The a-ha moment

Pie Chart, Integrated

A good friend (and amazing art therapist) came over last night for dinner and was tooling around in my workspace. She illuminated the fatal flaw from the pie charts. Several of you also pointed it out. (Leslie, Victoria, I’m looking at you.)

Integration is the key. Combining. Overlapping. Interlocking. I am better focused now after speaking with her. I have clarity again. I remember my bigger-picture goals and I feel like i’m back on track.

  • Taking a walk with a friend and bringing the dogs along, rather than always just going out to dinner = fun + chores + health.
  • Photographing a project I do for work, or bleeding the project out into one of my own journal quilts or blog entries = work + creativity + fun.
  • Taking the stairs, avoiding the cookie counter at work, and planning ahead for snacks = work + health.

At least I made sure not to overlap the dating stripe into the work wedge. Some things just aren’t made for integrating.

Fashion Origami

Mal | Art Therapy,Paper | Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Origami date

One of the benefits of my job as an art therapist is that even when my personal life is crazy and I don’t carve out time for creativity in my off-hours, I’m required to be creative from day-to-day in my professional life.

When I found a “Fashion Origami” kit on sale for $1.50 at Urban Outfitters, I snapped it up. Origami is a project which, although there may be low potential for emotional expression, is a good rapport-builder and ice-breaker. Particularly in the hospital, where patients don’t have a lot of energy, they can do a little folding project on their lap and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Origami bra

Naturally, the first project I folded from the book was a paper bra. I had to learn this one first. Do you have any idea how many teen boys are on my caseload?

Mr Herman. Paging Mr. Herman

After I folded the grey suit, I couldn’t help but fold a red tie to go with it.Mr. Herman. Paging Mr. Herman! Mr. Herman, you have a telephone call at the front desk.“ It should be a bow tie, but still.

Origami Stiletto

I (and all my staff) have had a hard time deciphering the instructions for the stiletto shoe, but here we have found a reasonable alternative. It still stands on its own and opens up where the foot should go. That’s good enough for me! Creative problem solving at its finest.

Origami Bra

Therapy theories accordian book

Mal | Art Therapy | Monday, July 13th, 2009

Old homework assignment

I’m now deep into studying for my state psychotherapy licensure exams. Last week, I came across a homework assignment I had done while in grad school to compare/contrast two different psychotherapeutic theories. I had chosen Solution-Focused Therapy and Object Relations Therapy. I guess I’m always interested in exploring the farthest ends of any spectrum…

Homework book

At the time, I was doing a lot of professional bookbinding work (including teaching classes and taking commissions) so a lot of my homework assignments in my art therapy program ended up taking the form of books.

Homework book

This is a double accordian book, like the one you see here. The red strip in the center can be easily removed and displayed on its own, which is one of the advantages of this type of binding. Opening the book from one end shows the first collage, and opening from the other end shows the second. It’s neat the way the concepts interplay with each other with this type of book.

Homework book

It was really fun to dig through my collage boxes for images to represent different psychological and psychotherapeutic constructs. The one on the right (the baby with the receding hairline and moustache) is to represent introjection. Don’t think I’ll miss that question on the exam!

Make it because

Mal | Art Therapy,Finished Projects,Handmade,Here and Now,Prosaic | Monday, June 15th, 2009

Maxed-out bag

Because I started it a few weeks ago in one of my therapy groups, and have been meaning to finish it.

Maxed-out bag

Because sometimes just saying, “I’m maxed out” isn’t enough.

Maxed-out bag

Because I just finished a whole series of blog entries about how to fit creativity into our busy lives, after all. (Thank you, Emma, for the reminder.)

Maxed-out bag

Because I’m an art therapist, and I believe in the power of art to express and explore our thoughts and feelings.

Maxed-out bag

Because even though it took precious time, it made me feel better.

