writing

Night at the Green Mill

Last Sunday evening, I was rushing to find an artist’s date for the week. Luckily I remembered while looking for ideas the weekend before, that the Green Mill had a slam poetry night that Sunday. I checked to see if it was a regular thing, and sure enough, it was! I’d always meant to go since I moved to Uptown, and it was only a ten minute walk for me.

When I first walked in, I didn’t know what to expect. My focus was initially on the dim lighting, the hum of conversations from the booths, the people seated at the bar. I circled the bar and became frantic as I realized all the seats were taken. I gave a sigh of relief as I found folding chairs leaning against one of the tables, and sat myself at the end of the bar. Now, I was able to focus on the nostalgic feel of a bar from another era, the walls in faded golds like an old movie theater. I could truly see myself in the 1940’s. A waitress interrupted me to let me know I was blocking the waitress area, and seated me at the end of the front row tables. I got a clear view of the front stage, where a jazz band was playing beneath a “Green Mill” sign in green light up cursive letters. My heart skipped at the thought that maybe I had come at the wrong night, that the website had been outdated and this was actually jazz night. As a precaution, I asked the woman next to me if this was in fact slam poetry night. I’m glad I did, because not only did she reassure me, but she also introduced me to the scene. It turns out Julia was one of the organizers, and that this week’s theme was the “French Connection.” People from France actually flew in to participate in poetry night! I was in awe. It was nice to make a friend to talk to and laugh with, and who welcomed me to the community. Julia is a woman in her forties, with short layered hair and a smile that lights up her whole face. Her laugh is infectious, and she reaches out to touch your shoulder when she gets excited and wants to tell you something.

It was interesting because I was sitting so close to the guy next to me that I couldn’t reach into my pocket without bumping into him. I apologized and got embarrassed, and after that I could tell that he kept wanting to talk to me throughout the show. I overheard him speak french, and thought he might be a part of the French Connection. It wasn’t until the second intermission that he did. He sat down next to me and segued smoothly into conversation, which was good because I felt awkward. I found out he was a French Brazilian who had lived here in Chicago for four years, and saw him in a different light. He had side-swept hair, glasses, and a trace of a mustache on his upper lip. He also had a bit of an accent. He wants to move to a different country, and since he has a lot of friends in Africa, he thinks he will go to Tanzania and some other places. I wish I could so easily say that I was moving to a different country. After finding out I came here alone, he also added me on Facebook to let me know if he and his friends were going to any more shows, as he used to go alone too. He mentioned being nervous about his poem about the CTA, and hoping the judges were from Chicago or it might not make sense. I was confused before I realized that he was participating in a slam poetry contest.

People here were friendly in general, as during the first intermission, when the seats cleared between us, one of the girls from the open mic slid over next to me and introduced herself. She had short poofy sand colored hair, a red infinity scarf, and a lovely smile. She said she was born in France and “moved over here when I was just a tadpole.” I remember her poem was something about pink flamingos rising from the grass with their consumer farts. It was fascinating to me how many new people I was drawing in simply for existing, not ever for doing a reading. It did seem like this was a community where old timers knew all the words to the intro songs and the ending songs, and newcomers were welcomed alike.

The night was broken up into three parts: open mic poetry, French and English translation performance groups, and slam poetry contest.

Open mic opened with a “virgin” reader named Samantha. She opted to use the band, which plays along to the beat of the poem, and told them to play something spooky Halloween-y to match her poem that says Trick or Treat a lot in it. Next, a more seasoned older man with a white beard wanted to read about Chicago violence and blood on the streets. “We’re off to a great start,” the host joked. Next was a woman named Emily, also a long timer, who made a poem based on a conversation she had with a French painter who had survived the Holocaust. Among the first timers was also a girl who lived in Seattle, who quit her job and moved to Chicago because she had a dream that told her to come here. There was an African American who read about the current political state and a relationship with girl. There was an old timer Hispanic who was allowed to read two poems, both seeming to revolve around bilingual speech, love and music. There was also a funny Polish guy who asked for gypsy Fleetwood Mac polka music, as his first memory revolved around listening to Fleetwood Mac with his dad. He read about the first memory of his father, who he thought was going to heaven, hell or prison. He was worried about his boy’s first memory, but decided that either way it wouldn’t matter, because they would remember singing to Pantera, the way he had listened to Fleetwood Mac with his father.

