art journal tricks, journaling + mail art, philosophy

Out with the old…

planting broken and bent needles in a bed of soft tofu

“All the things have their own soul.”

From a combination of aspects of Buddhism and Japan’s traditional Shinto religion comes the belief that both living and inanimate objects have a spirit and soul.

The idea is that objects that have had a hard life can, having reached their 100th birthday, awaken to life and acquire souls. These monsters or “artefact spirits” are called tsukumogami, and are largely considered harmless, though many of them can band together and turn into a dangerous mob when they reflect upon how badly they have been treated after so much hard work and loyal service. They then set out to punish people who are wasteful, ungrateful, or who throw their tools away thoughtlessly. Wikipedia has a list of “known tsukumogami” that includes a “possessed tea kettle”, an angry-looking “animated umbrella”, and “A furry creature formed from the stirrup of a mounted military commander that works for Yama Orochi.”


To prevent any of this from happening, Jinja ceremonies, such as the hari-kuyou, are performed in Shinto shrines of Japan. Kuyou are usually held for the spirits of dead people, but have also been held for things such as toys, weapons, and tools that were used for a long time and have been broken or rendered useless.

The hari-kuyou is a memorial service specifically for old sewing needles (hari) and pins. Prayers are offered to console the bent and broken needles. Each year, on February 8th, broken or damaged sewing needles are stuck into slabs of soft tofu or jelly—sort of as a reward after years of being pushed through tougher material—and these are offered to a Shinto shrine (or taken home and buried, with salt, in the garden). No needlework is done on this day, to give one’s needles a holiday of sorts. This ceremony still brings needleworkers and women together, today; in addition to the original purpose of consoling and thanking their tools, women are urged to take some time to console themselves, as well, and bury secrets too personal to reveal.

An old journal is a somewhat different matter…

Unlike broken needles and tattered umbrellas that have become useless, I think a journal becomes more valued and important with time. It is, after all, time and the act of writing in it regularly that transforms an empty book into a treasured record of life, and an heirloom for future generations. Not so much a useless corpse, your journal is more like your amazing hundred-year-old great-grandmother. She’s been a force of nature for over a century, and what she could really use right now is a cozy, everything-taken-care-of, bells-and-whistles retirement.

A home.

With this in mind, I think that a nice way to retire your used-up journal is by making it a special container of its own to live in…buy a decorative box that fits the book well, or try your hand at making a clamshell (or any of the other boxes bookbinders use to house precious volumes). If you can use archival, acid-free materials, so much the better…preserve your journal for your descendants, if you’re at all into that sort of thing.

A book box too bulky for you? If you’re one of those people that goes through 6 journals a year, perhaps a wooden chest or trunk to store them all in would be better. Or how about wrapping it in a knotted silk scarf, or stitching a simple calico bag with drawstring closure? Just something to keep the bugs from eating the paint off the pages, to confer some dignity on it, and keep it clean.

Any last words?

There’s not much point doing lots more writing in this journal—you probably don’t have any space left to write in, or (like me) your heart is already set on starting the next journal—but if writing a good closure makes you feel better, here are a few things you can use those last pages for:

  • An index…this doesn’t have to be a tedious page-by-page account of what’s in the journal, but you could write down major events and other things you’re likely to need someday (Ex. “Trip to Penang, p. 56-97”, “Peter’s death, pp.48”, or “Sabi’s roti paratha recipe, p.11”) My own journals only feature a practical list of schematic diagrams or design plans for book binding, so I can find them quickly without having to read through all the pages of blah-blah-blah. Which is why I still can’t remember the exact date of Peter’s death…

“Don’t talk about the things you care deeply, or feel intensely, about to every friendly stranger or fair-weather acquaintance. 1) Their insensitive questions or frivolous reactions may hurt, 2) your attempt to put the intangible into mere words will cheapen it, and 3) exchanging confidences in order to “win friends and influence people” is despicable.”

  • Finally, it might be nice to write a short paragraph at the very end, thanking the journal for the time it has served you and the ways it has helped you.

I can’t wait to see this. I love Noam Chomsky, and Gondry’s animated film/documentary of a conversation with him is the sort of thing that I can watch once, and will feed off of its inspiration for the next 5 years. There are too few films that do this for me, these days.

found via Booooooom!

life, philosophy

The world, breaking its own heart.

