Paper bags, throw away lives, and impossible expectations...


It is incredibly frustrating to see individuals, and our society as a whole, having impossible expectations around grief experiences. Today's share comes partly out of this rant I originally shared on one of my social media feeds, and it is worth repeating here to start us off:

Oh for the love of Pete!!!!! ARRRRG. Listen up, peoples. You cannot ever know more than the oppressed person themselves about what they need to find their liberation. This goes for social justice issues as well as for grief experiences!!!!!! If you actually think you have the right to tell another person they "need help" or "should get over it" or "need to find closure" or are "too sad" -- fuck you. You have internalized white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy and are playing "father knows best" instead of being compassionate and present to a person who is already fucking hurting. Take your colonization bullshit and go play in your own yard. Hurting people need relationships that are partnering, curious, supportive. They do not need your prescription of propaganda for "the right way to do grief and healing" bullshit!!!!!!!!! ARG. [Have I mentioned my ability to be patient is challenged lately? ;P ]

-----

Couple of years ago, I took one of Patti Digh's Verb Tribe courses. The creative approach that had the most lasting impact on me was her insistence that we write our different topics each day using a sharpie pen on a paper bag. Her idea behind it was that if we get all caught up in the "preciousness" of "good" pens and "quality" paper and such, we set ourselves up to have to be "perfect" and have what we created using those things be exceptional. But if we are writing on any old paper bag with whatever pen we have handy, it can get us in the habit of just writing to practice writing, to watch the words drip out of our fingertips, to let them move across a surface without them being so precious as to have to be perfect.

In the end, some of the things I wrote on the bags were gems. Some were starts that evolved into other pieces as I played with them. Some really were just trash that became bags used to ripen avocado or interesting surfaces to use as collage backgrounds on art pieces or something.

All of it was a reminder that if we want to be writers, then write. It's kind of like some of the sparks that Barb Sher has written throughout her different books about how if we want "to be" something, just start being it and see what happens. Now, of course, in a practical way, she wasn't advocating anything ridiculous like wanting to be violent, so start walking around with a gun!! But she was saying that for many things, you don't have to have a license or particular degree to just start doing it. If you want to be a writer, start a blog and write. Open a notebook and write. When someone asks what you do, answer with, "I'm a writer."

These things revolved around permissions that I had to practice giving myself. Maybe it is because I'm a girl/woman. Maybe it was some moral thing about "telling lies" from the religion I was raised with back in the day. Maybe it was individual internalized crap, maybe it was imposed from structural inequities, maybe both. Maybe maybe maybe. But for some reason, until encountering these kinds of practices with permission for myself, I kept looking for permission to call myself thus-and-such from someone else.

As a college student, I met a musician after a gig one night, and he asked about my studies. I told him I was a student of a particular professor, and the musician (who knew of this professor) said, "Oh you are a writer then. Great. What do you write?" It took me a moment to answer him because I was shocked. I hadn't yet allowed myself to call myself a writer "officially" or anything, let alone hearing it come out of someone else's mouth! Why did it make such a difference to have his validation? Why did I need that? Why did it shock me? And on and on.

Anyway, all this babble to say I keep re-discovering every single day that the value of practice is in the practice, not in the quality of the paper or pen. I want to be a writer, so I write. I want to be an artist, so I make art. I want to be a gardener, so I drop seeds into the dirt. Live it. Go for it. Take out that stack of paper bags and make art. And by the way, the muted mandala/gelli press art you see in the photo with this post is done, yes indeed, on a ripped up paper bag!!

-----

This phrase: don't throw away your life. Or the idea where social injustices occur and we humans ignore it as if the people affected are just living lives that are disposable: throw away lives.

The amount of grief in those phrases makes me buckle under the truth that these are not just words. Rather, we are talking about human beings here.

I can understand we care about another.

