Monday, July 17, 2017

Podcast: Social and relational changes in the face of grief (aka my interest in fellow humans is very different now!)

The topic covered in today's podcast is one from the series I called "Grief Truths" which were difficult truths to deal with in the face of grief. In this particular truth, I was wrestling with something like, "For them to like me, I have to like them, but I'm not really interested anymore." It was a space of realizing that grief was having an impact on my social and relational experiences, and in that realization, acknowledging that creative curiosity could be a very helpful tool. Ideas explored include:

  • Grief shifted lots of things after our son died, including our social experiences and connections that suddenly felt like alien territories.
  • Platitudes or anything close to them were not going to meet my needs in social and relational ways in the face of grief. Some people could go beyond platitudes with us. But some could not. Relationships changed. 
  • I share a few specific examples of how we began noticing social and relational needs were no longer being met for us, how social trusts were being broken, and how even faith can be shaken post-grief.
  • And then I share a few specific examples of how we can creatively explore what we want to save in various relationships, where we want to discover new relationships and social connections, and how we can begin purposely seeking social and relational spaces that more readily meet our post-grief needs.
  • Tending social and relational connections are both self care AND community care.
  • Not every relationship is going to meet every need. Be gentle with yourself and others as you explore what each relationship can be and can't be in your post-grief life.
  • The re-definition of social and relational aspects of life just do shift post-grief. That's okay.

To stream this podcast, click here.

Thanks as always for listening!
From my radical grandma heart to yours,

If you like what you hear, 
please click the tip jar to support
our grief+creativity efforts.

[Originally published as written article at Radical Creativity, March 23, 2012]

Monday, July 10, 2017

10 Ways To Handle Life When Struck With Grief-Incommunicado

Do you ever have those grief experience days where you should just be incommunicado? I sure do. There should just be no speaking or writing allowed.

But the phone rings, the emails come, the meetings are set, the events are happening. And so I go forth and speak or write and oooooooooooooooooooooh, what a bad idea that is. The day usually ends with me having a slight implosion before planting myself in the tree swing if it's summer or in my blanket house if it isn't summer!

So in an effort to start getting creative in the face of those grief-incommunicado spells, I thought to try and come up with 10 things for how to practice handling life when this strikes! Here's what I've come up with so far:

  1. ... [oh damn. THIS is one of those days.]

What about you? Your best tip on handling grief-incommunicado spells?

Sending you Reiki and supportive vibes for whatever spell you find yourself in at the moment! From my radical grandma heart to your heart...

Friday, July 7, 2017

Podcast: Resiliency + Grief (aka I got out of bed because I had to pee)

In today's podcast, the focus is on resiliency during grief experiences. The biggest find in terms of resiliency, for me personally, came creatively. And the definition of creativity expanded beyond mere art-making, leading me to discover the heARTmaking of my still living, breathing body, even in the face of a grief I thought would break me.

Join me and explore:

  • You don't have to be an artist to engage with creativity in the face of grief experiences.
  • Even in the face of a grief I thought could kill me, the auto-functioning of my body (thirst, need to pee, etc) kept creating reasons for me to get out of bed. It was so surprising. 
  • Sometimes a lot of sleep was just required by my body, heart, and mind in the face of grief. And often the dreamscapes of that sleep time informed my creativity later.
  • The exhaustion of grief tested my doing-nature (wanting to DO something) and taught me to not discount even the smallest of movements. I learned to celebrate any choice, however small, because that was a reconnection to my sense of agency.
  • Doing tiny things, making small choices, all added to my practice of creativity, and this practice was a direct counter to guilt and shame that was popping up in my grief experience.
  • The grief experience just is a very human and messy experience, and creativity can give us permission to find our way.
  • I didn't stop being his mother after he died. I am still his mother. And grief was going to practice me and have it's way. But likewise, having a creative relationship to grief and this different kind of parenting, really allowed me to keep committing creative acts in the name of tending.
  • A lot of tending and healing can happen in a blanket house, too!
  • Why do you get out of bed the day after your kid has died? Why do you get out of bed the day after a major loss? Sometimes it is just that the blood in your own body keeps flowing. Allow that auto-functioning of your heart guide you creatively.

To stream this podcast, click here.

Thanks as always for listening!
From my radical grandma heart to yours,

If you like what you hear, 
please click the tip jar to support
our grief+creativity efforts.

[Originally published as written article at Radical Creativity, March 25, 2012]

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Collaborative Post: community thoughts on concept of invitation


When I (Kara) put out the call for community contributors to share their thoughts on the concept of "invitation," I didn't know what to expect in return. In this collaborative post today, I'm so thrilled to share with you all the pieces of writing and heART that came in response to the call. You'll see as you read through the various works that, for some, invitation came as part of grief experience. For others, grief experience reminded them of the original invitations. For still others, the invitation that came was not necessarily one that was wanted. We humans are so ... fabulous ... in our range of motions and emotion and meaning making!!

For me, the concept of invitation has become an important theme in my life and work because I find it takes a stand against white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy. So much of our modern western competitive, money-driven, racist construct of a world tells us that being worthy means being an expert to the exclusion of the layperson. Being successful means doing whatever is needed to "win" even if that means violence like "stepping over" the "weaker" of the "others." Individualism means never working together, being self-made. Being in business means you have to be "better" than "others" which means we are literally "othering" people and holding ourselves superior.

Wow. The constructs in which we find ourselves certainly were built to colonize our minds, and hearts, and bodies. Noticing them, naming them and trying to find alternative ways to engage is a tall order. Let alone the on-going-ness of doing it over and over and over again, because this isn't something that you become "perfect" at and "done." Rather this is a creative practice, moment by moment, staying aware, and making choices, to stay with what you value instead of what the constructs of our world deem to be "right" or "successful" or "the proper way."

Invitation has meant for me that I want to do my grief + creativity work and life with mindfulness. I don't want to mindlessly "sell sell sell" to "make it" or to force others to see me or buy my way into this or that. I aim to do this life and this work and keep invitation open open open so that anyone out there can see my own manifestations of creativity. So that they might then think, "Hey I can do that, too!" and then do it. So that they might then think, "Oh how could I collaborate together with her, coz that seems like a heARTfull thing I'd like to do."

I didn't like competing for grades in school or accolades in sports. I didn't like competing for spots and $s in higher education. I didn't like seeing what others could do that was denied me AND I didn't like seeing what I could do that was denied others. I didn't like competing for jobs and housing -- literally trying to find a place to rent that one can afford is a game of chance, a game of who gets there first. Housing. It's sick. It's sick that we as a society do not want to invite each other into having a basic like HOUSING??!!!!!!! We have literally become so okay with the neglect of homelessness that we don't even consciously see housing as the competitive capitalist abuse that it is.

My intention is to stand against things like this and any other manifestations of it. I'm not perfect. I fuck up a lot. There are areas in which I don't even realize my own mind is playing the games. But I am aiming to live a life and offer works that are opening, that invite me, you, anyone to be a part in whatever ways you are able or desire. Keeping this as a practice for life and work, I hope that it will reflect out and be reflected back for me, too. I love feeling invited. I don't want to "hustle" for gigs or do outlandish things to "get noticed." Rather I want to offer the heARTwork I offer, and when you feel invited, I hope you will return the experience with an invitation to me if/when such a time or experience comes up for that kind of exchange. Not required. Invited.

While this may not change the world (this wacky absurdidiculous world), I do know it is something I can do in every present moment with an aim that is very, very different than what white supremacist, imperialist, colonial, capitalist, patriarchy offers. I hope. I hope you feel some sense of:


when you visit here or interact with any of my works. Please know you are most welcome. From my radical grandma heart to yours!

And now, here are our collaborators for this topic:

Our collaborators

Yvonne Lucia on "My Life, Interrupted"

Excerpt: "When asked what the secret to her long life and happiness was, a wise elder woman is reported to have said, “I have always tried to cherish my interruptions.” (in SoulCollage© by Seena B, Frost, p. 100) This challenging advice has been percolating in my mind and heart all week. What does it mean to “cherish” one’s interruptions, and just how does one go about doing that?

How do parents cherish the interruption of giving birth to a child with a genetic abnormality that will consign them to a lifetime of daunting responsibility?   How does anyone cherish the interruption of the death of a spouse, a friend, a sibling, a beloved companion animal? How does a committed partner cherish the devastating news that they have been cheated on? How would any of us cherish the interruption of a cancer diagnosis?"

Click here to read Yvonne's full post on her blog.


Deb Pierce McCabe on "Invitation, Inclusion, and Sugar Pills"

Excerpt: "When I was a teenager I was part of a youth group that was all about inclusion and trust.  The group was unique in its cohesiveness and depth, so that even after 40 years many of us who were part of that group remember how significant it felt for us to learn to listen to each other, and how frustrating and lonely it felt, later on, in the “real” world without a core group of people we could rely on and trust.

"...In a recent conversation with two friends from this group, however, the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s ALL small stuff” came up, and one of them had the idea that this phrase was something we had learned in that group..."

Click here to read Deb's guest post.


Swaneagle on "Attending a Lovely Memorial Yesterday Was An Invitation to Grieve"

Excerpt: "...the spirit of Nina's diverse concerns with justice as well her musical inspirations were captured uniquely and very powerfully. It was all concluded in the Memorial Garden where we talked with each other before many ended up eating and socializing celebrating Nina's life at the home she shared with her husband Bob for so many decades.

"...Oh i am so grateful i was able to spend time with her. She was genuinely deeply devoted to human rights. The stories she told me were profoundly inspiring...I could talk to her about anything to do with human rights. It was a very precious relationship for me and i shed tears as i write because it has been such a lonely path to care as intensely as i do for those, especially women and children, who suffer the most under policies of ecocide, feminicide and genocide."

Click here to read Swaneagle's guest post.


Sherene Zolno on "Invitation to mentor (and be mentored)"

Excerpt: "Only a recent conversation led to my realizing that someone might not even be conscious of their need for coaching or mentoring, yet still very much need an invitation to it.

"My grief at 14 concerned feeling an outcast from my peers, my shame of our poor and overcrowded living situation, and embarrassment at the violent outbursts of parental and sibling anger that occurred when a friend was visiting."

Click here to read Sherene's guest post.


Thanks for being with us today exploring the topic of invitation. All our guest contributors came to us through a call we put out via our Grief + Creativity Sparks eZine. We will do more of these collaborative community posts on other topics in the future. In fact, when the zine went out to share this post, we included another call for a future collaboration on the topic of heARTmaking. If you are already subscribed to that zine, you'll find it in your inbox. If you aren't a subscriber, don't miss the next one. Click here to subscribe.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Stillness and motion in grief experiences...

What metaphors out in the natural world do you find speak to your grief experiences?

Coming out of the grocery one day, this bird just seemed to sit still on the wire, on display for me. He stayed put while I stared, while the thought came to take a photo, while I dug out my phone and opened my camera app, while I focused and all the way through snapping several shots. And in equal quiet and grace, he leapt and opened his wings flying off. He made me acutely aware that in my own grief experience, I often have trouble being still and an equal amount of difficulty transitioning to movement. Even transitioning in and out of meditation each day, I'm clumsy and often uncomfortable and question why I keep practicing.

So I pondered for a bit standing in the parking lot. And as I tuned in, I saw other birds. Ones making a mess splashing water all about as they bathed in a puddle left over from the previous day's rain. A couple squawking at each other. Others flying, landing, and flying again. A little one rather awkwardly getting the hang of this "being out of the nest" thing. Made me ponder how awkwardly we humans can also be as we move into or away from our grief experiences. Sometimes the broken heart seems too jagged to touch, and yet other times we lean into the broken open spaces and nestle there. It's a process, not a product...a practice, not a perfect. Even when the moments of grace appear as perfections, it is helpful to be reminded that no one and nothing is perfection, end all be all, perfection. We all stumble and squawk and splash around.

In the end, I came home and starting with the image of the bird as one layer, I played around with digital collage until I ended up with the piece you see here. In my mind, I held the thought of the natural world as a metaphor for our grief experiences. The splashes, the colors, the black that streaks across everything sometimes, the counting of things (number of days since you died and the like), the attempts to re-order our lives (the backwards library card there). And, well, what you see in the image here is what surfaced.

Got any stories to share about how the natural world has provided metaphors for you in your grief experiences? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments here <3

From my radical grandmas heart to your heart,

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

10 Ideas for tending when grief is breaking your heart(open)...

[Featured image: Summer daisy in full bloom with black and white distressed border on photo. Words surrounding: "Whatever is unfolding, even if it is the most difficult stuff, find some spot of ease each day where you can rest your body, mind, and heart."]

When grief experiences come along and seem to break our hearts (hopefully break them open, not just break them), it can be exhausting in all ways: body, mind, and emotion. Even being able to read or concentrate can be trying, so this is a quicky 10 ideas for tending when things are most difficult:

  1. As soon as you notice the difficulty is pressing on you, stop. Breathe deeply, allowing the breath to go all the way down to your toes and hold it for just a second. Then release and let your physical body relax a little with the exhale. Do this a few times if need be.
  2. Can you get to a spot with access to clean water? If so, take a few moments to go there, rinse your hands, face, neck. Let the coolness or warmth of the water bring you fully into the moment, the body.
  3. Can you find a place to comfortably sit for a few minutes? Maybe sit nearer the edge of the surface and flex and stretch your feet, pointing toes out, pointing toes up. Allow the stretch in your feet and calves be a reminder to tend your being.
  4. How much water have you had to drink today? Can you get access to clean water now to drink a cup or fill a water bottle to keep you hydrated for the next little while?
  5. Is this current difficulty leaving you feeling isolated or lonely? Is there one friend or love you can text - you don't even have to use your voice if that's too hard - just text to say, "Hi there, can we text for a bit to check in?"
  6. If you can't think of anyone you'd like to be in touch with, how about trying out the text crisis line (US service only at this time) to chat with one of their volunteers. You don't have to be having suicidal thoughts to text, but rather just if you are having a moment in which you need some support, they can help. Here are details on how it works.
  7. Can you find a few minutes to have complete quiet and stillness? You can set timer if need be so it doesn't feel endless or something. But just for 3 minutes or 5 minutes, can you close a door, turn off phone, find as much quiet as possible, just for a few? Sometimes the space of quiet can reset our head!
  8. Or on the other end of the spectrum, can you take a few moments to listen, uninterrupted, and really savor your favorite tune? Maybe in a room with door closed, alone space? Or if not, then with earbuds in so you are kind of "away" from all the external stuff. Sometimes love of music can reset our head!
  9. Can you use and do you have access to a piece of paper and crayon or color pencils or markers? Can you spend a few minutes just scribbling out whatever is hurting most right now? No "artmaking" type space, just scribble scribble to get the energy out of your heart and head, through your arm and fingers, and smooshed out on the page? After all is smooshed out, maybe take a few minutes in empty spaces of the scribble to write a few words that are in your head around this energy?
  10. Do you have a favorite soft blanket or shirt or scarf? Something where the texture makes you feel safe or warm or cool or tended in some way? Can you get that now and wrap it around or wear it for a bit now? Allow yourself to feel enveloped.

By no means is this a comprehensive list. But I hope it encourages you to notice when things are hurting or difficult, and then check in with yourself to see how you can tend, either individually or in connection with others. And if you have other ideas to add to this list, please know you are invited to share them in the comments here <3

From my radical grandma heart to your heart!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

After grief comes, life goes relentlessly on...

