Esperanza Spalding Transcript
Esperanza: The idea is whatever is happening in your life, wherever you are, the job you lost. Whatever is happening is the perfect tool, the perfect resistance, the perfect training environment. That is the practice of pursuing an enlightened state.
Helga: She has an aversion to labels, yet she has one whose name translates to hope.
She's a musician and a professor and someone who's always forging her individuality. But at the same time, she longs to be part of a community that can support democratic practices like cultivating food and sharing resources, land and water.
How do you do all of that? And what kind of energy do you need? What do you think about? What books do you read? Where do you garner inspiration? What kind of human does all of this make you? Why not just go crazy?
We run up to the edge of many things during our time together, but not before we give thanks and praise. We've been trying for subtle on time to meet and finally it happens. Not in our time, but when it was time.
I'm Helga Davis and here we are with Esperanza Spalding. So I received two gifts this Christmas. One was one of these weighted blankets. It weighs 15 pounds. And I put myself under it every night. And I feel like somebody's hugging me.
Or maybe it's even older than that where your mama or your whoever is holding you, and you can't really move because it's heavy. 15 pounds.
Esperanza: That's not a joke. Yeah.
Helga: And I'm working with it because I'm not sure how I feel. I don't know if I feel smothered by it or that I don't have enough independence of my limbs. But, I'm in it and I'm going to try it.
And so one of the first pages of this book is about organizing the nervous system, and it says this increased order in their nervous systems helps them get very clear about a future they can create. And they are able to hold that intention independent of the conditions in their external environment.
And this feels like a very, very important thing to me. So it's by a person called Dr. Joe Dispenza, and it's called Becoming Supernatural.
So I'm thinking about that also as it pertains to the question of what we do next?
Esperanza: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Because we have the dreams. I know that we have the dream.
Helga: So say more about that.
Esperanza: Well, it's not fantasy. It's imagining. What would it actually look like? Okay. What does it look like to live with a community of people I get along with and don't necessarily get along with? Where we're not using water to wash away our feces. And we are able to cultivate what we need to eat and nourish our bodies. And able to do it in a way that's just. That our labor is evenly distributed. And we still have time for culture and for education. And our sustainable systems of energy production within the territory, quote unquote, that we live.
I keep coming back to this invitation from the author whose name is escaping me. He wrote a book called, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, to imagine what your life would look like if you only had available the amount of energy that fell from the sun and a year. Just as that practice of sustainability.
And I think at this point we have the technology and we have the heart visioning too. Like, what could that actually feel like? How would I need to stretch? How will we need to stretch toward these other to hold that energy. Culturally at every scale of culture. Culture and the family. Culture with self. Culture in the home. Culture in the compound. Culture in the city.
And so much of it has to be speculative because many of us have not lived that yet.
I feel like I can dream that. I can dream that living environment. It's not about a utopian living environment is actually about dreaming what the stretch and exercise is in my heart. In my guts, that allow me to stretch into that capacity.
And to me it's energetic. Like to me it's a sensation in the body. Of an openness and a capacity to take in more impressions. And receive more variation of impressions of ways of being. Kind of to what he just said. Without feeling like it's compromising my sense of center. Cause it's not. But-
Helga: It's actually bringing you closer in a way, right? To your sense of center.
Esperanza: Through contrast?
Helga: Yeah. Through contrast and so that you have, you have a place of origin.
Esperanza: Whoa. See now that word. That word. Oh, that word. I think about that word and that idea a lot. As somebody who- I don't identify with like a externally affirmed origin.
Esperanza: I don't identify with having like a quote unquote cultural origin. I know I'm from Portland, Oregon. And I also think about the word "originality" and the difference between originality, meaning that you're growing from a place of origin that you can identify and that others can identify.
Versus this idea that what you're making is novel. That it didn't- that it doesn't have an origin. That it's somehow completely innovative and from fill in the blank. No one can tell and it's new and you have to get it because it hasn't been seen before.
And I, at this particular moment in time, am really interested about straddling those two dimensions of originality. Of almost like retro designing what my origin is. And just saying like, "Okay, this is my new- this is my myth." I'm going to ground it in what I choose to ground it in. Research that. Build that. And set that up as a point of originality from here, building forward. I think we have permission to do that.
