Category Archives: SoulCollage

Redemption and damnation

It’s hard not to think about redemption and damnation these days, almost routinely, like how we used to ponder nest eggs or outfits. Here are two collages that try to capture these extremities.

Redemption collage: “100 Years of Reflecting the Future”. The caption came from an ad in the centennial issue for Women’s Wear Daily —  a subscription purchased with airline miles. Believe it or not, I really enjoyed the industry rag, partly because my mother used to get it, partly because even though I’m a member of the fashion-impaired tribe (and the “I don’t really give a fuck” club), clothing cannot get away from the fact that it’s constructed from cloth, which as you know, I love. Usually, the magazine words I come across are distractions or reductive labels, but these were provocative, so they stayed.


This collage references the anatomical heart and aging and asks some big questions.

The collage asks: who will save us? What will save us? Can anything? What future? Can this moment in our history be redeemed? Are there powerful forces of good in the ethers, and if so, how could they have so badly let the American people down?

Damnation collage. The figure below is damned for so many reasons. For one, she’s ill prepared for the elements. For another, in a landscape of grief and disaster, her concern for her appearance seems particularly superficial. She is stylish for sure, but seemingly ignorant of the rows and rows of graves behind her. And, can’t she smell the molten liquid burning up the landscape behind her? Someone needs to tell her that lava will not be at all impressed with her strappy sandals.

What rough beast?

I heard the phrase ‘slouching toward Bethlehem’ in my head yesterday (St. Patrick’s Day!) and pulled a copy of “The Second Coming” off the shelf (a volume titled, “Major British Authors”, of all things — Yeats was Anglo-Irish, but still). I read the poem aloud while pacing a loop, surprised by its relevance (it was written in 1921) and impressed by the language’s potency. You can read it below.

But since we just celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, a detour into the Irish love of language is in order. If you don’t think it’s a thing, I challenge you to walk into any sweet shop in Dublin and exchange a few words with the clerk. It’s not just the ‘gift of the gab’ or poetry, of course, but language in all its forms: lyricism, satire, gallows humor and puns, drama, scatological jokes and wicked curses, elegy, eulogy, rants, and prose. This is in my blood.

As for that blood, two generations on? Well, I’ve kissed the Blarney Stone, for what that’s worth. Certainly, my family’s got the art of imprecation covered — all of us curse like sailors. My mother once famously growled, “I wish you kids would stop that god-damned gutter talk!” I might have been eight.

When my children were still quite young (though probably older than eight), I gave them my ‘F word’ speech. We were in the car, of course, all facing forward, strapped in, and aware that whatever it was I had to say, it’d be over in seven minutes.

In the course of my exegesis, I used the word ‘fuck’ at least 15 times, to say, among other things, ‘See boys? You’re not gonna fucking shock ME with the word!’ This tells me that the car ride occurred at a time when I was still limiting my cursing around them.

‘Fuck is a useful word,’ I said like a vocabulary instructor, ‘it has no corollary, really.’ [see what I did there, inserting the word ‘corollary’ ?] ‘Look at how its sound corresponds to its meaning– fuck, fuck, fuck! — how great is that?’ This went on for blocks.

And then, lest you think me derelict, I delivered two cautions, one arising from my love of language, the other from life as a suburbanite. ‘Here’s the thing, boys. If you use the word ‘fuck’ too much, you diminish its power. Don’t do that. You want ‘fuck’ to really mean ‘fuck’ when you say it.’ Did I glance up in the rear view mirror at that moment or save the look for the second warning? ‘Here’s the other thing, and this is important — some people are terribly, terribly offended by the word, I’m not even sure why, really, so watch out. You don’t want people judging you for saying the word ‘fuck’. For now, puh-leeze don’t use it around grown-ups.’

[Now, C uses the word ‘fuck’ almost randomly, nearly as a place holder — so much for preserving its potency].

My father was a clever and witty man who adored word play. He routinely launched riffs of puns that went on and on, and then on some more. We learned to play along, desperately striving to one day outdo him. Rarely happened. Fortunately, any and all attempts were appreciated, no matter how lame (and let’s face it, most puns ARE lame). Since not all of my father’s puns were delivered with corny fanfare, sometimes it was enough just to catch them. Here, I refer to those puns casually stated with a playful stealth. Picture this: family dinner, a sneaky pun inserted into conversation, a pregnant but brief pause, then one or two teenagers rolling eyes and groaning to patriarch’s visible satisfaction.

