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I wrote this a few years ago, but I find it’s still true and I still struggle (greatly) with my sense of self and how/what I want to do in the world.Yesterday was a perfect example of doing all the things I loved in one day, and wondering if it was at all possible to have that be my life.

Maria: I can’t seem to stop singing wherever I am. And what’s worse, I can’t seem to stop saying things – anything and everything I think and feel.

Mother Abbess: Some people would call that honesty.

Maria: Oh, but it’s terrible, Reverend Mother.

–The Sound Of Music

That exchange (and that whole film) sums up a great deal of my experience with being me and coming to terms with my relationship to religion when I was young, and set a pattern of division most of my life.

I thought being religious and a good church goer/Christian meant being and behaving like this:

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When I was much more likely to be being and behaving like this:

Dancer

I grew up and ran straight to theater which celebrated not just the academic and skillful ability to perform and create, but it let you dress up and act like this:

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And, it was totally ok to drink and smoke and do drugs and stay up late and get to business with the other sexy people in the Temple of Performance Art.

But, I really missed the connection to what I felt was a deep and ephemeral part of myself-that believed in something (something not snarky, not ironic, not “out there” but inside), deep and important. Found, yes, through nature and the arts, but also in the concept of a more structured spirituality. It was all quite hard to square, wanting this spiritual thing and feeling that I, in my essence, wasn’t cut out for what I believed it required.

After I had kids, I also went through something similar– this doubt of how I should be in my body, how I should be and behave.

I figured I should be behaving like this:

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When it was far more likely I’d be behaving like this:

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Motherhood and sex, Madonna and latex corset wearing tart, this I struggled with even when I was exploring more and more of my sexuality (in some ways fronting more of a rebel persona than I’d earned). And I, my friends, was raised in a relatively liberal no nonsense sex healthy household. Still fell into the divide of how I “should” be if I was “good.”

So strange, right, that insecurity? Our essence makes us special and unique. Me being much more inclined towards the performative, raucous and bawdy (in general), my sexuality, my physical body is part and parcel of who I am, my leadership, my call–whatever you want to name it as–but still there has always been this weird voice sputtering about in the back of my brain and now it’s back to sputter that if I am to explore my role in spirituality that I should somehow need to be and behave like this:

gop a nun praying during xmas

When I am usually more inclined to be found being and behaving like this:

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I have a hard time reconciling what I think I should be and what I am, and even more, that what I am is actually quite perfectly formed for what I want to do. That my laughter, my bawdy sense of humor, my playfulness, and extroversion is what makes what I do MINE and what makes it valuable.

This sputtering, irritating voice still nags, this “if you were good you’d be more like” nattering lingers and I falter. Even when I’m told directly by so many wonderful people, this part of you, you, yourself is what is valuable, why cannot I take it in?

This makes me wonder is how many of us are out there in the world? How many of us hear a voice like that, that we aren’t, inherently in some core way, “right” or “good” enough to be spiritual and secular, rowdy and serious, sexual and familial? That our essence, that beauty inside ourselves isn’t what the world is desperately needing the absolute MOST right now. Honesty. Singing in the hills. Making outfits out of curtains and dancing in the streets, or being a nun in an abbey or a corporate marketing executive, just do it in the unique way you do it whether politically, in work places, onstage, or finding justice.

If I can tell you that you are awesome as you are and believe it, that what you do and how you are makes a difference, why might it be so hard to listen myself?

This voice is it from childhood? Knowing early on I “saw” the world differently and got dinged for it at school or probably, yeah, in church like our friend Maria? Told by family (perhaps not in words, but in messages) to perform, but not to be seen? That’s likely the root of the issue, one I’ve been working on for such a long time, to be seen as me while accepting the risk of what that might bring. Working on just getting out of my own way and letting my honest self be exactly who she is without judgement.

(Can you? If so, how’d you do it?!?)

I’m not sure what the lesson is to get that voice to settle down. Certainly obeying it and singing its song of being “good” means leaving your real self in the dust. Trying to drown it out, and pretending to be the rebellious “bad” side doesn’t work so well either.

As per usual, it’s a dose of both/and, and producing some semblance of harmony between the voices, the sputtering one and your truest one, acknowledging both, merging them not into one, but at least into a chorus that can live well in the world and make some amazing noise.

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From The Archives-Coming Out

flickr creative commons emma o

flickr creative commons emma o

I wrote the post below in 2011, two years before my mother died, and I find it kind of wonderful and poignant (and a little painful) to see where I am now, two years after she passed. Considering that I’m fully involved in a truly deep kind of motherhood now, and even farther down the path towards work that is (to me at least) extremely spiritual, I can only laugh gently at how hard it was for me to come to grips with myself. I was speaking to a minister friend of mine about joining the Unitarian Universalist Church (the only church I can really imagine being involved in while also being so involved in BedPost Confessions-they love it, and many of the people there have been to the show).

