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This is my first week’s homework assignment from Hospice Bereavement. I wrote a letter to ‘someone’ who hadn’t heard the story yet. Homework is not required, but I really want to do the work. I can say this has really helped.
Dear Ann, March 4, 2014
I wanted to give you an update of where I am these days. As you know already, my uncle Ken recently died. It has hit me harder than I expected because it carries the weight of my earlier experiences with loss. My uncle was sick and had been for years, but healthy enough to keep enjoying his life. He was an amazing man. I learned so much from him and I wished I had told him that. It wasn’t a total surprise that he was back in the hospital. However, I was not prepared to hear that he had died or for the deep feelings that his death has brought up. Years ago, after my father died, my uncle was a role model for me. Now, through my uncle’s death I am revisiting my father’s once again. It’s a gift and I am very grateful for this as it was a very complicated time for my family. I am also in a new place and my grief has shifted. I am progressing.
My father died in a car accident when I was 9 years old in 1977. He was driving home from work late one January night. He owned a restaurant in a nearby community. Another car swerved into his lane smashing into him and just like that, he was ripped from our lives. We had recently moved to Binghamton, New York. Family from NYC area and Philadelphia traveled to us, but they too were still grieving. Earlier that year my paternal grandfather had died. I didn’t really know him that well. Then a few months later my Mom’s brother, my Uncle Bill died in a motorcycle accident; that death was little closer to home. I didn’t go to either funeral. I guess that was common in my family. So when my father died, both sides of my family were beyond themselves with grief. To me, as a 9 year old, people were ‘disappearing’ rapidly. My Mom did her best to survive it. I know her parents stayed with us for a while. There was a discussion between my grandmother and Mother about me and it was decided that I should not go to the funeral. My grandmother felt it would scar me because of her early experiences. I believe the opposite is true. My entire school went to my father’s funeral and I didn’t. There are so many things that anger me about this and I believe this is the start of my lifelong issue/fascination with death, dying, and dead people. Maybe not, maybe it was just my path to travel. The night of the funeral I had spent with a friend and in the morning, my family was gone. I couldn’t believe that I was left behind. As a 9 year old I had this vague notion that I was on my own with this. Now years later, I see that I was abandoned emotionally during a time when I needed my family more than ever. I know that it came from a place of love and protection, but that doesn’t change the feeling any. My mom told me years later that she just didn’t know how to hang onto all 3 of us kids. I was the youngest and I was the one chosen to be left out, set adrift if you will. After losing my grandfather, my uncle and father, I also lost a lot of my mother. She was there physically, but emotionally preoccupied with her loss. I don’t blame her, she was hit hard. I have feelings around all of this, but I love her so much and feel for her pain too. We rarely spoke of my father. I think she was trying so hard to be strong for us that she forgot to show us how to be weak. Maybe it was me, maybe I just didn’t want to upset her or see her cry. Every once in a while she might mention him and to this day she still grieves that loss. Through all of this I learned how to ignore the pain, stuff it, and not let it show. I learned how to not talk about difficult emotions to protect the feelings of others. The last few years I have been unlearning this because I can see how destructive it is. Difficult emotions don’t go away. They bury themselves inside your bones, muscles and tendons and they wait. They wait for the chance to ‘speak up’. They hit you on an emotional level every time you experience a similar event. They are that gnawing in your stomach or the ache in your shoulders or quite possibly, the cancer in your throat. Those feelings need to come out. If there is no safe place for expression they’ll come out sideways and wreak havoc in your lives. I never really had that safe place or if I did, I didn’t recognize it. No one ever says “it’s OK to be vulnerable’. There is a misplaced emphasis on ‘being strong’. My marriage played out this theme perfectly. I think many of us have no safe place. I think many of us don’t know how to provide a safe place. Our society is wired for production and go, go, go and little respect is given to reflection. I’d like to see this change. I’d like to BE this change. I AM this change. I carried my pain for 30 plus years, medicated with drugs and alcohol so I wouldn’t feel it. Are you carrying pain? Most of us are. There is no shame in that.
