These are the ten most viewed articles written in 2016. I am excited that many of them involve experiences and works from our synkronicitiOpen Mics, which were happening once a month until our house flooded in April. I am looking forward to starting them up again sometime in 2017. I miss my tribe!
Synkroniciti held our latest Open Mic on Saturday, January 9th. It is always exciting to see connections and understandings appear in a group and this gathering was especially rewarding as half of us were “regulars” and half were brand new to synkroniciti. I am so grateful to those who shared themselves and their art.
We began with an experience inspired by the Sonic Meditations of Pauline Oliveros. The human voice carries a great deal of vulnerability, as you might guess from the number of people who fear public speaking and singing. I asked our guests to sing together, picking a random pitch on my cue, then to listen and let that pitch settle and move (if they felt like moving). We did so a few times, and the sonorities we produced were truly beautiful and magical, combinations that contained a measure of stability and richness as well as tones that reached out of the texture. The enchantment we felt didn’t come from the execution or the quality of each individual voice, but from the unity and uniqueness of the total sound.
Ofelia shared Dripping Diamonds, a striking photograph paired with a wistful poem. One day, on her way to work in the midst of a Houston rainstorm, she leaned forward while stopped to capture a watery, misty view of the trees through her windshield. Her poem encourages us to notice how our environment cares for us, supplying us with water, light and other things vital to survival. The miracles that allow life to go on are so seldom celebrated, but we rely on them completely. You can read Dripping Diamondshere.
Saba read The Keeper, which she wrote in response to Anila Quayyam Agha’s artwork Intersections, a large carved cube suspended from above and lit from within. Intersections was displayed at the Rice Gallery last fall and The Keeper was featured in a Words and Art presentation which asked poets and writers to explore their reaction to Agha’s luminous work. This sensual villanelle is an exploration of what it means to be a woman in a society that crafts beautiful places where women can be “kept”. The refrain of “lady, stay” drummed on our ears, pleading for all women to stay in their place, to keep the order that society has sculpted for us. Such places may be lovely, some may even be safe, but because they do not allow us to form our own personal connections to society and the world, they can only become prisons, even if they are made “of a thousand daisies”.
Intersections by Anila Quayyam Agha at the Rice Gallery Image by Katherine McDaniel
After sharing her poem, Saba spoke of the burqa, the traditional garment worn in some Islamic countries to cover women from prying eyes and promote female modesty. She led us to understand that it could be repressive in some situations and a provider of safety in others. We spoke of divorce and the challenges that it provides for women, challenges that can build our self image and personality even as they leave marks that harm us. Women have to live submerged in these paradoxes every day. We grapple with these issues in the West and in the East, although our cultures manifest them differently.
How do we live in a society in which women are required to make up for the lack of modesty and self control in men? I believe that women hold a missing piece that can help repair the human relationship to nature and the world around us, but we have to find a way to integrate it into a society that is polarized against us.
Tuba shared a self portrait entitled This is how I get to you. It is a vision of life, death and transformation. An intuitive soul, Tuba has dreams of being submerged in water, of being at home yet dying there and feeling that she is released to communicate her voice and her truth there. It is hard for those who are sensitive to currents in the spiritual and mystical plane to communicate these things to other human beings, who tend to miss these currents entirely and can react with fear and anger. I am reminded of the myth of Rusalka the mermaid, who wanted so much to be human, but had to give up her voice to become so. There is something about water that implies a different mode of sensation and communication, something that does not require words.
Our subject lies in water, a smile upon her face. The fish that swim around her thighs are a type of carp that nibble away dead skin. They are taking away the old self, making room for the new. The image is both uncomfortable and pleasurable. Tuba’s inscription reads “I am what I am Written in the skies Once was love Always light”. As we evolve and change there is a part of us that remains unique throughout our transformation. If you would like to explore this artwork with me in more detail, I will be posting about it later this month.
Michelle read A Ghost Story, a personal experience from her youth. As she related the events that followed the acquisition of a statue of a woodsman from the next door neighbor’s garage sale we all got the chills. The story unfolded with exquisite detail and cunning humor, building in suspense to the point that more than one of us remarked that we would have a hard time getting to sleep that night. At least we weren’t reading it at 3am.
Everyone catches glimpses of strange things that happen at the corners of our experience, things that we blink away because they don’t make sense. Michelle’s story took us to a place where these things came into focus, where they persisted despite all of our blinking and wishing. The menacing figure that stood at the end of the bed and the statue that moved by itself hint at an enmity that stood between men long since dead and point to a reality we can’t comprehend. We are all vulnerable in the face of the invisible and the unreal.
