Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I'm painfully, ruthlessly, stuck.

The hubhub of the summer is over (the summer is over? how did that happen?) and I happily anticipated shifting into a regular schedule and approaching life in a measured way, with my goals of moving towards wellness (including sleep, healthy eating, exercise), nurturing relationships, and making time for creative acts at the top of my list of things to do. Also, I looked forward to creating a clean, orderly environment, with a clean house and organized home and work offices.

Who was I kidding?

Unless I suddenly and completely transformed overnight into some completely different person, achieving the above objectives were extremely unlikely.

That last sentence was NOT self deprecating. Actually, as I wrote it, I felt a resounding sense of TRUTH. The goals I set for myself, hoping to build on the "back to school" impetus, were unrealistic. Not ultimately unrealistic -- they are certainly good goals to have, but the changes are not going to happen overnight.

Well, that's depressing, but also a relief.

I've been hiding the last few days, filled with paralyzing anxiety, unwilling to face the world.

I guess the painful, semi-hopeful, mortifyingly slow process of change is preferable to existing in a hallucination where it is indeed possible to transform overnight. Especially when the hallucination isn’t an innocent one – it’s poison, I tell you, poison.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

it must be fate...

One last thing...
Target is a sponsor for Weekend America! For those of you who know me & my Target obsession -- um, I mean, how much I enjoy my Target shopping experience, you'll recognize that this is definitely a sign.

letting be, making space, filling up

Since I'm on the topic of the "Our New Orleans" course (see earlier post) I'm recycling a piece of writing I did after one of the classes. Enjoy.

May 16, 2006

Many of you know that the "Our New Orleans" class I've been teaching for the last five weeks has been a sacred experience -- from my collaboration with Pam Broom, to the Katrina neighbors who agreed to participate, and the way that each element of the class that I have trusted to work out has indeed, worked out.

Tonight, I showed up to teach my "Our New Orleans" class empty, shaken, and tired.

I sat there next to my co-teacher Pam and thought that I should say something to get started -- I wrote down the things "to do" in class today, and then still, I didn't say anything as the participants in the class spoke to each other. I thought Pam might say something, but she didn't.

About ten minutes later, Nana, one of the participants from New Orleans, walked in with a white plastic grocery bag and a plant in a turquoise ceramic pot. Nana is a priest -- she trained for the priesthood in Cuba. She had prayed for us this morning at the Eno River, and she had received the message that she should present an altar for this evening's class.

So she set out a simple navy cloth napkin on the table, and April filled a clear glass bowl with water. She poured essential oils into a burner (one of those ones that are heated by a tea light) and it was a fresh, clean smell -- nothing heavy or muddying. She told us that all the elements of the earth were there on the altar -- pebbles from the river in the plant (minerals), the earth, water, etc. She invited us to each place an object onto the altar if we felt comfortable doing so. I placed both of my rings -- one from my parents, and one I bought in California as a reminder of the writer Amanda Davis, who I interviewed three days before she died in a terrible plane crash with her parents. Others stood up too, and place rings and necklaces, and one woman placed a flash drive with her photographs stored on it. We all shared stories about our sacred objects.

The "theme" of this evening's class was spirit, and almost as an afterthought, I had given the class Anne Lamott's essay "Traveling Mercies" to read, and a poem that serves as the epigraph to the book Traveling Mercies,” one that begins:

with the night falling we are saying thank-you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms with our
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank-you

So I suggested that we each read a few lines of the poem, and I began. We went around the class, everyone reading a line or two or three -- it was up to each person. And Pam, who was sitting to my left, read the last line.

We all looked at each other, and Hei-Yesh (Pam’s daughter, and a writer/filmmaker) said what we were all thinking -- there were the exact number of lines for everyone to be able to read a part.

And the Anne Lamott essay, which I almost didn't give the class, turned out to be really important. I wasn't sure that students would want to discuss it, as it was only tangentially related to documentary work. But when I asked the class what they wanted to do today (by then I'd realized that I was thankfully not in charge), they wanted to talk about it. One of our Katrina neighbors told us she cried as she read it in the airport on the way to New Orleans for her graduation from Tulane (with a master's degree in environmental engineering). Another woman told the story of her mother's death; there were so many stories. Women told about how they grew up with the phrase "traveling mercies," in their families, in their church.

One of the things Anne talks about in the essay is how that when a lot of small and large things begin to go wrong, "it is to protect something that is big and lovely that is trying to get itself born -- and that something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible." And how easy it is to believe that when it's other people's stuff that is going wrong, but when, as Anne says, "it's my stuff, I believe the direct cause is my bad character."