After a significant grief experience in my life, a friend said to me, "Isn't it unnerving how life goes relentlessly on?"

It's true. Relentlessly. I'm so not cut out for relentless. 14 years. 2 years. 12 weeks. Whatever the time since the date of the death or loss, we wake up each day and the relentlessness starts.

People ask why I couch my work as grief *and* creativity. Because it takes A LOT of creativity to find reasons to get out of bed, to put your feet down on the relentless ground, every single day after grief comes.

It takes A LOT of creativity to honor self care and community care, especially in the face of white supremacist, individualistic, capitalistic, patriarchal culture.

It takes A LOT of creativity to be a helper in this world, honoring the sacred trust that extends out from us toward others AND also allowing others to extend back toward us in return. We may find we are not very practiced at accepting what others offer us. We may find we are in a culture that says you are supposed to be "professionally detached," so even just acknowledging that there is a two way relationship happening when in the role of helper can be taboo.

And when grief experiences knock us out of our routines, even our best efforts at re-entry to life can be complicated by the relentlessness that goes on. By realizing our previous work or priorities are completely different now. By a chronic illness that crops up. By the shock of realizing those you thought would stick by you don't, and by the gratitude you feel for complete strangers who show up in significant ways.

Creativity is needed because even as we are re-entering the relentless world, there are still gems to be found in the spaces grief originally took us. Remember how tended you felt when you allowed yourself some time in your blanket house! Remember how tended you felt when a friend stopped by and you allowed them to see your messy kitchen in which they ended up doing dishes for you! Remember how tended you and your community were when leaders stepped back and asked, "What do you need right now?" instead of being dictators determining for you what was needed!

Re-entering the relentless world might seem to put you in a position where competition, money making, and over-functioning are valued, while the gems of  listening to your body, collaboration, and community building are devalued. But screw that! We have permission to notice how relentlessness does not work for us. Don't ignore all you know now.

Having re-entered the world, are you again noticing things aren't quite right? Feeling exhausted? Can't sleep enough? Not much seem pleasurable? Body pain? Irritable at the smallest things? All big red flags calling for tending. How do we counter individualism, wealth worship, and "working through the pain" when we find ourselves surround by this relentlessness of "fake it till you make it" bs again?

While I don't have all the answers, I know that grief's different beat taught me it is valuable to give the sad, exhausted, hard spaces my listening ears. I need to hear them because they point me back toward relationships that nurture, toward paradigms of cooperation and collaboration, back toward the fact that relentlessness does not allow us to bring our whole selves to the table.

Individually this may look simply like reaching out to a friend via text to say, "Help. I need an ear." Or it may look collectively like calling "3 days bereavement leave" the bullshit that it is (remember that contract workers don't even get 3 days!), and demanding structural change that actually supports people when they are grieving.

I know it is unnerving that life goes relentlessly on after grief comes. AND I know that your heart is full of creativity that can be tapped to help buoy you through. And you aren't in this alone. Our connections matter. Whatever your situation looks like, just know that I SEE YOU.

[Alternative version published at Radical Creativity Wednesday, October 10, 2012]

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Attending a Lovely Memorial Yesterday Was An Invitation to Grieve by Swaneagle

Today i attended the memorial for my dear friend Nina Murano who died April 30th of COPD and other chronic conditions at age 82. This moving event was held at Church of the Holy Spirit across from the Community Care Center, where my friend Joy Goldstein lives on Vashon. Both she and Nina were the mainstay of our Vashon Women In Black Group until Nina became ill about 4 years ago. We started our vigil in August of 2010. Joy and i had vigiled the day before.

This memorial was so beautifully and heartfully done that i was moved to tears for the first half having to use my scarf to mop them up. I had never been in the church itself but had been in the basement where i did childcare one Easter Sunday about 6 years ago. I also have eaten the delicious vegan vegetarian Wednesday night dinners there several times over the years. The church has such a large window behind the altar, it appeared that the trees were inside with us. Along one side are more windows, so during the memorial the light changed along with the movement of clouds, periodic full sun and rain augmenting the atmosphere inside. From the Prelude thru the opening song Gracias a La Vida beautifully rendered by Erin to the Yeats poem read by Nina's granddaughter, to the Psalm read by Nina's oldest daughter Deirdre, the Homily by the Rev. Joseph, prayers, then sharing by Nina's youngest Ann-Marie, the Holly Near song sung by Mary, concluded by the Northwest Viols strings and postlude on the organ, the spirit of Nina's diverse concerns with justice as well her musical inspirations were captured uniquely and very powerfully. It was all concluded in the Memorial Garden where we talked with each other before many ended up eating and socializing celebrating Nina's life at the home she shared with her husband Bob for so many decades.

I heard about Nina years before i first met her. I worked gardening and house cleaning for a dear Irish woman named Terese O'Halloran. She would tell me about her trip to El Salvador with Nina Murano in the '80's. So of course, i knew i needed to meet Nina. When i finally did, i really was so inspired that i did what i could to connect with her. Oh i am so grateful i was able to spend time with her. She was genuinely deeply devoted to human rights. The stories she told me were profoundly inspiring. She confronted prison guards who were abusing human rights activists in a Haitian prison. She confronted the notorious Kaibiles US Special Forces trained death squads in Guatemala who were threatening human rights workers while on boats in a river. She used her inheritance to go on so many human rights delegations in Mexico, Central and South America that i do not even know the sum of them. I could talk to her about anything to do with human rights. It was a very precious relationship for me and i shed tears as i write because it has been such a lonely path to care as intensely as i do for those, especially women and children, who suffer the most under policies of ecocide, feminicide and genocide.

Nina invited me to go with her to an art exhibit of the work of Selma Waldman after Waldman's death at the Gage School of Figure Drawing on Capital Hill. It was a stunning exhibit portraying the suffering of solitary figures who were in concentrations camps, Abu Grahib prison and other situations of hideous abuse. A slide show of her work was shown by her family illustrating how she would post articles that caught her eye on her walls and create art surrounded by the news of human atrocity. She had visited Auschwitz in Germany before drawing her works. She had also been part of Women In Black vigils in Seattle.

One day Nina invited me to go with her to a gun control rally at Seattle Center. She was part of the Raging Grannies and they performed as part of the event. NRA members were there in all their well armed glory. Anytime a speaker began their presentation, NRA people would start talking so loudly that no one could hear those on stage. When Nina joined me after singing with the Grannies, i told her the NRA had been behaving rudely. She immediately walked into their midst and soundly scolded them for such. It worked. Nina in all her wondrous grandma glory!

We went to eat Ethiopian food after that and then she took us a community center on 15th Ave. near Yesler where we listened to Iyad Burnat show raw footage of the nonviolent resistance he and his comunity in Bil'in have carried out for 14 years now. It was striking and powerful seeing how the people so courageously stood against the Israeli Occupation Forces and the illegal settlements as well as the apartheid wall that separates Palestinians from their customary lands, olive trees and farms. Several Zionists began heckling Iyad causing a severe interruption in his presentation. To top that off was another heckler giving Iyad a hard time about being committed to nonviolence while the Zionists claimed he was violent. It got so out of hand that several of us simply spontaneously formed a human block between the Zionists and Iyad. They finally left.

We listened to Iyad for a short time longer, then Nina needed to get home. I placed an envelope of some of my art and writing on the table where Iyad was standing. He looked at me with a questioning expression. Then we left. Little did i know because of this event i would become friends with Iyad and organize a speaking tour for him in Seattle and on Vashon during the week of Thanksgiving of 2016.

Later as we headed to the ferry, she told me i was brave to participate in blocking the Zionists. Well, i told her how brave she was to take on the NRA earlier that day. Such a precious memory.

Over the next few years, i had the pleasure of working among Nina's flowers and herbs. When i would finish for the day, we spent hours talking. The scope of her awareness was so broad, i always learned so much from these precious times we had. She gave me bags of wonderful books to read that heightened my literary pursuits. She also would share some of the political publications she subscribed to. Her knowledge was vast. I am a better person for having known this deeply courageous, outspoken, loving, humorous and gutsy woman. Nina you will always live in my heart.

Invitation, Inclusion, and Sugar Pills by Deb Pierce McCabe

When I was a teenager I was part of a youth group that was all about inclusion and trust.  The group was unique in its cohesiveness and depth, so that even after 40 years many of us who were part of that group remember how significant it felt for us to learn to listen to each other, and how frustrating and lonely it felt, later on, in the “real” world without a core group of people we could rely on and trust.

Invitation was vital to how this group worked. When a new person was invited to the group, the rest of us formed a tight standing circle with our arms linked, facing inward, and the new person had to “break into” the circle.  Sometimes they fought their way in, sometimes they tickled their way in, sometimes they tricked their way in, and sometimes they asked their way in.  Everyone eventually got in, though.  The important part was what happened next:  the new person was welcomed, and two people would sit with them and make sure they were included and made to feel part of the circle.  This was a sensitivity game, and the group was modeled as an encounter group, but we took our role as caretakers of the whole community very seriously.  It was a sweet time.  We formed deep and lasting friendships, and this gave me a foundation for my faith and a deep sense of responsibility to and for others.

In a recent conversation with two friends from this group, however, the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s ALL small stuff” came up, and one of them had the idea that this phrase was something we had learned in that group.  It was meant reverently, because her dad used to use this phrase to help dispel some of the angst that was going on around him in his final years.  He was dying, but he didn’t want a fuss made over him.  With due respect to him, and to Richard Carlson who wrote the “Small Stuff” books, however, HELL NO, this concept was not something we learned in our open circle group!

While I appreciate the ability to reflect on whether something that is bothering me is an annoyance versus an emergency, the suggestion that “it’s ALL small stuff” is patronizing, to say the least.

The platitudes, “it’s all small stuff”, and its first cousin: “everyone is doing the best that they can” are obnoxious sugar pills.  They divide people from the unpleasant realities of pain.  The first one minimizes people’s perception of pain, and the second one minimizes the pain that others inflict, often quite deliberately. If we were all doing the best that we can, we would experience heaven on earth, instead of violence driven by power and greed.  When someone says “it’s all small stuff”, it is used as a silencer.  It is intended to shut people up, because we don’t want to deal with their genuine pain or their legitimate grievances. The phrase “it’s all small stuff” literally minimizes people’s struggles and their pain.  It doesn’t reduce it, it mocks it. Minimizing is a control strategy used by abusers to make people and their pain appear insignificant, and therefore dismissible.  That is not love.  That is contempt.

Love invites us to be real.  It calls us by name. We embody and express love in action when we take each other seriously.  We express love in action when we invite and welcome the stranger, along with our friends, when we sit quietly with them, listening, fully present with integrity.  The grace of invitation is that it is rooted in humility and joy.

Click here to email Deb or see her website for more of her work.

Invitation to mentor (and be mentored) by Sherene Zolno

One thing I try to emphasize in my training of coaches is that you cannot coach into “no request.” For me, this has meant that there’s some understanding on the part of the other person that they need help or perspective. They may not have clarity on their predicament, not a fully formed sense of choice, mind you, but they have at least a spark of,  “Hmmm, this just isn’t working; perhaps I’ll ask for help.”

Only a recent conversation led to my realizing that someone might not even be conscious of their need for coaching or mentoring, yet still very much need an invitation to it.

My grief at 14 concerned feeling an outcast from my peers, my shame of our poor and overcrowded living situation, and embarrassment at the violent outbursts of parental and sibling anger that occurred when a friend was visiting.

That summer I went to work at the shop of my parents’ friends. They had a refrigerator repair business and I answered the phones, took orders, and sent out their guys on jobs. Generally alone, I listened to the top ten on the radio and called in to try for a prize when I knew the answer to one of the DJ's questions.

I felt lonely and overlooked. Sad and uninspired. I was smart, in the top 10% of my class, but there was nothing special about that from what I could tell.

But for one thing.

My seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Cohen, was taking summer classes at the Albany State Teachers College, not far from where I was working. She offered to drive out to the country where we lived, 3 miles out of town from Troy, New York, pick me up and then drop me off at my job on her way to the school.

It was a most unusual relationship, this teen and her teacher.

During those long rides, we talked about reading and books, learning from literature, and I also remember reading a few challenging books, including her recommendation, the difficult and lengthy Anna Karenina. We discussed it, and I understood . . . well, some of it.

We also talked about our lives, and what possibilities the future could hold. I shared with her some of what I was feeling – the grief of a 14 year old who felt on the margins of life. Mrs. Cohen listened, without apparent need to fix me or my world.

So what was the invitation Mrs. Cohen felt that led to her driving miles out of her way to take me to work and to her sharing her life with me that summer – to being my special mentor and coach?

We never talked about it. But I believe that I probably wouldn’t have been able to articulate my grief and need, nor could I have formed then a request for her help.

Now, so many years later, I can only guess at her motives. But I recognize how an invitation was given and received, and it was a blessing, even if unspoken by this teenage kid and her English teacher.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Podcast: When Small Talk Is No Small Matter

This podcast is exploring how even the most tiny of things can get shaken and require us to make new meaning in the aftermath of grief. Small talk becomes no small matter for some us having grief experiences, and so in this episode, we are exploring:

  • Things, our faith, our work, even small talk, change after grief comes.
  • So how do we re-imagine our social being?
  • Small talk can feel like it is bombarding us, and we have less tolerance for it and other social experience.
  • How do we get curious about this rather than judgmental about it?
  • Addressing these realization can help us release shame also.
  • What questions do we ask of ourselves to re-create our meanings and connections?
  • How do we tend and take time to be our own best advocate AND reconnect with others?
  • What does a different kind of small talk sound like - an example.
  • These redefinitions are important because they gets to the heart of the matter and this is where we have agency.

To stream this podcast, click here.

Thanks as always for listening!
From my radical grandma heart to yours,

If you like what you hear, 
please click the tip jar to support
our grief+creativity efforts.

[Originally published as written article at Radical Creativity, March 24, 2012]

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Abby's Bad Advice: bereavement in a grief denying culture

Forget Abby...
Bereavement may feel like an extraordinary process, but it is such an ordinary and every single day happening. We’re all human. We all die. Every day people die. Naturally or not. And people are left grieving those who died. Every day. People are left not only trying to integrate this new reality without the person they loved, but also facing mortality issues, seeing up close and personal how death comes for us all, facing issues of their own mortality. This is happening every. single. day. on our planet.

And yet people having grief experiences, more likely than not, are treated as if they suddenly have a disease that needs to be cured, fixed, gotten over or that requires “closure.*” Given that the bulk of our world is a grief denying society**, it actually may be the case that people end up feeling dis-eased (not diseased, but dis-eased). Many people I've worked with over the years are in fact not at ease at all and not being helped to feel at ease either! The more uneasy we feel, the more isolated we may tend to become. The more isolated we become, the more complicated the grief experience becomes. The more complicated the experience, the more ill at ease we get. Vicious cycle.

I'm not sure how we think people can do self-care (individualistic values), when as a community (the context within which we all live, like it or not) we can’t even figure out how to deal with the most ordinary of happenings!? When we can’t face the ultimate reality for all of us? When we have no community value on care in this area?! Death will happen to all of us. It is a fact. And avoiding that fact isn’t helping anyone. So why do we continue this pattern? And how can we change it?