Part Two was an overlapping performance of English laced with French, where they spoke lines between and over one another in order to do both language versions of the poem.

Part Three involved the slam poetry contest. The first guy was Zee. His words went very well with the music, as though they had rehearsed, and he spoke about his blue jeans and how “I’m leaving” the girl. Next was Bruno, who read about “Just another day in the CTA.” The third was the winner, an older man with glasses who request French cabaret music in honor of the French guests. His was very comical, about birds love making going “COO COO” and at one point he scared us all when he said he’d shoot them and go “BANG BANG  BANG.” “COO COO.” The next was called the laptop poet, speaking of meditation with an ambient music background, before he got snapped off stage. The last was a stout blonde girl who wanted French war music, as her poem concerned this time period.

In all, I’d say it was a very successful artist’s date!

 

 

Things I did during reading deprivation

While I couldn’t completely keep myself off of social media and online articles, I did refrain from reading any books or watching my typical movies.

Here’s what I did:

  • On day two my stomach hurt, so I simply cradled by pillow and stayed under the covers, doing nothing at all. It was actually quite lovely.
  • I cooked a bunch of potatoes. I haven’t cooked since March!
  • I went to a birthday party, went to a gay bar, and ended up having a meaningful conversation with my friend from Afghanistan.
  • I cleaned house by swapping all my summer wear for my fall wear. Got rid of a ton of clutter from the cupboard under the sink. The change is invisible, and yet the studio feels so much cleaner and breathier because of it!
  • I talked on the phone with my mom–per usual.
  • I jogged twice on the weekend. The weeks before I might have jogged once and went for a couple walks.
  • Made my studio nice and clean–of course I do this any ways but it’s still an accomplishment!
  • I did my Louise Hay meditations, as usual
  • I “buried” my fantasy life (what should have or could have happened in my life), so that I could let go and work with the present. I have yet to burn it, but I expect I’ll do this on the full moon.
  • I lit incense did a new moon ritual and wrote down everything I want to let in to my life.
  • I made a friend on the train, who gave me a stem of tuberoses and of eucalyptus.

This, I suspect, was the point of reading deprivation–we were meant to explore what activities or creations we could make outside of just consuming entertainment. It’s actually kind of nice!

 

Strange Catalysts (the Artist’s Way)

In “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron mentions that synchronicities might begin to appear in one’s life, things might begin to change, and creativity might become unstuck. I came into this with the sole intent to revive my writing inspiration. Instead, I’ve achieved a different kind of transformation. I did receive small manifestations–from a free chai latte, to a one dollar meal (my childhood favorite of arroz con platatanos/rice with bananas), getting the opportunity to collage over my ugly notebook cover, and receiving a stem of tuberoses and eucalyptus. When I went on a spontaneous lunch adventure, I found Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on creativity, which mentioned all my fears, the need to let go of our worries so that we can be open to ideas when they come. Also at the time of trying to let go of a negative situation, I ended up accidentally getting into long conversations with the Afghanistan doormen at my apartment building, specifically on letting go of the past and just living in the moment and enjoying the present.

Even though I have not found a speck of inspiration more than when I started, I have opened myself up to mini adventures, having spontaneous conversations and making new friends. Last week I had a major revelation that the reason I was being so hard on myself was because I wasn’t perfect. Instead of recognizing that logically, I felt it deeply. It seemed so ridiculous, because no one is perfect! How could I expect that from myself? How could that be a prerequisite to being worthy of my own love? Two days later, a friend showed me a book she was reading by Brene Brown, and I knew I had hit the hammer on the head. This revelation shook me up, because my defense mechanisms of self hate were fighting back harder, to keep myself protected. I had created the defense mechanism to protect myself from the scrutiny of others, and to motivate myself to work harder to achieve. But at some point, it became detrimental because I became paralyzed. Nothing was happening.

At this time I became ravenous for the next few days, with nothing satiating my hunger. I wasn’t sure if this was another defense mechanism, or a backlash from my medication which had previously been suppressing my appetite. In my desperation, I was thinking of a way I could add more starch in my diet, to keep myself satiated. This led me to several YouTube channels and articles on being able to eat in abundance on a vegan high-carb starchy diet. So I figured–why not, I have nothing to lose. Apparently I am now going to become a vegan. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while (I was vegetarian for 7 years and pescatarian for 1), but never really knew how to achieve that without severely limiting my options and making sure all my needs were met. Now I think I’ve found a way, and I’m going to try it. This is completely insane! Again–not a speck of writing inspiration has come into my life–but, I’m making both minor and major shifts. I’m wondering if anything else will happen, or what my life will look like at the end of the 12 weeks. While it concerns me that I’m not making any progress as a writer, I’m looking at the things I’m beginning to do- draw, play the guitar, cook again for the first time since March! Not planning a thing for my weekend and yet having long spontaneous and meaningful conversations with new friends. It might not be a lot, but something is happening.

