Monday, January 7, 2013

Beads of comfort and tribute

"You can play a crucial part, carry justice in your heart, and we’ll be there to get your backs."

I can't believe it. I'm caught up for a minute on Etsy and Ebay and Facebook and Lampwork Etc. and email. The house is empty again, except for Neil and me and L cat and Z cat. My stepdaughter is married and off to Hawaii for her honeymoon, father-in-law packed off to New Jersey and my kids safely home in Keller and Austin.

I lit the torch today to show my father-in-law how I make beads. He had this idea that I should make large lampwork vases and sell them for big money. I tried to explain thermal shock, coefficients of expansion, compatibility and annealing to him, but he just wasn't hearing it. He'll be 84 this year in his defense.

He was quite excited when I suggested a bead demo and I swear, if he didn't have to leave for the airport just as I finished my plunged floral, he would have sat down and made a bead himself.

As long as the kiln was up, I made a few more beads to keep the floral company while Neil made his second round trip to the airport today. I've been making a lot of long tube shaped beads, about 2 inches long, and considering whether I want to try to go longer. I'm not super duper happy with my shaping and I doubt this shape will sell well but I'm trying to put selling on a side burner and make what I feel like making.

After the December 14 mass shooting in Newton, I made 26 angel beads. I typed a little note explaining that the beads were handmade by me in tribute to the innocents who died at Sandy Hook, offered as a tiny token of comfort, with my compassion and love. I printed the note on labels and stuck them on the back of my business cards and put each one in a little organza bag, 18 pink and 8 blue.

The day I mailed them I read that the town's infrastructure was being overwhelmed with gifts from teddy bears to Christmas trees. In addition to memorials placed about town, items were being sent to a warehouse and stored on pallets. Newton officials asked that people stop sending things and make a donation to charity instead or donate the items locally where they are needed.

My beads were already in the mail by then. Not that I really thought they'd mean anything to the families, if they ever actually received them. I know I did it for myself. It might have been wiser to donate them to Beads of Courage in honor of the Sandy Hook dead. I just typed "victims" but I just don't like the connotations of that word. They are the dead, like those who lie in Flanders Fields.

At any rate, I made the beads because there really was nothing I could do that would make any difference, so I did the thing I know how to do. One of my online friends who is a beadmaker had not been able to light her torch since the events of December 14. It might have been the same for me but making the angel beads somehow allowed me to keep going. Originally I was going to pace myself and make 2 or 3 a day, but I wound up making 21 the first day and 7 the next.

I don't think I will make any more of that design.

Tomorrow I have a day to make beads before we leave for Florida on Wednesday. I hope I wind up with something gratifying in the kiln. I'd like to think I am moving forward with my art. I wonder about those people who find a style and just keep making it over and over. I go in cycles and get obsessed with a shape and a design, but I still have to mix it up a little. And eventually I get tired of it anyway. Sometimes I will revisit it a year or two later.

I might make some hearts tomorrow. Hearts were the first bead I mastered when I started selling beads, hearts with trailing vines and stylized raised flowers, and I was sure they were going to be big sellers. I was surprised when they were not especially popular, although looking back at those early efforts, I understand. Maybe I will do better now and maybe I'll look back again in a few years time and roll my eyes.

And I'm not done yet with the tube beads. It's funny, I look at other beadmakers and there are some whose beads take my breath away, some whose every new concept is unique and a winner, some who constantly come up with new twists on whimsy, many who are so original and recognizable that you immediately know when you see the bead who the artist is.

And then there are other beadmakers who are entirely competent and make perfectly nice beads but that divine spark is missing. And I'm so afraid that I'm one of them. I fear that no matter how many years are under my bead belt, no matter how many hours of practice I put in, no matter how many classes I take and tutorials I study, I will never be more than a hack. A capable satisfactory hack but a bona fide hack nonetheless.

My bead ends will be smooth and dimpled, my shaping exact, my colors true and yet something will always be missing. I won't have that universal validation that I envy, yet perhaps there isn't even such a thing. It is a figment of my imagination and you know, not everyone likes Picasso. Or Calder. Or Rothko.

Right now I will just say, I'm not going down without a fight.

Excerpt from the poem by John McCrae:

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Excerpt from America's Answer by R.W. Lillard:

Rest ye in peace, ye Flanders dead
The fight that you so bravely led
We've taken up. And we will keep
True faith with you who lie asleep,
With each a cross to mark his bed,
... In Flanders Fields.

Fear not that ye have died for naught;
The torch ye threw to us we caught,
Ten million hands will hold it high,
And freedom's light shall never die!
We've learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders' fields.

And finally:

"So write this number down and know you won’t slip through the cracks.
Look over your shoulder there’s millions of us there to get your backs.
You can play a crucial part, carry justice in your heart, and we’ll be there to get your backs.
Welcome to this land, yes we still have all those marble steps to climb.
But write this number down, because it’s growing all the time."

Dar Williams, Write this Number Down, from In the Time of Gods

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz