INTERVIEW WITH GAYLE HARROD

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Photo of Artist Gayle Harrod on a trip to Hogar de las Estrellas in 2011

INTERVIEW WITH GAYLE HARROD  

BIOGRAPHY   

Gayle Harrod: As a young girl I dreamed of being an artist, but I got the message loud and clear that I couldn’t make a decent living at that, so when I graduated high school I decided to study Architecture.  I had to withdraw after the first year due to family and financial issues and landed a job drafting for a Civil Engineering firm.  I quickly moved up to a position as a Designer and worked in that field for over 26 years.

I used to draw and paint, but hadn’t done it since high school, so I wanted to dabble a bit and see what I could do with that.  My other great passion is the volunteer work I do with the kids in Peru. I wanted to do something to help them too, but I couldn’t see a way to do it all and I felt stuck again, unable to choose between the two.   Then one night I was driving alone in my car and the idea for “The Come Together Café & Emporium”, came to me.  (I always get the best ideas driving in my car!)  It just seemed to make perfect sense and brought the things I love most together so that I really could have it all…and since I love cooking too, the idea of running a small restaurant appealed to me as well.  From that point the ideas just kept coming and the vision continues to grow.  Now I’m just trying to figure out the logistics of taking it from idea to reality.

MIW:  As Alice enters Wonderland, she is not immediately accepted among the creatures there. In fact they believe that she is a threat and try to attack her in her overgrown state. Many youth in our society also feel different and feel socially isolated today. How does your vision address this issue for the youth in your community? 

Gayle Harrod:  What I envision is a place where young people can come together with others and express themselves creatively.  My aim is to encourage creative expression in whatever form that may take.  I plan to have art classes and art-centered play-groups during the day for younger kids (and Moms!) to explore their creative side and learn new mediums.   I also plan to hold individual and collaborative writing workshops, dance exhibitions and open mic in the evening for teens and young adults as well as original performances of live music, comedy and gallery showings of local artists work, at night for the grown ups.  By giving young people an open stage for their creative expression, they feel “heard” and valued.  I also hope to provide scholarships for local students to help them pursue an education in the Arts.  Eventually, I hope to address some of the obstacles that prevent many young people from pursuing a career in Arts, for example, creating a viable marketplace for their works to raise incomes and looking into the possibility of setting up an Artists and Musicians, Health Insurance Co-op. I want to create a real sense of community, a collective gathering place for creative minds to be nurtured and supported.

MIW:  As an artist, with which alice in wonderland character do you most identify with and why?

Gayle Harrod:  Oh, I definitely relate to Alice.  So many of the quotes from the story just seem to mirror my own life and my search for self…the search for the meaning of things…finding the lesson or the “moral” in every situation.  The age old question of “Who am I, really ?”  I guess you could say I’ve had a run-in with my own sort of “Cheshire Cat” that pretty much turned life as I knew it on its head.  After that, I don’t look at the world or myself, the same way…nothing will ever be the same, nor would I want it to be.  It was the catalyst, the “magic potion” if you will, that forever changed me.   This potion didn’t make me bigger or smaller, it let me see myself as I truly am, laid bare the flaws in my character that caused me to repeat unhealthy patterns and choices and allowed me to acknowledge them and work to change them.  It also shattered all preconceived notions of security and in doing so, removed all fear of the unknown. It gave me the courage to walk away from what is safe and known, to finally start living the life I want.

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Photo of Gayle Harrod as a child.

MIW:  In your mission statement you say, “We Create Social Change by imagining and implementing innovative, sustainable solutions to social problems, specifically targeting those affecting the Creative Community as well as at-risk and special needs populations of children and young adults.” Can you elaborate on how your center will involve children and youth who are at risk? 