Helga: I agree with you. And I do think that that's what origin is. It's your story. And that's why I think it's so important what you do with your mind. And what you focus your mind on. And where you focus your energy and your attention. So that your origin story is one that is productive and wholesome for you. For your way, for your path, for your ideas. For your life.
Esperanza: I love that. I love that. Well, and moment to moment, we're building new origins, right? I mean, yes, today is the origin of tomorrow.
Esperanza: Well at my level of psychic development, that's my present practice. Of really trying to hold awareness. Not even hold, just, be tuned to an awareness of what energy am I building and generating by my thoughts and sense of self.
I've just been thinking about, all right, you know- what's the next thing I need to study, to deepen into the practice of music becoming like an amplify - a fortified tool. An empowered tool and enhanced tool of healing technology.
And I was thinking, okay, well, you know, I can't read everything all at once. It's gonna take time for me to ingest this information and metabolize it. But I know that we're all emitting frequency and vibration just by being energetic beings.
I'm like, okay, so what would that mean to just start focusing on emitting a healing vibration? Like what does that do to them? What does that do to my emotional state? What does that do to my capacity for eye contact, et cetera?
That's kind of a vague abstract concept. Like a healing vibration. But just as a starting point, almost like a meditation practice on the train. What changes if I set my intention from the instrument of my body itself to be resonating with healing frequency?
Then we have to get into the definition of what quote unquote healing is. Because it's not about like, "Oh, I'm, I'm going to do for you what I think you need it." And even that? Even that inquiry of, well, what do we really mean when we say healing? Healing what? Via what?
Helga: Well, I think about the Buddhists also who ask us to make the choice between being poison and being medicine.
Helga: So I had a very similar experience this morning on the subway. I got in, and you know, yesterday there was some huge water main break so everything was a mess all day.
And when I got in the car, you know, I always tried to do the equitable thing. I get in. I take off my backpack. I move to the center of the car. I don't have a phone out so no one is navigating around my device.
I think that I am being considerate of everyone. And there are people who, they don't give a shit about any of that. They're, they're doing what they're doing and they're going from place to place. It's kind of a transactional, transitional, exercise.
And I looked up and this woman smiled at me. That's all she did. It was a simple and elegant gesture. And I smiled back. And then I turned my head from her because I started to cry. And I didn't realize in that moment that I actually needed that person to smile at me.
I don't know what for? I don't know to heal what? I don't know to amplify what? To... I don't, I don't know. But there it was. And so I had this experience and when I turned back, I wanted to say thank you to her and she was gone.
That then it became about letting go of all of the things. The other things that I think I need to do to recognize also this person and the effort she made. Like " blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah"
And to let all of that go, receive the gesture and then be back on my way.
Esperanza: Receive the gesture that that is the, that's the act of gratitude. Fully receiving what a moment is offering us for sure.
Helga: Is there a religious component or practice that's part of your way of thinking now? And your way of thinking about your expanding? And how you are moving on the planet in this moment?
Esperanza: Religious. Religion. I mean, I just been reading about mythology. And the difference between our definition. I mean just kind of loose collective definition of religion now versus in earlier times. Let's say a thousand years ago, 500 years ago.
Helga: So then it was what?
Esperanza: Well, this writer is quoting Joseph Campbell. Making a case that religion historically, which is a word that I'm not feeling, means absolutely nothing. Anyways, before the last 100 to 200 years religion is a word that described a group of rituals. So a set of rituals around an idea, a belief system. But religion was grounded in the ritual. How you act in response to that belief.
Or compared to now religion being more about belief. That what you believe in defines your religiosity or your religious compass. So I have space to believe many, many, many, many explanations of our experience.
Of the things that I've read. I would say I've read the most about Buddhism. And I really, really appreciate a philosophy. I really, really, really, really appreciate that. The figures that have come through that lineage. Yeah.
And I also protect my doubt. Like I, I'm a steward of doubt. I really, I like the space that's made available with that. And I don't think that doubt actually compromise his faith. I think they go together.
Helga: I agree.
