Holiday card 2015

This card design came out of a Holiday Print workshop I taught at the HPAC. I got the idea from a birthday card my brother-in-law sent my wife for her birthday. Its part of a series called Zoo Portraits by Yago Partal, European-Badger-Meles-meles-copiaand featured a badger in a sweater and suspenders (jumper and braces actually, but I thought writing that would present a different mental image to us American English speakers). Animals in sweaters are adorable. Period.

Four different sweaters, Four different animal heads, a blank area to customize and some glitter glue and stamps for added decoration resulted in an explosion of cute variations. Looking at the table spread out with everyone’s different but similar cards, it was like  a holiday work party at the zoo complete with an ice breaker activity of walking around IMG_20151205_131620with a placard and trying to find a mate. My sister Lisa was at this workshop and at the beginning she said to me ‘You like to use animals’. ‘Yeah, because everyone can see themselves in them’, I replied. I wanted to have a card that people could customize in their own way but also give to anyone who would identify with it. We had a Hanukkah sweater, a Christmas sweater with trees and reindeer, a winter sweater in the Pan-African colors for Kwanzaa, and a Star Wars themed sweater for the rest of us. There were stamps of different hats and people made their own for the placard area, candles, coffee cups, hearts, the word Joy. We all got to make cards to give out that were handmade and personal, fun and meaningful, a good expression of what we call the holiday spirit, a communal act of giving and celebration. IMG_20151205_131609

For my own cards, I thought a lot about what message I wanted to say. It’s presidential campaign season so everything in the news is really polarized, whipping up our fears so that we throw our votes and money behind a candidate. Meanwhile, the Chicago political machine is (rightly) under fire for corruption, for police shootings, for cover-ups and purposefully withholding public information.  I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, the most segregated city in the US, and the damage of that systematic discrimination is undeniable. It has become clear that the people of Chicago do not care about Black people. I’m speaking generally of course, but its definitely not a priority because we keep electing aldermen and mayors and judges who keep this system going.

There is always a lot of talk about the Constitution during an election year and how it should be interpreted and preserved and which parts matter more and which parts matter less. The part that has always stuck in my brain most was the 3/5 compromise, or the agreement to count slaves of African descent as 3/5 of a person when determining population since they held no rights as a citizen and could not vote or exercise any self determination. Until the 14th Amendment, added almost 80 years later, this was the law. I owe a lot to the 14th amendment. Invoking this amendment in Obergefell v. Hodges is what paved the way to my marriage being recognized everywhere. The 14th amendment came at a great cost. 80 years of a significant population of our nation, a population that worked their entire lives in servitude, bore generations into servitude, legally being counted as less than a whole person. It took a bloody, bloody war that cost many lives and devastated cities and communities to get this changed and it was still a fight. It was a fight for another 90-ish years to get segregation to not be protected by law.

So this year, the cards my cute, wintry animals carried read Black Lives Matter. Not because Black people matter more than anyone else but because it is important to finally stand in solidarity and make it clear that Black lives matter equally.

 

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Everyone Loves the Sunshine

As the project stands, I’m thinking that I’ll print 50 cards of a simple image, with a simple message that will inevitably be layered with meaning. I’ll give these cards out that will have this blog address and a short note like ‘wondering why you got this and what it means?’. Huh?!? you say? Alright, I’ll use my recent holiday card as an example.

Why Did You Get It?

If you received this card from me, it is because you are either a member of my large extended family, a co-worker, a neighbor, or a long time friend. If you’ve sent me a card or gift, then you’ve received one of these cards, etc. etc. I started sending out my own Christmas cards in high school (with Bible quotes and everything!) and except for a few college and post college years have continued to do so. Honestly, it just seemed like a nice thing to do and now its so rare to get anything in the mail that I like to think it’s a bit of a surprise gift.

What Does It Mean?

Most of the people who got this card were either Americans or people living in the US. The climate here has become increasingly polarized in the past few years, especially around racial dynamics. The US is still largely segregated, not only physically but economically, and educationally. This reality, this legacy of our society being built on the backs of slaves and indentured servants and poor immigrants erupted in a big way last August with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. And while there were conflicting eye witness accounts about what happened it became undeniable that more American citizens are killed by police officers per year, by far, than in any other ‘first-world’ country. What is also undeniable is that a disproportionate percentage, by far, of the Americans in these cases are African-American men.

