Monday, June 22, 2015

Lansing Fairy Circle Godsisters

These women are my real life muses--the creative, beautiful, wild and wonderful creatures that bring the magic into my world. They are all women who live in or near Lansing, Michigan, the palm of the Mitten. They are personal friends, and I admire them greatly. Some are close to me in the circle, and some orbit across a void of lifestyle or sleep/wake cycles so that I may only see them in the flesh once every month or year, but they all inspire me. There are more muses in my circle than I'll share on this list (and the others that will follow), but these are some of those ladies who currently have blogs or websites to pass along!

Esperanza the Mermaid

Esperanzita is my bestie since high school, when we bonded over vandalism art, Frida Kahlo, and punk rock concerts in the Dirty D. This woman is a siren of the spoken word (in English or Spanish, both of which she has taught professionally). Her style is the love baby of Gwen Stefani and Lila Downs. Her scent is tropical flowers and spice. Like Tori Amos, she rarely makes sense but is always profound. She'll cut a bitch with her voice or bring you a bowl of homemade soup, as needed. Her hair is epic and often lit up with strands of raging hot pink. Sometimes she sprouts butterfly wings and floats back and forth between the highlands of Mexico and the low embrace of the Great Lakes, leaving trails of glitter, three-foot pink hairs, and devastating Instagram photos. She has had many adventures of the heart, senseless and profound, about which she writes with lipstick red humor.

Tashmica the Firecracker

Tashmica "Firecracker" Torok is a living legend. Her very existence in the world is total proof of redemption, hope, and unconquerable love. She's a young woman who is already a wellspring of wisdom, courage, and leadership. She's been a force to be feared in the roller derby and a starter of many movements toward justice. Right now, she's a shelter of nurturing grace for children--her own wonderful three boys and the many children she advocates for and provides with support to heal from sexual abuse and trauma. Her infectious laugh, bold voice, and beautiful presence cast out fear and light up our community with the sparks of her generous spirit. Tashmica is the founder and CEO of The Firecracker Foundation and has started writing for xoJane.

Duff the Jewel Hunter

There are many ways to tell a story, and Emily "Duff" Duffelmeyer reconstructs the quiet, intimate links of past lives using the forgotten gems, clasps, and locket-chained secrets of vintage jewelry. Duff has lived a life rich in love, generosity, strength, heartbreak, grace, and fine chocolate. She's sweet as filigree and strong as a diamond, always standing up for what's right with courage and compassion. She expertly curates images, treasures, and moments that capture the delicate beauty of life. For the past five years, she has been researching, collecting, restoring, and selling accessories with soul through her tempting online shop, Jean Jean Vintage.

Jeana-Dee the Art Devotee

Speaking of gems, Jeana-Dee Allen Rogers is a Lansing treasure. She grew up in nearby Flint and brought to Lansing her ferocious talents for community art movements, youth empowerment, and advocacy for all that makes life in Lansing lovely. If that's not enough alliteration, Jeana-Dee is the Artistic Director for the LUVS (Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle), wife of the lead singer, and Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Robin Theater, Lansing's freshest performance venue and also the ground floor of the third Lansing home she and her husband Dylan Rogers have settled in and resurrected from dereliction. Jeana has reported on Neo-Nazis as a photojournalist, thrown some of the best parties in town, gone on tour with the band to dance onstage in a Michigan costume, turned a whole city block into an art institution for at-risk children, changed the faces of many buildings and landmarks around town, and created a performing arts scene out of nothing but rubble and unicorn horns. She currently advocates for bicycle riders and enjoys the vintage tandem bicycle she and her husband received as a wedding gift. Although she would deny it, Jeana-Dee is basically responsible for making Lansing a cool place to live. Creative spirits all over Lansing are lucky that she has made our city home!

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Way of Hedone

painting by Sophie Anderson

This summer, I'm practicing mindful hedonism as a parent. Hold on, don't think of Tinkerbell having fairy orgies in Neverland or satyrs gulping grapes. The meaning of the word "hedonism" has changed as much over time as that of "Epicureanism" (created by a real Debbie Downer of a guy who thought delicious foods should be avoided lest you crave them later). Hedonism is named after an infant goddess in a Hellenistic myth that is at least 2,500 years old. The goddess's name, Hedone, means simply "Pleasure," or more broadly interpreted, "Happiness."

