Writers’ Circle: Establishing Creative Ritual

I’m delighted to announce that I’m running a bi-monthly Writers’ Circle at Tarot Society in Brooklyn, NY, every other Wednesday night from 7-8:30. It’s my experience as an English and Writing Professor and yoga teacher that ritual can lend not only structure to a creative person’s life but also a great deal of inspiration. Ritual helps us delineate space and energy, and if you are the type to believe that writing is a kind of alchemy, then you may appreciate the practice of charging your writing time and environment with intention. Think of it as a magical rite, invoking the muse, calling to your higher self, or appealing to your genius (those delightful daemons the Romans believed worked through us). We’ll draw from various traditions of meditation, mindfulness, and magic work to open the space for our writing. Then, we’ll begin the circle with craft talk, usually incorporating examples from a diverse array of writers (often outside of the great white canon). From here, we move on to writing prompts and time to write, and end with optional sharing and feedback. The goal is to have you leave with some new material that you can play with afterwards, and if you choose to invite feedback, our suggestions are informed by the freshness of the work, rooted in questions like, “What did you love? What did you want to see more of? What were you curious about?”

If you feel like you could use some more energy, discipline, and magic in your work, then join the Writers’ Circle, open to all genres and writers. Follow Tarot Society on Facebook or join the mailing list to keep on top of the Writers’ Circle schedule.

The Writers’ Circle and Tarot Society is a decidedly safe and intersectional space, welcoming to all genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities. Please come in the spirit of art, love, and tolerance.

 

 

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, FranceAlthough 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

Click here for more details

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”

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If I’m going to write about “Minor Swing,” I should probably listen to it on repeat for hours until I reach a state of transcendent jazz-bliss

I first heard Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing” when I saw the film Chocolat as a kid, and though I haven’t seen it in years (so I won’t vouch for it one way or another), I remember at the time I loved it and it made very proud to be Romani, what with Johnny Depp being so outspoken and handsome on that steel-string guitar and drinking his hot chocolate. It also kicked off a deep love of Reinhardt, Lagrene, and other Manouche Jazz stars.

“Minor Swing,” one of Reinhardt’s most popular compositions and a Manouche jazz standard, just came up in the novel. It’s one of my favorite songs ever so I’m happy to “work” for my art (if work can be listening to a song on repeat for hours). Writing requires that I experience everything fully and presently in order to even come close to evoking a true essence. It’s like practicing yoga, mindfulness, and meditation. Ideally, I’d like to be in that state of compassionate awareness all the time, but for now, I will listen the hell out of this 3 minute song, only think a little bit about Johnny Depp, and then I’ll write a thing, and that’s wonderful.

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Fans of Faith and Mindfulness

Not gonna lie… after reading about Faith Bacon’s untimely end I got a little choked up with the wings.

I watched Behind the Burly Q on Netflix (amazing, by the way) and one of the dancers described the abject despair and revulsion she felt during her first performance when she looked into the audience and saw the men in the front row masturbating. The burlesque back in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s was, more often than not, exploitative. The dancers were often poor, mistreated, and desperate.

And yet, the burlesque of today looks so empowering– the performers seem to have real agency. I have no hesitation seeing burlesque as an art form. The documentary A Wink and a Smile, also on Netflix (also amazing), suggests that contemporary burlesque upends the more traditional dancer as sexualized object. Instead, the dancer is performing her sexuality through her burlesque persona, a character of her own creation that she uses to articulate the dynamics of agency and desire. It makes me think that the contemporary burlesque dancer is fiction in motion.

I wonder though if it’s possible to perform and not feel some degree of shame. I’m not suggesting that there is anything intrinsically shameful about burlesque or stripping: it’s a specific part of American culture that created the stigma and labels it shameful– that’s the same cracked culture that slut-shames pop stars and victims of sexual violence. Maybe people just can’t perform anything, even day to day life, with out some degree of shame.

The yogic practice of mindfulness, nonjudgmental self-awareness, is one way to approach transcending shame while fully inhabiting the body. Mindfulness travels well, so I imagine then that anything done mindfully could liberate and embody. Writing, eating, walking, singing, surfing…. dancing, too, I bet, especially if that dance includes giant feather fans. Who could possibly feel bad with feather fans? Well… nevermind. Obviously many people can and do, Miss Bacon included. We need mindfulness and fans, together, I suppose.

This is why I like the direction burlesque is going in: 1. it’s gender and trans gender friendly, 2. it’s more racially diverse and allows dancers of color to reclaim symbols that have been used to exoticize, 3. It’s creative and glamorous and kitch all at once, 5. costumes, and 6. It’s about choosing how, when, and how much to perform the inescapable. It’s important to note too that not all the early burlesque dancers in Behind the Burly Q described their work as shameful. Quite a few of them found fame and money and felt a lot of pride in their talents and resourcefulness during a tough time in American history. That felt good to hear. With all this in mind, and without disregarding anyone’s experience, perhaps the burlesque of yesteryear may take on a new meaning, or at least another aspect, too.