But to impose your ideas of right and wrong on others by trying to guilt them into thinking they will throw away their lives??? I don't mean the big things. If someone you love is an addict, then maybe, yes, okay, I can see you asking them to seek help, support, rehab so they "don't throw away" their lives. But to tell someone they are throwing away their lives because they want to major in art in college? Or to suggest they are throwing away their lives because they want to marry someone of a religion or race you don't like/don't want them to/whatever? Seems...needlessly violent, harsh, causing oppression instead of actually being in relationship with them?

I can't understand how we don't care about each other.

To look at the justice system or the water system in the good old USofA and throw up your hands and say, "Oh well, nothing I can do," seems like a defeated acceptance of the idea that people are disposable. Or to keep doing exactly what we are doing because "that's just how it is," seems like a collusion with the idea that some are just living throw away lives. Not saying we can be the solution, solo, ourselves, BUT we can DO something. When I am called for jury duty, I can go into the courtroom and when asked questions in voir dire, I can speak the truth. They'll never want me for any jury probably and the judge might threaten to have me arrested, BUT I can still speak the truth. I may not be able to change the pipes in places like Flint, but I can keep sharing on social media about the situation. I can sign petitions. I can donate money. I can protest visibly in the world, on the street when possible.

While the idea of using tossed away paper or disposable paper bags for writing, for not making writing process too precious, makes sense to me; the idea of LIVES being disposable makes no sense to me. We may make mis-takes (missed takes, like in the movies, so do another take). BUT we don't throw away our lives if we major in art or inter-marry religiously or racially. We have big social justice issues in the world, and while we individually can't fix the big picture, the people affected most by these issues are not lives we can throw away! There is action to be taken. Do something. Start by LISTENING to the people most affected!

The oppression of grief around these ideas is relieved some for me by taking action.
What does it for you?

-----

More than ever, I hold close to my heart, the idea that it takes creative approach and practice to address our grief experiences and remain in touch with our humanness; our vulnerability; our (maybe broken) open hearts.

None of us can meet impossible expectations. We can only live our lives as practice. Make mis-takes (missed-takes), try again, keep experimenting. I have no answers beyond that. There are no such thing as "experts," but rather just people who are practicing practicing. And after all their practice, they know what works for them and are open to sharing BUT that should just be an invitation for you to practice and find your own ways. Their ways can't possibly be 100% yours, too. That's okay.

Listen. Learn. Do.

-----

Don't have some sweet, wind-it-up, conclusion here. The swimming-ness flow of all these thoughts is all I have to offer as a reflection of my own grief + creativity. May Reiki flow to any and all eyeballs who come across this.
Kara

[Previous version published 2016 in Radical Creativity]

monsters in the closet, grief in the body



Sometimes with things that seem like monsters in the closet or something to be gotten over or pushed through, if we instead, sit in the closet with them or invite them out to chat or offer a gentle touch, sometimes it goes a looooong way toward tending ourselves.

There was a time when the joints in my elbows were just in so much pain. I didn't want to deal with the pain. Rather I wanted it to go away, be done, or to push through it til it felt better. I certainly did not want to invite the pain out from the closet of my joints to chat with it! But I did. This particular monster reminded me it was an anniversary date of the birthdeath of my son. Though my mind was pushing through to "be present" and "live life", well, my body was aching with the longing of not holding him as most moms do with their babies.

Some gentle touch to the elbows...

Some kindness instead of capitalist patriarchal "push through" b.s....

Some time spent chatting with pain to see what she was pointing toward in my heart...

ALL these made huge difference.

Your permissions slips will not be exactly the same as mine...make your own...tend as you need. Know that you don't need anyone else's permission to chat with the monsters in the closet nor to tend the grief in the body.

Reiki streaming to any eyeball who is here reading!
Kara

[Previous version published Spring 2010 in Radical Creativity]

Death *AND* Non-death Related Grief: living another life

While much of my own personal grief experience comes out of the deaths of our three boys, many times in my life, I find myself exploring a more non-death related grief experience. For example, in the documentary Babbleonia, the actor Al Pacino talks about how the practice of our art is about allowing the unconscious to become free, to rise to the surface, to express itself. It got me thinking about how much rises to the surface when I can allow grief and hurt to rise up to the surface of my heART, how much is then set free, and how much more open space I seem to have in my being when done. 

As I then later watched the documentary Looking For Richard, I found my heart strings pulled by all the actors sharing their visions. Something in me began to long for the life where I was going to be an actor. And suddenly I found myself surrounded by all this free floating grief and disappointment at all the things I have not done, all the roads not taken, all the years gone by such that it is too late in some ways for some of those dreams.

And frankly, many grief experiences do this same thing. I remember all the free floating grief after each of our sons died. The just rampant longing for the life that was now gone, the path that was absolutely closed to us now. We are still mom and dad to those boys, but our parenthood is of a different kind. I've probably made the most peace with this fact through the art-making process, both re-member-ing and he-ART-making, over the years, working creative prompts myself, pushing the exploration visually, in writing, and conversation.

So I began to wonder what I should do with this free floating, non-death related grief coming up now about all the roads not taken?

I started working the layers and textures and text of the piece shown in the image at the top of this post. I started with "In Another Life I Would Have Been..." and then I added all these empty window frames and meditated on what I would see through each of them. I flashed on images of a tilted drawing table, something a comic book artist would use. I flashed on a beautiful kitchen with the stove in an island where you can actually use all four spots on the stove top! I flashed on a small theater room where actors were improving, where spoken word poets don't feel the least bit self conscious about screaming and over-the-top rapping with their writings. And then I flashed on a fountain in Italy.

As I then came back to my piece, pondering how to draw or paint or collage each of those peeks into each of those windows, something interesting happened.  As I surfed thru my digital library of my art and photos, I found:


  • Images sharing the cover of our collaborative Heroes & Demons graphic novel/comic book from a good many years back. I illustrated the cover and two of the interior pages. It isn't exactly being a full time inker or writing a comic series, but huh, look at that... I sort of am a comic book artist.




  • Images from several of our celebratory, ritual meals. The one in particular shared here is from the meal made for my 40th birthday party.  I made the bread from scratch. The lemon, ginger, honey dressing is from scratch. The salad is bursting with fruits and vegetables, many we bought fresh from the local farmers market. All washed, cut, mixed at my own hand. It was not a very gourmet meal, not very complicated. But still, I was the chef for that meal and many of the others that were photo documented by my lovely husband.




  • Images from the early 2000's Vagina Monologue days.  A funny publicity photo taken of me and a fellow actor at a rehearsal one day in the lead up to the show. We sold out the house for those shows that first year. We raised a lot of money for local non-profits. And the following year, I helped coordinate and organize the art exhibit that was companion for the second year's run of the show. It was not Broadway or Hollywood, but I was the actor doing the Hair monologue that first year.



As I filled the windows of my heART-work with these images, the grief and disappointment freed up from my unconscious. I realized consciously that I actually had done many of those things I was longing to do, those things that unconsciously I carried as being disappointed to not have done!! And the conscious realization of all this freed up a huge space in my BEING for coming up with new dreams or for pursuing these dreams more in-depth ways.

And more than that, this conscious realization gave me space to have my humor return. As I looked at that last window where I would explore something about the fountains of Italy, it became light-hearted.  I found a public domain image of one of the fountains I long to see, and when I pasted it into the frame, I suddenly started laughing.

I flashed on myself as my doll character self -- since I have her anyway, I can put her into Italy right now. When I looked over at her, she was still in the headstand position I put her in when I wrote up a "different perspective" prompt a few months earlier. And suddenly, I was laughing and visioning what I would want to do at those Italian fountains, and I plopped her right into the frame, doing a headstand right in the fountain!

