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! http://nationaldiaperbanknetwork.org/


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

Five Little Letters: g-r-i-e-f

These five little letters supposedly cover a big human experience: g-r-i-e-f.

As mortal humans, it is inevitable that we will encounter grief. Whether death or non-death related, grief is part of the human experience. Supposedly these five little letters cover the experience. They are to convey what we each experience. They supposedly encompass the full range of the life that unfolds in the face of loss. These little letters are to signify a whole story. Individually. Culturally. Really?

While we are all individuals having grief experiences, we are also always within "kinship systems" (Ulanov, Madness & Creativity). So while our grief experiences unfold for us individually, we are simultaneously navigating grief's path amid community, in social relationship, in social contracts we have with each other, and in, ultimately, a culture of grief.

How can we use creativity to break out beyond these five little letters? How do we enter our stories creatively to help shape and re-shape the culture of grief so that we, as a human family, can hold the diversity of experiences that humans have?

In this presentation, from March 2015 Crossroads Conference, I had the opportunity to share my ideas with approximately 500 people in this large session, and then to more intimately explore afterward in a salon workshop that hosted 50 people. The 7 minute video here is from the large session, and in it, I'm sharing my own story of our son's birth / death and offering creative prompts for beginning to get and stay creative with your own story, whatever your circumstances.

For more about Kara see GriefAndCreativity.com

For more about Creative Grief Education see CreativeGriefStudio.com

For more about WGF and the Crossroads Conference see WGFPA.org

Tools vs. Prescriptions

Law of Attraction. Abundance. The Work. Logotheraphy. The Secret. The Tao. The Way. Meditation. Matrix. Creating Your Own Reality. Poetry Therapy. Art Therapy. Gestalt. The Hero's Journey.

There are a million tools in the world. And depending on the situation at hand, you may choose to take out one or the other of these tools to use them for a period of time. They can be extremely helpful. Life changing even. And so it is natural to want to share these tools with others.

Here's the hitch though:

Once you begin to share them as prescriptions rather than tools,
you move from compassionate enthusiasm to dogmatic, colonizing mind set.

When dogmatic law comes into play, we find divisiveness, the beginning of disrespect, violence, patriarchy, imperialism, misogyny. Organized religions or movements often fail their constituents in the most urgent moments of need precisely because dogmatic law is offered as "cure" rather than compassionate tools being offered as "care."

Let me share a few examples to really clearly show you what I mean about all this.

*Situation One

There are two women who are not feeling well. Both are part of communities where people are exploring self development, Law of Attraction, etc.

One woman mentions her ills, and a friend replies with an offer to help her explore Louise Hay's "Heal Your Body" work to see if anything there seems to fit for the current situation. They work together looking at materials, seeing what might feel right to the woman in need, and they both come away feeling better having lived their practice of becoming more response-able.

The second woman mentions her ills, and a friend replies saying, "Oh, look at you creating drama as a way to make time to rest. You are attracting illness so you can have an excuse to take care of you!" The woman in need feels scolded, embarrassed, and is shamed into putting on the mask of "abundance" to seem "better." All sense of compassionate care has been lost to the imposition of a dictated cure. In other words, the dogma of the Law of Attraction has been used as a weapon, a judgment against the woman in need. And, in truth, no one feels better in this situation.

*Situation Two

There are two sets of bereaved parents trying to find their way through grief after the deaths of their children. Both families are part of communities where people are exploring spiritual development, alternative therapies, creativity. Both families struggle with the cascade of loss: death of child, impact on parenting other children, financial realities of death associated costs, not being able to just go back to work as "normal" and the realization of having been thrust into being wholly changed as people.

