January 29, 2009
The news of the day and some recent deaths in the neighborhood got me down. I couldn’t concentrate on the work at hand, so I took a break and threw myself into a creative project that needed doing. Every so often I make a rice paper curtain for our kitchen window. They stay nice and fresh for a year or two, then bleach out from the sun and get all stained from the condensation. So when one gets ratty looking, it is time to make a new one.
The latest uses a combination of spontaneously placed, torn cut and glued (with normal office stick glue) rice papers. I’ve stamped on them and sewn on some dried leaves and stuck some feathers in between the layers. There are also two ‘windows’ cut out, in one detail you can see the house next door through one. These are overlaid with a very transparent fiber paper. The yellowish leaves in a row are actually strung on a thread and hang in front of the curtain.
After I finished the project, I noticed I felt somewhat lighter and realized I’d followed the advice of Judyth Hill’s classic poem written in the aftermath of 9/11 – ‘Wage Peace’.
Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
Breathe out whole buildings
and flocks of redwing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children
and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen
and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening:
hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools:
flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Never has the world seemd so fresh and precious.
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived
Don’t wait another minute.
– Judyth Hill
January 24, 2009
Drawing by Jaap Groenendal
A friend and I had a meaningful conversation about a meaningful activity he was engaged in. We were both at a social event and our exchange was such a welcome change from the small talk we could easily have fallen into.
M has kept all the handmade Christmas cards he’s received over the years. He’s a grandpa now, so we’re talking about 25 years or more of cards here. He’s started sorting the cards per sender/maker, and told me how touched he was by seeing the work change across the years. He described one artist’s series where there was always a sort of landscape with certain features you had to look for in the drawing such as a finger or a snail. These items would recur every year in different places and guises (see example above).
He told me about all this lovingly done work he’d received, and how he appreciated it enough to keep it. I immediately imagined an exhibition or website showing these series and each artist”s development over a span of more than two decades. M isn’t really that active on the web, so I don’t think this unique collection will be shared with a larger public.
But what I really liked about this project, is that after he has finished collating the various series, he plans to get in touch with each of the people who so faithfully sent him hand made cards and visit with them to show them the cards they sent and appreciate them together.
I don’t know M that well, but the kind of caring this gesture reveals, really touched me.
ps M is one of my fellow artists-in-healthcare, he is a story teller. I was at a workshop day today with 13 other artists from Beter Gezelschap and, as always, I was struck by what a good bunch they all are.
January 12, 2009
Our next door neighbor died suddenly on Tuesday night. I didn’t know Frans well, he only used the house as a recreation and hobby space. But in the 6 years that he came there, sometimes daily, we came to know him as a gentle and kind man. I am sad that he was cut down at 69 in good health with lots of plans on his new 2009 agenda. And his family and friends are bitterly bereaved.
I was at his funeral all afternoon and am gradually reentering the world. It was such a sacred space. I loved the unfolding of the ritual. First, entering the tiny church in the middle of a winter country landscape, with only a few farms dotted around, hardly any trees. Hearing the reflections on his life from his family and friends, hearing the occasional sniffles, being soothed by the sunlight on the whitewashed walls. No mobile phones, no mundane thoughts, just this, the death of a good man. All of our approaching deaths.
The stories continued for an hour or more, the wind came up, the sun clouded over. The family lifted the beautiful wooden coffin made by friends, and a hundred of us stood as his body was carried outside. There was a 20 minute drive to the cemetery and a cruelly cold, wet and windy wait by the grave. This part was done in silence, and family and friends passed by the open grave and threw a scoop of the heavy clay onto his coffin. It was a desolate clunking sound, raw and earthed and definite; we would leave our friend behind, alone in the cold ground.
Then the drive back to the church, a cup of coffee waiting. Warmth, shelter, friends. Fewer signs of open grieving. Slowly people started talking in little groups. There was soup and sandwiches, and gradually life started to reestablish itself as the circle closed. After about 20 minutes it could have been any social gathering, with albeit subdued, chatter and some laughter.
The ritual: grieving, saying goodbye together, the burial, the coming together for food and drink and comfort. How beautiful it was, how comforting, how entirely right.