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ARTIST FEATURE: Awakening to My Truest Self – An Interview with Jade Ponds

 

Womens Art and Creativity[The Phoenix Rising Collective]

There are many characteristics I love about the February 2016 feature, Jade Ponds. Her punching dry wit and her determination to reach personal goals are two obvious aspects that stand out. Also, she has a gentle and kind spirit mixed with tough love. There is a lot to this young woman whom I have had the pleasure of knowing in different capacities.

She was born in Banbury, England but moved to Flint, Michigan as a child. She had written her first poem when she was 10 years old. In actuality, her teacher placed her in “time out” for getting in trouble. She told Jade not to move until she wrote something. Soon after, without ever having written poetry in her life, she produced a poem called Love. Jade years later joined the Navy and served a four-year term, traveling to places like Dubai, Singapore and Hawaii, just to name a few.

I met Jade at a poetry event in December 2007. She came to the venue to support her cousin who was in the first spoken word class I had taught at University of Michigan-Flint. After the event, she approached me. She explained how shocked she was to see her cousin not only perform but sing on stage. This evidently was an anomaly. The next year Jade registered for the course. She wasn’t just a student in the class; she was a mentee. The odd thing about talking about mentor-mentee relationships is that the flow of knowledge and wisdom feels one-sided at times. But that was not the case with Jade. She shifted the tides in how I saw learning because she was someone who wanted to learn everything she could about writing, performing and developing as a person. She always asked a lot of questions – Jade kept me on my toes!

When she finished the spoken word class in 2008, she didn’t just move on to other classes. Oh no! Jade registered for credits to assist me with the other spoken word classes. She started producing the chapbooks for the course while working on her own poetry book. She graduated from University of Michigan-Flint with a B.A. in English literature. She continued her education, graduating with a M.A. also in English literature and a concentration in Creative Writing. I had asked her to emcee a monthly performance set I was organizing. The shift in the relationship moved from teacher-student to friend. Not long after, we started working together at Genesee Valley Regional Center, a Flint juvenile detention center. We co-facilitated a spoken word workshop with young women Monday evenings. Jade (after graduation) accepted a job with General Motors as an UAW supervisor while still publishing poetry books, co-facilitating the performance workshops as well as teaching martial arts on Wednesday evenings. Yes, she is a 4th degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. She is a woman of many talents.

Jade Ponds [womens art and creativity] The Phoenix Rising Collective]

However, the information above is not the story I want to tell about Jade. The story I want to share is specific. It’s about the shift in her life. I begin this story by sharing an excerpt from her poem Fair Exchange:

Life hangs in the balance

Balance no longer an option as one side dearly

Outweighs the other

Death is near

She is set to be a mother

Complete with belly rubs from well-wishing strangers

Never knowing the danger lurking around the next bend

The end

Much closer than before as she

Blacks out and falls to the floor

Pain overwhelming

Not just a throbbing

Or a stabbing

Or a shooting pain,

But a combination of all three times ten

Accompanied by blood

Horrific at best

With no chance for rest before rushing to the E.R.

Hands trembling

Scenes skipping from one to the next

to the next

then darkness

This poem speaks to an experience that made her rethink her life and the sort of legacy she wants to leave on earth. In July 2009 Jade was at her annual family reunion in South Carolina. Big family. Lots of children. All sorts of food. Playing games and talking smack – what every reunion should have, right?

She explained what happened on this particular summer day:

I woke up that morning because I am an early riser. I was also the only adult who would play with the kids. We were on the trampoline around 8 in the morning for about an hour, jumping up and down like kids do. When I got off I couldn’t stand up without feeling like I was going to fall over. I felt a pain in my abdomen – the lower right side. I ignored it though. Although the pain persisted, I kept moving through the day playing other games. Around 6 in the evening I was unusually tired. My mother-in-law gave me two Tylenol so I could lie down on my back because my stomach was really hurting. It got worse. I stood up to get somebody and then I passed out. I ended up waking up and calling Mike (her husband) but then I passed out again. I was rushed to the hospital. There were moments where I could see everything in front of me but then it got darker and darker until I couldn’t see anymore. And that’s when I had an outer body experience. It was sudden. It was like stepping outside of myself and seeing me on the hospital bed, along with Mike and the doctor. It was peaceful and I didn’t feel any pain.