I’ve had a lot of death in my life. Some pretty gruesome, most were accidental; almost all of them were sudden. Each time I stuffed the emotion. I’d cry sure, but never allowed the grief to fully own me. It wasn’t until I was divorced 8 years ago and entered grad school (Goddard College) that I finally found a safe place to feel my grief and express it through writing, art and performance. I didn’t plan it. It was like it had exploded out of me and it was too big to ignore. In fact, I really didn’t want it. I tried to distance myself, but it was too strong. I studied every aspect of grief, cultural, historical, and psychological using my own as a springboard for learning. I’ve done a lot of work through the years. I’ve done talk therapy, EMDR, dream analysis, mediation, trauma yoga, Reiki, massage, Art, poetry, journaling, performance, physical labor, exercise and it all helps, but the grief is still there. It will probably always be there. Now I’m actually trying to allow it. I am actually trying to feel it and give it the room that it needs. I figure that I can share my life with it in a more healthy way. I can see that it doesn’t just go away if I ignore it. People will continue die and I will always miss them terribly. I can keep my grief right next to my love for them, all mixed up. I can smile and cry at the same time because these people who have died are the most amazing people you have ever met and I love them all! And so I am going to my hospice bereavement group and I am going to cry my eyes out to express and to share the loss that I feel. I can’t do this at home all alone. I need to feel connected to real humans. It is my safe space. It is the place where they will not judge me for ‘still’ crying about this. It’s the place where I can learn how to not judge myself for crying. Just the very fact that I am telling you this story, speaking out loud about my pain and showing my tears to you, all of this is hard won. Many people can’t hear it because it brings up their own buried pain. I know it’s not comfortable, but I truly need you here to listen. And I thank you tremendously for being here for me. If I can release the pressure valve even a little it will help. Everyone grieves differently. Personally, I need people to see me, to listen, to witness my grief. There is no wrong way to do it. Thank you for allowing me to grieve in this complicated way without the judgments or the unkind or thoughtless remarks. The world can be a safe space for all of us, but it starts with us. Thank you for holding a space for me to do this work. Many blessings to you.
Doing this exercise was very powerful for me. Thank you, Hospice, for the work that you are doing. Uncle Ken, Thank you for this gift you have given me, the ability to sit with my pain so that I can sit with others. Mom, you know how much I love you, and you did exactly what you were supposed to. I am here to learn this lesson and I am ever grateful for all of it. I love you!
* I know many of you are grieving too. Maybe you’d want to try this exercise too. You don’t have to blog it or show it to anyone. You don’t have to go to a group. Sometimes the pain is just too overwhelming. I just hope you can give yourself the space to feel it, but only as much as you can handle. I’ll keep sharing my homework if you find it helps. Let me know. Much love!
Here you are again, my old friend. Can I even call you a friend? The truth is that it’s never really good to see you. I’m sure that you know that. There were so many years when I locked you out, ignored your calls, and left you standing out in the cold. I didn’t know what to do with you. Well, not this time. This time I know that the sooner I let you in, the sooner your incessant knocking will quiet down. This time I’ve opened the door wide, I’ve made room for you at my table and I will sit and talk with you for hours, for days, weeks, whatever it takes to honor these feelings. I have a very heavy heart. The tears have come and I say let them flow. Let them pour out of me because the more I can let out the sooner my heart will begin to feel lightness again. I will make friends with you so that I can move forward.
My head certainly knows that everyone around me will die eventually. My head knows that the deceased are no longer suffering. My head knows that grieving is the work of the living. It’s my heart. It aches with pain and no matter what I tell myself my heart seems to need the time and space to grieve. I don’t know if that’s because I experienced the loss early and the pain I feel is through the lens of a 9 year old. It’s sharp. For me it’s a very physical experience. They say that each death reminds you of all the others. This latest death, the death of my uncle is bringing up the pain of losing my father suddenly as a child. My uncle was one of my few male role models and he took an interest in me. He gave me a job when I first arrived in Maine and was very much a surrogate father. I am very grateful for having him in my life. He taught me many of the skills that I use today. We haven’t been close over the last decade, but his impact on my life was great. He had a small plane and would take me up in it and we would fly over the hills and valleys of upstate New York. In life he taught me how to fly. In death he is teaching me how to be grounded and how to accept grief into my heart.
