award-winning documentarian: photography + radio + music
My son, Izzy, turned 10 last week. 10 years of showing up all the way for another human being. There is a remembrance. A re-living life again through new eyes. When I was 10, I had my ears pierced for the first time. I can remember the smell of the cleaning fluid and the anticipated moment just before that needle gun stabbed my earlobe. Memories held from childhood seem crystal clear to the senses.
Izzy has turned 10 and I wonder what he will remember, and how in only three years he will be a teenager. Three years is a flash of time. And time is moving at a different pace than it used to. His years remind me of my years, and what happened in them. One of which is a story about the first person I truly loved. It was a connection that opened my heart to experience how love works. This relationship showed me the first glimmer of what it means to believe in someone, and what it means to show up. These were critical teachings in the great human drama, the stories of our lives.
I was 14 years old and was living in a Romeo and Juliet love. It was a very intense relationship where we saw each other every single possible moment. Often, he used to sneak out at night from his parents house, which was only ten blocks away. I remember the way he held a flower in his teeth as he skillfully climbed up the side my parent's house and into my bedroom. I remember hearing him quietly make his way to me in the night. I was Juliet. He made me tapes of cheesy love songs that I played like a religion, learned to memorize, interpret, and dream. He was Steve, a junior.
The night was May 15, 1989 and one week before prom. My mother took me to get the finishing alterations to a fancy laced fairytale dress for the dance. As we drove home from the mall in our suburban town, we heard a commotion. After driving closer, we saw a swarm of sirens, a helicopter, fire trucks, police cars, people surrounding, it felt like some crazy scene in a violent 3D war movie. We kept driving, a bit shaken, grateful to be alive and well, and unable to determine what had actually happened.
After getting home, I went upstairs to watch TV on my parentʼs bed. Early evening had turned to night, maybe even after dinner and the phone rang. I used to have a habit of curiously picking up the phone after someone in the house had already answered, screening the call.
The call was from Steveʼs mom, Diana. She proceeded to tell my mother that Steve had been in a horrible electrocution accident. He was living by a thread in a burn unit in Maywood, Illinois, which was about an hour drive from my house. Diana could barely speak. I donʼt remember anything specific that she said but the devastation in her voice was palpable. I turned off the TV, with my other finger still pressing hard, as if it might break, on the phoneʼs mute button. My throat was on fire as my entire body ceased up with fear. I remained silent, listening, stunned, shocked, as if life flashed before my eyes. Steve, I heard in Dianaʼs voice, was about to die. This was the accident we had seen earlier.
Unbeknownst to me, Steve and his friend Frank (who lived close to my house) had spent the day together after school, making romantic surprise plans for the upcoming double prom date. They decided to go out to Frankʼs side yard to play with a bottle rocket. It shot high up into a tree and became stuck. Frank went for the ladder and an aluminum golf ball retriever to hit the rocket out of the tree. Steve held the ladder as Frank climbed up. Apparently, the electric wires above were supposed to be insulated, but instead, they were live. The golf ball retriever attracted 2200 volts of electricity and it raged into Frankʼs body, down the ladder, to Steveʼs.
By some miraculous intervention, there was a break in the current, which passed through Frank, throwing him off the ladder, his body hitting the ground with burning flesh on his face, neck and arms. Because Steve was holding the ladder, the electric current stayed pulsing through the silver beams held by his 16 year old hands. Steve had more serious burns than Frank as the molten hot force shot through his body. The current ran through, from the inside out, melting 80% of his Achilles tendon, out his head, missing his brain, and into the earth, through his feet, holding him to the ladder until all of the energy passed. His shoes and clothes were burned like dark, crisp toast. Had Frank not been thrown from the ladder, they would have certainly died right there.
Every emergency team seemed to hum around the scene like bees on honey, including a helicopter, which transported them to a hospital burn unit outside of Chicago. In the helicopter the paramedics whispered just over Steveʼs head, “Weʼre gonna lose him! Weʼre gonna lose him!” In that moment, Steve later told me that while he heard the voices, he experienced a white light and thought of staying alive so he could take me to the prom.
When I hung up the phone, lying on the bed, paralyzed with shock, the air felt lifeless with yet a stimulating silence. My mom did not know I had been on the phone and overheard her conversation with Steve's mom. She came upstairs and slowly opened the door. When our eyes locked I screamed a blood-curdling scream. I threw over shelves of books, emptied drawers of clothes, and kicked a basket across the room, which made it look as if we had been robbed. I needed to move my fear. I needed to get it out and my mom just stood there, watching, not attempting to change my experience.
