Fortunate stamps – the background

I’ve got a lot of stamps, and a lot of fortune cookie messages. The stamps were easy to come by – I bought bags of them from craft stores. The fortune cookies weren’t so easy. I like Chinese food. I eat it at least once a week. And once a week I get a fortune. I get a little overwhelmed when I think of how many meals my collection of fortunes represents.

Recently I started to go through both of these sets and sort them into themes. From that I’ve been making art. I’ve done some of this over the years, but after sorting them I have a bit more focus. I found an “empty” book that I bought years ago and started arranging some of them there. I’m only filling the right-hand pages.

Of course, I’m doing this amid all my other craft projects. Either I’m getting distracted or I’m clearing my head so I can finish the other main project (my book). Perhaps I really am into the “jigsaw” method of life – do a little here, and a little there, and then it all comes together.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to do this, to put them together like this. I thought I was going to paint and put them in art, kind of like Nick Bantock does. But this empty book seems to be a good way to hold it all together. It is clean and simple too. All the focus is on the subject. It isn’t “busy”.

I had a bit of a pause – what if I put it in the “wrong” order? Then I realized I can scan it and re-sort it later. Sometimes I over think things, but I think that is part of being an artist. What matters is that I won that argument by deciding to just do it anyway. Half the part of making art is getting over the need for things to be perfect. Something is better than an imagined thing that ends up being nothing because I over thought it and was too scared to start.

I’ll post the pages in a separate post so I can add to it later and have the whole thing together for you. But I want you to see what I’ve been creating.

Advertisements

Holy Stamps! Or, the Gospel illustrated with stamps.

In the Beginning

1

2

John 1:1-4
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Birth of Jesus

3

Luke 2:1-7
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirin′i-us was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. 7 And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

4

5

Luke 2:8-20
8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The Visit of the Magi

6

Matthew 2:1-12
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:

6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will govern my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; 8 and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; 11 and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The flight to Egypt

7

Matthew 2:13-15
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Many years pass. Jesus begins to teach. He tells everyone that God loves them and that they are forgiven, and they are to love and forgive everyone else. Then it comes time for the Passover, and for him to be sacrificed.

Jesus enters into Jerusalem upon a donkey

8

John 12:12-19
12 The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”14 And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written,

15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on an ass’s colt!”

16 His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Laz′arus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.”

Jesus dies and is raised from the dead.

9

John 12:27-36
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; 32 and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?” 35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

10

Austrian stamp story

My friend and I went on a trip to Austria. And we went on a trip in Austria. Confused? Keep reading.

Tom and I spent the day wandering around old churches. There is something about the architecture, the reverence, the style of them that we like. And, well, we like the ritual.

We’d already been to three churches that day before we found one that was celebrating Mass. But this wasn’t any ordinary Mass. It looked like something special was going on because a guy with a crozier was there. We guessed he was a bishop.

stamp1

Sadly we hadn’t learned any words to understand what was going on. Our phrase books didn’t venture into religion. We could order our food and get directions, but we couldn’t follow along with the service.

Well, we could, sort of. We both had been to a lot of Catholic services, and they are all pretty much the same. Catholic means “universal”, after all. And it isn’t like we were going to be asked to speak. Church isn’t exactly equal in terms of the speaking parts. If the congregation gets to speak, it is given lines to say from a book.

Usually a guy dressed up like this and with this kind of accessory is a bishop. They only show up for special occasions, like a baptism, confirmation, or ordination. The average, everyday stuff they leave to the priests.

We watched what was going on, but we didn’t see anything special. It looked like a regular service. Tom and I stared at each other, shrugging a little. Who knows? Surely something different will happen.

And it did, but not what either of us could have ever expected.

The Bishop was celebrating Communion, as is normal if the Bishop is there. He outranks everybody except the Pope, so he gets to do this part of the service if he wants to.

We were pretty far away, but it seemed like something different happened when he picked up the chalice to bless the wine. It kind of looked like a snake rose from it. And then it kind of looked like he smiled.

We went up to take Communion and as usual, the Bishop administered the wafer. The priest of that church came by with the chalice.

Everything was normal when I took the wafer, but I felt a little weird when I sipped the wine. I felt a little dizzy, so I grabbed the altar rail to steady myself. I looked at Tom and he was doing the same thing.

Then we looked and saw the craziest thing. The Bishop was being chased by a skeleton!

stamp2

It made no sense. I mean, this is an old church and all, and there are people buried in niches in the walls, but they are dead, definitely dead. This skeleton-guy wasn’t an accident. He wasn’t somebody who got interred recently and by mistake. I could see through him, for goodness sakes.

