I came back to BC and got on with my life, getting a commercial diploma in fashion design which landed me a corporate job immediately. I realized that my work, my art work, was toxic to me and unresolved, so I did my best to put it out of my mind.
Several years elapsed in this way, until one day while I was visiting friends on Galiano Island, I reached onto a bookshelf for the worn spine of a large paperback book. The title had been rubbed away by use but I could still see the imprint of the publisher; I had good associations with that icon, and that was what prompted me to reach for that particular book.
It was 'The Book of the Vision Quest', by Steven Foster and Meredith Little.
I began to flip through it, and realized that what I had been trying to create in my final studio work was the preparation for a Vision Quest.
I wrote to Naoko and let her know what I had found, finally creating the narrative that I was unable to articulate while I was in the moment.
Here is my message, from April 2007:
A few weeks ago something happened that has compelled to write this
message to you, so that I can establish a feeling of closure on my
final studio project from April 2000. You gave me a high grade for my
work and I felt that I still had more to do to earn it.
What happened was that I came across a book that spoke directly of the
issues that I was trying to address in my work.
Please search your memory to see if you can recall my project, which
was to collect or make objects and then pack them in my trunk,
imagining what I would take with me, what I would need to survive both
physically and emotionally, if I were to go into the wilderness for an
extended period of time by myself.
I was received by my peers at my critique with some (justified)
confusion. At that time, I could barely verbalize my inspiration and
thesis and I was very attached to it emotionally, and self conscious
about proposing such an extreme scenario, one I had never even come
close to experiencing, as a point of departure. Everything I had done
made sense in my own mind, but when I had to face my peers, I felt very
silly and naive. I couldn't place my work in any cultural context for
them, or myself.
Last week I came across a book called The Book of the Vision Quest, by
Steven Foster with Meredith Little (Island Press, 1983).
A Vision Quest (as these authors practice it) is to go into the
wilderness to an isolated spot with a bare minimum of supplies, and
fast for three days and nights.
The purpose of doing a Vision Quest is spiritual. One learns one's own
mind by severing oneself from the known, experiencing the threshold of
one's physical existence, and then returning to the known. This
archetype is quite ancient and has roots in cultures worldwide, as the
I realized that my final project was about me metaphorically packing my
trunk and embarking on an extended Vision Quest. I wish I had been able
to say this to my studio mates then!
Here is a passage from the book that describes what I was doing, and
what I was intuitively aware of while I was packing that trunk seven
"Though you will walk as nakedly as possible to your rendezvous with
the Great Mother, you must carry some of the tools of civilization. We
cannot recapture the early peoples fine-tuning to Nature. We can only
simplify the elaborate technological barrier behind which we live our
passive, helpless lives.
As you collect your gear in readiness for the trip, you will face many
minor choices about what to bring and what to leave behind. This
process itself is part of the experience of severance, of sorting out
what for you is an essential bit of material environment and what you
dare to let of of for this brief time. Your fully loaded backpack is
symbolic of your attachment to the life you are leaving... Do you
really want to carry that much? Like the burden of fear, it may prevent
you from getting where you want to go.
"Part of the Vision Quest experience is learning what you can get along
without, psychologically and physically. Recognize that as you prepare,
you are involved in a symbolic act. You are selecting from your past
those things that will make it possible for you to walk into your
future. You are finding the delicate balance between the security of
the past and the risk of freedom."
I am still engaged with these questions and issues; and now that I am
at home with my daughter, I have had the freedom to do do more
exploration (some workshops on wild foods and survival, for example). I
will be doing at least one Vision Quest this summer, on Labour Day
Weekend. I'll let you know how it goes!
I think that I will have to explore my interest in terms of native
fibers, and study some anthropology.
She was so gracious, and wrote back to me affirming her support for the depth of my project, and saying she would look forward to my next step. It provided closure on that project, at least.
But what of the practical work? What of the koan: "Don't make practical: Practical comes from China"?
That's a little post-script, a happy beginning to new things, and I'll finish it off tomorrow.