I adore the myth of Psyche and Amor (a.k.a. Cupid or Eros), which is at the root of many familiar fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Hedone's family tree is basically this: Amor (Love) existed at the beginning of time, as a primordial force of creation. After the creation of our world and a bunch of godly sexual and asexual proliferation, Aphrodite (also called the Goddess of Love but really the one all about vanity, rape, vengeance, and all manner of f**king) gave birth to a child who was (maybe) fathered by Ares, God of War.

That child was also Amor, reborn as an anthropomorphic god--again, of Love, but this time a more sophisticated romantic kind. As human children do, Amor rebelled against his parents and had his own personality. He often resisted or refused to help his powerful mother wreak revenge upon those who had insulted her or made her feel envious. He was all, "Let's make love, not war!" His little crush-arrows might as well have been tipped with daisies.

As human teenagers do, Amor fell passionately in love with a girl his mom hated--a mortal of such beauty that people spread rumors that she was Aphrodite's own daughter. Aphrodite, not remotely flattered at being cast in the role of "hot girl's mom," sent Amor to destroy Psyche. So of course he rescued Psyche instead and made sweet love to her in his secret cave mansion every night.

After a whole lot of exciting drama (for all the juice, read Apuleius), Aphrodite was forced to accept Psyche as a daughter-in-law, and Psyche was made a goddess so that she and Amor could be married forever. (Like Twilight, with less vampire fetus!) There was much rejoicing, as shown below in a 16th century illustration.

Banquet of Amor and Psyche by Giulio Romano
detail of Amor and Psyche

In traditional images of Love's Family, Amor is depicted with feathered wings, while Psyche and their daughter Hedone sport butterfly wings.

The union of Amor and Psyche is richly symbolic. Psyche means "soul," "spirit," or "breath," but those words have very Christian connotations to us now. In antiquity, the word implied concepts like "mind" and "consciousness," thus the modern word "psychology." So the lovers' tryst in the story symbolizes the union of body and mind, heart and brain, blood and breath, sex and spirit. In a very yin/yang sort of way, each of them starts out with a little bit of the other inside--Amor is a sex god born of lust and violence, but he craves relationships that are deeper, kinder, and more thoughtful. Psyche represents a pure mind, but she desires and then thoroughly enjoys physical love.

The child born of this union of the heart and mind is happiness.

What could be more perfect?

Buddha decorated by Nux Gallica with lilacs and bleeding hearts

Like most human children, my daughter Nux Gallica is both spiritual and self-centered. She's curious, imaginative, thoughtful, impulsive, creative, affectionate, and pleasure-seeking. None of those are traits I want to repress--not even those that some people fear, including self-centeredness, cat-killing curiosity, wild imagination, spontaneous impulse exploration, or the pursuit of simple pleasures. As her mother, all I try to do is add to that list of personal qualities more sophisticated skills for a high-functioning life such as empathy, critical thinking, logic, and intrinsic motivation toward complex goals.

Self-centeredness in children is natural and does not metastasize into narcissism if it's not crushed. In a non-anxious, healthy environment, children's self-centeredness can blossom into self-awareness, confidence, social grace, and self-control. Curiosity can change the world. Creativity breeds success. And everyone is motivated toward pleasure and away from pain--everyone. That's basic hardwiring and doesn't vary among individuals.

What does vary are skills like emotional intelligence and self-regulation. Smarter, more complex types of happiness, like long-term satisfaction and altruistic fulfillment, are more motivating than a handful of marshmallows to a person with emotional maturity. A child who truly learns to love herself for the sacred part she plays in the ongoing creation of our world doesn't grow up needing to prove her self-obsession to everyone every minute on Instagram.

The Dalai Lama famously declared that in reality, everyone is selfish. He explained, "It is important that when pursing our own self-interest we should be 'wise selfish' and not 'foolish selfish.' Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, shortsighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate."

