Memory postcard 3, Me the astronaut

This is what happens when I remember a picture but I can’t find it. I put things together in a way that remind me of it.

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One of my favorite pictures of me as a child was me standing on my grandparent’s porch wearing a plastic astronaut helmet. I’m not sure why that was part of the toy collection. It was larger than my head by far, and had a green visor that could open up. So I could see the world with a green tint, or not.

I can’t find that picture, but I can find this one. It was from around the same time.

I considered making an astronaut helmet for me in this picture – watercolor paper and pencils, green acetate – but then I realized if I did that, my face would be obscured. There is enough of that in the other two memory postcards.

Here is a closer picture of me.

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Then I added the “Women in space” stamp. I’ve used a photocopy of it for another project, but here I’m using the real thing. I love her smile.

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Here are the fortunes.

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I included things to remind me of my childhood and also point towards the future. What instructions would I like to give my former self and my future self?

…message…
My aunt mockingly calls hearing from God – at least when my Dad (her brother) did it – getting “Messages”. I think that she mocks it because she has never heard from God.

…lost penny…
My Mom was big on shiny pennies. She’d give me them for good luck. I’d almost forgotten that. It also reminds me of the parable of the lost coin – how God will go out of the way to find it. We are the lost coins, and we are precious to God.

…Never be less than your dreams…

Seems like a good message for then, now, and future me. My dreams are something to aspire to. And, they are like the mustard seed – from small things can grow big things. I just have to remember that Jesus tells us we have that energy inside us. If God gives us the desire to do something, we can do it. It isn’t just a fantasy – it is the seed of a reality. We have to give it energy to make it grow, and trust the process.

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Inuksuk journey

This piece is about finding myself in a land that doesn’t have any maps.

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There is a map on the left-hand side. It goes from being highly populated at the bottom to being barely populated at the top. There are a lot of place names for cities and villages on the bottom part of the map. But when you go further north, the place names get fewer and farther between, and they get different. The place names further north are the place names from the people who live there, and they are in Inuit.

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They are harder for us to pronounce. Their alphabet looks entirely different from ours. It is full of circles and triangles. The Inuit did not have a written language for many years. The way that they explained to each other how to get from one area to another was with these huge stone sculptures, called inuksuit (plural of inuksuk). They aren’t art sculptures, they are assemblages of stones that are found in that place. The inuksuit are the only way to navigate in a land that is filled with snow and ice. They didn’t have cities and roads like we do, so they couldn’t say “Go 3 miles and then turn left onto Main Street.” There was no Main Street. There were no streets. It is a land of ice and snow.

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It is really rude that this land is called Newfoundland. It isn’t newly found. It never was lost. The people who lived there had found it. To say that it was found by new settlers means that no one was there at the time it was “found”. To call it Newfoundland is insulting to the people who were living there. It is to say that they are not people and that they do not own this land.

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I have used tissue paper to cover up some of the names and settlements of the people who moved in after the Inuit. I have done this to try and reclaim the land. I have also done this because I don’t want to look at those areas. These are scars upon the land. In a way, by putting tissue paper I am putting up a drift of snow. I am reclaiming that area. I am saying that area should not be in the possession of the white people. It should be in possession of the people who lived there before, and who still live there.

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The inuksuk that I have used is a direction finding one. All inuksuit are different. One may indicate where is a good place to hunt, another where is a good place to find caribou or yet another that is a dangerous area.

 
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This particular one shows you where to go. You look through the big inuksuk towards the little inuksuk. It points the way. When the little one is in the center of your view, you know that is the direction to go. You are pointed in the right direction.

But think about the people who were there before you. How did they figure out that was a safe way to go? It was very kind of them to leave the stones for you to tell you that this was the best travel route. But think about it. In order to do that, they had to come back safely. They went to the trouble of figuring out a safe passage to start off with and then they came back to put up a marker.

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It reminds me of a sponsor in AA. They have gone through the difficulty of becoming sober and then they committed to helping you find your way too. It is the same as in Buddhism. Someone who is enlightened, a bodhisattva, renounces going to Nirvana for the sake of everyone else. Instead of leaving this plane of existence, they stay so that they can help others find their way. They show you where it is safe and where it is dangerous, just like these rocks do.

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I like this particular inuksuk not only because it indicates direction but also because it looks like a torii gate. They are part of the Shinto religion in Japan. They are not gates to keep people out. Rather, they are an indicator that you have stepped from the secular into the sacred. They let you know that you are on holy ground.

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This is made with canvas, acrylic paint, a map of Newfoundland, two Canadian stamps, watercolor pencil on water color paper, tissue paper, and matte medium.

