Category Archives: Collage

Rabbit holes and other distractions

Can dropping down a rabbit hole be a necessary pursuit? Or does it always imply time-wasting?

Whatever the case, two deep rabbit holes yawn constantly at the writer’s feet. They are: research and editing.

My story begins in 1738. I had no idea how little I knew until I stumbled along, inserting obvious anachronisms like electric ceiling fans and ice cubes. Yes! But even once you get a certain fluency for your period, quick dips into research are needed — often to remind me of things I learned and then forgot.

How many rebels died the morning after the Stono Rebellion? How many were executed the following week? And the number rumored to have evaded capture, again – remind me?

How is Beaufort rice bread prepared?

What were the prevailing views on homosexuality in the low country in the 18th century? Surely not the same as in the Puritan northeast?

Editing is also necessary and can go on and on and then on some more. Few and far between are those golden passages that come out intact. Most require a lot of work — in fact, an astonishing amount of work — things like making a flashback stand on its own in real time, fixing inconsistent tenses, eliminating peripheral characters, and always — paring away words that clutter the page.

There’s always the danger that editing will keep the writer from the business of original writing. They use such different parts of the brain and one is so much easier to access than the other!

Editing also poses the danger of wiping out distinctive cadences and phrasing. That’s part of why when I back up my manuscript, I don’t write over the previous version (not that I go back and read them, but — I could).

Useful distractions include working in other media (and reading. Always reading!) Most creatives will tell you that switching media feeds the work.

This morning, I played with magazine scraps brought from home. Whether it was a useful distraction or not, I’m not in a position to judge. Here are the results.

The first one speaks directly to a storm scene I’m editing in which the slaveholder loses both an entire crop of rice and a key slave in a boat accident. The scene exposes dissonant responses to the loss (white vs. black). The white response wonders which is the greater loss — the twenty barrels of rice or the valuable slave? — highlighting in a sharp way the slaves’ status as property.

(In the era my novel describes, the enslaved wore ragged tunics and head rags. The portrayal of the two African Americans above, therefore, is to my mind, romanticized).

Today is Good Friday. The Christ figure removed from his cross last night will be processed from the top of the hill down to the Basilica of St Francis. People mobbed the statue last evening once it was in repose in order to touch it.

This morning when I attended Mass at San Rufino at the crack of dawn, the 500 year old wooden body was adorned with flowers.

My digs are a little cold, so midmorning I found a patch of sun near St Clare’s Cathedral and stitched for a while.

The beauty of this place fills me up!

PS. That moon picture was taken out of my window between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m.

The Clip Files, Intro

The support and love that readers offered here moved me profoundly. Thank you! I’d considered turning comments off for the announcement that my sister had died and I’m glad I didn’t know how! Locally, friends have stepped up with legion acts of generosity. Flowers. Dinners. Errands. Packing up the apartment. Prayers. The word that I hear in my head this week to describe friendships is: MIGHTY.

My sister had many compulsions, all of which added up to a disordered life and her premature death at 64. She’d been incapacitated physically for most of the last ten years and morbidly obese for nearly the entirety of her adult life.

Her need was bottomless, her rage explosive, the triggers countless. There were many times over the last nine years when I didn’t think I would survive her. But I offered up a battered loyalty.

Relating to my sister was so crushingly difficult that the demands placed by her remaining mess feel very nearly trivial.

Her clip file, however, poses special problems. For one thing it’s huge — the equivalent of ten banker’s boxes? Fifteen? It’s hard to tell yet, because I keep finding more.

The collection was housed in boxes that lined the walls and spilled into her teensy living spaces. Also in cardboard lids, recycled Kleenex containers, drawers and scattered on table tops. Bills and medical statements mixed in. Foil packs of albuterol buried. While fetching her things (coffee, lunch, address book), I constantly tripped over some box or other. Consolidation, not allowed. I felt a constant, smoldering resentment of all her fucking paper.

So here’s one of many contradictions: how could a visual person, a former artist of some promise, someone still interested in images of nature, interior design, archeology, ancient religious iconography, ALSO be a person who let her living space look like a literal dump?

(For the first three or four years in Salem apartment Number One, at the outset of every visit, my sister would make the same cheery-but-shame-filled queries: “Doesn’t it look better? Can you tell I’ve made progress?”

Me: nearly speechless with disbelief, sputtering some lame agreement).

So you’d think I’d be standing at the recycling bin, chucking it all with a flourish. A big exhalation of relief. Garbage at last! But here’s the second contradiction: I’m not.

The above assemblage represents just a third of the images she pulled while at the nursing home. She couldn’t sit up. Had no scissors. Knew she was dying. But she kept at it.

As for myself, being a collage artist who also sometimes uses images as writing prompts, I view these papers as a treasure trove.

My sister’s legacy.

The second they assume an ugly weight, which might be tomorrow, I’ll recycle.

But not yet.

Collaging to the news

Soul Collage, when you listen to back podcasts of the news, can’t help but feature the vulnerable.

