Sisyphus! Hope! Death enchained!

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Full Jane is in effect this month.

In this period of my existential momentum (I hesitated to put “upswing”, as the reactive downswing would seem inherent…and maybe it is), I’ve been pondering an awful lot on death, how to react in truth to my emotions as opposed to what I’ve learned to do, and how to tap into my higher consciousness more often. No big. Below are highlights of some of these mental meanderings and some of what I’ve been taking in and putting out of late.

Those few who know me intimately are aware of my fondness for Albert Camus, especially his philosophical essays (though his novels are entrenched with and merely a platform for his creative interpretations of those philosophies). It’s not a new fondness (I remember reading The Stranger around age 12…no wonder that’s where it all turned around for me), but the more I experience and the more dots I connect, the deeper I am able to cultivate my own philosophical garden. And I hope we all are. Recent times have inspired me to dig further and farther from what I already comfortably know and pay attention to what is coming to the surface right-fucking-now. I realized that interpreting everything as it happens only in the context of what I already believe could be a great disservice to myself, and, therefore, to humanity. There is this necessity for constant expansion that I have been glazing over. It’s not that I don’t believe what I used to anymore, but that I need to put today’s context into terms that deserve more elaboration than yesterday’s explanation. What I seek is not a concrete ‘answer’, but a philosophical framework to work with.

That said, Camus’ mind, in my opinion, was one of the most brilliant, innovative and capable of encapsulating the human experience. And though I do not agree with him on the concept of hopelessness being the source of happiness, I believe it is because I use a different interpretation of the concept of hope (more below). But even still, because of this key disparity, it might be difficult to label me a true existentialist.

In his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus interprets the fate of the titular character (who is most well-known for being punished by Death to eternally push a boulder up a hill, only to have it fall back down each time he reaches the top) and concludes that, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” It is such a short, valuable read and there is simply no substitute for ingesting it for yourself, so I will only rehash a few things: 

In one version of the story (myths are made for creative interpretation, remember?), Sisyphus tricked Death into demonstrating a new pair of handcuffs on himself and was kept locked up in the home of Sisyphus, during which period nobody could die. There were mortals staggering about with half of their bodies absent, organs turning into acidic mush, brains bleeding out of eye sockets, but they couldn’t be granted the “freedom” of death. When Death was finally freed (get it…?), he obviously went after Sisyphus first. Sisyphus had told his wife not to follow any burial traditions and she complied, so when he got to the underworld, he complained to Persephone, Queen of the Dead, that he wanted to chastise his wife for this grave injustice (pun intended) and redeem his proper route to the underworld, after which he was foolishly granted passage back to Earth. But he then refused to return to the underworld and lived to a ripe, old age before finally dying and receiving his infamous punishment at last for his heinous crimes against the gods. Thus, the never-ending boulder pushing.

The key moments in Sisyphus’ “torture” cycle, Camus asserts, were those after the rock fell back down and before he started pushing it up again– facing that absurdity in such a high state of consciousness and choosing to accept that rather than to condemn himself to despair*, in which he would not reach any freedom or sympathy from the gods. So Sisyphus rebelled against the gods even still, simply through his state of happiness in performing a task that was meant to inspire despair. (It’s worth noting, too, that Camus is also known for his stance that suicide is the ultimate act of resisting the reality of experience (defeat), and that living life consciously is the act of rebellion. And in that rebellion should be revelation of life’s ridiculousness, not anguish over a failed, imagined order of things or a faith that greatness awaits us.)

“Basically, at the very bottom of life, which seduces us all, there is only absurdity, and more absurdity. And maybe that’s what gives us our joy for living, because the only thing that can defeat absurdity is lucidity.” -Camus, in a separate essay

*This, to me, is hope: to accept absurdity and unknowingness and not to despair but to revel in what is. Hope is never ‘blind’, so to speak, in that it does not mean to pretend or wish for everything to always be grand. Hope is about acceptance, not resistance. This is not to say that hope is a means to fold to the pressures and tragedies of our world, but to exalt in what is. Only after accepting was is can you strive to be more, understand more wholly, connect more deeply. If you are in denial, you are not truly hopeful. If you are ignorant, you are not hopeful. If you are in despair, you cannot hope. Accepting tragedy does not intrinsically require a state of despair. In fact, you can’t help anyone when you are in despair yourself. And to be entrenched in tragedy while remaining hopeful can only be achieved through awareness.

Perhaps order as we wish to know it is accidental, happenstance.

But we sit in disappointment, grasping order, expecting, distracting.

Here’s what I gather: we can’t be happy if we deny our true experiences (even—especially— grief, of any kind), but only if we fully experience them in an aware state. Nothing that is true is inherently good or bad. It’s our choice.

Here’s an interesting Sartrean experiment I’ve tried a handful of times in the last several days that is great for a trippy kind of reset: when you’re sitting staring at your computer (as you are presently), close your eyes and remove any and all context from your current activity. This means breaking down each component of what you’re experiencing— the act of sitting on a chair (a bunch of carved plant flesh/mined metals/man-made plastic fashioned in order for humans to bend at the waist and rest their spindly legs), the feeling of sitting in a chair (the pressure created on the fat and muscle in your legs and back), the object of your gaze (staring at an intricate mush of formed metals and plastics that somehow organize into projections of familiar shapes and patterns), even time itself (an absurd concept of linear moments that we latch onto and look forward to but rarely experience as they occur in an effort to grab a semblance of order). We accept all this rather ignorantly as ‘normal’, unless we stop to consciously accept it all as it is.

There was a good bit of regurgitation here, but my aim is only to highlight what’s happening in Jane Brain lately, not my relay opinions on pop culture or politics or anything else– making those connections from what I write is your job if you choose to do it. After all, you’re merely looking at a bright palette of contrast, using slimy orbs that are stuck inside your skull, with which humans interpret visual information, to see shapes that give you insight into the perspective of some other human you may or may not have encountered in your short life as a minuscule, respirating flesh-bag occupying space on a spinning sphere in an indefinable, indefinite universe. No big.

