- "Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity: Be intensely yourself. Don’t try to be outstanding; don’t try to be a success; don’t try to do pictures for others to look at – just please yourself.” ~Ralph Steiner
i’ve certainly mentioned here in prior postings that i’ve been editing a special edition of the literary magazine birkensnake over the past year. our volume has come to fruition, amongst its sister volumes — all quite unusual in format — and our own wild conformations issue was the highlight of a gallery exhibit at most wanted fine art in pittsburgh a few weeks ago. the other special issues of birkensnake 6 which were completed were also on display.
gallerist and demolition derby driver jason sauer was the illustrator for the wild conformations issue and all of the illustrations for the issue were available as coloring pages at the gallery opening, which was going on concurrent with pittsburgh’s first dios de los muertos celebration.
sauer had also reproduced his illustrations for wild conformations as paintings on metal, and these were on display in the gallery as well.
there was a catch, though, if you wanted to HAVE a copy of any of the special birkensnake 6 issues, which were all produced by artists (our own designed by edie fake) and in very short supply. if you wanted to walk away with a copy, you had to do a public reading from whichever volume you wanted. these events are still going on at the gallery throughout december. here are some videos of readings:
amasked dia de los muertos observer reads from a romance story featured in wild conformations issue:
here’s author rachel piccari, whose work is featured in another of the birkensnake 6 iterations (one that i believe is not quite ready yet), reading from the wild conformations issue. piccari got on a bus from philadelphia to pittsburgh. right after the event she got back on a bus back to philadelphia. hardcore.
and here’s jason reading, with baby rowdy.
the wild conformations issue itself is online in content, although you don’t get to see the beautiful funky presentation,
in the very week last year when we were letting submitting authors know their proposals had been chosen for the issue, one editor (liz) and one author (jamie) became parents. this gallery event, and the first sight of the completed issues, happened the week both of those babies turned one.
i am grateful to birkensnake, joanna ruocco and brian conn, liz hahn, jason sauer and nina gibbs of most wanted fine art, lisa annelouise rentz, matthew salesses, kawika guillermo, jamie grefe, patricia friedrich, and edie fake for making this year-long collaboration possible.
it has been a really long time since i posted here. nothing to say about it except that life got big, and our family got bigger. all is well.
this year, both claudia and béla wanted store bought costumes. béla, in fact, knew nothing about what he wanted to be EXCEPT that he wanted it to come from a store; claudia is very into monster high right now (sigh) and has used all her tooth fairy money (four so far) on those dolls.
she wanted a monster high costume, he eventually chose a ghostbusters costume (having just seen the movie in a hotel in richmond, virginia) and they enjoyed their dance school party, regular school party, and trick-or-treating.
tucker has been reading d’aulaires’ greek mythology to claudia since the summer. (béla wouldn’t sit for it.) and we convinced her that, even if she didn’t wear it anywhere, that we NEEDED to make her an athena costume. just for the sake of doing it. and for pictures.
so we did.
as my friend bryan said, “i’m not angry about war or happy about war, it’s just what i’m the goddess of, the end”.
so even though no one but her family saw her, we had our little goddess of war. plenty more photos available here.
quite some years ago — let’s see, when did romero’s land of the dead come out? 2005? — i knitted a large zombie doll as i waited for the film’s release. it’s all well on record, my love for romero, the way he works, and his under-appreciated non-horror films. and at the time i knit my zombie doll — a large, floppy, primitive rendering of “bub” the zombie from day of the dead — i’d never seen anyone knitting zombies.
but of course, it wasn’t long after that at all that zombies became a THING, the way bacon and pirates and cupcakes suddenly became THINGS, and i saw lots of little knitted zombies with oh-no-mr.-bill mouths. knitted zombies seemed to be quite everywhere. my bub was ok, but he had button eyes and therefore wasn’t even given to the children until rather recently, and they weren’t all that interested. i have to say, i don’t even know where he is now and it’s possible that we’ve gotten rid of him. i wasn’t in love with how bub had turned out — but i also never saw any other knitted zombies that i thought were anything special.
until fiona goble’s knit your own zombie. (that seems to be an american edition; i have the british one.) i already owned goble’s knit your own royal wedding, but never had any intention of making anything out of it. the zombie book, i wanted to work with right away. i loved her construction (although in the long run i never made any of the velcro tear-away limbs for my dolls). and i loved learning to use chain stitch for faces and details. the first dolls i made straight from the book were for the kids for christmas.
