anna brones

writer + artist + activist

Posts Tagged ‘papercut

Gertrude Ederle

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“I just knew if it could be done, it had to be done, and I did it.”

Gertrude Ederle (1905 – 2003)

“I just knew if it could be done, it had to be done, and I did it,” Ederle told the New York Times in an article published after her incredible feat: becoming the first woman to swim across the English Channel.

Born in New York City in 1906 to German immigrants, Ederle spent time in the water from a young age and was a champion swimmer by the time she was a teenager. She won a gold medal and two bronze medals at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France.

After Paris, she set her sights on long distance swimming, training for the Channel. Closer to home, in June 1925, Ederle became the first woman to swim the length of New York Bay, covering 16 miles from the New York Battery to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. She made an unsuccessful attempt at the English Channel that same summer, but returned the following year

Only five men had successfully made the 22.5 mile crossing, the fastest in 16 hours 23 minutes. Ederle vowed to do better. On the morning of August 6, 1926, Ederle, covered in lanolin, petroleum jelly and lard to keep her warm while in the water and wearing enormous wrap around glasses, took to the water at Cape Gris-Nez, France. The waters were rough that day, and twice her coach T.W. Burgess – the second man to successfully swam across the Channel – urged her to come out of the water. Ederle’s father and sister who were in the boat with Burgess insisted that she stay her course; her father had promised Ederle a roadster is she made her goal.

Committed to finishing, Ederle pushed through stormy waters, tides and swells, reaching shore after 14 hours and 31 minutes, a time that gave her the title of the first woman to swim across the English Channel, but also the world’s fastest person to do so. The accomplishment earned her the title of ”America’s best girl” by President Calvin Coolidge, and inspired tens of thousands of American women to take up swimming.

By the 1930s, her fame had evaporated. A hearing problem that she had when younger, and made worse by her Channel crossing, eventually caught up with her, and a nasty fall in her apartment led to a back injury. Doctors said she would never walk or swim again, but Ederle prevailed and appeared in a water show at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Conscious of her own hearing impairment, she went on to teach swimming at a deaf school in New York. Eventually Ederle was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965 and the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, a little over 50 years after her amazing accomplishment.

Gertrude Eberle is one of three women from the Women’s Wisdom Project series to be featured in the AGE issue of Taproot Magazine. I am honored to have contributed to this issue, and encourage you to check out this great publication that’s indepedent and ad-free. You can order a copy of the AGE issue here.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

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Written by Anna Brones

October 2, 2018 at 09:50

Vote

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It’s National Voter Registration Day, so make sure you and all your friends are registered.

I just had these Vote buttons made, featuring my original papercut “Stars, Stripes and Uterus.” I made the papercut in 2016, but it still feels timely. Because women’s rights are human rights, and this button is perfect for election season (but wearable during any season, of course). You can order yours here.

Want the same artwork on a coffee mug? I’ve got that too. Order here.

Written by Anna Brones

September 25, 2018 at 13:54

Cheryl Strayed

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“We are all responsible for finding beauty in our lives even when things are difficult.”

-Cheryl Strayed

At the end of May, I was lucky enough to sit down with Cheryl Strayed and interview her for the Women’s Wisdom Project. Cheryl and I had met a few times over the years while attending Mountainfilm, and I was honored that she graciously offered to spend an hour with me talking about all things related to wisdom.

Of course, I knew that this conversation would need to go a little above and beyond just a papercut portrait, or even a Q&A. So I asked my friend Gale Straub at She Explores if she would be interested in having me record the interview and we could turn it into a podcast. I got another yes, and soon found myself nervously preparing to record an interview with a new recording device that I had never used.

I say this because I think that context is everything. There’s always a back story, and in this case, the back story was that I wanted to doing something that I really didn’t know how to do (audio recording), and doubt and fear immediately kicked in at the back of my mind (“what if you ruin this audio entirely?”).

I dove in anyway.

Cheryl and I had a wonderful conversation. It’s a conversation that I have thought about so many times since. As for the audio? Well, it wasn’t perfect. But Gale (with a lot of work, that I am very grateful for) managed to turn it into a podcast episode, which you can listen to here.

It was a reminder that you have to push past fear. That things won’t always be perfect, but you’ll learn along the way. That’s a lot of what Cheryl and I talked about in our conversation. I replayed this part of our interview a few times as I was working on putting this piece together:

“One of my quotes in Tiny, Beautiful Things and in Brave Enough is that you give fear a seat at the table. You say, ‘welcome fear, your presence is an indication to me that I’m doing the work I’m meant to be doing.’ Because fear is part of our best work.”

Fear is part of our best work. Remember that.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast, but I wanted to capture some of my favorite parts of the interview here so that you could read them as well (including a couple of things that didn’t make it into the podcast).

I listened to this interview several times, wondering what bit of wisdom I would pull from Cheryl to use as the quote in her papercut. That’s the thing about quotes; they are always snippets, and this conversation was so rich, there was no way to boil it down to one sentence.