We can make anything absurd, and everything is, in fact. What I’m getting at in all this is that I don’t believe we need to (or can) ‘make sense’ of everything in order to ease our many anxieties.

Apart from this, I’ve recently assembled a band and hope to have lots of new, dynamic music to share in the near future.

I love you.

Fall into Spring

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Two days ago I was meant to be returning to the U.S. from Africa, but most of you already know I’ve been back home in Portland for about six weeks. I’m more than satisfied with my decision to leave early. Here and there I thought about writing a blog detailing my experience in Cameroon, but after going through a couple half-hearted drafts, I realized I was just trying to justify my choice to leave, which is unnecessary. Additionally, I don’t want to smear the organization I was working with, and in giving any amount of detail, such a thing might happen. So, in brief: it became very clear that continuing on to backpack as a lone woman through West Africa would be unsafe, unwise and unenjoyable. In fact, one of the Peace Corps Volunteers who helped me figure out logistics and encouraged me through the latter months of my travel research contacted me this morning to ask what was going on. After I told him he replied, “Yeah, it’s definitely not a good place to travel alone as a woman.” …the one piece of honest advice that I truly needed from an experienced traveler before embarking on an expensive trek across the world. I’m almost convinced that all the men I spoke to were going to dishonest lengths to be anti-sexist because they were afraid to advise me not to do something.

And that’s it. Well, I did climb part of Mount Cameroon and met some fabulous animals, too. Okay, there were also fresh coconuts and some volunteers that were wonderful company. It was not a complete disaster. 

Returning so soon did not leave me with regrets but a renewed passion for my creative pursuits- something very much missing in my daily routine in Cameroon. When I think about the growth I’ve experienced since coming back, I truly cannot imagine having stayed. My practices of music, improvisation and meditation are expanding, and developing in all those areas is so incredibly important to me— the process is challenging but cyclically inspiring. Each time I learn something new, whether from a friend, a YouTuber, my own covert observation, or from myself, a warmth emerges from my gut and I crave more.

As for work, I designed a 6-week musical exploration course for kids, which begins this week and is serving as about half of my income, allowing me to scale back on less fulfilling gigs. It’s a huge step in the right direction. My right direction. Planning the classes has been so fun and the prospect of helping young people express themselves creatively, hone listening skills and learn something about their musical selves is beyond exciting. I’m hosting the classes in my home—YES, you read right—I’m out of my car and into my dream…home. Well, not quite, but a rather badass one, and mine.

Despite the aftermath of the small car accident I was in on the day of my move-in (not so terrible, not my fault, either), always being on the verge of bankruptcy due to only taking jobs when I either want them or desperately need them, coming down with another respiratory infection from the change from sopping humidity in Cameroon to comparatively arid conditions of autumn in the Pacific Northwest and battling insecurities this is a time that I can stop, feel myself, take account of what is in and around me and be grateful. The excitement for the future is one thing, but that energy propelling me forwards comes from being able to feel what is true each day, through challenge or success, despair or hope, and taking it for what it is instead of pretending.

The relationships I have been cultivating recently are so, so engaging. From budding friendships to deepening extant connections, surrounding me are people who understand the human need (and responsibility) for consciousness and who are motivated by kindness. It’s special, it’s what we all deserve for each other, and it’s no accident. Like-hearts, when open, naturally draw together while stifled souls are repelled. This becomes more apparent by the day.

That ‘cusp’ on which I speak of being continually throughout my writings (though, I know, it’s been awhile)—well, I’m on the other side of it. Rather than a tipping point, this is the apogee at which rapid flowering occurs. Now is my Spring, birthing fresh vegetation and re-sprouting that life which has lain dormant for, let us admit, more than a few seasons. Make no mistake, the timing is not unfortunate. Most Portlanders generally become hermits in the wintertime because of the rain, dreary skies and cold, and it’s often an especially productive time for creatives everywhere. Some may trade their bar-hopping escapades for for a silent reading party with pots of tea at the homestead. Others will collaborate in garages or basements, crafting crafty crafts. Still others will use this time to try to get their podcast off the ground or brainstorm the next unique food cart conception. Me, well, I’ll be doing none of the above (teapots being perhaps the only exception) but plenty of my own production.

There is a heartfelt performer, eager to share and connect, sitting in this seat right now. There is also a musician, who, in a cozy cafe, furiously writes a song between edits in this blog. There is an artist who is still afraid of admitting that they deserve to call herself an artist, but who undeniably is. There is a self swimming with a conviction that will inevitably waver but ultimately triumph.

Here’s to being here. It’s a nice place to be. 

Fear & Filth

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Lava and rainbow:  the most apt image I could think of for the words below. 

 

I could easily wait until I’m in a more uplifted mood to write, but that seems kind of cowardly or concealing. This is what I’m feeling at this moment; tonight.

A lot of people seem to be going through a hard time right now, or maybe I’m just noticing it more. I’m in a flux of being heartened, despondent, fired up, beaten down, empty, full, confused, assured. Perhaps it’s always been this way, but I feel more aware of whatever is present and willing to follow through. Every bit deserves attention, and I try to give it. It doesn’t always work. At that point all I can do is call myself on it. 

Just over an hour ago I was feeling completely overwhelmed, screaming into a pillow in my car. Mostly angry at myself for falling into my own phantom emotional traps, but a number of different facets are involved in that, which I won’t delve into. I can’t seem to remember in the moment, when it counts, that what is going on right then is not it, that something totally different is right around the next tick of the clock, the next beat of my heart, the next exhale. At least the near-next. If I look in someone’s eyes and see nothing, it doesn’t mean something’s not there. If I lose my joy or love under hurt, it just means it’s been buried, not disappeared. And unearthing takes a good deal of core strength. Of course that’s all discovered soon, but not soon enough for my ofttimes flummoxed, impatient bones. The reality is that my gut says I’ll learn from these experiences. But the feeling is here now so I feel it. Through that awareness, I feel more myself every single day that I live. And, as it turns out, I’m pretty okay.  

