altered book

Altering the Dark-Dreaming of Grief Today

Dreamingspines

Yesterday I focused my studio time on the Lunar Annal I've committed to documenting and sharing in a step by step way.  But the resulting 'steps' were largely a matter of walking into various walls of my own making.  Need to synthesize how and why that happened before I can explain it coherently to anyone not-me.  Also my significant results were largely internalized in nature.  More needs to actually occur in an outward manner before there's any point in sharing with a dedicated post.  At the very least I need to reach a couple of firm conclusions rather than opening more and more doors of possibility.

***

Above is a picture I took this morning of my first altered book project which I began back in the mid-aughts.  Its thematic nature leaves it perpetually incomplete but I'm honing in on a shrinking number of blank pages.   Sooner than later the book will be filled even if the topic remains a work in progress to me.   Back when I started I was following through on the curiosity and interest raised by studying blogs that were devoted to various forms of master-class level collage as well as altered books.  It was clear to me that I would not be able to truly embrace such a project by choosing a theme and then finding a book and everything I felt needed to put in it. 

Such a format didn't interest me long enough to gather basic art supplies I already had on hand let alone ring my chimes enough to consider doing something with them.    Recall, if it's relevant, the kind of projects "everybody" was doing during that window of time. I had/have zero tolerance for even thinking about flea markets let alone 'haunting' them in search of the perfect vintage this and that.  And back then there seemed no way OUT of - let alone around - the rigorously exalted Vintage Fixation. 

Still - my hands and mind itched to alter a book my own way.  So I readily forgot what I knew about altered books that was based on what I'd been reading.  What did I actually want to do?  Landscapeofculture

For starters I needed to select something that was personally meaningful from my own bookshelf.  It would need to be a book that held great meaning for me - something I'd read more than once with sustained interest but felt certain I wouldn't have a need to read again.  Time after time I came back to my copy of Dreaming The Dark.  It had a glued rather than a sewn spine - which absolutely everybody on the internet strongly advised.   After a week of cogitation I decided to ignore the looming shapeless form(s) of Everybody saying (and then making ...) the same thing.  The first picture in the post illustrates why people stress the importance of a sewn spine and removing at least one folio per sewn signature.  It's because creative choices - just like elections - have consequences.

Crystalsstars

When my book began to fall apart I took it in stride once the initial reality check hit home.  It honestly didn't bother me and still doesn't - although for the record I've altered a number of books since then and they've ALL had sewn bindings.  When the spine split for the first time it broke my favorite spread in the book in half.    My fondness for the spread centered on the fact that it's the point in the book where I chose to begin the active alteration process in a "fun" way.  Prior to that I'd been focused on prepping all the pages by gluing three together with Yes paste and then pressing the results under a stack of books with the glued pages separated from the rest of the text block with sheets of wax paper. 

Now I'd start a lot differently but I'd undoubtedly make other mistakes because that's how I learn best and most quickly in the creative sense.   It's also the way I'm happiest learning.  And that's something I didn't know until this particular project fell apart right there in my hands.  Now I know why a sewn binding is important in a way I'm unlikely to forget.

Matrix spread

All told it's been a far easier lesson in releasing attachment to outcome than most others have been.   A book I was changing into some new thing fell apart and that's pretty much all that happened.  Then it fell apart again and yet a third time.  

but before any of that occurred

I picked a theme:  The Sisterhood.   I envisioned filling the pages with various impressions and conclusions I've reached about primarily positive and empowering female relationships.  It didn't occur to me at first to actively include things from women who had that kind of bond with me but I quickly caught on how invaluable it would be to make that shift.

Completingthespectrum

The page above is a good example of such incorporation.  There's a laconic note from Jude and two tiny rune cards from a deck I received from a friend in the UK.  The Tibetan Wishing tree is a photocopy of a postcard I received from a friend in Berkeley.   The batik fabric is from a friend who, for a time, lived close enough that we regularly exchanged fabric and paper scraps as well as plants and seed packets.