I seem to be a person that weaves conventional and it’s opposite all together. Or maybe I just approach risky topics from a calm and earnest place? Church seems very predictable but I couldn’t have predicted 10 years ago I’d be where I am today.

I struggle with myself and I guess I always have. It’s funny, in its own way, how much time and energy I can expend trying to paddle the boat of my life away from the current, while the river is clearly stronger than I am.

——–

There was a big Lunar Eclipse Solstice recently, something not seen since the 1500’s in that particular combination. It was really cloudy here so even when I got up early at 1:30 to see what was up, I couldn’t see it.

The moon was amazing though, earlier in the evening. Full and white and perfect.

This has been a hard holiday season for me for some reason. I’m feeling tremendously disconnected, stressed and sad, quite worried about many things. I think there are reasonable reasons for much of my anxiety-real things, day to day things and so forth. But there are also more meta, spiritual/existential reasons for my malaise.

I’m at midlife, age wise. I’m at midlife also in the path my life has taken. I’ve been married a good while. I have children nearing their teens. I am mid career. I’m mid.

Beginnings are generally sexier. I think about being in this mid life place, and it doesn’t always feel that great. I don’t have a wedding to plan, or a pregnancy to celebrate, or a college graduation to complete, starting my way in the world new and fresh. I’m not young. I’m not old. I’m middle. Aged. Middle aged.

Middle is where the trudging is. There is a lot of trudging, lately. Trudging towards what? Achievement? Change? Survival? Eventual diminishment? A completely new chapter perhaps, or new book of a life half over?

What am I saying here? I don’t know. All I know is that the moon is important to me and bear with me as I ramble, because I think it’s important. I need to come out to the truth that I am spiritual, that I need to come out about having some kind of weird secular/spiritual/metaphysic/physical agnostic faith and it is that faith (symbolized in my youth by a kind of wild or free-range Christianity and in my teen years by a desire for all that New Age Wiccan magic, and by a keen connection to systems, counseling and therapies in my 20’s, to the joy of improvisational now-nessing in my 30’s) that gave me a kind of energy, power, strength, even though I denied that I believed.

Faith and belief are totes not cool, ya know.

Much of that faith has been altered since my mother’s decline. I’ve denied that faith. I’ve denied a level of power in myself, avoiding that personal pain. Because she is fading away, is nearly gone. And that leaves me in her position after she is finished. With my children at their beginning. And why is life so random and cruel? I know of a lot of death right now.

What is it now, in my 40’s, the symbol of faith in people, the secular religiosity that I carry? Is it parenting? Writing? Being witnessed and finally standing on stage and being willing to fail? This “sexual literacy” I speak so much about? Communion of voices and confessions and gatherings in a theatrical space, where people merge and cathart, and tell their stories? It’s a bit like church, that. Do I minister?

Am I willing to take on the mantle of Mother?

If my power is in a completely non religious religion, a religion of people and community, then I want to claim that power for what it is, how it is, and coolness be pitied, for that cool hipster distance only keeps us disconnected. Connection is something I want, warm and real and if that’s not cool? That’s ok with me.

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What A Vacuum Cleaner Taught Me About Love, Sex, And Sharing

flickr creative commons joshua skinner

flickr creative commons joshua skinner

So I got a very important lesson about polyamory from a vacuum cleaner recently.

I’ve gotten so SO much insight through BedPost Confessions. Seems like every month someone submits something, or writes a confession, or talks to me after a show and that teaches me things, valuable things not just about sexuality but how to practice being a more aware person. I see the same people here month after month like it’s some kind of personal commitment. I’ve seen communities build up from people meeting here, relationships deepening. There has always been something to learn or to share.

Many in our audience have opened up relationships or been polyamorous. May have had had more than their fair share of bumps and bruises through it, though others have experienced it with ease.

I first heard about polyamory in 2004 or so reading the blog of Mistress Matisse in Seattle. I found myself immediately drawn to it, this idea of multiple partners, and multiple loves. It might have been because I had had a number of romantic (though platonic) relationships with artists throughout my 20’s but it probably had more to do with the fact that I grew up watching 70’s sitcoms which involved a lot of partner swapping and naughty dating scenarios.

I blame it all on the media :)

I was married when I discovered poly. We were nine happy years and two lovely kids into our relationship. When we started exploring it, we went very slowly and cautiously, we had long discussions about feelings, and, I think, found partners with good sense and kind hearts. We talked about lot about where we felt we were on the continuum of poly and mono, pair-bonding and promiscuity.

We read Sex at Dawn and wondered if people were naturally poly or if it was genetic and I looked into the research. I mean there is some heavy research out there on on neurotransmitters and gene expression in monogamous prairie voles vs those of the promiscuous montane voles. Like this one from a wiki on voles and sexual practice.

