shining light up/on “The Basement”

Journal excerpt, August 2013.

Journal excerpt after project s.t.e.p. meeting, August 2013.

Note: This post includes some experiences as a survivor of sexual violence, in case a reader may wish to know this in advance.

The Chicago weekend-scape was a choice to breathe lightly after an August whirlwind.  I felt unsettled by the Intensive Retreat at Crow’s Nest Center for Shamanic Studies, and curious about starting a Kalamazoo project in community arts, s.t.e.p. — speaking truth equals power. These spaces relate to one another in that each has been part of my healing as a survivor of violence.

From my fall 2013 visit to the collection of artists' books.

From my fall 2013 visit to the collection of artists’ books.

I ventured favorite Downtown haunts, quiet spaces to explore art with a twist: the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Columbia College) and the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection (SAIC). Spreading my wings from the Loop and bunk-beds at the International Youth Hostel, I headed north to a Victorian Bed & Breakfast. Its entrance had the grandest tree!

My room was a renovated corner in the basement. Upon settling in and showering away the hot day, I became quite agitated. I headed to the Chicago Diner in short order for excellent vegetarian fare, and journaled through the internal storm. My web of traumatic associations had been shaken. Generally speaking, I had experienced a trigger from old trauma.

The "grand" tree.

The “grand” tree.

The Basement with its corner room was the source. Because when I was a child, the final sexual violation by my uncle took place in a basement-corner bar while playing hide and seek. What I newly absorbed on this occasion was that my renovated bedroom as an adolescent was in the same corner as the assault. The understanding was a trickle of things to pour forth in coming months.

The next morning, I sat outside the B&B near the grand tree and talked by phone with a friend who was in crisis.  I admired the height sandwiched between buildings.  The literally uplifting sight calmed my rather shaken soul in conversation with another shaken soul. Even with all this space between us — the friend, myself, and the tree — the moment was healing.

On the way out of the city, I paused at the north-end of Lincoln Park.  There I befriended another tree who became a companion over lunch, its trunk supporting my back.  I gazed at the limbs above and around me, a pattern like the roots below, many and far-reaching. Gathering my belongings for the train station, a surprise greeted me:  a perfectly-intact, molted exoskeleton of a cicada!  I was surprised not to have seen it earlier and accepted the token as a gift, whose story is worthy of its own post. Because, did you know, cicadas burrow underground and feed off roots between two to 17 years?!


My lunch-mate from Lincoln Park.

After returning to Kalamazoo, I found myself in a dilemma. The art studio to which I moved before the weekend-scape felt very unwelcoming. Why? I thought maybe it was because of needed improvements to the space under construction. Despite my eagerness to connect with artists while creating in a collective space, I was inhibited to be there. And the reason I readily voiced — getting settled into a new home — was fairly acceptable and true.

The deeper truth, though, was more challenging to acknowledge to myself, let alone express to others. The fact was that my new studio was in a dark basement, and the recent experience in Chicago had struck a raw nerve with this awareness. What resided on an intuitive level slowly was surfacing from the shadows into the light.

And from the fall into winter, I wrote poetry that became the heart of my public work in 2014 including “Emergence: An Intimate Performance,” a collaboration with percussionist Nicholas Brabhan. The title poem was composed as a found-word collage during personal retreat in the Hiawatha Forest over New Year’s, and published by Lansing Online News as part of its Poem-a-Day series for National Poetry Month.

Field of Debris photographed in my basement studio.

Field of Debris photographed in my basement studio.

This collage along with other new mixed-media pieces are on exhibition through April at Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative of Kalamazoo. So there’s still time to check it out! On Saturday, April 26, two events provide this chance: the debut of Steam, an open-mic series with with spoken-word artist D.C.; and an afternoon with co-exhibitor Denise Miller at Medium to Metaphor.

