Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Creative Process

Every Single Night ~ Fiona Apple

Every single night
I endure the flight
Of little wings of white-flamed
Butterflies in my brain
These ideas of mine
Percolate the mind
Trickle down the spine
Swarm the belly, swelling to a blaze
That's when the pain comes in
Like a second skeleton
Trying to fit beneath the skin
I can't fit the feelings in
Every single night's alight with my brain ...

I just wanna feel everything

I guess it's no coincidence I'm inspired to tackle the concept of my "creative process" two days after the newest Fiona Apple album has been released, which I've been pining after for the better half of 7 years now.

Those closest to me — actually, most people who know me at all, know she is my all-time favorite female solo artist and lyricist. I won't get into why. Frankly, all you'd have to do is look up her music, know who I am and you'd get it.

But I will say this, while I love, appreciate and respect many other solo artists and lyricists, I've never encountered another female artist so hauntingly deep, complex, layered and talented as Fiona Apple is ... and one who speaks to me in a way no other has, to date.

I will also touch on the poetic title of her album — which is insanely long (also her style) — and the genius behind it.

"The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do"

For those who don't know, an idler wheel is the part of an engine that's connected to all the other parts, but doesn't actually propel anything.

Fiona explained it's a metaphor for people like her — and me, incidentally — who look as if they're doing nothing ... when they are actually feeling everything at once.

I'm clearly biased, but I've never had someone put it in such beautifully apropos terms. So much so, it's inspired me to try and actually put my own creative process into words that make sense. 

Perhaps I won't succeed. Perhaps I'll lose most of you, but it's worth a shot.

A lot of people over the years have asked me how I come up with some of the things I write or express in other mediums (i.e. sketching/guitar/piano). I think it's slightly different for everyone. But for me, it comes back to those intro lyrics and the above metaphor ... feeling everything at once.

Ever since I can remember, I've always been the girl "in the back corner of the room in her own little world." I mean, as a child, I was very active, a tom boy, outgoing and talkative. But I also had a fiercely potent imagination and would often drift off into my thoughts, kind of space out. My friends used to tease me that I often had a delayed reaction to things going on in front of me when this happened. 

It wasn't necessarily that what was happening or what someone was talking about at that moment wasn't interesting, but once something else caught my attention, my mind took off like a spooked horse, virtually impossible to catch.

I remember as a teenager, feeling as though I would burst at any moment with the things I was feeling or yearning to feel. Sometimes I'd walk the halls of school and feel completely invisible, while other times, I would feel like everything inside of me in that moment was so apparent, I must have looked completely unhinged. 

Having struggled with depression and anxiety throughout my teen and adult years, most of the things I felt were a mix of melancholy, passion, yearning, anger, elation, frustration, beauty, darkness, love and isolation. 

Even now, those feelings will simultaneously run through me at any given moment. Usually it happens when I'm in a crowded room or a group. I become an arid sponge, soaking up everything and everyone around me. Then I kind of "check out" for a minute, detach, etc. To most people, it probably looks like I'm either daydreaming or just lost in thought, or perhaps paying complete attention, when, in fact, every part of me is somewhere else.

It's different from the times I've disassociated when something too overwhelming, painful or hard was happening around me or to me. This is kind of like, a part of me suddenly taps into the pulse of everyone and every thing in that room — it's energy, a brief exchange between two people or a brief, intense look I share with someone, perhaps the scent of the room, or the feel of the wooden table beneath my hands, the history behind it,  the music in the background, a fleeting touch, the sound of the wind or water, or the fire pit with its flames licking the air in front of me. 

Whatever the scene — it could be as mundane as a work office or enriching as a walk in the park, an art museum or a theatrical performance — when I'm in that zone, I feel as though I'm everywhere at once and feeling it all. It's both terrifying, elating, painful, beautiful and exhilarating. 

I feel alive, completely lost, utterly found, totally alone ... and yet fully tapped into it all. When this happens, I try to make sense of some of it. I try to siphon out the noise a bit and dig toward the roots of whatever I'm feeling or taking in. I basically "remove" myself in a way ... or stand aside and just allow my veins to become a vessel, letting those feelings speak to me. 

