Sandbox Notes: “Darjeeling Abs – A National Movement”

 

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links: 

-The inspirational messages on every bag of Yogi Tea.

-Montpelier’s famous biscuit breakfast joint, Down Home Kitchen, used to be a used bookstore called Rivendell Books before it merged with neighboring bibliospot, Bear Pond Books. Hence, the new national movement: “From Book to Biscuit.”

Saint Lucia (my new obsession, my latest essay subject, and the patron saint of authors, blindness, cutlers, glaziers, laborers, martyrs, peasants, Perugia, Italy; saddlers, salesmen, stained glass workers, and writers): meet Sufjan Stevens.

-Has anyone seen Life in Squares: a BBC drama about the Bloomsbury Group? It’s on my to-watch list. Also, after listening to this recording of Virginia Woolf, I’ve decided she’s best suited to be the sole spokesperson for all future Darjeeling Abs informercials.

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

Sandbox Notes: Extract the Abandoned Rice Cake

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links: 

Redstone

Redstone: Montpelier’s Mansion from Yesteryear (see floor plan and photos from inside here)

-Who knew that Mr. Monopoly’s real name is Rich Uncle Pennybags? This article notes that a number of people remember Mr. Monopoly wearing a monocle, confusing Pennybags with Planters’ mascot, Mr. Peanut. This is an example of a “false collective memory.” I  must confess I was one of those mistaken rememberers.

“The Gooey Details Behind a Glow Worm’s Starry Night Illusions” (New York Times)

Where does your blood go during the embalming process? and Here’s a look into all the people who handle us when we die. 

These jewel bugs died holding tightly onto hydrangea stems.

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

How to Quit Gum: Lessons from a Former Chain Chewer

  1. Decide to quit.
  2. Tell others you want to quit.
  3. Do not go out of your way to buy packs of gum.
  4. If others have generously bought you packs of gum, tell them kindly that you no longer are eating gum anymore and have them hide the packs from you.
  5. Remind them that you know where their last hiding place was, so don’t put it in the top cabinet on the right, next to the laundry room. Because you WILL FIND IT.
  6. Spend the rest of your days eating real food instead of unswallowable chemicals you can’t pronounce and the Internet can neither confirm nor denounce that these chemicals are harmful.
  7. When your cravings for gum gain strength, try biting your tongue. Or drink more water. Or brush your teeth to prevent a dirty mouth.
  8. It probably means you are hungry. Try to listen to your body when it talks to you.
  9. Save up to $30 a month because you no longer are keeping a supply of Orbit – a supply and demand you have struggled to keep up with in the past.
  10. Spend a few minutes every day considering why you quit and convince yourself you feel better now that you aren’t chewing a piece of gum for five seconds before spitting it out, only to unwrap a new piece and stick it on your tongue. But really two, because you always liked having two pieces in your mouth at once.
  11. Insert any habit you want to quit into this title and try a list for yourself. Decide for yourself to quit, then tell whoever you need to tell. We can help keep each other accountable for becoming the people we want to be. It doesn’t have to be achieved alone, it doesn’t have to be without messiness or backwards steps. It may be a lifelong process. I believe in you.

*Why did I write this, and why am I sharing this with you? Chewing gum has been a sort of crutch for me in the past, in times of stress, or when I was very sick and found tiny ways to avoid eating real food and real calories. Currently, in my three-week module class at VCFA, we are talking all about vulnerability; asking questions about why vulnerability is scary, but necessary; what’s the difference between personal & professional vulnerability (and how that line is often blurred in writing); how do you know when to share vulnerable details and when not to, etc. I suppose we are all vulnerable as human beings to becoming addicted to such-and-such thing. Science backs it up that it takes about 66 days to form a habit, whether “good” or “bad,” if you choose to assign such labels. I’m proud of my work to quit chewing gum, and though it may or may not sound difficult to you, it definitely was not easy for me, and it’s so freeing to say that. To be honest. To work hard to overcome an act that was controlling me. Whatever your “gum” is, I believe you can free yourself of it, too.

Delicious Movement

How do I even begin to explain this past weekend—in which I threw my belongings into a small bag and hitched it to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts for a Delicious Movement Workshop with the legendary Japanese dancer, Eiko Otake.

I first came across Otake’s work while researching Hibakusha Stories – the stories of the atomic bomb survivors. When I found out that she was professionally trained in Butoh by one of the dance form’s founders, Kazuo Ohno, AND that she was teaching only three hours away from me, I knew I needed to attend the workshop and learn everything I could from her.

One of my characters in my novel is a Butoh dancer, and I took this weekend as an opportunity to understand what it feels like for him to dance—which is one of the yummiest things about being a writer—exploring my many selves and interests for the sake of “researching” a character.

