Elizabeth: [00:00:00] Welcome to Creativists In Dialogue, a podcast embracing the creative life. I’m Elizabeth Bruce.
Michael: And I’m Michael Oliver.
Elizabeth: Today our guest is a friend and colleague Laura Zam, who is an author, a speaker, a certified trauma professional, a sexuality educator whose work focuses on sexual heal, healing, and preventing violation.
Laura is also a playwright, a screenplay writer, and a solo performer with an amazing career on stage and off. Welcome, Laura. So great to be here. It’s so nice to see you in person, the age of Zoom. This interview will cover the role that creativity plays and has played in the various aspects of your life.
Michael: We like to start off our interviews [00:01:00] with a couple of questions. And the first question is this, in what aspects of your life has creativity had the greatest impact?
Laura: It should be a very easy question to answer.
it’s a little bit difficult because I have always identified as a creative, as an artistic person and so it’s very much the way that I think and it can be difficult to extract it and isolated and see, how it’s had an impact on me, cuz I, I can’t imagine. my life without it, any aspect of my life without it.
But I will say there are a couple of areas that it’s definitely had a really profound impact. And the first thing that comes to mind is my project that gave rise to my working in the field of sexuality education. Because I [00:02:00] had been working in the theater, I’d been creating one person plays, that was my career.
But I had this unrelated problem. I had the sexual problems, and I didn’t know how to fix them. I had recently gotten married. I was in my mid to late forties. and I got a play commission, and the play commission was really open in that I could write about anything that I wanted. It was from a local theater here in DC Theater J.
They were given commissions to local playwrights. . And so I decided that I would use the creative process, the art making process, and particularly the theater making process to solve this sexual problem because I didn’t know how to solve a lifelong problem that had its roots in childhood trauma.
I really didn’t know and I didn’t know anything about [00:03:00] this kind of trauma and how to heal it. I didn’t know anything about marriage , and I recently got marriage. I didn’t know anything about sexuality, especially female sexuality. I just felt very thwarted and the thought of healing just felt very amorphous and very overwhelming.
But I knew how to structure a creative project and so I thought I’ll use this creative project as an opportunity, but also a template for healing. And. . It worked. It was, took longer than the six months of creating the play. Because I took six months to do this extensive research.
I did things that I would ordinarily not do in terms of healing because I thought that certain things would make a good scene, for instance I went to the house or I wanted to get into the house where I’d been molested as a four-year old. Wow. And I drove five [00:04:00] hours in the rain to Brooklyn to my old block cuz it had been a neighbor.
And I somehow or other took a few hours. Nobody was home, but it took a few hours. But I was able to get into that. Wow. Anyway, I would, I did this because I thought it would make a really great scene in a play. I did not think that it would have any effect on me, but it did have a really profound effect on me.
And I can talk about that later. But anyway, so that is really what comes to mind because, but it’s a recent impact because it’s only because of that project, which started 10 years ago that I saw that I could use this creative process template for healing, but also for getting unstuck in different areas of one’s life by a directly to a life experience or to your own life.
Michael: So taking the creative processes you’d learned as a theater artist Yes. And apply it. That’s fascinating. [00:05:00] And that actually probably feeds into the second question.
Elizabeth: Another aspect that this podcast is dealing with is how one understands creativity itself. In Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s book on creativity or books rather, for example, Flow and Creativity.
The focus is on acts that advance a particular field of endeavor like engineering or chess or theater. And conversely, in his book, in, excuse me, in Robert Franken’s book, human Motivation, the focus is on creativity and relationship to problem solving and communication. So how do you, Laura, personally, deal and view creativity or the creative act is more about advancing a field or is solving a problem or both?
Laura: I see creativity actually differently than either of those authors. I see creativity as having two aspects. I call it the ordinary aspect or ordinary creativity and extraordinary [00:06:00] creativity. And I think that ordinary creativity is creating something new. It’s like in Sunday in the park with George, there’s this song, look, I made a hat where there never was a hat , but it can be a list.
Look, I made a list where there never was a list . Look, I made a pancake where there never was a pancake . I think all day long we have these acts of creation, creativity, and we draw upon these fabulous aspects of self to do that. But extraordinary creativity, I think of it as something that is not necessarily elevated, cuz I don’t think it’s hierarchical, but I think that it has artistic aspirations.
Artistic meaning it’s moving more into the realm of product, of creating an artistic product or a [00:07:00] creative product for that matter. And I think when we move into the extraordinary, then we can draw upon these authors. I can never say Mihaly’s, last name, I think Csikszentmihaly.
I read his book flow and think that’s a part of what I’m talking about is this a flow state. And I think that, so I think this extraordinary creativity, I think of it as creating something new and problem solving, but in a realm of something that is beyond the mundane.
