Tuesday, February 01, 2005

"My name is Gail; I'm a Gluemonkey."

Last night I joined a Yahoo group called “Gluebooks.” Interesting concept they’ve got going, simple, but interesting. Get a notebook. Get some glue. Get some old catalogs or magazines. Start cutting. Start gluing. Take photos of your work. Upload the photos to the sight. Ooh and aah over each other’s creativity. I spent quite a long time last night gazing in wonder at the gluepages produced by some of the other folks in this group that calls itself, “gluemonkeys.” Some of the talented artists in that group have entire composition books, index card notebooks, and entire decks of cards (artist trading cards - ATCs – also a new phenomenon for me!) covered and filled with words and images liberated from old magazines and catalogs, united in unlikely combinations that work remarkably well. They send out themes on a daily basis (today’s was “dreams”) and the artists get to work. We can share the final product if we’d like to, or just keep it to ourselves. There’s a separate section for newbies, like me, to upload their first page. I’m proud to say that I sent mine out into cyberspace about an hour after I started it. Needless to say, I am quite excited about the prospect of adding yet another creative outlet to my already well-filled daily schedule. Being the obsessive-compulsive journaler that I am, I have decided to put these gluebook projects into my regular journal. No separate books for me; I want it all with me all the time.

Last night after joining the group and ogling the ATC masterpieces that cannot possibly fit onto the backs of the same cards we use to play “Go Fish,” I took to my bed with scissors and two old editions of Traditional Home magazine that I rescued from a neighbor’s discard heap. Her garbage heap became my treasure trove. Snipping, clipping, humming to myself, I filled to 9x12” manila envelopes with images and words that I will use for future projects. My mindset was singular; I was not admiring the layouts of fabulous homes I could never aspire to live in, but rather looking for phrases, headlines, flowerpots, window frames, and advertisements that would serve as the material for future gluemonkey layouts.

Of course, it all got me to thinking about my life. It’s not too far-fetched an idea to suggest that my life is a series of gluebook projects. I’ve had days, weeks, months and years of words, phrases, flowers, and experiences that I have loved, but I have also had times of failure, sorrow, and painfulness I’d rather throw away. I’ve had moments I’d like to relive and others I wish I could erase from my mind a lot like Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey did in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Much as I might try to with shopping, sugar, and the occasional mojito, erasing the bad memories isn’t always possible. Much as I might pull out the photo albums and vicariously revisit favorite places, as often as I reread the emails and journal entries, reliving the greatest moments isn’t possible either.

But what if I took the old stuff and reused it to create new images? What if those sad moments of near-suicidal depression in college could be cut up into smaller pieces and used to encourage someone who is in despair now? What if I interwove them into stories I tell my children about how fear can be overcome and how sadness can be transformed into gladness after the passage of time and the forgiveness of wrongdoing? What if the highlights of my life could be recycled and repackaged as letters and emails of encouragement for others? Can’t I figure out ways to use the crazy glue of love and laughter and friendship to put the pieces of my broken heart back together after life’s deepest disappointments? Can’t I take to my bed and reposition the angry thoughts, juxtaposing them with memories of good times gone by?

Some of the pages I saw in the Gluebooks files contained images I would have overlooked in magazines. Some of them were actually repulsive to me, a little too sexually explicit for my taste, a little too abstract for my rather concrete mind. Some of the colors were a little too bright; others were a little too somber. Some of them were absolutely masterful, and I wished I could see them in real life, talk to the creator and pick his or her brain for ideas and shortcuts. I want to see the files of images that these people must have, the piles of magazines, and find out the brand of glue they use. Last night, I looked back through years of messages that had been posted to the group and clicked on every one that promised some detail on how to be more creative, how to pick the best brands, the best photo images, and how to take the best pictures of the final products. I wanted to learn the best secrets of success from the members with the most experience so that I could bypass all the rookie mistakes and jump right into the intermediate/advanced group.

Then I remembered: I've gotta start at the beginning, make my own mistakes (like uploading to the wrong place – which I did this morning), and figure out which products work best for me. I have to clip the pictures and phrases that speak most loudly to me and remind me of my own life, and then create the pieces that reflect my own very unique expression of “dreams” or “purple and green” or “the letter B” or whatever other prompts that come my way. It was yet another timely reminder of the words of Aslan: I must listen to, hear, and live my own story. No one else can live my life, tell my story, or make any of my gluebook pages. I’ve got to compile my own image and word library, and then make use of them as fits my own interpretation of the themes of life.

A couple of months ago, I read a book about a woman who decided to learn pottery. She went to a few classes, perhaps even a retreat or two. To her shock, in one class she was asked to take the bowls she had made, break them, and then put them back together to form a new bowl. At first, she had great difficulty with destoying them; she just couldn’t bring herself to hit them hard enough to shatter them. Once she felt the power of crushing them, of willfully striking them with enough force to reduce them to pieces, though, she was addicted. However, she didn't feel the full impact of the exercise until she began to put those acutely angled shards back together. The tiniest pieces were often the most important because they bound the seams back together and made the new bowls truly complete. She took what had been broken, what many other potters would throw away, and she created scarred bowls that aptly reflected her scarred life. Her bowls are a lot like my gluebook pages – and my life. Expended. Expired. Expunged. Exhumed. Reformed. Reglued. Remounted. Redeemed. Resurrected. Rejoice!


Silver said...

Thanks for this refreshing and well thought-out essay. I've linked to it (with a quote) from my own "What is a gluebook?" article. I hope more folks will find their way to it.

CrimsonCrow said...

These are great words. I thank you for the inspiration, the new/shifted outlook they afford me...in my art and my life.

GailNHB said...

Thank you to Silver and CrimsonCrow for your generous responses to my blog. Silver, thanks so much for linking this page to your blog. I am always glad to know that something I wrote has touched someone else and will continue to do so. All the best to both of you as you continue to cut, glue, and configure your art and your lives as best you can. Grace and peace, Gail