There has been a lot of anger and violence and judgement but what i mostly saw was pain and sadness and overwhelming hopelessness. I am a White person who lives in an African-American part of one of the most racially divided cities in the US, Chicago. When I get pulled over because I’m driving out of my alley at night and I’m White (suburban people coming to the city to buy drugs is a big issue), I get a lecture about how I need to move, how I shouldn’t be living with ‘these people’, how I need to get a gun for protection. Honestly, I don’t trust that these same officers treat my Black neighbors with respect or that the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ view applies. On the other hand, I have two cousins who are police officers, and friends who are police officers and they are good people who put their lives in danger all the time. They spend a good deal of their workday on the defensive, ready in case trouble erupts. The biggest danger in my job is burning myself because I’m going too fast and not being mindful. I can’t imagine the pressure.

It was with all this in mind that I sat down to think about how to address this in a card. I had been watching a lot of the series Cosmos and was reminded of the fact that each one of us is made up of atoms and trillions of living organisms and space, mostly empty space between the atoms and the bacteria (I’m simplifying, I know). We exchange atoms. When you take the bus, you exchange part of yourself with the other people who are on the bus. Or at work, or in the line at the cafe as you wait to get coffee. Something that was part of ‘you’ becomes part of someone else and vice versa. Despite this commonality, the fact that we are collections of bits of exploded stars that fluidly transfer back and forth like we are all part of one giant organism, we appear and act so differently. Nobody is going to mistake me for my six year old neighbor.

Most of our life is spent focusing on the differences but there are a few times when we really all come together. That first warm day after a long Chicago winter, when everyone goes outside and you see your neighbors and everyone is listening to music and happy, we are all the same. As I was thinking this, the Roy Ayers song ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine‘ popped into my head. It is such a good summer tune, a soul classic and it starts out with the line ‘my life, my life, my life, my life, in the sunshine.’ It just spoke so much to my belief that our fear separates us, but when we all leave the house and step into the sunshine, hope returns.

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If you have gotten this card from me, please feel free to leave a comment. And yes, I realize I got the words wrong. What can I say? The screen was already made.

The Raccoons

family firstI had spent a little over a year working maintenance between a Buddhist Abbey and a retreat center in Nova Scotia, Canada, and when I returned to my home in Chicago it felt like my neighborhood had sunk even further into economic decay. There were many more vacant lots and houses, many of my neighbors either still unemployed or barely working. At the time, I was overwhelmed with trying to get back in the swing of society, go back to my old jobs, somehow get my new wife who is a UK citizen into the country (we’re still working on that….). What can you do when you are an introvert with no energy, time, or charisma to organize a block club or community garden? Being a printmaker, I made a poster. It was a simple desire to attract positive energy to the neighborhood. The print, with the raccoon and amended Walt Whitman quote was the beginning. I put these posters on abandoned houses, garages, light poles, closed storefronts etc. Why raccoons? Because we have a gang of huge, hearty, bold raccoons that own their part of the streets and houses same as me and my neighbors. They are thriving in what is considered a dying, if not dead, part of Chicago. learn one, teach oneI felt that there was a lesson to be learned from them, a way to see the richness of our surroundings instead of just the trash. The result however,  was to cause my neighbors to think the city had put them up as a warning, that the raccoons had taken over. Clearly, the project had to change, to be clearer, and communicated better. I decided to make them big, and talk to everyone I came across about them. The larger raccoons are 5 feet high, big enough to not be misunderstood as a poster, and the slogans in the speech bubbles are given to me by people I meet in the street and tell about the project.

Not everyone reads it as positive, many think it’s a blight on an existing eyesore, insult to injury. Not everyone understands why I do it, even when I tell them directly. Some people think it’s cool. One friend told me point blank, ‘I didn’t know you had this in you’. I had to give up my assumptions of what another person was thinking about my work. It was clear that I really had no idea how it was being seen by others. I cannot control what people think or see or understand. All I can control is my intention and I intend to generate positive energy, to cultivate a peaceful and respectful co-existence with all things.

What started with a poster has blossomed into a project about miscommunication, misunderstanding, our interconnectedness, and what simple gestures we can do that fit into our everyday lives. This blog is set up for this new project. Each year, for the past 15 years or so, I have made a card and sent it out to about 80 family and friends. Essentially they are holiday cards, without a specific holiday in mind but usually sent out around Christmas. This year, I had 20 extra cards and decided to give them out to strangers, along with a dollar or two to someone asking for money or as part of a tip. Instead of dropping them in the mail, I handed them to a stranger, told them that I made a card for them, and witnessed a free exchange of a gift and their acceptance of it. That will be the project, making cards, handing them to people (sometimes sending them) and inviting them to visit this website to leave comments, ask questions, or just find out why. I invite you to leave your comments and ask your questions too.

I can’t wait to see what happens.