creative cautionary tales

Altering the Dark-Dreaming of Grief Today


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.


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.


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.


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.  


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.


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?

resiliency .1


Yesterday was largely recuperative without sacrificing a steady stream of small accomplishments outside, in the house, and here in the studio.  The years of debilitating physical illness taught me that small and steady is the only way to fly. The trick is to have enough faith in the process that it sustains commitment to maintaining both small and steady in an ongoing way.

Yesterday I asked my morning self how I could become more comfortable with a shorter attention span and more fragmented abilities to focus on any given activity or thought-problem. Then I had a day of answering the question by simply making note of how I flowed from one activity to another.   What I was drawn to eat or drink and when.   And - as always - how elastic time becomes whenever routines-of-running-around come to a full stop.

Within time's suspended animation I had a pivotal epiphany about how I set up my creative life prior to brain trauma. This is key to helping me properly sort out the rest of my studio space.  Had previously reached the conclusion I had innumerable boxes and tins and a few plastic shoe boxes crammed full of seemingly random creative supplies because I didn't inherently understand how to organize things 'properly' and was too impatient to learn.  But in yesterday's early evening I finally grasped what should have been obvious:  I mixed up my supplies so in the event of a drop-and-run emergency no matter what I grabbed-up in a few precious seconds would leave me able to make any number of different things from what was inside. 


Last night I discovered a long-overlooked supply tin holding the above contents. I decided to take pictures because I knew the process of setting them up would help me organize the grouping at a mental level.  I can tell just by the goldeny velvet circle in the center, the strip of turquoise dyed suede and the collection of threads in the upper right corner that this grouping evolved from Jude's second Cloth to Cloth workshop followed by the heart-oriented class.   Also had previously imagined I'd permanently lost the hank of faceted sunstone beads.  Reuniting with them has been outstanding!

In the now, of course, preparing for a potential need to grab and go has been replaced by keeping still.  Isolating one set of possibilities and potential in order to to discover working with what's on hand at a whole new psychic decibel range.  This particular sewing box is destined for considerable retrofitting in order to make it functional.  For starters it needs a scissors and wider assortment of both pins and needles.   Some kind of straight edge marking device - maybe a six inch quilter's square.

  What I assemble will then become my working sewing box over in the house.  Raw supplies that don't fit my evolving needs are being reabsorbed into the relevant storage containers here in the studio or within the single plastic tote of fiber arts related supplies that will continue to live in the house.  House-based/dining room table/downstairs bathroom creativity becomes important to me during the parts of summer when it's simply too hot to be up here.  And have found stitching is easiest to pick up and put down in the spontaneous rhythms of the Outside seasons.

While I was deciding how to best utilize the tin's oddly shaped space I had the sudden awareness that I'd learned to keep these kind of storage tins from The Sisters  - Grace & Pearl - for sure.  But more vividly and sensually I got it from my mother.  As a child I did what many of us do with off-the-rails Living Large if only in their own minds parents.  I mythologized her behavior and did everything I could to reframe it as mysterious rather than alarming and cruel.

To that end I spent a lot of clearly recalled time sitting on the splintered floor of a strange set of closets built between our two bedrooms.   I'd sit there as silently as possible - cradling a carved rosewood box I still have - and silently commune with the contents of the box in my arms.   They fascinated me.  There was liquid kohl in a small wrinkled tube and five or six mascara brushes.  I had no idea what they were until years later.  


What some women would have kept as a straight-up makeup box became more of a magic carpet in my mother's hands.  She'd included a few gaudy shoe buckles I recognized as belonging to my grandmother.  Years later I'd hear her tell a neighbor lady who hung on her every word for almost 20 years that she'd 'filched' them from Pearl's traveling case so as to keep them from appearing at an impending wedding rehearsal dinner.

There were tiny pine cones and glittering chips of semi-precious beads from a number of broken necklaces.  A political button expressing support for McKinley that I've kept in the box all these years.  Paper scraps in her handwriting loaded with various writing ideas.  There was also a tiny red datebook from the year 1955.  It felt wrong to read it (and this remained true up until just four or five years ago) but I always sat with it pressed tightly between my palms.  Trying as best I could to create mystery and magic that could hold me steady during times when she frightened me into a state of silence for any number of reasons.

