Embers: Keeping the Creative Alive Amidst Covid-19

I wrote a poem once about keeping my spirit alive – my creative spirit and my spirit of determination.

It can be difficult at times to channel into that aspect when we need to constantly think about all the other real world issues. For the last couple of weeks, covid-19 has ceased regular operations for many of us. This brought various challenges that some have never seen before, and for others, made them worse. Challenges like food insecurity, housing instability, and social isolation.

For those of us who work within the creative sphere, when the hard times hit, we’re often the first affected. We may be on short-term contracts, looking for the next gig, or be a part of a mass lay off.

Sometimes it feels like it’s hard enough justifying why someone needs a creative on their team. Then add on the fact that organizations are being hit with newfound strained budgets; they’re just trying to stay afloat to see a post-coronavirus light. The reality of the creative just got a bit more difficult.

It’s in these moments I find myself asking “Why am I a creative?”

“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”
– Bruce Lee –

Sometimes I have to really dig for this answer. I’ve surrounded myself with many types of people growing up, working in various industries alternative to myself. It’s easy to be dragged by their successes and have that weigh against you. Some work in insurance and government, others in banking and real estate. Though I’ve tried my hand in many of those industries, they don’t quite mesh with me.

After each lesson learned, I repeat the exact same question I started with, “Why am I a creative?”

Under self-induced scrutiny, I try to decipher this map-of-life and figure out the best way to navigate through it. I’m trying to do something I love, pay my bills, and live a fulfilling life. This pulls me in every which direction.

My favourite composer, and jazz great, Charles Mingus said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

Armed with this statement, I boiled down my answer. My sole responsibility is to keep my creative ember crackling.

During ancient times, in both nomadic and civilized senses, there would be a fire keeper – someone responsible with keeping the embers alive, the flame of society alive. Even for nomadic tribes, as they moved from site to site, the fire keeper would tend to the ember throughout the journey.

In those times, the flame was seen as a symbol of life. It gave us the ability to cook and stay warm, thus extreme care was needed to ensure that it never extinguished. The flame was oft revered as a point of praise and religion.

That is our job as creatives, to keep the ember alive within and wherever we find ourselves. Embers can easily burst into full flames and start a fire but it is difficult to start a fire from nothing.

“Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the mind of his audience.”
– Henry William Thoreau –

Our work is not something to be lost and dealt with haphazardly.

We are not direct sellers, we are not accountants, we are not a part of the legal team.
We are storytellers, illustrators, and capturers of the moment.

Creatives are community builders.

Creativity is not simply a skill used to drive economy, though it very well does. It’s a skill used to connect and unite. Without community, our society is nothing. Without creativity, we talk about nothing.

Our job is to stay grounded in reality but also tap into the endless potential of the world around us. We don’t work in silos, we don’t work unilaterally – we are collaborative with others and the wonders that are encapsulated in the world.

This is why we’re so important – we connect. This is the fire we bring into the world.

Oh and that poem? Here it is.

Ember Ember Ember
Do I feed it and let it burn bright
Or do I let it burn out and meet its plight
What is it about fire
It creates and destroys
Provides fuel and sight
Poof to ash or proof of life
Or life that once was
To produce life once again
Crop over, turn over – my heart’s pounding once again
That’s another flame
But the same game
No shame, this is my own lane
It collects and protects, from crash and collision
You can enter my lane but to exit… That’s imminent
I ride on my own, towards the fireball
No clouds even on a rainy day
I say once again what I said before
Feed it and let it burn bright

Dream on and dream more
If I let it burn out, there’s no bringing back these dreams
It stays alive in me like an alien being
Plant this and care for it
Catch it and keep moving like stairs forward
I can’t afford — to move back
Dreams were caught in this dichotomy
You see, what I sought was what I ought to be
You see, these dreams bring sight to be free
To be a dreamer, brings up the flames inside of me
To which it stays
It tears down the world everyday
To leave a bigger, better, and brighter way

New Year, New Spleen – an Old Year Resolution

Happy New Year y’all! Aside from the typical “New Year, New Me!” exclamations I constantly see flooding my social media and other media outlets, this year I’m going to look inside for my resolution – deep inside. The spleen to be exact.

