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Reclaiming Time on our own Terms
Page from the calendar of the Très Riches Heures showing the household of John, Duke of Berryexchanging New Year gifts. The Duke is seated at the right, in blue.
That sense of timelessness we get while staring up at the clouds...
You know that deeper sense of time that you can get from nature, if you have ever lain out on the grass and looked up at the clouds in the sky, noticing the ways in which they shift from moment to moment, looking first like a bunny and then shifting into a dinosaur? Or when you have your hands in the ground, digging in the dirt, planting seeds or tending a garden? You can completely lose track of “real” time, as you let go of the need to get to a Zoom call or call the dentist. Five minutes lost in wonderment, listening to owls calling each other from one tree to another, or in contemplating the brightness of green leaves against a blue sky can take you out of time. Breathing slows down, the mind’s chatter goes away. You experience a sense of expansion-and freedom. These moments are so very important for our sanity and well-being.
February, attributed to Paul Limbourg, or the "Rustic painter"
What have we lost in our urgency to "mange" time?
Recently I read an article in the NYTimes, Searching for Lost Time in the World’s Most Beautiful Calendar, about a beautiful 15th century calendar, the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, that encapsulated the two different ways we keep track of time, capturing both the seasonal shifts over time and yet, measuring time in a way that lets us be able to make plans, schedule events and stay in touch with each other.
One of the main points of the article, along with beautiful images of richly illustrated calendars from many different cultures, was that we, in our urgency to be able to “manage” time, have lost the connection to another, deeper sense of time that has always been there and would continue to be there long after we as humans are gone. By that I mean, a sense of connection to the subtle shifts of the seasons, tracked in the world of nature all around us. We have, as a human race, worked so hard to be as efficient as we now are, so why would it matter that we lost track of our ancestor’s way of tracking time? We know instinctively though, that it does matter.
A couple of pages from a series of illustrations I did as part of my own other-worldly series called Kalili's Journey, some day I will get this into a shape that you can see the whole thing. You can see how my work is inspired by calendars like the Très Riches Heures
Magic, and children already know about this...
If you, like me, read books like the Narnia series, stories where the four main characters visited alternate worlds by stepping into a wardrobe, you might have vicariously experienced this suspension of time. Often in the magical worlds of books like this, the characters discover that though they may have lived a whole lifetime in the alternate universe, when they return to our world, no time has passed. Or it could be the opposite, like the Rip van Winkle story, where a man goes to another universe for what he experiences as a short time, but returns to our world, having missed several generations of living. Books like this can take us back to an expansive time, that we know in our bodies. Children know how to do this instinctively. I remember this from my childhood but if you haven't thought about this in a while, you may need to give yourself the chance to recollect yours.
It is useful and essential to have ways of tracking our days and minutes with the kinds of calendars we run our lives by. And yet, if we forget to tune into timelessness at least once in a while, we lose a very important part of ourselves. A part that brings us bone-deep and absolutely essential nourishment. A part that reminds us that we are not machines, that we are all connected to source, whatever we might want to call that, nature, spirit, oneness. And a part that reminds us that we are connected inextricably with the web of life, to every other living thing.
I've been at this a while. This is a 2014 calendar where I experimented with alternative ways of tracking the days, while also tracking joy.
Let's not make this into a critique of all that is wrong with our modern day world...
This could so easily get into a critique of all that is wrong with our modern-day world and that is not what I am meaning to do here. It's just that I wanted to share with you a delightful (and easy) way to reclaim something that you have always known but that can so easily forget in a day-to-day existence where the claims on our attention can feel so urgent and essential.
What you might find is that the rewards are great, even if you spend even 15 minutes out of your day in this different sense of time. It could be as easy as looking at a tree outside your window for five minutes out of your day. Or open up a children's book, like the Narnia series, or Alice in Wonderland, that will take you to an alternate universe. Or you can experiment with making your own calendar, tracking what is most important to you, like one I did (see above) in 2014, where I tracked what brought me joy each day. These are a few ideas.
