This letter helped me get in!
July 1, 2008
Dear Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Committee:
I am excited to present a letter of intent for the Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities. The program is much needed, and to look at ourselves as part of a greater whole is imperative for our survival and evolution. I believe that my interests, my life experience, and my education have led me to this point in my life, and sustainability is the natural next step.
I remember the Vietnam War. I remember summer, and hot, humid days, waiting in line with my mother and little sister for what seemed like hours to get gas. I remember the Iran hostage crisis. I remember Jimmy Carter. I remember my parents discussing getting solar panels placed on the roof of our house, and then the discussions ceasing. I remember Ronald Reagan being elected. I remember John Lennon being shot.
I grew up in rural New Jersey in the seventies. Nature was abundant. My fondest memories from my young childhood are of helping my grandfather with his organic garden and mixing cool clean dirt from his compost heap. I wasn’t interested in eating vegetables, but, I delighted in watching seeds germinate and grow to bear fruit. I loved playing in the woods, turning over logs and stones, looking for salamanders and tadpoles, building forts. I was free.
I did extremely well in school. I loved reading, writing and drawing. I was first flute first chair in the school orchestra all the way through high school and I was alto in the school choir. I was even an Algebra II/Trig tutor. I was promised a bright future and the college of my choice.
I remember feeling a door close once the eighties got underway. I was very young and disagreed strongly with the political climate, I didn’t understand why the music of the time was popular, and I couldn’t fathom how owning more “stuff” made one a better person. My parents complained about money problems constantly and told me to forget about going to college. By the mid-80s, I rebelled. I stopped behaving like a “young lady” and was very outspoken about my views, I cut off my hair, started an underground newspaper called The Yellow Journal, and formed my first band, The Liquid Faction.
To make matters more complicated, my little sister was kidnapped. At the time, she was twelve years-old. She was returned after a week, but she was not unharmed. She suffered repeated sexual assaults and death threats. Our small community, and even members of my family, shunned her rather than embrace her as a child who was in need of healing and love. After returning from her ordeal, my sister had no way of grounding without the support of family and community.
At 16, my parents decided that I move to New York City to watch over my sister, who was now 14 and habitually running away from home. We lived with our aunt, who had no children of her own. Most of my band lived in New York at the time, so I was excited. I quickly found out how lonely and dangerous and desolate the city could be. I was lost and yearned for nature and love. I failed at taking care of my sister, also. I wanted to come home. My mother said, “No.”
I had the idea that every person has a right to a dignified life, so I emancipated myself from my family. I just turned 17 and was on the street. I became involved with a group of squatters who had taken over an abandoned building on the Lower East Side. The plan was to bring the building up to code and buy it from the city for one dollar. At the time, the building didn’t have electricity or running water.
It was 1988, the coldest winter in years, and all of us kids would huddle in one room, using our body heat to stay warm while we slept. I often stayed out until 4 in the morning; it was warm in bars. I had a job, so I wasn’t expected to contribute very much to the upkeep of the building. Even so, it felt good to be able to do minor masonry-work. Sometimes I would go on food runs, which was picking through the garbage from Tony Roma’s, The Waverly, Dunkin Donuts or Mama Mia’s Pizza on specific nights. Some places were kind enough to wrap up their food in tin foil.
I lived as a squatter for about eight months. It was regularly terrifying, exhausting and fraught with danger. I didn’t eat everyday, I was sick often, and there was the danger of attack in the night as well as the danger of arson. (Owners of abandoned buildings had been known to burn them down to collect insurance money). I was not safe. I had an overbearing, controlling boyfriend. I bathed out of a bucket. I had no toilet. I was getting tired of not having my basic needs met. I survived by keeping myself just conscious enough to be quiet and observant. It was getting boring, and something inside of me told me that if I became apathetic, I was as good as dead. To battle boredom at work (a job at a “hip” clothing store), I wrote poetry on the back of business cards. I read whatever I could get my hands on, and I kept a journal. Music stopped, but writing began.
In the summer of 1988, it got very hot. People got agitated. That July, there was a battle in Tompkins Square Park with squatters and artists pitted against hundreds of police in riot gear. I was not a participant, but I was there. I remember seeing it happen, walking through it in a state of shock and disassociation. It escalated into a violent riot with many local people from the neighborhood being brutally beaten by police who covered their nametags with electrical tape. I was defeated. I called my mother and asked her if I could come home. This time she said, “Yes.”
Home was an adjustment. I was met with hostility from my sisters, and heartbreakingly, my grandfather. At first, I was a physical shadow of my former self, but my spirit was strong. I think my mom was baffled. No one asked me how it was; I guess they didn’t have to. I didn’t stay at home for very long, but I stayed nearby.
The best thing about coming back was getting a job in a health food store. My boss was generous and gave me access to every book in the shop, as well as a great discount on products. I read everything I could get my hands on. I changed my diet, experimented with vitamins, herbs and skin care products. I loved learning about health and nutrition and used myself as a guinea pig. Customers picked my brain and I was happy to be an example and to help them. I kept reading. Soon I was reading books about kundalini and quantum physics and creative visualization. I started meditating and imagining I was outpouring love to the world and that it was loving me back. A new door was opening.