And with an eye toward, or an attunement toward beauty. That’s how I would talk about this. Extraordinary creativity. And I think that the extraordinary realm can be one of flow state. It can be one of channeling, maybe [00:08:00] spiritually, maybe the muse, maybe just a conversation with time conversation with hi history, conflating time and space.
So you’re, you are in a realm that’s outside of the mundane, but I think it’s more than problem solving. I do think that this extraordinary realm is more than problem solving, but I think it’s also more than flow state, because I feel that the, this idea of flow state, or even in advancing a field is there’s, to me, there’s a miss.
Perception of what a creative process is like. , that it’s not all just, oh, , I’m losing track of time, and this is effortless. , it’s often very effortful. Very frustrating, repetition, and right. Going over the same sentence many times. Or the same dance step many times. It can be boring, it can be maddening.
Yes. Time can move very slowly. And I [00:09:00] don’t know about advancing a field to me that seems a part of particular people’s agenda. I guess that I guess if you’re in conversation with things that have gone on before you, then just by nature, the fact that you’re gonna create something new, you are advancing.
The conversation or the field. But anyway, that would be my own definition.
Elizabeth: Speaking of advancing the field and being aware of time and place, one of the, one of your remarks on your website, which is beautiful by the way, is that you’re a native New Yorker. As you just mentioned, you were raised in Brooklyn but your mother is a survivor, was a survivor of two concentration camps and other horrors of the Holocaust.
Most of her family, most of your family died. And your birth, as you say, was a profound sign of hope and recreation for your family. . So can you talk about this journey of recreating, of rebirthing, your family’s narrative? [00:10:00]
Laura: Sure. There’s a couple of parts to this. The first is that my mother was a creative and she very much wanted to live a creative life, but that was thwarted by the war.
And so my mother poured into me her own ambitions, her own interests in the arts. She enrolled me in ballet at four years old. She . She also enrolled me in singing lessons and dancing lessons by the time I was six. Wow. By the way, when she enrolled me in the ballet class at four, they kicked me out cuz they said wasn’t very coordinated.
Maybe bring her back. , later point. . Wow. Ballerinas. So anyway, I grew up with this really being very immersed in arts education. , right? I immersed in arts education, but I also absorbed my mother’s [00:11:00] own the awarded ambitions and aspirations. She poured those into me as well. And so I think that in terms of this narrative and this legacy, in many ways I’m creating the narrative for the first time because there’s because there was this desire for an artistic life, or maybe even career on my mother’s part, and I’m.
I’m living that for her. . And also when I think about this, I also think about the parts of my mother’s family, the members of my mother’s family that were killed. And I very much take that on as a kind of responsibility to live a life that is maybe three lives, , maybe four lives, to really make the most of my own life and live my own potential and as a way of living the potential as I am imagine of these people who are not [00:12:00] able to live out their lives.
Michael: You also say on your website that you “flip this fury at the fur” around. Every day I try to honor the gift of life I’ve been given. I take this very seriously, though. I almost always go for a cheap laugh. Which leads us to humor. And I personally li I love humor at all of its various levels, even at the, what the fourth level, according to Beckett is where you laugh because that’s the only way you can survive.
And so if you, could you maybe just talk about the power of humor in your creative work and healing journey?
Laura: Yeah, I agree with Beckett. That’s what I inherited, especially from my mother, that humor is survival. And again, it’s just how my brain works. I can’t think of anything without there being something coming in intruding that’s gonna be a little bum,
And now I’ve found [00:13:00] through the years that you can do this safely if you make fun of yourself. Sure. And I think those of us who write about or create. About things that are tragic, and that’s most of us that we are going to, right? We’re going to use humor in some way, and I think we, we understand that.
But so I look for opportunities these days to, to stay in that safe zone where I’m not trivializing anybody’s pain, but looking for opportunities to uplift. And because I do believe it’s absolutely necessary, not just for survival in the most dire sense, but survival, just in terms of being able to have psychological and emotional distance so that you’re not just dragged down by all of the sadness and unbearable tragedy of life. I think of funerals where there’s always laughter. All the ones that I’ve been to at least afterward, at least [00:14:00] when we are around the food. , there’s going to be stories, right? There’s going to be stories. And when I encounter art that, especially real time art like the theater or film where they’re talking about things that are very heavy and there’s no humor.
It doesn’t quite seem real to me. Because I don’t, I, I don’t think that’s how we operate. That, that , it’s not just me, that humans need this. Victor Frankl said in about his own time in Auschwitz and my mother was in Auschwitz, that humor was absolutely critical that when people lost their sense of humor, they could be dead in a matter of days.
