Fun Palaces: ‘We are Star Stuff: Embodying the Cosmos’

Brilliant Bodies!

Wills Memorial, Queens Rd, Bristol, Bristol, England, BS8 1RJ

Reception Room, located in the Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, found at the top of Park Street.

1st October, 2016 – 10:00AM – 5:00PM (click to find out more)

It shapes our emotions. It connect us, and brings us into conflict. It determines the very limits of our lives, and deaths. The body is an essential part of who we all are, but how often do we stop to think about it? Our Fun Palace is run by local PhD students from the arts and sciences, excited to explore and share their cutting edge research on the body through playful activities, artworks and experiments. Come prepared to think, and, more importantly, to have fun!

constellation_fornax_extreme_deep_field

My session will look at imaginative ways of embodying the universe, from the science of how we contain ‘star stuff’ from the Big Bang to how our imaginative exploration of these ideas alters how we see ourselves as part of the Cosmos.

‘We are Star Stuff: Embodying the Cosmos’
1st October, 12.00 – 14.00

Carl Sagan famously said, “We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

But what does that mean, in terms of science? How on earth are we made of bits of space from so far away? What makes us the same stuff as a star? How do we know we are “star stuff”?

Perhaps even more significantly, what does is mean to us? How do we envision ourselves as part of the cosmos? What does it feel like to be made of stars? How do we feel a part of stars and planets and nebula? And how do we creatively embody these heavenly bodies?

Through some very fun and also informative activities, we’ll be talking about the basics of what “star stuff” is, in terms of science, and then we’ll take inspiration from what we’ve learned to “embody” different bits of the galaxy that we connect with, both through art and writing. We’ll even look at some poems and literary passages that play with the idea of embodying a star, a supernova, or the moon.

In small groups, using paints and paper, poster board and markers, and various other decorative elements (such as hair chalk and body glitter), we’ll create wearable items that help us embody the big, fiery, fun and beautiful bits of the universe. Members of the group will also work together to write a poem or short paragraph that describes what it is like to be a nebula, a star, as comet, or any other “body” they like. We’ll show & tell our star stuff!

The hope is that this will encourage the general public to engage more with astronomy and cosmic science as well as have great fun using creative outputs to reimagine themselves as embodying part of the larger cosmos.

Learn more about Fun Palaces here.

Find out more about the day’s activities here! 

The SouthWest Poetry Tour – The Enemies Project

I’ll be performing in collaboration with UK poet Jinny Fisher alongside an excellent selection of other amazing poets for the Bath date of the SouthWest Poetry Tour. 6th August 2016, 7 pm doors/7:30 pm start. Entrance free. It’s a Saturday night — come on out and make it a memorable evening!!

In our collaboration we’re exploring themes of identity and gender as well as science and cosmology. It’s great fun and we’re looking forward to performing. I’m also looking forward to being in the audience, as the lineup looks stunning.

And a big thank you to The Enemies Project for inviting me to perform!

Appearing 6th August:

Camilla Nelson & SJ Fowler
JR Carpenter & Annabel Banks
John Hall & Matti Spence
Matthew Robertson & Andres Anwandter
Carrie Etter & Claire Crowther
Fay Stevens & Alyson Hallett
Miranda Barnes & Jinny Fisher
Siegfried Baber & Isabel Galleymore
Tom Cook & Bart Breathnach
Lucy English & Paul Hawkins
Beverley Ferguson & Roz Mascall

Speaking of Research: My talk at BRLSI 24 May 2016

Poster-Speaking of Research- Dual Flame-24 may 2016-2

If you are in the UK, and happen to be in or near Bath in May, please consider yourself invited to my speaking engagement at the BRLSI on 24 May 2016. The event begins at 7:30 p.m., and I will be discussing my PhD research that I have been working on for the last several years at Bath Spa University. I’m excited to share with all of you what I feel is an important intersection in the written word of poetry–that of science and the spiritual coming together to converse.

