16 January 2015

The Heroine's Journey

Here is a critical and personal essay that I wrote as part of my MFA thesis. Let me know what you think!

The Heroine's Journey, Towards a Feminist Storycraft

by Heather Jo Flores

The mystery of human destiny is not that we are fated, but that we have the freedom to fulfill or not fulfill our fate: realization of our fated destiny depends on us. While inhuman beings like the cockroach realize the entire cycle without going astray, because they make no choices.”

--Clarice Lispector, 

The Passion According to G.H. p. 129

It may be that the human race is not ready for freedom. The air of liberty may be too rarefied for us to breathe...The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.” 

--Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, p. 37


The Hero's Journey

Most of us have heard of the hero's journey, and many of us have used the formula for our work. From storytellers to salespeople, the classic archetype of the hero, as he travels from catalyst to climax and conclusion, is a metaphor for the transformation that most people want to achieve. We all want to improve our lives, to become better people, to succeed. But what about the Heroine's Journey? Here I present an analysis of the classic formula, through a feminist lens. My intention is not to negate the archetype, but rather to enhance it and to offer an alternative for myself and others to use as we forge our stories and, by extension, our lives. My purpose is to present some questions, many of which do not have concrete answers. I ask the reader to be okay with this, to let the questions just be questions, and to allow this atmosphere of inquiry to shape the journey. Let us begin.

For as long as I can remember, I have identified as a writer, but for many years I eschewed formal training. I proudly displayed my autodidactism like a trophy, believing that if I read enough books and saw enough films that I could someday write them. This was partially true, and I wrote my entire book, Food Not Lawns, without having ever taking a single writing course. Later, when I was ready to write novels and screenplays, I realized that I needed to learn more about putting a story together. I had a mountain of ideas, but I needed was a structure that would help me pull them together. So I enrolled in a screenwriting workshop.

The first thing we learned in the workshop was the hero's journey, sometimes called “three-act structure.” We discussed Shakespeare, Greek tragedies, and blockbuster films, and analyzed them to discover common patterns. First we looked for the pattern used in Greek mythology, as follows:


15 January 2015

Taming the Beast


hungry monster, born
feast of folly and form
I write with my body
naked and warm
I sing with my face,
I scream at the the storm
terrified of pleasure
fat-nourished by shame
this beast is my burden
one and the same
a leviathan of truth
nobody to blame
my hands are the cauldron
my spirit, the flame





From 2012 thru 2014, I was in grad school, an MFA program in Interdisciplinary Arts. My primary areas of study started with creative writing and land art. But quickly I realized that the real thing I needed to learn was how to overcome the negative self-talk that was serving as a massive block to my overall creativity. I dove into a study of trauma recovery, connecting that to a daily yoga practice, and responding with my writing and artwork. This poem and painting are from the intro to my final MFA portfolio. I will be posting more excerpts and artworks from that portfolio over the next few weeks. Let me know what you think!

Food Not Lawns book excerpt: Make Time for What You Love

HEATHER JO FLORES
EXCERPT FROM “FOOD NOT LAWNS” CHAPTER 8 (Chelsea Green 2006)


MAKE TIME
The ancient Mayan calendar followed the cycles of Venus, the first and brightest star in the sky. Our modern clock and calendar system is based on the movements of the Earth and her moon. However, these heavenly bodies never return to the exact same place twice. They rotate, they orbit, they speed up and slow down, but they do not do these things the same way every time. Because of this, the tools we use to document the passage of time must fudge the truth into predictable, repeating cycles, which are programmed into machines and printed out years ahead. 

Billions of people organize their lives around this little ruse, and see the passage of time as a straight line from birth to death. Any little quiver, any bump on this long and narrow road is seen as a perversion, an unlikely superstition best reserved for mad scientists and acid heads. But nothing in nature moves in a straight line, and time is no exception. 


02 April 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Revisited

I have always loved collage as a means of working through thoughts and ideas. We did a session at the Goddard residency a few weeks back and I think I speak for everyone in the room when I say that it helped us all to formulate our study plans for the semester.

One of the images I have always wanted to collage is the proverbial Virgin of Guadalupe that we see on everything from candles to bottles of wine.

