Friday, December 29, 2017

Sashiko Needles & Careful Attention

I probably could have tried a little harder to find sashiko needles locally, but I don't really like running errands, so I turned to the web. The big general store in the ether offers several varieties, lengths, makes, quantities, and I ended up choosing the Tulip Long Sashiko Needles Assorted Tube of 6, a little box with two each of three sizes: 66.7, 44.5 and 51.5 mm. I had no idea I was also buying mindfulness.

When it arrived, I was immediately taken with the packaging: a hand-sized, sage green, textured box with a peaked roof, red ribbon cord with tiny round label, cutouts for the attached ribbon, and a viewing area on the side so you can see the needles right away. The label is also printed so it can be perfectly aligned when affixed to the box.

Not wanting to disturb the ribbon, I opened from the bottom.

It contained a little clear plastic test tube with cork cap resting in a folded paper insert
and a pamphlet of information about the craft of needle making. "We have more than 30 processes to make sure that each of our needles is safe and high quality."

According to Tulip's website the needles were originally created more than 300 years ago to enable sewing "piecework for low-ranking samurai to support themselves."
A trade of sword for swordlet.

Speaking of low-ranking samurais, we recently saw a terrific film set in the mid-1800s, with both a thoughtful and emotional range and that was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004: The Twilight Samurai. It also has an excellent female lead who questions social norms. A nice contrast all around as we think of sewing as stereotypically "women's work."

The pamphlet includes the suggestion, "We recommend wiping down the needle after use and storing it inside its case to maintain good performance."
Ah, like a sword.

The insert has an elegant design with the potential for three pop-up holders.
Only one was used.

The needles are sleek, polished, and very sharp.
The pamphlet says: "Tulip was founded in Hiroshima, a region known for its needle making, in 1948 and ever since then, we have always carried out our business based on the principle of 'Quality First.'"
I paused as I thought about what Hiroshima might have be like in 1948.

I'm assuming this is an "inspected by" label. If you can read it, please leave a comment!

The date they were made: 8/25/2016.

The packaging is the frame, a clue, a first impression, like the cover of a book. It situates the viewer and starts a mental process, conjuring a feeling. Every tiny piece of it had been carefully thought out and designed, materials chosen with care. The packaging set the stage of wonder for me, and that wonder continued. As I threaded one of the needles with a strand of embroidery thread, I found I was paying close attention to the feel of the silky smooth needle. Stitch after stitch, my fingers were still aware of the smoothness, and I started feeling both calm and delighted. From the needle outward, the work got better; I was inspired by the needle to pay even more attention to the stitches. It reminded me of the Hasidic practice of performing daily acts with intention and joyfulness to liberate holy sparks.

As our world spins and dizzies us, we need forms of sustenance. I hope you find joy and wonder in your daily tasks. Happy New Year.

My poem, "Everything Is Temporary" is up today at Eunoia Review.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

New Art Quilt: When Birds Sleep

When I first decided to make a quilt honoring the ospreys I'd been watching I had several ideas. I thought about the infrared camera that helped me see the birds at night and how our night vision is in black and white. I thought about how peaceful they looked. And when I realized they sleep while standing on one foot, it reminded me of a Talmudic story, Shabbat 31a, in which a man came to Hillel and asked to be told the whole Torah while standing on one leg. The triangles, top and bottom, represent an osprey's talons. The orange and yellow represent the light from the channel marker beacon. The embroidered poem, in metallic and plain threads:

the water flickers black
and white and gray like an
old movie but we know
color is there.
they balance on one
foot like hillel's student
the other pressed up for
warmth eyes closed.
words flash like the 
channel marker beacon
"what is hateful to you
do not do to another."
watching birds sleep i find
patience beneath the wings.

You can see a larger version here on my website.

This quilt contains all three of the original ideas. The third quilt will be primarily about the light on the water, memory, and our connections. As I mentioned for the "Sweet Osprey Dreams" quilt, I used sleeping Rosie, Richmond, and Rivet for the models, created drawings based on them, made photopolymer plates from the drawings, then printed on cloth. "When Birds Sleep" is really the first of the three, but was finished second, due to the labor intensive machine quilting of the wing, then all the hand embroidery of the text. Details, below.

If they sell, a portion of the proceeds from all three quilts will be donated to Golden Gate Audubon Society, which is responsible for the osprey cams. Looking forward to seeing "our birds" again in March. 


Meanwhile, we have been getting Western Bluebirds (small thrushes) in our trees and on our phone lines here in the bay area. Never seen them in the neighborhood before. The females are a soft dove gray with buff throat or chest; the males are incredibly blue, almost purpley. Five were in our Hawthorne tree the other day, eating the very last of the red berries. 

