I don’t know the first time I did it. I just started doing it. And then I kind of couldn’t stop. I still can’t.
I had already been getting up early in the morning, lighting candles, making some coffee and writing. Every morning, I wrote something bold, and perhaps even damaging to my professional reputation, because it was raw and vulnerable. I wasn’t doing it because I cared about what other people thought—what I cared about was truth. I cared about being free. I needed to cleanse and share things that had been stuffed inside me for a long, long time, and the way I did that was through writing.
But the videos? I don’t even remember the first one, the first idea. I just know the candles were already lit at 5 a.m., and I was sitting at my desk. And I had all of these cool objects, things I liked to look at and touch. Crystals, boxes, plants. A record player. Cards. Paper, pens, books to read from. So I set up the camera on the corner of my desk, and I put some objects in front of it. I prayed into the silent place I go to in meditation, and my body started to tingle. I hit “record” on the camera, and I just moved things, touched them, said whatever came to me. Everything was improvisational. All of it came without a plan, without even an idea of what I was doing. It was just the present moment, me intuitively guided toward objects, moving in certain ways, completely immersed in my play.
Before this, I was making videos on my porch during the pandemic, teaching a way to understand scripture and history through performance art, sharing the spiritual understanding of mystics and shamans. For a couple of years, since the country elected a president that I thought embodied pure hatred, greed, and vice, I felt I had to understand better the fabric of the society, the conditioning we were under, the way everything fit together. And then it seemed like I got to the core. When I did, I kind of couldn’t shut up about it. I used my acting experience and my natural creativity to speak in the videos, and I highlighted popular music to help viewers listen to the songs in a deeper way. None of the work came from strategy or planning, or some long-held vision of what I wanted to do in my life. The videos emerged from necessity, and from love, and from faith. Then my ASMR videos emerged, too, these doses of magic randomness. They tackled sexuality, womanhood, the struggle between women and men to get along and understand each other, to understand God, to understand how we got here and embrace a common humanity.
I call my ASMR videos shamanic parables. They involve energy healing, moving energy on screen for the catharsis and release of the viewer. In them I face my demons, and the demons that are around me, and I offer a way forward that is filled with hope and courage and overcoming shame. They also hold strange moments that can trigger something neurologically to rewire parts of the brain that could have gone awry, shifting things around so that the person watching can release prior traumas. I am not sure if people feel healed by the videos. I haven’t really asked. I haven’t shown them directly to people in any significant or consistent way. The most important thing seems to be that I make them, that I keep at it.
When I began making the videos, I realized I was a witness at the same time as I was a creator. I enjoyed watching the videos after they were done to see what they meant, to see what my intuition was telling me. I shared them on social media without fear or shame, without really explaining what I was making, knowing they may not get a large number of views.
It is not about the views for me. It is about the truth. It is about being me. It is about being beyond me, too. I make these videos when I’m down, when I pray. If I feel empty, I know something is brewing, and the way to get filled is to tap into the spiritual dimension of that mystical world, facing a shadow, filling it with light, offering the wholeness of both light and shadow on screen.
When I was working in Philadelphia a few years ago, in a cubicle job with all the fixings (Healthcare! 401K! Free coffee!), I realized on the walk to work one morning that I was so immersed in being seen in my life, I didn’t know what it was like to see.
I realized how rarely I was in my own body, looking out, seeing. Most of the time, I was self-conscious and consumed by how I was being viewed by others.
And the root of this was the crush I had at work on a guy, the way I consistently wondered what he thought of me. We almost never talked, but we passed each other often, and there was an energy vibration when I saw him. My whole body felt like it was shaking, and there was something powerful happening in my heart, too. What was he experiencing? I wanted to know. Could he see the way I felt? Did he feel the same?
Seeing him gave me hope about my future, but I also wanted to be the seer instead of the seen. I wanted to be in my body, looking out, taking in the situation and assessing it. That way, I would feel like I owned myself rather than feeling like I was an object on someone else’s radar.
I also wanted to love myself, which is easier said than done. Loving oneself is a long journey.
I have gotten there. It is worth it.
Making these videos, what some might call short films, helped me get comfortable with both seeing and being seen.
For much of my young adulthood, I felt like I was under the male gaze, and I had to operate from that framework. That term, “male gaze” wasn’t anything I’d heard about until college, but when I heard it, I knew it well. I felt like it had basically run my entire life.
I’d grown up watching a lot of movies, a lot of music videos. I read a lot of women’s magazines.
What we did as girls was learn how we were supposed to look. We learned what was sexy. So much of the focus for us was how to be alluring to a man. This was as dehumanizing to men as it was to us. Both parties were expected to ascribe to an idea of men and women as one-dimensional.
The idea: A man only thinks about sex.
The idea: A woman has to be sexually alluring to a man in order to be valuable in our culture.
I hated feeling that way as a young woman. I had grown up without a father, and I felt like my stepfather looked at me the wrong way for too many years. I never wanted to be alone with him. I stayed far away from men so they wouldn’t hurt me, because I didn’t know if it was okay for a man to look at me with desire. I didn’t know if it was okay to have desire. Desire scared me. Being wanted scared me, too. Deep inside, I felt fundamentally unworthy to be someone's object of affection or love, even though I wanted that very much. I also didn’t know the difference between lust and love, because I felt like I'd been on the other side of lust for so long, and I wasn't quite sure what love was.
If you grow up without a father, and you know you were abandoned, and there is a history of abandonment in your family, you have a seed planted inside you that tells you you are not okay. Something must be wrong with you for someone to leave. As I grew up, I thought that in order to get someone to stay, I had to be sexy, but sexy meant a man might attack me if he wanted sex. Sexy might mean I was “asking for it” even if I wasn't. Sexy might mean I end up with a baby in my belly or a disease.
I wanted to be respected for my mind, for my intelligence, not how flat my stomach was, or how big my boobs.
I wanted to be deeply and unabashedly loved.
I didn't know if I deserved that, so I became a walking head, and cut off my heart, and stayed disconnected from my body because my body was a scary place to be. My head was the only part of me I lived in, and it was dreamy to get lost in intellectualism. I loved wrestling with ideas, and talking to people for hours about those ideas. But that meant I didn’t really know how to love, or how to fall in it, or how to engage with friends or people of the opposite sex from a place of goodness, instinct and intuition, rather than my flimsy ideas of right and wrong and "should."
Here is what I now know, that I can see.
Seeing is being. I do not judge, or have strong opinions when I use my power to see. I experience, instead, an openness, a spaciousness, a presence. I still express my truth, and I share when I feel that something is wrong. I also share, way more often, when something feels right, and good, and I support it.
Instead of running in circles artistically, my work stems from a deep place of love, wild creativity, sensuality. It still involves intellect and reason, but it doesn’t subscribe to the frameworks and barriers I used to create that didn’t have to be there.
I feel that my art, my hobby, is weird, but it is also fun, and it is also me.
Let me tell you about one of my videos. The making of.
I understand how difficult it is for an artist to talk about their work. For so many years as a struggling writer, I imagined all the things I would say about my stories if I had a chance to talk about them. I was more concerned about what I would say, what I wanted to explore, because my work wasn't speaking for itself. I wasn’t completely in the zone. So much of what I was doing was conceptual instead of intuitive and sensory.
When an artist is in the zone, it is hard to talk about the zone, because talking about it is like trying to explain a joke. You know your zone because you aren't anywhere else but in the moment. You usually don't want to leave.
My latest video, a shamanic parable that brings me joy, is called “The Hole and the Thread."
On the day I made it, I had spent some time on the floor, breathing and asking to hold the hand of the divine. I have been going through a well of sadness lately, because of a court custody case involving my kids, and my fears about my future and theirs. I asked for help and the help was received, through the fire of creativity.
I sat up. I gathered some things in the room, what psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes would call “the bones.” These are the pieces of us that were left for dead, the pain of broken dreams or promises, the betrayals we try to put aside but affect us anyway. We can use our bones to build something magnificent. On this day, “the bones” were a few dead roses I had sitting in a vase. A medicine bowl. A mason jar of granola. A rosary. A container for water, some essential oil, bubbly water, chocolate chip cookies.
I went into the zone, the space, the tingles, through breath. And then I pressed record and let what wanted to come, come. I ended up singing in this piece, which I didn’t expect. That’s something I almost never do. It is the work of the shaman to bring song, to offer heart energy through voice. I moved things in directions I didn’t know, and it wasn’t until I was in it that I realized I was preparing a eucharist with a chocolate chip cookie and water.
Just watch and you’ll see.
From what well did "The Hole and the Thread" come from?
From the time I was 22 or so, I have been making Catholic people angry.
I have always been drawn to Catholic spaces, and loved the ornate nature of Catholicism. The colors, the smells. I was baptized Catholic as a baby. I went to Catholic school when I was a small child.
It was politics in my twenties, and the schools I had both attended and worked at, that caused a stark divide between me and the church. I said things that Catholic people thought shouldn’t be said. I spoke up about women, mostly. About abortion, birth control, the clergy being only male. I kept getting in trouble when I spoke up, so I left Catholic spaces, and then I kept finding my way back, too, for some reason, to explore.
Last November, after years of attending Quaker worship services, where we sit in silence for an hour and anyone who wants to speak, can speak, I was guided by a higher power into a Catholic church in upstate New York. The same nudge that brought me to stand in Quaker meetings and offer a ministry is the same nudge that led me to the church, and I ended up speaking, without expecting to, from an intuitive voice about the corruption of confession there, the way people were hiding their crimes in a priest’s vestibule, and the way priests were allowing it to be covered up. I did not know the people in this church, and had no vested interest at all. And yet I spoke from that place of intuition and leading, the way Quakers often do, and the way they did in the 1600s when they came over from England and were persecuted.
So I guess it is not surprising that my latest video, “The Hole and the Thread,” which came from that divine spark within, ended up feeling like, and looking like, a Catholic mass, with eucharist. A woman breaking the bread, only this time it is a chocolate chip cookie. (I guess because Jesus is sweet?) And then I drank the water after praying over it, in a way a woman would never be allowed on a priestly stage.
When I described the video, I called myself the priestess. I broke the bread and the wine. I ate.
Here is one last thing I want to know.
If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?
I have pondered this question, through creating art, through dabbling in a hobby no one sees, or so few know about.
Does my work exist when no one is watching?
Maybe it exists, but it may or may not be found.
The deeper question seems to be, Does something matter if there is no witness? Why do certain things go unnoticed?
All any of us can do is be true to our purpose. All we can do is listen and breathe, and allow ourselves to be drawn to what we're drawn to, as long as the direction we're going is not harmful to us.
So regardless of whether anyone knows it, or sees it, or owns it, my work is true. It represents me, and my journey. It fills me up. It heals my heart. It makes me new.
It always comes from the present moment, and the present moment cannot be anything other than true.
You can’t develop the skill of awareness through reading a book. You can’t make a science about it. Presence is what moves through everything, and it is what we must listen to and abide in order to create the new world order.
Peace, love, gentleness, kindness. That is where we're going. If we feel anger, we use it to promote powerful, impactful change toward this effort.
Magic and mystery should not be underestimated.
Neither should the healing power of art.
Watch "The Hole and the Thread" below.