I started by printing out a few versions of the classic image from the web. Then I piled up colorful pages from a stack of old National Geographic magazines. I sketched a basic outline on the panel, and spent the next two days high on glue.


I will probably seal it with several coats of good old-fashioned modge lodge. (later note: I shouldn't have done the modge podge, it caused some rippling and it would have been bette rot just frame the collage under glass. Live and learn!)

Here is the final result…





04 June 2012

Village Building at the Ujima Center

Stage 1 of the prep: Garden boxes have been ripped out.
When Susanna Low-Beer first asked me if I wanted to do something for the Village Building Convergence (VBC,) I said No. For the last several years I have been trying to transition out of my role as a permaculture teacher/leader and someone who goes gardening for other people. I have wanted to focus on writing and creative arts, and to keep the landwork to my own space at home. It just works better for me that way.

But when Susie suggested I take on her front yard, I couldn't resist. I have known her for years and that front yard has always been a pretty big mess. Not to say that it wasn't functional. She had rain barrels out there, catching water, and two large raised boxes for growing vegetables and strawberries. She had lovely little ceramic pots full of succulents all over the porch, and decorative things hanging above.

Work in progress. It happened fast!
The problem was aesthetics. Those blue plastic rain barrels are hideous! And the little pots on the porch were attractive enough on their own, but scattered around, they looked cluttered and made it impossible to sit anywhere. And the boxes? Ugh. I have never liked the way raised beds look. So weird to garden in a box like that when you could just garden in the ground.

I mean, this is her front door we are talking about! The portal to her life. I talked about this a bit before, when I was working on my own porch. But for Susie's house it was especially important because she is creating a permaculture education center there and frequently hosts parties and events.

20 May 2012

Placemaking at Home and Outward

Much of my work in the past, with Food not Lawns and before that, with Food not Bombs, Earth First and Greenpeace, could have been called placemaking, though we didn't use the word at the time. The first time I heard of "placemaking" was when I attended Portland City Repair's first Village Building Convergence in 2002. By then, Food Not Lawns had been actively place-making our neighborhood in Eugene for 3 years, and we were thrilled to find a group of people who were so well-organized toward the vision of natural, thriving neighborhoods where people share resources in friendship-based community.

Truly, the concept of placemaking has been in play since long before I started doing activist work. For as long as humans have existed, we have created spaces for ourselves to dwell, work, socialize, and share needs and resources. 

My current survey of ecorevelatory arts has led me into a renewed foray into the idea of placemaking, and though I haven't had time to dive too deep, the study warrants a bit of sharing.

17 May 2012

Portal to the Self


When I was living in Granada, I was always noticing the beautiful doors, and contemplating the way our front doors are portals to our lives. For ourselves, as we pass in and out of our homes, and for everyone who comes to visit, as a first impression of the way we choose to live.

I moved into my new place in Portland in mid February. It is a sweet little studio--a "mother-in-law" unit on the side of a house owned by a friend.

There is a huge yard, which was overgrown and needed care (here's the post on that project)

I have a tiny private porch, but when I moved in it was dirty and dingy, peeling paint and junk piled below.

So I decided to attempt a simplified version at home. Minus the killer tilework, marble slabs, and religious etchings! I had a box of leftover paints in a rainbow of bright colors. I tried to channel the Moorish influence, with a little Oregon circus mixed in.

16 May 2012

Renaissance Woman; an Interdisciplinary Life

When I was  teenager I heard the term "Renaissance Man," and I determined that I would be a Renaissance woman. I guess I am a cheesy romantic fool, but nowadays the more commonly used term is "interdisciplinary artist."

Recently a friend wrote to me on facebook, “I play music every day, do a painting once a week, write once a month and do activism and scholarship sporadically.”

I was like, wow that makes so much sense! I adjusted it to suit my own goals and practice:

I will write every day, make a new song once a week, paint once a month and do activism and scholarship sporadically.

I am an interdisciplinary artist. What does that mean, you ask?

15 May 2012

Photographer? Me?

