Thursday, December 23, 2010

Knit, Purl, Philosophize

I've heard that many people get into this profession to work on their own stuff, but I got into it because I like art and psychology. However, it turned out to be a parallel process because since I put together my portfolio and applied to the program, I lost my brother and both parents. Most things about experiencing a lot of deaths are terrible, but there are some parts that aren't so bad... or maybe they are also pretty horrendous, but really important lessons.

I became aware of this impermanence train that is life earlier than some. Did you ever regret not knowing at the moment how awesome it was to be a kid and get to color in school, take piano lessons every week and spend three months a year in a swimming pool and on roller skates? Instead you probably spent your kid time thinking about how great it would be to grow up, have your own money and never have to listen to a single teacher again. Sometimes I feel like that kid, except I know how totally radical it is to be living this life right now every single moment. When you lose a lot of people, especially a sibling or maybe a friend around your age, you might think, holy crap life is short. What am I gonna do with this thing to make it meaningful? At least that's what I thought about.

In spite of life opening a can of whoop ass on me the last three years, I feel that overall, I'm extremely lucky. I'm lucky I was trying to get into this profession when I started, because when I thought about what makes my life meaningful, the perfect career was simultaneously falling in my lap.

Here's what I want out of life... Even though we're small and insignificant in the universe, I want the world to be a little better while I'm in it. If I can make something just a tiny bit prettier and someone a little happier, I consider my life well lived. I don't expect perfection, but an overall higher score in the gee-it-was-great-you-existed column.

That being said, allow me to get to the knitting portion of this post. Here's some handmade/hand-dyed yarn I was knitting today which sent me spinning on this whole thing...

The last thing my mother taught me was how to knit. She had taught me when I was little, but it didn't take, so she taught me again as she was dying. After she died, I knit. A lot. I knit so much I didn't even know what to do with the stuff. I donated some of it. My favorite organization is Spirit Jump. It works like this: you sign up, you get emails about people who have cancer and feel down, you make or buy them something, you send it. The receivers get a surprise (or probably a series of surprises) in the mail and the senders get major feelgood points.

Know what makes me feel even better? Anonymous giving. Sneak-up-on-someone-who-never-sees-it-coming-giving. Stealthy-ninja giving. Making-people-feel-good-without-seeing-a-result-or-even-getting-thanks giving. Know why? Because it's fun and way more real.

And what does this have to do with art therapy? Tons! We often work with people who have lost their way and are traveling on the what's-the-point-of-all-this-pain train. They need help finding the transfer station. Challenge people to make something and send it to someone. Help them knit some squares and combine them to create a blanket for a homeless shelter or nursing home. Get them to make some origami and drop it in strangers' purses (in a safe way and place -- no need to go around getting patients slapped).

It can be the season of giving all year.

Here's a related video someone shared with me yesterday...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

ATC (Artist Trading Cards) & Zentangles

This is what's in my mailbox right now!

This week I got a couple of Zentangle books for my birthday (Thanks Debbie) and simultaneously got curious about Artist Trading Cards (ATC) Exchange. Coincidentally, I found an online black & white Zentangles ATC exchange! I haven't had my fortune read or investigated my horoscope lately, but if I did it would have said I was destined to exchange some Zentangles I guess.

Right now, you may be asking yourself two questions: 1. What is Zentagle and 2. What is an ATC Exchange?

Okay... here we go...


According to their website (here),

Zentangle is an easy to learn method of creating beautiful images from repetitive patterns. It is a fascinating new art form that is fun and relaxing. It increases focus and creativity. Zentangle provides artistic satisfaction and an increased sense of personal well being. Zentangle is enjoyed by a wide range of skills and ages and is used in many fields of interest.

We believe that life is an art form and that Zentangle is an elegant metaphor for deliberate artistry in life.
I want to see some research on the increased focus, creativity and relaxation, but it sounds highly possible. What makes it cool is there is no talent required. It's a guide to doodling for the doodle-challenged. Simple.

On an A.T. side note, one could offer a quick lesson in Zentangle and do a pre and post stress measurement. Or have a chat on why creativity is scary and adults forget how to play and introduce Zentangle. Or talk about mindfulness and Zentangle. Or how to deal with mistakes and Zentangle. The directives are endless. Oh, I should probably mention Zentangle is registered and they have their own workshops, so don't go acting like you invented it.


ATCs are trading cards that people make and exchange. There are many ways this can be done. You could have an ATC exchange group or host a party (although let's be honest -- that sounds like a mega nerdfest), but I think it's mostly a mail art sort of deal, which is what I just did.

You can buy over-priced pre-cut cards or slice your own. If you google "ATC Exchange" you'll get a list of exchange sites or you can just go to and look around at what sort of exchanges are going on. People make up themes and host exchanges. For example, a host might decide on a theme like "puppies" and people would send a determined amount of cards that represent puppies and a SASE to the host, who would mix the puppy cards up and send everyone back the same amount of cards made by others. I love making stuff and I love getting mail, so this is just all around fun.

On an A.T. note possible directives that come to mind without fully thinking them through are Self as Superhero (but on a trading card), Coping Skill ATC Exchange in group, Art Mystery Gift ATC Exchange, Something I've Always Wanted to Do, But Never Have Exchange or Illustrate Your Favorite Quote Exchange. Probably anything that's positive and of universal interest is good on a therapeutic card and exchangeable, if you're working with people who can handle that.