OUR JOURNEY FROM THE DEVIL TO THE SUN:
Healing Intergenerational Energies Around Art
as i embark on releasing my first solo art commission, the sacred seasons project, i recognize that the journey of this work is not singularly my own. as no creature on this earth exists without being in relationship to something else, i recognize how my creative journey has been the culmination of lifetimes of ancestral struggle and healing. so many lives, before mine, have yearned for the opportunity that i have now.
i mention my ancestors because i don’t believe that our life’s work is solely about ourselves. so many lives and energetic investments, as well as inheritances, have been placed into who i am and how i work in this world. to say that my creative dream is my own, is only the beginning of a much larger narrative.
this post is dedicated to my ancestors. to all the ways they created and learned in spite of limiting circumstances and in honor of all that has been given to me and how i stand with them in this moment. with the hope that as i write this, they’re creative spirits are fully seen and finally heard.
IT’S WRITTEN IN THE STARS: ancestral inheritance + creative lineage
i come from a long line of creative peoples, though none of them would have called themselves artists. they were labeled as mechanics, security guards, moms, and secretaries, but they were also artists, thinkers, makers, and dreamers. just everyday people living their lives and spreading magic in unsuspecting ways.
my dad was a jazz drummer, who was primarily self-taught. he spent most nights practicing, listening to frank zappa, and reading about numerology. he had an uncanny knack for learning and fixing just about anything. i remember when our car wasn’t working and we couldn’t afford a mechanic, we would walk to the auto parts store to read the manual for our car (because we couldn’t even afford the manual), and dad would memorize the instructions and fix the car himself. it was bananas!
if there was one single thing i inherited from dad’s side of the family it was this ability to fix things. from my great grandpa to me, each of us has an affinity for being handy with our hands. as a textile machine mechanic, my great grandpa was always fixing things and would make toys for my dad. he passed that kinesthetic energy to my dad, who fixed cars and drums, and then to me, as i was brought up to work on drums, toilets, stoves, model cars, and erector sets.
so often this kind of work is labeled as manual labor, but it goes deeper than industrial/capitalist categorizations of work. this is an affinity to for solving problems with tangible moving parts and intangible ideas just out of reach. it’s deep creative work that requires patience, faith that you can solve the problem, and the willingness to follow the creative spark of intuition that leads to outside-of-the-box solutions. it’s scrappy work. it’s 7 of swords work. it’s reconstructing reality and reworking what you have to achieve something different. and it’s one of the greatest components of my teaching, artwork, and self-healing journey.
in a completely different, but equally important vein, my grandma (dad’s mom) was poetry in motion. a living, breathing venus, she exuded a sparkle that can’t be faked and moved through the world with the firm belief that life should be pleasurable, you should dress how you want to feel, and always make friends. i believe that if you dropped her in the middle of the ocean, she would have made friends with someone, or at the very least the fish. to this day, she was the most gifted connector i’ve ever met, making friends with strangers in the blink of an eye. she also had a knack of making up novelty songs and poking fun at people in a way that disarmed them and brought them out of their shell.
my great grandma was an orphan and supposedly a witch. though i suspect that last part was used to describe her general crabby moods and a nod to her supposed native american heritage. i say supposed, because last year i took a 23 and me test, and discovered that instead of being native american, she was biracial, black and white, living her entire life as a misidentified multiracial woman. her doilies were beautiful delicate things that she crocheted herself with gnarled, bony hands and her baked goods were legendary. through our connection, she has taught me more about the importance of showing up as your whole self, than any single ancestor.
on the other side, my mom is a quintessential pisces. on her lunch breaks as an environmental programmer, you can find her daydreaming and sketching animals on napkins. she is the first person we lose when we traveling on trips and the last person to show up to the designated meeting spot. her dad, my lolo, had a very steady energy. at one point he served as captain of a ship. he traveled to many far flung places and i often call upon his guidance to help me navigate life’s changes. my lola (mom’s mom), was the mother of 8 children and often had to take on odd jobs to support her family, doing everything from selling durian to being a seamstress.
in recounting their lives, their strengths and their inherent creativity, i wonder:
what lit their creative fires?
what creative dreams did they long for?
i’ll never know, because not one single ancestor on either side of my family ever had the opportunity to fully realize their artwork and share that work with the world. they were practical, like so many of our ancestors. the circumstances of their lives and the social landscapes of their times did not support their process for realizing their creative dreams.
