Thursday, June 16, 2011

Me and My Stuff - May's BJP

Too many piles? Too much stuff?

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, BJP,Me and My Stuff, detail
Most of us, after we’ve lived in the same place for a number of years, begin to accumulate a few too many things. Right? Do you know what I mean?
  • drawers stuffed... full, all of them totally full
  • closets stuffed full, piles on the floor, shelves stacked to the bottom of the next shelf
  • boxes, OMG, the boxes…
  • piles of papers around the computer
  • piles of papers on the tables
  • too many beads to keep track of them all
  • take a class, buy all the stuff… yep it’s all still there
  • did I mention shoes?
  • did I mention clothes that don’t fit any more?
  • books? Oh dear, don’t get me started on those!
  • attic? Stuff from the old house; lots of stuff… boxes on boxes on boxes… been there, untouched, for 13 years now
  • photos
  • paint and paintings
  • greeting cards
  • beadwork, quilts, artsy stuff I’ve made
  • artsy stuff others have made
  • family treasures passed down from relatives
The quantity of stuff I own began to depress me when my Mom passed away in March. She had so little by then, the best of her best. It took only a few hours to clear out her room and find homes for her few special things.

I started to think, What if….? What would my poor husband do with all my stuff???? I started to wish it would all go away, giving me a clean slate, empty shelves and drawers, like when you got your first apartment. I read an excellent book about hoarding (Stuff, Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee), and got more down about it, although I’m not as bad as many the authors described. And for a while I actually went through some things and lightened my load a little.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, BJP,Me and My Stuff, detail
OK, so what better topic for my May BJP than Me and My Stuff? No problem gathering stuff… little scraps of this and that I’d saved because I might use it someday, things people have given me over the years, like the white, plastic horse from a box of Cracker Jacks. By the way, the pink line of beads is me. You can see, I'm surrounded by my stuff...

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, BJP,Me and My Stuff, detail
As I began stitching, I assumed the stuff would pile on top of more stuff and it would all look jumbled and chaotic, not pretty, not fun and not happy. To my great surprise, it’s just the opposite.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, BJP,Me and My Stuff
Many times I write poems off my work (a technique I describe in One Bead at a Time, which you can download for free from my website). I write a list of words and phrases that pop into my mind as I look at my beading and workspace. Then I circle the word or phrase that seems the most compelling to me. Next I write: “I am ____________,” filling in the blank with the circled word/phrase. This is the first line of a poem about me. Using as many of the words/phrases as I wish in my poem, I quickly say whatever comes to my mind. It’s a way of letting our visual journaling, our beadwork speak to us about who we are.

This is the poem I wrote about Me and My Stuff
I am parts of old projects
unfinished business
tufts of the past
holding me back somehow.
My work is trying to tell me something.
Unbidden, in its joyful, little-girl colors,
it seems to be a key
to starting something new.
What about the white plastic horse?
What memory am I saving in my stuff?
Lots of stuff, pretty stuff, piles of stuff
laden with memories
I am afraid of forgetting.
Ah-ha! Writing this poem and looking at my piece, gives me a giant ah-ha!!!! The stuff is about fear, fear of forgetting. For me, ALL my stuff is about fear of forgetting! Isn’t that interesting? I love knowing this. Because now I realize it doesn’t work. The memories are either there, or they’re gone, or they’re fading. The stuff may jog my memory for a while, but there are no guarantees.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, BJP,Me and My Stuff, detail
For example, the woven “flower” in the center of my piece was given to me by somebody, maybe a student, maybe in a class, maybe mailed to me… I don’t recall who or what were the circumstances anymore. I do recall who gave me the horse, but the when and why of it are lost memory.

So why not let go of the stuff, knowing that some memories will remain for a long time, others will fade? It’s life. It’s aging. It’s OK.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mom and Me - April BJP Finished

If you read my April 1st post about Mom, you know she passed away at age 94 this year in March.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, April BJP, detail
I began working on my April BJP while I was in Minnesota, just after she died, for the memorial service and to be with my siblings. Thus the subject for March was a "no-brainer," the intersection between Mom and Me, how our life paths intersect.

