Friday, February 16, 2018

29 FOR 30: A YEAR OF BOOKS


by Rose Owens*

For 2017, I wanted to return to the magical feeling of diving into a book, escaping the world at the moment, and learning about this new realm as well as something about myself. I wanted to get back to reading. I have been an avid reader since childhood, but had fallen out of any regular patterns due to working in the food service industry (and retail at large) for the past fifteen years. I initially shot for twenty-five books, and managed to read twenty-nine (missing finishing the thirtieth by a day!). It was a wonderful and enriching experience, and one that I am re-creating in 2018; still gunning for twenty-five books, but here's hoping I break my 2017 record!

What follows is a small sampling of books read during 2017. An additional note: I created a thematic goal within my goal, one which seemed prescient: to only read female/female-identifying authors, which turned out wonderfully and only had a couple hiccups. Please enjoy!


by Martha Slavin


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This debut novel by Gyasi was getting a great deal of good press for some time, but I stumbled upon it as a member of a book club called Page Views, sponsored by the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor. It was presented in connection with a show at the de Young called "Revelations: Art from the African American South." The art show alone is astounding and heart-breaking (and up until April 2018, go see it!), and plays with the idea of memory and identity formation, among many other things. Homegoing was a perfect fit, as it is a truly radical piece of work that moves back and forth between the life stories of fourteen different characters as their various families move around Africa and emigrate to the United States. It's riveting and Gyasi does an amazing job at keeping the reader fully immersed in the story. You feel as though you are walking alongside each character, sharing their pains and joys. There's surprise and magic, romance and sorrow, and above all Gyasi works (as have the other two authors I will mention here) to broaden the reader's worldview. This is not for complacent readers, but will force you to ask very real questions of yourself and how you negotiate with other people's experiences. It's a real commitment, but isn't that why we read? To learn and change for the better, to evolve and celebrate the dynamism of the world? You will not regret picking up this very worthy tome.

by Martha Slavin



The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Truth be told, it took me a long time to get to this book because it had been so lauded for so many years. Perhaps it's the contrarian in me, but sometimes I am put off by books that EVERYONE says are great. Perhaps it's from reading said books and being disappointed that I wasn't as enraptured as I was supposed to be. Whatever the case for my putting it off, I decided I was going to read The Handmaid's Tale this year for multiple reasons: a) it fit my theme of female authors, b) the dystopian world which scarily mirrors our own, and c) I wanted to get ahead of the (then) upcoming television series based on the novel. However, I found once diving into its pages that this was more than just a case of getting ahead of the story. Atwood tells a startlingly recognizable tale, full of heart and hate, and with a protagonist who you can fully see. Offred is not an easy person to connect with, which I value. sometimes, one gets tired of endlessly relatable leads. We are pushed into uncomfortable zones, asked repeatedly if we would do the same, and realizing that no matter what, you cannot know what your reactions and response would be unless you are actually in that moment. I was very much enthralled by this book and soon became one of those talking head testimonials that I scoffed at for so many years. P.S. the show, while not slavishly devoted to the mother text, does some interesting things with the piece. Check both out!


by Martha Slavin


Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

I had long admired Roxane Gay for her unabashed proclamations about pop culture (if you haven't yet, do yourself a favor and read her piece about going to see "Magic Mike XXL"; it's celebratory and fun and not what you would expect about a movie that many have labeled "a frivolous chick flick"). So it was with excitement that I dove into this book of her essays, which run the gamut from pop culture to politics to sexuality to...Scrabble? It's a truly engrossing read that will keep you questioning your intake of gender role and racial representation, which is something we could always use, but especially during these days of #MeToo and terrifyingly inhumane proclamations regarding immigrants and people of color. Next up on my "hanging with Roxane" list is her memoir Hunger, which dives into discussions about body and self-image, and is another topic always worth diving into to tease apart common-held stereotypes regarding appearances. You go, Roxane, you go!


