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Guest Posts, Mental Health, parenting

All Boys Paint Cows

August 31, 2020
nick

Self-portrait by Nick O’Rourke, age 15

By Miriam Feldman

My husband and I are driving to Paris from the south of France. I am in the passenger seat, writing ideas for a story about our son, on a napkin. Our son, Nick, has schizophrenia.

You see, I am the self-appointed conservator of his legacy. I have no complete poem, painting or song to present. Yet. Scraps of a life, one piled up on the other, form the work of art that is his story. I will continue to document his life and put it into the world for as long as I am here. Perhaps he is stricken, but perhaps he is just too magnificent for this world, a blazing light they don’t have eyes to see. But I see. A mother’s eyes can always see. Super tough, I can look directly at an eclipse without damage. Blindness is not an option.

*

When he was still inside of me, a tiny little tadpole boy swimming around, my husband and I heard his heartbeat for the first time. Back in those days they didn’t do sonograms without a medical reason, so the mystery of an unborn child was a universe of questions. We sat in the doctor’s office as she placed the stethoscope on my belly, and the sound came whooshing through a speaker. It was like the repetitive slap of water on some distant ocean shore. My husband blanched and reached behind him for a chair, then sat down hard. He had to breathe into a paper bag, overwhelmed by the sound of Nick’s beating heart.

Afterwards, we went to a small Ukrainian restaurant to have lunch. I ordered soup. It was particularly delicious, and I tried to figure out why. Staring at the bowl, I noticed the way the carrots had been cut. They weren’t the usual uniform disks, graduating in size from the thick part of the carrot to the tip. They were crazy random shapes, as though the cook had performed a wild cutlery dance, shiny blades flying. There were circles, half-moons, rectangles…little snippets of carrot that defied description. That was why the soup was so good. Something about the constellation of shapes enhanced the flavor, made it more interesting. When something arrives in an unexpected form it holds adventure, interest, mystery.

Nick arrived six months later and filled our world with his own configurations of unexpected stars. Some were beautiful, some had sharp edges that cut.

*

Driving along a grey serpent of highway, we descend into a valley. Immediately, I see the blue and red lights. It is the blue that catches your eye. We are all used to seeing the red, yellow and green of traffic lights, but like the black and white of a police car, blue calls out “calamity!”

“What is going on down there?” I say, sitting taller, my straightest spine. The traffic slows down and I can see people on the median, an upside-down van, personal belongings strewn everywhere.

“Pull over, I need to go there.” My husband knows me well enough not to argue. There would be no way for me to pass and not go see about what I could do. It is how I am wired; I am addicted to trying to help. I need to know I tried. I want to be a hero but I never am. I read about a woman who was electrocuted running into water to help a man stranded in a storm, ignoring the downed power lines lapping creepily at the edges. I thought, “I would have done that.”

Grabbing a water bottle, I open the car door before we have even come to a stop. My husband admonishes, “be careful crossing…” but I am gone.

I can’t decipher the situation at first. First, I see two women attending to…what? Oh, a little dog. “He was thrown from the vehicle,” one says, as she pours water on his head. “I’m trying to cool him off.”

“Do you need more water?” I ask. No, they don’t.

The van is about a hundred feet away from me, several people lean inside, wearing blue latex gloves. Where did they get gloves? The ambulance hasn’t even arrived yet. The air has a very still, artificial feeling as I walk over, through the debris, artifacts of a trip, a life. My foot sinks into a package of mushrooms. I see shoes, papers, a book, an open box of spaghetti that landed like pick-up sticks. A young woman bends over and retrieves a wallet, “Here is his license, now we know his name.” I wish I had been the one to find the wallet. I walk over to the van.

Sound reduces to a muted decibel, wind moves slowly, and I see the two people in the vehicle, roof partially ripped off. I think of an Edward Kienholz installation I saw at the museum in L.A., everything in the whole world shoved into the corner of one room.

Kienholz left detailed instructions when he died in 1994. He was buried, sitting in the front seat of his brown 1940 Packard Coupe, a dollar bill and a deck of cards in his shirt pocket, and the ashes of his dog, Smash, on the seat beside him.

The couple in the van look pale, not just their skin, but the entirety of them is a shade lighter than the rest of the world. Arms and legs splayed out stiffly, they look a bit like big dolls. Blue gloves firmly hold a red-soaked towel against the old man’s head. “Hang on, hang on,” someone says. It sounds to me like they are all under water. The woman with the wallet says, “His name is Fred.” The woman in the car moans it is her shoulder that hurts.

There is nothing I can do, nothing for me to contribute. My fingers moving against each other as if I could feel the air at my sides, I just stand there. The old man and woman, vacation careened terribly off-course, will be tended to by other drivers until the professionals get there. I go back to the car.

As we drive away, we pass the ambulance, siren cutting the day, headed up to help Fred and his wife. The radio is playing one of Chopin’s 24 Preludes and mournful piano chords fill the car. My fingers still caressing thin air, I listen. The countryside condenses as we approach the city.

*

An hour after we leave the accident, we reach Paris and our small hotel. I immediately turn on the television, wanting to see the news. Ridiculously, I expect to find out about the crash. I want to know how Fred is doing.

Instead, I am informed that an abandoned, just born, baby has been found in some bushes by a policeman. The anchorman teases the story before commercials, “Stay tuned to see what the officer first said to the baby. It was captured on his bodycam!” They show a second or two of film, two dark hands reaching into the foliage, an infant’s quiet cry, wind sounds, a man’s voice.

I sit on the awful hotel bedspread and wonder if I can bear the sadness his words.

They return with footage of a stocky officer holding the infant and telling her not to worry, that help is coming. But I heard something else during the lead-in, in the moment he pulled her out of the bushes. I had heard the real first thing he’d said, and it was “I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry you came in the world like this? I’m sorry you came into a world that is like this? I’m sorry this atrocious thing happened to you?

The news media had missed what he’d really said first. They’d missed the most plaintive, simple and enormous apology ever made.

*

The Sacre-Coeur Basilica at Montmartre in Paris sits on a hill surveying the city. It can be seen from almost anywhere. Standing on the top floor of The Centre Pompidou with my forehead smashed against the glass of a floor to ceiling window, I stare. Far away and across the city, the Basilica seems to be lit by its own sun. The eerie light calls up a memory and I am struck, like a blow to the head, by the fear I’ve forgotten something important. I can’t remember the details, but something happened with Nick up there, a decade ago when we came to Paris to paint, just before he lost his mind. What was it? Straining for the memory, I think of the small black moleskin notebook he brought on the trip. I’d found it, and read it, years later. Just prior to his unspooling, he’d recorded a beautiful, unsettling narrative from the cliff. One foot in our world, one foot in his future world, he’d told us what was happening in arduous, aching cursive.

When was the moment? When was the exact second of the shift?

And then I remember what happened. We’d lost him up there. One moment he was next to us, and then suddenly he was gone.

“Where did Nick go?” I’d asked my husband,

“I don’t know, he was right here.”

We began to look for him. We searched everywhere, the building, the grounds, then back to the building. I remember standing at the top of the endless steps outside and squinting at a group of kids lolling around, thinking he must be with them. I was wearing a slippery crepe skirt and flowered blouse that whipped about my body with the wind. Eventually, he just appeared.

“Where were you?” I asked, my voice strident from worry.

“Right here,” he said, “around.”

From my perch at the Pompidou, I see a crack, a split second of light between the truth and what might have been. I want to dive into that space.

My husband walks up to me, leans against the glass, and I say, “Remember when we lost Nick up there?”

His voice low and measured, he says, “You know, I’ve always thought that was where it happened.”

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?”

“I think something took him, up there on that hill, and gave him back to us altered. I think that is where he went crazy.”

This had never occurred to me and immediately I knew it was true.

“That’s pretty woo-woo, even for you, buddy,” I say because the idea is more than my brain can manage and I have to trivialize it in order to continue breathing.

“I know,” my tall and dark husband says, “but I believe it.”

The sun dips behind a menacing cloud and the Basilica darkens. Its luminous stone façade suddenly looks drab, desolate. My husband wanders off to the contemporary collection, I turn to the modernists.

*

When my kids were small, they used to loll around on the floor of their father’s studio with big sheets of butcher paper and paint while he worked. One day Lucy was teasing Nick because he always made cows and he shot back, “All boys paint cows, and anyway, I’m just starting. I’m going to paint a lot of other things.”

*

Sitting on a narrow bench in the Modern Collection (from 1905 to the 1960’s), I think about the day we lost Nick at the Sacre-Coeur. The area under my jaw constricts and saliva begins to pool in my mouth. There is a quickening of the blood as it moves through my veins. My arms crossed tightly across my chest, like armor, I lean forward and stare at the floor.

