I think I will begin this letter with the same first paragraphs that I included with my cards this year:
I often start my card design process with a word or a theme. When I look back through the previous twenty-three years, I see some common ones.
Noticing, building, joy. Wonder, reflection, grief. Community. Peace. Peace, peace, peace.
In the hardest of seasons, I searched for community. Individual cards cut from a broader canvas. A paper quilt that covered our bed, a quiet evergreen that reached the ceiling, an object to share from a collection of items – we are in this together, right? Surely we’ve got this. When it feels too hard to take the next step, give me something larger (daunting, even) that I can chip away at, slowly but surely.
In the harshest of seasons, I longed for peace. Peace that was loud and clanging, that required attention and action. A verb amongst the objects of the season, a vibration in the stillness. I find myself calling out – just as poet Denise Levertov does in “Making Peace” – for that energy field of words. Give me those words here, now, please. When it gets too hard to speak, let me lose myself in the layers, abstract stacks awaiting order, a patience practice for the impatient.
So here we are, and this season feels hard. It feels harsh. The words don’t come easily, my ideas feel superficial, unimportant, and wrong. I had been harboring this little seed of an idea since I mailed some extra decorations to a young friend the year that I made the cookie box cards. Her mom mentioned that they were going to use some of the cookies in that card as decorations in her new dollhouse, and I told her I had some extra, and I would send them to her immediately. I sometimes wondered if it might be fun to decorate a card once it arrives – what if the recipients were allowed to put on the finishing touches? But a cute house and some holiday decorations weren’t really speaking to me.
I turned back to those practices I employed in previous tough years. As my grandmother’s health began to dramatically decline, I decided to cut all of the scrap paper from the girls’ birth announcements and party invitations, and I wove a giant paper quilt out of them, cutting and sending card-size rectangles out to friends and family.
After my niece died, I barely had the energy to get through the day, and couldn’t stand the thought of sitting at a desk in the evenings working on a card. But I started fringing green paper with scissors, slowly building an idea, and then finally one large tree that I adorned with sparkly ornaments in her memory before mailing the pieces of the tree out to others.
So maybe I needed to revisit that idea of community again, a collective effort – and I needed something big, almost too big, to help me turn off the excuses and the angst, something to dive into until there was no turning back. I read and listened to poetry, waiting for the words that might land in my body in a way that helped me figure this out. Weeks went by, and then I read and reread Sara Teasdale’s poem Peace, and there it was:
That was the peace poem I was looking for. Not the words of war. The words of love. You are my deepening skies, Give me your stars to hold.
So I set out to make a love story. A giant piece nearly five feet long, a collection of the buildings that make up a place, folding in and out so that they could stand on their own. I envisioned it unfolding every holiday season and sitting out on the credenza cabinet that is still in the far future of our renovation project. Which made me think about the ways we share our project adventures with others from a place of wonder and joy, even when the days are long and the dirt is heavy and the brick piles are endless. I thought about how I really love to talk about architecture, and the way things are built, and were built, and how rich our region is in beautiful homes. Maybe various building types like schools, libraries, stores, churches, etc. wasn’t the way to go – I wanted it to feel closer to home.
So houses it was. I would create this larger piece with ten houses joined together by party walls, and I would send each building out as individual pieces of this collective design. I would place those individual houses on deep blue translucent paper, and I’d dot golden stars across the skies late into the night, thinking of the skies in Alaska. I would share the inspiration for each design, and yes – I would include those decorations for each recipient to make this card their own. Because in the end, it’s a love story. Your joy is my joy. Your safety is my safety. Your humanity is my humanity. We are all in this together, and we must lead with love.
I started with a sketch, and then drafted the houses out, color coding the individual pieces, and pulling them apart again to print onto card stock. I mirrored each shape so that I could cut them out and flip them over and have nice clean shapes to assemble for each house.
Once I made my final tweaks, I printed out thirteen of each house, and set to work. I cut the larger base layers first, but left the details on sheets until I was ready to glue each one.
After the base layers were all cut and glued and pressed, I started the eleven day period of cutting details and gluing them on that seriously put a dent in my sleeping patterns.
I saved one of each house in separate plastic bags so that I could photograph them for E to make little animations with.
When I got tired of looking at white paper, I made teeny little decorations. Lots of them.
I also included sticky-tack in each envelope for recipients to use to affix the decorations of their choice. I tried out many options – it really is a lot of fun.
And just when I thought that they would never possibly be finished, they were. A love letter to myself, perhaps.
I thought the house assemblies would be the toughest part, but turns out that the finishing details were the most time consuming. I attached each house to the vellum with special adhesive, and pressed them until dry. Space is so limited in the house that I was constantly picking up and moving around, and using every available horizontal surface. I then added the gold stars, and signed the back of the cards, and set to work on the little envelopes.
The little decorations were no joke – those could have been a regular card season for sure. They took forever!
And here’s the big piece – I just love it. I’m glad I landed here. Thanks for letting me sit in these spaces and think and share and process with you all.
With all of my love, the happiest of holidays to you.