A visible feature among these recent collages is their black background. What’s not visible is the exception among this body of work: the piece entirely created in the basement studio. The triptych Field of Debris, like the other works, began in the midst of overwhelming emotion. The images that initially captured me — the skulls and a burned but living woman wrapped in gauze — also unnerved me. In fact, I was reluctant even to talk of the work, disturbed by its contents.


Detail from medium panel, Field of Debris.

But completing Field of Debris was a transformative process, as I moved through an overwhelming state into victorious acceptance of self. That’s how symbols of ghostly skulls evolved into winged, watchful guardians. That’s how the symbol of a veiled woman facing the fire evolved into a multitude of butterflies. That’s how I exhibited the work among survivors of childhood sexual violence, and now am now shining light up/on “The Basement.”

My performance work this year across Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, and South Bend challenged me in a parallel way. How would I stay in the present moment — or convey my current understanding of healing in its real-time process?  Themes of Dis/Orientation, Vulnerability, and Bare Feet provided “in-roads” to these in-flesh encounters, as did invitations to audiences to participate during performances.

Dear Sister Anthology reading Have Company, Grand Rapids, February 2014.

Dear Sister Anthology reading Have Company, Grand Rapids, February 2014.

Thanks to each of you who supported me in some way through this transition!  Those in my spiritual communities of Red Cedar Friends (Quakers) and Crow’s Nest Center.  Survivors with listening ears and open arms. Co-organizers and collaborators across multiple locales. Loved ones sharing tears and exercising patience.  I can’t adequately put in words the depth of my gratitude.

What comes next?  Well, it seems time for me to pause with wider public appearances.  My aim still is to share tools towards healing: poetry and collage; movement and voice; interactive performance.  Such occasions may take shape as workshops, individual sessions, or small-audience engagements.  Inquiries are welcome at MelissaHasbrookATgmailDOTcom.

Journal excerpt, August 2013.

Journal excerpt from Intensive Retreat at Crow’s Nest Center, August 2013.

Note: Edited April 30, 2014.

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Culminations Abound!

At the Michigan State Capitol with organizers of the Greater-Lansing event series "Healing with Community, Thriving in Unity", plus State Senator Gretchen Whitmer. Left to right: Rachel Berzak (TBTN), Sen. Whitmer, Tashmica Torok of the Firecracker Foundation, myself, and Katie Sochacki (TBTN). Photo credit: Laura Swanson.

At the Michigan State Capitol with organizers of the Greater-Lansing event series “Healing with Community, Thriving in Unity”, plus State Senator Gretchen Whitmer. Left to right: Rachel Berzak of Take Back the Night, Sen. Whitmer, Tashmica Torok of the Firecracker Foundation, myself, and Katie Sochacki of TBTN. Photo credit: Laura Swanson.

Greetings on this sunny morning! The early light glows over the greening grass. It’s a sight that warms my heart here in Kalamazoo after a week in Lansing. During my visit, I performed as the featured artist of Take Back the Night of Greater Lansing with percussionist Nicholas Brabhan. The experience was uplifting from inside a room at the MSU Museum that generated the intimacy of our collaboration Emergence. Thanks to those who supported these Lansing appearances in person and spirit! Video from TBTN will be forthcoming.

balancescaledIn Kalamazoo this week, I am in a group performance titled Balance. The multimodal program incorporates visual art, poetry/ spoken word, and movement. My co-performers are Denise Miller, co-founder of Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative and current board member; and Laura Sprague of Kalamazoo. We are presenting this artistic exploration of healing to the public as adult survivors of childhood sexual violence. The two showings at 8:00pm on Friday April 18 and Saturday April 19 at Fire — for just $5 at the door — are a culmination of our meetings since August 2012. It is unlikely that this performance will be recorded, so join us for the live event and also to take in the accompanying exhibition at Fire with our art work.

Opening of the exhibition at Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Center on April 4, 2014. From left to right, my co-exhibitors Laura Sprague and Denise Miller. Our group show is on exhibit through April and may be seen at Fire events, including our performance Balance on April 18 and 19.

Opening of the exhibition at Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Center on April 4, 2014. From left to right, my co-exhibitors Laura Sprague and Denise Miller. Our group show is on exhibit through April and may be seen at Fire events, including our performance Balance on April 18 and 19.

It’s a very intense week, as you might imagine, between the debut of Emergence to the eight-month-delivery of Balance. I am extremely grateful for the encouragement of loved ones and hearing how persons from these programs are inspired. My deepest respect to each of you who extend care and a part of yourself as I endeavor forward in the creative-healing arts. Whether it is that pep-talk over dinner or your smiling eyes meeting mine when I am on stage, I experience that connection as a thread of the great web of life. It is such a gift to share this web with you. Let’s “spider” on together!

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The Launch of Emergence

emergencetagA new project of mine, “Emergence,” combines poetry, percussion, movement, and visual art into an interactive experience with small audiences. Percussionist Nicholas Brabhan (South Bend, IN)  is my collaborator, who I met through the community at Crow’s Nest Center for Shamanic Studies. We share an interest in the creative arts as a healing tool, and “Emergence: An Intimate Performance” is our first public expression of the partnership.  Thanks for reading this post about how “Emergence” came into being, our partners, and how you can become part of the project.

{{Donations accepted here.}}


The poetry I perform in “Emergence” is rooted in my healing journey, and has been composed since the fall of 2013.  My focus these recent years on healing from childhood sexual violence in parallel with creative expression has expanded my artistic disciplines and use of media. “Emergence” springs from this ongoing evolution as a survivor-activist and as an artist.  From this base, “Emergence” is designed as an interactive performance for anyone with an openness to explore the creative arts as a healing tool.

As a whole, “Emergence” is a gentle exploration through performance. Poetry and percussion create a safe container to experiment with movement and visual art.  While inspired by my healing journey, the poetry is not focus on survivorhood as an explicit topic. I have set out, though, to bring “Emergence” to the public in partnership with ongoing programs that serve survivors of sexual violence. Survivors, allies, and persons open to engage arts in healing are especially encouraged to participate.

{{Donations accepted here.}}


The first engagement of “Emergence” takes place Sunday, April 13, in Lansing, Michigan, at Just B Yoga as part of the event series “Healing with Community, Thriving in Unity”, in unison with Take Back the Night of Greater Lansing. Thanks, TBTN, for donating funds for the venue!  Separate performances at 4:30pm and 7:00pm each have five openings for audience-participants; please register by email at or phone 313.389.6866,

Teaming up with the Lansing engagement is The Firecracker Foundation, a nonprofit serving youth-survivors of sexual violence. Firecracker is processing donations for “Emergence”, and will receive half of the proceeds. The remaining portion supports the artists. This means that 50% of your donations also is tax-deductible.

{{Donations accepted here.}}


When envisioning a community-support model of fundraising and sustaining my creative work,  I wanted to make possible a healing experience for audiences not rooted in mandatory payment. I envisioned how a community could be a part of the whole, and also benefit somehow from the performance.

Donors are receiving gifts to honor contributions, in addition to the knowledge that every dollar contributes ongoing support to individuals’ healing and artists channeling creative energy in experimental ways. All donors (with permission) will be recognized on here on Dey of the Phoenix. Additional gifts include the following:

- Donations of $10 receives the poem “Emergence” personally autographed.
- Donations of $25 receive an audio recording of the performance.
- Donations of $50 receive a mini-booklet of all poetry from the performance
- Donations of $100 receive both the mini-booklet, audio recording, and the Soulfire calendar from The Firecracker Foundation.

{{Donations accepted here.}}


Stay tuned here at Dey of the Phoneix for news of “Emergence: An Intimate Performance” coming to Kalamazoo, Michigan. And throughout the year, I will be developing new works toward a solo exhibition in 2015! As always, Readers, thanks for your continued support.

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A Bountiful Month

Collective painting from the pilot of "Emergence: An Intimate Performance" in March.

Collective painting from the pilot of “Emergence: An Intimate Performance” in March.

