Creative Inspiration: Urgent Gifts, Marty Achatz

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U. S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo says, “If you do not answer the noise and urgency of your gifts, they will turn on you. Or drag you down with their immense sadness at being abandoned.”

Gifts are strange things. They come to us out of nowhere. Surprise and fill us with pleasure. There is power in unwrapping a gift. Beneath the bows and paper, in the darkness of the unopened box, anything could exist. A box of chocolates. Music box. Book. Tickets to Walt Disney World. Words.

Yes, words. Because I’m a poet, I have always believed words are gifts. Think of the word “cleave.” It can mean to “divide or split as if by a cutting blow.” But it can also mean to “adhere firmly and closely . . . unwaveringly.” In one word, there is both separation and connection, loss and love. That’s a remarkable gift.

Back in January of this year, I received an email about a grant program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts called the Big Read.

The NEA Big Read involves organizations creating programming centered around the themes and ideas of one book. Part of that programming involves giving away copies of the chosen book to community members. A gift of words.

One of the options for the 2021-2022 NEA Big Read cycle was U. S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s poetry collection “An American Sunrise.” Filled with cleaving (the removal history of Harjo’s people from their homelands) and cleaving (love poems for Harjo’s mother and husband and children), the book spoke to my artistic gifts.

So, I set about writing an NEA Big Read grant. I pulled together partnering organizations, contacted artists and writers, planned events—keynote addresses, poetry workshops, art exhibits, and a chapbook contest. I dreamed big. It was like writing a detailed, twenty-page letter to Santa Claus and dropping it in the mailbox.

The dream was simple in concept: to build bridges. I wanted to highlight the history, culture, and contributions of indigenous peoples. Through Joy Harjo’s words, I hoped to create a dialogue across the Upper Peninsula and bring people together. Using poetry as a vehicle, my NEA Big Read dream would hopefully be a catalyst for cultural understanding and change.

This dream was a gift to me.

A noisy, urgent gift, as Joy Harjo says. And I followed Harjo’s advice: I didn’t ignore that gift.

Several months after sending off my “letter to Santa,” I received an email one morning from Arts Midwest, the organization that administers the Big Read program for the National Endowment for the Arts. That email had one word in its subject line: “Congratulations.” I sat in my office for a few moments, feeling a lot like a kid on Christmas morning, knowing that my dream had become reality.

As I sit writing this article, I’m approaching the final weeks of programming for the NEA Big Read at Peter White Public Library. Over the past month, I’ve heard the Teal Lake Singers Drum Circle perform. Listened to poets and scholars and teachers of Anishinaabemowin. Soon, I will have the opportunity to speak personally with Joy Harjo, listen to her read her poetry, ask her questions.

However, the path to my NEA Big Read dream hasn’t been without its share of struggles, personal and professional. Sickness occurred. Scheduled speakers became unavailable. Loved ones passed. Events needed to be rescheduled or completely reinvented at the last minute. Big dreams are like that. They rearrange themselves like waves rearrange a shoreline.

But dreaming big is important.

Paying attention to your gifts (no matter what they are) isn’t just important. It’s necessary and life-sustaining. Sharing those gifts and dreams with others can be a powerful force for good in the world at large.

One of the events of the NEA Big Read was a three-day poetry chapbook writing competition. Participants were given a list of eighty writing prompts to spark their creativity. One of the writing prompts was this:
Make a list of things you want to do today. Let your imagination run wild with the list, accomplishing impossible things.

Try it right now. Make that list. Dream big. Dream impossible. Use your gifts. Make the world a better place.

Martin Achatz is a husband/father/teacher/poet/dreamer who lives in Ishpeming.  He is a two-time U.P. Poet Laureate and teaches in NMU’s English Department.  He also serves as the Adult Programming Coordinator for Peter White Public Library, where he recently organized and ran the NEA Big Read. 

Excerpted from the Winter 2021-22 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Creative Inspiration: A Secret Plan for Poets, Ronnie Ferguson

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“Everything is a boss… You must always have a secret plan!”