“Get in the car!” I screamed. “Now!” We raced to the hospital so fast that if a cop dared to stop us, I might have been arrested. There was not a moment to put on a jacket, pee, or change clothes. She drove lightening fast, racing against time yet we didn't stop once. All the streetlights were on our side before and after the highway ride. I never saw my mom step on it like that. As she drove, I screamed, cried, held my body so tight with an aching heart and intense focus to get there. Inside I was both exploding and dying.
The car screeched into the emergency driveway, I swung the car door open and ran into the hospital, my mom parked and ran to follow me in. A rabbi was there in a black coat, reading from the Torah, Steveʼs parents were sitting there crying and holding each other. The doctor was also in the room with a face that seemed as if I was too late. I told them I had to see Steve. The doctor said, “Iʼm sorry, but no one is allowed to see him at this time.” Right when the doctor turned his head, I snuck in to see my young, innocent love lying on a bed, hooked up all over his body to machines and wires. Blood was on the ground beneath his right hand while his upper back was arched up, as if his heart was pulling his chest and body toward the sky. He was particularly muscular and I remember his muscles, veins, and skin hooked up to monitors and machines working hard to keep him alive.
As I stared at his face, fire in my eyes, burning with focus I said, “You will not die now, Steve. You will live a long life. You will grow to be a father someday. You will live on.” I felt a surge of superpower in me that permeated from head to toe and all around. I could feel him hearing me. Then, my instinct was to raise up my hands and repeat those words. We were working as a team. His eyelids fluttered open. When I saw that, I ran to get the doctors. They ran in. He was alive! He was going to live. He did.
26 years later, the experience is fresh today somehow, now that my son is only four years away from when I lived then. I wonder when the drama of my son's first love will begin.
I was in theater school reciting lines in the subway on my journey uptown, engrossed in the words and thoughts of Ophelia. It was a chilly October afternoon and what helped me focus, aside from the rumbling rhythm of the train, was knitting. Funny to knit while in the midst of executives shoulder to shoulder with artists, next to homeless folks blending in with every culture and creed together, it seemed, in one train car during sardine time on the subway. My big bag held the knitting skein I was weaving with long, unsharp needles as the train came to 79th Street Station. I remember the moment when I stopped knitting and put it away to deliberate about whether or not I'd get off the train to buy a book at the corner store. The doors opened. I was standing there and just as the doors were about to close I jumped off onto the platform, deciding yes to the bookstore.
The subway doors closed on my bag which was tightly wrapped around my right side body and neck.
I screamed to the subway conductor that I was stuck in the doors. From inside the car I saw people try to push my bag out. Then, the doors slightly opened to accommodate my bag, which, from the momentum, sunk my right leg down into the space between the platform and the subway car. My right leg was all the way down, up to my pelvis, while the rest of my body was struggling to get up before the subway took off.
In this split second of a moment an angel, some amazing fluke of grace of a person, lifted me up by my armpits and the subway took off instantly. I never saw his eyes. I know I was lifted up by a big man who saved my life in this near death experience. Life flashed before my eyes like a shock of lightning, and, later, a black and blue bruised hip and upper thigh left evidence that the incident happened at all. I might have not believed it happened otherwise.
That experience was one of a string of near death experiences which brought me closer to my aliveness and its absolute fragility. At a young age I gained a healthy respect for that which cannot be seen or measured.
I went to the bookstore, in utter shock, and sat down ever so slowly. Then, silently, took out my needles and began to feel, for the first time, the radiant life force of my hands knit.
Fania Davis wrote an article in YES Magazine to be read entitled:
"This Country Needs a Truth and Reconciliation Process on Violence Against African Americans - Right Now"
We are alive in a time of great change, a seismic shift in the way humans engage with our humanness. Standing at the crux of an evolutionary moment, our brains are rapidly transforming from the ways in which we use technology. I recently watched a fascinating show "The Future Starts Here" created by Tiffany Shlain and Ken Goldberg at AOL entitled Robots, Botox and Google Glass.
As a direct result, I have found myself thinking, on the verge of obsession, about the fine line they propose between being human and being robotic, particularly as it relates to where our species is evolving. And, even more particularly, how that relates to mothering.
