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relentless love is required

You'll have to excuse me because now a part of me is always trying to think in short phrases that will fit on a button. There are a few that have been rolling around in my head for a while - "resolved not resigned" came to mind a few weeks ago, but some new ones came to mind last night. But I'm running with relentless love.

Here's my little story from election night: as you know, we have been making lots of buttons here at the shop. The process basically requires that an original image be created (by us or the amazing Emily) and then brought to the copy shop to be reproduced. Now, we have shifted almost all of our copy work over to small local businesses except for this last piece which is usually just a page at a time. So, since October 19th, the copy shop guys have been printing pages of buttons for us. 3000 buttons, 20 to a page. Let's see, there was "I voted for her, take that asshole," "nasty woman voter," "votes coming out of my whatever," "I'm not with stupid," "I vote for tacos." I don't think there's anything wrong with that even if you do take exception to my "he started it" and think that I should have let the nasty woman comment pass. I feel that Hillary was merely stating a fact and was being called nasty for it and thus I feel that perhaps the word nasty will be thrown around a lot just because there are still a lot of nasty facts out there. I will note that Michelle's "when they go low, we go high" button has also been a best seller. Anyway, I have had nothing but civil interactions with the copy shop guys, just the usual retail transaction you'd expect. Then, on election night around 7 pm, I had to run over to get one last sign for the window. Just before I arrived at the counter, another sales associate was also approaching. The one behind the counter says to the approaching one: "Trump is ahead," and the approaching guy says, "good." Then I arrived at the counter, he gave me my copy and I said thanks and turned around and left. Now, wasn't that rather passive-aggressive to mention Trump just as I was approaching? I thought so. Should I have said something? I've always felt, as in the case of our store and our windows, that I have already used my actions to make my point. Perhaps I'm relying too much on being an introvert and wanting to avoid a confrontation and perhaps I should learn to think faster. I never think of anything to say until later. Should I do better about that? Though, really, they'd probably say I started it. And perhaps the Donald Trump as a toy dinosaur put them over the edge. Who knows.

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Anyway, yes, I will be switching copy shops. Yes, I am irritated with those guys. But I also feel sorry for them because a) I've worked corporate retail before and it is not a good feeling to be such a small cog in such a big operation, not to mention that uncharming warehouse space and b) what kind of life do you have where you want change in the system so you put your hopes behind someone who has done nothing but profit from the system and step on people like you to get what he wants, who promises to blow up the system which is one of the few things that is actually designed to help your life? when your hopes are placed in anger and fueled by hatred? I feel that there's going to be a disappointing outcome and not just for those of us who wanted a better outcome. But anyway, relentless love means I don't yell at the copy shop guys. Relentless love does mean that I make as many mindful choices as I can about the direction I want for this world. For me, most of that is moving as much of my money to small local businesses as I can, because I believe that small local businesses are better employers, do more for their community, and oh yeah, also don't make enough money to spend too much of it on lobbyists or donations to causes I disagree with. Relentless love does mean I keep making buttons. Perhaps a few will call someone an asshole, but the majority will be about the direction and the life that I want, not one consumed by hatred or anger or sorrow but one where I have pursued my passion and my creativity and where I help other people pursue theirs because that, I believe, is the only way for the world to be. Otherwise, I just don't see the point.

Oh yeah, and relentless love means I am giving serious considering to bringing back friendship pins. Remember those? I read an article about how people in Britain are wearing safety pins as a symbol of refuge, of safety. So that someone can be walking down the street and know they have an ally. But how fun would it be to be walking down the street and someone gives you a FRIENDSHIP PIN? Think about it. Also, I think we should see if the Southerners don't mind if we borrow "bless your heart" for a while. I feel like maybe that is a good response for a variety of situations. Like if you are walking down the street and someone yells out the n-word to someone walking near you - should you yell back "bless your heart!" or maybe just say to that person walking near you "bless their heart." Or to the guy with the Trump shirt who swaggered into the store yesterday? I would have liked to be able to pull off a "bless your heart" with just the right tone of voice. I'll have to practice that.

So here's what I'm thinking, in no particular order:

a. Action. Komai women are women of action. We don't do so well when we don't have a plan and I for sure have a lot of trouble with uncertainty. Drives my brother-in-law crazy that I can't be spontaneous, but there it is. Mostly because when I am uncertain, my mind is constantly running through the various options, what steps I will have to take, and the various outcomes. It takes a lot of energy and is irritating because I know that most of it is wasted since most of those outcomes won't even happen. So, fine, now I know what the outcome of the election is. I can start to make the plan for the next steps. I installed the window yesterday, I have buttons to make. Safety pins to dig up. One last photocopy job for the copy shop guys just to make sure they know that I am undefeated. 

(p.s. Two people recommended "ghost them" and "don't give them any more of your money." After complaining that no one takes the high road from my "take what you need" signs, I decided to take the high road. Not only not send them the dinosaur print, not even send them a relentless love button. Practicing what you preach is always so hard. I sent my copies to the new copy shop. I do not need the last word in the "battle" with two copy shop guys. They can have that "win." When I picked up my copies, the new copy shop guy complimented me on my dinosaur print so that's high road for the win.)

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b. Connection. (you can skip if you read this on Facebook, but it is still part of my thoughts).  I REALLY did not want three Scott Walker wins to be good training for anything at all but I have learned a few things since 2011. Yes, horrible things are going to happen. In fact, there are going to be horrible things that you didn't even think about! So that really sucks. And even if thousands of you come out and protest, most likely, it will fall on deaf ears. EXCEPT for the ears of the people who are standing with you. And there are a lot of people standing with you. You have to be standing and you have to speaking to realize that people are standing and speaking with you, but they are there. Trust me. And all of this? It requires love, and it requires work, a lot of hard work. There are big forces in the world that feed on hate and fear and sorrow. They have always been with us. As an introvert, I would like to stay at home in my pajamas and just put Viggo's speech at the Black Gate on repeat. But that's exactly where those big forces do their work, when you are alone and disconnected and scared. As a store owner, as a citizen, as a Christian, I have been called out from my cozy nest. At times, it has been uncomfortable but I PROMISE that the reward was worth it. The connection, the love, the passion? it overwhelms the feeling that you can ease your pain if you just yell more or hate more or buy more or drink more. It shows you that the world is chock full of people who are following their passion, who are committed to what they love, who are working full out on their vision for this world and are doing so out of a grand sense of connection and love.

So, yes, the Scott Walkers of the world are going to continue to do bad things. I don't want to scare you, but they are going to do bad things you didn't even realize they could do. But your response cannot be to flee or to hide because those forces will just find you wherever you are. The only way to fight them is to join the fight wherever you are called: to shed light and love however you can, to call out injustice, to invite other people to find what they love, to challenge yourself in the ways you are complicit in a system that feeds on hate and sorrow and division. And when you join the fight, you will find that even though there are bad things you never even imagined, there is more power and love and connection than you could have ever imagined to fight this battle with you. And if you need numbers: I have been yelled at two times since 2011 and overheard disgusted mutters many times over that but we have sold 44,617 buttons and made at least triple that in connections to our community and customers. So the numbers are on the side of love.

c. Change. Have I ever told you about my death throes theory? I'm sure that I have. Here's the theory: there was a time in America's history when things were a particular way, great for some people, not so great for many other people. That time? it is in the past. It is dying or already dead. Like all times in the past, and we can't go back to it even though it looks nicer than it really was. I mean, do you really want to go back to a time when Spam was the greatest thing we had to offer? It's the old closing the barn door after the horse has fled or "that ain't no etch-a-sketch, this is one doodle can't be un-did" (that line from Juno keeps popping into my head). All that we have is moving forward, that's the only choice. So, imagine that time so far in the past and imagine that was the best time of your life, imagine that you feel that your entire life from then on has been on a steady downward slide, that there is nothing that is any better about now than what you had in the past, that all that was in the past is dead and that who you thought you were, where you thought your power and strength came from, is dying if not already dead. Sucks, right? And imagine that no one is providing you with the tools to adapt to the change, or the tools are being provided but they don't think they look like the way you thought tools should look. So, the death throes theory is that a particular way of life is dying. It is taking a while to die and the death throes are much more violent than I'd like them to be, there are people on the sidelines being struck out at but they are not really the true target. We just have to do the best we can to protect ourselves and to carry each other through these changing times. But death will come. We are not going back. We cannot go back.

