The Phoenix Rising Collective

Inspiring Women to be Self-Love in Action


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We All Need Phoenixes in Our Lives

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I have chosen to share wisdom from one of my dearest and most creative soul ties, La Shaun phoenix Kotaran. I met this artist a little over a decade ago in a Detroit poetry venue. Instantly after watching La Shaun’s performance on stage I was drawn to her magic. I am not too sure how we actually exchanged information but according to her, she heard me share a poem on stage and felt a connection as well.

I am not particularly interested in detailing her life and how this Detroit artist entered the creative realm. If you Google her or listen to her music, spoken word, or read her poetry book you will become more acquainted with her identity. Because of her experiences, she has been able to speak volumes of light into my life, especially during some of my lowest moments – to name a few:

  1. When I avoided my doctor’s request to set a follow-up appointment to find out the results of an operation that would indicate whether or not I had cancer, she lit a fire under my behind to set that appointment.
  2. When I organized a Women’s Symposium and people backed out at the last minute. Without my asking, she stepped in and took over areas where I needed help the most.
  3. For my birthday when I was living abroad and I sat in this small apartment thinking I had been forgotten, she sent me a cyberspace birthday gift reminding me how much I was loved — not just by her and others — but most importantly how much I loved myself.
  4. And then there are the endless love letters that solidified this blessed affair.

My intention is to share some of the wisdom that comes from the letters she has written. They offer friendship, authenticity, forgiveness, growth, fire, and more love.

The italicized phrases help explain the context of phoenix’s responses.

Your name?

Phoenix (small ‘p’) was a name given to me by the poets in the mid to late 90s. I’m not sure of the exact date, as I’ve had the name now for as long as I can remember. One thing I can say for certain is that you have to be careful when you name a thing. I’ve literally become every facet of the name PHOENIX. I was in an abusive relationship and I used poetry therapeutically to share my story, to escape from the trauma of the relationship and then to eventually escape my abuser. The lines I weaved in those smoked-filled cafés filled with incense, cigarettes and insecurity began to really resonate with people, until they gave me my “poet name”. It never wore off in that I have lived my life as a phoenix. This includes overcoming death multiple times, reinventing myself to be as youthful as the world around me and taking on this magical/mystical appeal. Moreover, as this mythical bird that can soar at some of the highest altitudes, I find it hard to hang around folks with a pigeon mentality. I can’t be on this earthly terrain accepting any random scrap people want to give me. I was born to fly. I was born to be a big deal. I was born to be this magical, mystical, drama-filled being.  I had difficulty accepting that, but [age] 40 will make you cluck your tongue against the roof of your mouth and say, “F*** it. This is me. I’m amazing. I’m scared. I take risks.  Some of this sh** is planned. Some of it isn’t. But, for everything I am and everything I’m not, I’m completely fine with being me. I’ll do what I want. I’ll say what I want. I’ll handle the consequences either way.”

Why the arts? 

Because it was easy to set my pain to a tempo. Poetry and music became this fluid thing – like water cleansing the spirit or like being baptized.  I think art, and we chose each other. I needed an outlet [and] art needed a vessel.

A specific phase in phoenix’s life.

I think this season has been transitional for so many folks, myself included.  I’m inspired, but I’ve been mentally and creatively drained so I think I’m going through a seasonal purge/emotional cleanse.  What has been my particular lifeline in the past few weeks is waking up in the mornings and for 5-10 minutes just declaring out loud all of the stuff I’m grateful for: From life to my warm blanket to incense to the breakfast smoothie to the sun to the birds to no leg cramps to great sex the night before to a great movie to the morning drive not feeling so rushed. Every little thing I can think of to be grateful for I say it. It changes me from cranky to positive in 5-10 minutes and it’s been helping this seasonal depression.

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This was for my Spirit Space Photographic Series on Instagram. phoenix is a feature.

My philosophy is really simple.  We are 100% human and 100% divine.  We are these amazing supernatural (above the norm) beings in that we have the power to access that divinity all the time by mastering our thoughts.  Truly, as a God/Goddess thinks is their reality and everything that’s going on (or not going on) in our lives is directly related to our conscious and subconscious thoughts.  Mike Dooley, an amazing author and master of the Law of Attraction says that thoughts become things and it’s our responsibility to choose the good thoughts.  While storms may come, how we consider the storm is how we’ll respond to the storm.  How we consider joy is how we’ll respond to joy.  Even in difficult moments I’ve been working hard to make sure that I’m grateful for something everyday.  Gratefulness adds.  It multiplies.  It brings in miracles where there are seemingly none to be had.  It is a true gateway.