Turtlebirch

Some pages, like the one above, are tributes to women who shaped the woman I've become.  This particular page relates to my Grandmother - Pearl Margaret.  When I was young I used to spin out a lot when things were overwhelming and impossible for my mind and body to process gracefully.  I've written before about her practice of reading aloud to me from Walden Pond until I was calm.   When I was still too young for that to work - she used to put us both in the car and drive me to a certain rocky river bank a few miles from our home.  It was nearly always crowded with a large colony of snapping turtles.  She'd read Guidepost magazines while I observed the turtles.  Quietly because those were the rules.  After a certain vacillating known-only-to-Pearl block of time she'd announce that if I could that for the turtles I could do it for her and myself back at the house.  

(if whatever made me spin out involved my mother we wouldn't go right home.  We'd go to a fast food hamburger place pre-dating one of the big chains that now dominate.  I would be ordered a plain hamburger which I ate in dainty bites while Pearl inhaled most of a large order a fries with a few here and there doled out to me because there I was, after all, stuck with my mother and her many terrifying guises.  This is how I learned it was possible to leverage dysfunction and unhappiness - and more to the point, that others would willingly do that for you in ways that gave you access to things normally denied or outright forbidden.

When we eventually got home from the kind of thing I to this day mentally visualize when somebody says the words pity party - I'd be allowed to look through Pearl's curated clippings of sales throughout the region.  Depending on what level of awful my mother had been, I might be awarded a pair of shoes that were never as cute as anything full price, a new hat I didn't (ever) want, or some type of educational book on a subject important to me.  This, unfortunately, is how I learned that if somebody causes you disturbance or emotional pain you could always bribe yourself past it with Something New yet sensibly priced)

Also when I was super young Pearl and her sister Grace used to construct booklets out of birch bark.  one of my older cousins tried to "help" them one time and it turned into the kind of fracas that to my mind should have piled us all in the car to view the turtles for a good long while.  I smile as I type all these things.  I smile a lot any time I look through this book.  

Nocirc

I also add to it any time I see something I feel belongs to The Sisterhood as I've experienced it.  Above a photocopy of some gifts I received from a French friend who traveled to India.  We've lost touch but I always hope she might find her way to my main blog or this one.   I included a sticker that was further embellished with a different sticker by Jeannine Parvati Baker.   Many years after her death, the first time I saw a selection of Social Justice Kitten postcards, I thought of her with great longing.  I wanted so badly to send her the version I wound up including in this spread.  Any time I look at it I think about how deep and wide-ranging our friendship became BANG! just like that once I introduced myself to her in an email.

Emilydimnobody

And of course there are also pages dedicated to other people who are "gone" whom I never actually knew but feel deeply connected to nonetheless.   Emily Dickinson is right at the head of that list for all kinds of reasons.  Once I was describing my kinda unusual relationship to my written output in terms of how little I cared if I ever became 'known' for any of it. I happened to be talking to Jeannine who kept making appalled and disbelieving noises the more I warmed to my theme.  Finally she interjected in a scandalized voice.

"You - You're - You're just some sort of Emily Dickinson aren't you.  You probably have a WHOLE TRUNK (actually at the time I had two but there's been a lot of burning and other forms of shedding since then...) full of writing that nobody's ever SEEN! -" and when I said yeah maybe she positively exploded with a specific type of frustration that wasn't new to me.  Various people have gone through the but think of the recognition!!  Don't you want it?  Or at least feel you deserve it?? shtick with me many times but nobody's ever come close to saying what she said.  So that I wound up feeling seen and heard and understood - if only through a back door way In to that - rather than alienated and lonely and very much wishing to scream why doesn't anybody ever accept a person who has a whole different orientation towards Meaning and Success?  Why is it assumed we have some kind of 'problem' that must be fixed in the same way everybody else imagines it ought to be fixed or else an individual's life will have no true meaning or value?

For once I was not inclined towards such inward screaming.  In a very back-of-the-mind kind of way it occurred to me that perhaps we were having our own unique version of an argument.  Should that concern me?  Before I could answer the inner question Jeannine brought out her really BIG guns.

I mean you might as well be Emily's direct reincarNAtion!!!

