: Rhythm / Devotion : is a series of interviews intended to illuminate the connection to ritual & rhythm in our daily lives. This series explores the intimacy of routine, the magic of the ordinary, & how these small acts of devotion set the stage for larger workings in the world ~
What is your name & where are you in the world? My name is Skylar Lynn Gudasz and I am currently in Durham, North Carolina living very close to the Ellerbe Creek and Eno River, on land of the Catawba and Shakori. How do you define your self & your work? I have recently come to the conclusion that I am an artist, working in several different mediums of music, writing, singing and acting, with an interest in filmmaking. My second album of original songs, Cinema, just came out at the end of April, and I sang and played flute, guitar and piano on the record. Some of my writing has recently been featured in Southern Cultures and my most recent theatre experience was a production of Macbeth in the middle of a field in the woods last winter where I got to play one of the Macbeths (there were three of us).
Will you walk us through what a day in your life looks like? Begin with how you greet the morning & guide us until you close off the day in the eve ~ When I wake up I drink a glass of water and put the coffee on. I love coffee and have spent a lot of time in my life as a barista, so choosing a coffee is one fun intention of my morning. What I'm drinking right now: Carrboro Coffee's single origin from farmer Rodrigo El Giammaittei - the Finca El Balam from El Salvador (tastes like a creamy, sweet blueberry); Joe Van Gogh's King's Red & White Blend (our corner store brew); anything being roasted by Little Waves Coffee Roasters; or Counter Culture's Big Trouble. I try to disconnect from my phone and put some space between it and me at the bookends of my day, with varying degrees of success, but usually, since it is my clock, I spend a moment with it before my rational brain steps in to say, okay, it is time to put that down. I heard that, in the pandemic, we have been collectively dreaming more, or perhaps just remembering our dreams more, for a number of reasons - major shifts, changing alarm clock times, heightened anxiety, subconscious in overdrive. These disruptions of sleep patterns, alongside the lack of being able to be with my friends and family IRL, make me want to write down my dreams more than ever to help keep track of where my mind has been taking me and who I visit when I'm asleep, so I have been keeping a dream journal. If my partner is up, sometimes we'll put on a record - recently Arthur Russell's Iowa Dream, or Alice Coltrane's Journey in Satchidananda. Lately there’s not a lot of routine, with so many things in flux and having to spend a lot of time on album promotion, but I usually do these things in any different pattern of a day: 1. Write in my journal. 2. Eat my lunch outside. 3. Check on the garden - recently, since I’m not able to tour during the pandemic, I finally got around to being able to dig a bed and plant a garden. Right now we have arugula, lettuce, corn poppies, broccoli, cauliflower, calendula, tomatoes, squash, rosemary and spring peas, and we’ve started some lavender, peppers, and herbs inside. 4. Send emails at my little desk at my window. I try to create an intentional space. i keep my favorite flowers there from my favorites Mighty Tendril Farm, recently Ranunculus and Icelandic Poppies, light some cedar incense, put on my favorite overalls and earrings even if I’m not going anywhere - to help me feel like I have a handle on who I am so I don’t get sucked into believing I’m only worth how I’m feeling about myself/my productivity/how I’m being received on the screens that are our constant companions. This is important for me now especially while we are all so confined to our spaces - I’m an escaper by nature, and my coping mechanism is usually to leave places when I feel overwhelmed, so now that I really can’t, I’m trying to give myself the tool of intentionality in my space and compassion. 5. Pull a tarot card or four. I usually do this every few days, because I like to sit with their energy and inspiration for awhile to see what they are meaning to me. 6. Play music. My piano is my altar - it’s a pretty loud caramel colored Acrosonic Spinet that I’ve dampened with some kelly green foam squares and old quilts. On it I keep seashells, candles, tiny mirrors, offerings, dried marigolds, feathers, cleansing herbs, flower essences, my rock collection, pennies, little paintings and whatever is intriguing me. I’m in a creating part of my album cycle right now - not a lot of specific practice as shows are on hold for awhile, but more general just playing for fun/inspiration/seeing what new there is to be found. In addition to my piano, I keep my white telecaster out so that I can play it whenever I want. My partner and I have been going on very long walks, up in the trails near our house. We'll go in the late afternoon/early evening and usually arrive home as it is getting dark. Before bed, I'll make tulsi tea from my friend Alena's farm in California, Earthtide Botanicals, with honey, and warm a lavender pillow. Another friend and tarot goddess, Kennedy Lieberman, recently gifted me this bedtime ritual invitation, because I have a lot of nighttime and sleep anxiety, and it has been really transformational for me - to touch your hands to three places - first your forehead, then your heart and then, your low belly, saying each time "I call my energy back to me", and then repeat that movement three times. This helps remind me not to give too much weight to anything keeping me from sinking into rest.