As usual, I worked improvisationally, with no plan for how it might turn out. In my other BJP pieces for this year, the two intersecting lines of the X always developed distinctive characteristics, one representing me and the other representing the other force, event or person in my life. For example, it's very clear to me looking at the piece about my husband and me (here), I am the red beads and he is the blue beads.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, April BJP, detail
This piece is different. I can't explain and don't really understand why Mom and I look the same. Is it the strong bond and connection between us? Is it that we are quite a lot alike in many ways? Is it because I've now assumed her role as the matriarch of the family? Is it a visual way of holding onto her, not letting her go, wrapping her into my own identity? Whatever the reasons, in this interpretation of Mom and Me, we are so much the same that I can't tell which line is her and which is me.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, April BJP, Mom and Me
It's been three months since she passed. The raw grief is less now, yet I think of her very, very often. I see a picture of her and catch my breath as it sinks in again that I won't see her in person ever again. Her words and expressions come frequently to my own lips. I miss her in ways I don't know how to express. Life goes on with no mama, in a different, more lonely way.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Living on an island with no access to fully stocked bead shops within 100 miles can be a bummer, especially when I need something for a time-sensitive project.

I've been asked to make a special bracelet (peyote stitch) for a dear friend on a rush basis. I need about 30 transparent green Delica beads. The green needs to be a pure green (not yellow-green, not blue-green) and not real dark. It doesn't matter too much if they are matte or not.

If you have such a thing and would be willing to send them to me, I'd be so grateful. Comment and I'll get you my snail mail address. Thank you, thank you!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

March BJP Finished - Difficult to write about....

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Higher Power, March BJP, detail 2011
When you look at this detail picture and the whole piece below, what do you think it's about?

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Higher Power, March BJP 2011

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Higher Power, March BJP
Like all of my BJP pieces this year, the cross represents the intersection between me and something else going on in my life. What do you think this is?

If you have the impression that it has something to do with spirituality, you're right. It's about me and my higher power.

This is a difficult subject for me, ever since my early college years when I abandoned all faith in the Christian church after witnessing several improprieties by the pastor of the Congregational Church where I had been Confirmed. For decades I declared myself an agnostic.

In my 50s, writing and reading poetry, learning Tai Chi, and befriending an artist-shaman who introduced me to the concept of "totem animals," brought me out of agnosticism and into a limbo of vague spiritualism. In this realm, there was no supreme being and definitely no force responsive to me or my needs. Rather, it seemed more like the power of positive thinking. A small force stemming from within me toward good, healing and beauty; a connection to the same force in others. There was a contentment in those years and an optimism I'd never felt before.

After getting married and moving to the small island community where I live now, my connections faded somewhat and I lost spiritual ground. Then, a year ago in March, something happened that will forever change my life... I became aware that my whole life of yo-yo dieting, overeating and binging was a matter of addiction. (I write about it on Words Paint.)

For the first time I grasped that I, alone, can not control my eating, that only if I admit I am a compulsive overeater and yield my will to a higher power, only then might I regain sanity. If you have not suffered addiction, or if you have seen me and seen that I am not morbidly obese, you may think I exaggerate. I do not. Whether dieting or gaining, I constantly thought about food, driven and obsessed particularly by sweets like chocolate, cake, cookies, pastries, ice cream, pie and candy, hating myself for it all the while.

I had no choice. I joined Overeaters Anonymous, became abstinent on the above mentioned sweets, lost about 60 pounds in the past year, and finally began to grapple with the concept of a higher power... faith and serenity, not from within me, but from outside me and available to me. At this point, I believe in a force for good and balance within the universe. I believe this force is what keeps me abstinent, keeps me from falling again into the grip of addiction.

I have tried to illustrate this force in my March BJP, the intersection between me and my higher power. Thanks for reading along... writing this post has helped me to clarify my thoughts and beliefs, as did working on the piece.