– from “Bad Deal/Secret Plan” by theillalogicalspoon (https://theillalogicalspoon.bandcamp.com/track/bad-deal-secret-plan)

In many ways, poetry workshops during the pandemic have been like physical workouts with a group of friends. We all agree to meet in the Zoom “Fitness Center,” the one on the corner of Comfy Chair and Computer, around 7 pm. Over the course of two hours, we try out three different “machines” (writing prompts) that, if all goes well, get our hearts going and stretch us in new ways so our poetry muscles grow. After each exercise, we take turns flexing in our rectangles. We make each other laugh, and sometimes laugh at ourselves. We take risks. We virtual-hug. Most importantly—we feast, passing around encouragement like delicious sides to the main course, which is always We Hear You. Workshops can be a worthwhile discipline for poets, and often lead to joy and revelation.

But sometimes things don’t go as planned. We stare at the blank page and, even with a carefully crafted prompt, nothing comes. The ten-minute time limit ticks away. Maybe we pray. Maybe we panic. If we’re lucky, inspiration makes an appearance before the end, and we scribble until the last second (or after). No time for options. No time for second-guessing. Barely legible. Is it intelligible? Who knows? But at least we have something to share. This is a great strength of the timed prompt—it forces us to write something, anything.

Adding a wrinkle to the format can make the experience even better.

For many poets, getting started is half the battle. For some, it is the battle. It’s not uncommon for poets to collect kernels of inspiration throughout their life. These might be lines of poetry without a home, images, stories, snippets of dreams, random articles, overheard conversations, and more. Lists can get long; inspiration folders can get thick; and there’s always the danger of our kernels remaining, simply, “great ideas I once had but never used.” That is, unless these kernels find a home.

For this reason, in the poetry workshops I’ve been leading, I give participants a three-minute brainstorming prompt—a way of collecting kernels in real time—before they’re challenged with a poetry prompt. When I attend workshops led by other poets, I often bring a single page filled with unused kernels of inspiration. Sometimes the prompts are enough, but when nothing comes, sometimes my unused kernels pair with the prompt in surprising ways and get me started. This is a secret plan for poets: Come prepared to poetry workshops with your own ideas so that, whether or not a prompt inspires you, you’re never forced to stare at a blank page. Allowing yourself this flexibility, this pairing of creativity with creativity, can help you be a better steward of the potential-packed kernels you’ve collected throughout your life.

“An inspiration passes, having been inspired never passes.”
-Abraham Joshua Heschel

Three-Part Poetry Exercise – The People We Pass:

  1. Gather some of your kernels of inspiration and jot them on a single page.
  2. Set a timer for three minutes and, on the same page, brainstorm as many people who you see regularly, near or afar, but never speak with. In most cases you will not know their name, so find some way to identify them, such as “Guy Who Mows My Neighbor’s Lawn” or “Woman I Always See at the Laundromat.” Before moving on, note any interesting connections between your kernels and the people you’ve listed in your brainstorm.
  3. Set a timer for ten minutes and, on a different page, write a poem that considers or imagines the experience of one of the people. You may choose to observe and reflect from afar, allow the poem’s speaker to interact with the person, or allow your poem to take on the voice of the person. Here’s a poem I wrote using this same exercise:

Joy to the World

six mornings a week for minimum wage
the woman with three fingers
serves the greasy eggs and bacon
biscuits
coffee and cream

to all the tough faces
the old hairy moles
the saggy scalps
the hard of hearing
and harder to please

with this hive of damn-near-dead complainers
it’s a mystery she’s usually smiling
but if i had to guess
God has blessed her
cuz she still paints her nails pink

*If you write a poem, please send it to me at rofergus@nmu.edu. I’d love to connect and read your work and tell you about upcoming poetry workshops. I hope to write and share with you soon!

Link to “Bad Deal/Secret Plan” by theillalogicalspoon:
https://theillalogicalspoon.bandcamp.com/track/bad-deal-secret-plan

Ronnie Ferguson is an MFA candidate and an instructor in the English department at Northern Michigan University. A King Chavez Parks Fellow and President of the Graduate Writing Association, his creative work (often hybrid) spans the genres of poetry, music, film, theatre, fiction, and the visual arts.

Excerpted from the Fall 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Creative Inspiration: “UPportunities” Abound!

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Though some of us have been inspired to express ourselves creatively to deal with pandemic challenges, others of us may wish we felt inspired. And regardless of the many outdoor recreation activities the Upper Peninsula affords, there are still those days when an abundance of rain, sun, black flies, or mosquitoes may drive us indoors, seeking other forms of fun. Or, there may be times we find our summer or other experiences so special that we want to commemorate them in some creative way.

