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September 29, 2009


SOMETHING FROM NOTHING


LAST NIGHT

Last night, as I was boarding the plane that would take me from California all the way to New Hampshire to join all of you for this terrific event, I faced what many would view as drudgery ... which is, plain and simple, many long hours on a coast-to-coast flight. But I made it, and I'm thrilled to be here with you. And I'd like to thank Elizabeth MacCrellish and her entire team for so generously and warmly inviting me to join you for this special experience, and to share with you my story.

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For me, long flights like the one I was just on have never been something to dread. That's because long flights and long car rides offer knitters and crocheters like myself uninterrupted time to make progress on our latest projects at hand ... like this shrug that I am almost finished with, and this crocheted necklace that I am so happy to have completed ... to give to Elizabeth as a token of gratitude.

To me, the things we learn to do with our hands, our voices, our souls, our bodies, and our imaginations ... THE ARTS if you will, is what gets us through life. It's what gets us through flights, through motherhood, through sisterhood, through parenthood, through friendships, through marriages, through divorces, through sicknesses. THE ARTS gets us through it all, doesn't it?

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1974 & THE 747

Let's travel back to 1974. I was 7 years old then. And that's when I boarded the biggest plane of all: a large 747 that would take me from my homeland of Seoul, Korea, all the way to California.

    It was a long flight. I boarded that plane with my two brothers and my parents because it had been explained to me that we would be leaving all that we knew ... our friends, our extended family members, our school, our neighborhood ... so that we could go to America ... the land of opportunity, where if you work hard, opportunities for success abound.

    I remember looking out the window during the flight, trying to see if I could catch a glimpse of this thing called "opportunity." But the only thing I could see were long stretches of puffy white clouds, as I periodically wiped tears that rolled down my face as I felt the sadness of having to say good-bye to all that I had known and loved back in Korea.

 

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    I didn't know how to speak English. In fact, the only words I knew in English were "yes," "no," "orange juice," and "banana." During the flight, I remember coming up with a strategy for survival ... I told myself that even though I might not ever be able to talk to a person since I couldn't speak the language, I would at least be able to read books. And then of course panic hit during the flight when I realized that the books would also be in English.

    On that flight, though I had my family, there was something else with me that helped me cope. It was yarn and knitting needles. I don't remember exactly what I ended up knitting, but I remember that with each stitch, I felt a calm, and I knew that everything would be OK.

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MUSICIANS & MAGICIANS

My way with yarn was something I learned form a very early age from my late grandmother back in Seoul, Korea. But there was more than yarn that made my family special.

    I was born in 1967 into a family of musicians. My father was a conductor. My mother was a vocalist. And whenever extended family members would get together, we could enjoy a good meal and afterwards, we would all start singing. Not just any old singing. But really good singing. People who knew how to harmonize, people who knew how to play assorted instruments including the piano, the violin, the cello, the viola, the harmonica, the trombone ... and people who sang hymns. We sang lots of hymns. In fact, this is my childhood hymnal that was also with me on that plane.

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    We weren't rich. In fact, we were very poor. We didn't have much. And if there's anything I learned during my first seven years of life growing up in Korea is that you don't really need much in terms of material goods to live a good life. A life filled with beauty, meaning, yarn, music, and happiness.

    Not only were my family members musicians, I would argue that they were magicians — especially the women. Every day, I remember observing the women of my family. My mother, my grandmother, my aunts ... women who all lived crammed in our tiny little home. Women who had very little. They started the day with almost nothing. No filet of beef. No fat hen. Just a few humble vegetables and the good will of a local fish vendor to give us — frequently in good faith — a fish or two ... but in my neighborhood, good faith went a long way. The fish would go a long way. Many nights as the entire family gathered at the dinner table — my father, brothers, uncles and all the women ... we would feast on the most amazing and plentiful pot of soup that would emerge with that humble fish within an incredible broth that would feed and satisfy us all. From very young, I learned that with practically nothing, you can make almost anything.

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 When winters came and we could feel the draft of the cold enter the home, I remember seeing my grandmother unraveling old woolen sweaters that had been ravaged by moths. They were discards to some but not to us. She would unravel them and knit them up again to clothe the littlest members of the family including myself as we would proudly walk the neighborhood with our chests held high, showing off our brand new garments. With practically nothing, my grandmother could make almost anything.

