Image of a piece of watercolor paper, a cream-colored approximately 4” x 6” rectangle against a similarly colored wall. The words “risk more deeply” are painted on the card in black water soluble soft carbon, with an ink outline.

Risk more deeply

What stands out for me as I look over 2019 is the conversations I had not had before. The people I let into my life. In person, or otherwise. Questions, gestures, know-how…ideas and emotions they brought into my world that became part of me risking more deeply.

It’s a lot of small stuff really. I’m not saying I even agreed with, or wanted more of their view of things, though some of it was beautiful, brilliant and needed. Just that our interaction became part of my momentum. My expression. Also my capacity and interest in what is not me, in what is possible, if I go further than what I already knew about any of us. If I go slower than sureness about who you are, and what you would be willing to do with me. If I asked you.

What helps you to risk more deeply?

For me, it’s getting feedback. It’s you listening while I try to explain, trip over my thoughts, a rush of air through an unexpectedly open door. And me surprised by what you saw,  focused on, or asked for. “That’s not it,” I want to say. “I’m over here. Why are you over there?”

But I don’t ask that. Somehow I know not to. I try not to brute force connection.

I try to just take notes. What can I do with what you said? And just get back to work. Go again. Go deeper. Go again. I hate it when you don’t understand me. I need you in this with me. So, I will keep going, peel off everything that is in the way of me clearly expressing what moves me, so that it moves you too.

Whether I bristle against it, ask you to explain further or just thank you for getting into it with me, you may be transformed by your internal conversation. Or by something or someone in your life that I know nothing about when they are added to the mix sometime later in the week, or whenever, and who knows what that will lead to, or what you will see, or focus on, or ask for the next time we talk.

It is not a switch to turn on and off. Connecting us. I don’t know what it is, but it is not that. All I know is that I have to go deeper into what I don’t know about this if I am ever going to make it happen. So, I’ll keep going, peeling off the layers that have not so much kept me safe, as still.

A rectangular image of a some muslin, with raggedly cut edges across the bottom and the words “There is no right way to look” handwritten in black marker overlaid across the top half.

There is no right way to look

There is no right way to look.

We are individuals after all. Not interchangeable in any respect. You don’t have my experiences behind you, nor do I have your family, or you my ideas, not my stories, triumphs, pains or dreams. You have yours and I have mine. And, most certainly, your body is not mine, and mine is not yours.

If I was to try to replace your anything with mine, you wouldn’t like it. Even if you love me, we are not the same. We are different. I will inconvenience you over and over.

Yet we expect.
Sameness.

Endlessly seek a kind of ease that is unnatural. Idealized. Programmed. Controlled. 

We compare against idealized renditions, retouched photography, and a small set of examples that show up over and over in our super-sorted world of likes and targeted advertising. Legitimizing through repetition.

Funneling photoshoots into an algorithm, we codify. 
How everyone should be.

And we haven’t gone below the surface yet. We haven’t moved. No one has taken a breath, had a thought, felt anything, wanted, worked for, wished for anything. 

Normal is diverse. There is no other way. And yet, we do not. expect. diversity. 

Diversity is inherent in being.

There is no right way to look.

And that isn’t the point of having a body anyway.

An image of a partial view of Merge New York studio, where words and phrases from bodylife listening sessions are posted on the wall to loosely frame today’s conversation experience. Vagina portraits, printed as if they might be oversized Polaroids, square with thick white borders, a thicker one at the bottom, inviting you to hold up the image, are laid out on three tables. Just one of the v-portrait tables is in view (in the foreground). The images are laid out on it on a muslin tablecloth, that has “normal is diverse” painted on it with black fabric paint. In the background, the studio’s gong is visible behind the writing table that has two chair set with it, and stands just in front of the wall of windows, that show the building across the street awash in some later day bluelight.

Telling our own stories

It wasn’t quite what she expected. She imagined there would be vagina portraits on the walls. Actually, nearly everyone said the same. I can understand that.

What does an art & conversation experience mean anyway?

There were women who told me that they really liked the table installation format, the intimacy and directness of it.

I like it too.

Still, I know that disorienting feeling of “Wait, where am I? Is this the right place?” — it can be off-putting. Even for way less provocative subject matter than viewing vaginas.

I’ll be providing more info up front going forward.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d just share these photos, so that they’re available when I organize the next art & conversation experience (that happens to be in a similar space, with our words on the walls and vagina portraits laid out on tables for us to turn over and view and arrange however we like), and I can point you here to get a glimpse of what we’re gonna do together. Or at least what it might look like when you enter.