THE CHAINS THAT BIND US: unrealized dreams + creative suppression
it was about the time right after my dad passed in 2007 that i began to notice this pattern of creative suppression in my family lineage. my dad was a gifted, self-taught musician, who, because of financial reasons, was never able to attend college. it didn’t deter him though, he studied on his own and practiced relentlessly, toured the country playing in disco bands and eventually focused more on jazz. he worked so hard to book gigs and teach himself music theory and he wrote songs. his music was so distinctly quirky, complex and funny. imagine flight of the concords mixed with zappa. after he passed in 2007, i went through his things and i found so much of his music. music that was never recorded. it felt like some kind of messed up cosmic joke that was being played. how could someone who dedicated their life to learning and making music, never have the joy of fully realizing their creative dreams?
that one question haunted me and sent me on a path of creative healing that would span 13 years. i started to explore my own relationship with art, from the lens of ancestral inheritance and realized so much trauma and pain surrounded my creativity and self- expression.
as a very young child, my mom openly discouraged me from pursuing art. she feared my creativity, as it was a point of deep core wounding for her. through my decolonization work, i began to understand that my mom was discouraged to express herself under the martial law regime of marcos in the 1970s political landscape of the philippines. that there were people who spoke their truth and were taken from their families never to be seen again. that to speak up was a right that had been taken away from my mom. on top of that, the american colonization of the philippines left young people with few options for their futures, as they were being groomed as a work force for the united states, with an emphasis on science and healthcare. for my mom, she was pressured to pursue practical career choices and to earn money, rather than listening to her soul or nurturing her creative dreams. she once told me that when she went to go choose her major in college, she was presented with only two options: be a nurse or be a chemist. so she chose to be a chemist, not because she wanted to, but because she only had two options. two.
my mother immigrated illegally to the united states in the 1980s as a chemist and graduating from the top of her class. where before, in the philippines she had worked for the army and a few companies, when she arrived in the united states, the only job she could get was taking care of an elderly woman. eventually she met my dad and got a job washing glassware in a lab. even though she was top of her class back home, the closest she could get to a lab was washing glassware. despite all this, she remained steadfast in her goals. she applied to a master’s program and was accepted to university of california at northridge. she took public speaking classes to develop her english, and kept applying for jobs better suited to her skills. though she never gave up, it was not her original dream to be a chemist. no one asked, ‘what does your soul yearn for?’ no one asked, ‘how do you want to help others or change the world?’
FADING LIGHT: suppression of the creative spirit
from early on in life it was clear that my mom and i were on radically different paths. at age 3 i began playing the drums. at age 5 i had my first premonition. it was a vision of going to music school and moving to new york to be a professional musician. now having spent enough time with developing my visioning skills and understanding messages from spirit, i know now that vision was not just a child’s dream, but it was a soul calling.
my mom struggled so much with my affinity for creating and expression. she couldn’t see how i could ever be financially solvent as an artist. how could i ever be safe and healthy, if i was just playing gigs? it just didn’t add up to her. so she did what any loving parent who fears for their child’s future does, she attempted to suppress my creative fire in anyway that she could and in the ways that others had suppressed her own creativity. by refusing to pay for lessons, often chastising me for playing, and openly showing anger towards my interest in making music. in her attempts to keep me safe, she opted for me hating her rather than see me enter the uncertain world of art-making, which resulted in a huge chasm between child and parent.
however, the desire to create and express myself was wouldn’t be dimmed easily. like a moth to the flame, i would drift over to my casio after school and play until the moon rose in the sky. i would lose myself in the poems of frost and cummings, and greek myths. i would make friends with trees and sketch their likeness every chance i had.
