education, textiles, sustainability and wellness
July 14, 2020
I've been managing the Textiles West Dye Garden at Flying Pig Farm this year. It's a joy to be there. As I write this, blessed rains are shattering any need for me to go to the garden today, and I'm filled with both the pleasure of a little extra writing time, and regret at not being in the presence of nature today. Flying Pig Farm is located on a little turn off road just blocks from the main road in Manitou Springs, Colorado, but it's another world. The Midwesterner in me is always amazed that I now live here, community garden bursting with sunflowers nestled in the pines, digging into the sand and red earth, listening to the rooster and the goats in the back ground. It's the kind of grounding experience I need but forget that I need until the moment I'm there. I turn on my favorite podcast or audiobook and pull weeds until my back aches, careful to leave the local plants that pose no threat to the dye plants but are so beneficial to the bees (especially those in the Flying Pig Farm apiary) and the root structure of the area, holding precious water in the ground in the desert climate.
Planting Day, May 23
This year is my first growing plants for natural dye as opposed to a vegetable garden. We had a wonderful day planting the seedlings in late May (the growing season begins later and ends sooner in a high-altitude desert climate). We planted cosmos, scabiosa (pincushion flowers), zinnias, Japanese indigo, tithonias, African marigolds, Chianti sunflowers and woad (a traditional European natural dye plant).
Already coming back from last year were the black hollyhock, weld (another European dye plant), dyers chamomile, coreopsis and our monster of a madder plant. Becoming intimately aware of the cycles of these plants just by the process of watering and watching, watching, watching has reminded me of all sorts of life lessons I'd forgotten in the years between gardening.
Patience and Care
In the intervening weeks I've anxiously and gratefully watched everything grow and blooms begin to form. It's gratifying to watch plants grow. Especially in this year of COVID, of social upheaval and all the work that is to be done, of wondering if I can pay my bills and fretting over friends, family, and community health and safety; it's been a life-saver, a mind-saver if you will, to watch new life and new possibilities arise out of gentle care, patience, and nurturing. This is one of the few places where my anxiety has both a purpose and a remedy.
Indigo, May 30
Indigo on June 6
Indigo on June 30
Scabiosa, June 6
Scabiosa on June 16
Scabiosa on June 30
Sunflowers, May 26 (with coreopsis and marigolds)
Sunflowers on June 16
Sunflowers, June 30
You might be wondering how all these flowers and foliage turn into natural dyes. There are a few processes I'm playing around with this summer: liquid dye, hapa zome, and bundle dyeing. I'm going to be testing out each in the coming weeks, as I prep for workshops in the garden and think about how I'd like to apply these to renewing some of my existing garments.
Final Thoughts and Actions
There are folks out there with the vision for a local, sustainable, clean, regenerative and socially just ecology for clothing that values people, land, animals and water. If you want to find out more, check out Green Dreamer podcast and listen to ep209 and ep210 with Rebecca Burgess of FiberShed. You can also check out Dominique Drakeford's fashion blog and follow @dominiquedrakeford on social media to learn about intersectional sustainability.
June 6, 2020
All About Love
First tears in months. Other Aquarian moons or various detached humans can understand, I'm sure. The cluster of questions in my head today keep bringing me back to this point: that my incapacities are my own fault. I know I would never put such a judgment on someone else, but my standards for myself are skewed at best.
Today I met up on Zoom with some art teacher peers to discuss a book we're reading together, All About Love, by bell hooks. In the introduction, hooks details the capacity for love, the lovelessness of contemporary life, the systems in place that need lovelessness and cultivate lovelessness (patriarchy and capitalism are two), and the search for love when the beginning of one's life is marked by abandonment.
Our group skipped over this last point - how the beginning of one's life materially changes a person's capacity for love. This can't be understated, and I certainly can't ignore it if I'd like to move on to the rest of the book in any meaningful way. It made me wonder, did the rest of the teachers in our Zoom meeting feel loved as children? Or have they healed (or gone through their mourning, as hooks describes it)? Or, as hooks suggests herself, do people expect that an intellectual discussion on love should skip the 'therapy' parts and move on to the social, to one's responsibility to other people and the world?
All I know is, I'd rather please people than be seen. I'd rather show love than be loved. (hooks also suggests in the introduction that many women feel this way about love, particularly women who grew up in unsafe environments.) Because of this choosing to please and this chosen non-reciprocity, I'd rather be solitary than have to ignore any essential part of myself. However ingrained and seemingly beyond my control, these decisions kept me working for a complex, but nonetheless, soulless educational organization for years, and another one before that. These decisions have kept me partnerless. These decisions keep me from making the work I want. These keep me from contemplating what I really want overmuch, since that can be painful to contemplate if one doesn’t plan to do anything about their desires. These keep me from showing or sharing my identity. These keep me hidden, aloof, and somewhat calculating. These make it difficult for me to model the love I expect to witness in the world.
These keep me from telling my siblings, or friends, or parents, or colleagues, No, I don't want to do it that way, I'm trying to do _____/accomplish _____/be _____. These keep me from completing any writing – I can't say what I mean. Instead, I expend great energy trying to say what other people want to hear (for that grade I needed, for the degree I need to complete). At the same time, I find it unacceptable to offer or publish anything I don't mean, as my private writing is one of the few areas where I can, with any modicum of calm, look at myself. Frequently, my writing is a disjointed mess of other people's voices or my perception of their voice. On the other hand, this entry constitutes my voice (I think). So that’s one win.