After some travelling around the United States, I was drawn back to New York City. My return was through music; a band needed a singer for a tour and a couple of shows in NY. I agreed to do it. I was 20 years-old.
The next thing I knew I was living in New York again and co-founding a band of my own, which I was in for seven years. We played many places: CBGBs, Coney Island High, the Lion’s Den. We put out several recordings and had regular rotation on college radio. We played in Philadelphia and Boston, too. We even played the Onondaga Reservation in New York State. I studied voice and practiced everyday. I loved performing.
For me, musical performance was ritualized chaos. There were the constraints of time and meter, melody and rhythm, the stage and the audience. Once the music started, it was as if a whole world opened up and the only way to survive in that world was to be completely in the moment. In those instants, there was no time for self-doubt, only action and experience.
The co-founder of my band was into yoga. I tried it. I loved that I could use my imagination and breath control to feel and cause subtle changes in my body. I felt at home within myself for the first time in years. I studied intensely at Jivamukti Yoga and decided I wanted to teach. I knew the training would have a profound affect on my life. I was a little afraid to take the leap, and, certification was not cheap. When my mother decided to give me an early birthday present and announced that she would pay for my training, I couldn’t turn her down. In 1996, I lived on an ashram and spent a month of intense instruction of asanas (yoga postures), chanting, meditation, physiology, pranayama, Sanskrit, Vedic philosophy and the Bhagavad Gita.
Around the same time I was getting involved with yoga, I decided it was time to go to school. During my first year in college, I had an art professor whose philosophy regarding the etching process was, “There are no mistakes.” I took that philosophy to heart and have applied it to my life.
School was a safe place for me to explore writing and art. I enjoyed having dialogue about our projects. Writing was powerful and it was mine. I could share it if I felt like it, or I could keep it to myself. I didn’t have to worry about being on pitch or about hue saturation. I could just go. It became a way for me to observe myself and the world in a more detached and compassionate way. It was a form of meditation that carried over onto the page, and then into my painting, my music and my life.
These were the sweeping movements of my life. While I was taking huge steps, I was informed by my smaller ones. I was still involved with the politics of housing rights. I was thrilled to see that the building I used to live in was eventually brought up to code and was an affordable home for several people. I became involved with community gardens and spent many hours among plants and earth while the bustle of the city passed me by. I volunteered at the New York Open Center, Bluestockings Bookstore and the New York Writers Coalition. I formed writing groups and more musical groups. I studied religion and participated in tribal ceremonies. I found ways to connect with nature as much as I could, and read about permaculture and alternative forms of energy. I looked for ways to use my imagination and to have peace.
I left New York and moved to Flagstaff a year ago. In the last several years, due to the end of rent stabilization, New York had become increasingly expensive. (Friends who are still there have a real concern about the city’s infrastructure. Who takes the garbage away when the people whose job it is can’t afford to live there?) In order to pay the rent, I took a job in investment banking that had nothing to do with my interests. I worked a lot. I still found time to volunteer, but I was becoming less engaged. My longing for nature was painful. I was reading about permaculture and eco-architecture, but the disconnection with nature from my daily reality was far too large. Happily, I made the decision to leave.
I’ve spent this year walking in the woods reflecting on everything around me and my life. I’ve been practicing yoga several times a week, and have recently begun to teach classes at Mountain Waves Healing Arts Center. I’ve created a writing experiment called Writing the Energetic Body, which five writers are participating in. I’m enjoying Flagstaff! I feel in many ways, my life has come full circle. I am back to the earth and allowing it to nurture me just as it did when I was a child.
The commonalities among all of my activities were (and are) based on the search for community and creativity. How can we enjoy our lives? I have found that food, security and love really didn’t come alive for me without creativity. Creativity reaches beyond art, writing, music, etc., and spills over into observation and analysis, ritual, playing “pretend”, how we relate to one another. It is about accepting what it is that we are drawn to, essentially knowing what we want and nurturing our unique gifts. In communities, when we can honor our individual talents, rather than strive to be one with the masses, we contribute to the diversity of our society. When we can find balance and honor ourselves, we won’t need to constantly consume “stuff” in order to feel normal or happy.
My life could have turned out very differently. I remember thinking that if I survived to 18, then I would probably make it to 21. If I turned 21, then I would live to be 35. I’ve made it (and then some), and I am grateful for all of my experiences. I would like to see what happens next. Creativity goes hand in hand with curiosity. The Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities would be the perfect map in which to navigate the possibilities.
We live in exciting times. With so much change happening in our country and our world politically, economically, and ecologically most of us need to reinvent the ways in which we view the world and live our lives. For many, it is a frightening time, but it is also a time of opportunity.
In my life, it has been important to approach change with a sense of playful curiosity, relaxation and fun. Hopelessness and despair are immobilizing. If people feel good about themselves and their abilities to make sound decisions based on their intuition and innate creativity, then they can take positive action. I trust that if we believe our own vision and drive are valid, then we would naturally want to take care of our world. If we feel that our ideas matter, then the desire to do “good” becomes even more powerful. My intention for the theme of “Visions of Good and Sustainable Societies” is to explore coping with change, healing, and taking responsibility for ourselves (and the planet), through creativity and the creative process.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my letter and application. I look forward to hearing from you.
All the best,