When the time came in mid January to begin thinking about how to contribute to the collaborative Girls vs. Boys show at the Yards, I couldn’t have been more bereft of inspiration. In the midst of heartache and a real whammy of a case of winter blues, it was hard to imagine creating anything; plus, the fact that it came right on the heels of the end of the Continental Breakfasts show was a bit daunting. (“More long hours at the Yards??!” At least no sticky tack was required, this time.)
But I knew I wanted to be a part of it- whats more therapeutic, after all, than the act of creation, especially in collaboration with a team of super amazing ladies? When the themes of the ship, the dollhouse, and the cabin in the woods, as they pertained to being an imaginative little girl in a big and magical world, were finalized, an idea finally began to take shape.
For the last three years, my dear friend Jenna has lived in a little house just outside of Ithaca that is, for all intents and purposes, a magical cabin in the woods. Its only a five minute drive from the town, but when you reach the end of the narrow, thickly tree-lined driveway, at the edge of a big field leading to a big forest, its easy to feel like you are deep in the woods, miles from anywhere. It is one of the most beautiful places I know, and has become my getaway, a sort of safehaven away from home. Just about anyone who knows me well knows that my instinct when I’m hurting is to skip town as soon as possible. Whenever I’ve gone through something trying / heartbreaking during the last three years, Jenna has been gracious enough to open her home to me, and spending time there with her has been the perfect antidote every time.
And so this was the inspiration for my piece of the show: the story of a magical cabin in the woods, where a broken-hearted little girl, dreaming of a new place far away, could find rest and peace and strength.
I’ve had this gigantic, completely incredible ledger, circa roughly the early 1900′s, for the last four years. I think its easily the most astonishing item that I own. It must be twenty pounds at least, with a gorgeous old cover and beautiful marbling on the page edges. It was found, completely blank, in the garbage by friends of mine- so mystifying! I’ve tried to figure out what to do with it- a friend and I had the idea to start a childrens book in it years ago, but that came and went; since then, its just sort of sat around the house, blowing the mind of anyone who had the chance to see it. It seemed on many levels like the perfect place to begin with this story, and became the base into which the story was written and built.
I spent a good amount of time going through allll of the photos I’ve taken during my sojourns at Jenna’s house- there were hundreds, spanning all the seasons. The ones I selected were arranged, interspersed with text, to tell the story, on the open pages of the book, which were built out with cardboard. I worked on the story portion in a frenzy of paper-ripping and glueing at home for days, and when the book finally came to the Yards (which was itself no small physical feat) , to be incorporated in with the rest of the show, it provided me my first opportunity ever to work on really creating an installation. This was a new challenge for me: though an avid appreciator of installation-based exhibits, I tend to work pretty two-dimensionally. It was a lot of fun to think about how to make the book feel like part of the fairy-tale-esque world it represented, and I was pretty happy with the cardboard trees, stumps, and cattails that wound up rounding out its little environment.
The end result was an extremely personal, autobiographical tale; I seem to always work this way when it comes to big projects or shows. The timing was fitting: having been just on the downswing of a sad, heartachey time, it was a pretty honest assessment of where i was at right then. It is always a little daunting to share something of that emotional caliber with the world at large, but there’s something very freeing about it as well.
The most special part of the whole thing, though, was being able to share it with Jenna. She’s a busy lady and I was unsure whether she’d be able to make the trip up to see it- and was sooo happy when she did. Jenna’s friendship has been an anchor in my life since I’ve known her. While her home has been the haven to which I’ve run, it is her listening ear and understanding and general ability to completely get everything that I share with her that makes that little cabin in the woods the special spot that it is. As she said, its her story in there as much as it is mine. We’ve both been through our fair share of major life ups and downs over these last few years, and the story in the big book is about seeing the scuffs in the road through to the other side; using quiet as a tool for healing; finding the place ultimately within yourself that brings freedom from whatever ails you. Being able to share those sorts of experiences with a friend like Jenna makes the whole road much easier to walk. I am grateful to have had the chance to do this whole thing when I did, and its been really nice to hear that others have been able to relate to it one way or another. After all, who doesn’t have those times when you just need to run away to the woods?