Check out Rose's list of 29, almost completed, 30 good reads. Click on the Book Lists page at the top of this post.



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I'm attending the California Letters conference this week, so I asked Rose Owens to contribute this post. Thank you for reading and please let her know your response to her post by leaving a comment!



Friday, February 9, 2018

PAGES, TABLETS, PADS AND SCRAPS

I learned to make a post last weekend. A post? The word post has several meanings. You can post something as a notice to others, you can use wood, metal or other sturdy material to make a support structure, or, in traditional Western papermaking, you can make a stack of freshly-made sheets ready to dry under a press. That stack is called a post.  Check out the website Paperslurry for a much more in-depth understanding of the process.  http://www.paperslurry.com/tag/tim-barrett/


Most of us don't think about the paper that's around us: tablets, pads, pages from a book, and scraps for notes. We write on paper, draw or paint on it, read from it, eventually recycle it. With the digital age, do we use less? I don't think so, though new generations may turn away from paper more and more. For now, the tactile quality of paper attracts us still. The crackle of gift wrap, the rustle of a book's pages, the response of the paper to a drawn or painted line--all create a link for us to paper. Paper even has a memory. what happened the last time you set a wet cup on a piece of paper? The paper wrinkles up and once dry, won't smooth out unless you iron it. The paper 'remembers' its wet position.

I took the Tin Can Papermaking class by Julia Goodman at the San Francisco Center for the Book. Making paper in a tin can is a simple process:



We used two tin cans, a blender to pulverize the scraps of paper and cloth, and two screens to make small circular sheets. Paper, unlike cloth, is not woven together. Instead, in the agitation process, the fibers reach out to each other and form a bond that makes paper very strong. (If agitated too much, the opposite will happen and the paper will fall apart.) The end results from the class became rough surfaced circles, more appropriate for art-making than writing. To make the paper better for lettering, the paper needed to be pressed smooth and coated with sizing. 

I worked all day, blending scraps, pouring the pulp into a tin can through two different screens, agitating the pulp, pressing out the water, and letting the pieces dry. At the end of the day, I had a small post of still wet papers to take home with me. It took three more days for the pieces to thoroughly dry.

This sheet was made from denim scraps


Check out Julia Goodman's website for some amazing art pieces made from paper:


Go to Pamela Paulsrud's site to see a wonderful way to acknowledge our relationship to trees by using paper circles to write about experiences with trees:

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Still trying to find an easy project for Valentine's Day?  Here are directions for a simple origami heart:

Use lightweight paper or origami paper cut to a square  (I used 6 inch x 6 inch)

Fold the paper diagonally in both directions

Take top point and fold to center


Open out & take opposite point & fold as in photo. Open up and refold with first point inside, then second.

Fold left point along center line

In origami, there is always one fold that is crucial. Make sure the inner folds match

Turn over and fold points down


Fold side corners to inside. Turn over.

You have a heart.

I folded part of a doily in a fan shape and stuck inside the heart.
Then I sealed the opening with a sticker from Mrs. Grossman's collection.
Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 2, 2018

WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR?

Friends step into the breach. 
Friends give hugs. 
Friends sustain each other. 
Friends need you to be vulnerable with them.



Image by Kathy Barker, a calligrapher from Washington

For a long time, I thought that being a good listener and sharing experiences and adventures constituted friendship. I am a slow learner sometimes and it took me awhile to realize I needed to reveal my own vulnerabilities to other people. Friends want your willingness to share the hard parts of yourself. When I allowed people to see those parts of me, I became a better friend.

 I still have to work on that willingness to share all the time. I am an outgoing introvert, which is not really an oxymoron. I've always jumped into the middle of things, I like to lead, I even like to give speeches, I like to participate, but often people used to surprise me by saying, "You're so quiet." I grew to dislike that phrase with vigor. I worked hard, on my own and through therapy, to overcome that label. I haven't heard anyone say how quiet I am to me in a long time. As an introvert, I still need time by myself to restore my energy levels. It is easy for me to forget to reach out when I am content with being by myself and engaged in my own highly-focused projects. That 's what introverts do.

