Monthly Archives: October 2013

making a pilgrimage

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I knew this experiment Living Chapters would ask me to look at and examine my stuff. Personally and internally… I just didn’t realize how literal the process would become.

In a recent spelunking adventure in the depths of my storage room of stuff, I came across a rather large box of rocks. Yep, I have been collecting rocks for more than 20 years now. Not only have I been collecting rocks but I have been moving them with me from home to home. For someone who moves as much as I do this is no small feat.  These rocks mean a lot to me.

Upon inspection, I  found much more than stones inside – There were small objects from each corner of the earth I have traveled to. Sticks from Scotland’s highlands, shells from South Australia, walnuts from Turkey and wild turkey feathers from the Eastern Shore of MD are just a few examples. Instead of buying souvenirs from my travels, I would just come home with a new handful of rocks. Plain objects to most but to me each piece is a memory holding specific stories and tracking explorations and adventures. I was never really good at keeping a proper journal but I was great at keeping my rocks.

I’ve looked at these rocks a million times and wondered if I could ever help them find a home.  (Some may say I’ve been doing the same for myself) But since I am still moving along my path, I think now is the time to end their journey so I can continue on without the excess baggage to weigh me down. There’s nothing like a 25 lb box of rocks to make you realize that your stuff (sentimental or literal) is really starting to weigh you down!  I can hold on to the memories but it’s time to release the rocks.

I know, I know, holding on to a box of rocks and adding to it each year is a ridiculously sentimental thing to do, but while I’m still in confession mode – I’ll admit, I’m a bit sentimental.  I figure, the only way to phase these objects out of my life would have to be through a meaningful or sentimental process.  I gained all of these objects through exploration why not release them through exploration.  It was time to make a pilgrimage.

This weekend I decided to go to the place where I had my initial taste of exploration – my backyard stomping grounds in Dillsburg, PA. My older brother Jason and I use to go for long hikes in the state game lands near our home. We would lose ourselves for hours, wandering through corn fields, walking in the woods, catching insects, building forts and getting into  trouble.

There was absolutely nothing out there but trees, corn, dirt and rocks. For us in that time growing up, that nothing, was everything we needed. Jason and I would make maps of the 3 lakes, the connected cornfields and the trails in the woods. And then we would create stories to go along with our visual pictures making our own “choose your own adventure” type books. In this place, we learned to take the simple elements of time and space and make them into a new reality. You kind of had to make things sentimental, dramatic or elaborate to create meaning when you were a kid alone in the stix of Pennsyltucky.  It was necessary for survival.

I have been back to this place many times but just to drive through. It was time to return on foot. It seemed appropriate for this month’s challenge of making and creating to go back to the place where, essentially, I started to create. And it seemed to me a perfect  resting place for my rocks.

Within a few short hours this past Sunday, these objects that have traveled so far, from the coast of Australia, the plains of Tanzania, and the hills of Kashmir have finally found their resting place in the cornfields, cemeteries and autumn leaf piles in Dillsburg, PA. They will live here at least until someone else comes along to collect them.

To see more photos of hikes and daily creations please visit the Living Chapters Facebook Page

10/9/13

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making confessions

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I have been fortunate to experience a certain sense of freedom since I left my last permanent home in Baltimore. I’ve felt more spontaneous, without boundaries and literally lighter on my feet. I have moved about 8 times in less than 3 years living a low maintenance, low stress life style. Bringing with me only the bare minimum, I have freed myself from excess belongings to weigh me down. Well… all this sounds lovely, but it’s not entirely true. My confession is this, I still own a ton of STUFF just like everybody else. My life as a free-spirited gypsy is a sham.

Sure – my spirit might be free of a home and mortgage payments, but it sure isn’t free from stuff – I do own have belongings: they have all been living in the basement of my old apartment just waiting for me to come home. I have never really signed the divorce papers with my stuff, we’ve only been separated, living apart these past few years.

In my last post, I talked about my love of making things, as well as collecting them. I even referred to this love as a borderline addiction. Well let’s just come clean, it’s not borderline – it’s actually a full on addiction, or shall I say unhealthy relationship? One that has been on again off again for years now but I keep coming back to. We may have been on the outs for a few years now, but secretly I am still in love.

