Some of My Recent Writing on Art, Music, Health, and Social Justice

Hi Readers. I’ve been so busy that keeping up with the blog is kind of a tall order. Lately, I have edited a book on a rare gastric disorder, ghostwritten a comedic memoir, and I’m still slogging away on a local history book about the incorporation of Citrus Heights. To keep things fun and to try and maintain my value in the world, I contribute to a few publications about art and social justice. Ah, the life of a freelancer.

So I thought I’d include some short descriptions of some recent pieces and some links for your perusal. For me, art and politics, health and social justice, these things are all of a piece. I’m also a little ADD so I bounce around a lot, which is probably why I have 168 followers on Twitter. I’m writing a YA novel about climate change, did I mention? Anyway, here’s a ‘greatest hits’ of my recent work.

A few months ago, I wrote a feature for Submerge Magazine about political satirist and YouTube doyenne Randy Rainbow. If you don’t know his work, check your pulse. He was a total doll to interview, and he got my daughter and me tickets to the show, which was cathartically hilarious.

In May, Sacramento’s Concert in the Park was lucky enough to have Lyrics Born grace the stage. He’s a multi-faceted hip hop artist who has recently dabbled in comedy, and we had a great conversation about the realities of being a working artist.

Now for the darker stuff. For the last half of 2018, I was knee deep in a project about a dissociative disorder called Pervasive Pregnancy Denial. When you see gratuitous headlines about newborns being found in dumpsters, this is what you are actually witnessing, the culmination of childhood trauma and the psyche’s elastic ability to block out painful information. The US is the only country in the industrialized world that doesn’t have a federal statute recognizing reproductive-related mental health events as mitigating circumstances for these types of crimes. Dame Magazine was bold enough to publish this story, and I’m very grateful for their help in putting this piece together.

Dame also published a piece I wrote called Can the “Wellness” Industry Solve Our Healthcare Crisis? about the failures of conventional medicine and the potential for evidence-based alternative or traditional healing modalities to correct these shortcomings. I also address some of the shitty practices in the multi-billion dollar wellness industry that is disguised as the solution with very little oversight or results. It’s a complicated subject, but really important since so many 2020 candidates are championing #MedicareForAll.

When the documentary Leaving Neverland came out, I was struck by how many people didn’t understand the nature of childhood sexual abuse. The two men who came forward, Wade Robson and James Safechuck had a conversation with Oprah (and praise be to Oprah for doing this because the backlash was extreme) where they discussed the reasons they both came forward. I wrote an open letter to both of them on Medium from the perspective of a trauma-informed yoga teacher.

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In the interests of addressing some of the underpinnings with so many of our social ills, I wrote a more philosophic piece on the nature of violence in the US. It occurs to me that we will not fix our more obvious problems if we don’t learn how to acknowledge our own baked-in rage as a culture.

I’d love to hear from you about anything I’ve published lately. Thanks for taking the time, readers.

Love and Light,

~M.

Evelyne Michaut’s Memoir Rewrites Trauma into a Tour-de-Force

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At the end of 2017, I lost my shitty job and a small miracle occurred. While I feverishly sent out resumes and heard nothing but crickets, a friend introduced me to a woman who had just finished a novel and was in need of an editor. Evelyne Michaut is a French-American mom of two kids living in the Bay Area. We clicked right away.

She was in the process of getting a divorce, her third, actually. Shy about this manuscript, she knew it was time to let some other eyes see it. I braced myself for first-time-writer syndrome, but I was happily surprised at how good she was. The novel was a spec-fiction book with a decidedly matriarchal flavor, but she was struggling with one character in the story – the antagonist.

Halfway through my first read, she contacted me and said, “I think I have to write the real story first.” Then she sent me a stripped down version of her memoir. And this was really where the motherload resided.

Watching Evelyne unfold this memoir was fascinating as a writer and editor, and excruciating as a woman. The Harvey Weinstein allegations had just surfaced, and the #MeToo movement popped like a boil. We had many conversations where we marveled at the timing.

Evelyne was in her 40s when she unearthed a deep gash of sexual trauma in her own background, a childhood scar so horrific that her brain had lovingly plunged the knowledge deep into her subconscious in order to protect her and keep her functioning. This trauma had informed her whole life without her knowing it, manifesting in physical pain and erratic romantic choices.

