Quote for Today: Francis Weller

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Imagine the feeling of relief that would flood our whole being if we knew that when we were in the grip of sorrow or illness, our village would respond to our need. This would not be out of pity, but out of a realization that every one of us will take our turn at being ill, and we will need one another. The indigenous thought is when one of us is ill, all of us are ill. Taking this thought a little further, we see that healing is a matter, in great part, of having our connections to the community and the cosmos restored.

Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief

Image by Biswarup Ganguly with CCLicense

Quote for Today: Mary Oliver

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Oxygen

Everything needs it: bone, muscles, and even,
while it calls the earth its home, the soul.
So the merciful, noisy machine

stands in our house working away in its
lung-like voice. I hear it as I kneel
before the fire, stirring with a

stick of iron, letting the logs
lie more loosely. You, in the upstairs room,
are in your usual position, leaning on your

right shoulder which aches
all day. You are breathing
patiently; it is a

beautiful sound. It is
your life, which is so close
to my own that I would not know

where to drop the knife of
separation. And what does this have to do
with love, except

everything? Now the fire rises
and offers a dozen, singing, deep-red
roses of flame. Then it settles

to quietude, or maybe gratitude, as it feeds
as we all do, as we must, upon the invisible gift:
our purest, sweet necessity: the air.
― Mary Oliver, from Thirst

Image: Hold Hands © Sam Caplat with CCLicense

 

Quote for Today: Jenny Downham

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“It comes and goes. People think if you’re sick you become fearless and brave, but you don’t. Most of the time it’s like being stalked by a psycho, like I might get shot any second. But sometimes I forget for hours.”
“What makes you forget?”
“People. Doing stuff. When I was with you in the wood, I forgot for a whole afternoon.”

Jenny Downham, Before I Die

Image: Holding On (Father and son), Public Domain Image via U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Quote for Today: Philip K. Dick

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Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world, a world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. And that led me to wonder, If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe, it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown of communication… and there is the real illness.
Philip K. Dick, How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later
Image: In your face, pal © Matthew G with CCLicense

Facing Cancer: Yo soy un Corazón by Katherine McDaniel

This poem explores a woman’s thoughts about her cancer diagnosis. Can creativity help us deal with life’s twists and turns?

© Jasaya with CCLicense

© Jasaya with CCLicense

Several years ago, I participated in a program sponsored by Houston Grand Opera called Houston Artists Respond. People from community centers in Houston, Texas, made videos in which they shared their experiences, parts of their lives. These were made available to artists, poets and composers who were asked to respond using their art. I chose three videos from the Baker Ripley Community Center and wove them with my own feelings to make three poems. This is the second of those poems, and tells the story of a brave woman from Cuba who found herself faced with the specter of cancer. She had lived a full and exciting life with ups and downs, and looked forward to a quiet old age. This was not to be, at least not yet.

The poem you see is the result of a communion and merging of understanding between this wonderful woman and myself. I am honored to have been able to use my words to translate and expand her experience. Her story is a tale of courage and resilience, and her sharing of it does not only buoy her spirit, but shines a light to others who tread similar paths. I only hope that I will be able to meet life’s dark places with an ounce of her strength.

Gluten Sensitivity and the Artist: Avoiding Wheat Flour in Art Supplies

flour-49689_640We use products every day with no thought for how they are made or their ingredients. This ignorance is dangerous. Gluten sensitivity can be a serious problem for those who build objects or create works in the physical realm, from painters to construction workers. For background on this condition, a growing problem for people all over the globe, please read our introduction to the subject here. Wheat flour is often used to thicken art supplies and construction materials, just like you might use it to thicken a sauce for your evening meal. Now, some people will tell you that gluten can’t be absorbed through the skin, but the truth is we don’t know that for sure. It’s possible that some people are so allergic that they do react to touching gluten, or they may just not remove it completely from their skin and under their fingernails before eating, putting in their contacts, or biting their nails. Another issue is dust. When gluten is airborne it can be sucked into the lungs, ingested or get into the eyes. These exposures will result in something which we gluten sensitives call a “glutening”. We may get dizzy, disoriented or nauseous, and heartburn, diarrhea, and joint pain are likely on their way. Glutenings can last for a long time; mine range from a few days to a week.

Colorful wheatpaste in Oaxaca. Mexico

Colorful wheatpaste in Oaxaca. Mexico

We all have seen street art or graffiti, in which pictures or writing are painted, scratched or otherwise imprinted on surfaces in public places. One variant that might not be as familiar is called wheatpaste, in which paper images are affixed to a wall using a glue made from flour and water. Remember, regular all purpose flour is wheat flour, so if you see pasted images in your neighborhood, resist the urge to touch them– it’s not good for the art and these beauties are probably bathed in gluten.  What would you do if you were a street artist with gluten intolerance? You could avoid the problem by using spray paint, provided you check labels and are on the lookout for gluten, but you don’t have to. Paste can be made from other flours. Check out this rice paste made by Amaco or this recipe (also rice paste), used for Japanese paper crafts.