Here is a behind-the-scenes illustration of how I created the main Inuksuk.  (which is composed of two Inuksuit)

Here is the reference picture from a book from the library.

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Here is my solution to how to “paint” it.  I drew the stones onto heavy watercolor paper, using watercolor pencils.  Once I was happy with them, I cut them out and glued them together on the canvas.  I essentially created my own stones and stacked them. This meant that I could edit an area without affecting the entire piece.

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Hammer, screwdriver, and love.

Say you were given a set of instructions to build a house. All the pieces are cut out, all you and your crew have to do is assemble them. The architect thinks that you were provided hammers and some nails. But when you get to the job site, instead of hammers you have screwdrivers. You can’t possibly follow the instructions to build a house with screwdrivers. It just doesn’t work. It isn’t designed for that.

But you try anyway, because it is what you have and you have a job to do. Then the architect calls you up and asks you if you are finished yet. You say no, and he gets really mad. You didn’t know that you were supposed to have hammers. You think that screwdrivers are what you are supposed to use, because it is what you were provided.

You are way behind on the project and the architect is really upset. Somebody figured out how to use a screwdriver to dig out a hole in the wood and then put a nail in the hole, and tap it in with the other end of the screwdriver. It isn’t very good, but it is something. You’ve managed to put together a corner of the house this way.

After a few more phone calls and getting more and more upset and confused, the architect finally comes to the job site and he notices you don’t have the right tools. He sees what you have and how hard you’ve been trying with what you were provided, and he understands. He works alongside you for a bit, using the tool that you were given. He doesn’t have a way to get you any hammers, so he changes the plans and he makes them a lot easier.

God is the architect and we are the workers. Our human bodies are the screwdrivers.

We can’t possibly follow all of God’s instructions with the tool we were given. God had no way of knowing how frail and hungry these bodies are. They cause us to fear, so we don’t try anything difficult. They cause us to crave, so we do things we know we shouldn’t. Our senses are very limited, so our perceptions aren’t that great.

But then God the architect comes down to the worksite (Earth) to see us and work with us.

And God gets it. We can’t do what is expected of us. We can’t follow the plans the way they are written with the tools we were given. The only way God would know that was to see things from our perspective, in our limited, frail, needy bodies.

We aren’t off the hook, but the rules got modified. They were boiled down to the essentials. Instead of “eat this, don’t eat this” and “wash your hands this way” and “say this prayer at this time” and six-hundred-plus other rules, we got two.

Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Which really is only one rule. Love.

We can build anything with that rule.

We can build houses for the homeless. We can build schools to teach people how to read and take care of themselves. We can build hospitals so people can get well. We can build farms so we can grow healthy food. We can build gyms so we can exercise and get strong.

Love.

And you don’t even need a hammer or a screwdriver to use it.

Fit and older

I do not understand someone who will go to all the money and time of making their house handicapped accessible but they won’t spend the same amount of money and time on making their body less likely to become handicapped. Sure, there are accidents that happen but generally the biggest reason that people become disabled is because they stop taking care of themselves.

Being infirm is not a natural part of becoming older. It is a natural result of stopping taking care of yourself. If you don’t use it you will indeed lose it.

There is no reason that older means less fit. Less active means less healthy, yes. Being active shouldn’t be something that just young people do. Being active is something that people should do. If you stop working, it doesn’t mean you stop moving. You don’t have a reason to anymore – so you have to make up reasons. Volunteer. Go to the Y. Garden. Stay active, or you’ll become immobile.

Not letting the disease win.

Sometimes my motivation to do something is simply so that the disease will not win.

I have bipolar disorder, which is a polite way of saying I am manic-depressive. I’ve noticed that I tend to become unbalanced when I stop taking care of myself. The biggest thing I can do to take care of myself is to make sure I get enough sleep and avoid stress. Eating well and exercising also help a lot.

It is easy to equate avoiding stress with not doing anything that is difficult. But to me that is letting the disease win. It is very important for me to not let it win so I set goals and reach for them so that I get stronger. And every time I achieve one of these goals it makes it easier for me the next time.

It makes it easier for me to look at this disease when it says “No, you can’t do that” or “That is too hard for you.” and say “But look at these four other things I’ve done and I did them just fine.”

That is why I take classes. One of the hardest classes was the pastoral care class that was downtown on Tuesday nights. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of taking a class every Tuesday for nearly three months. Then it was hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of having to drive myself downtown at night. It was hard for me to even imagine asking my boss for that time off to do it. But I did it, and I did it because I knew that what I was doing was important. I did it because I didn’t want the disease to win.