We were just walking around and then you were gone. We looked and looked for you, we did. Where did you go? Was it a portal? Can we go there now and find you? Please. Or are you in here? Are you at the Pompidou? Is this where you went? Did you go through a door we couldn’t see and just come here? Are you in the big Fernand Leger, in the corner, with the cerulean and the ochre? I would have thought you’d go to a Picasso, NickNack, but did you decide to trick me with a Leger?

Or was it the perfect little interlocking slats of varied woods of the floor, all different colors, that drew you to the Pompidou?

I’m rocking back and forth now with clenched bones holding in the torrent. I don’t want to cry in public, but now I am convinced some bad magic really did happen and it is true that we lost him here in Paris.

So this is what happens if I let the stoppers out? This is what happens if I think about it?  Unbelievable, unyielding pain? Shredding of intestines? The longing, like gravity, for you? Then bring back the stoppers because I can’t live like this.

My husband walks into the gallery, sees me hunched over, sits down and puts a large hand firmly on my back, just between my shoulder blades.

*

It is 11:06 and I am at the desk in our hotel room, looking at the black night outside my window as if it were a painting. I want to believe Nick is sleeping peacefully right now, across oceans. If I could just know that, I would ask for nothing else. I haven’t gotten any texts from his caregivers, so he must be calmer than last night. I want to believe that with all my heart. I want to just slip into sleep and trust that all is well. Oh, I want.

Then, in the window, I can see Nick and his sisters painting in their father’s studio, the plywood floor a medium gray and the walls pure white in order to contain the colors of the paintings with neutrality. Against this palliative backdrop, my children are exuberant, messy, incongruous. Small pots of tempera are pushed to one side. The children lie on their bellies in baggy shorts, no shirts, legs flopping languidly as they move brushes across paper.

And then Nick looks up at me across time and space, as I sit at my computer in the dark. He smiles at me from his childhood, his cherub mouth so young and new, “I told her, Ma, all boys paint cows. I’m going to paint a lot of other things before I’m through.”

Miriam Feldman is a painter, writer, and mother originally from Los Angeles, California. After her son, Nick’s, diagnosis with Schizophrenia more than ten years ago, she began writing to document and explore the ways this new reality affected her relationship with her children, her husband, and herself. Her blog, https://www.miriam-feldman.com, explores issues of motherhood, mental illness and the politics of our mental health system. She holds an MFA in fine art from Otis College of Art and Design. Her paintings are in collections across the United States. She is represented by Hamilton Galleries in Santa Monica, Ca. Most recently, she joined Bring Change 2 Mind, Glenn Close’s organization to fight discrimination and educate around mental illness. She is on the Advisory Council and has a monthly blog on the website https://bringchange2mind.org. She is a frequent guest on mental health podcasts including https://player.fm/series/who-lives-like-this/art-and-chaos-with-mimi-feldman and http://www.sheilahamilton.com/category/podcasts/. Find her on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/mimitheriveter/ where she is busy building a community of family and loved ones dealing with serious mental illness. Miriam now resides on a farm in rural Washington State with her husband, Craig. Nick lives in the small town nearby. She splits her time between the farm and Los Angeles, painting, writing, and staying active in the mental health community.

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Guest Posts, healing

Clay Glue

March 22, 2020
glue

By Ali J. Shaw

When the halls cleared out, I went into the art room and let my backpack slide off my shoulder onto the floor. Mr. Evans nodded quietly to acknowledge me, but he focused on whatever was on his computer screen. I turned the combo on my locker and glanced at the clock. Robbie would be here any minute, so I used both hands to heft the plastic-wrapped block of clay out of its cubby and onto the table. For my last assignment—vase making—I’d made one only half as tall as my classmates’ so I could conserve my clay.

“It’s for wildflowers,” I’d told them when they smirked.

Now I had a good-sized chunk left over to give to Robbie. “Hey!” Robbie yelled at top nine-year-old volume when he came into the room. I startled, and he laughed dramatically. I couldn’t help but smile.

“Okay, okay, come on over here.” I waved my hands. “New haircut?” He beamed. “Buzzzzz.”

Robbie and I had had a rough start. I’d signed up for the Buddy Program because I’d always wanted a younger sister. Visions of teaching jump-rope songs to a little girl had flooded my imagination. Then came time for the first Buddy Program session. The elementary school counselor who had facilitated the high-schooler and elementary-schooler pairings handed me a slip of paper, where I saw his name: Robbie. A boy. There was no time to brood on it, though—I could already hear kids’ shuffles and giggles coming toward us in the multipurpose room. While the other kids ran to their high school buddies, slapped high-fives, and laughed, Robbie slumped into a chair next to me.

“Hi, I’m Ali.” I was not good at making awkward situations more comfortable. Robbie’s eyes glassed over, and he whispered, “Hi.”Before long, I learned that his grandpa, who’d been living with him and his mom, had died the night before. I felt paralyzed. My “I’m sorry” sounded empty, and it seemed so unfair that we were sitting in a room full of raucous children and teens scribbling colorful answers on their Getting to Know You worksheets. Robbie and I spent that first hour-long meet-up mostly silent. I didn’t know if he’d show up the next week, but he did. And the week after that. I never figured out how to talk about his grief, but just being there with him seemed to help.

Before long, his teacher asked me to come by on Tuesday afternoons to help tutor Robbie on telling time and counting money. Two years later, we were still meeting weekly with the whole Buddy Program and an extra day one-on-one doing some other activity—tutoring if he needed it; art if he was caught up. I took a deep breath as I thought about the transition over the years but turned my focus to prepping the clay for him. The outer edges of the block had dried out a little, a result of the used and reused plastic bag that had accumulated tiny holes and let air seep in. With my finger and thumb, I pinched off the hard bits until a ball of soft clay remained.

“Hey,” I said to Robbie and held the ball in front of him, squeezing until it squished out through my fingers. “I’m strong, huh?”“Not as strong as me!” He reached for the clay and mimicked me.

Somewhere around the end of the first year, I gave Robbie a model house I’d built, and he gushed, “That’s so cool!” So we started building things together—mostly in the art room. At the end of each session, he’d take home his creation.

“You know that smiley face painting we did last time?” he asked me now as he dug one finger into the center of the clay wad. “Mmmhmmm,” I mumbled, rolling out coils from my less-pliable clay. “I used it for target practice with my mom’s boyfriend’s darts!” I laughed.

The first time he’d told me about his nearly immediate destruction of something we’d made together, I—as someone who had formed a sentimental bond with every object I’d ever owned, especially gifts—couldn’t hide my cringe. But for Robbie, things were no good collecting dust on a shelf. You had to make experiences with them! And so every week, we created, he destroyed, and then he told me the story. He grunted in frustration, and I stopped rolling coils to see why. He had formed a softball-sized glob and several smaller ones, one of which he was trying to press to the side of the big one.

“Oh, hey, there’s a trick for that.” I lay my coil down and held out my palm. “Can I show you?” When he handed me the small ball, I demonstrated scoring the soft clay with a sharp tool that left jagged cuts on one side of the little ball, then the big ball. “Then you have to make slip, which is a weird word, but it’s basically clay glue.” I tore off two inches of my coil and put it in a bowl with water. “Here, put your fingers in here and mush it around.”

Robbie’s cheeks tightened skeptically. I’d looked that way at my older brother nearly every day of my childhood, trying to gauge if he was tricking me. I’d never tricked Robbie, but obviously someone had.

“Really, come on.” I nodded and plunged my fingers in.“Ew, it’s slimy,” he yelled when he tried it. Mr. Evans looked up disapprovingly. “Shhhh. You know what else is slimy?” “What?” “Glue.” I winked as I dabbed some slip on my fingertip and then onto the scored clay and pressed the two balls together. “Tada!” I sang when they stuck. Robbie made what had become my favorite sound since I’d met him.

“Whooooooa!” From our first meeting, something had seemed familiar about Robbie. Did I see myself in him somehow? No, we were opposites in nearly every way. Rowdy/quiet, destructive/creative, easily bored/could sit in one activity for hours. But below those surface behaviors, there was something similar. Something broken. When I’d tutored Robbie, sometimes his body shook in tiny convulsions. “Are you okay?” I’d slide the flashcards to side of the desk and line my face up with his. Robbie would stare down, his eyes lost in the wood grains of the desktop, or someplace far beyond. But part of him was still with me. In a thin voice, he said, “Just cold.” I took off my fleece jacket and wrapped it around his shoulders.

“Should we take a little break and draw?” I used to say color instead of draw, but he finally informed me that only girls color—boys draw, and only in black. But maybe sometimes yellow or red. Before he answered, I pulled paper and a black marker out of my backpack. For about a year, Robbie drew only round yellow faces in a variety of expressions, shockingly similar to today’s emojis. Sometimes they smiled, but mostly they expressed pain or fear, and he laughed at his creations. I was sixteen, trained only in art and writing and basic math, never psychology. I never knew what it meant. I still don’t. But I knew that drawing stopped the trembles and brought his eyes up from the void, his smile back to his face.

