This initial blog post has been edited and adjusted to reflect my current status in my exploration of my image companion. The title of the blog post was originally, “Calling in the Gypsy” and portions of the original blog are below followed by my current personal inquiry on the subject.
My birthday was this past week and in the Violet household, birthdays are like the new year. We review the prior year, set intentions and usually pick an essence or quality that we want to be inspired by for the upcoming year. It can be anything from a color, to an herb, to a quality or even a genre of music. The sky is the limit! We then work with that essence through the arts, ritual and personal practice. In Expressive Arts, we would also call that engaging with an “image”. The image reaches beyond the visual and allows it to encompass just about anything that moves your heart.
When my birthday is approaching, I start listening for clues and recurring themes for anything that might be a helpful ally. A pivotal moment came when I picked up a “dragon stick” to learn fire flow dancing - my name for it at the moment. By a stroke of luck, I seemed to pick it up quickly and I LOVED it. It gave me energy, vibrancy, a sense of rare beauty and it was fun! It tapped into something within me that made me feel a l i v e, and I wanted more of it. As I was playing and learning how to use the dragon stick, I had images of myself wearing flowing skirts (perhaps influenced by what I was wearing that night), sparkling garments and a sense of grounded embodiment. After that evening, flow dancing became the thing I wanted to share about with all my friends, and I started to be curious about what the experience was reflecting for me.
As I shared about it with friends and family, I began to understand it more and started to connect my experience with other things that move me in similar ways. Belly dancing, for example, was one and the Gypsy was another. There has always been something to the aesthetic image of a belly dancer and gypsy that I love - the colors, the layers, the sparkle, the wildness, the magic, the artistic influence. I hadn’t immediately connected these concepts but one afternoon something just clicked and all the guideposts pointed to the image of the Gypsy. I felt a surge of excitement and a clear “YES!” within to work with the Gypsy as an ongoing image and an ally. There is also a thread of gypsy in my heritage which makes it even more fun for me to consider.
An important note here, I like to work both with historical and anthropological references as well as letting the ally guide me organically. This means that I develop a personal relationship with the image of Gypsy over time that is unique to me. In working with an image companion, I chose to start with the image first and just listen to what the image is saying to me. In Expressive Arts, we let the image have a voice and play with it in the imaginal realm, a safe place for curiosity and exploration. In this process, I take things slowly and pay attention to any associations, flashes of instinct, or “nudges” from the image. I started a Pinterest board to continue to gather images that speak to my heart or reflect a historical note to help flesh out the image. I also spent some time in one of my favorite cafes and journaled about Gypsy and these qualities arose from my writing:
“Playing with the blood.” - a phrase mentioned in Mozart in the Jungle
How do I know if I’m on the right track? I feel excited and energized. These words ignite parts of myself longing for expression. Now the journey continues to unfold with attention and practice. I will play with these words, exploring them and following how they resonate within me.
Where am I today?
I have amazing friends who aren’t afraid to say the hard thing, and I have learned how my “Calling in The Gypsy” could be seen as cultural appropriation. I learned that the word gypsy itself is a racial slur. I learned more about the systematic and devastating oppression and abuse of the Romani people. I learned some really hard things. If this is new information for you, you may want to read: https://now.org/blog/the-g-word-isnt-for-you-how-gypsy-erases-romani-women/
I am uncertain how to acknowledge what was a very personal calling and present my views without feeling like I am disregarding the pain the Romani have endured. I chose to share my personal process publicly and I now have a responsibility to continue sharing about my process and what is unfolding for me. I feel called to make these updates today to take immediate action and it’s important to note, I am still “in process” and it’s messy within me.
So, what has been my process?
Initially I felt a great deal of shame, embarrassment and disappointment. I am a feminist and a survivor of sexual abuse. I would never want to perpetuate sexism and abuse through my personal process or my work. A simple google search would have saved me from making this mistake, but I didn’t do that.
I feel grief in losing something I had felt such excitement and internal resonance about. In Expressive Arts, we practice seeing phenomenologically and the collection of letters, swirls and curves in the word gypsy delighted me. This may seem a bit far fetched to some, and staying on the surface, beyond any association of the word, I liked the letters together. I feel a bit infantile learning that word is a racial slur. I certainly would never have written a blog calling in a different racial slur so this comes at a bit of a shock.
As I have sat with this today, I know that this inquiry is an essential part of working with the image I have called in; both the light and the shadow, much like an archetype. It has also become clear, that in these charged times, I have chosen to hold the seat of the Artist. I was working with this image as image, as an esthetic, sensory compilation. I believe that the role of the artist is to help ignite curosity, creativity and a fresh perspective. I know that these types of qualities will be imperative in the healing work that is so needed between divided cultures all over the world. It is a practice, and it is not easy. I am not an expert, I am a practitioner. Within that, another favorite expression in the expressive arts is, “Trust the Process”. I have started a relationship with this image and now I am in it. I feel compelled to honor my commitment to the image and trust the process of how it unfolds - even when it’s really uncomfortable.
So what will I do going forward?
I am going to share about what I learned about the Romani people and the word, gypsy.
I will stop using the word gypsy to describe the image companion I am working with. I’m not sure what I will call it for now, but I will use the photograph of myself with the fire stick as a place holder. That photo captures a moment when the image of the Romani woman came forward and I will trust there is information for me in that moment.
I will continue to listen and learn about the light and shadow aspects of the Romani - both through literature and through the artistic process of engaging with the image as image.
I will hold the seat of the artist and take aesthetic responsibility for the image. I will not abandon the image that has come forward for me as an ally. Through the artistic process, I know I am coming from a place of curiosity, respect and deep listening. One of my teachers, Paolo Knill writes about aesthetic responsibility:
While commenting on the connection between Eros and the arts, Rudolf Arnheim (1987) said that no artistic process can exist outside a “loving affection”. This loving affection, or Eros, exists independently of the theme within that process. Rather, the thing that is presented through the artistic process is formally and thematically bestowed through this “loving affection.” Such an inclination towards Eros, which we notice as observers, is not necessarily in the object or theme presented; it is more of a sense that we get from the traces of the artistic process left in the work of the art. They are traces of “loving affection”.
Knill, P.J., Levine, E.G., and Levine, S.K. (2005) Principles and practice of expressive arts therapy: Toward a therapeutic aesthetic. London. Jessica Kingsley.
This is where I am today. I am deeply sorry for any offense or harm I may have caused in my initial blog post or writings. I am grateful for the opportunity to explore this, and to enter into relationship with my image companion with my eyes open. I am grateful for friends who lovingly call me out and for those who help me tease it all apart. I am grateful to the image for what is being reflected to me, and the opportunities and ownership our relationship is offering. I am grateful for the courage to feel deeply, get messy and still find my grounded embodiment. Even if the fire is whirling around my head.
Thank you for listening.