A Child Died

I first learned about Nex Benedict’s horrific story from V Spehar of Under the Desk News, one of my main source for news these days. If you haven’t heard the story, Nex, a non-binary 16-year-old student at Owasso High School, who was following state law in Oklahoma and using the bathroom associated with their gender at birth, was assaulted on February 7 in the high school bathroom by three older girls. Early reports suggested Benedict could not walk on their own and was taken to the emergency room by the family. The next day, they were back in the ER, where they died on February 8. The story was reported by local news at the time.

The story has been covered by LGBTQ+ news outlets and organizations in the past couple days and is just now unfolding in the mainstream press (remember, they died February 8!); the police and school district have issued statements with the latter directly contradicting the stories about Benedict’s injuries. Public Radio Tulsa seems to have the most complete story so far and shows respect for Nex’s non-binary orientation, something their own family admits to struggling with as they come under fire for using her deadname as part of a Go Fund Me. The initial report of the detath described Nex as a teenage girl without naming them, but subsequent coverage has leaned towards using they/them pronouns with KJHR directly addressing the issue.

This story will continue to unfold, and there will be further investigations, allegations and denials. But, here’s the essence of the story as I see it:

A child died. That death was at least helped along by other children. And those children may have felt empowered in their actions by the hateful rhetoric of Oklahoma’s leaders. A child, trying to live their best life as they understood it, died, potentially because adults used their power to dehumanize and degrade them. A child died.

100 Day Project

This past week, Christians marked the first day of the Lenten season known as Ash Wednesday. For many, it begins 40 days of fasting, prayer or other spiritual practices. In his meditation for that first day in Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, Richard Rohr writes, “It seems that we need beginnings, or everything eventually devolves and declines into unnecessary and sad endings” (p. 13). Lent is the new moon of the Christian calendar: a chance to reconsider, reflect and reset.

Today, just a few days later, marks the start of The 100 Day Project, a global online art project that encourages participants to commit to a daily creative pursuit of their own choosing. The project began in 2008 as part of a graphic design workshop for graduate students taught by Michael Beirut.

I have been considering participating in a formal (public) way, going as far as subscribing to the newsletter and making a small donation, but I haven’t been able to decide what I want to commit to doing every day. Part of me wants to focus on professional work including writing a textbook/workbook for my graduate class and diving deeper into AI. But the project is more about making art so I have focused on that area.

Here’s part of the problem: One of the joys of semi-retirement is already being able to do pursue daily practices that would be perfect for the project including meditation, writing and paper crafting. I would like to spend more time on the latter as it tends to get put aside first in the face of perceived priorities. In particular, I want to just give myself space to try stuff out: watercolor works nicely with books, and I want to experiment more with integrating crochet and book making. I may find a watercolor tutorial to help with some guidance but did not hate what I created yesterday by just fooling around.

As for crochet, I have these lovely mini balls of thread crochet in beautiful colors. Just enough to make a few squares. I used two of them as book covers and think they could also make interesting additions to the book pages including as pockets. I have a guide with lots of different designs for crochet squares, and it would be fun to make an album of them. I could easily crochet one square a day, working my way through the book.

I am also wondering how I could use crocheted pieces with paint to create designs for book covers either as stencils or stamps. My homework for the Handmade Book Club group is to create two large pieces of art on paper. Another member will add their design to the other side and then we will cut it up to make books. I will admit to being out of my comfort zone but I have a few weeks to experiment.

So…what I really want to do for the next 100 days is just explore: crochet a little, paint a little, combine the two, do projects for the Handmade Book Club, and have fun.

The challenge is free and very flexible. There are no prizes, awards or medals. The challenge organizers suggest starting small, something you can do in 5 or 10 minutes as day and mostly from anywhere depending on your travel plans. In the end, however, they openly admit that the rules are made up. This is my kind of of challenge!

Word of the Year

Last year, my word of the year was balance, but as I reread the blog post, I realized it was leaning more towards this year’s word: Imperfection. My description of balance was to find a middle ground rather than shooting for the extremes. I can eat the cupcake, skip the workout, scroll the threads, all in moderation. Perfection is an extreme and often defined by others who are only to happy to sell you their workbook, workout, or video series that will lead you to your “best” life, a code word for perfect.

I started my year exploring imperfection with the January meditation challenge from Ten Percent Happier. I moved from there to a couple podcasts that also emphasized being good with screwing up. Elizabeth Daly’s How to Fail podcast featured Dawn French, a beloved British comedian, whose new book focuses on all her screw ups. It is aptly titled The Twat Files. If you are familiar with French, it is probably via The Vicar of Dibley, her British comedy series that shows up on PBS now and then.

Dan Harris and Amy Edmondson explored the power of failure on an episode of the Ten Percent Happier podcast. I think failure is a bit different from imperfection, more extreme, but I suppose for some people any deviation from their image of perfection represents failure at some level. And knowing that we may not reach that image can also keep us from even trying.

While I was considering imperfection as a potential positive value, I was also in the midst of watching the Australian Open Tennis Championships and the United States Figure Skating Championships, both reminders of the value we place on perfection. In both events, the favorites–those who had gotten closer to perfection than others in the past–struggled, making mistakes, losing their composure, not performing up to expectations. I felt sorry for them as theren really is no room for imperfection in their lives.

I am under no such dark cloud of expectations other than those I might put on myself. So, this year, I resolve to embrace imperfection, to allow myself to learn and explore and create with no expectations of perfection, knowing that, as Austin Kleon suggests, bad art is good, too.