Tidings from the Fool Moon
What follows is an essay on Tidings from the Fool Moon, an untraditionally prepared aesthetic response to my experience as a clinical intern at Our VOICE in 2017. The expressive arts portfolio at Appalachian State University is typically comprised of drawings, photos, and writing—instead, I chose to do a "live" portfolio, full of sound, togetherness, sensitivities, and the unknown.
When I learned I could earn required elective credits by completing an expressive arts portfolio in response to internship, I immediately had a vision of producing a body of work with movement, sound, and folks gathered to witness. My decision to become a counselor was part of a commitment I made to seek out initiation into my life, my soul, and the work I feel most called to do. Tidings from the Fool Moon became an opportunity to answer my need for as I passed through the narrow passageways of academia.
Profound gratitude to Dr. Melia Snyder for the permission and encouragement to turn assignments into opportunities.
Before the Moon
In 2017, I worked as a therapist for the first time; stepping through a lot of fear I found a lot of fulfillment. I felt at home sitting with survivors of sexual violence. Having done a lot of my own related healing, I had confidence enough to relax into my instincts and rise to the honor of holding my clients' private disasters and courageous transformations. Keeping up with the demands and pace of life during internship was incredibly draining, though. I relied on old strategies from childhood to help me endure the pressure and the pain. I struggled with perfectionism and shame. I hid my troubles well and toughed it out.
Fortunately, I also found new supports. To take care of myself during this trying time, I found sanctuary in music and meditation. My body craved notes, rhythm, intervals, and rest as though I had a vitamin deficiency. Before seeing clients and scattered throughout the day, I would sit in meditation and empty myself of everything but breath. I came home from internship each day and went straight to my room to wail on my trombone until my mind and heart felt relieved. Along with my husband, therapist, and close friends, Danny Ellis, my voice and meditation teacher, as well as Harold McKinney, my trombone teacher, helped carry me during a time when I felt wildly over-burdened.
With one semester of classes left to complete after internship, I was graced with a gradual transition out of graduate school. I used this time to tend to the strangeness of new growth and get lost in the caverns of my deep self. These last few months have felt like an underground journey, or like a dream. I've moved through painful and gorgeous disorientation—like being in a cocoon and turning to soup, I had to anchor to my essence as the rest of me went through slow but significant change.
As each week of the semester passed, it became more clear that if I was going to produce a live event for my expressive arts portfolio, it would have to take place without much preparation. I wasn't practicing the trombone everyday or singing regularly; I couldn’t keep up a steady physical practice, or craft a coherent narrative for whatever I was hoping this aesthetic response would be. Instead, I spent weeks learning to take my fear, desire, and curiosity and feed it to endless cycling of the Moon...
On the Fool Moon
I was in creative tension approaching this event: I felt desperate to do something great or important or get it right—and also felt the oppression of that desperation. It turned out that my preparatory work involved letting this desperation be felt as completely as possible. It's amazing, really, that it doesn't take long for feelings to change when you actually feel them.
I practiced believing that needing this experience was justification enough for making it happen. I felt traction with this perspective and began paying attention to desires that felt more compelling and more pleasurable than wanting to be great. Something landed in my belly when I typed "fool moon" in a text message by accident. That's it my belly said. By invoking the fool, I could draw on the courage to take a step into the unknown and trust that I would land right where I need to be—even if that is flat on my face.
Around twenty folks gathered with me on Sunday, April 29, the day of the full moon. Some filled positions of musical, energetic or logistical support, but all came to witness. It was my intention to listen for what needed to be spoken and pay attention to myself under the new kind of pressure this event produced. Harold McKinney was a solid support for me, bringing both his depth of experience with improvisation and his own deep heart into the process.
First, we gathered in a circle and spoke ourselves present. I then introduced the purpose and loose structure of the largely improvised happening: I knew there would be movement, music, and poetry. I planted a seed for ritual and group process, encouraging everyone to follow their own creative impulses and not feel boxed in to the role of "audience." There were instruments to play with, spaces to sprawl out into, even a gong for needed emphasis.
I began with authentic movement and talking, with a background of musical accompaniment. I shared a poem (see below) and then shared a story with the group about my own "creation myth." It was a story about struggling to live in my body after surviving sexual abuse at a young, pre-verbal age. And it was a story about how I've learned to bridge myself across realms because of this. After another round of movement and music, I shared another story. This one was about the heart and the thymus and the gonads and the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and its interruption of early entrainment of white blood cells to "learn who you are." This story opened the way for an energy that needed to move through—having grief be seen, be felt, be danced and played. This led into some words about initiation, which led to cathartic music and movement. Afterwards, I improvised on the trombone with Harold, shared a song on the guitar, and finished with another poem (see below). To close, we gathered again in a circle, shared what needed sharing, and then everyone laid hands on me before dispersing.
This is what happened, and yet it's not really what happened. There were so many intersections of perception in my own mind, let alone the whole room. I remember feeling so nervous it was hard to move my body freely, hard to listen to myself, and then I felt divided from myself by the desire to look like I wasn't nervous or struggling. I remember feeling physically incapable of opening my eyes for much of the time. I remember losing sense of time. I remember being held by music, by people, by the sounds they made and by their attention. I remember relaxing, occasionally.
Stills of storytelling and authentic movement
Behind the Moon
Perfectionism, Shame, and Needing Support
Immediately following the event, I did not know if it went well or poorly. I did not know by which standards to measure any of it at all, except my own feeling state, which was electric, tender, and exhausted, all at once. When it was time to hug people, receive their words of gratitude and inspiration, break down the space, and then decide where to eat with a handful of hungry folks, all I wanted was to be outside, underground, in a womb, being held, flying away, being surrounded by fire, sung to, surrounded by drumming, or curled up in a perfect nook at the base of tree—anything but having to tend to the abrupt shift in my experience from ritual to "mundane." I asked two dear friends to be with me as I released a stream of emotion in the parking lot and let myself wail out questions.
What just happened? Did it work? Did I fuck it up? What do I need? What am I grieving?
In the days that passed after the Fool Moon, I noticed the same perfectionism and shame that surfaced during internship: heavy dread in my chest and sharp pain in my heart while feeling that I had talked too long, gotten too lost, didn't get lost enough, rambled around the truth, or botched the whole thing altogether. But then I felt a great longing—the longing for deep engagement. I revisited the recording of the event and noticed times when I wished someone would interrupt me, ask me a question, say how they're feeling, make a big noise, come touch me and dance with me, reassure me or challenge me—do something to help bring me back to the present. I see now that this longing is for a kind of ritual group process that has been unlearned through generations of Western cultural practices. Groups are always reconciling individual needs vs. group needs. Rather than seeing this longing-which-did-not-get-met as failure of any kind, I see how this experience dropped me on the doorstep of my hungry soul with the blessing of knowing precisely what I am hungry for.
When endings become beginnings...
This event, which was intended to mark the end of my experience in graduate school, somehow became the beginning of something new. This feels like confirmation that the initiation was a success. What I am beginning is actually an ancient practice—the crossing and recrossing of the bridge from art to ritual—learning to weave webs for transformative group process.
The artist in me is never satisfied, but in the belly of its dissatisfaction dwell all the precious refinements I will get to make in the future. The ritualist in me is quite satisfied: people came and brought their hearts and together we did an important and meaningful thing. I took care of myself on all the levels I could sense into and did not let fear or the strong current of the mainstream get in the way of meeting my complex needs. I trust that as I move forward my Artist and Ritualist will learn to collaborate more regularly—refining, yes, but also practicing, again and again, how to do a thing that needs doing and have it be done.
Poems from the Moon
by Jocelyn Mosser
Slipping through a crack of light between the trees
We hush ourselves over to the cover of darkness
We smell the sweet, wet air of sorrow, and here, under the grief,
We find all the little ones still searching for their lead
I let them climb up onto my soft, strong back
And carry them deeper to the heart of this land.
We hear every echo of dissent, and press on
Though the shells of all our questions hang empty in the air
Their Spirits are moving with us—silent, for now
Bravely keeping their burning quiet
We thank them for helping us stay warm.
We know the sun is rising, somewhere, but we are underneath all that—
With feet and hands and ears and wings
We go to tend the Broken Hearted
Our balm, the Holy Darkness of this Dream
by Jocelyn Mosser
For awhile now
I’ve been in conversation with the Moon
Once, when our eyes were as bright as the stars
We shed everything, to bare our brightest fullness
Bridged by the light of reflected attention
We crossed a great emptiness
And together entered into the Heart of the World
A place beyond all places
Where no words can describe the love that is there
Only riddles and moans, and knowing half-smiles
That memories bend in our face from time to time
As we marvel at the pain of leaving such a place
Since then I’ve learned how to reveal myself in stages
And trust the cloak of darkness when it comes
And I remember that the Moon is always full
It’s just the light that changes
As our positions rearrange what I’m able to see
Of the Moon, who I love,
Who I believe remembers the fullness of me
Jocelyn Mosser | Spring 2018 | Expressive Arts Portfolio Submission | Appalachian State University