There are few living platforms at Colgate that bring people together to find voice and speak life from the margins. This limits our individual and collective abilities, as members of the Colgate community, to understand how each other’s struggles, passions, and the expression of these struggles and passions, are inherently linked to others, and instrumental in shaping our entire lives. Collective Breathing (learn more here) is a space where unheard contemporary voices from the Colgate community  engage in a collaborative process of breathing life into our stories for ourselves and the wider Colgate community.

As a member of Collective Breathing I, Sharon Nicol, designed a companion independent study entitled Collective Breathing: The Making and Memory of a Feminist Art/Performance Collective. This blog is the home of my work in the course and an archive of my experiences within the collective.

The Collective Breathing course is centered around three major themes—Shaping(Making), Telling(Living), Remembering(Archiving). These themes exist as a framework for the present collective and future generations. Shaping the Collective Breathing project involves developing the vision for the current collective, understanding who is part of the vision, and determining how the vision will be realized. Telling the project means executing the vision, whether it be a communal creative space and/or an end-of-semester performance. Telling is not only about the end-product, but all that exists between. Remembering the project focuses on how a project’s herstory is preserved for those involved and future generations. Remembering is in conversation with content and medium, asking what do participants want to be remembered and how? These processes can occur simultaneously, at varying lengths, out of order, and sometimes not at all, yet having engaged with other models that uptake such a structure and in recording the collective’s experiences with these themes as they happen, we will be better able to return to order/the vision if there are any missteps during the process, and better contextualize our outcomes post-vision. Through this blog, I will document my reflections as I move through the Collective Breathing syllabus (which can be viewed here, along with the independent study proposal) 

This is my attempt at remaining accountable and transparent with my own thoughts and further humanizing the process myself and fellow collective breathers are engaged in, for generations to come. I am imperfect, and I recognize the value of sharing the imperfections of the building process in order to sustain this work.

I welcome feedback and hope that you will stay engaged throughout our journey. Please visit the larger Collective Breathing Blog/Archive that will feature voices of the whole group.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The Role of Heartbreak

 "In particular, this paper explores the role of art in facilitating that heartbreak—that moment of breakage that opens up an unsettled pedagogical space where students and teacher might begin to
imagine, vulnerably, an alternate mode of being together, of convivencia—a movement or
“decolonial movida” towards what I am attempting to name as “a pedagogy and politics that
breaks your heart.”
- RĂ­os-Rojas, A. (2016). “Pedagogies of the Broken-Hearted”: Notes on a Pedagogy of Breakage, Women of Color Feminist Decolonial Movidas, and Armed Love in the Classroom/Academy. Paper presented at the NWSA, Montreal, BC.

If we, as students, educators, creators, citizens of the world, are not shaken on an emotional and spiritual level by the injustices present in our world at large, but also spaces of institutional learning, we have no incentive to create new practices, realities, and ways of learning in these spaces. It is only through heartbreak that change is made possible, yet heartbreak cannot be the final destination. The question becomes, how can we creates practices of learning that piece our hearts back together, in community? Collective Breathing has been an experiment at answering this question. On their own, the memories and experiences that inspired the pieces we produced could only bring about pain and (re)trauma. Yet because we came together, fostered a community of support and care, and focused our joint energies towards excavating our stories for a purpose, we were able to find individual and collective strength and healing through what once only hurt us. We shared our heartbreak in the hope that something transformative could be drawn from the vocalization of the depths at which we feel for ourselves as individuals and for others, and the attempt to visibly work through those depths in community. Collective Breathing would not have been if I and others had not had our hearts broken by the erasure and silencing of our identities and experiences in other performance centered productions and if we had not experienced heartbreak from the lack of interpersonal care in other community-oriented spaces on campus. We needed our hearts to be broken for us to move from dreaming up a different way of being, to implementing as an attempt to piece ourselves back together. These attempts at piecing our hearts back together in the midst of heartbreak are what serve as the foundation for the pedagogies that we carry on in our teaching and learning routines, and become the basis for how those we teach and learn with conceptualize their own ability to create in the midst of heartbreak.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Making the Memory

I thought I needed to include a diversity of readings in this independent study so that I could be most knowledgeable about the potential identities and experiences that would be represented in the Collective Breathing space, and so that I could be best equipped to facilitate a space in which people's needs could vary based on their experiences, but now I realize that for a space situated most intentionally in praxis and experimentation (even while it is a space of theorization), I could not prepare.

I have gained knowledge from individual's telling of their experiences, rather than the written knowledge that I thought was supposed to educate me about experiences. I've learned how to facilitate space based on my encounters with individual's needs throughout the process, and the various ways that they have communicated their needs. This is not to say that I did not gain from the materials that I read, I benefited from them greatly, just not in the manner I had intended. I chose the readings on the syllabus with no real understanding of what I hoped to take from them, although I knew I would benefit. I see now that each reading, or at least what I wanted each reading to be, was in conversation with some part of my personal process of "memory and making"/memory making. Each reading brings light to a theme/experience/idea that I wanted to spend more time with in this last season of my formal education (that I know of), either because it represents a topic/issue I re-member that has made me, or a topic I have been exposed to and am trying to make intentional sense of.

As a senior in my last semester at Colgate, the reflection process has crept into every aspect of my life and work, in a manner that is seemingly more paramount than at any other point in my educational experience. Starting something new in a season that was supposed to be about reflecting put two seemingly dichotomous actions intimately together, and that brought forth much anxiety and uncertainty in my understanding of what I was supposed to be doing, how, and why. I've been thriving in classrooms for (at least) the past two years, and all of a sudden a freeform blog post, defined entirely by me, for a class I created, with readings I chose, seemed an intimidating, impossible task. The feeling of impossibility was a symptom of being uncomfortably wedged between what I thought were forces moving in equal but opposite directions. As I emerge from the thick of this semester, and in anticipation of a new season, I see that the two do not have to oppose one another. Education/creating/community building is a continuous process of experimenting and reflecting. It is using the memory in the process of making, and recognizing the making process as another memory for that which will be made in the future. This independent study has focused on memory-work specifically, while the Collective Breathing praxis focuses on the making, yet the two are part of the same larger process. They've both come together to define my semester, and serve as evidence that we can create the classes/collectives/performances/communities that we want. These small manifestations give us the hope, ultimately, that we can create the world we want.

In this manner, I suppose I have done what I set out to do, and yet want to acknowledge that I did not know what I was doing. Yet, even that was part of the process. The process was the desired outcome, and the unexpected outcome was exactly what was needed. It has been beautiful, consistently insecure, unsettled, anxious, but beautiful.

Trust building/Trust giving?

As a collective, we've recognized that trust is essential for our efforts to be successful. We concluded that trust is ultimately only developed over time, there are no practices we can establish to bring trust out of people. Yet in attempting to establish a collective in a limited period of time, with members that may or may not have had previous relationships with one another, we do not have the luxury of time, and have had to form new conceptualizations of how trust can be developed. I have conceptualized that there is nothing an external force can do to acquire or secure trust if I am unwilling to give it. The work that we are doing requires that trust be given with trust; freely, and with the hope that those it is given to will not betray it. So now, I operate on the assumption that no one in Collective Breathing wants to hurt me. I hope that we can give one another our trust, and I hope that we each hold our respective gifts of trust with care.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Guiding Questions

These are the questions guide me through my readings. My blog posts address these questions in various forms

How is the story told?
Why is it told (in this form)? What does this form add that has not been seen before?
How do storytellers choose to engage/acknowledge the personal in the collective work?
What can I learn for my own storytelling practice?
What has this work implanted in my memory? If I had to build a tribute to the work, what would it look like? If I could write a note to the authors, what would I say?

Ourselves | Black : Empowering the Black Community by Promoting Mental Health

If I could write a note to the authors, what would it say?

Dear Dr. Sarah Y. Vinson (creator of Ourselves | Black) and contributors,

Thank you for developing this resource to support members of the Black community who have been harmed by silences surrounding mental health in our communities. I wish I'd earlier had the language to address the emotional and mental issues that impacted my childhood experiences. I appreciate the varying perspectives that the articles and resources come from, as no experience is the same and various pathways to conversation, support, and healing are possible. I noticed your resources for parents to help support children that are dealing with a wide range of mental and emotional health issues, yet I wish there were resources to help children/young adults address issues of mental health with their parents.

I have been learning how to see elders in my life as equally human and capable of suffering from the similar human issues as myself, and in this process I have come to see how adults in my life (particularly my stepfather) were not given support in their mental health journeys. Recently I read a piece from Colonize This on... and I wondered whether the author had ever spoken to her mother about her mental health experiences? I know that part of the difficulty in initiating any difficult conversation from the point of the child to the parent is in recognizing (and respecting) the lines that have been drawn between elders and children to secure childhood innocence and foster respect for elder, yet in coming to see elders as equally human, it is necessary to come to see them as equally in need of support that a child may be able to give in some ways.

I appreciate the letters from mothers to daughters and daughters to mothers in the asian american woman in case of emergency pack because it breaks down the social barriers of parent and child to allow both to see the humanity (and possible brokenness) in the other so that they can be involved in the healing process. I can't be an ally/aide in someone's healing process if they cannot honestly share with me what they suffer from.

,but even if I still had a relationship with him, I still don't think I would be able to address his experiences with mental health and the silences that surrounded his diagnosis, treatment (or lack thereof), and life with him.

The Making of A Womxn of Color Archival Collection

I find you in folders and boxes stored away
Were you waiting for me?
Because I have been dreaming of you and your stories
Were you dreaming about me and my friends?
Were you thinking of us when asked for Black and Gay?
Were you thinking of yourselves and just how badd you were/are?
-Excerpt from "The Archive -- Poetry in the Finding blog post by Dr. Kai M. Green

I was told that we were not worthy of being remembered, that past students, staff, and faculty who look like me never did anything worthy of remembering. Our position in Colgate's institutional memory is limited and rarely from our perspective. 
Yet every time a history of our impact on this campus is uncovered, and every time my peers and myself carry out radical work that calls the nature of this campus and its neglected responsibilities to us into question, I am asked to challenge the erasures that plague the history of women of color's impact on this institution. As Collective Breathing adds to the history of women of color creating space for our voices to be heard , the question of memory becomes more personal than it has ever been. I do not know what the future of Collective Breathing will be, but as a founding member I am invested in ensuring that our existence is not erased or untraceable. I want future members of Collective Breathing to know that the collective was created with them in mind. Today, I do dream of the women of color in class years to come. I want them to feel empowered to share their stories, knowing that someone who came before them cares, even if the realities of their present moment do not offer the same level of care. 

This semester, I have worked to create a Womxn of Color collection in the University Archives. If you would like to know more about the project, you can find the vision statement here. If you are a current or past womxn of color at Colgate and would like to be part of the collection, please email me at sevelynwrites@gmail.com 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Grounded Vessel

As performers allowing stories to be expressed through our bodies how can we remember why we do the work that we do and what keeps us from losing ourselves (whether our intentions/motivations or our sense of self) in the moment of performance? In reading the accompanying guide of the Panza Monologues, Virginia Grise and Irma Mayorga advocate for grounding oneself in the performative space both physically and symbolically. In their production notes, Grise and Mayorga highlight the movement of the actors body as an intentional act. They warn against performers meandering across the stage, and suggest props that "anchor" performers to a specific locations the power of the words is not lost in the movement of the body. When the performer is anchored, all their energy is channeled into justly channeling the story... but where does this initial energy come from? What is the source of power for a performer in the moment of performance. The answer is different for everyone. My personal source of energy is my God, my culture, and my (fore)mother(s). As I think about building the onstage altar that Grise and Mayorga offer as a grounding piece in productions of the Panza Monologues I will include words that have grounded me throughout the semester. As I reflect on these words in the everyday, knowing that they are onstage with me will serve as a reminder of why I have chosen to become a vessel for this story.

Actions to carry through:

Ask collective whether we would like to build/create an altar onstage that grounds our work and reminds us of the people, intentions, and energies we carry w