There was a truly astounding moment when we were discussing the abuse itself and we were trying to figure out how to bring the reader into it without forcing her to relive it gratuitously. I suggested she go back into her journals to see if anything surfaced. Sure enough, decades ago she had recounted dreams, bizarre sexual nightmares she’d had long before the awareness of the trauma surfaced. It was like her young adult mind was trying to tell her in the gentlest way possible, that the scar was still there, weeping.

I had never worked on a project like this before, and I thank God that we met often in real life and relied on video chat to discuss the work. I’d be thinking mechanically about how to best express something and see the expression on her face change. We would bring the conversation away from the text for a moment, and give her some deep breaths before continuing. She is also a very clear communicator who speaks the poetry of spirituality, and so while our metaphysics were very distinct, this gave us a common vocabulary to unpack the narrative.

What Evelyne did took incredible guts. She had to be unapologetic in telling the truth, and this meant saying some unpleasant things about some of the people close to her. She was also able to find humor in really dark places, poke a little fun at herself, “pushing into the cracks,” as Leanoard Cohen would put it.

I was so lucky to work on this book with Evelyne; she took some really fucking rotten lemons and made Beyoncé-grade lemonade. The Goddess Guide to Divorce: a Memoir comes out on Valentine’s Day as a gesture of self-love, and a signal to women and men that healing is the first courageous step in making love possible.

Whatever Lola Wants: Vine & Bone Blog on Food, Art and Photography

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A somewhat mythic presence in the the Sacramento art community, Lola Mo (or Lola Magnolia, as I have dubbed her) quietly absorbs, watches, tastes, documents and describes all things delicious and daring.  Not only does the woman make her own gin, she gives historic walking tours in Midtown and is a veritable fount of artful facts.

Wherever Lola goes, she leaves a faint spell in the air; people need to know who she is and what she does.  Her photographs are often poetic traces of her primal impressions.  I don’t know her very well, but I am always impressed by her vision, her painstaking aesthetic and her ravenous appetite for new concoctions.  Her blog is a litany of interesting discoveries and awakenings.  This particular page is about the creative process and feeling somewhat bogged down creatively, I took quite a bit of inspiration from it.  However, I recommend following her since she always has something beautiful to offer.  And I should warn you, I almost always come away hungry.

Vine & Bone: http://vinebone.com/2014/06/blog-tour-monday-the-creative-process/

The Big Event: a Social Media Wedding Story and the Limitations of Self-published Storytelling

In publishing my latest short story collection, I encountered what I imagine are very common problems with formatting.  Kindle demands a sort of “one-size-fits-all” format from the text so that it is highly malleable.  It is exasperating to format in Word only to put it in the Amazon Previewer and have it completely distort the text.  And then even when you think it looks great in the Previewer, once it is actually up on Kindle, it changes again.  I’m sure this has exposed me as a rank amateur.

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From a creative writer’s perspective, a big advantage to self-publishing is that it potentially offers all kinds of alternative forms for storytelling.

One of the stories in my collection, entitled The Big Event, is about a grandiose wedding experienced entirely through the lens of social media.  I experimented with Facebook, Twitter and email style formatting.

What I found in trying to include this story with the rest, was that Kindle was simply not having it.  Knowing very little about #self-publishing, I looked around at other possible self-pub options, but most forums said the same thing: that if you wanted any success at all, you were eventually going to have to put it on Amazon.

So I got around it by setting up a Google doc that could be publicly shared and included a link.  As far as I know, when you get to this section of the text, you can click on the link and it will take you to the doc.  I am so curious if this worked for people and what their experience was trying to read a narrative in this medium. We are so used to absorbing information in this way, but we never think of it as a “story”.  If you did, I would really like to hear from you.  If you are similarly experimenting with different forms and styles and have found a platform that works better, please hit me up.

And if you really don’t have the patience to buy my shorts for a whopping 3 bucks, I am going to give you #theBigEvent for free.  You can read it right here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7xWw0hHvDc2alFodGIyeGNHTE0/edit?usp=sharing

Please note that this material is copyrighted and may not be reprinted without my consent.  Enjoy.

To check out my collection of short stories, The Brunt, visit: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MN2QRTG

Living the Dream

Today was one of those days where I wondered again what the universe would like me to do.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could just put in a request, like at the grocery store where they have slips that say: what would you like us to carry? and you wrote down: Cocoanut Water and a few weeks later, it appears on the shelf.  It just doesn’t work that way.  