Esperanza: So I, I have a lot of faith in discovering patterns and discovering tools that allow me to be more available as a loving person. And also more available to witness the patterns and the cause of an effect of my behavior. And the shifts in my intention. And shifts in my receptivity, to, I guess what we could call benevolent energies. Be they human beings or non-human entities. Or laws of nature. I don't care. I don't care what you call it. I'm curious.
Helga: And how does that manifest itself in your music?
Esperanza: Well, how. Honestly? I don't know.
Esperanza: I think that first and foremost, the music we make is an expression of who we are and I don't, I can't explain how I am who I am.
I will say that in the last batch of music, the spells 12 Llittle Spells I was borrowing some tools from Reiki and some tools from a book called, Psychomagic, which was written by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Where he, he has titled this practice of his, this healing practice called Psychomagic which is a way of designing actions, actually designing sort of ceremony ritual to recalibrate the subconscious and your relationship at a deep spiritual level to a historical event or an issue in your present or your past. So, I borrowed those with intention for 12 Llittle Spells.
And then there are a lot of elements in 12 Llittle Spells that I pulled in intuitively because that's what all artists are doing to a certain degree. You're using yourself as a laboratory. Okay. The intention of this song is to generate this effect or this feeling. Do I feel that? Okay. So it's at least that's one foot forward in the path of how to effectively design this thing for its intended purpose.
Moving forward though, I feel like it is now time for me to start a relationship with the scientific. A relationship. Just a relationship. I don't know exactly what that relationship will look like, but I will show up for it. And I'll love it. I my allies and I love my colleagues and I love the insights and the tools and technologies that come from that mode of inquiry because I, cause we, cause they're here.
It's like, why wouldn't you use an amp for your base if you wanted to play for a thousand people in a room, you know? Yeah.
What about you? How does this fold into inform your performance, your creation process?
Helga: Yeah. Becoming supernatural. Like you, I know that I do a thing. And feel that part of my responsibility is to have compassion for the thing that I call Helga. To be out of the way of whatever it is I'm given to communicate to an audience.
Craig Harris, the trombonist said to me, "You know HD, you got to think more like jazz. Because in jazz you hear everything, but you still play your part." And it is this ability to be with everything. Everything in a moment and then serve the song. Serve the monologue. Serve the adventure of asking the question.
What is this song to me today? Here. Now.
Esperanza: I want to weave into, or weave next to what you just wove. And just reiterate for anybody listening, the importance of technical practice. Like, that is the- talk about a relationship. Like that is the infrastructure that is the body, that is the diet, that is the food that empowers and enables that kind of presence and performance.
Helga: What do you mean by technical practice?
Esperanza: I mean, making a commitment. Having a committed practice t the building up of a facility. Whatever it is that you're doing. Because that, that piece that Craig Harris mentioned. That we "hear everything and play our part." Part of the ask of quote unquote jazz. Part of the ask of really all music. Really all performance. All art. All modes of being. Is that you can show up able to offer in response to what's happening in real time.
And maybe I'll find myself, or you'll find yourself or a musician will find themselves in a situation where, you know, they haven't yet developed a technical facility to be able to deliver what they're hearing that they'd like to get it there. But at least having a committed technical practice. By technical practice, I mean like a dancer having stamina or a singer being able to, you know, move freely from your chest voice to your head voice. Whatever.
Helga: Or any person being able to make any decisions.
Esperanza: That's it. That's it. To have to have a practice where you. It's almost like the sake of practice is A- so you have the confidence really to know that your system can contribute fully and freely. That there you have more access. You just have more to play with and to work with. Knowing of course, that you don't have to use everything you practice.
But I have- I had an experience over the, was it a winter passing? Actually it was on winter solstice, with a friend. We're both very, very talkative and you know, he's supremely intelligent and does incredible work around, installation with ancestral objects. He makes ritual spaces for us to enter and reckon with objects. Through his design and activation with performance, sound, et cetera. His name is Victor Owen Givens.
And I suggested that we make a fire in the house to warm us. And we collected some wood, made this fire. And the lesson for me was, "Oh, I don't really know how to make fire." I don't really, I haven't actually studied the process of how- which wood do you collect? Should it be seasoned wood? Should we have gone and gotten seasoned wood?