Introspection related to more tangled family roots seems like a luxurious albatross a lot of the time.  The self-involvement level of traversing and untangling every nook and cranny one encounters is, for me, achingly exhausting to maintain.   Although there's always an underlying context of fear involved with anything that speaks directly to our physical and cellular connections I'm also pleased on a daily basis with the positive and most meaningful ways I was shaped by my mother in a manner I authentically treasure.  


Most of my fabric stash is quilter's cotton I collected between '87 and '05.  The latter date has no real significance in relation to compulsively gathering fabric in preparation for the stage of life I'm now in.  I simply knew Enough when I saw it.   Not all that long ago this collection was color sorted with separate 'category piles' for florals and leaves, specific topical themes etc.  When Mama first made it clear she intended to become a full-time studio companion I started shifting piles all around so she could nest and get her bearings in the first and second shelves.  The color coding system is still discernible but it's scarcely well ordered.  The unique pleasure of working and dreaming in the company of a studio cat is worth the shift.

The larger point is that I took most of yesterday to actively ground with outside work and time by myself here in the studio in which to feel raw and untested.  By last night the bedroom floor was empty and I'd put some drops of lavender and tangerine essential oils in the dehumidifier water.   Also put thought-time and just-being into the small third bedroom.   I'm glad to have liberated space so that it becomes a satellite evolving sanctuary of a room, as I originally envisioned it might be.    As we adjust to all being here all the time I've noticed this space becoming something of a small-scaled family room.  The atmosphere is livelier and more communal without the rolls of finished/not finished handwork and stacks of raw supplies absorbing so much vibrational energy.   Noticed that within hours of learning everything I'd removed wouldn't be coming back in the room T. began organizing his friends so they could have virtual meet-ups in the afternoon and evening.

Life's not good given larger contexts but it's definitely workable and contains many moments of sustained grace. The luxury of  being able to work a tiny piece of land is fomenting inner resilience and relative ease (so far) in returning to a place of inner equilibrium a lot more organically possible than I might have imagined when I didn't know what to imagine, really.  

for now we wait and sow seeds.

private chaos .1


eta:  by the time it was tonight and T. was at last home from the end of his work shift until whenever, I was able to sincerely make light of my freakout.  J. was mainly on the stuff all over the floor track but T. quite kindly informed me that typhoid is a bacteria and that was what required so much burning.  Thought that was rather chivalrous of him.

Above is an unapologetic image of how my corner of our bedroom looked this morning before I had a few hours to contemplate and then begin to implement organization. The melange of finished work, WISPs and 'raw' cloth looks a lot more coherent at the moment.  My quest for this day and early evening  weekend is to have everything organized and at least most of it successfully relocated and stored up here in the studio.  As an unexpected bonus a box of family relics that's currently lurking in the studio will be going into the closet that used to be too full of everything above (but the pile of jeans and my bathrobe) to contain it.


 Every now and then it's good to examine the contemporary embroidery sampler I made to commemorate my fiftieth birthday.   I worked on it mainly in a weekly stitching group that met just across a modest parking lot abutting our side yard back at the old place.  Other members of the group really liked the question mark factor.  It had been unplanned.  I merely "saw" a spiral of half a Century releasing an unexplored seed of promise courtesy of a beneficent cosmic Beyond.  The question mark overlay has come to mean a lot to  me over the past dozen years so.


I'm sharing these particular words and pictures today because somebody known and accordingly cherished for her quiet wisdom suggested it might be good medicine for us to afford each other peeks into our individual scope of private chaos.  Specifically as we all evolve into something we've yet to become.  Indeed - here we all are in uncharted waters.  About to experience something unprecedented - and here in the US going through a profoundly unsettling existential crisis in an unpresidented condition.  While also constantly shedding layers of what simply isn't relevant to moving forward.

Hence the reason all this stuff is in my bedroom piled up like somebody was running for their life.  Right before I fell asleep for a few hours I thought:  what if one of us has to be sequestered in that room and then we have to burn ALL the stuff (as with typhoid) I've made and/or hoped to complete before

The End. 