d. Work. So much work to be done. It's exhausting. I know. But the more that I have learned, the more that I have seen that our American ideal of welcoming the poor, the tired, the huddled masses yearning to be free? We have a ways to go before we live up to that. Through all the ages, this country has received its immigrants with less graciousness than I would like, it has profited from the work of people without truly compensating them, it has manipulated people and it has marginalized people that don't look or act according to certain narrow expectations. The American ideal did not just fall on November 8th, it has always been rather tenuously maintained. And there are many people who have never really benefited from our "liberty and justice for all." They probably woke up on November 8th and thought, yep, just like I've been trying to tell you. I was already feeling so strongly that there is a lot of work ahead of us. Yes, it would have been easier with Hillary in the White House, yes, Donald Trump is probably going to create more work, but the work didn't suddenly appear this campaign season. In fact, if anything, what this campaign season has done (and the Obama years) has shed light on the work that needs to be done. Some of it, I'll be honest, I thought was already done. I am starting to awaken to the experience of African Americans in this country. It makes me sad and mad that we purport to hold people to certain standards of democracy and equality around the world when we are failing so miserably at it here. Over the course of this campaign, I have heard the stories that women share about casual and malicious invasions of their personhood, so many stories, stories that also make me sad and mad at this ongoing failure. But that doesn't change my feelings about the value of government and the value of pooling our resources to collectively create a better future, about our strength in our love and our ability to be good in the world, about the value of striving for our ideals. We just have to constantly push ourselves to broaden our circle. It starts with listening and connecting, crossing over lines and reaching for what brings us together instead of focusing on what divides us. And it gets going with work. It is big work about where you spend your time and your money, about being the world you want your children to inherit; it is little work about being ready to be an ally and an interrupter. When I woke up this morning, I was thinking about incidences of hate crimes that I hear on the rise. But you know, we have choices when we sit on a bus or when we are standing at a gas station or when we see someone vulnerable. I haven't quite figured out what my response is going to be. I am seriously considering adopting "bless your heart" as something to yell out. Or maybe just carrying around that box of questions for awkward single people to ask on first dates and be ready to start a conversation. Do you ignore people who are being hateful? Do you try to respond to them? Or do you just offer your presence and friendship for someone who is the target of hatred? How do you interrupt and diffuse a situation? When you've been in a situation where someone was bullying you, what would have been helpful? Someone yelling back at the bully? or someone just sitting by your side drawing your attention away from the bully? someone sitting down between you and the bully? I think we need to be more ready.

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e. Math. I just crunched the numbers for consolation. Pro: 59 million out of 318 million voted for Trump. That is NOT a majority of citizens over the age of 18. You can stop feeling sad or mad or bad about 50% of the people you see each day and knock that down to one in four, one in six if you want to include children. Con: Why is it so f*ing difficult to get people to vote? I know, the answer actually relates back to the previous paragraph. To the ideal of democracy vs. how this nation actually functions. Do you know I learned about women registering to vote for the very first time in their life? They were in their 30s and 40s! What does that say about our system that they have gone so long into their life without voting being demanded of them? And let's not even talk about all the ways the GOP has tried to obstruct the votes of African Americans or about people waiting HOURS in line to vote. In all my life of voting, I have never had to wait more than 30 minutes. Why is that not true for everyone? The reality is that a lot of people are trained to expect that their vote is meaningless, are discouraged in so many ways to even cast their vote and then it's a downward spiral between the system not working and no one demanding, via their vote, that change be made.

f. Gratitude. Oh. My. Goodness. Did you see all those people working their heart out on this campaign? I am in awe. Did you wake up feeling sad and then read all the posts on Facebook about people who were sad, but also mad and ready to stand up? Not just absorbed in what this means for them but thinking about the wider world. Perhaps feeling totally depressed or angry or sad, needing some time to grieve but also looking up and feeling committed. I am really so in love with everyone right now.

g. You know the song going through my head right now? "Everlasting Love." The Carl Carlton version if we must be honest. Except instead of "everlasting," "relentless." That's what I have to come back to. Because the other option? The other option is to be so overwhelmed with fear or sorrow or anger that you've forgotten what you love, what gets you out of bed in the morning, what propels you forward. The other option is to let your anger consume you so that you stop seeing what connects you to other people and you only see how you are divided. You stop seeing that you have choices to make. And then you become everything you are feeling sad or mad or bad about.

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collaging with Kelly Kilmer

Election night. Eek. Are you freaking out? The rest of the family is working the polls so I was left today to tend shop and commiserate with anyone who comes in and try to put on a cheerful face. But that's probably better than staying at home fretting. I certainly will be spending a lot of time getting consolation from Pantsuit Nation. Except the one drawback is that now I feel even more pressure now that I've read so many stories of all the different people around this country who are voting for Hillary and whose well-being depends on the outcome. We're not just talking sanity and ability to hold one's head up in the world, I mean whether or not they get to stay a family, whether or not their child gets health care. As I was saying, eek.

But probably enough has been said on the matter. I mean, I could have said more but I had this entire post written at 2 pm and when I went to hit save, the internet hung up on me and I lost it all. So, rewriting now in the evening, trying not to obsess about the early results coming in. Because what I really wanted to talk about was what motivates me as a citizen of this country and as a child of a creating God. At its core, really, is my belief that we are all children of a creating God, that we are all created in God's image and that we are precious and beloved and valued. That we all have amazing things to contribute to the world and that the world is better for all of us being in it, following our hearts and creating. And even if there is no external divine being, there is still the uniqueness that is each of us, and the constant creation and change from the moment we take a breath (and create carbon dioxide) to the moments we pick up whatever it is that we choose to do and make with our hands. For some, that is creating a home, for others that is gardens, meals, financial success for their clients, avenues for their students to grow and learn. Not to mention the knitting, crochet, the origami, paper collage, painting... I am thankful for all the creative endeavors!

Most recently, I am thankful for the opportunity that I finally gave myself to take a workshop, well, workshops (three days, four workshops) from Kelly Kilmer. Her workshops have long been on my bucket list mostly for the combination of image and text and paint that feels like it is right up my alley. I notice a lot of people painting nowadays and, frankly, I am really good at painting backgrounds but that is about it. What I've really wanted to do is create some collages with my own photographs and to work more on integrating collage images onto a page. Boy, did I get to work on that! I don't think I've had three solid days for such work in a long time - it was inspiring but also a little exhausting. I'll have to build up my stamina.

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So the first thing I should say about a Kelly Kilmer workshop is that she is not kidding when she says she doesn't pack light. Holy cow. I spent several weeks before the workshop, fretting over what to pack in my suitcase, dealing with insecurity over lack of an art journal, and so on and so forth. In the end, Kelly reassured me enough though I think next time I will just try to bring some collage image and leave the rest at home. Airport security took my deckle-edge ruler! Sad! At least they let me keep my bone folder. But, seriously, Kelly had zillions of stencils, markers, washi tape, collage images, stamps, you name it. I felt very spoiled. I didn't even need to bring an art journal to work in as we ended up making three! yes, three! books to work in.

 

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Here are a few progressions of pages from early stages to more or less done. I realize that many people might have stopped earlier and that there is something to be said for white space, but I am pretty much incapable of leaving it. I really wanted to focus on everything that Kelly was teaching us but I'm also looking forward to melding this with some of the other techniques I have learned over the years from other instructors. I'm particularly thinking of random marks making with sumi ink. Something to explore. Also, I was trying not to think too much and just focus on being present and in the process, but I am hoping eventually that some Madison related collages will come out of this. With that in mind, I tried to put a Madison photo in every single collage. But sometimes it didn't make it through to the end. I decided to let that part go and not be so focused on creating product for the store, which is certainly so much of my focus otherwise.

 

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I really liked this guy and the collage as it started to shape up. Sometimes we had a journal prompt to think about from the very beginning of the page but in this case, Kelly gave us the journal prompt towards the end. It was something like "what are you sorry about?"  Well, this guy didn't really look like he was sorry about anything so my text was pretty unapologetic. 

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Here's the start of another collage. I found it really interesting to play back and forth with focal and background images. I think my collages are so typically either flat (no difference between focal and background) or background with a single foreground. In this case, we ended up putting some focal images down early - what with paint and more collage and stencil, sometimes new focal points emerged or focal points ended up more integrated with backdrops.

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Another picture from early in the process compared to the end. Oh my goodness, I love using stencils.

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Here's a mostly finished page: my parents and my sister on the left, me on the right: 

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and another mostly finished, with my mom's adopted parents on the right: 

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and one more from the beginning:

 

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These are the pages that are still works in progress. On the right-hand side, a two-page spread that started with a journal prompt about serenity. That might be what I go home and work on for the rest of the night.  

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And the journal we created on the third day with various painting techniques, and stencils of course.  

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 and a two-page spread from the painted journal. Not quite sure where this collage is going. It still needs work.

