Mystic Lady: An Interview with Katelan Foisy on Wolfwych

I already loved this Wolfwych interview with Katelan Foisy before I noticed that she very kindly listed this blog as a reference for Romani folklore and culture. Foisy is an artist, witch, writer, model, fortune teller… she does all of it, and lives her life with an admirable sense of purpose and ritual. She’s also of Sinti heritage, like me, and one of the most delightful and generous people I’ve ever met. During the Romani Arts and Letters Conference at NYU, I gave a talk on the importance of her work and the work of Selma Selman in reconfiguring the archetype of the “Gypsy Woman,” and included the PowerPoint here: Portraits and Performativity. If you would like to read a thoughtful and beautifully crafted interview with her about her artwork, life, magical work, fortune telling, and reading list, then here you go, and you’re welcome. Enjoy! https://wolfwych.com/2017/07/20/mystic-lady-an-interview-with-katelan-foisy/

I’ve gotten some of my best divination from cut-ups and some very good practical advice. It rearranges the brain to see what isn’t there. I’m also a fan of working with technology to increase energy. We are creating magical worlds with our internet presences so when I’m doing a working, I will photograph parts of it, edit the image to enhance the feeling of the work and put it up online. I feel that the love and buoyancy that pours in from that helps to boost the energy within the working. It’s one of the reasons I take so much care in the aesthetics of the working. If each working itself is it’s one piece of art, the care put into each work becomes part of the magic in that particular working. This method is what works best for me but each practitioner will have their own method. For instance I work with land magic a lot. If I’m doing a working for immigration I will take that person with me on a journey and the we will walk the path of those that came before us. I believe we need to know the history of the land before we can work our magic there. That may be one thing that I find odd about some modern day practices and with people in general. We tend to forget our history but the real magic lies underneath the pavement and deep within the soil, it lies in land memory. –Excerpt from interview

Image by Katelan Foisy, featured in WolfWych

 

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Portrait by Aurora Rose and John

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This photo is part of a series by the photographer Aurora Rose de Crosta. More on this later. She and John took many portraits, and I chose this as my favorite and answered this short interview to go along with it. Check out Aurora’s and John’s work at www.auroraandjohn.com. They are a beautiful and talented pair who I am so honored to have worked with.

1). Why did you choose the outfit you did? What about it represents you the most?
I chose this outfit because it’s one of my favorite dresses to wear when I dance. I like to perform a combination of Romani dance and Bellydance, but actually the dress is a Mexican wedding dress from the 1970’s from my favorite vintage store, The Odd Showroom, which was operated by the artist Amity Joy. I am a writer, perhaps first and foremost, but my grandmother taught me her Romani (“Gypsy”) family trades fortune telling, dance, and healing. The word “Gypsy” is a racial slur and reduces us to stereotypes, a dangerous thing in the midst of the current Romani human rights crisis. We are more than fortune tellers and dancers– I am also an English professor, writer, artist, editor, and activist– but these old trades, born of persecution in the centuries after our ancestors left India in the great diaspora, live on too.

2). Do you in general like being photographed? Why?
Yes and no. I did some very small-time modeling when I was young, and I suppose I got used to it, and now I’m a professional art model and have my image rendered in a number of mediums over and over again. If you believe in astrology, I am on the Cancer/Leo cusp (a touch deeper into Leo), and I suppose my relationship with having my picture taken reflects this. I don’t actually know anything about astrology though. I like being a part of an artist’s work, but sometimes it’s hard to look at my own image.

3). How did you feel during the shoot?
Aurora and John were so kind and creative and gave me loving direction while encouraging my own spontaneity. What a joy to work with! Deniz Ataman did my makeup, and she made me feel so glamorous. I loved that we shot in my bedroom too– the whole thing felt so intimate and sweet, and I felt supported in being myself, in all my odd multitudes.

4). Why did you choose the photo you chose?
I am a writer, and I fancy that in this photo I have a crazy face like Jean of Arc in Jules Bastien-Lepage (1879) painting (my paternal grandfather’s favorite), when the angels are telling her what her calling is. When I was a child, I believed that writing was my purpose, and it gave me a reason to live with a fire that I flattered myself by likening to Jean of Arc’s fire. I still might believe that.

5). Were there any particular images you hated? Why?
Anything remotely unflattering I will always hate because my vanity runs wide and deep.

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Joan of Arc, Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Presenting at NYU’s Romani/Gypsy Arts & Letters Conference

I’m so excited to announce that I will be presenting my essay, “Esmeralda Declines an Interview,” published in The Missouri Review blog at The Romani/Gypsy Arts & Letters Conference at New York University, April 23rd-24th. I’m even more excited to hear and meet my fellow presenters.