So I gave him more paper, more pens, more time. Eventually trees and dogs with wagging tails and even flowers started to appear in his drawings too. And I knew that time with Robbie meant less time at home for me. I could delay getting into my rusty red pickup and shambling home to my father’s frigid trailer. Every moment with Robbie was a moment less with my father’s unpredictable rages or over-the-top professions of love and “Family is the most important thing. Don’t you ever forget that.” Robbie’s and my time together became a sort of glue that kept us both from fracturing.

We spent the rest of the hour gluing small clay shapes onto his clay softball. We left it in my locker to dry before he took it home the next week. The week after that, he told me it was the perfect size for launching from his catapult toy into the fields behind his house.

“I did it over and over until it broke into three pieces,” he said with a shrug.

“I guess we better make something else,” I said as I laid out Popsicle sticks, glue, and paint.

Robbie and I were buddies for three years, until I graduated high school and moved away. I have a single photo of us together. We’re at my graduation party, and he’s trying to stand up straight in my letterman’s jacket, weighed down by the running medals I sewed onto it. Our faces are round and red, laughing about something.I keep the photo in a pocket of the jacket, which collects dust in a closet, where I hope neither will ever be destroyed.

Ali J. Shaw has Rocky Mountain air in her blood, but she calls the Pacific Northwest home. Her nonfiction has been featured in r.k.v.r.y., Hippocampus Magazine, VoiceCatcher, and the Get Nervous reading series, and was a finalist for the Victoria A. Hudson Emerging Writer Prize. Ali is an editor who collects typewriters and rescue animals.

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Guest Posts

Working in Circles

February 29, 2020
richard

By Elizabeth Earley

The first time I met Richard Yaski, I was 32 years old and freshly heartbroken. I’d been living in Phoenix, which proved to be a metaphysical as well as physical desert. I had moved there from Chicago to be with a woman I loved, but she cheated on me and left me, leaving me to turn to bad and destructive habits like cigarette smoking and affairs with married women. Women who were married to men. In the end, there were only two such affairs, but, as a wise friend told me then, it only takes two to make a pattern.

My move to Phoenix was significant in a different way as well—it marked the first time I was offered a job as a writer. I’d applied to the job with writing samples from my half-finished graduate program, and they not only hired me, but also paid for my moving expenses.

From the outset, I felt a fraud in the role of paid writer—the work was too easy and was, fundamentally, unearned. I hadn’t published much of anything. I’d written maybe three novels by then, all of them withering in a drawer collecting rejections faster than dust. It was in this state that I travelled to Northern California with my older friend and mentor who had dated Richard. And although it didn’t work out romantically between them, he remained a significant part of her life, and she wanted me to meet him—a celebrated artist with enormous metal sculptures decorating a pictorial property nestled in a redwood forest.

Back then, Richard was on fire. Brimming to excess with energy, he was filled with an insatiable and relentless, highly creative and spiritual drive. It came out of his mouth in rapid, run-on speech; through his eyes with long, thoughtful and interested gazes. He had asked me to write about him back then and I agreed, swept up as I was with him and his sculptures and his home fashioned from trees. But I never did. A combination of my sense of inadequacy at the time combined with a single rejection I received in response to a pitch to a much too famous magazine conspired to have me quit before I even really started. Then I fell out of touch with Richard.

A decade elapsed during which I finished my graduate degree and experienced some accomplishments as a writer. Then I survived a near-fatal motorcycle accident and wrote a new kind of book in its aftermath—a hybrid memoir, which I titled, The Eternal Round. While writing this, I learned that my second novel had won an award and would be published by a well-known and coveted publisher. As my publication date approached, I knew I needed to finish a draft of the new manuscript before my second novel came out because I would need to focus on its launch. As I searched for a place to go where I could separate from my daily responsibilities and write, nothing short of a self-abduction from my life would do. I thought of Richard and his property.

Now, ten years later, Richard is calmer and more settled. He’s been through a lot—illness and injury and a financial crisis in which he was the victim of a ponzi scheme and lost most of his life’s savings. He was involved in a drawn-out court battle over it. There was a time when he thought he might lose the home and land. But thankfully, he kept it, and I was able to visit yet again. I came to finish my manuscript. And I stayed to fulfill my 10-year-old promise to write about him.

He is nobody and nothing. That is what Richard Yaski asserts is the most important lesson of his life. During a 5-day meditation retreat he attended, he realized that art has to be authentic. And to be authentic, it has to be let through the conduit, the artist, honestly.

“I am not Richard, my name is Richard. I am not a sculptor, I make sculptures.”

I listened to him with skepticism. Aren’t all artists and writers desperately attached to the positive yet wholly subjective reception of their work? I see my regrettable though undeniable writer’s ego as a big, glass sphere: as immense as it is delicate. Holding it in my hands, seeing my own warped face reflected in its gloss, I am it and it is me. Until I trip on the casual criticism of anyone and the whole thing is smashed. What saves me are the other dimensions of my life, the parts that round it out like being a mother and a partner, a friend, a human.

Richard is also human. He makes more than sculptures. The home he created from the trees is perhaps the most stunning. Never mind the world-class art that sits half a mile down a dirt road in Mendocino County, California. The kind you would expect to see inside the clean walls and high ceilings of a distinguished gallery in New York. But it’s so not New York that I have an experience of cognitive dissonance just looking around.

Yellow and orange construction vehicles, some parked along the edge of the woods, some in the gravel carport alongside the car. A crane, folded up and sleeping, resting from the weight it’s carried. The forklift beat up from good use. These and other heavy machinery somehow seem a natural part of the landscape, as do the sculptures they helped to create. Large, metal works of art dignify the opening in the woods, the clearing of trees where plant life has been tamed and cultivated in the area around the house and other buildings. There are several buildings: a yurt used as a detached office/art studio/meditation space adorned with prayer flags, a tiny house with a lofted roof and large skylight (this is where guests like me stay when they come), a building that seems to be for storage, a large, cluttered workshop, and, out behind the house on the other side of a wooden fence and wall made of logs, a converted 1953 International School Bus permanently installed and built into a cottage.

This last was the vehicle that Richard Yaski arrived in when he was 24 years old. It was the early 70s and he was working as a leather smith in Topanga Canyon. He and his girlfriend came to see a friend in Albion. The rugged coast of Mendocino County flanked by the Redwood forest beckoned him with its beauty and sense of magic, like anything was possible. When he returned to Topanga, he couldn’t get the feeling about that place or its inspiring power out of his mind. When the owners of the house he and his girlfriend rented decided to sell and gave them notice to move out, he knew where to go. Putting everything they owned in the bus, they drove back up to Mendocino County and looked for their next home.

Home is a word most people associate with at least four walls and a roof, but that’s not what Richard found. The 10-acre plot of forestland he purchased in 1970 was densely wooded, though it did come with a well and septic tank. “I had to crawl on my hands and knees under the brush to see that it had a back yard,” he said.

With deep respect for nature, Richard began the project of building a home by searching for trees that were already on their way out. These sick and dying trees became the raw materials for the house he roughed in but that remained unfinished for years. Years during which he lived in the bus with his first wife and young son.

Seven years earlier, in a metal shop class in high school, Richard made his first sculpture. It was an abstract metallic woman with steel-wool hair, copper coils for eyebrows, a welded together face, can-shaped torso, and gear cogs for breasts. While his older brother was in art school, Richard sold that first sculpture for $3,000 to the president of Interstate Host Corporation and it was installed at Detroit international Airport at the hotel restaurant. He used the money to travel Europe with a friend after finishing high school. When he returned from that months-long trip, he decided it was time to grow up and earn a living, so he enrolled in real estate school where he would get his license and sell houses. But he hated real estate school and left. He went to junior college after that, but walked out after a few weeks. Finally, his father agreed to pay for art school, but he dropped out of there as well. After two years of art school, a teacher convinced him that a better art school would be a garage wired for 220 electricity where he could spend his time just making sculptures. He agreed, so he left the prestigious art school, Chouinard, and did just that. He had his first one-man show at 20 years old on La Cienega Blvd. in Los Angeles. From there, Richard curated his own education wherein he hired people for $6/hour to work alongside and learn from. He learned to be a carpenter this way, then a general contractor.

Richard reminds me of myself in this way—exploring many trades and wearing various hats to earn a living to support the true passion while remaining anti-establishment at heart. In spite of my prejudice against it, I pursued higher education like any conquest and achieved the paradoxically meaningful and meaningless credential labeling me as a master of fine art. Even so, I pursued that art not as a central but peripheral vocation, placing a series of other, more lucrative professions before it.

