gift-giving season” is a diabolical (irony intended) stressor. So this year I gave my family flowers. Bouqs was a hit for out of town people, but I like my local florist best. They are artists (gifted, if you will). The Green Cottage is like no other florist/store/magic place. For them it’s not just about making money–it’s about sharing beauty; and that is a gift we can give ourselves every single day. Like Blake said, it’s all about seeing … “a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.” The following two images are both extraordinarily beautiful to me. Why? In “The Neuroscience of Beauty,” authors Steven Brown and Xiaoqing Gao say that:
As much as philosophers like to believe that our brains contain a specialized system for the appreciation of artworks, research suggests that our brain’s responses to a piece of cake and a piece of music are in fact quite similar.

Louie Schwartzberg says that “We protect what we fall in love with.” Watch this video and see what he means.

 

 

The gifts we give ourselves are right here, right now.

I am on the hunt for the perfect, secular word for “grateful” and/or “blessed.” Please let me know if you find it. “Lucky” implies I have nothing to do with it, and I don’t buy that. I choose to see a bend of turquoise because if I don’t notice the magic of the world then I have nothing to give others. I send money to students in Mexico not because I feel guilty for some American white (ish) privilege reason. I give because I can. A new pair of shoes for me is a semester of college for them. I have all the Crocs I need.

My late husband, Kent E. St. John, used to get his college buddies to go out with him even if they had no cash. He’d say, “If I have enough for one beer, I have enough for two.”

With everything going on in the world, we need more gifts for ourselves and each other. We need humor

and music and art and gratefulness and dessert before dinner and swimming and snuggling and reading and cookies and things. Let’s share them. Let’s Tweet our gifts as well as our arsenals.  Right now, we need both.

 

You can buy my chapbook of poetry HERE at Finishing Line Press. This is Genevieve. She is asymmetrical but still wants treats.

November 9, 2017

Immeasurable Heaven

by lisa st john

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion 
And the act…                 
  –T.S.Eliot’s The Hollow Men” 

 

 

As I sit at the Detroit airport picking past the pretzels in my bar mix (say honest to god pretzels don’t taste the same as tree bark) I wonder about the in between.

The crumbs of the salty nacho bagel chips have to affect the smooth, oriental rice crackers. They are in there together, right?

Together and in between.

If I got nothing else out of the Women’s Convention it was this: we are all in this together, and to win we must work together and for each other. I don’t have what it takes to run for a local political office, but I DO have a hand on my sister’s back who does have the courage to run.

It’s changing. American society really is changing this time. Five years ago a female student argued with me about women being minorities. “Not anymore they’re not,” she decreed. I asked her to come back to me when she finished medical school to tell me I was wrong and that she was treated equally alongside her male peers. She hasn’t come back. I hoped she would be right. Not yet.

Between the conception
And the creation 
Between the emotion
And the response…

But standing next to my daughter-in-law in a hall with 3,000 other women who are working to change the status quo has given me real hope. We (I am 52 years old. Boomer? Gen X?) didn’t raise our daughters OR OUR SONS to be anything other than equal. Men are a huge part of this movement, and we need to make that a big part of the discussion.

Rose McGowan’s speech gave me goose bumps. But is was when Rev. Mark Thompson (the only male speaker) said, about sexual assault, “This didn’t start in Hollywood…it began when they first stepped off the boat here…continued throughout slavery…the white man turned on his own women…the true history of sexual assault is a straight line…” I realized that this isn’t just another movement. This is real. 

We aren’t rookies either. Look at how long it took to get marriage equality. We have been working on many levels for many causes, but it’s time to focus on women again.

Senator Nina Turner reminded us, “We have been here before.”

Side note: if you haven’t seen the documentary about the history of the Women’s Movement, SHE’S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE’S ANGRY, please watch it.

I cannot imagine my friends’ daughters letting someone tell them, “No. You can’t. You’re a girl.” They are the strongest generation because the daughters and granddaughters of the 1970’s are raising them.

