Rena Gibeau’s “gotten right”

Rena sent us her story on Monday, Dec 21. She had been working on it for a while.

“Today, on my mother’s birthday, I finally finished my essay. A fitting way to celebrate her life.

From the moment I learned of the Love Letter To the World project, I wanted to be part of that global community. For my tattoo, I chose the phrase ‘gotten right’ to honor my parents, Richard and Arlene Gibeau, two people who have inspired me to become better every day.

I always said that my parents set the bar high, and the impact they made on the world around them was astounding. Modest and unassuming, they lived a life of servant leadership and dedicated their energies to making their community stronger. Intensely engaged, intelligent, and creative, they embraced all forms of the arts and worked tirelessly to make them available to everyone. The memories we created together are filled with a celebration of music, art, and dance.

Father was a brilliant writer and read voraciously. The walls of our home were lined with books on every topic, and as a family, we read together and recited poems as a matter of course. Father loved the outdoors, and delighted in planting trees, vegetables, and flowers to beautify our surroundings. In his senior years, he did not slow down a bit, serving as a trustee of our public library, laying the foundation for an award-winning library system.

Mother sparkled with humor and creativity, and could do anything she put her mind to. She inspired everyone around her with her excitement and appreciation for life. In her youth she danced professionally, and would burst into song spontaneously when the spirit moved her. She had her own unique and remarkable style. As a child, I remember watching her create gorgeous hats, and her sewing skills contributed to our wardrobes. As her children became more independent, she and my father became more involved in addressing the need for creating strong community arts programs. Through their vision, an empty Carnegie library building launched a new career as an arts center, and with Mother at the helm it became a jewel of our city, contributing to the success of many local artists. Even after she retired, she never stopped volunteering to bring art into unlikely places, and was an ardent advocate for local artists. She believed that ‘Art is for Everyone.’

In addition, these two wonderful people embraced everyone from everywhere, from all walks of life. They taught us to appreciate all cultures and truly believed that every man and woman was deserving of equal respect and opportunity. To spend time with them was to see the potential that lived within each person, and the promise of the arts to unite us.

I met Mr. Walker in 2007, when one of our fledgling writers at Covington’s Frank Duveneck Arts and Cultural Center’s Voices of Grace writing programs invited me to attend her award ceremony at Thomas More College in Northern Kentucky, where she was to be recognized for her achievements as a student writer. The event featured Mr. Walker as a speaker, and he reinvigorated my appreciation of poetry when he read some of his poems. Afterwards, I was inspired to approach him to tell him how much I appreciated his work, and in our conversation we discovered a common thread. Several years earlier, he had donated his time to teach writing workshops for youngsters at the Duveneck Center in a program coordinated by my mother. After our discussion, Mr. Walker offered to hold a writing workshop for adults at the Duveneck Center. Lovers of words, my parents and I decided to take this workshop together, a unique shared experience that is one of my fond memories of the later years with them.

It is utterly fitting that the poem by Frank X Walker, ‘Love Letta to de Worl’’ is at the core of this tattoo project. When I read the poem, I fell in love. It captured my heart and seemed to speak to the life’s work of my parents:

“Our own efforts to mimic your vistas are what we dare call art and dance, music and poetry, architecture and language, and love. It is the only thing we have ever gotten right.”

And did they ever!”

Rena Gibeau's "gotten right" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Rena Gibeau’s “gotten right” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Madison and Abigail

“To be part of something bigger. To capture a season of life that’s filled with so many highs, finding oneself, and spontaneity. To have a tangible display of a bond that’s shared with closest friends and strangers from around the globe. We share the same passion, the same peace, the same appreciation for our world—that’s why we decided to participate in the LLTW tattoo project.

I’ve always wanted a tattoo, but couldn’t think of a significant image I would want permanently displayed on my body. I fell in love with the Lexington Tattoo Project, but found out about it too late to participate. The captivating concept intrigued me and I knew if I were to ever get a tattoo, I wanted something that shared this same idea. I was so excited when I found out Kurt & Kremena had masterminded Love Letter to the World—I knew I had to participate. For me, the comma signifies the importance of taking a pause. To think. To respond. To remember that I am not always in control. I also loved the fact it was the smallest portion on the poem (first tattoo here, people) and that I initially thought it was a semicolon (…for months). It reminds me that life is a funny funny gift and that things aren’t always as they appear.

