Thursday, December 30, 2010

For you Dad

My Dad's book

The last couple weeks have been filled with holidays; the brilliant candles of Hanukkah and the pungent sell of the spruce Christmas tree; the combined sensory experiences of an interfaith household. But, as Dickens noted in The Tale of Two Cities, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Sometime between the eight nights of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, my father was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and began chemotherapy two days later.
A hale 78 year old writer, survivor of a triple by pass, my dad had just had his latest book, The Made-Up Self published in last October. Following its publication, it was reviewed in the New York Times and my father was thrilled. I got to thinking about voice and wrote this post which I never published, but came back to since his diagnosis. I offer it here as a tribute to my dad and his love of voice.

Birds 3, Sara Post ©2009
Voice. The singular thing that beckons us into and sustains us in a piece of writing. Voice tells the story, plays on our emotions, evokes our sympathies. What does this in a piece of visual art?

I struck out one night with my sister Amelia to visit the opening of a show at our local cooperative gallery, The Artery, and find out. I was a bit overexposed from a week of presentations at the hospital, so I didn't expect to be seeing clearly.

You know how it is when you've been teaching and lecturing too much and not writing enough? That's how it was. Fatigue doesn't seem to matter for Amelia. Put her in a gallery and she is immediately absorbed by color and form. I flit from one piece to the next searching for something that calls to me--could it be a"voice" I'm looking for?

Since voice must be embodied to be heard, which piece will speak to me? How will I know when I   see it--what will it look like? Will it be clothed in quiet tones of umber, terracotta or ochre? Or, sparkling with brilliant patterns in red, black and gold? I'm on a blind date arranged by the gallery but I think somehow I'll recognize it when I see it.

And I do. The piece is located in a corner of the gallery and is made out of clay. Clay that is rolled thin like cookie dough and cut into irregular tile forms mounted on a birchwood panel and connected with thin lines of grout. On the tiles, in dark indigo, so dark that  its almost black, are intertwining mandalas, circles with interconnecting lines that form the stamens and pistils of plants and reach towards crows who've alighted on these "circles" of plants.

Here is my friend. I stand for a long time, reading the artist's description and wondering how I can scrape together enough money to take my friend home so we can keep talking? Provocative isn't it?  

Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Year's Collaboration

Often, when we think about the end of the year, we simultaneously think ahead to a new year and what we might want to create in the future.

At the beginning of 2010, I took a class with Alyson Stanfield, of The Blast Off course was a fabulous way to begin the new year and led me in a variety of new directions, the likes of which I never imagined. My classmates and I created plans which spanned the entire year and during the last week, I've been going over them to see which intentions came to fruition and which shriveled on the vine.

This process got me thinking. I liked the concreteness of goals and dates, but it occurred to me that I was missing another piece. It came to me when I was reading Gretchen Miller's fantastic post on her altered New Year books. You can check them out here.

Gretchen focused on qualities she wanted to bring into her life in the course of 2010. Words like "balance," "transition," and "sustain" called out to me.

These words spoke to the qualities that often underlay my resolutions; aspects I miss while hurrying to get to the results (e.g.: exercise more,  communicate more carefully, spend more time in the studio...)I forget to savor the experience, which eventually leads to my feeling of accomplishment, once I achieve my goals.

If, however, I focus on the underlying feeling of my goal, I may find that there is more than one way to get there.
In that spirit, I decided to cut to the quick and locate some words for myself. Not hard to do, because they were the feelings I most often find myself lacking.
I decided to start the process while I was at work and pitched the idea to a teen, who had been moved off the pediatric floor and was feeling bored and lonely.

Her disease causes her a great deal of pain and she has a reputation for being a bit ornery.I went in with the sheer enthusiasm I felt for the project, but was still surprised when she agreed.We worked on our pages side by side, giving each other suggestions and checking in on the progress of the television program she enjoyed watching.

We met each day this week and by the end, I'd compiled the six qualities I want to focus on.

