I’m in the telling business – stories, poems, essays, letters, talks on the telephone, lectures, lives. even. Everything comes to me in the Listen-to-What-Happened form. From when I was a kid – an ordinary day, a meeting on the bus, a trip to the park. Sometimes I turn these into some form of art, but basically, I let them be, let them float into the universe as they are – human stories, life stories – birth and death, love and war, primal stories, little off-the-beaten-track ones. Both, the telling and the shaping of stories, help me live, both in the moment and long-term. Whatever I can see, they show me; and whatever I can’t, they point me forward. On these pages, some of the moments that give face to these stories, may spawn some of your own images, your own memories, associations, and points of departure. Largely for this I’m sharing them – for you to know something of this speck in the universe and for me to hear something of yours. Why not? It’s all one long afternoon, life, and we might as well do what we can to enjoy it together.
Who knows where it might lead?
THE SEED OF ME
(click for audio)
traveling the universe,
along endless trails of garden stars and caverns of fire,
through the warm tunnels of the body of my mother,
and the slime trails of the body of my father,
unraveling arms, legs, head, heart, in the great span,
genesis of heat and light for a moment in matter fixed,
smacked by the hand of the universe,
dispersing us one after the other into canals of light,
lighting all around,
which is no more than the flying world is,
whose journey is no more than this instant
shattering and floating into the jelly
a white incandescence bumping through dark,
inscribing I AM somewhere and then falling
into the steady stream
three or four million times–
I was a camel driver once
a speck of dust
a leaf in an ancient forest destroyed by fire
the fire –
which is with stars falling in and out,
moving beyond the avenue of any heart
or sacrament or belief,
passenger in the many-passaged tunnel,
door in a sky streaming beyond any sky,
and even this myth which I add to all others in oblation,
my father your tree planted in my motherground
leads me to shed my leaves again:
There is no time.
Origins — I know of.
A New Yorker by birth, who followed a conventional educational route, Jamaica High School, Barnard College and then went further onto Graduate School, and that mainly because I loved books and wanted to surround myself with them. When I became a Mrs. Young-Medical Student’s Wife, to whom I gave myself for a glorious future, no doubt – you see the touch of ecstasy in it all – M.A. at Hunter College Graduate school and a Ph.D. at McGill University while this Young Husband Medical Student turned Doctor and then Research Scientist, becoming, myself, quite by circumstance, the first Ph.D. in English that the well-known university granted; that it was to a woman, writing herself on a woman– Virginia Woolf — and one THEY told me was a “minor British novelist and ‘a woman.’” Fancy that.
Then, the crossroad: Ivory Towers glittered, but they were not gold, at least for me. All I had studied, I’d studied, all I adored, I adored – from Gawain and the Green Knight to The Dunciad, from The Mill on the Floss to Beowulf, in the original. Still, this was coasting; I began to realize, artistic ancestors sailing other boats, but crossing the same oceans. What if I did something myself? Write, that is? Oh my. A geography I’d never thought of, a landscape unknown and foreign.
I’d always written, but only here and there. In Camp, I was the editor of a newsletter and the thing I remember most was sitting in a little cabin off the beaten track and writing an essay or a poem with the warm July air cooling my face, the still smell of dry grass and Indian PaintBrush outside the window filling my nostrils. Peace, quiet, solitude; I loved it. Was that a preview? Did writing mean those things? Besides lines on a page? Dreams come images? ideas turned words? Oh, beautiful. But this?
Then, there was a stack of scribble pads from K-Mart and a heap of BIC pens, and I couldn’t keep myself away. And then, in peace and quiet, on the southern edge of the country in a house by the sea, turquoise waves twining me in their spell. Of a sudden, there I was, writing my heart out, the heart that had been in hiding for the better part of ten years. Magellan I was, my own country, high flights and bright worlds sparking new and live connections. Day after day, sometimes without pause, my bread cast upon the waters. O brave new world that had such magic in it.
And then, I wanted to share it with others; if I’m flying, I want to be part of the majesty of a flock. One + One + One ad infinitum. More of us howling at the moon, skipping to the sea, dancing into the waves. Women and Men, thoughts, feelings, views, visions, all I ever wanted – to belong and to share, thoughts, feelings, views and visions, How? Teaching. Workshops. Lectures. Publishing. On my own. In my own way. Only connect. Mentor? Midwife? Foster Mother? All and none. A sister human being. A story-book ride: In Your Own Voice, The 10,000th Woman, Red Shoes.
