Origin Story

The first issue of Ripen Delight came out in zine form circa 2008.  It was a collection of doodles, little vignettes, and theories handwritten while sitting on benches overlooking the Charles River in Cambridge, Mass.  Watching the river and watching people walk around the Square downtown were my saving graces then.  I was trying to figure out how a witchy hippie like me was going to survive amidst the Harvard hustle and grind that I’d run from four years before…

*   *   *

After high school, I had gone from the Florida of my adolescence– that bizarre land of pink shopping plazas– to the strict manic rigor of Harvard, soon after dubbed “Hell.” After one semester, the insane hours and cold, critical vibe were too much; I couldn’t handle the syncopated one-two of “I feel like an idiot” and “These are not my people” playing on repeat in my mind.  The pressure felt stifling.  I wanted to want to stay.  A lot of people thought I was foolish, ungrateful, to leave.  There were times I wondered this as well.  But I couldn’t imagine being the writer I wanted to be, without slack to have the experiences I wanted to write about.

The College of Santa Fe in New Mexico had a creative writing program, and had told me the year before that their offer of admission was valid for two years if Harvard didn’t work out.  (I think the officer who interviewed me must have known something I didn’t 😉  So when I left, my parents and I made a deal: one semester, to get “being creative” out of my system.  Well, I ended up falling in love with the free form land of enchantment, purple mountains and wide skies of New Mexico.  I decided to stay.

In my tiny little tugboat of an arts school, I found the bohemia I didn’t realize could really exist–  replete with nomadic characters, film geeks, artists, performers, and writers of all stripes.  It wasn’t that we were all close, but there was a generosity of spirit– of appreciation, being willing to share in each others’ experiences, help each other tell the hard stories– that felt so refreshing to me.  I learned a shit ton:  how to develop as a writer, see the violence in the structure of accepted social norms and delve into the realm of the unconscious.  I learned how to sing to the Goddess, feel the earth as a living, sentient thing and shake with kundalini energy after a Bushman shaman sat with us senior year.  It was a profound education. Beautiful and at times hard, as my friends and I each went through massive catharsis and transformation.  But in the spiraling way that seems to characterize “ripening delight,” after three and a half intense years there, I started to get that itch again.   A force was urging me to go.  Unexpectedly, back to Cambridge.

Even though the “big H,” as my friends and I jokingly called it, had been “Hell” the first time, I went back because leaving it had become a wound, a failure. There was more to learn, maybe more to prove.   I also had the persistent sense that Santa Fe and Harvard each represented worlds within them, worlds that I needed to bridge.  I wanted to take everything I’d learned about making art, honoring the divine, finding irreverent tools for healing– and join it with the ambition and drive and immense resources I associated with Harvard.  It felt like this meeting could shake up the institution, bring some of that Santa Fe magic to the “big leagues,” catalyze some sort of necessary alchemical magick.

Once there, it became clear that Harvard would become more of a spiritual testing ground– for me.  It was like being in the realm of the ultra logical left-brained father whose language I didn’t fully want to speak, but wanted to prove myself to anyhow.  It’s a hard place to be sensitive.  It’s rigorous, the hours are long and the expectations are unspoken, but very much there.   The warmth, the ease that I’d gotten used to in Santa Fe– where it felt like you were given credit by virtue of existing– wasn’t present in the same way at Harvard.  In conversations there, you could feel like you needed to be arguing a term paper with theses and subsections in your mind.  At times it was an invisible battle, a battle of the mind, the rules and parameters of which I am still trying to ascertain.

I knew it would be hard going in, but still, the syllabus was not what I’d expected.  Naively, I thought it would be easy to share this acceptance and love I’d gotten so accustomed to.  I felt so infused with the last four years in Santa Fe, I thought of course my peers there would be interested in another way of thinking, being in the world, and being with each other.  La di da.  This was not what happened.  I was one person in the midst of the overwhelming energy of intellectual criticism and analytical thinking. Go go go, achieve achieve.  So many people stressed to the max.

What did I dream of there?  Hard to describe except to say, something less lines and hard angles but circles, webs.


As I had gotten used to feeling the spirit in Santa Fe so clearly and powerfully, I was determined to know that it lived in Cambridge too.  I knew it must.

I prayed, meditated, and sang to the Goddess, asking her to show me how to be there.  They were the songs whose words– “We are opening up in sweet surrender”;  “We are the weavers/We are the woven ones”; “Light is returning/Even though this is the darkest hour”– had grounded me during difficult times in Santa Fe.  Singing those songs in Cambridge, they seemed to call to a place far away from the busy city and august institution.  A world of Rainbow Gatherings and sister circles and mountains and impromptu jams in the middle of the woods.  Standing on the banks of the Charles, I was grateful for the glint of the water and the moon, which always helped me remember something deep and ancient.  Mostly that I’d been lost like this before, through many lifetimes, and had learned from each one.