Despite how affronted and rebuking this very unique and irreplaceable friend clearly felt - I fell over sideways on my bed in pure delight.  There was no higher compliment/soul recognition a person could have offered me.  When I told her that she made a final noise of complete vexation and informed me she hoped this would be the very closest she'd ever have to come to feeling she had no choice but to hang up on me.  This ... was revelatory on a whole other level.   Levels of levels because that's how she was and how I am and damn do I ever miss her still to this day.

The Sisterhood is eternal and never-ending.  Grief only feels that way.  Addressing the conclusion of something that doesn't ever end while beginning something that sometimes doesn't know how to begin let alone finish feels - and I'm gonna say this sincerely rather than cynically as I usually do - very much on brand for me..  I hope the combination and juxtapositions will inspire you somehow.

Who's your Emily?   What friendship lives eternally within a longing to have it last just a few more hours or days?   If you had to pick one book from your shelves that you loved and learned from in more ways than you can even remember - what book would it be?

What way(s) are you happiest working?  Were you taught to work that way or did you cobble it together for yourself over time?


.8 back to the future, baby

Backto

In the early '90's I made a diligent habit of filling a relatively thick 6 x 6 lined-paper journal with my thoughts and feelings.  This is a fact I accurately remembered but I'd presumed to add a third component this journal contained: authentic (if at times ruefully acquired) Experiential Wisdom.  Alas there was not a drop of that except in the ways I instinctively reworked the journal in an ongoing project of soothing a younger version of myself with a whole slew of Just You Wait & See's using collage to talk to this former wired-super-tightly iteration:

Rightthingnow

The above fragment is highly revealing and I left it in tact without a lot of alteration or second-guessing.  A major part of our Family Legend is that it was J. and J. alone who needed to get out of the city in order to live deliberately among as many trees as possible.  In this oft-reflected version of how things apparently never happened -- I was thriving as never before in the city.  It's how I remember things being so clearly but - SO CLEARLY - only in retrospect.

Once I let-in the awareness I'd been just as edgy to leave - in favor of trees and ponds and maybe even a nearby river and mile after mile of organically rural landscapes - as he was, a great many dominoes fell perceptually.  All I had to do was start turning them around to some Deep Work of great value to me.  I saw and seized the unique opportunity to dialogue back and forth with myself in a way I understood would bring more peace and understanding.  Maybe even some sustainable healing.

[spoiler alert:  it brought TONS of healing as well as tons of respect for the truly limitless work and play collage offers us if we're of a mind to test pretty much any pet or spontaneously healing theory we may embrace.]

Dareisoboldly

In the old days when I excelled at just going so much it often startled me that people even had a name for Doing It - All I had to do was have a tiny spark of a notion and BAM an entire river's rushing waterfall of Ideas was mine for the picking & choosing.  I understood the value of covering 3/4's of the content because most of it related to ENDLESS bitching and legit yet overly lengthy frustration about an inter-city educational liaison committee I was part of for - according to my hyperbolic venting of the time - about three thousand eternities in a bureaucratic circle of hell.  It was actually a period of three and a half months according to the entries' timeline. 

live and learn.  in oh so many ways.  In my efforts I worked with papers I'd made in a Cambridge adult education class during the time frame in which I'd kept this journal.  Within its original pages I expressed Very Upset-ness that I hadn't enjoyed said workshop and that its unpleasantly messy nature was compounded by my good neighborliness helping out the teacher for 20 crucial opening minutes that left me and another oh-sure amiable classmate SOL when it came to working with the "good" color dyeing options.  Nonetheless I persevered in re-writing even that undeniable shard of reality - thrilled that I'd kept these papers for so long even though every time I came across them I curled inward with dislike and silently urged myself to toss 'em and be glad.  Because now I had walnut ink spray inks to alter the colors.  And lordy lou - I had me a mess of stencils as well.

Celebrations

I wound up equally thrilled that i could never convince myself to trade-away my few remaining scraps of a fabric I used to make trousers I wore to the point of shredding 14 years later.  I also commemorated an event this journal time frame didn't include but it WOULD happen right on the cusp of my feeling so unEmpowered and trapped in place:  a carefully planned creative celebration I co-hosted there in the same space where I cried the blues about people I wrote of endlessly then but now cannot pull up a face or any other detail about a single one of their names.