Kelly walked right into the valley of the shadow of death with The First Anomaly, a poem that voices the thoughts of a woman faced with breast cancer. Even though it is still in the finishing stages, this poem rendered us almost speechless as she recorded the otherworldly strangeness of searching for a tumor with ultrasound in the same way that ships at sea find enemy vessels. We usually call that application sonar, but it is very much the same technology.
In breast tissue ultrasounds, yellow and red areas show areas of above average hardness, i.e. anomalies which could be cancer. Kelly wove this together with a nursery rhyme for distinguishing the Coral Snake, which is extremely poisonous, from the King Snake, which is not. “Red touch yellow, kill a fellow; red touch black, friend of Jack” runs the childish verse. The red touching yellow on this ultrasound indicates a malignant tumor. The only hope is radiation, with its yellow, not red, and black symbol. Our heroine seems doubtful that it will prove strong enough to “bring her back”. We would like healing to be magical, a silver bullet, and although it is miraculous, it is never as clean and easy as we hope.
I shared my painting The Execution of Peace, which shows a landscape threatened by aggression and hatred. You can read my earlier post about it here. There are three areas in this picture. The upper portion shows a storm brewing, a dove being shattered by lightning and a sun enlarged to a supernova. An umbilical cord separates this portion from the central area, which is dominated by red robed figures who fight it out with lightning bolts among the clouds while another figure is either collapsing or holding on to something between them. The bottom area shows a grey and blasted earth. There are orange shapes standing on that earth. At one point I saw them as privileged people who look on while others are killed, but these viewers saw something different. They saw warheads.
There is so much human beings could do for one another and for our planet, yet we always seem to end up fighting. Those who will not fight are often sacrificed. Whether we cause the storm or whether the storm moves us to violence the effects are the same. I painted The Execution of Peace after meditating on fear and have always found this painting difficult to love, but my friends showed me that there is hope in it. It may be that we are all warheads ready to explode, the killing blow lying within each of us ready for detonation. We can choose to stay our hand and hold on to mercy and kindness. Perhaps this is enough to stay the apocalypse for now.
Connecting with each other is the most important thing we do each day. We may do so by words or actions, by means of art, music, dance, or any creative expression. We can also find connection by getting to know our world better. No moment connecting to our planet or our fellow human beings is wasted.
Will you build bridges with me?
Neil and I would like to send a gigantic thank you to everyone who came to Broken Pieces: Exploring Vulnerability: Saba, Tuba, Laura, Michelle and Dave, André, Ariel, Kelly, and Ofelia. This was a very special evening and you are all precious to us. Our next Open Mic is entitled Building Bridges: The Power of Human Connection and will happen on February 20, 2016.
Here are the top articles posted on Synkroniciti during 2015. This year saw fewer articles than videos or photoblogs, but those I posted found resonance with many of you. Click on the article name to read the post. Thank you!!
Last Saturday, synkroniciti opened a new season with Remember!, an Open Mic devoted to the theme of memory. Guests came from Houston, Kingwood, and as far away as Austin. As usual, Lisa Sasabuki was on hand to greet and socialize, and Yuri shyly showed his face.
Lisa and Charles are ready for the Open Mic to start.
After getting acquainted, we sat in the living room to start our exploration. We began with a memory game. Ophelia provided us with the theme of “mountain” and we each related a memory that had something, even if it was remote, to do with that theme. There were nostalgic stories that took us back to childhood: sliding down epic mountains in the snow and hiking with family. There were mountains that circled home and made us feel safe and mountains that taught us about setting goals and bringing them to completion. Humor entered when epic mountains were revealed to be baby hills and when we climbed to find cheeky ground squirrels begging for nuts and forest service employees killing innumerable flies.
For some, mountains were an idea more than an experience. There was a little girl who got so carsick that her parents made sure she was asleep when crossing the mountains, and another girl growing up in a place named Beautiful Mountain (Beaumont) which contained no such feature, unless the clouds decided to play jokes on the flatland. We paused on the dazzling heights of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, where altitude sickness causes disorientation and hallucinations, and held our breath at the miraculous and dangerous beauty of Crater Lake, where the water is so clear and still that it becomes impossible to tell sky from lake. We smelled the scent of mountains, clean, pure and inviting. It was good.
After the wonderful experience of trading memories, Kelly read two deep poems from the cycle she is writing about growing up in West Virginia, “Mountain Sentries Round Me” and “Unknowing of the Bones”. The presence of the mountains around her as she was born and took her first breath in the Kanawha river valley not far from Charleston established them as a safe place, a place with a guardian like presence in her life. One can see that the damage done to those mountains by industry and chemically manipulated agriculture is personal, as if it had been done to her own family. “Unknowing of the Bones” exudes a meditative stillness that explores the paradox of knowing and unknowing. Sometimes the more we understand and process, the less we feel kinship. One type of knowing can cancel out another.
