TeeJay Dill: Creator

teeJay

1. Introduction:

My legal name is Teressa Jean, but I have been going by TeeJay pretty consistently since Junior High School.

I was born in Rochester in 1968. I currently live in Irondequoit and “grew up” in the City, Irondequoit and Tyendinaga (Ontario, Canada).

I consider myself an artist – my primary source of income has been tattooing since the early nineties but I spend as much free time as I can drawing and painting (I take lots of photographs also, but don’t consider myself good at that).

I’ve spent the last few years working on a book on medical reconstructive tattooing of the Nipple/Areola Complex.

Hobbies beyond that include camping, gardening and riding my motorcycle. Free time is a bit of a scarcity so there never seems to be quite enough time spent with family or recreational activities.

What am I passionate about? Creation. I love to make things. I’m a bit of a knowledge junkie and I love to find out how things work. I enjoy learning about other people’s passions and getting to see glimpses into the worlds of others by listening to them describe their loves and passions. Fortunately at work I have plenty of time to do that.

Beyond that I am a bit of a home body and would be a hopeless Cat Lady if left to my own devices.

2. Can you tell us more about your book endeavor?

teeJayArmNipple

A practice nipple was tattooed on a man’s arm

I have been making medical reconstruction tattoos of the nipple/areola complex since the early 90s. In ’99 I started working out of Strong Hospital doing this type of work. I am currently seeing patients  Dr. Vega’s office and through the Plastic Surgery Group of Rochester. More info on this can be found at http://www.whitetigertattoo.com/medical.html and an example of this tattooing done on a non-medical volunteer can be seen here http://justteejay.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/step-by-step-3d-nipple-tattoo-areola-repigmentation/.

The book itself is at kind of a stand-still at the moment. While I am anxious to be able to disseminate this information to as many practitioners as possible, I am unfortunately not a very organized writer and have gotten completely overwhelmed with the project.

3.  Looking at those photos took my breath away.  Your work in this realm is so intimate and compassionate.  What opened this door to you?  How does it feel to give this gift to women, and to share in their experiences?

teeJayBreastsThese are beautiful triumphant women who have made it through to the other side of an ordeal. They are victorious. They are survivors. The work that we do together is a celebration of their completion of that journey. Coming through it wiser and with different perspectives on what is important in life.

I help them get past the scars. To literally take their eyes off of the scars and feel more whole again.

How does it feel to participate in that on a regular basis? Amazing. They gift me with so much laughter and hope and light. I get thanked for the work that I do with breast cancer survivors and I feel like a bit of a fraud because I get so very much more from them than I feel I could ever repay.

What opened this door? How did I wind up here? Fate? The Universe? God? Something beyond me. I don’t question the whys too much. I just try to enjoy the ride.

4. Our patriarchal society has certain view about how women should behave.  Many of us are strongly encouraged (from childhood and beyond) to follow feminine guidelines.  Being a business owner of tattoo shop(s) and a motorcycle-rider, you may be described as “bold”.   How do people respond to you?  Have you encountered sexism?  How does it feel when you don’t fit into cultural norms? 

My Mother did a really good job of schooling me on how to be a proper lady. She taught me proper table manners and how to sit up straight and which fork to use and how to walk in high heels. She wanted me to be able to feel comfortable in any environment that I was ever to find myself in.

I don’t think she could have imagined where I would wind up.

Photo by Mariah Rose Tattooist

Photo by Mariah Rose Tattooist

I guess my choices in lifestyle and career and hobbies would have made more sense and been more “normal” if I were a man. Most of it is just pursuing things that I love and being too pigheaded to realize that I might be able to do it another way.

teeJayHarleyWomenWhen I was doing illustration work someone had asked me in an interview about riding the motorcycle and how I had wound up riding. (I was doing illustration work for the now defunct Harley Women Magazine). I had explained that I had an interest in motorcycles since I was a kid and talked about the process through bicycles to dirt bikes to street bikes. She asked me why I hadn’t just dated someone who had a motorcycle – there was a bit of a pause and I just burst out laughing.

I didn’t do it that way because it had NEVER occurred to me. In all honesty, I felt a little stupid. Wow. That would have been a lot easier! While I am glad how it turned out, I’m sure I would be able to watch the birds and daydream better if I was on the back of the bike. There are advantages to everything.

Bold. hmmm. I don’t see me that way.

I suppose if we could spend some time in other people’s heads seeing how other perceive us it would be both a blessing and a curse. I see myself as a shy introvert and am constantly baffled as how I wound up in an industry with so much human interaction.

Self Portrait in-progress

Self Portrait in-progress

People love me or hate me or don’t notice me. Same as everyone else. We are all judged. We are all loved. We are all attacked. Of course I think I would be happier if everyone loved me all of the time – but if they did I would just be suspicious as to why.

I don’t know how much sexism I’ve experienced. I am often asked what it is like to be a woman in the tattoo industry when it is such a male dominant field. Unfortunately I don’t have any perspective. I’ve always been female, so I don’t have any basis of comparison. Yes, there are things about the industry that are difficult, but I don’t know if they are more or less difficult due to my gender. I know when I first started tattooing I got some clients because I was female – they thought it was a novelty or thought that I would hurt them less… or sometimes a guy would bring his girlfriend in and wouldn’t want a male artist to “touch” her so I would wind up with the client. So while there may have been disadvantages, there were also advantages at times.

How has this affected me? Hard to say. All of our life experiences and choices shape who we are.

Sometimes I feel included and a part of – and sometimes I feel different and outside the norm. I would imagine that is probably true of everyone – even people who have tried very hard to fit perfectly into societal norms.

A brilliant young lady in my life said to me this morning that she thinks she is surrounded by a protective bubble of beautiful and strange people. That the people she associates with are of like mind and accepting of her and her quirks and passions. I think I have done the same thing. It would (of course) be counterproductive to surround myself with people who are critical and hostile.