Mothers can attest to the fact that primal love is the connective tissue between humans, a feeling robots can never know. I think our hearts and our emotional capacity to love, to connect, and to intimately engage the unknown beyond what we think we can manage, sets us apart from robots. When moms are forced to disconnect from authentic instincts, then, as Regan Long says in her recent compelling plea to the President in this week's Huffington Post, we are in danger of shutting off our innate wisdom to become "gladiators", "superhuman", or dare I say robotic. We are asked on a daily basis, over and over again, to refute our instincts to accommodate the maze of modern living. Is it working, ladies? At some point, we will, in collective force, take back this very human, timeless and universal story.
We are alive in a golden age as we empower ourselves to re-design the ways in which mothering could be revered and respected in our culture. Where we don't have to choose between work and family, but can utilize Internet powers to integrate innovation with fluidity, creativity and media savvy. Today, US moms are pitted against each other, identified in a particular camp on the vast spectrum between "working" or "stay at home", without a policy to support this essential and critical function of a healthy social fabric. Regan Long's article gets straight to the heart of one of the most pressing issues for mothers of my generation, as we pave the way for future generations of moms - our daughters.
The emergent patterns from this exercise reveal that which makes sense only in retrospect - waves come together in one pool of understanding. This is my 40th year. As I wade in the waters of life, deeply humbled yet with cultivated chutzpah, I am here, ready to swim fiercely when necessary, with unwavering trust in what is.
This is my creative process.
As I step up into a sustainable, fully integrated expression of story, creativity and community, I trust that this ripple is moving from the inside out, in its right time. As long as I strive to be impeccable with my word, avoid taking things personally, as well as avoid assumptions, and always do my best, then I will let the sail take me on the wave of possibility with this beating heart, right now.
I have been feeling the weight of our tragic times lately. When I tuck my kids into bed at night there is a particular gratitude I feel for the quiet alongside sounds of their deep, safe rest and yet I viscerally sense other mothers in places without the same sounds. Sometimes the feelings of powerlessness and fear are so overwhelming that I want to hide with my family and pray for change. But I know I cannot hide for too long. We humans who have the inclination to share and spread light, in whatever ways we do, are needed in collective force right now.
With that being said, I am honored to be contributing a DELVE song to an upcoming compilation album for the Network of Spiritual Progressives. NSP strives to provide their members with thought-provoking content and to advocate for a transformative New Bottom Line in our economic and social institutions. This compilation CD will be distributed in 2015, nationally and internationally, to NSP members as a gesture of peace and social transformation.
DELVE is moving around the country and overseas. It has been purchased on iTunes Europe, among other places in the US, from New York City to Columbia, Missouri and Fresno, California to Houston, Texas. This is encouraging and I haven't done much yet to bring the album out beyond my community circles. While the music is spreading, I wonder about the people who are listening.
We are all born listening, helpless and vulnerable creatures. We are all born wired to connect, to be held, nurtured and loved. Then, somewhere along the way, perhaps we stop listening to our guts, our deepest, most vulnerable truth. Then, while on the twisting, turning path of life, key stories arise out of heartbreak and triumph that shape the origins of who we are, and who we are becoming. These stories are the maps of our lives that guide us into our collective future. Our stories also help others find their courage and know they are not alone. I believe, if willing to stretch beyond the defenses of what we think we know to be true and what has seemed to protect us, that everyone has the capacity to heal, integrate, and become whole human beings. This is the reconciliation work of our time, one person at a time. The more people who do this unveiling work, the more it moves into our cells, our memes, our relations, and our world.
Today, June 30th, marks one year since the DELVE Kickstarter Campaign was completed - an amazing year it has been! After reaching the $15,000 goal, I distinctly remember closing my computer, going outside for a walk in the sweet air, and lifting my arms up to the sun, tears streaming down my face with gratitude for the chance to dream and have the dream actually come to life. When I came home, this was drawn on the sidewalk outside of my front porch from my close neighborhood friend, Lauren, and her daughter, Jo.
After releasing the album in February, I came to realize that no institution or set of rules would pioneer my way forward. The old systems of the music business are dying off and being replaced by human instinct, creative, authentic process, and faith to know when to turn at the right time, without force. As my dear friend, Rony Reingold, recently said, "you've been living in the radical pause", pulling back to listen to what is ready to emerge.
To move forward I will go back 10 years to then come around full circle.
In 2004, I became pregnant with my son and all of a sudden started to see pregnant women everywhere. To make sense of the experience taking over my life, I began to gather audio tape of mothers sharing their stories and then asked Tania Ketenjian if she wanted to co-produce a project with me. That tape turned into BIRTH, the public radio documentary about practices and perceptions of birth in the US. It was distributed nationwide by Public Radio International in 2006. It aired as an hourlong radio special and then was over. Poof. Gone, without a tactile connection to the people listening. This conundrum made it clear to us that we wanted to make more of an impact on the ground, person-to-person. As a result, Tania and I created THE BIRTH TOUR, a nationwide community event intended to catalyze intimate conversations about birth and simultaneously stimulate a support network for new mothers.