So while I am making confessions, I will also tell you that I recently starting seeing my stuff again, this past July. I visited my storage space searching for bits and pieces of my past to organize, scan, and document in preparation for creating my online portfolio. Upon returning to the storage space, I felt conflicted: Oh how I missed my stuff. We were so happy together– why had I left it all behind?

Looking back on the old days, my stuff and I had a great history together. Each object holding another story from a past chapter. How could I possibly give these objects up? Revisiting the memories felt overwhelming – reliving my past but also pondering a future that we could have together.  Just think of what a beautiful place I might have one day with all this stuff in it!

“I should keep this futon for a home someday right? Yeah maybe for the same house that I will actually put up all 60 of these framed photographs that I made for exhibitions?”

“I remember eating off of this Raggedy Ann and Andy plate when I was 6 (30 years ago!). Hmmm…will I still be eating off of this plate in another 30 years?”

Sometimes I get lost for hours in the basement, just thinking about the past and the future.  But there just doesn’t seem to be any place, space, or time for these artifacts in my current life.  As much as I cherish them all, I am finding that figuring out what to do with this stuff is slowing me down and stressing me out.  If I dragged the 10 boxes of my favorite books with me aboard the boat it would sink! And I have gotten really use to not wanting or needing excess things in my living space. It’s time to pare down, break up, kick the habit!

You may ask, “what is all this stuff that you keep?” and “do you really need it?” Being someone who has always felt the need to make and create, I hold on to different kinds of objects. I have very little that is valuable in a monetary way – no electronics, not much furniture and very few household items.

If you had to divide my belongings up they would live in these three territories: the land of “past creations”, the land of “future creations”, and land of “stuff I don’t want to buy again if I shall ever need it”. The land of past and future creations is currently taking up about 75% of my storage space. The rest is slowly being given away to friends who need and want the other objects.

Land of past creations

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these are just a few examples of the random things that I’ve created and held onto over the years. How could I give up the wire and ribbon purse I made as a teenager or the suitcase photo book I made from my travels in Spain and Ireland and of course that paper explosion thing – that’s just too weird to get rid of right?

Land of future creations

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Just a few examples of the materials that call me to creation but have been neglected, getting musty in my former basement.  I can’t seem to part with the pretty paper, Halloween yarn, fabric collected from foreign countries and tiny faux golden beads – just think what COULD be made from them!

It’s finally time to free myself of the stuff. It’s my own personal challenge that I inserted myself somewhere back in Chapter 3 – when I started tracking how consumptive we all are and how every object in our lives leaves an impact on our environment. I really like the idea of having less and using less. Now the challenge is to see if I can live up to this “idea” that I like.

This leads me to confession #2. In my quest to rid myself of stuff, I feel very conflicted being asked to create new stuff every day for an entire month! At first there was great excitement… create and make every day! How refreshing, I have missed this hands on creative part of my life.  Making things has always been therapeutic. What I have not missed though is the confusion of what to do with these objects once they are made. Thank goodness Wheatie built into the chapter that I would then send off these creations to others – they would then have to decide what to do with these creations not I.

So today besides making confessions, I would like to make a proposition and make a deal.

The proposition is this: I propose the continuation of creating and sharing creations daily this month.  I don’t want to give up my love affair of “the making” but its time to break my addiction to “the collecting”  and let go of the attachment to the made objects themselves.  Is this possible?

I propose adding to Wheatie’s chapter, by challenging myself to make things this month that can be experienced, used, eaten, heard, read, played or passed on easily. Can I lighten my own storage load and not weigh down someone else with my new creations? Can I continue my love of the making while breaking  my habit of collecting?  Can these creations live somewhere other than my old basement or in someone else’s basement?

Can you help me with these goals? Will you join me in the making, creating and sharing?  Will you help me break up with my stuff for good, make my load a little lighter?  Calling all makers and creators.. will you help me part with the lost objects in the land of creations and in the land of future creations?

Let’s Make a Deal: I will be posting pictures of my stuff (things that I have made and things that are waiting to be made) on the Living Chapters Facebook page this month. If you like it, let it be known – post your request here on the blog or on Facebook. Tell me what you want to make using the object or what kind of home my creation will have.  If you have a convincing story or an interesting enough trade the object is yours. I will also be posting pictures of my daily creations.  Please take a peak and let me know what you think and any ideas you may have for new creations.

