About a year ago, while I drank lukewarm coffee on a Wednesday, I tuned in to the online class of a successful artist, whom I respect. She told her class not to bother writing (in the case of blogs), because basically “no one is actually interested in what you are writing.” Don’t bother your readers, or yourself, with writing, she said. Post only business material.
For some reason it soaked in and I let it get to me. My writing dried up and cracked into cakey mud chunks and dirtied my mind. I choked, and my writing stopped for the entire last year.
Even us grown ups are vulnerable to what we hear.
So, I’m working to reset and clean out the mud cakes and get back to writing in 2017. Is there something you’ve heard this year that you wish you could unhear?
I guess it’s good for us all to be aware that we can’t know the effect our words could have on someone else; it is wise to be sure we really mean to say what we mean to say. Maybe more importantly, hear what we need to and let go of the rest. It’s up to us to shelter our thoughts and protect our minds, but sometimes, someone else’s thoughts sneak up on us.
Don’t get me wrong. The woman I am referencing is a fabulous artist and a successful business person. And interestingly, I’ve noticed she’s teaching a new class on the importance of blogging. Good idea.
I’m working on a commission, a beautiful memorial tribute book comprised of these seemingly disparate elements. And today is my favorite part: it’s math day.
I will spend my day calculating precise page measurements, photo sizes, which side of which page they go on, margin edges, lengths of copper pieces for binding, diamond drill bit size, minutes needed to rust copper pieces, on and on.
Only when I started making books did I realize how much I love math. I love the precision of the physical book pages and materials combined with the art of photographs. I can’t wait to see this book as it becomes a real, living thing.
I’m in beautiful, soggy Alaska for a much needed vacation. I wanted to share my totally free, ultra-lightweight tip for photography while traveling, or any other time, in a rainy environment.
Here it is: swipe those shower-caps from the hotel! Throw them over your camera while you walk about, to cover the lens. When shooting, move the cap so it covers the body and the opening encircle the lens opening. This will keep your lens and camera body dry.
Most cameras can endure a few sprinkles – but it’s really the lens you don’t want to get too wet.
Fold up your happy cap when it’s dry, stick it in a teensy ziploc, and throw it back in your camera bag. Takes up no room, weighs nothing, and it might save your noodle one day.
Best. Thing. Ever.
Glass, copper, and handmade paper? What could be better? Adding ‘book’ and ‘photography’ into that mix. I LOVE this book. A beautiful, handmade book, with glass covers, hand-hewn copper binding, with my photographs printed on beautiful fine art rag pages.
This set was commissioned by my client and the shoot, book, and photos are a package or available individually – book only (blank), book with your photos, book with my photos, or a commissioned shoot just for you. Prices vary.
Available now on my Etsy store, WonderAndQuirk
Comes wrapped in red burlap, paper thread and handmade paper.
Are you fascinating beyond compare? Do you own a monkey? Do you put pants on your parakeet? Do you amaze yourself with your own charm, acumen, or shoe collection? Or are you dull as a kitchen knife? Are you unable to find any adjectives to describe yourself in any way? Is “nice” too strong a word to describe you?
Snazzy or nearly invisible, anyone can get themselves written into a novel. Everyone can be a character, whether you are fantastically fantastic or earth-shatteringly boring or somewhere in between. You can even be considered once you are dead. Don’t let a missing pulse keep you from trying.
Here is your guide to getting you – wonderful or zzzzzz’y you – into the closest novel.
1. Know an author (or be one).
2. Think about yourself. Think some more. Write a list of descriptors about yourself (if you are reaching for words and coming up with a blank, please note that words such as “the” do not count as descriptive). Tell yourself all about yourself.
3. Embellish. Whichever direction you lean, make yourself more – much, much more – than you already are. If you are chubby, give yourself about 105 extra pounds. If you are selfish, tell the story of your most self-indulgent moment and make it worse than ever. If you are simply fabulous, just because, then crank up the fabulous. Flat and nearly invisible? Dull it up!