I was also raised in a family that taught self-reliance as a value. Nothing wrong with that, but for me to let other people know that I needed help was one of the hardest steps I had to take. I assumed I could get everything done myself. I can, but I discovered that in opening the doors so that others could see my needs, those people stepped right in, showing a willingness to help that astounds me.


Martha Slavin

A neighbor's husband is recovering surgery. I let other neighbors know and immediately they extended their offers of help. I am sure you know people who come forward in the same way. I think of the individuals who responded with such heart during the natural disasters that affected so much of the country last year, putting themselves at risk to help others.

This week, I've had two wonderful reminders of the value of friendship. I received an email from a long-time friend about how important our friendship has been to her. She wrote with a sensitivity that only two good friends could share. On another day, two friends and I went for a walk and coffee. On the walk, we talked over personal problems without judgments. To my delight, I have discovered that many people I know respond with the same caring attitude once I allow them to see the vulnerable parts of my life.

I could write a paragraph about each one of you here, but I want you all to know how valuable you have been in my understanding of what friendship is. Thank you for being such good teachers, you know who you are.


Martha Slavin



Check out work by Kathy Barker:
 http://writeoncalligraphers.org/portfolio/art-kathy-barker/
http://calligraphysociety.org
Thank you, Kathy, for allowing me to reproduce your work at Postcards in the Air

Friday, January 26, 2018

SWEET SIMPLICITY

In the midst of trying to find a mistake in our home accounting, I remembered a young woman accountant who helped our PTA find some missing expenses. She said, "Sometimes I go back to paper and pencil. I find it faster and more efficient for me." I put aside the Excel and Quicken programs that I was using and with paper and pencil began to focus on what I was really seeking. I found the mistake by making a long list of expenses and credits all the way back to 2007. Sometimes simplicity works best for me when I am trying to solve what seems like an overwhelming problem.



I was inspired to go back to basics in my creative activities when I attended the Friends of Calligraphy's Trivial Pursuits day last Saturday. The annual fun day is filled with 6 mini-courses that are a break from more intense calligraphy workshops that are offered by the guild. Each project at TP must be completed in an hour so that we can move on to the next. The teachers are fellow calligraphers and the offerings each year are always full of fun and surprises.

Each class focused on one of the basic design principles: line, shape, value, color, positive and negative space, and texture to create something using only simple supplies, such as paper, pencil, ink, pen, wax, and paint.







From a small black square of paper, we all cut out half of an image (half of a heart is a good start and a perfect Valentine card), which we flipped over to enlarge the design. I cut shapes from a different square and placed them so that they show another design principle, direction. The design also created an optical illusion, which makes you think there is a solid white line around the inner square.




In another class, we worked with color using watercolor as our medium. On a small piece of paper, we brushed on circles of color, then turned the blobs into whatever caught our imagination. Then we blended color in a palette using wet-on-wet and dry brush techniques. Once these were dry, we could use a black permanent marker to add Zentangles, another class offered at Trivial Pursuits.




We practiced flourishing, using line to add decoration to letters, in another class.  But first, we warmed up by drawing circles over and over across the page. Then we tried S curves with a pointed pen that helped us generate thick and thin lines. With enough practice, we could move on to flourishes around lettering. We also learned to make wax seals, which calligraphers use on hand-lettered documents, much like what has been done for hundreds of years. Nowadays the seals are mostly for decoration and add texture to a design.




The last class required folding skills as we shaped origami stars from leftover practice calligraphy sheets. We folded eight pieces of paper and then interlocked them to make a star. What a treat they will be to hang next December.




Each of these classes, though only an hour long, made us slow down and focus on one practice. In the room full of 40 people, harmony, another design element, prevailed. Like meditation, Trivial Pursuits gave us time to work with the basics of design, to use simple materials and brought us all to a quiet state where we focused on our work and encouraged each other in our endeavors.