My father’s weekly efforts with the NY Times crossword puzzle were another source of teenage admiration. How did he do it? Every now and then, I’d snuggle in and try to make a contribution and fail. Just fail. He chewed his cheek and worked methodically — acrosses first, then the downs, scribing his answers with an engineer’s pencil. In some seasons, a football game was on.

My sister and I carry on the puzzle mania. I get the Sunday Times delivered solely for this reason (should be admitted sheepishly, but hey). The first thing I do is make a copy for her and then plop down with pen and coffee and get to work (yes, I do it in pen). Some part of me must still be 15, because even though I now know that half the trick is to simply have lived long enough, it amazes me how frequently I finish (or nearly finish). Unlike my father (after all, I’m no engineer), I work the acrosses and downs simultaneously. But since I’m not crazy, I do go sequentially. For some reason, I don’t consider answers supplied by my husband cheating (he helps with chemistry, sports, and military history) (maybe I’m not that amazing?) For desperate weeks, there’s Rex Parker’s blog — out and out cheating, of course.

As for the Irish love of scatological humor, let’s just say the Mallons had a reputation. Much to our childhood friends’ astonishment, belches and farts were delivered with glee and drama in our house. We ranked belches for volume and texture. Farts came with odor cautions and sometimes a physical gesture, like a lifted leg. I continue to be so foolishly entertained by farts that I’ve made my husband swear he won’t mention it in my eulogy.”She never met a fart she didn’t think was hilarious!”

In the ninth century Irish epic, “The Tain”, by the way, you’d be amazed at the amount of farting going on. And while not exactly on point, there’s also the scene where a vast army is stopped in its tracks by a bunch of women exposing their breasts.

Lastly on this topic of the Irish love of language (is that the topic?): rants. Ranting is a special talent of mine, one I’m kinda known for in my writing circle. While I’m not necessarily proud of this, there can be some art involved. Ranting universally features complaint and wrathful condemnation, but if crafted specifically and originally enough, the words can be elevated into something entertaining or even educational.

The poem by William Butler Yeats follows. It makes obscure references to his work, “A Vision,” but it’s not necessary to know them to feel the piece’s potency.


The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

Have a nice weekend, all! Maybe give yourself a day without news? Or at least, a day where you wait til after lunch? My next few posts will be short, I promise!

PS It was politics, not St. Patrick’s Day, that drew Yeats’ poem to mind. But how nice to talk around that utterly unbelievable joke with enormous powers of destruction and not say his name.

(The SoulCollage card is part of a recently surfaced batch made a couple of years ago. It’s one of many addressing blood. There’s your Irish mother and child, there’s the ‘family tree’, there are the pea plants used by Mendel to study heredity, and there, running up the lower center, is an abstract coil representing the twisting shape of genes.)

 

 

Losing things and finding them

Are you a person who loses things a lot of the time or just now and then? A recent New Yorker article by Kathryn Schulz takes a beautiful wander through the topic. Subtitled, Reflections on Two Seasons of Loss, Schulz examines not just the business of losing things, but also what it means to lose our minds and loved ones.

Things go missing so much in this house that I have categories for lost objects, not unlike the childhood game of calling out ‘warm’, ‘cold’ or ‘HOT HOT HOT’. I usually can tell that I’m going to retrieve a lost object before I find it and often sense its general vicinity. Lest you think that gives me some sort of advantage, know this: even a ‘hot’ lost item with a felt sense of place can take DAYS to find.

In my early twenties, my checkbook went missing so often that the bank tellers on North Street rolled their eyes to see me coming. I’ve gotten somewhat better. Medication helps.

In spite of my incapacity, family members are right to ask me where things are, since in addition to being an over-the-top loser of things, I’m a good finder. Is that uncommon? My mother used to call me “old eagle eyes” and ask me to round up her scissors.

When the “where’s my” question is posed to me, it feels like more of an imposition that it might otherwise, because I’m kinetic. Being kinetic means I have to take notes to remember anything and that to find a lost object, I have to move my body. When both boys were home over Christmas, I really enjoyed cooking for them and felt neutral about loaning the car and picking up. But the “where’s my?” routine was annoying.

“Where’s my jacket?” “Where’d I leave the fob?” “Did you move my paycheck?”

I was asked to find things I hadn’t used, touched or seen. Being winter, I’d have to unearth myself from a blanket, heating pad and lap top (that’s two cords and a lot of fabric). My joints hurt sometimes. I’d groan. Then I’d wander around the house, maybe finding their lost thing, maybe not.