My favorite one so far is "forgive." There are
many ways in which I "miss the mark." But most of the time, I haven't--its me wanting more of me than I can give. Thus, forgiveness.

Today, my teenage patient was asleep. It's raining hard outside and the dark gloom is conducive to sleep. We didn't have a chance to put our books together. It's o.k. We'll try again Monday.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear some words that you might be thinking of for the New Year. What are your favorites?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Seed in Winter

I walked up to the playroom door yesterday morning only to find it locked and empty. Unusual, but so was my being there first thing in the morning. After opening up, I set to work, laying out materials for an ad hoc art group; metallic watercolors, paintbrushes, lots of white paper. Soon enough several patients found their way there too. Andrea, a tall, lovely 14 year old with an endearing smile, announced that she loved winter. She told us it was the bare trees that charmed her. "I think you're channeling the East Coast, Andrea. Many of the trees here still have their leaves," I told her. "Yes," she agreed, "that's what I'm channeling." As I later thought about it, however, as she had checked in for her last in-house chemo, perhaps she was reflecting on the nascent possibility that she could be cancer free. Her body had stored up all the infusions over the last year or so and now having lost her own "leaves," she was there waiting for that inevitable spring.

In an odd way she was exactly right: this is what winter does-strips us of our leaves, our illusions and leaves us with the bare outlines of our inner and outer landscape. We have a chance to reflect on the structure of our lives. Do we want to prune them, encourage growth in a new direction? (Which one of us doesn't want to do that with the alternative being stagnation?)

That means it's time for an accounting, a consideration of the past year; what I've been able to achieve and what was left wanting. And where, after all this looking, do I want to go in my life? Usually, I start this process with a list, but after combing through my iphoto file this morning, I thought it might be fun to select some of my favorite 2010 pieces and share them in a slideshow.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Postcard Assemblage!

I set aside a day over Thanksgiving weekend to try something new--constructing a series of 25 postcards, destined to be sent to 25 different places around the world. Art Therapy Without Borders had set up a world-wide exchange, asking people to sign up in order to create and send postcards about how each of us practices art therapy in our neck of the woods. The goal of this collaborative art project is to allow community members from the Art Therapy Alliance, International Art Therapy Organization and Art Therapy Without Borders to create a greater sense of connectedness throughout the world, as well as, to see how practices differ from country to country or even state to state.

I wondered where to begin. I could collect medical packaging for collage. That would give people a good clue about where my art therapy is located. (I didn't get too far with this because the wrappers are routinely tossed.) I also considered taking some of the drawings that children leave behind and adding them to the collage mix. The truth is, in the back of my mind, I knew that I would end up utilizing my "everything but the kitchen sink" method, where I grab papers and cloth and treasures from every part of the studio. I just wanted to pretend that I might be a more thematic and organized this time. But wait--there could be an organizing principle: the baby press.

I had received a baby press for the hospital during the last holiday season (courtesy of those good people who ask us for wish lists.) It had been sitting captive in its crate for the better part of the year. Never enough time or tools during the day to unpack it.

What better activity for Thanksgiving break than to get my sister and her big red truck to help me haul it to my studio and put it together? I could test it with these postcards. She was game for the adventure, and we wrestled the crate up my studio stairs and began to unpack it. Before long, with the help of various hex wrenches, we assembled it. Fabulous!

Filled with anticipation, I laid out 25 cards in rows and got to work. I cut up leftover postcards from earlier shows, a rice paper kite and slivers of the book that I had been altering. Throughout the process, I tried to suspend my own sense of judgment, that nemesis on alert, whenever I'm in artist mode. Instead I intended to follow the direction of my fingers and eyes, inviting in the critic only after the composition was basically there.

I wanted my images to allude to the art therapy work I do--not to spell it out in words and images (enough about that was written on the back)--but rather create a riddle for the viewer to solve. I've created a slide show of the postcards which you can see below: