Valentine’s Day Post: Be Your Own Valentine!

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I used to have a very jaded view of Valentine’s day as a marketing ploy for chocolate, flowers, stuffed animals with hearts and other stuff, as well as this idea of high expectations and not a great day for single people, of which there are many in NYC.

Even when not single, I thought this holiday was tacky and so mainstream boring; every day challenge is to be loving and celebrate love and give gifts that are not expected. However, since having a child age 3 and up, my point of view has totally changed. I see how the day can be fun and a celebration of love not between romantic partners, but for family, friends and the idea of inclusion in terms of school age kids’ making valentines for everyone in their class, especially age 4 to at least 8 or 9, when gender is not so important and children are excited to make valentines for their friends and family. Of course being an artist and art therapist, I have used the day as an occasion for making art with my child and patients. 

The idea of making your own valentine came from my child when she was 4 or 5. We were cutting out little hearts to decorate for each person in her class. The first one she made she liked so much she asked if it could be for herself. “I like this too much; I want it to be mine!” she said, excitedly. How cool was that. From the same person who said, “of course you have to love yourself,” when we were talking about who we loved the most. What a great idea, while making valentines for others and focusing on who you love, to make one also for yourself. I think she ended up keeping two of her own. We always make one for the teacher and she makes me one and I make her something extra special each year. All home made with art supplies.

This year was no different. Valentine’s Day happened to fall on a Friday, one of my busiest days in my practice. I went to work thinking, I want to make valentines’ cards with my patients and invite and challenge them to make themselves a card. I had a few phone sessions which worked out well for this directive too.

The main idea is to make yourself a Valentine’s Day card and in so doing , remind yourself to love yourself. WIth each patient who did this, I asked them if they would be comfortable for me to make them a card. Nobody refused! For adults this was definitely more oriented toward female clients, or it might have been that everyone I did this directive with was comfortable already with making art in the session, so they happened to all be women.

Anyway, for the people who came in person, I had lots of materials out all day, including: colored cardstock paper for the card, sharpies colored and metallic, decorative paper, foam heart shapes and other shapes, jewels, rhinestones and lots of fun stickers… I had fun in the session making each patient their card, and discovered a new kind of card — the triple decker card. I had cut a small peice of colored paper for a card and realized it needed to be bigger, so I added another card and glued it on top. Sort of like a stacked cake. 

This directive is a simple example of how great art therapy can be for helping people appreciate and accept themselves as they are right now, not who they have been or want to be. Also, accepting a card from me seems to be a sort of connection to their own therapy process and their appreciation of their work on liking themselves in art therapy. The card from the art therapist functions on many levels; as a “transitional object”, as a concrete object to represent the therapeutic relationship, as an indication of the trust that has built in the relationship with the therapist, and as a positive kind of statement about being in therapy and feeling good about it.

Making Valentine’s cards all day long from 8am until 8pm was definitely a fun and different way to spend Valentine’s day. I think throughout the day about 6 of the 8 sessions I had involved making Valentine’s. With the phone sessions, there was a fun part of the process involving knowing what we were making and having a surprise email afterwards, emailing back and forth photos of our cards and knowing that the patient would be getting their card next week.

I also made a Valentine for my colleague during our peer supervision and she made herself a birthday card. At the end of the day, I realized I had not had time to make a card for myself! As an art therapist I am a firm believer in doing the art you ask your patients to do always, so I knew I would be making one for myself. Yesterday while drawing with my daughter, we ended up making Valentine’s for each other; I had already given her two on Valentine’s, but as I started my own one, she asked for it, so I had to make a whole new one for myself. I had fun doing it, especially enjoying writing the phrase: “Happy Valentine’s Day to Me”, with the idea that anyone can look at my image of my valentine and say it to him/herself!

I am happy to be less jaded as I age, and a convert to all things childlike: hearts, rainbows, glitter, beads, Valentine’s Day, stencils, coloring pages, mosaics, all of which I had much disdain for when in art therapy school. Thankfully, I now know better and have a much more broad view of art making and art therapy.

Happy Valentine’s to me and to you and your Self! Make yourself a Love card as a reminder to love yourself every day…

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Photos: Top, my own card to myself, Sharpie on collaged paper cut out heart
First on bottom: Triple decker pieced together card for a patient, mixed media on cardstock
Second on bottom: detail of above
Third and fourth: other valentine’s cards made by me for patients
Fifth and Sixth: front and back of a card I made for my daughter
Last photo: Part of a Valentine made for a patient

The Birthday Self-Portrait: My Birthday Post, 2/1/2014

A long time ago, I was looking through a book of some artist’s work that I admired, it might have been Adolf Gottlieb, but I’m not sure, I’ve tried to figure out for sure which artist this was, but I never succeeded. Anyway, I read that he whoever he was, had an annual habit of making a birthday self-portrait every year for his birthday. I thought this was a really great and fun idea. I started doing it, but now I can’t remember how many years ago it was. I’m pretty sure I did a “Shoe Portrait” self-portrait the year I was making my series of Shoe Portraits. I can’t remember what shoes I picked to paint but I remember making a weird doll and sticking it in the painting. I think I cut the canvas and somehow put the doll in. Must have been about ten years ago in 2004 maybe. Anyway, every year after that I’ve done a birthday self-portrait, usually inspired by whatever kind of art I happened to be making at the time. I know last year I did a doll with a small tiny “clock” in her, from a watch ring I had. I made the doll from scratch. I will find a photo to post of it. The year before, 2012, I’m not sure what I did. I have two of them in my house from recent years, but I’m kind of annoyed at myself that I didn’t pay attention to what I did and document it better, since it was a fun kind of annual ritual and a fun creative gift for myself on my birthday. Usually I start them about a week before. This year for the first time, I made something I didn’t like and then changed the project completely. I started with a collage with a lot of cut out and ripped images, beads, an old drawing and other stuff and put it up on my studio wall. The next day or two after, I decided I didn’t want to finish it and that I didn’t think it was a real self-portrait, so I decided it would make sense to make an altered book, as I have been making them all year and very obsessed with them, as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows. I ended up cutting up that first collage and putting some of it in the book.

So I chose a book I had already worked on, a little children’s book with each page split in to two halves, originally the book was for matching the top image with the bottom, so it was fun to play with the format. I had already done a lot in the book and decided it had enough in it to build on and that it already had the feeling of a self-portrait, so I started altering it more, ripping out stuff and adding in stuff over the last week. I put s a few photos of myself in it and ended up using one on the cover as today I decided the cover didn’t seem right, so I ripped off an image of a person with a mask and put a photo of myself on it with the other images. I continued working on it today, which sometimes happens, that I end up finishing the self-portrait on my birthday, but I usually get it done by the day before. Of course as this is an altered book, I still don’t feel satisfied that it is finished, but it definitely feels right as my self-portrait for 2014 and reflects some of the past year’s experiences, both losses and rebirths.
I will post a few photos of the project…

As a blog post on my art therapy blog, this is a more personal post than usual, but I will end the verbal part by saying I recommend it as an art therapy project for doing with an adolescent or adult patient for their birthday. You can invite them to bring in a recent or old photo or several and then ask them what kind of medium they want to use. Anything can constitute a birthday self-portrait. A box with the photos incorporated into it, an altered book of course, a drawing or painting or collage on paper or canvas. Other interpretations of the self-portrait for those who only think of a painting of their own face and might feel discouraged and not interested in that, there are so many ways to make a self-portrait and it doesn’t have to have a picture or drawing of your face in it at all. Make a doll or a birthday pillow. A clay bowl to put flower petals in. A box that you can add small notes about what you want for yourself for the coming year into. Knit a birthday scarf. Buy a journal/sketchbook and decorate the cover and start your journal on your birthday. Have your patient make him or herself a birthday card. I have done this often and made a card for my patient while s/he made a card for him/herself. Making a card for yourself whether for your own birthday or for any other day is always a good art therapy activity. I usually give my patient a list of affirmations to choose to copy on the inside of the card or that could inspire you to make your own affirmations and write them inside your card to yourself. Collages with tiny mirrors are a fun twist on the self-portrait. I have one in my altered book. I encourage my patients to get themselves a special birthday present, whether an object or something like a massage, so doing a self-portrait can be an added way to feel special about marking for yourself your own arrival on this planet. It is helpful especially for depressed patients and people who claim to not like their birthday. I don’t always feel super excited for my birthday lately, so I understand when people want to forget about it or make it a day they don’t do anything special, but in art therapy this can be an opportunity to take better care of yourself and reclaim your birthday as a special day, which it is after all. Doing something special for yourself to mark the day you arrived here and that you are still here, no matter how you are feeling, can be very healing and self affirming. It’s kind of like the concept of “The Artist’s Date” from the book, “The Artist’s Way”. As a young 4 year old child once told me, “You have to love yourself of course.” and “You are your own best friend.”

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Photos: from top
First Photo: page from book showing the split page format
Second Photo: page from book top matching bottom
Third Photo:Inside front cover. QUote says: “How many are silenced because in order to get to their art they would have to scream.” -Ann Clarke
Fourth Photo: Current cover of book with photo and plastic doll in model magic
Fifth Photo: older version of front cover
Sixth Photo: Inside page of back cover
Seventh Photo: Image of doll, last year’s self-portrait

Inspiration Wall!

In my last post I mentioned having an “Inspiration Wall” in my last studio and present one. It is common for artists to have an area where they pin up little images that they love or which inspire them… In discussing Pinterest and art therapy, I was reminded of my inspiration wall which I could actually “pin” to one of my Pinterest boards!

I have used two sides of a wall in one corner. Here are some photos if the images I used thus far. The Inspiration Wall can be changed and added to as you discover different images…

Do you have an inspiration wall? You don’t need to be an artist to make one…

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Native American Ritual: The Dreamcatcher

dreamcatcher

The above image is an appropriation of the original idea and genuine representation of the Native American’s cultural icon, the Dreamcatcher, that has become a popular “New Age” kind of item as well as a lesser known art therapy “project” or “directive”. I am hoping to bring this one shown above, that I decorated at home today, to my studio, so I can add feathers to the hanging strings with the beads, as the feathers are believed to help the dreams to slide into the window. Wikipedia has a good description of the origin of the dreamcatcher and the connection with spider’s webs. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamcatcher). The basic idea is that the dreams travel through the circular dreamcatcher and the bad dreams are believed to be “caught” in the “weblike” structure, the parts with the string in it and the good dreams slide in with the help of feathers to enter the dreamer.

While it is great to find a really genuine dream catcher, they are a lot of fun to make. In this case, a friend of mine, Anastacia Kurylo, (kid’s party kits website: http://thecraftykids.com), gave me the bigger outer circle and smaller inner circle with precut holes from one of her kid’s party kits and I added my own materials (metallic yarn, paint, rhinestones, mirror, beads) to weave the “web”like part and decorate it. Another way to make them if you don’t have a handy model like this is to take some sculpture wire to make the circle and then wind thinner colored wire around and through it. You can add sequins, beads, buttons to the wire and then tie yarn at the bottom and put feathers and beads on it. You can also wind colorful pipe cleaners around the big wire circle to make your Dreamcatcher more colorful.

I think the Dreamcatcher as a project for art therapy or for a children’s activity in school or home is a beautiful combination of the Tibetan “Mandala” (Sacred Circle), which we art therapists have appropriated for art therapy and the idea of dream interpretation and the importance of dreams in many psychodynamic approaches, especially Jungian, as Carl Jung himself made many mandalas and also had his patients draw or paint them…

“I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong.”

I feel I have to post something about today’s tragic events. My heart goes out to the parents and families whose little children are now dead, lost to them forever. There are no words for this tragedy, and no amount of words can bring back a dead 4, 5 or 6 year old. The empty hole of grief and loss will accompany a parent for the rest of his/her life, and for sure right now life itself is absolutely unbearable…

I picked up my own lovely 5 year old from school with a heavy heart, knowing that those parents have been robbed of this simple reuniting ritual, and robbed of their little child. I know there are no words, but poets sometimes know what to say to express the unbearable for the rest of us. I turn to the Auden poem I posted this week in relation to a discussion of death and funeral rituals. Here are the parts that pertain to today, written in April 1936:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffins, let the mourners come…

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong…

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

This poem has come to me often at different times of death and loss. “For nothing now can come to any good.” True hard words. What kind of world do we live in that such unspeakable acts can happen? Even before today, I have been asking myself this over the last several weeks. I admit part of this came from TV. I randomly watched several episodes of Oliver Stone’s Showtime tv documentary about the untold history of the united states, filled with footage of World War 2 and then a lot about the first atom bomb. I reflected a lot about these scenes and words. How human history is a long unending story of wars and killings and destruction. Hearing the narrative string together everything did not help to make any sense of this awful part of human nature. Even though we are not in World War 3, there is enough senseless killing and other unspeakable acts happening all over the world, in hot spots like the mid east, but also everywhere else, all the time, constantly, and today in Newtown, Connecticut.

There is no period in history that is not filled with the blood of innocents, no ethnicity or culture that is free of such evil. Whether in wars, each worse than the other, no matter where, or in “peaceful” nations such as ours, although we never seem to be free of killing our own and others somewhere usually far away: Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, etc. I doubt there is ANY time in our nation’s history that is not like this.

