The Endemic Book started when I was reading about more gun violence and saw the word, “endemic”. I’ve seen it before and decided to look it up for the first time (I’ve loved Dictionary.com for this for years). I rarely stop at one word once I start exploring. Here are some words I understand anew:
- endemic — characteristic of a specific people or place
- terror — intense, sharp, overmastering fear
- grief — keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss
- trauma — an experience that causes psychological injury or pain
- violence — swift and intense force
- ordnance — cannon or artillery
- responsibility — being answerable or accountable for something within one’s power
Creating the Background
I started with a large, soft, fresh piece of Fabriano watercolor paper. Using a flat paintbrush, I wrote the words that were floating around in my head: grief, terror, rage, depression, responsibility, sadness, tragedy. As more words came through, I let them flow to the page, writing over the previous Italic calligraphy. Strokes began to overlap exactly — a repetition of the past. I paused a few times and tried to scrub the ink out with water.
The page ripped and cracked, but the words remained. I added thoughsandprayersthoughtsandprayersthoughtsandprayers on the still-wet page.
They were sucked in and no match for what was already there: for what can’t be washed away.
More thoughtsandprayers. More drying in the sun. More damage to the page.
Making the Pages
I measured and cut the pages, even though the paper was curling and I could barely see the measurement marks I made. Then, I measured the margins and added guidelines to the pages, trying to establish some structure over what lay beneath. The calligraphy would need it, and I would need guidelines to follow.
Writing the Definitions
As I wrote each definition, the paper swallowed the ink up. The damage to the paper interfered with the progress I was trying to make. I had to go back over the letters to see them — the paper swallowed the ink up anyway.
I wished I had put a coat of sealant over the background. Something to protect my calligraphy from everything that happened before. But I just wanted to move on to the next page, the next word. I kept fighting with the page. I imagined what it’s like to return to a place and practice as if nothing ever happened there.
At this point, I decided that this book needed to be burned.
Making the Covers
I saved the bottom of the large page to cover the Endemic Book. This section of the page was where the broad calligraphy ended and I kept writing “thoughts and prayers” rapidly with a pointed paintbrush. It looked clean and decorative. This part of the process was peaceful, just cutting cardboard neatly to wrap the beautiful paper around.
No one would know what messes lay on the inside unless they bothered to open it. The ability to make it blend in with similar things around it — to normalize it. Just sickening.
Setting the Book on Fire
The last thing left to do was build a small fire in my firepit. I collected some small sticks and tinder from my backyard. Change starts with our surroundings, right?
I waited until sunset, as it’s summer here in the desert. Then I lit the tinder and said a few words. Using tongs, I held the book in the flames. This way, the book wouldn’t extinguish them too soon. Once the book started to fall apart, I let the pages go. Watching the calligraphy burn away was beautiful. After the book became ash, I covered it in dirt.
I often feel like I have to be one way or another, or do one thing or the other. We’re brought up in binary thinking mode. Many things in life are not linear, and that doesn’t make them less significant. So I can process this reality with art AND donate to Everytown AND put pressure on local government to enact change. This experience demands the totality of who we are to show up. Artwork is one way I transmute my anger into action.