That particular question mark woke me up and adrenalized just enough of my motor control to get everything cloth-related out of the room right then and there.  Also had the presence of mind to create a safe path around the bed's corner.  Only then did it feel safe/prudent/advisable to allow myself to rest.  When I woke up this morning I thought this abrupt change in life/style/focus is dis-ordering our minds because any real organization of thought in today's world has grown more precarious than most of us can realize or fully understand.  It was a daunting a-ha moment and I was pleased to burrow back closer to sleep until J. arrived home from his first foray into early seniors shopping hour.  He told me he was the only one he encountered who seemed to be actively practicing social distancing protocol.  


Above is a fragment of family predecessor Alice Mary's perfect needleworking skills.  She for whom I was named looms large in my sense of who I am not.  And that's a sentence that never would have occurred to me before perpetual crisis mode changed the kind of thoughts I'm having. A few are fairly astute - like my Alice Mary realization.  But a lot of them feel like lost ants who can't find the scented trails that will lead them home to the safe core of their society.

  I find it very uncomfortable to be unable to sit quietly with a thought or difficult feeling and slowly unwind it.  Sitting quietly belongs to a part of myself that reflexively packed itself away while in my first rush of baseline survival instinct.  Am now thinking that earliest part of my process might have been overly efficient because I've no clue at all how to be or what to do in the absence of longform attention span and ability to focus well within it.  It's something that hasn't been a problem - not even after sustained brain trauma - since I left my mother's sphere of influence back in my late teens.

All the same A is for Anxiety is back in a way that needs unwinding and sustainable deconstruction as and when necessary.  The other night I had two back to back 'attacks' (first since Kavanaugh shouting on that horrible summer afternoon ...) that went unnoticed by the household because that was what I deemed best.  And must have imagined I could rely on as a game plan moving forwards: Oh don't mind me.  I'll be upstairs out of the way freaking all the way out in a dark room by myself.

  As reality unrolls I have uncomfortable portions of each day where I confront personal unraveling in ways that make me realize I spend a lot of unacknowledged time thinking about what's best at the widest scale possible.   But this global situation - while embodying wide scale by definition - is also a spiraling-down process that pushes into the core of our sense of individual self as well as our sense of community, culture, and how close to larger reality we're willing to live at any given moment.


Stuff in progress

In the process of sorting and folding and planning a major ironing binge fest I found things that are ready to be backed and bound for display.  Stuff to be pressed and stuff that can be finished or moved much closer to that end goal.  Stuff I can think about instead of spiking adrenaline every time I realize there's no existing plan on any level - not just my own universe of Place and family but you know - out there in the world beyond this place where we're actively waiting to be told we must shelter as best we can.

my to-hand bio/phyto-chemical self-prescription of the day and weekend to follow:  aromatherapy once the evening/back in the house portion of the day is at hand. Stitching a few easy seams on the long quilt until then.  This is not the time to compete with myself - and certainly not for the reflex reason that it's what I always do.  And you?


[noticing big-time the way time is warping more than usual :  earlier today I asked J. if it had been two or three weeks since he started working at home.  He stared at me before replying It's just one week today.]

.8 back to the future, baby


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:


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.]


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.



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. 


reality checks are important


So it's bothered me that I was unwilling to document and post pictures related to my moment of clarity concerning my paper accumulation.  I'm not the sort to project only the clean-edged parts of how I operate in such a purely personal creative environment.  So it nagged at me enough that I wound up taking pictures.  I thought I'd study them to mentally isolate the parts that were most cringe inducing to me and then set about changing those areas.   But I never got that far. 

Instead I jumped all-in to a sensible reorganization of my large sheets of drawing and watercolor paper, plus a bit of decorative paper 'overflow' related to last year's birthday happening after I'd sorted and reorganized my large paper shelf for the year.  These sheets are crucial to my sketchbook making activities so they're always out.  But now I've managed to find a place that makes sense at a practical level.  The flow of the room is improved greatly and it's much easier to prioritize my next group of clearing out and consolidation actions.   Things got even more pleasant in that portion of the space when I took everything out of my "overflow" fabric storage cabinet and had a proper sorting and clearing out.   The task isn't quite complete but it will be by year's end.

And so.  Above is what my work desk currently looks like - has looked like (although the components have changed and moved around a great deal) for the better part of a week.   Poor Sekhmet has been stranded twice as long without proper Elevation (although I might keep her on the desk and thus only slightly elevated by the base of my desk lap) - ever since she nearly crashed down from her perch while Mama cat was sleeping directly underneath. 