So what ended up happening is through this, like intuitive, you know, exercise we made this flyer that was about the warmth of a lighter, probably held up against the sole of your foot. And the house filled with smoke.
I've been spending a lot of time blathering and extrapolating and speculating about and around this core idea of music and healing. And that lesson on winter solstice for me was make sure you're not just generating smoke and a teeny little fire.
To me, the invitation is really, if you want to make fire study fire making. Do that. Don't just throw it together. Like really do it. You can have the intuitive insight or inspiration of like, you know what we need, we need a fire in this house.
So that to me, that beautiful symbology and poetry of life was like awesome.
It's just so good to finally be across from you.
We have a lot of like- pinballs in the machine at events. And I don't know how scheduling wise, but it'll be fun and it will happen to explore the storytelling and sound with you.
The opera that we were originally talking about-
Helga: Let's do that.
Esperanza: Alright. It's taken so many-
Helga: So there's another word too, right? Opera.
Esperanza: Opera. Whoa. Which means work. It just means labor. The labor of bringing multiple forms together into a space to make a common thing. To make a shared thing.
And opera as a term, loosely, obviously refers to a type of singing. And approach to singing the operatic voice. Talk about having a technical training. Oh my God, for freedom. And beyond that what I'm discovering and what we were giving ourselves permission to be in conversation with is the definition that opera is, everything goes. And it's some combination of a theatrical staging and music in conversation with each other.
But I think we're, I think there's way more space in opera.
Helga: And that there are a lot of people making space for that to happen.
Esperanza: Yeah. I'm, how can I say this? You know, when you're in emergent processes that are, they're growing as you engage with them. Like the shape of what it is, the way that it works is revealing itself to us as we work it.
So right now. You know, I don't even know if the way that I'm working will yield fruit later. I don't even know yet because it's so exploratory and I don't want to say experimental. But-
Esperanza: Exploratory. It's like, okay, well, we have these ingredients and these ingredients. What happens if we take a week and do X? Does Y happen or does Z happen? Or does nothing happen?
Was that just a week of, you know, practicing commitment? And it didn't necessarily, we don't, we don't not going to see the fruit of what that week was in the final thing?
Helga: But the thing that is so exciting to me about this conversation is that, it's also life practice.
Helga: And so that a person who isn't a musician, who isn't an opera singer, who isn't at a- who doesn't do that, can listen to this way of working and apply it. Right where their feet are.
Esperanza: And I. I will say, let me get back to you in about a year and report on what seemed most helpful. Because right now I don't, I actually can't say if what I'm doing right this minute is, is useful or not.
That is the nature of practicing. All of us will have spent many hours practicing something only to realize later that was not a very effective way to practice that. So there's like, you're practicing practicing. That counts also. I would like to share the best of from this practice, this batch of practicing.
Yeah. Essentially, There. was surely a smolder way to approach making an opera.
Helga: Or not.
Esperanza: Well, yeah. It's fun to be in conversation with composer, friends, musician, friends who have bee in the practice of making opera and hear them just describe it as this They're like "It's difficult. It's labor, it's a marathon. But you basically just you "a" and then you "b", and then you "c", and then you "d". And then there you are at 'E". And I hear that and go like, "Damn. Okay, that's a life goal."
Helga: Can you say a little bit about the opera? What it's called? What it's about?
Esperanza: Well, the title right now is Iphigenia. And we're, what I know for sure, is this character has always been called into space, called into our minds, call them to the stage, call them to the movie by men. And she was written down and the majority of class assists of scholars throughout history, Greek cause have been men.
So she has been edited and forged and written and polished and presented through the lens of men's imagination. And I feel her as this entity who's been passed on for over surely over 2,500 years. And she surely was a myth that was being passed on before she got written into a play by Euripedes.
I feel like she's this sealed envelope that's never actually been opened. And I want her to show up and speak for herself. And interrupt the inevitable outcome of this myth. That she's essentially trapped in. And everyone sees themselves as trapped in. That's why they make the choices they make. But that's a farce. That's the myth within the myth. That's the lie within the myth that we're cracking open.
