The Revolution of the Mommies: a Writer Interview with Joana Smith.

Via on Sep 4, 2012


Mary King spent some time picking Joana’s brain about her creative process. Here’s how it went:

 

1.  Tell me a little bit about yourself—the basics.
Not that I enjoy airing my dirty laundry, but that seems to be the nature of my blog. It’s been a place where I can use art to give a voice to some inner feelings/turmoil.  The things we hide away make us sad, so it’s better to talk about it somewhere. When I first started the blog I talked about revolution. Everything was, revolution this, revolution that:  The Revolution of the Mommies. First, it was a collage/book I had made out of one of my grandmother’s photo albums that I my dad rescued out of the trash. It was the kind with the sticky pages and a lot of photos of our family from 1940s-50s were stuck inside, so I made a collage and, well…a “Revolution” about seeing our stuff with new eyes (instead of just trashing), the whole thing was a metaphor. It’s how I met Waylon, and so my blog on elephant spawned from that.



2.  Photo essays are so unique!  How do you get started?

 

First, I ask myself, “What is the title?” And immediately, something will pop into my head. I don’t usually doubt my first inclination, I think that’s what can cause creative blocks. See, so I just asked myself a title for a hypothetical blog, and the answer came back, “You Can Take The Handcuffs Off Now.” So, that’s what I would do. I think there’s a lot of emotional juice there.
Then I close my eyes with the title in mind and scroll down to the first image (in my mind) and there’s something;


 

I think if there is anything that we can look at to learn from in life, it’s our problems! So in my blog I let it all be there, yucky stuff, embarrassing stuff that I need to declare.

I make it in the middle of the night when nobody in my house is up but me, listening to my favorite music, Yo La Tengo. Their song “Daphnia” just is “blog” to me—and yet, it’s not so secret because somebody somewhere can see it when they are alone.

 All of our closets are completely full of our “stuff.” Emotional baggage from past, present, future. Some of the stuff in there is affecting us today. Sometimes we don’t even remember it. This blog gives me a way to get in touch with some of my stuff that’s stuck in there. I think that’s where the real healing work needs to be done, in our closets.

I have to take baby steps when I’m building.

Sometimes I don’t even know what’s coming next until I scroll down in my mind’s eye. In the past, it’s even gotten me into trouble! But early on I wrote down the rule for myself: “Always go to the next thing you know and stay on the trail!”

If I skip an object everything becomes messed up. Visions of the subconscious are foggy—that is their nature. It takes focus to claim that that’s indeed what you see, in order to go and manifest it.


3.  What is your inspiration for your articles? Do you tend to start with a theme and find pictures or do you come across pictures that trigger the essay? Or is it some wonderful combination of everything above (and more!)?

Usually it’s whatever I find in the street that week. I ride my bike and pick up stuff I see. It’s not like I’m looking for every piece of yucky garbage, but sometimes I’ll just see something amazing or beautiful and it reminds me of that first initial post of the Revolution of the Mommies . After I did that, I started to feel that things thrown away once and “saved”  actually had more power.

For instance, this week I found this stuff: a bag with black boxes, a piece of old carpet, a zoo book about polar bears, some leaves and a CD, and took these photos. Everything I do/find recently is moving toward the current blog. so here’s the stuff!>>>>>>


Tell me more about your process…

It can be confusing sometimes, writing straight down—maybe you noticed that the order in which things appear give the objects a particular feeling or message. For instance, I have the text, “The future of Polar Bears depends on people” and then underneath it a photo of my daughter in a Snow White costume holding a branch, and underneath that “save the polar bears” some dead leaves and a CD that says “screwed” on it. So—it’s like I’m saying the future depends on children who are like Snow White (who made a well-meaning wish on a poison apple that killed her—global warming?), dead leaves symbolize something about nature that’s dying and then the CD.

That’s just a simple example. Some people have been kind enough to call it visual poetry because it employs things like metaphor, simile. I can really show a lot by using no words, and I think it can be even more universal by using objects that we all come across. It can be very descriptive, and I can string together quite complex thoughts sometimes. That’s also why I think “photo blog” is not really an accurate description, because I’ve seen photo blogs, and they can’t be as specific as I can be with just objects.

I think a lot about the ancient Egyptian text, because that was a script of objects. I have a framed papyrus with some Egyptian Hieroglyphic text over my desk and I always think that I should be able to read it, but their objects held different meanings  to their society than ours do.

I do have to be patient in looking for the pieces, too—sometimes it helps to sleep on it. But when I’m working on a project, everything is moving in that direction, and my dreams work on it for me. I just start with that one idea and the rest then follows, follows, follows, like a train. And when I get to the bottom, I know that it’s done.

 

I just finished a series on “Mending” in which I used metaphors of chaos as a tangled ball of thread throughout. Everyone’s got a tale. Here’s mine…

 

Here’s an index>>

 

I really know how precious this is...

