Real Girls Dancing on Apocalyptic Stage

Dear Friends,

Today I want to share with you some of my creative process, not because my process is particularly special but because in my opinion and experience, the process of creating is at least as important as the final product. I do not expect to see my work in any museums, and I have zero artistic training to speak of, but I enjoy creative practice as part of my life. There’s something about the act of creating that makes me feel plugged in to the natural flow of life’s creative energy, and in that flow, I feel unconcerned about outcomes because I’m enjoying the moment.

I don’t usually stick to one medium for very long because I get distracted easily and always want to be doing something new. Recently, I’ve been excited about collage, a form of art I first encountered when I was very young thanks to a suggestion from my sister. My older sister Katie is a talented and inspiring painter, and when we were younger, I was always jealous that I couldn’t draw and paint like her. However, she taught me about collage as an alternative way to create visual art, and we used to have a lot of fun looking through art and fashion magazines for pages to make things with. Recently, I put out a call among my friends for any magazines folks wouldn’t mind donating for my creative efforts, since magazines with great photos are often expensive. So, when I was loaded up with supplies from my friends, I started flipping through magazines and comic books and finding odds and ends to work with. What follows is the creation process of a single, not-too-complicated piece of cut-and-paste work. I aspire to do work that’s more elaborate and multi-dimensional, but for now, I truly love the simplicity of pieces like this one. This level of pressure-free creative exercise is exactly enough to get my mental muscles flexing in a healthy and fun way. When I get up every morning, I spend at least an hour in my home office meditating, journaling, and engaging in some sort of art, and I’ve noticed that the rest of my day tends to feel better as a result. Creative practice is deeply nourishing for me and helps me feel a little more grounded in myself before I confront the unpredictable challenges of the day.

Today’s piece started with this gorgeous catalog for theater production companies. It’s full of great images of set designs showing off what can be done with their products. There are a lot of pages in here that got me excited to create something fun, so with several options in mind, I switched over to a fashion magazine.

I have a love-hate relationship with fashion magazines. I love them because they’re often full of gorgeous editorial design and luscious photography. Nothing is better designed than high end fashion ads. But at the same time, fashion magazines can be subtly dehumanizing to women. For example, I came across these pages in Cosmo that juxtaposed runway fashion with more practical outfits modeled by “real girls.”

I don’t want to belabor this point, but it’s an important one. Cosmopolitan is not a children’s publication, and the “real girls” modeling these outfits are grown up, professionalwomen, not girls. Also, models are real people. And in fact, many of them are girls, as in literally legally children.

Also, the label “real girl” made me think of “real doll,” and maybe it’s just me thinking too hard about this, but the resonance between these words and images seemed to be sending an unsavory message about the “realness” of women and girls. What makes a woman or girl real or valid? Is it her age, profession, body type, skin color…? Trick question! All women are real and valid, and fashion magazines need to retire this style of phrasing.

I returned to the theater catalog and flipped the pages again until I came across this gorgeous scene from the American Ballet Theatre. I do not know the actual ages of these performers, but I think of them as being young. I experimented with placing the “real girl” labels on the image and was sold. I wanted to label them as real girls because they have that particular body type that we have been told is just for models and that thin women are not real, but they are real. In addition, there is something about women whose work involves being looked at — whether they are models, actresses, porn stars, dancers, or even video game streamers. Our society (even those of us who think we know better) looks at these women and ceases to see them as human beings. Instead we see them as a collection of body parts, a piece of a scene no more individual or personal than a stage light, or objects of fantasy and entertainment. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing that entertainers disappear into their performance, but I think it’s essential to remember that behind the act is always a real person.

After cutting out the dancers, I wanted to place them on an interesting background. I flipped through the magazines again, but I didn’t just want to place them on a different stage. Instead, I turned to the stack of comic books Carrie has recently given me. There, in issue one of Maestros, I found this wild, alien world mid-apocalypse that seemed just perfect. It’s this terrifying monster death orgy that resonates pretty strongly with my experience of our current geopolitical reality.

Even though there are not very many elements in this collage, I love the overall effect. I think it speaks to the struggle of young women to cope with a dark and violent world under the constraints of enforced femininity and intense depersonalization coming at them (us) from all directions. But these dancers, these real girls, they are not victims. They are strong. They are together. They put on their dresses and fix their hair, and they get on stage and perform with all their hearts because the show must go on.

So, that’s my emotional journey through art today. I will probably give this piece away to anyone who wants it. I’ve been making a lot of things lately that I have no need to keep for myself. Like I said, for me, the value of my art is the experience of creating it. I hope you’re creating something you enjoy today, if not a piece of art, then a life you love or a moment worth remembering.