“Neuropeptides like argenine vasopressin (AVP), dopamine, and oxytocin act to coordinate rewarding activities such as mating and affiliation. When compared to montane voles, which are polygamous, monogamous prairie voles appear to have more of these AVP and oxytocin neurotransmitter receptors. It is important that these receptors are in the reward centers of the brain because that could lead to a conditioned partner in the prairie vole compared to the montane vole which would explain why the prairie vole forms pair bonds and the montane vole does not.”

Clear as mud?

Well, even with the research and the talking and the wanting to do it, there were some pretty awful emotional moments-tears, fears, despair even. Some days there was a lot more talking than the sexytimes, which we both found puzzling and ironic. Maybe that was why poly was hard-because less talk equals more sex? And the more talking you do the less you feel like taking off your clothes? Or something?

I used to think that the reason it was hard to do polyamory was because we didn’t have a narrative for it. Like the Cinderella story-girl meets prince, pumpkins turn into carriages, they lose a shoe and find it, they marry and live happy ever after. Only in all the narratives, it’s always one man and one woman all the way back to Adam and Eve. And while there are strides in the right direction of two moms or two dads, and increasing narratives around queer relationships, they often tend to be mono-focused. There aren’t yet popular fairy-tales about Cinderella, Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty establishing a goat farm commune with Goldilocks and Hansel.

We don’t have that anywhere, not in our pop culture and not in our literature. As it stands, we are in a one-on-one kind of story structure about how we date, mate, mingle, and create families. Nothing extended, nothing complex, just a dual spouse single home family structure and then we hope to explore our generally less than monogamous drives inside without any real support.

And for a time, I put polyamory behind me because while love may be limitless, time is not. I often joke that my husband’s other partner is film and mine is theater. Or activism. Or writing. But I think we still hold the ideals and certainly desire and attraction to others is natural and expected. I was satisfied with that narrative explanation until the vacuum cleaner.

I only have one rug in my house and so I usually have just swept it or taken it outside and beaten it. Why buy a vacuum cleaner for one rug? But I recently had cause to borrow one and my god (duh, of course) the difference in that rug. There was the rug looking like a brand new purchase and me zipping around like Donna Reed and I was smitten.

I gave the vacuum back. And I borrowed it again. And I thought, “I could just borrow the vacuum a couple times a month and wow, I won’t have to buy my own.”

And when I thought that phrase, “I won’t have to buy my own.” instead of it being a relief, like…hey! Saving $100! Sharing economy! I instead felt this amazing fear creep into my gut, I mean I really felt it in my gut just like I felt the fear of losing a partner, or having “my own” control over….a vacuum.

I wanted my own vacuum cleaner that was MINE and mine alone! That I could have whenever I wanted and that I didn’t have to negotiate over and that no one else could have.

It was the most irrational and primitive feeling I’ve had in a long time. And then my next thought was, “Damn. No wonder non-monogamy is hard.”

Insight comes in the strangest places.

Because, while people are not objects, we live in a very individualistic and highly ownership-based culture, focused on owning our own stuff. We, the most of us and culturally, live in individually owned homes or apartments, with individual tools and appliances, with individual jobs and cars, and we get an individual spouse and have individual children who eat individual pizza pockets and we create a sense of “mine-ness” of those people and things. It makes perfect sense then that our literature and pop culture narratives would be reflections of that much deeper structure, that is predominantly Western and not even that old.

It wasn’t even 100 years ago that people lived in extended family settings. That we shared radios or telephones or appliances in a neighborhood. My mother, born in 1928, told me stories of there being one telephone (a party line) in their little village. And today? We all have our own smartphones (or two), and to have “our own” whatever it is, is a goal and desire that has been well trained into us at this point.

I’m not sure what that means for non monogamy, but for me it explains how hard it was, even when I was doing everything “right” – the talking, the listening, the reading and processing, the idealistic parts of my soul WANTING to do this thing that inherently felt correct, but that same gut clench would happen. Mine.

Its a chicken or egg maybe, is it inherent in us to share? And we’ve commodified that ability away? Or is it inherent in us to horde away? Both?

I don’t know, any more than I could tell you how the prairie vole because gene-expressed to monogamy or the montane to promiscuity. I do know that science is showing us just how mixed together nature and nurture is, and that one influences the other.

What I do know is that future forays into non-monogamy will come after I’m really damn comfortable with sharing a vacuum cleaner, a blender, a car, when that clench in my gut is replaced with yes, compersion that beautiful feeling of taking pleasure in another’s pleasure, that I could share something with others and that they’d share with me. That might take more time, but I’m turned on by the prospect of the practice.

It’s the practice isn’t it? If you practice kissing you get better at kissing. If you practice jealousy? You get better at that. Which, maybe relates back to our neurotransmitters? It’s nature, it’s nurture, and it’s the practice that merges the two and we get to choose what we want to practice.

Bedposts has been a practice for me, and I think, for many of us who come to the show. A reminder of that which is possible outside our narrative and place where we get to forge new, and deep, stories not just for us, but for our friends and family and lovers to come.

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April BedPosts!

Jack Darling Photography

Jack Darling Photography

BedPost Confessions is tonight!

OUR NEXT SHOW IS THURSDAY, APRIL 16TH!
Y’ALL, WE HAVE MISSED YOU SO. COME CELEBRATE SPRING WITH US ON APRIL 16TH AT THE NORTH DOOR.

YOUR STORYTELLERS WILL BE~

☆ JAY BYRD ☆
☆ SARA HENRY ☆
☆ TEACHER KATE ☆
☆ CLAIRE EVORA ☆
☆ BOYE NAGLE ☆

EMCEE’D BY MIA MARTINA

AND, AS ALWAYS, FEATURING YOUR CONFESSIONS!

BEDPOST CONFESSIONS IS PRODUCED BY SADIE SMYTHE, JULIE GILLIS AND MIA MARTINA. EVENT MANAGEMENT PROVIDED BY SARA HENRY OF OH, HENRY EVENTS.

BEDPOST CONFESSIONS PROVIDES ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DEAF BY A GROUP OF TALENTED ASL INTERPRETERS!

✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ THE BASICS ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

4/16/15 BEDPOST CONFESSIONS @ THE NORTH DOOR
[ONE BLOCK EAST OF I-35 ON THE CORNER OF BRUSHY STREET AND EAST 5TH]
TICKETS ARE $10 AT THE DOOR
THE ND LOUNGE OPENS AT 6:30, SHOW DOORS OPEN AT 7:15, SHOW STARTS PROMPTLY AT 8:00

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Thoughts on Sex and Dying

The inimitable Elizabeth Wood of Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance has written a compassionate and thoughtful piece looking at a challenging issue-sexuality in the last years of persons in nursing homes. She references a case in Iowa where a husband is now being charged for sexual assault for intimacy with his wife. There are no easy ways through this tangle and it’s a hard hard case to read. Elizabeth writes that:

Issues of sexuality in institutions like nursing homes are complex to begin with. Add mental impairment and family conflicts they get more complicated. Nothing I am about to write should be construed as oversimplifying complicated issues. Rather, in my comments on this specific prosecution, I want to add to the conversation about those complexities by suggesting specific ways of thinking about pleasure and danger for elderly people with memory or cognitive disorders.

She and I, and many others, discussed this at length on Facebook. I have a personal relationship to Alzheimer’s, as my mother died from it nearly two years ago. I wrote this a few months after she died while there was a terrible case happening in Texas regarding end of life decisions and pregnancy. The concept of choice and autonomy, consent and decision making…well, it’s difficult and challenging even on a good day. Try living through it with someone you love when they are dying, slowly, piece by piece.

Midway through 2013 my mother passed away after a 10 year battle with Alzheimer’s. At the end, she couldn’t speak, couldn’t toilet or feed herself, and she didn’t know people. Had she been able to know of her circumstance, in a nursing home, (well kept and lovely, but a nursing home nonetheless), she would have been deeply angered as “ending up that way.”

She was clear, clear as glass, 15 years ago when we first talked about her end of life issues. “I’d kill myself first.” she’d say, when topics of nursing homes were brought up. “I want to die like my mother did, quick and it’s over.” She didn’t get that choice, as she began to show signs of the disease that would rob her of of her memory and her ability to move, her personality.

During the initial stages of the disease, she’d would often bring up suicide. As the disease progressed, and she was cruelly aware that she was losing herself and her autonomy, she would rage against me, accusing me of wanting her to be shut away, and that I’d find her dead the next morning. Of course, her memory wouldn’t allow her to remember she’d threatened it and I’d find her confused come morning, but happily settled so long as I was there.

She would have wanted to die on her own terms. It was not a choice.

I struggle with the Iowa case, even as I am very sure I’m missing crucial information regarding family dynamics, history, and more. I do know that love, touch, and intimacy are vital parts of our whole lives and I believe that our elder care support systems (and the children who are part of their parents’ lives) need to grapple with the topic of sexuality head on, honestly, and with honor and respect for the fullness that intimacy brings to our lives, no matter how old or ill.

Dementia is terrifying, to me at least, because it ventures into territory of reality. Who are we if not our memories? Our shared connections that dementia threatens to sever bit by bit, in strange and unpredictable stages? Is consent possible at 10 am but not at 5pm? Does the loss of short-term memory eradicate the need for intimacy? What if you don’t remember that you wanted it moments earlier? Should facilities go 180 degrees into keeping patients physically isolated? How does that help a person in any way? How do we begin to grapple with the loss, guilt, fear and pain family members go through? Spouses?

We all will age, and we will all die. We all forge connections and relationships and I personally think those are what help make our life (and our dying) bearable. Its imperative we talk about both sex and death so that the ends of our lives may be lived with as much joy and pleasure as consensually possible.

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Rain

flickr creative commons shyviolet09

flickr creative commons shyviolet09

The early morning hours of my birthday, I woke up with the cat in one arm-crook and my husband in the other. I could hear them breathe.