Michael: . We also like to ask our interviewees about their early experiences of creativity, as children or adolescents, the sort of. And you as a multi-talented creative adult, what were some of your earliest expressions, either that came from you or that you witnessed of creativity?
Laura: [00:15:00] Oh, such a great question. The first thing that comes to mind is not a field of art that I ever pursued, but it was had to do with a piano, an upright piano that we bought, my parents bought when I was four, and I remember creating immediately on the piano, creating songs, writing these songs. I went up the keyboard just using the white keys up and down, and I thought that it sounded like some sort of southern ditty, I don’t know, and like a, some , like in Brooklyn, like a hootenanny. This is a four-year-old. And I just remember I had the song I made up, it was like, no, forgive me if I’m offending anyone, I’m being stereotypical. This is a four-year-old mind. I’m trying to capture . But going back to my own definition of creativity, alright, so here I [00:16:00] am on the piano. I’m creating something new. I’m channeling in a way, or I’m in conversation with things that are around me in the zeitgeist that I’m picking up at this as this very young child. but I’m also looking for beauty, right? I’m attuning myself to beauty because I was, I remember it so vividly to this day that it wasn’t just that I didn’t care what it sounded like. I very much wanted to please myself aesthetically. .
Michael: And it sounds like pleasing yourself was also playful.
Laura: It was playfulness to, yes. And I left that out, so I’ll throw that in . I’m gonna throw that in my dividend as well.
Michael: Yeah. Aesthetics and playfulness. There must be some relationship in between. Absolutely. And I don’t know if I’ve ever read anything about the relationship between the two, but there must be.
Elizabeth: Yes. Speaking of play, you are also a playwright. Yes. In fact, you have an amazing resume of creative and advocacy accomplishments. You have an MFA in Playwriting. [00:17:00] Yes. From Brown University where you studied with purer prize winners, Paula Vogel and Milo Cruz on other distinctions. And you’ve had numerous fellowships and grants from Brown and the Open Society and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, et cetera. So can you speak a bit about your formal education as a creative or a creative person in the field of playwriting and theater in general?
Laura: Yeah, definitely. Like I said before, it started in, when I was four years old, my mom put me in ballet class and then there were other classes.
There were singing classes and dance classes, and also acting classes. When I think I started acting classes when I was about maybe seven or eight. But I studied at this school called The Little Theater School on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. And it was very theatrical, very, but like sixties Bob Fosse theatrical,
When I went back into dance, I was [00:18:00] definitely taking jazz and there were definitely jazz hands and tap and all these sorts of things so there was a lot of theatrical education and I wanted to be an actor very much. And I studied theater at Brooklyn College with an eye I did high school plays and I wrote, actually, I was part of a troop where we wrote our own plays and performed them and I did different characters and all kinds of different things.
And then I studied theater at Brooklyn College and had an eye on a theatrical career as an actor. . But when I was 25 years old So I was still studying acting after college, and I got my equity card doing a children’s theater tour, but I was mostly a waitress. And when I was 25 years old, I was walking down the street, walking down my block and a monologue, it’s like it dropped from the sky.
Wow. Into my head. I’d never thought of myself as wanting to be a [00:19:00] writer or being a writer. But this monologue dropped down and I went home. I got into the house and I wrote it down really quickly. And then I showed it to all my friends because I had a feeling immediately that I was good at this.
And it was in contrast to me being an actor. And I knew that there was a difference, that I had some kind of innate ability with this writing, with these monologues that I did not have as an actor. And so I. , I just put all my eggs in that basket. I said, I’m not gonna be a professional actor outside of just performing my own work.
Because at that point I thought, oh, I’m just gonna write monologues for myself. And I did that. And it was the late eighties, early then, early nineties. So there was a big performance art scene in, in New York. And I tried to take advantage of that as much as possible and [00:20:00] do midnight shows and the East Village and that kind of thing.
And so my formal education is a theater education. It’s all of this all of this that came before, because once I started writing, I realized I knew how things worked on the stage just because I’d been immersed in it my whole life. And so I understood a moment-to-moment experience and to some extent I understood structure.
And then eventually I just continued my education, just studying other people that I was acting with. I did go back into acting a bit when I moved to Prague. I joined I moved to Prague in 1994. I lived there five years. Yeah. And I joined an acting troupe and I did do a lot of acting with this international troupe.
But I also did my own work and a lot of my education came from watching these tremendous actors just like standing in the wings and watching them. It was like a [00:21:00] repertory situation in terms of how we performed. And I, I just got to really, I got a tremendous education. And then I applied for an MFA so that partially so I could repatriate come back to the states.