Helga: And what about this is so personal for you?
Esperanza: I don't know yet. I actually learn- I'll learn later by looking at it and going like, "Oh my God, woo. My heads just- my whole interstate is just on that stage." So I can't see that yet. I can't speak to that yet.
I'm learning about that by being in this process. And I want to borrow. Something that Tony Morrison said in that beautiful documentary that just came out, The Pieces of Me I believe it's called. When she's talking with her writing students, she says, "You know, everybody says, sure. Write what you know. Write what you know."
She said, "But y'all don't know anything, so don't write what you know is gonna be boring." Like imagine. Write about something that you don't know. Write about something that you have only dreamed of and try to try to put yourself in a completely different person's shoes and actually write from that place.
So I'm also giving myself permission to be completely free and fantastical. And that it doesn't need to be rooted in like my personal deep connection cause I feel deeply personally connected to everybody in the story. That's why these myths live, how they do, right? Cause they are, they are, animating aspects of our subconscious. Of our spirit. Of our soul.
So, maybe there's something about what do you do when you feel like you're trapped in an inevitable outcome? You know, what are your options at that point? And I think I was supposed to come talk about an album. But this is all about the album. This is all about the all of it. About making things.
Helga: It's about making things.
Esperanza: That have an effect on reality. Hopefully.
Helga: Would you say that Emily is also an entity through which you realize stories, myths, things that need to be said for you, through you, in this moment.
Esperanza: Yeah, Emily's D plus evolution. She came and went. She was all like a wild child that needed to like break open a passageway. She needed a break a hole in the wall that I didn't know I was stuck behind .And now that hole has been made and I'm still breaking bricks away to widen it and you know, see what it is to live on either side of that existence.
I think that's part of the gift that actors know about. The power of role play. Of giving yourself permission to fully explore an aspect of your humanity as someone else.
Helga: And as yourself.
Esperanza: And as yourself. Right. Exactly. At the same time. And that's- that is such a profound gift of roleplaying. And playing, you know, just the word woven into that work. That here's a space we have permission to play. Play at what it is to be a human. Just play at it. And nobody gets hurt because it's the theater, you know? Or it's make believe.
Helga: And I think it's in that that is a place where theater and music are so important. Because we give people permission to feel.
Esperanza: Yeah. And to sit with feelings in a controlled environment. There's a certain trust to like, okay, somebody managing the space. I can go as deep as I need to enter this sensation and I'll, and I'm held and it's safe. And there's this enough distance from it that I can reckon with it, you know? W
Helga: Now, what can you name as the specific practice of making this work?
Esperanza: Okay, Wayne Shorter wanted to write an opera. I heard him say he wanted to write an opera. And I thought, "Well, that just has to happen. How are we gonna make that happen?" So first- I talked with the first person I could grab who I knew was involved in grant writing. I was like, "Can you write a grant so that Wayne can write an opera?"
Then that brought me to the next person. It was a, well, even a little bit more than a grant, if you want to make an opera. You're going to need a producing partner and you need presenters and okay. So with that glorious entity, Ryan Sheinbein, this infrastructure was set up, start started to get set up.
And then in the process of working with Wayne I'm thinking, okay, so who does he need to write with him? You know, he's got to have this epic writer who's going to make this epic story to go with this epic music. And tried tapping a few people. They didn't pan out. And he kept saying, I want you to write it. I want you to read it. I want you to write it.
Helga: And you. You. You. Yeah. Not someone else. Not someone else.
Esperanza: And I fought that tooth and nail.
Helga: And there's that person also, right. That you go, you're going to look for the person who does this job better or smarter. Or has, has more experience doing it, and you're going to go find them. And actually life is going to say, no. You.
Esperanza: It's hilarious. It's hilarious how it keeps coming back to that. And how many ways I've tried to get out of it. Out of respect for the music, honestly, and out of respect for this mentor and superhero alien person who is the creator entity named Wayne Shorter.
And I want to offer this to anybody delving into new territory.
Helga: Which is everyone.
Esperanza: Everyone. Okay. I did skip some steps of due diligence. Of research. That now I'm recognizing as like a lost opportunity or a misstep. Cause I just dove in.