© Lollyman with CCLicense

© lollyman with CCLicense

Papier mâché is the construction of objects from paper soaked in glue and formed into shape. Traditionally the glue used is wheatpaste, but it can also be made by substituting the rice paste mentioned above. Since papier mâché is often painted, gesso, which is often used to prepare canvases for painting, is a great alternative as well. Check labels and call companies to make sure that anything you buy is free from gluten. It sneaks in all over the place. Parents of gluten intolerant children need to be very involved with school art projects and should be ready to suggest alternatives. There is a great post for parents here which lists safe products. Another concern with papier mâché is that is often used to make craft items and dolls that sometimes end up in the hands of children, despite the fact that they aren’t overly durable. Friends, don’t let kids play with those items– if they are gluten intolerant or have friends that are, someone could become extremely sick. If you handle them yourself, wash your hands frequently. As to masks, bracelets, and even decorative dishes made from the substance, be aware that a reaction is possible; it’s going to depend on your degree of sensitivity.

© patti haskins with CCLicense

© patti haskins with CCLicense

It’s hard to remember all of this, especially with the whimsy and fun that is inherent in papier mâché and our failure to recognize objects made from it. It’s light weight, often painted and shows up in crafts and on theater stages all the time. To see some great art and a video of the process, take a look at the work of Mélanie Bourlon, which you can see in this great post from all things paper. Awesome detail and clever. Experimentation will probably be required to find the best substitute for wheatpaste, depending on what you are making. This can be a point of pride for an artist, sort of like the painters of the past who mixed their own colors before color became more standardized. It becomes part of your brand. An advantage to making your own recipe is that you don’t have to worry about accidental contamination during production or wheat derivatives disguised under different names. Awareness is key to staying calm and in control. Next time: Gluten Sensitivity, Sculptors and Construction Workers

Vampires vs Zombies: A Shift in Consciousness

Popular culture is an interesting barometer for shifts in thought. What do modern portrayals of vampires and zombies tell us?

© Michael Blomberg Bentsen with CCLicense

© Michael Blomberg Bentsen with CCLicense

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

― Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 

I hate the vamp jobs. They think they’re so suave. It’s not enough for them to slaughter and eat you like a zombie would. No, they want to be all sexy, too. 

― Kiersten White, Paranormalcy

 

Vampires and zombies are nightmare visions of the undead, of what it might cost to live out eternity in our current human bodies. They tell us much about what we fear and what we value. In recent years, the portrayals of these monsters has changed. Does this reflect a change in society?

 

© FICG.mx with CCLicense

© FICG.mx with CCLicense

The vampires of the 20th century became increasingly complex and increasingly attractive. Dracula went from a predatory monster who scaled walls and harvested children to a suave and debonair gentleman who preferred to seduce women before sucking their blood. Francis Ford Coppola went so far in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as to give Dracula a poignant backstory complete with transforming and eternal love, something that Bram Stoker would never have done a century earlier. Anne Rice’s novels, including Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned, show the vampire as a tortured soul, always doomed to commit the evil he did not wish to carry out. The more we understand and sympathize with the vampire, the less terrifying and more pitiful he becomes.

© Sparkle in the sun with CCLicense

© Sparkle in the sun with CCLicense

The vampire legend has made another turn, this time into the realms of teenage romance. Walking around in the daylight, sparkling, and sitting through classes at the local high school, vampires seem to have lost their teeth. We even have the notion that a vampire can, through an act of will, resist murdering and find alternatives to drinking blood, like Bella in the Twilight series. There has always been an allure to the heightened senses and awakenings the vampire experiences. Formerly this was balanced by the horror of becoming a creature that must kill and destroy to stay alive. Is it possible that the hunger for experience has so surpassed our respect and love for others that we no longer fear becoming a monster, or do we see a new way of balancing our needs with those of others?

© Sarah G with CCLicense

artwork and image © Sarah G with CCLicense

The zombie’s path in modern culture is quite different. The origins of the myth lie in West Africa, where sorcerers known as bokors were reported to be able to reanimate corpses and have them carry out tasks. The zombi had no will and no consciousness and therefore could be used as an unstoppable assassin, one who didn’t even realize that it was dead. Richard Matheson’s I am Legend presented us with a population infected by a terrible disease that made them into vampire-zombie hybrids, both bloodsucking and devoid of consciousness. This was the inspiration for the zombies in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and the source of the fabled zombie apocalypse. Romero’s zombies never stopped attacking, so the human need for sleep and rest became a death sentence. And yet zombies were so dreadfully slow that any human who wasn’t caught off guard could escape pretty easily, supposing they were in good condition and the way out wasn’t blocked. Zombies were actually rather funny, lurching around, drooling and moaning incoherently. Who can forget Shaun of the Dead?

Around the time that vampires started to sparkle, zombies changed too. The film 28 Days Later, about an outbreak of illness caused by the bite of a monkey escaped from a scientific testing facility, was the first to mainstream the new zombie, one who could move very quickly. “Fast zombies” were in part the result of new camera techniques and technology, but they also represent a change in thought. The emphasis moved from the victims weakness and failure to escape to the superhuman abilities of the zombies themselves. Like a vampire who could eat garlic and stand against a crucifix, these zombies break the rules. It is terrifying.

© Thomas Hawk with CCLicense

© Thomas Hawk with CCLicense

If vampires reveal a fear of living at the expense of others, perhaps zombies reveal a fear of going through life in a form we feel is beneath us: either as unenlightened and unawake beings, or as beings incapacitated by addiction, debilitating disease, or mental illness. I would venture to say that, as we have extended our lifespans but not our quality of life, the zombie has become more frightening to us. Even if we adhere to good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle, diseases like cancer and mental illness can strike out of nowhere like a “fast zombie”. The fear of global illness and mystery diseases is so great that the CDC has a page of instructions for dealing with a zombie apocalypse, not because they fear the undead, but because they find it an effective way to get people to prepare for disasters in general. If you are ready for zombies, you are ready for anything.