A little more about the conference– hope to see you there!

Opre Khetanes IV Concert and Conference on Romani (Gypsy) Musics and Cultures represents a major gathering on the East Coast of scholars of Romani culture and Roma who work as academics, activists, and/or performers. Presentations will be made by established scholars and by graduate students with expertise in Romani studies.
 
In the conference portion of Opre Khetanes IV, Romani/Gypsy Arts and Letters, artists, activists, and scholars in the fields of musicology, anthropology, Romani studies and related disciplines will deliver presentations on subjects related to the representation of Romani people by themselves and/or others.Opre Khetanes IV will also feature a film screening and a panel discussion.
 
The conference is free and open to the public.  No pre-registration is required.

Viktor Pachas and I Review Alex Mahgoub’s Play “Baba,” Plus Interview!

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The poster for “Baba”

On behalf of The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, Viktor Pachas and I went to The New York Fringe Festival to see Alex Mahgoub’s critically-acclaimed one-person show, “Baba,” chronicling the true story of his father’s murder and life after the trauma. We were so glad we attended– the play skillfully navigates the tangle of loss, identity, masculinity, and sexuality, and then we were fortunate enough to score an interview with Alex on film, thanks to Alex’s generosity and Viktor’s videography expertise. It was so great to talk about the overarching themes of his performance, and Alex was full of life and intelligent things to say. Check out our review, “Baba’s Ghost,” and the video interview with Alex here, plus some wonderful pictures of Alex and his Baba. Alex also has a book in the works, #SelfieGeneration, so be on the lookout for that.

This was my first collaborative review, and what a lovely experience. Viktor and I make a pretty good team. I feel like if you can write something with another person without killing each other, that’s a win, and if you actually enjoy the process, that’s like a kitten crossing the finish line at an ice cream marathon. If you’re not familiar with him already, here’s Viktor’s impressive bio:

viktorViktor Pachas is a freelance videographer, illustrator, Spanish translator, and musician. Viktor produces videos for Cambridge Writers’ Workshop retreats and workshops, and is a contributor for their blog. After finishing his studies in Molecular Cell Biology at UConn, he began producing promotional videos for Singapore General Hospital in cooperation with Duke University/NUS while working as a Circadian Research Assistant. Studying Flamenco Guitar and performing in Granada, Spain, he made videos to market a chain of hostels in Andalusia and Morocco. Recently, Viktor shot material in Paris for David Shields’ upcoming movie Black Planet produced by James Franco. He currently lives in New York City and is an instructor for Outward Bound and Global Works. He performs solo as a singer/songwriter and is a drummer for A Thousand Ships when performing in the New England region. Viktor is currently working on illustrating a comic strip based on his travels.

You can listen to his music here: https://victorpachas.bandcamp.com/

Esmeralda Declines an Interview: why I don’t interview for writers writing Gypsy characters

Sometimes I get requests from people to do interviews because they’re writing a Romani (Gypsy) character and want to use the life of a real live Gypsy girl to write her, and I always feel uncomfortable about the idea of divulging my life story for another writer’s creative gain. My friend, Misha Rai, urged me to turn those feelings into an essay, and because Misha’s advice is always brilliant, I did it. And now I’m honored and stunned to have “Esmeralda Declines an Interview” in The Missouri Review blog.

KickingNo offense intended to anyone who has asked me to interview with them as research for their book. It’s wonderful that you want to write well-rounded Romani characters, and I’m flattered that you thought of me. If you are struggling to include Romani characters in your work, then my advice to you is this: “If you want to be inclusive, then read and support the writers you want to include. Don’t ask to take our lives for your own gain.” I’m sure your intentions aren’t nefarious and I applaud your efforts to write mindfully. Just be mindful in your research too.

A good resource for you to find Romani writers is ‘ list of Romani Authors. I also have a list of “20 Gypsy Women You Should Be Reading” at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. There are many more places to look, but this is a good start.

Happy reading! And thank you to The Missouri Review and Misha Rai– I love you to bits.

P.S. Check out “Housewives, Mothers” by Misha in The Indiana Review– it’s one of my favorite stories.