10/7/13

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the meaning is in the making

I could not expect anything less from October’s chapter writer Emily Wheat (fondly known to many of her friends as Wheatie). Of course Wheatie would push me to create and make. She has been pushing me and inspiring me to do so since the day I met her. Why would she stop now? We met about 5 years ago in Remington, the neighborhood I lived in at the time. A small, vibrant and diverse community centrally located in Baltimore City. It was the last place that I put my roots down and called home, for any significant amount of time.

When our paths crossed, Emily was in graduate school at the Maryland Institute College of Art she was working on her Masters degree in Community Art and was placed in Remington to work with middle school age youth. She hung out in the community center for the summer months, taught photography, art skills and made dioramas out of shoe boxes and plasticine clay. Meanwhile, a few blocks down the street, I was hanging out with kids on my porch teaching kids photography, art skills and how to make tambourines out of paper plates and dried beans. Needless to say, we became fast friends. We both liked hanging out with kids and we both were oddly addicted to making stuff.

Making things or creating has been a constant in my life. Ever since I could remember I have found myself collecting small objects, craft materials, both natural and man-made treasures, – maybe a rock or a plastic bottle cap? Always thinking, “Someday I will make something with this”. And often, I would live up to this promise. For a long time I had a hard time buying gifts for people – I always wanted to make something. People were either totally thrilled when they got my odd gifts or completely confused and sometimes offended.

The recipients of my gifts may have said,

“Gee I never had a ‘make your own sock puppet’ kit before?”

or “Are these pot holders or wall hangings? maybe both?”

The things I made did not always make sense but they have always had an honest intention behind them and sometimes a practical use.  I just loved making stuff; it was just somehow satisfying. I have never been able to explain why, I’ve just always felt this need, urge or call to create.  I guess when I started college, I began to call the stuff I made “art” but I have never really been comfortable calling it that. The things I make are just creations – objects and ideas that came out of a desire to make.

This love of making most likely came from my mother who actually opened up a craft shop to the public in the basement of our home when I was growing up.  She sold hand-made toys, blankets, and dried flower arrangements.  Little did I know that my future would lead to a similar scenario.

25 years after my mom’s shop closed, I met Emily, when my own collecting/making addiction was in full force.  I had turned my basement in Remington into a community storage space for donated arts and craft materials. It was a challenge to keep up with all the incoming donations.  I was trying to do this by making stuff with the random materials on Tuesday afternoon Porch Art sessions with the kids in my neighborhood. I fully admit that Porch Art was created to feed my own addiction.  I was getting my fix every week not only planning a new idea but also getting to make it happen with a group of people who would show up on my porch weekly!

Porch Art started off slowly in the spring and would pick up speed in the summer, then would crescendo in October with fall frenzied energy and the anticipation of Hauntingdon (our community’s volunteer run Halloween festival).  All the kids in the neighborhood (and many adults too) would gather each week to make creepy décor for the block party including plastic bowl eyeballs, cardboard cut out zombies, mummy masks etc.  You name it we made it.  There is nothing that could describe this process better than the song “Making Christmas” from Tim Burton’s Nightmare before Christmas.  Instead of Christmas of course, we in Remington, were making Halloween.

There was something contagious in the collective making that led up to Halloween.  One year we had more than 100 community members engaged, creating and donating to the cause. In the afternoon my porch was full of kids cutting out paper ghosts in the evening my living room was full of adults drawing disembowed bodies on shower curtains – It was a crazy creative time.  Everyone played a part in the process and it paid off in the end all event. Hauntingdon!

Emily played a huge role in both Porch Art and Hauntingdon.  She may be the one person that I know who loves skulls and Halloween more than I do. We bonded over our love of zombie movies, ghouls, and the darkness as well as our shared addiction to making odd objects.

