Deep Cuts: In Trump-Adjusted Terms

Detail of One Story At A Time by Kim Rugg

“In Trump-adjusted terms, I’m fine.” That was the answer a woman gave on a podcast I listened to this week when asked how she was.

Perfect! I thought. A way to skip the usual five minute greeting of yes, things are okay for me except I’m completely freaked out about the ongoing circus that our federal government has become — the meanest, freakiest, scariest circus ever — and half the time feel like I can hardly breathe. Now we can just give our TAT score.

In TAT I’m doing well, in part because I saw the Deep Cuts exhibit at the Currier Museum of Art on Wednesday.

An attractive part of delving into visual art for me is the absorption in making something with my hands, beyond my fingers on the keyboard as I write. Most of my writing time these days is editing anyway, which doesn’t even mean many keystrokes — mostly I’m reading and sifting.

Time spent weaving a collage of newspaper strips or cutting blocks of words or gluing beads to a piece of paper for a pressure print as I listen to music can feel like slow snow — a suspension that’s going to amount to something at some point, and the creeping pace to that place feels just right.

But the level of detailed suspension in a head space of meticulous making displayed in the Deep Cuts exhibit is breathtaking. It can take me an hour or more to fuss with the strips of newspaper I weave to make a collage, painstaking for a relative newbie like me.

Then I saw Kim Rugg’s collage in the exhibit, “One Story at a Time,” and understood painstaking on a whole other level. Her work is a reconstruction of the front page of the NY Times after dissecting it letter by letter and pixel by pixel. The letters are put back together by alphabet, starting with all the a’s and preceding to z.

Detail of Altered Text: Unbearable Lightness of Being by Youdhi Maharjan
Detail of I am the rejection of you by Ambreen Butt


Youdhi Maharjan cut every single letter out of pages of Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, along the exact lines of the letter, then massed them in a central column that runs through the excised pages pasted on either side. The letters are all discernible and black — you can see each letter in the cut spaces also, glowing gold from the background of the collage.

Ambreen Butt cut and collaged pieces of rejections letters — her own and others she got from friends — into a 10 foot circle that looks like an alternative sun. It’s beautiful, a source of light from an unexpected globe.

This is just a taste of this mind-blowing exhibit. Where do these artists’ brains go during the hours upon hours upon hours of exacting work? The same place my own brain goes as I continue to massage 85,000 words into a book constructed of the exact right words in the exact right places?

Whatever that place is, in TAT, being in that headspace myself, or looking at the marvels artists make from that space, makes everything better.





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I’ve been making books (the first definition of bookmaking is someone who takes bets –those of us making actual books come in second).  I’ve learned how to fold sheets of paper into zines and bind pages with the five hole pamphlet stitch. Next week I’ll learn caught loop binding and then on to coptic binding, a beautiful braid of stitches to hold a book together.

I’ve been making phone calls. My goal each week is 15 acts of resistance, which include making collages and going to meetings but mostly calls to Senators Hassan and Shaheen with occasional calls to Annie Kuster. My message is basically the same — resist the Trump autocracy/hypocrisy/treachery flavor of the day. I also make regular calls to McConnell’s office because his particular brand of partisan bullshit cowardice is particularly infuriating to me. Sometimes I even get through. When I don’t, there’s no way to leave a message. Of course.

I’ve been drawing. Every day. I’m bound to get better.

I’ve been getting smart feedback on my memoir manuscript from incredibly generous friends (you know who you are) which has made my writing brain fire off in flashes of insight that I know will lead to a tighter, stronger, more dynamic book. Part of yesterday was spent making lists of what’s coming and going in the next draft — getting ready to dive back in.

I’ve been writing pushback against injustice. Yesterday I sent off a column to the Concord Monitor pointing out the absurdity of arguments against a bill to protect trans people from discrimination; opponents claim it will lead to women being assaulted in bathrooms. I’ve had it with the “bathroom bill” idiocy. NH’s bill to add gender identity to the anti-discrimination law isn’t about bathrooms and the opposition isn’t about protecting women. Let’s be real — the bill is about justice and the opposition is about bigotry. HB 478 — call your NH House Rep to support the bill today.

