A highly harrowing adventure, a serpentine book, and the mental joy of curating scrap papers
Vol. 1, Issue 12
Some news: in April, I’ll be welcoming a second little girl. I’m excited, nervous, exhausted—all of the same feelings I had during my first pregnancy, and yet somehow, this time is also very different. I’ll admit that so far, I’ve been less than singularly focused on this new little person. My attention is divided between the pregnancy, my toddler, and, as always, my creative work. Most days, my energy feels finite and too-easily exhausted.
But last week, I felt the first real surge of bonding with this new presence. At 4 a.m., the fire alarm started chirping in the master bedroom. Now, in most houses, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but our bedroom happens to be 15-feet tall, and the fire alarm is at the very highest point on the wall. My husband trudged outside in the rain to get our big, heavy ladder, and while he set it up in the bedroom, he was absolutely insistent that I was not going up.
Here’s the problem: my husband is not comfortable with heights. At all. He valiantly started to climb while I held the ladder in place, but a few steps up, he froze. He really, really didn’t want to quit, but I cajoled him into coming back down and switched places with him. Then I shimmied up the ladder with my belly pressed tight against the rungs, and I reached waaaay up and changed the battery. I may or may not have felt my soul leave my body for a few seconds as I came back down, but I made it, and the adrenaline made me laugh so hard I coughed.
I was too excited to fall back asleep for awhile, and so I just laid in bed with my hand on my belly. As I was finally drifting off, I could have sworn that I felt the little one move, just a little, underneath my hand. I’m not totally sure the feeling wasn’t a dream, but I’ve decided to tell myself it was her way of giving me a high five for surviving our ladder adventure.
The following afternoon, the new presence and I went to the biggest folk-art festival in the South. I meandered through paintings, pottery, jewelry, and all sorts of other things, and then I spotted a fabric artist named Heaven McCaulley. She had a whole trunk of small, colorful cloth dolls, and I chose a quirky pink and lime-green mouse for the little one. It’s the first gift I’ve bought for her, and in the days since, I keep touching the doll and feeling my new daughter become ever-bigger, ever-more real.
I first encountered Laurie Anderson’s work at a “telepresence” exhibit in New York, and since then, I occasionally circle back around to her whenever I’m in an eclectic mood. Her music is a singular blend of spoken word, electronica, and classical instruments. Here’s a classic:
River Serpent, Carolina Caycedo. “A 72-page accordion fold artist-book that combines archival images, maps, poems, lyrics, satellite photos, with the artist’s own images and texts on river bio-cultural diversity, in a long and meandering collage … As a book it can be opened, pleated and read in many directions, and has a performatic potential to it, functioning as a score, or as a workshop tool.”
Tape Quilts, Austin Kleon. “Nothing we do is better than the work of handmind. When mind uses itself without the hands it runs the circle and may go too fast; even speech using the voice only may go too fast. The hand that shapes the mind into clay or written word slows thought to the gait of things and lets it be subject to accident and time.”
Writing Should Be a Visual Art, The Atlantic. “To the writer, the painter is a fortunate alter ego, an embodiment of the sensuality and exteriority that he has abjured to pursue his invisible, odorless calling.”
Sea Lemon is an Arizona-based artist and graphic designer who posts arts and crafts tutorials. Her video about “junk journals” offers a creative introduction to making mixed-media books out of scrap and vintage papers.
We do not live an equal life, but one of contrasts and patchwork; now a little joy, then a sorrow, now a sin, then a generous or brave action.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
My first daughter’s baby book is a junk journal with letters, photos, cards, and other paper items from her first year and a half. It’s not “finished,” as if such an object can ever truly be complete, but my goal is to fill the journal by the end of my current pregnancy so that I can turn my attention to making a new journal for my second daughter. (Both of the girls’ journals were handmade by Purple Onion.)
If you’re feeling stuck with your current project or in need of something low-stakes this week, I suggest taking another look at Austin Kleon’s “tape quilts” in the link above. If you have scrap or sentimental papers laying around, try compiling them into one large collage or arranging them in some sort of order that you can later bind together into a junk journal. Perhaps this act of collaging, ordering, or curating will help you to look at a story draft or other creative work in a new way. Or perhaps you’ll simply have some fun making something whole out of seemingly disparate little bits.
You can find Sandra on Twitter, Instagram, and at sandrabarnidge.com. As always, thank you for being here.