A Fresh (Yet Unexpected) Landscape

The first half of this year was all about manifesting. I don’t think I’ve ever believed in an idea so much that I just couldn’t see it not become real. It was real to me before anyone else could see or understand it. Maybe that’s what carrying a vision is. Maybe that’s what working with magic involves. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I gave everything I had to setting an intention and doing the work to not just believe it would be, but actually MAKE it so. For the first time in my life, there was no doubt. Ever. There were times I had to help (push, pull, carry) even my former partner see and believe it could be done and talk them through their own disbelief. Looking back I can see how much I was carrying and pushing up the hill, but at the time I felt no strain or overexertion; just a driven energy pulsating with familial legacy and an integration of my passions for art and advocacy. 

Writing out the development plan and narrative made accomplishing it so concrete and solid to me: securing 6mos of funding, people desiring to support it, finding a space, the timeline for it to all unfold, and the concept. None of that seemed impossible.

Then July came. July tends to be the time of year when I get shaken up and everything in my life shifts. July is always my month of upheaval. In July things went left and in August everything took a nosedive south. I didn’t know what to do at first but then I did and I resisted until I couldn’t any longer; it was either make difficult but necessary decisions to restructure or lose the whole thing altogether. Money had been raised. Personal, emotional, and financial investments had been made. And then suddenly it was over before it was really given a chance to begin. 

I’d like to say that if I could go back to the first half of the year, I’d do everything differently, but that’s not entirely true. Everything that’s happened has forced me to face myself and question why I carry big ideas but feel compelled to make myself small. It has helped me understand that as much as I believe in others, I can’t save them through collaboration; it’s arrogant of me and unfair to others to even think I could. That mode of operating serves no one and only enables co-dependency on both ends. I’ve also come to understand that if I believed in my own ability to execute my big ideas, I’d find the right collaborators or partners to work with when it’s time for what’s been built to scale in growth. I’d speak up about the red flags I see as well as the concerns and questions I have so that resentment and fear over speaking up doesn’t build on my end...and bubble up into anger. 

I’ve spent the second half of this year trying to find my way back out of the trough of disillusionment. I’ve been yearning for the magic and unshakeable faith that helped me push the boulder up the hill. I’ve been holding onto what was, instead of embracing what’s in front of me: a fresh landscape waiting for me to move forward. I’ve been allowing shame and embarrassment over things falling apart to consume me as I’ve grieved the loss I feel. I’ve been learning to quiet my ego and practice restraint; to let go of my need for approval from others. I’ve learned what it takes to do what’s best instead of yielding to the desire to avoid what needs to be done. I’ve learned how to stand up for myself and for my ideas...for the vision. I’ve learned what it means when people say it’s time to “level up”. 

It has taken time, counsel, and growth taking root for me to feel a new connection forming to the studio. For it to feel like less of an obligation to fulfill and more like the magic of manifestation I felt last Spring. For it to feel doable...and for me to fully believe that I have what’s necessary within myself to move forward with it. For me to make peace with the circumstances and hold my head high again despite them. For the anxiety and panic to subside so focused determination to take their place. 

I didn’t end up where I thought I would, and I didn’t plan on being the only one standing here in the doorway, but I’m here looking in and seeing the vision and potential again. Asking it to forgive me for thinking walking away would’ve been better. 

Promising it I’ll keep showing up if it’ll keep leading the way. 

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Paradigm Shift

“Who is this Black woman wearing blue lipstick and clothes that don’t match? Don’t worry-I’m just as perplexed as you are as to why I’m standing here, but hey. Let’s trust that Rachel and Sarah knew what they were doing when they signed y’all up for this.“

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I served and took communion for the first time in 7 years yesterday at the Evolving Faith conference in Montreat, NC. That’s how comfortable and affirmed I felt being in that space with Christians who are actually...well the Christians I’ve desired to have connections with, but didn’t believe existed anymore. 