5. How do you break out of the mindset when you are not feeling inspired to create? (question submitted by Chris Clemens)

teeJayArtBeing creative for a living AND for the majority of my hobbies can definitely be draining. It’s something that is difficult to broach with most people as it can be hard to understand how our job can be difficult too.

Someone told me one time that everyone “Slays Dragons”. That no matter what it is that you do for a living there are times when it is incredibly difficult – whether you cut down trees, wield a jackhammer or push papers for a living.

I LOVE tattooing and I love to make stuff. It is what drives me it, it is what I DO. It is who I am.

That being said, there are definitely days when it is hard. There are days when the concept is limiting or my brain is just “all set” with thinking about anything.

The biggest thing is to not pack my schedule so tightly that I don’t have any breathing room. I need to time to be able to walk away and let it the concepts percolate.

teeJayDragonfliesI spend as much time as I can being inspired by other artists. I keep the television off. I pick up a pen and just doodle until my brain clears out. I go to Figure Drawing every Monday (that I possibly can). I make sure to remember that it should all be fun and if it isn’t fun, I’m doing it wrong. I follow amazing artists on Instagram. I go for a bike ride. I go for a run. I talk with another artist and see if they can help kick start my creativity. I play Solitaire on my iPad. I put all of the work stuff away and push paint around on canvas. Whatever I need to do to bring myself back to center and get back to the task at hand.

In the worst case scenario I call the client and postpone their appointment. It doesn’t happen often and I don’t like to do it, but I would rather apologize for not tattooing someone than for making a sub-par tattoo on them.

6. Please tell us about a book, poem, piece of music, or artwork that has influenced you.

Oooh. These are always hard for me. It’s like picking a “favorite”. I am inspired constantly. By the way a shadow falls across someone’s nose, by something I think I heard, by a million little things every day. It’s hard to think of specific pieces that really stand out.

I love the way Maxfield Parrish lights his foregrounds like it is sunrise but makes his backgrounds blue and twilight like. I love the way Alphonse Mucha bends models hands to his ideal type of hand and the little swirlies he frames things with. I love the way some artists like Michael Parkes seem to have entire worlds that exist in their mind and their paintings look like postcards from their world. I love the way the masters explored form and muscle structure. I love the way Frazetta’s paintings look like a movement frozen forever in time without looking stiff or forced (I also love that he used so much freaking green in skin tones). I could ramble on like this for hours about each of the items on the list and I have serious doubts that it would be interesting to read so I won’t.

 7. Please tell us about a person who has inspired you.

 I’m instead going to retell a story. It’s a story about my mom and about a kid named Tony. I bring it up often when people talk to me about how talented I am. So I guess you could say in the story that I am inspired by my mom or Tony if you would like.

teeJayFlyingMouseWhen I was little (really little) my mom used to read me stories (I think this is a pretty common childhood thing) the difference is that my mom used to read me Greek mythology a lot. So there weren’t pictures on every page like their were in most kids books. So as a result, I was especially interested when we got to a page with a picture on it. It had to be looked at and studied before we could move on. So right at that point in my life I decided that I wanted to be one of those people who makes the pictures (found out later that they were called “Illustrators” – it became a magical word to me) So whenever anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up – I told them an artist. They told me that was great. I drew my little pictures and mom oohed and aahed over them and I was content with my vision of my future.

Some time passed and I found out that I wasn’t as good as some of the other kids at drawing. This concerned me some. Then one day a boy in my class (I have come to call him Tony, but at this point so much time has passed that I might have made his name up somewhere along the line) was drawing pictures. We were all gathered around him amazed. For fourth grade (or whatever it was) he was amazing! Everyone was telling him how good he was at it and how great he was. He told us that drawing was stupid and it was just something that he did sometimes – no big deal. (As an adult I have a whole different perspective on this response… but at the time…) I was devastated! How could he say those things? How could he have been given such an amazing gift and say it was stupid? How could he be that talented and not even care?!?

I was really worked up.

So worked up that when my mom got home from work that night I was still really upset.

I relayed the entire story to her expecting her to tell me that Tony was an idiot and a stupid boy – something to make me feel better at the time. Instead my mom gave me probably the best advice of my life.

teeJayTattooBackShe told me that Tony had obviously been born much more talented than me at art….<what?> but that it didn’t matter. <now I knew that she had really not been listening>

She told me that if Tony didn’t care – he wouldn’t practice and he wouldn’t progress. He would always draw just like he did in the fourth grade. <but, but … he draws GREAT!!!!! I continued to insist…>

But, (and here is where it got helpful) I could get to be way better than Tony. If I was passionate about what I did, continued to work as hard at it as I possibly could and practiced every single day – I would get to be light years better than Tony.

She gave me hope. She gave me a way to hang on to my dream.

Since then I have also learned that it is important to always remain teachable as well. (Well, OK, there are a lot of other things I have learned since fourth grade.)

But most importantly she taught me that hard work can accomplish the impossible and that I have to believe in myself no matter what.

I continue to tell this story to people when they tell me how talented and blessed I am because I want people to know that they can accomplish their dreams as well, even if they aren’t as good as Tony.

As a side note I will tell you that Steve Carpenter who owns the studio that I take classes at (Conveniently called the Steve Carpenter Studio) has been a tremendous role model for me the last couple of years. In addition to making absolutely breathtaking artwork, Steve is honest in an amazing way. He shares his fears about his work. He still takes classes and pushes himself to learn. And most admirably to me he is still having so very much fun with it all. There is a childlike giddiness to him sometimes when he is in the studio. It’s a great thing to watch and I want to be just like him when I grow up.

8. Tell us about something weird, funny or interesting that has happened to you.

Mink Mouse

Mink Mouse

When I was very small I would go over to my Grandparents house. As we all do, I grew up with very specific memories, smells, things and foods that reminded me of Grandma and Grandpa. One of these things was the mink mouse.