The first family seeks support from their community network as they begin to question their sanity, how to function in the world at large, the senselessness of it all. A friend introduces them to Byron Katie's "The Work" and helps them through the questions and self-exploration. The first question is simply, "Is it true?" The bereaved mother puts forth that she is a horrible mother and cannot function any more. The friend asks, "Is this true?" The mother says, "Yes!" The friend asks again, "Is this really true?" The mother thinks a bit longer this time. The friend prompts her to talk about what's in her mind. The mother reveals a myriad of ways she is a good mother, active member of her community, and discovers -- on her own terms -- that she is not horrible after all. She is just hurting and in need of support. She redefines her current situation for herself, and down the line she will create meaning out of the senseless, be open-hearted to others, and "The Work" becomes one tool she uses often to explore the shadows of grief.

The second family seeks support from their community network, too. When the mother speaks up about not being able to function any longer, she is told, "Everything happens for a reason. You cannot know God's purpose. And you have other children who need you now." In fact, she is told that someone recently saw Byron Katie using "The Work" with another bereaved parent, and Byron told the mother and everyone watching that you have to move on and let go of these things in order to be "normal" again. In this situation, the very same tool (and some others) were used as weapons against the mother. She is embarrassed and shamed into putting on the mask of a proper believer so she can appear "normal" again. Her needs have not been met. Meaning has been imposed upon her and her family. Absolutely no one is better off in the least!

Can you see what I mean about the difference between tools vs. prescriptions; the differences between care vs. cure? Whether we are officially caregivers or just family, friends, well-meaning community members, we have a response-ability to think through the ways we uses these tools. Many fortune cookie wisdoms are actually derived from ancient systems. If you are intrigued by some current tool, seek out its history. Learn all you can before you start handing out cookie cutter sound bites and imposing meaning on others. If you have previously only dealt in platitudes, seek out the full history and truth behind that trite bit. Don't just take a line out of the Gospel and toss it around anymore. Look up the context. Read what historians feel it meant in ancient times. Look at modern interpretations. Consider what the full weight of the words might be. Consider that line through the eyes of Jewish history, Islamic history, Christian history, Buddhist history, and modern New Age lenses. Does the meaning change?

It is never entirely possible to be objective. We are subject to our own perspectives. Subject to our own experiences. That's okay, but don't let that subjective view limit you and your interactions with others. Instead, use it as another tool. Share your story of how you use various tools and what they mean to you. But then actively listen as other people tell you of their experiences. Don't impose your uses and conclusions on them. Watch, without judgement, as they pick up tools and come to their own realizations. Support them in that experience. Know that your experiences might be different. That's okay. There is plenty of room for all of us. One does not have to win out or conquer the other. BOTH experiences can exist at the very same moment, equally valid.

In this way, all those tools I listed above can be useful. Utilitarian items available to any and all of us instead of imperial weapons of colonization we use to control one another. It is possible to live in peace. This is just one of many possible things to play with as you create that peace in your reality. Be willing to just stop, breathe, and ask yourself, "Am I offering a tool or a prescription?" Just witness how your world changes when you are willing to be that response-able.


Want to learn more? See info on the Certification in Creative Grief Support program by clicking here.

[Originally published in Radical Creativity, December 5, 2008
also published at The Creative Grief Studio blog in 2011]

Yes, it is a beautiful day in the neighborhood...

Yes, I did get the chance to actually work at the Neighborhood!

I know it's really easy to make jokes about the pace and tone of the Neighborhood shows and materials they offer -- especially in a world today that is so fast paced and technology based. But I spent several years studying Fred Rogers' work and if you just take the time to really look, you'll see some incredible things:

  • his language of creativity; 
  • his advocacy for child development; 
  • his ability to see that while the outer world has changed, a child's inner life is still in need of safe and sacred space in which to grow. 
And even after his death, there are incredibly talented people who have worked with the Neighborhood from the start who are maintaining and nurturing the growth of all Fred's work. You can learn about their work at the The Fred Rogers Company.

So all the photos, I'm sharing today were taken by my mom who was equally excited about my working at the Neighborhood. :)

Photo left: The day my mom came on the set of studio A, we had the Neighborhood house set up. So she got to snap photos of me playing around on the set.

It simultaneously seems like a million years ago and just yesterday. During my three years at CMU in Pittsburgh, I was lucky enough to land an internship in PR and production at the Neighborhood under the mentorship of Hedda Sharapan. I got to work with David Newell (aka Mr. McFeely), Margy Whitmer on a few of the Let's Talk About It books, and doing some production assisting with Matt Meko, Adrienne Wehr, and Heather Arnet along the way. It was a most interesting time.

It's hard to explain how it was both thrilling and disillusioning to walk onto the set of the Neighborhood of Make Believe in studio A. It had always been an imaginary place. But here it was, brick and mortar, set artists touching up the painting of the path of rocks, the various puppets, seeing that Mister Rogers sneakers were actually a necessity in Make Believe because it was usually he, the one man, running from X the Owl's tree to behind the Castle to voice almost *all* the puppets himself!

I did a lot of different things while working there. One of the big thrills was the chance to play the Purple Panda at a few live events with David Newell when he did appearances as Mr. McFeely. There have been many, many people over the years who have gotten to play Panda, the most famous of which is probably Michael Keaton.

When I was there, Matt Meko played the Panda on the set a few times for filming. I vaguely remember an episode of him dressed in this same Panda suit (photo left) but with the addition of roller skates -- or was it inline skates? I can't remember now. But I remember it being pretty hilarious.

And let me just say that all the layers of that costume were HOT! I remember laying the pieces of it around the office to air it out and dreading any hot, summer day events. Can't imagine what it must have been like to be under the head of it with the hot lights in the studio -- I should ask Matt about that :)

For my part as Panda it was only live appearances which was great because there were always kids around who just flipped out at seeing Panda. My mom snapped this photo at one of the ice cream socials -- yes, that's me under there :)

One of my favorite jobs at the Neighborhood was getting to write with Hedda and Fred. He had his very unique way of speaking and writing. It really was like learning a different language. He had an understanding of the internal life of kids -- of people in general really. His language reflected this. While I was there, my mom found a copy of a 1970's book the Blue Cross had put out in partnership with the Neighborhood, aimed at helping kids understand everyday things. I remembered having a copy of it when I was a kid, but my mom said I wore the book till it had holes in it, so it was gone by then. But she found a copy of it at a garage sale for a nickel and snagged it for me. It was so exciting to see it again that I brought it into the office the next week. Left it with a note for Fred in his office asking if he'd sign it for me. He left me a little note back saying it was exciting for him to see it again after all those years, too.

When I was working there, the Neighborhood had been in production for 25 years. They were no longer producing 52 new weeks of shows a year, but were doing only something like 5 or 6 new weeks of shows annually. But they were also in production for a zillion other projects like the photos books in the series "Let's Talk About It", filming specials like "Fred Rogers Heroes", and the "Different and The Same" series in collaboration with Susan Linn, and more. So there was a lot of time spent in the offices, at a desk, in front of a computer, on the phone, or at the copier. While I was always amazed that this was a company where people actually stood, looking you in the eye, waiting for an answer to the question, "How are you today?" -- there were also definitely boring office moments. Thankfully, there were creative sparks like Marissa and Matt in the office, too. They often pounced upon unsuspecting employees with a bucket full of confetti! Matt snapped this Polaroid the day the two of them got me:

I will say that I loved when the Neighborhood shows were being filmed. Everything about being on the set, the Green Room, the jokes and play of the crew, the care and feeding of the fish :) Anyway, it was just fun to be a part of it -- and mom snapped this photo of me honoring the fish!

All in all, it was an interesting time in life for me. I had spent my childhood with the Neighborhood, and now here I was becoming an adult in the Neighborhood. There was so much to learn. Hedda was a great teacher. Long lasting friendships were made. Matt and Heather are still a part of my everyday life. And I think my mom and I were both touched to get to connect with Fred in person. I'm sure we were just another couple people on his radar since he met so many people every single day. But my life as an artist, woman, and human being was materially changed by being able to chat with Fred about the sacred space between the Neighborhood filming and the kids watching. I've thought often about that idea. The space between what I create and the viewer who sees it. That space is hallowed. It can be discounted and disregarded, overlooked. BUT when both artist and viewer are aware and conscious of that space, it is a place that allows for miraculous growth and development. And Fred was the one who taught me about sacred space. For that lesson, I will always be grateful.