Gayle Harrod:  I hope to address some other issues that typically effect youth and creative people.  The Come Together Café & Emporium is a Non-profit social enterprise, so one of our main goals is to raise funds for other Non-profit groups who are addressing the challenges of special needs and at-risk youth, both here and abroad.  One of the ways we will do this is by providing resources to our patrons and funding local programs that focus on drug and alcohol prevention and treatment.  I’ve seen first hand the devastation addiction brings, not just upon the individual, but also upon friends, family and society at large. The creative community seems disproportionately affected by addiction, so I would like to support research that specifically addresses the question of “why” those statistics are so high among creative types and what can be done to change that.  I also want to promote volunteering in the local community and abroad.  When kids come face to face with the less fortunate, they gain a new perspective and an appreciation of the gifts they have in their own lives and when they feel empowered to make a real difference in the lives of others, it builds self esteem, gives them a sense of pride and purpose.

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Painting by Artist Gayle Harrod

MIW:  We loved the faces represented on your winning poster of the Mused Creativity Challenge “What’s Your Gift to the World?”. Can you tell us a little about those children and youth?

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Winning Poster of Mused’s December Creativity Challenge

Gayle Harrod:  The story behind the kids…I am just in love with these kids!  I took a volunteer vacation to Peru with my son in 2004 that forever changed the way we both look at the world.  I fell in love with the country and its people.  I’ve returned 4 times since then and have continued to be involved with several programs for special needs and at-risk kids.  One is Hogar de las Estrellas, http://www.chaskawasy.org/  a group home for children in Cusco, Peru who are considered to be physically or mentally, “Special Needs”, and those who have been orphaned, abused and/or abandoned.  Hogar de las Estrellas has employed innovative programs and practices to contribute to its own sustainability and has strived to provide a nurturing home-like environment for special needs children who’s birth families do not have the resources to care for them.  They believe that EVERY child deserves an education and have fought tirelessly for education rights for the disabled in Peru.  They believe not in focusing on what a child cannot do, but in showing them what they can do, helping each child to achieve the fullest potential of their abilities.  They have developed many vocational programs, in culinary, hospitality, jewelry making and woodworking to help the young adults who live there become independent to the maximum extent possible.  They also have an onsite green house to insure healthy meals for their children and a guest hostal to provide lodging for volunteers and guests alike, to provide sustainable income and serve as a training ground for their hospitality vocational program.  In spite of all their efforts they are still struggling in an adverse economy to meet even the basic needs for all these children and I hope to assist in providing a sustainable source of funding for their continued work.

The other is LAFF (Latin American Foundation for the Future), http://www.laffcharity.org.uk/ a program founded by an amazing young lady who served as my volunteer coordinator on my first trip to Peru.  LAFF serves at-risk populations of children and young adults, in Cusco, Peru by funding Azul Wasi, a home for “street kids”, homeless or otherwise at-risk boys and Casa Mantay, a home for teenage mothers.

They too are focusing on improving the lives of these young people through education and vocational training and by promoting sustainability and independence.  LAFF has provided equipment for leather making to Casa Mantay, enabling the young ladies of the home to support themselves through the fabrication and sale of leather bags.  In addition to providing funding to LAFF’s programs, I also intend to feature these bags in my store.

To learn more about this artist, you can check out her FB page on this link:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Positively-Growing/371805416166083

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IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBILITIES ISSUE

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DIGGING FOR APPLES    

A part in Alice in Wonderland that I hadn’t heard or read before was when the Rabbit mistook Alice for his housemaid and tells her to run home to his house and bring him back his gloves. Taken off guard, Alice obeys running off in the direction of the rabbit’s home. She finds a bottle of potion in his room and is naturally curious. This bottle doesn’t say DRINK ME, but she seems to be getting the hang of Wonderland and drinks much of the liquid immediately. She grows so large that she takes up his entire room. 

At this point the inpatient rabbit comes along looking for his gloves, though he cannot enter his room because Alice’s girth is blocking his door. The determined Rabbit decides to go in through the window, but Alice must have been getting a little uncomfortable with his hostile behavior because she puts her enormous arm out the window to stop him. She knocks him off of the windowsill and he falls into a cucmber frame below where his friend Pat asks him if he is digging for apples. He replies, “Digging for apples, indeed!”