This next one came in response to a story that keeps coming back, not unlike a virulent STD. I’ve included a close up to make the reference clear, but since the script is still small, let me tell you. After one line, find penned two words, “altar boys.”

And because Halloween is about a week away, this next one.

I also spent a considerable amount of time clearing about six square feet of floor. Wish there was a “before” picture but you’ll just have to take my word for it. The recycling bin will be full this week.

Question: what are you guys doing to stay sane in these last days leading up to the midterms? I’ve got my weekly call with my Indivisible group and postcards. Tomorrow a friend and I will hit 200.

A fire is nice, too.

Stunned

I need to slash and swipe and rip and adhere in big gestures right now and I lack the medium.

Writing is going, in case your wondering. So is quilting. But maybe an interlude of collage is in order. It’s not as fast as I would like but does come together more quickly than some writing or most quilting.

In SoulCollage circles they recommend an exercise to plumb the meaning of your collaged image. Of course any one image can have many meanings even for the same viewer depending on time and place. But the exercise is a useful one.

Looking at the card, fill in the statement, “I am the one who… “. This harkens back to therapeutic exercises I’ve done over the years — the gestalt process of speaking from various parts of self and Jungian dream work where each object and player in a dream is given voice.

So here goes for the top two (BTW, the silhouettes were made by cutting around the seated black man, so they are three versions of the same figure).

Card with the arch: we are the ones making the steep climb toward the light. The keepers of the faith. The reporters. The prosecutors. The community activists. Even those glued to the television refusing to let the most recent overwhelming mind bending and egregious acts slide by without notice can be credited with making the ascent. Look how steep the stairs!

Card with black man facing forward: I am the one who sees you and sees everyone and bears witness. I am haloed by history and backed by mountain ranges. Light is my friend. I have huge hands, an unflinching gaze, and more humanity than the average dozen people combined. Nothing you say or do has much to do with me. Nothing, really. There was a time I would’ve run for the hills with so much chaos unfolding, but not now. I see you and I see everyone and I bear witness.

We rearrange

It’s a mistake to think people are creative. They don’t create anything. What they do is rearrange things.

Novelist Mark Helprin interviewed 10-5-17 on the podcast, “The Avid Reader“.

Prior to that, he said, “You have to have models [to write about]. We have only what we are given in creation. We don’t create anything. All we can do is interpret it.

He’s one of those superb writers who’s had an incredibly interesting life, like Louise Erdrich (with her 1/2 German, 1/4 Native, 1/4 French ancestry (talk about a cast of characters!)). Turns out that as a boy, Helprin lived in a Parisian house that had safeguarded a Jewish family in its attic for years. Imagine what those walls had to tell a young child!

It’s important to remind a person like myself that every life is interesting in some measure. And besides, my life, to use his logic, is what I was given.

He also talked about how often writers’ first novels are autobiographical. He didn’t think so at the time but now sees it to be true.

His new novel is the first he’s ever set in contemporary time. I can’t wait to read it.

Meanwhile, my antique-dealing neighbor who sold his house put even more treasures on the curb today. I snagged a triptych — with hinges that work in both directions! I’ve wanted one for years. I mean, years. Our family room has a large opening to the cellar stairs which acts as a conduit for cold air. The temperature issue’s been partly resolved by hanging one fluffy blanket over the cellar door and another over the dog gate. But still, I’m thrilled.

I’m going to make some collage packs for Newton Open Studios and include some of this gorgeous Chinese-scribed paper. If you, dear reader, would like to receive a collage pack, leave a comment below saying so and I’ll draw a name next week.

Redemption and damnation

It’s hard not to think about redemption and damnation these days, almost routinely, like how we used to ponder nest eggs or outfits. Here are two collages that try to capture these extremities.

Redemption collage: “100 Years of Reflecting the Future”. The caption came from an ad in the centennial issue for Women’s Wear Daily —  a subscription purchased with airline miles. Believe it or not, I really enjoyed the industry rag, partly because my mother used to get it, partly because even though I’m a member of the fashion-impaired tribe (and the “I don’t really give a fuck” club), clothing cannot get away from the fact that it’s constructed from cloth, which as you know, I love. Usually, the magazine words I come across are distractions or reductive labels, but these were provocative, so they stayed.


This collage references the anatomical heart and aging and asks some big questions.

The collage asks: who will save us? What will save us? Can anything? What future? Can this moment in our history be redeemed? Are there powerful forces of good in the ethers, and if so, how could they have so badly let the American people down?

Damnation collage. The figure below is damned for so many reasons. For one, she’s ill prepared for the elements. For another, in a landscape of grief and disaster, her concern for her appearance seems particularly superficial. She is stylish for sure, but seemingly ignorant of the rows and rows of graves behind her. And, can’t she smell the molten liquid burning up the landscape behind her? Someone needs to tell her that lava will not be at all impressed with her strappy sandals.