ask better questions. [an interview with kate ryan]

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On family dynamics, shedding drama, and the artistic quest towards inner truth. 

This particular interview feels unlike any other thus far. In part, as our chat unfolds within the cozy confines of Kate’s actual Home Sweet Home. But more so, we really haven’t prepped beforehand. Meaning, I have given little to no context to what we should cover. In fact, I think I gave her somewhere around a two-hour notice, before simply ringing the doorbell to her stoner abode.

That said? Over the course of our friendship, I’ve found that’s just the best way to approach ‘all things Kate.’ A clean slate. An open mind. No real plan. No definite topical ‘destination.’ Show up, speak the truth, puff puff pass, and see what doors just so happen to swing open. Whether you slide feet first, or face first down the rabbit hole, you’re in for an equally refreshing trip.

She answers my knock, and we sink into one her luxurious-yet-somehow-antiquey-at-the-same-time couches. Around us, fabrics drape, ferns stretch—the occasional cat creeps over for a head scratch. A half-empty bottle of champagne leans against the various homemade pastries scattered about her coffee table. “Kyle and I have been celebrating,” she smiles, glowing.

“We’ve just gotten engaged, as of last night.”

Kyle grins sheepishly from the computer desk behind us. An elated round of “Congratulations!” circles the room. Kate passes me a mimosa, tucks her skirt around her knees, and begins to speak—fittingly so, of family.

“You know, I’ve just always been obsessed with my relationship with my mother. And, it’s interesting, because it seems this conversation is coming up a lot lately—with myself, among my peers, within our generation really. To sit here now, as adults, and start to peer into just what is the relationship with our parents?” she pauses, “I mean, what the hell is going on? How does our generation even connect with those in supposed authority positions?” Kate smiles, “Even on a political level, we’re the first generation that identifies with having everything that we were raised with, taken away immediately—and right at the edge of consciousness. And the people after us? They have no fucking fear! They’ve never had it taken away. Sure, there’s some legacy, some mythology of that still in effect, but they’ll never have that trauma in them.”

She continues, “There’s so many ripple effects. Part of which—and one that I love exploring—is this conversation of healing. This collective dialogue about taking responsibility, and of being accountable.”

“You know, concerning my childhood—concerning my mother—I really don’t remember a lot. There was a lot of drama, a lot of blackouts just from confused emotional trauma. We always wanted that romantic relationship. We just…we’ve never been able to have it.”

Cue in a few one-liners blaming Gilmore Girls for ruining us all, a couple hearty swigs of our cocktails, and Kate continues.

“I grew up never having a fucking clue what was happening or why. There was just so much we weren’t allowed to talk about! It was so fucked up. I mean, I met my ‘step dad’ two days before they announced we were all moving in together, and that him and my mother were getting married.” She pauses, “I was just hauled around by my mom’s life choices. It was just like, that kind of life.”

To add to her own ever-complicated mother-daughter dynamic, Kate began examining the girl-on-girl drama that had been trickling down her entire family tree. “ I have this obsessive relationship with my mother. And she had this obsessive relationship with her mother. As did her mother, and her mother’s mother!” she closes her eyes for a moment. “It’s just this continuous thing.

I know of five direct generations of this conflicting idolizing, and spoiling, and loving—that then turns into this rancid hate.”

“Basically,” Kate explains, “There’s this whole passive aggressive, ‘middle-class American’ thing that just coats everything.” She adds, “My mom wanted to get away from her mom. My grandmother wanted to get away from her mom. Every one of them did whatever they could, to just, get away. But,” Kate sighs, “no one ever really completely walked away. The binding tie was always there.”

Although unconscious of it at the time, Kate repeated the pattern. As soon as she was old enough, she got out. Her directional decision: Seattle. Her purpose: theatre school.

“I just needed a break from the confusion!” she exclaims. “The way that I grew up, in the household I grew up in…I didn’t understand why things came down the way they did. I didn’t understand the context to punishments. I didn’t understand why they were happening. I didn’t get why people got stressed out, or angry, or mad. No dots were ever connected—it all just seemed to happen out of no reason whatsoever. So, as soon as I got out, I became obsessed with why people do what they do.” Kate smiles,

“Cause and effect.”

It wasn’t until the move, that Kate could begin piecing her shoulda-been-cool, was-actually-kinda-scary, suburban clusterfuck upbringing together. After a few years of necessary breathing room, she could initiate her own healing process. She explains, “I didn’t even realize until I came to college—when I was completely overwhelmed with people’s ability to foster and share physical affection—that things like tangible intimacy and touch had been missing from my life in the first place.”

Post-graduation, Kate continued to chase her innate curiosity. She kept asking questions. The kind of heavy, open-ended inquiries that—if you keep them up long enough—inevitably lead somewhere interesting. After joining forces with Saint Genet, a Seattle-based, avant garde performance group—shit really started to shake loose. “It’s all physical endurance theatre. So, even during rehearsals, we kind of trick our minds and bodies with a couple of cognitive practices. As a result, we get a more authentic, strange reaction from our bodies—rather than say, just being an ‘actor.’” She continues, “so that becomes the physical language of our work, and that’s how we create those worlds.”

Kate explains, “For one show, I was cast to speak a mantra, and spin in circles, for about four hours. And, it just took my mind into a different reality. I began having these thoughts—and from there it all kind of started coming together.” She pauses, “Like, I’d have this new realization, and then the next day, I’d see this video on Youtube, or hear a story about gratitude, or cross paths with someone who was embarking on their own similar journey.”