THE BIRTH TOUR was designed to incorporate excerpts from the documentary along with questions for attendees to discuss in small and large groups. The event grew from six initial cities where Tania and I travelled with my little boy, to requests from all over the US. In response to the demand, we created a document that guided people to self-organize THE BIRTH TOUR in over 75 cities and towns nationwide between 2006-2009. The work was sponsored by Organic Valley, Motherlove Herbal Company, gDiapers, Mothering Magazine and The Institute of Noetic Sciences. At the time, we didn't realize our endeavor was unsustainable, both in infrastructure and in business model, without both of us at full steam ahead.
Then, in 2009, I became pregnant with my daughter and went underground just after the launch of BORN, a follow up public radio documentary about the postpartum experience in the US. Everything in my work life had to be put on hold to handle the incredibly intense demands required of me in my own pregnancy and postpartum family life. I was overwhelmed and unable to keep it all together with juggling two kids and a career. When my daughter was 6 months old, she stopped napping and was up, literally, 6-10 times a night for 2 years. She rocked my world and everything I thought I knew about motherhood was challenged. I had been immersed in thinking about and commenting on birth, yet the coming of my daughter brought me to my knees with humility and compassion for what it takes to show up to this unbelievable feat.
DELVE was born out of being stripped down to the raw grit and grace that was my experience of those early motherhood years. The letting go of my professional identity was a bitter pill to swallow and yet, somehow, my instincts told me I was on the right path even though the unknown terrified me at the time.
Now that my kids are 9 and 5, and DELVE has been born, I am considering possibilities to refine my vision for THE BIRTH TOUR and potentially create THE DELVE TOUR (with Tania's good wishes), a nationwide event focused on the potential for personal and social transformation through motherhood. I am exploring how to shape the event design by integrating DELVE songs plus new ones, along with probing facilitated questions to stimulate story-sharing, community, creativity, and social change. In addition, I am considering sustainable business models with sponsors and partners and a strong infrastructure made to last.
Dearest Global Renaissance Woman, Dr. Maya Angelou,
Although your body and spirit have separated recently, your presence is undeniable.
I'd like to take this moment to thank you for living your life with such an exquisitely insatiable curiosity for truth.
You were a remarkable example of dynamic resilience and creativity inside the human form, moved to fill page upon page of translation from your rich and fertile being. Not just in the written word, oh no. In music, film, theater, dance and other various expressions, you mastered the craft of tuning inward to listen, inquire and then create. Even your tweet a mere 5 days before your death wisely said, "Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God." The voice of creative force in all of us is the very truth of existence, waiting, beckoning to be received, held, and, then, released, hopefully, to bring more light to this world.
You lived that way, Dr. Angelou, all the way to your quiet, dignified passing at home with loved ones surrounding. Your soul was able to completely let go, rest and expand into the Great Eternal Mystery where we will all return. Because of our common origin and destination you were able to see the beauty and possibility in yourself and, hence, in all human beings.
Today, the capacity to listen to ourselves is becoming a biological imperative, particularly when inundated like never before with marketing, technology and the mass quantities of stuff we think we need outside of ourselves to be ok, to be enough, to be worthy. We cannot buy our way out, but we can imagine a new way through, and that, I think, is by listening. It gives me great solace to know that you, Dr. Angelou, didn't write your first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, until your 40th year around the sun. Before you focused on this historic writing, your despair and grief must have been so unbearable to realize "the need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind."
You couldn't be caged. Oh no. You liberated yourself from darkness into the healing waters of your destiny by owning your uncommon, unlikely path as a best-selling author, poet, editor, essayist, screenwriter, director, actress, playwright, producer, dancer, singer, teacher, civil rights activist, and mother. I salute you! I celebrate you for your courageous, inspired life of bone deep compassion, unwavering humility, and tremendous gratitude for a brilliant turnaround. You re-framed your life to make it thrive!
Thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou, Global Renaissance Woman, for living a life so alive and real and connected to life far beyond your own. You will inspire me until my last breath, and beyond.
What a journey we have lived, side by side for 40 years. Sometimes enmeshed. Sometimes in sync. Sometimes distant. Always connected deeply in the heart, even through cycles of insane triggers, projection, drama, and fear. Our vast spectrum of charmed and crazed engagements have never been boring.