Artist’s Way Week 4-Slip ups begin

I am the kind of person who likes to do all the exercises and activities within the required week. Sure, I’ve forgotten to do daily affirmations sometimes or had an artist’s date that wasn’t exactly pre-planned, but these were minor. This week’s mission was reading deprivation. While I was able to stay away from books and movies (movies being the hardest part for me), I was unable to stay off social media. By day 2 I already accidentally skimmed a couple online articles.  By day 3, I was looking at several online articles and watching a couple Youtube videos.Day 4 I worked late so I managed not to read by default. On Saturday, I was doing the exercise of getting rid of/donating an outfit, but since I live in a studio my wardrobe is already more limited, so instead I started going through zines. I accidentally read a couple of the entries to see if I still wanted them, and had looked at some articles earlier in the day too. On the plus side, I finally cleared out a gazillion bags from the cupboard under the sink, which was long overdue.

My plan for the weekend was to do all my chores on Saturday so that I could have my full day outing for my artist’s date. Here I had failed as well. I did a closet overhaul of switching summer clothes to fall clothes, cleared out the cupboard, did laundry and made the bed. Normally I only have energy to go grocery shopping, so I was proud of myself. However, I spontaneously went to a birthday party I’d been invited to, and didn’t sleep until 3 am. I of course didn’t wake up properly until ten, which pushed back all my plans. It took me an hour to cook (something I hadn’t done ever since I moved into the studio), went for a run, and by the time I got around to errands, it felt like I hadn’t made any progress yesterday at all. I still had to do everything that I normally would put off until Sunday. Which leads me basically to this point in time where I am writing this blog. I feel I desperately need some me time, which I haven’t really done between cleaning house and socializing. I still haven’t done my artist’s date, which I plan to do tonight.

I think this taught me a valuable lesson. My prerogative is to “get it right” each week so that I can get the maximum out of the experience. I didn’t want to miss any of the exercises or take longer than a week to do them. But honestly, from being on the Facebook group and watching Youtubers detail what they do; I learned it’s more important to just do your best. Some people skip the exercises, or take a few weeks to complete the chapters. Some people don’t even do artist’s date, and do lunch pages instead. We all have busy lifestyles. Even though the goal is to get us to put time aside for creativity, which is very much needed, we can’t always “get it right.” The experience is really for you. I may still try to “make up” for my artist’s day outing next week, but honestly, I have no desire to redo the chapter or backtrack. I’m just going to keep moving forward.

 

Artist’s Way Week Three-Childhood Memories and Girl,Interrupted

This week’s theme was the childhood creativity. As I recalled my childhood room, so many memories came back to me as I filled out the details. These were memories at the deeper recesses of my mind–not lost to me, but certainly not recalled since my teenage years. When we had to write about our five childhood treats–I suddenly remembered something I didn’t even know about myself since I was a child! Apparently I used to eat arroz con platano (rice with bananas), something which I even forgot existed. We were challenged to eat some, so on Friday I ended up going down the cafe, bought a banana for a dollar and was told to take another one. I went to a small Asian restaurant and grabbed a bowl of rice. I reached for my wallet and the lady kept saying it was okay, “Listen to me. You don’t have to pay.” So I got my lunch for a dollar! They probably thought I was low on cash for food or something, but I’m still happy about it! I also manifested a free chai latte earlier that day.