When my Uncle was small he decided that my Grandma deserved a mink coat. He told my Grandpa that he had to take him to the mink coat store and he was going to use ALL of his savings to buy Grandma a mink coat. Of course ALL of his savings was a jar full of change. For whatever reason my Grandpa took my Uncle to the Fur Store. Where my Uncle was mortified that he did not have enough for the coat. He asked what he did have enough for. It turns out that he had ALMOST enough money to buy this little mink mouse. Grandpa chipped in the rest. Grandma was gifted with the mouse and the story was passed down and the mink mouse was treasured.
Mink Mouse House

Mink Mouse House

When my Grandmother got older and I realized that my time with her was limited I wanted to get a tattoo for her before it was a memorial tattoo. Obviously the mink mouse needed to be part of that tattoo (there are other elements for both her and my Grandpa, but that is another story).

After I had the tattoo made I had mixed feelings about showing it to her. I wanted her to know how much she meant to me, and explain the meaning of the individual elements – but I also knew that while she was super supportive of me and of my artwork, she had always been a little iffy on the whole tattoo thing.
For the next few months I would often think of showing her and then come up with an excuse why I shouldn’t that day.
The day came when out of the blue she said to me that someday I should go through and explain what the story was with all of these tattoos and what they all meant to me. A golden opportunity that I could not pass up; I launched into my story of the tattoo and what everything meant. She listened intently and when I was finished I waited. She just looked at me for a little while. Clearly processing all of this.
Mink Mouse Tattoo

Mink Mouse Tattoo

Now in the months preceding this moment I thought that I had played out every possible response to this unveiling. I missed one.

She looked me straight in the eye and asked…. “Where is the tattoo for your mom?”
What?
Again, “Where is the tattoo for your mom?” (Bear in mind here this is my Father’s Mother we are dealing with.) I don’t understand. “Do you have a tattoo for your mom?”
No. No, Grandma I do not have a tattoo for my mom.
Why?
What?!?
“Why do you not have a tattoo for your mom?” Now I can’t very well say to this woman that I don’t think my mom is dying anytime soon so I tell her the other half of the reason which is that I haven’t thought of a really good symbol to represent mom yet.
She is very obviously disappointed in me. She makes that face. That Grandma face and asks me “Don’t you think she is a good Mom?” Why yes, of course I do, Grandma.
“Well then. I think you need to get on that.”
I was definitely not prepared for that one. For the record I still haven’t gotten a tattoo for my mom. I’ve asked her what she thinks would be a fitting tattoo. She can’t decide either – although since she has retired she has taken up quilting so it might be a quilting tattoo if I can sort that out.
I just never know how people are going to react to my tattoos – not even my family apparently.
Contact
Knnections tree –> Chris Clemens –> TeeJay Dill
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Luc Watelet: Teacher

Luc Watelet

From a photo by Mireille Le Breton

1. Introduction

I was born on the 5th of November 1959 in Brussels, Belgium. My mom had promised her friend Freddy, who was to become a priest, that she would name her first born son after him: Freddy. My parents met because they were both friends of Freddy. But my dad felt he should have a choice in the name of his son. They named me Luc and gave me Freddy as a middle name.

I went to Africa, the Belgian Congo, within a few weeks of being born. My mom and I stayed there for a year and returned to Belgium as the independence revolution was starting in the Congo. My brother, a year younger than me, was born in Brussels shortly after our return. My dad stayed in the Congo an extra year.

When my dad returned to Belgium I acted like I did not know him. My early years in Belgium were spent with my brother and two cousins. It felt like paradise. Then, suddenly, we were transplanted to Canada. No more cousins. We went to a French school from France. The transition was difficult for my mom. She wanted to stay in Belgium as she felt very faithful to her family.

I was the kind of kid who remained in himself. I was already more interested in the inner world. My brother was the opposite. He climbed trees and was all into the world.

In school, I was bullied. I guess kids feel drawn to do that to get kids turned inwards be more like them.

I was interested in Jung‘s work at 16 and at 17 wanted to be a psychotherapist.  But the psychology courses I took felt like they were missing the mark for me.  I studied math, my second love.

I love traveling and was happy when I was able to get scholarships to do graduate work in the US. I went to Seattle, WA.  But I knew that what I was getting my PhD in, Biostatistics, was not my world. I could do it well, but I had no interest in contributing to the field. I did not know what else to do.

I became a writer. But none of what I was writing was publishable. It was a period of my life where I was learning about myself and the world and how to heal. It was a period during which I experienced a few miracles. It was changing the way I understood life.

When I moved to Rochester, I got introduced to meditation, healing and yoga.  That’s what helped me see how I wanted to be a psychotherapist. It was to become what I call today: Mindfulness Psychotherapy.

My hobbies: talking with people, hiking, photography, community, teaching, and writing.

2.  In the three years that we’ve known each other, you’ve asked me important questions; ones that changed my life. It seems that you help others by asking questions rather than giving advice. How do those questions come to you?

Photo by Luc Watelet

Photo by Luc Watelet

It is true that I avoid giving advice. I received so many that did not hit the mark that I vowed never to do that unless I am able to put myself in the other person’s shoes. I ask questions to put myself in the other person’s shoes. As long as I am not able to feel and understand how a person experiences her situation, I cannot know what would work best for her. I may venture some advice at times but I immediately ask if my advice hit the mark.

In other words, I respect people’s free will.  We each have our own truth. I don’t want someone to do or think something because I suggest it, but because they want to try it or think it.

But I also ask other kinds of question, questions that help the other reflect on something from a new perspective. Perhaps those are the questions you are referring to.

A person’s behavior is completely logical if we understand her paradigm. When I see what part of a paradigm is responsible for a behavior a person wants to change, I try to find a way to address that. I may be direct about it. But sometimes it seems more effective to help a person see it for herself. It can create an Aha! moment. So then I ask a question that challenges the paradigm.

This does not work if a person is not ready for it. It has to happen at the right time.  How to know the right time? Trust life. If life brings a challenge to someone, she is probably ready to learn something new. I think inwardly of possible reasons life may send that particular challenge given what I know about the person. I look for a match between how life is working with that person and what I think that person is trying to overcome. Then I ask questions accordingly.

3. You are also a big questioner in your own life. What answers do you seek? What is your perceived destination?

Photo by Luc Watelet

Photo by Luc Watelet

Well… in a way I don’t seek answers… I seek peace, I seek love, I seek joy, I seek harmony within myself and the outside world… In the process, I meet resistance and obstacles.

So I ask:  Why this resistance?  Why this obstacle?  Why the lack of peace?

My first important question probably came as a result of my wish for the world: We need more harmony in this world. We need to live more according to our dreams and be valued for our gifts. So why do people forget their dreams?

And I promised myself never to forget mine.

I also asked myself:

1) Why do I feel so different from my peers?

And

2) When will I meet like-minded people?

I was a teenager then and the answer came that I would start meeting like-minded people in my mid twenties.

During my first marriage my question was: Why isn’t this working?

The answer was: Because you are meant to live different lives. But because we were supposed to be committed to each other we could not see it and instead we expected answers from each other. That was impossible.

One of my spoken questions was: What is my purpose in life?

One of my unspoken questions was: What kind of psychotherapist do I want to be?

Life answered in many unexpected ways.

One question was: I want to experience unconditional love.

When I felt it and it disappeared, I wanted to know how to get back there, not just a minute but forever. The answer was: Drop your worries!

Today I feel I have asked all my questions and I need to refine my ways of applying the answers in my life. But I still ask how I can help others in specific ways.  My perceived destination is: I see myself as a jolly laughing spiritual master.

4. You said you felt different from your peers. You are a very emotional, deep, open man. How has it affected you to feel so “different,” exhibiting “feminine” attributes that are not easily accepted in our patriarchal society?

Photo by Luc Watelet

Photo by Luc Watelet

Interesting question. I thought I would answer it with a few words at first… It wasn’t to be short as I learned a lot from this question. Thanks.

I’ll talk first from what I became aware of as I grew up and then go back deeper in my childhood. Then I’ll reflect on how that led me to who I am today.

I don’t remember being called a sissy or gay or any of the French versions of these labels as a kid, so kids did not seem to tease me or bully me because of my feminine side.

The way the world talked about men and women attributes shocked me at first… to realize people had these views about men and women and I did not fit the mold. I knew I was intuitive and it was supposed be a female attribute. It was, in a way, my first awareness that what I heard from the outside world did not match my experience. I did not question myself because of it. But I did not get a sense that it was a patriarchal view. I got a sense it was a misguided human view. The same way that later when I took a psychology course that did not seem to speak to the way I perceived human nature or that I hear women and men both repeating what they hear without questioning it, such as: “depression is the result of a brain chemical imbalance.”

In a way, it affected me positively because it helped me hold my own counsel and have a critical ear to everything. At first, I liked engaging in intellectual discussions about everything, questioning everything. But I soon found myself feeling superior because I had this knowledge that seemed at odds with a lot of accepted views… this sense of superiority compensated for a sense of inadequacy I had not been aware of.

The feeling of inadequacy came from before I could speak or be aware of the outside world views.  I may have been born with it, but it was made manifest by my parents ignoring me when I cried as an infant and turned up the music to teach me independence. And my parents thought I was disabled because I did not act like a little boy who tries to escape his play pen, I was not physical. So, I grew up feeling something was wrong with me. Perhaps I was born with this feeling. But I did not know why. I did not know that it was related to my parents’ expectations of the feminine and the masculine perceptions of who I should be. So I did not grow up thinking of it as a feminine vs. masculine issue.

I remember dressing in women’s clothes for Halloween once, and looking at my genitals trying to make them look female. How old was I? 7? a young teen?… Inwardly I had a sense of not being male enough…

I was being bullied in school and my father thought I should learn judo to defend myself like a man. But that did not seem to hit the mark for me.

As a teenager, I was attracted to girls and felt inadequate. I feared not being male enough for them.

My dad tried to hook me up with a hunter to give me a male bonding experience, but the hunter was a drunk and we ended up staying at the pub the whole day. I got stung by a bee in the pub. Wild!

It is interesting to reflect back on all this now because I had a positive experience of my feminine side and a negative experience of my masculine side and the efforts of my dad with my masculine side were off the mark. My mom on the other hand had some kind of fear of men, but never acknowledged it. So it is not surprising I felt the way I did given that my parents did not know what to do with me. I had to raise myself.

I was naturally drawn to gays and lesbians for their sensitivity.

I remember going to a hardware store in my 30’s to rent some tools and having a mini panic attack. I was entering the world of men. I used the tools and returned them. I never had a panic attack at a hardware store ever again. That experience helped me break out of some fear of not being man enough. I had to grow as a man by living.

But I also had to grow as a human being in a world of people who did not know how to help me. When I had stress symptoms that’s all the doctors could tell me. They did not know how to help. I had to figure it out myself. I had to learn to care for myself.

So my experience was that of an emasculated man with a feminine side I cared about, but also of a human who did not know what being a human was and with no one to guide him. I was born in a culture that did not know itself enough to teach me how to care for myself. So the whole experience of being a feminine man sort of dissolved into a bigger issue…that of learning to navigate the human experience.

I don’t blame it on the culture being patriarchal as neither men nor women had solutions for me. It feels as though both men and women are lost in this world. Men took over the leadership a long time ago and women went along with it, at first. Women have worked hard to reclaim their voice and presence, so they are more equal to men than they have ever been. They have challenged the patriarchal paradigm but have not yet put forth a different one. I see both men and women as lost at this point and perhaps acknowledging it could be the start of a beautiful renewal for humanity.

I did find solutions from spiritual teachers and from within me.

I often felt as though I had to prove myself to others… I still react that way now and again out of habit I suppose. I need to make peace with being different. We are all different. No need to feel less than, or inadequate, anymore.

5. Please talk about your struggle with money and what insights you gained from it.

Photo by Luc Watelet

Photo by Luc Watelet

When I first tried to tackle it and I asked my guidance how to solve this issue, the answer was: Love!

I did not understand. I still tried to figure out a practical, down-to-earth solution to my problem.