I got a bunch of books from the library about photography. I was instantly overwhelmed with all of the details, the f-stops and light exposure and aperture. Sheez! The mathematical klutz side of my mind rebelled against the details. And yet I live such a photogenic life. And so I shoot zillion of photos and hope for a lucky moment. Here are a few of those lucky moments from the last few years. These are untouched, currently, but I am learning more about photoshop and may decide to play with some of these images and maybe make a coffeetable book?!?
Bulls Blood


Leucadendron

14 May 2012

Top 5 Books About Writing

The more I study, the more I work and garden and interact with people, the more I travel and learn and play music, the more it becomes clear to me that my central identity is that of a writer. If the way I am remembered is as a bringer of stories, then I will consider that a life well spent.

These are the books that I return to again and again when I need inspiration, motivation, or a new perspective on what it means to be a writer. Find these books, read them and do the exercises they recommend. And let us give voice to ourselves and each other!

Top 5 Books About Writing

1. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

2. On Writing by Stephen King

3. Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block

4. Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg

5. The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

29 April 2012

The Smallest Artists?

Biologist Eshel Ben-Jacob was trying to find cures for diseases when he realized that even pathogenic bacteria makes creative, beautiful patterns in the petrie dish.

This Science Daily article goes into more detail about Eshel's work. I would like to take some of these images and transfer them to a giant wall mural. Wouldn't that be amazing?







And this is even more amazing!

Other people have started to use bacteria as a medium for painting. I find this fascinating. I have never been in a laboratory in my life and the idea that art and science are so closely linked makes me really happy! Turns out we are not all so different, after all ;-)


This artist made an image of Ophelia Floating in a Petri Dish and asked people to call in and read poems to the art while it bubbled away there in the lab. What a bizarre and haunting piece of living artwork!


Small-Scale Ecorevelatory Architecture: Treehouses, Tiny Houses and Tipis


The first time I heard the term, "ecorevelatory," I was at an architecture conference at the University of Oregon in 2000. It made me think of Gaudi, whose work I had seen in Barcelona when I went there in 1996. Around this time I also became aware of the ecobuilding movement. Since then I have seen a wide array of buildings that I consider highly ecorevelatory. They reveal nature through their form and materials, and they also reveal the nature of the person who designed them.

These types of structures fit well into a classic problem: solution ratio. Thus, the need for shelter, for creative outlets, for a greater connection to nature and each other; these needs and others are met by the actual building we live in. As we know, the medium is the message, and a beautiful space yields beautiful ideas.

It is an ideal situation, to me.

The difference between Art and Architecture? To me, Art is primarily spectative, meant to provoke thought and incite whimsy. Architecture, on the other hand, produces something you could actually dwell in. This makes it extra special in my book, and why I didn't become an architect a decade ago, I couldn't tell you. Perhaps it was the music, knocking at the doors of my perception. Or maybe it was the seed crops, asking for water and weeding. At any rate, here is a list of my favorite examples of ecorevelatory architecture.





Treehouses

Who wouldn't want to live in such an integegrated and inspiring structure? If you don't have vertigo, a treehouse brings out the kid in all of us. Check out:

A treehouse resort in Southern Oregon

Treehouse Workshops

The Treehouse Guys



Tiny Houses
The tiny house movement has taken off, and people all over are starting to agree that less is more. You can find detailed blueprints all over the web, but here are some links to get you started.

The Tiny House Blog

Tiny House Designs

Tiny Houses for Sale





24 April 2012

Land Art


Andy Goldsworthy

“The medium (and the message) is Mother Earth herself.”
--Grace Glueck

I am learning to differentiate between art that is made in nature, art that is made out of natural materials, art that is made to represent nature, and art that directly protects or influences a natural system. A preliminary google search on Land Art yields too much information to explore in a short overview such as this, but I have done my best to conduct a thorough survey of the most prominent artists in this arena, and have highlighted several of them below.

For detailed, debatable definitions, read these wikipedia entries:
And here is an interesting article on definitions:

In his book, Land Art, author Michael Lailach presents the Land Art movement as a radical departure from the last 2000 years of art history, in that the art is made without intention toward indoor display. Of course outdoor public sculpture has always been popular, but Land Art, as labeled by Gerry Schum in his 1969 television special on the topic, is something new.