I’ve been running. According to my training plan I’m running 11 miles this morning. That means my legs won’t do much else today. My gratitude for a body strong enough to still be running long distances is deep, but I definitely feel the difference between a body that’s 60 and a body that’s 63. Hopefully it will all stay on track for the NYC Half Marathon on March 19. Can I run a time qualifying half marathon again? I’m sure going to try.

I’ve been making collages. I’ve made a book collage of collages inspired by Ta Nahesi-Coates’ essay in The Atlantic, “My President Was Black.” The article describes a concert and party the Obamas had at the White House in October, a farewell celebration. It was presented by Black Entertainment Television and was primarily a party for black people — black performers, black guests, black luminaries.

It was a joy to read about, black people having a party at the White House. A house built by black slaves.

But I know there are people in this country, not the majority but enough of them, who couldn’t stand the idea of a black family in the White House, much less that family celebrating there. The White Fuckboys particularly couldn’t stand it.

Now the White Fuckboys are trying to run the country though they’re not having an easy time of it, partly because their treachery keeps catching up with them and partly because of the organic rise of resistance that’s swept across country.

Let’s keep it up. We have no choice.

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Image & Text

The New Yorker 2.6.17 Time 2.6.17
The New Yorker 2.6.17
Time 2.6.17

Working With Image & Text is the name of the class David and are taking at the NH Institute of Art. It’s also an area of fascination for me. I love words. I love visual art. I love when they’re put together in ways that make the meaning of each bounce back and forth against each other. Looking for ways to combine image and text is what led me to make collages from newspapers and magazines. It’s not only an act of resistance, shredding and weaving the news as a reflection of the world we live in now, there’s also a possibility of beauty.

The Image & Text class is taught by Erin Sweeney, a sculptor, printer and book artist, and Glen Scheffer, a photographer. They’ll teach us how to alter digital photographs, do screen and letter press printing and book binding, and anything else they know about playing along the borders of images and text that we want to know.

Based on the first class, we’ll also learn how to let ourselves go into creating art out of everyday life, the records we keep, what we do, see and hear. Our homework — spend 10 minutes every day writing and drawing in our sketchbooks, including 1) a list of what we did, 2) a list of what we saw, 3) something we overheard 4) a drawing of what we saw.

David and I have been absorbed in our homework; our sketchbooks are open a lot more than 10 minutes a day. I’ve been drawing, pasting, cutting, folding, writing, listing, coloring, printing.

When I went to Vermont Studio Center two years ago John the Founder (he’s one of the founders and that’s what everyone calls him) greeted the gathering at dinner on Sunday night, or first meal together. He welcomed us and talked about the culture at VSC — leave the competition and judgment at the door so it doesn’t get in the way of what you came here to create. “We’re all people who, for whatever reason, like to make things. So go make things.”

I made a collage in answer to a call for artists to respond to the crisis in Syria through the medium of postcards. Art for Aleppo has organized a show and online exhibit of the postcards as a way to raise awareness and money. I made mine from a NY Times article about the evacuation of Aleppo.

“My President Was Black” by Ta-Nehisi Coates was in the January/February issue of The Atlantic. The article was excellent and intersected well with the cover photo of Obama in a crowd of jubilant supporters.

My collage of the front pages of the January 21 and January 22 NY Times, the inauguration of Trump dominating the 21st and the Women’s March dominating the 22nd, came out darker than I’d imagined. The joy of January 22 was real and delicious but was still shadowed by the inauguration, a shadow I walk out of everyday.

Yesterday I wove the New Yorker cover of a reimagined Rosie the Riveter in a pussy hat with the Time cover of a pussy hat underneath the title The Resistance Rises, How A March Becomes A Movement.

We all keep moving towards justice and freedom, that’s how we create a movement. I’m having fun and satisfying something really deep by combining images and text. But I also make phone calls and send emails almost every day  — reps, senators, Governor Sununu, the House Ethics Committee — picking actions from the news and the multiple resources that have been created to keep the resistance strong.

The luck that led me to a life with time to do all this amazes me. I’m squeezing that luck to get every bit of good out of it I can.