Coyoteexcellence

Evolve

Savortheseason

Many of the papers and images, as well as the interests and fascinations implied by both colors and content, were collected and saved/initiated in the time frame I'd been so startled and ultimately disappointed to realize I wasn't very much enjoying - allowing myself to enjoy - knowing HOW to enjoy -  while being smack-dab in middle of the supposedly best years of my life.  I recall fully realizing I should be enjoying them.  I also didn't go much more than a couple of hours without considering myself immeasurably fortunate and blessed.  but I was so freakin' frustrated, concurrently, by so many things involved with big city reality that I am not sure why I contributed heavily to our Legend's narrative of having been thriving there.

Paperbase

Things I instinctively saved from that time now mingle freely with representations, and materials, from the present tense.  I focused on things Back Then me would have loved too much to let terminal over-stimulation and circumstantial overwhelm keep me from smiling and playing.  Are you kidding me?  I would have bucked-up ten ways from Sunday if I'd had even a glimmer of knowing what was in store when I was moving in on being twice the age I was then.

Getrightoutside

Above:  a close-up shot of a still unfinished page.   The gift paper was saved from my birthday.  I remember quite clearly how thrilled I was to see the wrapping - already planning to squirrel-aside a section before the package was directly offered to me.  Have zero recall what the gift was or who gave it to me.  The paper Thing was already quite well established and I'm glad because it's enriched my ongoing collaging experience.

Butforgetsoon

Verybusy

Unfortunately a lot of broad strokes weren't destined to be hunky dory for Future me because, of course, I live on this planet in these times.  It took me a long while to decide exactly what kind of warning/check I might have wished I could receive if I could have seen what was coming clearly enough to realize I really needed to pay a lot more attention to things Beyond. 

Idonotknow


both fun & worthwhile

Ritualwheelsbeginning

As we all move closer to a new calendar year I've decided to start broadcasting some creative seeds.  Maybe something I share will find fertile ground in a way that compliments your own creative/ceremonial activities.  Please note that the featured project for this post was conceived and taught by Vanessa Oliver-Lloyd.   Her method for making and filling a pair of wheels to mark ongoing experiences throughout a calendar year served as a free introductory lesson for her year-long Rituals art journaling class.  You can learn more about my creative immersion in this project via an introductory post I wrote for my main blog or by clicking on the alchemical rituals category link in the sidebar here.  Have recently decided to make a similar pair of wheels for the year 2020.  I'm going to use the same size and brand of journal so it will be a literal as well as intentional companion volume to EarthStar Alchemical Rituals. 

~*~*~

The teaching video for my 2018 endeavor featured Vanessa creating two 12-spoked wheels with rapid inky brush strokes.  My wheel on the left, above, embodies her specific guidance generously layered with my own notions and instincts focused on actively building an energetic year-long plan for myself BOOM all within a single art-date at my work desk. Before that, however, I thought about the project both actively and in a more passive "this is also happening" sort of way for about a week.  

note: participants were further encouraged to pick a word for the upcoming year based on individual intuition/introspective wisdom.  I'd already been chosen by this word for 2018 a few weeks before I impulsively decided Rituals would be a positive and grounding experience for me.  STRONGHOLD.  I really liked the way the word held space as a caption below the wheel on the left. Next I created a  phrase to caption the wheel on the right so the overall page design looked more balanced.  My plan was to collage free-cut branches, leaves and flowers from paper scraps.  In my mind's eye I envisioned the barest whisper of wreath-like suggestions encircling each wheel.  Something simple, to allow the wheels themselves to do most of the talking.

