Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Christmas Card Tradition

Writers and illustrators, neuroscientists and full-time moms need to give themselves permission and time for creative projects that have nothing to do with their career. Homemade Valentines or birthday cards may be just the little selfless act to get one's creative juices going for weightier projects. I've made Christmas cards every year for decades and have given myself a few rules to keep it fun:

1. Do it for love.
Sometimes life can feel like a series of obligations. This should not be one of those times. Do it for the love of the process and love of the people who will receive the cards.

2. Don't procrastinate.
December is usually crazy busy at my house. Even things that I enjoy doing normally feel stressful if there's too much else to do. I like to have my cards made before Thanksgiving.

3. Limit the number.
I don't have time to make a card for everyone I love. I usually send cards to old roommates and friends with whom I don't have regular contact, as well as siblings and parents. I never get angry when people don't send me cards or give me gifts, so I can only hope that others feel the same.

4. Try new things.
This is a time when I don't feel bound to my artistic style. I try new media and I try to keep the card text, news letters and envelops thematically and visually united.

Here is a card I made for my parents when I was 5.

As a college student, I kept the card tradition, sometimes xeroxing sharpie drawings, sometimes using printmaking methods. Below is my husband's wood cut of a toy soldier (he made the year before we met) and my screen print minimalist Christmas tree.

Here is a little pamphlet book I made with a newsletter in the middle and a picture of our first child.

Another pamphlet book card, included a Martha Stewart style quilled snowflake ornament. It is a little smashed after 12 years in our card scrapbook. Again, the newsletter was in the middle of the card.

 When we first moved to Georgia, there was a pear tree in the back yard, so I did an wood engraving of a partridge in a pear tree that year.

And in 2004, I did our first Christmas video.  This tiny disk fit perfectly into another ornament/card.

50 pen and ink, water color, glitter, and calligraphy cards was time consuming but rewarding.

My easiest card was made by hot gluing a couple buttons for a snow man. 
Another year, I screen printed snowflakes but accidentally used screen filler instead of ink, which gave it a glossy surface with varied value. Gotta love happy accidents.

My then 3-year-old daughter's drawing (left) became our card one year. My Uncle Orval, who had done more than 50 consecutive years of Christmas card making himself, called this a "dill pickle Christmas tree." A sewing machine and fabric scraps made the above card possible.

In 2009 I made a gingerbread house and then took a picture of it. The acompanying family newsletter was a "recipe for a happy year" which served 5 and expired 2010.

I thought I'd use my Children's illustration style and do a little painting to show the joy of 2011.

Last  year, each card was unique. You can see the collage process below."Wishing You The Best of Gifts This Christmas" include gift cards that said things like, "forgiveness" "Friendship" etc. Inside the newsletter listed some of our favorite gifts of the year (like education, work, and fun) and a short paragraph for each.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Most Important Story You Will Ever Write

In my last blog post I discussed how to borrow from your life to create a story. In this blog post, I want to talk about how to borrow from your stories to create a life.

A decade ago, I bought my first video camera. Instead of a Christmas newsletter that year, I made a disc with a 2-minute montage of the year's footage set to a Christmas song. It was a big year that included the birth of my daughter and a trip to Tonga. Ten video Christmas cards later, I have every big event during my daughter’s life, in a 27-minute film.

For the first couple of years, I just pulled out highlights from our family life and put them in the video after the fact. Now I imagine the video long before the year begins; I mentally story board how my year will look. I want spectacular scenery, which calls for a trip to someplace wonderful. I want the entire year to be represented, which means we need to make it a point to get out to events in every season. I dream, I plan, I fill my calendar with penciled in possibilities, and I live more intentionally.

In her book, Write it Down, Make it Happen, Henriette Anne Klauser compares writing goals to buying a blue Honda. Once you own a blue Honda, you start noticing all the blue Hondas that are on the road. Writing down goals or detailed stories about what your life could be, making mind maps or vision boards are all ways to open your eyes to opportunities that you hadn’t noticed before. All it takes is a pencil, piece of paper, and a little imagination.

Affirmations are another way to tell yourself a story that you then make come true. I wrote, “I love my job,” before I even got the interview at the Academy for the Blind. I’ve taught there for a semester now and (no big surprise) I love it!

It’s not magic. It’s mindset. When I say out loud, “I have such a great life!” or “I can do this,” I notice an immediate change in my body. I feel happier and more in control. Conversely, when I say, “You are making me crazy!” or “I’m never going to finish this project!” I can feel my blood pressure rising.

Making your dreams known can increase opportunities. Your friends will only tell you about a job opportunity or big guitar sale if they know you'd be interested in hearing about it. Several weeks ago I wrote on Facebook that I'd been wanting to go to St. Augustine, Florida. A friend read my post and invited my family to take a trip with hers. Short story short: this was the view from our hotel room last week.

Words have changed the course of human history; why not change the course of your own life for the better through writing.