I was in the middle of a project called Emily D Plus Evolution, which was about, trying things. Diving into things without knowing the rules. Through this five year process of trying and carving and digging and scratching and leaping and roaming and writing way too much.
I'm, little by little, gathering these pieces of best practices. And just ideas and approaches that have proven to be more helpful through experience of people who've been through the process many, many, many times.
Helga: So that's asking for help.
Esperanza: Absolutely. And just checking out what's been done with the notes before. You know, like there's only 12 notes. Just peeping what's been done. And trusting that it's not going to compromise originality. Cause there it is again. Like investigating origin is actually the support structure for your origin reality.
The “-ality” is you're part. So I gave myself a week at the suggestion of Jocelyn Clark, a beautiful dramaturg that I'm in conversation with, to go through everything, the 408 pages total, and honor the fact that that was written.
So I'm going through with my red pen and I'm looking for the "yum" in this. There's sort of an oversaturation happening where there's so many ways to tell the story and there's so much language and so many characters, there's so many frames sort of lost in the sauce. So this is really like the final filter week, because I'm diving into this lab workshop slash course at Harvard, and I thought the most interesting thing that I could bring to the students will be the process of making this opera, of course.
And the journey of moving from individualism to collectivism. The journey from being a solo artist to a collaborating artist. I didn't realize that was such a thing.
Helga: a thing.
Esperanza: It's such a thing.
Helga: What, what has the thing been for you?
Esperanza: Oh, terrifying.
Esperanza: Well, I'm used to getting inspiration, going way into my little hole, building it, and then come back and like, "Okay, cool. Can you help me take it to the next level? Like, this is the demo. This is song. This is the concept. Now you do your part, you do your part, you blank. Here's my vision."
It's kind of like a benevolent tyrant dictator. We hope it's benevolent. This is such an immense organism, like you can't move it by yourself. And I'm not necessarily the brain on this. I'm like the nose or the eyes. And so it requires a kind of receptivity to the wisdom and intention and design preferences, story preferences, any detail you can think of. Of everyone who's involved in moving it and growing it. A
And what it brings up is the ways that I'm not strong. And not great and not masterful.
Helga: And having to look at that and be with that in the company of your collaborators.
Esperanza: And sometimes the company of people who you don't even have an intimate relationship with. And it's such an existential problem. It's just for whatever reason, that still feels like death when you're in those spaces.
Particularly because whatever that muscle is, where you just are acclimated to the fact that it's not done and it'll get there and everybody sees it and it's nebulous state, and that's okay. That muscle can atrophy when all I've been doing is being in the front with these great, you know, great works that are my version of finished that I'm confident that I'm ready to present. I'm confident that they're going to do more or less what I want them to do.
And now it's like "agh". We, all 10 of us need to get this up on his feet. And I know that it's not there. And I don't even know how to get it there. And it's- probably, theater folks will go like, " Ah, yeah, that's the gig, you know?"
But, yeah, I've sort of been protected. I've been in a bubble, a creation bubble that I didn't know I was in. And, so deeply grateful for this process on so many levels. Mainly because this music that Wayne wrote is so incredible. And I think there's, I know that there is, medicine in this myth too. There's medicine in this story that wants to be popped open and shared.
And personally I'm getting my butt whooped in the perfect way and getting expanded and it's just so incredibly challenging and so beautiful.
Helga: But how is it that you manage to, to stick with it? Because I think that's a challenge for people to. We have this idea and we're say, we say we're going to go for it. And we do our work and we get our butts kicked.
And sometimes we say, okay, maybe this wasn't for me, or this isn't the way. This isn't the thing. This isn't the person. This isn't the job. This isn't the apartment. The country. The car.
What practices do you have that allow you in the midst of the doubt in the presence of your collaborators to just keep saying, "yes"?
Esperanza: Well, we already know what "no" does. Right. I don't know what the results of the continued "yes" is yet. And the only way to find out is that keep going. And that's exciting. And exhausting and exciting.
And it's also something like, well, as long as everybody else is down to keep going, how dare I say no. Maybe this is where belief systems do inform our practice.