He angrily rallies his friends together for aid in getting back into his room. He sends one friend down the chimney. Alice kicks him back up the chimney and sends him flying through the air to the horror of the assembly of Rabbit’s friends. The next thing you know, all of the little creatures are conspiring to force Alice from Rabbits house. Their first idea is to burn it down. They are afraid of this creature that is so big and strong. They start throwing rocks at her through the window which magically turn into cakes which when she eats makes her shrink once again. She is able to escape the scene in her smaller size. 

Like Alice, many young creatives receive such a reception among their peers that only see them as different. These unwelcoming reactions can force these youth into isolation whether that is self-imposed or insisted upon by other youth. With the increase of events of children in the U.S. acting out and/or being bullied with what seems little or no recourse, many people have begun to discuss the social isolation that many youth are experiencing and the ramifications of that that ongoing experience.

When considering this subject, we did not want to focus on only the negative experiences that youth are facing. We also wanted to take it to the next level to find out what we need to do in order to support the youth to thrive. We asked you the question, “How can we help creative youth recognize thier valuable worth in our society?

Christine Wiley said, “Make sure their skills and talents are included in the options for schooling – my daughter attended a learning through the arts school for middle school and now attends a high school which allows half a day for academics and half dedicated to the student’s choice of creative field. We are fortunate that the school board offers this program in our city and it is open to everyone as a public school program. All she had to do was demonstrate a passion for her field, and show what she has worked on so far. For all of the programs that focus on academics and sports, there should also be programs to cater to the arts. This program validates creative work as a legitimate pursuit with tangible future prospects. All of the teachers have worked as professionals in the field they teach and help the students prepare for the work in addition to honing their skills. In addition, she has met a large number of other creative people who can identify with the unique challenges of creative minds which can lead to feeling different and isolation.”

Cristi Wright pointed out that in many cases the middle aged and elderly have time and energy that could be used to connect with the youth. She felt that the youth would respond postivily to activites together.

Agreeing with Cristi’s comment, Rick Busch added, “So much wisdom and great stories and testimonies come from the elderly. Any chance that I have ever had to spend time with the elderly was very enthusiastically welcomed by me. I pray that this does start to happen more with our youth.”

Cindy and I also discussed the issue.

Cindy: The social and spiritual realities in society are currently deficient and are causing mental illness to flourish, causing a deep sense of isolation among many families, and especially youth.

Michelle: I believe among many factors that can exaserbate phsycological dysfunction, the effects of social isolation can be especially determental.

Cindy: Yes, there is an intense social isolation. I recently talked with some Americans that were here visiting in Guatemala, and they mentioned how people wouldn’t strike up a random conversation in the U.S. This sort of thing wouldn’t happen there, people wouldn’t even notice you.

Michelle:  I believe non-reality based social interactions are a big problem as well (fantasy in the place of actual relationships).

Cindy: There is such a big sense of “I” and “Me” in western cultures. When I studied sociology in the US, I remember that we were taught the differences in media conceptualization between western cultures and third world countries. Advertising companies will sell things by saying “This product will make YOU independent, sexy, attractive, stronger, etc.”, whereas in Latin America or Asia…in order to sell things, the media will say “Do this for your family, for others, etc.” A sense of belonging and family is a huge social factor in other parts of the world. You don’t feel as alone.

Michelle: Yes, independence is very heavily sought after.

Cindy: Children are made to believe that their purpose in life is to concentrate on a “ME” philosophy. They grow up believing that they need to focus on their own independence and happiness. By isolating themselves from family, they can achieve all of their dreams and aspirations. But what really happens? This rupture, this breaking away from “WE” to “ME” only heightens a sense of loneliness, and a belief that we can only really depend on ourselves.