A little female with something in her beak. Cute profile, I think. Better photos at the Cornell link, above.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Pride and Humility: Quilts to Show in April

I make what I gotta make, but outside affirmation from time to time bolsters my practice. A little cheerleading now and then lifts the spirits. Receiving the acceptance that my quilt Hand Gun was accepted to the exhibit Guns: Loaded Conversations both thrilled me and caused me much relief. Yeah, okay, I'm really excited. Having fallen in love with this particular making process and down the rabbit hole of inspiration, I'm glad to see that my enthusiasm can travel. In this case, I can share other voices as well. Blog post about Hand Gun here. Larger image here.

A fellow book artist, Cathy DeForest, also had a quilt accepted to the show. But of course she did! She has been working with communities and directing an amazing quilt project against gun violence since August 2015. More info at Vision Quilt. Reading about it is humbling.

Our quilts, along with 31 other artists' quilts, will be at the San José Museum of Quilts and Textiles, April 22 through July 15, 2018.

Monday, December 18, 2017

"but in things" :: our (un)intentional collections

The series Mr. Robot quietly revolves around a poem that begins, "so much depends / upon // a red wheel / barrow." That's half of the poem right there. It's by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), a medical doctor turned poet, born of English and Caribbean descent. The poem has no title, but most people refer to it as "The Red Wheelbarrow," (46) which also turns out to be the name of an eatery in the alternative, apocalyptic New York City of Mr. Robot

I got curious. I had not read much William Carlos Williams before, so I checked out William Carlos Williams: Selected Poems (American Poets Project) edited by Robert Pinsky. The book features many spare poems with crystaline imagery and some longer ones that were fine but not as exciting to me. I also kept tripping delightedly over familiar lines. In the poem "A Sort of Song," which appears to be about the writing process, we find "(No ideas / but in things)" (103). A neat reading of it by Williams in 1954 is here.

Thinking about things and the ideas and stories in them: take a look around your room. Rummage through a drawer. You've got a collection in there—at least one, probably more—to which you actively add. Art. Socks. Books. Tea. Pens. Watches. For these active collections you may take pleasure in looking through and handling each object. For these active collections, you are probably also interested in the hunt. We may not realize it, but we are constantly collecting. Our own—shall I say "curated?"—collections can be expressive. They continuously express our ideas about the world: what we view as important, interesting, or funny. Active collections are an extension of ourselves that we may share with others. We may take joy in arranging them or in telling their origin stories. 

Sometimes we collect things, not because we take pleasure in them, but because they might be useful: carrot peelings for the compost, tin cans for recycling, rubber bands for whatever we might need a rubber band for. The story to come. By actively collecting potentially useful items we are attempting to predict or affect the future.

The inspiring and thoughtful documentary film, California Typewriter, embodies the idea of collecting and our connection with both the past and the future. While it tells the story of one typewriter shop here in Berkeley, it also touches on other people affected by typewriters: an obsessed collector, a passionate collector (Tom Hanks), an artist who makes sculptures scavenged from typewriters beyond repair, a poet who will create and type a poem for you in public, a playwright (Sam Shepard) a writer (David McCullough), and a songwriter (John Mayer) who only compose their works on the typewriter and the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, who compose and play typewriters as instruments. Interwoven are concepts of creative process, recycling, repair, and just slowing down. In the case of this film, so much depends upon, not a wheelbarrow, but a typewriter. (There's a red one, too.) All of the people in the film are active collectors of something: either the typewriters themselves or the words they create.

More ideas in things: what about passive collections? I don't mean the dust collecting under the windowsill or the shirts in the laundry basket. Both of those are ignored and waiting for action. I'm thinking about leftover objects that we don't immediately throw away. Some attractive, some less so. Unintentional collections, perhaps.

Quilt Trimmings.

Book Trimmings.

Soap Chips.

Spare Buttons in Baggies.

What are these bits about? Are they worth anything? (I don't even like buttons.)

I finally used a years-long, unintentional-but-compulsive collection of tickets and stamps torn off of envelopes to make collages for my book, What We Reuse in 2016. But I hadn't planned on making anything with the ephemera as I constantly clothespinned and bagged the items in bundles. (You can see one of these baggies in a 2011 post, "An Artist's Book Is Not a Taco," here.) Perhaps sorting and bundling is what we do (or at least what some of us do).