All along, Richard made and sold his large sculptures in steel, copper, and aluminum. Now, 56 years later, he sits with me at his home in Little River and we look out at the surrounding forest. His heavy sculptures around the property, each featuring some form of a circle, look as though they’ve grown there straight from the earth, roots and all, as native as the redwoods. This strikes me as a significant coincidence, given the title of the manuscript I came to finish at the desk in the tiny house.

“Why are they all circles?”

“I’ve always worked in circles.”

He explains that he’s been drawn to circles because they create emptiness. And when emptiness gets created, it can get filled.

“Birds make their nests in circles. Life is a circle from birth to death. Each day is a circle from dark to dark. Our bodies are circles from the cells up.” His large hands connect at the fingertips and thumb, forming a circle. From there, he spreads them palms-up toward me, bridging the space between us.

“I’m only responsible for the craftsmanship. These hands merely give birth to whatever wants to come through them.”

This method of transferring the credit for a creation from the creator to the force of creativity itself strikes me as radical. Its humility is only matched by its arrogance, as the assumption is that the artist as conduit is messiah—worthy of both carrying and putting into form an important message from beyond. And yet, the audience’s reception of that message—any assigned merit or liability—will be the sole responsibility of that force. Suddenly I could see what that round decade that delivered me back to this place I started from had to offer: liberation from the obligatory fragile artist’s ego.

I think of this idea of creating emptiness and stillness in the context of an image I have of Richard in my mind, dressed in welding gear, up on a ladder, torch in hand. From such an incredible amount of noise and violence, heat and grinding with sparks flying everywhere, there emerges a source of calm.

Over the years, he’s made sculptures on commission for Apple and Google executives, for corporate collections, for the Kremlin, and in international hotels, including one in Istanbul.

He was offered a one-man show at the California Museum of Art. One of his major sculptures was exhibited for 13 years at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. But many of those ended up also full circle—back on his own property. A property whose centerpiece is the house it took him 35 years to finish. It’s a house with no right angles and overflowing light. There is an outdoor shower on the back deck facing the forest and a catwalk out to a smaller, peninsula deck with a table and chairs.

Inside are cathedral ceilings with generous skylights, bottom to top windows, a wide airy space, and a feeling of being lost in the forest and snug at home somehow simultaneously. Artistry is in all the details. Imported Mexican tiles over hand-thrown sinks. Rough-hewn logs for beams. A lofted bed tucked into the wall under the ceiling in the great room, which looks so cozy and inviting, I have to climb up and try it. In the bedroom, above the bed is the largest skylight, where Richard and his wife sleep blanketed by stars. The other dominant feature of the bedroom is the handcrafted stone fireplace, the second in the house.

The energy in the bedroom feels different somehow, even quieter and more peaceful. Richard speaks and I remember why. “This is the room I built for my late wife to die in,” he says. His current wife, Diane, stands beside him. I look at her, search her face for a reaction. She smiles and says, “It’s an honor for me to sleep here.” She’s radiant and intelligent and warm. She’s 25 years his junior. When I first met Richard a decade earlier, he was with another woman he’d been with for years but hadn’t yet married. When Richard talked about Loama, his second wife who he was with the longest, and who he cared for during an eleven-year losing battle with cancer, that girlfriend had been uncomfortable and angry. She was threatened by the reverence and love in his voice when he spoke of his late wife. But Diane, who’s been with him four years now, has no trace of jealousy or insecurity.

After Richard began building the house, he and his first wife didn’t make it. She moved into a cabin on the neighboring property and their son, Jud, went back and forth between them. He also had a stepson from that relationship who often stayed with him. Then he met Loama, his second wife, and her daughter, Dakota. They were together for 21 years before she died of cancer. The bedroom was the product of her wish—that he build her a beautiful room in which to die.

In the years following Loama’s death, Richard cycled through many lovers, another way in which I relate to him. My instinct even when I first met him was to judge him, to write him off as a typical womanizing, egomaniac white man artist. But he defied my ready and waiting judgments with small surprises—soft eyes, deep respect for nature, politically progressive ideology, true humility, and, perhaps most surprising, an anti-masculine, unapologetic affection toward other men with whom he shared intimate friendships. By intimate I don’t mean sexual. With one brief exception in the free-loving 60’s, Richard had been decidedly hetero in his affinity for lovers. The platonic intimacy he shared with men was a closeness and a tenderness that men like him culturally reserved only for women.

One such friendship was with a man who ended up engaging him in the ponzi scheme that almost was his financial undoing. He lost most of his life’s savings in that ordeal, but the real injury was that the perpetrator was a close friend of Richard’s who was present and in the room the night before Loama died. The worst blow was the betrayal.

I ask Richard if Loama’s death followed by his financial loss contained the worst times in his life. He says no. It was the loss of a child to suicide. Richard’s first wife had a son when he met her, Brandon, who Richard helped to raise as his own.

“That was the worst thing I ever had to walk through,” he says.

Another strange parallel. In the manuscript I travelled there to finish, I wrote about my grandfather’s suicide. And perhaps it’s that subject matter combined with the setting that had brought me so close to my own existential angst. Having been there in the forest for four days already, the calm and the quiet are cacophonous. With no cell reception, no internet, no access to the outside world, and with a darkness at night so total there’s nowhere to look but within, it makes sense that someone in a tortured mental state would feel driven to leave the planet. But the hush and the stillness is juxtaposed with a frenzy of activity: leaves rustling in the wind, water trickling in a deep ravine, insects and critters busy doing their part in a robust ecosystem teeming with diverse life. And the quietest yet most profound enterprise there among the trees—the oxygen pumping and flowing like lifeblood out into the world.

Now, it’s been eight years and Diane and Richard have been through a lot together. Diane cared for Richard through his bout with prostate cancer and supported him through his long, painful court battle. I asked her what she thought when she got together and he then lost everything, including, almost, his home. “I love him and I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. I knew I’d live with him in a tent if we had to. It would be hard, but we would face it together,” she said.

Through rental income and the small amount of work Richard was able to do during those years, he didn’t have to lose his home. And he emerged on the other side of the court battle and the health crisis with enough money to live and with his health restored. And as we sit on the back deck talking, I can sense the peace in his heart. I can see how the events of the past decade since I first met him, although they may have been difficult, have softened and reorganized him, oriented him toward stillness. The effect is to dispel my skepticism about his egolessness. And with that, a yearning so strong it makes a physical ache to also have no ego.

“How do I separate myself from the work I produce when it makes me feel so vulnerable?”

Richard smiles and looks me dead in the eyes. Something in the look makes me understand: he does still have the fragile ego, he just doesn’t relate to it as who he is.

“If you aren’t scared shitless, you’re not being honest with yourself. It’s part of what creativity requires of you. But creativity is its own thing, its own intelligence.”

Because of his financial drama and illness, Richard hasn’t made a large sculpture in years. But it’s clear that at age 73, he has more to come. He’s spent time clearing out and organizing his workshop. “I’m ready to get back to work,” he said with a smile.

Richard’s greatest work of art may not be any of his sculptures. It may not even be the beautiful home he built for himself and the loves he’s adopted into it over the years. It’s instead the person he is inside of each empty, still moment. “Just being is my art,” he said, “the art of living is the finest.”

And perhaps he’s correct. Perhaps the finest art I can never hope to master is just that.

Having come to his forest home and accomplished my goal of finishing a draft of The Eternal Round, I’m struck as Richard talks by the range of metaphysical meanings in the forest surrounding us. The forest as a harbor. As a refuge. As a trap. As a witness.

Listening to him, I watch the trees, which seem to watch Richard. They gaze down at him from their impossible heights, professing their own ancient love. They’ve witnessed the past half-century of this man’s life. They offered up some flesh to make him a home. They held him and those he’s loved close and safe among them. They’ve mirrored the drama, the joys and the heartbreaks, with the breathtaking filtered light of sunsets and with the total darkness of the night inside them.

Elizabeth Earley is the author of two novels: A Map of Everything, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and Like Wings, Your Hands, which won the Women’s Prose Prize at Red Hen Press and the American Fiction Award for best LGBTQ novel. Earley is also an editor at Jaded Ibis Press. Purchase her latest audio book, Like Wings, Your Hands, here.

Upcoming events with Jen

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THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND

Guest Posts, The Body

Figure Modeling

April 19, 2017
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By Jera Brown

The moment I disrobe and step up naked on a platform where anywhere from two to a dozen pairs of eyes are staring at me has never bothered me. I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. Before I started figure modeling, I’d enjoyed other public nudity experiences which led me to believe I’d be a good candidate for the gig.

There were other reasons I started modeling. As a broke graduate student, it is a way of supporting the arts without the ability to buy much. It’s also physically challenging, and I love a good challenge. And — though this was not something I consciously admitted to myself when I considered modeling — I believed it would help me love my body more. I was wrong.

