Leap

“Leap and the net will appear!” -John Burroughs

I was very inspired by a fellow blogger who decided to write a post on his blog every day for the month of November.  It was his own unique nano rimo experience.

I also follow several blogs where the author has a post every day and others that have multiple posts each day.  I admire and am inspired by them.

As those who follow my blog on a regular basis know, I recently accepted that I am not only an artist and creativity coach but I am a writer.

When I started my blog, I decided to write at least two posts a month.  I could do more if I wanted to, but I had to try to get at least two written. That has worked for the most part.

For those of you who have been following my blog since the beginning or even for the last couple of months, you may have noticed an increase in the number of posts to my blog.  In an effort to stretch my creativity and myself as a writer, I challenged myself to writing a post a week for my blog the entire year.

I confess.  Although I have been doing the work since the first week of January, it still scares me.  I am just coming to terms with the idea that I am a writer and then I challenge myself like this?!?!  What will I do next, start writing haiku poetry…. oh wait, I am doing that too.  I could challenge myself to write a collection of short stories or a novel….. anything is possible.

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The person, who challenged and encouraged me to write my blog in the first place, when told of my challenge for myself said that he hopes it brings more happiness than stress.  I hope so too.

What it comes down to is this……. without risk, we cannot grow.  I am leaping.  I know that the net will appear.

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Taking Flight

In July of 2017, I was invited to do an installation piece for the Urban Art Project in 2018.  I accepted and asked for the February to May time frame for my installation piece.

I knew that I wanted to do a piece inspired by Japan.  I thought about the things that come to mind when one thinks of Japan: Mount Fuji, Shinto gates, Samurai’s and origami.  I had this vision of creating a stylized version of Mount Fuji out of poster board, a Shinto gate made from foam core board and folding a 1,000 Origami Cranes.

So I started with the cranes.  I had some origami paper and a book with directions for folding a crane.  The book instructions were confusing to say the least.  (And I am not going to disclose how many sheets of origami paper I completely destroyed trying to follow the written instructions.)  So I pulled out my trusty laptop and googled folding origami cranes.  I found a very instructive video on U-Tube made by a German gentleman that helped me figure out where I was going wrong in my folding.  Finally I had completed my first crane.

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My first crane

Folding the next fifty cranes, was challenging.  I would mess up.  Do a step before I should.  I had to keep going back to the directions and the video.  But soon I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had folded one hundred cranes.  And then I was at two hundred and fifty.  Next thing you know, I had folded five hundred.

It was at this point that I was very tired of folding the paper that I had.  I emailed my friend Kate in Japan asking her for more origami paper.  She sent me a wonderful assortment that re-energized and invigorated my crane folding.  Thank you Kate, so much for sending me all of the beautiful paper.  It really made a HUGE difference.

Also my friend Deb bought me a book of Tokidoki Origami paper.  It was so different than any of the other paper I received.  Deb really helped keep me motivated and I mean more than the paper.  She would ask me how many cranes have you folded now?  I didn’t want to tell her that I hadn’t folded any since we last talked and that was a powerful motivational tool.  Thank you Deb for the fun paper and keeping me on track.  You helped me a lot.

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500 cranes

It was at this point that I thought I should probably find out the history behind folding a thousand origami cranes.  Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish.  Cranes are considered to be a mystical or holy creature.  They are believed to be symbols of good health, longevity, truth and fidelity.  The elegant crane is considered to live a thousand years.  If you fold a thousand cranes, you fold a crane for each year of the cranes life.

It became very clear after folding 800 cranes that the installation site was not large enough for my original vision.  1,000 origami cranes take a lot more space than I initially imagined.  I decided that my installation piece needed to focus on the cranes and the cranes alone.

Somewhere after crane 500, I got into this rhythm of folding.  Mountain fold.  Valley fold.  Line up the corners.  Turn it over.  Reverse fold.  Leave a thin space.  You don’t even think about the directions.  You just fold.  Each sheet of paper becomes an intimate friend who is in the shape of a crane when completed.