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KOREAN FAMILY ARRIVES

So in August of 1974, my family and I landed on American soil. It was tough. I knew no one. I looked different ... especially because of all places, we settled in Bakersfield, California. In fact, a photo of our family was published in the Bakersfield Californian newspaper with a headline that read, "Korean Family Arrives."

    And from the day we landed, we hustled. We had no Fisher Price, no Hooked on Phonics. My brothers and I had one another, and we each had a key on our necks, and parents who worked nonsensical hours in the fast food industry to make it happen. The key on my neck is what I used to let myself in after school to fix myself top ramen, to do homework, and after homework, to knit, crochet, play the cello, and make clothes for my dolls.

    Before you knew it, we were bringing home straight As, making friends, performing in honor orchestras, and eventually getting accepted to college ... with nothing we made something. And along the way, as we experienced success, we did lots of happy dances. 

 

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"I DO"

So of course as I grew up over the years, yarn and music remained a large part of my life. But it's important to mention that along the way of growing up, many more tools and materials and substrates became part of my life. Like rubber stamps, paper, calligraphy pens, stretched canvas, beads, wire, and paint. And when I eventually met my beloved Gerardo and he said "I do," he knew he was saying "I do" not just ot me, but to all the tools and materials associated with my various creative outlets.

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MOTHERHOOD

Let's fast forward to 1995 when I became a mother for the first time to little Monica. And then to 1998 when I had my second child, Andrew. The scenes of my life at that time were bleak. I had to potty train a toddler while nursing an infant. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.

    Don't get me wrong ... it was also the most joyous of times. But truthfully and honestly, being a mom of two little ones is when I experienced the greatest joys but also my darkest hours and felt the most profound depths of despair. And many days, I wallowed in sadness and doubt, wondering if I would ever be able to rediscover my identity, let alone survive the day or the hour at hand.

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    But you know, when I look back on those days, I know what got me through. It was my ability to psych myself out hour-to-hour, day-to-day, as I said to myself, "OK, if you can take the kids to the park and then bring them back and put them down for a nap, you can reward yourself with a few more rows of knitting, or with a few more cards with the new rubber stamp you just got." Creativity is how I coped and survived and still survive motherhood.

 

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MAKING ROOM FOR QUILTING

I mentioned to you that when Gerardo said "I do," he was saying "I do" to all the yarn and the beads and the paints and the inks. But with the birth of our kids, as if life weren't hard enough, I found an insatiable desire to learn how to quilt and sew. And even though I didn't yet own a sewing machine, I didn't let that stop me because I knew from all that I had read that quilts were made with arguably greater precision and care, long before machines were ever invented. And it's important to note that Gerardo didn't stop me from entering the quilting journey. Because he knew better.

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    So with Gerardo's help in juggling all the family stuff, I made my very first quilt that measures 52"x52". Every single thing about that quilt — from the cutting, to the piecing, to the quilting, to the binding — every single thing was done all by hand. And then after that quilt was done, of course Gerardo got smart and helped eek out enough money from our family budget to get me my very first sewing machine — a Bernina — which I love and still use today.

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    Given that our life was already bubbling over with lots of art and crafting supplies, I know it was a lot to ask my family to make room for quilting. But I think Gerardo knew that it was all related ... the yarn, the paper, the cello, the fabric, the thread ... and that if we were going to stay together and master the challenges of life, and if I in particular was to find a way to survive the difficulties of motherhood and womanhood, we would need to make room for whatever medium that I identified as aiding me through that process.

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YESTERDAY & TODAY

So here we are today. Most of you know me because of my role as editor for Somerset Studio. But publishing was not originally my intended field. After graduating from UC Irvine with a degree in political science, I felt a genuine calling to enter the "helping profession" because I wanted to make a positive impact on this world. So I went on to earn my masters in social work from UCLA. And for seven years, I worked as a social worker within the field of child protective services.

    And I have to tell you that when I observed families that were torn apart, in many ways it's because these family members never found THE ARTS. They never found the yarn or the paint or the pen or the bead or the cello or the dance group where they could feel the thrill of knitting a sweater, or piecing that quilt top, or writing a poem, or performing in a concert ... rather, they found things like heroine or meth to help them cope with life. And sadly, most found out too late how short-lived and destructive such methods are.