When I climbed up to see what the what it was obvious at a glance that the topmost window ledge is no longer level.   That's resulted in the sun goddess' stone and crystal retinue being likewise stranded behind the stack of sketchbooks and my recently consolidated life-long postcard collection. For my most preferred comfort zone the desk felt overcrowded with the arrival of a few unnecessary jars of milk paints.  So I could work with what the instructor for the online class I'm using as a winter Learning Project is using, sure.  But mostly because the paint was previously unknown to me and I really loved the way the muted flat-finish Earth palette looked - especially mixed with gesso in her first few demo videos.  When my selections arrived I lined them up in an inspirational row and then fretted they were consuming too much space. At the moment they're barely visible.

But I'm authentically okay with it for now.  I know this end of year eruptive blizzard is temporary.   Under what shows most obviously is a system of organizational checks and balancing acts that work pretty well for me now that I've effectively retrofitted most everything on the other side of brain trauma recovery.  I would be okay with welcoming guests to the space just as is for tea and chatting on the dreaming couch with a wonderful view of the tree canopy.  If I had an hour's notice to prep by clearing the couch's coffee table and my desk top I'd be downright delighted.


[earlier today I put together my collage challenge booklet.  It's gone through some evolution since I last posted.  Much of that took me by surprise but I'm now quite happy with it.  Have secured plenty of step-out pics so I can build a post for Wednesday or thereabouts.  It will be the last prep-related post before the challenge starts unless feedback/questions dictate otherwise. 


Anything else I post of a collage-based nature between now and the start of the challenge will be related more to inspiration and things you might play with/practice as time in your end-of-year/celebratory schedule allows.  If you can make time even just once or twice before the challenge begins - it will help your collage mind get limber around the edges. 

The more you can play/dream/arrange tiny sample layouts from the paper stuff in your pocket, purse, nightstand, etc. the more confidence you'll feel when the challenge begins.   The more you learn about what you you like and/or definitely don't - and how you're most comfortable using this kind of time for yourself - the more you also discover about how you want to express yourself through your assembled fodder and any additional inclusions you're moved to incorporate along the way.]


getting things together .1

Wildrosethicketnote:  I added a new category working together to begin a thread of posts based on Liz's suggestion that we might as a group create a disembodied collage table to share together.  I also added creative cautionary tales.  Because I am full of them. 


One of my favorite parts about the long Thanksgiving weekend:  Taking breathers from group activities in order to privately inventory and evaluate my creative landscape on the brink of another calendar year's end.  Don't mind admitting it feels like six months, tops, since I last engaged with myself in this way.  A long time ago somebody who drew their intelligence from equal parts sciencey realism and Celtic mysticism explained, on several concurrent levels, why it is that time does for-real speed up mightily the more we age.  I don't remember any of it.  Nor do I tend to remember simple Organization 101 tenets as every year ends only for another to begin and commence un-spooling faster and faster.  Right about now my studio is a paper blizzard I won't share mainly because I'm self-conscious, as I've absolutely never been in the past, about how much collage fodder I've managed to amass since moving here.  So in place of gritty realism we're going metaphorical at the visual lede level.

Above is a sectional close-up of an enormous wild rose thicket which I intentionally encouraged at the edge of our little field.  Inside the thicket  are three now-deceased high bush blueberries I'm assuming somebody once planted on purpose even though they chose a location with insufficient light or think-ahead space for mature bushes to thrive.  In the metaphor - a viable and widely varied collage fodder collection would be the long-gone blueberry bushes and their unseeable skeleton forms in the image above. The nearly maniacal decade-in-the-making inter-lacings of wild rose canes would be the amount of collage fodder I've amassed over the same ten years.   During which I've had the kind of set-apart/close the door dedicated creative space that's allowed me to collect quite consciously thematically and economically but without due notice given to the eventual consequence of over-diligence in the hunting and gathering departments. Think it says any and everything else you need to know that I didn't feel the need to clock in enough to see what was happening simply because I knew exactly where all the paper is/was and not a single scrap of it was lying on the floor where somebody could slip and get hurt.  I mean, I've got eyes and so I sort of knew.  And yet I didn't let myself know why I knew.   Not until literally yesterday.