I model for members’ organizations where artists pay a fee for studio space and access to models and for classes where new and intermediate artists learn how the body works and discover their unique style. Here’s how it works: Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

What David Bowie Taught Me about Art, Death And Letting Go

October 14, 2016

By Grace Loh Prasad

The Montclair Railroad Trail is a mile-long, tree-lined path carved into the side of the Oakland Hills. From 1913 until 1957, the trail was part of a passenger rail line that ran from San Francisco through Oakland to Sacramento and Chico. Today it’s hard to imagine that trains once rolled on this narrow path through abundant eucalyptus and oak trees; no traces remain of the railroad or the station that once sat at the foot of Paso Robles, an area now occupied by a row of large, immaculate homes with two-car garages and shaded patios.

We go running on the trail almost every week. Years ago I pushed my son Devin in a stroller here; now he runs beside me and we race the last twenty yards over the footbridge to the stairs that lead to Montclair Village. Every now and then I run alone. I study the trees and I think about how old they must be, about how they have witnessed so much – the railroad being built then abandoned; houses rising one by one; families arriving, expanding and eventually leaving, to be replaced by new families. Time passes, but the trees always remain, season after season, year after year. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Inspiration, motherhood

Knitting A Soul

August 12, 2015

By Bernadette Murphy

My twelve-year-old son, Jarrod, plays trumpet in a jazz group, and I’m usually the one to take him to the rehearsals in downtown Los Angeles. Often, I bring a knitting project to work on during the two or three hours he’s behind closed doors. A few other parents wait with me, though most drop their children and return later. The kids work with their jazz teacher in an almost completely soundproof room. When a piece they’re practicing becomes particularly loud, the slightest vibrations and melody slip through the soundproofing like smoke signals to let us know something wonderful is occurring in that little room. Hearing those sounds, I sneak up to the small five-by-ten-inch window and peer in.

I’m not the only one. Passersby, parents, people waiting for their dance classes to start: we all take turns jostling to watch preteen kids blow inspired, improvised jazz and blues. There’s something irresistible about watching people do something they love.

The rehearsals take place in a gorgeous performing arts school situated next to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), a stone’s throw from the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and in the shadow of the amazing Disney Concert Hall, standing at astounding angles, huge sails of metal and concrete reminding Angelenos of imagination’s incredible power. The school is located in an area that’s both highly cultured and adjacent to great poverty; skid row is a few blocks away. It’s a place where art, music, and dance–self-expression of all forms–are actively encouraged and yet the implicit risk in such self-expression is tangibly present. The unspoken fear, at least among the adults, seems to be: If I give myself so fully to something I love, will I end up like that street-corner poet I passed while looking for a parking space? The woman was screeching her words at approaching vehicles, trying to call attention to her beliefs and experiences, only to be drowned out by the forward-marching parade of society. Or what about the homeless man outside MOCA, strumming his guitar, happy in his music yet oblivious to the rest of the world: Will I become like him?

One of the biggest dangers of giving in to art is that our values might change—or return to an earlier, simpler form. The perfect house, the right furniture, the great job, the designer clothes: Maybe those things don’t represent our hearts’ desires the way we thought. Maybe we’ll learn something about ourselves that we didn’t particularly want to know. Or maybe people will laugh at us. Maybe we won’t appear the way we’d like to.

Worse yet: Maybe we won’t be any good at what we love. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Jen Pastiloff, Jen's Musings, travel

Be All In.

June 15, 2015

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

By Jen Pastiloff.

I got up before the sun this morning. The room was dark and I didn’t know where I was. I am in a twin bed, I am shivering and sweating, the sun is not up, where am I? I’ve been grinding my teeth really badly. I unclenched my jaw a little and felt my plastic night guard in my mouth, but still, I couldn’t quite place where I was. It’s funny when that happens, isn’t it? You wake up and have no idea what day it is or where you are or if you are late to work or what the fuck? Do I even have a job? Am I still waitressing? Am I late for school? School? I am a grown-ass adult, I don’t go to school, where the fuck am I?

 

Okay, okay. I am in Aruba. I remember. Calm the fuck down.

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We are going on a sunrise hike and I have set my alarm for 5. Just 5 more minutes, I lie to myself. My mouth guard cracks inside my mouth. Are you kidding me? I still lay there with plastic pieces in my mouth, refusing to swing my legs over the edge of the small bed. This night guard that cost almost $500 and I just bit it in half. I still don’t get up. Just don’t swallow the plastic and die here on this twin bed in Aruba, Jen, I say to myself, and also, Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me?

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Who clenches their jaw so hard they bite their night guard in half? What am I holding on to? I don’t panic though. I lay there calmly chanting don’t swallow don’t swallow and then make myself laugh because it reminds me of blow jobs and I feel like a teenager for laughing. Like when someone’s name was Dick and we’d laugh. Dick and blow jobs and plastic in my mouth. I better get up.

 

At least I can laugh because this piece of crap plastic is going to cost another $500 unless I want to crack my crowns. I recently got two crowns, one of which is gold. Classy.

 

*

 

Now I am on the plane. I am nestled against the window with the best $20 investment I have ever made (EVER): a pillow and blanket I purchased in the World’s Worst Airport otherwise known as Ft. Lauderdale.

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I went to Chili’s in my 3 hour layover and got a vodka soda and salmon. My waiter was very accommodating and gave me black beans instead of rice and when I asked for salsa, brought me a huge Styrofoam container of it and some plastic cutlery. It brought back visions of the people I used to wait on who would ask for plastic silverware. (I guess it was a germ thing?) It also brought back memories of those skinny women who would come in shaking and saying, It’s so cold, when it was 65 degrees, Can I get a hot water with lemon? I hated those ladies. I wanted to tell them to eat a sandwich. (They always ordered the Tuna Deluxe, no rice, no dressing, and they never finished it.)

Anyway, I took a bath in my salsa and drank my drink and ordered another because 3 hours. Ft. Lauderdale. I asked the lady at the table behind me if the chips were any good.

 

“They’re greasy but they’re okay. Have one.”

 

I reached over and had one. She was right. They were meh, at best. I would just eat my salsa out of the Styrofoam with my plastic spoon sans chips. This is my first time in a Chili’s. They play good music. I’ll give them that. Steely Dan, Hey 19. A little David Bowie.

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The hike was 5 hours long. We started before the sun came. Rooi Tambu, a long trail through a dry riverbed within the Arikok National Park of Aruba. I poured coffee into a plastic cup and spilled it all over myself in the car. The sun was still not up when we began.

 

I read a sign that explained that the dry riverbed was named after the sound of the tambu, a musical instrument used by inhabitants from African descent who were brought to Aruba to work as slaves. They used to hide in the dry riverbed to perform their dance rituals and play music, as it was forbidden by the Spanish catholic colonists who occupied Aruba from 1499-1636.

 

Isn’t it amazing how humans have the capacity for self-expression and creativity, no matter what? How art is so often born of brutal circumstances? How survival is contingent upon the making of that art? I bent down low to touch the earth, dirt on my fingers, on the backs of my calves, this is holy dirt, I thought, and wiped a streak on my face. The sun was rising. What was once forbidden flourished here.

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We continued to walk until we reached the coastline. I climbed up on the rocks and tried to do a yoga pose but it was slippery and I was scared so I stood there with my arms in the air as my friend Yulady took a picture. I was wearing a tank top that said Be All In and was I ever. My feet were aching, my skin was filthy, I was soaked from a wave that had crashed on the rocks, but my god, was I all in, knee-deep in, waist-high in, up to my neck in, I was in, and I would keep going in, deeper.

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I thought of Mary Oliver’s poem The Journey as I stood on that rock

 

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

 

I read that poem a lot in my yoga classes so I could almost hear my own voice speaking it. God, I’m so dramatic. I climbed down off the rock, pleased with myself that I got up and did the hike instead of sleeping, that I stood on a wet rock on the beach and heard a poem in my head as if the sky was talking to me, as if I hadn’t been laying in bed just a couple hours before with plastic pieces in my mouth and a deep confusion as to where I was in the world, as if the clouds were reminding me to go out and make art, no matter what, make art, create, stand on rocks, recite poetry, get up and climb on rocks and forge your way through the world and do not be confused as to where you are: You are here. You are here. You are here.

 

 

Yeah, I was all pleased with myself. I am not a hiker. I hopped down onto the sand and laughed at myself for thinking the clouds could talk. Then I remembered that the minute I stopped believing the sky could talk, I was dead, I was no longer a poet, I no longer had an imagination, I would no longer make art despite the unflinching pressing of time on my body- that if I believed the sky went quiet, I might as well swallow the pieces of plastic and confine myself to a life of quiet choking, of relentless blockage, a life of words being stifled in the back of a throat. I would suffocate. So yes, the sky can talk and I can fucking hear it despite my near deafness. I can hear it and I am all in.