But I look around at other people and observe what they do to themselves and others, how they deal with their emotions and react to others’. And I realize we’re left without a good model. I’m doing something wrong…we’re all doing something wrong, plays through my head. I’ve strung together various forms of inspiration but not locked into anything, like knitting a scarf without using the same pattern or color throughout. It might seem ugly at first but it’s unlike any other and is strewn with authenticity throughout…it’s trying to be a scarf, and it is, people just want to accept the clean thing, the tied up and neat. I’d argue that the gnarly stretch of material I’m crafting is stronger than those others. I’ve found no one model that I agree with 100% for processing emotions, developing relationships, nurturing children…I just don’t think anyone ‘has it figured out’. Faith in myself keeps me trying, but days like this are hard. I’m tired- tired of fighting my body, resisting injurious habits, making efforts, planning, talking, everything. There’s only enough energy left to write, surrender into sleep and try again tomorrow. 

Things are about to get a whole lot harder. 

In just over a week I leave for Africa for two and a half months. I leave Portland in under a week. Tonight I also feel anxious about the time and effort it’s taking to wrap everything up here before I take off. And that I’m traveling with so little money. It’s a lot. 

Limbe, Cameroon is my first overseas destination, where I’ll stay for a month volunteering with Limbe Wildlife Center, a sanctuary that houses and cares for primates and other wildlife of Cameroon and surrounding countries that have been orphaned by bushmeat hunters or confiscated from the pet trade. This is something I believe will not only satisfy my existing passion for caring for threatened and endangered primates but command entirely new efforts from me. And I can’t wait.

After that will be a flight to Dakar, Senegal, from where I’ll be backpacking solo to Freetown, Sierra Leone. There are plenty of areas in between those destinations that I have reckoned I should avoid for safety’s sake, plenty of peculiar things that I have learned could go wrong, plenty of chances for me to get sick or hurt or make a poor choice. But the same, to a degree, could be said about staying right here in the US. (And as I’m sure most would agree, the US is involved in some of history’s most bizarre, embarrassing fuckery right now. We have a chance to clean it up a bit, and I’ll be back in time to vote this November, but damn do I wish everyone could just try to love each other because anger does not and has never produced justice, never progressed equal human rights.)

Seven months in the making now, I’ve composed this excursion, too, without much of an example to follow, and certainly not any set by women. I’m stepping into something that I feel I’m about as prepared as I can possibly be, yet I know anything can happen despite that preparation. That’s what excites me; the spontaneity and mysticism of it, the challenges, the confrontations. But those are also the things I fear. It’s a strange state of affairs: fear and hope don’t have to negate each other if we walk openly into the fear. I’ll never feel ready to do what I’m about to do, or ready for much else beyond it. (I didn’t feel ready to perform my music in front of people for the first time ever at an open mic two weeks ago, but I did. Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and fluff my feathers here and say it went amazingly and I’m going to be so ready to return and dive further into my music. I played a few songs from my  SoundCloud if you haven’t heard them and are curious.) And that’s it— if we wait until we’re ready, we’ll remain ever stagnant, complacent about ourselves and our potential, compromising in our desires. And probably wondering why things don’t ‘go our way’. But it is really, really bloody hard. We’ve all been hurt before, sometimes for taking a risk, and we know how much hurt we’re capable of– it’s heaps upon heaps, in case you haven’t yet realized, and I’ve only lived for 28 years, so undoubtedly I’m still merely ankle deep. But going the route of shielding ourselves, not thrusting into the potential of hurt is so cripplingly depressing. A life worth living isn’t defined by its security. I recognize that there are far too many people (and other life) living in this world who don’t have as much of a choice to be safe or not, and I know I’ll encounter some of them in my travels. But I’m talking less of infringements upon human rights and more of personal integrity. I want to know who people think they are, what matters to them, what they want, how they feel. Hopefully some of this I can find out so that I can have more tools in my arsenal to keep digging for myself. I like digging; getting dirty.

So now all that’s left is to bear into the wonderfully filthy fear with my steadily sharpening shovel of perception. Attentively. Conscientiously. Honestly. Unashamedly. That’s the idea, anyway.

I’m not so naïve, I know that this trip is just the beginning. Whatever comes of it will inspire me onwards to the next thing. Taking more time with my writing and music will come first, I can already glean that. Work is wearing on me, more creative undertakings beckon. It’s difficult for me to not always be planning for the next endeavor. Hard to stay still environment-wise and experience-wise (covered this somewhat in previous blogs). I just don’t understand any other way to be. At least two chambers of my heart are nomadic. Beginnings are what I love. Bring on the new people, places, everything. The plan at present is to upgrade to living in a converted van and traveling after I will have been living in a Subaru Forester for five months followed by trekking West Africa followed again by probably five more months of the Forester digs. Who knows the kinds of places I’ll sleep in Africa, what food I’ll eat, how I’ll get ill, who I’ll meet (ohhh, and I can’t wait to meet people) or what I’ll learn, but I wouldn’t want to know before I do it. Surprise me, Africa. Go ahead.

And you all too: lay it on me, throw it down— for everyone. Ask big questions, demand something new of yourself, say the thing you’re terrified to, be kind when it seems painful to be, see through the masks we all don. I’m going to try, I hope some of you try too. C’mon, it’ll be terrifying and gross. But worth it.

So, there’s that string of words. I’ll be writing when I can from Africa, but I’ll be sans laptop and writing longhand then transcribing when I get to functioning internet cafes.

Till then, wish me luck. And good luck to you guys, be strong, but try and love yourself when you’re not. We need reminders sometimes, so there’s mine.


AM update: Last night’s rest and this morning’s meditation were so vitalizing. But there’s plenty of battle ahead yet. Thanks for reading.

Love.

*title photo credit

Drama Department & Malian Blues

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Thor’s Well, Cape Perpetua, Oregon. While this doesn’t have anything literal to do with the “NDE” or anything else described below, the volatility of this photo I took on a recent trip to the coast best suited the themes in this lengthy entry.