The Mishandling of Fragile Things Can Lead to Breaking Them: Thoughts on Teaching

I’ve recently been thinking a fair amount about the issues facing teaching colleagues in the United States (back home for me, essentially) surrounding possibilities of ‘Campus Carry’ laws meaning students could bring guns to the classroom. I have a lot of fairly intense feelings about that subject, none of which are very positive, but that’s not really where I wanted to take my thoughts on this particular occasion.

What really was lingering with me was the UH faculty slideshow suggesting that faculty be very “careful when discussing sensitive topics” or outright avoid them altogether. In Higher Education, especially in some areas even more than others, part of the nature of engaging the world we live in is direct address of sensitive topics. Higher learning is full engagement, and I don’t think that can be avoided without cost. Certainly it makes sense to think being cautious will help to avoid violence if guns could be present, but as with many things, the impulse to violence will be present regardless.

And I suppose on a much smaller scale is the desire to avoid causing offence. Sensitive subjects require openness, diplomacy, sensitivity and real discussion, which all can be quite difficult in the classroom. There must be sufficient openness to facilitate meaningful discussion, yet how far does one step in if something said needs clarifying, or might be offensive to others who are present?

I’m afraid I feel that I mishandled a situation of this sort recently, and I keep considering how I might have done better. In a class workshop on several pieces of writing by the students, there was discussion of one point in a student piece that addressed the dress codes for women entering a certain country in another part of the world, with which this student was familiar. Another student commented on how this passage needed to be clearer, in terms of the reasons why women should only dress in modest clothing that covered most of their bodies.

The student who said this seemed to say that providing statistics on sort of violence or attacks that women who don’t follow these rules would be helpful reasoning, as women aren’t attacked for wearing revealing clothes, “not here, not in Britain.”

My response was, “I wouldn’t necessarily say that.” What I had meant to object to was the notion that dress was the primary cause for violence in that part of the world, in contrast to that not being the case here. I felt that was not entirely fair or accurate to the culture being discussed, and though I never got to that point, had wanted to propose other possibly reasons for modest dress, such as culture or religious influences.

It certainly was not to imply victim-blaming or enforce the notion that women “ask for it,” as I am so far in opposition of that mentality that one could not even measure the distance in parsecs. The fault of any violence, sexual or otherwise, lies with the the attacker only.

But the comment, I realise, could be taken a number of ways. The student responded that statistics show very few attacks of sexual violence are linked to dress, and the violence will happen anyway. I agreed with this and tried to steer the discussion back towards the writing quality of the piece itself, as that’s what writing workshop should focus on. But I don’t believe that my original intention ever became clear in my rush to refocus workshop time. My worry was, too, that the original author of the piece was going to be hurt by the discussion’s possible implications on the culture discussed, without being able to defend the piece (as students being workshopped are usually to remain silent until the others have given feedback).

It is important, I believe, to have these discussions and have them openly and honestly, yet there’s a need to balance the class time for the purposes of the course. At the same time, I genuinely wish I’d had my bearings more during this situation, and was better able to clarify my response.

How have you found it difficult to navigate sensitive topics in your own classrooms? Are you currently in the US, considering the impact of possible campus carry? What positive methods have you found to encourage open discussion where possible? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Coming soon…personal writing advice & coaching.

Miranda Barnes has worked in writing tutorship and taught writing or related subjects for nine years, currently working in higher education teaching first and second year Creative Writing students in poetry and other genres. She has worked independently to provide writing advice and editorial services in the past, providing individualised support and guidance particular to the goals and voices of each individual. Watch this space for openings in the future for one-to-one personalised advice at a reasonable per-hour, per-term, or per-project rate.