Sometimes, they simply catch my breath before passing through, never to touch me again. Other times, they manifest into a story idea, a quote, a poem, a lyric ... or maybe a song or sketch. In those cases, one particular thing or things will often have caught my eye and attention and all I usually have to do is come home, open up my laptop or notebook to a blank page, let my fingers rest on the keys or my pen tip to paper and just ... unravel.

I've been asked if I always know the ending to the stories I write. The answer is, no. Usually I don't. Usually I have a starting point, maybe an idea of a few points to hit throughout the story, but once I start writing, it takes whatever direction and form it chooses. It creates itself. 

If I hit a rut, I usually have to pull back for a bit, let it marinate, before feeling that flame catch again. And once it does, I have to stay with it until it burns out. 

Sometimes that leads to long, wakeful nights that bleed into 3, 4 a.m. or Saturday mornings that draw out into the late afternoon or early evening. It's why I'm here, at my computer at 1 a.m. right now, when I've been void of decent sleep the last two nights and every bone in my body is screaming for the warmth of my bed. 

Each sentence, word, syllable has to meticulously be just right before I can move onto the next.

Same with interviews. When I sit down with someone, I take everything about them in that I can and soak it up. Their energy, stance, their eyes, the story behind those eyes, their gestures, demeanor. I've had to interview so many kinds of people over the years, it never ceases to be an adventure. Some people are natural at it, others, I've had to work for. 

Those are my favorite.

This may be something only other journalists or interviewers understand, but every person has a "switch." Every single person. And sometimes, I've never found that switch. But most times, if I'm with a person long enough, I do. And once that switch is flipped, this whole other amazing gear is hit that I can physically feel. The entire interview accelerates and the story feverishly manifests. 

That's how it is when I write, too. Sometimes it's a little turbulent at first and feels like I'm poking and prodding at the edges of my being, feeling my way around, pressing in against myself. It's akin to a pressure feeling, uncomfortable and painful ... like being reborn or transformed. 

And then, when I hit that switch in me, everything gives way ... every emotion, burning desire, every tear or sliver of anguish, every scar and every smile. Whether it's spurred from something that inspired me throughout the day, a moment I shared with someone or with myself, it lives and breathes every fiber of me when I sit down with it.

Sometimes it rips me apart ... sometimes it ignites me in ways I'll never quite be able to express. But unfailingly, it always makes me feel one thing. 

The very thing I need to feel — and will fight to feel — every day of my life.



Sunday, June 17, 2012

Embracing Balance

“Feeling at peace, however fragile, made it easy to slip into the visionary end of the dark-sight. The rose shadows said that they loved the sun, but that they also loved the dark, where their roots grew through the lightless mystery of the earth. The roses said: You do not have to choose. ” ~ Robin McKinley

In the last week or so, I've decided to forgo watching T.V. at night and listening to any music in the car. A lot of times, when I do things like this, it's when I feel like I'm out of balance and need to regroup. I don't think we realize how much "noise" is going on around us with every breath we take. We get so used to it, we don't even see its subtle, yet grating effects. Just like every time we log onto the computer, our minds are downloading thousands of bits of information. It's the same with the T.V. and our iPods. Last year, I took a break from Facebook for a bit.

This time, it chose me. My iPod ran out of battery and instead of popping in a CD, I just listened to the wind, the soft hum of my car engine as it accelerated and the birds. At night, it's been the pops and creaks of my home, the occasional passing car outside and the wind through my windows. It hasn't been easy, especially the music. But it's brought me a bit of grounding, balance, peace and clarity nevertheless. It's allowed me to see the beauty in balancing the darkness and the light.

Ever since I was a child spinning webs of imagination, my dreamworlds were always filled with both light and darkness, both rays of sunshine and dusky corners bathed in shadows. I never believed life was all one or the other, even as a child. I'm not sure when, but I eventually came to realization it's all about balance. Because there is positive and negative energy in us all and in the things around us every day, but we do have a choice what we focus on and what we nurture. And it tends to show itself in the people we draw in, the atmospheres we create and the situations we find ourselves in.

Unfortunately, I've also realized, there is no graduation date. I will always be challenged as will my balance, whether by outside forces or inward ones. And that is the tragic beauty of life. Both forces have purpose. Because the truth is, without the darkness, how could we appreciate the light? Without angry, negative, tense or malevolent forces and energy in this world ... how could we truly know and embrace the benevolent, kind, warm, compassionate and loving forces around us?