4. Ask your friends or monkey what qualities about you they adore, or abhor, or wish you had, or can’t even come up with. Memorize these desperately or dispense with them entirely depending on whether they please you (unless you are incapable of pleasure, in which case, hang on to them until step 8).
5. Record a few of the things you love/hate/tolerate doing. Perhaps you are a shockingly old champion ice skater, having won every gold medal since the Olympics began. Or maybe you are an excellent cannibal, with the additional skill of eluding police at every turn. Or perhaps you can carve fruit into tiny animals, or bowl badly. Or you may be one of only 10 human beings alive who neither understand, create, nor generate humor, like that guy Michael I dated (briefly).
6. Whatever it is, record, record, RECORD. Write each element on a sticky note or expensive Japanese handmade paper, depending on your character. Finally, once completed, write the manner in which you fascinatingly/weirdly/mind-numbingly dully accomplished this.
7. Compile the list into one paragraph on another sticky/Japanese piece of paper. Put the words together into one run-on sentence of utter amazement/chilling nothingness.
Congratulations! Now you know the entirety (or brevity) of your “character” for someone’s novel!
8. Now is the time to “become” that character you’ve always wanted to be or regretted that you are. It’s time to act! That’s right. Act like you.
9. Practice, practice, practice being yourself for seven days without ceasing. Remember, sleep is no excuse! Sleep like yourself.
10. Once you have accomplished this, record yourself acting like yourself, only more so, and send immeditately to the closest novelist. Be sure to include a loving or threatening or bland explanatory note. Alternately, write yourself as a (the only?) character in your own horrifying/thrilling/sleepifying novel or Frequently Asked Questions section of a hand-vac user’s manual.
Boom! That’s it! You are now on your way to becoming truly entrenched in the twists and turns of a splendiferous work of art (or 2000 page instructional manual on the correct method for parting your hair).
Way to go!
Me: “Mom, do you want me to hang up the clothes I brought over for you?”
Mom: “No, just leave them on the bed. I’d like to put them away.”
Me: “Ok, so just remember that when you go in your room tonight, you’ll have to put them away first to get IN the bed, since there will be lots of clothes on TOP of the bed.”
Mom: “What?!? You’re going to bring them over and then just leave them there? You’re not going to put them away for me??”
The exhausting part of taking care of my mother is living two people’s lives at once. Her phone bill, her home, her health, her dog – her thoughts. I must hold my own life, my bills, my dogs, my hunger, my weight, at all times in my mind while also holding hers. Her world, her internal world, her conversations, are different from mine. They seem so rumbly-tumbly, so much like a rolling sage brush in the wind – to me. To her, the tumbles of her thoughts make perfect sense because when she has them, they are the ONLY true thoughts. It’s just that they get easily replaced by the next thought in the queue, and you never know who’s standing behind you, when you’re a thought in line.
Her logic, her memory, her priorities are, for me, so mercurial, so lightning fast in their fluid, instantly changing nature as to leave me breathless. It’s not just memories, either. It’s her actual opinions and feelings about things that change without warning or hesitation.
Me: “Mom, what do you want for dinner tonight?”
Mom: “How about fish?”
Me: “What? You hate fish. You’ve always hated fish.”
Mom: “Noooo, no, no no. I like fish. Just not slimy, naked fish, like that…. what’s it called?”
Mom: “Yes, sushi. Awful! It’s like swallowing snot.”
Me: “Have you ever actually eaten sushi?”
Mom: “Certainly not. That’s disgusting.”
Me: “So how do you know it’s like swallowing snot?”
Mom: “Because I just do. I don’t like sushi. Who would eat that? Other than that I like fish.”
Me: “Ok. Alright. So you want fish for dinner?”
Mom: “Fish? For dinner?”
Me: “Yes, you said you wanted fish for dinner.”
Mom: [Silence. Blink. Blink. She stares at me.]
Me: “Mom? You said you wanted fish before.”
Mom: “I said no such thing. Eiew. No way. I don’t like fish.”