I love it here.  I want to stay here.  And it seems like Nevada County really wants me to stay, but I need a new place to live, which means I need a real job .  I am trapped in that quandary of service industry work: if i get a job, say at the Briar Patch making 12$ an hour, then I lose what little assistance I have and I can’t afford to pay for child care.  

Suddenly I am peppered with offers to make music, people are interested in my writing, I’m meeting new interesting people I want to pursue relationships with and yet my mind keeps telling me to be reasonable and get a grown up job.  Somewhere else. 

I was at an event today at Sierra Commons for local business people and I found myself chatting with two people, one of whom turned out to be Heidi Hall who is running for congress, and both of them told me they started novels about the area and never finished them.  I guess alot of people have this dream.  Someone needs to tell the story.  

I noticed all over again how many exceptional people are drawn to this area with the hopes of contributing, of striking gold and sharing the bounty.  It’s built into the place.  And many do.  A surprising amount of people do.  

I seldom make the responsible choice.  Today, I could have sat down and struggled again trying to write a marketing blog about marketing trends in the life sciences.  I could have job searched.  I could have listed more stuff on Ebay and taken more stuff to the Salvation Army.  

Or I could have sat down and wrote another two pages in my novel.  Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda.  

But I also know that I will never get to the end of my life and think: I should have gone right back to work after Blossom was born.  I know I will never feel like this time with her is wasted time.  She benefitted already from her first three years here.  

I have to believe that even in the thick of this unease it was worth it to be poor so I could be with her every day.  And if that means that Mommy never gets a career in marketing, or makes it as an artist, well, tough titty.  

Nevada County feels like paradise in a lot of ways.  But paradise is illusory.  

 

 

The illuminated Manuscript of the Body: Alex Grey’s Net of Being

Note:  I submitted this article to the Sacramento Bee but they did not pick it up.  So I’m posting it here as is.  I also include the full interview with #AlexGrey and #AllysonGrey.

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Imagine the world’s wisdom traditions combined and compressed into anatomical drawings of the body. Visionary artist and spiritual icon Alex Grey has spent more than 30 years merging esoteric religion and biology though his art.  His figures are like human light bulbs lit so brightly from within that their skin is transparent. Grey will be signing his latest book Net of Being for eager fans at Art Discovered in downtown Grass Valley on April 10th.

His appearance in a small town at a fledgling gallery may come as a surprise, but it is entirely consistent with his ideals about creative life. His advice for artists trying to make a living in a small town: “Stay as close as you can to what you love. The most important thing for an artist is to find their subject, the thing they make art about, that keeps them hooked on creation…be a strong artist community and make offerings to the greater community and they will support you.”

Grey was born and raised in Ohio where in the mid 70’s he attended #ColumbusCollegeofArtandDesign on a full scholarship but dropped out before graduating.  His work as a research technologist at #HarvardMedicalSchool and as a medical illustrator gave him unique insight into the form and function of the human body.  Combining this understanding with hallucinogenic experimentation and rigorous study of world religions, Grey embarked on a lifelong exploration of human consciousness.  He has taught at New York University, Naropa Institute and Omega Institute, among others.

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Many in the 60’s and 70’s had an awakening but few were able to define it, sustain and articulate it with Grey’s diligence. He peels back the material and energetic layers of the body to reveal the miraculous in the mundane: the phenomenon of smelling a flower or making eye contact with a loved one.  For Grey, the work is a spiritual quest to unify, to lift the delusional boundaries that separate human from human.

His images are ubiquitous, as Net of Being attests.  Tattoos, posters, album covers, clothing, all brandish Grey’s signature third eye.  While this propagation of image might make some artists queasy, Grey seems delighted that these ideas have gained such traction.

“When visions come, an artist may feel a moral obligation to share the iconography that has been personally meaningful, even sacred to them. When an artifact transmits this mystic truth, the viewer recognizes and identifies with it as an icon.”  He often refers to this principle as a #sacredmirror, a seed planted in the mind of the viewer meant to inspire enlightenment.  Grey and his wife, Allyson, have worked on an ambitious project in Wappinger, New York called the #ChapelofSacredMirrors, a temple honoring the world’s wisdom traditions and indeed, inventing a new, art-based religion.

