contributed by Janis McKinstry
I know what it is to be wary and mistrusting of someone who says they are there to help. I know what it’s like to not have words to express how I am when asked “how are you?” I’ve been in that place and I didn’t know who could be trusted. Maybe I’m still there to some degree, and so I pay attention.
I pay attention to body language, facial expressions, eye movement, verbal communication through words and tone, and my own feelings. Non verbal communication speaks volumes and if I am paying attention I will be informed on how to proceed. It feels respectful to myself and others to pay attention to timing, and what is welcome, as well as what is not welcome and honor accordingly. It feels safe.
So upon welcoming the women at the shelter to the Traveling Postcard workshop in Casper, Wyoming, I was paying attention to the language of the women who would be participating in it as well as the feelings that were visiting me. These women (including myself) have been betrayed through violence from someone they had trusted, violence toward themselves, and violence from our systems. They are understandably cautious.
The women entered one by one and I observed them measuring us and how this event might be for them as they chose their places around a table of bountiful art supplies. I saw annoyance at having to come to this mandatory event. I saw mistrust of these 3 women there to “help” them. I saw insecurity and vulnerability through the facade of nonchalance and bravada, and I saw the girl within the woman longing for the simple pleasure of being enough. I saw her most clearly.
The table was laid with colorful cloth and then layered with photos, books, ribbons, colored paper, markers, paint, and so much more. They were taking in the beauty and watching; watching and sensing into what this “craft” thing was that they were being called to do. Murmurs of self doubt, desire to be good enough, artistic, poetic (and accepted) began to shuffle around the table, and I sensed their caution as well as curiosity.
And then the art making began. Slowly and deliberately their hands moved across the table to choose the just right materials, passing on some and claiming others for their creations, their own gift of love that would be shared through these cards. It seemed an easy and natural transition from caution to comfort as art became a common bond among these women who have already shared so much between each other. Their tones relaxed, they smiled and chatted while they shared their discoveries and support for one another, here, around this table, and wherever else needed. I walked around the table and asked them if they would tell me about their cards. Some were quiet and hesitant to share and I met them with inquiry into the colors and images they chose. Some were eager to tell me about them and did so with ease and confidence. One woman was making an elaborate book that “will greet the woman who opens it with joy” and she giggled with that feeling of bringing joy to her. I was consistently impressed and inspired by the depth of their descriptions and explanations of the representations of the colors, images, words, and messages. The messages sent hope, courage, support and so much love through womanly solidarity. This was a wise group each paying attention to their own process of growth. Each considering where they had been and where they were going. Each grateful for their shelter and this opportunity. Complexity and generosity sat at that table.
There was wisdom there in that room. The kind of wisdom that comes from within and is felt and communicated by creating together, making something nourishing, and sharing vulnerability and strength. This wisdom is a kind of intimacy that women share when trust is established through the creation process. It feels like love.
These women shared love. They didn’t call it that, but it was love. They honored themselves and allowed their wisdom to guide their art toward self expression and saw their own hope for a better today and tomorrow. The work of self growth and transformation was already well underway and the shared creative experience of Traveling Postcards deepened it. Stories of new beginnings, faith, compassion, radiance, and transformation filled the room. They began to understand love at a different level then considered before. Caution had moved over for empowerment and joy. They radiated self acceptance and self care with each addition to their cards. Feelings of accomplishment and support beamed from their faces as they shared the meaning of their card and placed the card they had created in the traveling suitcase and chose that gift of love and support from another woman. As they chose their new cards I heard “this card has been calling to me the whole time and I am so glad that I have it,” “this card is just like me, full of color and power,” and “I was so drawn to this card and I can’t explain it, but it was made just for me” through smiling voices. Each card is a gift of strength, a mirror of self worth and value, and a lifeline of connection and solidarity. Traveling Postcards helps. Art expresses the words and feeling.
I paid attention and felt into my own sense of self to find trust in my wisdom. I am the artist that is creating my life’s tapestry and I am not alone. I choose the colors and textures that are added to my masterpiece. I am a strong and wise woman full of love to share with others as I so choose, just like the amazing women of Casper, Wyoming. I know myself and paying attention is important, and opening to those trustworthy is a gift. I am so grateful to be on this spiritual journey of shared self discovery. To witness growth at this level is a great honor, and to share the wisdom of love with grandmothers, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, sisters, aunties, cousins in the family of women is a high honor for me. We are all connected through creation great and small and Shelter to Shelter is a generous vehicle that is bringing us together in wholeness.
Thank you to Caroline for having this dream of using art to end violence and waking into that dream. I see you as a dream weaver who brings an opportunity to find empowerment. I see you as an artist with a beautiful vision and I am paying attention to how you are bringing it to life.
Thank you Juliette for sprinkling your dream dust of spaciousness and exploration. I see you as being fully in life with willingness to seek knowledge along the journey. You are a gift of love.
May we all be well,