If you’d like a creative head start—no worries! You’re in luck, as creative opportunities abound throughout the Upper Peninsula! Below is a taste of the many you can sample.

At the Bonifas Arts Center in Escanaba this summer, you can create a fairy house, paint your pet, create ceramics or stained glass, weave, watercolor with ink, and more! Visit bonifasarts.org to learn more and sign up.

The Copper Country Community Arts Center in Hancock is home to a photographic dark room, clay studio, and letterpress, and also hosts classes in other media. Check coppercountryarts.com for upcoming classes and programming info.

pottery making in Marquette, MI
HOTPlate Clayworks

You can also get your hands in clay and create bowls, vases, mugs, jewelry, signage, sculpture, and much more at HOTplate Clayworks in Marquette. Or, leave the three-dimensional creating to others, and pour your creativity into decorating ceramics at HOTplate Pottery, or at your place with their take-home kits. Visit hotplatepottery.com for details.

You may also be inspired by the multitude of talent represented in exhibits, receptions, studio tours, demonstrations, and street performers at Marquette Arts Week, June 21 – 27. Included is Poetic Reconnection Art Exhibition, hosted by the Peter White Public Library in the Lower Level Reception Gallery, where poetry broadsides from local poets focused on the theme of reconnection will be displayed. An outside opening reading/reception will be held Tuesday, June 22, at 7 p.m., with music by Troy Graham to follow.

Also as part of Marquette Arts Week, Life Lines & Notes, an event to reconnect heart and soul through words and music, will feature U. P. Poet Laureate M. Bartley Seigel and musician Ani on Saturday, June 26th, on the steps of the Peter White Public Library .

spoken word album
Slow Dancing with Bigfoot Album Cover

Two-time U.P. Poet Laureate Marty Achatz will be releasing his spoken word album Slow Dancing with Bigfoot, featuring music by Streaking in Tongues, in early summer. There will be a live performance as part of Art Week, plus other live and virtual performances throughout the summer. You’ll find Art Week details at mqtcompass.com.

Live music continues at Peter White Public Library with Concerts on the Steps this summer, featuring popular local musical acts. Visit pwpl.info or the Peter White Public Library Facebook Events page for more details.

The Peter White Public Library also hosts Authors Reading Virtually. At 7 pm on the second Wednesday of every month, local, state, and national authors read from their work and participate in a Q & A via Zoom. Past authors include: John Smolens, Dennis Hinrichsen, Natasha Trethewey, W. Todd Kaneko, and Megan Alpert, among others.

You can get into the writing act yourself with poetry workshops at creativity sanctuary Joy Center in Ishpeming. Marty Achatz will lead a special evening of Bigfoot prompts on June 20th, and also share new prompts every first Thursday of the month at 7 p.m., with a Zoom repeat on the first Sunday of every month at 7 p.m. Poet/musician/filmmaker Ron Ferguson will facilitate “Flying Kites: Discovering Your Electric Ideas in the Brainstorm and Beyond” by Zoom on June 24th for beginners and experienced writers alike. All you need is pen, paper, and imagination. Join in for some poetic inspiration.

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Joy Center

Joy Center will also host art-making workshops facilitated by Sarah Still this summer. Check the Joy Center Facebook page for details on these and more creative live and Zoom events, or join the snail mail list by contacting owner Helen Haskell Remien at helenhaskell@yahoo.com.

Regardless of your geographic location, you can stay posted for more writing opportunities, including monthly workshopping and open mike time via The Marquette Poets Circle. Contact intrepid organizer Janeen Rastall at janeenpergrin@gmail.com or check the Marquette Poets Circle Facebook page.

And our beloved art fairs are anticipated to make their return this year! You can soak in the creative achievements of local, regional, and even national artisans, and perhaps get some new ideas or energy for your own creative pursuits.  In Iron Mountain, Art for All will be held June 26, from 10 am to 4pm in the City Park. Outback Art Fair and Art on the Rocks will be held in Marquette throughout the final weekend of July, the 24th and 25th. The Waterfront Arts Festival will take place Aug. 7th overlooking Lake Michigan in Escanaba’s Ludington Park. The Eagle Harbor Art Fair will be held in Mohawk on Aug. 14th and 15th. And while the focus of the Keweenaw Summer Celebration in Lion’s Park, Calumet is on health, wellness, and spiritual guidance, you’ll find talented artisans there as well.

Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Age of Miracles, Martin Achatz

My daughter has reached that age
when her body unfurls
gospels of growth all night,
psalms filled with arm, leg, hair, sweat,
breath staled by the tilt
from girl to woman. She will soon
inherit gifts. Blood. Ovum. Creation.
Then she will be lost to me. Gone
on a long journey across desert, mountain,
to a distant Bethlehem.

This December, she tells my wife
she doesn’t believe in caribou
flying over glacier, tundra. Questions
things like seraphim choirs,
kingdoms at the North Pole,
donkeys that sing “Dona nobis pacem”
on the winter solstice. I know,
she says, nods as if she’s accomplice
to some divine conspiracy theory.
So I write her this poem
about last Friday, when twenty inches
of snow fell in Cairo, Alexandria,
Jerusalem. Brought the entire Middle East
a silence it hadn’t heard in 112 years.
Children in refugee camps danced
in the blizzard, made rosefinches
with ice bodies, palm frond wings.
No bombs. No bullets. Just white.
Everywhere. White upon white.
From the Mediterranean to the Mount of Olives.

Martin Achatz is a husband/father/teacher/musician/poet who lives in Ishpeming. His work has appeared in Paterson Literary Review, The Other Journal, and The Macguffin, among others. He’s currently serving his second term as Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula and teaches in NMU’s English Department.

Excerpted with permission from the Winter 2020-2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Creative Inspiration: Midwife to the U.P.’s Arts Scene, Anita Meyland, Ann Hilton Fisher

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Have you noticed the vitality of the arts in the Upper Peninsula? As with any example of robust health, many factors have combined over time to create this success. One woman who played a key role in this by example, educating, and organizing, is Anita Meyland.

Anita was born on March 5, 1897, to an artistic Milwaukee family. Her father, Fredrick Elke, learned how to paint frescoes, painting on wet plaster, and his work decorated many area churches.

Anita graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1917 and became an art teacher in Milwaukee. Upon marrying English teacher Gunther Meyland in 1924, they moved to Marquette where he had been hired by the normal school, now Northern Michigan University.

Although others called Anita “the grande dame of culture” in Marquette, “patroness of the arts” and even “bohemian,” the words she most often used to describe herself were “teacher” and “dilettante.”

Anita loved to teach.

She taught art in the Marquette and Ishpeming schools. She brought a group of women painters together who met every week for eleven years, studying a new painter each week,and then learning to paint in that style. She created “The Paintbox,” a children’s program held on Saturday mornings for any child who wanted to attend. She taught adult education art classes within the school system and for the elderly residents of Pine Ridge. She’s best known for organizing and naming Marquette’s first “Art on the Rocks” show in 1950, showing the work of ten local artists, most of whom she had trained. Her work with the Lake Superior Art Association and the Art on the Rocks show earned her countless awards, including the naming of the gazebo at Presque Isle Park (the site of Art on the Rocks for many years) after her.

It’s more surprising that she would embrace the term “dilettante.” We’re now in an era that venerates specialization. The term “dilettante” suggests a dabbler—someone who never takes anything too seriously. Anita would vigorously disagree. She never stopped learning new things and never stopped sharing them.

So, in addition to her painting, Anita learned to weave, and organized an Upper Peninsula weavers group. She studied pottery, and 200 pots from her own collection formed the basis of a pottery exhibit at NMU in 1980. She learned, and then taught classes in scrimshaw, quilting, spinning, pewter, ironwork, beading, candle-making, and woodcarving.

Nor did Anita limit herself to the visual arts.

She was a charter member of the Marquette Community Concert Association, and active in the Saturday Music Club. She wrote a play for Marquette’s Centennial in 1949. A newspaper article from 1984 describes her eagerly preparing for the upcoming U.P. Young Authors conference, planning a theme based on cats—ranging from T.S. Eliott to Garfield.

What about Anita Meyland as “bohemian”? Scrapbooks from the early years of the Lake Superior Art Association include a 1963 invitation to “Vida’s Vignettes—An Evening with Vida Lautner, Artist.” The Tuesday evening event began with a reception at 8:30, followed by a talk at 9, “art and punch on the rocks” at 10:30, “the vernissage” (showing) at 11 p.m., and then at 3:00 a.m. “Comes the Dawn.”