I’m far removed from my Physiology 103 days (holla at me Ryerson) but a quick little Google search tells us that it’s a key organ for fluid balance and blood filtration. Pretty important stuff seeing how blood is the transporter of oxygen, antibodies, and minerals in the body.

It’s interesting how some of the lessons we can learn from are shown to us in some of the most rudimentary examples. We’ve lived in our bodies since day 1 and when we look inward we see the spleen is a great example of how we should approach life.

It’s like our own internal yin and yang – providing balance as long as we give it the right elements to function properly, such as adequate nutrition, water, and minimal stress. But here’s the caveat: we can live without a spleen, just with a lot more difficulty.

Much like ourselves, we can constantly live in the face of adversity and disability, though it would bring a number factors along with it: imbalance, fear, dissatisfaction, etc.

Is this a thriving environment?

This year, I’m going to dig deep and live my truth and passions, making sure that I am balanced through my daily practices: writing, poetry, yoga, Muay Thai, nature, being mindful of the people I spend my time with. This will help to create a balanced environment, filtering out the barrage of negativity that may come my way.

It’s not to say that negativity won’t come my way, that would be an unreasonable and disillusioned way to think. It is to say that no matter what comes my way, I will be prepared.

I’m looking forward to this year and maintaining the balance needed to facilitate and grow beyond my current ceiling.

How are you planning to maintain balance in 2020?

short escape: a poem

Hardy Lake Provincial Park – Gravenhurst, ON

Have you ever had a moment?
A moment where you close your eyes
And all things come to fruition
When that blink becomes eternal
And everything can come true
Someone in this dream says, “Stop dreaming”
Open your eyes and make it happen

Self-Centredness: Focus on Others, Focus on Yourself

Lynde Shores Conservation Area – Whitby, ON

I find myself being more and more as a person of extremes… Sitting in one emotion at a time… Really feeling the wholeness of each pole.

I know that in my music choices, I’ve really sat with music as a whole, listening to very immersive experiences. I’ve been called out that my shit isn’t uppity and happy – true facts.

Super dark, super emotional, super experiential, super complex, super dense… synonyms of the like… super duper.

I’ve repeatedly come back to listening to Clams Casino as his beats and production takes me to the deepest depths of who I am –  reflecting on losses and successes, joy and pain. It helps me to rip myself to the finest ribbons and reconstruct internally to being a stronger more aware person.

I played the single off his latest album, Moon Trip Radio, nonstop when one of my closest aunties passed away (listen below, I suggest listening to it while finishing this article). I moved away from Ontario last November and to be away ate me alive. I constantly questioned, “Is this the right thing? I can’t even be there for my family and friends… what about when they need me the most?”

It was through this experience I became more self-aware; I couldn’t stop life from happening, for myself or others. I learnt that I must continually build and grow, even pivoting away from everything I once knew. If I stayed home, I would have been there for the family but being away, resulted in living fuller and building new relationships necessary for a stronger present/future.

I routinely cry to music – something I don’t admit to a lot. I think it’s good to release; let go and feel “alllll da feeeeeelz”. A spirit can be trampled and broken many times over but if given the chance to repair and reform into a new, truer form – true to who you are now – the pain will subside and a new path will appear from the bushes.

Follow your heart above all else; give it your 100%. No one wants to be given partial effort – no one deserves that, even yourself. If you’re showing up, SHOW UP. When you only show up for obligation and not for the love of it, innately it’s just an act; a ruse.

Authenticity is one of the most beautiful things in this world and I find, more and more, it becoming a rare thing. There’s a lot of trauma behind much of our partialness, but if we don’t have a serious introspective conversation, we are cheating ourselves and the ones we love the most. 

Find focus in centring yourself everyday; whether that be meditation, prayer, going to the gym, poetry, music, etc. Take 5 minutes or 2 hours but it’s time to make authenticity a habit.

Take a deep breath and reach into your pocket. You had the map all along.

We are Queens. – An Interview with Morley

Originally featured on Hollyhock Talks, a leadership and learning blog.

Morley photographed in New York City on October 29, 2001.

I’ve never met Morley before but when I was preparing to interview her, what I discovered was quite daunting: a multi-award winning, activist mobilising, spiritual teaching, classical dancing, singer-songwriter from the “City that Never Sleeps” – New York.

Furthermore, this Hollyhock presenter has been compared to the likes of musical royalty such Joni Mitchell and Sade. I was doing my best to not psych myself out.

When I made the call, the voice on the line was soft and melodic, but at the same time pronounced and powerful, with an accent that transported me onto the F train towards Jamaica, Queens NYC, Morley’s stomping grounds. Each word spoken was laced with passion.

Morley bends musical genres with connections to global sound and natural sound. Being raised in Jamaica, Morley knows what it means to live amongst, what at times felt like, the world. Her love of global cultures and traditions stemmed from going to a UN international elementary school and living in one of the most culturally diverse places in the United States.

The smells and sounds of food and music from the Caribbean, Philippines, India, and Greece stimulated her senses as she marched to the community’s hypnotic drum. It was amongst these differing tastes, languages and cultures, Morley had the revelation: “There is no other world… This is it… We need to humble down and fall to our knees in gratitude for each other.”

No matter where you originally came from, you are Queens.

Culture is: music, dance, food, poetry

Being from Queens meant Morley was in good musical company, with innovators such as Simon & GarfunkelA Tribe Called Quest, and The Ramones hailing from the same borough. Despite breathing the same air as these greats, it wasn’t always this way for Morley.

She wanted to dance and be of the yogic lineage but eventually felt like she could connect deeper with something more primal, more visceral and innate. “Song is the ultimate way to connect… It’s like sitting around a fire in a circle.” Sharing stories, song and tradition.

“All children sing; leave them alone long enough and they will start singing – the main reason why children stop singing is because someone told them to.” Morley explains. I delicately ask, “Did anyone ask you to stop?”

In Morley-style, she enthusiastically confirms. I was puzzled at first with her positive outlook, but it quickly became apparent that resistance was only funds placed in the right investment. She would eventually take singing lessons: she had to sing, one way or another.

[Song] creates vibration in the body and tickles the cells that are
made of water which ripple out like waves. It’s healing.

Morley began her journey through song sheepishly, singing to an audience of one – herself. Her vocal coach advised, “you must sing to the air directly in front of you!” She would master this and then challenge her voice to carry a foot away and then across the entire room. Morley explained to me that she was her own roadblock and the way to overcome it was to change perspective – “it’s 90% psychological and you have to visualize it, then your body can do it.”

Morley has since released 6 albums, named by the New York Times as the Emerging Artist of the Year, awarded Songwriter of the Year by ASCAP, toured globally under the banner of love, justice and inspiration, and has had the honour to perform for His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, and Ban Ki-moon. Visualization to fruition indeed.

Nature is always in collaboration.

As if she weren’t busy enough with this bevy of work, Morley will be with us for the second time in July. When I asked about the most impactful moment from last year, she found it was simply impossible to pinpoint just one. I suspect it has something to do with being surrounded by the forests and waters of Cortes Island versus the small plots of grass in Queens.

Despite the minimal green space, it was in New York City that she fell in love with the natural world:

“I was 7-8 and we moved to Parkway Village. It is a place where people who work for the UN [live]. There was a little patch of grass in the front of our apartment. I would sit there and they had dandelions… I was vibing out with those dandelions. The contrast of the green and yellow… and the sun! I would sit out there for hours.”

She admits that at that moment the transmission between her human body and the natural world began. The natural world has since become a place of wonder, where she hears sound in all things, even the colours. The vibration of the purple in the flower petals to the buzzing nodes and scales of the bees all providing inspiration for her music.

But even still, there is something about Hollyhock and Cortes Island that is different, something different then going anywhere else. Morley recounts, “[At Hollyhock], everyone comes together to better the planet and themselves.”

Open gentleness is the definite way to continue forward.

That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Being around like-minded people building towards a better tomorrow. Hollyhock is a place of wonder and freedom, where you can let your inner child roam free. A place to rest and refresh; recharge your batteries and tap into a side that you aren’t normally connected to. Join Morley, alongside Sheila Wahsquonaikezhik, in their program “Music for Collective Sound” to flourish your creative spirit through Indigenous tradition, yoga, dance, and song.

As Morley states, “we can write ourselves back into the sun and from the sun – from a big luminous space”.

Shine with us this summer.