Being Both Ontic and Semantic

It’s week 24 of the year and this is only essay number 22.  I think I will catch up now, though. I am in Switzerland, in Saas Fee, and this is the first full day of my PhD.  I have been waiting for this with so much anticipation, so much nervousness, but now that I am here it makes so much sense.  It’s weird, don’t get me wrong, but it makes a kind of sense.  I will explain, but let me go back a little to day before yesterday, when I left Montreal.

I have been traveling so much in the last few years that I was surprised to feel as nervous as I did for this trip.  I had a week with Bright Ears, which helped a lot because he’s already done a PhD, and he makes me feel calm with his big capable presence, anyway.  Even when he is stirring up my deepest feelings somehow his physical presence always makes the world stable and manageable. So it helped to have him here, laughing and talking and just generally making what feels too big seem to fit in the palm of my hand.  I have to work hard not to fall in love with him, because I crave that presence and that feeling. But he doesn’t smell right, it’s not sexy, it isn’t “in love,” it is that sacred friendship, that deep comraderie that makes the universe feels like it all fits perfectly.

And I had a nice long chat with Colour and Gesture as well. And she does the same, has a similar stabilizing effect, but for a different reason. It’s just that it is impossible to feel crazy with her.  Her world of compassion is so vast and so wide that it is easy to feel normal, even in my most abnormal parts. Others, too, I talked to my dear Constant Critic, and The Brother, and the Dancing Poet and then I cleaned my house from top to bottom and by the morning that it was time to leave I was sitting by my altar and talking to my ancestors.  And suddenly I found myself in tears (if you’ve been reading these you know that is not a rare phenomenon).  I realized how big a deal it was to be able to do this PhD and to encounter my education in this way, and how much it meant to my dear brilliant grandmothers to be able to choose like this, to choose myself, my mind, my career, to follow an impulse and a destiny to its unfolding and blossoming.

Dancing Poet came by in the last fifteen minutes before I left, and I called out my name as I left the house just like Bright Ears had told me. He’d mentioned it because of a weird incident he witnessed at Tammy’s flower store on Bernard. I had been with Tammy getting a bucket for my broken toilet at home, and then I walked into the store where Bright Ears was already (he was looking at succulents because he felt my house needed plants).  She came in after, looking uncharacteristically disturbed. Tammy has been at that store for something like fifty years, and she is a pillar on our street. She is simply calm and everyone knows her.  You can call her twenty four hours a day to get flowers.  But she rushed in and said, almost angrily, that I should be more aware. Apparently she had seen someone push me in the street, and I didn’t react. She said it was aggressive.  Bright Ears also became concerned and finally I did too. When I thought back I could feel a hand on my shoulder, but not a push, nothing else. Tammy said, that is not safe. You need to be more aware. I couldn’t believe what I saw, she said. I was just frozen. So Bright Ears told me to call out my name to bring my spirit with me when I travel.

I got to the airport and through security and all with the same open channel as has been happening since New York. Suddenly the airports seem empty and easy. It must just be me, though, because I know that in the last six months since Trump airports have become much more chaotic in general.  The flight was short, but I did not sleep enough. Then I caught a train in Zurich, and a bus from the stop in Visp.  The train ride was gorgeous, but I was nauseated from lack of sleep. I actually thought I was travelling backwards for most of the ride and then suddenly realized I wasn’t. That’s how disoriented I felt. No wonder Tammy and Bright Ears were concerned. Insomnia has been bothering me lately (even as I’m editing this a few days later I’m awake way way too late).

The bus ride was steep and windy and into this glacial territory where I now sit. There was no seat for me, so I perched on the edge of a flip down seat that was mostly occupied by a very grouchy Swiss man on a computer. This time I really was travelling backwards and I wanted to throw up, until a lot of teenagers hopped off at one of the stops and I could sit front facing again.  The trip in all took about fifteen hours. I arrived in time for lunch, went to my room first, which has a mountain view and is quite clean and fresh and shady.  Over lunch I accidentally sat with two women from my cohort; Dawn Cloud who is from Hong Kong and works with autistic children and Softly from Zurich who teaches at the art therapy institute there. Then I slept for a couple of hours, deep deep dream sleep but I was too tired to remember them. I got dressed, and put on the jewelry that Red made for me out of beads I’d brought her from Uganda, since she is also working on a distance PhD and I knew she would understand. I was so excited, I danced to Stormzy’s Velvet and Return of the Rucksack and felt really juicy as I began to follow the map to the school. But I climbed nubbly mountain path and I got lost! In the sun! So lost, going back and forth. Until finally I asked someone who told me there is no way to get lost in Saas Fee and pointed me back to where I’d come! Argh! I finally stomped my foot and shouted where is this fucking place, at which point I realized that there had in fact been a wrong turn and I found it. I walked in and took off my shoes and was immediately put off by the way the teacher snapped at me, well, come in, sit down. It was a huge circular room with parquet floors and a grand piano.  About sixty people were seated in a circle, with about seven in chairs on one side. Still in the circle, but up on chairs.  As I sat in the circle I felt a little shame, but also disappointment since what we teach at PYE is how important it is never to do that. And that we exercise that deep hospitality. That isn’t really happening here, and I wonder what they mean by facilitation if it isn’t that. Then, the teachers introduced themselves. I was disappointed as I looked around and realized it was all women in the group and almost all of them white women. Maybe ten of us not. Five Asian and five south American. Not a single black person. These demographics in this work are so problematic. I’m so tired of it all. Then the founder of the school who is quite elderly had us get up and dance together on a single line, what he calls paper cut dancing or silhouette. I get it, he is using constraint to generate potential and an outburst of creativity, but for a first day it was a poor choice I thought. We were barely relating, we were squished and bumping each other. After which, however, he made a series of very problematic choices that I don’t know how I will recover from. I think I may never like him after this. This morning he did explain his choice a little, though, and I will get into that here.

