Iceberg Tunnel: No. 39 of 40 Forts
Although this is No. 39, Iceberg was my final fort. As I mentioned before I was working on three or four in the last week and this one really threw me for a loop. No. 40 was self-evident, which you will read about very soon. But with this fort, I had the structure finished, but I had no idea what to say in my little quote. I was speechless.
The text that goes along with each of my forts comes very easily to me. I find it to be an essential part of my pieces. They are biostanzas, a term I made up. Like a little biographical poem. I have been thinking in terms of biostanzas in my art for a couple of years now, so they are nothing new to me. Sometimes the words come before the piece, but they usually come in the process of making the piece. But I have never been at a loss for words like I was with this piece.
I was desperately trying to finish the pieces before the Maudy Thursday event at church. I displayed all forty forts during Easter weekend. On Wednesday afternoon, we walked with Amy and Leah to Tangy Sweet to watch them consume a little dairy. I told them about my predicament. Amy said that it in the world of writing sermons, if one doesn’t work, scrap it. But I was on my final fort. My FINAL FORT. And I had not given up on any of my folds, even the wonkiest of forts. So I considered it, but I didn’t really want to.
I knew that I wanted to write about the beauty found in nature and attribute to God’s artistry. Which is so expansive. And amazing. And inspiring. And really nothing that I could begin to say would do justice to such incredible beauty and detail even in a huge blob of ice. Like this iceberg. It is amazing that a tunnel within an iceberg can present such amazing range of blues. I had no idea how to express this overwhelming feeling, represented here by this image of nature, which is what lead me to:
Her words failed to capture her reverence for God’s artistry.
This was not the first time I was overwhelmed by nature’s beauty. When I was in college, we went to a concert at an outdoor ampitheater. There was a huge thunderhead cloud in the background. It was the most stunning array of colors I had ever seen. Of course, part of me was nervous that it was headed our way. But then I became entranced with how beautiful it was. I could not stop focusing on the creamy hues blending in with the pinks and purples and golds that often accompany sunsets. During a time when I was more ambivalent about my faith, this cloud gave me a feeling of joy that somehow reconnected me to God. I am not sure that I can clearly explain this moment. Maybe it was the point in my life where the God of my past, the one I was terrified I might upset, faded away and became the God who presented me with great joy instead.
I signed up for a creativity class that summer. We were given a word to define and write about in several different ways. Our word for the one day workshop was faith. I spent several hours on my homework, looking up quotes and numerous definitions. Then we were able to play and pull any materials we wanted in the workshop leader’s studio. I pulled several huge sheets of rich colored papers. I was going to recreate the cloud. I tore the pages, glued the sheets and washed it with a layer of shimmery gold finger paint. In the end, I had a massive cloud that was nice, but not spectacular. But wasn’t that the point. I am not capable of creating something that stunning on my own. Somehow the experience made my faith grow even stronger.
From there I started exploring a solitary path of spirituality, for a lack of a better word. We tried various churches in Chapel Hill, but I never found a place I was comfortable worshiping. When we first visited DC on Mother’s Day 2005, we met our soon-to-be landlord as I stood facing our soon to be church. I felt called to that place on that corner at 8th and H. Even though she said 6th and H, I never heard that and she had to come pick us up. I feel in love with all of the families visiting their Chinese grandmothers at the Wah Luck House that morning. And by 5 pm that afternoon, we had committed to our lease.
I feel quite lucky to have become part of two vital communities while living in DC. One is Calvary, our church, and the other is the multi-generational community of Chinatown. While they overlap a little, both communities are filled with a diverse crowd of people, all of whom help me understand myself a little bit better each day.
When I left for college, it was the first time in my life I was surrounded by people who were just my age. I had always grown up with an extended family spanning multiple generations in my life every day. I did not live in a subdivision full of kids. When we had social events, they were usually with my family. So when I was surrounded solely by my peers, I felt lost. A babysitting job connecting me with a couple of adults one generation older and children much younger helped ground me once again. To me interacting with people of all ages helps comfort me. That was the type of environment in which I was raised. And I hope to always live in a place with people of all ages.
As I mentioned it before in Mommy Wars, I have been troubled by all of the negative media attention given to the culture wars surrounding babies. An article in the Washington Post essentially pitted dog-owners against parents plus those with baby strollers against the rest of the world. I would say that the reporters should spend their time finding real news. EXCEPT there were over 300 comments within the first day. And 400 the next. Maybe things got a little too heated because now the comments are closed and there are zero.
I read this article and thought this is a failure of community. And this is not okay. We are not here to only be surrounded by people just like us. And DC is wonderful because, despite what the rest of the nation thinks of us, we are all here representing vastly different ideas and places from all over the globe, living together in our small town in peace. Well, at least that has been my experience.
Obviously these agitated commenters haven’t read Malcom Gladwell’s latest book Outliers: The Story of Success. In the introduction, Gladwell shares the story of Roseto, Pennsylvania, a small town of Italian immigrants who all lived healthy lives well beyond the expected norm. After examining their diets and genetics, the scientists resolved that their longevity was due to community.
Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that they wouldn’t be able to understand why someone was healthy if all they did was think about an individual’s personal choices or actions in isolation. They had to look beyond the individual. They had to understand the culture he or she was part of, and who their friends and families were, and what town their families came from. They had to appreciate the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.
In the last couple of weeks, I was leaving our building and noticed the brick masons moving a pallet of bricks with a crane. A small label was attached with a band. Pine Hall Brick. I did a double-take. This is a small brick company from my home county. I passed by the brick yard every time I went to visit the orthodontist. Stokes County soil, the land on which my family has lived for over nine generations, surrounds my building on all sides. Being here in this small pocket of an international city feels very familiar to me in ways that I cannot explain. Mainly because it could not be more different. Maybe it is the soil beneath my feet as I walk down the sidewalk each day. Or maybe it is the sense that God has led me to this place. Right here. Right now.
This paper sculpture, roughly the size of a coffee cup, is one of forty forts I created during Lent 2010 as a creative exercise and spiritual exploration.