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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When you are quiet, you are the source of peace.

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I believe we are genetically programmed to want enlightenment.

We are bliss-seeking creatures, and we’ve heard good things about nirvana.

The absence of suffering and confusion.

Absolute clarity.

But clarity sorta sucks. Sometimes it brings the suffering of others into excruciating focus. You’re hit with a barrage of emotions, and then clarity is gone.

You have to learn to be still amid the chaos, to avoid stirring up all the shit, to look life in the eye and say, “okay,” and let go.

So that’s why I meditate.

Because I am a shameless spiritual junkie. Because someone said life is suffering, and I’m the kid trying to prove them wrong. Because I know if I am still, right here and now, I can find quiet. Because I just got back from a week-long visit with my family, and I didn’t fight with my dad or anything! Because I was looking for truth and someone said, “inquire within,” and it’s by far the most useful piece of advice I’ve ever been given.

In just a few days, I’m offering my first Introduction to Meditation workshop at Shakti Studio in Arnold, MD, and I would love beyond words to have you there.

Here’s how you register:

Go to this link. You will probably be prompted to create an account. Do that, and then you’ll see the class schedule, etc. Click the “Workshops” tab at the top of the page, and you’ll see several workshop descriptions including the “Introduction to Meditation.” Click the blue button that says, “Sign up now!” Follow the instructions from there.

Also, join the Facebook event for the workshop so we can get in touch. There, you can ask me questions if needed or get in touch with other workshop participants.

If you have any trouble signing up, please send me a note or just show up early so we can get you all squared away.

xoxo

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A Ritual for Beginnings

It’s January first, and there’s a lot to look forward to in the next 364 days, but before we leap headlong into 2014, lets take a quiet moment to reflect, set our intentions, and welcome the new year. Setting your intentions is a simple but powerful practice that will help you shape your life according to your true inner wisdom and values.

I’ve modified the centering practice I use at the beginning of yoga classes to be used as a New Year ritual. You can use this short practice every day or expand on it with your own variations for a more personalized practice any time you are setting new goals.

First, find a comfortable seat — any way that you can sit upright with minimal effort or strain is fine.

Close your eyes, relax, and take your awareness inside. Feel what it’s like to be in your skin right now. Take note of how you’re feeling physically and mentally. Do not judge. Simply observe.

Next, take your awareness to the breath. Relax the belly and mentally trace the path of the breath as it enters and exits the body. Notice where the breath moves freely and where it encounters resistance. You may find resistance in the jaw, throat, chest, or belly. Any place where the body is holding on to tension or work of any kind, make it your intention to soften and let go.

Bring the awareness back to the breath. Spend a minute or two (or several if you can maintain focus) watching the breath and honing your focus. Let go of all extraneous thoughts.

Now, ask yourself: What have I come here to do?  What could I give to myself? What could I give to the world?

Whatever answer comes up, whatever form it takes, allow this to be your intention for now. This may last the year or maybe just for one day. You may wish to write down your intention or create a symbol to remind you of it — perhaps a piece of jewelry or something as simple as a sticky note you’ll see every day.

Revisit your intention often. If it continues to serve you and be in your best interest, you can carry this same intention forever. At some point, it may become clear that a new intention is appropriate for you, and at that point you’ll change it.

Trust in your inner guru. Trust that within you is a light and a wisdom that guides you. This wisdom is based in the ultimate truth of the universe, the divine fact of your existence. It is pure, without morality or judgement. It will lead you to the friends, lovers, teachers and benefactors you most need. It will show you your opportunities and your challenges. Invite this inner wisdom along with your intention to be your guide. 

Be grateful. Be grateful for all that has lead you to your current position in life and all the blessings and goodness that surround you now. Be grateful for your body, your mind, your health and wellbeing, regardless of their supposed imperfections. Know that you are exactly who you need to be and that you are perfectly suited for the journey ahead.

Welcome the future with an open heart and honor your place in it.

You’re going to have a great 2014. I just know it. It’ll be an adventure (it always is!) and you’ll learn a lot. It’s your choice to allow it to make you better, stronger, and more beautiful in every way. Go for it, babe.

xoxo~

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Jenn’s 2013 Good Stuff Jar

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In preparation for 2014, I’ve asked my friend Jenn (who you should know from the derby experiment) to write about her favorite New Year project, the Good Stuff Jar. I think this is a rad idea, and I’m looking forward to making my own jar!

Last year around this time, I was looking at Pinterest a lot for work.  I don’t particularly enjoy using that outlet because it seems like it’s designed to make me feel like a failure.  I mean, come on, Pinterest Fail exists because some of the projects are so absurdly difficult or completed by people that are like, professional fucking crafters or something, that us lowly bedraggled working moms can rarely get the same results.  I’ll admit that there are probably some exceptions to this rule of “FailTerest” but they seem only achievable with limitless time and limitless money.

And then I saw this idea: The Good Stuff Jar

The idea is simply to write down a happy moment and stuff it in the jar. You then read the good things on New Year’s Eve to help remember all the fun stuff that happened over the course of the year.

I think that this resonated with me because 2012 had a lot of upheaval.  My best friend moved away, I broke up with my girlfriend at least 3 times, I started 2 new jobs, our in-laws decided to move in with us full time … on and on.  So, when I was about to start a brand new job in 2013, this seemed like a way to document what I hoped would be a year of positives.

And it was.  My jar is full of tiny folded pieces of paper and I can’t wait to make the new jar.  I think there will be two this time…one for public consumption and one for just me.  This is the first Pinterest project that I’ve been successful at completing and frankly, it’s the best one I’ve seen on their yet.  Let’s take more pleasure in the great things that happen and this is a simple solution to do that.

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