Michelle: Very true!

Cindy: YES, I remember going to school in Georgia, and not being able to relate to other kids. There weren’t talks about REAL issues or problems kids are facing at home. There was no help unless you sent kids off to therapists. There are many broken homes that are raising children who are more sensitive and vulnerable to this feeling of disconnect and loneliness.

Sometimes, kids just want intimacy. They want to feel cared about and not just by parents. They want to feel that if their dad just lost their job and their parents are fighting, that they aren’t alone.  

Michelle: The schools seem reluctant to take on this type of responsibility. Perhaps they aren’t equipt. This may have been something that church used to fill. A lot of families that are going through really tough times are single and split families.

Cindy: Exactly. People aren’t meant to live like cats. We must live in society. We need to rely on each other. Mother Teresa said that there is more hunger for love than bread in this world.

Michelle: Very true.

Cindy: People are starved for that feeling of belonging, warmth, and genuine affection.

As a society, “we” have worked hard to create a place for independence to flourish, and indpendence never comes without the help of others. If our society has become too “me” focused, it is time to open up our view to a “we” perspective. We must take responsiblity for our communities and we need lots of help to make good things happen. Just as the clever Alice flees to a safer place where she does not feel under immediate threat, we must also have safe havens for our own children/youth. Youth is a time for learning, growing, and sometimes shrinking. Our youth are naturally creative and long to express that freely, yet they also require accpetance and intimacy from real people-to-people interactions. The task is ours to meet their needs-our most vulnerable part of society.

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

― Mother Teresa

 

Childhood Elixir Issue

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CROSSING INTO WONDERLAND

Not long after Alice tumbles down into the rabbit-hole, she faces the reality of her new surroundings wondering how ever will she be able to get back out of the hole. She comes to a hallway of several doors to which she does not have access to enter. It isn’t until she finds the small curtain revealing a small door that she sees the table with the small golden key. To her pleasure, the key opens the tiny door revealing a beautiful garden that she desires to enter. The only problem is her size. She knows that she will not be able to fit through the tiny door and wishes to fold up like an accordion. At this point she finds the little bottle with the “drink me” written in beautiful lettering. She is not entirely sure that it is safe to drink the contents of the bottle but rationalizes that if it were poison it would be marked clearly.

Like Alice, when facing our inner child, we only have to wish that there was a way for us to become youth-like again, and the potion bottle will appear. However, we may not trust that Wonderland is a safe place to enter because we remember that land of fantasy and imagination also risks being a destination of vulnerability. Only we forget that only moments after Alice drinks the potion to become small, she needs to grow again to reach the key. She eats the cake and becomes much too large. All of this growing and shrinking frustrates Alice. At one point she muses, “Who in the world am I?,” yet her courage is solidified, she has the strength and whit to face every situation and obstacle presented her throughout her adventure. This also should be the case as we as creatives go back to reflect upon the past to befriend the child many times left behind.

We Hold the Key

We may wonder throughout our lives, who we are. Many of us hold the key to that little door within our soul and may not even realize it. This week, viewers were asked, “If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself as a creative child?”

Charlotte Gillbanks stated, “We’re never too late to be a loving parent to our inner child.”

Elizabeth Ferrell-Casey advised, “Follow only your heart and go there often.. alone.. to hear what it speaks to you. And when it tells you where to go, let that guide you..only..and never, ever, never let the voice of others drown it out.”

Gentleness is Required

Both of these creative souls understand that the child within needs coaxing and love. In fact, many times our creative selves were left so far behind in the what we may perceive as our mistakes of the past, that a mist of fog may cloud our vision.