Me: “I thought you just didn’t like raw fish, like sushi.”
Mom: “NO! I HAAAAAATE fish. You know that! Let’s have Mexican for dinner.”
Me: “Uh, ok, you don’t like fish, no problem. Well, sure, we can have Mexican for dinner.”
Mom: “Mexican? I thought we were having fish?”
Me: “Wait. You don’t like fish!”
Mom: “Who said I don’t like fish? I love trout. Hey, I have an idea. Let’s have trout for dinner!”
This is what got me thinking about the mathematics of listening.
When we are speaking, there is only one thing that can come out of our mouths at a time and only what currently, in that moment, exists in our minds can be excreted and extracted in language, and we cannot speak two words at the same time. We only have one mouth. So… with only the thoughts that currently exist in our minds, we must utter the thoughts we hold in that moment, one word by one clunky word in sequence, one after another. The thought/word pairing may be replaced by another, and then we can say another stream of words, representing another set of ideas, but that’s it. One mouth. One word at a time. One set of existing ideas already present in our minds. It’s a pretty small pipeline, when you think about it.
But listening is a totally different equation. While she is talking about fish, I’m calculating how tired she is, how likely it is that she’ll maintain this opinion long enough to get her to a restaurant, how wonky her hair looks as it grows back in from chemo, how my own stomach is growling, how I’m feeling bemused by her changing opinions on fish as opposed to how irritating the hanging clothes thing was last night, how I can’t wait to get back home to my own life. The TV is on in her room, and it’s loud again, and she’s talking a little loudly about trout, which once again reminds me of those damn hearing aids we paid $3500 for, the ones she won’t wear because “she’s not deaf.” She likes fish? Hates fish? Do we have trout in the freezer? Wait. About those hearing aids. Should I take them back? How do I balance her need to communicate with the people in her new assisted living apartment if she can’t hear them? By cajoling her into wearing them? But how to balance that with her need to maintain her independence? Haha, I think, sure, we can have Mexican, and also everyone else in her building is half deaf too, so what do they care if she can’t hear them, when they probably can’t really hear her? I can picture it now, as I grab her sweater and my car keys and remember that she will mistakenly head to the driver’s side again, I picture her saying to her new neightbor Arlene in the apartment next door, “What did you say about your couch? I didn’t hear you!” And the lady says, “Huh??? My pouch? WHAT? I can’t hear you.”
Then all of this must stop while I say only this: “Hop in, mom. I’m starving. Where’s your cane?”
I can think so many thoughts while listening to her opine about the world coming to an end, take in countless new thoughts (of hers!), one tumbling new idea after another, while hearing the blaring television, her voice, my stomach, tasting the residue of coffee in my mouth from this afternoon’s writing session, worrying about my bank account, chuckling about her wearing pink high tops at 85 yrears old, and helping her into the car.
When I answer, “I thought you didn’t like fish,” I really can only say that one thing. The other bits and bobs of thoughts and sensations stop for a tiny second to let the words out, as if they are the big fried onion smell in the room that crowds out the other nuances, the wafting gardenias and cinnamon.
Speaking requires one focus at a time, while listening is so much more juggly, so much more adept at squeezing 15 things out of a moment. It’s seems obvious that listening is the more powerful mental exercise. Maybe it’s me, but I can accomplish so much more while listening than while speaking.
Wait, accompishing? Is bearing the weight of 15 thoughts at once really getting anything more done than wearing myself out?
Speaking = one simple event at a time. Listening = rats nest o’ thoughts, all at once.
Perhaps, for an ADD mind like mine, listening is not the beautiful thing. Listening is diving headlong, back into the turbulent river of my mind, swirly swirly, swim little fish, swim! But speaking is where I can slow down, and rest. What??
Fish, or Mexican?
