And Then She Just Up And Flew Away

Another Recovery Gals Art Exchange has landed. When Tammi and I started this exchange a little over a year ago, we didn't have any expectations, we only knew the power of making, of giving and receiving, the power of connection. We had over fifty women participate in this past exchange. It is a beautiful gift to witness the connections made through this exchange and for that, I'm so grateful. 

The theme for the Spring Equinox exchange was Metamorphosis. Such a good word. 

My partner for this exchange is my now new friend, Nicole. We just happened to be about the same age, but after many days of furious texting, that commonality only scratched the surface. She made for me the most amazing collage that the photo almost does it a disservice. I will be staring at it for hours before I've examined all of the tiny but meaningful elements, down the Scrabble logo and cats. She also sent me some vintage bits and bobs and it was like she'd been peeking into my studio. I'm pretty sure I've made a friend for life, she's my person.

I played with ideas for months. I've been so driven this year in all of my affairs that it wasn't until Spring Break, when I was forced to slow down and get quiet, did one idea start to come into focus. I knew I wanted to try a technique that I hadn't tried before, so I let that take the lead, and my intuition filled in the rest. 

I photocopied a photo of a dead relative. I honestly don't know where she falls on my family tree, but we're obviously related, just look at her dress and flower corsage.

I used Liquitex Gloss Heavy Gel and glued it face down to a piece of fabric. After it dried over night, I sprayed it with water and slowly (it took several tries) peeled the paper off until the image remained affixed to the fabric.

After that was completely dry, I put another coat of Liquitex over the image. Then I just collaged a sort of butterfly headdress over her head. I used some sequins and beads, all things either given to me or treasures I've rescued from thrift stores. Some I thread I used was given to me by Tammi. All of the elements have passed through many women's hands, I'm sure.

After the headdress, I made a vintage lace frame and stitched some words on the bottom, some I heard her say:

And then she just up and flew away.

She wasn't flying away to escape, no. She is our ancestor. She is in the Earth, in the air we breathe, she's the light from the stars. So no, she's flying out of her pain, her despair, her circumstances and into the realm of mystery, of creativity, of miracles.

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If you are interested in participating in the next art exchange, drop me a line.

 

Connection

The Fall #artexchange, officially scheduled for the Autumnal Equinox, has come and gone but I want to share what I made, what I received. The theme was Connection, so sharing this time around feels very relevant. It's what the impetus and execution for the whole #artexchange project was about for me, connection. When I first began to meditate on the theme, I immediately went back to adolescence.  I thought back to a time when friendships seemed easier, when I could while away an afternoon on my bed, gabbing on the phone about boys, listening to records, playing Scrabble until midnight on a Saturday. It was all so effortless. 

I wanted this piece to feel like a young girl's room. Feminine. Sweet. Effortless.

I wanted this piece to feel like a young girl's room. Feminine. Sweet. Effortless.

Now, initiating connection, maintaining connection, nurturing connection, all feels so hard sometimes. But making this piece forced me to think about that. It made me ask questions, like, is it? Is it hard? Does it have to be hard? I don't want it to be. I want it to be as effortless as it was then. This entire Recovery Gals Art Exchange project that Tammi and I initiated has definitely nudged connection along in this past year, and they have all felt real, organic and meaningful. Do you have to launch an art exchange to make connections? Perhaps not, but it was the thing I needed for my recovery at the time, so I'm so glad we did.

My partner in this exchange is named Heather, and she gets me. She sent me a beautiful stack of twenty (20!) collaged meditation cards that cover four connection landscapes: self, duo, spirit and community. She said she could see me using them as I sat in my favorite spot by the window. They are unbelievably gorgeous, complex, multi-layered. I am such a visual person, I like things all laid out in front of me, so I will use these a lot. 

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I love the #artexchange for a myriad of reasons, but connection is at the top of the list. Maybe connection will become easier as I continue to recover, grow and evolve but if launching a project means I get to reflect, make and collect art while connecting, then let it be so.

Shame Ate My #artexchange

It started in the the middle of my third grade year. I don't know why I decided to stop doing my homework, or if it was a decision at all. It's not like I declared some internal manifesto, I Will Not Do Anymore 3rd Grade Homework From Here On Out, no. It just started with one homework sheet. One sheet that I decided that instead of doing right away, I would stash neatly under my bed and use those parentless few hours to make myself and my little brother a pb&j and watch Sanford and Son. Perhaps it crossed my mind a second time, right before I slipped out the backdoor, hopped on my banana seat and biked down to meet my neighbor to continue our business of exploring every inch of our combined twenty acres of wooded property. 