 A man beat from a bunch of men in the city center. Athens, Greece 2012 Photograph by ENRI CANAJ

A man beaten by a bunch of men in the city center. Athens, Greece 2012 Photograph by ENRI CANAJ

Portrait of the world, breaking its own heart. Again and again and again and again.

Poring over some haunting photo journalism by photographer Enri Canaj, following a link that a friend shared.

Sobering. I almost titled this post”A wake-up call”; but, to be honest, I believe it may be too late for that.

A eulogy, then.

During the election in Greece. The Golden Dawn members which today are deputies in the Greek parliament. Athens, Greece 2012 Photos by Enri Canaj

We are so cruel to each other.

We are sloppy sacks of misery and intolerance and hate. So fearful of what we don’t understand. So quick to condemn, so slow to show compassion.

So alienated from the spirit of the universe that we have had to invent our own gods and tell ourselves stories about being chosen, righteous, better than, saved.

Scrunched up all the time…like fists, like cramps, like wads of worthless paper thrown together, on a planet that is increasingly like a compost heap.

We chase entertainment and material goods as though they were of lasting pleasure and importance…loathe to admit that their effects live only briefly…the flare of a matchstick, and then gone again, leaving us in the dark once more.

Even the most wealthy, the most beautiful, the most famous, the most powerful among us seem to hover always on the brink of hysteria, anger, despair, madness.

We think ourselves superior to animals, but the most ordinary earthworm is happier than any of us, knows its place and purpose better, and is more assured of grace.

Humanity. Our viciousness and ugliness and stupidity…


So let’s get it over with, then…the sooner we’re all out of the way, the better we’ll all feel.

And here’s a funny thing: I don’t feel like discussing this with some online Pollyanna, so I won’t.


Mr X Stitch screenshot

Holy crap, cocoaeyesthestitcher works fast! She asked me a handful of questions for the Mr X Stitch blog last month, and I think I only sent her my answers to the last couple of questions on Saturday night.

Browsing my feed reader tonight, I did a double-take to see that the interview was up and live already.

To be featured by the totally hardcore, cutting-edge, crest of the wave, stuff-of-the-moment embroidery website Mr X Stitch is a HUGE honor…it’s like acceptance and acknowledgement by every über embroiderer on the internet. I am flushed with pride.

Olisa, in particular, is a marvelous interviewer in that, before she threw me any questions, she first took the time to actually look at my work and read my blog. It is wonderful that she is also a perceptive museum goer and reviewer who can actually discuss craft and making critically and theoretically. I can’t begin to tell you how refreshing it was to be asked questions relevant to my own work, and not just a handful of pre-made questions that run roughshod over my own practice and ideas like a steamroller, mashing everything I say to fit into a limited and ignorant set of misconceptions. A sensitive and intelligent correspondent, she was, and the fact that she is an über embroiderer, herself, made it so easy to communicate ideas.

She was also very patient with me, as I think I rambled on for waaaay too long!

I will forever be grateful to her for the attention she paid to my answers, and the care she took to craft the follow-up questions. Pure gold.

Un abrazo grande y fuerte (como un oso!), Señorita Olisa. Mwah!

Inspired to Stitch – Nat Uhing.

blogging, blogs and sites, embroidery and textiles, philosophy

Oh, wait, what? Woohoo!

music + film, philosophy

To your craft, be true…

Sharing this, because it cheered me up just now. I needed cheering up because I just watched a few (TV?) episodes of Martha Stewart “learning bookbinding” from some poor little intimidated bookbinder—who obviously agreed to work with the old bag because he couldn’t say no to the dough—and it depressed me so much…

He wasn’t explaining the principles behind anything he did (you would never really learn to bind a book by watching him), he rushed through everything, he simplified or parsed the process to the point of actually allowing bad practices to pass and doing things that bookbinders would never do…in other words, he betrayed his craft to abide by a miserly thirty-minute slot and to make some frump with her own television show look good.