the kids liked them, i was happy with them, i had fun with the scale. i wanted to make more, and specifically zombie ones (with body cavities and entrails!) but was waiting for an opportunity to present itself.
then, one of my new pittsburgh pals — gallerist and founder of the pittsburgh 48-hour film project nina gibbs — clued me into the hollywood theater in dormont and it’s “go digital or go dark” fundraising campaign. a number of themed events were popping up to raise money, and a night of the living dead-themed event — with staff, crew, art auction, live music, and screening of a 35mm print — was one of them. i knew then who — what! – i needed to make more zombie dolls for! and i made a pair and sent them to the auction at the festival. i wanted to be there, but my dolls were.
hands down, best zombie dolls in the knit world are the ones fiona goble designed. but i’ll take my end of the deal, happily. here are the dolls i knit, at the festival.
ah. there they are. who is that man holding them?
claudia’s oz-love rolls on. we are planning year three of oz-themed halloween costumes, and she and béla both have been learning to use a tarot deck with the wonderful tarot of oz.
while i will not give away the kids’ costume ideas for 2013 at this early date, i was glad that claude did NOT choose to be one of her very favorite characters — scraps, the patchwork girl of oz. scraps is a lot like claudia. she’s loud, boisterous, does not like to follow rules, has an impulse control problem, and thinks certain virtues are overrated.
i was not gonna make that costume. but i could, i realized, make that doll. for claudia’s birthday.
this is the year we found out about winkie-con. i have no doubt claude could hold her own there. this year, winkie-con is specifically celebrating the centennial of the patchwork girl of oz … and they had put out a call for folks to share their own versions of “scraps”. how astounded i was to read this amazing blog post by an oz enthusiast who, at age ten, made HIS own patchwork girl of oz! and still has her, of course!
it never crossed my mind to get patchwork-printed fabric. that ten year-old kid was a better planner than me. nope, i bought a whole lotta fabric and pieced the whole freaking thing myself… making a decent-sized section of patchwork and then cutting pattern pieces as i went. fiddly, for sure — and i was aware that i had more patterns, as opposed to solids, than any illustration of the patchwork girl of oz i’d ever seen — but i felt good about my choices (particularly the pink leopard print. i know who i’m sewing for.)
i had started out thinking i would go from baum’s original description:
The Patchwork Girl was taller than he, when she stood upright, and her body was plump and rounded because it had been so neatly stuffed with cotton. Margolotte had first made the girl’s form from the patchwork quilt and then she had dressed it with a patchwork skirt and an apron with pockets in it- using the same gay material throughout. Upon the feet she had sewn a pair of red leather shoes with pointed toes. All the fingers and thumbs of the girl’s hands had been carefully formed and stuffed and stitched at the edges, with gold plates at the ends to serve as finger-nails.
The head of the Patchwork Girl was the most curious part of her. While she waited for her husband to finish making his Powder of Life the woman had found ample time to complete the head as her fancy dictated, and she realized that a good servant’s head must be properly constructed. The hair was of brown yarn and hung down on her neck in several neat braids. Her eyes were two silver suspender buttons cut from a pair of the Magician’s old trousers, and they were sewed on with black threads, which formed the pupils of the eyes. Margolotte had puzzled over the ears for some time, for these were important if the servant was to hear distinctly, but finally she had made them out of thin plates of gold and attached them in place by means of stitches through tiny holes bored in the metal.
The woman had cut a slit for the Patchwork Girl’s mouth and sewn two rows of white pearls in it for teeth, using a strip of scarlet plush for a tongue. This mouth Ojo considered very artistic and lifelike, and Margolotte was pleased when the boy praised it. There were aslmost too many patches on the face of the girl for her to be considered strictly beautiful, for one cheek was yellow and the other red, her chin, blue, her forehead purple and the center, where her nose had been formed and padded, a bright yellow.
but the more i thought about what that would look like, i thought… that doesn’t sound like a pretty doll at all. and john r. neill’s illustrations never followed baum’s description to the letter.
