natural disasters and the improvising artist, part 2

I am unsure of how to proceed with this question of adversity and creativity. The response I have gotten from people has been so profound, so beautiful, so heartbreaking, and so vast that I just don’t know how to begin.My own experiences with moving through two natural disasters, one in 2003 and one in 2013, feel small and “unmighty.” Things burned down, were swept away, and were lost. Things were then rebuilt, refound, and re-housed in a new configuration.

I survived.

My loved ones survived. I was incredibly lucky. I still get to live on the land that was burned and flooded, and now I get to witness an ecological resurgence and reconfiguration that is on-going and profound. I am incredibly lucky. Was it a pain the ass? A nightmare? A loss and a devastation?


Did it change everything?


And no. Last year, after the floods, my friend Jill Sigman was visiting Boulder as a guest artist at The University of Colorado. We were having Indian food at Tiffin’s and were discussing my experience during the floods and her experience during Hurricane Sandy. We were both intrigued and fascinated by all the different reactions and actions that occurred during these natural disasters. The fear that took hold of some and left them paralyzed, and that same fear that took hold of others and kept them moving. Why such different reactions? What plays into how we respond when our world is upended? And of course, this led us to talking about improvisation, because isn’t that what you would start talking about in relationship to fires, floods, and hurricanes? What we talked about was the unknown.

What we talked about was letting go of agenda.

What we talked about were the split-second decisions that get made while improvising - not through any sort of thought process that happens in the mind - but through a deep listening that happens in the body. The sort of listening that allows for engagement, presence, and acceptance of both turbulence and unexpected stillness. On Saturday, I taught a dance vacation up at the house. One of the students spoke about her fear and her hesitancy to engage with the chaos that is inherent in improvisation. She was comfortable and able to participate when things were orderly and followed a pattern. When that pattern was disrupted, she froze. She disengaged. She detached. Yes, I thought. Yes. It is that chaos of not knowing what will happen next, of not knowing where you belong, of loosing what you once knew and understood, of having what you love be swept away too quickly for you to grab hold of, and save. That is what freezes me and makes it impossible for me to move.

What unfreezes me is opening my eyes and looking around. Taking a step forward and feeling one foot make contact with the earth, and then the other foot doing the same. Noticing my inhale. My exhale. And the gaps in between. Taking another step forward, feeling my feet make contact with the earth again and again and again. What unfreezes me is rolling up my sleeves and taking the brick that has been handed to me, stacking it on top of the next brick and the next, and the next, so that I can rebuild the house that was lost in the fire, the flood, the hurricane, the tornado. Because honestly, I just don’t know what else I would do when everything I know and love has been destroyed. If you would like to share your story of how you unfroze yourself and began to move again in the face of adversity, I would love to hear from you. As always, you can email me. I love getting your personal emails, they make my day and get me excited to write again next week. AND if you feel an inkling to be more public with your story, I would love for you to post about your experience on my blog:

So. Let’s just take a minute to talk about this blog thing, ‘cause I don’t know what to do. This is what happens:

I sent out this newsletter to my email list every Wednesday. I get amazing responses in my inbox from you about your thoughts, feelings, disagreements with what I have written, challenges, questions, and curiosities. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE that. No one else, expect for me, gets to read your beautiful musings about whatever topic I am spouting on and on about that particular week. You know that I am not a technology queen: I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t text, I don’t understand Facebook, and I have no idea what pinterest and instagram are. BUT I do know that you have feelings, thoughts, and ideas about this blog and that it means something to you because you keep reading it. So. As someone who is not so excited about technology, and really wishes we could just start a Joanna And The Agitators Blog Group instead, where we all meet up at my house and I make you cauliflower and cashew soup, what can I do to help you feel more comfortable sharing your thoughts about what you just read on the blog???? The only reason I keep pushing this is that there is an AMAZING conversation going on, but I am the only one who is getting to participate because it is all coming through my personal email. What should I do?

Your dance mission for the week is simple (and not simple at all):

Notice when you freeze. It can be a little freeze or a big freeze. Notice when and how you get yourself moving again.


As always,

With so much Warmth, Joanna of Joanna and The Agitators. sweetly agitating/persistently upending