The Setting

The Delicious Movement Workshop was located at Earthdance, an artist-run retreat center, which provides dance, somatic, and interdisciplinary arts training, with a focus on sustainability, social justice, and community. Set in the middle of the woods, we breathed green tree oxygen, ate fresh vegetarian food, and helped each other with chores and clean-up. For three days, I had a home away from home with the kindest of strangers.

The Dancers

In total, there were 22 of us, ranging in ages from 23 to late 50s. We were mostly artists (visual, dance, writing). A few dancers had worked with Eiko in the past, but for many of us, this was our first time, and we were in awe.

Delicious Movement Moments

Since there’s no way to truly replicate the experience of this weekend without demonstrating each activity sprawled out on the floor, I’m going to try my best to explain in words a few of my favorite moments of the weekend.

The Paper Dance*

Walk around the studio space with a blank piece of paper in your hands—don’t let it make a sound. Then, make as much sound as you can. Get comfortable with your paper. 

Find a partner. Sit down and place both of your papers on the floor between you. Communicate (without talking) who will begin. Engage with the paper any way you like. Make it clear when each interaction is complete. Take turns. As you grow comfortable with each other and build trust, begin to use each other’s paper—become one flowing unit. Move, attempting to hit an “end” of the dance.  

Next, we move individually, reenacting the paper’s journey. What does it feel like to be that paper? As half the group begins to move as paper, the other half of the group eventually comes over to try to calm us (the papers) down. Our task as paper, Eiko said, was to resist the people. 

Later, I reflected on how I approached “moving” like paper. As the paper, I felt a deep history of abuse circulating throughout my fibers—feeling wanted for a spark of a moment, a tease, used only for a certain purpose that does not include everlasting love—then unwanted, mistreated, crumpled, thrown around. How often, I realized, we take advantage of each other, our environments, our everyday objects. When the person came to “calm me down,” I had so much of that attention I had been craving as paper, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted it, or I didn’t trust that it was an ephemeral desire to connect. I was slow to trust—I think the paper really did want to be loved and treated well. It didn’t want to get hurt again. 

It’s pretty incredible that I was able to inhabit this deep root of humanity through embodying an inanimate object. But it’s not too abstract if you really consider how we could ask the same questions on the circumstances of being an adult: “What does it mean to have a wrinkle? For someone to come along and care for you? What is it like to care about a thing that’s not human?” The Paper Dance is a terrific “icebreaker” move. As Eiko told us, ‘You won’t know much more about the person internally, but you will have spent some time seeing and being seen.’

*Keep in mind that this was the very first activity of the workshop. On Day One! Yes, it only became more intense from here.

Body as a Landscape

Throughout the weekend, our bodies were not human shapes. Instead, we took on the landscape of the earth. Our torsos were mountains, our hands were gardens, blooming. We were growing comfortably, yet asymmetrically. Moving subtly, with purpose, like the earth spinning on its axis. We were twists of air.

At one moment, we were to find a partner, a fellow mountain, and begin to touch. We were equipped with the language of “hissing” in case we ever felt unsafe or too uncomfortable with a touch. At one point, I wasn’t sure which part of my partner I was touching. But then I discovered the watery elements of her hair, the ridge of her knuckle, and I could have stayed there for much longer. I’m intrigued with this new way of encountering another body, another life form. I hadn’t known I could connect with an unfamiliar body in this way, with so much ease. 

We All Come From Water

In this exercise, we are sacks of water moving downstream. The river is the dance studio floor. Everyone lying on the floor is now a sack of water. Drip, Eiko says. Drop your water. Let it go. The water always comes. It will never run out. It comes in and goes out endlessly. We all come from water, she reminds us. We come from the sea. The same salt content. Think of that the next time you disagree with someone, we are all water. Our water may just be different, or springs from a different source. We close our eyes and move/survey/flow in a slowed, embryonic state, swimming downstream, through this stubborn molasses river. Time does not exist here…5…10…20 minutes may have elapsed. The only sound is that of the live water sacks around me breathing, rippling. And then, Eiko’s voice emerges from the deep: “Begin to calm yourself.” When she claps her hands, we are awakened from the hypnosis. The world a blur. I am reborn every time I open my eyes. 

Finding Your Aesthetic

We had several chances throughout the workshop to split into groups and “watch each other” perform. The point of “watching” was not to critique what was good art or bad art. Instead, Eiko reminded us that every time we have the opportunity to observe art, we are finding our own aesthetic. This is an important lesson that can apply to all fields of art. For example, it’s not the performer or writer’s job to entertain you specifically. It’s your responsibility as a viewer or consumer to hold your criticism and use your reaction to the artist’s work to help narrow and define what your personal aesthetic and interests are. Every time we engage with a piece of art, whether it’s to our liking or not, is useful in assisting us to better understand ourselves.