With April around the corner, days warm and “season greeters” pop-up through the not-yet-green landscape. At my new home-ground in Kalamazoo, I await for who appears. Thanks to Mildred, who tended the plant-life between the 1940s and 2010s, perennials are making themselves known.

With watchful eyes, I discovered a rock-laden pathway hidden by sod. The excavating of  flat squarish stones has begun! In this case, what lies underneath is predictable — or so it seems. I am reminded of life as art, and contemplate this season’s combined lesson of rising up and digging below.

Detail from one of my new pieces; mixed-media collage.

Detail of new work for Art Hop, April 4, 2014, in Kalamazoo.

Rising up and digging below. These parallel actions resonate recent months in my community-arts collaborations in Lansing and Kalamazoo, Michigan. Early spring is a time of debut for these interdisciplinary projects, and I look forward to meeting you anew at upcoming events. Thanks for your company on the journey of creative-healing arts!

Art Hop, Friday, April 4, from 5:00pm to 7:30pm at Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative, Kalamazoo. The exhibition is by project s.t.e.p. — speaking truth = power. I’m showing new work along side my artist book The Vision Journal.

emergencetag“Emergence: An Intimate Performance” brings together poetry, percussion, movement, and visual art as healing tools. The interdisciplinary and interactive experience is designed for small audiences. I perform with percussionist Nicholas Brabhan (South Bend, IN) in Lansing on April 13 (Facebook listing here), and in Kalamazoo on May 3. Please register by email,, or phone, 313.389.6866.

TBTN2014apr15scldTake Back the Night of Greater Lansing takes place on April 15, on the campus of Michigan State University, and concludes with a march to the State Capitol. It’s an honor to be featured and to perform with Nick again. Join us at 4:00pm for “The Beat, The Word, & The Body” at Beaumont Tower. (For the full-sized event flyer, just select the image to the left.) Please consider making a donation to this grassroots campaign via GoFundMe, which also supports my public work as a survivor-activist.

stepbalance2014scaled“Balance” is an intermodal performance with artists who are adult survivors of sexual violence. Shows take place at 8:00pm on April 18 and 19, at Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative, Kalamazoo. Also, art work exhibited will expand upon the Art Hop debut of April 4.  I am honored to perform alongside the very talented and inspiring Laura Sprague of The Body Love Project and Denise Miller, co-founder and Board member of Fire.

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Healing & Thriving in Lansing

HealingWithCommunity2014scldHappy almost spring! This week in Lansing the event series “Healing with Community, Thriving in Unity” is in full-swing. The flyer (to the right) captures most of the programming, and your help to share is most welcome to reach Greater Lansing. Please click on the image to download. Thanks so much for your assistance!

Next up is the Dear Sister Book Club this Tuesday, March 18, from 12pm to 1pm at Everybody Reads Bookstore, 2019 E. Michigan Ave. I will lead the discussion in the community room, a limited-seating space. Registration will secure your spot:, 313.389.6866. Otherwise, admission will be first-come, first-serve. I look forward to sharing this intimate space with you.

Our kick-off event was over the weekend, and brought together organizers The Firecracker Foundation, Take Back the Night of Greater Lansing, and myself.  Series’ partner Everybody Reads also joined us to vend Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence. Thanks to the survivors, allies, friends, and new faces who made the night shine! For more pictures, visit my album on Facebook.

Vulnerability was my topic at the kick-off. I shared a work-in-progress on this theme. Thanks to John Allison for the photograph.

Vulnerability was my topic during the kick-off at AA Creative Corridor. I shared a work-in-progress on this theme. Thanks to John Allison for the photograph.

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Promise in the Snow Banks

It’s the month of my birthday, which is a date near the midpoint between the North’s winter solstice and spring equinox — or between the longest Night and when Day holds equal time. While Northern nights still are longer, each day is a steady gain in the solar plane. And while snow keeps falling here in Michigan, I know in the mornings I hear more bird song when shoveling my drive. This is a cusp time; the promise of a new season shines in the bright white of snow banks.

