This one right here. This woman whom I have not met, has changed my life. Did you know that? I took a course at the beginning of the year led by her and it opened me wide. Now this wasn’t my first encounter with the ever lovely Isabel. No I found her long before this year, perhaps in another life. She entered my world at a time when I was working with Stacy De La Rosa a time when I was going through a lot of changes and choice making, Isabel’s words are like a soothing beacon and those words planted seeds for my own liberation to come. It’s small words to say I am excited to have her here today and to introduce you to this being.
Isabel Abbott: I am a writer, activist and speaker. A baker of pies and lover of learning. A feminist and a freedom seeker. An artists of embodiment and salt water, adaptation and liberation. I work with those crossing thresholds: sex and unlocked voices, birth and end of life care, artists and writers coming home to the body. I am the founder of Writing Freedom Society and co-creator of In Her Skin: bringing to light the experience of our embodied truth.
My writing has been published in many places in print and online, and I will be studying as a presidential scholar recipient at Chicago Theological Seminary, exploring intersections of embodiment and ethics, gender and presence and cartography of faith.
Lets start with the most fundamental question why do you create? What do you create?
I create from my life, and with my whole life.
I create through language, through words, through writing.
I create through my work. Which includes activism and art and evolution. Which includes hand mapping: cartography of symbol and story (think palm reading meets personal mythology meets reading the maps of your embodied stories). And In Her Skin Sessions which are seven days of real and uncensored conversations as we enter into illuminating the experiences of our embodied truth through image and words. I create art maps, dream maps, body maps, treasure maps. And pilgrimages to the unholy holy places. And I’m really good at the art of making and wearing wings.
What would you say are the major inspirations for what you create? Just to list a few:
- Curiosity. The tug. The pull. The way some things just have a hold on you, and you can listen or not, but the way they circle back around and call your name again and again, will likely never leave.
- Maps of all kinds. And the old palmistry diagrams and fortune telling cards. And hieroglyphics.
- Medical anthropology. The wandering womb. Humanizing illness.
- New Orleans and voodoo and music that fills streets and late at night, on Frenchman street, how it spills out into the humid air.
- Unanswerable questions.
- Water. Fire. Salt. Bone.
- Stories about women, defining women, but never told in their own voice, from their own perspective. The desire to unearth their voices from within the texts and re-imagine and re-envision, what they might say if allowed to speak.
- Truth. The gods we create and the ones we choose to leave. And the way the night sounds in the middle of summer, thick with heat and locusts and how it’s like waiting for what is already right here, that kind of pregnant pause and honey slow perfection, right before the storm comes and you are laying there in bed with the one you love, mouths and hot skin and fans whirring and lightning crashing and how in that moment this is what it means to be alive.
You write much about language and oh how language is so so much more than words, tell me what language is? What it feels like? How it moves? How do you live in/through language?
I suppose I could say that language is everything. Or perhaps it is more true to say that everything can be language, and it is my love of listening that brings me to the edges of my curiosity, exploring those places where I might become fluent as well as those experiences were I will always require translation, forever wanting to press into the space between the in-between.
I think it began for me surrounding experiences with illness, both mental illness and the breaking down of the body. It felt to me that something in me was speaking, and yet I had not been taught how to listen, and so I was initiated by fire and fury into the language my mind and my cells, my bone and my trauma, my heart beats and my skin. All of it was speaking. Which is not to say that the illness is only language, or that the diagnostic model of health care is fundamentally flawed. It is simply incomplete. What if, in addition to a chemical imbalance or a massive post-traumatic stress response or organs invaded by cancer, there was also a language being spoken in these “symptoms.” And if so, how would I learn to listen? And even further, could listening become a way of loving, of entering into reality with less assumption and judgment, and more curiosity and presence, which is, to me, the deepest loving.
And after that, it came to feel like the whole world was language. The language of coffee in bed in the morning, dark and pooled with cream. The language of uprising. The language of loss. The language of the wheel of fortune, and of the unknowable mysteries, and of compulsions. The language of lust and of want and faith.
Language is fluid too, with meanings changing, and context or situation informing the story being told. Even words are this way, how sometimes I will find a word and I love it madly, as if I stumbled into the secrets, and then it becomes a word used often or by many, and the meaning fades or alters into something unrecognizable. Devotion was this way for me. My first context for it was many years ago, being on religious pilgrimages as a non-religious person. I loved the seeking and the walking and the celebration and the questions, always the questions. And I would be there among people who had a kind of love for Mary that I can only call devotion, and to witness this was to understand the relationship I wanted to have with life. They called it God. I called it Life. But the devotion. . .it was the way of loving that which was messy and hearts exposed, human and aching in its articulation of hunger and restless want and the belief in being filled. And so the word became one that guided me, that felt like unearthing whole languages in just a few letters. And then, for reasons I don’t even really know, I began to hear the word more and more, from other artists and writers, and so the word itself, in its prevalence, came to have less meaning or a different meaning. All of which is to say, I love that language is a living thing, and if we are present, we know the distinction between hearing the echoes of something versus hearing the voice. And the voice is the one that is always alive in its language. So it wakes me up, again and again.
So, because listening is so present in this point of view, I suppose I could say that language feels like intimacy. That it moves quiet like snakes, and like bricks being laid one after the other, and like the feel of certain words and feelings as they come to settle on your tongue, and though you just found the language, it feels like being found.
Tell me how you rise up in fullness?
By honoring my shadows, that which is below and beneath, and in this, choosing wholeness over goodness. To know and live from my wholeness, is to then breathe deep the clarity of ascension in the rising up when it happens. And when it happens, oh wow. It is glorious, yes? The choosing to take a stand. The choosing to speak. The choosing to not shrink or diminish or pretend protection of not taking a risk. There is a line in Rilke, “to rise up rooted, like trees.” That is what it feels like, I think, when above and below are united, whole.
What supports your authentic self? Your true expression of yourself?
Time spent laying on the hard wood floor, naming what is here, or just listening.
Being willing to let go and shed skin and be awkward in the unfolding of the next incarnation of my work in the world and ways of being.
Remaining ok with being wrong, with learning through doing, with not knowing, with not needing to have all the answers.
Being in love with the woman who is the place I call my belonging. It is the first love I’ve known where I get to be all of me, bring all of me, and am not asked to contort, to bend myself to fit another’s form. And in this, I learn the love and freedom are not at war with one another, and I am more true by loving and being loved by her.
The ocean. And protection beads. The music and streets of New Orleans. The sounds of trains. The first sight of lilacs in spring.
Tell me about the love you give to yourself, to the world?
There have been the big acts of love I’ve given to myself. Fighting for my life. Saving my life. The kind that required radical sacrifice and was expensive of psyche and body both. Somehow in this, I earned my own trust. But mostly, especially lately, loving myself has been what I would call kindness. Being my own good friend. Having my back. Staying, just staying with myself, instead of rushing in with rescue. “Self-love” can almost become a way to beat yourself up, another measuring stick at which to judge yourself for having failed. And so these days, the love I give to myself is presence, full and complete, regardless of what I’m doing or how I’m doing. I’m here. Moment after moment, I am here.
The love I give the world mirrors this too. I show up with love in my activism, in my writing and art, in my ways of being with my familiars and the loves of my life, in my ways of engaging with the world in the daily doings of things, choosing to pay attention and not create further violence with my presence or lack of thereof. And often times, in my work, it means the simple presence of showing up without agenda or ideas, a need to take someone to another place or bring them any kind of resolution. Just being here, human and alive, together.
Body, embodied, sanctuary- all glory- all holy hallelujah! You write about this sacred vessel of ours, you believe in it. You write with the conviction of the saints.
How do spirituality and sexuality relate for you?
For me they are not separate, and so they do not relate to one another, as much as move like the in and out of breath. I don’t tend to use the word spirit or spirituality, though I am aware that much of my writing and work circles around and swims inside themes or questions surrounding their nature. As a word, it is not something I can claim as my own, but there are many times when I hear other people speaking, and I think, “I know this too. We are calling it different things, but I believe the experience is the same.”
And so I would say that spirituality (what I would call love in the presence of that which is unknowable) is alive in the experience and claiming of our sexuality. I don’t practice or preach what some call “sacred sexuality” or sex as communion with divine. Again, I think this is because it implies to me that there is holy and unholy, mystical and mundane, and yet another way to prove our worth, instead of just showing up for the full spectrum of this being human thing. Which is so fantastically magnificence, and painful, and throbbing with meaning. Sexuality for me is about being in this body, and yes, it is here that we can say “yet in my flesh, I shall know god.” Not in a fancy way or a special breathing pattern way. But just because god isn’t separate from this. For me, it is the very meaning of god.
How do you most like to celebrate your body?
Heat. Cold blackberries. Bare feet. Returning to Mexico. Sex.
And dance. Always, dance. I have said that art is my religion, and dance is how I pray. And this is true. It is medicine to me. And it is the most alive celebration of the gift of getting to be embodied in this lifetime.
What does pleasure mean to you?
I’m a hedonist at heart, so pleasure is sort of essential for me to live alive.
And it means opening to something. It means feeling good (which can be really scary, if we’re honest.) It means the hardest laughter even when and sometimes even because of how dark the day has turned. It means living in my skin, and eating what I want to eat and loving who and how I want to love and not making apologies or excuses or explanations for my life as if it requires justification. It means really hot baths and cold lake water and wings. It means vulnerability, and how sometimes it is hard to be in states of pleasure, because it’s all exposed and open to chaos.
And I believe pleasure is your birthright as it is mine.
Lastly, tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
To show up, and love harder, with conviction and intimacy intertwined. To be present to all that is most human, which is for me what is most holy. To show up.
I believe Isabel is a space holder maven. A few months ago I took part in her down right incredible course Writing the Womb (which you can still sign up for the self study version!) It literally unlocked me, unfurled me, opened me wide!
So I whole heartedly say these offerings are worth it.
In Her Skin-Unfurl- Reclaiming embodiment through image and words.
Come join us for seven days of exploration and conversation, real and uncensored.
We are mad with magic and just a bit drunk on spring’s possibilities.
We are aching in our bones and restless in our want for a great unfolding.
We are asking questions, where embodied truth is illuminated and shimmers in shadow and light.
We are feeling the ache and hunger and sweet release as the embodied voice emerges,
ready and waiting to expand roots and wings.
To speak true. To know where we stand.
To occupy our own space fully and inhabit our skin wholly.
Bringing to light the experience of our embodied truth. Join us April 13th! Register Here!
Anytime throughout the year if you are looking for something that can support us in making meaning, unearthing symbols and connecting the stars into constellations, offering insight into our ways of doing and being in this world. Hand Mapping may be your answer.
Hand Mapping: The lines on our hands speak a language.
They are etched into our skin like rivers and roads,
stories and myth, waking dreams and moments when everything changed.
They are arrows and roots and direction and memory.
They are maps.
Maps you have created and lived and are forming even now.
And they are waiting to be read.