looking back i see how making art was a practice of self-soothing as my parents fought and i often feared for my future. in the process of playing, i had control, clarity, stability, emotional space, and most importantly a way to dream and escape my current circumstances. with few games or toys, i had a library card, some drums, and the cheapest model casio. so i spent all my free time playing, drawing, and reading.
eventually i started performing with the local community college jazz band and orchestra while in elementary school. seeing my progress and wanting to get me into a dedicated music program, my dad enrolled me in a middle school that was located a few towns over in a more wealthy, white conservative neighborhood. i was one of a few multiracial students in the school and one of two female drummers. in that year my sister was also born. to say that year was hell, is putting it mildly.
i went from a school in an economically-challenged neighborhood of mostly dreamers and immigrants, all brown kids like myself, to a school comprised almost entirely of moderately wealthy white conservative folx. in that year, i was bullied for how i dressed, what i ate, that i was a female drummer. i was locked in practice rooms and chased in the halls, and i struggled to balance the high expectations of the band director with the open hostility towards me as a female drummer leading a bunch of pre-teen boys. the bullying in school band became so bad that i quit music altogether.
ALL IS QUIET, ALL IS SAFE: the detour of assimilation
during this period, i turned away from music. i gravitated towards the tough kids who spoke with fists, listened to hard music, and whose home lives mirrored my own. in that period, i made it my mission to fit it and to assimilate. though my parents always struggled with money and i often wore the cheapest possible clothes, i refused to spend one more moment being picked on for my clothes or what culturally foreign foods i ate, or the jazz that listened to.
instead, i focused on straightening my hair, wearing skater clothes, and listening to whatever song was popular on the local radio station. my grades started to slip and finally my parents noticed something was wrong. i had always been an avid student, but i was getting into fights and eventually got suspended from school.
when high school rolled around, i decided to focus on school. much to my mom’s pleasure, i got really into science. as i had always loved nature and hiking, science felt like this creative exploration of the world. so i became captain of the science olympiad team and started to hang with all the ‘smart’ kids, i.e. asian and south asian kids who threw themselves into school work and extracurricular activities, as they were pushed by parents who like my own mother, feared for their children’s survival in the work force. these students were all on fast track toward the best colleges. but as the end of high school rolled around, when everyone begins to apply for college, i felt so lost. how was i supposed to apply for college when i couldn’t decide what to major in? i loved so many subjects, art, science, english, math, it didn’t matter. every subject felt intertwined with the next and each felt important and relevant to who i was.
to top it off, my parents really didn’t have any experience with the college application process, and my counselor dropped the ball completely by never meeting with me to talk about my college plans. so i ended up being surrounded by friends who had applied and i just kind of winged it on my own. i applied to a couple schools for chemistry and environmental science, and got in, but really didn’t feel motivated towards the science track that i was on.
ANSWERING THE CALL: rekindling the creative flame + divine timing
around this time, i began dating a boy who went to music school and we would hang out at gigs and jam sessions. i never participated, only watched on the side lines like a groupie. i remember there was this one time, where i was watching him play with his friends and they were really going for it. playing all sorts of expansive ideas and i thought: ‘i could do that.’ the thought was so brief, like a quick flash, and so random. i hadn’t practiced in 8 years. where did that come from?
not too long after that, i had yet another vision of going to music school. this time it was so clear and tangible, so obvious. it felt like divine intervention, as though a literal angel was speaking inside my mind and painting a picture of my future. i was terrified. it had been years since i really played and i knew i would be starting all over again. i also knew my parents’ feelings on me pursuing music. they hated the idea. even my dad thought it would be better if i studied something more ‘practical’ in school.
but i couldn’t get it out of my head. thoughts were repeating in my head: ‘what would it be like to go to music school?’ ‘how would i even do that?’ i rummaged through my dad’s equipment and found a pair of drumsticks and a practice pad, and just started moving again. it was awkward, i really had forgotten so much, but i also was surprised at what came back to me. after a few more weeks and coming to terms with this new direction, i announced to my parents that i was not going to study environmental studies, but i was going to go to music school. let me tell you, that did not go over well. my dad, harboring years of disappointment from me quitting music, said that i would have to pursue this path without his help. my mom told me that she refused to financially support me in college if i decided to go into this direction. so in typical zaneta fashion, i did it anyway. at my core i’m an intuitive person and i trusted divine timing. now was the time.
i enrolled in community college alone, got a job in coffee shop to pay for school, and began taking classes to transfer to a music school. my first percussion lesson in college was on how to hold the drum sticks. at age 19, i started from the very beginning. how to read quarter notes. what are the letters on the piano. how to count rhythms. how to control my left and right hands. it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. i didn’t realize how much i had taken for granted as a kid, how quickly and easily i learned things. but i persisted, the vision of a reality beyond my current situation was clear and felt more real with each day.
after a year and half late nights of working at the coffee shop and juggling 8-10 hours practice days, i was accepted to the university of southern california for percussion studies. my dad had finally come around and recognized my dedication. i remember the first concert he came to, he told me how proud of me he was, which for my dad, who was a pretty stoic person, that was the equivalent of shouting it from the rooftops. sadly, just after my first juries performance in april, my dad became ill. suddenly he was bed-ridden and i began taking care of my sister while finishing up my first year of college. after weeks of tests and not knowing what was wrong, he was eventually diagnosed with stage iv colon cancer. so when summer break came, i spent days and nights in the hospital, making sure he had an endless stream of his favorite music, pudding, and making sure someone advocated for him through the onslaught of ever-rotating doctors and procedures. within 3 months, he passed away.
from my experiences caring for my dad and staying in hospitals, i was diagnosed with ptsd. sounds became a trigger that would bring me back to the hospital and send me into spirals of deep depression. it was from this altered listening state, that i began to explore the impact of sound on my psyche.‘which sounds do i struggle with? and why’ ‘what role do sounds play in my memory?’ from this self-healing space, i started field recording and taking interest in sonic memory. i would record anything of interest and though i didn’t know it at the time, what i was really recording was my grief. field recording became a way to transport myself to the time and place of where i was at when i originally recorded.
WORKING WITH THE DEVIL: decolonizing + deprogramming my art
eventually, i finished music school and moved to new york to be with my partner and start a career. i was ready to be successful, to perform and thrive. but little did i know i was carrying so many energies within me that really worked against my creative process. the energies of my ancestors who struggled to find time, space, and support for their creativity. the energies of seeing my dad’s creative dreams cut short. the energies of capitalism and colonization in my musical education, emphasizing ‘virtuosity’ and adherence to the ideals of white cis-hetero men leading academic institutions. the energies of fear for financial solvency which attempted to distract me from the call of new ideas and ways to express myself. the energies of my mom and her upbringing to stay quiet and not express oneself. the energies of grief for so many lives who never got to make art and so many painful struggles to find freedom of expression.
i had to listen to these energies first, and in a way i’m still listening. decolonization work is a bit of misnomer. by using the prefix ‘de,’ there’s an implication that we are removing something or erasing. but healing and deprogramming work has taught me that these experience are do not need to be removed, but instead, need to be honored. to be understood and held with love and compassion. it’s not about fixing anything, but more about integrating. that this journey is one of a spiral, not a straight line.
i tried for years to be better, to practice harder, to take trainings and study with different people and be more. really the biggest impact that colonization had on my art is believing that i had to be something other than who i am in order to be worthy of my creative dreams. that i needed to be more skillful, more virtuosic, smarter, or strategic, to have more money, to be more educated, to be whiter, to be more singular in my identities, to be easily labeled and defined in both my expression of self and my art. the list goes on and on.
but life sent me in a different direction. in 2016 i lost two friends who were around the same age as me. it shook me to my core and i realized, there is no time left. it’s either now or never. i either make the art or end up like my dad, possibly never putting out art. i began to prioritize my art-making, saying no to going out with friends or dedicating mornings before my day job as a music teacher to work on my creative projects. honestly most days i was so tired. i didn’t want to work on my art when i had been working on everyone else’s art for several hours.
the real tipping point came when my sweet father-in-law passed in 2018 and the residual grief from when my dad passed was unearthed. i could no longer hold back. it was like a damn broke inside me. it was a spiritual awakening, where the call to make my own art had reached a boiling point. i had to create. there was no time left. i had to free myself from the patterns that were keeping me small and silent. anyone who knows me, knows that i’m not a silent person, but this silence was the kind that keeps you from sharing your truth. it keeps you in singular ways of presenting, never breaking the mold. the zaneta who’s a music teacher. the zaneta who’s in a cis-hetero relationship. the zaneta who never shares their spiritual beliefs. the zaneta who doesn’t talk about the struggles of multi-racial identity for fear of rejection and isolation.