I got on stage and told the crowd that I could feel the presence of my great grandmother and Prince there with me too. I told the audience I have conversations with them. That I have an altar in my house. That I honor my dead. Use candles with my prayers, as well as set intentions and manifest what I want to see develop within myself, family, work, and life. That I reclaimed and learned how to listen to my intuition by practicing tarot. That I have friends who worship Orishas, do root work, who are Hindu and Buddhist, who celebrate Samhain and solstice, and am married to a man who is a futurist and desires to be preserved by cryonics upon his death. That I read my horoscope according to my natal chart, follow the planet’s transits throughout the sky, and the monthly cycle of the moon. That I believe in energy work. That painting is a form of divination for me. That I am married to a cis man and am in a heteronormative relationship but I am also queer. That my children are neurodiverse, I use people first language, and I have a responsibility to advocate for and equip them to move within a world that is not inclusive, but not to change them-they are whole beings, not broken. That I was abused as a child and sexually assaulted as a teen & young adult. 

I dropped a few f-bombs. Told them to face themselves. To abandon the frameworks and constructs they’ve built through conditioning, experience, and trauma over the years in  exchange for whole living. To burn shit down. To open themselves to exploration and curiosity. Told the POC especially to study, connect, and expand their faith to be inclusive of spiritual practices and tools rooted within their own cultures. That they might be hurting and weary but the only thing fragile about them-about all of us-is our ego. That if I can withstand this moment with all I’m carrying, they can too. 

The response was unexpectedly positive. It knocked my ego on its ass, because I walked into this experience thinking I couldn’t possibly connect to what was happening because I’ve spent the last 7 years deliberately removed from this...culture. From the institution. From a faith I no longer recognize or live out as I used to. That I question and reject for its racism, misogyny, sexism, patriarchy, oppression, bigotry, phobias, erasure, and violence.  I walked into it cynical, thinking I’d be pilloried. Instead I was embraced. Thanked. Seen. Heard. Respected. 

The fact that I was able to serve in this capacity alongside scholars, artists, writers, pastors, activists, and thought leaders I learned from and admired heavily in the past and even from afar over the last 7 years, was the icing on the cake. It was humbling. 

It helped my spirit heal in ways I didn’t realize were needed. It released me to continue expanding and moving forward in my spiritual development. I hope I continue to learn from it in the months & years ahead. 

A Little More Abstract

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I’ve been so busy working on getting the studio initially funded and established that I haven’t painted very much this year, I'm sad to say. I've created a few commissions and have done some smaller studies here and there, but I haven't been operating at my usual output. Even though I'm still figuring out how I'll juggle the boys' school schedules and running the studio, I've devoting the second half of this year to just making work weekly, even if it's just one painting. 

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As I was explaining this and my desire to dive back into making raw, expressive work again vs. the figures that have preoccupied my brain in a group chat yesterday, my friend Sili gave me an assignment: "I want you to paint the word 'grace' on a canvas...and then do whatever brujeria it is you do when you paint. You need to give yourself grace-your arms haven't even been working well enough for you every day!" She's right...the nerve pain and weakness I've had in my hands and arms daily since March have also been a significant contributing factor to my slow output this year thus far. It's been frustrating to say the least, picking up a brush and feeling my arm go limp as I lose grip on it in my hand and it falls to the floor...not being able to squeeze paint out of bottles let alone feel it as I spread it across a surface. Even now as I'm typing this, pain radiates from my neck through my elbows, down the undersides of my forearms and my ring and pinky fingers on both hands are dead. There are several times throughout my day when I'm only able to use half of my hands, so yes. I do need grace to outpace my ambitions as I work and juggle and mom and wife and curate and manage this Fall & Winter. 

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I'm so driven by ambition though, especially when inspired and that is hard to reign in when my creative queue is backlogged with words, images and ideas like it has been the last few months. Even though I had told myself that August would be my month to dig back into my practice and get going on bringing all that's been stored up in my brain to life, I honestly wasn't sure where I'd even start. Thankfully, a conversation two weeks ago with my friend and fellow painter Calida Rawles has served as a compass. She was in town visiting from LA and wanted to finally meet in person, as we had been unable to do so while I lived in Cali. She came by the studio and after we chatted a bit about life, politics, motherhood, and ideas for new paintings, she turned to my work on the wall and started to give me some insightful, constructive feedback that felt like a charge of sorts to return to painting more raw, abstract work. 