Christo and Jeanne Claude
Land Art is art that changes (and often disappears) the way life does. This is fascinating to me because I have always thought of my art as my legacy, and of the works I leave behind as the replacement for the children I have chosen not to have. The idea of making art that is designed to disappear is simultaneously terrifying and inspiring.

The primary curiosity of this kind of art (and also, perhaps, its power) is the fact that it is so difficult to show it in a gallery. Some artists seem to prefer it that way, eschewing gallery politics and making bold statements about the way humans interact with art, nature, and each other, such as Walter De Maria’s famous quote “God has given us the earth, and we have ignored it. ”  (page 15)

When De Maria was commissioned to create a show for an upscale gallery in Munich in 1978, he filled the entire gallery with dirt and barricades visitors from entering. This was a statement about the way the natural world is barricaded from our upscale gallery culture.

17 April 2012

Springtime in Portland: An Ephemeral Art Collaboration

In these early stages of my inquiry into land and ephemeral arts, I felt it necessary to get outside and make some stuff. My friend and colleague, Seattle-based photographer Audineh Asaf came to Portland for the weekend and we spent a day paying tribute to the resilient, multifunctional, and misunderstood dandelion. These are just the very beginning of a body of work that Audi and I intend to co-create.


We started with three simple pieces: The first piece was a spiral around the fire pit in my back yard. I live next door to a houseful of young, vibrant people, and we share a large urban backyard that is in much need of proactive garden energy. I was hoping the little gesture of affinity for the plants would stir up some interest and intention between us.

How to Make a Sock Cthulhu (and other fun ways to reconcile with your mortality)

I stumbled across this silly and delightful project. I mean, who doesn't need a cute little effigy to the Sleepless Dreamer?

Here's the directions for making a sock Cthulhu. But I warn you, this is a gateway doll-making project! After I finished this one I spent the weekend obsessed with turning lonely old socks into goofy little creatures.


When I make monster art, I always think about how small we are in the universe, and how inexplicable reality is.












Last night I watched the Secret Life of Plants and was reminded that every living thing has a consciousness, and responds to the consciousness of those around it.







Another relevant film is the deliciously ridiculous mockumentary, Trollhunter. I found it quite provocative in its revelation of the contrast between humanity and the unknown.

And who is to say that there aren't great beings--not gods--just creatures that are too large for us to see? I understand that millions of people believe in gods. But I am talking about mortal, breathing beings that exist in places we have yet to have explored. I enjoy the humility that comes from this type of contemplation.



16 April 2012

Life Drawing Class: Pyxie in a Halfshell

The other night I hosted a Life Drawing session at my tiny studio in Portland. My friend Pyxie was the model and four of us circled her, drawing and painting in a variety of media. We had her do four 3-minute poses, three 10-minute poses, and two half-hour poses. It was really fun! And really challenging.

The drawings here were all made by the other women at the session. Only the painting at the bottom is mine.
It has been about ten years since I tried to draw from a live nude model. I felt like I was in third grade, drawing lumpy, ugly sketches that didn't look at all like Pyxie. It was humbling but also very interesting. In the final pose I decided to go abstract, focusing on how her lines and angles made me feel, rather than trying to get it all shadowed and proportioned correctly.


I know that, for art to have the resilient qualities that bring about culture change, it usually needs to have a human figure represented in some fashion. Sure, there are plenty of examples of artwork that doesn't have any eyes, but for the most part, the art that moves me most often contains some aspect of the human form.


I enjoy trying to think of ways to use figures and silhouettes in eco-revelatory work, whether visual or performance-based, as a means of connecting more deeply with the audience.


13 April 2012

Confessions of a Sugar Addict

It has been three days since I ate sugar.

I mean, I guess there was probably sugar in the Tom Ka soup at the Thai restaurant last night, but WHATEVER! I have been seriously strung out on the stuff for decades--forever I mean, since birth. I was never breast fed. The therapist the other day said perhaps I am still trying to get that sweet mother's milk but I ain't gonna find it in a  Snickers bar or a vegan organic cookie.

