Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bead For Life

Today, while randomly following my nose down down the rabbit hole into the Wonderland of the internet, I came across a site that moved me deeply. It is for an organization called Bead for Life; now, normally I skip right away from anything containing "for life" in its title, fearing either an anti-choice organization, some rabid fundamentalist religious cult, or yet another site infested with the dreaded symbolic pink ribbons and sappy phrases meant to sustain hope in those fighting breast cancer. No disrespect to any of the above, most particularly to the breast cancer awareness people, whose work I respect highly and whose services I earnestly hope I never have to call upon - it just seems to me that something with more "oomph" than is conveyed by watery pink ribbons and little plucky words written in a flowing yet somehow unconvincing script on a banner held by bluebirds or bunnies is needed for the cause.

Anyway, back to my new discovery: This is a group of women in Uganda who are working together to try to improve their extremely difficult lives through making & selling paper beads. The beads are colorful and beautiful - also very light weight, which is an important consideration for those of us with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions, for whom most jewelry is too heavy to wear - but, perhaps even more important, the struggle is so great and the stakes are so high, and this is one way to provide a tiny bit of help. When you learn that all of the beaders and tailors (all women) in the cooperative are supporting themselves and their families on less than $2 a day, and that 93% of money raised goes directly to the women for their families, and you think about how far the $15 or whatever you decide to spend on their products can go in this nation struggling under the three curses of poverty, illness, and war, I don't see how you can fail to want to help - and do a little Christmas shopping at the same time!

Please, please, take a look at the website:! As an artist, a craftsperson, a woman, or a human being living in the comfort and relative wealth of the so-called "first-world nations", I don't see how we can ignore our sisters struggling against such huge odds just to survive and raise, educate, and feed their children. Please read the information on the site - I can't explain it as well as they do, but I know that if you visit it and read the stories of the individual beaders as well as their community development plans (they are building a whole Bead for Life village, in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity!), you can't help but be moved to help in any way you can.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Now Here's a Funky Old Thing...

In 1969, back in the Glory Days of all things hippie, I first decided to try my hand at batik-making. I was swept off my feet by the beauty and diversity of the "new" (well, maybe to this 16-yr. old American girl!) fabrics I was seeing - the Indonesian batiks, the tie-dyes, the exotic block prints and embroideries and sheisha mirrors, even the dreaded macrame. Of course I had to try them all! I'll spare you the results of my first adventures in tie-dye; suffice it to say that there was a lot of excited activity involving Rit dye, rubber bands, and white cotton Carters' Spanky Pants around the ol' kitchen stove...

Not too thrilled with the washed-out colors of those experiments, I moved on to trying my hand at batik - and this was my first attempt. As an impulsive and impatient young girl, I lacked most of the requisite supplies for making true batik - no beeswax, no tjantjing or tjap, and above all no patience for the complicated process of layers and resists and repeated ironing-out of wax from fabric. What I did have was good old Crayola crayons, paraffin, an electric skillet, Schaeffers Permanent Black ink, and one of my father's white cotton handkerchiefs, snitched from the laundry basket. Voila -"batik", American-teenaged girl style, 1969!

The piece lingered on my dorm-room walls for awhile, and then sank from view, as such things do, until the inevitable churning of household detritus tossed it up unexpectedly when we moved to our new house last year. Who knew the silly thing was still around? It's not like it was ever, even when it was first created, anything important; it was just my early doodlings with wax, color, and crackle, a Sunday afternoon experiment the summer before I started college. But still (or again), when it came to light again after nearly 40 years, it struck me as playful and spirited and worthy of a space on the wall, and I just stuck it right up there, in a public part of the house, for all to see.

Sophisticated art? Hardly! "Art" at all? Who cares? But there is something in it of spirit and fun, and of a part of myself that I am happy to be reminded of every time I see it. So maybe now I know how to batik and dye and block print and embroider and quilt the "right" way - but I still remember how utterly thrilling it was to lay down these colors of melted crayons on my Dad's stolen handkerchief: the suspense of waiting for the wax to chill in the freezer so I could crackle it up & give it its final wash of black ink, the pure burst of surprise in my heart when I saw how those black lines just made the colors pop right out - that joy was as honest & real as any I've gotten from any more mature, sophisticated, technically-correct creations since then.

And I don't want to forget it!