Today we’d like to introduce you to Brooke McNamara.
Brooke, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My native languages are dance and poetry. I was a very nervous little girl who often watched life unfolding from a distance – I remember feeling like “what the f*ck is all this, and how did I get here?” But very early on, I remember a clear recognition that I was a dancer, and at age two, I walked up to my mom on my toes, rolling my belly, and declared “I’m a bawawina!” I was serious. I meant it. I was trying to convey to my mom: Really, I’m a dancer – I need to dance to feel normal. And she put me in classes and the rest is history. I’m 37 now and still in love with moving to music and letting all the quirky and transcendent layers fall into place.
My creative partner, Lauren Beale, and I met in grad school for Dance at CU Boulder after having separate performing careers through our 20’s in San Francisco and New York. We fell in love artistically our first semester of earning our MFA’s and now consider ourselves art wives. We love to make dance-theater performance work through our organization, Eunice Embodiment, that makes us feel like we are going to die. Not in a masochistic way, but because we love to find themes that we can touch gently and firmly like an open nerve and hear something poetic ring through the space. We like to invite audiences into experiences of us working out something real onstage, so they can contagiously work through something real in themselves in their seat. We dance hard and soft, pursue imagery and language that is either funny or heartbreaking or, ideally, both – and that is born from the deepest etchings of our hearts. We love to feel turned inside out by our work, to laugh until we cry, to befriend fear and soften our egos. We are always hunting for aliveness and connection for everyone involved in our work.
Similarly with poetry, I remember writing this very existential inquiry to my pet cockatiel, Bart, when I was about eight years old. I wondered deeply if he felt trapped by his cage or safe from his cage. I remember falling into some kind of direct, visceral, and emotional meaning-making through language that made me feel satisfied and at home. Writing that first poem scratched an existential itch, and just like with dance, the rest is history. I got a degree in creative writing in college, wrote an honors thesis of 30 original poems, and then, a decade later, after birthing my first son, my first book of poems kind of exploded out of me, much like afterbirth – if that’s not too graphic of a metaphor. Writing FEED YOUR VOW in the dark early hours before my baby woke up that first year and a half of his life was truly one of the most fun creative processes I’ve had. I can’t describe the vitality and playfulness and heartbreakingly gorgeous silence I found every morning at 5 am. I don’t know what got into me – I can’t get up at 5 am anymore with 2 kids! But I was possessed by this book, and it was kind of like a love affair. I’m so glad that I showed up for its call or, as the late poet Mary Oliver said, that I “kept the appointment.”
In my 20’s, I also found my first spiritual teacher, Dorothy Hunt, through an uncanny and magical series of events too long to convey here. Our time together over the next two years changed my perception and my life and led me to Boulder, CO. Here in Boulder, I met my current teacher in the Zen Buddhist tradition, Diane Musho Hamilton. She is a badass, beautiful, hilarious, and insanely insightful woman whom I knew I wanted to grow and awaken with from the moment I met her. On my first retreat with her, I met my now-husband, Rob, who has been schooled by near-death experiences due to asthma throughout his life, and – because of that, or in spite of that – has the most enormous heart and awesome sense of humor. We’ve both ordained as monks with Musho Roshi (Diane), and also have two kids and careers. What can I say, I love contradiction and paradox, and the wisdom and creativity born of both.
Dance, poetry, and meditation are my portals to belonging in this world. I feel blessed to have been captured by these paths and to be able to find and lose myself through them continuously.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Of course not! Haha! 🙂 But as most of us might say, the struggles were some of the greatest learning opportunities and some of them make for great stories now. In retrospect, there is a kind of perfection or poetry to it all that is greater than anything my individual sense of self could have concocted.
The first great struggle was my parent’s divorce when I was a young teen, which truly broke my heart. I love that brokenness now because it shattered my image of how things should be and revealed the much more fertile soil of how things actually are. I grieved my original family unit hard, a sensitive thing that I am, and created lots of angsty poems and passionate performances dancing onstage. Thank God for that divorce because everyone rearranged according to where they needed to go, and I got to get clear that I needed to be and become an artist always. I also got to taste the potency of becoming intimate with suffering, actually becoming one with it, and the possibility of liberating it in this way. I think this burn of my first heartbreak married me to the desire to show up fully when there is suffering, in myself or in others, and to do what I can to be present with it or alleviate it.