What I learned was I needed an emergency surgery. My fallopian tube was removed because I had an ectopic pregnancy. Unlike normal pregnancies, the fertilized egg stayed in the tube instead of moving to the uterus. I was 7-weeks pregnant and the baby was growing in the tube, which had ruptured. Essentially that day, I had been bleeding in my belly. I had lost the baby.

This moment of awakening represented both death and new life. On one end, my child had died and I could feel my life draining out of my body. For a moment I thought, “This is my last day on earth.” And it could’ve been. I asked myself how were people going to remember me. And I didn’t like the answer. What I understood about myself was that I had been holding myself back in life. I was the person that didn’t allow people into my world. I was very guarded (and still am to a degree). But I wasn’t living up to my full potential. I was not fully writing my truth or loving completely and fully. I might have to be responsible for other people’s feelings, especially if I impact them and I connect with them. Yes, I was shy, but it was more than just being shy. I was afraid of publishing my book because I was afraid to share. So this brought on that question, “How am I going to be remembered?” It was time for me to recognize the things I liked to do. For example, I liked helping people. But it was also time for me to recognize the experiences that placed me in a corner. In the past, I didn’t want to give people an opportunity to get to know me. And I think that stems from my hurtful relationship with my dad. He was the first person who truly let me down in my life. When I started to acknowledge resentment from within, I also had to acknowledge the discomforts and vulnerabilities related to our father-daughter relationship. I listed the discomforts:

On my dad’s watch I was molested.

On my dad’s watch I didn’t feel a sense of security

On my dad’s watch I felt like he wasn’t listening to my heart.

On my dad’s watch I felt unloved.

 

Although Jade acknowledges these experiences and feelings, she also admits she is still healing. And she doesn’t shy away from the anger or frustrations she feels about her dad today. She writes about it; She talks to trusted people; She uses her experiences to empower and help. When I am with Jade I am pushed to the next level of artistry because she reminds me that my truth should be spoken and shared, if for no other reason than to release and speak aloud as a way of acknowledging myself in the universe. That is where my healing begins.

It’s befitting to end this article with her words I carry, especially during times when I want to shut everyone out, “What I have learned is to treat each person as an individual and not as a collection of failures.” Yes, what I have learned is that there are some people who will show you how to trust. I’ve been fortunate to connect with a woman who shows me what trust means in my artistry and in myself.

Thank you, Jade Ponds!

 


 

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is the Art + Creativity contributor for The Phoenix Rising Collective. She is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help women reach their highest potential.  “The Phoenix Rising Collective is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts. You can learn more about Traci’s work in creative arts HERE.


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ARTIST FEATURE: These are a Few of Her Favorite Things – An Interview with Shekinah Shazaam (Video)

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The Phoenix Rising Collective’s Artist Feature, curated by Traci Currie, interviews women artists who use their talents and creativity to fully express self-love, build self-esteem, and nurture their own authenticity while inspiring others. Creative expressions may range from performing to painting to writing to travel and everything in between. Our goal is to share how these empowered women cultivate agency, healing, and happiness through fulfilling their passion.

This Artist Feature is Shekinah Shazaam.

It’s spring, and I have the perfect artist for this blossoming season. Shekinah “Shazaam” Tapplin! Just read the name. Actually, say the name out loud. SHAZAAM! This is a special time for this vibrant, creative being. Not only is she celebrating her 23rd birthday this May, she also graduates from college with a BFA in Graphic Design and a Theatre minor. She is an up-and-coming filmmaker, photographer, actress, graphic designer and writer. Are you exhausted yet?

I decided to approach this feature differently. I wanted to match the colorful in-your-face energy she exudes. I sat down with Shekinah and said, “Let’s play a game.” Her smile told me to ‘Bring it on!’ Our game is called 23 Favorites because she is turning 23 years old. Essentially, I am asking her to share 23 of her favorite things – like the song My Favorite Things from the musical Sound of Music. This is no coincidence. I love the movie for different reasons but the #1 reason related to Shekinah is the vibrancy and joy that resides in the musical’s main character Maria. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying Shekinah is energetic and giddy every single minute of the day. I am simply saying there is a bright light in her. She makes me want to reach for the shooting stars at night. If I am lost, all I have to do is look up.