“There is no Trump white house big or bad enough to stop women who are determined to shake this world.” (Sen. Turner) Pre and post Trump? Pre and post the social revolutions of the 70s and 80s?

Republicans versus Democrats? “Dr. Bernice King gave a speech earlier this year to the DNC. She said that, today, people are not looking for people just based on whether they’re Democrat or Republican — they’re looking for people who will stand up for humanity” (Nina Turner). Are there natural dichotomies? Or is everything in a state of in between?

Laniakea: immeasurable heaven. It’s where we live, in a supercluster of galaxies.
It’s in between

gorgeous galactic collisions. Tom Chi explains, in his awesome TED Talk “Everything is Connected” says that, “Every one of our heartbeats is connected” through iron. Fe. He explains it much better than I could. 

We are in between and we are together. “Every breath contributes to countless lives after you…Each one of these things that we put out into the world through the creative process … allow us to expand the Palate of Being for all of society after us” (Chi). We have to continue to fight for equal rights (that sounds so redundant and obvious when I type it out). My point is, we CAN make this happen. We CAN smile when our grandchildren ask us what is was like before the Equal Rights Amendment passed.
So we are in between right now. And in immeasurable heaven. And we are all connected.

Between the desire
And the spasm 
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent…
falls the shadow. 
What falls next is up to us.

 

October 13, 2017

“JUST” Words?

by lisa st john

“Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.” Rita Mae Brown

 

Poetry especially could have a “hidden” power. But just like the moon, we know how it works. It all starts with gravity

 

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

 

If I have no name for snow, does that mean it doesn’t exist? Of course not. But if I have no word for freedom, that could be a problem. Although, the word freedom has multiple meanings in different contexts for different people. 

The language we use certainly does affect the way we think.

Everything from neuroscience to linguistics points to this. Language affects our perception of the world, not the world itself.

Philosophically, we could argue that our perception IS the world, but that’s another debate.

When our Secretary of Education has no background in education,
when our Federal Communications Commission wants to get rid of net neutrality ,
when the term for lying becomes alternative fact,
is it time to get scared?

Before I decide we are truly living an Orwellian nightmare, I have to think about …thought. Thought and language.

Words shape thought.

Watch this amazing talk on sexual violence and language (or, if you are pressed for time, scroll to 2:35 for his sentence structure example from Julia Penelope). 

Language matters.

“For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. What we have learned [however] is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently … Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.” -Boroditsky from EDGE (an amazingly fabulous website).

What language are we speaking? That’s it’s okay for a man to grab a woman’s pussy? Our children are listening.

“New brain research by USC scientists shows that reading stories is a universal experience that may result in people feeling greater empathy for each other, regardless of cultural origins and differences.” (“Something universal occurs in the brain when it processes stories, regardless of language” Science Daily)

empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

 

“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” Philip K. Dick

 

 

Those who speak and write and make art have the power. For now.

 

 

 

September 8, 2017

What is There to Know?

by lisa st john

There is no other system that responds to aerodynamics and fluid dynamics quite like shifting sand.

Physicists have formulae for the behavior of solids, liquids, and gases but do not have an adequate scientific description of granular motion. Granular behavior doesn’t fit neatly into a single physical theory.

 

Long Beach Island

Why do you like games so much?

Because when I’m playing Bocce or Canasta or Scrabble I know there are rules, and if I play by these rules, with a little luck there is a chance I can win. Unlike real life, where you can do everything right and still get screwed.

 

Scrabble tile lost to the bushes

Games have a science behind them. They are analytical and organized, unlike shifting sand. But the beauty of science is that just because something doesn’t fit into a neat little theory is not to say that we know nothing about it. Knowing is not the same as universal truth. Science is based on change. Did the Sun and planets all revolve around the Earth back in Ptolemy’s time? Of course not. But was it “true” (scientifically) back then? Sure.

As artist Tim Minchin says, “Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed/Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved./If you show me/ That, say, homeopathy works, Then I will change my mind” (Storm).

I do not mean to discount belief. We must believe that sand moves in mysterious ways in order for us to know it as a fact. We can’t know something and not believe it. Aside from Gettier, knowledge must be justified, true AND believable. This is the logical analysis of knowledge.