Gratitude and Growth

This weekend has been one of the most singular transformative moments in my life, and I do not know if I will ever again feel the way I did through these exercises with Eiko. I am filled so deeply with gratitude for Eiko Otake, the generosity of Earthdance and the land of the Mohican (People of the Waters That Are Never Still), and the other sacks of water with whom I had the honor of sharing my dances, my surveillances, my discoveries.

Learn more about Eiko’s tenets of movement by reading her Delicious Movement Manifesto and her Personal Manifesto of an Artist as a Cultural Activist.

 

The Child Finder

The day has finally come—one I’ve been anticipating for quite a while now. I read The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld last fall and loved it so much, I reached out to Denfeld for an interview. Little did I know that an excerpt of that interview would become the exclusive back matter for the paperback copy of the book!

The Child Finder is a suspenseful, empathic, and heartfelt exploration into the terrifying depths of the human soul. And the book cover alone is a masterpiece with its fairy-lit, sea green snow. I can’t recommend this book—all of Rene Denfeld’s work—enough.

You can read the full interview here (first published by Michigan Quarterly Review).

Sandbox Notes: May We All Reincarnate into Craftsman Lobsters

 

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links: 

The Headless Women of Hollywood Project.

A woman attacked by police because she was cutting dandelions with a knife.

A rainbow in Montpelier.

Eiko Otake and her deliciously moving blanket (video).

Cherry blossoms and reincarnation. 

-(No, I did not really find a buried human heart still beating. Again, just read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. It will explain the current terrain of my brain).

 

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

 

Sandbox Notes: Luna, The Moose, and the All-Seeing Birch

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links: 

The definition of lunula (which was the Dictionary.com Word of the Day on August 19, 2018)

Save the Sacred Albino Moose (this old story from 2013 was recently brought to my attention, thanks to The Front Gallery of Montpelier)

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. A must-read.

This is why bananas smell like nail polish. 

 

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

Introducing: Sandbox Notes

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to pal around with the exquisite musician and composer Carla Kihlstedt during the MFA in Music Composition residency here at VCFA. Over cans of Conehead IPAs, we talked about anything and everything. Favorite books, social and language development in children, Carla’s latest project “Black Inscription,” the Borges lectures,  Mary Ruefle, etc.

Later, Carla mentioned Marina Keegan’s lists of “Interesting Stuff.” I don’t recall the context around why she brought this up, but I remember being afraid to say I didn’t know about Keegan’s lists. I, of course, did know about Marina Keegan and her posthumous book of essays and stories, The Opposite of Loneliness. Curious to know more about the “Interesting Stuff,” I scoured the internet and found this beautifully genuine and heart-wrenching tribute written by Anne Fadiman, one of Keegan’s professors at Yale. On her application to take Anne’s creative writing class, Keegan wrote: “About three years ago, I started a list. It began in a marbled notebook but has since evolved inside the walls of my word processor. Interesting stuff. That’s what I call it. I’ll admit it’s become a bit of an addiction. I add to it in class, in the library, before bed, and on trains. It has everything from descriptions of a waiter’s hand gestures, to my cab driver’s eyes, to strange things that happen to me or a way to phrase something. I have 32 single-spaced pages of interesting stuff in my life.”  

I continued reading the article, to the part where Anne retells how she received an email from another student, breaking the news that Keegan had died in a freak car accident, five days after graduation. Below, a smiling girl in a mortarboard was shown in a photo with her mother and father. I couldn’t read any further, suddenly blurry-eyed and sobbing alone in my tiny studio.

It’s odd, isn’t it? Staring at a photograph of someone about your age, who is no longer alive. It’s a much different thing than reading, say, Charlotte Bronte or Virginia Woolf (someone you know lived in a very different time than now. We have come to accept the fact that they are no longer living.) But Keegan should be here. I  couldn’t stop thinking about her all that day.  I was so moved by the stories of Keegan, her curiosity, her realness, and something clicked for me. Marvelous things are all around us, brimming with stories and captured detail. I wanted to capture it too. I don’t want to let all these hints of stories pass me by.

So beginning this past Monday, I decided to pretend 10,000 eyes were covering my entire body and opened my whole self to whatever the world wanted me to pay attention to. I carried a sketchpad with me everywhere I went, and recorded every marvelous thing, thought, wonder.