I may or may not get to Italy, but I don't think of it now with such disappointment and longing and ache for a road not taken. I think of it and laugh at myself doing headstands in the high art fountains!  :) That's a big shift for me.

So that's your creative prompt:

  1. Ponder the idea of, "In another life I would have been..."
  2. Make a list of all the images, words, ideas that come to you as you ponder that thought.
  3. Then collage, draw, paint from that list.
  4. What comes to the surface?
  5. What perspectives shift for you?
  6. What rises up from the unconscious and becomes free for you now?


Here's to continued creative explorations!
-Kara

[previous published version was in Radical Creativity January 2012]
_____________________________________
If you are looking for other creative prompts to explore your grief experiences, take a look at the eBooks we have available in our Shop.

Never Feeling Safe Again: why bother to love when it all boils down to loss


There is some bottom line experience to grief that boils down to this:  we never feel truly safe again.  In truth, “safety” was always an illusion really.  But prior to the rattling of grief, we could pretend we were safe.  We could love as if loss would never touch us.  We could pretend that the ground beneath us was solid and unshakable. 

After grief comes along though, the innocence of that kind of “safe” perspective seems to get lost.  We come to full consciousness of how the pain of grief is equal to the amount of love we felt for the person who died.  And it is painful.  We come to a full consciousness of how quickly our life and the lives of our loved ones come to an end.  We awaken to the vulnerability of being alive.  And nothing feels safe.

In my own grief experience, I found that I initially wanted to become as hardened and emotionally risk-less as possible.  I recalled how, during my pregnancy, my husband and I would both talk to the baby inside me.  We played with him, felt him move, touched his hand as he reached thru my skin, and we read him stories each night.  We invested in our love for him whole-heartedly.  After he died, my first response was to think that I would never ever do that again.  I would never invest in another pregnancy or child that way.  I would never risk the emotional attachment again, so that if and when another child dies, I wouldn’t hurt so badly.

Can you see the absurdity of grief in that?! 

Of course when I calmed down and came to my senses again, I realized how ridiculous it would be to withhold my love from any child.  How could I NOT love and communicate with our other children?  If I got pregnant again, why in the world would I NOT want to parent that child from the moment I knew of their existence?  Why would I NOT want to love and invest in whatever amount of precious time we have together?

The larger reality of all this was the acceptance of the fact that death does happen; grief does hurt; nothing and no one is safe; AND I choose to live a full life anyway. 

It is true that grief takes away a certain innocence or ignorance about being safe.  But all we really have is this present moment anyway.  Yes, you can touch on the past in your memories. Yes, you can touch on the future with your intellectual planning.  But truly all that really exists is this very moment.  

In this moment, I am safe as can be.  

In this moment, I can choose to tell my husband I love him.  

In this moment, I can choose to tell my son I love him, regardless of the fact that he's dead.  

In this moment, I’m doing the business of my being.  

That is all we have.  If there is any sense of safety, it is in this moment.  And grief taught me to stop fooling myself into trying to build a structure of safety or to insulate myself by living out of fear of loss.  Grief taught me that I truly do want to love fully this moment.  And if loss comes in the next moment, so be it.  That will be the business of that moment. 

But in this moment, I chose love and being fully alive.  
And we all have that choice.

Reiki to all eyeballs seeing this,
Kara

[previously published version ran at Radical Creativity in November 2011]

Tea With Grief: creative prompt


There is such a prevailing attitude in our world today that says, implicitly or explicitly, that grief is bad. It is one of those horrible things. Something you have to heal from or get over or move through to get to a place where there is no grief (as if that place actually exists). Some experiences seem to tell us we need to get past the grief to return to the state of being we were before the grief-causing-incident (as if you can just forget what happened and be who you were before grief came). Some experiences seem to tell us we can be changed, but it has to be spun to have a packaging that says we are some how a better person now, or we've learned something from this, or there were gifts that came from it all.