There were people who thought the name “Art on the Rocks” was inappropriate because it suggested drinking. Anita was not inclined to change it. In a 1978 interview, she was described as “a little indignant” at the prospect of a return to provincialism in the arts, saying “I’m afraid we’re going back in that direction.”

Above all, Anita Meyland believed you should never stop learning, and never stop growing. Anita continued pursuing her multiple artistic interests right up until her death on March 7, 1995, just two days after her 98th birthday.

Ann Hilton Fisher grew up in Marquette and remembers Anita Meyland in her lovely home on Pine Street.  After a career as a public interest attorney in Chicago, she and her husband have retired to Marquette where she volunteers with the Marquette Regional History Center. This article is adapted from a presentation given at the History Center’s 2019 cemetery tour.
  

Excerpted with permission from the Fall 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Creative Inspiration: Challenges as Catalysts, Kim Nixon Hainstock

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When change happens, many of us become uncomfortable, even if we recognize and accept that the one certainty in life is change. I have worked in the Adult Foster Care industry and managed a group home for those with cognitive and physical disabilities. When a new resident would arrive, they often did not fit the written description given by former caregivers. Often, having arrived at a place never seen before, without familiar faces present, a new resident would demonstrate skills no one thought they had, as if an alarm clock had gone off, and now he or she was awake.

I always suggested to staff we roll with it and see what else might surface. How exciting to do so rather than look at the negative side and blame the people who made those meager introduction notes. Once we were told a person would not walk without guidance and assistance, and one day the person did, standing up, walking across the room, and sitting on the floor in a spot of light coming through the window. I smiled and thought, “Oh, this new resident can self-soothe. The person saw a spot of warmth and moved to it like a cat.” Others in my employ looked on with pity that this person sat on the floor; how sad.

I recognize change can be so sudden and complete that we often feel loss, and just like a special needs individual with no compass to navigate the changes before them, it often comes down to what I need in this moment. Warmth, I need warmth. I will walk across the room and achieve that. Here I now sit in a spot of sun. Magical! Change can be a catalyst for magic, and for fresh new insights on living.

Perceptions of change, as well as our coping abilities, vary and we all have differing skill sets.

Often we do not know how to confront or meet what is happening. In such situations, I like to turn to my creative skills: journaling, vision boards or dream-mapping, or creating mandalas of natural items found on walks.

Let’s look at the process of creating a dream-map or vision-board. I like to gather images and items starting at the New Moon and put them into a cardboard box—clippings from the news, old photos, and items culled from old magazines, bits of scrapbook papers, letters, cards, poems.

Then on the Full Moon, I settle into a space created for the moment. I set the stage. Spread out a blanket upon the floor. Retrieve the box of gathered treasures, scissors, glue sticks, adhesive, scrapbook paper, with an artist pad or cardboard as a base. I set an intention, say a positive affirmation, and begin the sifting process on what is rising up through these items for me. Often I am surprised that something I had clung to or felt strongly about initially does not make it through the gathering phase for my full moon collage.

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Displaying my new vision board is essential, as I do not always recognize the meaning or message in the artwork I created. I like to keep it present and allow for the true messages to come like whispers on the wind, allowing their guidance to become fully realized. I do not need to take action right away. Change is often slow. But having a catalyst to help with the sorting of meaning and story can be extremely enlightening.

Licensed Massage Therapist and Yoga instructor Kim Nixon Hainstock holds a B.S. in English from NMU, has led vision board classes at Ishpeming’s Joy Center, Essentials Massage and Yoga, and with at-risk youth, and is currently navigating change and finding ways to nurture her journey.

Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.

Spotlight On… Joy Center: Interview with Owner Helen Haskell Remien

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What is Joy Center?

It’s a charming cottage in the woods in Ishpeming that is so much more than a cottage. It’s a creative sanctuary for people in our area and elsewhere to come and play and dream and expand. People can come and participate in various workshops and yoga and dance and energy sessions, and they also can simply pay a small fee and be on their own, or be with other people, and feel safe to explore their creative dreams.

Joy Center opened twelve years ago and continues to expand what it offers. If there’s yoga, you can come early, peruse the books, create a piece of art…. It’s a beautiful place where you can connect with your biggest, highest part, and also connect with the community.

Why did you start Joy Center?

I had a seed of a dream in me thirty years ago. At that time I was wondering if I wanted to be part of the academic world, in an institution, and teach writing, or part of a place in the community where things such as writing workshops could be held in which everyone could be included.