Last night I had the closest thing to a near-death experience that I’ve probably ever had. Though weak in comparison with a narrowly-missed car collision or a bullet that barely missed a vital organ, it was jarring and sad. And as I’m still resigned to repose and have been reading and feeling all day, trying to recover, I figured I would write about it. *supreme gross warning*

I was having trouble falling asleep in my car and assumed it was exclusively for emotional reasons. I’d bawled my throat raw in the same spot under the pouring rain just hours before. After meditating for a while I grew into a calmer state, but knew I had much more to confront. Tossing and shifting, it finally hit me around 2:30am that I was going to hurl. In a big way. I drove to my 24-hour gym a few blocks away from where I’d stationed my vehicle/bedroom and made a run for it, but it took hours of groaning and writhing in pain on the bathroom floor of the totally empty facility before I produced anything. With my first few retches nothing came out and I found it difficult to breathe. Immediately I recalled a part of an Alan Watts lecture I listened to last summer in my Watts-a-thon portion of invigorating my existential philosophies, in which he describes the ridiculous tendency of people to spend their lives doing things they don’t like in order to make money so they can keep doing those things they don’t like. The talk is about doing only what you love with your life, what grabs you, lights your fire, “makes you itch”. He describes the resistance to this as “all retch and no vomit”. But instead of inspiring me, as this usually does, I became angry and roared with pathetic fierceness into the toilet bowl. That did it, and out came the first bout of the gnarly, unhappy contents of Jane. But when I tried to inhale to keep going, I couldn’t; only tiny wheezing noises coming from my mouth and no air. My head felt more enlarged with each missed breath after shallowly retching. In a panic I fumbled to open the door to see if anyone was in the gym. Negative. A locked gym in the middle of the night was where I’d die, alone and misunderstood, stones unturned, potentials unrealized. Okay then. I fell, body tensed, to the floor, sure I was about to pass out, when I was able to breathe in deeply. I aspirated whatever was blocking my windpipe, which was scary enough, but was able to cough it up as I crawled back to the toilet and continued with another half hour or so of intense vomiting. The acid burned my lungs and the throat I’d screamed bare earlier in the day. My weak body was drenched with sweat and trembling, but I felt some small relief, at least of toxicity. I thought of who I could call, because at that point I felt I needed some help even to get up and take a shower to try and refresh. I ran the list in my mind but came up with nobody…I didn’t feel that I could ask anyone to come help me. They’re out of town; They won’t take my call today; They’ll likely be drunk, just home from the bar; They won’t be able to leave their infant; They live too far. What kind of community have I built? What connections have I made? (Granted a few of those are people who would help but wouldn’t be able). Has a final bridge been burned in the most meaningful friendship I’ve ever had? And is this my pivotal realization that I have no idea what I’m doing? —No. I do know. But I’m not trying hard enough in some aspects and trying too hard in others.

So, I didn’t call anyone but left my phone in my hand with 911 pre-dialed just in case while I laid in the locker room until I had strength enough to rinse off in the shower. At around 4:30am I felt I could go back to my car. I had to leave the parking lot unfortunately, as there is a 24-hour security guard patrolling the lot due to theft in the area, but I just parked a block away and tried sleeping again. It wasn’t happening. I was uncomfortable, frail and perplexed. Come 8am I knew like I had an option: to drive a bit early 45-minutes away to my client’s house where I was always welcomed and would have a bed, bathroom and access to basic resources. I let them know the deal, they said come on down, no problem. I took off, really too exhausted to be driving but I figured the Sunday traffic would be kind, which it was. When I arrived, I was supposed to have the house to myself for 2 days but instead I found the dad in a similar condition to me last night. It wasn’t until then that I realized I probably caught this bug from their 2 1/2 year old son, who I take care of and who’d been sick 2 days ago. Awesome. I ended up getting sick again midday a few times but I’m finally turning a corner after about 24 hours, as is typical of most GI bugs, and can sip water.

Anyways, I got sick, felt the fear of dying alone (if not because of my own stubbornness), and am physically on the mend now. But it leaves me with a lot to consider, like how I spend my short time here and how in moving on I have to be think about what I value and what value I have to offer when I seek authentic, loving experiences and connections.

In non-death-related news, performance is on my mind a lot lately. I’m back in improv after a long break and writing more music to share live and record. I’m filling my nights with music, improv and comedy shows lately and they always inspire me in such a unique way. The vaguely traumatizing experience of the Peter Brotzmann Quartet the other night had me ruminating about passionate, unabashed public expression. These musicians morphed into ultra-beings when they connected with their instruments. How they changed from just milling about the stage beforehand to when they entered into the performance was so mesmerizing and I couldn’t pull my eyes away. My mind couldn’t pull away for hours afterwards. Though, I doubt I’ll be listening to much of this type of experimental jazz in my earbuds very often. (*Before this show I stopped next door for a pastry treat and was handed a free box of two dozen donuts, some of which I proudly gave away as I marched down the street like the Donut Fairy of Mississippi Avenue. It was grand. I brought the rest to a friend who lived close by and happened to be having a late dinner party.) The night after that I caught an amazing improvisational theater piece that included my lovely improv teacher and an ensemble of about 20 others. It was inspiring and eerily close in content to what’s happening in my real life. The actors had no script, no storyline, only a theme of the tendency of humans to ascribe meaning to everyday events/objects. A veiled item was placed on the stage and revealed to the actors for the first time only after the performance started. This was the item on which they based the direction of their improvisation. Another inspiring late night, another heap of things to think and feel. This week it’ll be seeing my favorite podcast, Comedy Bang! Bang! live and a friend’s play. Then who knows. I am stewing over some street and stage performance ideas and on the hunt for a cohort. 