Logic is important to me because without it, all we have is guesswork and belief. Logic isn’t always easy though. Take the Gambler’s Fallacy. If I throw two dice ten times and I don’t get a 7 then I am “due” to get a 7 soon, right? Wrong. The dice do not know (or remember) what the previous throws were. Every time you throw it will still be  6/36 chance that you will roll a 7. We tend to believe that we are “due” to get a 7 because it’s instinctual; it’s intuitive. Why do we believe weird things? Watch this 14 minute fun video:

Why am I going on about all of this? Because of fake news and social media and a HUGE lack of scientific, logical thought in our world today. We need sites like Snopes (no, we are not putting Robert E. Lee on the $20 bill) and Politifact (no, Katy Perry did not convince ISIS to lay down their guns) because we aren’t taught to think critically, and it’s a critical time to start.

We need knowledge.

We also need belief.

Crash Davis does not, “believe in Quantum Physics when it comes to matters of the heart,” nor should he. What does he believe in, you ask?

“Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hangin’ curveball, high fiber, good Scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, over-rated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there oughta be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve. And I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days” (Bull Durham).

It’s a great writing/mindfulness exercise. Rewrite Crash’s speech for yourself. I tried it. Here it is:

http://bovano.com/

I believe in double rainbows, the cock, the cunt, the wonder of the universe, the buzz of hummingbirds, real ice cream, red wine, that the poetry of my teenage years was angst-ridden garbage. I believe that Trump did “grab pussy.” I believe there should be a constitutional amendment making rape a high crime like treason and punishable by death. I believe in true love, soulmates, fuck-buddies and that only christians should celebrate Christmas. And I believe in the power of art.

What if we balanced every minute of mainstream media watching with an equal amount of poetry reading?

What if we didn’t comment on social media as much as we danced in our kitchens?

I would like to know.

 

Buy my poetry chapbook, Ponderings, HERE.

August 20, 2017

Time for Words

by lisa st john

Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.                                                                                                                                —Buddha

Maine.

Homemade bluberry (picked that morning) pie with a crust so lovely it needs a better name (than crust).

I’m in a kayak floating around the lake when I see a loon taking his morning bath. I wonder if he and his mate were the ones who brought on evening yesterday with their haunting call and response. He flips around and cleans his white underside, neck impossibly agile; he twists and flutters and shakes off the water that he is not floating in. I don’t want to get too close and disturb his routine but I like watching him.

I am reminded of my beautiful daughter-in-law saying that the living by the water is magical because it’s alive, full of life above and below the surface. Just like she and my son are—in love with life and knowing how important moments are. It’s a gift and I am filled with joy that they discovered it at an early age. That’s another word that should be different: daughter-in-law. The etymology isn’t interesting and the connotation is mechanical. The Spanish la nuera is prettier.

Words are powerful in a way no other form of communication can match. They stay with us, haunt us, remind us.

When the news blares hate over and over and over in baleful repetition I turn it off. The violence of the language and images of what happened (is happening) in Virginia is not going to stop violence.

In Toni Morrison’s essay, “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear” she evokes the power of words, of art. I know that watching the talking heads postulate about what could happen and what should have happened will not help us heal. Rather than “what if-ing” (which is what most mainstream media seems to do lately) Morrison gives us a task: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Artists give strength to the idea of positivity and mindfulness and creation as tools against hate.

Lady Gaga: “I know we are not created to hate each other, but to help and love. Use hashtag #BeKind #ThisIsNotUS to tweet positive messages.” #Charlotte

Photo by Sarah St. John

Dave Matthews Band: “The multicultural tapestry that is America must come together, acknowledge our very difficult but remarkable history. We must move away from the racist and ignorant elements of our past toward an inclusive, kinder, more intelligent future.”

In response to a video showing a Neo-Nazi in a Johnny Cash tee-shirt, his family “sickened by the association” posted that, “Our dad told each of us, over and over throughout our lives, ‘Children, you can choose love or hate. I choose love.'”

The Presidential Arts and Humanities Committee resigned. They didn’t start a fire or blow up a building. They said, “No.”

Sara Benincasa provides a list of places to support.

Here are a few more ideas.

  1. Love each other and say so.
  2. Support artists who support peace and denounce hatred.
  3. Spread kindness.
  4. Refuse to be silent.

Remember: THIS IS NOT NORMAL. We cannot get used to this.

July 31, 2017

Art is My Religion

by lisa st john

Art is our new religion and museums our cathedrals.” Theodore Zeldin

Art is everywhere.

This is not a new idea. Alain de Botton’s beautiful talk “Art as Therapy” expands on Zeldin’s idea. He says that art’s function is in “giving us hope.” It reminds us that we are “not alone in our suffering.” Sounds theological doesn’t it? Recently, I realized I have a religion after all: art.

I got a last minute invitation to an event by The Secret City (“Sincere and fabulous community celebrations of the everyday creative life. With outfits”) recently, and it was nothing less than … spiritual. Artists getting together and

Chris Wells

sharing what they do with the rest of us, but also engaging us, inviting us to join them.

 

This interactive event included music by the Secret City Band, dance by Energy Dance Company, guided breathing, a shared ice cream treat by Cashewtopia, an amazing musical interaction by Sxip Shirey, a powerful a cappella protest song by Prana, fabulous memoir excerpt reading by Chris Wells, the most wondrous “Ukulele Anthem” by Amanda Palmer, and visual art provided by Martyn Thompson: meditation, music, singing, mingling, recitation…sounds like

 

AFP

church. It felt much better than any church-going I have ever experienced. It was a truly joyful celebration. We weren’t celebrating our union with a separate-from-us god; we were celebrating art and artists and the harmony that our union with them can provide. We need this. We need to connect with art so we know there are others like us. We are not alone.

 

“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent.” –Toni Morrison

 

This brings me to how we connect to the arts. What can we do to promote and enjoy and partake in the magical making of things? One way is Patreon. We do not have to be insanely rich Medicis to support the arts. With crowdsourcing and gofundme and kickstarter, indiegogo, et cetera, we can all make a difference in the world; we can all be patrons. I give a little + you give a little + someone else gives a little = an artist has the money to record an album. That’s about as mathematical as I get, so … .

Let’s be kind.

Let’s share art,

and let’s be fucking joyful.

July 15, 2017

My Atheist Soul

by lisa st john

Sophia is becoming more and more alive right now.”Susan Tiberghien

 

 

So much is possible. I am younger than when I arrived at the International Women’s Writing Guild Conference.

I am not alone. I am not alone in my own energy. I can connect to the whole whenever I am willing to listen.

I am not alone. I am part of the greater soul; keeping that door closed is no longer possible. I weaken the impact of anger by giving it voice. Writing.

But this is not soul work exclusively.

This is art.

In the joyous atmosphere of the IWWG, I opened myself up to the possibility of success (an ever-changing definition) in writing. Being among these powerful women gave me back a sense of power and purpose and connection.

It is difficult to express the true impact of these women’s workshops on my life, but I have to try.

Maureen Murdock’s workshop reminded me that, “Every woman has to learn where her true source of validation is.” (The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness)

Susan Tiberghien taught me that, “With [our] words [we] become light bearers in the world.” (One Year to a Writing Life)

Marj Hahne connected me to my poet’s voice through art, and Myra Shapiro rekindled a light within me.
Carren Strock showed me that I am not limited to one form.
Dorothy Randall Gray illuminated me—hugged me from the inside out, and Alyce Smith Cooper brought me home to my ancestors. Mary Beth Coudal smiled me alive, and Lynne Barrett brought me down to earth. April Eberhardt opened new windows and got me to see through them.

The laughter echoing through Muhlenberg College resonated the halls. The tears, for we need them too, were shared and new writing was born. I am excited for next year’s conference, for my writing, for art in general, and life majestic. Thank you IWWG. 

You can buy my chapbook of poetry, Ponderings, HERE.

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