Gratitude


It’s a funny thing, this struggle for worker’s rights in Wisconsin.

Labor isn’t something I consciously think about. It is perhaps because I have gotten my income through consulting and self-employment more than through general employment. However, even though I am not currently a member of a union, the struggle for worker’s rights has struck me more deeply than I could have ever imagined. I am energized, I am excited, I am engaged, I am encouraged.

#WIunion isn’t just about unions, though.

#WIunion is about people.

It’s about teachers and electricians and boilermakers and firefighters, yes.

But it’s also the husbands and wives and children of these people. These people who are people first, and not their professions. These people who have families that rely on the consistent wages and healthcare and vacation time that collective bargaining provides in their professions.

It’s also people who are elderly and live on a fixed income, needed assistance to purchase medication. It’s about folks with mental and emotional disorders who rely on state aid to provide mental health professionals and medication to allow them to live productive, meaningful lives.

It’s about people like me, who earn less than $8000 a year and couldn’t have health insurance without BadgerCare. People like me who are slated to earn less this year than last year. People who have drive and ambition and intelligence, and are just trying to get out in the world and put their talents to good use.

That’s me.

I spend full days at the courthouse, live-tweeting public hearings, because I am directly affected by #WIunion in ways that aren’t talked about. Until now, I haven’t really talked about why I am so committed and dedicated to this fight. It’s not because I have state health insurance (which I nearly lost, and may still lose). It’s not because I’m a member of a union (I’m not because I afford the dues). It’s not because I have dozens of friends and loved ones who are already re-arranging their lives and their futures because of pay cuts, loss of benefits and coverages, lack of vacation time to spend with their families, and furlough days that cut into lives in unexpected and complicated ways.

It’s because this is about people. And I care deeply about people.

I care about basic rights. I care about complying with international declarations. I care about following the law as dictated by a judge.

And even though I am affected in a fairly minor, I am compelled to be part of this in my own small way. Sharing the words and statements directly from the courtroom is my way of contributing to the fight for #WIunion rights. It’s a small contribution, not a lot of power or force behind it. It’s not dramatic, like the man on a hunger strike (he’s on day 26).

But I feel like it’s something. I appreciate hearing from each of you who send messages of gratitude and support. I am grateful for your re-tweets and sharing information on Facebook and beyond. I am hopeful that the things you read from the courtroom and those I share from others inspire conversation and collaboration.

That is what I get from participating in #WIunion. How about you?

PS: I have been asked by folks how they can contribute to my work live-tweeting the court hearings (including helping cover lunch and other costs. I have created a PayPal account that will accept PayPal and credit card donations. This is not a request for donations, simply creating an opportunity for folks to contribute, if you feel so called. If so, know that your donation is appreciated beyond words.

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Vivienne McMaster is photographer and self-portrait artist based in Vancouver. She captures the power of raw emotion and real experience in all of her images, and leads others to discover this emotion and realness through her online workshops and in-person immersions. Her work has inspired many, and has encouraged me to consider turning the camera onto myself now and then. I am SO excited to share her words with you in this interview. The next round of You Are Your Own Muse begins on February 14th (not by chance), and there are a few spots still available! If you want more information about Vivienne, her blog, or with any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact her. She’s extra-friendly.

You are a self-confessed “late bloomer” to photography. How did you get your start and what initially drew you to self-portrait work (the topic of your 2 e-courses, Wading In and You Are Your Own Muse)?

It is true. I had little interest in photography before I neared the age of 30. I hear of so many people say that they picked up their first camera at age 5 and never turned back but that isn’t my case at all. I have been creative in some way for most of my life: art journaling, theatre, songwriting and singing but photography wasn’t even in my radar.

The truth of how I got started with photography is that I was really depressed. I was going through a major funk. It was much this quote:

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
Lao Tzu

Sure, that quote sounds pretty good but in reality it was a pretty intense process. When I emerged from my 6 months of crying I felt like a totally blank canvas. I knew what I had let go of but I had no clue that I was anymore. I also didn’t want to be around anyone yet. It was around the time that cell phone cameras were starting to become common and I had one. I would go on walks alone just starting to notice the beauty around me. I soon moved to a point and shoot and then a big camera (and way too many other film & Polaroid cameras). It took my life by storm.

Self-portraiture came from this same place. At first to document my sadness and then it shifted as I was trying to figure out who I was again and to reclaim Joy. It began with taking photos of my feet, then to my face in the sun and then into putting the camera down and taking my photo in different contexts. It was really a documenting of my return to a place of happiness.