I’ve also been looking at lists of novels with important themes, in this case mental health. One of the titles I looked at was “Girl, Interrupted.” Then yesterday for some reason I was looking at a “shipping” video of Harley Quinn and the Joker, which then led me to looking at a flashback of Jared Leto’s roles over the years–one of which was Girl, Interrupted. At this point I decided I had to watch it. So, after discovering a mini nature trail next to a high school in Andersonville, hearing someone play a ritual drum, going to a Mediterranean bakery, and heading home, I found some short clips on Youtube and then found the movie itself. I was completely mesmerized by Lisa’s performance and then shocked once I realized that was Angelina Jolie. It amazed me how all the big names were in that movie–Winona Ryder, Whoopi Goldberg, Jared Leto, Angelina Jolie. I don’t even know if they were household names yet. Although honestly having seen a couple of Jolie’s later films I was actually disappointed seeing just how amazing she was as Lisa (her best performance I think), and then playing flatter characters like Lara Croft or Mrs. Smith. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. As I expected, the story humanized the girls–however I was pleasantly surprised by their bonds and friendship, and the way they helped and hurt each other. I will definitely have to read the book. After that, I talked to an Afghanistan door man below for a few hours. It was amazing to learn about his life, the country he came from, and his life values. In a way he kind of addressed my inner critic- reminding me to let go of the past, and enjoy life. While I accept that, I am also strangely resistant to that–because if I have no standards, what if I just accept mediocre work and never strive to make it better? But that critic does at some point become detrimental instead of motivational, and I think that’s why some of us get blocked.

Until next week!

Artist’s Way-Week Two

This week was actually far more challenging. I was exhausted after a week of waking up at 5:15 am every day, and I quickly dropped my exercise, instead adding on Louise Hay’s morning meditation.

I used my morning pages much more heavily for dream work, and was having better dreams, possibly because of Louise Hay’s evening meditations. It was both impressive and frustrating that I started to need four or five pages to record my dreams in their entirety. For my second week, I was much more proactive about reading all the activities from the get go, and reading the whole chapter within the first two days. I did as many activities in a row as possible, and set my artist’s date for Thursday at the Art Institute of Chicago to see the Thorne mini rooms.

Though I was proactive on paper, I was feeling very vulnerable underneath. I was going every work lunch to Barnes and Noble since the previous week for “idea shopping,” and thus far had only managed to write a few short paragraphs based on Hozier’s “Like Real People Do.” This of course was better than nothing, but I was becoming frustrated at my lack of inspiration. I thought about Kiki’s Delivery Service and how Kiki had lost the ability to fly a broom but recovered it. This sent me down a nostalgic path of listening to the soundtrack and some of Miyazaki’s other musical pieces. My heart was filled with longing for the initial thrill I had a thirteen year old, to go on the same kind of adventure and coming of age ritual as Kiki had. The only time I really ever felt like that was when I studied abroad in Spain in college. I was inspired to look up the dialogue Kiki had with Ursula, her college artist friend who lived in the forest. It struck me how relevant the passage was. Ursula said that she used to create things without even thinking, until suddenly she couldn’t any more. Then she said she had to find her inspiration, or her reason to create again. It struck me that this was exactly what I needed. Up through high school I just had a spring of ever flooding ideas, was always inspired and stayed up nights and woke up early mornings just to write. College made me doubt my abilities, and from there my inspiration and my passion dwindled. Today, I struggle to think of anything new at all.

The combination of the Artist’s Way and meditations brought small micro-changes to my world. Some of my tweets from 2014-2015 had been rediscovered, liked and shared out of nowhere, with 9 different interactions within nine minutes on a random Wednesday morning. I was getting spots on the train and time opened up for me to draw. We got to play a board game during yesterday’s meeting and get off half an hour early. On Friday, I took on a more proactive approach and decided to go to a stationary store instead of Barnes and Noble. It was the wrong stationary store than the one I had in mind–but it was across the street from a bookstore. And in the bookstore was Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” She addressed all my fears. That I was not descriptive enough, that I had wasted all my time writing and would continue to do so, that my ideas were not important enough, that my best writing and ideas were behind me, that it was too late, that no one would ever want to read my work, so what was the point? She talked about letting go of daily fears and anxieties of the past and the future, to become receptive to the ideas around us. I did not get any new ideas after reading this, but I got a new excitement about the possibility of having them. Maybe a good idea would find me after all.

I have now drawn for the first time in about a year, and done all my exercises but one: play the guitar. I’m guessing I will do that tonight or tomorrow, and get started on reading Chapter Three!

Children’s Author

One of the activities from week one of the Artist’s Way was imagining 5 different occupations, and emulating one of them for the week. Unfortunately it was the second to last activity, so I only really had two days to do it. It was however a rewarding experience, to challenge myself to edit my children’s book I hadn’t looked at in a year, and to revise another shorter piece by working with my father.