I dwell in a community of makers.
Likely, you do too. Have you noticed that most people love to make things with their hands? Handmade is our original method. Children start out this way. As long as you keep little machines out of their hands, they will continue to make and make and make.
My people are makers.
My father was a furniture maker, a fisherman. He had trouble keeping a job. But he taught me how to use sand paper and hook a worm. I saw him read for hours at a time in the evenings, taking notes in cookbooks about meals he wanted to prepare.
My mother was a maker. She worked as a teacher, and raised my three sisters and I, virtually on her own because of my father’s difficult life. From the time I was 14, it was the five of us women on 18th street, then over to 13th street in a small town where single mothers were not the norm. For all of my growing up with my mother, her hands were engaged in some industry. There was the period of rag rugs braided from bread bags. Her garden occupied her until the very end of her life. She knit for a while, made wooden baskets for many years, and had just begun to study stone carving when Alzheimer’s took away her drive. From that point on, she wove wool and cotton potholders, hundreds of them. Colorful and textured, they bore her brand of certain joy.
I make things too. Early on, I wasn’t settled on one thing. I spent the first half of my life in the theatre mostly. I sewed clothing from the time I was ten, largely because both of my grandmothers stopped making jumpers and plaid skirts for me. My mother’s concoctions were not wearable. So I started to sew my own clothing, dresses, pants, skorts!!!, jumpers, overalls, jeans, vests, blouses, bathing suits. I earned my way through college in the costume shop and took this skill to Manhattan, when I landed there to pursue my acting career.
Today, miles of knitted loops, neatly basted hems, invisible zippers and hand bound buttonholes have slid through my fingers. So have many millions of letters, a to z, all of them, penned, penciled, carved, pressed, or typed. I have stirred gallons of jam. Brewed tubs of tea. Stirred up vats of soups. With my husband, I have made two humans. And on my own, a long row of hand bound books. Collages, paintings, offerings, mail art, all of these things have flowed from my fingers.
But couldn’t it be that this entire making has made me in some way; impressed on me a looped theory of matter that bears meaning?
Paper is made of wood pulp. Yarn is made of spun wool. I am made of elements, pressed and spun together. I am made by all of this making.
And driven to do it with others. Long ago, on one of my earliest report cards from Bethesda Lutheran School, my teacher checked the box “She plays well with others.” I do. I love my Rampant Sisterhood. And this sisterhood is about to expand.
In 15 days I depart for Armenia, to a city named Gyumri. It is set in northwestern Armenia, a few hours drive from the main city of Yerevan. Every conquering force that has occupied that country has renamed Gyumri. It is a cultural hub, the home of artistic practice in Armenia and cherished by the locals for it’s historic buildings that withstood the earthquake that shook that region in 1988. It is a beautiful city, populated by solid, devoted people. Being the first Christian nation, Armenia has many beautiful churches. The sidewalks around the churches are busy early in the morning with people entering to light candles. Children pass a church and kiss their fingertips, then touch the building along a worn strip of stone where their grandparents made the same blessing years and years ago.
I am called to return to work with a group of Armenian women artists in hopes of restoring the culture of book making. In Yerevan is the Matenadaran, a stately manuscript museum said to house the “soul of the nation.” But despite conversations with over 30 artists last March, I could not find one who was tending the soul of that nation though making contemporary manuscripts.
So I am going back, bringing tools, seeking to purchase as many art supplies as I can in Armenia. I will offer a four-day workshop to 10 women artists, 2 writing workshops to young adults, and 2 weeks of continued interviews with women. I like to hear about how it is for them, in a country where domestic violence is epidemic and opportunities for women are few. I aim to help raise these women’s voices, to support them in telling their stories and to tell the stories that I can tell, based on what I witness there.
My making has led me to this.
I make books. I make community, not so much intentionally, but by listening.
“Listening is the first part of ceremony.”
-Terry Tempest Williams
“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
My two beloved mentors, in texts only, but constant companions in my own writing and teaching. Both tell me that this act of witness, of deep attention, is a sacred act.
Would you please hold me in prayer as I prepare to leave on the 28th?
Put me on your altars, mention me to your spirit trees, whisper New Illuminations at sunrise when you let the cat out for the day? I am still fundraising. In Great Barrington, I have a fundraiser on the 25th where my beloved photographer sisters have given me beautiful images to raffle off. And my mentor and friend, John Stanmeyer, of National Geographic, as donated a print of his for the raffle. Will you join me at Elixir on October 25th?
And no matter what, I hope you cherish your making as the way that you are being made.
Every stitch within you bears the personal sweetness of your own presence.
By our making we are made.
Stay close to this blog if you want news of the project.
There is a movie about it here.
On this blog you will find my personal writing about my travels.
When I set out to blog here in 2009, I had no idea where I was headed.
Apparently, it is here. This moment, on a rainy October day, sitting at the dining table, converted to my teaching studio, with a glass stuffed with orange and red nasturtiums.
Please take good care.
There is a Care For Your Creative interview with Miki DiVivo coming up.
I am pleased to introduce Knar Babayan, the New Illuminations workshop photographer.