Ximena McCollum and Beatriz Guerron

Ben and Ximena

Ben and Ximena at IdeaFestival, 2013

We first met Ximena in September 2013. At the time, we were working on another artwork, DISCARDED, at IdeaFestival in Louisville. Ximena was one of the festival goers whom we asked to sit for a portrait on a discarded couch. After chatting with her and photographing her (and her couch companion), we became Facebook friends, the way things tend to go these days…

A year later we launched Love Letter To the World. Ximena was one of the first participants. After getting her tattoo, she sent us this story:

“When I read the first stanza of ‘Love Letta to de Worl’,’ I got a lump in my throat, fighting back tears. I wasn’t fighting them back because I am afraid or ashamed to cry, but because I could not wait to read the next word and did not want to spend time with blurry eyes.

“healing waters” … those words jumped out at me and I thought, “Those words are written for me” … I felt as if I had told Frank X Walker about myself and he wrote those first four sentences for me.

First, I am a lover of nature and my soul is at peace when I am hiking, kayaking or rafting. If I see a body of water, I am immediately drawn to it. I feel it is our duty to protect our water and our planet.

I have always been a vocal advocate for less use of fossil fuels.  Around six years ago, I learned about Fracking. I did as much research as possible and since then I do what I can to educate others about the horrid effects of Fracking on our water sources and on our Earth. I have protested on the White House lawn and attended several meetings to help fight the Bluegrass Pipeline. I write to our Senators and President, and basically do what I can to stand up for our Earth. As I continued to read the poem, it touched me deeply that there is LOVE for this Earth, that it’s not all greed. There are many of us out there that Love This World because we can appreciate ALL she gives us. I wish we could all have access to clean water worldwide. I worry daily that those of us lucky enough to have access to clean water don’t realize just how fragile and volatile our access really is. The water our Earth gives us is healing.

Second, I am lucky enough to have done some amazing worldwide travels. One of the most memorable times in my life was backpacking Machu Picchu. When I was done with the trail, a friend I met on the trip and I went to a natural Hot Spring in Aguascalientes, Peru (a small town at the end of the trail). We soaked in hot springs with amazing huge mountains all around us. I told my new friend that the only thing that could make this experience better was if it started storming. It started storming. My friend, who is from Peru, said that the Gods had heard me. I have never felt so much at peace.

The picture that I am submitting has a story as well. It was taken in Bath Co, Virginia at the Jefferson Pools. The Pools where built in 1761 and are naturally fed by a spring with the constant temp of 98. I go there at least two times a year, one time to meet friends who I have known for more than twenty-five years and the other just to get away from reality and take a mental break. I was there this past weekend and felt it was the perfect setting for my wonderful tattoo.

Ximena McCollum

Ximena McCollum’s “healing waters” (image courtesy of Ximena McCollum)

Thank you all for creating this project and letting all of us, worldwide, join. I hope like crazy that on one of my international travels I will see someone with a tattoo from this project. I will know I have a new friend instantly!

Ximena McCollum”

Five months after launching Love Letter To the World, we created the artwork’s first exhibition. Ximena came to the opening with her mom Beatriz Guerron and snapped Beatriz’ picture in front of the image of her (Ximena’s) tattoo. Ximena told us that after she got her first tattoo ten years ago, Beatriz said she would love one as well. But Beatriz’ skin is too delicate at this age, so in a way, this photograph ties her to a tattoo with meaning.

Beatriz Guerron, Ximena's mom

Beatriz Guerron, Ximena’s mom, in front of the photograph if Ximena’s tattoo, currently on exhibit at the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky (image courtesy of Ximena McCollum)

“Love Letta to de Worl'” in Ukrainian!

-click here to listen to “Love Letta to de Worl'” in Ukrainian-

The Ukrainian translation was made by Anna Bagryana. Thank you, Anna!

Anna Bagryana is a novelist, poet, playwright, and translator. Born in 1981 in the city of Fastiv, Kyiv Oblast, Bagryana graduated from the Language Institute of Shevchenko National University of Kyiv with a degree in Ukrainian Language and Literature. Following this, she worked as a radio and television journalist. Currently, she is a member of the National Writer’s Union of Ukraine, the Association of Ukrainian Writers, and the Slavic Academy of Literature and the Arts (Bulgaria).

Bagryana has published 7 books of poetry, 2 collections of plays, and 3 novels: The Etymology of Blood (Kyiv, 2008), Such a Strange Love This is (Kyiv 2010), and The Pesterer (Kyiv, 2012). She has also compiled and translated an anthology of contemporary poetry from the Republic of Macedonia.

Bagryana is the recipient of numerous national and international honors, awards, and prizes, including the 2009 Marusia Beck Literary Prize (WFUWO, Canada) for her short story “Green Borshch.”


“The Art of Being” by Ingrid Walker

This poem.
These words.
They are like coming home.

In his first move away from his native place at age 8, my son and I left Lexington and the only community he’d really known. He’s a proud Kentuckian and although it wasn’t my birthplace, I, too, felt that we left a second home. So the Love Letter To the World project has given us a chance to be reconnected through language to that Lexington community. The idea of a poem embodied in this way seems exactly how literature should be: living and breathing out in the world. Dante suggested that we should get our phrases done together as an experience to mark his last year at home before college—a manifestation of our connection to each other and those Kentucky roots.

At a time when events in the U.S. and the world made it difficult to sustain my faith in humanity, “Love Letta to de Worl’” was a salve. It soothed the gnawing feeling of isolation and the despair about all the ways we do not do right by each other. Frank X Walker’s speech act folds me back into the arms of the human family.

On subsequent readings, “how small we truly are” stayed with me. We truly are. Although I tried out other phrases, I kept returning to these words. They remind me of my connection to all living things (“we”)—and our most primary state of being. We are. We truly are.

Through Walker’s empathetic word-smithy, I am reminded of my place in the cosmos, on this giant spinning rock, among all the other feeling beings. These words also call me back to consciousness: I am. We are. And the echo of “how small” we truly are reflects how interconnected my actions are with everything else. I am not off the hook. I am accepted for what I am and yet I am held accountable to everything and everyone else. “For every atom belong to me as good belongs to you.” (“Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman)

This emblem of my state of being makes sense to me not as a meditation on the self so much as my place in the larger human family that I so gratefully experience every day. I am because we are.

Through the Love Letter To the World tattoo project, I want to make good on that promise of accountability. I now have a reminder of my desire to be truly present in this human family on this beautiful planet. When others ask about the words or the artwork, this phrase will open a conversation, maybe a connection. In that way, my tattoo reminds me I am, here and now, with all of you. I love you. And I love this world.

With love and compassion, through pain and suffering, across time and in this moment, we truly are.

Ingrid Walker

Ingrid Walker’s “we truly are” (image courtesy of Ingrid Walker)

Dante Tenzin Fields

Dante Tenzin Fields’ “seven different faces.” (image courtesy of Ingrid Walker)

Ingrid Walker and Dante Tenzin Fields

Ingrid and Dante, days after his 18th birthday (image courtesy of Ingrid Walker)