The cat often enters the room when I stir, a nearly nightly ritual where I am wakeful and so is she. She leapt on the bed silently, with a tiny thump that is different than my husband’s leg when it moves as he dreams.

She often touches my nose, saying hello, and gets as close into me as possible, her fur sweet in my nose. Her low purr (she is a quiet cat) is sometimes a reward for stroking her neck the right way. She gathered up in the crook of my arm, head on my neck, like her life depended on it and I hold her, petting slowly so her rumbling voice will meet my pulse.

He, this man of my life, of 22 years, of past and present and future, lay beside me turned with his face towards mine, one hand on my belly, the other wrapped up in mine.

I rested, between the two, and matched my breathing to his, listening carefully for the cat’s little snore, my eyes open in the dusky light wondering about life and what my role in it meant.

The boys, children of ours just halfway grown, were still asleep and the day was ahead. They slept soundly still with the sleep of childhood where the deep deep lets you sink into it and you barely remember dreaming. It’s a sleep I envy them, only just a little. The trade off of adult freedom comes often out of sleep.

It was raining a slow steady rain. That felt like something good.

We had spent Friday hiking in a Texas park, not too far out of town, but far enough to feel like forever. The rain kept most travelers away, but it felt to me pristine and pure, water falling on a river, water falling on us, water falling on earth, washing away past and seeding the future.

Friday was Equinox, Friday was New Moon, Friday was Eclipse, Friday was power, and we all walked in the bright green grass, with the gray skies baptizing earth with eternal water, old water, ancient water, and we laughed and shivered and touched each other. We held hands and kissed the rain and laughed at our spontaneous ritual.

Later in that early birthday hour, with me placed perfectly between my bed partners while the rain issued down, thick and rich like honey? That hour was a prayer.

The purring and breathing and raining played in harmony as I drifted into hopes for the new year.

I felt like the luckiest woman on earth.

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An Interview With BedPosts

Jack Darling Photography

Jack Darling Photography

BedPost Confessions was honored to be interviewed by Becky Larson, for SXTXSTATE.com and their previews of events at SXSW. Check out the article here!

With the ever-increasing scale of SXSW Interactive has come ever-increasing scope. As technology evolves to touch all parts of our lives, so to has the conference grown to include a broad range of topics and fields in which technology has an impact.

This year, Interactive teams up with Bedpost Confessions to make it clear: Technology is impacting ALL parts of our lives…

Bedpost Confessions is an Austin-based, monthly storytelling performance in which participants share true stories dealing with gender, relationships, sex and sexuality. The stories range in tone from comical to thoughtful and everything in between. During the performances, audience members are asked to anonymously contribute their own meaningful or funny experiences to be shared on stage.

Keeping in the spirt of Interactive, during the panel the co-producers, Julie Gillis, Sadie Smythe and Mia Martina will be sharing, and asking the audience to anonymously share, their experiences with sex and technology; whether wacky or thought-provoking.

SXTX State reached out to the team to find out a little more about how the group got its start and what the producers hope their audience takes away from the performance.

Q: How did Bedpost Confessions get its start?

A: Julie Gillis: We all met through the internet and mutual friends, each of us writing about sexuality, gender and relationships. Since there wasn’t an erotic storytelling format in town, we all thought “Maybe we should pull a reading series together.” We developed a night at Spiderhouse, each of us reading our own work, and reading anonymous confessions from the audience. That combination took off and we’ve been performing to full houses ever since.

Q: How does a normal performance work? Are you always involving the audience (getting their stories)?

A: Sadie Smythe: A typical show features four storytellers and four sloSadiets of anonymous confessions. The confessions are the mainstay of the show – beforehand, we put “Confession” cards in the seats of the audience and ask them to write down their own anonymous sexual thoughts, fantasies and experiences. We then collect these confessions and read some of them on stage. This interaction is often the highlight of the show.

Q: When sharing audience “confessions,” you’re reading from both men’s and women’s points of view. Do you approach one any differently than the other?

A: Mia Martina: In terms of reading the confessions, and sexuality in general, our approach is a humanistic one. We want everyone, of all genders and orientations, to have a happy and healthy sexuality.

Q: Do you think the representation of sex and the direction the group takes are different than what the public is used to hearing/thinking about sex/sexuality? If so, do you think the fact that you’re a group of women has anything to do with the difference?

A: Julie Gillis: I do. I think sexuality in our culture is commodified to a very negative extent. Sex is sold in a fast food way in our culture; talked about like it’s something you have to have, yet something that’s dirty and wrong…We very rarely have first person genuine, vulnerable, and authentic accounts of the sweetness, confusion, hope, fears, and risk that goes into people trying to make sense of sex. We offer that authenticity and vulnerability in our show.

I’m not sure the difference is because we are women, but I think it’s also that we’ve each been explorers in our sexuality and have learned some things that we believe are vital to share. Our goal is to produce an entertaining show with humor and grace, which contains both ethics and education connected to gender, sexuality, orientation, and consensual relationships.

