The Malissa Perry Project

“Sunrise in Your Smile,” acrylic on panel by Christen Mattix

Dear Ones,

Happy Autumn!  It’s been a while since we’ve last connected, so I wanted to let you in on my Big Secret.  Last year while I was knitting, I was also painting like mad, and I’ve birthed a new painting exhibition!  It’s called the Malissa Perry Project.
I’ll be posting regular updates here: www.facebook.com/themalissaperryproject.com so please “like” the page and join me on this exciting journey!  Thanks for sharing the adventure.

gratefully yours,

Christen

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Magic Happens

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photo by Janelle Bighinatti

The day started with an email from Harvey Schwartz, my filmmaker friend whose enthusiasm for this project has never flagged:

Have a magical event today!!!!
Harvey (in Idaho)

I had just enough time to shower before I drove off to pick up my friend Janelle Bighinatti at the bus station…I’d offered to pay her way if she would document the reception for me with her eye for beauty and SLR camera.  To my surprise, she said yes.  So a bunch of us converged upon my tiny studio apartment.  I started working myself into a tizzy when I realized that the cooking couldn’t be rushed, and I wasn’t sure how we’d get the chairs and tables set up in time for the reception.  But my friends calmed me down, and we got everything done with time to spare.  Janelle and I even headed down to the air-conditioned Avenue Bread to freshen up beforehand, laughing ourselves silly over shots of fizzy kombucha.

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Jethro shares a moment with Uncle Nate and the hose reel. photo: Janelle Bighinatti

We set up camp on R.’s front lawn, across from the bench.  I had no idea how many people to expect, so we put out 24 chairs, two picnic blankets, and 2 tables for the potluck.  People started arriving around 6 pm, and I was surrounded by hugging, smiling, congratulatory friends, neighbors and their dogs including Buster and Reggie.  My nephew Jethro showed up wearing a bright blue shirt in honor of the knit line.

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Owen and Violet, neighbor kids.

At around 7 pm, I got up on the ice chest for visibility purposes, and thanked everyone for these transformative years in their neighborhood.  I said that they were going to unwind the line tonight instead of me because they were the Art.

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I demonstrated how to unwind the line, and then I passed the hose reel off to the first volunteer, my brother Nate.  Violet and her little brother Owen, their mom Jen, Gail, Renee, Claudia, Don, Paul, Daydre, Jeni, Ron, Prentice, and more lovely neighbors, friends and family all grabbed onto the blue rope behind the hose reel and we began walking together down Taylor.  It was as if the line had become animated and was floating down the street, connecting us all.

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John did traffic control duties, stopping cars on busy 11th street so that we all crossed in safety while my Dad kept an eye on the tension of the line.  As we passed the fancy condos near Chrysalis Hotel, a group of people on the third floor balcony let out a loud cheer.  

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photo by Janelle Bighinatti

Soon we had made it all the way down to the boardwalk, taking turns unwinding the hose reel as we went.  Everyone insisted that I put the end of the rope in the water, so I gently untied it and dropped it into the Bay.  It lay there floating on the surface of the water like a blue worm.  Sort of anti-climactic, I thought, but the best was yet to come.  Suddenly, the floating dock rocked and I heard a loud splash.  My dad was in the water swimming vigorously, pulling the line with him!  He swam into the path of dancing light made by the setting sun on the water until the line was completely extended about 20 feet from the floating dock.  All of us started laughing and applauding spontaneously while the floating dock lurched precariously.  It seemed as if we might just come untethered and float away like a penguins on an iceberg but thankfully that didn’t happen (because I hadn’t bought event insurance!)

We all headed back up the hill, taking turns winding the hose reel up the hill together.  My friend Vanessa struck some fabulous poses in her little dress while cranking the reel.

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photo by Janelle Bighinatti

The engineers in our midst seemed especially attuned to the hose reel’s mechanics.  “It is completely useless, and I love it!  That’s high praise from an engineer,” one confided in me.  At 14th Street, the line got a nasty line in it, and a bunch of us gathered around to untangle it, the messiness bringing us together.

photo by Janelle Bighinatti

Then John sprinted uphill with the hose reel the rest of the way, and we all converged around the food again…There was plenty of it, and hardly any of it ran out.  We lingered in the sweet glow of community…One of the neighbors came up to me and told me how inspiring it was to watch me knit.  She said that everyone has to find their own path of unfolding and she hopes to find a similar project to undertake.  I advised her to just be open, and told her that I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into when I started the project.

