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Paper Goods

April 27th, 2007

I have been doing a lot of paper arts lately, as demonstrated by my flickr photostream. I often get asked where I find supplies, so I thought I’d compile a list here.

1. Thrift stores. I scour thrift stores for books in foreign languages that I can tear apart to use as collage supplies or alter. I also look for old books with interesting pictures or maps, and for anything I can take apart, cut up or smash up — old pictures, radios, clocks, etc. Don’t forget to look for ribbons or fabric scraps or anything else that looks interesting. This is by far my favorite place to find supplies, in part because I never flinch when I cut, tear or otherwise mutilate something I only paid a buck (or less) for.

2. Ethnic markets. I look at Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and other ethnic markets in my area for free newspapers or magazines. I once found a fantastic Chinese-language phone book for free. I also look at these stores for magazines, gift wrap, joss paper (at Asian stores), and other paper goods that look interesting.

3. Dollar stores. At dollar stores, I look for paper goods, scrapbook supplies, clear tape, duct tape and things I can take apart. I’ve bought hair scrunchies (that I removed fabric flowers from), trivets (made of wood, I took them apart and had these interesting pegs), gift bags, gift wrap, cards, kids toys, magnets — all kinds of things to use in altered and paper art.

4. Magazines. I cut words, pictures, phrases, whatever out of magazines and catalogs. My favorites are Real Simple, O, and Reader’s Digest. I wouldn’t read Reader’s Digest on a bet, but it has awesome pictures. Also look at your junk mail and news papers — there are sometimes interesting things there.

5. Electronic images. I try very hard to use only copyright free electronic images, or images where the copyright owner has given permission for others to use the images. Here are my favorite sources:
Dover Sampler, copyright-free images via e-mail once a week.
From Old Books, what it says.
Art-E-Zine, annoying interface, cool images
Black and White Prints, free clip art images
Bibliodyssey, follow the links to check copyright information
Wikimedia Commons, public domain images
National Archives Search, make sure to use the pull down menus to select “photographs and other graphic materials”, then search by keyword. Most items are not copyrighted, but a few are.

6. Swaps. There are several sites online where you can participate in supply swaps. I have done them through Craftster, Swap-Bot and Flickr. Once you get a small stash of supplies, you can swap your extras with others and increase the diversity of your supplies. Think about it — if you buy a 400 page Thai book at a thrift store, do you really need all 400 pages? Keep half for yourself and swap the rest.

7. Friends and relatives. Once you put the word out that you are interested in weird, odd, unusual paper things, you’ll be surprised what you get. Someone’s child’s abandoned stamp collection, old coloring books, instruction booklets, magazines you’ve never heard of. I ask people to save stuff for me, I say thank you when it is given, and I properly recycle anything I don’t want or can’t use (or I save it for the above mentioned swaps if it’s something I think someone else might like). I love getting these kinds of things from people — they are always so surprising and interesting.

8. Used book stores. For me, this is a last resort. There aren’t many used book stores in my area, so the prices are kind of high — at least, they are higher than I want to pay for something that I am most likely going to destroy. But your area might be different. I usually go to a used book store when I’m looking for something specific, like old National Geographics or something in Russian.

9. Rummage sales, library sales, church sales, etc. With the exception of library sales and an annual sale at a church near me, these sales are hit or miss for me, but sometimes they are worth investigating. Also, as with #8 above, your area might be different from mine. Don’t rule them out.

10. Office supply stores. I buy acid-free cardstock at office supply stores by the ream. It’s much cheaper than craft or specialty stores. I usually get plain white because I know I’m going to obliterate it anyway.

You will notice that craft, scrapbook, rubberstamp, and art stores are conspicuously missing from this list. Don’t get me wrong — I shop at those too. But those are the obvious places, and I wanted to highlight places where I find interesting, unusual and unique items. You won’t find those at Michaels or Hobby Lobby or AC Moore.


April 22nd, 2007

Recently, a friend of mine was talking about church and musing out loud about the contrast between the simplicity of early Christianity and the pomp of modern church rituals, saying something like “if you compare what the first Christians did to what churches do now, you have to wonder about the difference.”

