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?
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.
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?