Why it continues
There is an idea you may hear around the issues of addiction or domestic violence that says to truly heal, to be whole again, we must break the cycle. Until we can break the cycle of our grief denying culture (societal value), we simply repeat the pattern of ostracizing each other and ourselves (individual level) because we play into the denying, we fear challenging the dominant paradigm, the prevailing beliefs of the world around us.

Thus, though it seems so incredibly unfair, those having the grief experiences themselves, at the very moment they should be getting the most care, instead must muster up and advocate for change. Those having grief experiences themselves must break the pattern. No, it isn’t fair. No, it isn’t easy. But I have come to figure it this way: Hell, I'm ill at ease already anyway, so why not just go with it, lean into the dis-ease, and push for breaking the habits of our cultural denial!? Onward!!

How can we change it
One of the most important things we can do is to give voice to our grief. Refuse to be silent. Speak up, speak often, continue to speak about your grief experience over time. This might be verbal, but it also could be written or communicated through art of various mediums. Just giving expression in whatever ways possible, *that* is key.

One of the most important models we can provide is to visibly show the evolution of our story. When we first speak up about our grief, we may find our story to be very fact-oriented. We share the minute details like time and date of death, where it happened, how we found out, and other very factual information. But over time, our stories evolve to be less about facts and more about meaning making. We begin to talk about what the death of this person means to us, how our life has been impacted by death, what this death has meant to us in facing our own mortality.

This evolution of the story is crucial as it indicates that there isn't simple closure beyond the facts, but rather an on-going life -- YOUR life -- being LIVED as you express love and what is important to you. As we model this evolution for the people around us, I like to think they are then also given permission to share their stories, to experience evolution for themselves. We all begin to grow and change together in a network of common experiences instead of being isolated in fear and violence. We move to a place where self-care is community care AND community care IS self-care.

By giving expression to our stories, we are also able to more visibly see how ordinarily often death affects us human beings. As we come to terms with one death, we may encounter another death. Our experience must now evolve to incorporate multiple loss. This isn’t a sickness. This is a normal, ordinary part of being human. It is a skill that should be taught, but it doesn’t fit well into scholastic educational curriculums, so we end up learning it on death’s timetable or at the insistence of loss, encountering the lessons whenever grief happens.

It can be a radical thing to refuse to play the grief denying cultural game whenever it crops up. It's been a few years now, but there was a letter sent in and answered by good, old Dear Abby in which the writers asked Abby for advice about how to handle communications with a stillbirth mom in their office place. I was shocked at the time by what seemed and uninformed and uneducated answer given by Abby, and we did a full article about it in the Loss Journal at KotaPress back then.

Today, I’d like to address just a couple of the points that came up from this national exchange in Dear Abby’s playground. One of the things the co-workers had a problem with was the fact that the stillbirth mom had a photo of her child on her desk. Another thing they had a problem with was communicating with the mom because they said she was “mean and gossipy." Of course Abby told them they were right, that the photos were “inappropriate,” and that the boss should deal with this “delicate” situation.

Have you ever read a more grief denying exchange?! So here is a woman in extreme grief, hurting, feeling alone, trying to integrate all that has happened in her life. And she is calling out to communicate, to express her story, have it be visible. It's just *possible* that if she were given space for that expression, maybe over time, she and her co-workers would have benefitted from both self- and community-care.

But instead, the woman’s photo of her child is abhorred and stigmatized as "making people uncomfortable” because they have to face the reality of death and dying when they’d rather participate in denial, keep their heads down, and work work work. Capitalist productivity over humanity. A-huh.

And, you know, if you were ignored and abhorred – if your children were abhorred like this – do you think you would be mean, angry, difficult to work with, have vindictive feelings towards all around you? I know I sure would – and it would take me a long time to do the self-tending work necessary to work through all the layers of that grief denying crap that was laid upon me!

Abby and the co-workers missed a chance to participate in the solution and instead continued the cycle of abuse and isolation. There are several things that would hold a much more productive truth for all involved, if only Abby or the co-workers would have taken the time to educate themselves – or if the mom (albeit already burdened with her process) had had a model by which advocacy and expression would take precedent over isolation and "closure."

First, office policy would dictate the display of photos, period. If the other co-workers are allowed to have photos of their children displayed, then guess what? The bereaved mom would be allowed to have her photos, too. If she is singled out and prevented from showing her photos, it is at best censorship, and at worst it is discrimination.

If the other workers have a problem seeing the photo – and if the mom is having trouble adjusting being back at work – well those are indeed the boss’ problems. But it is not the boss’ job to simply address this “delicate” issue by shutting it all down. Instead, this boss plays a role in acknowledging this is a real, every day, human, ordinary issue, and everyone on his/her staff needs extra support and education in the areas of death, dying, and bereavement. They all need sensitivity training. A review of their bereavement leave and insurance coverage for mental health support for grief experiences needs to be done. And it sure sounds like they all need to build teamwork skills.

Sadly, in our grief denying culture, Abby doesn’t suggest any of this, the boss probably won’t do anything but censor the photo, maybe fire the mother, and the mother may be on her own to find support for figuring out how to translate grief, isolation, maybe anger into advocacy.

It is my hope that this article can be a prompt that opens discussion, an opportunity to shift our perspectives, a call to action for all of us to learn and begin advocating for change. I wish it could start with multi-media, pop culture, icons like Dear Abby and with bosses in every workplace across the world. But unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to happen. They will not be “saviors” or even leaders in this realm. And so, though I know grief experiences are the very moments we all need the most help ever, I call on us all, after getting whatever support we need first, to also seek education and active mentors who can then help you step into the role of advocate. We need you. None of us in this world will get out alive, so really, we need you.

Miracles to you,

                    * If you are interested in more on why I put the word "closure" in parenthesis, you 
                    might check out Nancy Berns book "Closure: the rush to end grief and what it 
                    actually costs us."

                    ** “Grief Denying Society” was a phrase I first heard in a presentation by 
                    Molly Greist, Stone Sculptor, Bainbridge Island, WA.

[Original version published in KOTA: Knowing Ourselves Thru Art, August 22, 2007]

Monday, May 15, 2017

Shepherding the chaos into some form of expression

When grief comes, it can seem like the meaning of everything changes. Time seems to go fast or slow. Our jobs seem meaningless in the aftermath. Our priorities have changed. Relationships evolve or fall away. As a very specific example, I was an artist before the death of our child, and after his death, the value of art even seemed to change. Frankly, grief can make everything seem like chaos.

In doing outreach with bereaved parents in my early grief years, I came across variations on this chaos everyday. One parent had been a prolific writer prior to the death of his child. After grief's arrival, he felt he wasn't doing justice to his child's death because he couldn't write a thing about it. The previously prolific writer mentioned that he had only been able to write emails since his child died, but nothing else. I encouraged him to consider those emails! Emails can be a form of journaling if you ask me. Back in the early 2000's, we even published a memoir under our KotaPress imprint that was partially made of email communications a woman had while she was facing cancer and treatments.

And so, if you are using the net as a form of support after grief's arrival, look at what you are writing in that medium. Those posts and emails can easily be the expressions of memoir writings or prose pieces. Maybe those are the first draft of a book to come. Maybe they are completed pieces themselves. Or the beginnings of support themed articles you might want to publish someday.

Who knows? But one thing I try to offer those wrestling with creativity in grief's aftermath is this:

Practice being open to expression in whatever form it comes!

Now, I'm not saying that all our creativity in the face of grief will turn into something public or that all emails will turn into books. We may not want to do anything like that with the expressions that come. But I am saying that the initial expressions after grief's arrival can come in a variety of ways. Don't discount any of those ways!

Because grief creates the potential for everything to change, so too can forms of expression change in grief's wake. We may or may not use our old medium for creating. We may discover new mediums for these experiences. It is okay to let expression come in whatever form, to whatever degree, at whatever pace.

Let yourself be tender as you shepherd all grief's chaos into some form of expression!