I’m someone who is interested in self-portrait work and deepening my photography. Can you tell me briefly the difference between your two courses and who might be drawn to each?

The way I approach teaching both courses is that they intertwine self-portraiture with finding or deepening our voices as photographers.
The main difference between the 2 courses is the depth to which they delve. Wading In: Dipping our Toes into Self-Portraiture stays in a really light, playful place but still invites participants to do some powerful exploration.
You are Your Own Muse is a bit more of a dive into self-portraiture. We dig deeper into the potential of self-portraiture for healing and for shifting our self-image to a positive place. So we look inward while we are also doing the outward work of taking self-portraits. It too is packed full of fun though!

In your experience, what is the most powerful aspect of self-portrait photography?

I think the most powerful thing about it for me, and I’ve heard this from my students too: is seeing ourselves. We all know how good it feels to make a friend or meet someone that we feel ‘sees us’ for who we really are. I have found that self-portraits can allow us to do that for ourselves. When we take photos that feel like our true selves shine through, photos in which we see ourselves as beautiful or in which we are capturing our truth (whether it be messy or shiny).

I also think that seeing ourselves as deeply and truly beautiful, in this present moment, is a revolutionary act!

You’re currently running a series on your blog, 14 Days of Self-Love. What inspired this series? Tell us about your favorite day (thus far).

The 14 Days of Self-Love project appeared as I chose my ‘word of the year’ to be Love. I wanted to create something that anyone could relate to whether they are in a relationship or not. Because the only constant in all of our lives is ourselves and why not treat that person as best as we can.

My favorite day so far is day 2, when I share ideas about writing our selves love notes. Some of them are kind of unconventional ideas and I had a lot of fun collecting these ideas. I hope there is a lot of love note writing out there this valentine’s day!

What keeps you doing the work of self-portraiture (and photography) with joy and gratitude?

Joy is integral in my relationship to photography, as my story of how I found photography explains. With each photo I take I feel like I am documenting my gratitude for this return to a place of happiness. As well, whether it is self-portraiture or photography in general, when we document the beauty around us we strengthen our ability to see the beauty within us. This is what keeps me doing this work.

As well, now that I’m teaching classes I’m seriously smitten each and every participant that takes my classes. Their ability to embrace bravery, joy, playfulness and to show up in this process is just stunning. They are my teachers too.

I feel like each time someone takes a self-portrait and proudly shares their unique self it has the potential to empower someone else to look more kindly at themselves. That is powerful!

If you could suggest one thing that women can do to move forward in their personal journey with integrity and wholeness, what would that be?

Don’t forget to be playful. When we keep joy, playfulness and an openness to adventure at the forefront they help us to move forward with wholeness, plus they are a great antidote to fear!

Natural Spring, Duck Pond, December 2010

Registration for my next workshop opens on Monday. Head over to A Forest of Stories to check out today’s post about the workshop and how to sign up!

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Quiver: to shake or move with a slight trembling motion. Origin: Middle English, probably from quiver agile, quick; akin to Old English cwiferlice zealously First Known Use: 15th century ~ Merriam-Webster

It is this trembling motion I feel in my heart today. As though a thousand tiny snowflakes caught in glass are swirling about my insides. Quiver. Tremble. Judder.

From the outside, I look fine. No, better than fine. I look great! Better than expected. As though nothing had happened. Amazingly well. But what do we know about outsides? They could be made of clay or putty or stone. Outsides are designed to look okay. When I cry, people say they would never have known. When I am angry, I do not flush. I look perfectly normal.

It is the insides. Quiver. A stomach in knots, filled with butterflies and ladybugs and bubbling, gurgling acids. A pair of lungs pumping harder, faster, filling fuller and deflating flatter. Muscles that twitch at the notion of movement, of lunging and grasping and vaulting away, away, away.

Tremble. When I am furious, it is my insides which rumble. My skin a soft blanket covering jagged edges and sharp blades. When elated, it is the membrane of a balloon, stretching and expanding to contain the excitement, the bursting molecules of air, within.

Today I am aquiver. I am all sinew and bone, rattling and rambling and jostling about.