But there was one that stood out: “We are all responsible for finding beauty in our lives even when things are difficult.” Even Cheryl will admit that this bit of wisdom isn’t hers. It’s her mother’s. I chose it, because I think that it embodies the fact that wisdom is all around us, that it’s never just “ours.” Wisdom is passed down, it evolves, we offer it to others, and they pass it along to someone else.

We have so much to share with each other, and most often, the most meaningful wisdom and advice that guides is doesn’t come from a notable public figure, but in fact, from the people closest to us.

Anna: You are a prime person to talk to about wisdom, because I think a lot of people seek wisdom from you. 

Cheryl: It’s always strange for me to hear that I’m some sort of fount of wisdom and that’s always been the funny, an uneasy position that I’ve been in, not just as an advice giver as Dear Sugar, but even my other books Wild and, and my novel Torch. My books have always been read in this way that people take from them advice. So much of what I’ve been interested in as a writer is our emotional lives, our relationships, the ways that we love and lose and suffer and recover and grapple with how to be in the world.

What ends up happening is because I have spent so many years really examining that and thinking about that and writing about that, I ended up seeming like this figure, this wise woman. And I have to say, it makes me laugh because because I’ve got so much to learn. I think maybe part of the thing I feel grateful about when it comes to wisdom, it does come from that place of having a lot to learn and it comes from that place of being somebody who has had to do a lot of living and a lot of experiencing and a lot of loving and losing and making mistakes and making amends and trying to figure out the better way.

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Written by Anna Brones

August 8, 2018 at 10:56

What Blocks Our Creative Flow? (And How Do We Get Back There?)

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Creative flow is that sought after state that so many of us keep wanting to get to. When we’re there, we feel strong and empowered, as if we are doing exactly what we should be doing in that exact moment. We may work hard, but in a sense, that work feels effortless. When we’re not there, that state feels more elusive than ever, and we try to think of every possible means of chasing it down, hoping to harness that power once more.

But what is creative flow? When and why do we get into that state?

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile,” wrote Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow. 

That’s what we feel when we are in that moment of creative flow. We are immersed in what we are doing, everything else falls away. This doesn’t just happen in creative practice. Ever felt a runner’s high? That’s because of flow. Or when you come out of an hourlong yoga practice and realize that you haven’t thought about anything else in the last 60 minutes besides your physical presence? Flow.

I found a segment from WNYC from a couple of years ago on the neuroscience behind creative flow, featuring an interview with Dr. Heather Berlin. “Productivity doesn’t necessarily correlate with creativity,” says Berlin. An excellent reminder that just because we are producing work doesn’t mean that we are being creative or doing creative thinking. Some of the best stuff comes to us when we’re on a walk, or staring out the window. That’s because, “the unconscious can do much more complex processing,” says Berlin. The creative flow state can’t be forced. In those moments it’s better to turn off and tune out.

In her interview, Berlin mentions a study that involved MRI scans of jazz musicians’s brains while the musicians were improvising. This study is about ten years old, but the lessons to be drawn from it are timeless. According to Science Daily, “The scientists found that a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a broad portion of the front of the brain that extends to the sides, showed a slowdown in activity during improvisation. This area has been linked to planned actions and self-censoring, such as carefully deciding what words you might say at a job interview.”

In other words, if we can turn that part of the brain off – or at least put it in pause – we might be better able to lower our inhibitions and better tap into our flow state.

Earlier this week, someone asked me what my writing process was. I would love to say that I diligently sit down on a regular basis and write for a predetermined amount of time, avoiding all distractions and committing myself to the process. I can think of about one month in the last year and a half when I was good about doing that (and I managed to write a book in that month, which I guess is proof that such commitment does work). However, for the most part, my writing process is what I call the “marination method.” I have an idea, or an assignment, I file it away at the back of my brain, and let the idea sit and percolate. Eventually the deadline nears, and I have to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and release those ideas.

Often I feel that I am up against a block, and in those moments I know that before I can sit down and do the work, I have to do something to get the creative juices flowing. A creative warm up so to say. That can be a run or a walk, or just taking a few minutes to paint with watercolors. (Sidenote: I am avoiding a deadline at this very moment, but telling myself that writing this is a good way to warm up to finishing the piece I need to turn in). Something to get my mind away from focusing too hard on the project at hand, and letting it wander instead. Often I find that somewhere in this process the unconscious kicks in, things come to the front of my mind that I hadn’t even considered. When I finally get there, then I feel like I am in the flow state.

I’m not necessarily advocating for that as a writing strategy, but in the moments when we feel that we are up against those creative walls, it’s an important reminder that pushing through isn’t necessarily the best path forward. If you let the prefrontal cortex do too much obsessing, you’ll keep coming up against that block. One study even used targeted electric currents to block that part of the brain, showing that doing so can help to break down that wall and lead to more creative thinking.

But we don’t need electric currents to stop obsessing. Think of another use of flow: physical movement. Exercise is good for our creativity. Intuitively, I think it makes sense that physical movement would lead to creative movement.

If we’re looking for that creative flow state, we have to do the things that get us there. There’s no magic solution, but you can be sure that refreshing your email isn’t one of them.