And I watched her, making her own book as he made his, and you know what? She was heedless, careless, and clumsy. Even with everything prepared and pre-made for her, she slapped her book together so that it was crooked, and sticky with glue where no glue should have been. Seriously, all these years of Martha Stewart Living, and a public image that actually presents her as some kind of crafting master, and she can’t work neatly with a bit of PVA glue? Martha Stewart makes herself look good by paying other, skilled, people to make beautiful things for her, but seems, herself, to be a complete schlub. A lummox. No feel for the craft, no intelligence in her hands. Sausage fingers and the onscreen charm of a bulldozer.

She didn’t give a shit about book binding. The whole objective was to take an old and venerable craft—guild apprenticeships used to last 7 years—and render it down for material that could be used to plug up a thirty-minute crack in her program.

books + poetry, philosophy


Catch 22

The first thing I thought of when I heard about the man called Snowden, currently running from the heavy-handed arm of paranoid U.S. law, was this:

Yossarian was cold, too, and shivering uncontrollably. He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all.

It gave me goosebumps.

Literature has been an oracle all along:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Maybe we should have paid better to attention to what our writers/seers were trying to tell us, from Yeats to Orwell and Heller.

This one’s creepy, too:

“Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.”

art + design, Exhibits, Inspirations, my friends, philosophy

Chati Coronel’s UnPortraits


O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.
Salutation, Ezra Pound

Chati Coronel recently opened an exhibition of new paintings, entitled UnPortraits, at Silverlens Galleries in Manila. The large works were inspired by a compassion meditation from the Dalai Lama. In the meditation (and in Chati’s paintings) we are invited to zoom in on details of another person’s body in order to appreciate the things that we have in common with each other, as opposed to looking for the things that make us different and set us apart from other people.

Individuality is such a sacred cow these days that few people would even think to question the ever-present advice—on television, in self-help books, on lifestyle websites and at workshops and seminars for personal development and growth—that urges them to be unique, to emphasize their singularities, to stand out (and away) from others. This obsession with one’s Self is part of the cult of the ego, the offspring of Western philosophies that valued the clever intricacies of mind over the simple honesty of heart and soul. The ego is a fire that gets hungrier as you feed it; it can blaze up and out of control, laying waste to everything around it, and still never feel satisfied. Feeding the ego will help you stand out, but whatever rewards the ego manages to attain seem to lose their lustre very quickly, and the happiness and contentment you thought would come with reaching these goals will always seem to lie just beyond the next mountain. It’s like navigating through life using mirages as landmarks.

The cult of the ego has spread and rules most of the world, now. It has become dignified, respectable, sacrosanct. Whole industries are devoted to it, and if there is a problem or a feeling of lack in our lives it is suggested that we aren’t pampering our Selves enough, aren’t getting enough Me time, aren’t celebrating our own special and unique qualities enough, aren’t doing what we love or aren’t buying ourselves enough treats. So off we go, improving ourselves, competing with each other for rare prizes, indulging ourselves, promoting and calling attention to ourselves, adding pages and pages to that book called The Story of Me.

Many decades later, our race is unhappier than ever before. We are afraid of and despise each others’ differences; those traits that make each one of us unique also make us strange to each other. The higher we go, the lonelier it is. We are falling apart—mentally, emotionally, spiritually—as a race, as a people, as a species. The great and hallowed Cult of Me doesn’t work. We’ve taken it, we’ve tested it, we’ve assimilated it, and it has proven ineffective. The emperor hasn’t got any clothes on, but only the mad or the very young are happy to say it.

I don’t think Chati is mad, so she must be among the people whose hearts have managed to stay very young. I suspect it helps that she lives with a very fearless, very sage 6-year old daughter, who keeps her on her Zen toes every day with a wide-open heart and a lion’s spirit.knees

I was very happy to be asked to write the introduction to Chati’s painting exhibit. If you find yourself in the teeming metropolis between now and the 6th of July, please drop in and have a look. For a more intimate experience of UnPortraits you may want to schedule your visit for 3 p.m. on June 15th, and join Chati and others in a meditation session.

Silverlens has three Manila exhibition spaces and new space in Gillman Barracks, Singapore, showcasing contemporary art from the Philippines.

2F YMC Bldg 2,
2320 Don Chino Roces Avenue Extension,
Makati City 1231, Philippines
T +63 2 816 0044