Coincidentally, I was in the middle of reading Elaine Pagels book Beyond Belief at the time. I am a fan of Pagels’ work — this is the third book of hers I have read, and her most recent book, Reading Judas is waiting for me on my coffee table right now.

Although Pagels’ work is scholarly, not religious, it has been a significant influence on my own religious ideas and struggles. Beyond Belief is about how and why orthodox Christians defined gnostic Christians as heretics, and it draws heavily on Gospels of John (orthodox) and Thomas (gnostic). She also discusses the diagnosis of her infant son with a fatal heart condition, his death a few years later, and her personal struggle with religion during that sad time. One passage in particular reminded me of my friend’s comment above. Pagels’ describes a Christmas eve service she attended with her daughter Sarah, saying:

I felt the celebration take us in and break over us like the sea. When it receded, it left me no longer clinging to particular moments in the past but borne upon waves of love and gratitude that moved me toward Sarah, toward the whole community gathered there, at home or everywhere, the dead and the living. For a moment I was shocked by the thought: We could have made all this up out of what had happened in our own lives; but, of course, we did not have to do that, for, as I realized at once, countless other people have already done that, and have woven the stories of innumerable lives into the stories and music, the meanings and visions of Jesus’ birth. Thus such celebrations are borne along through all the generations that have shaped and reshaped them, and those that continue to do so, just as encountering the tradition may shape and reshape us.

Pagels’ point in this passage — and in the whole book, really — is that one way to access god is through imagination and interpretation. This is the way the gnostics followed, and it was what ultimately got them defined as heretics. However, as Pagels’ points out in the passage above, the so-called orthodox Christians imagined, invented and interpreted too, and the rituals of modern church life are built on those imaginings. I’m uncomfortable with many of the standard teachings of Christianity, which is why I don’t anticipate becoming a member of a church again any time soon, but attending church and engaging with a religious community is extremely important to me. And while I have to think about it further, the idea of imagination as a route to god is compelling.

Personally, the only church ritual* that matters to me is communion. Jesus commanded his followers to partake of communion when they gathered, and to do so in remembrance of him. While Christians tend to approach communion with solemnity, I prefer to imagine Jesus partying with his friends to celebrate passover, and saying something like “Dudes, when I’m gone, you’ve got to keep doing this. When you pass the cup, remember me.”

Communion is the main reason I go to church — I cannot celebrate communion alone, and I find it a bit silly to call myself Christian without being in communion with fellow Christians. I think other church rituals are lovely and they define and mark congregations in the way rituals define and mark any social group, but they are not essential. Would I mind if my (high liturgy Episcopal) congregation suddenly stopped bowing to the gospel? Not at all. Would I miss it? Definitely.**

* I use the word ritual very carefully here — I’m not speaking of the sacraments.
** I can’t say the same thing about the incense though. That stuff reeks, and I could happily live without it, especially since I’m often near the front of the choir procession and get drenched in it.

So wrong

April 20th, 2007

A very dear friend of mine was pregnant a few years ago when I met her. Tragically, her baby died seven months into her pregnancy, for no reason her doctors could ever identify. It just sometimes happens that way. It was devastating to her and those who loved her. She had a “partial birth abortion” procedure. Although the baby’s death and the abortion procedure were stressful for her, her own life was not threatened at any point.

The Supreme Court’s decision this week means that women who find themselves in my friend’s place will now have to have labor induced and will have to deliver the dead baby — this is much riskier to the mother’s health. Wasn’t it enough that my friend had to deal with the death of her joyfully anticipated baby? Wasn’t it enough that her husband, family and loved ones had to grieve for the baby? Why should she have to risk her health to deliver a dead fetus? Why should her family and friends have to worry even more about her health? Why should she have to risk labor?

This is a stupid, bigoted, arrogant, wrong decision.

The Emptiness of Being

April 17th, 2007

The Virginia Tech shooting is deeply horrifying. I don’t have anything meaningful to say about it, I just wanted to have a post here marking it. I can’t imagine what the terror was like in Norris Hall, for either the shooter or the victims. Although I know it is trite to say so, sometimes I think we really are seeing the end times.