The bishop ran screaming down the aisle out of the church’s front door, all the while being chased by this skeleton.

We thought this would cause a panic, but nobody else seemed to notice anything. Now, sure, there are people who don’t move when a fire alarm goes off. They need to actually see a reason to run, like seeing actual fire, before they will take the alarm seriously.

But a skeleton. Chasing a guy. Who ran out.

Surely that is enough to rally the whole room.

Nope. It seemed like just Tom and I noticed all of this. We stuck close together after that, constantly looking at each other to check if the other one saw the same thing.

We walked around the church after that and came across this stained glass window.

stamp4

Mary and Jesus were all sharp, and everything else looked like it was warping in time and space. None of the other stained glass windows had done that, but they didn’t have Mary and Jesus. Perhaps that was the difference.
Perhaps there was something that warped time and space when Mary had God contained within her. It is pretty trippy, if you think about it. We date time from when Jesus was born, after all. Things changed, so yeah, I can understand the fabric of reality warping around them. I just didn’t expect to see it.

We stumbled out of the church. The parishioners looked at us like we were drunk. Hopefully they just thought we were ignorant tourists and wouldn’t call the police. A night in a foreign jail wasn’t tops on my list. Actually, a night in any jail wasn’t even on the list.

We wandered around, getting further and further away from the church. Our hope was that if they did call the police, we’d be long gone.

Everything looked fine until the parade came around the corner. We saw a woman being led by these strange men. She was dressed like a queen, and it looked like she was wringing her hands. She looked so sad.

stamp5

Were the men holding her up in her grief, or were they dragging her along to her demise? There was no way of knowing. Once again our tourist phrase book was failing us.

Then the heavens opened up and we saw an angel.

stamp3

By this point we had given up trying to make sense of any of it.

(Notes. This is what happens when I have a lot of stamps. These are all Austrian stamps and they are all odd. They looked like they told a story that hadn’t been written, so I wrote it. I like the idea that stamps illustrate the story – in fact, the stamps are the reason for the story.)

Memory postcard – me and my grandmother

MP1

This is a “postcard” of me and my grandmother. She is the only grandmother that I knew. She was my father’s mother, and her name was Mary Frances. I called her Mama. My mother’s mother died before I was born.

My aunt sent me this picture recently. I’d never seen it, but I knew when it was taken. There is another picture of me from that same day, wearing those same clothes. It, however, has all of me and not just half. I’m not sure where that picture is anymore. Probably in a box in a closet. I’d had this picture sitting out for a while. It needed to be put in a frame of some sort. It needed something.

Here’s a closer picture of the photo that started it all.

MP2

The back of the picture says “Betsy and me at the Holiday Inn, Chattanooga”. It is written in blue ballpoint pen in my grandmother’s handwriting. The printing on the side of the picture says “Jun 71”, so I was two years old. I’d been swimming – my hair is wet. I was cold, and my grandmother has put her ever-present white sweater on me to keep me warm. Yes, my hair is wet, and I’m not wearing a swimsuit. So that means I was changed into normal clothes and nobody dried my hair. My grandmother has her handbag nearby. This is big and stiff and white, like all of her purses. The one I remember the most was a white wicker contraption. It was fascinating.

I spent most of yesterday sorting my stamp collection and my collection of fortunes from fortune cookies. I have a slightly disturbing amount of both. Fortunately they are tiny paper things, so having a lot of them doesn’t take up a lot of space. I pulled out ones I liked as I was sorting, with no particular idea what I was going to do with them. At night I knew – put some of them together with this picture. It is like a postcard of memories.

The fortunes all have meanings for me. They are like pithy snapshots all to themselves.

Here’s a closer picture of the first three.

MP4

“Travelling to the south will bring you unexpected happiness.”
There were two of these fortunes in the collection, and I’m amused by how specific they are. The south – not the north, not just traveling, but the south. I found it interesting, so I pulled them aside. Now I know why. I went south to visit my grandparents every summer for two weeks while I was growing up. We’d drive down as a family to meet up with my grandparents in Gadsden, Alabama and go to Noccalula Falls. It was halfway. Then my parents would drive back home, and my grandparents would drive the rest of the way to Birmingham with me in the car. Two weeks later they would reverse the procedure to return me.

Was it unexpected happiness? It was certainly different from the norm. My grandparents slept in separate rooms. My grandmother had two single beds in her room. I’d sleep in the one closest to the wall. The blankets were white with pom poms on them. The “Birmingham fairy” would visit and there would be a present under my pillow. Was it every night? Or just the first night? I don’t remember. No teeth had to fall out to get a present. It was just for being there. I remember being stunned how it happened. I’d see something I liked at a store we would visit and it would show up under my pillow the next morning. It was magic. I never saw my grandmother buy anything that I later got under my pillow. She was part elf, I think. She taught me how to palm money, but that is another story.