Some of you know that I work with Hospice. After going through grad school and acknowledging the unattended grief and loss from my early years and its impact on me I found a new way to give back; the wounded healer archetype at work. I was all set to begin working with a new general loss group on Tuesday. I would be mentoring under some of the other experienced facilitators. It now looks like that isn’t going to happen. This loss is too fresh and I wouldn’t be able to be there for the others. I’m disappointed, but I am considering going though the course as a member of the group. The more I can work though my own grief, the more I can help others and the more I help others with their grief, the more I work on my own.
My heart goes out to so many of you who are sitting with grief, friends and family, especially my cousins, Mary, Jen, Gordon and Dave, and their kids. I hope you all find the space to honor your loss and the safety in which to express your feelings. If you haven’t found it you might consider checking your nearest Hospice Bereavement Center. We heal each other when grief comes calling and grief is one of those friends, like it or not, that just keeps on calling. Eventually we all have to answer. Blessings.
Students have been working hard for the past 8 weeks in Earth Science, Math, Humanities and Ceramic Sculpture and now they’d like to show you what they’ve learned. Educators Emily Gribben, Ana Rothschild, Derek Veilleux, Dylan Engler, Brenda Poulin, and Nick Balfour have graciously allowed me to come into their classrooms and use clay to explore and expand the curriculum. The hope was that students would engage and deepen their understanding of the world around them.
In Humanities classes we researched Native American culture by creating coil pots using local clay, decorating with colored clay slips, burnishing and firing our pots on campus in a fire pit that we built ourselves. In Math class we studied artists such as MC Escher and Gaudi to create Tessellations and then created our very own tile wall piece that will grace the hallways of Means for years. In Earth Science we located clay on campus and dug soil samples, testing those for shrinkage, absorption and plasticity. We mixed 100 lbs. of local clay for future use as well as created tiles using geological formations as our inspiration. In Ceramic Sculpture we studied contemporary ceramic artists such as Valera Baytsa, a Russian Ceramicist and concepts such as texture, space, design, and more. To see more about each class please visit older posts.
We will be exhibiting our work and showing our powerpoint presentations in the cafeteria at 10 am on Thursday December 5th on the Good Will-Hinckley Campus. We’ll be sharing what we’ve learned with the Cornville Charter School 5th- 7th graders and we are also welcoming the parents, administrators, and the public to see what we’ve been up to and listen to what we’ve discovered. We hope that you will join us and celebrate our success. If you’d like more information please contact me, Malley Weber at email@example.com
If you’d like to know more about MeANS and Good Will-Hinckley please visit www.gwh.org
MeANS Week 5/6 of Integrating Ceramic Arts
Thanks for checking back on our progress. As you may know this is a 6-8 week interdisciplinary art class. We are integrating ceramic Arts into Math, Science, and the Humanities curriculum and will be presenting our work to some younger students in either late November or early December. The public is welcome to attend and details will be provided at a later date.
By far the most natural combination for me is working in the Earth Science class. We also get a 2 hour time block and that really helps! As ceramic artists we are taught to use different compounds and elements in our clays and glazes. When I was learning about geology and using local resources I was driven by the practical use and need for what I was learning. So when Emily Gribbens and I were planning this week’s lesson we knew that we wanted
the kids to mix up the soil samples that we found earlier on campus and create a usable batch of clay. This way the kids would have the knowledge to recreate this experience if needed. It also gave them a chance to get their hands dirty and understand a little more about types of clays and why we use them in a very ‘hands on’ way. Understanding soil composition, geology, and sources of materials can help them in any number of sustainable occupations. The added bonus was a review of percentages and ratios as we discussed our clay body recipe. I’d say that they were truly engaged in this messy lesson! Once we had finished mixing the clay and it sat for a week we were able to create tiles. The tiles we made were representations of Maine’s geological formations. Students created glaciers, land formations such as eskers,
kettles, drumlins and kames, present day ocean levels and levels from 12,000 years ago. We covered 2-d design elements as they created them using colored (artist created!) maps from Maine’s Geological Survey. They also prepared for their presentation creating poster boards and photos of clay digging and mixing.