PhotoGrid_1432690531784To set the stage for the game below, I want to share a few tidbits about Shekinah. She is from a small town in Michigan called Clio. When she mentioned this, she gave me the not-quite-exciting-but-this-is-where-I-am-from look, and I told her this is where the famous people are usually from – a place no one has ever heard of. She chose to attend University of Michigan-Flint because it’s a commuter school. Beyond saving money she also chose this university for the wonderful faculty in her major and minor. She explained, “I love it because I can’t NOT do it. This work is engrained in my soul. I love being able to tell the different kinds of stories in visual, oral, written and performance.” Then she left me with a phrase, “I don’t believe the world is black or white. It’s in the middle. There are so many different types of people in the world that there is no one way.” Indeed. She is willing and able to explore the possibilities without question.

So, we begin the game 23 Favorites. Her responses to the questions are her words. At the end there is a short video explaining some of the responses.

  1. Favorite Attire: Layering in Fall
  2. Favorite Season: Fall but Autumn sounds prettier
  3. Favorite Film: Star Wars – It’s scifi. I love the fact that these things can be possible. It would be very ignorant for humans to assume they are the only life forms in this universe.
  4. Favorite TV Show: BBC’s Sherlock
  5. Favorite Music Genre: Anything electronic
  6. Favorite Artist: That’s so hard. I have so many. I will limit it to four: (1) James Blake – He’s British. He has soul! The melodies meld together with his beautiful voice. (2) Active Child – He’s a redhead. I have a thing for redheads (as she smiles at her own red connection). He has range. The deepest deeps and the highest highs. (3) Lindsey Stirling – She is really amazing. She is a violinist who dances while she plays. She mixes in dub step with the violin. She also makes cinematic films that go along with her songs. (4) Lo Fang – He’s a recent new favorite. He has a very pretty voice that balances well with the electronic sounds beneath it.
  7. Favorite Color: Red
  8. Favorite Number: 13
  9. Favorite Actor: Will Smith. Seeing his transformation from Fresh Prince to more serious roles and him embracing his children’s art and acting…I love his support and passion. And he has a laid back attitude.
  10. Favorite Place: My room. Everything I need is right there.
  11. Favorite Part of the Body: Man or Woman? (I say, BOTH) Woman: Women’s hips. Maybe because I don’t have them. Big womanly hips. They look comfortable to sit on and it looks like it would be easy to squeeze a child out. Man: I have two:  (1) Man legs – they intrigue me because no matter the size of the man, the legs are usually small. (2) Man chest – I like when there is a little something there. When you can squeeze their moobs, they make me giggle (i.e. moobs – the male version of boobs).
  12. Favorite Activity as a Hobby: Crafting – Do It Yourself (DIY) projects
  13. Favorite (Ideal) Career: Filmmaking because it combines everything I love
  14. Favorite Month: May because it’s the birthday month and it warms up then; Then September because Autumn enters the picture
  15. Favorite Person: Though he would be surprised, my Daddy. We have similar personalities and sense of humor.
  16. Favorite Jewelry: Rings because they are very versatile. They are chunky and you can layer. You can wear with almost any outfit
  17. Favorite Book: I have two: (1) Trilogy: The Singer/The Song/The Finale – The Singer Trilogy. It’s written in a long poetic form, kind of like an epic. The language communicates with me personally and reads smoothly. (2) The Hush Hush Saga – It’s a fantasy paranormal romance and it features angels, one of my favorite topics to write about.
  18. Favorite Experience: For my 20th birthday me, my parents, and three best girlfriends went to Chicago and I fell in love with the city. We saw so many different cultures living together, great amount of art, and people were friendly. Just AMAZINGNESS!
  19. Favorite Time of Day: Evening to nighttime when the sun is setting. Things are calmer. I do my best thinking later on at night.
  20. Favorite Word: Shazaam – I love this word because (1) it sounds good with my actual name, which is why I use it as my artist name, and (2) I love the fun way that Beyoncé used it in the Austin Powers movie. That’s where I got it.
  21. Favorite Writing You’ve Done: Not completed but my first novel I began writing at age 13. (She couldn’t reveal the details – work in progress)
  22. Favorite Food: Chocolate
  23. AND FINALLY, Favorite Quote: Wishing does nothing, doing does everything. I came up with this a few years ago when I realized people were whining about everything they wanted. Instead of whining about what you want, why don’t you go out and do what you want. Hard work gets you to where you want to go.