I didn’t know how to end this entry so I pulled a Chiji processing card: the parachute.
First thought was, haha no one is coming to rescue me from this. Second thought: I can jump. I was about to end this entry by talking about that one point I won today in the battle of me vs. myself. Those of you familiar with internal family systems therapy1 know where I’m going with this. Which one is the Manager, the Firefighter, or the Exile? I suppose I can engage with this ‘Parachute Part’ as the part that will support me rather than fight me when I take risks.
1If you consider your thoughts, emotions, urges, and impulses to be coming from an inner landscape that’s best understood as a kind of internal family, populated by sub-personalities, many of whom are childlike and are suffering, then it makes more sense to take that next step of comforting and holding these inner selves rather than just observing and objectifying them. https://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/blog/details/651/going-beyond-mindfulness-with-internal-family-systems
Final thoughts and actions
I feel weak today. I know that’s okay, but I don’t think it’s okay for me. I’m going to keep working through All About Love, though. If you haven’t read any bell hooks before, it might be time. Her writing is life-giving, critical, and kind.
If you want to buy the book, check out an independent bookstore in your area. Please do not give any more of your money to Jeff Bezos, he does not have the right to your money and he does not deserve to richer than any human on earth.
Even better, support Black-owned bookstores. Refinery 29 posted a helpful guide to finding Black-owned bookstores in your state if you’re not sure where to go.
If you can’t afford a book right now, check out your local library. I’m in Colorado Springs and a quick search on Pikes Peak Library District’s site showed that it’s available on ebook. So, depending on your area, you may not even have to wait for your public library system to be open to start reading.
June 1, 2020
This is a beyond-painful time. There have been protests, as well as people high jacking those protests, all weekend because police in Minnesota murdered George Floyd. Cities already hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic are on curfew and the sitting president of the United States is spouting off white supremacist tactics ("When they start looting, we start shooting") as if it's national policy. Of course, the truth is that this has been our de facto national policy since the very founding of our country and even before that.
And it's the first day of Pride month. I can't help but remember that Pride began with a 'riot', a police raid, a resistance. And during that incident at Stonewall Inn, our warriors on the frontlines of that resistance were black trans folks. We white queers owe them big time.
I know I'm not doing enough. I freely admit I could be doing more. I did donate some money. Like many people this year, I don’t have much of it. In my case, all of the classes and workshops I was planning to teach were canceled one after the other. But I'm trying to make some semblance of a meaningful life and get to a place where I'm not a waste of space. That probably sounds harsh, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
As much as it may seem trivial in comparison to everything going on, I'm going to use this blog to talk about education first and foremost. Education, and especially art education, is healing and transformative. To build healthy and just societies we have to embrace culture as a necessary societal good. Art and cultural traditions and processes help us to be able to hold equal and opposite truths in each hand, to accept the absurd (suspend disbelief), to move through the joys and the torments of trying to make materials do things, to work through memory and relationship, and to contend with history and one's place in it. Not being a waste of space means using the privilege and the resources that I have (my education, my ‘free time’, my health, the technology I have access to ) to help with the building of that world that is just and healthy.
Because writing has always helped me to solidify and organize my thoughts, I'm hoping that this public writing practice (uncomfortable as it makes me) will help me to get out of my own head and take meaningful action. One thing I’m struggling with whether to talk about or not is that I'm a survivor of childhood abuse and neglect. Even as I write this, I think, I’m making this sound more awful than it actually was. After all, there are more of us than a lot of people want to believe, and when it's happening to you it's your normal. Because of that, it takes a lot sometimes to even validate what happened to me as abuse and neglect. What helps me accept it as such is to imagine how I would respond if someone I cared about shared the same details about their life.
Therapy and other kinds of healing (creative practices, reading good books, learning to take care of and value my body) helped me over many hurdles and hills and experience some healing. But the lasting impact – the shreds of this stuff that cling to me that I can't quite shake off and leave behind – are debilitating dissociation and shame. It sucks. That's all there is to it. I feel like I'm at this final hill, though, ready to climb it and move beyond. If I want to get to a place where I’m an active member of social justice movements and living out my values, my brain needs to stop going into that dreaded but familiar fog where I lose language and the ability to get up and take action. So this writing practice is also about finding my way over that final hill.
I'm going to start with working through a lot of memories and concerns I had about working for an art and design college doing engagement (or outreach? - we'll get to that) programming on Chicago's West Side. It was a wonderful and difficult time for me, and I'm going to write up my thoughts about it here. Full disclosure, I’m trying to finish my thesis regarding this topic and I’ve been putting it off for a couple of years. The full thesis will be available at some point, but I’ll work through core concepts here.
Final thoughts and actions
I just want to leave each entry with something helpful, anything helpful that we can do, or that I can do for you. For today, here are a few places that could use extra cash right now to assist in bringing George Floyd's killers to justice, to dismantle our police state, and to provide help to black communities across our country. Please give what you can. As I mentioned, I don't have a lot of cash. Honestly, I'm not even paying all of my bills right now, but I know I’ll bounce back (after all, I'm white in the U.S.) and it's better spent here.