Pocket Change: Or, Small (Creative) Acts Create Meaningful Change

"Even after they are cut down, a sprout may be taken from them and planted in another place, and they begin to grow again." —Mishna

Pocket Change, Badge created by Gretchen Miller

Like a lot of people I know, I've been searching for meaning among the rubble of recent events; both inside our country and out of it.

Though it is easier but necessary, to critique what is going wrong in our schools, our homes, and our countries, I wanted to stretch a little and find a project which contributes to the good in a small but meaningful way.

It began with an idea from my friend, Beth Rommel, who wanted  begin the new year with something positive, something with art, something with others.

In collaboration with Gretchen Miller and myself, we concocted Pocket Change, hosted by 6 Degrees of Creativity.

Pocket Change’s intention is to focus on the concept of creating change through making something small (in the form of artist trading cards) to exchange with one another, as well as to encourage simple acts of creative kindness with others.

I decided to try out making a few of the cards. They were fun to create--simple, without encumbrance. They remind me of mandarin oranges. You pick one up, peel it and pop it whole, or in a few sections, into your mouth and suck out the sweetness.



photoPocket Change is all about how simple and small acts can create and instill kindness, gratitude, and change.  Think about the power of your mini artworks as a means to express and share a positive image, message, or intention with others (and the world!) that can make a difference, bring hope, or inspiration.

-Gretchen Miller

It reminds me of the Mindful Studio Practice that I offered as part of 6 Degrees of Creativity 2. The beauty of making artist trading cards is the opportunity for quiet moments in which your imagination can stretch.

But wait, there's more: the added bonus of sending these miniatures off so that someone else will benefit from your practice.

Please join us for some pocket size creative goodness and kindness to share with one another and others!  The deadline to sign up for the ATC exchange is January 15.  Learn more about the exchange details and how to get involved on the 6 Degrees of Creativity blog.

Gluebooks On The Move

Normally when we get to this time of the year, I'm thrilled. September is the month of my birth, a time when I feel most comfortable in my skin. The leaves are beginning to yellow and the brilliant light of the Central Valley is edged with a hint of shadows to come. While the weather lived up to it's reputation, September brought a greater than normal share of challenges. I'm pleased to say that while I did my share of "pre-whining,"  (a phrase my sister coined for crossing "troubled waters" before you reach them) I met each one fairly and squarely, but with little time for the studio.

Little time, that is, until a barking good case of bronchitis laid me up for a week. While I was there, I decided to explore Gretchen Miller's workshop, Gluebook Goodness, a part of 6 Degrees of Creativity 2. (I figured I could work on it in bed!)

I loved watching Gretchen's hands at work in her video, adding images, words and smudged ink around the edges. I was particularly touched by her encouragement to "dedicate" our gluebooks to particular topics. In her hands, I watched ordinary effluvia such as receipts, tickets and tokens become the diaries of days filled with meaning.

But to what would I dedicate myself and my book? I hunted out receipts and notes around the house, but aside from one that my husband left saying: "Hallie's had hers / Dishwasher mostly emptied" I didn't find any special meanings.

My answer arrived in the form of a Sunday New York Times that my mom dropped off at my house.  It just so happened that this was the issue in which the NY Times Arts section listed all the upcoming exhibits for 2013. I turned to a page filled with Arabic script and saw the words "Crossing Borders: Manuscripts from the Bodleian Libraries."

Eureka! My book would be a tour of all of the exhibits around the country that I want to visit next year. I don't know if I'll get to all of them, but here's a partial list with bonus images:

Crossing Borders: Manuscripts From the Bodleian Libraries at the Jewish Museum, NY, NY (Check out the link above for some fabulous photographs.)

Jasper Johns: Seeing With the Mind's Eye: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Girl With A Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from Mauritshuis: DeYoung Museum, San Francisco

Gravity and Grace: Monumental works by El Anatsui, Brooklyn Museum, NY

I'm curious--what exhibits are on your "must see" list this art season?