I started out this article thinking that listening clearly has the moral superiority, obviously takes the high road when it comes to things to do. But after writing one clunky word after another, which is as close to speaking while listening as I think I can get, I think I might be wrong. Listening kind of wears me out. Listening is loud inside my mind, it’s a torrent, while speaking is at least one conceptual foot in front of another at a time. Maybe speaking is the real reprieve to a busy mind. I thought listening is meditative but honestly, speaking is more like a walking meditation. You can only do so much at a time, whereas sitting and thinking thoughts *only* is enough to drive me mad.
I don’t know which to believe. But I’m certain of one thing: writing is the great in-between of listening and speaking, nestling into its quiet, feathery nest between the two. Writing is the middle sister, trying to make everything smooth.
Writing is the camp counselor of ideas, saying to the speaking and the listening, if they were gawky, pokey teenage girls in the hall, “Hey, now, how about both? Yeah! Fish tacos for dinner? Eh, eh?? Can’t we all just get along?”
Photo ©2015 John Cornicello
In the midst of the Arizona desert stands the old cowboy dusty town of Cedar Creek, which beckoned me to get up early on a Sunday and drive an hour to see if a church in a saloon could really be possible. Why, yes, yes it is!
The fierce blue Arizona sky waits patiently over the dusty saloon as the locals sit amongst the old wooden chairs and tables – some hands busy with a Bible, others with a frosty brew. Ecclesia Church, aka Church at the Chip, gathers inside the Buffalo Chip Saloon at 9 a.m. every Sunday in Cave Creek, Arizona, 32 miles north of Phoenix. On this Sunday, when it is 108 degrees in the shade, and just like every week during the summer, the cozy congregation enjoys summer services inside the cool, darkened saloon. In the winter, with less chance of a mind-melting burn, they meet outside in the wagon pen, ringed with wooden fences and an outdoor bar.
That’s right. The wagon pen. And, what was that? You heard me right. CHURCH IN A SALOON!
“Why do you meet at a saloon?”
We’re only half joking when we say, “Why not have church in a place where people already like to go?” To us, it seems like the kind of thing Jesus would have done. After all, listen to what Jesus said about himself: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matthew 11:19).”
I went to The Chip to shoot what I supposed might be a kitschy, tourist heavy, full-of-gimmicky-Southwest-charm church-in-a-saloon Sunday morning, but that’s not what happened. Sure, Pastor Steve Gilbertson sports a handsome cowboy shirt/shoes/hat for his sermon, as does his music partner Kevin, and the two serenade the few dozen parisioners with friendly guitar riffs and a slide show complete with western style super-titles sporting lyrics to morning hymns and the accompanying sermon. But this is a real community, gentle and true, and it gathers without fanfare each week to share love and hope in the dust. Especially charming was the communion service, served in a pretty white cup and plate, broken cracker bites and grape juice sitting in holy reverence upon a saloon table. Juice it may be, but by the way, should you care to have a gin and tonic while you pray, please do step on up to the bar.
Cowboy boots dangle in their dozens from the ceiling; a staring deer head and Coors sign peer down, above the pastor’s head, all so worldly and real, as Pastor Steve leads the room in very gentle and enthusiastic prayer. The Church at the Chip is a wonderful and authentic taste of the American southwest and though it may not be on the front page of every guide to Arizona, it’s a beautiful taste of real life in the tawny heat of Phoenix.
This kind and gentle morning service is so worth waking up early on a Sunday, regardless of your affiliation. I give it two gins up.
Click Here to Visit: Ecclesia Cave Creek website
Film by Gretchen Hogue
Music by Kell Black
Snowy mountain air, bold, strong coffee, bright red poppies, chocolate pudding, and unexpected kindness. Also, spaghetti marinara. These are just a few of the great and tiny pleasures of life. I would add to that list the exquisite sensation of utterly new thoughts finding their way into my mind. Helen Hiebert’s work, in her film Water Paper Time, is for me is one of those experiences.
I had no idea paper could do these things – could be this way.
While it would be technically correct to say that Helen, a paper artist for the last 16 years, creates handmade paper sheets and sculptures from smashed plant bits, what is more true is that she is a paper midwife. She is the Pulp Whisperer. In her film Water Paper Time, Helen creates sentient, papery living beings with her bare hands. Into her freshly handmade sheets she embeds copper wires, string, nails, or other materials which introduce tension as the paper dries, and as it does, it arches, curls, twists, balloons, folds, unfurls, pauses, lurches, and splits apart. From what she says, the magical part happens after she leaves the paper babies alone in the womb of her studio and when she comes back, poof! Amazement awaits! It’s as if she’s found a whole new tooth fairy most of us have never heard of.
I have secretly suspected for years that inanimate objects have private lives and relationships. Chairs and couches talk about us when we’re gone. Forks and lamps – what do they do when no one is eating or reading? Do they wait? Do they covertly meet in the bathroom while we are at work? It could happen in the world of magic, and their experiences with each other could be hidden from us largely because we are not so observant. Helen’s work has pushed me over that cliff. She has convinced me that objects that seem static and ‘devoid of life’ may simply be hiding their potential; perhaps they are shy and speak softly. But this wonderful artist seems to hear perfectly the conversations between the materials she uses, even if they themselves have never met. Lucky for us, the hidden world is made plain in her care, and it is a sensuous world of curves, wrinkles, grooves, valleys, and, don’t ask me how, longing. Paper feels longing, you say? Well. I didn’t know either, but evidently it’s been there all along. Each piece is its own person – surprising, unpredictable, and with its own secrets.
Helen opens Water Paper Time with a story of children who have never seen, touched, or written on paper. What? Really? I had never thought of that either. All my life, I’ve had the privilege of having paper in my life. I’ve printed my photographs on paper, and my writing on paper; I’ve drawn on it, painted it, inked, glued, crumpled, torn, kept, discarded it, folded it up around gifts, and made my own. I’ve cried over pieces of paper and laughed over others. But I had no idea paper could be alive, could do what Helen so lovingly coaxes it to do. Now I know. This film introduced me to the secret life of paper.
The visual aesthetic of the film contributes to the magic and wonder in her work. At first, as a photographer and book artist, I wasn’t sure I’d like the visual style of the film: when the paper is doing its thing, the film is an old-fashioned home movie, shot on my dad’s ancient, whirring movie camera. I could almost feel my brother poke my little kid leg while we watch the family swimming clips again. As the paper protagonist grows up, passing from plant to pulp to sheet to sculpture, the images become dreamy, filmy, moody, grainy, and blurry, adorned with a light leak here and there. This stylistic choice makes perfect sense, and I am a child again watching a sweet, private family moment on screen. The filmy style is beautifully imperfect, nostalgic, playful, and wondrous.
At 16 minutes long, the sounds of Water Paper Time are also deeply pleasurable, a real human being touching real things with real hands. She plucks plants from water, her hands squeezing and pounding stringy pulp, water dripping or gushing, spinning or falling. We hear every drop. We are there with her. I found my hands squeezing when she did, squishing and stirring right along with her, laying wire on wet paper, watching it dry in its magical way, pinning it in draped white sheets to a clothesline, enjoying the little breeze on the back porch with her.
Helen Hiebert’s shares with us the earthy, natural and sensuous experience of life on our exquisite earth as expressed through paper, water, and time, and where she goes with them is pure beauty and charm. Her work with paper is truly inspired.
– Anjani Millet, ©2015
Paper Artist Helen Hiebert and Water Paper Time can be purchased and downloaded here:
Website: Helen Hiebert Studio
My mother is a fiend for naughty, sugary cereals. Truth be told, Cap’n Crunch is my own vice. Maaaaybe once a year I can have some. But as my mother is also a very silly, goofy person, I decided to combine cereal + book to make the Oops! Cereal Box Book, made from an actual box of Oops! cereal – as in, oops, it’s all berries. Yum! My favorite part of this book is the binding. Oh, and eating the Oops.
This book is available for commission – each one completely unique. I can make these from cake or cookie or muffin or cereal boxes or any other sort of box! If you’ve got somebody with a thing for something in a box, give me a holler! It’s a fun gift.