Miracles to you,

Friday, May 12, 2017

Oh the crowds that gather in my head!

The psychology of the crowds of stuff inside my head would make your head explode if you tried to wrap your brain around it all. When I try to wrap my own head around the crowds, it usually results in something like, oh I don't know, an implosion into a little pile of ashes.

So sometimes I try to completely escape my head all together. I do this meditative exercise which I'll offer you today as a sort of creative prompt if you want to try making up your own process:

  1. I sit at the edge of the ocean or some body of water that is much larger than I am. 
  2. I stare for a long time at the huge amounts of water. The crowds of water. 
  3. I imagine the BEing of water looking back at me. Like imagining the entire huge body of water is the body of a BEing, conscious, with character and personality.
  4. I imagine how small I must look to the huge BEing of water. 
  5. I imagine it looks back at the small speck of me. Just a speck of a girl, sitting there, trying to consider the immensity of it.
  6. And then I imagine that I become the water, looking back at my speck of a self. 

And you know what happens? Like a FLASH, the crowds of my speck of a head become so small that they require almost no effort to see, map, deal with, whatever. And I come to realize the following:

  • I am just being. 
  • The Water is being. 
  • We are each other. 
  • There is no crowding. 
  • No crowds of anything anyone anywhere. 
  • And there is immense space again, inviting me to rest.

Often this process allows me to sleep a bit. Or to recognize that my speck of a physical body wants to stretch into that immense space of Water BEing. Or things just quiet down enough for me to see there is no immediate emergency, nothing is on fire, and my breath is breathing me. Okay, no imploding into a pile of ashes today then!

It seems the psychology of the crowds of my head are best seen from way up above -- from a place where it all looks like specks on the horizon. From a perspective where the crowds don't look like snarled monsters, but instead look like a thing of beauty. Perspective, I love you.

So what about you? What helps you shift from the snarling crowds to the immense body of water BEing state?


[Original version published in Radical Creativity, Saturday, May 10, 2008]

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Exploring balance and our own meaning making...

As sunny season here in the Pacific NW gears up and the days begin to fly by, I'm reminded again how important it is to keep my balance. Grief especially takes its toll on our bodies, minds, and spirits in ways that can knock us off balance. There are times when grief is so all consuming that it can seem to just eat up days and days. I find it especially important then to keep the idea of balance front and center in my life.

Balance doesn't mean making everything "perfect." It doesn't mean "getting better" (whatever that actually is!). Rather, balance simply means being mindful of your whole being and looking at the whole picture of needs.

For example: Our minds spin when grief hits. We can't make sense of this new world without our loved one or whatever our loss circumstances are. Many people need to have brain input to be able to make new meaning of life again. But at the same time, grief taxes our sense of concentration, so it can be hard to read or pay attention. So balance between needing new information and lack of concentration might be:

  • Take it slow. 

  • Read things in sound bite form. 

  • Open a book or magazine to a random page and just read one sentence. Mull that sentence over for a whole day, and see what comes of it for you.

As always, be as gentle as you can with you. Take whatever pace and time you need.

As part of your exploration of what balance means to you, don't be afraid to reach out for help. Though you may not have anyone in your immediate network who can be of support, please know that there are good people out here doing awesome work, willing to communicate with you and offer support. Try one of these:

And you are always welcome to check out my personal, small group Grief + Creativity classes and sessions to join us for support, too!

[Originally published in Radical Creativity, July 13, 2007; resources updated April 2017]

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Grief and Showing podcast

This podcast is exploring how we show up during grief experiences. Showing up, just as a human in general, can be challenging, but when you add grief experiences to the mix, what happens? In this podcast we're exploring:
  • What are the rules that seem to dictate how we show up or don't during grief experiences?
  • What does it mean that we get only 3 days bereavement leave?
  • What does it mean to "get closure" when we are still alive and living our experiences?
  • How do we show up without having to intersect with "perfection"?
  • What happens when we show up even when we're not or the situation is not what might be deemed "perfect"?
  • How do we show up even if it is scary to do so?
  • How do we keep ourselves practicing ways to show up?
  • Metaphors abound in artmaking or writing or showing work or publishing.
  • When we show up, we enter into self-care, AND begin to intersect with others so that self-care truly IS community care.
  • When we show up to tend our path, we allow other people space to show up, too.
  • When we show up to tend our path, we create sacred community space, too.

Thanks for listening!
From another radical grandma trying to shape the world we are in,
If you like what you hear, 
please click the tip jar to support
our grief+creativity efforts.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Stick the to breath, next step

It's like a mantra now. Those who know me are sick of hearing it.

It's a practice, not a perfect.

When it comes to chronic health stuff, this most definitely applies. When it comes to being an artist, this most definitely applies.

I'm not thrilled with this piece here. Perfection is a long ways off with this one (with every one, if I'm honest!). But the point of it isn't perfection anyway. The point is to remind myself that it is all practice. I am worthy of taking things one day at a time, one moment at a time, one brush stroke at a time, next breath, next step. I am worthy of continuing to make art. Even when it isn't perfect (it never is!). Even when I don't feel perfectly healthy (chronic means I never am really!).

Rejections come with the territory of being an artist and writer. It had been a good year since I worked up any submissions or was published in anything. So I started pulling submission guideline notifications into my Facebook feed recently. That puts opportunities in my face, and reminds me to take chances!

And in the past couple of weeks, I've gotten two rejections. One a standard form letter that many others probably got, too. The second, a little more personal with reason why the art doesn't fit and suggestion for how to try again with something a little more inline with what they want. So oddly enough, my idea that "the only antidote to rejection is trying again" comes right into play with the "rejector" giving me "try agains" right in the rejection. :) Very funny how we manifest stuff.

AND there was also one acceptance and publication in Issue 50 of Haiku Journal so it wasn't all rejection!

One thing I do notice about rejection is that it touches on something akin to grief in me. I shut down completely after my son died because I felt rejected as a woman and mother -- the Universe itself rejected my submission to be a woman and a mother. It took years to work through that. And so it also seems all these little rejections touch on the nerves of that big one somehow. I use the noticing of that in each experience to be a little raised flag, waving, calling out to me saying, "Hello!?! Over here. Do a little tending, will ya?!" And I remind myself in that space about practice, not perfect AND next breath, next step.

Another aspect of the "sticking to it" for me, is to practice finding gratitude in my disappointment. Here are a few quick gratitudes that generate for me in this practice:

  • I'm sooooo grateful that I have access to the internet to find things like guidelines and to email inquiries. 
  • It's an amazing universe where there is always another publication to try after a rejection. 
  • And bless the editors of all these places because I know how much time it takes to sift through it all and try to make "objective" decisions in a world where there is no objectivity ever. It's all subjective. We are all subject to our own personalities and experience and such. And that's an interesting facet of being human.

And hey, look, life is up and down for us all. For those of us dealing with chronic health stuff, mental and physical, on top of everyday life, well, it is a challenge. But I keep reminding myself that we can practice habits that support us. And here's one:

If you are looking for a cool, interesting way to experiment with keeping yourself prompted and for getting an energy boost each day, try the free app BoosterBuddy:

I know it can seem a little odd to suggest you buddy up with an animated raccoon, but I swear its daily reminder to take care of my basics and keep taking next breath, next step have been so helpful recently!

Hope you, too, keep taking next breath, next step today, Loves.
From the radical grandma,

[Original version published in Radical Creativity June 24, 2008;
updated May 2017 to give update and new app resource tip]

Sunday, April 30, 2017

To roar. Or not.

After awhile I begin to feel that, whoever I am, is stuck inside all these layers. The letters of language are used to try and be heard. The network of pain that cascades thru the body, making the eyes so sensitive that looking at or into normal light levels just hurts, is all too real. In the meantime, under all that is this sort of adult who continues having ideas, impulses to create, sparks for connecting art to heART.


Had Pinky and the Brain streaming in the background one day, and it struck me that they are sort of projections of the mind. The same mind. Flip sides of one mind. They work together to make a whole. A dysfunctional whole, but still. NARF. Sometimes the roar comes and other times it is just a narf.

Sometimes my hands shake, making drawing or even cooking, messily impossible. Often it seems related to iron levels, but there are so many chronic issues going on in this one bod of mine that it is hard to tell. And even trying to DO something is weird. Sometimes the something works. Sometimes it doesn't. Much as I think I am commanding my health (Brain), sometimes my body is just sitting there all Pinky-like going NARF.

It is a weird thing. To be raised in a modern western world that implicitly and explicitly tells you that you should have command, you need to have discipline, you have to become an expert, if you want to be taken seriously and make a mark, you have to...have to...have to. The myths of being the commander. When the truth is that being human is a damn messy NARF most of the time.

I mean sure, you can put in 100,000 hours on some obsession you have and learn a lot from it. I get a lot out of making more and more art, putting more and more hours into the practice. But my shaky hands bop in now and again to say, "Hey Commander! NARF!" I'm not poo-poo'ing process or learning or passion or spending your time doing what moves you. I'm just saying the complicit stuff of the modern western world that turns that all into experts and "six-figure years" and such...well...NARF.


Was reading Improv Wisdom and one of the prompts she offered along the way was to "count on insecurity." Isn't that great? Count on it. Don't try to beat it into submission. Don't try to expert your way around it. Stop trying to get to the perfect place where it resolves and never surfaces again. Rather, count on it. Count. On. It. Count on insecurity. What a novel and creative idea. Count on the NARF.


Stress. Whether coming from "real" situations or coming from my insecurity (that i now count on), stress has a damn fucked up way of messing with me. The chronic pain returns. The stomach does weird things. The shakes shake. If we had the money or an insurance company/provider that actually cared, and we tested things consistently around the experiences I have with stress, just guessing, but I think stress may relate to much of what goes on with me.

I find it difficult to give words to what is happening to me physically, especially after going to great lengths to communicate w supposed caregivers who then say everything is "normal" and begin to treat me in a dismissive manner or as if I'm a drug seeker. Especially annoying given that as of the other day, I've been sober for a solid 20 years. But whatever, dismiss me. NARF.

And one begins to understand the frustration of so many chronic fellow beings. You see every provider your insurance will cover and none help. For that you fork over a day of work, cost of ferry and gas and parking, and a $55 copay. For nothing in the end. And if you find someone who might be able to help but insurance won't cover them, you literally ponder groceries or the cost of trying yet another supposed caregiver. After awhile, you just sort of feel tired and defeated and actually begin to wonder if maybe you are crazy. Except that one side of your face is swollen and you have hives under your eyelid. Those are hard to just conjure out of nothing...NARF.

Not that I don't aim to do best care possible for myself, but stress, in general, and these specific examples, seems to affect how my body reacts, takes up nutrients, gets rest, etc. I think. Total guess. Could be completely full of shit there. But guessing.

Mind you, I know it is a privilege to do anything these days:

  • even just having a doctor, any doctor
  • having access to clean water (Flint, MI, USA still doesn't have access to clean water!)
  • enough to make the ends meet so we can buy fresh veg and fruit regularly

I notice these things. I notice how being able to "afford" in this modern western world is a huge piece of the experiences humans have. Affording doesn't buy us out of racism, sexism, disability-phobia or chronic illness, but with enough "affording" those bastard show themselves a lot less in the ways we are able to care for ourselves, or not, in the choices we have, or don't. Or at least we are able to make choices even in the face of those bastards.

I'm thinking here of how last year we had the privilege of coverage to "afford" to get my husband's eye exam and new glasses. Our "affording" allowed him to see properly again and be able to continue driving, etc. But our "affording" could not buy us out of the health-corporate-mindset that targeted my husband as a black man, scared him w narratives of how he could go blind, bullied him into multiple additional tests that he didn't need just so they could bilk more from our insurance. There was absolutely nothing wrong with him, everything came back totally normal. And still the next year, for coverage, we were bumped to more expensive "affording" because of those tests, my hub was now see as more risky. We "afforded" the privilege of caring for his chronic eyesight loss, got the glasses, could make the option to get what he needed to see again. BUT we could not buy ourselves out of the targeted racism that was aimed at my hub insidiously within the health"care" system.

It's bullshit.


I don't know. No answers really. No resolutions, no tidy answers, just continued process. ❤ Just noticing all the times that, even with my best efforts, stress still steps in here, yelling, "Hey Commander! NARF!!"


Thanks for hanging in there with the ramblings of another radical grandma trying to figure it out,

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Transformation Talk on grief, creativity, alternative paradigms, and more...

Had a wonderful opportunity to connect with Alana Sheeren when she was hosting Transformation Talks, and our conversation is out on the interwebs for you to watch any time you'd like. Just click the image below to go to YouTube and listen in:

We talked about so much, including:

  • our son's stillbirth and how his name KOTA turned out to mean Knowing Ourselves Thru Art
  • how grief + creativity were immediately linked for me
  • grief + creativity education opportunities being continually offered
  • creative prompts, narrative therapy, and other tools for breaking open the definition of creativity
  • learning to find your own heARTmaking way
  • alternatives to traditional "slay the dragon" and "closure" paradigms
  • externalizing: "I am bereaved" vs "I have had a bereavement experience"
  • letter writing in narrative practice lets you continue the conversation
  • experiences at Mister Rogers Neighborhood
  • and more...

Couple updates since this Talk first aired:

  • Cath and I have added a whole bunch of lovely faculty to the Certification in Creative Grief Support program, offering you new content and team facilitation for each session. We are now offering the course multiple times per year with sessions starting in March or September. To read all about our continuing education for helping professionals, click here to see our site.
  • If you are personally having a grief experience and want to explore creative approaches with me, I now offer multiple opportunities for small groups and individuals. To learn more about the classes and session I offer, click here to see my site

Miracles to you,

[This talk originally aired on August 14, 2013.]

Monday, March 27, 2017

Podcast: Grief and Storytelling

Do you think of storytelling as plot, character, denouement? Storytelling in reference to the grief experience can be so much more than form! Today's podcast explores how we can break open the idea of storytelling to understand our experiences for ourselves, but also to have our experiences move beyond the cultural obsession with, "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that! What happened?" where we all get stuck in just the death story, the death moment. Thanks for listening!

Love and Reiki,
from my radical grandma self to your radical self <3

If you like what you hear, 
please click the tip jar to support
our grief+creativity efforts.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Podcast: Grief and Invisibility (pondering #DayWithoutAWoman strike)

For International Women's Day and as I pondered the #DayWithoutAWoman strike, I ended up deciding to launch what I hope to develop into a GriefAndCreativity Dot Com podcast. Today's topic is "Grief and Invisibility" as it came up for me around thinking and dreamstate leading into this strike day. Thank you for listening.

Click here to stream.

Love and Reiki,
from my radical grandma self to your radical self <3

If you like what you hear, 
please click the tip jar to support
our grief+creativity efforts.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Books and the art that can come from them...

What do you do with books you don't want anymore? It's great if the library will take them or the used bookshop. But what if they don't want them? I have the answer:


:) That's exactly what I did with these books. Here are the front and back covers after alterations:

And here's a glimpse of what I did on the inside of each:

But the even cooler thing about doing these kinds of physical, altered books is that you can do high res scan of various aspects of the pieces and then make even more artworks. Here are a few of the pieces I've done in that process, and these are now available in my gallery as stickers, totes, journals and more:

This one is an over saturated, highly detailed scan of one of the paperdolls on the back cover, worked up in PSE as its own solo piece. You'll find it over in the gallery here.

This digital composite was from a shrine series and it incorporates the door featured on one of the front covers of the altered books. It actually incorporates high res scans and photos of 8 different pieces I created along the way. The shrine outline and composite was all done in PSE and this finished piece is in the gallery over here.

So can you see how you can start with old or unwanted books to create art? Then scan or photograph and make even more art? What ideas are sparked for you seeing this? Are you already picturing books that you'd been considering clutter which now might morph into art? What other items do you have around the house that you might turn into art?

Go play! Have fun!

[Originally published in Radical Creativity, June 2009]

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Keep on WAKING up!

Look. None of this is new. But if the chaos that is the US is just hitting you now, all I can say is: Great and keep on WAKING the fuck up, Loves.

It is not anti-racist to say, "I don't see color." We need to dismantle and totally tell racism to fuck off. It will never be okay to invoke hate toward Muslims after the hate committed upon our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in Orlando, after the Unconstitutional "ban" that is being waved in all our faces. Fuck off to homophobia. Fuck off to the hijacking of any religion so that hate is allowed, encouraged. Fuck off to anyone who thinks their one religion has all the "right" answers and everyone else is, not only "wrong," but justifiably harmed. Fuck off.

If you don't know how to handle cognitive dissonance, that is on you! Get a therapist. Sign up for emotional intelligence training. Sign up for anti-racist training. Seek out education from sources like SURJ, ACLU, SPLC. Something. DEAL WITH YOUR SHIT.

And most of all, here in this USofA Chaos State, if you think not voting is taking a stand, I implore you to reconsider, to at least vote local races where it can make the most difference. We need to get local scenes changed in 2018 and 2020 so that when the next census takes place, we have some hope of reversing the gerrymandering that has gone on with voting districts. Please get used to bugging the fuck out of your government on all the issues that matter to you. It is not rocket science to figure out how to have justice and equity. We don't even have to figure it out the "how" of it. There isn't any experimenting that has to be done. Because guess fucking what? Other countries in this fucking world have ALREADY done it. We know how to do it. We just don't fucking want to. And if you are here, if you are one that doesn't want to, check your shit. If you are one that wants to, but doesn't know how, start by bugging the fuck out of your government reps, senators, and local officials:
and go to your State's website to find your local folks - it will look something like this:

Last thing I'll say today (though you will hear me repeating it OFTEN): If  you still think social justice issues do not intersect with grief, wake up, please. How in the hell can anyone look at what is going down and not see the GRIEF, not just on individual level, but communal and cultural. Mosques burning. Five year olds handcuffed because they are a "threat" and mothers separated from their children from whom food is withheld for 20 hours. A 12 year old shot while playing in a play ground a mere 2.5 seconds after police arrive on the scene. This is a fuck load of grief, folks. Wake up. Time to start dealing with our shit.

Reiki to any and all eyeballs who come across this.
This radicalized grandma will speak to my last breath in the hope we keep each other AWAKE.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hard truths, diapers, and dreams

[Originally published June 2016 - as the social justice fight continues, this is as relevant today.]

The call to social justice work comes out of significant experiences I had as a child and all the ways, as an adult, I've seen people in the midst of grief experiences having to simultaneously navigate oppression. People will tell me grief is grief, done, and to stop bring social justice issues into it. But I tell you that in my most horrific grief after the death of my son, I know now, clearly, how privileged I was. I am white; we were middle-ish class; we had healthcare at the time; we had a life that allowed for us to make and foster connections for support; we had ways to become self employed and not be beholden to any boss or capitalist exploitation. AND I've learned over time how very privileged that was.

It is impossible to look black mothers in the face after the deaths of their children at the hands of police and just say it is grief like all others or that grief has no color blah blah blah. Their grief is political. Their grief is part of a social justice movement. Why? Because they don't get to just grieve and have experiences like we had in our privilege. They must simultaneously navigate the criminalization of their children all over the media so that the police can justify why children are dying. It IS political.

Yes, I am remembering that all the people killed in Orlando are children of someone. Yes. Of course. But that doesn't mean we get a bypass on the political and social justice issues that come up, too. It's a nice sentiment to say we shouldn't politicize the deaths of someone's children, but I'm guessing -- just a guess -- you go listen to the videos and read this post and this post and this post of people speaking for themselves -- but I'm guessing that most LGBTQ+ people and families will tell you it IS political.

And there are so many experiences of grief and social justice intersections, that I know we can get overwhelmed with trying to process it. This isn't a woulda/coulda/shoulda, but rather just a raising of awareness that we are each doing what/as we can *and* there is always a bigger picture. Also an awareness that focusing on one issue is not meant to take away from another or to privilege one over the other, but rather to be aware there is always a bigger picture. As @Joannathangiah shared in one of her beautiful heART-works which you can see by clicking here:

"Just because someone is drawing attention to one oppressed group doesn't mean they are ignoring others."

This is tender space. I get it. Not trying to make one bereaved parent or caregiver "wrong" while others are "right" on this. AND I'm saying that even in my worst grief experience with the death of my own son, I came to a point where that was no longer a bypass for checking my privilege and getting real about the fact that *everything* happens within a context. Of course we are individuals having these experiences, but always always always within a kinship system:

We cannot be objective. We are all mobile discourses coming to the table of these experiences:

I'm not trying to politicize everything. It is already political. I'm not trying to be depressing or discouraging. But I am trying to get us all on the same page so we can take account of what is really happening. We need to do that so we can be present in a way that is meaningful; so that actual needs can be addressed. We cannot positivity-police ourselves through grief nor be of service to others if we are positivity-policing their expressions and experiences. In fact:

Just consider it. You don't have to like what I'm saying. You may not be in a place in your own grief experience to have the bandwidth to be present with these ideas. That's okay. I'm sharing for those who are interested. For those who know there is more to this grief stuff than "keep calm and...". For those who are at a space where exploring the intersectionality of grief experiences and social justice makes sense.


Something I saw today out of the #StateOfWomen was a share from Desiree Adaway about how a significant cause of depression for low income women is lack of access to clean diapers for their children.

Re-read that. 

Let that sink in.

A source of their depression is lack of access to clean diapers.

Dear G-d. I know modern Western capitalist culture is screwed, but this...breaks me. How do we just go on when this reality comes to light? For me, I need to take action. Find out how this is addressed in our community. I'm asking our food bank if this is issue that needs to be addressed here. If so, how best to address? We don't have a lot. But we do make $10 or $20 donation here and there as we can. I will be glad to spend that on diapers for the food bank if that will help. 

How much could shift if we all did things like this wherever and whenever we can?

ADDENDUM: After posting this, I came to learn in the discussion thread on Desiree's page that there is a national project looking at and addressing this issue. I had no idea. Thank you, creative and wonderful people. Now others of us can get involved!


Random dreamscape:

She came into the public library and told me she sold the house we were living in with it being on the market for only an hour. The pit of my stomach sank as I realized I could pack our stuff, but I could not pack our garden. That, we would simply lose. 

As I walked down the street back toward the home that was just sold out from under us, I sobbed for the peas we would be forced to abandon, knowing they would wither and die. New people would not be moved in quickly enough to salvage them. 

As I walked, I realized the sidewalk was just continuing to stretch out before me, making my walk endless. There was no way to get back. I tried to get my backpack off so I could find my phone and call Hawk. But as I was doing so, a man rushed me in attack. As I felt my body hitting the ground, I realized I would not get to hear Hawk's voice. 

In waking life, I began screaming in my sleep. Hawk says I was all gooseflesh when he heard me yelling and woke me. 

Can I just tell you that I love having those kinds of dreams and discovering myself back here in the waking world with Hawk gently shaking me saying, "Kara, Kara, Kara, wake up."

Okay, well, enough babble. Reiki to all eyeballs who come across this.
One of those radicalized grandmas