The portable* display I take to art shows includes a variety of quickly readable statements about mandalas, collage, and art in general. One of the most commented upon quotations issued from my young friend, Abbie, who offered me her wisdom on a Saturday morning in January as we were collaging mandalas together on paper plates.
Risking redundancy, I now repeat what you can mostly read in the above photo: “When you’re collaging you feel like you’re making something to fix the world.” Abbie was 6 when she said that; I am compelled to tell you that at this writing, she is 7, for every bit of age is important to Abbie at this point in her life. To Abbie, as to many children, small things make a big difference.
If people who visit my booth smile when they read Abbie’s statement, they are incredulous when I show them a sample of the raw materials from which I create the mandalas, altered books, and other art works covering the walls and tables of my 10′ x 10′ space. Like most normal, tidy people, I used to throw such paper bits in the trash. Now my chosen profession has created in me a consciousness that compels me to save the scraps, and sometimes even the scraps of the scraps, because I know what they might amount to collectively after 2 to 200 hours of artistic processing. For some reason I get a big kick out of turning what you see above into what you see below.
People who visit my booth at art shows often tell me that I have the patience of Job. Actually, I don’t. I’ve been known to slap machines–cars, computers, radios, CD players, etc.– that were not working according to my pleasure; it drives me nuts to get stuck behind slow walkers when I want to move fast. Anyway, I know that Job’s patience was not that of a bean counter, but an existential, life-bending, faith-stretching patience burdened with extreme suffering. If Job and I have anything in common, it is that we believe with all our hearts that the unpromising details will amount to something in the end, and we are usually rewarded.
Despite the fact that I am a woman of only average patience, I love this often-tedious work that I do full-time, every weekday, sometimes on Sundays, and even on my birthday. Strangely, collaging is one of the primary ways I fix the world, or at least my world, the world that is my life. I know that when I am feeling scattered, unfocused, at loose ends, maybe even a little worried, creating a small, beautiful-to-me object will help to center and settle me and put me in my right mind, which is not my fearful, calculating mind, but my creative mind.
I feel small in the cosmic scheme of things, and what I do seems likewise small. Recently, however, I was reminded of what meteorologists sometimes call “the butterfly effect.” The idea is that a butterfly fluttering its wings in, say, Beta Ho, China, where my mother used to swim as a child, might radiate a shift in air currents that could telegraphically alter the weather in, say, La Jolla, California, where I used to swim as a child. It is, of course, difficult or impossible to measure and track the many slight influences that add up to weather, or a mood, a nice day, or a good life. But I believe we must believe in them and consider that our own small part in the scheme of things may not be as small as it seems.
When Bill Moyers asked mythologist Joseph Campbell how one might save the world, Campbell directed Moyers to one’s most local and seemingly minor concern: one’s self. “The influence of a vital person vitalizes,” said Campbell. “There’s no doubt about it. The world without spirit is a wasteland. . . . The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself” (The Power of Myth, p. 149).
Creating is an act of spirit involving love, faith, and risk. Collaging is my passion, my way of creating. People sometimes mistake creativity as the province of artists alone. That is not so. Creativity is for everyone, whether artist, parent, teacher, physician, farmer, scientist, carpenter, engineer, secretary, waiter, politician, writer, software developer, business owner, minister, or even first-grade student. The world has benefitted from the creative actions of people we have heard of and even more from those we have not. All together we may not only fix the world but make it, in our own way, beautiful.
*”Portable” means that two people spending an hour loading, arranging, re-arranging, and sweating, can fit the entire display plus themselves into a Honda Odyssey without having to tow a trailer or tie things to the top of the van.