So fuck it. That's right, I said F#$% YOU SUGAR! I quit. Sugar can kiss my dimply 40-year old ass. And speaking of that booty, I am getting in shape too. I feel a bit cliché being another middle-aged woman who is finally declaring that she is tired of hating her body. But don't worry, I have declared it many times before! And THIS TIME I am really working a program. I am acknowledging that being addicted to sugar is just like being addicted to tobacco, alcohol or heroin. It is a tool of the death-machine. It is nasty from every angle. There is no good excuse. And of course, it will eventually kill you. It's not that I mind dying but slow, painful suicide? Seems like a waste.

I am rereading Sugar Blues by William Duffy. You should too. I can't begin to explain how important this book is to humanity, to the sustainability movement, and at this moment, to me as an individual. I can't believe I ever put a drop of that crap in my mouth since the last time I read this amazing book about 12 years ago. It reads like a novel, but gives you the real truth about every aspect of why sugar is wicked. Politics, health, environmental issues; you name it, sugar is the Darth Vader of dietary concerns.

Sugar is everyman (and woman) 's heroin. The great catharsis. Suitable for children and adults of all ages. I was taught as a young child to be an emotional eater, that ice cream could make everything better. It doesn't. It makes everything worse.

07 April 2012

Art, Madness, Depression and Recovery


For as long as I can remember, I have seen art as a remedy for disease. Not so much for disease in the obvious sense, but more so for the feelings of dis-ease that I experienced. When I was five, my grandmother noticed my strangeness, my sensitivity to things. She took me down to her painting studio in the basement of her cluttered old house in outer SE Portland and set me up with my own easel, brushes, pallette. She arranged the jars of turpentine and admonished me with the words, “Dark to light.”

Thirty-five years later, I sat in a session at my first residency of Goddard College’s MFA Interdisciplinary Arts program and heard Michael Sakamoto talk about his work with butoh. He said that butoh starts in the darkness and brings forth the light.

Dark to light. As is all too common, my grandmother is an amazing artist but she is terrible with people. She is smart, intuitive, and talented. Yet she has turned those things into spite, condescension, and arrogance. And in her way, she has also taught me about the distance between these things, and the results that one gets from each.

Depression has been a word in my vocabulary for what seems like centuries. It is all around me. It sleeps in my bed, often, and in the beds of most of my friends and colleagues. We struggle, we recover, we struggle again. Some resort to pharmaceutical medications, others to herbs and elixirs, of varying degrees. Dark to light, and back again.

And we make art. And the art makes us feel better. We write songs and sing them at each other. We splash paint onto the walls, smash clay into vessels and likenesses and tiny imperfect treasures. It is a cycle this, a cycle that humans seem to have perpetuated forever. Art and madness, dark and light, art and madness…

31 March 2012

Hyperkulturemia and Duende

Defined as "a psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to a large amount of beauty in one place," and also known as "Stendhal's Syndrome" and "Florence Syndrome," a naturopath friend told me that "hyperkulturemia" translates directly to mean "too much culture in the blood." In some writings, symptoms are extended to include depression and disenchantment that can come from returning home to an ugly place after experiencing the beauty of a place like Florence (Italy, not Oregon!)

I first experienced this when I was 17. I had partied all night with a bunch of older punks who worked at the same restaurant as me. Around 4am we decided to pile into somebody's Pontiac Firebird and drive from Long Beach out to Joshua Tree, about 3 hours away. We arrived as the sun was rising, and when we pulled into the jumbo rocks campground, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and strangeness of the giant stone formations. I kept saying "the rocks look fake!" And my friend Kirk kept saying, "No Heather, the rocks at Disneyland look real." It was a profound moment for me.

Several years later I took myself on a museum tour of Europe.  And although this "syndrome" is aptly called Florence Syndrome, my Italian experience of it was in Rome, when I first saw the Sistine Chapel. I had gotten up at dawn to get in line at the Vatican. I was about the 40th person into the museum, a massive labyrinth about 9 miles long (if you go into every salon.) I took the shortcuts and ran (as fast as the guards would let me) to the very end: The Capella Sistina.

