Posts tagged ‘writing’

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

 

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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.

July 7, 2017

Changing Culture

by lisa st john

“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” –Mahatma Gandhi

 

You don’t want this flag pin, do you?

Yes! It will be perfect on my new jean jacket.

Ugh.

What? It’s MY country. No semi-literate government official is going to change that.

 

I love that I don’t have to wear a veil. I love that if a woman WANTS to wear a veil, she can. This is the “land of the free,” so now it’s time once again to reiterate, rise, and remind this American Culture that women are people too.

Don’t “believe” in abortion? Uhm…it exists. Don’t believe in having one? Don’t. It has existed since well before this country was “discovered” by Europeans, and it will exist as long as women can get pregnant.

Reproductive freedom is just one issue, however, in this sexist rape-culture we have found ourselves in. “No need to call yourself a feminist—you are a human being or a sexist human being.” I don’t know where this quote came from (hard to attribute memes—someone should come up with an app for that) but it resonates with me. Our language is more than a reflection of culture; language creates culture. We have the power to change it.

I watch my friends’ daughters and sons playing side by side in soccer, and wonder what they will feel like when teams split into boys and girls. Reviving Ophelia and Raising Cain will help us understand stereotypes and (hopefully) how to raise centered and loving human beings, but what will help the girl who is (suddenly) shunned by her friends (for either being too girly or not girly enough)? How can we Keep Her in the Game?

Be careful what you say, my brothers and sisters. Little girls are listening. Can we change the conversation?

“Wow! You look GREAT! How did you get so thin?”
Yes. Yes we can.
“Wow! You look GREAT! How did you get so healthy?”

We have the language; therefore, we have the power. It might seem like a tiny thing sometimes.
e.g.: “I don’t mean it like THAT. I have lots of gay friends.”
“Yes, but when you say, ‘that’s so gay’ it really turns ‘gay’ into a negative thing.”
“I guess so… .”

 

Tiny things make ripples. Language reverberates and mutates and is recreated every day. It happens fast. When was the last time you said (or heard), “Groovy, man”?

Next post: The Artist’s Role

 

Comment with your favorite sources for changing our culture.

Just the Start of a List*:

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is an honest and important history of the Women’s Rights Movement.

Women’s Voices Now “promotes the free expression of women’s struggles for civil, economic, political, and gender rights worldwide. Through the power of film [they] inspire and challenge … viewers to change the world.”

The Gina Davis Institute on Gender in Media: If she can see it, she can be it. It is the “only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence content creators and audiences about the importance of eliminating unconditional bias, highlighting gender balance, challenging stereotypes, creating role models and scripting a wide variety of strong female characters in entertainment and media that targets and influences children ages 11 and under.”

 

*Speaking of lists:
“Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.” –Denis Leary

I just love him. Check out his important foundation, The Leary Firefighters Foundation.

July 5, 2017

Little Things

by lisa st john

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.

-Marcus Aurelius

It really is all about the little things. Cigarette machines repurposed as little Art machines, for example. Art-O-Mat is part of The Cosmopolitan’s fabulous, changing Art Program. This is only one of the many wonderful things about this hotel–the only one on the strip (I believe) to have balconies. Las Vegas is opulent and ostentatious, welcoming and lonely.

The nighttime lights of this city laugh at the vast desert, but the mountains hush the neon into submission at sunrise. Oh, Duality.

 

 

Back to little things.

Here is a brief list of little but magnificent.

-campfire light in the backyard
-roses and daisies together in a vase
-watching your son live a life all his own, beautiful as his birth almost thirty-one years ago
Halo Top ice cream
-landing on your feet again
-loving your tribe and feeling the love back
-Art
-romping dogs
-just…landing

 There will be time; oh yes Mr. Eliot. This year there will be gorgeous amounts of time.

sabbatical (adj.) 1640s, “of or suitable for the Sabbath,” from Latin sabbaticus,

from Greek sabbatikos “of the Sabbath” (see Sabbath). Noun meaning “a year’s absence granted to researchers” (originally one year in seven, to university professors) is from 1934, short for sabbatical year, etc., first recorded 1886 (the thing itself is attested from 1880, at Harvard), related to sabbatical year (1590s) in Mosaic law, the seventh year, in which land was to remain untilled and debtors and slaves released.

