Heather Jo Flores
Hola! I’m the author and founder of Food Not Lawns, director of Permaculture Women’s Guild, creator of the #freepermaculture project. I hold an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts, with special focus on the intersection between ecofeminism, permaculture, and creative writing, and have been self-employed as a writer, educator, and freelance creative for 25 years. I tend a 1/4 acre Mediterranean food forest in the mountains of Andalucia, where I live with my partner and our two hilarious tiny dogs, Lola and Lucas.
As an interdisciplinary artist, my practice centers on a fascination with connection, monstrosity and metamorphosis. Grounded in the belief that art heals, and that creativity is a physical act, my work returns always to the source: my body. With this body I find stories, and through sharing those stories, I hope to empower individuals and communities to navigate their own healing journeys, personal and political, toward a more peaceful and ecologically sane world.
My primary tool is the written, spoken and sung word, but my pilgrimage takes me through multiple modalities: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, music, movement, painting, land art and agriculture. My most powerful influences have been the unintentional ecofeminists — those who have revealed nature through the transparency of their work, and who have revealed the depth of humanity through their willingness to risk getting lost in the dark: Clarice Lispector, Ursula LeGuin, Helene Cixous, Erica Jong, Augusto Boal, Jolie Holland, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Regina Spektor, Amy Winehouse, Carlos Castaneda, Ray Bradbury, Andy Goldsworthy.
I have studied writing, music, painting, sculpture, ceramics, dance, yoga, theater, permaculture and trauma recovery, and my daily practice integrates these in varied combinations: some days I will walk in meditation, stop and pile up rocks, then sit and write a song. Other days I will alternate writing with yoga, fifteen minutes of each, for hours. Most years, I grow a huge garden, just to create a beautiful habitat in which to write, paint, dance and dream. Often I will work towards a musical or written product, but will use land art, visual art and photography to iron out the kinks in my mind, and to illustrate and document the process. The variety of methods helps me distill the meaning of a piece, to find it’s true form and expression, and to arrive at a sense of embodied completion.
I aim to investigate the intersection between phenomena, happenstance, and serendipity, and to allow the discoveries of that intersection to flow freely through my mind and body. And the fruits of this adventure, whether poems, books, stories, songs, gardens, visual arts or curricula, are intentionally radical, in the rhizomatic sense: rooted in stories, mine and yours, so that we may come together in conversation, in collaboration, and in community.
My critical inquiries stem from a lifelong set of preoccupations, which I will articulate briefly and indicate the process and products associated with each:
The de-vilification of women, nature and the unknown.
My previous work as an organic farmer and environmental activist taught me that mainstream culture is terrified of that which it cannot understand. This fear leads to oppression and destruction, and much of my creative and intellectual inquiry has been guided by a desire to reconcile those fears, in myself and others. This was the primary inspiration for my work with the Heroine’s Journey, which resulted in a 10,000-word critical essay that analyzed hero-based storytelling and presented feminist alternatives. By nature, these feminist perspectives could also be considered eco-feminist, as I found it impossible to separate the attitudes that oppress women from those that dominate and control nature.
The destiny of vicinity.
So many of us follow a path through life that unfolds according to where we find ourselves living, working, studying. Often these locations were not choices made by ourselves, but rather are connected to our families, employers and opportunities. I am fascinated by the way a person’s life is ultimately connected to where they find themselves. This connects to community work, partnership, and so much more.
The physicality of creativity.
This last driving curiosity connects directly to the two above. Everything that we do is physical. Oppression happens to our bodies as much as our minds. Creative and intellectual context has everything to do with where you place your body in space and time. To think is an act, and for me, the making of art, whether using words, paints, music or other, comes directly from the physical body. I dove deep into the analysis of this idea during my practicum project, and produced a set of workshop exercises that combine physical action with art making. Beyond combining movement with creative attempts, I believe that a healthy diet and regular exercise are an essential part of becoming a successful artist, with success defined in terms of happiness, longevity, and a sense that our work is meaningful and effective.
If you haven’t worked with me before, my approach to sharing information might seem way different than how you expect teachers to behave! I can’t count how many times I’ve stepped up in front of a classroom full of slouching, half-sleeping students and said “Get up out of those chairs! We’re going outside!” Some years ago, I realized how deeply my art practice was connected to my relationship with my body. If I was feeling good, taking care of myself, the work flowed. If I was depressed, not eating well, not exercising, I wouldn’t produce anything, sometimes for years at a time. This realization came on slowly, as I explored the range of creative topics I wanted to investigate, looking for a common thread. I wandered through collage, land art, dance, songwriting, and a bunch of other stuff.