The conversation is different every time.

An image of a partial view of Merge New York studio, where four women, two each by a table of vagina portraits, are deep in bodylife conversation. A third table of vagina portraits is peeking out in the forefront. A nighttime view of the building across the street is visible through the back wall of windows. The left wall has watercolor word cards (black paint on cream-colored paper) taped to it. Their content was sourced from bodylife listening sessions and is not readable from here. A writing table is arranged in the back with two chairs, cups of pens and paper, so they can add their stories to the wall. Two women did.
Telling our own stories.
Image of a woman knitting outside in front of a brick wall unevenly painted over with red paint, and above her a painting, "Renata 19" by Hektad, of a woman's face, eyes closed. I think, peaceful.

Self-expression

Self-expression is one of my top three values. It’s taken me forever to identify them, my core values.

It’s one of those exercises that you do when taking a “designing your life” seminar or coaching session, to clarify what you really really want for yourself, and how to go about making it happen…or similarly, when you’re building out your business. It clarifies things for the people you hope to work with and serve. What is it that you’re about? What can we expect you to care about, prioritize, base your decisions on? Underneath it all, what matters to you?

For ages, I would end up with a value list too long to be useful. I want to do the right thing. Mostly, values are right-thing-feeling things, so I’d agree with one after the other after the other…

It just struck me that I actually DIG my rabbit holes…

I’m not really sure how it happened, but recently, I got to the bottom of all my lists. Knocked ‘em down to three.

Equity, self-expression and kindness. These are the things that I strive to bring into, and hope to find wherever I am.

Self-expression… Not just my own. Everyone’s. That’s where equity and kindness kick in.

What do you think? Can we do it?

Can we reframe reality so that it’s intentionally and effectively designed for everyone’s self-expression? I know it’s insanely complex and complicated…but the insanity is temporary. It comes from an expectation of sameness, of familiarity and generalized understanding necessarily being the truth (about others), that gets between us and living in the diversity that is inherent in being human.

The painting in the image above, “Renata 19”, is by Hektad.

Image of exhibition window, showing Straingers, a multi-media installation, by Cecile Chong.

Diversity is inherent in everyone

For me, when I think about diversity, it isn’t just about our affiliations, or group identities, demographics, the stuff that seems easy to know about someone, someone else, though, right?

Diversity is inherent in everything and everyone. Everything living that is. Especially people though, with our minds and memories, endlessly varied experiences, specific family lives, and capacity for learning and growth. In spite of what we may want to keep the same, and hold still in order to feel safer.

We are individuals.

We are individuals. That’s what diversity is about. We bring a universe of being that exists and is generated inside each of us to every encounter.

I am enlivened by the beauty of our inherent diversity, emerging from the inside out. I will definitely start shooting vagina portraits again soon.

Window credit: Straingers, by Cecile Chong, a multi-media installation on view at Main Window until Monday, Dec 16, 2019. It stopped me in my tracks as I passed. You can learn more about Straingers here.

An images showing two “normal is diverse” stickers torn off the roll, on a hassock.

If there are stickers, then it’s a thing.

Stickers! The normal is diverse sticker is here! Two shown here on a hassock. A word not said often enough for how fun it is to say: hassock!

Almost a year ago, I exhibited vagina vérité in the Normal Is Diverse exhibition. That there is no right way to be has always been a core, underlying theme of the project, but it wasn’t THIS clear to me until I blurted it out, so nicely packaged, and with such force and settled sureness, when I was pressed to just say it already: Clearly and simply, why do I make vagina portraits?

Well,

Because we need to see ourselves for ourselves.

We need to KNOW it for ourselves: that normal is diverse.

That how you are is how you’re supposed to be. There is no other way.

Say it with me: Normal is diverse.

Clearly, I was working on this in some deep part of myself for years. In my conscious life, I rarely have any sureness. I mean, other than about how much space you’re taking up in just inside the subway door, your cologne, your use of Fabuloso, and the volume of a voice on your phone in a shared space. In these areas, I am totally sure that if I am aware of any of these even IN THE SLIGHTEST, then you have crossed a serious line, and should dial it back A LOT.

Anyway, we have stickers now.

The truth that lives in our bodies can now be found on our laptops and notebooks.

I printed lots. Lemme know if you want one. I will mail it to you.