But in the less than stellar news department, I’ve run into a disappointing speed bump with my West Africa travel planning. Now that my tickets repurchased and immunizations received, I’m diving deeper into where exactly to go and what I’d like to experience. Unfortunately, Mali, my focal destination in West Africa for musical discovery, poses the specific safety threat of Islamic terrorism. Prior to a week ago, I had planned to just steer clear of Nigeria as a whole and the northern halves of Mali and Cameroon, but as I stay on top of the travel warnings and reputable news outlets, it is difficult for me to honestly say that I would feel safe traveling to Mali after the attacks this March and last November. The US, Canadian and UK national travel advisories suggest only essential travel in the area, even to the capital, Bamako, which is as far north as I’d planned to go. On top of the obviously horrific bombings, threats and kidnappings (chiefly in Nigeria), I learned that music has also been banned by these radicals in attempt to further rob their expressive rights. Some of you may have heard of the Festival in the Desert, a renowned music festival held just outside of Timbuktu until a few years ago when it was forced out of existence. The festival featured traditional Touareg musicians, Malian desert blues artists, and a taste of tunage from the surrounding countries of West Africa. (Try Rokia Traoré , Ali Farka Touré, and Tinariwen on for size.) Musicians have been tortured and murdered, their homes and instruments destroyed simply for expressing themselves through music. Many are living in exile to be able to create. I wept in a raw, exhaustive gut-punch after learning the extent of this senseless terrorism. I wept for the quieted people themselves, what a ban of expression means like this to us as humans in general, and for the shame I felt in realizing my selfish fear of expressing myself through music in the free world. I currently play music in self-inflicted exile as if an outside force were halting my freedom. I’m heartbroken and ashamed I am having trouble coming to terms with it. I don’t know how to get the perspective to deal without connecting and feeling what is going on in person, and now my chance to do that is looking slim. Having to make the smartest decision for my own safety is difficult when I have such a deep desire to experience something and knowledge that there are people who face these threats on a daily basis. 

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Fatoumata Diawara, Malian musician and activist

So there are a few more things to iron out before I take off in under 8 weeks, but I’m mentally ready to leave, switch gears, meet people, extend myself, break further into myself by breaking further out. 

Hats off if you’ve read this far. I’ll end here by telling you I’ve written/am writing a few new songs, one of which I posted the other day and a few more are forthcoming soon. I’m actually pretty excited about them. They’re each quite different stylistically, and the process of shaping them into being further shows me how essential music is to my life. I’m currently scoping for a music partner and will be collaborating with some folks on my trip across the country. If you are or know a musician in the Southern half of the country, hit a lady up.


Love. 

Power & Peril

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Power & Peril

This little side-project song is a sort of jumping-off-point to my…jumping off. Into newness. Writing went quickly. Recording was difficult–most takes were done in the back of my Subaru, like a lot of things these days, until I finally found some free space to stand up today and knocked it out.

Things are interesting. I’m working on a different kind of music, writing more, solidifying extensive travel plans, first month of living in the car is tough but not terrible, work is a whole new kind of heavy. Someday I will feel I can expound upon all that. But not today. All I can do is put this out. Click the direct link above or go to my Music page.

Until soon, enjoy. As usual, headphones are best for this tune.

Gestalt Visions & Negative Capability

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Banff was a beautiful trip. In short, I was intimidated by the immense skill of the attending musicians and inspired by the rehearsals and recitals I witnessed. The entire creative energy of the Banff Center left me feeling both optimistic and worried about my creative abilities. If I want time and space to grow, I need to make it. Witnessing the 5-year-old that I accompanied for much of the time was just as inspiring to me, but in a different way. His young mind was making real connections about art being connected to artists. Not only did he see his mother perform improvisation for the first time, but saw that the people who we interacted with at meal times each day also created other-wordly music with their instruments, and realized that this is real, art is real and comes from real people. He and I also had lots of creating time of our own- landscape paintings, gift cards, ship diagrams, robot models, songs, dances- during which he would often ask to hear my music. Yes, the music I made. I had played a few songs in the car on the drive there to show Mary what I’ve been working on, and he requested it day after day during our art sessions and would intermittently ask, “Is this really you singing?”, “Are you sure that’s you?”, “Even this part?” I could see his gears turning when we sang our own songs and looped them with an app called Loopy. I broke out my guitar, he made up words and provided some very impressive sound effects, and it was awesome. His concept of art is now becoming less, “I made a thing” and more, “This thing is part of me”. Such a special thing to witness. Makes me wonder when I began to make these discoveries. Feels like I’m still making them.

I also encountered a number of internal conflicts, sparked by the spectacle of the landscape, the affront to my alone-time, and by a few personal interactions, all of which I was unable to address because of my necessity to be on-point in my support role while there. I tagged them for later, and have been tearing away at them, and others still, that have cropped up in my few days since returning.

So, if you’re just reading this for the surface tidbits of my life, probably best to bow out now before my lengthy, hearty spewings of innards.

“…Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…”- John Keats

The above idea is on my mind as I sit in the welcome sun, sans headphones, at a dreamy teahouse and garden in my neighborhood. It’s a semi-secret local gem and is cozily situated in the backyard and garage of a lovely family comprised of a tea expert, an herbalist and their charming 5-year-old daughter named after, you guessed it, an herb. I won’t say which, but…it’s not Rosemary. She sometimes gives me writing tips, has been known to search my bag for “treats”, and warns me when there are trolls approaching. It’s a favorite spot of mine, and one I dedicate to no interneting, phone or quick-stops. I come here to write in my notebook and/or read at length, though now type into my whole-page-expanded Pages document, still with concentrated intent. I drink a green Pu’er, one that I’m told is full of a young, vivacious power (as opposed to wise and steady, says my super tea guru) to tackle obstacles, especially moral. It immediately sounded like a prime fit. He usually knows. When I come in, I tell him how I’m feeling, what my aim is, maybe a bit about whatever is going on, and he produces a few choices— typically along with a great story about the tea itself. On occasion, the tea is just too much. Pu’er, my favorite for consciousness-expanding drinking, can be extraordinarily impactful, but if ingested too quickly or at too high a volume can become adverse to its intended purpose. (I once took a “fear-conquering” tea and its effect was…less than fearless, but I never blame the guru, only myself.) Sometimes I’m here for a few hours, sipping and writing or reading and certainly not paying attention to how many steeps I’m downing. Things can get intense. Most often, it leads me to a strong, present state of mind where I can grasp a firmer, more balanced perspective on whatever is at hand. What’s at hand today? Well:

(*The steeps get more potent as they go, so let’s see how and where this goes:)

90% moved out of my house and into, essentially, nowhere (I’m only keeping 6 boxes, two suitcases, a backpack and my instruments. Not too shabby). Preparing for the unknown. Bearing down to handle potential blows to the heart, gut, mind and soul that I may not be ready for (is it even possible to be ready for something that you have no experience with?). Reminding myself that these are things I’ve dealt to myself because they’re difficult but I believe I can face them with grace and honesty, or at least end up there. There Will Be Tears. Instigating and integrating problems instead of solving them, that’s what I’m doing— only seeking answers to the degree that they’ll open up new levels of consciousness. What’s the problem? Anxiety, of course, the opposite of Negative Capability. 