In this 39th year of my life, I’m grateful for the lessons of  seasons past and those to come. I anticipate this year of re-entering public work to bring uplift and challenge, alongside those of you who may join me on these occasions. Hearing about your inspirations always has given me courage and will continue to inspire me further along my own journey. Thanks to those who let me know, even in the slightest way, how these occasions may impact you.

My events calendar provides upcoming appearances. Also I welcome invitations for workshops, readings, and custom-designed occasions. This week offers several chances to connect in real-time, both through the word and the image:

* Tonight, Thursday, February 6, at 7:30pm at the independent bookstore Bookbug, 3019 Oakland Dr., Kalamazoo. I am the sole reader for Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence, an anthology with more than 50 contributors. The signing is part of the event series Balance organized by project s.t.e.p. — speaking truth equals power.

* I host the monthly Intuitive Arts Drop-In Studio this Saturday, February 8, 12:00pm to 2:00pm, at Lotsa Little Things Gallery, 1305 S. Westnedge, Kalamazoo.  BYO set-up or $5 for basic supplies to make mixed-media collage. No experience needed!

* Saturday, February 8, in Grand Rapids, I am part of a program also honoring the anthology Dear Sister anthology with the incredibly talented Aaminah Shakur. Today is the last day to register for my workshop “Heart to Art” at 4:00pm at the Arts in Motion Studio. And the performance with signing is at 7:30pm at Have Company, 136 Division Ave., featuring Aaminah and myself — plus an open mic with special guests Mulato VIBES!

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A Synchronous New Year

As a survivor, I choose how to walk in this world. I did not choose the particular violence that happened to me. But I choose how to live after violence, and I strive to be gentle on my way “forward.”

I choose my healing path, how to journey forward from the victim some believe me to be, into the survivor who I know I am. And my choices are tested in resonant moments, like one strand on a web that vibrates across the span.

It is not all struggle — another choice along the path. It is not all Flight, Fight, or Freeze … but Feeling in the moment, including Joy.

~ journal paraphrase/ January 18, 2014/ Lansing, Michigan

This expression came to me at the monthly circle of The Writing Room while reflecting upon my current pulse of survivorhood. For survivorhood is not a fixed thing for any one person, even someone sharing survivorhood in the public sphere. A spiral dance is my choice way to describe the life journey as a survivor.

The last 1.5-plus years away from community programming allowed space to tend my healing journey. A shift in recent months, though, calls me back to performance and public work. Sharing this personal work as a braiding of intuition and artistry is part of what’s to come.

The lesson I wish to share from this time is to follow where intuition leads — intuition being the inner voice that sings when nourished.  A curious and observant listening process made this possible for me, as has the presence of spiritual communities and loved ones, especially my partner and best friend of nine years, Tom Schouten.

A material expression from this period is The Vision Journal, my artist’s book on the interior journey of an adult survivor of childhood sexual violence.  Paired figures of self-portraiture and an archetypal Alice in Wonderland travel a layered and symbolic landscape. The hand-held portal incorporates mixed media, collage, painting, and poetry.

I welcome the intuitive call back into public life in synchronicity with this month’s publication of the anthology Dear Sister: Letter from Survivors of Sexual Violence (AK Press). It’s an honor to be a contributor with my poem “Attic”.  Please stay tuned to my Dear Sister updates’ page, as well as my events calendar for upcoming appearances.

Another synchronicity is my collaboration with adult survivors of childhood sexual violence through Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative of Kalamazoo.  Project s.t.e.p. speaking truth equals power — is organizing an event series “balance.” Details are forthcoming, including our signature performance in April.

In Greater Lansing, I’m developing an event series with the Firecracker Foundation and organizers of our local Take Back the Night. Launching Dear Sister, an open mic, intimate performances, and more will lead up to TBTN’s full-day of programming in MidApril. So, please stay tuned for program announcements!