But at some point, since nothing worked, I remembered that I had to stop worrying, a message I had received in the early 90s when I asked inwardly how to be in a space of unconditional love all the time. So I started a meditation on happiness and voilà… problem solved!

But it wasn’t as easy as that because when I first started that meditation in 1996 or so, I was falling asleep within 10 minutes of doing it. My brain would shut down. So something had to shift. I struggled a long time before I was ready. One big help was the help in self-worth I received from a spiritual teacher I study with.

In retrospect, my fear of money was really bigger than that, it was a fear of not getting any support, a fear that I didn’t matter. In this light it makes more sense that Love is the answer! Learning to see my worth and love myself, and then letting go of worries became possible!

6. Do you think that people who work on themselves are egocentric? Coming to love ourselves can be a long, painful journey. Is this because it’s not meant to be?

Photo by Luc Watelet

Photo by Luc Watelet

There is a perception from some Christians that any work on self is selfish. I was talking with a Christian about doing yoga and he did not get it. He told me that was selfish. That is a total misunderstanding.

Ideally we want to make ourselves as available to be of service as possible. This is not possible if we are self-centered.

Also it is not possible if our spirit isn’t free. We cannot really be of service if we are stuck inside, because service needs to come with love. If we cannot be of service with love, we are robots… it drains those we help as much as our self.

If we help others and feel overwhelmed… it is time to work on clearing the inner space so our spirit is free to love again. That’s what doing yoga is about. That’s what working on self is about.

There may be some who work on self and it becomes an obsession… that is to be avoided as well!

Egocentric individuals are people who are self-centered. They cannot see life from someone else’s perspective.  Everything revolves around them. They don’t know love.

People who love themselves can love others because we are all mirrors to each other.

Loving ourselves is a long journey because there is much to love!!! We are infinite. Another way to look at this is to imagine the work it would be to love each human being on the planet. Some are easy to love, and others not so easy. But in order to love ourselves completely, that’s the work we need to do. That’s why it takes so long!

7. It is astounding to me how many people struggle with anxiety.  Why the stress? What can we do about it? Can we become free of this?

Photo by Luc Watelet

Photo by Luc Watelet

Yes we can!

Why the stress?

Stress comes from a lack of balance between the inside world and the outside world. If we had no inside world, there would be no stress. Our culture lives with the assumption that we have no inside world. If we live according to our culture’s rules without paying attention to our inside world, we experience a conflict between what our inside world wants and what the outside world wants from us, and we are torn in between.

What can we do about it?

We need to see that we have a choice.

We have to become mindful of our inside world and create a life of balance between the inside and outside worlds. We have to overcome the tendency to feel like a victim or powerless and know that we matter, that our inside world needs a voice and we are the ones to hear it and to give it the style of expression it needs because no one else can.

Stress becomes a notice that we have forgotten to pay attention to something our inside world wants us to know. Mindfulness becomes a way to connect with our self, a way to love our self, by accepting what we are here to accomplish every day, every moment. We enter our true journey.

Instead of being a slave to our cultural environment, we need to establish a relationship with our self and with life. When we do this, we tap into synchronicity, which is how life supports our journey.

8. What do you think is the most important thing for people to explore?

Photo by Luc Watelet

Photo by Luc Watelet

Self knowledge. There are 2 aspects to this: What your dreams are and what holds you back.

They go together. You can only know what holds you back if you try and do something out of your comfort zone. Your dreams are usually at least in part out of your comfort zone. That’s how you grow.

I meet people who say they don’t have any dreams. That’s not true. They do. But they learned not to pay attention to them. They may have been told their dreams are childish, or unrealistic, or that they won’t make any money at it. If people don’t follow their dreams, they get depressed. The quest is to try and remember our dreams, so we can overcome what holds us back, be happy and free.

Contact Luc:

Website: http://www.innerwearth.com

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Timothy D. Bellavia: Artist

Photo by Rex Lott (circa. 2013)

Photo by Rex Lott (circa. 2013)

1. Introduction:

I have lived in Manhattan for 20 plus years. My formative years started in Western New York, specifically Buffalo, New York and then my father set up a dental practice in a rural town east of the city of Buffalo.

I am an Assistant Professor at Touro College & University System where I teach in the Graduate Division of General and Special Education. Primarily I teach Arts Education courses for teaching candidates seeking an initial certification for grades 1 through 6.

My hobbies include writing, reading, and creating project based-arts curriculum. I am passionate about art education and have been creating marionettes, dolls and puppets since I can remember.

2. Can you tell us about We Are All the Same Inside: How it came about, and where it has led you since?

We Are All the Same Inside

We Are All The Same Inside (WAATSI) came about when I was at a cross-roads. My pursuit in the fine arts at first was fiery, then it became ice cold. Somewhat by choice, I switched gears and blended my passions for curriculum development and arts-based learning with doll-making. Soon I was a master at over-lock stitching and patented a doll that could teach diversity. Manufacturing was not an option due to my finances, so I opted to write and publish a picture book instead using the prototype Sage dolls in the vein of children’s author / photographer Dare Wright to illustrates the pages.

We Are All The Same Inside (WAATSI) came about when I was at a cross-roads. My pursuit as a fine artist at first was fiery, then it became ice cold. Somewhat by choice, I switched gears and blended my passions for curriculum development and arts-based learning with doll-making. Soon I was a master at over-lock stitching and patented a doll that could teach diversity. Manufacturing was not an option due to my finances, so I opted to write and publish a picture book instead using the prototype Sage dolls in the vein of children’s author / photographer Dare Wright to illustrates the pages.

Doris TroyWAATSI is pretty much my “Doris Troy“. Doris Troy is soul singer known for her one hit record, “Just One Look” (#10, circa. 1963). She recorded a demo version in a basement studio for another recording artist to replicate and Atlantic records the record company opted for her version and she was signed immediately. No hits followed. But she prayed that this song would be her passport and key to do what she loved – sing. So there you have it.

