Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Home" - a Book Arts Project

My final semester of college (Spring 2016), I was lucky enough to be able to take a studio art class on Book Arts and Typography. The class was incredible, and that's a whole other story, but right now I want to tell you about one of my favorite projects that I did in that class. It involved this very blog!

The only specification of the project was that we were supposed to use one of two very simple bindings that don't require any sewing. The details aren't important, but I chose to make an accordion fold book (also known as a leporello binding). All of the other parts of the project, including materials and content, were totally up to us.

Being a computer science major, I thought it would be fun to use technology in my project in some way. I thought about this project for a long time, and I finally decided I wanted to do something relating to my months in Ireland. I remembered all the blog posts I wrote about my time in Ireland, and my idea was born.

To start, here is the short explanation that I put into the book itself:

"I studied abroad at Trinity College Dublin in Spring 2015. The words in this book were chosen from a list of the most common words that I used in my blog during the month that I was abroad, and the pages of the book are constructed from an old calendar containing pictures of Ireland.
Leah Ferguson
February 2016"

front cover
back cover
As I mention in that short description, the main material that I used in the book was pictures of Ireland that I cut out of an old calendar I had lying around. The front and back covers of the book are made of binders board (which all hard cover books are made of) covered in old paper maps that we had in the book arts lab.

The front cover is a picture of Minnesota, my home state, and the back cover is a picture of Massachusetts, where I went to college. With the main topic of the book being Ireland, it seemed fitting to have these two other places that have been so important to me involved in the project as well. (Also, we didn't have any maps of Ireland available...)

The way I developed the main content of the book (the words from my blog) was by using a website I found which, given a bunch of text, counts the words and gives you a list of the ones that occur most often (minus common words like "the", "of", "and", etc.) The text that I entered into the site was the text of all of the blog posts I wrote about my time abroad. I decided to rearrange the words and not keep them in exact order of frequency, because I wanted to tell more of a story. I used those words to create concepts that made sense to me and summarized some aspects of my time in Ireland.

Every good story also has a meaningful title. One of the words, "Home", seemed like the perfect choice to serve as a title for my book. The longer I live and the more I travel, the more I realize how complicated of a concept home really is. When I was in Ireland, I became so fond of it that it felt almost like home, and now that I'm gone I miss it a lot. But while I was there, especially near the beginning of my trip, I was also terribly homesick for Minnesota, for my family and friends, for what I knew. There was a tension between the joy of exploration, of being surprised every day, of learning to love a new place, while also longing for the known and the familiar.

Here are a few of my other favorite pages in the book. These pages are roughly from the beginning, middle, and end of the book and show a little bit of its overall arc.

find | different

Near the beginning of my time abroad, everything was different than what I was used to and I found new things every day, both good and bad.

time | went

Just when I was starting to get more comfortable and fall in love with my new home, I realized that time is a strange thing and that what had once seemed like forever (5 months) went by in a flash.

realize | remember

I may no longer be in Ireland, but I remember it often very fondly, and through my journey and my return home I have realized so many new things about myself and about the world.

Now as I look back, the main themes of the book seem to be transition and change. Going to Ireland for 5 months certainly involved a lot of change. Even now as I am in a season of transition in my life, the words and themes resonate with me in a new way. I guess that's one of my favorite things about art - it isn't static. It can mean different things to different people, and even to the same person during different periods of their life. When I came up with the idea for this book I was excited because I thought it could be a really beautiful reminder of my semester abroad. The more time has passed the more meaningful it has become to me, not just as a reminder of a fun few months, but as a benchmark in this journey that I'm on and is nowhere near finished yet. I guess I can remember the past while still looking forward to finding new and wonderful things in my future, and its good to be reminded of that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Year of Change

It's that time of year when people tend to look back on the previous year and do some reflection. Well, I'm a few days late, but you get the idea... This is one of those blog posts that I don't even know how to begin. So much has happened in my life, I think it's safe to say this year has brought with it more major life changes than any other. Buckle up, it's been a wild ride.

I guess I'll get the horribleness out of the way first. On April 13, 2016, my dad died of depression, taking his own life. I hate the word "suicide". That is an accurate descriptor for what happened, but it seems like our society has attached so much shame to that word. I have trouble using it to describe a situation that's so personal to me, and a person that I loved so much. Maybe someday I'll write more about it, but for now it's still a bit too raw. Suffice it to say that April 13 was the single worst day of my life, and every other event this year has been affected by the cloud of grief that hangs over our family.

This year wasn't all bad. On May 27, 2016, I graduated from Wellesley College. Wellesley does commencement right, and it was such a joyful few days. Many of my family and even one of my best friends flew out to Boston to visit my college and see me graduate, which meant the world to me. It was certainly bittersweet, both because I was missing somebody very important to me and also because I liked Wellesley and knew I'd miss being there. I did miss Wellesley this fall as everybody else was going back to school. It had to end sometime though, and our commencement was a fitting end to 4 great years. The icing on the cake was being able to show many of my family and friends around campus and around Boston for the first time; we had a blast!

On June 21, 2016, I boarded a plane for Bangkok, Thailand. I was participating in a program called the Global Urban Trek (I've written about it here before) and I was embarking on a 6 week journey to live in a slum in North Africa and minister to the community there. (I know, it's kind of confusing; we spent a week of orientation in Thailand before going to North Africa. No, the two places are not very close together, as my jet lag attested.) I had been on several 8-10 day missions trips before, but this summer was entirely different. I formed relationships deeper than I ever could have imagined in only 6 weeks. I learned so much from each member of my team, but also from the local people that we served with and who showed us incredible hospitality as we entered their culture. I learned a tiny amount about what it's like for a family to live in a community where the main source of income is collecting and sorting garbage by hand, where packs of feral dogs and rats in the street (both dead and alive) are a daily reality. It was an eye opening experience; I am very grateful for all that I learned, and I hope that maybe I was able to contribute to their lives in some small way.

On August 5, 2016, I arrived back home. And ever since, I've been trying to sort through my life and evaluate what comes next. I am incredibly lucky that I've had this time to relax and recover and slowly enter into life after college, but it's also frustrating. What I wouldn't give to have already had a plan in place! Following a plan sounds so much easier than being in this limbo, living day to day and somehow trying to figure out what's next. I know I'll continue moving forward, even if some days it feels as though I've moved backwards, or that I'm moving impossibly slow.

What is a new year for if not new beginnings?