A week or so ago when I was not yet consciously aware holy crap I have entirely too much paper up in here I optimistically imagined I was pretty well sorted in both the moment and moving forward.  Above is my oversized oak desk/work table of 37 years.  The specific definition of "work" has been  flexible over time but it's always creatively based.  When I took this picture I imagined my biggest unaddressed problem was how many journals I was quite content to work in at one time.  And how it might be time to focus on practicality long enough to follow through on my completion plan. I took pictures of the evidence before me and loosely planned a post to explain the methodology standing in for madness. 

  Yesterday afternoon, before our Eating Event began, I learned what madness really is, at least when it comes to gathering over-reach because that's when I began pulling together the just-for-her cache of collage fodder I offered to create for Grace once she mentioned in comments missing her former collage supply stash.  Because she's, well, Grace I didn't just stick to what was out and in play from my own stash or the box on my desk that was meant to infuse the stashes of a few local ladies.  I also combed through several of my collections of archived fodder options that seemed most Grace-relevant. Every time I noticed how vast those options were all I really thought about that was be very careful not to create overwhelm rather than joy.

Am having the time of my life finishing up with the endeavor - slightly more than I promised Grace but still taking up roughly the space of a single national geographic at a fraction of the weight.  And a wealth of potential to keep her going indefinitely.   But not even a drop in the bucket in terms of getting my own situation modified and authentically sensible in scope.  Luckily I'm the sort who [usually] enjoys quandry resolution.  So I have confidence I can create more ... conscious cohesion amidst the inevitable chaos that is an actively working collection of collage fodder.  Meanwhile, I wanted to set the stage for a couple of intro posts aimed at detailing a you-set-the-rules 30 Days of Collage creative commitment we might embrace. The intro posts are meant to provide a bit of framework and also spark ideas about how you might want to assemble a structure that supports and inspires the very best of what these type of challenges can bring to virtually anyone's individual creative practice.


On the day I amassed and mentally organized a plan of action where my over-abundance of journals in progress is concerned I also completely cleared and wiped-down the scavenged coffee table where I do what I think of as non-specific (meaning daily as an ongoing just-for-me thing rather than technique-driven additions to an existing art journal project) collage work.   But there's actually quite a specific purpose to this ongoing part of my studio life and it means a great deal to me:  off and on for about six years I've created collages in a kind of visual morning pages fashion.  Instead of a brain dump I create a conscious healing and illumination context for what I hope to carry with me throughout the day.  Or personify some kind of emotional/reactive conundrum that's got me uncertain (as my mother's godmother used to put it) whether to scream or fly.  Or document in an intuitive flashpoint way: this is today and what I think/feel about it.


  Once the scrubbed table was dry I brought back a mix of practical, inspirational and talismanic items so I could immediately make good use of the free-moving energy this clearing-out created.  What do I want and need the space to contain?  I like to ask this question as one time frame ends and a new one begins because over the course of time in between the most relevant question to keep in mind becomes: what am I keeping close simply because I'm used to seeing/having it here in this particular space?  It's a key question for any creative to periodically ask themselves but an absolutely crucial ongoing interrogative to apply to collage fodder and its scope.

I arranged the table in a way that will allow me to see the various things I consider relevant enough that I keep them, always, on the table's top.  Right NOW it doesn't look this specifically geared towards collage endeavors.  And it isn't anywhere near this cohesively organized.   But it IS filled with things I love/find inspiring and an ample easy-to-clear-and keep-that-way central work space.  I am intent to bring a routine of weekly clearing and re-evaluating into the coming year's creative cycle.  Think I'll have to be that stringent with it as an ongoing effort for now - in order to make an engaged shift in relationship to filling space with supplies, more and more of them, simply because I've scored them for free or mere pennies and there's space to do it.  Need to stop operating that way and think instead about enough.  Like really enough instead of:  having extra is still enough of a novelty that I'm enjoying what it feels like more than I ever would have imagined possible before I found myself here with Room to Grow.

Some Suggestions Related to Getting Ready for Working Together:

Start considering the individual components of any paper troves you might possess.  