I'll do it later.

I'm pretty sure I didn't meant to LIE lie to my Mom, who would come home that evening and ask me if I'd done my homework. I was a good, Christian kid who made straight As in academics and conduct. I was only taking out a loan on the truth because I knew that I'd have plenty of time to pay it back. I'll just double up tomorrow. When the next day's homework was again stacked neatly on the first, still tucked under my bed, I borrowed a little more. I'll do it over the weekend.

Third grade was the first time I experienced denial, avoidance, overwhelm. The memory is still so acute. The ever growing stack under my bed, I knew it was there but I couldn't look at it. I couldn't internalize the dread. Instead, I would eat another bowl of cereal, polish off a stack of Oreos and back out I would go to climb another tree or I'd hide inside a blanket fort in the living room  and listen to Crystal Gayle, but I would not think about it because thinking about it made it real. When the thoughts forced their way in, the only image I could conjure was one of completion. I wasn't the kid who hadn't done her homework since Christmas break. I wanted to be the kid who had already done it but I didn't even know how to start.

I remember at some point my Mom forcing a confession out of me. I remember, through resistance and tears, I revealed that stack of homework under my bed. I remember my Mom bringing it out and setting it on the fireplace and it was ten feet tall. Mom must have been alerted by my teacher, Ms. Noske, because it wasn't long after that we were both called to a conference. I sat off to the side of the room and stared out a window while they talked. I had no idea. This is very unlike her. I vacillated between needing to throw up and being so detached from the situation that in my mind, I had already snuck out the back door and was back home in my blanket fort, safe and sound. When Ms. Noske finally called me over to her desk and I took that first long look into her face, that was the first time in months that I'd felt some relief. She knew, my Mom knew, no more hiding. At that point, I didn't care what the solution was, nor the consequence. The gig was up.

It appears that Ms. Noske was so exasperated with me that she couldn't fill in my third trimester's grades and that maybe '4th grade' end of year placement was an afterthought. But perhaps I'm projecting.

It appears that Ms. Noske was so exasperated with me that she couldn't fill in my third trimester's grades and that maybe '4th grade' end of year placement was an afterthought. But perhaps I'm projecting.

In the end, the adults did come up with a solution. They decided that I was most likely bored with the third grade, that it would be punitive for me to have to repeat the third grade, so Ms. Noske pulled around twenty worksheets from the stack and would pass me through upon completion. 

What does any of this have to do with this Summer's art exchange? There are consistent demons I battle, some rooms would call them defects. I don't know if either of those words are helpful to describe characteristics that don't necessarily need a value placed on them. Sometimes they just are. They consistently show up, I consistently have to work with them, around them, through them and sometimes I question if anyone can inherently change.  The topic for this exchange was Abundance, and because I know what that means intellectually, I had an idea for where I wanted my piece to go. What I didn't have was a plan for execution nor time management nor a good handle on expectations, which to me means that I don't inherently get abundance. Will I ever, remains to be seen. 

Because my proportions felt off, I almost scrapped it a number of times but instead, I kept adding to it (another ironic nod to abundance) and I don't really know if that served it in the end. I also grapple with the existential of abundance versus enough. Perhaps they are one in the same, two faces of the same coin. Third grade Sondra would say that in a sea of homework abundance, twenty pages were enough.

I do want to share the happier side of this exchange on abundance. Here is my piece from my exchange partner, Susan. I'm in LOVE love with it.

It was covered in dried Iris petals that she used to hand-dye the fabric. It's tattered and torn, decaying and ephemeral, delicate but sturdy. According to her letter, I think Susan also struggled with abundance and enough and how they tug two sides of a beautiful, tender thread. I love Susan so much, as an artist and as the friend that she has become. If the quality of creative, sober friends were riding that tender thread, I think I would lean toward enough over abundance, any day.

Emerge

I'm late. I'm late. I'm late.

These are the only words I can say these days. I am in a constant state of lateness, not-on-timeness, not emerging. So it's funny, writing about the past #artexchange that was supposed to have been exchanged on the Spring Equinox and the topic was Emerge that I have done the opposite. Not that I haven't been social on media or started a podcast or left my house, because I have done all of those things but I have gone far and deep inside. I have cried and cried until I'm not sure if I have anymore tears. I have listened to the Hamilton soundtrack so many times, the ending is written in history books and yet, I'm still devastated by Act II. I know to trust the plan even if the route doesn't make sense to me right now, but the route is taking me through some dense fog. The plan says to just keep walking, so I am.

This piece that I made for my exchange partner meant one thing when I first arrived at the idea, but it is continuing to unfurl like a flower, a flower emerging in Spring. I'll attempt to put words to my thoughts but they may fail.

The last few years of my drinking felt like I had fallen down a well, I could see the light above me, people walking by and carrying on with their day, but I did not know how to climb out. The background of this piece has the layers of wallpaper that may have appeared fine to anyone else observing it, but if you looked closely, you could see that it was patched and barely holding itself together.

Occasionally, small leaks of light would come in until there were enough promising beams that I knew if I just started grabbing these little bits and scraps and tied them together, I may build a ladder to climb my way out. 

Sometimes I tumble back into that well. It's not as dank now, the walls aren't discolored, I'm not trying to patch them and pretend there are spots that don't need a little tending to. But I do have all of the scraps I need to build another ladder, to emerge once again.

A Lesson in Surrender

The Recovery Gal's latest art exchange for the Winter Solstice has come and gone. If you want to catch up on what I'm referring to, you can here. The theme for this exchange was SURRENDER. Ah, I thought, and smugly I may add: I got this. I had the perfect, most Pinterest-worthy interactive piece of art all dreamed and schemed in my head, but there was only one problem. I couldn't start it. I was having so much resistance to making the thing and I couldn't figure out why. I knew I wanted it to be about a metamorphosis, the evolution that comes when one surrenders. The problem is that it's not the whole story, it's not my whole story. The bathroom floor, down on my knees moment had to be a part of it too. Most of my ideas come either in the shower or in a dream and this one floated through me in my sleep. I surrendered.

With this idea, I needed a box, a perfectly imperfect box that I made (without woodworking tools, mind you, and I wouldn't recommend) with my hands.

The two elements I kept from my first idea were a chrysalis and a butterfly, the metamorphosis, which I made with embroidery and applique. (I'm exchanging with two ladies as why there are two.)

I wanted to cover the box with words from an old journal. These particular words are significant because they were written in the middle of the night in one of the last years of my drinking. It was right around a birthday and I am attempting to describe, in barely legible handwriting, how my creativity only lies in the moments between sober and passed out. (If you want to see the journal entry in its entirety, it is here.) I thought that was the only magical creative moment for me and I chased it for decades. I cried as I made several copies of that journal entry to glue to my boxes. It's so hard to relive those moments, those lifetimes, so stuck, so miserable, so far from a solution. 

I used a decoupage-type glue and added many layers, so many layers of journal paper. I also added the words AND YET, NOT YET, which describes that continuous, incoherent state I was in, like purgatory. When the glue dried, I used an old grease marker to distress it more.

I glued the chrysalis and the butterfly wing to the front and back to finish it. I'm very pleased with how it turned out, exactly like my dream actually. It was very hard to make as it brought up so much emotion and the whole experience was one long exercise in surrender, the final piece, the metamorphosis.


I have to share the two stunning pieces I received from this #artexhange.

This is from Sarelle and please visit her blog to see her description of her process. It is so good. 

I can use it when I surrender to the day to get cozy under it with a book and a cup of tea. It reminds me of water, which is incorporated in the one and only tattoo I got when I was 19. One of my favorite things to do since I was a kid is to float in water and listen to my breath...surrender. I love this, the details are gorgeous.

My second piece came from Rachel. I'm going to paraphrase her description.

The idea is that when we stop trying to make the world go away and put down the umbrella and just experience the cold, wet rain, the pain, the discomfort, it isn't so bad. Just as the tree surrenders its leaves in the winter for new ones to grow, so should we. And the umbrella is actually a sketch collaged on to the piece, which is a metaphor for what we think is protecting us is sometimes just a mirage, or a story in our head. This piece is utterly beautiful, the woman looks so at peace, just putting her umbrella down and feeling the rain. It is going to hang in my studio for every moment I need to remember this.

If you want to follow along on Instagram to see the full collection of art exchanged this Winter Solstice, search the hashtag #artexchange and #recoverygalsartexchange . The pieces are still trickling in as the holidays threw some of us behind. If you are interested in joining in the next one planned for the Spring Equinox, contact me or Tammi Salas. We'll be coming up with the next theme in the next few weeks. This is seriously one of the most meaningful things I'm doing right now. I love all of the art we are making...pinch me.