I wrote in my journals in the early ’90s that there should be a place in the community where we can drum and sing and dance and have writing workshops, and have events like ones I loved when I went to Omega Institute and Kripalu, and that I would love to be a part of something like that.

About twenty years ago, I began encouraging people to find their own creative paths. Then in the spring of 2007, I started to feel a dissatisfaction in me, a sense of something growing, that it was no longer enough to teach writing in my house, and yoga in the basement of my husband’s dental office. And in a flash of two weeks, I spoke with my financial advisor to see if it would be possible to create something like Joy Center. I realized, “Oh my goodness, I have land behind my house, separate land on which we could build a cottage house, and it could be that place in the community.” But even then, I didn’t know that it would be the kind of place it would become.

How did you go about creating it?

It was really about claiming my power because I think my husband was scared of doing it. And I said, “I really need to see if we can do it.” Our financial advisor thought it could work, and be an asset, and he added, “I have a builder for you. He doesn’t know how good he is yet. He’s built a garage for us, and he’s awesome, and he’s never built a house yet.”

It was such a fun process working with this young man who put his heart and soul into it, and brought in his younger cousins and brothers to help. We worked together on the design. I learned so much, step-by-step in that process. It was scary to build something I knew in my soul would really be a big thing for all of us. At every step, I couldn’t settle. Though not extravagant—it’s a cottage—it was important to make the place welcoming. And it’s beautiful.

It was important to me to not settle for less than what felt like the right, soulful thing, and I think also to the builder. “I’ll make the counter tops,” he said, working late into the night. “I think you should have them. And you can collect your own beautiful rocks to put in them.” We really co-created together, him doing the actual work, and me doing the dreaming.

Why do you think Joy Center has expanded in the ways it has?

When I built it, I kept expanding my mind. “This will be a place where I will teach yoga. I will teach writing and creative workshops. And other people can offer other creative things. It will extend our home in some way when our kids come back to visit.” I think both I expanded and it expanded. I realized, “Oh, my gosh! There are so many awesome dreams people are having in the community!” And at that point twelve years ago, there weren’t the places available now offering yoga and energy work and so on.

For example, Amber Edmondson and Raja Howe knew they were poets, but didn’t know they were book binders yet. They sold a book at Out Loud, our open mike night, then began offering book-making workshops at Joy Center. And now they have their own shop in Marquette. Kerry Yost had never sung in public until one night at Out Loud, and she just blew everyone away.

People who have a dream can feel safe offering a workshop, singing a song at Out Loud or playing with something they’ve always wanted to do, and maybe later decide to offer a workshop and expand what’s offered at Joy Center, and what people do in this community, and people would love it. Early on, Joy Center took on its own life to be a safe place where people could take a seed of a dream, like I did, and allow it to blossom. Sometimes their offering stays at Joy Center, and sometimes it flourishes far beyond. And I get to play with people that way, and be the person who holds the space and is a cheerleader for peoples’ dreams.

What do people seem to like most about Joy Center?

I think people feel something when they walk into the physical building because it’s really welcoming and beautiful, and is that creative sanctuary. It was built with a really positive, high vibration. In its twelve years, I can’t think of anything that’s gone on there that isn’t high-vibe, so it just keeps building. So many kinds of things are welcomed there, so that energy just keeps growing. People feel safe to really be brave and find parts of themselves they haven’t felt before, or to love themselves more deeply than they’ve loved themselves before. I feel strongly about keeping the boundaries there safe, to keep it clear in that way.

What do you like most about running it?

Truly, it’s all of it. There is a part of me that loves all the things that are offered, and that I can participate in them. It’s brought community to me. I love being the cheerleader. It’s a soul calling. And I love playing at Joy Center. I get to go play in a playhouse!

What do you find most challenging about running it?

The marketing part is not my thing. I’d rather promote by word-of-mouth. So I found a way that feels easy to me and true to who I am with additional support from others. I spend more of my time cheering people on, encouraging them to maybe do a workshop. I may give my dear friends Stephanie Lake and Stacey Willey at Globe Printing the rough draft of Joy Center’s next brochure, or the idea of a poster, and they’ll lay it out beautifully. Stacey helps to get the word out on Facebook. For a long time, my daughter-in-law did a beautiful job of helping with that. And I love my Health & Happiness ad, and the support I get to help me with it. It’s the only place I advertise–it’s perfect for Joy Center, and goes out all over the Central and Western U.P.