Testimonials

 “At a young, impressionable age, Miranda was my muse, my mentor, and a major influence on what I put on paper. Many days, my words and thoughts drifted into her corner of the world as troubled tumbleweeds and bad static. I was easily distracted and unsettled by my surroundings. But with clarity and grace, she picked up my frequencies and ultimately transformed them into something better. She is a huge talent. Words roll off her silver tongue effortlessly, and anyone is wiser to have heeded her advice. There are many days when writing fills a void in me I didn’t know was possible, and I owe her a great debt of gratitude for it.” – Ben Aldis

A few thoughts on World Suicide Prevention Day…

This isn’t an easy topic to write about for anyone, I don’t think, but especially for me, as I feel there have been far too many that I have known. So these thoughts are not entirely perfect in their form, nor are they complete, but I have been wanting to say something since this day passed last year. So here are some reflections on where suicide has come into my life, and also, how necessary it is to be there for each other.

Jack

My first close encounter with suicide was when I was fifteen. I heard the news at school. I was a sophomore in high school then, just a year younger then Jack. His sixteenth birthday was the next day, anyway. And he wouldn’t be around for it.

The night before he had killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head.

His kind eyes and soft face were a compliment to his quietness. He was never mean or rude, so far as I knew him. We were all a bit rough around the edges, we were all a little bit on the troublemaking side, but we were all a motley crew of similar strokes, smoking together off school grounds. We were all struggling on the inside, trying to make it through the outside world as we were able. He was probably the nicest of us, and I couldn’t remember anyone speaking badly of him.

Even then, the shocking cruelty.

“I bet he killed himself because he was fat.”

A girl with a permanent smirk, one I always dreaded, was spewing this nonsense out of that smirking mouth at a locker as I passed by.

At that point, before lunchtime even drew close enough to provide an opportunity, I decided I was leaving. I blew past everyone in the hallway in a burning blur of anger, and bashed right through the two large metal doors at the back of the building. I found a friend on my trajectory who came with me, and we kept walking until we reached a friend’s house on the far end of town.

I never knew why he chose to end his life. I know he left a hole big enough that at the wake, the line wrapped around the building, and we all had to find somewhere to gather afterward and try and ease the pain with company. I know that many who were closer to him felt the loss more deeply and painfully than I did. And I know we all were struck with the powerlessness –what could we have done? If only we could turn back the clock. If only one of us had been there. If only someone had come by a little sooner. If only we had asked him if he was doing alright…

Roxy

Recently, I found a journal from junior high. Roxy had killed herself, just fifteen years old, with a .22-caliber pistol—with a gun her father had bought for her, had taught her how to use. I had forgotten. It happened after I moved away from that town, after I had left that godforsaken town that had made me want to kill myself as well. But Roxy, my diary informed me, supposedly thought she was pregnant at the time. She was the darling youngest of the most popular family in school. Her father was a worshipped teacher. Her brothers were wrestling champions. She had fallen from grace. She was fifteen years old.

I found out later that the reasons she succumbed to the hopelessness of suicide were different. They were pressures of another kind, ones where she thought her family’s honor would be tarnished by something she didn’t even do, but was believed to have done by a school official. In the long-term scheme of things, it would have mattered so very little. Despite what she believed would be the reaction of her own father, the storm would have blown over. But she fell in the storm. And there was no turning back.

Oh, how we all wish there was an undo button on these days.

Lindsay

I wasn’t close enough to know what happened to Lindsay, but he was among the rotating community of friends I knew back in Indiana. I knew he’d gotten out, gone west to Portland to find a different life for himself out there. But I think he came back with a habit. A battle that he lost. I know so many people still carry a the deep bruise of his loss, and will for their lifetimes.

Mark B.

A fellow poet disappeared. The loss was so palpable among those of us that knew him that the state of Kentucky drew us from hundreds of miles away. His poetry was brave, vulnerable, broken in those beautiful sort of places that let the light in. He was a sweet, smart, gentle-hearted man, one who had just been given the green light for a new life in San Francisco. Dreams. Dreams that weren’t enough. I know he’ll live on in all who knew him, but again, the helpless feeling of loss. Why? Why… I wish I’d saved every message that he sent.