WAATSI has afforded me the opportunities such as traveling overseas to meeting politicians to pop singers all the while creating socially conscious project arts-based learning curriculum through doll-making and other medias.

3. Please talk about being diagnosed with skin cancer and how that led to WAATSI.

I omitted the C word. Most people either jump to conclusions when I bring it up or don’t want to talk any further when say that word. In 1998, after years of beach days and tanning bed parlor residencies, I was diagnosed with stage 1 melanoma. Skin cancer. I was a meager 26 at the time of the seemingly cold diagnosis at Sloan Kettering. The dermatologist stated, “if cancer is black and white is non-cancer, you’re charcoal dark grey”. I was at a loss and have five invasive biopsies in one scheduled visit. Ironically, the surgeon argued with me upon what area to remove. I stated: “Remove this area. Look at the photos.” And sure enough that was the area that was positive and further surgery was needed. I called my Aunt Anne immediately. Her turn on the Planet C happened a few years later.

SageIt had never occurred to me that our skin is an organ. I thought it was just pigment on our bodies really. Clearly I didn’t like myself or my skin pigment, thus I darkened it through UV rays natural or synthetic.

While healing, I was also wounded by a dismal failure of an artistic venture that led to my vision of the WAATSI Sage doll.  This workshop or doll making curriculum would show participants that our skin divides us; but essentially we are the same inside.

 4. Please talk about religion and how its members have shaped you.

JesusReligion?  I don’t think I’m religious or spiritual. But I can never run away from either. I have faith. Perhaps I am in denial? Let’s say I have the WWJD (what would Jesus do?) permanently embossed in my consciousness.

The parts of Jesus, religion or spirituality that I embrace are the loving parts. There is nothing like going to a temple, church or any place where people are gracious, loving and non-judgmental. I can sadly count on one hand personally where I have experienced this in organized religion. For example, I remember walking into chapel in college and peers of mine were pointing at me and talking through glass stating derogatory words of my apparent (effeminate) affect. The shock still marinates inside of me to this day. “In a church?” I thought at the time.

Religion to most means they are cleansed by their faith externally. To me, it is always about the internal parts. The parts that only you and a higher power can see. It is a human experience of western civilization where religious zealots of sorts have tried to reshape people in their version of what G*d wants for you. I have had people state to me, “I love you, G*d loves you, now change”. In essence, I have never been able to be anyone but my authentic self. I have never ever been able to pass. Though, I think is G*d is OK with me at this point.

5. Select a creative work: a novel, a film, a poem, a musical piece, a painting, or other work of art that has influenced the way you view the world and the way you view yourself. Discuss the work and its effect on you.

To Kill a MockingbirdHands down, Harper Lee‘s “To Kill A Mockingbird“. In a sense we are all mockingbirds, be it what we learn, believe or say. It takes a special  person like Atticus to see beyond the external. This book is incredible and also was the first Pulitzer Prize winning novel I read as a teen. A far cry from the celebrity bios I craved at the time.

6. Describe a risk you have taken and discuss its impact on your life. 

Timmy Goes to AfricaI have been a risk-taker my whole life. Be it in my adolescence choosing gender-specific colors to sport in my unisex attire or losing myself inside my dreams and making them into realities.  Leaving my comfort zone of New York City a few years ago and traveling to Sierra Leone is up there in high-risk behavior. It was almost a life-defining risk. Everyone said, “don’t go! or “it’s dangerous”. Like most pivotal experiences in my life, I wisely listened to my internal voice. What I experienced is to never let my external discomfort (or surroundings) dictate my internal feelings.

7. Tell us about a situation where you have been bullied and what you have learned from that experience.

Bullying Stops HereThere are just too many situations. “No.” is a compete sentence.  Perhaps being bullied is making a stand and not pleasing the other person or persons. Bill Cosby made a statement about not knowing the secret of success, but he did know the keys to failure. He went on to state that  if you try pleasing everyone you are going not to be successful or happy as person. Perhaps what I learned in all the situations of “being bullied” is to simply to try to be my truest self, and know when to dust my feet and walk away. Or run. Fast.

Timmy Wonder Woman8. Imagine that you could become a super hero.  What super powers would you have?  What would you want to accomplish with these powers?

I would want to grant peace and kindness between people.  A bully-free world.  I would want the power to be sped up; so I could do things faster.  That way I could make more dolls, do more lectures or workshops and research, etc.

9. As a child, you became enamored with Diana Ross.  What void did she fill in your life?  What did she represent to you?

Timmy & Diana

Wayne Koestenbaum wrote a book called “The Queen’s Throat” which is a dissertation on gay men and their obsession with singers; particularly opera divas. “The diva chooses you,” Koestenbaum wrote, and pretty much that’s it. I was obsessed and for whatever the reason, be it her drive, longevity, unconventional Black beauty – it all struck a nerve with me. She got out of her dismal situation and lived prosperously – despite a lot of racial turmoil and intolerance. She made a lot of people happy with her talents regardless of their race, religion, creed, orientation, etc.

10. If you were to describe yourself by either a quotation or song, what would that be?

Vandellas

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

This is a difficult question as I identify with so many songs and quotations. Lately on my iPod it has been, “No One There” (circa. 1972) by Martha  Reeves and the Vandellas.  Or “My Destiny” (circa. 1986) by Chaka Khan. Neither recording received  their due via radio play or record sales, yet the lyrics are so powerful and both songs paint pictures of being isolated. The later song is more upbeat and has a sprinkle of the EST philosophy. Chaka sings: “I’m the ruler of my destiny, I determine what becomes me.”

Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan

I was able to meet both recordings artists at the 24th HAL Awards in L.A. thanks to songwriter Janie Bradford‘s amazing annual  gala that afforded me the opportunity to create WAATSI Sage dolls in the likeness of the famous recipients.  At one of the after-parties I sang back-up parts, surprising Martha Reeves as she sang “No One There” with Grammy-winner Thelma Houston, make-up artist Rudy Calvo, and Sherlie Matthews watching. In short, G*d was smiling down upon me, I didn’t feel alone, and ironically was charged and looking forward to the future. My destiny.

