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I really love getting handmade gifts. Maybe you feel differently. Maybe it’s because I know a lot of artists, and so getting a piece they worked on feels like getting free health advice from a nurse or getting free food from a farmer. But I think it’s partly because I don’t keep a lot of stuff in my apartment. So if I’m going to bring in a new object, it needs to add joy or usefulness to my everyday life. And most of the time, the store-bought things people give as gifts like joke mugs, enamel pins, and $20 candles don’t fit that requirement. For example: I have three different pashmina scarves. But I only ever wear one of them. The others are just as pretty, just as soft and warm. All were gifts from people who I know love me. But I don’t feel any different when I put on a different pashmina, so I never pull the other two out of the closet. I also have three handmade knit hats that I was given as gifts. And even though the knit hats aren’t as fancy or as beautiful as my scarves, I really rotate through those hats. Putting each one on is like a hug from that person. It’s almost like I can feel the hours they spent knitting those hats, the hours they spent on some object in the hope that I would get joy from the results. It makes me smile.
It can be hard as you get older to remember all the good things that have happened in your life. Our brains really aren’t very good at that. We are hard-wired to remember and revisit negative experiences, danger, and things like that, because that helped keep hundreds of generations of living creatures before us alive. But the results for us as human beings can be high anxiety, or hypervigilance. You’ve probably heard how bad stress is for your body, your productivity, your happiness.
One way to help bring the brain down out from that highly alert and stressed out state is to focus on how, in this moment, you are safe. You can breathe, in this moment. You are free to think about anything you like, right now. Doing something with your hands, moving your body and really focusing on that movement can do that. Creating art can do it.
Actually, handling any physical items you’ve been given can do that, but for me, I find it easier to focus on items that have an emotional impact for me, like handmade items. So objects with that emotional weight help to pull me into the present. There’s a joke in there somewhere about presents that make you present. But this isn’t a joke video. This is just a cozy little holiday video. And I hope it encourages you to look around your space at your non-living roommates, and consider which of those objects around you make you the happiest. Maybe for you it’s not handmade gifts or art. But knowing what makes you happiest can tell your friends what you want, and that’s the key to getting what you want.
I enjoyed making this little video, and drawing on the little cup, and baking it so that the paint will set and stay even after washing. By the way, it’s 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and once it has baked for 30 minutes, then you need to wait for it to cool down inside the oven, so I recommend doing it overnight and leaving yourself a note in the morning. Happy holidays! I hope you get everything that you want.
Jessica Landis is a recovering theater artist who has written and performed in a couple of musicals produced in Chicago at The Annoyance Theater, one for the Chicago Fringe Festival, and one for Minneapolis Fringe. She has written speculative fiction professionally, and storytelling for community events. She is not usually a video artist, but that is one of the many things COVID changed.