Anyway, in the essay Anne is driving to visit a childhood friend and her mother (who is very sick and close to dying) and a bolt loosens in her Volkswagen on her way over. She is unable to visit that day, but when she arrives several days later, she is able to be present for her friend and her mother, and she writes:

"Now, maybe you think it is arrogant or self-centered or ridiculous for me to believe that God bothered to wiggle a cheap bolt out of my new used car because he or she needed to keep me away for a few days until just the moment when my old friend most needed me to help her mother moved into whatever comes next. Maybe nothing conscious helped stall me so that I would be there when I could be most useful. Or maybe it did. I'll never know for sure. And anyway, it doesn't really matter."

Nana read this passage aloud to the class. And she said that it did matter. That our culture has gotten so far away from the beliefs about how the spirit works in our lives, as an active and present force, and that this belief is common to many cultures. That we need to understand that "life moves in a divine order."

I know I feel that way about meeting Pam, about the class, about it's participants -- I've felt that way from the beginning. There are times I feel that with certainty. And lots of the class participants felt that way too.

We have to move slower, Nana said. Move with confidence and grace. Slowly.

April and I exchanged a long glance. I work with April more closely then anyone, and she probably knows better then anyone the spurts of speed that move me through my work; she definitely suffers for it on occasion.

Hei-Yesh shared a piece of her writing; one of the participants played a part the video she is working on -- Darlene, her project partner, sharing stories from her life in New Orleans. And Nana asked if she could sing to us. And she did.

Listen more often to things than to beings
Listen more often to things than to beings
Tis the ancestors' breath when the fire's voice is heard
Tis the ancestors' breath in the voice of the waters

Those who have died have never left
The dead are not under the earth
They are in the rustling trees
They are in the groaning woods
They are in the crying grass
They are in the moaning rocks

Listen more often to things than to beings
Listen more often to things than to beings
Tis the ancestors' breath when the fire's voice is heard
Tis the ancestors' breath in the voice of the waters

Those who have died have never left
The dead have a pact with the living
They are in the woman's breast
They are in the wailing child
They are with us in our homes
They are with us in this crowd
The dead have a pact with the living.

Listen more often to things than to beings
Listen more often to things than to beings
Tis the ancestors' breath when the fire's voice is heard
Tis the ancestors' breath in the voice of the waters

She sang a cappella. Sweet Honey and the Rock sings this song, if you want to hear what it sounds like.

There are so many more things I could tell you about the class this evening. Things that were really funny (the mother-daughter dynamics of Pam and Hei-Yesh), the kind laughter at my expense, how grateful I was to be able to share freely. How in the end, bringing my emptiness to the class, and not trying to compensate, and just letting things be actually worked. It created space, and someone else stepped in.

I asked the class what they might want Pam and I to teach next fall. One person asked, could we have a class that is just like this, the way we talked and shared today? After some discussion, I said, you know, the power of doing documentary work is that we can take what happens in this room and spread it further. What if we teach a class called "Documenting the Sacred?" It could go in a lot of different ways -- people could work with partners, or by themselves...and document whatever they believe is sacred. And we’d have a project to work towards.

No decisions were made, but it feels like a good idea.

I asked Nana to close the class for us, and we all held hands (right hand over left hand, though I thought it was supposed to be right arm over left arm, and wondered why Pam wasn't doing it right -- until I noticed the rest of the class wasn't doing it, um, right either). Anyway, Nana prayed (a very open, nondenominational prayer) and the class ended.

As we were walking out the door, I suggested to Nana that she think about co-teaching the "Documenting the Sacred" class with Pam and I.

"That never occurred to me," she said.

"Just let it sit a while," I said, "see how it feels to you."

"We can see how far we can stretch the academy," Nana said, "What kind of class we could shape within that."

Nana had said this before -- talking about "the academy" and questioning what kind of class we'd be allowed to offer.

"Well I direct this program," I said, "so I am the academy. We can do pretty much whatever we want."

I think she could see that I was about to step away from that declaration, and she said, "No, that's good. Own your power."

I think one of the reasons I'm struggling so much these days is that I do spend time in the light of God, with a sense of what I have to offer the world. The ideas I'm thinking about and sometimes writing about are important, and I know it. I am arriving. I'm on the precipice of living into my promise, and then on days like yesterday, I'm so filled with fear and panic I can hardly breathe. It comes out of nowhere -- and at the same time, it's utterly predictable the way it happens.