(*I’m saying nothing novel here, only interpreting what I learn in a way that seems clear and honest through my experience.)

Not just my anxiety, but the regrettable expanse of it splayed across modern society, creeping in every corner and hidden by everyday ‘life’. A vacuous, distractedly apathetic society whose only defense seems to be to seek scapegoats to blame for their many afflictions and assume an illusory “power” built from pride and selfishness and all the things life shouldn’t be about. But I don’t see us as hopeless, irreparable, not yet.

My experience with anxiety (and, I would now argue, most everyone’s) is historically rooted in very limited, toxic categories, but ones which I let take over everything due to a lack of understanding of what anxiety actually is, how it develops and why. How I am beginning to experience it now is world’s beyond, in that I have learned that we, as humans living in 2016, are so culturally conditioned to react to the problems of the world (and indeed what are considered “problems” at all) with personal offense and bewilderment, and that it takes an awakening to our selves, our inner desires and truths (of which everyone is capable) to achieve happiness. Turns out, we are not as powerless as we are convinced to feel. But we are largely weak if we lie in wait for answers and excuses. Action takes courage and courage is borne of inner will and inner will is developed as we understand ourselves and we understand ourselves by being alone. 

Solitude is important to me, more so than many people. I have struggled with the reasons for this, and have on occasion felt some guilt about being viewed an unhappy, antisocial, (insert-other-diminutive-term-for-“introverts” here) person. Overall, I now believe that my solitary tendency is not at all a weakness in me but a positive state that best serves my own creative, intellectual and emotional growth. But solitude becomes a problem when felt alongside anxiety (loneliness), and I’m still not fully immune to it. In fact, many times when I feel like I need to be alone are the times where I want to be with someone. This feeling, that by being alone we must be unworthy, unloved, unwanted, unknown, is one of the true obstacles of humankind, and the most difficult to overcome because its so-called “solution” is to understand and love oneself to the degree that one needs no outside acceptance in order to feel happy. Sounds simple enough. But what are the ways we circumvent this trap of loneliness? The internet, and all media, for one. Work, or busyness, for another. A person always occupied or stimulated in some way is one who is ceaselessly escaping being confronted with themselves, their most feared opponent. We don’t know what we want, who we are, what to do or why we’re here, and that’s goddamn frightening, so of course it seems the best thing to skate past these enormous challenges by watching comedy or drinking at a bar with other people who, knowingly or not, have the same affliction, or working a job and having a family that requires 14 hours a day of attention and even hijacks us in our sleep (what little is had of if). These things can be good, but I think are rarely engaged in a way that serves our real desires. I’ve been guilty, like most everyone, of distracting myself when I’m anxious. That was never enough for me, I realize now. I knew it wasn’t the answer, and it gnawed at me. What is beyond this, I wondered. Why did I feel anxiety if it didn’t make internal sense to me? And further, why did I have so much hope? 

The beauty that is art is, I feel, humanity’s way of confronting the inevitabilities that come with mortality (the ultimate tragedy), joy, despair, and love, to name a few headliners. Subtle or blatant, any piece of art created in earnest portrays a truth about one’s experience as a conscious human, and this is extremely important. Even if its original intent is mistaken upon an audience, interpretation is another gift we can employ to our benefit- we grow from any attempt to understand ourselves and others. It’s a start, and art could take us so much further. Everything grows, and art helps me believe that along with myself, all people are capable of growing at least to the point of love; a self and projected love that requires no conditions or return, but that grows from a deeper understanding of humanity, turmoil and all. I want my life to become a continual expression through art. It’s hard. Hard to stop thinking and start feeling. Hard to break up with what we know and embrace uncertainty. Hard to be patient and sit with ourselves. Hard to know who we are without others to tell us. But if we’re too scared to try we assume responsibility not only for our own condition, but for its contagion. We do contain multitudes, it’s just a lot of them are hidden and flighty. Our society isn’t fostering a way of life that allows for true personal development, growth in a fashion that is compatible with our capacity to love. We are unrealized, most of us. It is a sad fact to face, but if we stop at the stage of blaming the world around us we only perpetuate the cycle of missing the beauty of life entirely. We can all find our ways, however is kind and honest, to seek and be who we are. It helps everyone to be wholly ourselves. I write and make music to make sense of my feelings. Occasionally sharing helps, but mostly I coalesce and set intentions. As much as I want to be understood, the only thing that matters is to understand and feel myself and that I have no control over what others understand or feel.

I read a playing card the other day with the message, “Here Today, Gone Today”. That’s kind of it.

It’s fucking hard and arrestingly beautiful and, I believe, utterly worth it.

Even now, I have some difficulty, despite having written what I’ve just written, to not get comfort by thoughts of people around me being supportive, and to not feel threatened by the potential that I may not act with enough courage, that I may do injustice to myself or others, or that what was the true a few weeks ago might not be true now. But every felt feeling helps, so I steep in all of them. Speaking of steeps…over 7 now, for sure. Graciously feeling the tea work its magic through me, accepting the heat of the sun on my face and embracing not expecting. I know that once I  walk back to my house (which, let’s face it, I’ve already broken up with), revive my phone and internet, and find myself grappling with uncertainty, it will be up to me to continue trying to accept it without turning outwards.

Ready or not.