Birthing my first son was another great struggle. It’s a long story, but in a nutshell, I’d describe it as being led to an underworld and meeting death face to face (psycho-spiritually speaking; I was “fine” physically). I offered myself to the other side with a full body, blood-curdling, animal scream with every contraction in those last hours of birthing, grappling to bring my son earth-side, and expecting I myself would probably not return. It was the hardest, deepest work of my life so far. And, it was worth every ounce of effort and surrender: my boy is now five, and his little brother is almost two, and they are wild and crazy, adorable and exhausting miracles.
Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
In my writing business, I offer poetry (through my book, FEED YOUR VOW, and social media) and online courses to make poetry and writing feel more accessible and sustainable. I always say to never try to write a good poem, but instead to write something you yourself need to hear or something you need to say before you die. This approach is usually how I plug into writing from a real place, through the flesh and bones of my physical body, the wise, dynamic landscapes of my emotional body, and the lasers and chisels of my cognitive mind. I try to include all the layers of perceiving when writing poetry. My sense is that the honesty, vitality, and sensual language that’s invited forward finds its way to the hearts of my readers. Poems are quite literally a kind of food. I write selfishly, to feed myself with what I don’t yet know that I know – to wake myself up to the potency and impermanence of my aliveness here and now, so I can appreciate my life. I also write with the hope that opening to and using my true, vulnerable, courageous voice might somehow feed others. In my online courses, I value co-creating a sense of community and connection with participants, and the possibility of the creative spirit being contagious as we each activate our curious, playful selves.
In my work with Lauren Beale through Eunice Embodiment, we offer movement education, creative practice workshops and retreats, and performances. To read more about our performance work, check out question #1. Our movement education and creative practice labs always bring a multitude of approaches and perspectives to unlocking what we perceive to be an innate flow of curiosity, play, and creativity in all beings. We attune to the individuals and group dynamics in any given training and seek to support and challenge students to step into an always, already flowing river of ideas and creative energy. We are fascinated by narratives, philosophies and practice pathways into the spirit of play, wherein worlds and identities, art pieces and relationships, can all unfurl and blossom in novel and dynamic ways. We look at the underbelly of creative practice and play as well, acknowledging and engaging resistance, competition, and the critic that shows up in each of us. For us, wakeful and courageous creative practice – in art making and everyday life – is worth living and dying for, and we completely light up being in a room with willing creatives of all types. We also work with children in creative practice through our annual summer Earth and Sky Nature/Creativity Camp, and after-school programs during the school year.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I’m not sure if this is my favorite childhood memory, or just the most vivid. I have no idea how old I was – seven, maybe? I had a huge sweet tooth, and was completely jealous of the vitamins by an older brother, Ryan, had picked out: Flinstones Vitamins. They were SO delicious compared to the stupid Sunkist vitamins I’d picked out. So I convinced my friend Carrie to hide under my bed while I pulled a chair up to the kitchen cabinet and snuck the Flinstones Vitamins off the top shelf, all while my mom was right in the next room talking on the phone. This was all so out of character, as I was a complete goody two shoes. I met Carrie under my bed with the goods, and we proceeded to binge. It was glorious! I have no idea how many we ate, but my mom found us and we ended up at the hospital. Carrie got her stomach pumped and I had to drink something that made me barf up most of the half-digested vitamins. The best – and weirdest – part is that the doctors gave us turkey basters to take home as a prize for “being good patients” so I had lots of fun in the bath with my new turkey baster toy. (Why did they give us those? I have no idea!) I love this memory because of the pure drive for sweetness and the cute expression of rebellion it drove us to.
- $15 Feed Your Vow book
- $250 Earth and Sky Nature/Creativity Camp for Kids, June 10-14
- $249 Write to the Heart of Motherhood online writing course, Sept 16- Oct 25
- $65 CULTIVATE: embodied, interdisciplinary creative practice lab, May 25
- Website: www.BrookeMcNamara.com
- Email: BrookeJMcNamara@gmail.com
- Instagram: brooke.mcnamara.poetry
- Facebook: Brooke McNamara Poetry
Heather Gray Photography, Daniel Beahm, True Mama Photography, Integral European Conference