I remember as a quite young child reading the Diary of Ann Frank and getting obsessed with her story and the tragedy and strangeness of her dying and her diary somehow surviving. A kind of triumph that her beautiful voice is there to be heard for the next generations; it is only through reading and other arts such as painting and music, that we are reminded that wonder still exists and some piece of goodness in some small place is shining through the constant darkness. For me, though my own preferred way of self expression is nonverbal painting, drawing and collage, I often turn to words and books for something, because of the paradox of the unspeakable and the miracle of words coming together in a simple poem or young girl’s diary that manage to express some hope for humankind…Or actually just put in words the horror of the endlessly destructive part of humanity we can’t seem to escape from, the very real hopelessness and unending emotional pain and suffering that is life in this world…

Over the summer a dear friend gave my daughter a wonderful children’s chapter book called “The BFG”, by Roald Dahl. Whatever age you are, read it soon! Suffice it to say without a long description of this great tale, there is a very instructive scene in which little Sophie, our heroine, is talking serious philosophy, ie. the strange awfulness of the nature of “human beans” with the Big Friendly Giant. I would like to end this post with that dialogue:

Sophie is lamenting the other bad giants’ endless killing and eating of humans when the BFG in his broken English reminds her,
“Human Beans is killing each other much quicker than the giants is doing it.”
“But they don’t eat each other,” Sophie said.
“Giants isn’t eating each other either,” the BFG said. “Nor is giants killing each other. Giants is not very lovely, but they is not killing each other. Nor is crockadowndillies killing other crockadowndillies. Nor is pussy-cats killing pussy cats.”
“They kill mice,”” Sophie said.
“Ah, but they is not killing their own kind,” the BFG said. “Human beans is the only animal that is killing their own kind.”…
A few paragraphs down, he continues to bring home the real part of the argument, for maybe some animals kill each other for food or some other reason, but not on a large scale and not constantly and not in such inhumane ways and not for no good reason whatsoever. We really are the ones who do that, each generation figuring out more awful massive ways to wipe out large amounts of other humans to today when we could just wipe ourselves out altogether and the whole planet with us…

He continues,
“They is shooting guns and going up in aeroplanes to drop their bombs on each other’s heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans.”…
Then a little later he clinches the argument with,
“The human beans is making rules to suit themselves,”  the BFG went on. “But the rules they is making do not suit the little piggy-wiggies. Am I right or left?.”
“Right,” Sophie said…
The BFG, pages 78-79.

Interview About My Art Therapy Career!

Interview About My Art Therapy Career!

I am very excited to announce that the first of a two part interview that took place in my studio/office with art therapist Victoria Scarborough is now online at the above link! The interview is about how I started out in the field, my past experience, my present experience and current projects I am working on, as well as how I balance being an artist with being an art therapist. As on this blog, there is some personal information in it, in case you don’t want to know too much about me. (ie. patients out there and former patients and others, only read it if you don’t mind knowing a bit about how my personal life impacts my professional life…)

I will announce on this blog when she posts Part 2 of the interview.

New Topic Series: Multicultural Rituals and Their Meanings

The other day, I was reminded of a few things I had read about concerning interesting customs in different countries/cultures that were very particular to that culture. Probably I was connecting this to last week’s American ritual of Thanksgiving, a holiday I try to focus on being grateful and also feeling sad about what really happened with the “first thanksgiving”. Yes, Squanto did have a peace treaty feast with the Pilgrims, but after that, the Puritans came and, according to this interesting website: http://www.manataka.org/page269.html

“In 1637 near present day  Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside.  Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.

From then on it became a custom to have a “Thanksgiving Feast” after a successful slaughter of Native Americans…Anyway, back to the main topic: most of these types of rituals I will be posting about are different from what mainstream Americans are accustomed to. I will focus on the big rituals of every country/culture: birth, marriage/joining love ceremony for “life partner” and death. I thought it would be fun to post different descriptions of these rituals on this blog that are interesting approaches to these big life changes we all share as human beings. Having lived abroad and travelled a lot and having been exposed to many cultures and languages and countries from a young age, I have always been interested in ways that we differ and are similar in celebrating important life events or dealing with death, and also some every day life activities that are elevated to ritual in other cultures. When I lived in Japan for two years, fourth and fifth grade, I was exposed to all kinds of unfamiliar rituals, as Japanese culture has a lot more rituals in everyday life than American and other cultures. There is the tea ceremony and the act of giving gifts on non-holiday occasions. I remember my parents coming home with gifts all the time after they had gone to some kind of event or party or business meeting as gifts are given in all sorts of settings and types of daily activities bringing people together. The gifts were always exquisitely wrapped in that distinct style that I tried to copy when wrapping gifts; there are a lot of horizontal folds involved…

Anyway, for the first example, I will skip Pregnancy for now, as I have written about it so much here in a different context, and skip to the child’s first birthday celebration. I found a description of an interesting Korean ritual for the first birthday of a child. I remembered hearing before about this ritual from a friend, but the description is detailed enough to give a good idea of what it is all about. This is a direct quote lifted from: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/biz/2007/10/123_12172.html

“The first birthday party is special for any baby around the world, but Korea has a unique tradition of putting various things on the table in front of the baby and letting the baby pick one of these to tell the future of the baby.