I've been doing exactly that this week and as much as I have enjoyed the challenge of expressing impact and experience on the body with my figures, I've surprisingly found expressing impact and experience in the body through line, mark, burst and flow has been a relief I wasn't aware I've been yearning for. My friend Karen asked me on Tuesday what it feels like to be back at the canvas in this way and I told her "like taking a deep breath." 

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Future Exhibition Proposal

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I have a recurring dream where I walk into a large room with high, vaulted ceilings. Sometimes the walls are white, deep red or a baked clay/Indian yellow hue color. There’s a bench in the middle and the closer you get to it, the more expansive the room becomes. on each wall are these figures, most life size, with one stretching all the way up to and on the ceiling as if it’s towering over you. Each figure looks similar to this one pictured; some are on canvas with various materials or line markings adorning sections of their being, others are painted directly onto the wall. One even had an actual door you could open and then walk down a small hallway filled with pictures, writings, and small paintings, as if you you were walking through a history of all that body has carried & experienced. Another figure was mostly a head, and there were headphones next to it-you could grab them and listen to its thoughts. Sometimes in the dream I’m painting and installing the figures, and sometimes I’m sitting on the bench in the middle watching others experience the work, but they don’t know I’m there-they can’t see me. It’s wild. I either wake up right as someone leaves a work and starts walking toward the bench in the middle of the room, or I’ve finished the figure that stretches into the ceiling. Maybe one day I’ll find a place to take over where I can actually make it real. 

Solitude & Silence

I wrote this back on January 12, 2017 but never shared it publicly. I think ultimately, that decision to not share immediately proved best, as it allowed me the space and grace to begin finding my way in living it out in a tangible way. Much has transpired for me personally and professionally since I originally wrote this out-each event creating room for understanding and clarity of purpose along the way. In order to get back into writing and to begin sharing what life has been like these past 8 months, I felt like I needed to finally express this first before diving into the rest. Looking back, I see it had laid the foundation for where I am currently.

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January 12, 2017:

My words for the year ahead: silence and solitude. I admit that it seems odd and counter-intuitive considering the times we're living in, but it honestly doesn't feel that way when I really consider where I'm at personally and in my work. Instead, it feels like the next logical step in my evolution as an artist, creative process and day to day living.

Since 2010 I've done a lot of talking & writing (online, specifically) about faith, mental illness, motherhood, and race.While doing so has brought wonderful opportunities and community into my life, it's also taught me some things about people & how they respond to different mediums/forms of expression. Things that have left me questioning how effective any of my writing and vocalizing has REALLY been. I've learned how far people will go to invalidate what you vocalize or type out on a screen. For most, it's purely reflexive-they can't help themselves, and their defensiveness renders them incapable of doing anything else. When painting or constructing a visual around these subjects, however, the impact (and reaction) has been, in my experience, the opposite. There's something about an image that pierces a defensive heart in a way that words simply cannot. There's something about SEEING something in front of us that gets into our core, roots into the subconscious and doesn't leave. That's the power of visual art. What we see penetrates and takes root before we're even aware it has done so. Images (and music and performance) engrave themselves upon our consciousness and solidify within us in a way that words fail to do at times. It is far more difficult to deny what you've seen vs. what you've heard or read. (This is hard for me to articulate, but I'll try to get better as I continue to process this, I promise.)

I've learned that I can write about my lived experiences with race, motherhood, faith, and mental illness and people will go out of their way to invalidate them. I've had plenty of folks do it in my inboxes or to my face or behind my back the last 6 years. (OMG it's ONLY been 6 years.) If I go back to my preteen/teen years, I remember being hit for speaking up and punished for writing my truths, my thoughts, my dreams, my struggles...Come to think of it, I've only been writing online for 6 years, but my history with having my words and vocalizations invalidated goes back to my formative years as a child.   I guess what I'm saying is:  I've fought hard to find and use my voice after decades of abuse and in doing so I've learned that some things about people just don't change when they're confronted with a truth that's different than their own.