In everything I do and have done artistically, whether playing in an imaginary world as a child or writing a fiction story, poem, song, playing music on piano or guitar, sketching ... I've always been drawn to the dark, sad tales ... but those who look closest could see, they've often always had a layer of hope, movement, love or endurance carved into their core.

I have always and will always find beauty in the shadowy parts of this life. It's not always scary to embrace them. But it takes light to form shadows, just as it takes hope and faith in something to create true living and growth, albeit painful at times.

I've had a lot of growth in my life over the course of the last 6 years. Some if it — despite my intuition and my tendency to stubbornly ignore it — I did not anticipate I would endure. Yes, there was a  point where I was brought to life the moment my lips rose above the surface water of monotony and took breath, but I was too eager and not cautious. I got lost beneath the turbulent waves and was pulled to the lowest depths of anguish. And now ... I'm swimming again. I'm breathing again.

And through it all, searching for that balance, remembering its OK to float here and there. And when I've pushed aside any hurt, anger, resentment I'd collected over the years, and after I've let much of that go now ... I've truly been able to see and feel the tragic beauty behind it all, behind ... life.

I know things now about myself, my heart, my soul, my mind that I could never have gleaned from a book or from those around me. Hearing others' stories, hearing people tell me of their mistakes, of what they wish they'd done differently and what they've learned have impacted me more than they may ever know. I take notes ... but I've often had to learn things through actual living than most other ways. I guess sometimes, that's just the way it goes ...

But now I'm at a place where, yes, sometimes I lose my pace, I sink, but I constantly find the surface again ... and much quicker these days. I feel the wind on my face, born by forward movement in one way or another. Things I once feared so much, aren't very ominous looking anymore. And when I gaze into the mirror, I see a woman ... older, sharper somehow; one I have never seen before ... with a light in her complexion and eyes I'd forgotten was there. I see the shadows in my eyes, painting hard-learned wisdom, the vulnerable dark core, emitting nativity, past hurt and fear; and the forest green iris, filled with potential, strength and love.

It's that delicate balance I now hold tightly against me, cherishing its every fiber. Because the truth is, every part of me, the benevolent and beautiful, the vulnerable and scared, the hurt, weak and angry, the passionate and fierce, the good ... the bad, the ugly. All of it comprises who I am. And only I can choose what to nourish and harness, what to share and display ... what to promote and fuel. Because the more I do, the more I've been watching the things and people around me change, too.

Who knows what's to come ...


Monday, June 11, 2012


“A good fragrance is really a powerful cocktail of memories and emotion.” ~ Jeffrey Stepakoff

Strange things have stayed with me from my freshman Human Biology 101 class. One of them being a little trivia fact that our sense of smell is the quickest adapting sense of all five. In my opinion, it's also the most powerful memory-evoking sense we have ... and an underrated one in that way.

So, while we can enter a room or pick up a fleeting scent while walking past someone and moments later, be "used" to it to the point we don't notice ... it is also as though that scent is forever embedded in the deepest archives of our minds until the day it is extracted, pulling — sometimes violently — the memory tethered to the forefront of our thoughts.

I have always loved this phenomena, though it has its unnerving, hard to swallow moments, too ... especially if a particular memory hits so hard and fast that brings along with it heartache. Yet, even then, it is painfully beautiful.

My favorite moment is when a scent flutters past me, caught for only a second, and suddenly I'm fiercely transported back to my childhood or teenage years or to a look shared, an intensely intimate moment so vivid, it seizes my breath. Even better in some ways are the times when I've walked into a room or past a fragrance wafting in the outside air, maybe someone's perfume or cologne, maybe the scent of a particular soap, dryer sheets on a crisp night walk, detergent or an ambiguous antiquated smell I can't quite place. And it pulls at me like metal to a magnet, yet I'm hazy as to its origin.

Perhaps it's a distant memory frayed at the edges by time and the breath of life. Maybe it's something long forgotten or repressed. Maybe it's the memory of being hugged by someone, my face buried in his neck, breathing him in. Maybe it's my grandmother's lotioned hands, my mother's clothes, my dad's peppermint soap.

Whatever the case, feeling that sense of deja vu is something I live for. And the power of scent has a way of igniting it like no other.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

What's in a Dream?