Xoxo,

Mary

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Rocks

I cannot be a victim of an unnamed crime.
Spent the day mourning the obliterated star of my youth
Sat on my opus like an old man
Used the word opus not quite ironically.
I don’t have a word for this, I said at 33.
Flaunted my bad vocabulary. Called things rad.
Nearly drowned in a sea of memories with not a word to save me.
Pondered the shattered mirror
Practiced throwing rocks

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Letters: On Celebrating the Small Stuff

Dear Friends,

Here is a thing I made!

I’m not going to make a PDF copy of it because you can make your own. I don’t see the use in you having a list of my big wins. But I do see a use in me having it.

I don’t want to be a downer, but life is hard. Maybe you’ve noticed. Even when life is good it can be hard, and I have to be honest: I have a really good life. I have a lot of good people. I have a safe place to sleep, enough food to eat, and something left to share with my friends and enjoy for myself. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, all my boxes are consistently checked, so what could I possibly have to complain about? I won’t burden you with my list because as much as I might want to tell you everything that’s wrong with my life right now, the point here is to lift both our spirits, not dig in to the gloom. I’ve been talking with my team at work about celebrating our victories, and I realized I didn’t know quite how to model that authentically, so I thought I’d give it a try.

This little zine had its inception during scrimmage practice last week. After the first couple jams, I still couldn’t shake off my work week funk. I wasn’t doing badly, but as I returned to the bench after jamming, I was beating myself up for not getting lead. I felt mentally and emotionally tired, and it’s surprisingly hard to make a great physical effort when your brain is much. The face of my friend Prima came to mind. We were fresh meat together years ago, and when we played in our first scrimmages, she would say one positive thing she had done after every jam. I decided to try it …

Oh right! As soon as the other jammer got out, I made a successful star pass that allowed my teammate to get out as jammer and force the call off. And I immediately switched to playing defense and wasn’t too winded to block. Oh, and we had that sweet drawback …

With my focus shifted, I reaffirmed my intention to be as fully present with the game as I could, and riding the wave of positive reinforcement, started looking for little victories on the track for both myself and my teammates. My night took a turn from there and became full of wins. Obviously I needed to keep the joy going when I got home and had a little creative energy to burn, and that’s why I made my little Post-it note zine.

Learning to give myself credit is hard because there’s always this voice in the back of my head that’s like, “So what? You met your basic adult responsibilities. Some of them. Have you seen your desk lately? And you know so-and-so hates you now, right? Because of that thing you said when you were trying to be funny. It totally wasn’t funny. You’re kinda terrible.” That voice is brutal. My therapist tells me our inner critics are often trying to help us or protect us from perceived threats, and I guess this one is no exception. In a weird way, this relentlessly critical voice thinks it’s helping me. It keeps insisting that I get up and keep working even when it’s hard because life is probably always going to be hard in one way or another, and my choices are to keep going or give up on my dreams. On the other hand, what’s the point of living your dreams if every time you achieve one, some mean inner voice takes all the joy out of it?

I admit, my dreams are modest. I want to play roller derby to the best of my ability among friends who value and support one another. I want to run a sustainable business that empowers good people to do good things and makes a positive impact in our industry. I want to be a source of goodness in the lives of the people I love. I really wish I could save the world, but I don’t think that’s a one-woman job, so I’m just trying to do my part. I don’t expect to be the best at anything, mostly because I don’t want the pressure that comes with it. Life is hard enough when we are just meeting our most basic responsibilities. This idea of life as a competitive sport in which we are all vying for the most money, likes, followers, accomplishments, or whatever it is people are counting as currency these days … well it’s bullshit, and it’s no fun. I am opting out of that game.

I will probably not be asking folks to make zines in our next team meeting, but I will start a new practice in my journal of writing down my big and small wins each day. Because sometimes everything is hard. Sometimes your mom gets sick, people don’t pay you on time, and poor communication turns your whole world into a mirror maze, and sometimes even (or especially) in the midst of all that chaos, I just need to remember that I am doing ok. Day to day, moment to moment, one decision at a time, I am doing the best I can, and I trust that you are, too.

So that’s where I’m at this week. I hope you’re doing well. I hope you have some personal victories to celebrate this week.

Sincerely,

Mary

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We are two cells bumping blindly against one another in the body of God.

The almost imperceptible rhythm of electric lights under your skin pulsing out a code that something in me knows.
They say you can only walk the path under your feet — but how’d we meet?
This radiation is killing the whole world from the inside, but we can’t stop the message.
The self-destruct code has been sent and we are sitting on the button, guilty as two children can be.
They they they have words for all these feelings I’m sure
But words are rendered meaningless with time, and I’m
inventing new languages to say the same old thing.

In the long silence after I have asked the question, I am thinking
of whether or not you heard me and if you have an answer.
I am alone with my thoughts.

I am self-contained.

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