In Ceramic Sculpture we continued our exploration of slabs and coil construction. Some students reviewed and critiqued earlier attempts and recreated stronger more viable
structures. Others explored textures, carving, sprigging and stamping techniques. We worked on figure, shape, design, textures, gesture and form. We reviewed some design elements and principles. We now have posters hanging on our ‘clay art’ room walls and will do more research of other artists in the following 3 weeks. Students are preparing themselves for a presentation of their work. During which we will discuss setting up a show and the way in which objects can communicate. The work varies greatly in this class from very accomplished to beginner and is a good representation of the student body at MeANS. Some students have never touched clay or had access to art classes of any kind and others have a great interest and have built up skills over the years. Despite these differences the class works well together and supports and each others progress. We all agreed that ceramic sculpture class could last all day long and that would be fine with us. There is a nice harmony in the room as we work together. It offers a quiet reflective time in our busy day and as artists we need space to foster our creativity.
In Math class we worked on color choices and patterns of coloring for our tile tessellation
project. We discussed mathematically working out our design as opposed to eyeballing it and the benefit of working out designs on paper before committing to colors on tiles. We explored what happens when you flip shapes and how difficult it is to create a tessellating design with complex structures. Students learned terms such as ‘bone dry’, glaze, and under-glazes as they painted each individual soon to be fired tile. This has been a favorite project among students and is sure to draw attention when it is grouted and hanging in the school.
We made each tile individually from a template that we created. We measured, drew sketches, played with all types of shapes and tessellating patterns
until we came up with our final design on the left. We had to make some choices as a group and fit all of this into a 20 x 20 square. We had to account for clay shrinkage and grout lines as well as make it visually appealing. All the while being mindful of the math standards we were meeting. This was a very challenging project and the kids were engaged and interested. Some of them even stayed behind during a lunch period to help finish when it ran later than expected. I know they are anxious to see it finished and will be proud when it is hanging in the hall.
In Humanities we completed decorating our coil vessels with a refined white colored slip (Terra Sigilatta). We also made a red slip from the clay that was found on campus and students added the red (green before firing) slip designs onto their painted white pots. We learned about burnishing to make the white slip polish and students looked at Pueblo Pottery for design inspiration. Students made many geometrical patterns and designs accenting the shapes of their vessels. We truly worked as a community with no one pot being made by any one person. We shared coiling, designing, painting, burnishing and the firing process. Even the kiln building was a group effort. We fired our vessels in our fire pit kiln that we made a few weeks ago. You can see us loading and unloading our pots. This is one of the most memorable and exciting parts of the project. There was no guarantee that our work would survive this process. We loaded saw dust and wood shavings, dried wood scraps, newspapers, and wood that we found in the surrounding area along with our pots into the fire pit. We lit the fire then continued feeding the fire until we had a good build up of coals.
We covered the fire partially to keep as much heat in as possible and continued to feed so that the temperature would continue to
rise slowly. After a few hours, we covered the pit entirely so that the pots would continue to fire throughout the night and then slowly cool. The next day we unloaded the kiln. Students were excited as we had no idea what might have happened during the firing. We could have had breakage, pots damaged from the heat or from the weight of the wood. Any type of firing is risky, this kind is exceptionally risky for breakage, not reaching temperature and uneven temperatures throughout the kiln. We were pleasantly surprised to find that damage was minimal and the areas where the white slip was burnished and subjected to the carbon build-up had turned a deep shiny black. All of the pots had a smoky finish with the designs painted below coming through. As Emanuel Pariser, the director of curriculum and instruction, put it ‘These look like dream objects’. Indeed they do, they also represent a way of learning about ancient cultures and bringing that education to life. These students will also be preparing for their presentations and writing about their experiences.
Again, I can’t thank the Maine Arts Commission enough or MeANS for allowing me to come in and work with the kids. I am already searching for the funds to do this for a longer period of time next year. If you are interested in supporting more of this type of education please let me or the school know. firstname.lastname@example.org or www.gwh.org
CERAMIC SCULPTURE Week 2 . We got a late start with this class because students needed to apply and be approved to be enrolled. I wish we had enough room and time for everyone to participate. This week we expanded our previous work with soft slabs based on the work of Valera Baytsa a Russian Ceramic Artist whom we researched last class. Baytsa investigates community and relationships with very simple strong figurative sculptures using textures, gesture, line, space, shape, volume and mass. After looking at the slides the kids couldn’t wait to get their hands in the clay. The techniques we are employing are slab construction, slipping, scoring, rolling coil reinforcements, relief, stamping and sprigging.