Beginningofcollageonwheels

This was ... fun to begin constructing but I could see if I kept going with a doggedly simple evenly spaced ring of decoration it wasn't going to feel or look nearly quirky/authentically self-expressive enough.  Didn't have to think about that at all but simply decided on the spot I'd go for broke in foreshadowing Persephone in Queen of the Flowers mode.  Having quite a plentitude of flower/gardening magazines and scads of seed catalogs available for cutting and pasting, I sensed I'd have no problem randomly collaging flower images throughout the year.  Given Ritual's over-arching theme of promoting high quality ceremony infused self-relationship I further decided to save these specific mini collage sessions for moments when what I needed most was a 15 minute time-out in which to revitalize and flow my way back to a stabilized center of personal gravity.  The few remaining blank spaces will be filled in such a way - when and as

Stronghold

Unfoldingwheel

Bothwheels


the Alchemical Rituals project (intro)

Ritualstopedgenich

This is one of my favorite art journals. I introduced the project  here.  Writing that post inspired me to begin bringing this blog into focus in a somewhat different way than I originally imagined I might.  Instead of focusing on daily accountability in relation to my ongoing creative practice, I thought about the projects that most matter to me in specific terms of taking them with me if I had to leave where I live under emergency circumstances.  Grace recently posted on the subject of her refined bug-out readiness plan there in NoCali's fire belt.  She's already had to evacuate with the goats once this season and has since devised a means of readying her fabric collection for swift travel with no moment to spare.

It got a lot of us thinking.  And irrespective of pragmatic what-iffing I love Alchemical Rituals intensely.  Perhaps the most significant learning/personal growth that emerged from a year spent allowing somebody else - literally half a world away - to guide me in a venture that was deeply personal relates to how much I came to understand and appreciate the ways my mind and heart instinctively braid things together via collage and a few other thematic/supply-based touchstones of this project. Each month we watched inspiring and crystal clear process videos related to a carefully chosen theme and pre-selected mediums/artistic techniques to explore. The journal holds 24 spreads; 2 per month.  The first of each pair is a solar spread and the second is a lunar spread.  As a general rule Vanessa broke down her topical themes in a light/shadow format. 

Persephonegates

Above is a detail from the lunar spread for April.   It was a month in which we delved into the subject of Fertility using collage. For the solar spread V. asked us to create a secret garden devoted to carefully cultivated sacred space.  For the lunar spread we were asked to depict what happens when we neglect such a space and allow the weeds to take over. I'd introduced my intrinsic sense of connection to the archetypal goddess of perpetual duality, Persephone, within the month's solar spread where she appears as a maturing form of her Queen of the Flowers guise.  On the next page I depicted her making her yearly return to what lies Below, through earthly gates that quickly fade to black. 

The overall scene I created for the lunar spread nudged me to consider my life's kind of ... almost touristy aspect of relationship to this part of myself.  I mean that in terms of how much it can take out of me to be familiar and calm with dark stuff many people I know work extremely hard and consciously to avoid. And so I thought about what a brutal (and culturally undervalued) form of returning it can be and how sometimes I actively step back from acknowledging the difficulty level in order to dispassionately observe myself "handling" things like a no-contest pro if not a saint or a hero.  That's ... pretty much Persephone's gig in the Underworld kingdom:  managing the unmanageable yet inevitable switch between being and not-being in the human life span. 

 I was surprised and inspired to realize this new awareness could with time and mindfulness allow me to just be in the process (instead of focusing primarily on performance checklists) of guiding and being guided through dark times and deep water.

Ritualsdreamcatcher

Here's a detail from January's solar spread.  The theme for the month is New and the technique is stitching - with the centerpiece effort being a dream catcher. I decided to construct the two spreads as thematically joined by the open web between them.  V. encouraged us to add some sequins to our web.   Some have bent over time due to inadvertently smashing them while flattening other pages beneath a few heavy books.

Ritualslastdeet

This is a detail from the final spread in the journal.  December's theme was Closure and the technique was color blocking paint colors to harmonize with pre-selected collage pieces to fit our chosen representations.  The month's Lunar spread was designed around those aspects of our immediate and ongoing future we needed to integrate but found personally challenging.  I elected to further clarify the issues I placed in this category as works in progress I was committed to shifting as mindfully and gently as possible in order to move forward into a new cycle of deepened/more conscious self-relationship.