Readers, as always, thanks for your continued subscription. I hope your 2014 is starting off brilliantly and continues to shine from the inside out.

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Sprucin’ Up the Holidays!

I had a great time creating these Spruce Holiday Boughs, now for sale at Lotsa Little Things Gallery in Kalamazoo. The greenery is from a fallen tree, and each one is adorned with recycled and/or found objects. Stay tuned for more about the tree’s story!

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Life’s a Dance, with poem “plunge”


MDH, Dec. 2012. Photo of votive by Rhonda Skinner.

Whenever poetry appears, a gift has arrived, a surprise that unfolds itself with due space and time.

When unwrapped, the gift is gratitude, for these words find a way to dance despite every stumble.

                                           ~ MDH, October 27, 2013, Kalamazoo

Poetry is my first love. Depending when you and I first met — or when you began reading Dey of the Phoenix — this may be news to you . . . or not. For quite some time, many posts speak of the drum, visual arts, community adventures. Altogether, these interwoven movements make up my dance of life, a spiral that bends just when it seems that the path has gone straight. And, for me, poetry is anything but straight! Poetry is an instinctual dance led by the heart beat, through which movement generates form.

In likeness to this poetic pace, after commuting year-long to Kalamazoo for my art studio, recently I have taken up residence. Making a home is an ongoing process, and I’m pausing to better acquaint myself with surroundings. One step in this direction is giving Intuitive Readings at Lotsa Little Things Gallery, where fun is to be had among a hotbed of creative types. The shop carries work by more than 20 artists! Catch me tomorrow at Art Hop, held every First Friday.

Guess what, though? I still have a place in Lansing too. That means I time-share my weeks with shorter stays among my roots. Be sure to save the dates for upcoming circles. All are open to newcomers!

  • Drumming with the Fire at New Moons at 6:30pm on Sunday, November 3, and Monday, December 2, at a home-based location.
  • The Writing Room recommences Sunday, November 17, from 1:30pm to 5:30pm at Cup of Dessert (formerly Decker’s Cafe) in Downtown.
  • And the Gathered Drum Circle holds fast on third Sundays at 7:00pm, November 17 and December 15, in a home setting.

In closing, I pass on a poem that appeared last month among tall bunches of  chamomile and others whose names fail me. I smiled at the bees and butterflies in their gentle but persistent gathering, a dance within and between blooms. Their presence and practical-creative work a parallel to my pen on paper, a way I make sense of life in its unfolding. The poem “plunge” is another installment from my experiences with Sacred Breathwork. For more of these, visit the poems “Mother Fear“, “Beyond the Corner“, and “I Live Here“.

for Mimi

i do not skim
the surface
but plunge
into the
& meet the face
of my fear
once father
now mother

within our womb
i find myself
& ready to be
in the manner
of my choosing

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Intuitive Readings

readings2013kzooI’m excited to announce a new happening! I start giving Intuitive Readings at Lotsa Little Things Gallery in Kalamazoo, where my art studio now is located. The walk-in times for October to December offer short readings of five or fifteen minutes with themed Tarot decks and oracle cards. For longer readings, I’m available by appointment; please email MelissaHasbrookATgmailDOTcom.

My approach to Intuitive Readings draws upon experience and knowledge, without limiting responses to a particular formal system like traditional Tarot. I rely on intuition — that gut-driven, inner voice — to inform the use of tools and whatever words may be spoken. Tools range from physical objects to metaphysical resources. A reading may begin with themed Tarot, and lead to consulting Western astrology or symbolism of animals. In sum, a variety of studies and life stories serve as a resourceful web for a given reading.

Since 2007, working with intuitive tools has informed my creative work and healing process, bringing them into closer alignment. Shortly before that time, I left academe in pursuit of a heart-led life. By “heart-led”, I mean honoring that gut instinct also called the inner voice. My willingness and skill to listen to the heart improves with each stumble. And I’m grateful for the significant support of teachers, circles, and communities throughout this process.

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