Working, making, watching…

I like to watch people work.  I like to see how they make things.  I like to see their hands molding and cutting and shaping.  I like to see their minds made manifest through their actions.  I like to see a new thing created, a broken thing repaired. I like to see a process unfold.

I want to know, “How did you do that?”  “What chords did you play?”  “What spices did you use?”  “How do you work that thing?” And while I always have questions, it’s not entirely about the “how-to.”  For me, watching people work can be like following a skier down the slope: you feel the doing; you lean as they take the curve.  At other times, it’s like watching a great conductor give shape to thought and sound—it’s a way in.

There is marvelous pleasure to be had in watching people do something well.  You get to know them a bit.  Lately I’ve been peeking in on my friend Elizabeth Seaver’s artistic processes over at her blog.  Elizabeth is always turning things over.  Reworking them.  Trying new media.  Mixing things up.  I hope you’ll take a look; click around a bit.  Watch her work.

War is not healthy

When I was a child growing up in Northern Virginia, the Vietnam war occupied a sizable piece of my emotional real estate.  I remember the boy at my school whose father didn’t come home from the war.  I remember seeing the casualty counts on the evening news.  I remember the pictures in Life magazine.  I remember vividly the bewilderment and anxiety I felt over campus riots and the Kent State shootings—events that seemed especially close because my mother had attended Kent State and that made it a real place.  I couldn’t really understand it all, but I remember feeling that everyone should be doing something to make the chaos stop.

At some point someone, my mother I believe, gave me a necklace of Lorraine Schneider’s poster “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”  The poster was the logo for the group Another Mother for Peace, which in 1967 sent Mother’s Day cards to President Lyndon B. Johnson and the members of Congress urging them to talk peace.  The image caught on and was soon found on jewelry, posters, badges, and bumper stickers, although it never became as popular as the ubiquitous peace symbol.  I didn’t have a lot of peace symbols up in my room or decorating my notebooks, but I did like Schneider’s design.

I wore the necklace often. Its message that “war is not healthy for children” made me feel safer—it validated my anti-war sentiments, and it gave me a way to speak out though I was never an anti-war activist.  I was too young, and maybe too nice to march in the streets, but my necklace expressed both the fear that I felt as a child, and the protest that my teen self longed to make.   I wasn’t trying to rebel against the Establishment or bring down the Government.  I just wanted the grownups in charge to come to their senses.

I’ve kept the necklace ever since.  A lot of other big pendants and funky necklaces have long since passed out of my jewelry collection (even given the cyclical nature of fashion, I just couldn’t be that person any more), but I’ve held on to that big gold rectangle.  And when my own daughter started asking me if she could borrow it (since unfortunately, war is also cyclical), I did what any mother would do these days—I started searching the web so I could buy her one of her own.  Turns out that Schneider’s daughter, Carol, and another child of the original AMP founders have revitalized the group.  They’re a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to educating citizens to take an active role for peace.  If you’re of a mind, you can visit them here.

It’s hard to explain why this particular peace message is as important to me as it is.  It could have been just another slogan from the 60s and 70s—another bumper sticker to post and move on.  But somehow it became something else; it became part of me.  And it pleases me that my daughter chose this piece out of the crazy jumble in my jewelry box.  A mom is always hoping to pass along a few bits to her kids: be kind, pick up after yourself, be curious about the world and other people, remember you are beautiful and you are loved.  And don’t be afraid to be a friend of peace.