I followed with “Ode to the Black Hills”, a short poem about the glittering mica and quartz that bejewel paths in and around Custer State Park. My husband and I took an extended RV camping trip this summer and Custer was one of the stops. In looking through my photos I realized that the shining paths had not been captured by the camera, although there were many other beautiful things that had. My memory was the only place that recorded that particular piece of nature’s magic.
Cheryl was next, sharing herself generously in a reading of “Generations” from Side Roads: A Travelers Almanac, condensed from her memories and imagination. The lead character, voiced with a lilting accent as southern as a Georgia peach, recalls a stream of memories related to making fig preserves with her grandmother. Her wistful recognition that we are part of those who came before us as well as those who come after is both delightful and heartbreaking. For better or for worse, we are connected, and we might as well cultivate the best of that connection. I’d sit in the garden and talk with this woman anytime.
I returned to read Euridice Revealed. This is the piece which will serve as a springboard for synkronciti‘s first collaborative project. It is a dark piece that imagines Euridice as a bipolar, addictive personality, hidden from future generations in order to keep her memory on a pedestal and preserve the image of Orpheus. I wasn’t sure how many of the six poems I would read, but once I read the first two I was sure I had to finish. I’ve never read the entire set to an audience before and felt good to know I can get through it. It won’t be the last time I read her.
We then took a moment to consider the theme for the next Open Mic, scheduled for October 10th. The theme will be Enchantment, which I drew from the second poem of the Euridice set, a piece that speaks of the passion between Orpheus and Euridice. I asked each guest to write a few words or sentences related to enchantment, which I later used to create a word cloud. The more a word showed up, the larger it became in the cloud. Some of these words will become themes on the website leading up to the next Open Mic.
In closing, we watched two scenes from the film Samsara, a wordless meditation on life, death, rebirth and renewal, featuring breathtaking images and music composed for those images. The first is a exploration of early cultures, showing ruined desert dwellings in Turkey, the American Midwest, and Jordan, among others. The second, which transitions seamlessly from the first, contains visions of devastation from Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast states of the U.S. The realization that we will one day be memory, just like those old civilizations, is shocking and humbling. What will we leave behind?
I am so thankful for Neil, Ofelia, Charles, Jennifer, Cheryl, MaryBeth, Chris, and Kelly for being there and being open. You made my job easy and fun. To those we missed, I look forward to seeing you here and invite you to jump in anytime. I am still looking for more partners in the Euridice Project as well. Never think that you can’t join in because you have missed something. It is you that we have missed, and we welcome you any time you are ready and able.
There is an old Medicine Wheel high in the Bighorn Mountains, where Native Americans and others come to pray and find their place in nature. Many bring bright strips of cloth to symbolize their prayers, while others bring stones to stack upon cairns near the main structure. As I laid my own stone on top of a cairn this summer, I realized that there were many places where that stone would have fit. The pattern readjusted itself around my stone, just as it readjusts around each of us. There is no specific plan, but there is space and creative spirit to embrace whatever materializes. This is good.
Spirits soared at last week’s Open Mic. Would you like to be part of the community we are building?
Some of the offerings at synkroniciti’s Open Mic: Gratitude
Last Sunday, synkroniciti hosted our second Open Mic, exploring the theme of gratitude. I was so grateful for our first experience in September, and November is a traditional time to express thankfulness, so it seemed an appropriate choice. That didn’t make it an easy one. It can be hard to feel grateful when we feel cold, unhappy or lonely. Those are the very moments when gratitude can make the most difference, when we can inspire one another to live more deeply. As we came together, some of us had more difficulty with gratitude than others, admittedly grumpy and uncomfortable to a point that we had struggled putting together our pieces or committing to being there. And yet, here we were, ten of us–eleven if you count Lisa the cat, who listened attentively to more than half of the presentations, despite the fact that we started them at her dinner time–about to open ourselves up in unexpected ways.
After mingling and getting to know one another a little better over snacks, we began our exploration. I read a poem which I wrote several years ago for a program sponsored by Houston Grand Opera called Houston Artists Respond. People from community centers in Houston shared their stories in videos which were presented to artists, musicians and poets who were asked to respond. I wove the stories of three Latin American women who had immigrated to the United States with my feelings to make three poems. The one I read here is called Nubia’s Shoes, and tells the story of a woman who grew up in Nicaragua and received her first pair of shoes at the age of sixteen, when her mother’s employer gave her a used pair of baby blue plastic shoes. They were several sizes too small, but Nubia wore them proudly because they made her feel like a normal person. You can read the poem here. From the beginning of our evening, Nubia assured us that we can be grateful for a life which pinches and blisters us.