Q: Is it important that you ARE a group of women? Was that part of what you wanted for the group – to be women talking about sex?

A: Sadie Smythe: I don’t think that we needed or wanted for it to be a women-run show, that’s just how it turned out. We were all writers first and foremost, and it was because of this that we came together. We knew we wanted to create a space for ourselves to read our own work. After we had our first show and realized our concept was solid, we knew we would want to extend the invitation to others. I don’t know if us being women is important in terms of how we produce, but it might be important from the view of the audience member. And interestingly, most of our storytellers are women!

Q: Why are public performances like this important? What do you hope your audience takes away?

A: Mia Martina: We strive for the show to take the shame out of sexuality and sexual desires. We hope the audience will feel less isolated in sexual desires and struggles, inspired to try new things, and confident to start a conversation about sex with partners, friends, and most importantly themselves.

Q: What are some of the positive responses you’ve gotten?

A: Julie Gillis: We’ve been compared to a church where people go to share and connect. We’ve gotten personal emails from folks who have met a partner, or revitalized a relationship, explored a fantasy, or stopped dysfunctional behavior. We’ve seen performers bloom into new expressions of work, and audience members become politically active.

Q: Have there been any negative responses?

Sadie Smythe: We have occasionally received emails from folks who saw our show and were triggered in some way by what they heard. We always take this feedback very seriously and use it as an opportunity to educate ourselves. We strive to be as conscientious as possible and one of the ways we do this is through this feedback, positive or negative.

Q: Has any of the feedback you’ve gotten, positive or negative, changed the way you approach the show?

A: Mia Martina: Yes, absolutely. Everything from when the first guest arrives to when the last one leaves has been crafted based on 4 and half years of producing the show and taking into account feedback we get from the audience and from each other…We want every show to have a balance of entertainment and education about sexuality with a variety of voices speaking about sex.

Q: What made you want to want to speak at SXSW?

A: Julie Gillis: I think it’s a chance to show our work to a new audience and one from around the world. It’s an opportunity to humanize sex (while talking about how sex and technology have gone hand in hand) and to connect why sex is important to everyone.

Q: Does the scale of SX affect your planning or format for the performance?

A: Sadie Smythe: Our format is definitely affected, because for this show we only have an hour to represent what we typically do in two and a half. But we will feature three performers and at least two rounds of confessions.

Q: The audience at SXSW is invited to share stories of the intersection of sexuality and technology – can you give me an example of something that mixes the two?

A: Mia Martina: With just about every technological advancement, humans have found a way to make it naughty. It didn’t take long before video cameras were used for amatuer porn, before texting became sexting, and before the entire sex industry was turned on its head with the internet…The possibilities are endless and we are looking to hear confessions from the audience on all of it.

Q: What are your hopes for your group coming out of SXSW and what impact are you most hoping to make on the audience?

A: Julie Gillis: I’d love to get the opportunity to take our show on the road and reach other cities, especially cities in the south and midwest. And, if nothing else, I hope that by telling our own tales, we let people in the audience know that their own stories are worth sharing.

When & Where

Sunday, March 15
3:30PM – 4:30PM

Austin Convention Center
Next Stage
Austin Convention Center

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Women’s History Month

Artist Anabel Gomez

Artist Anabel Gomez

Today is March 1, 2015, the first day of Women’s History Month, and the theme is Weaving The Stories Of Women’s Lives.

The website asks the important question, “Why Women’s History?”

The NWHP answers that question with a quote and a fantastic tour of their site:

Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less. ~ Myra Pollack Sadker

History helps us learn who we are, but when we don’t know our own history, our power and dreams are immediately diminished.

Multicultural American women are overlooked in most mainstream approaches to U.S. history, so the National Women’s History Project champions their accomplishments and leads the drive to write women back into history.

Recognizing the achievements of women in all facets of life – science, community, government, literature, art, sports, medicine – has a huge impact on the development of self-respect and new opportunities for girls and young women.

With an emphasis on positive role models and the importance of women from all backgrounds, the NWHP has developed a nationwide constituency of teachers, students, parents, public employees, businesses, organizations, and individuals who understand the critical link between knowing about historical women and making a positive difference in today’s world.

The NWHP is the catalyst, the content provider, the behind-the-scenes director of a myriad of activities promoting women as leaders and influential forces in our society. For over 30 years, the NWHP, founded in Santa Rosa, California, has established a nationwide presence as the number one resource for information and material about the unfolding roles of women in American history. The NWHP leads both local and national efforts, consults, publishes, distributes, inspires, advises, and networks with a wide variety of institutions and activists in the field.

Every year in March, the NWHP coordinates observances of National Women’s History Month throughout the country. The NWHP originated this widely recognized celebration and sets the annual theme, produces educational materials, and chooses particular women to honor nationally for their work. Women’s History Month programs, community events, plays, essay contests, and related projects often have wide-ranging effects.
Every year the NWHP, in conjunction with academic institutions, holds workshops and conferences that highlight the role of women in particular areas, such as the Women of the West. These collaborative symposiums provide important opportunities for sharing research and stories about women’s roles, struggles, and successes today and throughout our history.