Letting go of stuff.

I’ve been doing a lot of pruning. I’ve asked God to show me who is supposed to be here as I transition into the next phase of my life. I’ve been carrying a lot of dead weight in relationships and have had to address a lot of things that I’ve been passive about in previous years. It’s been a process – making myself and my needs a priority. I’ve had to confront some emotionally scary situations and say, “Peace. I love you. But, the way my life is set up right now, you’re toxic and the relationship in its current state doesn’t suit me.”

Do you ever have doubts about your abilities and dreams?

Yes.  I have doubts all the time.  Am I too old, too much in my own way to be what I want – a rich and FAMOUS entertainer?  Do you hear me?  I want to be a rich and FAMOUS entertainer in the United States and in the United Kingdom.  I want to be a Cinderella story for the young and seasoned.  And that sheer desire – the clarity and honesty of it – the desire to stop hiding behind that desire and to just embrace it is my driving force.  When I put my mind on the desire to be a rich and famous singer…when I keep repeating it – I’m motivated to just do one thing towards it.  Write a song, send an email, make a connection, and pray. I keep my goal at the forefront of my mind.

I was preparing for a trip and was concerned about my purpose. She said this to me.

Let me share this, Goddess: You have seen other countries with determination and penny pinching.  You have quickened and inspired the minds of so many emerging artists while discovering who you are in the process.  You understand Universal Law, the Law of Attraction, the Law of Love.  Nothing…No THING…will be withheld from you.  Continue to dream a world.  Continue to take risks.  Put good positive energy and thoughts into the results you want and let Source Energy worry about the how’s. Make YOU a priority right now.  Your wants.  Your needs. You don’t have to stay in your lane as much as you need to make yourself a chief priority. I think that you should embrace the unknown.  It’s priming you for blessings.  You can look for cool jobs and gigs while you’re there.  The answers will come to you in the midst of the circumstance.  You’ll get to see how you survive when all of the decisions have to be made in the moment. Sometimes, we plan the sh** out of stuff, and maybe we need to get lost in the experience. Overplanning was taking the fun out of stuff for me – you know?  So, I challenge you to just embrace that you’ll be in Italy and that every decision about your next move will come.  Your spirit and body have been telling you to rest and fall in love with art again. Your first trip to Italy afforded you that.  This trip, be intentional to discover your purpose and then let God pull things into the forefront for you.

So, you can see why I love this woman so much. She is a reminder that we are advocates for each other because we believe in the extraordinary and the impossible-made-possible. We believe in growth and glory. We walk in faith with our families cheering us on. At the bottom of her email there is a quote by Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act.  It is a habit.”

How true indeed. She is excellence in motion, always working on herself and encouraging others. She is an artist’s artist and a life coach comrade. What better way to start the year than with a phoenix on either side of me, whispering, “Rise Phoenix! Rise and declare yourself ALIVE!”

 

Share your thoughts in the comments. phoenix shared that she takes at least 5- 10 minutes out of her day to express gratitude. What is your daily ritual OR what daily ritual will you begin to practice to keep you centered in and inspired about life?

Learn more about La Shaun phoenix Kotaran and also listen to her music.


About the Contributor

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 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.

Join the Collective on Facebook and Instagram.

 


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ARTIST FEATURE: Giving of Oneself: An Interview with Gretchen E. Henderson

 

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There are some people in this world who force you to ponder your existence. Their mere presence requires you to think about purpose and the intimate details of your life. I met one of those people during summer 2015, when I attended a Kenyon Review workshop in Gambier, Ohio. One of the co-instructors, Gretchen E. Henderson, lit up the room with her attentive heart, her vigorous spirit, and her compassion for the women artists in that particular “Art of Text” workshop. This had been her third co-instructed summer workshop with Ellen Sheffield. And what an inspiring summer it was with these two amazing instructors and a room full of Women Artisans!

I should begin with Gretchen’s occupational identity. Her words delighted me: “I am weary of classifications in general. I tend to call myself a writer who works in the medium of language.”  She is a writer, scholar, and artist who plays with the structure of language both on and off paper. She and Ellen encouraged me to rethink how stories are told, especially in the publishing world.

Dr. Gretchen Henderson tells her students to call her by her first name. She does not focus her energy on titles, but when you speak to her you know the genuine spirit from which she comes. What she calls “rambling babble,” I call “passionate brilliance.” In our conversation she described her “detouring path,” her early experience teaching high school, starting an interdisciplinary program, enacting experiential education, and then realizing the necessity to change. She took night classes in creative writing, then pursued graduate degrees, and now has been teaching at various universities for over a decade. I myself entered the graduate world for familial reasons steeped in a different sort of exploration that focused on worth, but Gretchen responded to a burning curiosity that explores a variety of intersecting disciplines – writing, history, art, music – to name a few.