 

A body that produces ought to know

 

What is the recipe for healing?

 

When things get broken…

“What the Hell?”

 

“I Am Not Afraid Of You.”

 

I Ain’t got no home.

What R. U. Scared Of?

 

A Family That Lives Together…

 

How Do We Pray? (When Flowers Do…)
During that time I also did three church reviews with my friend, Sarah:
In Search of a New Church Home: Christchurch Cathedral
In Search of a New Church Home: Unitarian Universalism
In Search of a New Church Home: Ecclesia (Emerging Church Movement)
We were thinking of continuing the series throughout Houston churches this fall, holding them up to our Green standards, but recently someone confronted me about these blogs telling me that I sounded angry.
So I went back and read them, and thought they did sound a bit angry. I think it’s just that I disagree with the way church is done, in general: in a building, sitting in chairs, facing forward, one man speaking his views while everyone else remains silent. So my family has started working on an Urban Farm on Sunday and there is teaching, preaching, fellowship and prayer there. I see to it myself. We all do.

I don’t think I am going to continue blogging for elephant journal after this. I am pretty sure that whatever I was needing to get out over the years through the blogs is finished, and it feels good. I want to put my energy into the farm now, and into real life relationships with people who I can stand in front of and look into their eyes.

Thanks Waylon for believing in me and giving me a space where I can declare my heart. Bob, thanks for the counsel and being elephant’s “Daddy.” Kate and Brianna, thanks for straightening out images and helping to correct my poor grammar and just making me look good, in general, sometimes on short notice and on a Sunday.

<3 and Peace to All!

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~

Editor: Kate Bartolotta

Like elephant journal on Facebook.

 

About Joana Smith

Who I'd like to meet: Superman's Children, eco-warriors, truck drivers, persephone, roller derby queens, nurses, scientists, givers, priests, yogi, storytellers, people who don't know right now, playwrights, philosophers, people who are more visual, people who hop trains, performers, poets, seamstresses, activists, Spider-Man, kids, rangers, Snow White, dj's, massage therapists, people who work with their hands, bunnies, sportsracers, people who work in offices, dancers, baristas, artists, cleaners, climbers, Jeff's sister, Colbert, Skiers, Bikers, skaters, surfers, ani, people who are recovering, trees (and flowers), people who will die soon, gardeners, horses, Jolie-Pitt, soon-to-be mothers, margie's daughter, astronomers, people who are scared, girls who wear black and listen to the Smiths, cuffmakers, lambs, Miranda July, the man in the moon, Bono, people from 'round here, Obama...

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12 Responses to “The Revolution of the Mommies: a Writer Interview with Joana Smith.”

  1. Justin says:

    I think a lot about the ancient Egyptian text, because that was a script of objects. I have a framed papyrus with some Egyptian Hieroglyphic text over my desk and I always think that I should be able to read it, but their objects held different meanings to their society than ours do.

    It's language that gives shape to the splendors of our minds. Communication is how separate minds reveal themselves — and telling stories with pictures was the first kind of written language. Interestingly enough, the language-god Thoth was manifested through the culture that used the first form of pictographic language.

    And our "real" life — that's made from the same stuff as our stories: memories, feelings, a sequence of pictures, a collage of half-recalled words. History becoming his-story.

    I think it’s just that I disagree with the way church is done, in general; in a building, sitting in chairs, facing forward, one man speaking his views while everyone else remains silent.

    I always found it inconsistent that a church is founded on the basic-idea that the Being responsible for:

    carbon and cartilage
    pi and pinecones
    aurora borealis and bone marrow
    soil and sex

    loves YOU — personally and uniquely — with an unconditional, self-sacrificing, and utterly non-stingy kind of Love. And then our standard response is:

    get indoors and sing some songs, do some sermonizing about abstract topics
    put the word “Biblical” in front of anything you do — to give it a bit of *oomph*, you know.
    live out as much of a normal, everyday life as anybody else — with just a bit of Christian-flare to it.
    and try not to cuss in traffic

    A bona-fide believer in Christ ought to be an utter lunatic and a completely eccentric freak — if one were to actually believe these things to be literally true.

    The standard response just doesn't seem to match the sheer-magnitude of the earth-shattering revelation that Jesus re-presents.

    I also liked this (s)word-ing:

    I want to put my energy into the farm now, and into real life relationships with people who I can stand in front of and look into their eyes.

    makes me think of:

    and the word
    was made flesh
    and dwelt among us

    • JoanaSmith says:

      Always lovely to have you stop by, Justin. The things you know astound me. Thoth?? Wow. How do we even know that that's what they called a god in some ancient culture?

