Monday, August 2, 2021

The First One Hundred Words


“Here’s a project for your weekend, “ Sharon said one day at the end of our counseling session. 

She walked to the couch where I was sitting at one end and reached under the opposite side, pulling out a stack of 8x10 canvases. 

“Using one canvas each week, I want you to make art related to the words I give you. Bring the canvas when you return next week. We’ll talk about the art you make and your thought process behind it. Your first word is /time/.” 

Sharon knew I liked art and writing. I had expressed frustration, disappointment and confusion to her that all of my creative avenues, writing and art had gone dry over the past couple of years. We explored possible causes and came up with no answers. The loss of these important parts of myself was like living without hands. My hands seemed bound, unable to bring forth any new images, words, or writing. 

I took the empty canvas, the word /time/ and walked out the door. I hadn’t done anything creative in two years. I was not used to making art, had never created on a canvas, and only had four days to put something together. As I went  down the three flights of stairs in the church where the counseling center was located, I began to think about  what I would make. 

The first word and canvas Sharon gave me was on August 22, 2019. So far, Sharon has given me over 100 words. In those days, I often left her office crying, out of touch with reality, locked in the past, barely able to stumble out of her room. Carrying a canvas gave me something tangible to hold as I walked out the door and back into everyday life. In those chaotic times, I felt a new clarity and sense of direction with Sharon's assignment to make a piece of art guided by a single word. 

I discovered each week that Sharon's ritual of giving me a word stretched my brain in new directions. I explored nouns, verbs and adjectives in the context of creating art. Working with the word and canvas from Thursday to Monday gave me something to think about other than distress from the past. The word often increased my awareness of surroundings or generated a new idea. Staying present to the word and exploring what the word might say to me was sustaining in hard times. The word became a companion and counselor “walking beside me” as I went through my days. 

I had complete freedom, no constraints or specific instructions to confine my imagination. Over time, exploring each word and creating art reactivated my writing and began a series of new art projects. 

First, I wrote down the word, the number, and the date. Then, I went to and found the word’s meaning. Most of the time I had an idea what the word meant, but reading the multiple definitions expanded my thoughts and offered direction. I used the formal definition as a springboard to generate ideas. 

Some words had a psychological definition which helped me understand the difficulties through which I was working or gave me strategies in my interactions with people, which were often challenging and confusing. 

Eventually Sharon ran out of canvases, so she invited me to create something using whatever resources I had at home. Fortunately I had a lot of tablets of art paper which formed the basis of many projects. I also used twigs from the backyard, acrylic paint, cardboard, fabric, my X-acto knife, and salt dough. 

When I reached the 100th word, I was reminded of the children’s picture book 100 First Words for Toddlers. The book contains photographs of 100 objects familiar to a toddler or preschooler. These words form the beginning of their understanding and communication in the world. Naming and discussing each word and finding the word in the house and surroundings can add meaning to a child’s life and assist in language development. 

The first 100 words Sharon gave me helped me enter my next stage of development. I began to emerge from a past shadowed with deficiencies, lack of enriching and healthy experiences, and a sheltered and narrow environment. Each word was like a beam of light, opening new thoughts, making me more aware of my surroundings as if I were carrying the word in a backpack as I explored the world around me. Just like the children’s book, 100 First Words, the first 100 words Sharon gave me provided a guide as I emerged a new person. 

What did I make for that very first word, /time/? I listed words associated with /time/ such as order, restore, seasons, discovery, rhythm, grounding, growth, naming, and stability. On the canvas, I started with what I knew best – fabric and sewing. I found four pieces of soft fabric in pastel colors, cut the fabric into 2” x 2” squares and arranged them in a pattern over the canvas. Using a strong needle and thick quilting fabric, I sewed the fabric to the canvas. Maneuvering my hands over the wood frame and sewing through the thick canvas required skill, strength, and dexterity I had not used before. 

It felt good to be back in the process of creation. Thinking about how I could interpret /time/ on an 8x10 canvas gave me a good challenge, a stretch of my imagination, and a sense of wonder and expectation – all of which I had missed so much. 