A couple years ago I created a series of healing crone dolls. If you are interested, you can see them on my gallery page here. In these dolls, Each of the crones in this series represented a different quality and each also represent deep emotions. This doll, a larger Ukrainian crone was part of that series. Last year, I worked more on this doll, adding a base for her to stand on (my husband helped-I write more about this on my Instagram account.) But she didn't seem finished. I had come to the understanding that this doll was a Ukranian crone, but her clothes didn't look Ukrainian enough. So I decided to fix that. As usual with these types of efforts, the process took a lot longer than expected.
Before I got to embellishing my Ukrainian crone's clothing, there was another step to take care of. I realized I needed to add a supportive piece of leather for her shoulders-see second image below. When we added the rods into her legs, they pushed up into her shoulders and I was worried that they could eventually push their way up through the cloth.
And then I explored alternate cloaks for her-third image below. I never had the intention to make her exactly accurate. She isn't meant to be a replica of a Ukranian crone in real life. Instead I followed my intuition in creating her, letting her be who she wants to be.
I did do some research about Ukrainian clothing, studying about the kinds of embroidery that would be added to clothing and other decorative household items such as tablecloths or curtains. I learned that oaks, laurels, roses, stars and crosses were important symbols in Ukrainian embroidery, plants and floral designs being most common, especially in Eastern Ukraine. In Western Ukraine, geometric, nature-inspired patterns were more common. Some of the symbolic meanings were: flowers and branching leaves symbolize purity and prosperity of a family, grape clusters mean joy, oak and gulden roses symbolize feminine youth and magical beauty. Much of this symbolism had to do with weddings and fertility.
The symbolism of geometric patterns have their roots in Slavic mythology. A rhombus means fertility, stars represent the universe, triangles relate to the holy trinity and crosses are a defense against evil.
I discovered that animals and birds also had symbolic meaning in embroidery but were usually not added to clothing. Common animals and birds would be doves and roosters-often turned towards each other, symbolizing wedding union, butterflies meaning angels, and swallows representing good news. The colors of black and red symbolize wisdom and courage over generations.
I didn't find anything about foxes in Ukrainian embroidery, especially not on clothing but I felt that this doll wanted a fox-a powerful symbol of survival, shape-shifting, edges and borderlands and the ability to charm. But I did find this story of Mykyta the Fox, a wiley fox whose story is as well-recognized in Ukraine as Mother Goose would be in the U.S. In this story, Mykyta outsmarts other animals that he encounters in his travels and is able to use their strengths against them, in order to survive. In the book, Fox Mykyta, "...is the eternal rebel--irresistible, independent, and indomitable. Using only his wit and his wits, Fox Mykyta astutely uses the moral flaws of his enemies to triumph over them--Wolf's greed, Cat's thieving, Rabbit's opportunism, Bear's hypocrisy, Goat's obsequiousness and even the lust for treasure of King Lion himself; only the guileless Badger and Babye escapes Fox's cunning." (from Ukrainian Treasures Studio) I wanted my crone to have some of this creativity, strength and cunning.
Below, you can see how I initially drew the foxes onto fabric, painting them then with fabric paint and then stitching into them with colored embroidery threads. Then I cut them out and added them to her black cloth skirt. In the other images below, you can see me experimenting with various additional embellishments to the skirt, cloak and her bodice. She seems to enjoy and appreciate the process.
Below, you can see more of the work as I went along. I had ordered some embroidered fabric from Ukraine, and I added that at the end to make sleeves for her. I also looked at headdresses worn in traditional Ukrainian costumes and saw that they often had flowers, red, white and sometimes pink and also pompoms. I made both the flowers and the pompoms. The flowers I made by folding cloth circles and stitching them together and the pompoms I felted out of colored wool. I gave her a pocket on her skirt. Not sure yet what will go in the pocket. I think she is done now but I will let her sit for a while longer to see if she asks for anything else.
Dedication, a discovered family connection...
After I wrote this, I learned, at our family non-traditional Seder this year, that my husband's great grandmother (and grandfather) were Ukranian and had emigrated to the United States, to Brooklyn to escape the pogroms of that time. They were apparently married in Ukraine and then made it here after that. His great grandfather was soon killed in an accident in which he was run over by a horse-drawn wagon. I dedicate this doll to my great great grandmother in law. We don't know her name or the name of her husband.
I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!