11. Contact

My twitter LINK:  https://twitter.com/timothybellavia 

Instagram LINK: http://instagram.com/timothybellavia#

Pinterest LINK: http://www.pinterest.com/timothybellavia/

My LIKE page LINKS are:

https://www.facebook.com/timothydbellavia?ref=hl

 https://www.facebook.com/weareallthesameinside?ref=hl

https://www.facebook.com/PaperScissorsMagic?ref=hl

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Chris Clemens: Explorer

ChrisClemens1. Introduction:

I’m 34. I was born in Rochester and have never left. I’m the Operations Manager for the National Braille Association, and currently in my third year there. Prior, I worked with people with developmental disabilities in a number of different roles which I started right out of high school. I believe I will always have to work in a capacity that in some way serves people and the greater good, regardless of the fact that serving people isn’t usually a high-paying gig. I obtained a BS in Health Science from SUNY Brockport.

I began playing cello in 5th grade, but switched to guitar a few years later, and have picked up a couple other instruments here and there over the years. Though, I’ve always just played for my own enjoyment and to occupy my brain. My hobbies probably can easily be categorized under: Learning. I usually decide to learn something new just for the sake of doing so, and push the limits of doing so until I discover my next new project. More specifically, my hobbies either are or have been: skateboarding, guitar and ukulele, yoga, canoeing, rock climbing, collecting tobacciana, collecting CDs, reading.

Most recently my hobbies have involved learning how to use WordPress and get the most out of having two self-hosted blogs, and constantly finding new places to explore and write about on those blogs–easily my most time-consuming hobby ever! Probably one of my favorite places to be is outside with my feet up smoking a cigar with a great cup of coffee.

2. Chris’s blogs:

In the fall of 2011, my good friend Luke Myer and I were chatting over a cigar and talking about the places we’d been and seen. We were also talking about spirituality and interesting beliefs that exist in the religious realm. We realized that each of us were in our early 30’s and had done and seen things in other areas, but had never gone and seen things in our own backyards of Rochester, NY. Upstate NY is known for being one of the most prolific lands in the world in terms of birthing new ideas about spirituality, and we had never explored most of them in person. We set out by making a list of about 20 places to visit and started out the first weekend of 2012. Since I had never had a blog and wanted to learn how to design and keep one, we decided to chronicle our visits by blogging about the places we went.

Exploring The Burned Over District

Exploring The Burned Over District started that first weekend of 2012 and at the time of me writing this, we’ve visited 30 different belief systems, about 65 sites, been provided experiences that most people don’t get in a lifetime, and seen things that even some of the most devout followers of some religions haven’t been privy to. We originally just thought our moms would be reading, but we’ve found a readership that has spanned a much broader niche than we originally thought, and the experiences have delved much deeper than just going in and looking around places like we had originally anticipated. It’s been an incredible adventure, and that list that we started with only gets longer with each place we visit.  

ChrisClemensCU

In July 2013, I started another blog,  The Curious and Uncommon  to chronicle my interest in weird, unique oddities that I come across in my travels. It’s not uncommon for me to find out about something like the largest ball of yarn and obsess over it until I can go see it in person. Friends and family that follow me on social media sites started asking more about the places I was visiting, and started asking advice on what would be cool for them to go see. I decided it was best to have it all in one spot and now people can read the stories and histories and see everything that I see all in one spot.

I can’t begin to explain how much I’ve learned in two years about how to build a blog in WordPress, integrate it with the rest of the internet, ensure that it shows up high in search engine results, take web appropriate photos (still struggle with that one), network with new people and research new places. Each blog sometimes feels like a full time job by itself, but the experiences have totally been worth the hard work, and sometimes frustrating experience of getting WordPress to do what I want, when I want it (which is always immediately, of course!).

3. Curious and uncommon are two words that I would use to describe you.  Also: inquisitive, enthusiastic, thoughtful, passionate.  What I find uncommon about you is the fact that you maintained a sense of child-like wonderment in the world around you.  Were you an inquisitive child?  How have you kept your curiosity intact?

Rochester, NY

Photo by Chris Clemens

I was definitely an inquisitive kid. I’m not really sure I know why I wonder about things. Wonderment must be a function of imagination right? It’s the element that makes us go a bit further outside our comfort zone and say, “Hhmm, maybe I’ll like raw oysters, I’ve never tried them!” and makes me think, “Well, a lot of people say [any comment] about [any politician], I wonder if it’s true or not?” When it comes to things like the latter, I often worry that it’s a matter of skepticism, but that mistrust I think pushes us to find our own truths. Right now I’m in the process of buying a home, and I’m finding that I’m researching every tiny little aspect of the process, right down to the history of indemnity insurances on a title. If a realtor tells me, ‘Oh that crack is no big deal’ I want to know if it really is or not, and why it isn’t–it’s daunting to not take other peoples’ word for it!

I remember the exact moment in college, while taking a class that followed the book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ where I had somewhat of a minor mental breakdown. The stress of trying to determine some of life’s answers forced me in to a state of acceptance that sometimes questions just don’t have answers, and that’s ok too. I think this is where faith kicks in and says, ‘I dunno why I believe this, but I do and that’s fine.’ I find that being at peace with that acceptance wanes regularly.

4. Rochester is a veritable treasure trove of interesting places and history.  People talk about seeking travel and adventure, without truly exploring their own hometown.  What inspires you to dig so deeply into your world?

Rochester, NY

Photo by Chris Clemens

I think this came a lot later in my life in terms of wanting to know local history. As a kid I constantly played in the woods around my house, and explored falling down barns in the area and stuff, but in a lot of ways it was just because it was there. As an early teenager I did a ton of reading, but it was all about otherworldly things, or the classics (John Steinbeck was by far my favorite author, with Kurt Vonnegut a close second).

As I got older and began to learn little things like a Jack The Ripper suspect being buried in Rochester, or the Fox Sisters who founded Spiritualism discovered their talents right in Newark, it kept me thinking, ‘What the hell?!  What other totally cool things are here that I never knew about?? I need to go find these things!!”