What future plans are in the works?

As we hunker into our homes, and aren’t able to go to the creative sanctuary physically, my curiosity and challenge is “How will this time affect Joy Center since the place itself is such an important part of it? How can I use Zoom to make an Out Loud, and then find some richness that Joy Center does beyond these walls, or a poetry workshop by Zoom like U.P. Poet Laureate Marty Achatz did? How will this propel us into the future? Will there be a time that Zoom comes into Joy Center?

I feel like I’m in the middle of the cocoon, and I am learning. Parallel Play–we all did it at the same time and texted and sent photos of our creations simultaneously afterward. It felt like deep connection. So Joy Center has been continuing. I’ve been working on the space, giving it loving physical care. And I’m learning about technology and connecting that way, and how to still have the feel of Joy Center. It’s a beautiful space, and it’s the people and the energy, and that no walls can hold in.

How can people find out about upcoming events taking place?

They can check Joy Center’s Facebook page, and they also can contact me at helenhaskell@yahoo.com about events or if there’s something they’d like to offer here. And they can join our mailing list to receive a brochure on what’s going on, and a letter I write every two months.

Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.

Inspired by Photography, Christine Saari

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After six years of living in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a graduate student’s wife, an Austrian immigrant finding her way in a new society and, finally, a mother of two young boys, I needed something for my soul. Maybe taking art classes would do the trick?

I learned silversmithing, weaving, enameling. I liked it all, but nothing stuck. Until I hit upon photography. After I learned how to expose and develop film, I went to Austria and took photographs of all I loved there.

Upon returning to the U.S., we moved to Marquette. I immediately set up a darkroom in our tiny bathroom, and taught myself to print. By serendipity, the person who taught photography at NMU was our neighbor. When he saw my work, he suggested I take classes. I did, and I was hooked.

That was in the early seventies. It was an intense time.

I met other women photographers, and we founded Interplay: A Women’s Photographic Collective. I took workshops in Minneapolis and New York with master photographers. I entered shows and got in. I helped organize exhibits, juried, taught workshops, gave presentations.

Initially, I took black and white photographs. I loved the darkroom work and shooting specific topics. During our travels, I enjoyed photographing people. Windows and doors became favorite subjects. I documented the Austrian mountain farming culture in which I’d grown up.

Finally, I expanded into mixed media with an emphasis on alternative photo processes, and embarked on a 20-year project, “Family Album” (Using family photographs, documents, and artifacts, I created 3-D objects that told the story of my family, and the “Family of Man.”

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Now I am eighty, and production is not my thing anymore, although I still exhibit and sell occasionally. But I still love to shoot photos, and share my vision. When a friend pushed me to get on Facebook, I resisted. But by now I have found FB to be my preferred medium as a photographer. I can shoot every day, and share my work without expense, without printing, framing, and accumulating photos. I can post work and get feedback. I can work in a series, such as “Circles” or “Window Ice.” I don’t post just any pictures. I work on my posts, and have developed a following.

So, what inspires me when I photograph?

Sometimes it is the light. Sometimes it is color. Sometimes it is pattern (shadows, or tree branches, or architecture). Sometimes it is subject matter (Lake Superior, the ice, flowers, faces). The possibilities are endless! It is always a journey of discovery.

On the same walk from my house to my studio, I can see a myriad of different subjects to photograph. Things look different, depending on the weather, the time of day, the time of year, my mood. The sky, the light, the trees are never the same! Sometimes I get excited because the familiar looks different, sometimes because I see something I have not seen before. Sometimes I can’t help photographing the same thing again, year after year. Leaf prints on the sidewalk, the first green growth, ice formations, sun rays in my kitchen.

What I get out of shooting is that it makes me look and see. “You have such an eye,” people will say. But I think it is just practice, the practice of looking. And when I look, I find beauty. Beauty in the most ordinary thing right in front of me, beauty to share. I don’t want to keep all this beauty for myself. I want to share it. And shooting photos with my phone, and posting the results allows me to do that!

Christine Saari grew up on an Austrian mountain farm. She studied English and German in Austria and the U.S. As a journalist, she reported for Austrian media. In the U.P., she wrote for MM and Midwestern media, and published documentary photographs with her writing.

Excerpted with permission from the Spring 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.