EARTH SCIENCE Week 3
This week we took the soil (clay) samples we gathered previously and started our testing process. We weighed out 100 grams of each sample that had dried out and the added water until the clay had a workable consistency or ‘plasticity’. We recorded how much water was required and then made shrinkage bars with each sample. We recorded our observations. Students learned how to use the gram scale, keep accurate records and measurements.
MATH AND GEOMETRY Week 4. Students worked diligently on finishing the remaining tiles for our project. We recognized the value of precision and craftsmanship in creating hand-made work so that it would fit in our mathematical plane. We solved problems when the edges of our tessellation needed to terminate and be cropped. Group decisions were made about the addition or need for a border and we will continue to make adjustments where necessary consulting principals and elements of design. We began the discussion about color and the optical changes that may make to our plane. We had the good fortune to be able to work outside on the picnic tables and enjoy the fresh air.
SOCIAL STUDIES AND HUMANITIES Week 4
This week we prepared a pit for our firing experience. Students dug a hole approximately 18” deep and 3 ft wide. The location we chose
was in a small clearing near the Museum and greenhouses. We chose that location because of the proximity to water(future) and it’s clear but protected space. Weather and wind play a major consideration when planning a firing. We needed to minimize risk and maximize safety. Because of the location near the trail system and the LC Bates Museum students will create a placard that describes the educational and historical experience of pit firing vessels made using traditional methods. Our kiln was fortified with recycled insulated firebrick (not traditional) but effective in keeping heat in and supporting the walls of our pit for future firings. During last week’s class we watched a video of Maria Martinez using recycled metal school lunch trays to hold the heat in her pit firing and decided that recycling useful materials was sustainable practice and would be an acceptable adaptation.
During Activity period students are given a chance to help with other tasks pertaining to processing and firing our local clay. There is a lot of busy preparation work that goes along with this kind of sustainable artistic practice. Over the last few gorgeous weeks we’ve been drying clay on the side porch. On this day we finished crushing the particles as small as we could get them so that we can mix some dry materials and then slake down with water to create our first batch of usable Good Will-Hinckley/MeANS campus clay.
The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences is working to Integrate Ceramic Arts into the Math, Earth Science, and Humanities classes. This work is made possible by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission http://www.mainearts.gov and is a collaboration of the educators on staff and me, Malley Weber, a ceramic artist and instructor specializing in sustainable ceramic art practices.
This week in Earth Science class we headed out into the field. Emily Gribbs, the Earth Science instructor, has been working with the class on geological formations. After learning how glaciers helped form our environment and create clay we looked at the campus with an eye for finding clay deposits. We noticed the sways and dips in the landscape and imagined how clay might settle into low sections. We thought about ponds and what holds the water in a pond. After locating our first dig sight we found clay about 2 feet beneath the layer of topsoil. We measured out a small section and began mapping the depth of clay for about 20 different locations. We took turns recording information, digging and bagging clay samples which we will test over the next weeks for plasticity, shrinkage, and absorption.
In Humanities with instructor Ana Rothschild, we collectively created large coil vessels using age old techniques and a community minded approach. We will continue our exploration of Native American life pushing westward and incorporating slip decorating techniques on our coiled vessels and will be firing our work in a primitive kiln.
In Math class with Brenda Poulin, we focused in on our design as well as measured out section of our board. We discussed the area of the square and how to fit our design into a tessellating tile pattern while maintaining our borders. Accurate measuring, shrinkage calculation, and artistic design are woven into this challenging project. Students are learning the importance of good craftsmanship and why math matters.
During activity period some volunteer students helped harvest clays to be dried, sieved, and processed by hand. The hope is that we
can find enough usable clay on campus to make the rest of our ceramic art projects
over the winter. We are working on not taking more than we need and respecting our environment in the process while learning how art, science, math, and humans intersect.