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Lining up cranes to be threaded together

Folding a 1,000 cranes is just the first step.  Once they are folded the cranes have to be strung together.  Traditionally the cranes are strung together in sets of 40.  I strung some of the cranes in this method.  Others I would string together using tiny glass beads to keep spaces between the cranes so you can see each bird independently.

Once all of the cranes were strung together, I had to prepare and install the cranes in the site.  To say that the space is small, is kind of an understatement.  It is also very narrow.

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The space empty and adding cranes.

While in Kyoto, Japan, I visited Nijo Castle.  The castle had gates to enter different sections of the castle.  These gates have beautiful enamel work of flowers, butterflies and cranes.  After touring the castle, while standing in a Buddhist garden, a crane flew over the castle and landed in a tree in front of me.  It was a magical experience, worthy of the elegant crane, and one that I will not forget.

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Detail of gate leading into inner courtyard of Nijo Castle

The challenge of folding 1,000 origami cranes seemed natural to me.  I wanted to do a piece inspired by Japan.  Cranes remind me of Japan, my travels there and how empowering that experience was for me.  Now that I have folded a thousand cranes, I am ready for my next challenge, creative or otherwise.  That is, in part, why I called the installation piece, “Taking Flight.”

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Looking from the door of the installation site, through some of my cranes to the street.

The opening reception with all of the artists who participated in the February through May, 2018, Urban Art Project is Monday, February 19th from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at 315 First Avenue South, Great Falls, Montana.  I would like to personally invite all of my friends, family and the blogging community (who are included in the friends part too).

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The completed piece “Taking Flight”

The Opening Reception is not the end of the “Taking Flight” installation piece’s story.  After this show is over and I take it down, strands of cranes are going to be sent all over the world to friends and family.  The installation piece will be taking flight on it’s own to bring well wishes of health and happiness to those I love.

Labels

As I was driving to work one morning, I heard an interview of an author on NPR.  I can’t remember her name or that of the book, but what caught my attention was a comment by the interviewer.  At one point the interviewer said that he thought the author’s book was about challenging labels.  And she agreed that in part it is.

This got me thinking about labels and why we use them.

What exactly is a label?  According to Webster’s Dictionary a Label is “a slip of paper or cloth inscribed and affixed to something for identification or description.  i.e. The name is prominently displayed on the label.”  I read that and thought that can’t be right.  Well, it is right but not what the author and interviewer were talking about on the radio.

So I read further.  Webster’s Dictionary also had this to say about the word label.  “Written or printed matter accompanying an article to furnish identification or other information, a descriptive or identifying word or phrase, and a word or phrase used with a dictionary definition to provide additional information.”  Closer but still not quite what I was thinking.

Finally at dictionary.com one of the definitions of label was listed as “a short word or phrase descriptive of a person, group, intellectual movement, etc.”  At last, what the author and interviewer on NPR were talking about.  

I had taken several Spanish classes in college.  One professor labeled everything in the classroom with their Spanish names.  The door was la puerta, etc.  I understood the use of the labels in this context.  It helped us to remember the Spanish names for everyday things.  Labels can be used for educational purposes.

In science there are labels for everything.  There are taxonomical groups and classifications for all creatures and plants.  Science has classifications for rocks, clouds, soil, weather, minerals, waves, etc.  The list of scientific classifications seems endless.  I decided to find out what my cat would be called.  In scientific terms the common house cat is part of the genus Felis, which is a small group containing about seven species (depending upon the classification scheme) but is most commonly known as Felis catus.  My domesticated feline has been further labeled by me as Angus LuLu Kanewischer McFangus.  But she will answer to Angus if she wants to and if it is her idea.  She is a cat after all.

Some labels are descriptive, similiar to an adjective.  For example, in the cartoon “Zootopia”  there is a scene when the Bunny goes to the police station to check in for her job for the first time.  There is a cheetah at the desk who calls her “cute.”  The bunny responds that it is okay for one bunny to call another bunny cute but not okay for another species to call a bunny cute.

Here are some other examples of descriptive labels.  If a person is from Japan, you would say that they are Japanese.  Labels can be job related.  A person working in a hospital may be a doctor, nurse, surgeon, etc. or you can say that they are a medical professional.

I had a conversation with a friend about this topic.  I told her about the interview.  We discussed how we have labeled people, being labeled by others and how that made us feel.  Yes, if you are breathing, you have at one time or another labeled another person.  We talked about the positive and negative effects of labels.

Labeling can be done in negative ways by judging an individual or a group of people by where they live, how they look, or how they live with negative language or terms.  I have found that people who label people negatively are often doing it out of their own insecurities.

Have you seen the John Hughes film “The Breakfast Club?”  There is a part at the end of the film when the individuals who are in detention “label” themselves.  The Princess.  The Jock.  The Criminal. etc.

It’s true.  Not only do we label places, things, and other people, but we label ourselves.

I label myself as an Artist and Creativity Coach.  I will even go so far as to call myself a Contemporary Narrative Collage Artist and an Installation Artist.  I also consider myself an avid hiker.  These are all labels that I gladly wear.

I am about to add another title to the labels that I give myself….. writer.  This new label is thanks in part to writing this blog, Cats Out of the Box.  It and the support of friends, family and the community of other bloggers has given me the courage to work on a novel and even try my hand at haiku poetry.

Here is what I think it comes down to.  We use labels to help us make sense of the world around us.  We can have fun with that.  We can choose how we use labels.  We decide if we are going to use labels in a positive way to support others or in a negative way to tear others down.  We can make labels as meaningful or meaningless as we want them to be.  It is up to us.

As for Angus, my Felis catus, I can see that she is curling up for a nap.  And myself, the artist, creativity coach, hiker and writer…… there is more creative work to be done.

Annihilation

On August 24, 2015, I posted a review of all three of Jeff Vandermeer’s books in the Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation – Authority – Acceptance   You can read it by clicking on the book titles.

I had heard rumors, as early as 2015, that the first book in this series was going to be filmed and that Natalie Portman had agreed to be the Biologist in the film.  I recently saw the teaser trailer and the film trailer for Annihilation and decided that I should read the book again before the film releases in February.

If you have not read this book and want or are planning to, I suggest you stop reading here.  Warning: spoiler alerts ahead.  Seriously, if you intend to remain blissfully ignorant before reading the novel or going to the movie, this post is not for you.  I am not going to dissect the entire novel.  Instead I am focusing on things that piqued my interest.

The novel is narrated by the Biologist.  That is the only name that you are given in the book.  There is also a Psychologist, who is also the expeditions leader, the anthropologist, and the surveyor.  There is mention of a linguist who doesn’t actually go on the expedition although the Biologist wishes she had her skill set when exploring the tower.

The first sentence of the novel is as follows: “The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats.”

It is one of those sentences that make you say to yourself, wait a minute.  How does a tower plunge?  That is one of things that make this book so great.  Those tiny little details of information that illustrate how not quite right this place is.  It gives one a sense of foreboding.  You know things are not going to end well for everyone on the expedition.

The Biologist travels to Area X because of her husband.  He was a medic on the eleventh expedition.  He came back from it; but, he had cancer and didn’t live very long after his return.  What we learn of the Biologist’s marriage and relationship with her husband are often in the form of flashbacks and through exerts of his journal from his expedition.

There are hints throughout the book that the Psychologist has ulterior motives for coming on the expedition, although you never quite find out what they are.  You learn a lot more about the Psychologist and her motivations in the second book of the trilogy, Authority.   At first you are given a sense that her orders may have been different from the group and later this is confirmed by discoveries in the lighthouse.  As to the motives of the Surveyor and the Anthropologist, you aren’t given that information.  To be honest, I don’t think that it matters.