 

 

Please support this talented up-and-coming artist; you’ll be glad you did! Check out her website: Shekinah Shazaam

 

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About the Contributing Writer:

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help young women reach their highest potential.  “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts.


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ARTIST FEATURE: An Interview with Martina Hahn – Quite the Phenomenon

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The Phoenix Rising Collective’s Artist Feature, curated by Traci Currie, highlights and focuses on women artists using their talents and creativity to fully express self-love, build self-esteem, and nurture their own authenticity while inspiring others. Creative expressions may range from performing to painting to writing to travel and everything in between. Our goal is to share how these empowered women cultivate agency, healing, and happiness through fulfilling their passion. This Artist Feature is Martina Hahn.

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I had the great pleasure of sharing the stage with a phenomenal speed painter named Martina Hahn. I use the word “phenomenal” with great purpose, because she reminds me of Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Woman.

Traci_Currie_Martina_Hahn[BHMevent]

(l to r) Martina Hahn, Painter, and Traci Currie, Poet at the 14th Annual Black History Month Brunch – Photo Credit: April R. Nunley

I was invited to share poems written by Maya Angelou at the 14th Annual Black History Month Brunch this February at Genesee District Library. While I recited the poems, Martina was next to me painting Angelou’s portrait. By the time I finished my 7-minute recitation Martina was done. I had heard of speed painting but I had never experienced it – definitely not in this manner. Although I was focused on myself on stage, I felt Martina’s presence next to me. I heard the movement of her hands over the canvas, splashing colors in purposeful directions to shape Angelou’s image. At some point, I wanted to STOP and focus on her the way the crowd was focusing on her. I had this odd feeling that the audience was bouncing back and forth between two artists, more so with an emphasis on her work because they were trying to figure out what she was creating. By the time I had started the last poem Still I Rise the audience and I began calling-and-responding the infamous refrain “I Rise,” at which it was becoming abundantly clear who Martina was painting. What a feeling! But this feeling is exhilarating for more reasons than you can imagine. Martina called it the “law of attraction” that brought us together.

Let me share a few things about this German born artist who first pursued a college degree in psychology. She shared the concerns her parents had about her pursuing visual arts as a college major. I suspect others can relate to this experience. I think some of us can guess what that infamous question is when expressing interest in being a professional artist: “How will you make a living?” Well, in Martina’s case she admitted to the struggles she had gone through to reach her dream. She said it wasn’t until the late 1990s (about 17 years ago) when she was given an opportunity to paint a mural, which took her nine months to complete.

At some point in our conversation Martina revealed she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008. I told her she didn’t have to share details if she didn’t wish to, and she explained a concept her family came up with: The Voldemort Syndrome. Do you remember Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter? He’s the evil guy whose name you are not supposed to say. If you’ve never seen the films or read any of the books, this may appear foreign, but think about it like this: Never speak of anything bad or else it might manifest in some way. However, Martina explained how important it is to name the things we consider terrible. She said, “If we don’t say them they will stay with us [like a dirty secret]. I talk about the bad things because when you name them they lose their fear-factor and power.”

And so she talked about the cancer. She also talked about the domestically abusive relationship she was in and how unhealthy her mind and spirit were during this time. She started seeing a therapist who was helping her. Then two years later she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was fortunate to learn about this in its early stages. As a result, she was able to undergo treatment that removed the cancer. A year after the diagnosis she found speed painting. Although she had seen speed painting before, she did not pursue this form of art until her son wanted her to paint the character Jack Sparrow from the film Pirates of the Caribbean. She was unable to paint the character because, she explained, she was over-thinking the process. Martina became so frustrated one day that she ended up slapping the paint onto an 8×4 piece of plywood. She found herself furiously creating Jack Sparrow in roughly nine minutes. When a friend saw this wonderment, she was asked to do it again for a fundraising event. And this time the adrenaline rush took over and she created the image in six minutes. She learned to stop over-thinking the process and allow it to flow. She has a magnet on her refrigerator that says, “Don’t take things too seriously.” Over the years this phrase has become a mantra in her life.

She says that she found her peace and joy through art. “People need to find that one thing in life that gives them joy…that calms them.”