And I got into this fabulous MFA program at Brown. Yeah. Oh, okay. Yeah. Interesting.
Michael: So just, speaking of yourself as a multidisciplinary artist. Yeah. And also as an educator. Do you find yourself do these various forms, artistic forms and performance forms, like teaching as a performance form, do you find that they are interacting with each other?
Are you, is one sort of feeding into the other or do you try to compartmentalize each of these forms in terms of their main True, just to the form itself? In other words, does your teaching influence your performance? Does your, when you are performance for this troop, has that influenced your solo artist career?
Is there an [00:22:00] interaction of the different forms or do you try to compartment.
Laura: I don’t know that I’ve consciously compartmentalize them. They do wind up being somewhat compartmentalized, but only very recently have I realized that there’s a kind of secret to making all of these things work to the best of their ability, and that is to identify the quote unquote genius zone, my quote unquote genius zone.
And to use that fully both in my teaching and also in my artistry. . And I think a lot of the time when I’ve been teaching, I haven’t necessarily tapped into that as much as I feel that I can. And so I think that and what I mean by that specifically is sometimes, and especially for some audiences it’s very beneficial to make a lesson performative.
I believe for certain audiences it’s beneficial to [00:23:00] make a lesson performative. And by that I don’t mean just presenting things in an engaging way but really being very conscious of the structure of the lesson so that there is a narrative arc to it. And also a consciousness of what you are doing with this population in terms of how they are emotionally, where they are lost, when you’re going to maybe keep them a little bit on edge with some uncertainty or some mystery or even confusion.
And then you’re gonna come forth with the reveal. So I think of the way that a skillset really, that I learned in the theater that it can be applied and. It’s definitely really beneficial, as I said, with certain populations, especially very young kids, right? Where any moment of just loose goosey and we don’t know what we’re doing, you’re gonna lose them.
So [00:24:00] in order to keep that, keep them on a moment-to-moment basis, I think that is yeah a beneficial skill to use. ,
Elizabeth: well, speaking of other people and both students and collaborators in your evolution as a creative person across all these many disciplines, and I’m interested to hear more about Prague.
Where have you found creative community both in your native New York, in Providence, in Prague, in DC? Where have you, Laura, found creativity?
Laura: Wherever I can, I think. Prague was magical in that respect because I was an expat in the early nineties and there weren’t that many of us, especially those working in the arts. And we all knew each other. And my favorite part, we collaborate, we all collaborated. I worked with a theater company called Misery Loves Company,
Okay. And that was the common denominator, . [00:25:00] But it was so much fun and it’s hard to replicate to that extent because I would sometimes be bored and I would just go downtown to the center of the city and I would just walk around until I ran, inevitably ran into a chum. And that person would inevitably say, Oh, hey, how’s it going?
Listen, there’s a party at Chip’s House. I’m like, Hey, I didn’t realize that . And we’d just jump on a tram and there was a party friends would show up at, ring my bell and at four o’clock or something. And, sometime in the afternoon they’d say, Laura, come on down and have a coffee now.
And I’d somehow find time in my day. So I don’t live that . I’ve searched for this over and over how to live that way Sure. Here in the United States to be. I don’t know. So involved in the community and responsive in that kind of way. And like most people, I [00:26:00] schedule out months in advance that coffee and all those sorts of things, and I bemoan that.
But where I find community, I think like with the writer community, Elizabeth, you’re part of that community. I wanted a writing group. I really wanted a writing group. And I kept asking people and went to conferences, local conferences in DC and I said, oh, will somebody adopt me?
And people were just, I don’t know. Either they didn’t have a writing group or they didn’t want me, or they didn’t want new members or something. So then I just put out on a Facebook group, I’m going to have a little meeting at my house and just whoever wants to be part of a writing salon, just show up.
Just show up and I’ll have snacks and let’s just see what this amounts to. And that was in December of 2017. Okay. Five years ago. And we are continuing to go. So I think, part of it is creating my own community. . Part [00:27:00] of it is just seeing what communities are out there. Now I’m doing this, TV writing. So I’m looking, I’m actively looking if there’s anybody out there who’s got TV community wants to adopt me. So I think it’s a little bit harder as you get older, just as it’s harder to make friends, you really have to look. But I think it’s yeah, part of creating my own, and part of looking and seeing what’s out there and how can I connect. Yeah.
Michael: And another aspect of community is the role that a mentor might play, an instructor might play, or just an artist that you, whose work you admire might play. Can you, are there people like that and have there been people like that in your life that have been like a mentor or a valued instructor?