The things are happening (lots of photos)

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The above photo is next week’s destination, The Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. My improv* instructor/friend/client/all-around-awesome-lady invited me along to help with her awesome kiddo while she participates in a short-term artist-in-residence program, Concert as Theatre. So, while not an invited artist, I do get amateur peek-a-boo privileges and will be immersed in this phenomenal artist community for over a week. So during ‘working’ hours and my off hours, I will be ingesting rehearsed and exploratory music performances, benefitting from the Centre’s amazing amenities, exploring the immense landscape (which I briefly attempted last year, albeit in the opposite season), and getting some personal music, writing and arting time (new song in progress, by the way, working to get it recorded before I hit the road). I might even attempt to ski, though I predict being swiftly surpassed in skill by my 5-year-old cohort. 

The drive should be lovely and educational (apparently I’m in for warp-speed action theater schooling). My tried-and-true, paprika-hued road beast (the Subaru) is mechanically sound and ready for the potentially treacherous terrain. My work clients are, as usual, graciously flexible and I am, as usual, immensely grateful.

After I return to Portland, I’ll be moving out of my home and bopping around here and there. It will be strange. I think I’m ready. Then again, I am the go-to lady for two of my dear, pregnant friends. Regardless, things will happen and I will be present.

I am just a human, trying always.

*(After a group vocal improvisation at my last session, everyone simultaneously agreed that we should record some of them. I readily offered to provide my mic setup, so this may happen soonish, which is extremely exciting and will be sure to be the most absurd, beautiful soundtrack to…anything. Improv has drastically helped my creative, inner, social and overall life. It warrants a blog all its own. In time.)

In primate news, get ready for much more monkey (and ape) business to be shared here. Starting….NOW.

I’ve recently started working with the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA). This volunteer and networking opportunity came about quickly and I’m very exited to be helping with their website content and planning for some collaboration with their member sanctuaries. So, in the further future (5 months-ish), West Africa is happening, for which I am currently making preliminary preparations and doing research daily. In addition to visiting several primate sanctuaries in the region, I will be volunteering with a few in Cameroon doing husbandry and assisting with a community education initiative.

Limbe Wildlife Centre

Ape Action Africa

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As yet, I’m unsure of the duration of my stay there as I am planning everything as loosely as possible. Travel around West Africa does not allow for much of a strict timetable, which is just as well for me. Most of the planning is for things that need to get done here in the US like immunizations and visa applications and the inescapable finance front. Fun! For those who don’t know, I’m much more content working in places where the animal to human ratio is quite high. I have had my time of hot showers, clean clothes and posh food and am ready to go back to doing filthy, physically and mentally demanding, rewarding work, only with new species.

I take my work seriously.

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Very seriously.

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I miss this work very, very, very much.

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And hanging out with (caring for) these guys.

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The music of West Africa, highly inspired by jazz and blues, also beckons me. I look forward to discovering as much of it as I can.

Until next time, please do share any travel and/or primate-related experiences. C’mon, Oxford MSc peoples…you know you remember me:

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The Crow and Doing the Thing

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Dear dear things,

I uploaded my first original song. Not the first I wrote, or the first I recorded, but the first that I am really feeling. After thinking it was an acoustic song for almost a week, I looked over at my electric this morning, whose head was coincidentally painted as a crow when I bought it at a garage sale for $20 last year, and thought…huh…maybe? Yeah. So it finally formed a whole (albeit short, like, Bad Religion short) thing, and I finally recorded the thing and am now sharing the thing, complete with a quite serious “studio” selfie. I’ve been doing the thing all day. I forgot to eat. I’m tired. I’m happy. Thank you for listening.

Love.

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Ah Um

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Contained within: Jane leaves Portland, cries in the laundromat and car-musicks.

Yesterday morning at the laundromat, I was listening to a song I’d heard a few times before but wasn’t really caught by. When I sat down I just pressed the ‘Play’ button on my laptop, and since it was the most recent thing I’d downloaded, it started playing. Very quickly, I let loose a tear or two as my face contorted into that strange grimace that is unavoidable when trying contain a more complete emotional crumbling. I rested my mouth in my hand and stared at the computer screen, hoping perhaps to be mistaken for a woman in deep concentration rather than a distraught one. The barista (yeah, this is Portland; we have a laundry lounge with beer, coffee, artisan paninis and vintage arcade games) shot me a sympathetic look and gestured with a half-hidden thumbs up that implied the question “…you all good, girl?” I made eye contact, smirked and nodded once in reply. I was, in fact, ‘all good’, feeling something genuine and letting myself feel it, if not as fully as it deserved, whatever the surroundings or spectatorship. I don’t do that enough. (Let’s all do this from now on, okay? Okay.)

Back in my car, clean laundry in tow, I turned on a song of mine– the first I wrote and recorded on my own but haven’t shared because it’s not where I want it to be. Whenever I listen to myself, especially this song, there is always that mental battle between repulsion and intrigue and an array of feelings in between that show me why I needed to write it, and why I need to write more. And I do feel that it is a need. The frustration comes from the inevitable struggle to express what I want. The reason why I tend to write lyrics in a very naked, un-garbled fashion is because I don’t have the skill yet to express what I’m feeling through the music alone. Like everyone, I want to be understood, but what I have to understand is that I have to have trust in my perception and that of those who listen. And in my development if I commit, of course. For people who wish to feel me, I will either come through or miss the mark and they’ll reach out. It will get there. When I hear what I deem to be cutting, compelling emotion or narrative in music, I’m so envious and inspired, just totally taken. That learning curve, though. Just because the emotions and narrative are in there, in me, doesn’t mean I know how to express them justly. Since it’s such a challenge, I decided to start making some instrumental songs and also to start writing music before, or at least alongside, lyrics. (For those who don’t know, I write a lot– scribbles, seedling ideas, words or phrases that I like, notes on books that I read, commentary about someone in the café I’m working at, journaling, songwriting, poetry, little stories, memories or stream-of-consciousness nonsense to help me start to weed out what I’m truly thinking and feeling. I don’t have so much a writing “process” as I have a compulsion. It’s why start so much and finish so little. Working on that.) So I started a couple weeks ago messing around with all my instruments, jamming and recording some funk stuff. It’s so fun, and is coming along in pieces, but I’m just experimenting. I’m not expressing anything except for a sense of fun and being motivated to make a music that sounds like something I would want to listen to. I guess it isn’t something I could voice, so maybe it’s more valid than I thought. Just realizing this now, folks. See what writing does?