At this point in my life, I am weathered and humbled. We have come through enough to see each other as mutually distinct fellow Warrioresses of our lineage. It is now clear that we have been given this chance, in these bodies, to tap critical clues and answers to the gateway, The Holy Grail, of healing our family.
You inspire and mirror in me the will to dig deep and uncover the wisdom of dark, raw emotion. To now know, without a doubt, that we have been living with, and playing out, the particular pain body of Jean from 100 years ago, liberates me. To actually feel and release our shared unmetabolized trauma, to think about and feel the sorrow she could not access makes it possible for these feelings to finally move through us! Hallelujah! Her grief lived in our cells to be transformed into light in this lifetime together.
You truly are a great mother, woman, grandmother, alchemist, and friend. I love you. It is an honor to be your daughter. Happy Mother's Day. I wrote this song as a tribute to you and all moms everywhere.
There have been times in the last 9 years of parenting my children where it was the sweetest of molasses days, where I learned to slow all the way down, where I learned to heal my heart by showing up and loving unlike any love I've ever imagined. To unplug from the world in deep time pockets to grow wider when stretched beyond the emotional and physical limits of my perceived comfort zone was my Jedi training.
When something felt hard (ie: the MESS of my house, the crying up all night, the mounds of laundry, toys everywhere, the backlog of emails and responsibilities that gathered cobwebs, a dwindling career with a terrifying lack of focus, poop on my hands, the countless vulnerable moments in a day, children running around my house with sparkles and markers and dirty hands on the walls), I learned to let go into the delicious mess of it most of the time. These experiences have given me a rich context for what it actually means to be productive and effective in the world.
As the kids get older they are thankfully forming their own ideas, interests, and pursuits. My psychological blind spots have been growing right alongside, pretty much always identified and sometimes wildly triggered by these little teachers. This is the new mess to navigate.
When my son behaves in a flippant, disrespectful way, or if he's being too this or too that, there have been times when I get super, well, controlling, which is, in another word, powerless. It is maddening to attempt sourcing power from a place of powerlessness. It is infuriating to feel ineffective with my son. That said, he has been getting me ready for raising my daughter. There have been too many times when I threaten to take things away or he can't go here or there if he doesn't do this or that. It sucks. There has to be a better way! Sometimes I can see his light dim when that character in me comes out. We always re-establish connection and, ultimately, know the true essence of the other with our idiosyncratic methods of making amends, but sometimes it takes awhile.
In light of this, I stumbled upon a most helpful article from which, I imagine, others will benefit. It examines the raising of moral children and the difference between using shame and using guilt to shape them. Adam Grant wrote about this brilliantly in his recent NYTimes Sunday article "Raising a Moral Child", which directly speaks to my experience in a most life-changing way.
The other night at Passover Seder, my son was being crazy wild and almost dangerous to the other little kids. When he gets to be "too much" like that, I often bust out with a controlling face of threats and anger. This time, I did something very different. I gently asked him to come into the other room with me. I closed the door. I laid on the bed and asked him to lay down with me. He sat at the edge of the bed and said, "Do you think I'm bad?". I said, "No, love. I think you have a lot of power and you're 9 years old. It is your responsibility to learn how to use that power wisely and it is my job to help you with that. Sometimes I don't know how to use my own power but we're learning and growing together." He got closer. "Tell me what you need, love. Why are you choosing to be so wild out there with all of those little kids when you know better than that?" He got closer and said, "Mama, I just have so much energy but I do think I'm not being so responsible." Then he started to cry. My heart was bursting open with him. Then, he came out with the unforgettable of unforgettables, "Mama, I never want to leave you. When I go to college will you come with me?" I told him, "Oh love, you feel that way now, but when you're 18 I bet you'll feel differently." He turned 9 on Tuesday (he was born before the 2nd Seder 9 years ago which in the Lunar Calendar makes his birthday this week). Then, we hugged and he cried in my arms. It was such a tender, magical moment of my life. I loved every part of it. Thank you, Adam Grant, for writing this article and helping me understand how the hell to deal with my feelings and get to the root of what lives beneath my experience of too muchness. I needed to get this morsel of wisdom to move forward with this leg of the journey in Jedi training.
Also, when we left the room, he immediately went to help clear the table and bring the dishes to the sink without me asking. Then, he looked at me and gave a smile and a wink. Amazing.
MUSIC & MEDIA CREATOR/PRODUCER
MUSINGS ON LIFE AND MY CREATIVE PROCESS
SLIVERS OF MOMENTS