Anyway, on Saturday, everyone in the class is bringing their video and audio tapes, their photographs, their writing, back to CDS and we’ll start to assemble their projects – which I’m very excited about. And by next class, I’ll have some of my own writing done for the collaboration Pam and I are doing (as teachers, we have to do the same project the class is doing). So we’ll be back “on track” with our class, except I don’t think tonight was “off track,” at all.

just doing it...npr, here we come!

I just sent a pitch to Weekend America for four of the audio docs (that came out of the "Our New Orleans" class I taught with Pam Broom this spring) to potentially air around the whole "Katrina anniversary" time. The pitch is below.

Ok, so maybe they'll take a piece, or all of them, or none of them. But I sent the pitch! I just did it, and there were even typos (as I noticed upon re-reading after hitting send). Anyways, the moral of the story is I moved past inertia and did it -- didn't just talk about it, but did it. Writing and sending the email feels like its own success.

Yay me!

Here's the email:

Laurie --

We emailed back and forth briefly last fall after meeting at Third Coast, and I'm writing now with a pitch for a series of audio docs that were produced (or are in production, to be finished soon) as a result of a class at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Pamela Broom (a Katrina neighbor who moved to Durham with her family from New Orleans) and I co-taught a course titled "Our New Orleans" that partnered Katrina neighbors with documentary artists in our Certificate in Documentary Studies program (this is an open admission program, with students from varying backgrounds and skill levels, ranging in age from 16 to 70-something).

You might remember that I was one of the (foolhardy) individuals who pitched stories during the Third Coast session, "You Had Me at Hello: The Art of the Pitch." On the panel, Jeremy Skeet said "We're not doing any more Katrina stories," and then clarified that Weekend America wasn't interested in telling the same Katrina story we'd already heard over and over. Jeremy's statement had a real impact on the way I went about helping to design the course and the way I thought about telling stories around Katrina in general.

We asked the collaborative pairs to decide jointly on the topics to be covered and made it clear that the stories did not have to focus on anything Katrina related. The Katrina neighbors could be full artistic partners (editing/printing in the darkroom/etc.) or be involved to the extent they were comfortable and had time. In many cases, collaboration meant that both of the participants shared their stories -- mixing up the relationship between the storyteller and the "story listener" -- and both individuals became part of the final pieces.

To get to the actual pitch -- there are four potential pieces from the class that I think would work well with Weekend America's approach and format, and would present a distinct and creative alternative to the barrage of "Katrina Anniversary" stories we'll be hearing in a couple of weeks. Each piece also involves different members of the Broom family -- Pam (50), the mother of Hei-Yesh (23) and grandmother of Shanti (5). The pieces range in length from 4-8 minutes.

My piece, in collaboration with Pamela Broom explores the ways we connected after meeting on a 37 hour bus ride (to and from New Orleans), and how much the relationship with her an her family has meant to me. It also explores our creative and professional collaboration, and the transitions she has gone through over the past year. A second story threaded through the piece is her relationship with her father (who was murdered in New Orleans when she was seventeen years old) and how her initial experience of fleeing New Orleans after his death came back to her in surprising ways as she worked to make a new home in Durham, NC. Incidentally, I'm participating in an audio intensive at CDS with John Biewen and Deb George for the rest of this week, and a version of this piece will be completed on Saturday morning (8/19/06).

Bria Dolnick and Hei-Yesh Broom, both in their early twenties, recorded their stories (both fiction and non-fiction narratives) about the cities they call home -- Chicago and New Orleans, respectively. This fast paced montage explores themes of missing home (whether leaving by choice or through circumstances out of one's control) and what distingushes home from other places -- sounds of the trains, a particular radio station, streets walked and routes taken every day. Both Bria and Hei-Yesh are excellent writers, and it's a compelling piece both in its content and rhythmically -- sound of both cities are also part of the piece.

Kavannah Ramsier collaborated with five year old Shanti Broom on an audio documentary and a picture book that Shanti drew and Kavannah compiled. What Shanti misses, and what she remembers about Hurrican Katrina, are stories I have not heard before -- what do home, community, spirit, and memory mean to a five year old? Kavannah also considers what it means to collaborate a young child. She has a complete script of her piece and is currently in the editing process.

The final piece is a spoken word essay called "After the Tears" by Hei-Yesh Broom. I recorded her reading her writing and with editing, I think it could be a very powerful story. Her style of is deeply emotional and electric.