At first I thought the connective tissue was in the writing, the story — no matter what media I embraced, it always came back to the story. But then, as I conducted a thorough investigation of myself, my work, and how to bring it all back to the moment, I realized that the link between all sides of my practice is me, in my body. My body contains my mind, my thoughts, my inspiration, and thus my art. But without a physical action, all art remains theoretical, conceptual, imaginary.This realization snapped me right back, once again, to the work that has become the driving force for so much of my inquiry — Clarice Lispector’s Hour of the Star. Early in the book, she writes, “In writing this story, I shall yield to emotion and I know perfectly well that every day is one more day stolen from death. In no sense an intellectual, I write with my body.”
The first time I read this, back in 2007, I saw it as a statement of humility: in no sense an intellectual. I could strongly relate to the notion of getting off the moral/intellectual high ground, and of seeing the writing life as a blessing, a gift that lasts only for that short time between when we first put pen to paper and our eventual, eternal demise. And perhaps that is what Lispector originally meant. But now I see that statement as something else. I see it as a call to action, a challenge to the writer to come into alignment with herself, so that she can do her work to the very best of her ability, and to understand that ability is synonymous with agility — strong body, strong mind.
And so I dedicated the bulk of my graduate studies to investigating the physicality of creativity. I read about embodiment, from a wide range of perspectives. I experimented with somatics, yoga, breathwork, walking meditation, writing drills, life drawing, and land art. I know it seems like an odd collection of activities, but I drew from my own experience to develop a set of exercises that combined a diversified physical practice with an equally diversified art practice. I created a workshop curriculum entitled “Writing the Body,” and tested it on several groups of people — writers, visual artists, musicians. Across the board they reported that getting their bodies involved in the creative process brought about artistic insights far beyond what they normally experienced in a sedentary practice. Together we determined that being in the body brings you into the present moment, and that is when art is truly made: Now.
What I learned in the practicum turned out to be directly compatible with the other experiential, inquiry-based pedagogies I had learned through permaculture, activism, and folk music. From this intersection comes the following theory and philosophy, outlined here as a checklist of elements to include, in equal parts, in an action plan that works to eliminate blocks (and the depression that often accompanies those blocks) and unleash creative potential.
I always tailor each program to suit the needs of my students, but this is a description of the pattern I tend to follow, with a few examples of what we might do together:
Our bodies are the mold of reality into which we can pour our dreams, our ideas, and our aspirations so that they may manifest into the physical realm. We use our hands, feet, arms, legs, eyes, ears and faces to make art. We get involved in it, physically. Possible activities: Drawing, painting, writing, collage, singing, ceramics, music, dance, land art, photography.
Felt Sense and Phenomenological Discovery.
The path with a heart is the one that feels right. Yes, this can change, even daily, but as artists with a dedicated physical practice, we can become confident of the connection between our minds and our bodies, and can learn to trust the felt sense of whether a word, a chord, a color or a community is working. We can tune into our awareness of the phenomena around us, and can respond to it with an openness and presence of self that allows for a much more powerful and effective expression of whichever artistic medium feels right for that moment. Possible activities: Meditation, pranayama, sensory deprivation, physical interaction with self and others.
To succeed, you need an audience, and that means context. Placing yourself in context is physical: it happens with your body, first, and the work follows. If you want to work in a certain context, you have to physically go there. And, like the body, one’s context is a moveable, mutable placement, which can be bent and stretched according to the changing needs of the artist and community. As body, mind and practice change and mature, so too does context. Possible activities: Interpersonal interaction, “art of hosting” games, research, discussion, public art.
The facts that apply to keeping our physical bodies fit are equally true for maintaining creative flow. Your body, and by extension, your art practice, is an organism. And organisms need to move. You have to practice regularly and it is not enough to just maintain a practice; you have to continue to try new exercises and to challenge yourself in new ways. It is a process, not a goal. And you have to balance the physical with the mental, the body with the art. Yes, you can meet goals along the way (lose weight, get stronger, complete a novel or an album or a tour) but there is never a point where you have achieved your full potential and it is done. The same rules applies to this as with the conservation of biodiversity: the more you succeed, the more work there is to do. Possible activities: yoga, aerobics, walking (with or without meditation), dance.
This philosophy assumes the inseparable connection between art, artist, body and community, and as such, is fundamentally interdisciplinary. In order for all of this to sink in, it is important that we take time to rest, reflect, and integrate our experiences into our bodies and minds. Possible activities: quiet time, short naps, yoga savasana, journaling.