I sang the songs in the daytime too, people jogging by me wearing their iPods and fancy workout clothes, probably thinking I was crazy.  Some part of me agreed.   But I did it anyway.  I wondered if someone would hear the songs and recognize them, or want to join in.  I had this fantasy of the songs being shared as an oral history, the same way they had been taught to me.  (It took a while, but eventually some people did join in– or begrudgingly agree to sing along 😉 )

There were times I railed against having gone back.  I wanted to learn from the environment, could sense the breadth of the power, the larger scope it reached.  Yet I felt like a total alien hippie weirdo there.  It irked me.  Here was this huge institution that so many famous leaders and presidents and academics had come out of.  There were people from all over the world there.  So much attention paid to diversity.  And yet its predominating model of operation was largely workaholic, elitist, perfectionistic, and rational.  And while clearly many ideas were born there, why didn’t it feel all that encouraging of approaching life… creatively?

Where was the balance? Where was the reverence for intuition, language of the divine, and the world of nature, of the body? A more subtle, energetic form of being in the world, honoring the associative, the artistic, the wild?

I wanted so badly to make that place wrong, to have Harvard be a scapegoat for the alienation that I felt there and a source of the disconnection between heart and mind that I saw in the world.  I maintain the criticisms noted above.  But again and again what the Universe taught me was that things were also never exactly as they seemed.  That someone I’d written off could surprise me in the next moment with a small kindness or an unexpected slant on things.  That guardedness on the part of my peers did not necessarily indicate disconnection but possibly just preoccupation.  There might have been a few teachers whose worldview I didn’t jive with, but many who blew my mind and forced me to question my assumptions.  And while I had criticisms of the competitiveness, unrealistic workload expectations, and sometimes awkward social sphere, my scope for envisioning what was possible to create in the world was indeed broadened.  There is a huge something to be said for being implicitly trained to see how a small idea– for a project, paper, program, what have you– can be developed into something very big.  I may still have an uneasy relationship with the place, but I am also grateful to it for teaching me that.

The lesson again and again was, There aren’t any easy conclusions.  Be grateful for the abundance around you.  Keep going, even though you feel like you don’t necessarily speak the same language.

How to transmute being in a funk to gettin funky?  Well my friends, all I can say is thank the Universe for the subway, because I rode it all over, in search of concerts and talks happening in various corners of the city.  A wisp of a song, the thrum of drumbeats– and there I was, walking through the door, hoping for the hardness to open and there to be a soft place to land.

I got involved with yoga, Five Rhythms dance, Art of Living meditation.  I gravitated towards energy medicine– Emotional Freedom Technique and Reiki– and decided to study medical anthropology and the mind-body connection for my degree, again meeting some incredible teachers in the process.  Joining a peer counseling group of warmhearted empathetic souls further opened my eyes to some notions I was holding fast to, and was both humbling and compassion invoking.  Randomly here and there, I also found some kindred spirits who were grappling with similar tensions — including my best friend Isa and wild friend Nat, who themselves had also left and come back.  Nat in particular joked that to add to the outrageous roster of clubs available to join, we should add one entitled, “The Leisure Club for Kindly Folk,” whose mission was nothing everything more than to provide a chill space where people could let their guard down.

Trust me when I say that this was a radical thing.

*   *   *

The idea for Ripen Delight was born around 2007-2008, Junior year.  In it, I wanted to explore two things.  First, how difficulties could expand one’s capacity for appreciation and joy.  In the midst of all the ups and downs while in Cambridge (and Santa Fe for that matter), it felt like I was on a spiraling quest to connect to Spirit and follow the signs.  In the heart of the spiral, I came to believe, was inner delight. Whether I was moving inward towards it or outward from it, there it was, smarter, wiser, and more juicy all the time.

Second, I wanted to talk about the people I met who were on similar journeys.  We met in unexpected places, on buses and subways, walking downtown, Burner parties, Rainbow Gatherings, yoga and dance classes–  and their stories and their skills blew me away.  It was like we’d known each other before and had met again, even if briefly, to give each other a nod along the way.  They were warriors, they were artists.  And we were together in it, taking on the work we had to, making our collective way towards a better world. Using our hearts and minds together, in this process of spiritual growth yet embodied, grounded walking in the world. Not ascended beyond the worldly sphere but not solely bound to it either.

Something in between. The understanding was that we were carrying each other in some way, making the way to a greater consciousness, a different way of being in the world.

After graduating in 2010, I moved back to Santa Fe, my adopted hometown.  Returning to wide skies and mountains and a relatively chiller pace has been healing in a lot of ways.   A few months into coming back here, I started studying Craniosacral therapy.  It, like so many other lessons of this Saturn Return time, has changed my life.  It has taught me a new way to listen, to tune into the invisible but the tangible: to the body’s rhythms and flows.

One thing that captured me in particular was learning that while the first stem cells start from the same material, they quickly specialize into three layers that further specialize according to location and function.  The first goal of the cell, my teacher said, was “to know its place in space and its job”– much like people, cells need to know where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing.  Cranio is a way for people to tune into that first story, and what a story it is.  While the outer layer of cells hardens around the primitive notochord to later become the sophisticated brain and spinal cord, part of the middle layer splits forward to form the heart.  The heart becomes the first fully functioning organ of the body, and over half of it has been found to carry neural cells similar to those found throughout the central nervous system.

How’s that for the connection between heart and mind?



2 thoughts on “Origin Story

  1. Oh wow- I love this Joanna! Your writing has always made the beautiful connection between heart and mind- thank you for sharing!!

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