Looking at the World from Back to Front

"Cloth is rich with metaphors for the body and healthcare. The very act of stitching can be experienced as wounding the cloth or mending it- a stab or a suture. These metaphors are part of what makes fibres so rich to work with - they can hold all that complexity and contradiction and make it whole." -Alison Fox, Art Therapist, Artist and Nurse with the Inuit in Northern Canada

Threads 1, front side, ©2013, cloth and watercolor

Recently, I began to work on a series of small quilted fabric pieces. Pulling together odds and ends; old cloth napkins printed with zoo animals, pieces of rusted fabric (courtesy of Lisa Mitchell and Jennifer Libby Fay) and snippets of fabric whose original purpose was long forgotten, I created a palette ranging from creamy whites to deep siennas.

I was trying to find a way to describe the series; a response to my art therapy work with very young patients at our hospital, who come to us suffering from abuse or neglect. I didn't want to sound maudlin or theatrical, so Alison's quote was a poignant means of expressing my point.

In the visual work, I want to express the "forgotteness," or hidden side I imagine in many of the children we treat at the hospital. They arrive to receive our care and for complicated reasons, some reasonable, others not, their parents are not at the bedside. Looking anxious, a nurse carries a child into the playroom, where she hopes our staff and volunteers can offer relief--to cuddle, to play with, to divert.

I found myself musing on the romantic notions of childhood; ideas we have about innocence, playfulness and early life as a time distinct from the complicated world of adulthood. For the purpose of this fabric series, I decided that a more realistic image of childhood would inhabit the front side of my pieces.

Threads 1, back, ©2013, cloth and watercolor

I also wanted the hidden side of the pieces to be compelling in its own way. I remember an Aikido teacher once talking about the back sides of our body. She noted, we spend so much time concentrating on the appearance of our front that we forget how often people see of us from behind. I wanted my "backs" to tell stories about the part of childhood we don't romanticize, yet when met with awareness and love, is replete with its own kind of wonder.

I don't mean to say that abuse is beautiful. Rather, that when one has the courage to face it, even a person's woundedness becomes part of what we love about them. Those words: "stab wound or suture." Each step we take toward these kids becomes a suture.  Whenever we find an opportunity to hold them, love them, speak to them, sing to them, remember them; those actions become the sutures which begin to heal their wounds.

Winter Wisdom

Mindfulness at Play "Art expression itself is a way of creating something new from what you already have, but may not have fully recognized within yourself.” Cathy Malchiodi

The other day I received a newsletter from my art therapist friend Lisa Mitchell.

She's constructed a new series of workshops, including a vision board* workshop--and not just any old vision board workshop. Her descriptions note that, by using ordinary materials in unusual ways and learning new techniques, our intentions are solidified. In the process, our brain gets a workout using all our senses. The point is to bring our abstract ideas and dreams into the realm of the concrete and plausible, by incorporating them into the board.

That got me thinking about my own vision board, which I wrote about in a post, "Mindfulness at Play," at the beginning of the year. I decided to go back to the board and see what has come to pass.

As I look at the board, I see a large, peaceful Buddha's head framed by conifers and plants that remind me of our winter foliage here in California. Underneath the Buddha, from left to right, children hold a board filled with artist trading cards. To the right of the children a yoga class takes place. A teacher is helping a student with a pose.

In my post, I said that I wanted to deepen my art therapy practice; to become more present with the children, even as my own are grown. And I wanted, although I didn't write it, to have a steady yoga practice.

What's odd is that both of these desires have come to pass, but not by deliberate intention. The vision board hung on my studio wall, where it watched over me and I looked at it, day after day, while a year passed.

It has not been a straight path back to yoga--(is it ever?) Like Goldilocks, first I sampled the "big bowl," a class at our University gym. I was the oldest participant and the class, a Viniyasa practice, and I felt like I'd just had an aerobic  workout, not a yoga class.

Next, for my "middle size bowl," I tried a class offered through our hospital. The instructor offered peacefulness with a pale green scented candle. I ended up with a migraine.

Finally, for a bowl that is just right. The solution came in an unexpected fashion. Both my daughter and my sister have recently been diagnosed with auto-immune diseases that make certain movements difficult.

I remembered yet another yoga class I'd taken the previous year for people 55 and over. Led by the fearless and inimitable, Hana Raftery, majoring in exercise physiology, she had every one of us, from me to the oldest 80- something moving with ease.

I e-mailed her and set up a private lesson for my daughter and me. I invited my sister, who suggested we have it in her new house, which has a wooden floor, but would be empty for another month. Shazaam! A yoga studio!

Downward dog pose

We began by meeting once a week and now have increased it to 2 times. We've been meeting since before Thanksgiving and even though the two of them are still waiting for their respective rheumatology consults, their movements are coming more easily.

I am in hog heaven, if you can say that about a yoga class. I feel like I really have found the bowl that is "just right." And it all started with a small 8.5 x 11 vision board.

I'm looking forward to making my 2013 vision board soon and I invite you to join me and make your own. Who knows, those dreams might just be waiting for an invitation to come out and play!

*A vision board is usually a piece of matte board on which you paste or collage images that you’ve torn out from various magazines. The intention behind the vision boards is the notion that when you surround your self with images of what you want to develop or change, your life changes to fit the images.