And where is my metaphorical untilled land? Who are the debtors and slaves of my heart?

This too, I will explore. Adding to the little list: gratefulness.

 

I just landed. I’m a little rusty. It’s time to let the writing genie back in (or at least unlock the door).

 

December 10, 2016

More links than content, but isn’t everything connected?

by lisa st john

censorship-quotes-85

Some things happened recently that made me remember that not everything is okay. Not everyone is okay. And I am not even talking about the elections. I teach English Language Arts in high school. But really, I teach kids. I try and teach kids how to be good adults. I do not always succeed. And that knowledge hurts, because I forget sometimes. We all have choices.

But I have noticed over the years that physical pain can take me away like fucking Calgon. So thanks, Doc, for the cortisone shot in my thumb that brought me to tears. Yes, there is crap and Trump and Orwellian cabinet positions but there is also Art.

I can go an hour south and see Modigliani at the Met or Clyfford Still at MoMA. I can re-read American Gods (again) and visit Roland in his Dark Tower quest again and again.

Until they close the museums.

Until they burn the books.

orwellian

I can go hear live music like the amazing Joanna Teters and Amanda Palmer. I can go to poetry readings and workshops like Word Café, and I can even occasionally get published (thank you Chronogram).

 

Until they close the theaters and the clubs.

Until they round up the artists and intellectuals.

The fear of being helpless is dangerous. We are not weak. We are more connected to each other than any time in human history. When we feel powerless, we can go to real places and virtual places and listen to each other, and share silly cat videos and remember to smile and to see.

My mantra for today: Make Art. SEE. Join. Don’t give up. Don’t go back.

And we will not go back (to the kitchen or the closet or the back of the bus). Will we?

 

This is just a little list. There is SO MUCH MORE out there.

American Civil Liberties Union
LAMBDA Legal
Planned Parenthood
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights Campaign

 

Look at the beautiful things going on in the world that we can ALL be a part of!

Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding so, so many.

 

See you in D.C.

pussy                                      a new poem 

May 30, 2016

Some Things I Know

by lisa st john

 

I may not know the difference between a rosebush and raspberries, admittedly. But there are some things I do know.

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I know rain at an outdoor celebration staved off by kindness.
I know the universal joy of sharing a meal with the blurred line of friends and family.

I may not know why Pi can do what it does, or why ferns speak fractals and they, in turn, speak chaos.

But I know the blissful tears of the father and the harmonious tears of the mother. I know that the tenuous strands of young love spin and weave, creating the strength of an unbreakable union.

With the multitude of horrible things in this world—things I do not want to know—I am indebted to the goddess of perspective for allowing me to also see the first hummingbird of the season, and to hear the “wild rumpus” of worshipped children.

And if there is a secular word for “blessed” then please, someone tell me. Because I am.

I know pain, but also gracious healing. I know fear, but also comfort. I know the darker side of turmoil and the gentle light of peace. And right now, in this moment, I am alive with all I know.

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Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

May 1, 2016

One of Those Days

by lisa st john

Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s my internal work clock (quarter four has begun). Maybe I really, honestly, thought I would get my sabbatical. Strike that last one. That would mean I no longer expect the worst in order to appreciate what I actually get. That hasn’t changed. Has it?IMG_4422

I could have gone to a writer’s retreat this weekend but I was beyond tired. I am glad I stayed home to rest but at the same time I am angry for not pushing myself.

Pushy Me versus Tired Me: A Conversation

“How are you going to be a writer AND a teacher if you can’t muster up the energy to drive four hours to Boston?”
“My hematocrit was 33! They wouldn’t let me donate blood. I must be anemic again.”
“Blah, blah, blah… .”
“I just got back from a long weekend in Cincitucky
           “Did you get any writing done?”
“No, but it was such a beautiful time—it felt so good to hang out with my son and see him thriving in his adult world and—
“Travel is good. Travel is fodder for writing.”
“Gee, thanks. I am going to Isla Mujeres the day after graduation, and to Provincetown in July, and to San Miguel de Allende in August and LBI after that and–
“What the fuck are you running from?”
“I am not running from. I’m running towards.”