      …I was talking to someone the other day about communication through words, she was saying how words are not necessary and that she had had entire conversations without words, and I agreed that it was possible, but that language is the only way to really be clear, without it we are like babies, and miscommunication or misinterpretation just turn into crying, screaming messes (like babies). Because I would love to just pantomime everything sometimes, but it's been revealed (in my life) that reading minds really is, actually, impossible….

      I like your way of (s)wording: And our "real" life — that's made from the same stuff as our stories: memories, feelings, a sequence of pictures, a collage of half-recalled words. History becoming his-story.

      You have always talked to me about living one's story, that once it's told it's in the past. I think our culture needs to embrace now more in terms of living our stories instead of pacifying ourselves on made up stories, or stories of the past. We can be the characters and heroes that we dream about.

      And here, this is awesome:

      "get indoors and sing some songs, do some sermonizing about abstract topics
      put the word “Biblical” in front of anything you do — to give it a bit of *oomph*, you know.
      live out as much of a normal, everyday life as anybody else — with just a bit of Christian-flare to it.
      and try not to cuss in traffic"

      thanks for getting a little angry for me. I never got that bad in my church blogs…but it's true what you say! And I think we should be able to say it. She was saying that the part where I criticized the church leader for toasting the congregation with his coffee cup and plugging his coffee shop was wrong of me, and that if I had a problem I should have confronted to his face with a group of three or more.

      "The standard response just doesn't seem to match the sheer-magnitude of the earth-shattering revelation that Jesus re-presents."

      So true. Holy stuff…Thanks for saying it.

      • Justin says:

        Thoth?? Wow. How do we even know that that's what they called a god in some ancient culture?

        That's a good point. The Egyptians surely didn't pronounce their god's name that way — and they certainly didn't spell it that way [since they didn't use our characters]. If you were to transliterate the hieroglyphs that comprised his name, you'd get:

        dhwty

        which would approximate the sound made by ancient Egyptians when referring to Thoth.

        "Thoth" itself comes from the Greek letters that are used to make that transliteration into Greek. Once passed through Greek culture — he becomes equated with their god Hermes (Rome's "Mercury") because both gods dealt with the invention of human language, the passing-on of messages, writing, and record keeping.

        Language is fluid like that. The sounds we make with our mouths are of little importance — at least when compared with the desired result of language, which is that you think the same thing that I'm thinking when I say the word to you.

        Different cultures, different names — but all pointing to the same Idea (or "god"). Each deity a unique and culturally-appropriate way to express the same One Thing.

  2. Love this, Mary and Joana. Wonderful work!

    Bob

  3. Eric says:

    Joana~
    Years ago, I was googling some shite…instead I found you here.
    I was mesmerized, and have been ever since. I don't try to conceptually analyze your "visual poetry", I prefer to let it flow over me like a waterfall (though you surely propagate thought and laughter). I'm also a big fan of U2 (older stuff) & Yo La Tengo.

    Thank you for your honesty and refreshing creative view, you brought me to EJ and inspired me to write for them. I wish all the best for you and Nathan & your beautiful children. Wherever you are, however dark the corners, you shine with love and a pure heart…
    blessings,
    Eric

    • JoanaSmith says:

      You are so sincere. Thanks for that description. That's how I hoped people would do, not getting too caught up or lost in any one image, "letting it flow over…"

      I can't believe I've missed you all these years. You should've commented and then I would've at least known that there was someone who was enjoying them– I thought Justin was the only one who 'got it.' You should post a link here to some of your stuff, I'd love to check out what you do.

      The Charlatans?

      • Eric says:

        …I did comment, sometimes..like in '09 or 10 :)
        ~type "Eric Vogt" in the EJ search bar, I have 3 articles up at present.

        Charlatans UK. The Smiths. The Sundays. Go-Betweens. Chameleons UK. Echo & The Bunnymen. Prefab Sprout (I lived in the UK like U :) I saw U2 at Wembley Arena (1987, Joshua Tree Tour) and Bono borrowed my leather jacket for one song…he was very kewl.

        I'll find you on the Facecrack, Cheers M'Dears! :)

  4. Mamaste says:

    Joana,
    Don't lose touch. I adore your picture blogs (though I'm sure there's a better phrase for that).
    Keep the string attached.
    Love & admiration.
    xoxo
    ~Mamaste

    • JoanaSmith says:

      Thanks, Sharon. You're great. Thanks for pointing out to me how many tangles I was putting in. Ironically, I didn't really realize…:)

      You are awesome. And sorry I couldn't get in with the reciprocal blog posting thing. I just have NO TIME to read. But I actually have you in my close friends on facebook, so I get a notice every time you post something. I'll be there one day. We won't lose each other because we have a "social net-" holding us together…..peace, love, mamaste!!!!!

  5. [...] The Revolution of the Mommies: a Writer Interview with Joana Smith. (~Mary King) [...]

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