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My brother Justin and his wife Megan, Bailey Jo and the twins, Theo and Jennie, even made it to the party! Bailey Jo was wearing a lovely sea-foam mermaid dress.

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photo by Janelle Bighinatti

Another woman named Tracy told me that she was the one that gave me the ice cream a long time ago.  It was strangely gratifying to know that I had made an impact on people that had barely ever talked to me at the bench.  A man in a straw hat told me that his pastor had worked my knitting project into a sermon so he decided to come and experience it for himself.  (The older gentleman who had unwound the line with me on July 16 turned out to be the pastor of St. Paul Episcopal Church).  The project was finally complete.  My senses were flooded with the beauty that I had just witnessed.  As we put the chairs and tables away, a rose sunset filled the sky with more longing than I could ever hold…

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photo by Janelle Bighinatti

And now, I’ve finally emerged from stacks of dirty tablecloths, dishes, and photographs to share with you the closing celebration of “For Longing.”  I’m still processing the completion of this project which has been my constant companion since 2012, the line that ran through these 3.5 momentous years of my life: unemployment, the monastery, return to Bellingham, and the rebirth of my art in community.  And now, when I come home every day, I squeeze past a hose reel in the hallway, parked as if awaiting its next adventure.  And there are many more I’m sure, but for now, dear friends, this one has come to an end.IMGP6334

The Sixth Principle of Gestalt Theory

World Wildlife Federation

World Wildlife Federation (logo)

I’ve burnt two pots in the last 24 hours.  The house still reeks of the black beans that I left on medium high for 4 stinkin’ hours while I was at the neighborhood block party.  It took some serious elbow grease and Comet, a scrubber and a metal spatula to scrape off those charcoaled remains.  Upon further reflection, I’ve concluded that I haven’t made peace with the end of my daily knitting practice, and much more, the sudden loss of daily contact with the people that I’ve come to love.

Yesterday, I went to the Luau Hawaii themed Block Party that J. the jeweler puts on each year on 16th Street.  Each of us wrote a Hawaiian word on our name tags that we selected from the dictionary.  I overheard C. explaining the word she picked, “It’s Hawaiian for long, fast, narrow boat…or…[her eyes sparkling mischievously] a tall, well-proportioned woman.”  I picked my word randomly again this year by flipping the dictionary open and dropping my finger on the page with my eyes closed.  My word was hemo hemo for “loosening” or “take off.”  For example, you might hemo your shoes.  I thought it was appropriate to the last stages of an art project.  In a sense, I am casting my stitches off now, letting go, and opening up to what lies ahead…But what if the art project was primarily composed of relationships rather than paint, clay or film?  What then? I’ve been wondering to myself…As an artist, I’ve become accustomed to signing a painting and setting it aside.  Art as social practice is different, and I am at a loss for how to wrap up this work.  It’s complicated because the art is not an object but a process and a place and a series of unscripted interactions with people that have brought such richness into my life, including this blog.

It was so hot, I found myself milling about the beverages table, refilling my cup with ice water and juice when suddenly a lanky, older man with feathers poking out of his cap asked me about my knitting project.  I explained to him that it was done.  He leaned forward intently, his grey eyes glittering, and asked, “But are you done?”

“The knitting is done, but the project is not done, and neither am I,” I said.

“Closure.  It’s the sixth principle of Gestalt Theory,” he said.  “I’ll give you an example.  What is the logo of the World Wildlife Federation?” he asked me.

“That’s easy, it’s a panda,” I replied.

“No, it’s not.  It’s just blobs of black paint.  Your mind connects the black blobs and interprets them as a panda.  That’s closure–when you connect the dots and make meaning out of them.”

“I like that interpretation of closure-as-connection very much,” I said.  “I was feeling sad about the end of the project.  I couldn’t even bring myself to type the words Closing Reception.”