Stay small; often we don’t have an entire day to devote to a creative project, instead, think about what you could do creatively in fifteen minutes. If you can do those fifteen minutes every day, that ends up leading to a very regular creative practice, which helps to encourage the flow state.

Focus on putting one foot in front of the other; your overall project may be huge, but focus on the individual steps to get there, in order to distract your brain from derailing.

Think process, not product; flow is about being immersed in the moment, not getting hung up on whether or not the end product will be perfect.

Change your scenery. Take your notebook outside.

Avoid distractions. Unless of course they are the kind of distractions that encourage creative thinking.

Move.

Breathe.

Flow.

Written by Anna Brones

July 20, 2018 at 11:40

Zaria Forman

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It almost felt silly to document Zaria Forman in black and white. Zaria is an incredible artist who works in pastels to document climate change. Her work is stunning. Glistening glaciers, a palette of blues and grays. She depicts a landscape that is deep and vibrant. A papercut felt both monochrome and small in relationship to the work that Zaria does.

But Zaria is such an inspiration, her energy is catching, and her message is important, and I knew that I definitely wanted to include her as a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project. Fortunately she was willing to do a Q&A as well, the chance to dive a little deeper.

The first time I saw one of Zaria’s pieces in person I just stood and stared at it. It truly felt like I was standing in front of a glacier. And that’s exactly the reaction Zaria is going for. I got a chance to meet Zaria in person earlier this year thanks to our mutual friend Jenny Nichols. Jenny traveled to Greenland last year to make a film about Zaria’s work, as well as leading NASA scientists on Operation IceBridge, called “Colors of Change.” I think that art is a powerful tool to convey messages and push for cultural change, something that certainly comes across in the film.

I am grateful to artists like Zaria who are using their craft to shift the cultural conversation.

Anna: What does wisdom mean to you?

Zaria: It means being able to make actions based on the past, present and future. Not without foresight or the knowledge of history. Listening is also a key to wisdom, I love learning from others and being able to share knowledge with people from all over the world.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

My mother, Rena Bass Forman, was a huge inspiration to me. She dedicated her life to photographing the most remote regions of the earth. The cold and isolated landscape of the Arctic consumed her interest from 2001 until her passing in 2011. She always said that she had been a polar bear in a past life, and watching her spend endless hours in the frigid winds, patiently and happily waiting for the moment when the light was right, gave me no doubt that this was true! She taught me the importance of loving what you do, and carrying out projects full force, no matter what obstacles lie in the way, and no matter how much patience it required.

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Written by Anna Brones

July 19, 2018 at 16:22

Clara Barton

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“I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all,

I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”

-Clara Barton (1821-1912)

Educator and humanitarian Clarissa “Clara” Harlowe Barton is most famously known for founding the American Red Cross.

She was also a strong supporter of women’s suffrage, and her quote is a reminder of how long we have been fighting to receive equal payment for work. She had started teaching at the age of 18, and even founded a school for workers’ children at the mill where her brother worked. She went on to establish the first free school in 1852, in Bordentown, New Jersey. It was at this school that she learned that a male colleague who had been hired was earning double her salary. She quit.

In 1861 she began carrying supplies to Union soldiers, making it her mission to help those in need. While she had no formal training, her care and attentiveness earned her the title “angel of the battlefield.” It was after the war that she went to Europe, where she learned of the work of the International Red Cross, an organization which called for international agreements to protect the sick and wounded during wartime and for the formation of national societies to give aid voluntarily on a neutral basis. When she returned, she was committed to starting a US-based organization that would be part of the same network, founding the American Red Cross in 1881. For the rest of her life, she continued to be a tireless advocate of those in need.

Her home in Maryland became a National Historic Site in 1975, the first dedicated to the achievements of a woman. You can learn more about Clara over on the National Women’s History Museum website.

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

July 4, 2018 at 07:08

Wangari Maathai

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“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”

-Wangari Maathai

Born in rural Kenya, Wangari Maathai was the first woman in East and Central African to earn a doctorate degree, which she was granted from the University of Nairobi in 1971. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she served on the National Council of Women of Kenya. It was here that she came up with the idea of planting trees, a concept that she grew into a large scale, grassroots organization, the Green Belt Movement, focused on conserving the environment and improving the lives of women. Planting trees meant planting hope, a form or protest and renewal, fighting oppression with growth.

Environmentalist. Activist. Human rights advocate. Writer. Her work was inspired by her roots, but reached a global audience, and in 2004 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

I was recently reading Terry Tempest Williams’ book When Women Were Birds, and learned that the two had met in the early 1980s, and Wangari had become mentor of Terry’s. Terry herself had been inspired to start the Green Belt Movement of Utah.

Terry writes, “When I once asked her what she had learned from planting trees, she said, ‘Patience.'”

That sentiment stuck with me. Patience. It’s the same sentiment that’s in Wangari’s quote above.

The patience to speak up.

The patience to listen.

The patience to rise up.

The patience to continue.

I wonder what wisdom Wangari would give to us today. I think it would still be the same. We must continue to rise up and walk. We must be patient and persistent.

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.