Laura: Oh yeah, definitely. At Brown I studied with Paula Vogel and Nilo Cruz. And both of them were really great mentors and I’m in better contact with Paula these days, but yeah, she just continues to just be this force of [00:28:00] light and support, and I think that mentorship is really critical right now.
I’m studying with screenwriting teacher, a TV writing teacher. I’ve been taking a course over the course over the last year. And that has been really great. And I, yeah, going into the new year I’m very actively looking for that as well. I think it’s a critical part of being a successful creative.
I can’t say that I’ve always been that great at it, , in terms of, in terms of really prioritizing that and understanding the role that a mentor plays in one’s life. , I I’m I come from a. A background of oh, I don’t wanna bother . I understand. Don’t wanna bother anybody.
And no, I’m, oh, I am such avoidant .
Elizabeth: That leads me—your little reference there, anecdotal or accented reference—leads me to your experience growing up in New York as a as I was raised in a [00:29:00] very small town, and I used to marvel just, it just beggared my imagination as to what it would be like to grow up in a big, cosmopolitan city like New York or Paris or something.
So can you talk a little bit about how growing up in New York City, in the city itself shaping your imagination and your immersion into the creative professions?
Laura: So Elizabeth, you should know that growing up in where I grew up in Brooklyn, which was in Coney Island, is exactly like growing up in a very small town in Texas.
I mean with some, with some perhaps some cultural differences, but it could be very provincial. People don’t leave their block . People humans like safety. They like security, right? And so Brooklyn in any event, was very much like that. Not necessarily cosmopolitan at all.
But my mother was very cosmopolitan or she had those interests and she wanted to expose my brother and I, and so [00:30:00] my mother would take us into Manhattan frequently and expose me, expose us to culture of New York. And That’s where I really got this expansion and an idea of this, but not necessarily for my corner.
Sure. Growing up. Yeah. And I don’t know if I had grown up in Manhattan proper, if it might have been different maybe not. Like I read about kids who grow up in the West Village or something like that and they’re going to La Mama or something like that. . . But yeah, but my mother, that was something wonderful that she did just to expose me to, to this other world.
And I took it on. I really captured my imagination and when I started going to Broadway shows, I was 11. The first Broadway show I saw, which was Greece. And I’m immediately, I’m like, that’s what I wanna do. That’s what I wanna do.
Elizabeth: So Laura, speaking of [00:31:00] other worlds, you have also worked internationally across multiple cultures.
As you describe on your website, you’ve also conducted storytelling workshops with trauma survivors in Bosnia, the Middle East, with wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with victims of sexual violation. These must be powerful, extraordinary experiences, and I’m wondering if you could speak a bit about the healing power of storytelling and creative communities versus these survivors of this unimaginable sorrow and trauma.
Laura: Yeah, I think it goes back to this connection to humor. , the way that humor gives us some kind of psychological and emotional distance so that we can see our circumstances in a way that is not as. It’s, we’re not as stuck in hopelessness. We can rise above that [00:32:00] hopelessness and even to some extent a feeling of victimization.
This is not to say that people have not been victimized, but when we’re consumed with feelings victimized, it’s a sense of powerlessness. It’s basically a sense of powerlessness. So storytelling also has that ability, whether or not somebody uses humor, I believe strongly that it allows us to have this sense of distance, in fact, aesthetic distance, right? The aesthetics takes us out of our own narrative, the way that we tell ourselves a story, because now we’re constructing, we’re creating a story out of our source material, and it allows us to have that kind of distance and to connect us more to a sense of power and hope.
Michael: And then I would like to ask a different aspect of that same question. Are creative writing communities or maybe even theater making itself as I myself am a director, I’m always [00:33:00] acutely aware when I’m working with actors of the intimate relation between their creativity and their creating the character. I’m just observing and giving, hopefully not damaging feedback.
But ultimately you want to nurture the creativity of the performer in that situation. In a writing workshop, the same sort of principle applies is that somebody will share a story or they’ll share a piece and your goal is to nurture that creative imagination and not to do anything that might stifle it or divert it or undermine it.
Do you have a particular sort of approach or philosophy that you use when you’re in those kinds of situations? .
Laura: Yeah. I think that there’s different aspects to it. One is to right to let people come forth with whatever it is that comes forth. And there is something inherently healing about that.
There’s something inherently healing and expression, especially if somebody is, has a kind of trauma that [00:34:00] feels shameful and it doesn’t have to be sexual trauma. That feels shameful. I think a lot of people absorb the effects of trauma as a kind of self-blame or shame. And so expression in and of itself can be profoundly healing just to get it out and to say, this happened to me or even I did this right?