The NWHP also operates an award-winning web site, which makes information about women available and widely accessible. The site, www.nwhp.org, attracted over one million visitors last year making it the leading destination of its kind. Ongoing expansion and updating keep the site relevant and easy for students, journalists, and anyone else to use. Materials can also be ordered through the NWHP’s extensive online store.

In our own personal lives, the NWHP encourages discovering stories about our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers to help us better understand their lives, the challenges they faced, and ultimately, ourselves and our own times. Recognizing the dignity and accomplishments of women in our own families and those from other backgrounds leads to higher self-esteem among girls and greater respect among boys and men. The results can be remarkable, from greater achievement by girls in school to less violence against women, and more stable and cooperative communities.

The impact of women’s history might seem abstract to some, and less pressing than the immediate struggles of working women today. But to ignore the vital role that women’s dreams and accomplishments play in our own lives would be a great mistake. We draw strength and inspiration from those who came before us – and those remarkable women working among us today. They are part of our story, and a truly balanced and inclusive history recognizes how important women have always been in American society.

A contribution to the NWHP will allow this well-known and nationally respected organization to expand its important work of writing women back into American history.

The Women’s Community Center of Central Texas will be celebrating this month by posting pieces of history on their Facebook and Twitter, and also by producing WE Con, an powerful gathering of women from all over our city, focused on empowerment and social justice.

This question, Why Women’s History, is important to answer. I’ve seen it posed too often, as if women are simply a subset of humanity, and not a culture of their own. All women; old and young, of all sizes and shapes, races and creeds, from the entire LGBT spectrum, trans and cis and the gender non-binary, have stories that must be told, histories that should be celebrated, gifts that should be put to the best use for making our world better.

This month I challenge you to celebrate and support all the women in your life. Listen to them, learn from them, show them your love. And know that Women’s History is half of humanity’s history. We would do well to know it all.

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On Compassion

creative commons flickr mike gifford

creative commons flickr mike gifford

I’ve been looking up quotes about compassion. It’s a word, a feeling, I connect to deeply. I wonder if people, hearing the word, think of it as some kind of unilateral forgiveness or cuddly pat-on-the-head kind of “It’s ok” response.

I don’t.

I think people are struggling, all over. I think, for the most part, the speed at which the internet and our modern media works, isn’t the speed at which deep personal understanding works. I think that deep and personal change often comes out of uncomfortable situations plus time plus a reasonable “safe” space to process about the feelings.

This is something I was taught in a training a while back. Too much intensity-no learning occurs, people shut down. Not enough intensity-people don’t learn, they don’t have to connect. There are conditions within which that inner change (the hard stuff which goes up against cognitive dissonance) can happen.

(of course, everyone may have a differing experience of intensity…another thing to ponder)

Andrea Grimes posted from Take Root: Red State Perspectives on Reproductive Justice about a presenter who said the following about pro-lifers and conversation with them:

“Hayes: “a certain amount of compassion” necessary when talking w/anti-choice folks. “these are people.”

and

“Hayes: “I don’t think we take into account this is something they’ve been immersed in since childhood” re anti-choice folks”

and

“Hayes: “If we can stay calm and kind, they’re more likely to hear what we have to say.”

For the most part I do believe that, though I also know that sometimes you have to speak and act very forcefully in order to make change. I may never really be an activist. I certainly can’t imagine being a politician. I am fundamentally suspicious of power.

I’m interested in change, but what burns inside me as a driving force, is the change that can come inside of people; seeing a connection between a pro-lifer and pro-choicer (I’ve had these) with a seed that is planted, or helping to act as a “detangler” or knot-undoer in hard situations of conflict, or holding space for people to come together to do work, and helping to make that space productive and yes, kind, even if it’s difficult.

Which it often is. Difficult. Hard. Powerful. Wrenching. And all of these things that I see people struggling with, that I struggle with, around all the isms, and social justice issues are often (not always) connected to shame, guilt, fear and they are powerful emotions. The work I’ve done personally has been very emotional but it’s felt healing.

I don’t fit into the equation any other way than I fit in. And compassion is a huge piece of that. Spirituality is too. Kindness? I hope so. I fail at that and I respect anger for the force that it is, for it is righteous.

I try to see change as a sphere with all of us entering into it on different nodes with different connections and different skills.

I am comfortable with my node. I think it’s valuable.

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Listening To The World

flickr creative commons tom woodward

flickr creative commons tom woodward

Sunday was a day of being reminded of things. Of getting messages from…whom? The Universe? Synchronicity? Coincidence? I don’t care, so long as the message was received, and it was. It was a (gentle, loving, metaphoric) ass-kicking from God, in the forms of poems, sermons, radio programs.