THE RED SHOES
RED SHOES came to birth one January night. I was dreaming before the fire. In the midst of the flame, an old scene arose. A small girl with a terrible sore throat lying in bed, unable to sleep. A beloved older sister sitting beside her. In her hand, a book. The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Anderson. The sister asked if the sick girl wanted to hear a story. She shook her weary head. The older sister read some titles. At The Red Shoes, the little girl clapped since she couldn’t speak. She had no idea what the story was about, but she was captivated by the image of the red shoes, the crimson shoes, the vermilion shoes, the scarlet shoes. Her sister sat on the edge of the little girl’s bed, a small overhead lamp beaming onto the smooth white pages.
“Close your eyes,” she said. “And if you want anything, just knock gently on the wall with this hand mirror,” and she handed her a beautiful silver embossed hand mirror with a long curved handle. You can do it any time in the night as well, and I will come.” The little girl smiled as best she could. “Now, go ahead. Close your eyes.”
The little girl leaned back and her sister, in the sweetest, kindest voice began.
“Once upon a time, there was a little girl who longed for the most beautiful pair of bright red shoes…”
THE FAIRY TALE
The Red Shoes is the story of a little girl who wants a pair of beautiful red shoes. To her, they are magical, and give flight to all her desires. She buys them and attends a dance wearing them. Deliriously happy, she dances in them throughout the evening. At last, she becomes tired and wants to go home and take them off. The shoes, however, do not become tired. They want to keep dancing and they do, dancing the girl into the forest, across mountains, along rivers, through towns, near and far. Nothing stops the shoes. The girl becomes exhausted. She falls down and begs her friends to remove the shoes in whatever way they can. In some versions, they cut them off, and cut off her feet as well; in others, they cut off her hands too, for having desired them; in yet others, she simply dies and the shoes fall off. Each version offers the moral that the shoes, while beautiful, cannot be acquired without cost, and that even a preference for art and a taste for beauty cannot eliminate that.
Some Notable Versions of the Tale:
And, of course, in THE WIZARD OF OZ, Dorothy goes back home by clicking her ruby slippers.
Later, also as a child, I saw the British film, “The Red Shoes”, a retelling of the fairy tale as a love story and a tragedy.
I became captivated.
The film sets the Fairy Tale into the center of a story of Diaghilev and the Russian Ballet and its prima ballerina Victoria… and the musician Julian… their love affair and Victoria’s love affair with ballet and expressing herself through art. Both the film and the ballet of ‘The Red Shoes’ in the film illustrates the hold the red shoes has on each of the central characters. That the end of the ballet and the film end with the death of the heroine indicates the destructive as well as the creative aspect of art as seen from this point of view – the tragic, demonic, demanding aspect that expects and anticipates complete sacrifice.
MY RED SHOES
As a teenager, I bought a pair of red shoes, Capezio brand, the dancer’s brand, but for party use. They just fit but I could walk only gingerly in them; they barely fit on my toes. I loved their leather, I loved their style; I denied their lack of comfort. I insisted on getting them. Generous in the sphere of clothes and decoration, my mother bought them for me, and although I wore them rarely – they hurt or slipped off too much – I refused to part with them. Even bandaids under the leather tips or across my heels and toes didn’t convince me. I was that attracted.
When I decided to self-publish my second book of poems and stories, and offer classes and workshops in writing and the creative process many years later, up popped the image of Red Shoes. I felt that the attraction the shoes had for me could be so for others as well, particularly as they searched for ways to express themselves. If I showed them the ways to spontaneous and free expression through writing and through acceptance, wouldn’t they too fly? I believed too that I could show them how to balance their art and their lives rather than let one lead to despair of depression and inactivity or to the mania of art that cannot be contained. My book, MOTHER MY HOUSE IS MOVING PAST, which I published under the RED SHOES Logo, would show the first steps toward moving out of this duality into a singular kind of independence. At night, I said, we can take our dancing shoes off.
Years passed. Red Shoes expanded to a solo theater project under the rubric of Red Shoes TheatreWorks. It was a rich and satisfying undertaking. Classes continued, books appeared, lectures and talks were given. As time went on, for me even Red Shoes paled. They had begun to drive me, despite myself. I wanted to … deepen my work with individuals and reduce the number of workshops and classes I offered. I wanted more than anything, to take those shoes off. Instead of inspiring my clients and students, I wanted to plumb the depths of their creative desires; in other words, to work with them through an Expressive Arts Therapy process. Which I continue to do.
Look! Her Hair’s On Fire! is an offshoot of this. On this website, I gather some of the strands of my creative energy as I live it now into some ways to write and live which enable me to cultivate depth and balance and the making of art. It feels like a parade, a celebration, a lifting of spirits. I have not sacrificed this one way or the other, and I offer it to you as a gift to add to the ones that you yourself no doubt cultivate. In some ways it seems leading the parade of creative projects I have undertaken with explorations of writing and becoming, perhaps the most persuasive aspect of my work as a writing person and expressive arts therapist.