I don't know who took this last photo, maybe Matt or David. But that's moi, Fred, and my mom. It was such a luxury to get to spend that day with my mom on the set. I'm so glad I have these few snaps to mark its happening...

Anyway, that's my Neighborhood story!
Miracles to each of you!

[Originally published in Radical Creativity, March 20, 2008]


Sometimes looking at grief straight on is a difficult thing.  I think the idea of objectivity is myth in the best of circumstance (because I don't see how we can ever be anything but subject to our own culture, education, environ, etc), but when you throw grief in the mix, I think objectivity is downright impossible.  We are subject to what has happened to us.  We are subject to our own personal beliefs about grief and concepts like healing or integration.  We are subject to the impulses and (explicit or implicit) rules and measures of our environment like family of origin, spiritual support system, work place, geography, and more.

With all that distortion, I think sometimes the best counter to it is more distortion in a way.  When we can't look at grief straight on anyway, why not crick your neck, tilt your head, and look at it all sideways?!  Sometimes a metaphor is a good way to shift perspective, to gain an insight, to get curious about what is happening.

An example:
Sometimes when I sit in curiosity about what grief has done to my life, I see a big stain.  At first this idea really got to me. I was rose-tinting the past as if prior to grief my life had been some pristine, antique, sacred piece. And then someone put down their giant cup of coffee leaving my life stained, sticky, and a big phat mess. The truth is that nothing was pristine before either, but grief left me focused only on the stain.

It really is another metaphor that came into play to get me out of the twisted view of now living a ruined life.  Art itself came into play.  I began looking at canvas pieces I'd started and ended up hating.  A wrong blotch there, a slip in a cut out there, a lumpy icky texture there, an out-right stain I couldn't remove over here.  I had impulses to throw the canvases away.  I didn't want anyone to see how bad I was as an artist.  I had shame rise to the surface because:

  1. I was an untalented hack and 
  2. I was actually following a wasteful line of action in considering throwing away perfectly good canvases.

So I did my best to stop myself.  Breathe.  Put the canvases propped up across the room from myself and really sit and look at them.  The vile spewed from me.  Actually I eventually learned this vile was my own inner gremlins spewing at my own self! I was soooo not being gentle with self.  As I sat and let the vile spew, eventually I grew tired and kind of bored.  I had the impulse to get up and do something else, but I asked myself to just take another breath and keep looking.  I sort of zoned out after awhile, even feeling like I would fall asleep.  Then a little bounce of energy came, and I started to look at the canvases in a different way.  You know how you look at those 2D images and then suddenly your vision shifts and you see the 3D image embedded?  Like that.  Some shift happened.

I got up and sat closer to each canvas.  Turned it on its side, upside down, looked at the wrapped edges of them.  Eventually I started to see there was something else that could come out of these canvases.  Sometimes in re-working a new piece, I'd be working the stain into something new, too. Other times, the stain ended up so far in the background that it was foundation for the new piece built on top of it, but you could hardly see the original stains and pieces I'd hated.

As I explored this more and more with art, I found it to be true of canvas pieces, art journal pages, even digital landscape pieces.  I work layer by layer.  There are times I absolutely hate what I see in front of me.  It all feels stained and like there is nothing contributing to the whole here.  But I keep working it.  More layers, more integration, more dancing around and with the stains.  Eventually some whole reveals itself, and it begins to feel ... sort of done.

I say "sort of done" because even when I finish a piece and sell it, it never really feels done to me.  I let it go in that particular format at some point.  But usually I have a high res scan of that piece that sold, and I can take that into a digital landscape, re-work it, make new images from it.  You can see in the piece posted here today, it is totally new, *but* look at the shirt on this new GRRRRRL.  The image of the star crowned fairy on her shirt is from a canvas painting I did a couple of years ago. That same star crowned image was a part of a cookbook cover for a national group, too.