Reflection

I know I keep yapping about this #artexchange, but it's seriously been one of the most fun things I've ever participated in, so bear with me. When creativity and recovery collide, this is the ultimate climax (for me and I *think* the other participants are feeling it too). I can't wait to start working on the next exchange and I'll speak more about that in a second. 

You have to see what I received. This is from my friend, Caitlin, whom I'm just getting to know in this community. She made two of these, and she pressed one up against the other as a reflection, which was the theme. 

Isn't it stunning? I think it's stunning. It looks like the ocean at night with the moon reflecting off its waves. It has so much texture that it almost becomes interactive (re. I just want to touch it).

And it came with this beautiful poem.

Gah. How lucky am I?

We have exchanged names for the next #artexchange and it's going to be a huge one. They will be presented the week of the Winter solstice (December 21) and of course I'll be back to yap some more on my process first, what I've received later. This exchange's theme is surrender and that could be the title song to the soundtrack of my life. Everyday is a surrender, so I can't wait to jump in. Be sure to follow me on Instagram as I'm sure I'll be giving some little sneakpeeks in the process. We're also using the hashtags #artexchange and #recoverygalsartexchange if you want to see all of the work as a collection.

In the meantime, Happy Making! And thank you for my beautiful Reflection, Caitlin.

When An #artexchange Is More Than An #artexchange

Do you know what it's like to be enthusiastic with someone? Like really dork-out hard on ideas, projects and dreams and just be down-right giddy, nothing withheld? I've had relationships like this in my life and if these brainstorming sessions involved booze (which they often did), the ideas were left right there with the empty bottles and over-flowing ashtrays. 

And then it happened when I met Tammi. Initial social media exchanges revealed mutual interests and before long, there were phone dates and ideas for projects with actual plans and timelines for follow-through. I've not buzzed so electric with dreamy creativity in a long time. We laugh about being separated at birth and I don't know if that ever really happens, but if babies were delivered by stork, we were definitely hatched from the same egg. 

After some thoughts tossed around about the possibility of our kids doing an art exchange, we got the idea for an adult version and put the call out to our creative sober community. The response blew me away. Tammi always says, Pinch Me and honestly, that thing you hear that if you wrote out the best possible version of your life post-sobriety, you would have sold yourself short? Well, that's true. Pinch me. 

The specifics of the art exchange are the participants make a piece of art from any medium (visual, poetry, photography...as long as it can be snail-mailed or emailed) on a recovery related theme. We drew random pairs and the dates for exchanges were set for the equinoxes and solstices. The theme that Tammi and I decided for this first exchange was Reflection, and our participants were encouraged to interpret the theme in any way that seemed fitting.

Sitting in reflection is a place I've spent much time in sobriety. Whether you are taking steps or doing the actual Steps, unpacking the events in your life that have led you to where you are is something that most of us in recovery feel compelled to do. I personally try not to get too tangled up in the 'what ifs'. Every road that we didn't take in our lives, we have no experience of  and therefore, without getting into the metaphysicality of it, doesn't exist. So for the artist or creative person, in trying to make sense of your life, the examination becomes its own product. It can be art or words, it can be meaty or syrupy, but what is happened, exactly the way it was supposed to. I need reminders and need to be reminded, and then I need to pass it on.

I knew I would probably go with some textile art since textiles are my jam, but the grand idea came to me where all grand ideas originate, the shower. I've had these antique hand mirrors for a while. They are such pretty dust collectors, *sigh*. I just knew they should be the premise for my pieces. (Note: My exchange is a three-way because we had an odd number of participants. So I made two pieces and I'll receive two pieces. Lucky me.)

I broke out the mirrors and got to work on the replacements.

What a pretty reminder, right? Still beautiful, nothing has changed and it never will. How comforting. And so is embroidery, by the way. I highly recommend picking up some thread and hoops. Couch activity, need I say more.

Perfectly imperfect.

Perfectly imperfect.

I added a little quilt padding, stitched it onto a felt backing and glued it in.

It's perfectly fine lying down.

It's perfectly fine lying down.

Or it's interactive!

Or it's interactive!

This is one of the funnest experiences I've ever had. The photos are coming in, so follow over on Instagram (and Tammi's IG here) and I'll post what I've received when they come in. There are a bunch of us beauties (15 to be exact), so if you want to see the whole she-bang, we are using hashtags #artexchange and #recoverygalsartexchange .

If you are a sober creative and are interested and jumping in on the next #artexchange, contact me or Tammi! We'd love to have you. Next exchange date is set for the Winter Solstice, December 21st, theme TBD.

Pinch me.