Susan Leslie said, “Face your fears. Don’t run from them. They are not nearly as scary as you think they are. Accept that pain comes in everyone’s life, then let it go. The pain only lasts for a little bit then it goes away. Forgive yourself first. Love yourself first. You have infinite value and worth just because you are you. Believe it. Then act on it. Don’t give up on your dream. You can make good choices. Just do it. It’s okay to make mistakes. Everyone does. Just learn from them and move on. It doesn’t make you less of a person. You don’t believe other people are stupid because they make mistakes. Neither are you stupid because you make mistakes. ”

Acceptance Bridges the Past and the Future

The insight she shares is self-love and acceptance. This is the baby’s milk to the creative child within. So, why bother with all of this work?

Miriam Marino advised, “Do not let anyone or anything discourage you from developing the dreams in your heart, mind and soul. They were placed there exclusively for you. These are your gifts to the world.”

Susan Leslie added, “Follow your passion. Protect it. Nurture it. Work at being enthusiastic about your passion and don’t let others squash it. Find people to be around who encourage you. You are building your future with what you do today. And most of all, remember that life is a journey to be lived one day at a time. Enjoy today for that is what you have to work with. It is enough.”

As the question was posed to viewers, Cindy and I also discussed what wisdom we would share with our younger creative selves.

Cindy: Such a great question!

Michelle: I think that I would tell my younger self to go to art school right after high school.

Cindy: I would tell myself to have published my book of poetry when I was a teen. I was too insecure…and I also would have studied Creative Writing as a major. In many ways, I don’t know how I could have done things differently when I was younger.

I wasn’t given many options as a teen or as a child. This is honestly therapeutic for me when I analyze it. I realize that so many of my decisions were based on this. For instance, I was very insecure growing up, and I couldn’t have really told myself to stop being that way, because my home was so unstable growing up. There was no way of feeling security.

Michelle: Yet, your art was still strong.

Cindy: My love for art remained strong, but I realize there is also a self-forgiveness that comes from understanding why I acted certain ways. I realize that the only real and most honest advice I can give to my younger self is this: “You’ll go through heartache, you’ll have no certainty about anything, and you’ll be tossed from one side of the mountain to the next until you feel like everything is lost. But you will get stronger, you will not be broken by it. You’ll learn many things, and one of them is to be grateful. The other is compassion. Hold on tight kid, it’s gonna be a long journey ahead, but I believe in you, and one day, so will you.”

Michelle: That is such insightful advice.

Cindy: Thanks. I really feel that it’s a healing experience to look back and cradle your younger self, and to let yourself understand your vulnerability and the reasons why you made the decisions you made.

Michelle: I agree. I was just thinking what I would also tell myself. I would probably say, “Trust your heart. It will lead you back to you. Be patient with yourself. You eventually get this figured out!”

Cindy:  I like it.

Michelle: Luckily it is not a race! I think that sometimes that we need to reflect on the past to feel better and to be okay about things so that we can move forward.

We learn from Alice’s experiences that “[We] can’t go back to yesterday, because [we were different people] then.” Although regrets are likely to surface as you could see in Cindy’s and my initial response to the query, with a little insight, the regrets can be released and our soul will whisper the words of comfort each of us need to hear to heal and move forward with today. Words like heart, love, forgiveness, compassion, and patience were spoken again and again in the viewer responses as well as in our own conversation together. These words provide safety and security to our growing creative selves. We find the courage to face the past in order to be present today. This presence provides the veracity needed to face the adventures that lie ahead as we cross into Wonderland.

Falling Head-Over-Heels Down the Rabbit-Hole

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The rabbit-hole is best described as the transitional space between the conscious mind and the energy source that connects us with our higher power. It is the journey each one of us must take in order to get to our destination. Inspiration. Creativity.

We learn from Alice that the “into the rabbit-hole” fall is unfamiliar. It is long and the depth is unmeasurable to our finite understanding. We know that she couldn’t see the bottom. A certain amount of denial may take place during this fall. Our mind reaches for the familiar. Alice’s mind began to wander before falling asleep. This state is natural during meditation. She stopped thinking about the fall and merged into a state of surrender. At the stage that she begins to dream about her familiar life she hits the ground and wakes up. It does not hurt, but her mind is relaxed and she is ready to experience new ideas. Imagine her surprise when she discovers the amazing garden on the other side of the tiny door that is impossible to fit through in her current physical form. That does not stop Alice. She begins to wish that she could fold up like an accordion.