But beyond that, there are other ways that I think that creativity can be healing. Part of that is, . I think shaping these narratives or helping people understand aesthetic shape is something that I believe can be healing, but people have to be ready for that because sometimes people only want to express that’s where they are.
It’s very raw act. A very courageous act to just get something out. . , let’s say get something on paper. That has always been a secret, [00:35:00] and that may be enough. That may be a lot, and it may be, like I said, profoundly healing, but there are other people for whom that’s not enough. , and that’s where this aesthetic shaping might be helpful because then you’re using the rules of narrative to create more of that distance between you and this story where you can now look at this as a story, as a monologue. Not just saying, okay, this horrible thing happened to me. But that really is a phase I think. Somebody would have to be ready for a phase like that. And I’ve also taught performance in conjunction with this because I think that part of being traumatized can also be we can feel very judged and so through the act of performance and also we can be dissociated [00:36:00] from our bodies.
And performance can teach us to be in our bodies and to create, have a visceral sense of power in our bodies. And I think that can also be healing.
Elizabeth: To expand a bit on this educational work that you’ve done in so many realms. You’re also an award-winning author of The Pleasure Plan and other books, as well as an internationally recognized expert and coach on issues of sexuality as you commented earlier including beyond consent education on college campuses and elsewhere about sensual potential and more.
And clearly these are extremely intimate and life altering issues that are rarely dealt with as openly and triumphantly as you do. So could you speak a bit about the interconnections between one’s physical, psychic, sensual, and creative selves?
Laura: Sure. Some people say that the pelvic bowl, [00:37:00] okay, I haven’t heard of that term before, pelvic bowl in a female in anyway or people who, person who has a female body is this place of creation. The baby is created and nurtured in this space. And so there are theories that are very interesting to me that talk about this part of the body as being the source of our creativity. And it also touches upon the chakra system.
The second chakra is in the pelvic region or the sac region. And this area is also known to be where our creativity lives. So I think that there is something to that and I’m, it’s something I think about a lot. I’m not quite. what my lived experience is of that this connection between creativity [00:38:00] and sexuality.
I think that there is there’s lots of different threads that are fascinating to me and also things I’ve experienced, but I’m still formulating how these things connect. I will say, just to sum up the answer, that I think that sexuality is a part of us that is not often really free and alive and healthy because of lack of sexual education in terms of, because of shame, because of different things that might be part of our lives or relationships.
And so there’s, for me, my work in sexuality is a way of helping people be whole. , it’s a way of helping people have this kind of wholeness. And it also, when I’m working with female body people, it also is an act of empowerment because there is a lot of inequity [00:39:00] when it comes to women’s sexual wellbeing versus a male bodied sexual wellbeing.
And there’s more to it than that as well. But and so I think that for me I approach this work as a creative, so it gave me a way to write, to start thinking about it and structuring things and using creativity, but how they ultimately connect, I’m not sure right now. I’m not yet sure.
Elizabeth: You’ve written widely on it and you’ve also been profiled widely, both as a writer and a performer and a kind of sexuality educator. Both in the New York Times and Salon and HuffPost and other places. and you’ve traveled globally to work with different in different settings of with trauma survivors and others.
Can you speak a bit about the responses you’ve received from the others with whom you’ve worked and how their own creative voices emerge as more you, [00:40:00] you spoke about this a bit earlier, but as more integrated human beings, just the process, as you mentioned before, about objectifying, if you will, or putting one’s own experiences out of the self and being able to write about it using some of the craft of the writer’s process.
Laura: Yeah, so I think that, just to clarify, I think. What I said before is just, I’m still like connecting things for myself in a very personal way. But going back to what you’re asking specifically, yeah. I think the creative process can be very helpful. In terms of any kind of healing, really any kind of healing.
And I think when it comes to sexuality, I think that pleasure is a really interesting exploration because pleasure also is, takes us out of the ordinary and puts us into the realm of the extraordinary. Because [00:41:00] if I’m going about my day, I’m often stressed and I’ve got a long list of things I have to do and I’m it’s very It’s very ordinary, normal experience of being, of disconnect.
Disconnect from something transcendent, but pleasure acts, asks of us that we step outside of that and that we now give ourselves this permission to have expanse. It’s like expanding time, right? To just sit with the coffee and just to experience the talking. That’s the flow state. I think just to, that is the flow state there is to just be present, to be fully present and when we are fully present, that’s where, to me, healthy sexuality emerges from.
It emerges from this place of presence. And I guess art in many ways of creativity also comes [00:42:00] from that place. It comes from these, this, these extraordinary moments or. Time periods where we can just be fully present and notice and attuned to beauty, and we can channel , whatever needs to be channeled, and we can maybe create some of the imagination and create something new.