This was followed by a beautiful piece of silent performance art by Orion Lowy entitled Politeness. Orion presented us with what appeared to our eyes to be an empty box. After he tapped it soundly, the box revealed small slips of paper. Each of us took one and shared it with the others. Mine read, “I don’t know how to thank you”. They all contained particularly humble and lovely expressions of gratitude, from “You shouldn’t have” to “Well, this was unexpected”. A gentle work of subtle humor and simplicity, it was delightful and really explored the wonderful and yet awkward nature of gratefulness.
In Find Yourself…Give Thanks, Laura Bourdo used a combination of collage and poetry to find imagery of gratitude. The process involved cutting out images from magazines which drew her eye, pasting them together on to cards and then attempting to find what it was that had drawn her to those particular pictures and what story they told together. If you want insight into how you think and how you experience life, this is a particularly rich exercise that makes beautiful art. We passed the images around as Laura read each poem twice, each one beginning with “Find yourself” and ending with “give thanks”. Sitting at the end of the line, I found it wonderful to imagine what would be on the card coming toward me. It was always a wonderful surprise.
Ofelia Adame read a beautiful testimony to the nurturing power and love of her family and friends, a journal entry entitled Supporting Hands. She acknowledged the presence of an outstretched hand helping her through every day of her life, present even when she lacks the ability to see it. “The hands change throughout your life, from your parents, to your siblings, to friends, to lovers, to teachers, to coworkers, to bosses. They change and don’t at the same time, as these participants in your life don’t leave or disappear, but just take turns in providing that helpful hand.” Her sincerity and vulnerability drew us all in.
Speaking of sincerity and vulnerability, Jane Lowy graced us with a song from her Dickensian style novel, Wobbly Barstool. We heard a reading from Wobbly back in September which was hilarious, but this was a treat in quite a different way. In the novel, Wobbly sings this song to the fiddle accompaniment of his friend, Fewan Farbetween, in praise of his sweetheart Prunella. Jane sang it for us to a pre-recorded accompaniment with obvious reference to her husband, David. “If cats should bark and dogs meow, and horses start to moo-o-o, I’d think it just their usual row, for I’m head over heels for you.” We all felt glad to be included in the love.
This was followed by the presentation of David’s new piece of music, Supersonic: The New Peace Victory March. First, we heard a whimsical recording in which he whistled the tune, which gets rather high at the very end. So high that Jane once called it supersonic and the name stuck. (You might not know that it was David who named Jane’s novel, Wobbly Barstool.) David has an excellent ear and composed this piece in the style of marches by John Philip Sousa. I helped him transcribe it before the Open Mic so that Neil could play it on trumpet and we could sing it. Everyone had such a great time singing together that we took an unplanned intermission because we were all so energized by the experience. Such is to be expected with a good march, and having a trumpet player and three unpretentious members of the Houston Grand Opera Chorus present didn’t hurt either. It was a lovely meeting of inspiration, talent and expertise that made everyone feel welcome and part of the action. Synkroniciti anticipates being able to help David expand Supersonic in the future. It’s a good tune and quite an ear worm.
After a bout of lively conversation, Laura returned with Quiet Time, a dreamy poem that recalls the depth of a fictional relationship between a grandpa and grandchild. This is a kind of relationship that we all long for but rarely experience, in which words and feelings unspoken are understood more thoroughly than those expressed in conversation. Knowing that such moments are possible in life is enough to generate gratitude and to remind us to savor and nurture the relationships we have, even if they don’t resemble the ideal friendships of our dreams.
Finally, I presented my painting, Seductive Fruit, which depicts a strange fruit hanging from a tree, entwined with the tail of a snake. Picking this fruit will surely result in a bite from the dark serpent. It recalls the story of Adam and Eve and reminds us that knowledge comes with a price. As we live, experience brings us satisfying and painful moments, which we cannot completely separate from one another. Gratitude embraces both. You can read about Seductive Fruithere.
As Kahlil Gibran wrote, “When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” So our night of gratitude embraced both the bright and the dark, dreams and reality, pain and pleasure, the easy and the difficult, the technical and the inspired. The creative energy present was contagious and electric.
Sean, Betty, Orion, Jane and David, Laura, Ofelia and Charles and Neil, I don’t know how to thank you. I only hope we will come together again to share stories and thoughts.
Synkroniciti’s third Open Mic will happen in February 2015. Will we see you there?