So why, since so many of us understand mindfulness–why aren’t we regularly practicing meditation to enhance this state ability to be present in the now? And if we are practicing meditation, why does it become difficult to let go and surrender? Can it be a sense of loneliness that keeps our soul from connecting to our source?

I posed a question to Cindy in a recent conversation:

Michelle: I have noticed that people don’t like to address the feeling of loneliness.

Cindy:I agree, basically there is too much loneliness and during the holidays it’s especially difficult.

Michelle: True. I’ve read creatives are usually a balance of extrovert and introvert. You have to be able to be alone to do your work. Write. Paint. Etc.

Cindy: That’s so true, but I have noticed in my own case, when I am around others…doing things I enjoy, and then having time alone, I am so much more productive and creative. When you spend too much time in isolation, the creative flow stops. I think you have to reactivate energy, kind of like a laptop. You connect the battery (the source) and then it has energy for so many hours until it gets depleted.

Michelle:  Over time, I seem to be happier and happier as a hermit.

Cindy:  The true source is outside. Living life, loving others, etc. You may have a loving family which is your source. In other cases, with people that are going through sad situations such as a divorce, living in a trapped marriage, dysfunctional homes, or people who live alone; they need to receive from the original source in order to create. But then, if they are alone for long periods of time…they become depleted.

Michelle: I have noticed that a lot of people get in crappy situations due to loneliness. Or, they stay in bad relationships or even participate in destructive behavior like substance use.

Cindy: TRUE, but I also believe that the original source is our connection to God…or our spirituality. If you don’t receive from that original source, you start looking for it in others. People take drugs to “feel” something real or to stop feeling pain.

Michelle: Learning how to tap into His source is vital.

Cindy: Yes. I think true creativity…true art…comes from a spiritual place; however, many people can become against anything that seems dogmatic, and associate this to being “anti” spiritual, and let themselves become blinded by this rationalization.

Michelle: They separate from the source.

Cindy: Loneliness is a disconnect from the source and it can change in an instant when we pray, meditate, or learn to tap into this in other ways. And even though nothing in our exteriour circumstances has changed our being “alone”…we have changed, shifting the loneliness into a state of serenity in solitude.

Michelle: I see creativity as a way to get over that. Making your life artful.It is bringing the good around you and creativity connects with the source of creation.

Cindy: God is the source…art is the medium. Completely agree.

Michelle: So, I wonder, how many people avoid practicing their art because they are afraid of loneliness?

Cindy: It’s not the loneliness that scares people from pursuing their art. It’s the thoughts they have to think about when they’re alone. For instance, a person that constantly worries…has anxiety, doubts, fears, angers, and resentments doesn’t want to be alone with themselves; but if a person takes this alone time as spiritual reflection, a time for grateful and loving thoughts…being alone isn’t so scary.

Michelle: It is a disconnect from their true self, and the mind can get in the way of spirituality. We identify too heavily with our minds. We think of our mind as our Being.

Cindy: YES. There is a lot of loneliness because of this greater focus on material comforts, and not enough on our true spiritual connection. We must learn to balance our human, physical mind…with our soul…our essence.

In conclusion, we learn that loneliness merely is a symptom of disconnection. Though relationships enrich our lives and help us connect with our source, we cannot ignore our personal connection and avoid the work that it takes to center ourselves and bring the spiritual balance into our lives. Artists many times credit their ideas to a higher source. For example Johannes Brahms stated, “Straight-away the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God, and not only do I see distinct themes in my mind’s eye, but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies, and orchestration.” Perhaps, instead of avoiding the rabbit-hole we should fall head-over-heels in love with the process of reconnecting with our source.