 

I am happy I came on this hike. I fly out in a few hours, to go home to L.A. and this will tucker me out for the plane. It will stay with me for days on end, the Manzanilla trees and the crabs with the big eyes, who looked dead until you got close and they scurried away. The way the ghosts of the music-makers from long ago lingered like any good art will. Art does not disappear. The clouds do talk.

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My friend Yulady and her husband Gerry are also with me on the hike.

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Yulady had breast cancer and now has a colostomy bag. She doesn’t complain. She made a video for me the other day where she says, I poop in a bag, and yet, she doesn’t complain. I learn from her.

My legs hurt so I squat down and my friend Mike says, No pooping, Jen. This makes me laugh and I think how poop jokes always do. Like swallow and the name Dick. No pooping, Jen.

 

Yulady has to poop in a bag. She is my inspiration. Amazing, like I said, how art is so often made through brutality? She tells me that life has not been easy for her. But she doesn’t complain. I want to rub her skin and take some of her back with me to Los Angeles.

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I complain that my feet hurt and I have get home to finish packing. That I am hungry. That I am getting sunburned. I tell myself to shut the fuck up.

 

We finally finish the hike and get back to the house.

 

I thought about how I got quiet during the walk. Real quiet. It was nice. It was needed. How unquiet we are sometimes. Me. I am. With the constant ringing in my ears and my own chatter and the nonstop information and distraction of social media- how unquiet. During the hike, you couldn’t look up because of how rocky and uneven the earth was and that was okay.

 

One foot in front of the other, paying attention, getting quiet. How needed it is. I got soaked as I sat on that rock and I thought life is good. At least in this moment.

 

It’s good to get quiet. My legs covered with filth from the walk, my hair tangled with sea water, salt on my skin. Maybe I’ll stay like this a little longer. To remember.

*

 

I place my broken night guard carefully in its blue container and put it at the bottom of my backpack. I wonder if I can superglue it?

At the airport the long is long and women with heavy blue eye shadow and t-shirts that say Aruba: The Happy Island wear too much perfume. My bra strap breaks in line and my boob starts to hang out. I ask a stranger to fix it. (Not my boob. The strap.)

She kindly does. She is flying to New York with her husband. They have arrived at the airport almost 5 hours early. I, on the other hand, am worried I will miss my flight and my bra has just broke.

 

Two hours later, I make it though all the lines and my bra strap breaks again. I get in line at the Happy Bar and order a white wine, which he gives me in a mini bottle with a Dixie cup of ice. I take it to the gate. Thank you, Happy Island, for allowing me to walk through the airport with a plastic cup of wine. In the States, we can do no such thing.

 

Night guard breaking, bra strap busting, what next, Jen? Your head going to roll off?

 

I sit down next to a big guy who is partly in my seat. He sleeps with his head pressed into the tray table in front of him, from takeoff to landing, while his wife absent-mindedly traces the hair on his legs with her French manicure, as she reads a paperback. He lifts his head only once, to turn around and yell at (I am guessing) sons, “There’s enough room back there. Knock it off.

 

In Ft. Lauderdale I somehow have to go through security. Again. Fourth time in one day. I am so cold that I feel like one of those women who ask for lemon water. I am freezing. I buy a pillow and blanket in the airport shop and attempt to find a place to eat. This brings me to Chili’s. The Ft. Lauderdale Airport really does blow. (Ha ha blow jobs again.)

I am sad to leave Aruba. I wish I took more photos. I close my eyes and rest my head on the table at Chili’s and start to make art in my head. I rearrange words and create sentences out of fragments of stone and wind and blue, blue water. I remember a poem I wrote 12 years ago.

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I am in awe of the things that cause change.

 

The forces, natural and apocryphal, that cause us to evolve-

The catalysts, those things working in our favor-

The impetus for us metamorphose, to mutate and transform.

Whether being trapped inside the earth in heat so blasting

A Guatemalan volcano has to spew its ashy breath-

Or having an old friend come to stay for a week.

 

We change.

 

We change shapes and figures over and over again.

We exchange one body for the next, one precious

Stone for a different one.

One pleasure for another.

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I wonder about the things working in my favor. How I have been changed by this trip? By the Rooi Tambu? By other people’s pain and how their music settled into the bones of the earth so that when we walk over it, our feet touch their hearts. I wonder where my waiter is with my drink. I wonder why I clench my teeth so badly. I wonder what life would be like if I went all in, like really all in, like I stood on that rock as if I could never slide off. As if nothing could stop me. I wonder what being all in felt like. I checked to see if my boob was tucked in, if my bra strap was hooked. Yes. I was all in. I made myself laugh. This is important.

I wonder if I will make my flight.

I do.

I get home eventually.

Meanwhile, I cuddle in my blanket and pillow next to a Chinese man with a mask over his mouth. He eats peanuts and I eat salsa out of Styrofoam and I think that both of us are all in. He nods at me as if to say hello with his eyes and I turn my head to the clouds out the window of the airplane because they are speaking. Of course they are. I must get quiet to hear them. Shhh. Goodbye.

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The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for June 20th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the March cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

 

 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat Sep 17-24. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! It is LIFE CHANGING! You must email info@jenniferpastiloff.com to book.

 

March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough. Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)

March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough.
Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)

Guest Posts

Big Sur, Henry Miller and the Book of the Dead.

December 23, 2014

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By Jeff Finlin.

Some things you revisit only to find that the grandiosity of your youth has come back to slap you with a disappointment that you somehow remembered wrong. It’s like the white wash of mind itself has taken over to spite your perception of what’s really going on here. That old gerbil wheel between your ears remembers things in the unreality of comparison and what we’ve seen and heard; not in what’s happening now. The mind spits, moans, worries perceives and bewilders only based on what it’s captured before or is uncertain of.  It’s like a camera spitting out only what it’s seen or heard over and over again. Whether it’s that piece of ass you had or a glorious drunken night under the stars it mostly vomits back our experience more impeccably than it actually was.  It’s incapable, unless trained like a show dog, of just shutting up long enough to contemplate the miracle that lies before us.  The miracle is too terrifying. It’s written as our own book of the dead. The mind has to actually die in order to see that it’s the miracle itself. So in order to feel it we have to read and retain our own demise. We got to know it…realize it … love it… .  And that’s a hard thing to do. The denial of it is way easier. That Grateful Dead skull comes to mind. The day of the dead grins ear to ear in the lighthouse of itself. No …they weren’t kidding.

But then there are those times when the head shuts up long enough for us to experience the living and the dead all at once. Sometimes in a moment of God given clarity, the head, along with the heart, is able to recount the glorious cellular work of past experience in relation to what’s happening in front of your very eyes. It connects the present and past to the cellular chain link within and you are reminded in a phantasmagoric moment of explosiveness who you are, why you are here, and what you are supposed to do and be. You experience how you have become in relation to all your delusion, dreams, fear and psychosis. You come to see the path of mistake, truth and longing as a cosmic weave of grace and beauty, ugliness and pain, and in those fleeting enlightened moments it all somehow makes sense.

That happened on a drive today up Highway 1 in California into the wild and beautiful redwood spiked Big Sur where we had the pleasure of visiting The Henry Miller Memorial Library. The tears and times and heavens rolled like rain into my heart and mind amidst a beauty so big and bold that it made me aware that I was not separate from the river of universe that lay exploding within and out. I had been here before… but it was even bigger than I remembered. It was the personification of “remember to remember” as Miller so eloquently put it. I was somehow magically transported and connected to the first time; the original time of being. I was magically transported to the time I first experienced myself as a writer and human cell exploding into the many.  It was the future past and present all rolled into one Continue Reading…

Converse-Station, Guest Posts, imagination

The Converse-Station: Katharine Beutner & Kirsten Kaschock.

November 7, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Katharine Beutner & Kirsten Kaschock.

Jen Pastiloff here. Welcome to The Converse-Station: A dialogue between writers. With the site getting so much traffic, I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Enjoy! 

Matthea Harvey’s “The Straightforward Mermaid” begins: “The straightforward mermaid starts every sentence with ‘Look . . . ’ This comes from being raised in a sea full of hooks. She wants to get points 1, 2, and 3 across, doesn’t want to disappear like a river into the ocean.” If you were a mythical creature, what would you be? How would you start every sentence?

Katharine Beutner: Kirsten, hello! Thinking this over, I’m surprised that I find it much easier to say how I would start every sentence than to decide what kind of mythical creature I would be. I would start every sentence with “What if–” and sometimes the what-ifs would be marvelous and speculative and sometimes they’d be practical and sometimes they’d be anxious. I’ve cut down a lot on the anxious what-ifs since I got divorced, but they still creep in sometimes.