So what does this mean for me, a person and artist who has spent a good chunk of time compelling herself and others to speak up? I know what it means but honestly?  I also don't. Here's what I know: it doesn't-and won't ever-mean inaction. I know it doesn't mean completely disappearing and going off the grid-although I've given it serious consideration. I know it means putting systems and practices in place that preserve my sanity and emotional health. I know that I desire community, engagement, and collaboration with other artists to push for change. I know it means I'm ready to stop typing Facebook statuses and tweets and blog posts around these issues and instead have difficult conversations about them through paintings & images. I know I'm committed to ensuring my work is of service to more than just my own personal advancement. It means I will continue to donate proceeds of my work to help fund the various forms of important work so many of you and others are already doing. It means I'm stepping back in some areas and from many people so that I can step fully into being 100% committed to my creative practice and focused on painting. I want to spend the rest of my life painting and creating work that says something, that inspires not just social change but personal. I want to create pieces that give people the courage to face the shit inside of themselves they've been too afraid to, or discover something about themselves they weren't aware of. I desire to create work that contributes to conversations around difficult topics instead of just adding noise. I'm so fucking tired of noise, y'all. My brain just can't take it anymore, and I don't want to be a conductor of it. I'm done screaming into the ether. Over the last 12 months especially it feels as though I've been saying the same things in every way possible without being able to truly measure how effective anything I've said is. I'd rather just let what I create speak for me.

So...I don't know exactly how incorporating silence and solitude into my life and art practice are going to look, esp when it comes to using social media, but using them to give my all to my work and speak predominantly through creating images is my focus going forward. I've struggled since 2015 to find where I "fit" and what I'm supposed to be doing with my life at this point, and the results of the election have made it far more plain for me than any other message I received in 2016. I'm clear now. I know what my role is in this fight and I'll still be engaged in it in numerous ways offline. I will also continue to use whatever influence and ability I have to compel others to take action in their daily lives to help others. It's just not going to look  the same as it has the last 6 years. It's not going to be what you've come to expect from me anymore because I'm expanding outside of those expectations.

 

My hope is that by pivoting in this direction, and shifting how I engage the world and the people I interact with, I'm able to create work that's far more disruptive, substantial and more effective than my words and vocalizations have ever been.

Here's to trusting intuition and the places it leads us to.

Sunken Places

If you've see the movie Get Out, then you know about the "sunken place". The more I've thought and read analysis of what that place represents in the movie, the more I've been thinking about and questioning my own sunken places. I'm of course curious to know what they look like and what ecosystems exist within each one. What enables and sustains their survival? How do they co-exist with our whole, embodied parts of self? Can you live with more than one exist within us simultaneously or is it just one centralized place in our being you are plunged into repeatedly, at various points in our lives? How is it created? Does it form and evolve over time or does instantaneously come into being, fully developed to hold us hostage? Where does it go when we heal/recover/outgrow/are freed from it? 

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 If you think about it, every trauma we experience in this life, has its own sunken place it transports us to upon impact...I even think that perhaps the sunken places that exist inside of us are simply the places that become houses for our former selves, the iterations of self we're forced to leave behind for whatever reason...they could also be where inherited family trauma dwells, couldn't they? 

I have so many questions but am hoping painting through them leads to at least a few answers or starting points. 

Art as Protest: Women's March on Washington

1/21/2017: a beginning and the continuation of making our way down a path already laid out for us in eras past. 

I didn't have it in me to march, but I did have a desire to contribute my work in some way. Thankfully when I offered up "Social Construct", women from around the country responded, and carried it with them as they took to the streets. Some friends even wore the Her Power tee. As I looked at the pictures some posted and sent to me, I felt a sense of relief, humility, and gratitude. It affirmed what I know in my gut to be true: this is how I can effectively resist. This is my role. There will be other ways to be civically engaged, yes, but creating work that forces people to confront themselves and what exists in our society will be my main contribution. More on this later, but for now, some photos, which had me fighting tears as I looked at them all. 

May 1/21/2017 be the beginning of a new wave of resistance. Resist, resist, resist. 