Grief is like this.  Not so much the stain I hate, that ruined some rose-tinted-pristine past I think I had. Rather it is one element layered amid all that I am. It is integrated into this full life I'm living. Sometimes it shows up in the foreground with some prominent element to share. Other times it is faded in the background, less seen, but contributing to the whole nevertheless.  And often it seems invisible to most because they are looking only at the top most social surface of me.  That's okay.  I don't need everyone to get it anymore.  Art is like that.  Some love it.  Some hate it.  Some have artists they love who can do no wrong.  Some are just hungry for as many new works as they can possibly feast upon...

Again, like grief.  There is no one single way to be with it, understand it, witness it.  Our experiences will be as individual as we are as unique human beings.

Understanding that helped me spew less vile most days.

And on the days when I do still spew vile, well, I think of it as playing with acid to create a layer on a new canvas.  It's just a step along the way.  I know now that I'll keep working the canvas till I come to some peace with it.

Hope you all are getting insights from your heART explorations, too.
Reiki to any and all who come across this!

[Originally published in Radical Creativity, November 22, 2011;
also published at The Creative Grief Studio blog 2011]

Creative prompt: body map

click image to see full size...

Body Map 
creative prompt from Coach + heARTist Kara LC Jones
inspired by Arts For Social Change by Beverly Naidus

When my son died at birth, I quickly checked out of my body.  There was so much disappointment, so much grief, and feelings of how my body betrayed me and him entirely.  Later on when talking with a local law maker about getting a state law changed for stillbirth documentation, I was told to my face that I did not give birth to a child.  I was told I had a fetus and *it* was dead.  The law makers were trying to intimidate and shame me -- and other mothers like me -- into being quiet, leaving them alone, to cease our efforts in the fight for women's rights around all possible choices.  While I knew intellectually what they were doing, it was hard on me emotionally because I was still in a crisis of faith about how my body failed me.  With time, conscious processing, and art making, I've been able to explore these issues and try to find ways back into my Power.

So today's prompt is a share for you to explore your relationship with body.  Of course this could work for anyone, but I'm also offering this specifically to women who've had pregnancy or infant death losses.  Just seems to me that this kind of loss complicates our relationships with our bodies, and however empowered we felt prior to the death, there is some shake up with our bodies in grief's wake.  So here's how you can creatively explore this:

  • The first thing you need is the outline of your body or a body shape you feel represents you.  You can either:

     -Get large sheets of butcher paper on which you outline your real body, full size.  This can be a very powerful way to work because you are looking at your actual body shape.

     -OR you can do line drawings in a more representative shape -- click the image at the top of this post to see full size version.  You'll see that I used a very simple outline.  For me, this worked to show the plump, roundness of my body - and it also showed how dis-empowered I felt in my arms.  Empty arms idea.
  • Once you have your body shape, duplicate it three times.
  • Then consider how you feel/felt in your body

          1) at the moment of trauma,
          2) when in an unsafe environment, and
          3) when you feel like you are in a safe environment
  • Ask yourself what color represents each of these times?  Consider how your body felt in each of these times?  Are there areas that felt achy or soothed?  Are there words to represent various parts of your body?  What did the areas surrounding your body feel like?

If you look at the full size version of the image I included at the top, you can see how I played with the areas of my body that felt most affected to me.  The head, the heart, the stomach, and the womb.  You can see how the story of each of those areas changed over time.  You can see how the coloring and lighting changes from version to version.  You could optionally do a fourth body version to explore intentions you'd like to set for your body relationship going into the future.  All of this is just a way to map the story of body with which you are living, to make conscious, the things you may not have realized are at play.  Just try it and see what you discover.

If you do blog post to show results, please feel free to post comment here to share with us!

Miracles to each of you...

[Originally published in Radical Creativity, January 26, 2010]