29 March 2012

Self Portrait in 7 Levels

I have been working on the little box I got at the Goodwill, making a self portrait in seven levels. I researched the seven chakras, and in each little section of the piece, I am assembling a symbolic representation of seven aspects of myself as artist. I also like the number 7 because that's my birthday, July 7 (7-7; same day as Ringo Starr and Marc Chagall!). So it is a good number to use for a self portrait.

For each section, I am doing a short mediation on the nature of that chakra, and manifesting a background image in a different medium. Here are some photos of the work in progress, starting from the root:

1. Root Chakra, representing the earth element, my passions, and the gardener side of myself. For this section I made a lino-block print of a five-petaled flower, in tribute to the rose family which provides so much of our food. I colored in the background with colored pencil and painted over in acrylic.

26 March 2012

Cthulhu, The Birds, and Exquisite Corpse

I have started this inquiry into ecorevelatory arts, and am casting a wide net. Sure, Andy Goldsworthy and the green building movement are obvious examples.



But also, I have been thinking a lot about how stories like Lovecraft's Cthulhu and Hitchcock's The Birds are also ecorevelatory, in that they take humans out of the center of things. I am curious about this exploration, this direction of it. I am curious about the monsters.





23 March 2012

Painting down the bones

I've been reading Natalie Goldberg. She wants me to write about the light coming in my window. The windows in my new apartment are old and get covered with condensation and it drips down onto the windowsill and then onto my bed. I don't mind. I like living alone. The price is right and, though north-facing, my apartment gets a ton of light. I'm not crazy about the neighborhood but I am revelling in the sanctity of this little apartment; having a place to work, to write, to host friends and lovers. It makes me feel like a grown up. I guess it seems ridiculous to say that at forty years old but I'm just now starting to feel like an adult. I feel capable and willing to do something meaningful with my life.

When I was in my twenties and an activist, I talked a lot about meaning and empowerment but there was so much ego in front of it. I was always trying to prove something. Now my actions feel like they are infused with actual meaning in themselves. It's not about proving anything to anyone it's just about doing the act.

(So I wrote the exercise above, from page 20 of Writing Down the Bones, using dictation software for the first time! It was super fun and reasonably accurate. )











I spent the day painting. My friend Eric came over this morning and we chatted while I put the finishing touches on a portrait of him I started five years ago. I used copal resin as a medium for the oil paint. I had never used it before and it opened up a whole new world. Normally I don't do such accurate portraits, but this one came out easy. After he left I just painted and painted. It has been a really long time since I painted all day. I feel blissed out now! And spent.

The first picture is what it looked like this morning, second picture what it looks like now.



20 March 2012

Design a Recliner

I took the day off from studies. Well, kinda. I met with Susie Low-Beer about doing a mandala garden in her front yard as part of the Village Building Convergence in May. I am going to design and install the garden for her and teach a workshop.

Today Susie and I came up with a plan to do a yin-yang garden, filled with medicinals and surrounded by fruits like figs, kiwi, currants. I think it is going to be a lot of fun!

We are also going to do a sister-workshop at Brenna's house, part of the Portland Collective Housing project. It will be interesting because the microclimates of the two sites are very different but both households want attractive, productive perennial gardens. More to come on that one...








Today I went down to the farm and picked up a few things. I miss being out in the country, chopping wood, hanging out with little baby plants all day. Agriculture makes these rainy days of early spring go by so fast. Hopefully the Equinox will bring some sunshine.


17 March 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole

The books about crazy people came today. I am diving into an inquiry into the connections between Art and Madness. Wish me luck....


16 March 2012

The Icarus Project

I stayed up late last night reading articles from the Icarus Project. I was inspired by that facebook discussion, and especially about how Kehben was saying that the audience for your art becomes the grounding point for it. Fascinating. and the Icarus Project seems to harbor some great writers as well. I found the following several to be especially interesting, and I liked learning about tools for helping others (and yourself) navigate through a "madness process."

Art Journaling by Fly

An Integrative Approach To Transformative Madness by Michael Cornwall

Somatic Experiencing and the Roots of Our Illness

Focusing: Felt Sense Meditation