Today I’m chatting with Caits Meissner, a writer in New York City.
I first encountered Caits’ work and perspective when I stumbled across a video interview of her, and was struck by her presence, articulateness and passion for not only her creative work but her teaching work as well.
She’s a published author, recipient of multiple artist residencies and fellowships and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York.
Caits has a significant history in community arts, and has taught, consulted and co-created extensively for over 15 years across a wide spectrum of communities including public schools, youth programs and college classrooms as well disability support and advocacy programs, detention centers and needle exchanges.
Caits currently serves as Writer-in-Residence at Bronx Academy of Letters, where she oversees a social justice and writing program, and is a part-time faculty at City College of New York, teaching essay writing through the lens of Narrative Medicine.
Enjoy our ramble through Shel Silverstein’s childhood story The Giving Tree as well as a few different fairytales as well as Caits’ relationship with her body and creativity.
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Things we chatted about in this episode:
- the childhood story The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- Understanding the story’s wisdom as a adult, in terms of what and how we give, and what we can ask for.
- On how the story ties into themes in fairytales of women in helping roles and how they negotiate their boundaries in that.
- On how the tree gives everything to the boy. It gives of itself so deeply that it seems there’s nothing left, but there IS something left.
- On addressing how much we give of ourselves and how much CAN we give of ourselves while still preserving ourselves?
- On realizing there’s sometimes a fear of taking time to ourselves to regenerate. A fear that we somehow fail the people we love and don’t deserve it.
- In America there’s a narrative of giving ourselves until we collapse.
- On working in spaces of trauma – helping people bring their stories forth – and experiencing a guilt that comes from stepping away from those stories and those spaces. The question arises – “how do I unhook from this martyr complex in a way that I still support and care about people without taking it on and internalizing it as my own?”
- Our society has a lot of rules about what giving looks like in romantic relationships, friendships, family, etecetera. The Giving Tree is beautiful and painful at the same time.
- Metaphor of human’s relationship with nature. What we take and take and take from the earth that doesn’t ask anything of us.
- On the fairytale the Dancing Red Slippers, Caits having a background that is German with a father named Hans. Therefore she was always interested in who Has Christian Anderson was.
- The trouble with Disney.
- Fascinated by how fairytales have been flipped in America into romance based misogynist stories, when they really came from scary violent unhappy endings.
- On the darker aspects of humanity, finding the original fairytales the most fascinating.
- The image of the dancing red slippered feet dancing disembodied. Creepy and disembodied.
- So many gruesome metaphors in fairytales – but life is not easy – the depth of honesty in original tales isvery real.
- On feeling very challenged by the way the stories are told via Disney.
- On a favourite from Disney: Beauty and the Beast. Being able to see beyond someone’s form into their soul. Being able to cross lines. But troublesome pieces are the damsel in distress part of the story.
- On being really intrigued by Ursula, the powerful badass frightening woman, the octopus with from The Little Mermaid.
- relationship with creativity
- Primary expressions of creativity are writing, poetry. But lately has been branching out into non fiction fiction forms.
- On not getting along with her creativity as well as she’d like to currently. It’s finicky right now.
- Creativity as an essence and an energy. We all have a relationship with it. Being alive is a creative act.
- Creativity for Caits is being in action around creative expression.
- Putting out a book is like having a post-partum experience – “oh that’s done” – feeling sapped afterwards.
- On trying not to abandon creative projects and move on to what’s next. Trying to stay more aware of that tendency and celebrate what the creation is.
- On being in the last semester of grad school, really ready for it to be over, on getting frustrated with the time it takes up to study versus just being self directed and self guided.
- Is in a place where attention is scattered, not one thing only that is calling to her.
- On teaching a great deal, a lot of her downtime is spent lesson planning and using creativity for the teaching.
- On getting overwhelmed by 50 different ideas.
- Noticing a tendency for creatives to compare, to look at other people’s lives and processes and feel like they’re not measuring up.
- On wishing to have a process that’s more directed around one medium and one creative time of day, but knowing that’s just not her process, and that’s alright too.
- On the cycle of creative process, that despite the mythology of the artist in their studio having things pour through them channeled and beautiful – it’s also work. You have to commit and show up and do the creative work that’s not fun.
- On having an interesting life being creative and owning that identity and really committing to doing that work.
- On questions that arise about what is the role of creativity in a world with such massive political disruption right now. Fear can creep in even though creativity is visioning something else, something different.
- On going through a phase for a few years of not seeking out new music – realized it was a way of keeping herself comfortable, a fear of newness.
- We don’t get to touch on newness through comfort. Teaching is her way of bringing people into contact with something new and fruitful about themselves, allows her to be in connection with people in a very deep way.
- relationship with body
- Some answers are too sacred to talk about on a podcast.
- It’s a struggle to value her body.
- On being super disconnected for many years, living in her head as a writer. Always loved to dance but never did much more physical activity.
- On still working on a relationship with her body – was raised as a writer (the idea of what a writer is) that what is to be valued is the brain, soul, heart but the body was always left out of the conversation.
- On how being embodied puts you in a completely different space around creativity.
- Shift happened when none of her clothes fit anymore, she felt sluggish and unhealthy, realized she’d been completely disregarding her health, and didn’t like it. Didn’t recognize herself, she didn’t feel like herself, and knew it was from self-neglect.
- Shift included taking daily bike rides along the river, eating in a more healthful way and seeing a self whose skin looked more alive, muscles showed, could move more freely. Feels so much better to be in a conversation with her body. Started dancing and feeling so joyfully.
- All of the physical activity has helped so much with mental health, particularly struggles with anxiety and depression.
- On how getting more physical opens up and the realms of sensuality and sexuality.