. So I think that there’s maybe pleasure is a, in some ways a kind of pre-condition for, could be for the creative process.
Michael: Ha I I’m just curious, have you found an opportunity or the inspiration to explore pleasure or you mentioned the goal of sexual healing in your solo performance pieces or in your, writing other kinds of creative writing.
Have you found a way to bring that goal into those kinds of spheres?
Laura: Yeah. I think it’s more process oriented. It’s a, it’s about the way that one goes about [00:43:00] creating. I do really, I make a very concerted effort to make my creative time very pleasurable with the right cup of tea, with the perfect seat, with the with taking, I take breaks every 25 minutes and do really pleasurable things during this break.
Not explicitly sexual things, but things that bring bad. No, I could, five minutes is not a lot of time, but I’m a sexuality educator. I shouldn’t be anyway. No, I build pleasure into my day because I wanna stay in this realm of the extraordinary, and I don’t want to have this feel like a grind, because that is going to shut down the creative.
It’s gonna shut down the channeling. And it’s gonna, and it’s gonna make me, put me in a zone where the ordinary zone, in the ordinary zone. I’m, I don’t think my sentence is good enough and I don’t think I’m as good as and also so and so and so and I [00:44:00] don’t think I can get this done.
And I don’t think I’m smart enough and so that to me is the ordinary realm. And but in order for me to create in this extraordinary realm and have access to, I think, better ideas wherever they come from, , okay, I need to put myself in a different zone.
Michael: So at some level, there’s a direct relationship between the experience of pleasure and the source of ideas. It’s themselves, or the imagination is fed by the pleasurable experience.
Laura: It is. It is. But I think it’s just being in I was, I read a book on magic recently, which was really fascinating. This is like my candy. I like to read all kinds of books about magic. And anyway so this book was fascinating because it was about how to think magically.
It wasn’t about using specific rituals, it was about just how does a person who’s interested in [00:45:00] this, how do they think and how do they create rituals out of this new way of thinking? And part of that, and this is I think where a lot of these ideas now I’m talking about ordinary, extraordinary. They came out of this reading investigation because she said, the woman who wrote the book, her name is Briana Saussy, she wrote a book called, I Think Creating Magic [Making Magic].
Anyway, it’s an interesting book. So she . She talks about how in order to put yours, you put yourself in this extraordinary realm and you do it. That’s what the rituals do. You light a candle. , right? And you enter, it’s like a doorway. You enter another realm. So that’s how I think about pleasure and creativity is that pleasure is like a doorway.
So that I can go into the create room and leave the other room. And sex is exactly the same. It’s leaving behind the stress of the day and entering another realm. [00:46:00] Another realm. And I don’t know if you saw Netflix, there’s this new show, it’s called How to Create a Sex Room?
Michael: No, I haven’t, but I’ll look around.
Laura: Hasn’t showed up on our Netflix feed. It’s a woman, she’s an interior designer and she designs sex rooms. And so there, it’s a physical room that people create so that they can enter this extraordinary space. . So I think that there is something, I think it’s extremely important to find these doorways to create these doorways.
Elizabeth: Speaking of the extraordinary you’ve also written eloquently about meeting and marrying your beloved husband, Kurt, in I think your forties. Is that right?
Laura: Yeah, I met him when I was 43.
Elizabeth: And so can you speak just briefly about marriage as a creative collaboration as an old married person?
I’m interested in what your thoughts are on that.
Laura: Yeah, that’s so interesting. Well, We just took a road trip. I was working in [00:47:00] Massachusetts, so we just had this, and we decided to drive. So we had this long trip and we were listening to Hidden Brain, you know that Oh yes. I love him. Oh, I love it. And he has this whole series on relationships.
So we were thinking about this. For hours, the last few days, or, within the last week? Definitely a creative act. So there’s, there is entering the extraordinary with one’s partner, which is I think something, whether or not a couple is decides to be sexually active with each other.
I still think that entering that realm with a partner is can be very bonding very bonding to, to find this kind of shared transcendence, however, a couple chooses to do that because so much of life is this stressful grind. Yeah. And it really can wear down a relationship to not have this profound kind of bonding with a partner.
I think there’s a. There’s [00:48:00] the problem solving, there’s the, okay, , can you can we put this into our day or probably more likely. Can you finally, schedule. Yes. This morning, I put Dish in this sink and my husband’s like, could you please just put it directly in the dishwasher?
And it’s okay, I’m, I promise I’m going to be more mindful about that. So that’s a, an act of implementing, implementing new things all the time to keep the peace at home. And maybe, maybe also just creating together what’s your vision for Yeah. For your lives together.