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This Northern Californian comes from a family who thinks practically. “Art seemed to be something you did on the side,” she said, explaining her upbringing. She trained seriously in music at a conservatory but thought she would go into human rights work or some kind of social work. But the artistry was always there – now unmistakable when you are in Gretchen’s presence. She exudes unconfined energy fluidly spreading across spectrums, genres, and disciplines. She makes you feel like art is central to life, because it seems to be a way of sensing and engaging the world. “Art challenges us to reconsider forms and encounter contents that may be unfamiliar, inviting or challenging us to question and even cross our own borders.”

She posed the question, “What knowledge is valued and not valued in this world?” Then she explained, “Societies often teach us to see things in a singular sort of way – as if certain things and ways are better than others. But when we live through adaptation, we start to understand that there are many ways of doing things, that we’ve inherited preferred knowledges, but that there are equally viable alternatives for living in the world. Exposures to these possibilities often prove more engaging and generous than our inherited versions. People live wholly different but equally valuable lives every day, and we live in a changing world. As we grow, we almost have to unlearn things to understand how we acquired much of the knowledge that we live by and practice.”

This, I believe is one of the reasons why storytelling and voice are so important to Gretchen. With her background as a musician, she explained that narrative and voice intertwine “like sound and silence, positive and negative space, where each comes into focus through relief and being present to each other.” She describes the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, for instance, a term indicating beauty but whose connotations span the withered, weathered, crooked, aged, and ephemeral – qualities that might be deemed ugly or unwanted. Gretchen spent the past few years writing a book on Ugliness, exploring cultural histories and values, where art and aesthetics entangle with social preferences and practices.

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When I think of Gretchen I think of an endless amount of compassion. We talked about this characteristic, in relation to water and its elemental impact in our lives. Gretchen loves to swim. She learned to swim in childhood but really started swimming in earnest as an adult. Swimming catalyzes mobility, keeps everything fluid and in motion. “Water is a miracle place,” she said. “I feel like things that aren’t possible on land are possible in water. There’s a synergy between water and air,” she adds. “Both have resistance – you start to feel the air’s resistance through Tai Chi and related practices – but water magnifies that sense of dynamic engagement, more tangibly.” She explained that the resistance of water is a positive support that helps the body move past its limitations, get stronger, and engage with a larger environment. She called water a forgiving medium and repeated more profoundly, “Water is a forgiving place.”

This transitioned into the idea of what it means to forgive. “Over time, our bodies accumulate lived experiences: injury, aging, everything that we do. Our bodies can become static, but water and breathing keep things lubricated and moving. The same might be said of our ecosystems. Our bodies are heavily composed of water – after all, we evolved from fish – and much of the planet is water. Water embodies a kind of interdependence.” She explained that the two words “For + Giving” speak to a gift economy. The notion that water is a gift and gives us life speaks to our internal and external development. Wherever Gretchen has lived, she takes regular walks to be near water – whether a river, a creek, a bay, an ocean. She said, “There are all of these incredible qualities that water takes on, absorbing and reflecting light, shifting colors and movements, sometimes calm or windswept. There’s this fundamental property of motion. Water is so much bigger than we are, so at times it can be healing but other times volatile, for instance in storms or tides.” Water reminds her that humans are a small and humble part of this planet. So when looking at the word “forgiving” – or, as she pointed out, the two words “For Giving” – water speaks of being flexible and compassionate, aware of and present to the world that we collectively inhabit.

My own bodily experiences helped me relate to her final comments – an “out of box” philosophy and approach to teaching that allows people to move past their personal limitations – whatever those limitations may be. She connected this to the nature of “productive failure.” We can all agree that failure happens, right? But failure does not have to be terrible. I have learned that the greatest successes sometimes come from catastrophic failures. Gretchen thoughtfully shared, “I think people learn most from their failures. There’s something about learning these limits – how to be flexible around circumstances. When we fail, or when our institutions or our bodies or something else seems to fail us, we learn that we are capable of a lot more than we think we are.” We learn standards to understand how and why they came to be, but when they don’t work, we can learn how to re-imagine our limits or even how to effectively break the rules. This process of engagement produces, what she calls, critical makers. This critical making can extend to anything that we do.