Last Sunday, synkroniciti held its first public event, an Open Mic featuring works that explored beginnings. What an inspiring experience!
Some of the goodies to be shared.
As the afternoon darkened into an intense storm, listeners and performers made their way to my home. Although the weather kept some from making it, we had plenty of art to share and a circle of twelve open minds and hearts that made the soiree a true joy. Our number was actually thirteen if you count Lisa Sasabuki, our cat, who was intent on being a proper hostess. I am so proud to report such an auspicious beginning!
We began by mingling over snacks and drinks, waiting for those out in the storm to arrive. It was soon apparent that we had attracted a circle of free thinking folks who are interested in experiencing things that aren’t served up on television or packaged for us by popular culture. Our conversation grew into a discussion of art, aesthetics and creativity. Then time came to see what we had to share.
As the storm outside subsided, Ofelia Adame began the evening with a meditation on the elements, invoking earth, wind, fire, and air to bless our journey together. This dovetailed very nicely into the presentation of my first painting, Germination. This piece is about the need for fire to germinate seeds and the cycle of chaos and order inherent in the creative process. It was wonderful to explain the picture and then receive impressions from the group. As we were more interested in finding meaning than critiquing execution, the environment was electric with revelation and positivity. I will never forget the moment in which several people pointed out that the burning tree trunk in the center of Germination can also be interpreted as a phoenix, which encapsulates the meaning of the entire work. Somehow I was not fully conscious of it.
Laura Bourdo seized upon the theme of chaos as central to her contribution, The Seagull’s Call, excerpted from a novel that is, as of yet, nameless. This was a stunning and heartbreaking read depicting a family struggling with mental illness. Full of moments of bright humor and crushing realization, it could have moved stone. The psychological depth of the writing was further enhanced by the naturalness and sincerity of Laura’s recitation, which bristled with intention and belied an excellent sense of pace and structure. She’s an artist of many dimensions, as you can see at her website, which focuses on her visual art.
America McDaniel shared an illustration of Rapunzel gazing longingly from her tower window, waiting for life to begin. This lovely pencil sketch is complex, juxtaposing romantic longing, revealed in her wistful glance and luxurious hair, with determination, revealed in the strong set of her arm as she leans toward the window. It is this arm with which America began drawing. It remains the anchor of the piece, showing the determination and capability that make Rapunzel different from other fairy tale girls. While they are rescued by male prowess or supernatural intervention, she designs her own escape.
Ofelia returned with a poem entitled Anticipation, which explores the feelings and thoughts a performer experiences on opening night. The fear of the unknown, the knowledge that nothing is completely as we have envisioned it and the clicking into place of practiced elements to make something new and transformative are key parts of any creative process, including life itself. We could all find threads in Ofelia’s big hearted and exuberant poem that applied to our own experience.
Speaking of big hearted and exuberant, that brings us to a dramatic reading by Jane and David Lowy from Jane’s Victorian period novel, Wobbly Barstool, inspired by the work of Charles Dickens. The novel chronicles the adventures of Wobbly, a young fellow trying to better himself in order to attract the attentions of Prunella, a socialite a little older and classier than himself. This reading was the end of a chapter entitled Wobbly Falls into an Awareness of the Drawbacks of Itinerant Employment. It is a hilarious recounting of the near seduction of Wobbly by an older, unhappily married woman who promises the gullible young man experience. It features an angry husband and an ill treated goat, both of which David made completely unforgettable. Jane supplied each of us with a signed copy of the novel, which I can’t wait to read and write about here on the blog! Please check out Jane’s website.
In closing, I read Cloud, a poem about the fear and excitement of realizing a new idea, here symbolized by a cloud. Even as the cloud seems about to fizzle, it finds an open field in someone else and, miracle of miracles, it thickens and produces rain. This returned us rather neatly to our stormy world. No one was in a hurry to leave, which confirmed the night a success in my mind. I couldn’t have hoped for a better first experience.
A big thank you to Laura, America, Ofelia, Jane and David; to Robert and Trudi for not only being great listeners, but for bringing in top notch performing talent; to my brother-in-law, Eric, for being a part of our circle and for encouraging my niece, America, to present with such poise and talent; to Orion for being such an engaging and well spoken listener; to Ofelia and Charles for their help in organizing and putting together food; and most of all, to Neil who busted his tail helping get the house ready and still had the energy to be a part of everything. The experience was akin to finding my own tribe and I am so grateful.
Our next Open Mic adventure will happen in November. Any creative person is welcome to come and share their process and their creations at our Open Mics. We do ask that the material be the original work of the artist. If you live or work near Houston, Texas and would like to be a part of one of these adventures, either as a performer/creator or listener, please contact us.