Please let me know if you are interested in this series as whole or in any of the individual pieces. I hope you are having a good summer, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

opposite action -- what a feeling!

Hello, friends of the blog-o-sphere...I'm back!

Today I woke up tired and achy -- it's that time of the month, don't you know, and my discomfort (read: cramps from my knees to to my abdomen and lower back) has been getting worse over the past year or so. My mom just gave me an article about birth control pills that control your cycle so you only get your period every four months. Tho' birth control isn't really an issue since I'm dating Liz, the idea is appealing for other obvious reasons.

What's worse is that my weight apparently ballooned to 500lbs overnight.

Or that's how I felt, anyway. And my appearance didn't help. I was wearing a skirt that was too big, a t-shirt that felt too tight, and my underwear kept falling down below my belly. I didn't shower this morning (that doesn't happen too often) and I'm way overdue for a haircut, so my bangs were either covering my eyes, or I had to shove them off to either side in an unattractive way.

And when I get to work, I immediately spilled coffee on my light-blue-too-tight-feeling-t-shirt.

So I made it through most of the day, and then since I'm teaching that evening I went home to let out my dog. I also slept for a half-hour, a knock-out sleep, and woke up drooly and still weighing 500lbs.

This is where I decided to try opposite action. Opposite action is an idea from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) that basically says, when you feel one way, do the opposite of what you are feeling. I can't always do that, of course, and the simple idea of opposite action is tied to other DBT concepts and skills -- but sometimes, I can. And it was important to me that I get myself together and get out of my funk (and my house), because the class I was facilitating this evening really mattered to me. Opposite action (or DBT, for that matter) isn't about avoiding feelings, but about dealing with them effectively. And I was feeling semi-hopeless and lethargic, unattractive and just generally gross.

So I took a shower. I used my ridiculously expensive body scrub (called “Gloomaway,” it's a grapefruit-scented delight that Origins is inexplicably discontinuing). All the metaphors about showers and water and washing away and starting fresh and clean work for me -- both in positive and negative ways. When I'm stuck in depression showering can be impossibly hard. I think my inability to move from the bed to the bath is some kind of resistance to moving outward into the day, besides me being generally wiped of energy.

As a reward for today's successful completion of the shower, I sprayed myself with the indulgent perfume I purchased because Origins is discontinuing the aforementioned favorite grapefruit scent, and it was my last chance to own it ever.

I decided to wear this 1980s Flashdance tee (mine is in "Aztec teal") I bought at Target weeks ago, but hadn't yet gotten the gumption up to wear. I paired it with a tank underneath and a pair of capri jeans. Since I believe if you are going to work a theme, you should go all the way, I also put on a pair of two-inch orange-hoop earrings (that match my orange watch). I almost chickened out about wearing my leopard print slides (with three-inch wooden heels), but I ran back into the house and put them back on after opting for my more conservative but still cute light-green-leather-strapped-wedged-heeled-espadrilles.

I also put a sparkly barret in my hair to keep those darn bangs out of my eyes.

Leaving the house, I didn't really know what I looked like -- meaning, I knew that I didn't really have any perspective on my appearance, because my sense of my body was clearly distorted. But I had taken care of myself, had fun, and I was wearing two-inch-orange-hoop-earrings and leopard print heels, for goodness sake. And I kept hearing "What a Feeling," the theme song from Flashdance, in my head, which was a vast improvement from all ugly thoughts that had been residing there previously.

When I walked into the classroom, and two of the class participants (also two of my favorite people, and not just because they said what they said) exclaimed over my appearance:

“I don't want to draw attention, necessarily,” D. said, “but have you been losing weight?” I smiled and looked down, and mumbled something about trying not to think about it too much. D. understood, and clarified that I looked good, whatever it was, that I was cute before, but that something was obviously going on.

“And what about your hair?” said C.

“Oh, I just need to get it cut. I'm way overdue for a haircut.”

“No, it looks cute - did you do something to it?”

They also asked if I was seeing someone - because maybe, that accounted for the glow they sensed about me. Well, that, is of course, true. The whole being-in-love thing does brighten one's countenance.

I stopped myself from arguing with them, from telling them that far from losing weight, I now weigh 500lbs. I smiled and accepted their compliments, and marveled at the power of opposite action.

The other thing that happened while I was in the process of opposite acting was that I was able to clarify my goals for the class that evening, and come up with some ideas about how to achieve them. Perhaps most importantly, I made a mental note that this outfit is cute, and that it could be deployed at a future date when necessary.