I believe that is the phase I am walking in – to embrace productive failure so I can wake into a new possibility for myself as a person and artist. Gretchen shared that one of her favorite expressions in Spanish is ¿Cómo amaneciste?, which essentially means, “How did you dawn?” This focus on wakefulness turns upside down the English expression, “How did you sleep?” How can I wake to be the artist and person I am called to be? To be fluid as water? To stretch my limitations and learn what it truly means to give as an artist? To give of oneself for giving’s sake? To Gretchen E. Henderson, I am grateful for her giving heart.

 

Inspired by Gretchen’s story? In what area of your life do you need to surrender? Embrace and accept productive failure? Become a critical maker? Forgive? Share in the comments.

 


About the Contributor

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 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 more Artists Features.

Join the Collective on Facebook and Instagram.


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ARTIST FEATURE: The Artist’s Journey: From Grieving to Giving – An Interview with Eunice LaFate

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Some artists are poignantly clear about their artistic journey. Sometimes it takes a specific experience for clarity to appear. It is most empowering when this experience speaks to the heart and offers compassion. This past June I met a painter who shared her story with me.

My mother and I went to the LaFate Gallery located in Wilmington, Delaware to see a friend’s photographic exhibition. While we were there we met the gallery owner, Eunice LaFate. She was preparing to paint but she stopped her preparation and began telling us about herself. Her sharing unfolded partially because she noticed my mother’s accent. She inquired where she was from and my mother responded, “Jamaica.” Eunice then shared she was also from Jamaica. She is from St. Ann, the largest parish on the island’s north coast. She came to the United States in 1983. She explained that she was a teacher in Jamaica. During the summer time she would travel to New York to visit family. However, one summer she visited a classmate who lived in Wilmington. She spent a week there. Days before leaving, Eunice’s hostess had a going-away dinner for her. She had invited a few guests, and one of the guests ultimately became her husband, Robert LaFate. They were married for 31 years. Towards the end of his life he suffered from prostate cancer. She explained that he fought the disease to the very end. She talked of him being active and having a healthy diet prior to the last four months. In the hospital she sat next to his bedside and received a vision to paint. She created a series that spoke to this painful journey.

Eunice talked about the night her husband died in her arms. “The night he passed, the CNA was off…He was struggling and coughing and I gave him water. I saw his eyes bulge, and then he looked at me and I looked at him. And I said, Don’t Go, Dear. Don’t Go. Then he said, Oh My God. And he took his last breath.” She painted a picture called Piercing Heart as a way of representing exactly how she felt when he died.

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Eunice LaFate, Gallery Owner

The LaFate Gallery was born out of grief. Her son called it a “Vision Center.” She explained, “When my husband passed away, instead of putting my work in storage I had a vision to open a gallery.” Today she facilitates and teaches workshops in the gallery. She offers various classes that help others to develop compassion and love. One of the classes she teaches is titled, The Heart of Caregiving: Rebounding from Grief to Growth. Another class she teaches helps foster a stronger relationship between parents and children. Her classes are meant to support, heal and love.

Eunice has won numerous awards for her art. She has also gifted General Colin Powell one of her original paintings when he spoke in Wilmington in 1993.

What I learned most about this artist is how she channeled the grief she was experiencing from the loss of her husband. She created a sacred artistic space for others to grieve, grow and give back to the community, and ss she gives back to the community she simultaneously honors her beloved husband.

In recent months I am learning to channel emotions through various forms of artistry (i.e. painting, knitting and writing). Merging the various art forms and allowing myself to feel, on and off paper, is another form of letting go and acknowledging the power of artistic expression, especially during volatile times. When I am free in my expression, I provide a space for others to also be free and expressive. How vitally important this is in my teaching profession. Thank you, Eunice LaFate.


About the Contributor:

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 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.

Join the Collective on Facebook and Instagram.

 


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ARTIST FEATURE: Dancing as a Healer – An Interview with Emma Davis

Dance_as_Healing[The Phoenix Rising Collective]

Emma is daring. Emma is different. Emma is a dancer. Emma Emma Emma.

That is how I feel when I see her in motion. I feel like playing that one song you really like because of the rhythm or beat. When you want to dance, you hit play. When you want to feel, you hit play. When you want to be in the moment, you hit play.

I am purposely repetitious because the feature artist, Emma Davis, brings that sort of spirit to her environment. She brings a consistent hardworking ethic to this art form. She believes in offering up dance as a gift to the world. And what a gift it is – to dance over and over again until everyone dances with you. I have had the pleasure of watching young women dance with Emma in the Flint detention center. They watch how she and the music become one. In her dance workshop at the center, she is a facilitator and instructor. More importantly, though, she is an inspiration to the young women.