So I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism by Wayne. And there's this fundamental tenet in the Buddhism that we practice. That I've practiced and studied that says, "Enlightenment happens wherever you are." It happens here. It happens in the muck. That's why the Lotus Sutra is such a powerful title. Just that allegory or metaphor of the Lotus blossoming out of the mud.
The idea is whatever is happening in your life, wherever you are, that's easy to say for us who are safe, clothed, housed, and loved. I know it's really easy to say this. And because it's so easy to say it, I try to practice it to the fullest since I know I have it relatively easy to practice this philosophy.
That whatever is happening in your life. Whatever. Your broken leg, the job you lost, the breakup, the victory, the amazing apartment, the leak in the apartment, whatever is happening is the perfect tool, the perfect resistance, the perfect training environment to generate the practice of creating value.
That is not even about getting what you desire. The practice of working with whatever's happening and making the choice to create value out of that. And to stand in that as the place where enlightenment is possible only. That is the practice of pursuing or attaining or being in a practice of an enlightened state.
I want to be in the practice of going like. What happens when I don't run away and work with what's here and trust that the power of creativity and the power of trust in our human capacity to create value with whatever ingredients we're working with. Like that is the secret alchemizing ingredient that makes anywhere you are on planet earth with whoever you're with hospitable.
Because we can. Because that's what our- that's what I'll say, luxury and privileges for. So that in these relatively easy circumstances, I can practice that. Which feels like a huge lean needed medicine.
Helga: It's jazz. It's hearing everything and playing your part. And your part is to use what's there.
Esperanza: Amen. Yes. Yes. Yes. And work with others. Work with great people.
Helga: And work with others.
Esperanza: And that's part of the- I feel like this is all very, very, very personal. But, part of my dance has been to open myself up to the greatness of others. That's much greater than what I can bring in a moment in terms of ability and experience and softening to being sometimes the weakest link in a situation.
Meaning like, "Wow, all I can do right now is listen and learn, hold space." And just be here with this, wanting it to move forward. And I might have to let go of these 300 pages that I wrote. And say like, okay, it's actually not serving the whole shape of this right now.
So you with your greatness, can you come in and lead? And that feels so basic, but, it is a stretch.
Helga: I can absolutely relate to this. So I've been working on a show with a director, Michael McQuilkin, on the character of Cassandra. It's my middle name. Also, very just interested in her.
Esperanza: Yea, she's super interesting.
Helga: And so we worked some years ago. And I had a script. I had everything. And we got an opportunity to workshop it again to revisit. And I was so excited. Four years had passed and we got into the room and we started reading and I just smiled at him and I said, "This is not where I am anymore."
And there it was 24 pages. But it was 24 pages that I lamented over and sweat over. And I let it go. And it was very interesting to me that the things he had me do had nothing to do with paper.
So we changed the premise of the piece. So now Apollo is dead and Cassandra has been asked to sing at his funeral, and her conversation is with her unconscious. And her unconscious is saying, "Are you kidding me? After what he did after, after, after you are going to stand here and sing? You're going to use that gift to bring peace and harmony to your city? And completely betray yourself no."
It's a totally different point of entry, but also it was such a big lesson for me also in that moment to just take those pages and let them go.
Esperanza: Yeah, there you go. Yeah, and something about the release is an exercise of trust because you're trusting that with what's actually happening now, we'll be able to build what we need that you don't have to depend on things that aren't working anymore. You know?
Helga: Or even what's past, if it no longer serves you.
Esperanza: Okay. Amen. Yeah. And that is a practice of transitioning to a sustainable existence. Sustainable, thriving. Is really daring to let go of systems of thought and systems of convenience. And systems that we're familiar with. Consumption patterns, diet patterns, travel patterns, et cetera, that really worked. And maybe like are really feel right now better and more comfortable and more stimulating and more fruitful and meaningful than the practices that we are new at. Very new at. Which are the practices as far as we know, required to move towards a sustainable relationship with each other and with planet Earth. With our home base.
Helga: Can you speak a little bit more about what your life looks like then in that, with that framing?
Esperanza: Yeah. I'm trying to figure that out. I'm, asking that question daily.
Helga: Okay. Did you change where you live? How you live?