Today I am a quiver. I am the place containing arrows, the ideas on straight rods with pin-point precision, waiting ready to leap forward and land in the center of the target, the exact place where they will flourish and blossom and impact with deftness. I am a quiver, slung on the back of an Amazon rider. I hold the moments of satisfaction, of the hunt, of sustenance. I am a quiver carrying the means to my own survival.

Quiver. Tremble. Judder.

Survive.

Move forward.

Thrive.

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I’m not a person who makes New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not interested in creating a set of false hopes only to be dashed in days or weeks of broken self-resolve and lost plans and exasperated dreams. I never have been.

I am, however, into making declarations. These are always personal, and entirely based on things I can do and accomplish. I’m not usually one to share these declarations. But this year, based on my amazing experience in Mondo Beyondo last year, I am breaking through my own fear and self-doubt and sharing my goals and declarations for 2011 here, with all of you.

But first, an admission. My word for 2011? ADVENTURE.

My goals for 2011:

* A daily yoga and meditation practice.
* My own safe “home base” – a place I can find solitude, comfort, and safety.
* Self-sustaining employment {nourishes my soul, provides for my needs, is tied to and follows my passions}.
* LOVE. Self love. Partner love.
* Yoga conferences {San Francisco, Lake Geneva} and regular yoga classes {Perfect Knot, Mound Street}.
* Investigate a yoga teacher training that fits my needs and passion.
* Teach 2 in-person and 3 online workshops.
* At least 6 pieces of writing accepted for publication.
* At least 2 new individual writing clients {long-term projects and includes editing work}
* Having everything I need to soar at my writing workshop in Wellfleet with Marge Piercy.
* Spend a long weekend with my Canadian friends.
* Spend a week in England.
* Spend 10 days in Wellington.
* Spend 10 days in India/Nepal.
* Attend the European Summit for Global Transformation in Amsterdam.
* A high-quality DSLR and good lenses for documenting stories around the world.
* Photoshop and InDesign for my MacBook Pro.
* An external hard drive for music and photography.
* The ability to develop and scan my own black and white film negatives.
* A small side business selling body-care products.

My declarations for 2011:

* This year, I will have a DSLR I can travel with, shoot video with, adventure with, record stories with, and document my journey with.

* This year, I will USE the passport I possess to travel to Canada, New Zealand, Amsterdam, England, and Nepal. I will learn how to pack for a month of travel in only one bag. I will not be afraid of leaving the safety of what I know for an adventure into the unknown.

* This year, I will love myself above all else. I will respect my own boundaries and needs. I will only be open to romantic love when I am secure in the love I have for myself.

* This year, I will meet at least 6 virtual friends in real life. At least six, but hopefully many, many more.

* This year, I make my dream of nurturing and witness women to discover their true voices and write their true stories a reality, earning more than half of my income from this endeavor, and moving toward a full income from storytelling, story-coaching, and writing.

* This year, I practice yoga every day. I meditate daily. I eat well. I return to my japa practice.

* This year, I begin learning both French and Hindi. I practice my language skills regularly. I am a language-learning fiend.

* This year, I develop my eye as a photographer and find my way with both digital and film images. I develop my own negatives. I print my own black and white images. I create amazing, real images of women and girls from around the world.

* This year, I don’t run away from my destiny. I embrace it fully.

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Prompt: Future self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

2011 is the year you go big. This is the year you leave behind those old tapes and trust your intuition more than you ever have before. This year you travel to places of where you have only dreamed; you meet the women who change your life in irreversible ways. This year you have dreams, make plans, and succeed in accomplishing your goals.

2011 is the year you live in Mystery and revelation. This is the year you experience the healing power of growth, of connection and community, of trust. This year you blossom into the amazing woman everyone has always told you that you are. This year you look in the mirror and SEE and FEEL that amazing woman staring back at you.

2011 is the year you bump into Elizabeth Gilbert on your birthday, light Shabbat candles with Marge Piercy, share a hotel room with Marianne Elliott and cuddle with Randi Buckley’s bouncing baby boy. This is the year you make sangria in Canada, shoot 120  film in Amsterdam, and almost drop your Canon DSLR into the Ganges — but don’t. This year you live above a video store in Mumbai, run on the beach in Paekakariki, and give a morning sermon in that small town you tried so desperately to escape (but now feel drawn toward again).

2011 is the year you take control of your life. This is the year you earn more than you ever have by doing less for the machine and following your bliss. This year you start to whittle away those pesky student loans and can afford airfare and hotels across the globe. This year you believe that you are worth every penny you make.