Michael: So we’d like to conclude our interviews with sort of the. A larger question, the meta question really, of the, probably of the podcast itself. And that’s the sort of the role that creativity plays in the shaping of who we are as people both individually and within society. Or what the screenplay screenwriter might call a person’s narrative arc to come back to that term, [00:49:00] and clearly your narrative arc is an incredible journey.
And could you maybe just talk a little bit about the role, this larger role that creativity plays or has played in the shaping of who you
Laura: are? Yeah. lot of it connects to my mom. I think, like I said, it’s, many ways I picked up the mantle from her and am creating a life that is a life of.
Of reaching my potential, helping other people reach their potential. And I think that is the, having a consciousness around one’s purpose, I guess in life is a very profoundly creative act, is a profoundly creative act. Whether or not a person is quote unquote creative. , I think that we can create the lives that we want to create.
Our whole life is an act of creation. And if you are creating a piece of art, then you [00:50:00] are, there are parameters, there’s things that you think about, right? That you have a goal in mind, right? Something that you wanna do with this thing or at least you’ve got ideas about what you want to experiment with.
. and I do really consciously think of my life that way as a creative project, and shape this according to, things that I want to experience, but also what do I wanna do with this ultimately, what is, how do I want to make a difference in the world?
Elizabeth: One of the reasons as we’ve discussed that we’re doing this podcast is because we agree with you, we think creativity is an essential aspect of a healthy emotional life.
So do you have and you’ve given our listeners some very specific practical advice about how to sustain and nurture and really develop their own creative impulses. Is there anything practical advice wise you’d like to add to, for our listeners to encourage them to nurture and sustain their own creative impulses?[00:51:00]
Laura: Definitely. So one is to set aside some time, structured time, but it doesn’t have to be a lot of time to contact to channel, let’s say channel the muse, let’s call it that. . And I think this structured time can be very enhanced by pleasure. Make this pleasurable because that is going to increase motivation.
It’s gonna get the dopamine going and it’s going to make this maybe more likely that we’ll do this the next time and perhaps on an ongoing basis. So pleasure has that kind of functionality. So I think that structured time, I think a lot of people wait for inspiration, especially people who are, don’t do this professionally, where we know that there is no time
It’s just, it makes no difference. It’s not as one of my mentors , Sue Shapiro, she said she was told early in her career she was [00:52:00] complaining that she had writer’s block. And her mentor said, plumbers don’t get plumbers block , just, you just work. Just go to work . So I think yes, setting up aside that structured time, enhancing it with pleasure, but maybe also just setting aside some pleasure time and seeing if there’s a creative dimension that emerges from that as we step into this extraordinary realm and just see maybe it, maybe that opens up the imagination.
Maybe it connects us to other kinds of ideas. Yeah. That portal you talked about before the portal. Yes. That’s the perfect word for it.
Elizabeth: Lastly, we’d like to give our guests an opportunity to announce upcoming events or publications or web links or other ways our guests can learn more about you and your work.
Bearing in mind, of course, that this won’t air until 2023 sometimes. But can you tell our listeners if you’re available for facilitation or coaching or consultancies [00:53:00] and any other engagements and what’s your website and what’s coming up for you in 2023?
Laura: Awesome. In 2023, I’m be working on my, getting my pilot out into the world and writing a few spec scripts.
So I hope to land a job in television and. , but I’m also very actively doing my public speaking and my courses. So one of my courses is a course on using creativity to get unstuck sexually and to find one’s own sensual potential. And we use these very deliberately, but in a fun way, use creative methods in order to yeah, in order to find this this part of ourselves and to bring this, bring ourselves into a state of wholeness if that’s not been working as well as we can, people can find email@example.com. Okay. And Zam [00:54:00] is Z A M. Yeah. Laura, l a u r a z like zebra, A as in apple, M as in Mary.
And if anyone has. Is listening, they’re on a college campus or they’ve got kids or friends or people they know on a college campus. I do a lot of work on campuses teaching healthy sexual communication. I also do sexual empowerment basically with especially with young people, female bodied people.
And I work with survivors on campus. I call it campus Consent 2.0, filling in gaps left out by traditional sex ed and I do coaching and have shorter courses. So I the best places just sent my website. Laura zm.com.
Elizabeth: Laura Zam, thank you so much for joining us. This has been wonderful, a lovely, wonderful, illuminating conversation.
We’re delighted you could join us and just thank you for all the work you do, both as a teacher, writer, creative artist, and so many. Thank you
Laura: [00:55:00] so much. Thank you. It’s been a great pleasure. For
Elizabeth: more information about Cists in dialogue or our other projects, please visit Elizabeth Bruce dc.com or rmichael oliver.com.
This project was supported by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.