Life in the shadows

Mal | Art Therapy | Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Shadows and light

I live in a city that nurtures a great creative industry. This means that I meet (and, sigh, date) lots of out-of-work artists, musicians, and writers. Some of them live with their parents so that they can pursue their dream without paying rent. Others work “day jobs” as receptionists, delivery drivers, and store clerks so that they can free up time and attention for their artistic pursuits. All of them, to one degree or another, are juggling their tolerance for professional and artistic compromise.

Julia Cameron (author of the much-beloved book, The Artist’s Way) doesn’t have much use for artists who only go halfway or live in the shadows of other artists. She calls them, in a slightly derogatory tone, Shadow Artists.

Too intimidated to become artists themselves, very often too low in self-worth to even recognize that they have an artistic dream, these people become shadow artists instead. Artists themselves but ignorant of their true identity, shadow artists are to be found shadowing declared artists… Shadow artists often choose shadow careers — those close to the desired art, even parallel to it, but not the art itself.

artistsway

By her definition, as an art therapist, I could be considered a Shadow Artist. I’m not out there producing, exhibiting, and actively selling my own work. I suppose I could, if I really dedicated myself to improving my skills and did art at the expense of all else. Instead, I am facilitating artistic expression and creativity in myself and others. I am “using” art for other means. I’m in an artistic profession, but am not an “artist.” I have not thrown myself, headlong, into the artist’s life with all of its uncertainties. I hate to be this way, but I like my paycheck.

In some ways, I think Julia has it right about the process of embracing yourself as an artist. Behold:

As a rule of thumb, shadow artists judge themselves harshly, beating themselves for years over the fact that they have not acted on their dreams. This cruelty only reinforces their status as shadow artists. Remember, it takes nurturing to make an artist. Shadow artists did not receive sufficient nurturing. They blame themselves for not acting fearlessly anyhow…

For all shadow artists, life may be a discontented experience, filled with a sense of missed purpose and unfulfilled promise. They want to write. They want to paint. They want to act, make music, dance… but they are afraid to take themselves seriously.

In order to move from the realm of shadows into the light of creativity, shadow artists must learn to take themselves seriously.

Whenever I reach this point in the book, I wonder if Julia Cameron would prefer that all creative people attempt to become full-time artists. I am not trying to be overly critical of her or the book (which contains some good stuff), but the world does need doctors and lawyers and farmers.

One of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, was a highly successful pediatrician and medical doctor. You may know him from his famous poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.  

I love to think about Dr. WCW squeezing in his poetry and writing at odd hours and in random breaks during the day — between patients or after procedures. I relate to him, as a creative person who was also interested in compassionate care. I think it does a lot to explain his simple, straight-forward style and the way he uses images to convey meaning.

I think there are many of us who are caught in a trap of feeling that we should be doing something productive with our creations — making money, gaining notoriety, or whatever — but are unsure or are, as Julia Cameron suggestions, intimidated or short on self-worth. As though the only way to measure worth were in dollars. As though productivity were the apex of all goals. As though an external validation were necessary for satisfaction. Those things are nice, yes, and I certainly would never begrudge anyone who made a living from their art! But, I also don’t want people to think that it is the only way to find value in their pursuits.

The recession drags on and we are all beginning to feel the pinch. Even if we still have jobs, we may have noticed that the cost of our art supplies has increased. We may stand at the work table and mentally tabulate the amount of time and money that we’ve invested in our pursuits over the years. We may begin to wonder about return on that investment and what it means to make your passion into your work. Several bloggers have been thinking and wrestling with these ideas in the past few weeks. Some have successful shops, others are pondering shops, and still others are closing shops. The reasons and emotions are as varied as the personalities, but it’s interesting to consider their struggles.

Personally, I’d like to stand up in defense of the Shadow Artist. Yes, there are those who are able to make their art or their craft into a full-time profession. But then there are those for whom the joy of the process, the magic of making, and the other “fringe benefits” are enough. Must we all quit our day jobs in pursuit of art greatness? Maybe you sell off some of your creations from time to time, you take a commission or two, or you submit to juried exhibitions while continuing to pursue other interests and responsibilities. Maybe the creative process thrills or calms or challenges you and that’s enough for now.

Perhaps the world would be better with more capital-A Artists. For my part, I think the world would be better with more artist-grocers, poet-ranchers, and musician-cops. I like the bus driver that composes new tunes to whistle along the route. I wish I could find more waitresses who sketch out their customers on napkins just because. Accountants who write poetry on their ledger sheets. Barbers creating sci-fi stories as they cut.

Time to chime in. Do you feel you should be doing “more” with your art, or is your current balance of work/pleasure rewarding enough? If you were to move in one direction or another (toward work, toward passion) which would it be? Do you feel one impacts the other? What are your thoughts?

Roundup: Anatomical Art (Therapy)

Mal | Art Journal,Art Therapy,Resources,Roundup | Sunday, April 26th, 2009

 What hurts?

One great way to facilitate a good mind-body connection is to make artwork about your body — its ailments or its triumphs. Today I’m thinking more about ailments.

Surgery

I made a lot of art about my own body last year before, during, and after surgery. I even wrote about it here and here. As an art therapist who works in a hospital, I’m always interested in representations of physical, mental, and emotional pain.

Frida Kahlo famously lived with pain caused by childhood polio and then a traumatic bus accident. Her art is generally labeled as Surreal, though I see it as a therapeutic reflection of reality. Frankly, with varying degrees of technical skill, this is the kind of art that shows up a lot in a hospital setting. The problems of pain and the foibles of the human body are, as we all know, very very real.

fridakahlobrokencolumn

 My painting carries with it the message of pain. (Frida Kahlo)

The Problem of Pain

Obviously, the human anatomy is a common theme in artwork of all kinds. Click the image above to find out more about the artists and their work.

Other very excellent examples include:

Of course, actual physical representation is not necessary. One of my favorite flickr images is by karmapolis and is called “Mi enfermedad” (My Illness). It depicts a dragon, not a body or a brain. Other people may just use color, shapes, and lines to abstractly depict what they go through.

Parts of me

What about you? Have you ever made something about your body, an illness, or a physical ailment or triumph? Please share!

Spontaneous art therapy

Mal | Art Therapy | Sunday, April 5th, 2009
Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Photo by Laura Seitz, Deseret News

My sister emailed me a link to this article by Deseret News (a paper in Salt Lake City). It’s another instance of art in unlikely places, and this one leans very far towards formal art therapy. In fact, I may email the hospital and find out if they want to hire an art therapist to facilitate this kind of miracle full-time.

A temporary construction wall inside LDS Hospital has become a place for oncology patients to vent with colorful words and drawings, providing an open forum for the emotions often hidden …

“My mom always told me I couldn’t draw on the wall, but one night I couldn’t sleep and I started drawing,” [Bruce Daughters] said …

Others saw his artwork, and “within a few days, the wall was covered” with a rainbow of hopes, wishes, frustration and gratitude.

Read the whole lovely article at deseretnews.com.

Have you ever seen (or started) anything like this?

Intermittent Inspiration: Memory Projects

Mal | Art Therapy,Intermittent Inspiration,Media,Sewing | Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Memory quilts 

The nature of textile art lends itself well to the process of grief and bereavement.

You’ve probably heard of the AIDS quilt, where loved ones create quilt blocks in memory of people who have passed away from the disease. When I was in grad school, I was lucky enough to be able to see some of the traveling panels in person. It’s a lovely (and now humongous) project.

Loved ones leave behind many items, but fabrics and textiles are easily repurposed. Sherri Lynn Wood calls them Passage Quilts.

But, cloth homages to our loved ones are not limited only to quilting. Allison Ann Aller of Allie’s in Stitches talks about losing her brother in a tragic accident many years ago. She embroidered her brother’s name subtly onto the beach in a lovely landscape she was making. I love how she described her process (quoted below), and I encourage you to click the link to view the gorgeous images.

This quilt is about many things for me….the place I love best in the natural world, the cottage itself that houses so much of my family’s history, my desire to push the envelope of what my crazy quilting can be…..but it is also about my brother, Freddie. . .

And the waves still lap the shore there, the sun still lights up the water and the woods, and we still find great joy on that porch, where such horrible news was delivered in July of 1958….that’s part of the incredible blessing of a place like Michillinda. It absorbs all the drama of our little lives, it’s unchanging beauty and rhythms give us a sense of perspective, and we have a polestar to refer to when all else is in flux….

So I had to write Freddie’s name in the sand on the beach….

I can’t tell you how wonderful it has felt for me to do this. Now the quilt is saying what it is meant to say in its entirety.

Have you seen, made, or received a memory quilt? Would you consider making one, or do you disagree with the idea of them? Please tell us about it.

Art in unlikely places

Mal | Art Therapy,Links to Others,Resources | Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Elevator Door Fix

When a glass panel on the subway’s elevator was smashed a few weeks ago, a design-minded repairman saw potential in his temporary fix. His confused glue-face greeted us every morning for about 2 weeks. I ended up wondering a lot, as I arrived at work, about why the face was confused? Why not a smiley face, or no face at all?

I love to find art in unlikely places. I know of several movements to encourage beauty where you wouldn’t expect it.

Do you know of others? Please share!

Dismantling the Wreath

Mal | Art Therapy,Media,Works in Progress | Monday, March 9th, 2009

Yo-yo Wreath close-up

I blogged a little bit before about what stitching has meant to me, emotionally, over the past few months. In November, I had a simple surgery which was complicated by surgeon’s error and has led to a long and drawn out recovery.

Yo yo wreath

This wreath made of yo-yo’s was the first of the stitching projects I started after I returned home from the hospital and has hung on my front door long past its season.

Yo-yo Wreath

The other night, I took it down and started disassembling it, making way for a new wreath project to take its place. I was pleased by the meticulous, careful detail of these handsewn circles, and the foresight I had to assemble the wreath entirely with straight pins. I guess I made it with the intention of disassembling it at some point, because it has all come apart with its pieces intact, and could be re-assembled at any point.

Yo-yo Wreath: blurry!

In some ways, I think that the trauma and anxiety of the surgery aftermath is a big part of what has been holding me back recently. Something about disassembling this project has been therapeutic — an un-doing of what has been done. A preparation for moving on to the next thing. Maybe it will help me break up the muddle I’ve been feeling. If nothing else, it will make way for a new season — for spring — with its longer days and new growth.

What about you? What are you doing to get ready for spring? How do you become un-stuck?

Links: Creative Therapy

Mal | Art Journal,Art Therapy,Links to Others,Paper,Resources | Saturday, February 28th, 2009

creativetherapy

I have been following a lovely little website called Creative Therapy which celebrates the art of visual journals. The site serves as a community for creative/visual journalers, and its administrator, Karen Grunberg, puts forth “catalysts” (journaling prompts, basically, but with an awesomer name) to which the CT team responds. She then invites readers to respond as well, and to post links to their creations.

There are lots of things that I like about this website, including:

  • Each contributor is invited to write about their project and their process, which can be really illuminating. This is something I often do with my art therapy clients, as it can sometimes facilitate a better connection between our rational and emotional selves. On the practical side, you can learn new techniques from these artists’ blurbs. On the emotional side, you can really get a feel for the way that creating these responses has touched people. As you know, the emotional side of art-making is something that interests me very, very much.
  • Karen tries to eliminate the all-too-common air of competition which can seep into these kinds of community ventures. She seems to truly celebrate creativity and personal expression and to genuinely encourage it in others.
  • There is a spotlighted artist for each catalyst, and it’s often someone I’ve never heard of (though some famous faces have made appearances).
  • The site has sponsors who sometimes do giveaways. Not that any of us need extra stash, but… I do think it speaks to how involved and proactive Karen (and maybe her team?) has been.

The responses seem to be largely grounded in the world of scrapbooking, altered books, and other popular paper-based arts, but are not exclusively so. For instance, a recent response to Catalyst 50: What is something that you turn to, to lift you up out of a bad mood? was a crochet project made by Debee Campos. Debee graciously gave me permission to post her artwork and words here, because I feel they really speak to some of my own explorations about the emotional impact of various art media. In this instance, Debee writes about the experience of learning and practicing crochet.

I’ve recently taken up the art of crochet. And just in the nick of time. Wedding planning. House hunting. Future dreaming. All have left me a little chaotic. You would think it’s crazy of me to take up crocheting during this crazy phase of my life. But in fact it has helped silence my thoughts. During these times of learning and practicing the rhythm of the process, I have found my thoughts are all hushed. My time has been well spent. Thinking pondering and praying. There are times when I just listen. And most of the time I’m not such a great listener. It has also helped my patience level :) But the combination of the two has helped my outlook on all the things I’m juggling. I find this time to be the best at bringing peace to my heart. All the while I am bursting with pride taking up a lost art in my family and creatively expressing myself in another form. This is for sure something I hope to continue throughout my life.

 

I laid a drawing I drew years ago of one of my hands over the top of my blanket that is still a work in progress. I felt like it fit the picture perfectly. As drawing was once my quiet time long before scrapbooking and crochet came into my life.

How about you? Have you ever used journal prompts or participated in some kind of creative community? Do you keep a visual journal? Why or why not?

Kiln Gods

Mal | Art Therapy,Clay,Media,Pottery | Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Kiln Goddess front view
 by antware

I talked about the Kiln God in the entry on Media and Meaning. In my ceramic training, the Kiln God was mostly mentioned as an abstract concept — a metaphor for the process of letting go and accepting the outcome that is required in ceramics. You offer up your creation to the kiln god, and hope that he’s feeling generous. Many times, I’d spend hours and hours perfecting a clay vessel or sculpture, only to have it mysteriously explode, melt, crack, or wither in the fiery kiln.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit more in the past few days. After all, clay is not the only medium which requires a fiery and unpredictable transformation at some point in its development.

I decided to do a little exploring about the concept of the kiln god. It turns out that there is a tradition of taking this abstract concept and transforming it into something physical, literal, and then ascribing a bit of magic to it. (Right up my alley!) People build actual idols to the kiln god and place them at the opening of the kiln in hopes of appeasing the temperamental god’s appetites.

kiln gods
by jpettit

If you’ve ever felt a higher power taking over your creative process, or held your breath and hoped for the best as you molded, painted, clipped, glued, or otherwise irreversibly altered your creation, you understand why ceramic artists have adopted the practice of creating a kiln god to watch over their creations during such a phase of unpredictability.

More reading on the kiln god:

Please share: how do you let go and trust when it comes to your creative process?

Art therapy and health

Mal | Art Journal,Art Therapy | Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

My art journal when I was in the hospital.

I don’t know how many of you are interested in formalized art therapy (I am — but as an art therapist who works in healthcare I’m slightly biased). There is a recent article making news today that talks about art therapy with breast cancer patients. If you’re interested, you can read either the full article, or a quick news summary of it.

Between this and the researchers’ other articles, their evidence seems to indicate that breast cancer patients who engage in art therapy show:

  • Improved psychological health
  • Decreased side effects of radiation treatments
  • Higher overall quality of life
  • Increased physical health
  • Improved coping skills
  • A ”better ability to deal with others’ demands”
  • More positive self-image

Why is this important, if you are not an art therapist, an art therapy client, or a breast cancer patient? I guess I wanted to share it with you on the hope that you’ll feel some deeper meaning in the art that you make every day.