Esperanza: That's my speculative fiction that will become reality. But in a way, I feel like wherever we are, we're already doing that. We're already in community. It may not look like your dream fantasy community, but all of us are in community of some kind.
So maybe part of the invitation is how do you activate that community so that it feels like we're more engaged in
Caring for each other and nurturing each others dreams and needs. Part of my vision about intentional community is actually facilitating or leading or holding or purchasing a space where creators work together can live together, if so desired, at least for a portion of the year. r sharing resource and sharing insights and knowledge and creation space.
And that that feels far. I mean, the full manifestation of that feels far to me. Cause part of what I learned in this opera project is you got to start slow, work baby steps, and learn each piece as you go. So I know that that's going to be a process of learning with others who've practiced some portion, one portion of what that whole picture looks like.
You know, it's not enough, but, you know, in one of my practices is just taking the train as much as possible when I have the option of driving or riding. Just it, just that practice of also being in energetic conversation with other people as a practice. Yeah. And and eating a vegetarian diet as practice.
I know that's not gonna change the world, but as a practice with intentionality. And then I don't want to make smoke before fire. I'm learning fire making .And I hope that the shape that the smoke takes will speak for itself.
I'm right at the precipice of a new journey of inquiry and don't want to describe in too much detail what I think I'm going to see or where I think I'm gonna get. But I know that it requires research and humbling. And staying in proximity with the people I know who are deeply in practices of building sustainable communities. In the practice of.
Cause it's not that because you start doing it somehow the world magically changes. It's that, well, let's start practicing a way of being that we know is required to support these dreams that we have of sustainable cities and sustainable nations. Sustainable communities. Sustainable families.
Helga: Esperanza, they named you hope.
Esperanza: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I do feel really- I feel like a hopeful person in general and hope fizzles on its own, you know? Hope needs a rootedness and work and practice.
Helga: It's such a big word in our conversation today. Practice, not big word, but it's, it's an insists we call it by name. And it's in addition to intention. It's in addition to hope. It's in addition to everything. But it's, it's practice, also.
Esperanza: Yeah. I'm thinking of something that Wayne said about the opera, about the project. He keeps saying that is going to speak for itself. Let's not worry about that. Let's not worry about trying to explain or justify or plot out what it's going to be.
It's going to stand on its own. It's going to speak for itself. And I, I love that as like the litmus test of a work.
Helga: Is there anything else you want to share or that you feel I haven't asked you? It's just, I feel like we sat down and we were all we were in from the moment you walked in the door.
Esperanza: I mean probably. I did make a record. I did make an album. Well, I made some spells that are being delivered through the medium of an album. And they're called 12 Little Spells. And you can go listen to them.
And it is, it's like kind of what Emily did. It's, it's when you make a public announcement, I'm going to do something, and then you're accountable. You feel more accountable, you know?
So this is like stating the claim or making the announcement like we're exploring. We're exploring how music and performance can be yielded to administer healing technologies. And be offered as a support mechanism to our growth and healing and collective, you know, support, soothing, et cetera.
And it's more than just soothing cause it's not soothing so you can like quiet down and go to sleep. It's so that we feel well supported and well enough to stay in the work. Stay in the game. Stay in the struggle. So the alchemizing of the struggle, yeah.
Helga: I can't wait to be in another room.
Esperanza: Yeah. Feel some sounds and movements. Yeah. Yeah.
Helga: And thank you for being with me in this one.
Esperanza: Thanks for, having a jam session from minute one.
Helga: At the door. At the door. Yeah. Big love.
Esperanza: Love to you. Thank you.
Helga: Thank you.
And that was my conversation with Esperanza Spalding. I'm Helga Davis. If you want more of these conversations, subscribe for free wherever you get your podcasts. Give us a rating and share with a friend. You can also leave a comment. It really helps us out.
Helga is produced by Krystal Hawes Dressler and myself. Our technical director, composer, and sound designer is Curtis Macdonald. Lukas Krohn-Grimberghe is our Executive Producer. Special thanks to WNYC's Program Director, Jacqueline Cincotta and Alex Ambrose.
Be sure to visit us online at wnycstudios.org/helga
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