Anaïs Nin said that we write to “taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Maybe Iraintulip2’m not ready. Maybe I’m too ready. Maybe Stephen King was correct about writing and teaching (not compatible). We’ll just have to see.

Until then, I live off the crumbs of what I can muster. A blog here, a poetry reading there, the Chronogram Word Café series, The Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking, you know. Here and there.

  1. POETRY READING Friday, May 6, 6 pm in the Reference Room of Stone Ridge Library. Join us as Tina Barry, Patricia Carlin and Lisa St. John read from their latest works. A reception will follow the readings!
  2. TRAVEL, write, rinse, repeat… .

p.s. (Was SO PROUD to be a part of Chronogram’s Poetry Roundup. Thank you Ninraintulipa Shengold, for your fab review. My favorite line: “Ponderings debuts a nonpareil poetic voice, lithe, quirky, and fanged.” I’ve always wanted fangs.)

Snippet from a poem that doesn’t quite exist yet:

I will buy the $110.00 bra without a coupon—without even checking with Ebates. Feel the power? The dollars I

give

away don’t count somehow. This much to the students in Isla Mujeres whose mother is homeless; this much to GOFUNDME so Mrs. ___ can stay home with her husband while he dies; this much to Amanda Palmer’s latest Kickstarter because without art what’s the fucking point?

This phase is supposed to be over. Hospice therapist said so.

Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

February 6, 2016

What’s Wrong with My Head?

by lisa st john

“You live too much in your own head,” she said.

I am still trying to understand what that means. Where else do I have to go?

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Ken Robinson explains that university professors, “look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads.” Why is that so bad?

I like the inside of my head—my mind. It’s safe there. I have friends there.

When I had my first kiss at age12 (yuck), I could go and complain to Meg. Any girl who can travel through wrinkles in time would understand.

When I had an abortion at age 16 I could go to Narnia and snuggle deep into Aslan’s fur. I had nowhere else to go.

My mind let’s me remember swimming in Isla Mujeres or walking through Central Park or rocking in my hammock. But spaces are not places and inside spaces are more difficult to navigate than outside spaces. So it’s not about where I am, it’s about where my mind is.

I can walk and walk and be back in Guanajuato when I was twenty-something traveling with the love of my life. And he was/is alive.

But it’s not just about confusion or comfort or memory. Isn’t it just one more place to travel? Not only can I go to the past, I can go to the future. Like AFP’s song, “In My Mind,” I can circle around to the almost-or-will-be places. Why not? I can spend a few hours visiting Future Lisa as she finally writes that novel or goes dogsledding in Alaska or becomes a grandmother or buys a house in Mexico. But after those couple of hours, I cannot tell you whom (who sounds better) Present Lisa was sitting next to on the train. Is that so bad?

I will never truly understand the phrase, “I’m bored.” I have never been bored. I don’t know what that means. Of course, I can define the word bored (lacking interest in a current activity? unoccupied?). But I am too busy wondering:

  • If Lolita came to life and wrote an answer to Nabokov, would it be as an adult looking back or in the voice of her child-self?
  • If we kept cats awake, would anything about them change other than their grumpiness?
  • Who is really the closest to my version of Sherlock Holmes? Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller or Robert Downey?
  • If I could go into the world of American Gods, would I want to be Shadow or be his mate?

 

All I know right now is that when I Google the phrase, “too much in your own head” I get over 80,000 hits and too many of them are self-help garbage sites. I haven’t yet figured out what’s wrong with living in my head. Maybe I will walk some more and ponder the movement of light. IMG_3958

 

 

 

“Our minds are all we have. They are all we’ve ever had. And they are all we can offer others.” Sam Harris 

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You can visit my author page at Amazon HERE.

You can also buy by book of poetry, Ponderings, from Finishing Line Press.