Then at the beginning of this week, I was working through a lot of disappointment in myself, poor choices I’d made, not taking enough care of myself. I was also thinking and feeling a lot about leaving the US for a while (which, yeah, forgot to mention, I’m departing in June, people**) and how both excited and impatient I am for it. I’m excited to sell my shit, live-trade with people, drive ’round, get creative. Then came the thought of leaving the things and people I love here. But the leaving feels so necessary for me, the going and doing are necessary, the newness is necessary. So this strange soup of emotions had me kind of perplexed and I decided to sit down at my piano. Something came to me. That usually doesn’t happen. I usually mess around for ages and maybe find one little piece of melody I like. Most of the time, ideas come to me when I’m driving or doing something else where I’m incapable of giving it the attention it needs in order to develop (great going, Muse…).

But that day I sat down because I was feeling something that I couldn’t even articulate within my own head. I played something that just made emotional sense, a progression that caught the mood, basically. But it did not feel piano-y. Like, at all. I hopped on my guitar, which I might be even less proficient at than piano, and felt it immediately. I played, poorly. Words came, I wrote. I recorded. I erased. I tried again. I closed my eyes and felt. I hummed. I played harder. My fingers went numb and I stopped. Next day, two more hours. Next day, six more hours, two of which were in the backseat of my car at the end of the night. I drove to a secluded street, parked and proceeded to flatten my back seats and get to it. (It’s pretty cozy back there, I’ve slept there—and probably will much more in the coming months– and been quite comfy.) Since I practice guitar least of all musical things, my left hand was pretty done after this last stretch. So even though it sounded like, well, garbage, I felt it getting there—to that point where it was becoming something I would want to listen to. I could get used to car musicking. (And I’d better.) I’ll post this one as soon as my I can get through it.

This whole, longwinded spouting of words has no moral or conclusion. That’s not why I write. Maybe I wanted to just say that it’s totally a beautiful human thing to cry in a laundromat, record songs in your car, despise yourself and then surprise yourself.

You guys should share with me. How do you feel music? Make it? Find it? Evasive muse problem? Spill your deets.

(For those curious who didn’t glean it, I stole the title for this blog from Charles Mingus’ Ah Um album, the full duration of which was the ‘soundtrack’ to this writing session, although not the music that I speak of in the first paragraph. It’s not only a completely genius jazz record, but the title also warrants its own praise. So perfect. And perfect for the unfocused ‘ah…umm..’ of this blog’s content.)

**Yes! This lady creature leaves her house in February and then will be bopping around the Pacific NW for another few months until going back across the country and taking off for Europe and Africa for…an amount of time. Who knows? Certainly not me.**

Escape Artist

WARNING: Contains my gushy insides and is filled with “I”. Written as much for myself as any readers, so read at your own risk.

Until very recently I thought the only kind of artist I could be was an escape artist.

Today, I know who I am.

It used to be that I’d wonder, if who I am is always chasing after change, and what I want changes frequently, do I change? Whenever things got emotionally heavy or scary or frightfully mundane, I would plan a big change to escape my situation. One of three things would happen: the plans would go flat because they were hastily and dispassionately put together out of being flustered to get out, they would fall through because I would compromise and lie to myself to get back to being comfortable, or they would be actualized because my desires were rooted in my truth. In those last instances, instead of the fire under my ass coming from insecurity, it came from gleaning a bit of my purpose and chasing it after having recognized something was decidedly unharmonious in my gut. (Phew.)

This truth is something I had no concept of containing or being made of, and so I certainly did not know how to live by it. Unfortunately, I spent (too) many years in a situation where I backed down time after time from that chase because of an attachment. Out of fear, I was dishonest with myself and it took leaping into a career I was passionate about to give myself the confidence and clarity needed to thrust myself out. In that job, I got to feel what it was like to be un-co-dependent (which I am differentiating from ‘independent’), how strong my leadership skills are, how intuitive and empathic I am, how working towards a purpose higher than myself satisfied my being, and tested the limits of my emotional and physical strength. I surprised myself. There have been times since then that I have failed myself, failed partners and failed friends because I made totally selfish or completely selfless choices, or worse yet, tried to please everyone and ended up with a dual compromise through which both parties ultimately ended up unhappy. Imbalance was my state of being; always in flux and only really at home with myself in bouts of solitude or a few choice moments with a few choice people. In the past year I have begun to learn a set of skills to aid me in figuring out how to be honest with myself, filter out desires stemming from attachment and aversion and honor those desires that pump straight out of my heart. I’m working on closing that distance between my heart and mind by relying less on logic as a go-to and trusting the ol’ gut.

So as I was alluding to in my last blog, I feel that I am doing nobody any good in living by fear of discomfort, rejection, uncertainty, judgment, or any other attitude that does something other than provoke action towards doing what I truly desire. Now, with patience, I can realize that I actually don’t desire to hide myself away (along with everything I create), become attached to a place or person, or plan my life into oblivion and rarely Do the Things. I’m suddenly and severely weary of carving little chunks of time for myself to recharge so that I can get back to whatever everyday life is. That changes now. Sure, this is a declaration. Hold me to it if you please. I can carve out a groove for myself without planting myself in one spot to do it. 

Do not misinterpret; I have not surpassed fear, but have made the decision to do so and will continue making decisions that put me in positions that challenge those emotions of insecurity, shame and general lack of trust. (Similar to love, I’ll never know if trusting myself is a skill that will just click at some pivotal moment or if I will be learning to do it throughout my lifetime. I believe they both take maintenance, and perhaps one relies on the other. How can I love if I don’t trust? How can I be trusted if I don’t love?)

Thank you to anyone and no one who reads this, even if I never know about it. These entries will soon contain more substance. 😉 <<Perhaps the only emoji I will ever allow myself? We’ll see.