At the Unitarian Universalist Church that I attend, the call to prayer was Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day. It’s a well known poem, a profound prayer in and of itself, focused on the idea of just paying attention (and feeling) as meditation, connection to whatever-the-thing-is-we-call-spirit. It’s a favorite of mine, and I relate to the last two lines profoundly. After all, what I am going to do with this one wild and precious life? There are times it feels hopeful and gentle, and times it feels like a challenge. “Go do it!”, the poem says. “Get on it!”

Then, the sermon was on Coveting, you know from the whole Ten Commandment thing? Reverend Barnhouse spoke with eloquence and great humor about this feeling of wanting something that someone else has and how it tears at us, harms not just us, but everyone:

Coveting, wanting something that is someone else’s doesn’t only make you eat your heart out, It sets you up for wishing something bad to happen to your neighbor, or it makes you think about how you deserve that thing and they don’t, all encouraging an adversarial dynamic rather than a compassionate or cooperative one. It can create bad feeling between you, guilt and anger and sorrow. The community is damaged. In a coveting situation, you are damaged and/or the community is damaged.

It is a powerful feeling, that envy, that coveting. Often it creates a deep sense of anxiety and depression in me. I don’t know about you, but I compare myself all the time. I don’t get enough blog hits; or, I should be farther along in my career; or, my body should look like that body over there (only without the genetics or hard work of course). And down that road lies madness. My best friend tries to remind me of this, and she’s right of course, but often it takes a few interventions from a few arenas before this stubborn Aries gives in and gets it.

Reverend Barnhouse took the sermon into a direction that I needed. She quoted a teacher of hers who helped her reframe the feeling of coveting, into a feeling of connection:

One of my spiritual teachers, Martha Beck, would say “do you really want more comments? How would you feel if you got them? Warm, validated? What then? You would be empowered to keep going? Confident? What is it you’re really after?”

(Reverend Barnhouse says) …when you covet, when you are jealous, when you want something someone else has, write it down. Ask yourself why you want it. What do you imagine it bring to your life? What is the lack you are really feeling? What could you do to fill that lack? Coveting is an indicator of where you need to go. Use that energy for good. Use it to move yourself toward wholeness. Demons love a good fight. See if you can embrace them instead, turning their energy toward the good.

Now, look I get it. It’s probably a lot easier to let the amygdala go to town with all the powerful heavy emotions like envy. “BUT WHYYYYYYYYY????”, my brain wants to scream. While I foot stomp with frustration and fear, these so-called demons chase me, and I run into a house of mirrors. Inside each glass is distorted with images of me relaying the messages, “You just aren’t enough, you don’t work hard enough, it’s not your karma, you are too old, you didn’t start soon enough.”

I’d like to blame serotonin for my troubles. Or my parenting. Or our modern world with it’s emphasis on social media, metrics, and measuring impact. Or all of it. Maybe not the demon part, though that’s certainly dramatic and I like the imagery.

But I figure it’s a little bit like this for many of us. I sat thinking about her sermon all day.

Then, that night? I was on my way home from a show, and On Being was on the radio.

It was an interview with Mary Oliver.

So there I was, again, hearing the same poem, hearing Mary Oliver discuss attention, connection, the rich joy spirituality brings us, how she writes and learned to write-by walking through the woods and taking notes as she walked. Not at a desk, she just did it her way. She listened to the world, and allowed the creative to meet her. She set an appointment and joined with something…I don’t know what it is, but I do believe it’s real. And it was meaningful to me to hear her discuss these things, but also echo Reverend Barnhouse’s comments regarding comparing the self and judging one’s own wild and precious life against another.

Here is her poem, which I hope you enjoy.

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is, either. I do know that they are everywhere, or can be, and that they are different for everyone; That’s the trick that I may finally be learning.

It isn’t about sitting in a pew with head down and hands placed just so, with “Dear Jesus/God/Ishtar, please help me….” and it never has been for me. I always felt too linear, stiff, and inauthentic. Like I was just talking to myself with nothing reaching out or in, just words.

But a poem? A moment on stage? That moment when you look into someones eyes and feel the deepest, briefest hit of empathy from your mirror neurons firing off, sex? A pea-pod bursting up through the dirt into the sun?

Holding an 8 week old puppy? God, yes, there is God right there in the musky, wiggly, licking joy of life bursting out in fur and sheer pleasure.

All those things connect. Coveting what I think is experienced by others, disconnects. Messages from the Internet or the Universe come when you need them, but you (I) have to be willing to hear them.

So, Dear God/Spiritual Force/Great Ocean, help me not to covet and envy. Help me to listen to the world around me, the breath and the rain; the rock and roll and the thunder. Help me hold up the successes and skills of my friends and peers with joy, instead of wrestling with the want of what they have. Help me know what’s behind my desires so that I can love and connect so much more to the people in my life,

Except, the puppy. That desire is pretty simple. I just want a puppy.

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