I Need Your Support
If ever there was a project that I wanted to bring into reality, Remarkable Presence is it. For anyone who has ever followed or appreciated my work before, I can use your help!
Through Kickstarter (launching on 4/20), I am raising $8,500 to support the production, development and creation of my piece Remarkable Presence . This piece addresses the grieving process and the over 17,000 human beings we’ve lost in Arizona due to COVID-19. As many of you may already know, I lost my only sister to cancer during this pandemic. The grief process has been and still is further isolating and bewildering. It’s hard to not imagine how hard it also is for all of the families and friends of those lost to COVID. I try to sum it up in my project video.
A Little Background
During one of my final visits with my sister in Seattle, I helped her go through many of her belongings to attempt to give away and disperse them meaningfully. Not only did she have many items tucked away for another day, but she had an enormous archive of her written work. I still have yet to go through it all. One of the containers we sorted through was an old Samsonite suitcase, filled with tightly packed fabric swatches. She had labeled each one carefully with the yardage and fabric type. Sometimes it even included where she bought or acquired it. I had to decide whether to keep these pieces or give them away.
She wouldn’t be doing any more sewing, so who would take on the next project? Would these pieces of silk, cotton and wool, surrounded by bay leaves, just disappear into the void? Or what new project would they become part of? And then, after being put to use by someone else, who would have to decide about that piece after THAT person had died? There was just so much. So many THINGS packed away with hope for another time. I imagined packing up all of her things–her writing, fabric swatches, cinnamon mint tins, notepads–all in a suitcase that burst open with all the contents. The contents would just keep pouring out, like a magician pulling dumb handkerchiefs out of his pocket.
A week or so later as I was about to fall to sleep, the words “paper suitcases” entered my mind. I felt disconnected to it and I couldn’t make sense of it but it seemed important enough to write down.
I folded origami boxes and Googled suitcase templates. I watched a lot of YouTube tutorials on paper folding and listened to and read a lot about death. With the election about to happen, I flew to Seattle again to be with my sister. I helped her fill out and mail her ballot while I worried something major would happen on election day. Seattle businesses boarded up their windows and started to shut things down (even more). The creation of paper suitcases seemed to be the least important thing at the time.
When my sister died in mid-December, the only thing that seemed worthwhile to do was to create. I needed to work with my hands so I started practicing every pop-up book technique I could find. My desk and shelves were covered with test runs. I started piling techniques on top of each other. Seeing what I was working on, my brother-in-law lent me his copy of the pop-up book “Trail” by David Pelham, which became a big point of reference.
When I had to write the obituary for my sister, I was familiar with the format. For many months I had been looking up obituaries for people in Arizona who had died of COVID. I had read a lot of stories about people who had a huge influence on other people’s lives. And now they were all gone. We write these obituaries to do our best to honor or remember someone but you can never put enough in them. They need to be as long as a life, and even longer. Their lives are also the lives of everyone they ever knew, branching out. Again, I could not contain this “stuff”, not even in a suitcase.
Paper Suitcases for Arizonans
While I wanted to make a pop up suitcase for my own sister, I also felt there needed to be more. We already had lost thousands of Arizonans due to COVID. After the month of August, there was almost no press featuring anything about them. Were they just supposed to be gone, silently, without any real funeral services because we couldn’t safely gather? Most obituaries said they were either postponing or not having services at all. Were we supposed to just move on, without being able to acknowledge this grief?
I needed a way to honor them and my sister. I also needed to acknowledge all of us who are walking around with this pain. While I lost my closest family during the pandemic, I did not also have to cope with the rapid progression of COVID and the inability to see my person before they died. The least I could do is to make something to represent each one of these lives. For those I could find obituaries on, I would make pop-up suitcases. And I decided I would make as many as I could.
Sharing in Our Grief
In addition to making these suitcases, I want to share them and give them away. People could place a memento in them or take them, as-is. In our exchange, they could agree to tend to this person’s memory and belongings. Even if they didn’t know the individual who had died, that person would take the moment to reflect on this loss. Seeing the mass of of over 17,000 suitcases in front of them will be physical proof that these people were HERE. The “collective grieving” events I intend to have will be a way for us to come together safely, even if we didn’t lose anyone, to see each other and share in these feelings. Haven’t we been alone in our thoughts long enough?