Objects can move from one category of lost to another. ‘Fucking vanished’ is a category, but believe it or not, a mutable one. Some things that I could swear after a vigorous, multi-day hunt have been taken by leprechauns do in fact show up. (‘taken by leprechauns’ is a whimsical name for ‘fucking vanished’). It is especially hard when something that feels retrievable shifts into the ‘permanently gone’ category.

Frequently losing things teaches you about attachment, sharpens intuition, and inspires resourcefulness in coming up with substitutes. Humility is involved. But those are topics for another time.

Let’s instead descend into my studio, which is really messy (also a topic for another time). Yesterday when I went downstairs to find some xerox color copies I’d gone to some trouble to make a few months back, I wasn’t sure how readily I would find them. That they were pretty much right where I’d thought they’d be felt like a gift.

There are about forty-five collages ready to be mounted to card stock. Then, at last, they will be SoulCollage cards.

Because I hate to measure and really suck at it, it took a good long while to mount just five of the collages. At five a day, I’ll need eight days to get through the pile. But guess what? After an especially demoralizing day of writing, the task actually satisfied. I took my time. I enjoyed working toward a goal with manageable and discrete steps — so unlike finishing a novel (am I finishing? is it a novel?)


Off to walk Finny, then back to my laptop (wish me a more productive day!)

  • (thank you for posting on FB Michelle ! Even though we get The New Yorker, I might have missed it)

Pick any three

How three become a story.

This morning I found a big pile of finished Soul Collage cards in my studio (what can I say? And also, aren’t there more somewhere? And what happened to the two dozen plus color copies ready to be trimmed and mounted? — This is what ADD looks like).

Years of Tarot reading (and now Soul Collage card pulling) have taught me that while within every single card there is a story to be found, with three cards, the story tells itself.

These three narrate a tale of parenting. Happening right now. There’s the young man being launched! Into the mountains, specifically.

After a bit of a fall (Humpty Dumpty) and emergency care (doctors have more skill than all the King’s horsemen).

Now the three of us huddle close, two holding up the third for the moment. Fluid, shared creativity will outsmart that horned and hulking bully. Bye bye big reptile guy!

(Fluid creativity is also what ADD looks like, PS).

The meaning of the dance photo is heightened by the fact that the image came from a glossy Vail resort magazine that I clipped years ago. We were at the resort while both boys were still in high school. It was a really special, once in a life time kind of get away (courtesy of my brother). D. fell in love with the Rockies during that trip.

There are a lot of “launch” cards in my deck. That I picked the one with a snowy mountain range demonstrates how synchronicity informs the process.

‘Nuff said. Much still up in the air. There and here. I have tons of pictures from our wonderful trip to Charleston and need to figure out how to share them. Reconsidering Flickr: yahoo keeps getting hacked.

It’s fifty degrees here. Hotter, I’m told, in Boulder.

9/12

I was meeting with a fellow landscape-volunteer for the elementary school when her husband called. “Turn on the TV. Turn on the TV.” The friend said, “it’s Osama bin Laden”. Believe it or not, that was the first time I’d heard that name (an unthinkable state of ignorance now, with FB, twitter, etc.). We watched the towers go down in real time.K was sent home from work, the office closed. There was the fear of more planes, more death.

Because the boys were young (7 and 5), we didn’t watch the endless replays. We had a camping trip planned for the weekend and were glad to have a reason to interrupt routines, but actually drove down into North Adams at one point to buy a newspaper. A couple of times while the kids bombed around on their bicycles, K and I turned on the van engine and listened to the radio in a state of shock. I remember feeling a sense of kinship with our grandparent’s generation, listening for news about the war, huddled around a radio.

I remember how startlingly blue the sky was on 9/11. A perfect fall day. I remember reading an email from the school saying, “we have not told them.” I remember calling a friend over before I walked over to pick up the boys, embracing her and crying, “what kind of world are they growing up in?”

On Facebook yesterday (it’s 9/12 now), I watched a video clip of tolling church bells on the campus of UMass/Amherst. Not only was it a haunting sound, but the comments rolling underneath gave me chills, especially the ones saying things like, “my son was in kindergarten that day and now he’s a junior at UMass”. And then there were comments simply saying what they were doing that day. Where they were or who they lost. We will all remember.

It took days to find out if my brother was okay. He had been scheduled to fly from somewhere in Europe into D.C. to give a lecture. All the other doctors (sensibly) cancelled, but he was adamant about showing up. He first flew to somewhere in the Caribbean and next to Canada where he rented a car.