"You dream every night, even if you don't remember your dreams. All dreams — even nightmares — contain positive messages. The trick is learning to decipher the symbolism so you can understand what your dreams are trying to tell you." ~ Betty Bethards

Awhile ago, I received this book as a gift at a time in my life when dreams were overwhelming as I was working through some pretty rough stuff. It's called "The Dream Book: Symbols for Self Understanding" by Betty Bethards. And the reason I really like it is, she speaks my language. She's spiritual, but she's also practical and appeals to the psychological aspects of dreams just as much as the spiritual implications. So, regardless of what you're into ... or not, I think this book could resonate with most people.

Without getting into all of it, one of the main things Betty drives home in this book is that everyone's mind, subconscious, higher Self, etc. is there to help. So even when we have nightmares, they're not meant to scare us, just to grab our attention by exaggerating something to an extreme. And while she does get into general definitions of various symbols, she emphasizes that everyone's mind has its own language, so while some symbols are kind of universal with all of us, there are a lot that only we can figure out.

It's pretty intriguing to think about though. I feel like every time I go to lie down at night now, I'm getting ready to learn something new about myself or get some guidance on something. I'm excited to go to bed when I once dreaded it. Sleep is no longer just about satisfying a biological need anymore or bracing for nightmares. It's about downloading a bunch of information about myself to use in my waking moments ... for free.

Our mind doesn't "talk" in words, but rather images, because they're easier for us to remember and understand. Just like we learn to walk and talk and associate words with images and concepts, we have to learn how to decipher our brain's symbols when we dream. And it takes some time. The scenery, setting, time frame and other details that stick out are ALL important and can tell you so much more than you realize.

In addition, one big thing that sticks out about Betty's book: Our dreams are about ourselves. So, we are the writers, directors AND actors in our dreams. The people we interact with are actually aspects of ourselves and their characteristics are ones we project on them. Even if it's someone you know, you associate that person with specific traits, qualities ... and those are reflective of you. That changes a lot of things if you think about it.

So, to the point. In my particular case, and I realize this is going to be pretty exposing here, prior to July/August of last year, I would rarely remember my dreams, especially over the last four years. I was also repressing a lot of stuff then, too.

Around that time ... basically around mid-summer of last year, I started having nightmares. Really bad ones. They were often of men attacking me, trying to rape me or just hold me down against my will. Sometimes, it was a person I knew ... sometimes it was a complete stranger. If it wasn't that, it was me being chased by someone who wanted to hurt me, often had a weapon (again, sometimes it was someone I knew, sometimes it wasn't). Oftentimes I would try to fight the person off, but would be powerless, or I'd seek a hiding place ... I also would often be "rescued" by someone, another man, or protected by one. Sometimes the man was another person I knew, rescuing me, sometimes it was a stranger.

Parts of the nightmares were mirroring things or feelings I've actually felt/or was currently facing ... but most of the time, they were very extreme versions of fears or bad experiences I had and aspects of myself.

Anyway, the point here being. They weren't literal ... and they weren't about anyone else but myself. So regardless if the person in my dream was a person I knew, his image was actually a reflection of myself or projection of myself. The feelings I correlated with him were my own. So the fear, the trapped feeling, sure, some of that was stuff I'd repressed and once I stopped repressing, it was coming out in dreams every night. But it was also about the parts of me or of life that I viewed as a threat. In this case, men, emotion, being exposed, opening up, letting someone in, being dominated or taken advantage of, the list goes on ...

I continue to struggle with these kinds of dreams, but they're different these days. I'm starting to face the person chasing me (which according to Betty, is me facing said fear or threat). And I'm starting to open up again and trust again. And the most recent dream I had with the person who used to be a threat — he wasn't anymore. He spoke to me and I wanted to run, but I didn't. I spoke back. It felt like talking to an old friend, someone I'd known for a lifetime. His familiar cadence felt like an exhaled breath I'd been holding for a long time. He made me laugh. He asked me to remember the good and to stop painting him with all the bad, he asked me to make peace with him. And ... I did. And I woke up feeling a sense of solace I haven't felt in a long time.

So, in essence, I made peace with that part of myself, the part he symbolized. The parts the other men symbolize in my dream, which I suspect is about emotion and vulnerability ... well, I'm working on it. Hopefully one day, I'll embrace them all. But for now, it's a work in progress.

One thing at a time.