At night she would give me chocolate milk to drink, and in the morning she would put sugar in my orange juice. She’d also put a packet of sugar in my applesauce when we went out to eat. We went out to eat every meal. Really. Every meal. “Grandmother’s cooking” means nothing to me. When I think of food associated with my grandmother, I think of the Piccadilly café. Buffet lines were the norm. She didn’t cook. The only time I saw her use the stove was to dry of my shoes if I’d played outside in the rain, or to heat up mud pies that I made in little cast iron skillets.

Real mud. In the stove. Why she didn’t insist that I put them outside in the sun to dry is beyond me. That was my grandmother.

We slept with the windows open. There was no central air in that house. That wasn’t a problem for me because I grew up that way. I’d go to sleep listening to the sound of the train whistles nearby. It is part of why I got a house close to trains. I love that sound. It reminds me of those summers, sleeping in her room, getting presents under my pillow.

“You have at your command the wisdom of the ages”
I bought my first real computer, a Gateway, with the money from my grandparent’s estate. I’d gotten this Chinese fortune around the same time. It seemed an appropriate thing to tape to the monitor. I also taped my grandmother’s name to it, as a reminder of who to be thankful to. I wrote it out in a fancy old script.

“You will discover the truth in time.”
I feel there are a lot of things I don’t know about my family. Something about this speaks to me. I’m uncovering and recovering a lot about my history through writing, art, and prayer. Things are coming back to me, things I never knew were lost. It is beautiful and difficult at the same time. There is a lot that is hidden, that I intentionally forgot. I ask Jesus into it, and it helps.

Here’s a closer picture of the last ones.

MP5

“You find beauty in ordinary things. Do not lose this ability.”
My grandmother was very child-like. Not childish. She knew how to play. She was clever and creative and fun and whimsical. She wasn’t an adult, really, but I don’t know whether that was intentional or was the result of my grandfather’s overbearing nature. Or, was that simply the side of her that I saw?

I like this fortune because it speaks to how I make jewelry, seeing beauty in the everyday. I make treasures out of things that other people see as trash or overlook. Alchemy is part of it – turning lead into gold.

“Choosing what you want to do, and when to do it, is an act of creation.”
I feel this is a message to me from my grandmother. It and the stamp speak to me about the same thing.

Here’s a closer picture of the stamp.

MP3

The stamp is a French stamp, and it reminds me that my grandmother was fluent in French and German, and taught both of them before she got married. When she got married, her husband insisted that she not work. He felt it was shameful to him for his wife to have to work- that it said that he was not a good provider.

Problem is, she liked teaching. She liked translating. She wanted to. But he didn’t want her to, and he won.

This reminds me of the fact that her mother wasn’t allowed to be who she wanted to be either. She wasn’t allowed to work or even to cook. It too was seen as shameful for the woman of the house to work, outside or inside the house. Her husband owned several pipe foundries and made lots of money. He hired cooks and maids. She was allowed to do needlepoint. It wasn’t pretty. It was brittle, and stiff. I feel like she was that way too. A person’s art tells you a lot about the person.

They both were stunted. It was a bonsai kind of a life. But not beautiful, like a bonsai.

This is interesting to me to realize. Both women were “free” of the traditional roles of women, and they suffered because of it. One wanted to work outside of the home. One wanted to cook and take care of the house. Neither woman was allowed to, because it would hurt the pride of their husbands.

This is what I mean about how I’m uncovering the truth through my artwork. I’ve learned quite a bit and put together quite a number of pieces this way. Things make more sense.

So then I look up how to spell Noccalula, and I find out more about the story. This is from Wikipedia. She was a “Cherokee maiden who, according to local legends, plunged to her death after being ordered by her father to marry a man she didn’t love.” Fascinating. It ties into these other women -my grandmother, and her mother. They didn’t kill themselves, but they let a part of themselves die when they got married.

I’m not anti-marriage at all. And I’m not saying that women need to work or cook to feel fulfilled. But what I am saying is that people should feel free to be who they are, and do what they want. Other people should not make decisions for them as to what they think is best for them. This applies to parents and spouses, regardless of gender. To suppress yourself in order to appease a family member is the most damaging thing you can do. It is the heart of codependency.

(I have this collage framed in a simple pop-together frame. I’ve taken it out of the frame for the pictures.)