(i also love this leigh boweryesque film version of scraps from 1914)
and so, i felt my way through it, with a nice rag doll pattern i bought online, making my fabric as i went. i gave scraps gloved hands, as seems traditional; i turned the gloves inside out and stitched them so they were slightly less regular and slightly smaller than they would have been otherwise.
the shoes where a huge pain.
it was all worth it.
i finished the doll three or four days before claude’s birthday, and thought in my usual dark humor way, “all we have to do is make it a few more days and i can give it to her!”
that evening she fell backwards down an entire staircase while i watched. four full rotations. she was fine.
within a few more hours, i had a full blown case of norovirus and for twelve hours spent no more than fifteen minutes outside of a bathroom. my brain checked out totally. i couldn’t regulate my body temperature. sadly, i remember every minute of it.
so fuck the calendar. i gave claudia her patchwork girl of oz the night BEFORE her birthday, since she had already made a case for an “early” present (citing béla getting an early present in september… which had been an iron man apron, which was NECESSARY to making his avengers cupcakes for school, obviously.)
i left the doll on her bed with a note that read HAPPY BIRTHDAY CLAUDIA. LOVE SCRAPS. and i went to fold some laundry. according to ben, she walked past the doll without noticing, and when she headed back that direction the next time, she almost jumped out of her skin. i heard her yell “SCRAPS IS IN MY BEDROOM!” and so i went to check.
she’s a big kid now. this was, absolutely, the first time i’ve ever made her something where she clearly made the cognitive connection between the thing i made — and my impulse to do it, related to her. it wasn’t just that she liked the thing… she understood what ME making the thing for her meant. this shot here is not a random fleeting expression. she was looking at me and really, really getting it. why people who make, make the things they make for people they love. she GOT it.
then she had the nerve to go consult the oz poster in the hallway to see how accurately i had rendered scraps. luckily, i passed.
she has a few more very nice presents coming to her tomorrow. i am excited about those too. but if she wants to thank me, or ben, or béla, for any of them, i will take the absence of falls down staircases and norovirus as a perfectly good thank you.
i’m a big believer in making the empty space — even though empty space can be scary — for new things to come into your life. i think filling up life with so-so activities and so-so projects leads to a so-so creative life. still, sometimes there is work that is worth doing in the short term, and when the time comes to end it, digging the roots out, even though they may not be as deep as others, is a pain in the ass. 2012 was a lot about that for me.
naturally, one of the biggest things in me is writing. i’ve been doing more non-writing than i ever thought i would, but writing is still a primary impulse for me. however, much of the writing i have been doing in the last few years– much of it nonfiction and for parenting or cultural publications — has not been meaningful to me the way it had been when i was feeling out being a parent. my kids will turn five in 2013. they are not babies. they are not people i need to write about — at least not in articles, columns, not even much in blog posts. in fact, the world of parenting-writing, and adoptive parenting-writing-blogging-social-networking, wore me thin pretty fast. it’s just not my world. i’m a mother, but “being” a “mommy” is just not one of my “hats” (and i really smirk at that whole hat-wearing analogy).
i had tried it before, but i knew it was finally time — for real — to stop writing regularly for korean quarterly. all the columns i wrote there — a series entitled “creation myth” — used to be on this site as a separate page, but i have taken that page down as well. it’s not part of where my head is now and i don’t think of it as having much to do with my creative body of work, although it was certainly important to my early parenting process. the pieces themselves are still available through korean quarterly’s back issues, and anyone who wants to read them should buy the back issues through KQ directly. i am grateful that they were as well-received as they were. i’m grateful for my continued relationship with the KQ family.
ceasing to report, in print, about my kids and my family and how i felt about parenting — in a balanced, nonfictional way — had immediate benefits. it got me writing about a lot of other things in a deeper way. a scarier way. a more savage way. and to be honest, a more truthful way. this does not mean that i have no plans to write some nonfiction work in relation to parenting, ever again. there are irons in the fire where that is concerned. but they are fewer, and much heftier, irons than the work i’ve done so far. and i’m glad i’m on the handle-side of them.
but i’m really trying to keep the writing a fully creative outlet. i’m already involved in one of “the year’s coolest literary magazine innovations” (as previously reported earlier in the year).