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These are a few Emily Wheat creations that come with me everywhere (the ghost has been in my car for about 4 years now and the skulls have been hung up in 5 different houses and now 3 boats!) Besides being crafty though – Emily is also the one who created the beautiful photographs of books featured on this website here

What I love about Wheatie is that she has an open sense of wonder, one that a child might have yet combined with old soul wisdom that an elder might hold. It’s quite a balance! I’m not sure how she attained this rare combination, but it may come from her constant search for meaning and purpose while also being able to let things happen as they do.  Emily always has mirrored back to me my belief that the act of making in itself is always somehow more important than whatever object comes out of the creative process.  She reminds me that things end up just the way they do – and we should try be ok with that.

In her chapter this month, Emily emphasizes the importance balance.  How can we allow our work to influence us but not direct us solely in our search for meaning and fulfillment? And how can we not forget to listen to ourselves while learning  from and being inspired by others.

It’s a challenge not to follow any one prescribed career or life path. Emily has supported me and guided me on this task since I’ve known her. She continuously confirms my belief that purpose is not found in one place but on the path itself, it’s in the intentions and in the making and creating.  We just need to continue on with the making to continue finding meaning.

10/3/13

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

chapter five

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Purpose and Meaning

I am constantly driven to find meaning and purpose in each step I take on this path called life. Many of the choices I have made revolve around the work that I do and building a career.  I have recently followed a new life path, one influenced by work, but driven by the desire to live a deeply fulfilling, well-rounded life. I have finally allowed my need to live a more balanced life outweigh my desire to continue on a certain career path.

Beth, you too spend a great deal of time contemplating your choices and the way they direct your life’s path, always letting your intuition be your guide. I always know that when I call you to discuss a change that I need to make you will be encouraging, no matter how strange and scary it might seem. I can hear you now, “Wheatie, trust yourself. You already know what the right decision is.” Your path has also been somewhat directed by the work that you do.  I am interested to see how this year of letting other people direct your life will impact the way that you make decisions in your future.

When considering my own purpose I find that much of my life is centered around my interactions with other people.  As a teacher I am constantly fueled by what I learn from the students I work with as well as challenging them to think and create in new ways.  I also choose to surround myself with a community of people that challenge me and help me grow. I think that our initial bond was created through our similar desire to learn from the people around us.  Interacting with people on such a deep level pushes us to grow but can also hinder us if not balanced with time alone to reflect on knowledge gained.

The challenges I purpose for this month are about finding balance.

Part 1: A Walk in the Woods

I want you to start off this month by going on a hike. It can be as long as you desire but you must be alone and in the woods. The combination of the physical act of moving, spending time alone and being surrounded by the beauty of nature always helps me clear my head and focus my energy.

Let your brain clear out any issues that might be blocking your ability to bask in the experiences and interactions that have come out of the past couple months and consider what you have learned/what you have been reminded of while participating in the challenges of the Living Chapters. How has this knowledge impacted your sense or purpose and meaning?

Part 2: A Treasure a Day

The second part of my challenge for you this month, BB, is to create! I want you to spend this month using your creative energies to make something new every day. I also want you to share those creations with the people in your life that have impacted your sense purpose.

Here are the guidelines:

1. Make something every day.

This something can be as large or as small as you desire. I know that you may or may not have all the usual items that would be at your disposal in other living situations aka your basement in Remington, so I am sending you a package of goods that might help you through this challenge. Also, remember to use your master skills in the art of collecting to find items that may help your creative process.

2. Send or deliver the creations that you have made to people who have or continue to make an impact on your life.

You do not have to send/deliver an item every day and you may send/deliver more than one item to the same person if you choose, but you must be intentional in your decisions during this part of the process.  Let your intention be fueled by your intuition, letting yourself naturally come to conclusions about who must receive which items and when.

I loved your quote from last month’s chapter… “Instead of figuring out a direct plan for my future, what I want to do is hone the skills that will help me arrive at it organically.” Use this practice in following your intuition through the creative process to fuel your ability to listen to your intuition in the next phases of your life.

3. Have fun!

Let this challenge be joyous and not tedious. If you aren’t feeling the project you are working on one day ditch it and start a new one. It will be more enjoyable if you are listening to yourself, especially if you are feeling that it is time for a break or to switch directions.

Note: This challenge does not include October 31st. That day is reserved for tricks and treats.

10/1/2013

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.