It is brave in this cynical era to advocate universal love and world peace. “Art is the opposite of war,” Grey writes in his book.  In an interview, the Grey’s explained further: “In the future we propose everyone is an artist of their life: a creative node in a unified earth citizens brigade that saves the precious life web, sharing our gifts and emphasizing what unites people rather than what divides.”  When Grey makes bold proclamations like this, people listen and believe.  It may be because he is so studied and draws on such a wide range of sources, or because he has been so consistent in his message and in his life.  Or it may be simply because his images are breathtaking.  Alex Grey’s vision and voice will continue to energize people.  Awe at existence does not go out of style.

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For more on the Alex Grey book signing please visit: artdiscovered.com

Below is an email interview exchange I had with the Grey’s in its entirety:

I was noting in Net of Being your delight at the propagation of your images in the counterculture, i.e., tattoos and merchandise.  Can you tell me about the relationship between art making and commerce?  How do you, as an artist navigate that tension?
 
When visions come, an artist may feel a moral obligation to share the iconography that has been personally meaningful, even sacred to them. When an artifact transmits this mystic truth, the viewer recognizes and identifies with it as an icon. An effective icon is a sacred mirror that provides a glimpse of the viewers innermost being and imaginal experiences. When an artist gains access to the divine imagination and creates an effective icon representing that experience, the consciousness of a viewer can be transformed to a higher spiritual orientation by contemplating that art. This is the Dharmic principle of Liberation Through Seeing — to plant a seed of enlightened vision in the mindstream of the viewer.  The Orthodox Christians call it Theosis, coming closer to God by meditating on icons.
 
Right livelihood, one of the Eight-Fold Noble Paths of Buddhism, means doing a job for which you are not ashamed, a job that supports yourself and society.  People have asked for reproductions of my artwork so we make them available.  All proceeds from all sales of merchandise go toward building Entheon, a sanctuary of visionary art at CoSM, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.  Everybody that buys stuff is a builder with us.  Buy the poster, get the world view. Get the tattoo, embody the message.  We don’t think of it as counterculture, but more as visionary and underground culture, like the mycelial web of creative intelligence alive at music festivals throughout the world.

 

In a small town with a very young art scene, making art for a living is like winning the lottery.  Do you have any advice for our local artists in finding a balance between art and making a living?
 
Stay as close as you can to what you love. The most important thing for an artist is to find their subject, the thing they make art about, that keeps them hooked on creation.  Then it doesn’t particularly matter whether you sell it or not, you are doing what needs to be done on a Soul level.  Solitude and deep reflection for years is necessary sometimes.  This is why we think of art as a spiritual calling, you don’t really get into it for the money.
 
Make art events happen and attend those organized by others. Be a strong artist community and make offerings to the greater community and they will support you.
 
Use the internet to make more friends. In any business or endeavor, make more friends and share your most inspiring work. Make art everyday if you want to make a living at it. Keep a sketch book. Read Think and Grow Rich. Zena summarized How to Be a Great Artist by creating a small book when she was five. “Do Your Best. Be Yourself. Never Give Up.” If your art is your uncompromising best work, if the work represents you authentically and without pretense and you practice art-making daily for a lifetime, continually sharing that artwork fully and inspiringly, your work will touch others and support you no matter where you live.
 
You and Allyson have traveled all over the world.  Can you tell me about other cultural approaches to art making that have made an impression on you?
 
We have been particularly drawn to the world’s holy places because we are called to build one. A sacred site puts a philosophical framework around a sacred artifact. A gallery offers a sales environment. Art in a museum offers an anthropological, archeological context, classifies and educates, giving historical perspective. A site created to honor the divine provides a protective boundary around mystic art that represents the core teaching of the faith of that sacred place.
 Excellence exists in every art form in every corner of the planet. Worldwide, we meet visionary artists depicting their experiences in a new kind of sacred art that portrays their personal visions of the divine.
 
In the book you say: “art is the opposite of war.”  I think it’s safe to say that most of us feel powerless in the face of war and that this modern era presents an increasingly efficient, global war machine. As a result humanity feels more fragmented and separate. What does the future of humanity look like to you?
 
In the future we propose everyone is an artist of their life, a creative node in a unified earth citizens brigade that saves the precious life web, share our gifts and emphasize what unites people rather than what divides. Finding unity and discovering the gift of life, no matter what the current conditions, is a sacred path.