 Vermont  

Vermont  

 Chicago

Chicago

 San Jose

San Jose

 D.C. 

D.C. 

 D.C.  

D.C.  

 D.C.  

D.C.  

For photos from today of marches that took places in cities across the country and around the world, the New York Times has a gallery here

Resistance Soundtrack: Prince's Positivity (Yes)

Since the election I've been having dreams that reflect my angst, fear, anxieties, and frustration over the normalization of hate and brand of populism that's taking over. The dreams are usually centered around my resistance to it, and my desire to find ways to engage in and support resistance efforts to this kind of power. In some of them I am crying, despairing, consumed with a sense of loss, but in most, I am fighting back in some way, even if it's just against my own fears that tell me all is lost. Last night's dream was about exactly that-not giving in to the desire to give up, and holding on.

I woke up from it with the lyrics to Prince's "Positivity" playing in my head.

  "Hold on...to your soul...we gotta long way, to go!"

 "Give up if you want to, and all is lost-Spooky Electric will be your boss..." 

It's been at least a year since I've listened to this track, so I'm sitting here in bed, right now, listening to it and marveling at how Prince's music (a song from the late 80's/early 90's that for me, always helped me in my spiritual life) continues to be relevant to our political and cultural climate.  

Lyrics from the portion that was playing in my dream/head when I woke up...

  "In every man's life there will be a hang-up

A whirlwind designed 2 slow U down

It cuts like a knife and tries 2 get in U

This Spooky Electric sound

Give up if U want 2 and all is lost

Spooky Electric will be your boss"

Call People magazine, Rolling Stone

Call your next of kin, cuz your ass is gone

He's got a 57 mag with the price tag still on the side

Cuzzin' when Spooky say dead, U better say died

Or U can fly high right by Spooky and all that he crawls 4

Spooky and all that he crawls 4

Don't kiss the beast

We need love & honesty, peace & harmony

Positivity

Love & honesty, peace & harmony

I said, hold on 2 your soul, U got a long way 2 go

Sho' nuff, sho' nuff, sho' nuff

Don't kiss the beast

Be superior at least

Hold on 2 your soul, y'all, court, sing

Hold on 2 your soul, we got a long way 2 go

Hold on 2 your soul..."

 

Holding on. 

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#FuckThisShit (Advent Devotional Day 25): Jesus Mary and Joseph

Then: Generations waited for the birth of deliverance.

You were slaughtered by the state.

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Now: Generations are waiting for the birth of deliverance while being slaughtered by the state.  

During this advent season, I've been creating visual responses to the prompts in a devotional called #FuckThisShit, created by pastors Tuhina Rasche and Jason Chesnut.  You can see my responses as well as visuals and writings from other artists, pastors, activists, and believers over on Medium here

Face First

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Step One/The Beginning: Cut down what remains. 

Step Two/The Middle: Clean it up w/a taper & fade + draw a line or two. Take the advice of a friend before moving ahead to Step Three: "Take your time here before you do anything else-settle into this face first." Yea. Ima do that because there are some things about this face and past trauma I've been avoiding dealing with. But Year 34 is dedicated to Dealing With because the stories are ready to be told + healing has said it's time to go another round. So I chopped 3-4 inches off the top last night to show I'm committed to the process and stepping into it *face* first-no more hair to hide behind.

A Rerouted Personal History

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 "A well-documented feature of trauma, one familiar to many, is our inability to articulate what happens to us. Not only do we lose our words, but something happens with our memory as well. During a traumatic incident, our thought processes become scattered and disorganized in such a way that we no longer recognize the memories as belonging to the original event. Instead, fragments of memory, dispersed as images, body sensations, and words, are stored in our unconscious and can become activated later by anything even remotely reminiscent of the original experience. Once they are triggered, it is as if an invisible rewind button has been pressed, causing us to reenact aspects of the original trauma in our day to day lives.

...still, all is not silent: words, images, and impulses that fragment following a traumatic event reemerge to form a secret language of our suffering we carry with us. Nothing is lost. The pieces have just been rerouted." (It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End  The Cycle  by Mark Wolynn) 

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