May 2015 it will be seven years from the time she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In those seven years she has focused on healing her mind and spirit. “I believe in the trilogy of the mind, body and spirit. Over the years I have come to believe that in this western world, we focus on the body – whether it be short or tall, big or small, black or white. But there’s so much more to us. There is a soul, a mind and a spirit. We don’t give the full attention to our true bodies. I feel that these diseases like cancer are caused by our unhealthy minds and spirits.” She reinforced what I mentioned above: two years after the escape of her own abusive relationship is when she was diagnosed. Although she was unhealthy she explained how fortunate she was. Her body warned her, so to speak. She had a 6.5-inch malignant cyst removed. “The way I choose to look at it,” she said, “is that the cyst encapsulated the cancer. The cancer was actually contained so that it wasn’t spreading in the rest of my body.”

In the aftermath of her explaining her journey to me, I thought of the number seven. When I completed the seven-minute performance with Angelou’s Still I Rise it dawned on me, this poem is a part of Martina’s living truth. Upon completion I looked out into the crowd of faces, and they were in awe of the painting. I was stunned and humbled because I honestly thought her painting spoke for itself and that it was unnecessary for me to be on stage. After all, my job was done. But Martina called me over when she completed the painting with her signature. She assertively grabbed my hand and we both took a bow. Afterwards she later explained that it was important that “we” performed this together. She explained that accolades are fine, but more significant is what we displayed on stage – a communal process. Our job was to come together as one and share our gifts so that others might go home and be inspired. Also, for those not familiar with Angelou’s work, they will hopefully research her legacy and the path she has created so that we could be on stage at that very moment honoring not only the phenomenal woman she is (even in spirit), but also the phenomenal women we are, simply because we rise to the occasion every time we take a breath.

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About the Contributing Writer:

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is the Art + Creativity Contributor for The Phoenix Rising Collective. She is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help women reach their highest potential.  “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts.


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Confessions of a Storyteller: Figuring Life Out As It Unfolds

Gia_Marie_Amella_Storytelling[the phoenix rising collective]

I am a storyteller. But then, aren’t we all? Some stories come out of us in the most cryptic horrifying manner while others are simultaneously flighty and invigorating. Then there are those who tell stories that put us to sleep; unfortunately, we sometimes call them teachers or family.

Gia_Marie_Amella

Gia Marie Amella, Nonfiction Video and Television Producer

However, occasionally we come across a story that actually doesn’t speak. It simply unfolds. You get to watch it live. You have the great opportunity to pay admission to its viewing – mine being a plane ticket to Italy. Once landed (if you are on the same trip), you drive to your destination, knock on the door and sit down for dinner to feed your face because you’ve been craving good food all day after a long tedious flight. Just when you are ready to take that first luscious bite, the story stops you and suddenly replaces the pasta or pesce or prosciutto con formaggio you were about to ingest. The story is sitting right next to you – vivacious, garrulous, sensitive, and willing to share.

I have met many stories this past year being in Italy. All of them have come in these wondrous packages that have entertained me more than my favorite television programs; and believe me, I love watching TV. But I am losing interest in what TV programming has to offer. I am realizing that much of the programming, in all its glamour and unrepresentative images of real life, just can’t fully capture the essence of how beauty unfolds – how it comes in a 5’8” package, thick dark curly hair, Italian American mystique who waves a magic wand to create and produce media programming for the masses. You are saying, “Get to the point! Who in the world are you talking about?”

Gia Marie Amella

Here are a few facts about this Sicilian American woman who lives in two worlds – Italy and the United States:

  • Born in Chicago, Illinois (like me – YAH!)
  • Raised in Chicago and Northern California
  • Identifies herself as a nonfiction video and television producer and has been working in this industry since the mid-1990s
  • Completed her university degrees in California and became a Fulbright Fellow
  • Moved to New York City and worked in commercial television
  • Launched the company Modio Media in 2006
  • Recipient of the 2011 Public Service Award from the National Immigration Council, Washington D.C.

