How Not to Fall to Pieces

2021 was a year when everything seemed to be falling to pieces: our Democracy; the climate of our biosphere which caused uncontainable wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and massive climate-fueled migrations; the widening fracture of America between people who believe in science and evidence, versus the FOX-watchers who believe what their masters tell them. America is dividing itself into irreconcilable camps, fighting each other over their ideologies.

And as we head into the winter of 2021, nearly 800,000 Americans have perished from COVID, hospitals have struggled, and too many medical professionals have been felled or driven out of the profession by threat from antivaxxers, and sheer exhaustion.

How do we make sense of the insanity of a country at war with itself? Of a world imperiled by human actions and denial of same? Where do we fit into this sort of world? How can we, by ourselves, make life on this planet better for as many beings as possible while it is all falling apart?

“The world is being created every minute and the world
is falling to pieces every minute.”
~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

The only answer I’ve found is to TRY. And to DO. To walk slowly, carefully forward, one day at a time. Be fully in the moment, fully present. To try to express through my art and writing, visual stories that I hope will shine a light on the universal connections I’ve come to believe we all share.

Through my evolving practice, I continued this year to facilitate collage-making at a cancer hospital. I’ve witnessed over and over how taking the plunge into artmaking helps ease the stress of illness, of chemo, and of meeting the challenges of caring for very ill people during a pandemic.

At the start of a session, I urge each patient or caregiver to abandon themselves for a brief time to their collage, to fall into to the joy of ripping paper and gluing pictures and glitter in whatever way they feel compelled to go. To trust their instinct.

As they work on their collages, I sit beside them and begin making a collage based on the energy I feel in the room. With their eyes cast down on colors, patterns, and words, patients and staff feel comfortable to talk, to reminisce, to share concerns, to laugh. And for a while in a hospital room full of machines and medicine, we commune with far more than words.

When a person signals their creation is done, I ask them to tell me about their collage. As they weave together stories about the collage, their faces transform with joy because now their colors have meaning, the pictures narrate a part of their life experience, and the random words have come together like poetry: “Through the canopy of trees, the pines. Fireflies. Mushrooms glow.” “Outside the treetops were golden.” “We touched and I discovered the magic within.”

Without fail, each collagist is surprised to find in the randomly assembled pieces of paper and words cut out of magazines and newspapers, how their own stories have emerged. It is as though the patient has been guided by some greater power to choose the specific pieces, the exact colors, and the right words with which to assemble and build the story they needed to tell.

“We live in succession, in division, in parts and particles.
Meantime, within man,is the soul of the whole;
the wise silence; the universal beauty to which every part
and particle is equally related; the eternal One.” ~ Ralph Waldo 
Emerson

I’m telling you this story now about the patients making collages that tell their stories for them, because I’ve realized I’ve been doing the same thing this year. As I’ve written and assembled my book, as I’ve been driven to create collages, I’ve been randomly fishing pieces of flotsam and jetsam from the churn of the rushing river of Life. I’ve assembled patterns and words that have, together, woven together stories that have helped me make sense of my life in a new, and vital way. Through creativity, I’ve felt the spiderweb tingle of connections forming, connections that have pulled me beyond Time, beyond Presence, to more. To so much more.

“Each of us is carving a stone, erecting a column,
or cutting a piece of stained glass
in the construction of something much bigger than ourselves.”
~Adrienne Clarkson

For 2022, I wish that you to find peace and reconciliation through the fragments
you weave together during the year. I wish that you occasionally step back and look at the whole of what you have made.* And that when you do, you will hear the story you need to hear, and feel an energetic connection with the vast expanse of the universe, an energy that feels like Love.

*Your life, your relationships, your home, your work, your art… Everything.

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