Arts KC funded Brian and me to travel to Omaha, NE to participate in several Arts workshops as part of Alternatives 2009, the National Mental Health Consumer Conference. We had an epic bicycle adventure on our way there. I took 715 photographs for the whole trip. These are posted on Flickr with my account as “Corinna West.”
I got an email from Gayle Bluebird from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors on our second day en route to Omaha. “We want you do one of your poems before one of the keynote addresses,” she said. This meant for all 650 people at the conference. “We want your poem about strength and power.”
I had to write back, “Which one? I thought all my poems were about strength and power.”
The poem went really well at the conference
and about 15 people afterward came up to me to tell me how much they had liked the message in the poem. I also participated a program hosted by the National Empowerment Center, one of the three national consumer technical advisory centers. They are collecting people’s recovery stories on video. I performed a spoken word piece for them that tells my story, called, “Taking Back the Dreams
.” I also recorded the poem I did before the keynote address and a third poem I performed at the open mic, called, “Your Only Flavor Is Vanilla If You Don’t Have a Mental Illness.”
Overall, the conference was extremely productive, and the journey there and back was definitely a huge part of the arts experience. The car journey to Omaha is pretty unremarkable, but doing it with my own hamburger power at 12 miles an hour makes it feel much more like travel must have been in the days of the pioneers. Rockville, MO, and Nebraska City, NE
, both under 4,000 people, were gigantic places when they wee the only gatherings of people we had seen for four hours before we got there. And after the trip, I felt a slight disconnect with the world that I have heard described by many formerly homeless people who have a hard time re-integrating and adjusting to indoor living.
Here’s an excerpt from the poem that I wrote to describe this trip, “Stealth Camping,”
“….This world I slide under, outcast I can’t remember.
My home on my shoulders, bring it in to the campfire smoulders.
Crack, pop of the wood, smoke rise in the wind at the end of my day.
I say…. May you rest in the peace as the trees start to breathe
The moon lights the leaves, the chill of the breeze, flamed wood as I please,
The rustling red and yellow carpet, coyotes singing out their hearts spent…”