2011 is the year you feel like you are starting your life anew. This is the year you in many ways are. This year you rock it like Ani D and make no apologies for being your awesome self.

This year is about you.

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Ten years ago: Your first poem had been accepted into a literary journal. You were so elated, but your family didn’t really get it. You were still cutting. Everything hurt all the time. You were hoping to start college the coming fall. You were studying for your driving exam. All you wanted to do was escape.

You wanted so much to be a sweet child, a sweet young woman. Your heart was so troubled, and no one understood why. It wasn’t until years later when you understood yourself what all the fighting was against, and by then you still couldn’t explain it to anyone who could make it change.

I would come and hold you at night, smooth back your hair and sing you to sleep. I would stand watch at your bed so you could rest. I wouldn’t let you out to those places, to do those things you hated so much but seemed like the only way to feel alive. I would take all the knives and hide them from you, paint flowers and feathers on your arms in place of scars. I would teach you to call the spirits, to burn the herbs and make the potions to cast spells deep into the night. I would give you the moon in a bowl of water and light candles with your breath.

It didn’t matter to you how many people you knew, how much work you did, how hard you tried. Nothing felt good enough. Nothing could please them. Nothing would make them love you like you wanted.

Let’s go skating on the pond tonight. We’ll toss the blades over our shoulders with those hot pink guards glowing in the full moon’s light. Holding hands we burn figure-eights into the ice, again and again until the glass begins to crack beneath us. Then we’ll race home to make hot cocoa in the dark kitchen, trying so hard not to giggle and wake up the parents. They’ll never notice, anyway.

Let’s run away together, tell an adult what is really going on, and reach safety at the end of that screaming, angry night.

You couldn’t wait to tell someone that you had dreams of going away to college, of becoming a researcher and making the lives of women and girls better all over the world. You would sneak out the polaroid camera and use up the last slips of film before putting it away again. You had just learned your father wasn’t dead, but didn’t really know what to do next. You wanted to move away from it all, be just a 15-year-old girl in a sunny happy world and have all your dreams come true.

Sit with me a moment. Let me hold your cold red hand in mine. Together we will watch the year unfold in magick and wonder and amazing dreams-come-true. In this moment, then and now and forever in the future, anything you dream of can happen. We will do it, together. We are the same, you and I. And…

I love you.

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Prompt: Lesson learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

Wow. 2010 was definitely a year filled with lessons about my self. But the one that immediately jumps to mind is the lesson of resiliency. I am an incredibly resilient human being.

After a voluntary eviction from my first “grown-up” apartment, and moving in to the generosity and open heart of a dear friend, I struggled deeply with my sense of self, and especially with my sense of worth. I had always tied my worth into my work life, into my “things” — my home, my income, my stuff. Not because I believed that my belongings defined me, but simply because I hadn’t had much growing up, and so the more I had (in both physical things and places to belong), the “greater” my life had become.

And then I didn’t have a steady income for 7 months.

I made enough money to pay the smallest of personal bills, but I was certainly living off the kindnesses of others. I told myself I was working on re-building my freelance business into more of a small-biz business. In reality, I was wasting time. I was dallying on the inter-webs. I was watching old episodes of television shows I started watching in college, when I felt more alive. I ate a lot. I didn’t get out much. I was bored. And, to be honest, fairly boring.

One day I woke up.

I realized that I wanted more from myself. I wanted to travel, to learn, to nurture and record stories. I wanted to take pictures again, after spending years away from a camera. I wanted to write again. I wanted to explore the quiet places in my heart, my mind, my spirit. I wanted to create rituals and bring magick to the everyday.

I wanted to be alive again.

I have spent the last few months shaking the dust from my bones, sweeping out the cobwebs and opening the windows of my eyes and ears. It has taken a lot of hard work (which is no where near complete), but I finally feel like my heart is starting the gentle quiver of a cocoon preparing to release her butterfly.

I could have given up a year ago. I could have succumbed to the old tapes of unworthiness and failure. For a while, maybe I did. But these are not the voices which speak from my soul. These are the voices of others outside me. My own true voice sings a quiet tune while cooking, speaks poetry when folding the wash. My own voice shares the beauty of a summer thunderstorm and the sharpness of sub-zero mornings. My voice speaks of honesty, integrity, truth and life.

My voice lives strong in my heart, in my throat. My voice does not back down or surrender to the doubts of others.

I do not give up. I carry through.

I AM.

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