Maybe you are making art to sell — to put food on the table or supplement your family’s income. Maybe you make art because you’re bored in meetings with nothing to do but doodle. Maybe you make art as gifts for loved ones, decorations for your home, or to explore the outside world. Maybe it is simply your hobby — your pastime. But, maybe it could be much, much more?

Whatever art you make, I hope you make space for it to have a deeper impact on your life.

Please share: How has making art impacted your life?

Media and Meaning

Mal | Art Journal,Art Therapy,Media,Sewing | Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Ingredients

Jennifer, over on Craftstylish, posted an essay about the meaning of making. As an art therapist, these are the types of philosophical questions that are on my mind daily, so I was happy to read them as phrased by someone else and Jen did a great job with a focus on the reputation and perception of people who engage in certain crafts. Behold (emphasis mine):

 

 I haven’t dipped my toe into the world of scrapbooking [. . .] As I ponder the profile of the scrapbooking enthusiast, I think it’s for folks who like to bring order to something and create a perfect world even if their lives are chaotic and messy. Come to think of it, I could use some order. Cue the jones for acid-free paper…

The opposite of pristine and controlled, silk screening seems gritty and radical. I desperately want to try it. It seems counter-culture, very Haight-Asbury in the ’60s [. . .]

After seeing Erika Kern transform a T-shirt in a couple of hours through the magic of embroidery, I view embroidery fiends as not only traditional and elegant but also meticulous with a side of inventive. Or maybe that’s just Erika.

 

Art therapists are trained to consider the inherent qualities in various art media and use them to their advantage when working with clients. What’s interesting is that I can trace the thread of my own psychological growth through the labyrinth of my meanderings in arts and crafts and media.

I mentioned before that I had a meaningful love affair with pottery when I lived in Boston 9 years ago. At the time I was profoundly depressed, lonely, untethered, and riddled with anxieties. In hindsight, I realize that working with clay, smelling the earth, allowing myself to get messy, and working on the wheel were exactly what I needed at the time. The process of centering — of muscle-ing a hunk of clay into a stable position on a spinning wheel — of finding stillness in the midst of chaos — was a big part of my transformation. Then, once you had crafted the “perfect’ piece, you glazed it and offered it up to the kiln god. The kiln, that paragon of unpredictability, would either accept your offering and bless you with a beautifully glazed bowl, or it would chew up and destroy whatever piece you had devoted your hours to. Dealing with that unpredictability reduced my anxieties; it had to.

I later went through a bookbinding phase. This was sparked largely by my first love: writing. (Writing’s purpose? To incubate my rebellious and revolutionary thoughts quietly, until I could escape my repressive upbringing.) I made journal after journal out of boards and papers and fabrics, as though I were a robin building a nest. The beauty and richness of my current life has hatched from the ”eggs” I laid in those journals. There, I questioned, experimented, railed, accepted, cried, destroyed, exulted. And then, at the end of the day, I could close the book — contain it all neatly inside — and move on. It was the only way I could make it through grad school. I would go to the books, make a tremendous mess of things, and then close them up so that I could go about my work.

Other phases have included watercolors (letting go of absolute control, learning to “go with the flow”), screen printing (productivity, planning), self-portraits (body image issues, self-exploration), altered books (questioning authority), and more.

My current phase is very textile driven — sewing, quilting, embroidering. I’ve postulated that there is a sort of healing taking place — a stitching back together after the ripping-apart of a difficult breakup, the physical effects of a traumatic surgery, and a long convalescence. 2008 was a time of yanking and pulling and tearing. I enter 2009 with needle and thread in hand, ready to follow wherever the line of stitches leads.

What about you? What do you gain from the things you make?

More personalized gifts

Mal | Art Therapy,Finished Projects,Media,Sewing,Stitching | Monday, February 2nd, 2009

 I finally got access to the photos of my holiday gifts, so here are a few more examples of what I worked on during my early embroidery rush.