September 20, 2015

Either, Or…Or What?

by lisa st john

I don’t want bears in my neighborhood. I love bears, but I would not feed them in order to see them in my yard. It would endanger the neighbors. It is not healthy for them to eat what we humans toss at them. I would much rather have bear than deer (who carry the ticks who carry the Lyme), but I don’t feed them.Black_bear_with_salmon

So when the local police department posted a picture of a bear (big giant black bear) and reminded people to keep their garbage covered, I shared the post and reminded people not to feed the birds yet either. They have plenty to eat right now. Well, I got slammed by a psychic who had dreams last night of starving bears. Yeah. Whatever. This person hopes that some kind people will bring fish to the forest for the bears (‘cause that’s where fish live—in…trees.) So either I feed the bears or I hate the bears? Why has the either/or fallacy become so pervasive? Either I vote for Hillary or I hate women. Either I recycle or I don’t believe in global warming. When did we learn to think so shallowly?

Have we forgotten the subtleties of thought? Have we abandoned the dialectic because we cannot fathom more than one choice at a time? Or is it because we have become too quick to decide things? Apparently it is easier to decide than to investigate.

Soon I will start The Handmaid’s Tale with my students. I hope they see the relevance, the relationships, between then and now. Maybe even glean something about why good literature is timeless. Tammy Faye Bakker is Serena Joy who is (fill in the blank with your favorite anti-feminist religious right fanatic of 2015).

It’s the 21st century and Planned Parenthood is under attack; the anti-feminist movement is underway and the Equal Rights Amendment still hasn’t been passed. So, yeah. I think teaching Atwood’s most famous dystopian novel is important right now. I think more critical thinking is important right now. I hope that my students think so. I hope they realize that I don’t feed bears because I hate them.

False Dilemma-thumb-300x254-153811[1]You can still buy Ponderings HERE!

August 5, 2015

It’s Just Stuff

by lisa st john

 There will be joy…whether we want it or not.

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Cone Dog Millionaire?

Loss and grief are unforgiving teachers. Are you ready for the quiz? No? Too bad; so sad.

All we can do is decide how to react to moments. We cannot choose the moments. All we can do is be good to ourselves so that we can be good to one another.

“Aren’t you sad…devastated that he’s leaving?”
“I, uhm…want him to be happy.”
“But you’ll have to get on A PLANE to see him!”
“Yes. And that’s how I am going to spend my money.”
“But he is your only one, what about saving for your retirement… .”
“I’d like to think I raised a good adult, even though he is my ‘only one’ (!?). Now he is off being an adult. ‘I never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch.’ Do you know that song?”
What?!”

Recently, someone told me that I don’t respect money. This is true. It is just stuff. It is used to get more stuff. Or it is used to help create experience. I like to think that is what we taught our son. Experience over things, moments over regrets.

Recently, someone told me that I shouldn’t always pay for her dinner. “Do you forget,” I asked her, “that you wired me money all the time when I was pregnant and alone and couldn’t work anymore?”

“No. I guess I forgot…”
“Twenty-nine years ago I stole a bag of rice from a grocery store. I paid for the can of beans. You taught me that beans and rice make a complete protein—healthy for the baby.”
“Yea, but…”
“You taught me how to ask.”

My late husband used to tell the story of a college friend who didn’t have drinking money. My husband used to tell him, “If I’ve got enough for one beer, I’ve got enough for two. Let’s go.”

I like to believe that this sentiment is alive and well in the world at large and not just in my own life. Can I afford to buy a recent high school graduate a new car? No. Can I afford to give a few bucks toward her crowdsourcing effort? Hell, yeah. It’s just stuff.

“What do you mean you don’t balance your checkbook?”
“That’s what ATMs are for—checking my balance.”

My logic works kind of like this: I got a refund for a $200.00 deposit I put on a rental house for my last vacation. I forgot about putting down the deposit. So now I have a brand new (free!) $200.00 that I didn’t have before. (Well, technically I did have it but I forgot it so… .) Now I have a new $199.00 camera. For FREE! (Sort of.)

There is no amount of money that can buy anything worthwhile. There is no amount of money that will bring my husband back. I am stuck here; I am stuck here without him, and I will be damned if all he taught me about living in the moment is going to go to waste. I hope I die broke. I hope I helped make many experiences along the way.

“Does it get easier? The loss? The grieving?”
“I don’t know anything about easy. I just know about change.”

p.s. My first chapbook, Ponderings, will be out at the end of this month. I just proofed the first set of galleys from Finishing Line Press. Buy it. And if you can’t let yourself laugh at weird, stupid stuff like trumping your cat, well, then… .

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