If you have a small or non-existent collection of paper: 

Let those in your first and second circles of relationship know you're on the lookout for old magazines and calendars.  This is an excellent time of the year for such announcements!   They'll be thrilled to relieve themselves of a specific and for many overwhelming yearly task of Clearing Out the Pretty Recyclables.  So Pretty!  But I'm Never Going to Do Anything With Them!  (ask me, as the coy blogging technique used to go, how I know about this methodology and how flawlessly it's quite likely to work)

But maybe it won't work even a little.  You might not know anybody with contributions to make. Or you're given unworkable magazines (fair warning:  if this happens you'll probably receive far too many of same)  In that case:

Scavenge wrapping paper during holiday gatherings. 

Look twice at any junk mail you receive.  set up a small cache of different patterned security envelope scraps

Save stamps from any mail you receive.  (Tell others you'd like their stamps as well.)

Go to a hardware store and snag a few paint chip cards in colors that look good together right there in that moment. 

pro tip:  You can use the combined palette as a guide to help you search for visually pleasing color-based choices while scanning and clipping your way through any magazines/calendars you received.

If you have a mid-range paper-stash that's a mixture of memorabilia, found paper, and carefully curated magazine/wrapping/art papers

You are perfect.  Don't ever change.  And seriously consider giving lessons. 

Dip into what you've got just enough to set aside a workable pile that speaks to you.  See what else comes your way over the course of the next month that fits the vibe and color palette you've gathered.

If you have an oversized collection; perhaps even an authentically bewildering level of choice. 

rule number one first and always for this particular kinda 30 Day caper: banish any potential crazytrain/overwhelm creative derails before they occur!

In other words set an ahead-of-time limit concerning how much fodder you're going to scan/audition with this challenge in mind. 

For example I often use a four-fold rule to keep my own scanning and audition process manageable.  I select one (and only one) sandwich baggie moderately full of previously created fodder; one magazine or catalog to jump-start fresh and frequently random visual/color palette inspiration; one gutted book's contents  (generally used over several project's span of time and frequently related to - guess what - flowers and/or birds); one loose handful of ongoing household paper-based recycling material. 

Usually I don't need more than one go-round of a QUICK all-over scan to find I've provided myself with an elegant sufficiency.  But if something about the fodder you've chosen whets your appetite to sift through more  of your stuff proceed with caution.  Remember you're only committing to doing this for 30 days not the rest of our combined lifetimes. Am not really a reflexively less is more person when it comes to creative back-up supplies but in this case more is definitely a whole lot less when it comes to the spiraling ratio between creative ingenuity/ignition and option overdose. 

Learn from my mistake concerning the drawbacks of getting out and sorting through too much of my paper stash at one time!  

Once you've done that you might well decide as I did to consolidate ASAP.  Maybe even in the impulsive manner I'm attempting to do it - as something i'd like to get partway (if not completely) finished before I feel obliged to make it a New Year's Resolution.  Am in the strategy process of taking this one right now because I know it's a decision well worth the thought time and organizational effort involved.  But say you're not wired like me and thus don't really need to have rectifying that particular reality check added to the mix at this time of year.  Particularly when it could well complicate the process of setting up something fun and easy to add to your life just long enough to know if maybe you'd like to keep going with the process as an ongoing part of your expressive life practice. 

And speaking of option overwhelm:

If you just don't know where to start narrowing things down begin simply.  Focus first on the stashiest of all your stash stuff:  that extra special cache you really love but consistently stop yourself from using 'frivolously'.  See if you can successfully challenge yourself to pull at least twenty percent of your working base for this project from the level of special For Later things you'd normally save/hoard waiting for an equally special way to use it.  Line everything up in a makeshift grid; preferably on stark or natural white paper.  Let you eye start to find the commonality points in what you've assembled.  Where are the visual themes?  Image repetitions?  Color palette suggestions?  Sort, reject, replace, refine. 

Sorry I am falling behind on my intended creation of a Beautiful Moments process/instructional post.  Getting it manifested, as I'd originally planned by this time on Sunday, involves pulling out and visually auditioning/gathering even more specific to the moment paper-based supplies for photoshoot purposes.  And I just can't go there and process smoothly - visually or more broadly - without getting stuck right now.  cannot cannot cannot.  But soon.  Definitely in time for the next set of holidays.