Pencil roll

This pencil roll was made as a gift for another friend who was present for me many nights in the hospital. She is also an art therapist and brought me my journals and some art supplies because (as instructed) all I had taken with me to the hospital for my allegedly-outpatient surgery was my cell phone and a pair of flip-flops. I wanted to repay her for her kindness in an art-supply kind of way.

That’s one of my favorite quotes. I sort of love that none of the colored pencils have erasers — just to emphasize Mr. Davis’ point!

True Love Motorcycle

This is a poor picture but I loved this project. A friend of mine has been transferred to a new branch of his job and had to exchange his daily motorcycle rides for a car. This, naturally, had him pretty upset. So, I designed this illustration and made it into a CD Poket to hold music and books on tape. I also bought him a trial subscription to audible.com to help ease the hours of carpooling. Of course, I wanted his car to be perfectly clear on where his true affections lie — he will always be a biker boy.

OK — we’re almost done posting photos taken with my awful camera. Stay tuned for the final embroidery installation!

Stitching myself back together

Mal | Art Therapy | Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Like a persnickety teenager, I go through phases when it comes to my art-making. Sure, I’ve always written and kept journals, but began cycling through wildly variant media and techniques in the autumn of 2000. At that time I lived in Boston, was severely and profoundly depressed, and discovered a community pottery studio only 2 blocks from my house.

Pottery phase

I was not an artist or even really a crafter at that time. I was just lost. In that deep winter of loneliness, depression, and depression, the process of centering the earthy clay on a wheel, of cleaning and trimming it, and of offering it up to the temperamental Kiln God miraculously alleviated my suffering. It was then that I knew I wanted to become an art therapist.

Hope

The pottery phase lasted for a couple of years, and was followed by watercolor, bookbinding, art journals, and other art forms — each of which served a unique and powerful psychological purpose. I cycle through these phases organically, letting them come and go as they may, on the belief that the art itself has power to change and heal me in ways that I can’t understand and should not try to control.

After three months of fighting with my insurance company, in November of 2008 I was finally scheduled for surgery to remove my diseased gallbladder. These days, gallbladder surgery is a simple, laproscopic, same-day and outpatient surgery. Some people even call it a “procedure,” not a surgery. By that time, I had been so sick for so long that a one-day inconvenience hardly felt worthy of major concern.

Notions

But before the surgery was scheduled, I had already felt myself shifting into a new phase of making. Around October, I began to stitch like crazy. Whether it was embroidery or sewing or quilting, I just couldn’t get enough of fabric and thread and seams and needles. I handmade all of my Christmas gifts, embellished clothing and household linens, and endlessly researched textile techniques online.

Surgery

When the time came for my surgery, there were complications on the operating table and suddenly my simple, same-day procedure turned into a 2-week hospital stay. It was almost a week before I could even pick up a pen and begin to document the events in my ever-present art journals.

Yo yo wreath

When I was released to go home, the first thing I wanted to do was sew. I had to sew something… anything. I started handstitching yo-yos while propped up on pillows. I made dozens and dozens of yo-yos. In practical terms, stitching is something that can be done from bed. It is the perfect recovery art, in that way. But, the glide of the fabric between my fingers, the repetitive up-down of the needle, the knotting and gathering, all combined to bring me peace. I could breathe. I stopped panicking at every twinge and twitter. The cloth — like the blankets and pillows and nightgowns and warm, wet washcloths of the hospital — was so nurturing. So healing. So comforting.

But, more than that — it’s as though I am metaphorically stitching myself back together. Healing myself inside and out. I stitch and stitch. Embroidery seems to soothe like nothing else.

Recover

It’s funny — Alica wrote today about embroidery and a similar phenomenon that occurred with her when she was hospitalized after an accident. Jenny, too, dove into yo-yos at a time when she needed to find peace.

I believe in the power of art to heal us, if we let it. Right now, I am stitching.

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