I could continue listing facts, but I wanted to share a few bullet points and then write about Gia personally. Why? She is charming and smart. Moreover, she is working in an industry where women are not readily in the forefront. I don’t think it is a coincidence that we connected at this particular moment in time. My sister had been telling me about her media experience for a while and agreed to have a dinner that included Gia and her husband Giuseppe (November 2013). My first impression when seeing her was, she gleamed. Not glowed, but gleamed. She had a flare and spunk that was undeniable. I immediately loved her style. This could be because she reminded me of myself – casually sophisticated, classic and comfortable. Granted, I may very well be the only one who describes myself as such, but I am allowed! When we sat down at dinner there was no lapse in dialogue, uncomfortable silence, or pretense to come up with silly questions to mask any sort of weirdness in the air. Gia was fluid, quick, energetic and had stories to tell. Her mind was whizzing, and at times I felt I had to play catch up because her tongue was quick. But get this – her eyes were very intent on listening, even when she spoke. Yes, she spoke and listened at the same time. She also observed and nodded, as if anything I said actually sounded golden. I mean, SHE TRULY LISTENED. And if you were to ask me, “Well, what did you say?” I have NO IDEA. I can’t remember my words but I can remember her eyes, the two semi-vertical lines that crinkled between her brows indicating complexity, thoughtfulness and her interest in wanting to know about little brown ME.

This meeting was only the first of a few others. This led to my requesting an interview with her about the work she does and how she balances her life. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I don’t assume people will say “yes” just because my big pleading brown eyes say, “YOU MUST DO THIS FOR HUMANITY!” I was humbled she agreed, because here’s an incredibly curious woman who tells other people’s stories for a living. And she was willing to sit with me for a few hours and share snippets of her life story. However, the video I have included is nine minutes long. Nine minutes worth of wisdom that you attain through living life the best way you know how…by putting one foot in front of the other.

One last thing, I am a firm believer that certain artistic expressions are meant to be abstract while others should be obviously understood. For the purpose of this article, I want to make it abundantly clear the importance of featuring Gia. I am moving into a unique phase in my life. I am meeting absolutely astonishing women and men who are moving the earth’s axis, as far as I’m concerned. They are shaping their existence by simply operating in what they love to do. While doing this, they create balance and figure life out as it unfolds. Gia does this. She does this in a communal way by offering her skills and services on a global level (after all, media is global). She does this by teaming with her husband to create a business – I love that she and her husband are business partners and live half the year in Italy and half the year in the United States (give or take a few months). And she openly admits that she is figuring life out and it’s not easy. Moreover, it’s not even close to being done. I believe we attract what we are. And if this is a bird’s eye view to how my artistic life is unfolding simply by what I am attracting and vice versa, then my goodness, WATCH OUT WORLD!

Learn More About Gia:

Dream Jobs Can Be a Reality (Gia Marie Amella), Part 1

Dreams Jobs Can Be a Reality (Gia Marie Amella), Part 2

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About the Contributing Writer:

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes the PRC will help young women reach their highest potential. “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts here.

 


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How to Embrace Living Outside Your Comfort Zone to Create the Life You Really Want – An Artist’s Point of View

comfort_zone_article[phoenixrisingcollective]

I have incessantly pondered how to begin this first 2014 article. What do I want to share with the readers this year on the subject of Art and Creativity? And how can I link this subject to The PRC’s theme “Balance”?

Let’s begin with a definition of balance. According to Dictionary.com, balance means “a state of equilibrium; mental steadiness or emotional stability.” According to Traci Currie, balance also means recognizing the yin and yang in one’s life in order to help understand and explore the beautiful complexities that make life worth living. I don’t blame any reader for asking, “What in the world are you talking about? Yin and Yang. Really, TC?” And my response is YES! I am talking about the opposing forces that need each other to help create balance. For example, I am both comfortable and uncomfortable in the mental and physical space I presently inhabit. The opposition lies in living out my discomfort but also creating ease in my day-to-day routine.

You might wonder why life is uncomfortable for me these days. Well, I am on an unpaid leave-of-absence from work. I do not have insurance. I do not have my own home (as I once did). I no longer have a vehicle I can jump into and drive anywhere and everywhere; I am more dependent on people than I have ever been in my life. And believe you-me, I am a very independent person. Now, let’s look at the other side – what makes life comfortable? I have a warm place to lay my head every night. I am fed every single day. If there is an emergency I have loved ones who will help me. Most of all, I am faith driven. In other words, although I may not have the answers to my questions and concerns right now, I know or believe that the questions/concerns I have will be answered in due time.

Art and Creativity’s Connection to Life Outside the Comfort Zone

Now what does being uncomfortable have to do with being creative and artistic? Everything. At the end of 2013 I asked Discomfort to be my friend instead of my enemy or my phobia-driven antagonist. Discomfort replied, “Sure thing, TC. But I require something of you.” My response, “What do you want from me?” Discomfort’s response, “Trust. Walk with me all the way to the end of this journey and do not give up – no matter how uncomfortable it gets. Just find a way to keep going.” Finding a way to move through situations means I have to be creative and quite the artist. And guess what? I’m up for the challenge! After all, Discomfort and I are friends, and the great thing about an honest friendship is that you have the opportunity to learn each other and grow together.