It was also Carla who told me that she often encourages her music students to take the first two months of their semester for playing “in the musical sandbox.” She explained the sandbox phase to me as “a period when you’re just playing with your materials to see what they want to do before you ask them to jump through flaming hoops with bows on their heads for the paying people.” The sandbox is just as applicable to any art, but especially to writing.

Each grain of sand contributes to the fullness of the sandbox. The more sand, the more castles and faces and cakes you are able to create. Simple, right? It also isn’t lost on me that some of our best development and thinking as a kid happened in those sandboxes. Time evaporated, dripping off your head with all that sun sweat. This was where we went to focus in the extreme. For many children, this is still the loci of their first go at creative flow.

That being said, let me introduce you to Sandbox Notes.

Sandbox Notes is an experiment in observation and openness. In just one week, I’ve already found the value in this level of awareness. Writers frequently talk about keeping their “writer’s notebook” which always seemed to daunt me. I suppose this is my own way of keeping a kind of practice, one I know I can sustain. After a particularly difficult and down day yesterday, feeling guilty for a lack of productivity, a friend told me: “You processing life and your emotions is helping you to create what you will eventually create.” Perhaps Sandbox Notes is one potential way for me to process, discover, and absorb. After all, in order to write and create things, we do need to get out there and experience life. This practice serves to encourage me to be a witness, a detective, a collector of EVERYTHING. 

Each Monday, I will post a photograph of the sandbox collection from the week prior—always right here on the blog, so stay tuned!

I’ve had a lot of fun this week digging in the sandbox, and I hope it continues to be fun to both collect & read as it goes along and as the project evolves.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome! 

Why We Write: A Community Space for Reflection

A few months ago, I wrote a post about “why I write” which I concluded may change as I go through my days, and that’s exciting to me. Reflection, self-awareness, and self-love is something I’m really trying to work on this year. I’d suggest that all of us could benefit from constantly working to improve this aspect of our lives, this listening to ourselves. Especially writers and creative minds – who are not always inside our own brains or bodies at any given moment, but may be inhabiting characters, dreamscapes, rhythms, trances of flow, colors, etc—we’re always confronting reality through a complex lens that wavers unfailingly between hyper-connection and ultra-detachment.

I created this brief writing prompt for the students at the Fuente Collective Youth Studio, but I hope that you are able to take what you need from it. (This is geared toward the writing field, but feel free to bend and shape it in any direction you need it to go):

***

Writing Prompt: Why We Write

It can be very exciting to talk about all the ways we can get published, but it’s also important to know WHY we want to get published. And this answer can be different for each person. What do you want to get out of your writing experience?  It’s easy to look at JK Rowling, and think wow, her life seems pretty great, right? But not everyone WANTS to be JK Rowling and that’s okay!

This exercise invites you to reflect on why you write now, and to project into the future of your career as a writer. Spend a few moments, or however long you would like, thinking through these four questions below, jotting down notes. Remember you can come back to these questions at any time. Keep them with you. Return to them often.

1.

I write because…

 

 

(A few prompts in case you get stuck: Why do you write? What draws you to creating stories and putting them on paper? Do you love characters? Do you love how delicious certain words sound in your ears? How does writing help you think and process your life and the lives of others? What does it mean for you to be writing “in the zone”? Do you remember the person or experience that first got you interested in writing?)

2.

In the future, I see myself….

 

 

(A few prompts in case you get stuck: What does your writing life look like in the future? Would you like to publish a book? Do you want to get paid to read other people’s books and write reviews? Do you want to give readings and do public tours? Do you see yourself as a private writer who doesn’t want to be famous, but just wants to share work with people? Do you want to make your work free and accessible?  Do you see yourself as an editor of a magazine? A teacher? A writer, although writing won’t be your day job? Anything is okay. This is your chance to dream.)

 

3.

My audience is…

 

 

 

(A few prompts in case you get stuck: Who are you speaking to through your writing? Who do you want to connect with? Who do you envision reading your work? Are they people in your hometown? People with an interest in sports, in food, in animals? Do you want to teach your audience something they don’t know, or share a new perspective? Is your work for people older or younger than you; is your work ageless?)

4.

I’m interested in writing about…

 

 

(A few prompts in case you get stuck: What are the topics, themes, ideas, places, people, cultures, subjects that make your writing uniquely yours? Write a list of nouns. A block of text. A word scramble, map, or tree, perhaps. Just write what comes to mind. What are you obsessed with? What are you curious about? What do you not understand but want to try? What are you afraid of? What brings you joy?)

This is a community space – so please feel free to share your answers and comments below! I’d love to see the diversity in thoughts, in why we write, in what we want to do with our writing, in what we want to write about. Perhaps I’ll even share my own answers, too!