My brother, like my son, went to McGill and had crossed that border many, many times without incident. But this was post 9/11. Because he was coming from Europe, he had multiple currencies on his person — suspect. It was a one-way car rental — suspect. And then there was the Irish surname — also suspect given the long and troubled history with bombs (my sister maintains we’re related to Timothy McVeigh, but never mind that).

The police at the U.S./Canadian border thoroughly took apart the car. I don’t mean pulled him over to inspect the trunk and open a few suitcases — I mean, unbolting door panels, ripping up floor mats, lifting seat cushions.

I may have gotten some of those details wrong, but you get the gist.

What I don’t remember — is what we said to our sons, our young and impressionable and fairly innocent sons. What did I say?

 

P.S. That’s a SoulCollage card referring directly to the attacks of 9/11 and also referring indirectly to my maternal grandfather (using magazine images), who came to NYC in 1923, spent decades working in the bowels of ships while raising a family in Park Slope, Brooklyn, before moving up to Newburgh, NY.

P.P.S. The creepiest local connection was that the Boston hijackers spent their final night on this earth in a hotel less than a mile down the road. The place has since been razed and an apartment building sits there now.

P.P.S. A good friend of mine move to Battery Park sometime later and when we visited her, we went to Ground Zero. It was awful. One of the worst things? Looking at the dust on nearby building knowing that it had DNA in it.

Midnight collage

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Last week on a night when I couldn’t sleep, I padded down to the cool refuge of my basement studio and assembled two rows of collage. I can’t say that making the collages meaningfully improved my mood, which seems to be tanking with abysmal frequency these days, but the intense focus did provide momentary relief. Minutes slid into hours. Collage has always had that kind of power for me.

The images can be read left to right, like a story. They overlapped as I laid them out, but obviously to photograph, I had to make selections about where to end one image and begin the next. When the collages get converted to SoulCollage cards, the edges will become permanent. A color xerox machine will be involved.

Feel free to offer your sense of what the story is about. I’d be curious.
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Some of the collages have changed since these pictures — tidied up or supplemented.

This is not a story, but here are some fairly random notes prompted by the pictures:

What do I chose to reveal and how and to whom? Where are my sources of strength? What haunts me and what haunts the ones I love? Where is succor? Love matters. Where do I run when things turn backwards? Will she jump? Is that your mask or mine? Can the old terrors keep getting at me? What will I trade for peace? She reclines in front of a young man in possession of himself. They are so far away! What does their future hold? Will they ever connect? Why is my bowl so frequently empty? Who is he? Who is she? Will the angel really bring pink roses in the final hour? What about now?

 

Time for details

faceNow it’s time for the nitty-gritty.

But first — more kickstarter gratitude. I continue to be bowled over by the immediate and overwhelming response of my readers and friends.  Twenty-two of you have given me $850!!!

I almost wish there was a way to receive funds without seeing how much each donor is giving (it wouldn’t work) because EVERY gift meant the world to me — and, in fact, sometimes a ‘small’ gift from someone feels HUGE because I have a sense of financial struggle out there.  So, again — thanks!

Just booked a room in West Ashley.  It’ll be my first airbnb experience.  I’m a little hesitant about staying in a room in someone’s house, particularly because I’m not that chatty a person (ha!)… and because who knows about people, right?!

I picked a convenient, very reasonably priced place with almost 50 positive reviews.  But seriously?  It was the picture of this guy’s dog and his backyard that clinched it!  A sweet old hound and beautifully tended perennial beds — surely these indicators of character?

The folks at Sea Island Indigo are being super accommodating in terms of helping to coordinate rides out to Rebellion Farm, where two days of the event are being held. Given how many OTHER details they are managing right now, I especially appreciate this.  It looks like I will be able to get by with a couple of cab and bus rides and no car rental at all.

Oh, and did I tell you they will be feeding us like queens?!!

Eagerly awaiting the supply list!
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Soul Collage card, 2012 - "Dreamer"

Soul Collage card, 2012 – “Dreamer”

Going back to 2012 dye pictures, I found this Soul Collage card.  Funny, that a card titled ‘Dreamer’ features blue hands, huh?

Oh, and I just noticed that the sleeper in the background may be covered by a pieced denim coverlet — that’s one of the great things about Soul Collage — the discovering of things later.

Off to the pages.  But not for long.  It is also a Farm Share pick up day. Possibly a post office day (chocolate to Boulder). Have to pick up a script.  And, there’s a quick, near doctor appt.  Not much time for writing today, in other words.  But thank goodness it is cooler.  Yesterday was a beast of a day.