and although it only began in 2012, i petered out before the year was over as a crafts editor for InCultureParent magazine. i knew i was stretching it thin. i knew i’d want to use that craft-ingenuity (such as it is) for krampus stuff, just as i knew i wanted to use all my writing mind for fiction. i did what i could. and then i stopped. and not having to come up with crafts on the calendar has allowed me the freedom to stew for the festival that i use to work through my own monsters, and and i am gratified when it does something for others. i hope it continues to.
and speaking of that “krampus stuff”. after krampuslauf in 2011, i was sure that i had found something that mattered to me enough to continue with – something that was now part of my calling, my job, whatever it is that i do and am. and i felt even more sure about that in 2012. the needlework i do this year may be 90% related to krampuslauf.
the other change that was made was that i needed to change the conditions under which i continued to grow in my spiritual korean drumming practice. again, 2012 was when the epiphany happened, and again, in the form of “i can’t contribute to this group project any more, i need to do something for just me.” i know — what a pain in the ass, right?
except it got me drumming. and things are moving ahead in a new way. i can’t make this a new year’s post if i wait to write about that until i’m ready to do so, but i’m very satisfied. there will be more to come.
2013 could be a very interesting year. my meditation:
on the day after new year’s i took claudia to the hair salon and found boy george heralded as a “legend” in the year-end issue of OUT magazine. we all know how i feel about boy george. this quote from him took me back thirty years — to the real beginning of me:
“If you go back to the beginning, part of my whole plan was to create this universal family of disenfranchised people…. It wasn’t just about sexuality, it was about anyone who felt odd.”
having kids spreads you thin. it — or people — can make you believe that, to do it right, you need to lose some of your edge. i’ve seen folks lose themselves entirely, and i’ve seen people scramble to get that edge back, or pretend that losing it hasn’t happened. i had to make the changes i made, when i made them, to accommodate for my own evolution. but the shape of things has changed again. there is a lot i’ve taken back. and the ground is very fertile.
more than lapping itself in attendance size, it’s safe to say that krampuslauf philly experienced healthy growth this season and i am really proud of how things went off.
as per last year, i worked on costuming and props that were both within my scope of confidence (knitting, some minor sewing) and out of it (giant backpack puppet-making). there were things from last year that i needed to remake for easier use, and things that just didn’t get finished for 2012 but probably will for 2013. and, even among this year’s successful works, i plan to do some amending and embellishing.
no real credit to be taken for originality, but we moved up a few steps from last year’s cardboard shadow puppets this year and went with krampus handpuppets.
i used a pattern from project puppet, and got help from krampus folks with the makings of eyes, horns, tongues, bits, bells… even with cutting and sewing! the “blanks” were presented at workshop and were embellished by kids and moms, and it was really nice to see girls as young as seven sewing their puppets on their own.
while my frau perchta ensemble from last year had many elements that pleased me, mask-and-hat were a practical disaster. this year, i made a mask/headpiece with the tin-foil-and-masking-tape method, covered the face in white crepe and then some very loosely knitted green mohair stockinette, and a babushka i’d made of mitered squares. i hot-glued in some yarn hair and had a frau who could walk, talk, see, and spin with a drop spindle. i had sewn (rather poorly) a flowing black cape last year; i’m sure we’ll get some halloween use out of it in the future, but earlier this year i was gifted a blue wool yves saint laurent cape which belonged to a friend’s mother. that was a better, warmer frau cape this year.
the frau also wore a tabard, which was made of square, double-knit “swatches”, representing the handwork of the children whom frau perchta comes to check on. remember, this is why i love the frau — she comes to check on kids’ knitting, and if it’s no good… well, that’s why they call her “the belly-slitter”. i double-knit the swatches and tied them all together with i-cord pieces. on some of the swatches, i snipped through one layer and machine stitched around the hole so that the frayed stitches would not fray further. This gave a peek-a-boo color effect and looked to me something like an advent calendar. within one of these “windows”, i stitched a piece of pokeberry-dyed, screenprinted fabric from arun in portland, as part of our lauf gift exchange. (i sent portland’s lauf a handpuppet.)
overall i was happier with my ensemble this year — it was much more wearable — but i gave up the elements of the mirror chips and the edelweiss which were parts of the frau folklore that i have to get back in there. i will work on this for next year! also, this summer i began a krampus mask that i’m calling the “leigh bowery krampus” but hit a wall with it and it did not make it to this year’s lauf. it will be at next year’s!
and i hope to improve my mask and backpack puppet-making abilities as well.