Sunday, July 31, 2016

minnesota center for book arts

Minnesota Center for the Book Arts: or, A Small Montessorian's Beginning Journey in Bookmaking

If you take a five-year-old to the letterpress studio, she will want to make a book. And if you give her scrap paper from the book arts studio, she will illustrate a story.

If the five-year-old sees the blue of the paper, she will think of rain and want to draw thunderstorms. And if there are thunderstorms, she will want to draw shelter for her bears.

If she draws bears, she will think of her nickname, the bear, and if she thinks of her nickname, she will remember the growls she made as she nursed when she was a baby. If she thinks of being a baby, she will want her mama to tell her the story of her birth again, and if her mama tells that story, she will get all swelly with emotion thinking of those long two days and finally getting to kiss her eggy head.

If she thinks of eggs, she'll also think of chickens and how one day she'd like to keep them. And if she mentions chickens and eggs, her daughter will want to draw a baby bear for the mama bear. And if she draws the baby and the mama, she'll want to tell a story of how much they love each other, and she'll want to learn how to bind it together as a book.

Note: We were at the studio because my dear friend Meryl was working on the two broadsides that accompanied our first two books at Tinderbox Editions (see the results here).

Saturday, July 16, 2016

work is love made visible

I love anything that comes from the hands: the garden's fruit, the well-risen bread, the hand-quilted blanket, the drawings my daughter offers up after all of that painstaking detail.

I love how, in the realm of Montessori, we don't necessarily praise the child for a result, a product, but instead say: "That was a big work." We acknowledge the process, and I'm learning how to have a relationship with that beautiful concept of "the friendliness with error." This, too, is a big work.

We turned in our albums on Thursday, and before I let mine go, I gave it a little embrace and kissed it--this is what I do to submissions of poetry; I kiss the envelope before I drop it into the box because I want to wish it well into the world and love it no matter what the results may be--and that 340-page monster joined the slippery pile of other monsters of varying length. At one point, some topped to the ground, causing this impressive collective gasp-groan from the room and much lunging from the nearby Montessorians, but they are well, intact, and in the hands of the graders, who have a great deal of my sympathy as my least favorite thing about teaching older students was the piles and piles of grading. Fortunately, the system is pass or resubmit, rather than a complicated A-F, scribbled with red kind of deal. We're given commentary that is rooted in the desire for us to actually improve as opposed to justify the letter grade we got.

I've always kind of loved the want/need/wear/read philosophy of gift-giving, and that's been heightened after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Simplicity appeals to me, which is perhaps why Montessori appeals to me. (And yes, those of you who have seen my house, I know. I'm working on it.)

But I'm fluttering around what I really want to get at, which is how the act of work with one's hands can represent such a deep manifestation of love. Maya draws something with her hands, out of love for the person she draws for. Each drawing often has a narrative--one she's made while she draws, sometimes with the birds and fish and whatnot conversing with one another as they come to life. And I looked at one and thought, "I want to have a relationship with that." It's a collaboration, between me and my bear, these little embroidered illustrations. I'm working on another on my travels to Maine (hello from the Bangor airport!) that I will reveal later. My fingers stitch over her illustration, fiber over embroidery pencil, my hands repeating as best I can what her hands originally did.

Above is the result of what got me to finally put needle into fabric. I'd puttered around with handstitching on birthday crowns but hadn't embroidered before and knew it was time because I had swooned a few too many times over other people's work and daydreamed about what I could do myself--imagine the ways in which I could marry fiber plus pocket nature finds plus poetry!--and here is my second embroidered work--Maria Montessori's bulb of development, but the one done in her original handwriting because there's another layer of handwork that I love. (Before she passed away last October, I'd write a letter to my grandmother nearly every day, though it slowed a bit after children, sadly.) This bulb was a gift to our foundations course instructor, who, much to my relief, loved it, and now I'm itching to keep doing this, the tiny intimacies that come from fingers moving over a palate, over all of the space that is my deep appreciation, my love for what four weeks can do to a human being. My way of bowing and saying thank you. Of saying namaste. I bow to the divine in you. The Buddha in me sees the Buddha in you.

And the ones with Maya are my favorites, because who doesn't love that kind of collaboration? I asked her who we should give the first one to, and she was very insistent that it was a gift to me, so I've framed it and put it up against the wall right next to the first family portrait she drew (so much has changed in her fine motor control!) and Finn wanted in on the fun, so he gave me some glorious scribbles, and when I return home, I'll sit down with that and collaborate with my son as well.

(PS: title of post from Kahlil Gibran)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


These photographs were taken in June, when I could roll out of bed long after the sun, when we were still nervous about late frost, when slowing down and watching the beetle as it crosses and recrosses my daughter's palm was an everyday event.

(Above: my grandmother's dahlia bulbs looking unfortunately shriveled from wintering over. Some were still robust, and I am hopeful.)

Where did June go? How are we already mid-July? We have two full days left in our Foundations course at the training center, and I still feel as if I am getting my metaphorical sea legs, though I know I, like many of my classmates, have felt that puppy-anticipation of getting into the elementary materials, partly because many of us are returning to classrooms in which we need to understand just what it is we are teaching.

One of my classmates asked me how the training program has changed me, told me just how amazing it is that she is a definitively different person today than she was when we started three and a half weeks ago. (Think, too, to how much the nation and world have changed. Br'exit. Baton Rouge. Falcon Heights, not far from where we are now. Dallas.)

I had already begun shifting into a better mother after observing the toddler and primary environments at RCM. Just the tones of their voices made me slow and calm. And now, more. My daughter used to tell me heartsy love whenever my temper began to swerve, and she hasn't had to say it once--not that I have been by any means perfect in my temperament; I just got frustrated at Maya as she leaned into me, whanging as I tried to sketch out a design for embroidery--but I've felt good about the most of what I've done and how I've interacted. I know much of it is having such small slivers of time that I don't want to disgrace it with harsh words.

But also: I've learned my impatience rears so fiercely when I feel the urgency of getting something else done. When I'd have a theory paper due the next day. As above, when I'd want to get some kind of project started, completed, shifted to a new stage. When I wanted to fold a load of laundry. I'm learning how to get those things done when I first wake, or during a lunch break, so that the time I have with my children is privileged as much as possible. So we can lean into the beetle and wonder what kind, how to find out, what it might eat. We can get our feet and hands dirty again. We can draw a story together on sketch paper.

I am learning, above everything else, that the quality time we get with those we love is fleeting, that the work we are doing is important, for them and for ourselves, and that we can let our evenings become a source of frustration--please hurry up and go to bed so I can get That Thing done--or we can let it be the thing we relish the most. I choose the latter. I hope I always do.