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    During those seven years, there were many times when I tried to equip young people with yarn and knitting needles, in hopes that they would find the true path for success ... a path where creativity can combat our darkest hours, where THE ARTS can save us from the depths of despair.

    In 2004 when I grabbed the opportunity to change careers from social work to publishing, there was part of me that felt guilt for leaving behind all the training and experience I had received to be part of the "helping profession."


SOMERSET STUDIO & THE HAPPY DANCE

For almost six years, I've had the amazing opportunity to lead Somerset Studio and its many sister publications. Shepherding the art, the words, and the visuals have in and of itself become a new art form for me ... a coping mechanism, really, as I say to myself on any given day as I maneuver through the pressures of the publishing industry ... "If you can get through this challenge or that meeting, then you can reward yourself with just one more article, just one more photo, just one more layout to work on."

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    And the best part of my job is when I receive letters from people from around the globe who testify to the transformative nature of THE ARTS, as evidenced by the impact that Somerset Studio has had on their lives ... like this letter:

Dear Jenny
My name is Michael Baker and I wanted to say thank you for having shown my later wife's work in Somerset Studio ... Mary Lynne was a passionate crafter and the consummate teacher. She spent her life as an educator constantly doing art and crafting as a hobby. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and retired a year later, working on expanding her horizons. She helped a lot of people into the craft and had several local sales that helped encourage her to do more. This past spring after having several works to you, she suffered a major relapse and passed away on June 5th — prior to having the article appear. She has however seen it (I am certain) and is doing the "Happy Dance" and celebrating with all her friends up there! Thank you very much from the husband of a very special lady.
Sincerely,
Michael Baker

 

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THE NEW HELPING PROFESSION

These sorts of letters make me imagine the happy dances that people throughout the generations have been able to do when we are able to express ourselves creatively. And I realize more and more that in many ways, this community, this mixed-media art community is also part of the helping profession.

    It's a community that isn't perfect. It's a community like all communities that goes through joys, sorrows, triumphs, and challenges. (Sometimes heatedly so.) But it's a community unlike any other because it can comfort us, it can help us cope, it can save us ... it can help us create something from nothing.

    From the bottom of my heart I want to express my sincere gratitude to each person in this room for allowing me to be part of this community. As Confucius once wrote many years ago:

As the sun makes it new

Day by day make it new

Yet again make it new

It is with joy and humility that I embrace the opportunities that are afforded in each new day as we inspire through our collective efforts — many happy dances for people around the world.


Thank you very much.

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[Per the invitation of Elizabeth MacCrellish, it was my honor to deliver these Opening Remarks on September, 16, 2009, at the Squam Art Workshops in Squam Lake, New Hampshire.]

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Comments

Your presence was inspiring and your words still resonate. I was so happy to see this post appear in my google reader today just as the squam glow was starting to fade.

I'm so glad you posted this, as I missed it on opening night! Thank you, Jenny. ART SAVES LIVES!

your story of coming to America resonates with me so well. perhaps someday i will get to share it with you. since i took the creative road i've been doing many happy dances. thank you for sharing the speech.

Thank you for sharing this with all of us who didn't make it to Squam Lake. I'm going to be sure to share this with my niece who is a Special Ed. HS Teacher in a juvenile facility in Pittsburgh, PA to give her hope and encourage her to keep engaging her students with art. Fondly, Roberta

Beautifully written, spoken and illustrated.....except, where is the rest of you?

Thank you so much for sharing this. As you were reading it that night I kept thinking...this needs to be published! Your words are so heartfelt, your tone so inspirational. You have so eloquently pointed out the power of the arts, and for that I applaud you.

p.s. I re-read and saw with post-coffee eyes that you lived in Bakersfield, which is where I grew up and live with my little family now (in order to be able to have them and live my creative dreams while they are little!). Now I'm REALLY sorry I missed you and this speech in person! Being creative is indeed the only way to keep me sane and balanced while raising my babes.
thank you again...xo pixie

I'm so grateful you posted this... I've been hoping. How lucky the art community is to have someone as inspiring and, yet so real and grounded, be in such a leadership role. Jenny, I'm so happy to know you are here working, creating,and guiding... making a place for art to save lives.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts both with the Squam folks and then again with the rest of us. You provide great inspiration to many, and I hope that brings you support when you need it yourself.

jenny, thank you so much... for showing up, for sharing your story, for delivering hope and support with such beauty and grace...

jen gray

Art makes us strong, helps us to thrive in the difficult times.
http://nepenthe.ning.com
my tribute to art, xo laurie

what a beautifully written story, your story, so strong, inspiring, and deeply moving. thank you for sharing it and showing me a bit more of your very special heart and spirit.