Her entire countenance livens as she speaks. “It’s just…these things would happen! And, I started to bump into other people—it’s almost like our energies were running in the same directions. The narratives in our lives were totally one and the same. There’s a couple of women who I feel like, we’ve found each other. Just through asking the same questions.” She smiles, “And now, we share practices and create together.”

I steer Kate back towards this initial breakthrough. Prompt her to describe the powerful realization first irked from hours upon hours of Whirling Dervish-style spinning. She sits on this for a moment. Her eyes well up as she states, “I am enough.” She continues, “And then…from the point of just…this pedestrian path that I’m on? Ah.” Her eyes close. “There are so many things that all happened at once. It’s like a galaxy.”

She backs up. “Before all of this, I had been having a lot of thoughts like, ‘Maybe you should start trusting your own woo woo self.’ Like, ‘if you really want to believe in woo woo, you’re going to have to believe in your own self.’” Kate smiles, “That was just a theme coming from my life.”

The no-brainer ‘next move’ for anyone conjuring that universal void: psychedelics (duh). “I ate mushrooms, and you know, as these things go, started conversing with this tree,” Kate laughs. “This feeling came up—and the voice of Source was like, ‘Okay. Observe this feeling. What do you call that?’ And, I responded with ‘Well, that’s my anxiety. That’s my ‘bad feeling’ intuition. That’s how I know something is wrong. That I should do something different. That I’m being a ‘bad girl.’ That something’s not safe.’”

“And the voice said, ‘you’ve got it all wrong. You’ve totally rewired yourself.’ Kate leans forward. “It said, ‘this feeling is joy. This feeling is excitement. But you’re so afraid, to loose the thing you’re excited for, that you’ve taught yourself—practically—that this instinct means you should walk away from it.”

“You know, I realized at that moment, that I really wasn’t doing anything, because of this fear of failure.” Kate gestures towards Kyle, still quietly listening to our conversation. “I was asked by a good friend of mine, ‘what our deal was?’ Like, after all these years together, why we do we keep coming back to this, and working through this?” She pauses. “And I actually had to face this point, where I accepted the loss of our relationship already. Because it’s safer. And, you know, I had to work back from that. And likewise, I had accepted this lot of all these women in my family hating each other. And I had accepted this place where, all I could do was just be angry at it, but really that’s fear of failure.”

Kate sits back again. Gently folds her hands on her lap. “Because the truth is, I have a whole lifetime to figure my relationships out. To figure out what I want to do. You know? I’ve been reading about Semantic Healing, which is this whole practice around the theory that you can immediately—from an amazingly young age—have a simple, traumatic experience, where you tell yourself that one feeling you’re having in your body is another. Just to be safe. It’s a logical defense mechanism.” She smiles, “And I just realized I was doing that for my entire life. Everything was about fear. ‘You’re not going to be good at it, so why do it?’ or, ‘you’re not going to succeed. Why even start?’”

She continues, “Only once I started picking apart all this fear in my life, could I start re-approaching my mom. And with that, I really had to reexamine how other women scared the shit out of me! You know?” Kate smiles, “So part of my practice, my artistic process, pivots around defining, for myself, what is family. Explores how to interact with people. I practice and practice and practice what works for me—concerning physical and emotional relationships. I’m working to find out what works.

To have something. And really, to regain what it is I want to have with my family.”

“Also, I’ve been making myself reach out to other women, just for the sole purpose of manifesting creative relationships with other women. And those women—they’re like ‘Yes. Come over. Let’s make music. Or create. Or whatever.’ They hold me accountable. And they’re just fearless!” She laughs, “I mean really, they’ve taught me—with all this re-grounding, and shit with my family, and life—that if I’m just going to pick something up and learn it, ‘just ‘cause,’ I’m going to always pick it up like a child would. With a childlike enthusiasm.”

We circle back to her mother.

“For me, healing this relationship required understanding that my mother herself is also injured. And that ultimately, I can’t force someone to heal themselves. And I can’t force someone to grow the fuck up.” Kate shrugs, “but if I accept the fact that I was, and often still am, the ‘adult,’ if I allow her to do all the things that she needs to do—that she’s always wanted to do—then, well? That’s something.”

She adds, “Look, this whole journey is about finding what it actually is that makes me feel powerful. What it actually is that keeps me honest.” Kate smiles, “Because that’s what life is. What you believe is powerful, is powerful. You can pick up a stone, and tell yourself it’s magical and in your life for a reason, because an angel sent it, and that is true.”

“Anything can be activated. So, anything we do that is a personal ritual, is part of this greater thing that builds us up, and empowers us. And, if those things are made mindfully, then they are powerful activators. And they make us who we want to be. Who we truly are. But,” she grins, “if we aren’t really in touch with the truth, then it’s layers and layers of coping mechanisms. And that is a stagnant, fearful place.”

Kate finishes the last of her celebratory mimosa. “I had to take this time to be really fucking poor, and to dive deeper, and to put in the work—even though often times it was anything but comfortable—to figure out my shit, and to figure out what really made me happy.” She glows, “Once I got there, it was like ‘oh my god!’ I can do whatever I want, because I’m choosing it. I am intentionally activating my body and my life, and not from a place of fear. All of a sudden, I’m like a high priestess!”

She giggles to herself, “yeah. The high priestess of my everyday life.”

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