A paper could be written on the light house alone.  For example light houses are considered to be symbols of light and safety.  But the light house in the novel has a much darker purpose and history.  One of the most beautiful and disturbing images of it is as a reliquary.  The light house holds the journals (“a pile twelve feet high and sixteen feet wide”) from countless previous expeditions.  In other words, way more than five.  The light house is the site of stand offs and last stands.  It also seems to be part of the journey that the crawler must make.  My theory is that the tower and light house are connected.

The Tower seems to be a new structure.  Not part of the original town site.  It seemed to be part of the events that created Area X.  So if this is new is the Crawler?  When the Biologist has her experience with the crawler and later leaves the tunnel she glances back at the crawler one last time.  Inside the crawler is the lighthouse keeper from a picture in the lighthouse.  Is he a participant or a prisoner?

Hypnotism plays a role in this novel.  In order to cross the barrier between our world and Area X the Psychologist hypnotized everyone.  Later in the novel when the Biologist has become infected by something in the tower and is changing, she is immune to the effects of hypnotic suggestion.  The first time that the Biologist is truly aware of hypnotism being used on the expedition participants is after diner the night after they enter the tower for the first time.

“We knew that the psychologist’s role was to provide balance and calm in a situation that might be stressful, and that part of this role included hypnotic suggestion.  I could not blame her for performing that role.  But to see it laid out so nakedly troubled me.  It is one thing to think you might be receiving hypnotic suggestion and quite another to experience it as an observer.  What level of control could she exert over us?”

The level of control that the Psychologist could exert over everyone was high.  The Biologist found a sheet of paper with hypnotic suggestions written on it in the Psychologists pocket after her death.  “The word ‘Annihilation’ was followed by ‘help induce immediate suicide.'”

Some questions I have about the novel are listed in the previous paragraphs.  I have also listed out several questions to start conversations here.  Do you feel like the author provided you enough information about Area X or the participants of the exhibition?  How far would you go to see someone you loved again?  What purpose does the lighthouse play in this novel?  What purpose does the tower?  Who or what do you think is the crawler?  What are your thoughts on hypnotism?  What parts did you find interesting or want to talk about?

I would really like to encourage conversations about this book.  Please post your insights and theories of this novel as a comment or contact me through my contact page.  I look forward to having new ideas and thoughts to discuss about Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer.

Question

“It’s not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” – Eugene Ionesco

Did you know that the state of New Mexico has an official question?  They do.  And it is…. “Red or Green?”  The question refers to the color of the chili sauce.

Douglas Adams wrote a brilliant (in my humble opinion) novel called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Much of the book is in search of a “question” for which the answer is 42.  What I find interesting is that the question is the most important thing, not the answer.

This got me thinking about questions in general.  Where would we be without them?  (Pun intended.)  Without questions, we wouldn’t have modern technology, medicine or science.  Questions are a huge piece of communicating.  Curiosity and questions are what define us as a species.  It is our questions that drive us forward.

So often we think we have to have an answer.  But even in the game of Jeopardy one must phrase their “answer” as a question.  Unlike Jeopardy, real life doesn’t require that we ask the “right” questions.  The important thing is to be asking questions, period.

So given an opportunity to ask, what will you question today?

Mountain

“It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” -Sir Edmund Hillary

I love mountains.  I love hiking in them.  They are physical reminders of challenges that can be accomplished.

One of my favorite mountains is Steamboat Lookout Mountain.  I dream about it when it is not hiking season.

Similar to the mountains that challenge us to climb higher, are inner conflicts, dreams and goals that require all of our strength and ingenuity to go higher.

Find your mountain.  Gather your gear.  Climb higher.  Go farther.  I know you can reach the top.  I know that you will succeed!