LET THE TOWER FALL: grant-writing + dismantling
in 2018 i applied for my first artist grant. the project was called ceremony and it was about grief and community. i made it a couple rounds into one grant process, but i didn’t win anything that year. then in 2019 i applied again, but i decided to really bring my whole self to this process. i spoke to the tree spirit in the park, which guides me in writing all my newsletters, and i asked, ‘what does my community need?’ ‘what does the earth need?’ the tree showed me a vision of communities listening together and connecting to the earth through sound and ritual, the words SACRED SEASONS emerged. i began sketching the project and realized it was super witchy. there’s ritual and the wheel of the year, and talk of solstices and moon phases, with meditation and the dreaded ‘e’ word, ENERGY. i was straying into dangerous territory that was fundamentally opposed to my academic training. i could just imagine my professors scoffing at this project and it’s validity. however, what i didn’t realize at the time, was that i was coming into wholeness, weaving my values with my art.
i applied for several grants in 2019. this time i didn’t hold back. i applied with the sacred seasons project and embraced my witchiness. i brought every tool in my tool box out, from spell check to spells for prosperity. at this point, i have lost track of how many tarot readings i’ve given myself to navigate this project or how many spell candles, chants, songs, meditations, road opening spells, new moon intentions, and dark moon release rituals i have done for the realization of my art work. essentially i committed my whole self to realizing my creative dreams.
at the end of october, which was the height of grant application season, i was applying to 3 grants in one week. teaching 23 student per week, i had to work every morning and evening before and after my teaching, as well as working on the weekend. i was also putting out newsletters, reading tarot, and holding creative coven on the full moons, training teachers, as well as performing. on average i was pulling 16 hour work days. it was the larger workload i have ever experienced.
i remember the first week of november, when i was applying to a women’s recording grant. i had just finished my application within minutes of the deadline. i went to click ‘submit’ and i had forgotten to upload one of my work samples. frantically waiting for the sample to load, i clicked submit and to my devastation i missed the deadline by seconds. it was one of the most stressful moments of my life. 30 plus hours of work, left me completely wrecked.
i tried appealing to the organization for some kind of application review process, but the head of the grant program, a white cis-hetero man, total me that it would be ‘unfair for other applicants who also missed the deadline who didn’t contact us.’ in that conversation, i laid out in detail how out of touch their organization was. that if they couldn’t find ways to bring clarity to their application process and take into account the struggles that first generation art makers have to overcome in order to even have the courage to apply, then what were they doing. that conversation was a truly a tower moment. despite me sharing my journey to summon the courage to apply, the grant director in not so many words told me that he didn’t care how far i had come and that he himself had some how managed to apply for grants on time. i was enraged. how could this person, with all their privilege and the financial support of applying on behalf of his organization, ever have any idea the challenges i’ve overcome as an individual? how much healing had to happen to have the courage to take this step? how much work had to happen on an intergenerational level in order to get to this moment?
suddenly everything became so clear. it never mattered how smart or skilled i was, this was systemic oppression at it’s finest. it didn’t matter that i put myself through college because my parents didn’t have the awareness to help me apply or support me. it didn’t matter that i was navigating applying to grants alone and working 16 hours days, to try to find a way to make this project happen. it didn’t matter that i had healed through trauma around my art work, owning my voice, and finding the financial security to take these risks. no, that does not matter to folx in such privileged positions.