Since I ask questions all the time, I think I’d be a sphinx, though I’d rather be the guardian Egyptian sort than the riddling kind that has to eat hapless travelers. People tell me I always seem calm and collected, though I find that hard to believe.

What about you? And I’m curious, do you feel a pressure to choose from a particular mythology? I’ve been Greek-mythology-obsessed since I was a kid, so I felt like it would be cheating to claim another source — and I’m really leery of appropriating another culture’s mythology, though for some reason I don’t feel that guilt about Greek myths, maybe because they’ve become a sort of symbolic language for writers and readers in Western literary traditions.

Kirsten Kaschock: Hello Katharine. Lovely to meet you in this imaginary space.

I’d have to be a shapeshifter, skinwalker, facedancer, changeling. A creature for whom metamorphosis is identity. I’d start every sentence as differently as possible, trying on language like shoes. How do I want to move today? I’m not satisfied that my own identity is accurate, so I collect more–writing is a place to do this less tragically than other places. I love my life, just not enough to live there and there only. The thing is, I’m pretty sure when I wear others’ faces, pasts, and bodies—I end up leaving something (my scent? my trace? my soul?) everywhere. P’raps it’s only by being other that I prove I exist? Or some comparable nonsense…

As far as traditions go–dark European fables and folklore are most resonant with me, but you see facedancer up there too (from Frank Herbert’s Dune). I’m fascinated by the mythologies that surround, the ones we are ever recreating. I’m not that interested in writing vampires or zombies, but trying to figure out their function in the current North American cultural imagination… that would be a project.

I have another life where I’ve danced, and being trained in classical ballet and modern dance seeded in me a profound awe of the human ability to transform the self. In the Greek mythology you love (and that my sons are just discovering now), I’m wondering if the everpresence of physical transformation–for punishment or reward or to facilitate seduction–is part of the draw. Some creatures seem simply elemental, others are created or made god. Still others, like the Sphinx, are hybrids. I like what happens to them/me when I think through such manifestations as real, i.e., not (purely) metaphorical. Tell me–in addition to your hypothetical tendencies–does the sphinx-body appeal to you? Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, healing, Mindwebs

The Art of Being A Worrywart.

September 3, 2012

When I was a kid my nickname was Worrywart.

Really.

I used to say things like Do you think it matters? Is it going to be okay? over and over, to anyone who would listen. It didn’t matter what I was talking about, what the it in question was, it just mattered that I was appeased. I really didn’t care for the truth either, I just wanted to be told it was all going to be okay. And then I didn’t listen. I just kept on worrying and asking the same questions.

I obsessed. I bit my nails down to nothing. I wrote little notes to myself on papers I would crumple up as soon as I jotted down my secret language on them. I would write the first letter of every word only so if the sentence was “Am I going to get in trouble for not reading that book for school” I would write “AIGTGITFNRTBFS”.

It was a language only I understood. And maybe my sister. Years later I would find little notes with the same secret language that were not in my writing, but in hers, and although I think she must have gotten it from me, this secret language, she claims it was a weird talent she made up all on her own.

I used to use that secret language when I was anorexic to write down all the things I ate.

Rice cakes

honey

apple 

seaweed

would be: RCHASW.

I knew exactly what it meant when I read it. Even years later.

It was a craft, a skill, a profession that honed, this worrying business. This secret language.

During the years when I was losing weight rapidly, when I was deep in the throes of anorexia, I would ask people, anyone: Do I look fat? Do I look different than I did last week? Have I gained weight?

And the kicker is that I never ever wanted them to say yes. Never.

I wanted to stay in my secret language land and my land of worry warts. It was like a kingdom of pain and although I hated it, I wanted to stay. I felt safe there with my first letters only of words, with my bitten nails and repetitive thoughts.

It started when I was young although I am not sure what age exactly. I remember having a recurring dream that our house was on fire and I that I saved everyone but my sister. Never my sister. I was climbing a tree in the dream and then it would end like that. Always. Each time.

Maybe the worrying started before my dad died. Maybe after. The nickname started after he died, I do recall that, when we moved to California and I would collect soaps and line them up on the shelf in my room I shared with my sister. We had a hamster and bunk beds and at night I closed my eyes and tried to forget everything about my life pre-hamster and pre-bunkbeds.

As I got older the worrying turned into a full time job. I would sit in the library at NYU for hours counting my hunger pains and staring at the book on American Literature without reading one sentence, or rather reading the same one sentence over and over for four hours. I would write down in my secret language all the things I ate or didn’t eat that day and then obsess over how I would finish my homework when I hadn’t even started and I had been sitting here for hours. Then I would obsess that I wasted time. Then the sun came up. To do all of this well, as I did, was a true art.

To have the world fooled, that I had it together, was a skill unlike any other.

My eyes gleamed over and under them were soft dark circles which suggested that I spent the night awake and eating in my sleep as I did often because I was starving. Anything really. Anything I could get my hands on. Cat food. Muffins. Anything.

To be so good at something took time and practice and I didn’t have much time for anything else, mind you.

You never forget how to be an artist.

I still obsess, I still turn things over in my mind so much that they lose their meanings and become dog bones so chewed upon that there’s nothing left to do but keep chewing.

I catch myself now. I catch the thread of the thought and rip it before I trip over it and fall down the rabbit hole.

There was the year when I was 18. I was obsessing on something so much that it ate that year whole. That year disappeared in the way that some years do and the only way I can  reconcile any of that year is sometimes in a dream or in a photograph. Gone. Annihilated. Poof. Eaten up by worry.

Truly it’s an art, I tell you. Not everyone could be so good at it.

The thing about worry, the real tricky thing is this: it begets nothing, nothing but more of it. And it’s addicting, a drug in its own right. You know it’s bad for you and you want to stop, or maybe you don’t, but you can’t. It satisfies some deep craving where you’ve been broken, and nothing else does that, not yet at least, not that you’ve found. So you keep doing it, you keep slipping until you are so far gone that nothing makes sense anymore except your secret language filled with broken letters. That place where you worry is like a safe nest and even though all the things you obsess over will most likely never happen, nor do you want them to, it somehow feels safer to be in there, in that cracked world where you can spin and spin and never have to look at what is really happening outside of your mind.

So yes, worry is an art. A skill and a commodity. The more you collect it, the more value it will have. Until eventually it is all you have. Walls of your worry. Looking back they will demarcate the eras of your life as if they really happened.

Sure, I still want someone to tell me it will all be okay. My great big fantasy. I like to feel safe, yes.

Sometimes I still obsess like a parrot with a three word vocabulary, but mostly I catch myself in these moments and open the door to the cage and fly away.

I allow myself my humanness. I astound myself at my own humanness at times, in fact. But I refuse to be swept up in the arms of this clever nonsense. No Thanks, I say, I am just passing through.

 

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. She’s leading a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site http://www.jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Costa Rica followed by Dallas, Seattle and London.

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Inspiration, Q & A Series

Robert Sturman: King of The Yoga Photograph, King of Capturing The Soul. The Manifestation Q&A Series.

January 18, 2012

Welcome to The Manifestation Q&A Series. 

I am Jennifer Pastiloff and this series is designed to introduce the world to someone I find incredible. Someone who is manifesting their dreams on a daily basis.

I am so in love with today’s post. When I asked him what he will be up to in 2012, he says “I’ll be pointing towards the beauty and I’ll be continuing to tell our story. That’s what the Artist does” and this, this, is why I love Robert Sturman. Robert has been a dear friend for years. We have connected on a deep level because both of us love poetry and art, and yoga, of course. Robert was a big fan of my poetry from the moment he heard my poems and constantly stayed on me to write more. Now that is a friend I want to have around. Someone who believes in me, supports me and wants to make me the best ME I can be. That is Sturman. (I call him Sturman, folks. Or King.)

His art blows me away. I am sure you have seen his images gracing your facebook or the walls of your local yoga studio or friend’s home. It’s not that he simply captures an image. He captures the soul and the light and makes it immortal as all great artists before him have done. He is a poet in the truest sense of the word.

We had coffee last week and when I asked him what he was up to he said “Prison.”He has become passionate about creating art in prisons as someone teaches the prisoners yoga. From a gorgeous Elephant Journal article: 

Devoid of judgment or commentary, the images simply bring forth beauty and truth. I’m reminded of Rumi: “out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field; I’ll meet you there.“

So when he said he would do my q&a I was thrilled because I knew his answers would be nothing short of magic. And I was right. He talks about being stuck as NOT an option which I love. He laughs at himself. He is graceful, funny and humble. Check out my lovely and talented brother from another mother below. The King of Yoga Photographs. I would like to call him The KIng Of Art but I am afraid he would blush.

I love you Sturman and am looking very forward to the yoga photo session I just booked with you. I cannot wait to share THAT with the world. To show them what we have co-created. 