Emma explained that when she began community college roughly a decade ago she had no idea what she wanted to do. A year and a half later she transferred out and attended the school where her mother was pursuing her nursing degree – University of Michigan-Flint. Emma majored in English and Journalism and minored in Dance. At the time, dance was just a hobby, although she had been dancing since childhood. She started a student dance organization at the university. The dance troupe encompassed all styles of dancing. In her senior year she choreographed a show that was student-focused. Soon after, a friend who had been dancing for fewer years inspired her to pursue dance more seriously and professionally. She helped Emma realize her own potential.

I asked her, “What does dance do for you?” Her response was encompassing, “What is a world without dance? Dance is about relationships – the relationships you have with other people. Dance is that thing you can do without having anything to say. Dance speaks.”

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Photo Credit: White Butterfly Studio

She explained that dance was a constant in her life, especially during rough times when watching her parents’ relationship. “My parents didn’t like each other.” They divorced when she was young and moved to different Michigan cities. While living between two homes, dance became her comfort. It carried her throughout primary and secondary school. She was considered an outcast. She talked about not fitting in and being discriminated against for being an artist, but this didn’t stop her from doing what she loved. She said, “Dance was my form of acceptance.”

Emma dreams of pursuing a Ph.D. in Performance Studies one day. She completed her Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with an emphasis on American Theatre. Her thesis is on one of her inspirations, Anna Halprin, a pioneer in the postmodern dance movement. She learned about Anna in 2012, the year she created her own dance group called “Flint Dance Collaborative.” This group during the summer of 2012 started performing on the sidewalk during a monthly community event in Flint, Michigan called Art Walk. Again, Emma was giving back to the community by showing people that dance was more than an art form. Her group explored both movement and cultural environment when they performed outdoors. Anna Halprin’s work was just as communal and inviting. Emma explained that this amazing woman of Jewish descent in the 1950s used dance as therapy. When working on her thesis, as well as creating an artistic space in Flint, she applied Anna’s philosophy specifically to the Riverbank Park, located in downtown Flint. At the time during the 1960s and 1970s there were movements to revitalize urban communities, in hopes to increase engagement in the neighborhoods. When I researched Halprin, I understood the link between these two women. Yes, Emma heals others through dance whenever she performs, teaches and simply shares this gift. But most of all, Emma looks within and heals herself through this art form. She is indeed a healer.

Emma is daring. Emma is different. Emma Davis, an inspiring dancer, is her name!

 

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.


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 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: 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.

ARTIST FEATURE: I Am Becoming – An Interview with Mireidys Garcia Jimenez

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Artist Feature [The Phoenix Rising Collective]

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 Mireidys Garcia Jimenez:

I asked her, “Who are you?” And Mireidys Garcia Jimenez responded, “I am Becoming.”

I almost want to begin and end this story with the sentence above. As the interviewer, it speaks volumes, but it would be unfair to the reader to end with this sentence. At least I would be annoyed as a reader. Sometimes we meet people who are more than a passerby in our journey. They are spiritual beings made of earth, grounded in their descendant nature, using words to transform ways of thinking. Sometimes we bask in the presence of spirit-beings who are beyond their own spatial time. They show us that all things are accessible if we are willing to tap into that inner-treasure that sits at the pit of our stomachs. I met a few particular women this 2015 summer in the Art of Text workshop at Kenyon College. Mireidys is one of the women who inspired me.

Her family is from Pinar Del Rio, Paso Real, Cuba – a rural place where much of the crops that feed the majority of this country’s population are grown. She was born in Cuba and moved to Hialeah, Florida when she was 4 years old. She explained that her grandfather was a political prisoner. He was allowed to leave Cuba by himself when he finished his sentence, but he refused until he could leave with his whole family. This eventually happened, with great effort.

In asking Mireidys about other places she calls home, she mentioned Amherst, Massachusetts where she went to undergraduate school and found a safe familial space. She received her B.A. in Creative Writing and Cultural Studies from Hampshire College and will be completing her M.A. in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College December 2015. I, of course, asked her about writing and what it meant to her. She said she has always been a writer and that she always felt like she spoke in poetry. In the video she speaks of this literary experience.

 

One of my favorite questions to ask writers is what other literary artists inspire, influence, and inform their craft. Mireidys was clear and precise:

My favorite poets are Pablo Neruda and Aracelis Girmay. Neruda is the only author whose work I’ve enjoyed equally in Spanish and English. For me, none of his magic is lost in translation. Girmay is a political poet and the most predominant mentor figure I’ve had in my journey as a writer. I admire the incredible urgency and intimate delivery with which she conjures the unspoken. My favorite book is Just Kids by Patti Smith. This is the first novel I picked up after years of only reading poetry and I was captivated by Smith’s lyricism and zealous honesty.