Friday, January 19, 2018

DOORS OPEN, DOORS SHUT

Each time you reach another milestone decade, you stop to think about what that decade means in your life. I remember 40 approaching and how much friends and I dreaded that date. Yet my 40s turned out to be some of my best, most productive years. Turning 30 is another big change as we step into full adulthood from the often turbulent 20s.

This week I've asked Rose Owens, a writer who turned 30 in 2017, to explain her point of view.

HERE COMES 30

When I was young, I always wanted to be a teenager; I had the perception that it was going to be so much fun, that I'd have a really cool boyfriend, and popular friends, and that my life would basically be a 1990's teen flick. I was so enthralled by this idea that whenever I'd write stories or draw pictures of characters from these tales, they were always teenagers. It seemed like such an idyllic time of life, and I couldn't wait to enter that phase.

As many of us have experienced, being a teenager was not all pop music, hilarious but ultimately harmless hijinks, and the first kiss of true puppy dog romance. In fact, much of my teenage years were spent feeling out of sorts, unattractive, and just dreaming of getting out of this hellish decade. It was a super blissful moment when I turned 20, and thought, "thank god that's over."

Fast forward to myself as a 29-year-old, sitting in a session with my amazing and inspiring therapist. I've gone well past the teenage years, have experienced 99% of my twenties, and am looking down the barrel of the big 3-0. In the midst of a conversation about who can remember what, I make a very offhand remark, casually saying "and 30 is supposed to be awful, so there's that." My therapist sits straight up in her chair, holds out her hands, and says, "Stop. Pause. Where in the world did you hear that?" I realized that I hadn't actually heard it anywhere, but had assumed that along with heaps of other societally-enforced stereotypes, that turning 30 was just another step towards irrelevance. CAVEAT: This does not mean that I saw any of my older friends or my parents or older relatives as "useless" or "unimportant"; but rather, that in many ways, that was how I saw myself. That my aging was just another way of proving that I wasn't amounting to much and that I lost my chance way back when to actually accomplish anything of import.


Image by Martha Slavin

Suffice it to say, my therapist quickly dissuaded me of this idea and began to wax poetic about all of the magical things that 30 could have in store for me, including but not limited to:

-You're going to make peace with your body. It's here, and it's helped you get this far. You will still have those areas that you disliked up until now, and you may still dislike them. But there's less internal pressure to make your body something it's not. You will be friends with your body and treat it better because it has treated you well.

-You're not going to suffer fools. You've spent thirty years trying to make other people comfortable and happy with you (especially valid for me), and in the process, have spent a lot of time with people who aren't willing to do the same for you. Now, you're going to cut the cord. You're going to prioritize spending time with people who bring you joy and who support you.

-Your needs and desires, in general, will clarify. You've got a wealth of experience to draw upon as to what nurtures your body and soul, and that desire to support yourself via your work, your contacts, and your consumption (of food, of art, of life) is going to grow stronger and stronger. Now is the time to break off from that toxic job that was making you miserable, time to go see the movies YOU want to see, time to eat that piece of chocolate cake that has caught your eye.

Image by Martha Slavin


The magic of it all is that these things have come true. Sure, I'm still Rose, I still have the same foibles and flaws that I have always had, and just because I desire that piece of chocolate cake doesn't always mean that I let myself have it without a side dish of guilt. But my focus on my own needs, my support of my soul and body, and my life, in general, have improved in leaps and bounds since I turned 30. I'm happier that I have been in quite some time, and while I know it is not due to that therapy session, a very distinct switch was flipped in that moment where I let myself feel "this is a new chapter to be excited about."

I've been spreading the gospel about 30 since my birthday in August, and while not everyone's experience has been the same, it has felt really inspiring to watch other people start their journey into this decade. There's a great deal of excitement and freedom that is palpable, and especially necessary during these chaotic times we're in. It's not all easy, but there's a feeling of relief and camaraderie throughout.