You are a multi-faceted musician ~ how do you prepare yourself &/or your space to enter into this practice? I would be lying if I said I had any set routine. I have little tricks to coax myself, little rituals - cedar incense, being alone but near other humans, lighting candles, pulling tarot cards, but mostly I am a courter of magic.
Whatever is working to spark the spark is the ritual I try to sink into, and it always changes, keeping me on my toes. In the beginning of creation, I know that I must be completely open and to stave the editor voice inside me as long as possible, but also the editor is inevitable and I can't fear her either - she just can't come in until the deadline is serious or before the idea has room to take on its life without her shade.
In terms of readying my body for practice - I have warmup relaxation stretches, I'll make peppermint tea with honey, drink a lot of water, and eat apples to massage my throat. Salt water for your nose and throat, or steam from a shower helps to open your sinuses and relax your shoulders and eyes. What do you do/not do if you are feeling stuck around your work? I try not to force creative work. It is a privilege and an obstacle that often I am my own taskmaster and maker of deadlines. If I become frustrated with myself, and I give into the frustration, then it's usually a signal that I am not currently a good judge of what is/is not serving the song/writing, for whatever reason - maybe I'm hungry, maybe I'm too sad about the tragedies of life, maybe I'm bored of myself and my ego is too involved and I need to take a break. In these moments I try to return to my body and break my own spell with another rhythm - going for a walk, or releasing the pressure of what I'm working on by saying "this is just an experiment", or just stepping outside and putting my feet on the earth.
It's something I have to remember about myself that physicality is a part of my muse courting - it's easier for me to connect when my hands or body are busy/occupied - it leaves my mind free to wander while my body is busy working through its emotions. Even so though, sometimes the trick is that I have to be gently stern with myself and push through. I think a lot about the Rebecca Solnit piece How To Be A Writer and among her wonderful advice is "how you feel is something you cannot take too seriously on your way to doing something". The practice of creativity feels a little like reading the waves - when to go under, when to float, when to jump over, when to ride in - something you can only learn by experience in the ocean and paying attention. Do you have a movement practice? Walking outside is my favorite movement practice. Other than that, I like group classes because I love the feeling of combined positive energy. In quarantine, a few studios have been doing amazing free/donation based classes for service workers/artists/people who have lost work during this time and I've been loving supporting them when I can - Base Studio, La Vita Yoga. Also just dancing and singing to whatever makes me want to dance and sing is the best.
What does structure mean to you, or what is your philosophy around ritual/routine? I really resist structure, even when it can be centering for me. Ritual is very intriguing to me - I find freedom and connection in the idea of ritual, as it pertains to my creative and spiritual practices. However, I think as an easily distracted perfectionist, I often use the idea of daily "routine" as an excuse to be hard on myself, which is a habit I'm trying to break myself of. I have to try to be gentle with myself and not get bogged down in the "perfectness" of my daily routine, because that often stops me before i even start. Trying to do a routine the "right" way has always been a stumbling block for me - because perfection isn't real of course. I have to give myself permission to do a "bad job". I don't know why I feel more generous with the idea of ritual - the idea that I have what I need already, and all I have to do is show up and listen to my intuition and be present. But this - how to ground and be light - is always a big question for me - especially when I'm touring - ritual and some semblance of routine and repetition is so important to centering me in all of the movement. Before a performance, if I can stretch, and do a big deep breath with my band for us to all center together, visualize the show, or light my rosemary smudge, it can go a long way towards reminding me of myself and not to get lost.