I think what moves me most about Mireidys is the thickness in her poetic tongue. Her words sit with me and remind me that I am a part of this world in a very spiritual way. I remember watching her in the summer workshop. She moved from that pink typewriter to her space at the table and back to the typewriter. At one moment she was sitting right outside of the studio completing a writing assignment for the workshop. She was intense and deliberate in creating both her stories and books. In the midst of creating, though, she smiled. She smiled an earth-tone smile that reminded me that she is both night and day. She makes up the best of 24 hours, especially when under pressure. She worked tirelessly, which is why I chose her as a feature. Mireidys Garcia Jimenez reminds me of the greatest possibilities. Watching her made me reflect and ask, “How bad do you want to write and publish TC?” Moreover, “How hard are you willing to work for these possibilities that are knocking at your door?” Her literary talent and hard work inspired me to create more time and space for this art form I believe in.

The following poem is an excerpt from Mireidys’ upcoming collection. The poem is entitled The Cuba I Stole from my Mother’s Tongue.

Still, she smells of cafesito and el mar

forms a hurricane with her dance,

swaying hips, poised stance— she is guilty

for the waves in the vast Atlantic Ocean.

 

Yet this Cuba was never mine

no, blame it on the fact I lost a country

too young.[1]  Mine lives only in the voices

of my ancestors echoing this red earth for miles,

crawling under stories of exile, blindfolded

trying to make constellations out of English.

 

 

[1] From Ruth Behar’s The Island We Share

Learn more about Mireidys Garcia Jimenez

 


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 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.” You can learn more about Traci’s work in creative arts HERE.


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ARTIST FEATURE: The Spirit of Intimacy: An Interview with Simone Savannah

ArtistFeature_SimoneSavannah[thephoenixrisingcollective]

 

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 Simone Savannah.

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Writer and Poet, Simone Savannah

Bravery delves into those uncommon territories of one’s life. It’s the areas we do not speak of. The places we do not venture because they are painful, scary, or require us to be vulnerable beyond measure. This idea of exploration is often linked to walking into the unknown. We all know that common Star Trek theme: To boldly go where no man has gone before. My question is “What do you find when you go to places you have never been or have tucked away in your life?” Many would say, “You find yourself.” This statement describes the artist feature for this month: Simone Savannah.

I’ve watched this woman poet for over a decade – as early as her high school years to the present, as a doctoral student in Literature and Creative Writing at University of Kansas. What I remember most about Simone’s earlier years is her smile. Even when a situation was rough, she found room to chuckle, and there it was – white teeth rounded to perfection as a ray of sunshine. Yes, her smile!

Most recently Simone published the poem Like Want For Having with an independent press called Big Lucks. When I read her poem I found myself focusing on specific words that spoke to intimacy, desire and sexual prowess. Her words were concrete and abstract, bouncing between the two. I had a raised eyebrow because this was a side of Simone I did not know but had peeked my interest. When we talked, our conversation actually started with Simone’s mother with whom I share a name – Tracy. She told me about her mother’s death and I realized this was the focal point of Simone’s exploration of intimacy.

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Photo Credit: Cover Art for Big Lucks, Issue #09

The deterioration of her mother, Tracy, started with the gastric bypass surgery. Complications from the surgery worsened her health – leading to a breast amputation, an affected leg and later surgery on her coronary arteries, from which she never recovered.

Simone’s mother died at age 37, and Tracy’s mother also died the same age. When she told me this I asked how this made her feel. “It’s pretty scary. I didn’t get a chance to meet my grandmother. I don’t see it as a pattern, though. I take it as a sign to take care of myself.” Simone’s mother battled anxiety attacks but Tracy’s mom dealt with alcoholism. My inquiry about Tracy’s anxiety led to Simone sharing that her sister (10 months older) had been given up for adoption. Similarly, Tracy was also adopted. She was depressed after giving Simone’s sister up, but then Simone was born and her brother noticed a change. He felt the adoption and her birth helped Tracy to create healthier relationships with her children and with men.

Simone explained she didn’t have the same abusive experiences her older siblings had with Tracy. She said, “My mom was my best friend when I was little.”

Our conversation transitioned. Simone began sharing Tracy’s troubling identity. While her mom was in the hospital she sneaked away to read her journals. “She was very clear about what people said about her weight. She was very clear about everything in the end. Men she had relationships with called her fat.” She never expressed these things to Simone but she wrote about these experiences. “It was odd because everyone knew her as a beautiful woman. She seemed confident on the outside but people didn’t know what she was going through. It hurt reading those journals.”