On the table are usually money, thread, rice and pencil. The baby will be rich if it picks money, will live long with thread, and be a scholar by picking a pencil, which reflects Confucian tradition. Rice means that the baby will have enough food throughout his or her life, which was a huge blessing when people often suffered from famines.

The tradition is changing. Now some parents put a microphone on the table, which means the baby will become an entertainer, or a golf ball, wishing that the baby will be a famous golf player.”

What a lovely idea! In Bali, the first birthday is treated in an entirely different way. I think I first came across this in the book “Eat, Pray, Love”! Actually, if you go to the link below, you will learn that the rituals start in pregnancy and there are several different ones on different days of the baby’s life leading up to the first birthday.

This descritpion comes from the following website:

http://www.bali-travel-life.com/bali-festivals.html

“On the first birthday (Oton), which is according to the Balinese calendar on the 210th day, the baby is allowed to touch the ground for the first time. Because the ground is considered impure, the baby has always been carried around up to this day.

This day is of course again accompanied with a ceremony which is pretty big and takes place at the ancestral temple where families and the community gather to celebrate.”

Here is a great website with descriptions of first birthdays around the world, including the American custom of parties with decorations, cake, etc. The Hindu custom is another great one, and after reading about it, I sense that certain cultures focus on themes like “cleansing the baby”, “evil from past life”, “impurity” that area also part of the Catholic tradition of babtism. What is interesting about the Balinese point of view is the idea that the world the baby enters is “impure”, not the baby!

“On a Hindu child’s first birthday, his or her head is shaved while being held by a special fire. Removal of the hair cleanses the child of any evil in past lives, symbolizing a renewal of the soul.

Usually on the day of the birthday, the child will wear very colorful clothing to school and will pass out chocolates to the entire class. The child will also kneel and touch their parents’ feet as a sign of respect. They then all visit a shrine, where they pray and the child is blessed.

In the afternoon there might be a meal that includes a spicy vegetable stew called curry and chutney which is a spicy fruit relish. The dessert is a treat known as “dudh pakh”, which is rice like pudding (they might also stir in pistachios, almonds, raisins, and a spice called cardamon)”

Another different reference to feet. Interesting.

To end, here is a tradition in Ghana, again involving a cleansing ritual:

“The Asante people in Ghana celebrate “krada” (which means “Soul Day”) on the day of their birth. On a person’s krada, he or she wakes up early and washes themselves using a special leaf soaked overnight in water (this is a cleansing ritual intended to purify the inner soul). Then in the afternoon, they have a feast with family and friends and the celebrant is usually dressed in white clothing.”

Kindergarten and Life!

I found this beautiful moving and inspirational poem on someone’s Facebook status on my personal Facebook feed and just loved it as it is so true. I posted it on my Tribeca Healing Arts Facebook page, but here on my blog I can reflect more than just requote the poem…

The writer captures the best in a human being, the important things in life that just are not easily “taught” the way writing, reading and math are taught. Interestingly, creative expression is an important element of this writer’s idea of how to strive to live in a loving, caring fashion but also loving oneself. As one five year old in Kindergarten has said, “And I love Me of course, because you have to love yourself!” as well as on her list of best friends (more than one as five year olds can handle being friends with several people and not want to “put them in an orderly list” starting with “best” friend, she says the people she loves as her best friends and either starts or ends with “and (her own name) of course because you are your own best friend!” Indeed, the world would be a much more beautiful place to live in if only we could take what we learned in Kindergarten as the Foundation for true happiness and truly be on the path to a “life well lived.” There is spirituality all over this beautiful poem with no mention of any religion or deity, as we can live peacefully and lovingly if we truly carry with us these things that we learned so long ago…

It’s the last sentence that gets me the most, “Be aware of Wonder.” Wonder is indeed  something to hold on tight to, as it can be one of your best friends throughout your life and will serve you at all moments of living. Well, I am biased about the value of wonder; not for nothing “Alice in Wonderland” is probably my favorite book which I have reread throughout my life. (Last reading was this summer in July on my vacation.)

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten
by Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.These are the things I learned:Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.