Altering an Image

Many years ago in graduate school when Polaroids still existed and the magic of images appearing before your eyes was still new, I enjoyed taking small photos of the sculptures I'd made and altering them with thick, gooey oil pastels--the kind that were an inch wide and 4 inches long and smeared like lipstick.

I savored the challenge of wielding a big stick in a small space-it was a means of gaining control over the uncontrollable. Graduate school was a place where hardball was the rule. Working on these small and intimate scenes returned me to a more comfortable place.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to revisit photo altering in the Altered Image, one of the workshops in 6 Degrees of Creativity 2 taught by Fiona Fitzpatrick, an Australian art therapist. For my project, I chose a photograph my father had emailed to me several weeks ago. In the photo, my father, a young professor, crosses his arms with a roll of papers in his hand. His gaze is expectant, searching, as if looking into the future, wondering what it might bring--and a bit apprehensive at the thought.

As a child, I knew that my dad longed to write. He was an English professor at a Big 10 university, always busy with his classes and busy too, writing the texts from which he taught, but I knew that what he really wanted to do was to write essays. Essays were his favorite form of prose.

Of course, things got in his way as things always do.  I remember wondering if he would achieve his dream and being ignorant of the pleasures of retirement, I feared he might not find the time.

As I held the photograph, I remembered all this--and the recognition of all that has taken place since his retirement. My dad, Carl Klaus, is 80. He has written 6 books since retirement, his Mac on fire with all that he stored up to say.  It was this blossoming of words that I wanted to express as I altered the image of the writer as a younger man.

I wanted to take that figure and surround him with the fruits of his labor; fruits that he couldn't possibly see from his perspective in time, but that certainly, in due time, were his to harvest.

I took postcards announcing the publication of two of his early books and cut them into slices, encircling him so that he appears to be at the center of an illuminated manuscript. I tucked a picture of Kate, his second wife, into the corner. Her death became the subject of another book: Letters to Kate.

As I glued, painted and pressed papers onto the surface, I was transported by the process of juxtaposing past with present in the same picture.

I took a break in the middle of the process and checked my e-mail. There was an e-mail from my dad. While I'd been working on his collage, he'd typed a message: "...the attachment is the manuscript for my new book, which I just finished yesterday afternoon...I thought you might be interested... on the chance that it might give you some ideas you can use in the writing you do for your blog, for your art, for your professional work, for your personal satisfaction.

Mysterious, isn't it, how altering an image can affect your life in an unexpected way?

Take 2: Palliative Care and Paper Swaps (The Whole Story)

Our pediatric department is beginning a pediatric palliative care team and as we lay the groundwork, we're introducing the idea of integrative therapies to our pediatricians.

It's not a new idea. My colleague Kathy Lorenzato, a music therapist, has been teaching and practicing Reiki, a hands-on healing technique, for over 10 years, and I have joined her for the last 4 years. As far as integrative therapies go inside the hospital, at the moment, we're it.

With this in mind, the two of us were invited to speak to our pediatric physicians on staff about art therapy, music therapy and Reiki. I made a PowerPoint to explain the use of art in palliative care and put together a resource list on other integrative therapies.

It sounds simple on the surface, but as my husband noted, trying to explain the value of therapies whose effects cannot be quantified, to a group of science oriented folks, made me more than a bit nervous.

That's where my own art therapy came into play. Over the last couple of weeks, I participated in a Paper Swap organized by Gretchen Miller of 6 Degrees 2. I mailed my offering to an artist living in Missouri and looked forward to receiving an envelope of my own in return.

Days passed while I worked on the PowerPoint and my anxiety rose accordingly. Raised in a family with a healthy number of doctors, I've had some run ins with scientific minds and I've always felt myself lacking. Although art therapy requires a certain amount of intellectual engagement, I depend more heavily on my intuition, letting passion do the heavy lifting.