He said, look you all have different languages, and we have chosen English as the language of instruction (he himself is German) so I want to hear your other languages. And I will show you, the music will play (he indicated two of the teachers who would sing and play piano) and you will come up and speak in your language, then someone else who speaks your language will join you. You can only choose one, and English does not count. I heard Apple Teacher, who is from the states say, what if English is your only language? He did not respond to that, when asked again he made the awful choice to say, then I want you to experiment with accents. At that moment, of course, I knew what we were going to see. Mockery and appropriation. And that is what happened. It devolved into people sharing stereotypes (of Canadians, of Italians) people sharing languages they barely knew, people singing English nursery rhymes in Cantonese and other languages, Arabic and Hebrew coming up together and laughing and pretending to make peace. The whole thing was a nightmare. I felt completely frozen and sick.  For the third time in twenty hours I wanted to barf.  After this there was no debrief. We were sent to join our cohorts. In my mind I was composing a letter to the dean of the school to tell him I had made a mistake and wanted to get out of this (at the time of editing which is thirty six hours later I am in a totally different space. Might try to write day after next again).

But, in our small group, which is led by Sun on Leaves, a Peruvian psychologist and contemporary dancer, and subtle soul with a good analysis and sense of facilitation, I was happy to meet the cohort. In fact, I had seen each of them in the big group, as if I had already known them.  We are about nine and we will be on this journey together.  When we introduced ourselves he asked us to share how we arrived here. The question was left open as to how to interpret it (*which seems to be a principle of ExA – Expressive Arts – that will be interesting since it is so different to the Creative Community Model that I have been working with for so long) and it was fascinating to see how the meta level was exposed, not only the content but the choice of how and from what angle to answer gave so much insight into who was in the group.  I felt Maji with me so strongly and I knew again that this is why I am here, and maybe it’s the reason for many things in my life, that I am responsible to the dreams of my grandmothers and that the opportunity to do what I want and to follow a dream at all is their dream and that we are leading this together.

I drew last night, which felt good since I kind of stopped and started focusing more on finishing pieces for Indivisible. There were messages from dad, and from Bright Ears and the Brother. This morning I woke up to emails from Farah about the show, which was very good. And then at breakfast I had a chance to bond more with Sharp Insight.  Our morning community arts session was much much better than last night. I am beginning to see the shape of their methodology, and what it means to prioritize aesthetics over psychology. I think this will be in sharp contrast to the Creative Community Model and I’m looking forward to what that means to me. Today I pulled two cards, the Queen of Disks (which I think points to my prosperity, my learning, how much richness I have from how deep I already am in this world both of arts and facilitation) and the Tower, which I think is about the same thing from another angle, how much I am going to have to unlearn here.

The morning began with an improvised dance in the group.  Sun on Leaves was coaching us a little, and I had a lovely contact dance with Julie from Vancouver, and a chance to really expose myself to the physical room itself, to touch the walls and to lie on the floor.  It felt good to be in that group and to know that thanks to the work with Linda Rabin, Anne Randolph and Ruth Zaporah I am able and comfortable to enter the space in this way.  It was a long dance and it raised good energy among us.  I felt the goodness of being in a group of all women, and I realized that there is a deeply internalized misogyny in me that I must do the work to untangle. The founder spoke into his choice from the night before, and why he did the language thing. I’m still feeling like it failed totally, but his principle was interesting. He said that difference is creativity, that the negotiation of difference is creativity. And that in community arts you have to pick a difference and then open up its “play range.” And that is what he wanted to do, instead of tightening the difference to open it. Okay. That is interesting. I would have done it is a very different way. And at a point Margo talked about safe space, but she only spoke about the physical! To me, of course, safe space is about the spiritual, cultural, emotional, interpersonal. They did none of this work. It is fascinating to me. It is more raw? More emergent? Less interpretive? Less leading? But to me it feels just a little half-baked at this point. I keep flipping back and forth about whether I should really be here.