In 1997, Julie Chen used some of the trimmings from her books to create one book with envelopes, Leavings, to hold them. Leavings is a beautiful book that explores memory, baggage, and attachment. I asked her in an email about those leftovers, and she said that they were things she had just not gotten around to throwing out. They were corner roundings from (1993) Correspondence Course and tunnel book holes from (1996) Life Time, among other things. Regarding these unintentional collections she said that it's hard for her to throw anything away until "it becomes clear that I'm never going to use them for anything else." I imagine this means that at some point they lose their liveliness, connection, or spark. She also included bits of ribbon and shed snakeskin. She wrote:

Funny story about the snake sheds—I was cleaning out a drawer last year and found a plastic container that had some leftover snake sheds and some kind of insect had eaten every last bit. It was really weird. I love materials in general, so there's always plenty of stuff lying around.
She called it "more like accumulating," but I see an active collecting impulse to actively store it. It may not have meaning right now, but it may spark something new in the future. Unintentional, true, but it's a collection of potential sparks, whether or not the actual things are used. The shed snakeskin has gone, but it still leaves behind its story: the idea in the thing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Star 82 Review 5.4 is Live! Celebrating Our 5th Anniversary!

Read, accept, compile, write a poem, send out for print proofs, write code for the pages, announce, publicize. Every issue of Star 82 Review has this rhythm which has sustained it and me for five years (so far). I've learned more about writing from reading the submissions than from all the years before it. Many thanks to contributors: past, present, and future!

Here are the links to the newly released online and print issue 5.4 and to the 5th anniversary issue (print only). Issue 5.4, our twentieth, features a wonderfully eclectic collection of art and writing, some of which deals with different kinds of love, misunderstandings, confusion, tenderness, anger, and warmth.

The 5th Anniversary issue is a collection of all twenty regular issue erasure + photo covers (plus the Special Flash 50/50 word stories issue cover), a list of all the contributors, and the twenty found poems I created from either the first two or last two words of each written piece. An index, of sorts. For fun and fundraising. A little celebration.

5.4 Contributors
Geoff Anderson
Vincent Barry
Cristina Bresser de Campos
Leah Browning
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar
Jette Clover
Nicolette Daskalakis
Anne Walsh Donnelly
Matt Dube
Alex Ewing
Charles W. “Bud” Gibbons, III
Howie Good
Terek Hopkins
Ana Jovanovska
Carole Jeung
Denny Kolakowski
Joy Merritt Krystosek
L.L. Madrid
Arturo Magaña
Cleary Mallard
Brooke Middlebrook
Ray Scanlon
Darin Wahl
Jud Widing
Jasper Wirtshafter
Noga Wizansky
Clarence Wolfshohl
Sidney Wollmuth
Albert Zhang

5.4 online is here.
5.4 print is here.
5th Anniversary is here.

Or search for "star 82 review" and "alisa golden" on Amazon (CreateSpace has stopped selling directly through their store so you can bundle your *82s and get free shipping.) Thanks for your support!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Reaching Deep, Reaching Out, and Betty Reid Soskin

Betty Reid Soskin is a 96-year-old, African-American woman who became a park ranger in her older years and still gives many talks a week at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center today. She is calm, down to earth, and quietly amazing. I heard her last summer; she draws her listeners into her world as she speaks thoughtfully and matter of factly about her life. Since the talk I attended I've followed her blog, which touches me with every post. Her talk also inspired me to read To Place Our Deeds: The African American Community in Richmond, California, 1910-1963 (which I recommend). I was particularly interested in the WWII era because the history that is taught initially makes it seem as though all races worked together in harmony toward the building of the ships and participating in the war effort. If you read more carefully you see that black workers didn't get as good health care, there were separate black unions who had to pay dues but who had no votes, housing was built primarily for white workers, and the discriminatory list goes on.

All of this is important background and deserves volumes on its own. But one recent post that I feel I can comment on shone light on Betty Reid Soskin's creative spirit, a deepening that perhaps allowed/and allows her to continue moving forward. Her creativity is manifested in her talks, which are neither written nor rehearsed, but come from deep within herself. In her post, she shows how she needs time to situate herself, to respond to the people around her, and to gather her thoughts. A great teacher's work. 

I would say artist as well.

I've seen her only once. But I felt close to her as I read about her process: understanding the need for space, for quiet, for an opportunity to dive down into oneself in order to provide. Be it a talk, a book, a visual work, an experience. Each person has the potential to reach many others, even in daily acts; a calm tone and kindness in life and art can in ripple outward.


More about Betty Reid Soskin
Betty's blog
Support Betty and her family and pre-order her new memoir, Sign My Name to Freedom here.

If you are nearby, I recommend that you go hear Betty Reid Soskin yourself. Check the calendar for dates and times.

From birds to Betty to the wider world. Here is a bit of process info: watching the osprey web camera and visiting the osprey nest, which is next to the Red Oak Victory ship, got me interested in WWII shipyards, which is what brought me to Betty and a better understanding of history.