“You were thinking of closure as finality, as death.  But that’s not what this kind of closure entails.  Your closure will result in other people’s openings,” he said and as I thanked him, he made a little bow and left the gathering, only to return later without the pheasant feathers in his cap, and I could detect none of his previous mystery that bordered on divinity.  He had given me a profound gift, a new way of seeing the work that I must do to bring this project to completion.  It is about making connections, distilling the meaning of this life-changing experience into words and images and placing it in a new context for people to encounter.  I don’t know yet what that will look like whether a book, photographs or some kind of museum installation.  But one thing I trust is that as we share this experience with others, it will spawn new ideas, artworks and social experiments for the health of our communities.

Wait, It’s Not Over Yet!

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photo by Melanie Chambers

If you are like me, the arrival of the knit line at the Bay crept up on you unawares, and perhaps you are wondering, “Now what?”  Actually, the work is not complete.  The 3.5 year labor of knitting is done, yes, but the artwork is nowhere near finished.  I need you to complete the work…your presence, your imagination, and your magical powers of memory.  I need you to witness the moment when the knit line finally touches the salty brine, when the bench and the Bay are united for a brief moment in time…As you recall, I purposely held off from that moment of consummation because I wanted you to be there.  I am not sure you realize this, but I don’t really think of the knitting as the “art.”  At the very most, I only see it as half of the equation–you and the community of South Hill are the other necessary half.  The work is as much about the connections that we have knit together over these rich years as it is about the blue knit rope.  Without you, I’d just have a large pile of cord to stow away in the basement somewhere.  Now that the knitting is done, I’m thinking more and more about the other half of the equation…how to honor the spiritual bonds that we have formed.  I think a reception is in order with plenty of food and drink, reminiscing and storytelling.  Let’s make some new memories!  For me, the lived experience is where the juice and joy are found, and I’d love to share this one with you.  This is how I’m picturing it, but tell me what you think: we meet at the bench, and then we walk together down the hill as I unwind the line all the way down to the water.  Once we get there, we celebrate!  It would just be members of the community–I’m not inviting the paparrazi!  I wish we could have champagne or wine but I’m a little worried about getting busted.  Is it worth it?!  I get to spend some time with you in person, and hopefully listen to you, for once.  I’m really excited about that part because I’ve shared my intense, soul-searching journey with you all these years, and now I would love to hear yours, and at the very least, say thank you.  Knowing that you were listening gave me the courage to open up to whole new levels of insight and honesty.  Though most of the time you’ve been silent, I have sensed your faith in the value of this project, my writing, me.  I’ve never considered myself a writer, but because you readers showed up, I kept writing.

So, I’ve put August 1 from 6-8 down in my calendar as a tentative date for the celebration.  I hope it gives you enough time to plan.  I’ll let you know when I’ve finalized the dates.