The more time I spend on this planet, the more I think both extremes of this spectrum are hooey.  Really. You can keep your DSM V, and your theories, and your medical journal speak, and even your new age healing manual and workshop speak. I think that both the idea that you have to heal from grief OR the idea that you've changed now to be a better person -- ALL of it seeks to escape grief.  Anything to just not sit with grief.

Heal from it. Get over it. Move past it. Integrate it. Find the gifts. Evolve from it.

While I'm sure some of these might come to be a reality for some people, I still think that most people try to steer the bereaved -- or we get sucked into steering ourselves -- toward one of these goals without ever truly SITTING WITH GRIEF. Rarely do I hear anyone say to a bereaved person, "I'll sit with you and your grief." Or, "How much time did you spend sitting with your grief today?" Or, "When you first sat with your grief, what did you think about? What did it look like?"

For some, the idea of sitting with grief is repulsive because they have not experienced grief themselves and our grief seems like a dis-ease they do not want to catch.  For others, the idea of sitting with grief is overwhelming precisely because it is happening to them and they feel they'll be overwhelmed by it.

But I propose that we can approach sitting with grief in a multitude of ways. As many tools as there are in the creative box, there are just as many ways to sit with grief. Below are a few creative ideas.  Pick one at random. Just try approaching your grief in as many ways as possible, from as many angles as you can possibly dream up. You may well end up feeling a sense of healing or moving through or discovering gifts in the end, but those things are so not the point and maybe not even necessary. It is simply about discovering ways to SIT WITH GRIEF. Be in the same room. Talk to one another. Re-member your shattered heart.



  • Imagine your grief as a stuffed animal.  Either draw or get a stuffed animal similar to what you imagine.  And then spend a 1/2 hour each day this week offering Reiki (or just a healing touch) to the stuffed animal.  I have had experiences where the doll I'm using represents the person I was at the moment of trauma.  From my different perspective and place today, I offer Reiki to the doll as a way of sending Reiki back in time to myself when my heart first shattered.



  • Cut out images of chairs from magazines, papers, art books.  Look also for images that might represent your grief.  You can draw images as well.  Then collage the chairs and images of grief into the chairs on a piece of paper.  You can do a chair and image to represent yourself as well.  Looking at the collage, write a dialogue of what you say to each image of grief in each chair.  Write down what they say back to you.  You can even do it with talk bubbles right on the collage if you want.



  • Many of us schedule everything into our lives these days.  Very few people I know have the ability to live a stream of consciousness kind of life.  So we schedule what time we wake, when we'll be in meetings, what night to go out with our partners, when we'll travel, what day we'll use those free tickets to the Science Center, when we'll have dinner with friends, when to catch that new film.  Why not schedule time to sit with your grief?  Seriously.  Put it on the calendar.  Friday, June 10, Noon to 2pm, Sit with my grief.  And then keep your date for it as conscientiously as you would keep any other date on your calendar!!  If you are into meditation, take the time to mediate with grief.  If you like to walk, go for a walk with your grief.  If you like art museums, take your grief to the museum with you.  Think of it as an Artists Date with Grief.



  • Have a tea party with grief.  I know it sounds weird.  But often the things we refuse to allow into the party are the very things that get blown out of proportion, seem like monsters we are trying to keep at bay.  Invite the monster in.  Serve him tea and cakes.  Talk with him.  You can do the whole fancy table and hat and music playing in the background if you want.  Or you can do this by drawing or writing or collage.  Cut out images from magazines and such that make a tea party scene for you.  Looking at the collage, write up a little description of what happens at the tea.  
Before jumping to the candlelight vigils and rituals *for healing*, instead, lets really hear it when *grief support* is asked for...and then try making space for exactly that support to be given.

_____________________________________
If you are looking for other creative prompts to explore your grief experiences, take a look at the eBooks we have available in our Shop

[Previously published in Radical Creativity June 11, 2011]