5. You have worked with people with developmental disabilities.  How has this affected your perspective on your own life?  What gifts has this type of service given you?

When I was a kid while in a babysitting group, there was a girl, Brooke, who had some form of autism. She’d do things like walk up to kids playing with blocks and knock them all down—it was infuriating. Not too long after that, my mom got a job working in a school with kids with developmental disabilities and brought me to work with her one day. I was terrified and sick to my stomach, I had never been in an area with so many kids who had ‘so many problems’. By lunch time, I had somehow learned to like many of those kids more than many of the kids I went to school with. I was picked on a lot as a kid for being too small, or having glasses, or not being athletic and having asthma. Those kids had it wwaayy worse than I did, and they weren’t picking on each other. They were just doing whatever was in front of them. Weeks after graduating from high school I got a job in that very same school and then later on I worked in a number of different positions at a local nonprofit serving adults with developmental disabilities.

The entire process of working with and for people with developmental disabilities has taught me this: I’m really not as important as I sometimes think I am. I don’t think we should dishonor the fact that we all have struggles and stressors, but when I’m trying to figure out how to jailbreak my iPhone so I can get the icons I prefer instead of the ones that Apple puts on the phone, it’s important to for me to keep in mind the fact that there are countless people around the entire world struggling just to achieve basic goals that almost have been handed to me.

While at SUNY Brockport I volunteered during the Empire State Games. A mother and her daughter came in to the rock climbing wall I was working. The daughter could only make a few vocal noises indicating yes or no, and only had the ability to move her head on her own. Her mother said she wanted to the climb the rock wall. The guy I was working with and I looked at each other and wore looks of “Are you freakin’ kidding me?? How are we gonna do that?!” We set to work creating some ridiculous harness system of webbing and we basically pulled her up the wall with a rope while I moved her hands on to each the holds. The girl laughed and squealed the entire time, and her mother smiled through tears and thanked us, but I  don’t think it was us really, it was the entire situation and individuals being open to it. There is by far no greater reward that I’ve experienced than watching a person do something they didn’t think they were capable of.

6. It seems to me that people blog and delve into other forms of media in an effort to build online community.  How satisfying can an online community truly be?

Tattoos

Photo by Chris Clemens

I think the online community thing has a lot of pros and cons. I’ve always jumped in on whatever newest online community arises, dating all the way back to LiveJournal—things have changed immensely. Because of the internet and digital interactions I’ve been able to connect with people from all over on topics that interest me, making my support network and available resources vastly immediate. I can’t tell you how many times Verizon Wireless says something isn’t possible to do with my phone, and posting the question online somewhere I get answers from all over the world in a few short minutes telling me how easy it is to complete. The functional aspects of the internet are immense and I think the exponentially increasing advancements we’ve made in thought and awareness are in large part due to the availability of information.

Unfortunately, I think there are plenty of struggles that come with that accessibility too. I think there are a lot of aspects of communication that are lost in the translation to plain text, and intention is easily misconstrued. However, the fact that information can so easily be shared, means that incorrect information and malicious intent are that much easier to disseminate. Plus, between email, texts, IMs and all the social networks, sometimes the online world becomes far too consuming, and just plain keeping up with messages coming in is a task in itself.

7. Imagine that you could safely travel through time.  Where would you want to go and why?  Would you want to be a fly-on-the-wall, or to interact?

JesusI would most definitely want to be in the Middle East at the time that Christ was walking the Earth. There’s soooo many unanswered questions in our present day that date back to that time period. A fly on the wall I think would be plenty for me. Some of those ‘questions that just don’t have answers’ from above might end up with a few answers!

8. Name a person, either historic or current, that you’d be most interested to meet.  What would you want to talk about?

George WashingtonGeorge Washington. There’s so much talk today about ‘The country was founded on [insert whatever principle]’ and ‘The founding fathers really meant [insert any self-serving concept of present day]’ I want to be able to ask him, “hey man, did you guys really think it was cool for just any old person to own automatic weapons just for the hell of it??”  He of course would have to be told what an automatic weapon was first. I don’t think it would solve any current day problems we have, but I’d like to think some people who quote people from history thinking it applies to present day standards would have to stop doing so.

9. If you were to collect a certain historic artifact, what would that be?

Religious Relics

Photo by Chris Clemens

I have an interesting curiosity in religious relics. Certain religious groups collect parts of the body of venerated humans for the purposes of worship. The concept to me is incredibly interesting, particularly since there are certain relics that have been counterfeited over and over. At one point in history, 12 different institutions claimed to have the actual foreskin of Christ, and they all claimed it at exactly the same time! If I had the money, and power and connections, I think relics would make a pretty awesome thing to collect.

10. If you were stranded on an island, what would you miss most?

The internet! I’m always connected!

Ren and Stimpy11. Name your favorite cartoon character and why.

Ren (of Ren and Stimpy).  I have no clue why! I loved the cartoon when I was younger, and for some reason his incessant ranting and insanity was something I must’ve connected with!

12. What is your favorite album from your youth?

ChrisClemensGDWorkingman’s Dead – The Grateful Dead.  There are countless albums that I credit with my survival from as early on as I could begin choosing my own music. A kid in 8th grade lent me his tape of Workingman’s Dead, and when I got on the bus after school to go home, and put the tape in my Walkman and hit ‘play’, the tape was already at the beginning of “Dire Wolf”. From the first few seconds of Jerry Garcia‘s steel pedal guitar, and the vocal harmonies that seemed to float right from my tape deck, I was entirely and unequivocally hooked on the music of the Grateful Dead. The stories and folklore, the harmonies and instrumental genius of the entire band quickly became the only thing I wanted to listen to.

13. Contact:

Follow Chris on Twitter at: @cpclemens

Instagram: checkout Chris

Facebook Pages:

https://www.facebook.com/ExploringTheBurnedOverDistrict

https://www.facebook.com/TheCuriousAndUncommon

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