This Hard Copy Life: Learning to Value Days in Real Time

My paste paper book covers that will be stitched in to Coptic Stitch Journals. Art in real time by Suzi Banks Baum

The summer days just got chilly. The windows are still wide open in our house, but we’ve all pulled on sweaters and reluctantly tug up heavy blankets. Late summer, slow time begins to shift as the heavy headed zinnias bob in the wind and the hostas scent the front walk already littered with leaves.

I am soaking up the light of these long dry days. I know if I was a farmer in New England, I’d be worried about the lack of rain. In contrast, all of us are praying for Texas and the Gulf Coast region. Here is a solid list of places to donate, to help Texans deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.


Backyard Art Camp met in my back yard in the Berkshires. Time slowed down for us.

Last week I held Backyard Art Camp with 15 participants in my back yard.

My husband and I hoisted a rented tent canopy and I borrowed tables from my neighbors. With my interns, I constructed an outdoor art studio that served us well for four full days of building Coptic Stitch journals. We painted papers to cover the book board all the way to stitching signatures together with waxed Irish linen thread and curved needles.

Since Camp ended, I have been working at a studio table outside every day. Whatever work I can do outdoors, I do. Everything else has taken a back seat. Little by little I have put away most of the art supplies, the tent and tables are returned. I rarely, hardly ever, give myself full days of studio time. I am always splitting my hours between writing, teaching preparation, art making, and the necessary work to produce and fund raise for New Illuminations. My outside studio hours feel like fuel that I will draw on this winter, much like the peaches I stir in to jam. They will serve me during the cold months.

Backyard Art Camp was an experiment.

I wanted to see what it would be like to teach outside, in my familiar back yard, with the hawks and the chipmunks and the August weather, which can be hot and humid. And it was. We had one spectacularly hot day in which a storm threatened, but never materialized. People worked in the heat, sweaty. I’d frozen wet wash clothes, with which they cooled their necks and carried on. That is what “camp” is, a little rough around the edges, urging you to find adaptability where you didn’t know you had it, and you feel, being outside all day long, the movement of the light, the smells and sounds of the day’s hours rich and present. I hardly saw a cell phone or computer screen all week. Did I mention it was heavenly to sit in circle, to write and share, to laugh and learn, to eat lunch and let the day happen to all of us, together?

We got to experience the Total Solar Eclipse. Two of the 6 teens in Camp were from Belgium. They constructed eclipse viewers from cereal boxes, which they shared with the group. Another was made on the spot with a yogurt container top and a cardboard box. We watched the light change all afternoon, odd thick gray shadows off the dahlias, while we worked under the tent. It was very camp-y, very much exposed to light and to others, even though everyone went home at night or to their hotels or friend’s welcome. We met in the mornings, ready to dive in to our work.

Zinnia in the Eclipse light

photo credit: Linda Jackson

The real time we spent together at Backyard Art Camp was delicious!

Being among enthusiastic people, curious about the artistic behavior of making hand bound journals in which to work,
each of them bringing something of themselves to the circle every single day, what a gorgeous willingness I felt among everyone gathered. Conveying Camp to you online might not describe it well enough, so I rely on Francine Caulfield and Linda Jackson’s photos to help.


These two weeks I have been immersed in real time art making.

The books we create will serve us in the next months as containers for our next big thoughts and dreams. When I work in to a book that I made, it is like diving in to sourdough starter or that mix you use to start yogurt, the beautiful journal is already an expression of my own hands, the ideas I lay down in it are already advanced, no matter how mundane, my intimate expression is more alive. I have a bead on beauty when I open a hand bound journal, something that I don’t experience with a store bought notebook. I feel on to something, like I am stepping in to a feathered nest.

Backyard Art Camp is exactly the workshop I teach in Armenia with New Illuminations.

I am raising funds to return there in late October. Would you please consider helping me raise the $9,300 I need? I am one third of the way there. You can share New Illuminations with your friends or colleagues by sending them to this webpage for information, or to this article about the project in Asbarez, or to this donation page on Fractured Atlas. I have learned the necessity of this project, of putting the tools of intimate expression in to the hands of Armenian women who struggle with lack of opportunity and voice in a deeply patriarchic society.

As I worked on this blog post, the mail arrived and with it a surprise donation for New Illuminations. This is how it happens–someone gets wind of the project through my work here on Rising Forth, they find themselves engaged in their creative life differently and want that for others.

Thank you for this surprise donation and for all the donations I have received so far!

I live a hard copy life.

The work I do as a writer brings me on to the Internet with stories here on this website or published elsewhere, but the heart of my work happens in real time. Motherhood taught me to value this sort of time, real time spent in the ordinary activities. I learned that there was much to value in hours spent hanging laundry and doing the necessary tasks of family life. Now, the swing of the second hand tracks the time it takes to slather a piece of wet paper with paste and pigment, or to learn and sing a song together, or to hold close these back lit summer days when swallowtails linger on timothy. I love the way the Internet has allowed me to forge connections with Marit in Norway or Yunona in Gyumri or Anne in Australia. I cherish this space. And I bring to it the warmth of the sun, the smell of lavender crushed underfoot, and the tug my fingers gain on the thread through a book cover. I bring my love of mail art, of daily creative practice, of poetry, and writing from inside women’s lives. What you find on this website is an online expression of what I spend my hours doing.

I care about the silencing of women, personal, political, and cultural
and I live as an invitation for us to voice our inner lives
through creative practice.


I will do everything in my power to bring this visceral, sacred, and beautiful experience of journal building to the women of Armenia. I will do everything in my power to imbue my writing with the images I witness in real time. And I will continue to live my hard copy life, aproned and messy, wind in my hair, rough around the edges, and grateful, so very grateful for this time.

Real time mothering. Ben took this photo of me.




PS Here is Linda Jackson’s post about Backyard Art Camp. Janet has more donation guidance here too.


Recommended Posts
Showing 4 comments
  • Janet

    You pretty powerful, as if we did not know that already, because your lament over dry Berkshire farmland seems to have produced a biblical deluge. Godspeed to your fundraising and what a treat to see all these shining faces and beautiful colors. Xoo

  • Jenni

    What a beautiful post. What an amazing camp. I felt I was right there between your lovely, descriptive writing and the fabulous pictures. I would like to come sometime and make books with you! I especially loved the picture of the weaving created with human bodies! So fun and beautiful.

  • Ann

    Gosh, I wish I could have attended your Backyard Art Camp. It looks like such industrious, purposeful, Fun with Beautiful colours and people. I love the photo where you’ve displayed the hand written message from Paulus in your journal. What a truly wonderful keepsake to have. Also, and I am assuming here, the photo of the farewell paste paper that everyone made for the casket? A lovely acknowledgement to have as background to the art camp. Thank you for sharing via all the happy photos, they’re uplifting!

    • Ann

      Thank you for the link Suzi. I really appreciate it. Just so Beautiful. What an amazing final teaching to leave everyone xox