Creative Inspiration: I Know You’ll Be Okay, by Gala Malherbe

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Cold snow squeaks under tires as we turn into the empty parking lot after dark.
We wonder where everyone could be, think briefly of an entire city choosing other things.
I reach high into roof box, deliver skis and poles to arms smaller than my own.

We stoop to connect boots, fumble to connect mittened hands, breathe the tight cold air of night.
Light poles illuminate white alley through trees. Glistening tracks lure us from brightness to dim
and back again. I follow you, watch you enter and exit each puddle of light, each stretch of darkness.
Our skis swallow reflection, our poles punch rhythm beside us.

Silent, we stride, scale familiar grades, own this space, this secret time. The memories intertwine:
the morning we swished through ankle deep powder, sliced first tracks into palate of freshness,
the time, winter still young, we skirted around dirt, skated across ice, too eager to stay home,
the chocolate chips we pulled from pockets, frozen solid, chewing palmfuls as we rested.

I remember carrying you on my back, your weight pulling me as you bobbed from side to side,
the way you squealed from your perch as we descended, grunted with effort as I climbed,
the way your sister skied ahead as I fiddled with your pack and wasn’t afraid of the darkness,
of the forest, of herself, the way her small song parted colossal hemlocks and pines.

I taught you to mount the hills yourself, legs spread leaning. My hand on your bottom
holding you steady, an awkward pair, we trudged to the top. I held you tight under snowsuit arms,
steered us down, our bellies dropping, your miniature skis floating over snow between mine.

Tonight, we pause at the top of a hill. You step from the edge and let yourself go.
I watch your perfect silhouette glide and shrink into the night, beneath stars and moon,
beneath my giant love for you.

Gala Malherbe lives in Marquette, MI.  She enjoys writing about her children, her connection to nature, and the struggles and resilience of the human condition. 

Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2019-2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. All rights reserved.

Creative Inspiration: Music to Our Ears & Lives, by Kevin McGrath

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Whether you’re listening to the wind dance through the leaves or the song of a robin while sitting under a tree,

or perhaps the rhythmic caw of a resident crow, music is and has always been around for those willing and able to allow themselves to appreciate it. Even the thunderous beat of the big lake during an autumn storm creates a percussive melody for those paying attention.

Taking a walk along the shoreline near Picnic Rocks in Marquette, especially during the morning hours, brings a symphony of chatter among the gulls, creating wonderful music for all to hear within a sonic breeze.

Nature and humanity’s music is available to us in all volumes, tempos, and genres. For me, it’s my fuel. It energizes me, motivates me, relaxes me, gets me in the zone, takes me to another place and time.

Most every trip I take, I look into all nearby concert venues to see if a band or musician is performing. More times than not, I’m able to include a concert in my plans. I’ve attended hundreds over the years, and they always make my trips worthwhile.

I also partake of the U.P.’s ever-growing musical offerings at local venues and festivals throughout the year, and have enjoyed many amazingly talented well-known and lesser known soloists and groups within a five-minute to two-hour reach.

I have learned to enjoy the music while dancing, but simply sitting back and absorbing it never disappoints me. They are two totally different experiences for me, and both of the charts in their own ways.

Music brings flavor and richness to my creative pulses, and keeps me moving forward with a project.

Though I prefer live over recorded, I still enjoy the secondhand option immensely. It can take me through a whole series of emotions. And with YouTube, I can put together a repertoire to my liking, knowing which pieces play on certain emotions.

I wonder about those who don’t care for music. Are they truly happy missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures? I read recently that music uses your entire brain and is extremely healthy for you. There’s plenty of research available showing the healthy benefits music may offer each of us, such as possibly promoting heart health, elevating your mood, helping to reduce stress and relieve symptoms of depression, stimulating recall, increasing workout endurance, and more. But to me, regardless of what any leading health authorities have to say, the most important thing is to feel the benefits for yourself by opening up and giving yourself permission to go wherever the music is going to take you by listening to it at a strong, yet safe volume.

Music isn’t given enough credit in the creative process,

even though most creative people I know listen to it without hesitation when working on a project. I end this tribute to music by referring you to the chorus of an ABBA song entitled “Thank You for the Music.” May its lyrics ring through your heart and head, and inspire you to bring more music and appreciation for it into your life!

Kevin McGrath is a music lover and can be found at music festival, concerts, or other live music venues.

Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.