Working on the first canvas brought me out of my emotional work, helping me realize there is more to life than dealing with the unpleasant residue of my past. I felt lighter, more balanced, and optimistic about my future. When I returned to see Sharon the next Monday, she was as excited to see what I made as I was to show her. Explaining my process gave me new energy, empowering me to continue with the work ahead. 

I carry each of the words with me wherever I go. They help me stay present and aware of what is happening within as well as what I see. For example, when I am driving, I look at the horizon and remember what Sharon and I said about  /clouds/ and their shapes and gradations of color. Clouds are undependable. They are here and then they are gone. The clouds reminded me of how people would come and go in my life and how unsettling that was to me. The clouds helped me name my longing for consistency in my relationships. 

Sharon gave me the word /eyes/ long before everyone started to wear masks. Now after a year of seeing people with masks, I am amazed how much expression of emotion the eyes contain without seeing a person’s whole face. 

When I see a foot bridge, I think of the word /gap/ that Sharon gave me. I notice how the bridge connects the  gap between one side and the other. When I feel emotionally disconnected, I mentally recreate a bridge in my mind, praying the strength of the image will pull together parts of myself that feel far away. 

Each word has its own function even if a visible form of art didn’t emerge. One thing I like about working with a single word is that it doesn’t overwhelm me. Sometimes reading sayings, paragraphs, or articles that offer advice, can exhaust me. A single word is simple yet has enough energy in itself for me to go deeper in meaning, to explore, relate to my life, perhaps make an artful response, or just settle it in my soul for retrieval when needed. 

In the next few months, I plan to share the words Sharon gave me, along with my interpretation of each word and its integration into my life. 

I invite you to join me and see what focusing on a single word can do for you.

  1. Get a piece of paper or notebook, and make a list of five words that are important to you. 

  2. Look up the meaning and write down each one. Which meanings apply to where you are right now or what you are going through? 

  3. Write a sentence or two about the word and how you connect with it. 

  4. If you can, create a drawing or piece of art related to the word. 

  5. Ask God to add reflections to what you did. 

Here is a listing of the first 100 words:

  1. Time

  2. Seasons

  3. Fly

  4. Flawed

  5. That happened

  6. Anguish

  7. Egg

  8. Justice

  9. Containment

  10. Autumn

  11. Time

  12. Bridge

  13. Lost

  14. Hooked

  15. Found

  16. Sacrifice

  17. Dance

  18. Eyes

  19. Resolve

  20. Confidence

  21. Sequence

  22. Acceptance

  23. System

  24. Pillow

  25. Iron

  26. Wonder

  27. Cream

  28. Altruism

  29. Witness

  30. Sunrise

  31. Empowerment

  32. Light

  33. Bulb

  34. Nature’s

  35. Nest

  36. Beam

  37. Circular

  38. Egress

  39. Branch

  40. Jagged

  41. Love

  42. Consideration

  43. Relatability

  44. Absolute

  45. Oak tree

  46. Water

  47. Derailed

  48. Meadow

  49. Cloud

  50. Wide-open

  51. Awakening

  52. Be, bee

  53. Integration

  54. Wind blowing through

  55. Transformation

  56. Soulful

  57. Bridge

  58. Cloak

  59. Crackers

  60. Adaptation

  61. Understanding

  62. Recall

  63. Remembering

  64. Cross

  65. Embrace

  66. Opening

  67. Nature

  68. Blend

  69. Creation

  70. Listen

  71. Notice

  72. Wave

  73. Gap

  74. Disappointment

  75. Sadness

  76. Window

  77. Eye

  78. Transformation

  79. Holy

  80. Sacred

  81. Reach

  82. Addiction

  83. Conduct

  84. Saturation

  85. Vision

  86. Continuum

  87. Friendship

  88. Reciprocation

  89. Flight

  90. Openness

  91. Invisible

  92. Resilient

  93. Connection

  94. Orange

  95. Surround

  96. Wind

  97. Flight

  98. Expand

  99. Atmosphere

  100. Landscape

  101. Connection

  102. Blanket

  103. Wonder

  104. Establishment

  105. Regulate

  106. Fluid

  107. Window

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful idea! Thanks for sharing your words and your journey.