Along those lines, I'm declaring that everyone is a hedonist. We're either foolish hedonists or wise hedonists. The Puritans were just hedonists with a long view--that a life of self-deprivation leads to eternal pleasure in the afterlife. Even ascetics are hedonists--the lowly kind, whose only valued pleasure is the conquering of desire.

But there are so many wonderful levels and depths and varieties and spectrums of pleasure to be found in human life! And most, if not all, can be enjoyed wisely.

There's the thrill of discovery when we do real, four-year-old-friendly science experiments on the kitchen table. There's the brainy glee of mastering a logic puzzle in the My Little Pony game on the LeapPad. There's the goosebump tingle you get from listening to a haunting melody. There's the warm glow kindled by Nonna's gratitude when she receives your gift. There's the powerful pride in enduring two shots at the doctor's office without shedding a single tear!

I help Nux to notice when pleasures are enhanced by struggle, challenge, even pain that leads to gain. "You made a mistake!" I say cheerfully. "That's good for your brain. It's how you learn."

And rainy days make puddles for splashing.

I try to fill Nux up every chance I get with appreciation for the pleasures found in kindness, courage, skill mastery, introspection, physical wellness, and creative expression. That way, I don't feel pressured into the pitfalls of shaming or moralizing or lying about certain pleasures that could possibly lead to suffering later on. Instead of saying, "Candy is bad," I say, "Mmm, I know that candy tastes good. We'll have just a little so we can keep our teeth healthy."

I try to give attention to moments when Nux has caused someone else a good feeling, reminding her of the power she has in relationships, and I guide her in developing control of her own feelings, reminding her of the power she has over herself. We do guided meditation for relaxation and deep breathing. We reflect on how it makes us feel.

When Nux gets angry or very frustrated, she usually does the same thing. She lifts up one foot as high as it can go--up over her head, she's very flexible--and stamps it as hard as she can on the floor, one time. Then she runs into her room, slams the door, and stays inside quietly for a minute or two. When she emerges, she tells me, "I took deep breaths, and now I feel better."

It's so cute that I kind of love it when she gets mad.

And she has developed this routine of self-soothing probably because, to the horror and disgust of many, this hedonistic mama does not punish. I've never stained the happiness zone of Nux's bedroom--or anywhere else in our home--with time-outs, let alone anything worse. Punishing is not my cup of tea. It's not my jam. It's not my toast. I don't find it pleasurable, and better yet, I am proud of the long-term results of my positive discipline.

Guess what else gets the strictness police's bloomers in bunches? I figure I have many decades of life ahead of me in which to enjoy tidy, neutral home decor, so for now...

I love letting her color on the walls!

And the bathroom mirror and tiles!

And herself!

I encourage Nux's fascination with the difference between pretend and real so that she can let her imagination run free! No topic is forbidden to question or explore. When Nux knows that she's in control of the game and I'm not afraid of anything her mind can dream up, nothing is too scary--not people-eating giants, not sword fights with super-villains, not horse-thievin' bandits!

Cavities, though, are no joke. We take our dental hygiene seriously around here.

We also eat our vegetables. Not "because I said so" or "because you should," but because vegetables help us grow strong and beautiful and wise. And they taste really good fresh, on the grill, with butter.

And we never forget that some of the finest, tastiest, most luxurious desserts--like Pascha dark chocolate bars--are good for our brains and hearts as well as our moods, savored in just the right portion. Give me s'more health benefits of chocolate any day.

We love the hell out of the world around us--not to save it, but because every living thing is fragile and fleeting, and its presence right now is a gift. We lie in the grass and feel hot sun and cool breezes and watch the clouds and the gradient of the light. We pick flowers just to scatter the petals in fairy paths. We identify birds and deer and foxes. We thank the sky for rain and the trees for wood to burn.

As Nux grows, I hope I can share with her my love of poetry, myth, and transcendence. When we can see life as art, there are no taboos that can break the innocent wonder of youth. I ban nothing in play. When it's time to pretend, my daughter can fight with weapons, turn into a zombie, destroy cities, marry a prince she met that very day, or worship a fairy queen. And each day, I see her growing in compassion, wisdom, and courage, because she plays out so many roles and dramas.