i realized that all this time i was trying to play the game, largely by adhering to colonial expectations and the result was a fracturing of my identity and my art. it was truly a tower moment. how many times did i believe i needed to be more, when actually that never mattered to begin with. i didn’t need to be more, it’s just institutional racism. i used to believe that if i worked hard enough, i would be enough in the eyes of gatekeepers, i.e. colleges, organizations, even to some extent colleagues. but this experience broke all that down. i saw how so many of my creative choices were really based on the rules and expectations centered in the patriarchy.
i can’t begin to explain how painful that realization was. waves of grief fell upon me. grief for my younger self. grief for the pressure i felt to assimilate. grief for my creative fire. grief for my suppressed voice. grief for my ancestors and their unrealized creative dreams. grief in so much time seemingly wasted. when people talk about the tower card, there’s nothing you say that adequately describes it. you must live it to know and finally i really understood that card. it’s devastating but so necessary on the healing journey. i needed to see my connections to institutional racism, see the ways that i was perpetuating colonization in my art and processes. i needed to come to terms with the pain that has occurred not only for myself, but in my family’s lineage.
THE STAR: the light you seek exists within
with the help of some dear friends and healers, i was able to realize that my art and the viability of this path does not remain in the hands solely of organizations led by the patriarchy. that in fact, my work may have a longer arc, but i am my own master. that how i exist, with typos and basic ableton skills, and a few pieces of low-budget recording equipment are enough for me to create. for it’s not what we have, but who we are, how we are, and what is sacred to us that changes the world.
that moment of reclaiming my power, reminds me of the Mary Oliver poem, My Work is Loving the World:
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am i no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work
that moment, was painful but incredibly necessary for me to build resilience in this work. i associate resilience with the star card, the very next card after the tower card in the tarot. the star reminds us that while our circumstances may change, there is hope and it exists within ourselves and our connection to source. resilience is essential in remaining open to new possibilities and to support, and that we must keep trying.
this became clear when january 2020 rolled around, i was walking down the street after teaching a lesson and i checked my email to see i had been awarded the brooklyn arts council grant for the sacred seasons project. the feelings of joy and fulfillment in that moment, were unlike any i had ever experienced. i could feel my ancestors excitement and joy in the moment. so much love and happiness surrounding me and filling me up.
THE MOON, THE SUN, AND BEYOND
today i’m writing and it’s the month of march and the season of imbolc swiftly morphing into ostara. a couple months have went by and my feelings about winning my first artist grant as a first generation artist are complex. on one hand i am thankful for the support and proud to be the first person in my family to be awarded funding for creating art. there are no words to describe the depth of joy and wonder i feel. on the other hand, i am much more grounded about working with organizations and making art in a capitalist society. i see many perspectives to this process and i am committed to grounding my art in my connection to source, not in the institutional support, which may come or go.
i also realize that my journey towards creating my own art work spans not just my life time, but that of my ancestors. my ancestors struggled with the chains of oppression, from academia to martial law to poverty to slavery. for every time i no longer give a damn about how witchy my art is or what white cis-hetero men think of my tone in my grant applications, i am breaking chains of limiting thought patterns and beliefs that have paralyzed my family for years.
this was never my intention with creating, but it has become clear how the work of healing the self often goes beyond ourselves and becomes ancestral work. in this journey towards realizing my own art, so many intergenerational energies around creativity, expression, and identity have been healed. that my ancestors experienced the devil card and my intuitive healing journey has moved these energies towards the tower card and eventually into the realm of the star card. coincidentally spells for this project were cast in accordance with the moon, so that connects this project to the moon card in the tarot (the card after the star card) and the premiere will be on the summer solstice, june 21, which is associated with the sun card. so there’s definitely a tarot healing progression in this creative journey.
i share this story of my creative journey as not a measurement by which others should compare themselves and their journeys. no. i share this with the hope that wherever you are on your journey to realizing your creative dreams, you remember there is always a way and that you are not alone. that the light that exists within you and the call to make art is real. that liberation and expression begin with our connection to self and ripple outward to our ancestors, communities, and ultimately to the collective.
SAVE THE DATE
SACRED SEASONS: SUMMER SOLSTICE
JUNE 21, 2020 7:00P-8:30P
NEW WOMENS SPACE