Inspiring to read...inspiring to hear you say it. Thank you!

Oh I loved hearing your story. My friends who went to Squam sent me here to your site. What a wonderful journey you've had.

Dear Jenny ~ I was so excited and thrilled to come across your blog. I love the Somerset magazines and aspire to one day be a feature : ) What a joy it was to hear you echo how I feel about being able to share your art. Creating is healing and living in the moment. I thank you and all the countless people who create these magazines to inspire artists every where to express themselves. The story of Mary and Michael touched my heart and I will remember it, and thank God for His blessings. Thank you for all you do : )

Many hugs and blessings to you ~

Nichole Huotari

Dear Jenny,
I think your pretty little socks to me actually are meaningful symbols of warmly and impressive story just like rosebud. Our memories are precious treasures and travel with us and reflect richness to our arts.It just reminds me of a similar story. Thank you for your sharing.
Lots of Love and kisses from Turkiye.

Firuzan Goker

BRAVO, Jenny!
Hope to see you in Houston at the Quilt Festival to tell you in person how much I appreciate your talent and commitment!

~SH
http://e14studio.blogspot.com

hi jenny,i love the magazines i have only bought the sumerset studio one as my husband has been laid off for 10 months.i have been painting for 14 years.i am one of those artists who has made it my life to create .its in my dna.i am interseted in all aspects of the art world.i know alot about it.i do not know however how to get paid for my skills and knowlege.art has healed me from my bipolar illness.and meds too.also i suffer from arthritis so much its hard to walk.so every day i paint and it takes away the pain.so painfree painting is my moddo.love gina.thanks for all you do

Jenny, thank you for sharing your story. I, too, am an immigrant; my family and I came to the U.S. when I was 5 years old. We, too, had very little, and my parents worked very hard at menial jobs to provide me with the opportunities that they never had.

I went into a "productive" career that I appreciated and that compensated me well, but that did little to nurture my artistic spirit, and that left me little time to do it on my own.

Three years ago, I made the decision to leave that career and rediscover my love for making art. It hasn't been easy economically, but in the most important ways, my life is so much better. Your words truly resonate for me, as they have for many others.

I am honored to read your story, I am honored that you recognize what so many healing places like clinics and hospitals don't, that art can heal. I am honored that you bring so much to your job and even a simple card that makes everything rise to a crescendo with authenticity. I am honored that the quote you put at the end of this glorious post was the one I got to be part of in your May issue of Somerset and am honored to have my exemplar arrive this week in perfect condition. So, thank-you.
Amy Sperry Faldet

I love this Jenny! Thanks for sharing this with your blog readers, I'm sure those who heard you at Squam were inspired and touched. It's everything we need to know... how to find success as well as happiness no matter where we are in life, or what we have.

Jenny,
I was having trouble with your email link...
This was my first year at Squam. I am embarassed to say that being a total newbie to this ginormous art world, I had never heard of "Jenny Doh." And being a total newbie, I was feeling a little out of sorts when I first got to Squam. That quickly changed when I heard you speak. I was moved to tears during the part of your testimony when you spoke of coming to the US only knowing four words: yes, no, orange juice, and bananas. You eventually learned the language and found your place in what was first a foreign world.

I feel as though I am learning the language of being an artist and it is starting to feel more and more like home. After 20 some years of pushing it back down inside, it feels so damn good to finally live my creativity out loud. Even if to the rest of the world it looks as though I can only say "yes, no, orange juice, and bananas."

Thank you again for being a part of what was such an amazing, life changing experience for me.
From the bottom of my smiling heart,
Jamie Ewald

That was so great! Thanks for sharing this with everyone!

Jenny,
It was such an honor to hear you deliver those words and to have had the opportunity to soak in your spirit during that drive to the airport.

This new venture feels like the perfect alchemy of all things true about you. I am so thrilled to witness it and to have you blazing the trail of art and community.

I, for one, am saved.

so much love, lisa

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