Simonepic1I began to understand Simone’s frustration. “It makes me so mad when people talk about my mother’s relationship with men because it was so negative. It revolved around sex and the fact that she had a lot of children.” She shared a tidbit about people mentioning Tracy using sex as medicine. She didn’t like the fact that there was a deviant connection to the act of sex versus the idea of simply enjoying the act itself.

I hadn’t pondered this thought because I have been told way too many times that sex is for something specific, often affiliated to religious doctrine. Granted, if you watch enough movies, you’ll get a variety of views on sex and its purpose. What we explored in our dialogue was the idea that sex fits into a box for numerous reasons – it is the topic parents don’t always want to address with their developing teenagers; the rules of what one should do when having sex (what’s nasty and what’s not); diseases connected to sex; the aftermath of sex; what sex looks like with or without clothes. And those examples aren’t even scratching the surface.

“I think it is funny to put sex in people’s face. I don’t see why we have to keep it private. I have no problem talking about exploring my sexuality publicly and the policing we do with sex.” She enjoys being funny in her poems but more importantly she likes contributing to a needed conversation revolving around sexuality, marriage and domesticity, especially when the discussion is imbalanced and it becomes one-sided or a double standard. She feels more voices should be included in this poetic dialogue. “My personal life and what I make up about it is almost always connected to something larger, something political like how we sexualize women and harass them on the street, or how we don’t give permission for (black) women to talk about their experiences as women, such as abortion or street harassment.” I related her comments to her poetry and why she writes. “Writing about these topics is very much about creating poetry – what can I do with these moments, these experiences? How can I write about them in a funny way or a serious way? How can I turn these moments into a page, a poem? Poetry is a place for me to be more creative…to try different things and to break rules. I feel freer in poetry. I can be anything I want in a poem.”

What I’ve learned from this artist is how important it is to acknowledge and even speak of the discomforts that block us from understanding why we do what we do and how our actions, as well as others’ actions shape our identity. But oh, how empowering it is to use the arts to address the concerns we aren’t always willing to face behind closed doors! Simone Savannah is walking this journey of self-discovery, both intimately and publicly. I give thanks, because from one artist to another, she empowers me to speak of the intimate things I have also tucked away in corners for way too long.

 

More on Simone Savannah:

Simone is from Columbus, Ohio. She is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas developing her interests in sexuality, Modern and Contemporary women’s poetry, and African American literature. She served as the Assistant Poetry Editor of Beecher’s 3. Her work has appeared in Blackberry: A Magazine.

 


 

 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: 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: Wisdom’s Artistic Journey – An Interview with Mama Sol, A Light

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 Mama Sol. __________________________

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Mama Sol – Photo courtesy of Rynelle Walker

This is a story about Wisdom with a capital “W.” Wisdom is not to be taken lightly. She comes in various forms – sometimes entangled or even cloaked in struggle and risk-prone decisions. But she takes chances. She leaps off high cliffs and transforms in mid-air. It is then that she begins to sprout wings and fully operate in her gifts. Her wings do not sprout overnight, but indeed they begin developing the minute she steps off the cliff. Yes, Wisdom is gifted; Gifted with experiences that some may call impossibly possible. She is, for the sake of this article, a Mother, a Motivator, a Lyricist, an Artist. She is Mama Sol. Let’s begin with her name. This musical performance artist and writer has maternally taught hundreds of children, thus she was divinely named Mama Sol. She explained when she taught in Detroit at the Afrocentric school, Timbuktu Academy of Science and Technology, the children were learning Swahili. All the classrooms included both female and male teachers, Mama and Baba (Swahili for mother and father). Her family and friends started calling her Sol when she started studying Right Knowledge. When she shared that Sol means sun in Spanish, I immediately thought of her influences. She said, “I am influenced by other people’s struggles. When I see other people struggle I can help them see light, especially given my own experience. Darkness inspires me to bring light, which is probably why I am still in Flint…I am from Flint. I’ve lived all over. People have suggested I move to other places where other people are…I think you should bloom wherever you are planted. And Flint needs light.”