“Gypsy” Jazz singer Tatiana Eva-Marie talks to Quail Bell Magazine

 

 

 

 

I want my audience to feel that they are constantly traveling with their ears.” —Tatiana Eva-Marie

Read the interview “Tatiana Eva-Marie on the harmonious fusion of Romani ‘Gypsy’ music” in Quail Bell Magazine and find out what she has to say about Romani music and representation, how her multicultural heritage shapes her art, growing up in theatres and concert halls all over Europe, the Music Explorer competition/documentary (click the heart to vote for her!), and her life in the Avalon Jazz Band in New York City. You can also listen to some beautiful songs from the competition. Opre Roma!

http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/the-real/interview-jazz-singer-tatiana-eva-marie

 

 

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Tatiana Eva-Marie singing with the Avalon Jazz Band

The Symbiotic Magic of Yoga and Writing: Retreat, Ritual, and a Chat with the Women of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop

If you’re an artist or writer and you’re feeling a little tapped out, check out this Quail Bell Magazine essay/interview “The Symbiotic Magic of Yoga and Writing: Retreat, Ritual, and a Chat with the Women of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop” about the benefits of practicing yoga alongside your writing practice and the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne, France. Although the CWW has marked the retreat application deadline as May 15th, admissions are rolling until filled and there are still a few spaces. Apply A.S.A.P.

 

Elissa doing yoga in front of the Château de Verderonne, Image source: Quail Bell Magazine

Elissa doing yoga in front of the Château de Verderonne, Image source: Quail Bell Magazine

Some quotes from “The Symbiotic Magic of Yoga and Writing“–

Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thriller Series, argues that ritual is the key to creating art. In From Where You Dream: the process of writing fiction, he explains that you must prepare for writing by entering a trance and focusing on the breath in a quiet space, much like the centering meditation of a yoga class. Once you’re there and centered, you must stay present with sensation and allow yourself to create directly and organically from that “dream space.” Like in yoga, you set an intention to stay open to all experience and at the same time, remain unattached to ideas, hence the popular mantra, “I am not my mind.” Butler writes that the best art comes from this “moment to moment sensual experience,” and “non-art” is full of summarized or intellectualized reported experience. 

Those “moment to moment sensory experience[s]” are much more nuanced than you’d think—all the available senses are involved. In my Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu, I learned that the body holds memories, a phenomenon addressed in the study of somatics, a branch of psychology that examines the mind-body connection. In certain poses, you may feel spontaneously happy, sad, angry, frightened, blissful—you may be flooded with memories, sensations, and epiphanies. You may weep or laugh without knowing why (or knowing all too well why). Stay with present if you can: breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow (or BRFWA). Your body is releasing trapped energy, memories, and emotions—parts of your past that you have been carrying unconsciously, perhaps as tension, shortness of breath, pain, or anxiety. What does the experience feel like, smell like, look like, sound like, and taste like? The information you need to have a cathartic experience is the same information you need to create one on the page. Butler argues that in order to make art, we have to dive into the unconscious mind, confront whatever pain dwells there, and use that intense awareness to write from the “white hot center.” This is just another way to access the unconscious.

 

The renovated stables

The renovated stables

Jessica: What are some of your favorite yoga poses, breathing exercises, and/or meditations for stimulating (or sustaining) creativity?

Elissa: To increase creativity and flow, hip-openers like Pigeon pose and Lizard pose (Uttan Pristhasana) are my favorite. When you release tension in your hips, you also release the emotions that come bubbling up. The hips and pelvis are related to the Svadisthana chakra and the water element which governs the area of creation and creativity. These postures help clear writer’s block by encouraging creative energy to flow without over-efforting.

Also, Nadi Shodana pranayama (also called alternate nostril breathing) is a wonderful breathing technique to begin or complete your practice and is appropriate for anyone. It stimulates a daydream-like state, where our senses draw in (called pratyahara) and we can disengage from the external world. It helps us develop the focus and concentration needed in meditation. I think any meditation that works for you is excellent. Meditation is the key to open the mind to inspired creative thought. It brings you back to yourself, to moments of truth, without mind chatter, self-criticism and self-consciousness.

 

I'm enjoying yoga with Elissa

I’m enjoying yoga with Elissa

Jessica: How does community support your yoga practice and/or artistic practice? 

Norma: The image of the solitary writer is deeply rooted in the romanticized myth of the lone, genius writer. In truth, most great writers were part of communities comprised of other writers, intellectuals, and artists that inspired each other. Many great literary movements and unforgettable manifestos came out of the collaboration of such communities of writers….In addition to encouragement, support, and critical feedback, I think one of the most powerful things a community can offer a writer is accountability. If you know that people are counting on you, then you are more likely to follow through. Whether your goals are short term or long term, a community can hold you to your word. 

Of course, the same principles apply to a community supporting one’s yoga practice.

For the rest of the essay/interview: http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/the-real/essay-the-symbiotic-magic-of-yoga-and-writing

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Applications rolling till filled

If you want to read more about the importance of cultivating a community, check out Rita and Norma’s interview with VIDA & HERKIND “Community as Catharsis: A Conversation with Rita Banerjee & Diana Norma Szokolyai”