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So, there you go: three wonderful days with an awesome teacher in an inspiring studio in California. I have plans to finish the pages in the three books that we created, plus an idea about a deck of cards with collaged images... Not to mention the Madison/Wisconsin projects I hope to work on. I should really schedule some time for myself. 

So, deep breath. Long night ahead of us. I hope after all of this is said and done we can still focus on the gifts that each one of us can bring to the world and our gratitude for what others bring to us and what their creative energy does in our world.


making buttons. again.

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Weird. I feel like I've been here before. Except this time the anxiety is about the entire nation and not just my state. It didn't end so well last time (Walker's re-election) (or the two times before that). Fourth time is a charm? And yes, I know. I've been absent from here for a while. I didn't even say anything to you after I got back from California! Eek. That trip was amazing. I am super inspired about art projects and techniques. I will fill you in shortly. Also, on recent arrivals. But let me just tell you, that nasty woman comment that Trump made during the last debate? It REALLY hit a sore spot. With a lot of people. And so, what I have been up to since October 19th? Making buttons.

I am quite tickled at the number of women, of all ages, who walk into the store looking as if they are on a mission. I'm pretty sure they are responding to Sachi's "Nasty Women buttons" sandwich board but haven't quite figured out a graceful way to say "you must be looking for nasty woman buttons."

It's like the days of the protest all over again, people surrounding the button table laughing over buttons, commiserating over family members and coworkers, not to mention Donald Trump himself. And now, just two days to go. I'm alternating between freaking out, trying to be calm so that I can be comforting to other people, reminding myself of all the work that has to be done anyway, while trying not to think too much about all the work that will have to be done should the White House become invaded by Republicans. Because, I tell you, it happened to the Governor's mansion here in Wisconsin and it ain't pretty (and even though Donald Trump is such a horrible little person with a little mind and a little heart, I have to say that the current crop of Republicans hasn't impressed me much either. ahem, Paul Ryan). 

 

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But anyway, it's hard to look up and think about other things. I'm mostly preoccupied with trying to figure out what window to install on November 9th and how many photocopies to make for new buttons. We will have sold close to 3000 in less than a month by the time Tuesday rolls around. I am grateful for Emily in Texas who provided us with a new infusion of button-making energy and has been tremendously creative and a source of great entertainment for our button table. Her many buttons have been quite a hit. I can't tell what the copy shop guys thought about the "Pussy Grabs Back" button. "Nasty Women Vote" is a simple and popular option as well. Emily even inspired us to do a little hand-lettering ourselves. Sachi made a great Russ button and I have a few other variations on the nasty woman theme. We are thinking also about new hand-lettered buttons for future series. Maybe some Wisco buttons?

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We had quite a buzz of excitement on Friday when Joe Biden was next door at the Orpheum. No, he didn't come to the shop. But it seems like everyone who went to hear him speak came and got their Nasty Woman buttons afterwards. We were swamped! But it was a lively crowd with amazing energy and a good way to kick off the last weekend of getting out the vote in all the different ways that people are working.  And also, someone invited me into the Pantsuit Nation group on Facebook and it is so wonderful! Inspiring, liable to make you tear up, a wonderful reminder of all that we are working towards and all the people working with us in this nation. It came along at a perfect moment and is making these last few days bearable.

Sachi and Mom are both working the polls on election day, and Mom has also been busy volunteering at the library helping the early voters. I'm in awe of the stories of people waiting in line for hours to cast their vote. Though also frustrated - doesn't it seem like we are a resourceful nation who could arrange things so that it only took every person no more than 30 minutes to vote? Why is that so hard? I feel incredibly fortunate that the City of Madison has dedicated itself to the voting process and expanded early voting this year. It took me about 10 minutes door-to-door, slightly less than my usual average of 20 minutes. Though I usually like to get my number on the day of, I was getting really stressed out about being hit by a car or something on election day and being unable to cast my ballot. Amidst all the other stress, it was nice to have already cast my vote. Anyway, apologies for not staying in touch. I will be back with pictures of my collages and trip to California, pictures of new arrivals to the store and shortly after that, the holiday window debut. Because, yes, it is time to think about Christmas.

I hope that everyone is remembering to take deep breaths, hug some little ones close to you, maybe work on some art projects - do whatever you have to do to make it through these last days of the worst election season I've ever known. Let's all work for good things on Tuesday, and liberty and justice for all ever after.

 

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