Something I think is very important to ritualize, for present day reparation and equality as well as ancestral healing, is being anti-racist. We as white people have to work every day to dismantle white supremacy. To be open, to be listening, to unlearning, to decentering myself, to taking ownership and committing to be better when we mess up.
Some practices of this: showing up in the streets, donating to bail funds, patronizing black owned business, having difficult conversations (with myself or with loved ones and friends), following through on the actions asked of me by local, black led organizations, offering direct reparations. This fight is life-long ritual work. In addition to anti-racism work, I'm trying to be a better abolitionist - supporting financially and with direct action groups like Durham Beyond Policing. Writings that continue to open my mind on dismantling white supremacist patriachal systems and prison abolition are, The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House by Audre Lorde, but mostly the twitter of Mariame Kaba and Don't Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine.
What are you listening to, reading, or watching these days? I just finished the Topeka School by Ben Lerner, and I'm currently in search of another book to dissolve into. Bluets by Maggie Nelson is always nearby, as is the Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner. Right now I’m really rocking this incredible playlist ‘morning reads’ my friend Katie made of some truly beautiful tunes that center me and remind me to check in with the awe and soothing beauty in the world. It features a lot of Mary Lattimore, Chuck Johnson, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Jenny Hval - really gorgeous. As far as watching, I have become obsessed with Outlander. I don't know why lol ! but something about the high stakes of the lives in the times being portrayed; the beautiful Scottish scenery; the mythical, time-spanning love; the witchiness - something is speaking to me about it right now. Any last words of wisdom? Trust yourself. Do not tell yourself stories against yourself. Show up again for love, always. Do what you can to remember that life is a gift. Look for shooting stars. How can we find your work? Instagram Website
Thank you so much, Skylar, for your beautiful work in this world & for sharing your rhythm devotion with us ~
I connect the flower essence of Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) as a beautiful companion to Skylar Lynn Gudasz & her work in the world.
I made a Valerian flower essence whilst living in Western, NY on hot June day in 2012. This essence contains not only the energy of Valeriana in the hills of Dryden, but also the energy of my newly sparked passion for making flower essences ~ as this was one of the very first ones I ever made.
Valeriana is an old, old herbal... an old soul one might say. This essence was made in the afternoon from Valerian flowers growing in the gardens where I was living at the time: in a tiny cabin tucked into the old, untouched woods of New York state. The Valerian was growing high & tall in the garden, I swear trying to touch the clouds that feel so low laying there, in those hills, in the summer heat.
Valerian flower essence is beautiful & direct. I find that it helps us hone in, syphon, & channel the heat/the fire. It is an essence that drops us into our smoldering energy that may be buried (into places of anger, angst, passion) & aids us in both directing & embodying it: teaching us how to harness this energy vs. allowing it to spin out into a wildfire.
Thus, Valerian is also an essence of preservation, passion, & focus. It is one of deep transformation, clarity, & release. Like wind through a tunnel, it helps us to disperse any trapped heat & emerge with defined purpose, rooted connection to our sources of inspiration, & a sense of tranquility.
Valerian flower has a beautiful ability to relieve a weary heart, an overwhelmed spirit, & a bruised disposition. It simply lifts us up out of these places, lifts our chins in a way, shows us the way out is through.
Valeriana channels the heat we have within & gives it a creative outlet to follow & find form within; it fills us with the wisdom of formation. I have seen big releases happen with Valeriana, feelings of liberation.
Valeriana is seductive in that it lulls us in, syphons our focus, teaches us to trust, harness, & organically sculpt our smoldering inner fire: our creative drive, our wild spirit & wherever it may lead us.
Find a bottle of Valerian flower essence for yourself or a loved one here ~