One day last week at the peak of my fear, a large padded envelope arrived, postmarked Australia. I opened it carefully and sifted through the contents; feathery tissue, textured rice papers, leaves of patterned scrapbooking pages and a packet of gaily colored buttons.

I considered the colors and shapes sitting on my lap and something shifted internally. As I touched the papers, taking in the colors, patterns and textures,  my fear eased. I realized that "right here, right now" on my couch I was experiencing the tangible results of art therapy.

I went into the presentation 2 days later with an insight. Rather than seeing the doctors as a group of individuals whose opinions I wanted to change, I saw an opportunity to heal the split between my own thinking and feeling, between the intellectual and the artistic.

I stood on the podium, praying the memory stick and my own memory would work. As I looked at the slide of a patient's artwork projected behind me, I remembered the joy I felt working with him--but I also remembered the research, the effort that others had gone to, in order to document the effectiveness of art therapy. Research that is necessary for art therapy to be accepted into the treatment team's fold.

The presentation went well. The physicians were attentive, and even better, I felt the old split inside me being carefully drawn back together. When our talk ended, we gave a Reiki demonstration. Up there on the dais, Kathy, one of the pediatric residents, our Child Psychiatrist and I offered Reiki treatments to four doctors who came forward. I felt the tide beginning to turn.

Finding Your Voice

I've been away from my studio recently, visiting friends and relatives back in the Midwest. Whenever I go, I always come back with a fresh outlook, a new way of seeing things. Iowa City is especially stimulating, being home to storied and innovative writing programs and a virtual beehive of activity during the summer months, when people from all over the world come to hone their craft.

Each summer my old friend Carol Spindel makes the journey there to teach. Carol and I met at the University of Iowa as undergraduates in the art department and although she went on to the art of writing, we like to meet whenever we can and see how our two worlds of text and image pair up.

One morning, she arrived for breakfast with a bag of chocolates, leftovers from one of her writing class exercises. She described the exercise to me.

There were two kinds of chocolate in the bag. She asked  students to taste both kinds of chocolate and then, without resorting to metaphor, describe the tastes of each. It turns out to be very difficult, but it is a wonderful (and tasty) exercise for sharpening one's descriptive skills.

Love of writing runs in my family. As a writer and a teacher of writing, my dad was responsible for starting the the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Now in retirement, he's written a number of books and helps to edit a series of books on the essay for University of Iowa Press.

When I visit, he always shows me what he's up to. Pulling me over to the old Chippendale sofa that's ruled the roost since childhood, he flipped open his Macbook. (At 80, he's far more of a Mac savant than I). He told me that he's writing a book on the subject of voice in writing, an area that he feels deserves much attention and receives little. I picked up the computer and read the title of his book: Your Self and How To Make It.

As he fixed lunch for us, chicken salad with home grown arugula, he urged me to read the first three pages. My dad is like the proverbial Jewish mother--and in addition to saying "Eat, Eat," he also urges me to "Read, Read."

His introduction talks about how when we read the words of a writer, we often feel like we know the person, and if we were to be introduced, they would already be familiar to us.  In contrast, he maintains that the voice of a writer is more like the role of an actor, an actor who can be extremely creative and versatile in creating a character.

That all got me to thinking about the class I'm about to teach, 6 Degrees of Creativity 2. The class, Still Point in a Changing World, Creating a Mindful Studio Practice, is geared toward helping students get over the hump of thinking that studio practice is only for people who have the skill of Rodin or Picasso, or have the luxury of not working a day job. I'm interested in helping them to employ art as a means of mental, physical and spiritual balance. And in the activities which ensue, I hope that they'll find their voice.

Maybe you can’t see what is somebody else’s to see. But maybe, just maybe, you can see what is yours to see. So what is yours to see? This is a great question to ponder, to make your own, to let live inside your bones and your pores, and to guide your life.--Jon Kabat-Zinn