So, this year I have sought out other artists who have impacted my life. Some of them are friends; some of them are people I have never met but read about or listened to; some of them have passed on and some have yet to be found. Although they come in different shades, ages and gender, I am focusing on women of color for my articles. In addition, I have also decided to rethink what art is and what it looks like to both the world (that’s a pretty big audience) and to me. In essence, I hope to broaden the understanding (mine and yours) of Art and Creativity.

Throughout the year I will talk to various women artists about balance and what that means to them. But most importantly I will link their responses to my life so that there is a connection as to why I have chosen them for each article.  I will not focus every month on a specific artist but I will always focus on the theme, balance, which is why I am calling this, “A Year of Symmetry: Creatively Finding Balance from the Artisan.” I specifically use the word artisan because it often defines a craftsperson or someone skilled in the applied arts. Not everyone is deemed an artisan. I have learned that artisans study their craft and most often become the craft itself – which leads me to my first artist or more appropriately named, Artisan.

The Unconventional Artisan: Carol

comfort_zone_quote[phoenixrisingcollective.orgFor February I have chosen to be a bit unconventional by featuring my mother. What’s unconventional about that? Well, she does not like being in the public eye. Putting her in the spotlight is uncomfortable. Moreover, people might argue my calling her an artisan, but hear me out, and consider her story:

Carol is a teacher. OK, actually she is a retired computer programmer, and she presently substitutes three days per week at a bilingual elementary school. Most of the students know her quite well and she is well-loved by some of the teachers and students. I am not just saying this because she told me or because she is my mother. I actually witnessed it. I visited the school and watched her in class this past January. I also watched her interaction with various teachers and administrators who made it their business to tell me how much they love her. She is an artist. She has a way with children that many of us WISH we had.

My mother has a rhythm in her Caribbean voice that is assertive, vibrant, and peaceful. For example, a fifth grade boy was getting smart with her. I held my breath for a moment wondering how this was going to play out. She said something to him calmly and walked away. He seemed to annoyingly fiddle around on the computer. He even looked at me once as if he wanted to take me down. She went back to his computer and talked to him again. Before I could blink he agreed with whatever she said and willingly completed his work. Now, I know this is a general example because the question one might have is “What did they say to each other?” For me, it was less about what was said and more about what she showed him – a teacher’s heart, wisdom, and skills. How is this art? Well, I have learned over the years that a good teacher isn’t just someone who gives you information and walks away. A good teacher, in many cases, is a performer. We perform for our students and find ways to make the material interesting, understandable, sometimes creative, and relevant to their lives. And as a performer we find ways to improve our performance for our audience. My best teacher was a statistics professor. STATISTICS?! (For those of you who loathe anything numerical). He made stats look like poetry because he LOVED the subject so much that you had no other choice but to enjoy it as much as he did. He cracked jokes, offered personal anecdotes, even acted out a few scenarios with numbers. And to think, I was told that this professor disliked women and Black people, which meant I was out for the count! But aha, I came out of that class with an A (or A-) because he taught me poetry with numbers. What am I saying about my mother and/or teachers? My mother does more than substitute-teach. She teaches these students with hugs, with words of encouragement, with the obvious technical instruction, and most of all, with love.

All the artisans I know, no matter what they profess as their occupation, are called by this rightful name because they know how to find the artistry in what they do. And even when the work becomes frustrating and uncomfortable they somehow embrace the challenge as a part of the road map they have been given to find their way to their appointed destination. Again, it’s a part of life. It’s what makes life worth living.

What have I learned from her? The question that I really should ask is “What haven’t I learned from her?” I now know that I teach because it is an art form that I can wheel and deal and reshape every time I step into the classroom. But then again, everywhere I go seems to afford me the opportunity to be a teacher and a student, which means ART is always at my feet. So, here’s to an artisan that knows her craft as well as she knows herself. And make no mistake, Carol knows herself well. If you need proof, simply look at what she has produced – ME!

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About the Contributing Writer:

traci_reflect

Traci Currie is the Art + Creativity contributor for The Phoenix Rising Collective. She is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet.  Read her latest posts here.