It is high time to let you know my whereabouts.
I am in Gyumri, Armenia. I have been here for 11 days.
I have completed one full four-day workshop with 12 artists, two translators, and two photographers.
I have managed to get a tiny cold, which, let’s hope, stays tiny.
The weather is changing here from bright gold brilliance to the darker gray of late fall in northwestern Armenia.
The sky is glorious in every aspect.
Finding comfort in new places
My life here is different this visit, my third.
For one thing, my room at Villa Kars is bigger and it has a teapot.
Humble companion for my evenings and early mornings, this simple electric water warmer provides me with the comfort of a hot cup of tea in the evening, with hot lemon and honey water in the early gray light of day.
I had no idea the difference a teapot could make!
which you can read all about over here,
is an artist residency that I cooked up after my initial visit to Gyumri with John Stanmeyer, a Nat Geo photojournalist and the 4Plus team of documentary photographers from Yerevan, Armenia. I recall the exact afternoon, in a van full of my colleagues heading to Yerevan after our 10-day workshop creating stories here in Gyumri. I said to Nazik Armenakyan if she thought it a crazy idea for me to return to make books and work in circle with the women artists I had just met. She said, in her beautifully accented English,
“No Suzi-jan, this is not a crazy idea. You can do it.”
And so, I have been here twice, fully funded by money I raise through Fractured Atlas. I have had some support from small foundations. And this time, my friend Sam Lardner, from Barcelona, is donating the proceeds from CD sales at the Barn in Egremont, MA this coming Thursday. Poster is below.
So what of it? What comes of this work, teaching book arts and writing in a circle with women in Armenia?
What exactly does this do for the world?
I can think of 100 answers to this question.
Like the silver teapot that sits on the concrete kitchen counter ten steps from where I write to you now, the companionship of other warm beings provides a new entry point to dare new actions that draw you out of your familiar zone. The work of New Illuminations is to build beautiful containers for daily practice, to weave a web of community in an area rife with poverty and few opportunities for women beyond the maze of expected behaviors.
We paint papers.
We glue them to board.
We fold other papers in to signatures.
We sew them all together.
We write in to these books.
And in these inspired nests, beautiful, daring, unique, completely original and rising from an artistic instinct that will not be sequestered, no matter what opposing forces may be present, these books will bear the marks of their makers in to the future.
Do I know quantifiably the results of this work I do in Armenia?
Can joy be measured?
Can sisterhood be counted?
Can skill be standardized?
Can the sweet hush of pens on paper made while sitting around a mandala on the floor of our workshop space, while the sun pours in to the room¬–can that be judged for any merit other than it feels real, important, necessary, and like a gift that arrives from paying attention?
I don’t know.
But I am here all the same.
This Friday I meet a new group of New Illuminations artists, beginners in the book arts. There will be fresh roses and more paper.
I send you love from here.
And listen, write daily, no matter what. Just begin. It brings me comfort at the end of giant days teaching.
You will gain access to the richness that lives within you.
You will feel a palpable difference in your days, in the quality of your attention.
I assure you.