Andy

Oh, Blue Eyes. What a mess was made. Out of so much beautiful music, so much talent that flowed effortlessly from you into the world. This is my most recent ghost.

*

This isn’t a comprehensive essay of loss, by any stretch. There have been many others. There were the deaths I learned about several decades into my life, the great uncle, the great grandfather, two suicides in the depth of my family history that I knew nothing about. But the lineage would have explained a great deal, or at least helped me to understand my struggles that began when I was less than thirteen years old. Maybe younger.

Thankfully, through much grace, I do not battle that thought anymore. I feel very strongly about living my life, and I have gained a lot of hope and peace throughout the years. But many years of struggle went by before I could find that. And I am grateful for so much love from those who have loved me, who have been there for me in the darkness and the light. I am indebted to them.

But I have those close to me who fight depression, who fight dark thoughts of taking their own life, or have in the past and have had to fight through it. There are many who are still out there struggling. I hold my heart out to them. Today, and in the days to come. New days will come.

The reality is that we are, so many of us, so very tired. Tired of the reality of unbearable pain in the world, tired of our own little pockets of the same.

But it needs to be recognized how very brave and strong it is to wake up every morning and walk to the coffee pot, the tea kettle, the shower, and keep on going when the weight can be heavy enough to topple our beloved giants.

And we also need to remember to reach out to each other, give love to each other, not hesitate to be there for someone or ask if they are okay, if they need to talk, and do so instead of worrying if it might be taken oddly or they might not be open to it. Even in small gestures there is the biggest potential lifeboats that we can sail out towards each other. Even in the dark night, if a friend lights a candle, or sings a song that tinges the shadows with a shimmer, we can find ourselves saved for that moment, which can lead us to have many more moments in our lives.

And lastly, I want to say that the darkness is never permanent. It’s never the whole story. However, hopeless we might feel at a given moment, it can and will and does change. Don’t give up. Don’t believe the lies that depression or panic or anxiety or hopelessness tell you. Because they are lies. There is plenty worth living for. The sun will come up, and the pain will lessen, and the battle you are facing will dissipate. It will never be perfect, it might not always be easy, but there is always a way to a new day, and new possibilities.

If you’re struggling, here is a link to numbers you can call:

By state, in the US: http://www.suicide.org/suicide-hotlines.html

By country, internationally: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

Keep your light on, for the ones you love, and the ones that love you.

M.

Fast becoming my Easter tradition…

Or not so fast. But this poem is one I have returned to year after year, the only thing that rings true to me on this holiday. I just spent an hour and a half  online trying to find it in a book I no longer have in my immediate possession (it’s with many others back home in the United States). Worth the digging.

It’s by Edna St. Vincent Milley, from “Tree Ceremonies (Vassar College, 1913).”

Song of the Nations

Out of
Night and alarm,
Out of
Darkness and dread,
Out of old hate,
Grudge and distrust,
Sin and remorse,

Passion and blindness;
Shall come
Dawn and the birds,
Shall come
Slacking of greed,
Snapping of fear–
Love shall fold warm like a cloak
Round the shuddering earth
Till the sound of its woe cease.

After
Terrible dreams,
After
Crying in sleep,
Grief beyond thought,
Twisting of hands,
Tears shut from lids
Wetting the pillow;
Shall come
Sun on the wall,
Shall come
Sounds from the street,
Children at play–
Bubbles too big blown, and dreams
Filled too heavy with horror
Will burst and in mist fall.

Sing then,
You who were dumb,
Shout then
Into the dark;
Are we not one?
Are not our hearts
Hot from one fire,
and in one mold cast?
Out of
Night and alarm,
Out of
Terrible dreams,
Reach me your hand,
This is the meaning of all that we
Suffered in sleep, –the white peace
Of the waking.

-from Collected Poems, Edna St. Vincent Millay,