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.




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.