I told a friend a few months back how turning 30 was so impactful, and she, in turn, was excited for her Saturn Return to take place in a year and a half. Supposedly it takes Saturn 30 years to return to the same place so Saturn Returns tend to bring rebirth, an opening of a new chapter, and a conclusion of lots of things. A few hours later, we were watching a really joyous and fun electronic band tear up the stage. They were so passionate and dynamic, truly immersed in their work and unabashed about spreading a wonderful sensation of happiness to the entire crowd. A couple of songs in, my friend turned to me and said, "What they're feeling up there, that looks like your 30." 

And it was true.




Image by Martha Slavin

Friday, January 12, 2018

BACK TO BASICS

I'm sharing a few of the powerful words that people have chosen for 2018:

Grace

Today

Go Easy

Moment

Help Others

Gratitude

Scatter Kindness

Drive with Kindness

Flexibility

Step into the Unknown

A Quote from Rumi: 
"Live where you fear to live. Forget Safety. 
Destroy your reputation. Be notorious."

Words that can lift you up and help you find your intention for the year.

Other words, such as words on a list, can languish or irritate for a long time. I found my list of chores that I would like to do around our house. The list is several years old and is filled with items for "some day." Some items have been crossed out, others remain. I've learned to Let Go of the need to finish everything immediately. When something needs to be done, it will get done. 



Who has a moment to go through boxes left over from cleaning out both parents' houses? Sitting with these few remaining boxes leaves me with memories but no answer yet to where to give away the items inside. 

Yes, there are dings on the walls that need touching up and we need to change the side yard to be more water conservative. But none of these needs to be done tomorrow. 

Slowly, over time these items will be accomplished, just as the other marked-off items have been. These words on this list could get sticky and anxiety-producing, but my mantra of "One Thing at a Time" helps me determine what is the most important intention that I have.





Between reflecting over last year's experiences and looking forward to the possibilities of 2018, I know I will continue to keep the words "Growing and Learning" as two very important guides for my intentions for this year.

On reflection, I've realized that the words of intention that I've added to my list have made a difference in my actions through the years.

Letting Go

One Thing at a Time

Growing and Learning

What are your intentions for 2018?









Friday, January 5, 2018

WINTER'S GRACE





I love January. After the hustle of the holidays, January comes as a respite. New Year's Day in California is almost always bright and sunny on the coast. The weather can change quickly and yesterday it finally did. We woke up to grey skies with rain forecast for midday.





I love January. At Osage Station Park in Danville, the trees are stark except for a few leaves that one by one pull away and float lazily down. The pyracantha berries are red or white against dark green or red leaves, and the hundreds of rose bushes that surround the park's edges have been pruned back in anticipation of new growth. There are still some rosebuds scattered about the bushes. The buds and the flowers that still bloom are not the confident ones of Spring with their glorious colors and lusty air. These look the worse for wear, battered by wind and cold. Their tips are brown or transparent, and some petals droop to the ground. Yet, they persist after all the others are gone.




I love January. The air is quiet and heavy, suppressing the noises of children and cars. We only notice the cries of the phoebes, sparrows, finches, and juncos that swarm our feeders. There are more than usual, perhaps in response to the wildfires this year that limited their seed supplies.





I love January. When we lived in Japan, we realized that families set aside the week before the new year celebration as a time to clean, to set aside the worries of the past year, and to prepare for a fresh start in the new year.  Here in the U.S., people in business offices used to open their windows and throw out their calendar pages from the last year, ready for a new year. With that same motivation, I wake up the day after Christmas with a strong need to find clean spaces in my own mind for new projects and ideas for the new year.



I love January. I am still thinking of a word for 2018, but I like two that have been submitted by  readers of this blog:

GRACE

TODAY



What is your word for 2018?




Today is my fourth anniversary of writing Postcards in the Air. I owe a big thank you to all of you readers for your encouragement and inspiration. CHEERS!