As she grows, I hope Nux will take pleasure in so much of the world that she will not be kept long under the spell of any addiction--to drugs, to foods, to cosmetics, to charming princes, or to shiny new things. Let none of her playgrounds become prisons. 

My favorite kind of hedonism is called, oh so poetically, "psychological hedonism." Mother, daughter. Get it? Anyway, psychological hedonism is different than philosophical hedonism (fragmented, all over the place from asceticism to nihilism) or ethical hedonism (redundant nonsense, in my opinion) because it describes not how humans should behave but how humans do behave, in observable reality.

I don't think it's healthy, as a parent, to raise my child based on who I think she should be. I'm watching every day, with delight and unconditional love, as she reveals to me the kind of child she is, at her best and at her worst. I'm nurturing her on the seeds of intrinsic motivation, deep thinking, emotional intelligence, and empowerment so that when the day comes for her to open her wings and fly, she'll have the strength to rise.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Fairy Godsisters of the Internet

Writing a scene may be a solitary sport, but the creation of a written work is ultimately social. All of us writers have something to say and something to explore about what it means to be alive. Our success as authors hinges upon our ability to perceive, learn, and communicate with others.

So much of my writing inspiration, motivation, and quality control comes from the powerful charms of my Fairy Godsisters, women who challenge and support me in various ways--directly or from afar. Most of them are people I know in flesh and blood real life; others are virtual connections that I've made with the writers who generously share their journeys online.

For the next few months, I'll highlight some of the women who inspire, support, or challenge me as a writer. This month's duo are women I've only "met" online, who have already started along paths I hope to take one day, who kindly hold their lanterns of internet sharing to light the way for those of us just entering the woods.   

Michelle D. Argyle

I first connected with author Michelle D. Argyle when she co-hosted a blog called The Literary Lab years ago. Michelle is a sweet, thoughtful, and emotionally complex woman who shares many personal and lifestyle traits with me--she's an introvert, a mom of one high-intensity girl, wife of a sexy nerd sword-wielder, and lover of fairy tales and folklore. I fell in love with her fairy tale-inspired novel Cinders a few years back and participated in several fun charity projects and contests that she organized online.

Michelle is incredibly open with sharing the ups and downs of her writing journey, between those quiet breaks that we introverts need to take once in a while. Michelle is a multi-talented and prolific author who has written in many genres, designs book covers, participates in many writers' and authors' events, and has published books herself and through a small press. Last I heard, she was considering seeking an agent for her next book. (Do it, Michelle!)

Follow Michelle if you are an introverted or shy writer who needs a vicarious shot of confidence--watching Michelle take risks, succeed, and overcome struggles has helped build my own confidence as a writer--and has convinced me that building a career in this field will be so much more possible once my little lady starts full-time school!

Mary McMyne

I discovered Mary McMyne when she won a Sustainable Arts Promise Foundation award in 2013. I had written up an application for the same award, to fund a trip to Germany and central Europe to do research for a medieval fantasy novel based in fairy tale. But I didn't end up submitting the application, because I decided that the logistical and emotional hardships of leaving the country without my family would be too difficult that year, even if I received the funds to go. Also, I thought to myself, my idea probably wouldn't win anyway.

Lo and behold! When the contest ended, I made the eerie discovery that a writer-doppelganger of mine had won! Mary is a fellow resident of Michigan, who got married just days apart from me, the same year, and had a baby girl the same year that I did. She won the award for a very similar proposal--to write a novel based on a fairy tale, set in medieval Germany--and went on damn near the exact same trip I had almost applied to take. I scrolled through her photos of medieval German towns and forests in wonderment.

Friends asked me, "Are you jealous?" But that reaction had never occurred to me, firstly because I had decided not to submit the application because I wouldn't have gone anyway; secondly, because I doubt my very similar proposal would have won, Mary being an established, professional writer; and thirdly, because Mary's win gave me such validation that my novel's genre and setting are, in fact, worthy of interest! Better still, I've discovered a new author and virtual kindred spirit to follow as she walks the path ahead of me.

Follow Mary if you are as excited as I am for the release of her medieval fairy tale novel, The Book of Gothel!