I asked her what was one of the greatest challenges in her life and she said, “The toughest thing was the most beautiful thing – quitting my job at Timbuktu.” She was at the pinnacle of her career as a Lead Teacher and the Director of Special Education. Many told her she was crazy when she made the decision to leave, but Sol knew it was time. She explained that although it was important to be with her students, leaving school later than she desired to be at home with her son wasn’t justifying the spiritual means. She said, “I had to do what God intended me to do – WRITE. Write music.” What was running through my mind was my own journey as a teacher. I was thinking, “We compromise all the time. And like a sacred responsibility, we owe our students and their parents the entire package – to support, teach and inspire at all costs.” And it was as if she had read my mind. Sol said without hesitation, “The world is my classroom.” I felt a sudden knock on the inside of my chest. “The world is my classroom.” What an empowering phrase. I’ve often thought that a teacher should teach in a specific space during a specific time. After all, that is what we are taught as we develop into adults – go to school, attend regularly scheduled classes, come home, do homework, go to bed, get up again and start all over. You repeat the process until you meet the requirements and follow the rules that lead to gainful employment, right? Wrong. Let’s consider her statement. If the world is her classroom, she can teach anywhere. Not only that, she can also learn from everything in every possible space. Her highest degree is LIFE itself. ­­Permit me to transition abruptly. It’s important to share why I wanted to interview Mama Sol. Namely, I was familiar with her lyrics. I had seen her on stage perform in packed crowds. What was most piercing was the way her body language matched her words. There was symmetry in her whole being. I observed a whole package that couldn’t be compartmentalized. Thursday, February 19, 2015 I saw Mama Sol sitting in an audience listening to Angela Davis speak. Yes, I should’ve been listening to this iconic being but what caught my eye more than anything was a humble sort of reverence and love that embodied Sol. And I thought of her lyrics from her song Exercise, “I’m just aware that my gift is guided by freedom fighters.” I saw her listening intently to what this regal 70-year old Davis passionately espoused about community activism and reforming education. When I asked Sol about Angela Davis she talked about her connection and interest to the Black Panthers. She mentioned that one of her heroes is Assata Shakur and her mentor was Mama Gloria Aneb House, Human Rights Activist also connected to the Black Panthers. “To hear her [Angela] still speaking and fighting for justice…I can’t be that close [to Angela] and not hear her speak…when I think of Angela I see courage.” It humbled me to watch this artist, who has performed in front of crowds as large as the one on February 19th, quietly listen to Angela share her experiences.
I asked Sol why she creates music and poetry. Basically, “Why are you an artist?” Her response speaks to her being a Motivator, one of the chief identifiers she shared above: “My purpose is to break the destructive cycle of mainstream hip hop. Children need options right now. And they are relying on reality TV and radio and BET. So many parents are doing the same thing. And the music I am doing is giving them options.” This response led me to other questions. She explained that her core audience does not connect with a particular age, gender, or ethnicity. “They are people who understand the necessity for positive change right now!” This dialogue conveyed more than her artistic gifts. She has a spiritual calling that manifests through her desire to empower others and create change. And again I stress, this was not an overnight success. Her lyrical journey actually started in college. Following college she wrote commercial ads in New York for the FUBU clothing brand. This career path was interrupted by a 3-year bout with breast cancer, which she defeated. During her healing she was offered the opportunity to teach in Detroit, allowing her to shift her focus to children. Upon having her own child, she recognized the difficulties she faced with remaining in the classroom setting. “This led to my transition back to what God intended for me; which was writing things that could transform darkness to light – G.I.F.T. God Intended For This.” Her journey has taken years – “practically a lifetime,” she explains. Yes, Sol has great success stories – outputting musical cds, performing internationally, and sharing the microphone with other Hip Hop geniuses like Rakim and Talib Kweli, just to name a few. But she is far from being done. The final point I wish to make about Mama Sol and her continued journey is the importance she places on seeking an inward stillness that comes from meditation. She talked about spending time alone – something she knows well because she requires it in her life. She emphasized the need for quiet. Being in tune with herself, she stated, allows her to go into a big crowd and bring the stillness with her. And being in crowds is as precious as being alone. One of the greatest moments she says is traveling. Now, this may look like I am jumping around, but both her shared space and alone space intersect. Just follow me – one of her best moments was being in the Amsterdam Airport. She saw different people speaking dissimilar languages from various parts of the world. “This is life. This makes you accept every single person,” she says. Realizing that the world is grand yet miniscule is what makes her not only adaptable to situations but also open to the great possibilities her stillness provides. Thus, as an artist she is able to give of herself to a variety of audiences. And she gives 200%! Now that’s a lot of love to give on stage – in massive crowds – among people from all over the world. But remember, Mama Sol acknowledges that this is a journey that takes time. And she has shown us that God willing, she will ride this journey to the very end and continue to give light unto the world with her whole heart. Learn more about Mama Sol here.   ________________________________

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.