While I knew that what I was going to learn from the class was going to be important, what I was going to learn from just attending the class was going to be even more important. It was going to teach me that I can take care of myself.

I used to be really good at driving. I used to drive myself everywhere alone for hours at a time. I drove by myself to Washington, DC work one summer. That was a 10 hour drive, one way.

But then something changed when my bipolar disorder manifested. Shortly after I was diagnosed, I went on a camping trip and I got so unwell that I had to be driven home. Everything I owned had to be packed up for me by my friends, and I had to have someone else take me home.

It affected me, not only because it was embarrassing, but also because I don’t want to be a burden to other people. I don’t want to get to a point where I have to have someone else rescue me. So it is important for me to not put myself in situations where I think I’m going to fail.

But that sometimes meant that for years I didn’t put myself in any situations at all. It meant that sometimes I only did things that were safe. And when I only do things that are safe, I don’t grow or get stronger.

And that is letting the disease win.

And I can’t let it win.

Unappreciated – on gifts and on using your words

I know a lady who has jumped in to help her husband with his parents. Really, it is more accurate to say she has taken over the care-giving chore. They are getting older and needing more help. She feels like it is her responsibility to help out. The problem is that she wasn’t asked for her help, and nobody is taking her advice anyway.

She feels ignored and devalued.

Plenty of women feel it is their wifely duty to help when their parents in law get older. They feel that is a chore that women take care of. They feel that their husbands are inept at care-giving. They then shoulder the burden all by themselves, and they feel put upon.

There are a lot of problems to this.

A gift that is given freely is a good gift. It isn’t a gift if it has to be given. It isn’t a gift if it is given under duress. Even if nobody asked, but the giver felt obliged, it is duress.

Now, of course, that is all on the giver’s head. It is never a good idea to make up a script. If nobody told you what was expected of you, but you just felt that was something you had to do and did it anyway and felt unhappy about it, that is your problem.

Another problem is that it takes away responsibility from the husband. Men are just as able to be caregivers as women. There is nothing biological about being a caregiver. There is something in our society about it, but that isn’t set in stone. Roles can change, and often should.

If a wife takes over the care-giving responsibilities of her parents in law, the husband may feel grateful. That is one less chore he has to deal with. Say he always mowed the lawn, but she always felt he was doing it poorly. One day, she takes over that responsibility without saying anything to him. He notices what she is doing, realizes that this means he has more time to do what he wants to do, and lets her. She, then, feels resentment that her hard work isn’t appreciated.

It isn’t a gift. She didn’t do that out of love, but out of something darker.

There is a lot of unspoken expectation mixed up in all of this, and because of that, a lot of feelings will get hurt. Un-asked for promises and rewards aren’t forthcoming, because they weren’t put in the contract. There is no “if I do this, then you’ll do that” that is mentioned. The wife will feel unappreciated, and the husband will simply feel like she is doing something she wants to do.

She’ll continue helping (read “taking over”) with the care-giving of her parents in law, and he’ll keep not getting that she really doesn’t want to do it because she hasn’t said anything about it.

People can’t read minds. That is why we invented language.

Notice how small children get frustrated when they want something but they don’t use their words. They are hungry, or tired, or want their favorite toy, and all they can do is wail. Their parents can’t understand what they want, so the child’s needs continue to not be met, so the wails continue and get louder.

“Use your words” they might say, and the child has to slow down long enough to get out what is the problem. Then healing can start.

As long as the wife continues to do something she doesn’t really want to do, something that really should be the responsibility of her husband (because after all, they are his parents), resentment will build. She won’t wail outwardly, but she will seethe inwardly. It will come out in ugly ways.

It isn’t his responsibility to second guess her. It is her responsibility to talk, to say how she feels.

Layered art

I just realized that I can create art by painting or drawing in layers, like Tibetan sand paintings. I saw a Thomas Kinkade painting with beautiful light in the windows. I felt like there was no way I could paint that perfectly – especially with a frame and panes. There is too much detail in too tight a space.

Then I saw the answer. Paint the background first.

I never knew how useful that idea would be, and that I’d be inspired by a Thomas Kinkade painting, or figure out a technique from Tibetan sand paintings.

They aren’t flat. They are three dimensional. There are layers that the final viewer can’t see. The only way to see them is to be one of the people creating it.

I like that idea. Hidden art. Layers of art beneath art. This takes collage to a whole new level. I can put down a layer, and put another layer on top of it, with bits cut out to reveal the under-layer.