Jennifer Pastiloff: What are you the most proud to have manifested in your life?

Robert Sturman: One day, about 2 years ago, I woke up and I made a choice that I was going to become the human being I had always dreamed of being. I no longer wanted to have a fantasy about it. I wanted to find out what it meant to honor who I truly am and say yes to all of the things that supported that. I wanted to experience life at my full potential.

It was nothing short of an internal revolution. Everything that made me tense up and resist, like building a website, keeping impeccable financial books, organizing a business plan, taking great care of my body, etc… I was going to move in that direction. It was a personal Renaissance in which I was determined to integrate my wild, creative Artist self with the mathematician/businessman. A full integration of left and right brain. I found it so limiting to continue to buy into the excuse that I am an Artist and I am not supposed to be good at this and that. Bullshit! And with hard work I manifested a man who found just as much satisfaction in learning code to build a website as in going out into the world with my camera. This has given me a great sense of peace, because I harmonized the different parts of myself..

Jennifer Pastiloff: What are your favorite top 3 Robert Sturman yoga images ?

Robert Sturman: Such a difficult question when I have thousands of images which were all my favorites the moment they were born. Imogen Cunningham had the best answer for that question when she said, “The ones I am going to make tomorrow.” And that’s the truth because the most exciting question an Artist can ask is ‘What’s Next?’ Creativity is a thing of the now flowing forward. Every piece was my favorite one the moment it was made. It has to be that way in order to keep going and being excited about going even deeper into the mystery of creation..

Jennifer Pastiloff: What is the greatest lesson you have learned from making your living as an artist?

Robert Sturman: No one’s going to do it for me. And in a challenging recession, I might just have to take a picture of a cat (exaggeration) so I can buy dog food. I came out of the Art academy as a snob about what I would do. But, I wasn’t a developed Artist yet. Now, it does not matter what I do. I am an Artist. Everything I do comes from that place of freedom and sincerity.

Jennifer Pastiloff: From shooting yoga teachers?

Robert Sturman: Yoga teachers are some of the hardest working people I know. Running from class to class, offering everything they have in an effort to help people have a better day. That’s a beautiful gift to life. I also learned that many like to cuss a lot when we are working on the beach and they realize balancing is a bit more challenging in the sand. I enjoy turning the tables and reminding them to take deep breaths and not judge themselves – you know, the same stuff they tell me in class.

Jennifer Pastiloff: Can you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming the The King Of Yoga Photographs?

Robert Sturman: Hahaha. That’s a funny question considering I am influenced by so many others in the field. But I guess it’s better than you calling me the Queen. My work doesn’t come from anything I was taught about yoga. I never studied texts and alignment – I like what I see and make Art. I could never call myself a yoga photographer – I think a better description of what is going on is I am an Artist deeply moved by the poetry of yoga. Yogis are a beautiful example of human beings striving to do their best. They have been and continue to be a great influence on me as an Artist.

Jennifer Pastiloff:  What are you most inspired by? Where does the daily source of inspiration for your art come from?

Robert Sturman: Inspiration comes from being in love with life. It’s a romance with life. It’s not rational. Just like love is irrational. It comes from wanting to live, wanting to be immersed in this incredible life. My work is about the world we live in, not an escape or fantasy about a better place. The only inspiration for me is to find a joy in being alive and then the Art is an effortless expression of the life I am living.

Jennifer Pastiloff: What do you do when you feel stuck?

Robert Sturman: It’s not an option. I don’t get stuck. My relationship with myself is vast. There’s where the concept of practicing yoga comes in for me. When I unroll my mat, I know that the next hour and a half is devoted to me – my internal world – to removing the unnecessary. It’s interesting because one of my favorite quotes by Picasso is “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” That’s exactly what I’m doing with my yoga.

Jennifer Pastiloff: I have a list of rules. See below. What would some of Robert’s rules be?

Robert Sturman: Adopt a dog from the shelter if you can.

Spend an hour a day in silence enjoying being with yourself. It will change your entire life.

Jennifer Pastiloff: What are you up to now?  Where can we find more of Robert Sturman?

Robert Sturman: I’ve been honored to be an Artist who is permitted to enter various United States Penitentiaries to document the growing yoga programs on the inside.

And, I love going into the prisons and working with these men who have found yoga. You’ll see more of that.

My work is just going to keep showing up. That’s really all I can say. I’m going to simply continue on as I have been.

Jennifer Pastiloff: The Polaroid series. Tell us a bit about that.

Robert Sturman: Up until recently, Polaroids were all I did for the majority of my career. It was a unique process of photography in which I carved into the images and created extremely fluid, painterly works of art bursting with color. It was a pre-digital process that I took very far. I traveled around the world celebrating the diversity of our planet completing bodies of work in India, Cuba, Europe, and many other places. I did major commissions for the Olympics, the Grammy’s, World Cup soccer, etc.

But then one day Polaroid announced they were going out of business. At that point, they divided up the remainder of the film for various Artists. I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to use the last of the film. I devoted that film to two projects. One was to raise money for the musicians who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. I worked with the Grammy folks and photographed about 50 of New Orleans beloved musicians – including the Neville Brothers and Fats Domino.

The other project I used the film for was the exploration of expressiveness of yoga. I did a massive series entitled “Poetry of the Gods.” It definitely celebrates the poetry of yoga on the beaches of Southern California. It’s my most comprehensive collection – over 500 finished pieces. It resulted in a large coffee table book, with the foreword by Shiva Rea. I’m quite proud of the finished piece and I look forward to its publication in the very near future.

Jennifer Pastiloff: If you could say “thank you” right now, who would it be to?

Robert Sturman: My thank you is to all of the mentors and beacons of light, the Artists who have come before us, who help and gently guide us through the days—attesting to the awareness that beauty, love and truth can always overpower life’s tragic losses and painful challenges.

Jennifer Pastiloff: If you could pass on one message only to readers in terms of manifesting their own dreams, what would it be?

Robert Sturman: For me, manifestation is a very real thing. I’m not interested in simply thinking it and it will be so. Of course one needs to have the positive thoughts and intentions as a seed to begin – but then it takes hard work. Hammers, nails, muscles and silence. There’s no fluff about that. ALL successful people worked very hard to make things happen. It wasn’t magic.

Jennifer Pastiloff: When was the last time you laughed at yourself?

Robert Sturman: A few minutes ago when you referred to me as ‘the King.’ That made me laugh at myself. (Note from Jen: I can assure you he is. He is!)

Jennifer Pastiloff: If you weren’t creating incredible art, what would you be doing?

Robert Sturman: There has never been a thought of doing something other than what I do.

But, it reminds me of something I heard the mystic philosopher and poet, Osho, once say. He spoke of a woman who he loved watching sweep the floor in the Buddha hall. He said she was making the most beautiful invisible paintings by the joy she was bringing to the sweeping of the floor. So, whatever I chose to do other than making Art, I hope that I’d bring the same quality to it. Because that’s the Art – not the finished piece, but the life behind the creation of it.

Jennifer Pastiloff: Who are your greatest teachers?

Robert Sturman: There have been many. I have gathered teachings here and there. And, I am going to stay very present and close to home with that question and tell you about a yoga teacher who I have had the honor of practicing with for the past 2 years named Micheline Berry. I went to her class religiously and she provided the space for me to go deep in my practice sweating it all out, letting go of anything in the way of my life. Anyways, through asana, the sweet rhythm of her class, and the poignant things she would often say, it was like I was at the academy of reconstructing the internal world. She has influenced me into being more of me. That’s a great teacher.

Jennifer Pastiloff: What can we expect Sturman to be manifesting in 2012?

Robert Sturman: I’ll be pointing towards the beauty and I’ll be continuing to tell our story. That’s what the Artist does.


Link to a gorgeous Post Robert wrote in Elephant Journal 

~~~~~~

Jen’s rules:

1. Be Kind.

2. Have a sense of humor especially when it comes to yourself

3. Write poems, even if only in your head

4. Sing out loud, even if badly

5. Dance

6. If you don’t have anything nice to say… you know the deal

7. Find things to be in awe of

8. Be grateful for what you have right now .

9. Watch Modern Family

10. Duh, do yoga

11. Don’t worry. Everyone on Facebook seems like they have happier and funner lives. They don’t.

12. Tell someone you love that you love them. Right now.

13.. Take more pictures.

14. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. no such thing.

15. Say “Thank You” in advance for what is on it’s way.

 Join Robert’s Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/Artist.Photografia

Robert Sturman website to book a shoot or to look through portfolio http://robertsturmanstudio.com/home.html

“Whether he is creating in a foreign land, on a tour bus or in his own
backyard, Sturman is intimately involved with the people and
surroundings that characterize his work. It’s what many believe
makes his art so full of passion, so honest, so inspiring, so unmistakably
S T U R M A N.

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