Then, after some announcements (that part is always too long isn’t it) we had a break. I climbed up with Refika into the wildflowers and played my melodica to the mountains and it was nice to feel the music just flowing through me.  I couldn’t help wishing for the Vertical Voice and feeling how extremely fortunate I am to know this incredible world wide network of impeccable artists and community workers.

The flounder had us return to the paper cut dancing.  We had a partner this time though. I was with Smooth Lines who is an Isreli from Los Angeles. Our first move was just a warm up of the concept, which was good. Then, it got interesting! We split the group in two. Smooth Lines was in the group of performers and I was in the observers. She danced, and then I got to give her feedback. Then she did it again! Then we switched and I did it! The iterative, the deepening. They have a model for it. Sensitize, Experience, Validate. It’s where the work really differs from ours. There is a focus here on beauty (problematized) and aesthetics (pertaining to senses). They are looking to deepen into and relate to the art work. I think this is going to change the way I debrief groups in my work. Not with the experiential ed stuff, but when we make art together.

I loved it, I loved what came of it.  (I wonder how it can be used to work on Indivisible?) Then, we got into our cohorts. I got to be one of the choreographers, and we repeated the process but this time to create performances that would be the identity of our groups! I think of our family group performances at CCM camps, and I’m so excited to talk to Vertical Voice about how we can use this as a process.

Then we broke for lunch. I have been a bit jealous and wanting to be in the Philosophy department instead of this one. I want to gain that strength and that muscle. I know that this work in art therapy and arts empowerment is my destiny and my contribution, but the classes I think might be a little weak, and I don’t want to waste my time. That philosophy stomach in me is so very hungry.

I sat with Softly and a couple of the ExA masters students, but then I took my coffee and joined some of the philosophers. It turns out that the woman I ended up talking to she makes experimental film and had some interesting insight about the process for Indivisible, I walked into conversation she and one of her students were having about Quality. And how do you know anything about the quality of a film. They were talking about Intent.  But then the woman, The Limits Doula, spoke about how she is working, how she is connecting to source and building something to communicate, but then once it is done leaving off completely the reaction so that it is completely subjective for the audience. After what at I’ve been talking to Fancy about, how she is the bridge to the audience, and how I’ve felt so resistant to that I felt fascinated. I told The Limit Doula a little about Indivisible. She said it is about the communion of all of us (Julio Rup and I) and what can come through. That the role of director is different than the drawings. She offered to take my email which I will definitely exchange with her. Could be so helpful. I really feel stuck right now in that project. Then she and her student left and a Greek student from the philosophy side  sat down. It was nice to talk with a man, there is a difference, and I do need to ask myself again about my misogyny but it was good to talk about politics with him. He is a trained sociologist, but is now working in philosophy. He described a bit what it was like to work with Zizek. Ah!

Well, this is my first report from school. We have two more classes today, until ten thirty pm. I’m thinking so much about Karen Barad, and meeting the universe halfway. (She isn’t here until August, it turns out, by the way, so no chance to meet her here this year) I’m thinking about the apparatus of this school, and this kind of schooling. What about the mountains? What about the fact that the school is round? Why are the two sides of the school so gendered? Who am I inside all of this? Who are Shams and I? Who am I because of all of this? What is the entanglement at hand? What is decohering based on these apparatuses?

This is the last essay in the old format. Number 22. From here, there will always be some fiction. I don’t know how, when or why. I don’t know if I will distinguish it for you or not. All I know is that is the constraint of this experiment, and here we go. This is an experiment in flow, but also in truth. Flow, to me, is an aspect of time. Truth, though, is an aspect of space, though it is contained in the questions of past and future, they are also about the constructions of what has been. What is. So we begin now. My challenge, as I don’t think I have mentioned before, is to see if what is by the end if it will be completely fiction can it feel as true as the diaric or non fiction aspects of all of this. Fiction, CNR, diary, memoir, review. It will all be part of this. I feel far from home right now, far from my friends and my little apartment. Far in a way that when I am working with CCM I do not feel, because that method is the traveling home of my traveling heart. But as I write this I realize I am writing myself yet another home, and this is a home built of myself, of my own dictation. I am grateful for your eyes and your time as you read this. I am sending back that space and that positive regard and that faithfulness to you. Today, on the first day of school, we learned about observer and player or maker. In that sense your reading, which exists in the future, is the shaping influence of this now.



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