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MEND Season 3 - Episode 56

Any One of Us with Caterina Kein & Vanessa Vrtiak

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Awhile back ago, you may remember, I got to speak to my good friend - poet & mother - Therese Fitzmaurice - who is one half of the spoken word collective “A Reason to Listen”, a grass-roots, Humboldt grown poetry collective.  

This month, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with the other half of this force for good in the Universe - ms. Vanessa Vrtiak.  Vanessa is a poet, social worker, and activist. She has self published 5 books of poetry, and is co-founder of A Reason to Listen. She has a MA in Public Sociology, and her thesis is titled: Reintegration in a Rural Community: Strengths, Barriers, and Recommendations for Reentry in Humboldt County.


In the weeks to come, Vanessa will be directing a play here locally on the North Coast.  Her 6th one in total, penned by the prodigious Eve Ensler - this one entitled - Any One Of Us - Words from Women in Prison.  

This play is a a collection of stories from formerly and currently incarcerated women from across the nation whose aim is toward healing, understanding, and change with the goal of using their writing and voices to impact policy, laws and treatment of incarcerated women. Together these writings reveal the deep connection between women in prison and the violence that often brings them there.

I sat down to speak with both Vanessa - and the lovely and articulate Caterina Kein - who has a background in criminal justice and works as part of the philanthropy program at St. Joseph’s hospital in Eureka, CA - and is also one of the actors for this production.  

Together, we spent about an hour talking about the sytemic issues women face both in and outside the system.  The culturall biases and hurdles they face when they go to re-enter society.

And - perhaps - most importantly - what we can do - inside our small, daily actions - to shine a light - and shift the landscape inside this portion of the world.  

We talked about the bridge between Art & Action.

And overcoming & dismantling the narratives we’ve inherited & creating new ones not only for ourselves - but for those who have been caught inside, penalized and degraded by a system - whose aim on paper is said to be that of Rehabilitation.  

But in actuality, can often be anything but.

I urge you to sit with these wise women.

To take a moment to invite their stories to land isnide your heart.

I invite you to carve out an evening to go see this play and to sit inside the brave space that they’ve created for us all to collectively share for the night.

It is inside these spaces we glimpse what is possible.

It is inside these moments, we catch a spark of what can be.  

We open ourselves to new possibilities.

We allow ourselves to be broken open so that something new can be born.

I want to thank these two powerful women for sitting and talking with me for an hour - and for the wonderful work they are doing in our local world.

May these words inspire and hearten you.  

May they do what Art does best - namely - create a catalyst for change first inside your own heart - that fans from there - out into the waking world.  

MEND Season 3 - Episode 47

Taking Poetic Action with Leslie Castellano

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“Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact. ”

William S. Burroughs

When it comes to leading lives of passion & creativity, we tend to believe in a set binary.

There are those of us - so we say - that are meant to write, paint, dance, create - make the world a bit more vivid and beautiful by our voice, our touch, our presence.

It is the work to which we are called to in this life.

Then, the same story goes - there are those who are meant to engage in matters of policy.  Civic discourse and dialogue. Who can best affect change at the structural, boardroom, nuts-and-bolts, dare I say, utterly artless side of cultural exchange.  

There are the artists.  

And then there are the policy makers.  

And ne’er shall the two entwine.  

They are made for such entirely different things in this life.
My guest today is someone who tosses this limited theory out on it’s head.

Leslie Castellano is a local performance artist, teacher, dancer & businesswoman - who also happens to be running for City Council - Ward 1, in Eureka, to be precise - this year.  

In this talk, we discuss her decision to venture out of her long-tenure as contributing artist to her local community to a person who is striving to affect policy, as well.

We talk about the intersection of Art & Politics.  

About shifting out of our individual and collective comfort zones to lobby on behalf of the type of world we want to live in - which sometimes means canvassing, making phone calls, and going door-to-door, rather than simply writing a song or creating a dance piece.  

At the heart of each of these impulses, Leslie states,  is a driving desire to care for people and build community.

Through her efforts as an activist, artist & community organizer, she longs to build a society where all people are valued.

We talk about where this impulse has taken her thus far and the places she’s venturing into just now.

I hope you’ll be inspired, as I am, by the work and presence of this wonderful woman.

She’s a reminder to me that even though we all have our designated comfort zones - we can step out of them.  

We can take on new roles, new languages & new possibilities to begin to mend the culture where we live.  

There is a place for ART.  For beauty & symbolism & delight.

And there is a place for re-writing laws and by-laws.  For upending the current structure and mapping out an entirely different system than the one we’ve known.

And there is a way to synthesize the two - so that together they - we - all of us - can THRIVE.

MEND Season 1 - Episode 10

Production, Pot Plants, Passions & Passports. (Oh My!)

Welcome to this - our Tenth episode of Mend!

This feels like a milestone for the two of us - as we intially envisioned compiling a grand total of 20 interviews for this - our first season of the podcast.   - so this would put us at the halfway point.

We’re continuing to enjoy the conversations and stories we unearth here so we’ll see how that number shifts as we journey forward.  

In this interview, we venture off the path we’ve trod thus far and sit down for a very candid and personal chat with Marie - a worker who has been on the production end of the cannabis scene, aka a “trimmer” for the past 8 years.  

We value deeply the perspective of the pioneers and originators of this tribe, but felt it necessary to examine some of the other aspects of this world as well.  

Here, you’ll gain a vivid portrait of a woman who has been able to  - among other things - travel, support her passions as a singer, a painter, and adventurer abroad.  She gives us a detailed accounting of the typical work day (a hint - not your typical 9-5) and season this particular job entails.  Plus get down to the nitty-gritty money bits - including how much one can make historically in this line of work - how that’s changing - and the great life she’s managed to carve out for herself as a result of this vocation - AND - living this fabulous life on a much smaller budget than you might expect.  

Marie shares with us how cannabis helped her overcome a debilitating addiciton to alcohol and cocaine in her early twenties.  We also dip into some controversial waters, too.  She shares her responses to those who see the Marijuana economy as one of Extraction - of merely taking without ever giving back.  

And we look toward what the future might hold for herself, but also the thousands of people like her who have relied upon this as a way of subsisting and bankrolling their dreams and passions in other walks of life.  

We’ve chosen to keep this talk raw and real.  

We don’t aim to portray perfect people here - but to provide a mic to learning, growing, imperfect folks - who are doing their best to navigate this time - with the tools at their disposal.