Much love and gratitude,

Christen

An End and a Beginning

July 16 2015 floating dock b July 16 2015 new bench When I arrived at the bench, I immediately sensed a difference, and realized that C. had stripped the bench of all the mold and mildew and restored it to its original goodness.  I texted her, “Wow, the bench looks gorgeous!”  The bench felt satiny and smooth and oh so inviting.  But today I wasn’t planning to knit, I felt an urgency about measuring my distance to the Bay instead.  It was after 8 pm, and the temperature was warm but tolerable for the work ahead of me.  I wasn’t sure it was the smartest thing to attempt today because I’d slept hard for an hour after work, waking up groggy and out of sorts with an upset stomach.  But back to the task at hand.  The sun was about to set over the glistening water.  As I unwound the line down the hill, I stopped to gaze enraptured at the light shining through the ruby petals of a hollyhock’s towering spire.  The unwinding went smoothly and soon I was down to the dock.  Tons of people out walking–people with tiny dogs on tethers, moms pushing strollers, silver-haired couples and teenagers sporting perfect tans.  They peppered me with questions.  A lovely older couple attached themselves to me, saying that they had watched my progress over the years and were excited to witness this moment.  The rope kept unwinding–I dared not anticipate whether or not it would reach the water.  Finally I was on the floating dock which was aflutter with people catching crabs.  A small Asian boy playing with a wire crab cage smiled in our general direction, and a young man and woman sitting on plastic tubs sipping drinks at the far end of the dock made small talk with me.  “I thought it was a very long crabbing rope!” The guy told me regarding my line.  “Today’s the opening day of crab season.”  The rope more than reached the end of the dock.  The older gentleman high-fived me and everyone smiled.  I felt radiant.  The light was magical.  The golden hour. July 16 2015 floating dock group pix The line reached the end of the floating dock, with plenty of spare line still on the hose reel.  I didn’t put the end in the water because I want to save that moment for the closing reception.  We paused and snapped pictures together, then I started rewinding the line onto the hose reel.  And suddenly a family with twin girls approached me and started talking excitedly about the project.  “We just followed the yellow brick road, and there you were!” They told me they had started at the bench, and when I wasn’t there, they had followed the line down to the dock.  The two girls attend Lowell Elementary, and have watched my project from afar over the past 4 years.  One of the girls, Maya, started snapping photos of me on her brand new SLR camera, while the other girl, Dharma, asked if she could crank the handle of the hose reel for me.  The mom asked to carry my heavy purse, and the Dad helped carry the hose reel up the steps…Before I knew it, Dharma and Maya had pushed the hose reel and wound it up all the way to the top of the hill, looking proud and pleased to have helped me.  Dharma kept saying, “I just love to help people!”  The truth is stranger than fiction sometimes, and I grinned the whole way up the hill.  They even competed with each other for the chance to push the hose reel, all their muscles straining.  I felt a bit like Tom Sawyer enlisting Huck to paint his fence for him.  100_2175 July 16 2015 Maya and DharmaThe sun continued to set, and as Maya snapped pictures on her new camera, the mom said to me, “The sun is setting on your knitting, as my daughter’s photography has just begun.”  It was a spectacular sunset, a sort of neapolitan ice cream swirl that kept gathering more intensity in orange, purple and pink.  “That sunset is crazy!” I said, and Dharma chimed in, “Crazy beautiful!”100_2173 I felt suspended in time–very present and grounded, yet euphoric.  Full and satisfied, and in no rush for the moment to ever end.  We all kept saying how happy we were to have shared this unplanned experience together.  It was now 9:45, and Mom said “way past your bedtime girls, but this was a special occasion.”  Dharma and Maya gave me sweet hugs, and so did Mom, and we parted ways for the night.  I thought about how different the end of this project is from the beginning–back in 2012, I didn’t know a soul, and I knit all alone in a heavy black coat in the rain.  Now it’s July 16, 2015, and I’m surrounded by the community, your energy and support.  My heart overflows.

Help

C. and Me

July 13, C and Me

July 13 2015

July 13 Water

July 14 2015

July 14, X Marks the Spot (afternoon knit)

July 15 2015

July 15, 2015 

I can’t get rid of italics tonight so I’m just going to roll with it.  I just received the picture of C. and me from Gabriel Newton, an artist who called out from his car, “Permission to pass?”  I’m so glad he captured this picture of me with my lovely neighbor…it’s a memory I will savor for years to come.  I’ve been feeling an urgency about showing up for my knit on time.  In the past week or so, I’ve missed two encounters simply by not coming to the bench at my normal time.  Today I forgot to set my alarm and slept in.  I decided to drive to the bench and arrived within 10 minutes of 8:30.  So glad I hustled, because the minute I arrived at the bench, my friend M. came strolling towards me from her car.  “Need some help?” she asked as she gazed down at the yarn tangled around the hose reel’s wheel due to my lack of mindfulness last night.  What would have taken me an entire hour to undo, took M. about 5 minutes.  She gently loosened the mess, gave it a few wiggles and it all came free of the wheel in one piece.  Another reminder that I am not meant to make this journey alone.  Help appears when I need it.  Friends listen and cheer me on.  I am incredibly blessed.  M. and I talked about some of the challenges that we each face.  She talked about wanting to shift her perspective of the situation and seeing it in a positive light instead of running away.  Quantum physics–your perspective changes your reality.  I used to think that was a bunch of New Age baloney, but now I’ve realized there’s a great deal of truth in it. I think we’re all contributing to “reality” by our attitudes and perspectives, and when one of us shifts for the better, we set in motion the possibility for others to shift as well.  We are all tributaries flowing into the sea.