–Madison Osborne”

Madison Osborne and Abigail Watkins (photograph courtesy of

Madison Osborne and Abigail Watkins (photograph courtesy of Madison Osborne and Abigail Watkins)

Katie Brewer’s “on harmony”

Katie Brewer's "on harmony" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Katie Brewer’s “on harmony” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

“Ink first found its way under my skin two years next month when I participated in the Lexington Tattoo Project. My chosen phrase—‘of the Universe’—hurt like hell while it became a permanent feature of my body and myself. (Seriously y’all, think long and hard about those chest pieces.) As it healed, as I grew accustomed to this new addition on my ribcage, the words began to take on a deep meaning for me, one that I had a hard time articulating and that didn’t find its full form until I decided to become a participant in Love Letter To the World as well.

Let me try to explain.

For as long as I can remember, I struggled with anxiety, depression, and an overwhelming feeling that I just didn’t belong anywhere. I moved through life with some sort of purpose, sure, but I was lacking something. Passion maybe? Happiness? Love? I looked high and low, here and there, inside and outside of myself.

I found what I was missing in the most unexpected of ways. During my final year of college, I adopted a bracelet that had belonged to my late grandmother (this in itself is a story for another time). Simple, delicate, and beautiful—a silver chain from which dangled a small kaleidoscope of butterflies, each with an affirming word engraved upon its reverse. This bracelet meant the world to me and for a short time I wore it every day. Then, one of the charms fell off. I was devastated until I looked down whilst walking to class one day to discover a shiny little winged creature just in front of my feet.

‘Harmony,’ it said to me.

And I realized that was exactly what I needed, what I should strive to achieve. More than anything else, I needed to find peace with myself, with my surroundings, with my place in the universe. I had always considered harmony to be something unobtainable and intangible, something that only existed within the most perfect combination of musical notes. But that day I realized it was something I could find within myself and my own heart. And I began to do just that.

Enter the LLTW poem. Frank X Walker’s words touched my soul in much the same way Bianca Spriggs’ ode to Lexington had done not long before. As I listened to him read, over and over, I felt at one with the world and its joy and its suffering. The words ‘on harmony’ were an obvious choice for me—I knew it was something I would be dwelling on and living with for the rest of my days.

I scheduled my appointment. I got my tattoo. I once again became part of something beautiful and so much bigger than myself. My note, my voice added itself to the worldwide symphony of LLTW tattoo bearers. In harmony.

On Harmony. Of the Universe.

I am both of these things and I am beyond grateful.

– katie b.”

Jeni McDaniel’s comma

“The first time I read Frank X Walker’s ‘Love Letta To de Worl’,’ I was struck by his perception of how every individual on this planet has a personal impact on the future of our existence. Many of my friends from the band I play with, March Madness Marching Band, had already gotten tattoos from the Lexington Tattoo Project. I had felt saddened by the fact that I had not kept up with Facebook to be able to be an integral part of that artwork. Mind you, I am not computer illiterate at all. In fact, that is exactly how I make a living. But I seldom have the time to keep up with some of the social media that permeate our lives so completely.

This past summer when I was faced with an absolute diagnosis of stomach cancer, I felt the need to ‘pause’ in my life. To reflect on what I had and what I may lose. And to contemplate the reason for my existence and the reason for my possible passing.

Five days before my surgery was scheduled, my stomach surgeon told me he wanted to do another endoscopy to put his ‘own eyes’ on the tumor, so he could tell me exactly how much of my stomach and surrounding tissue he would have to remove. (The previous EGD had been performed by a Gastroenterologist.) He finished the procedure and told me that the mass was gone! Basically … by some blessing from the universe, the tumor that had been in my stomach had simply disappeared!

At that point I became intrigued by the LLTW project again, by the fact that many wonderful, loving people were ‘paying it forward’ to give folks like me an opportunity to share in this lovely tribute to the world. Just a ‘comma, a ‘pause’ in my life, which was all I really needed to commemorate the five months of uncertainty I had been dealing with, part of an already chaotic life I had been living for several years.

I am eternally grateful for the woman who made this possible for me. She is a beautiful, loving person who has always been there for me. And she is always there for those who need her.  Isn’t that what makes our world a better place? To be blessed with people in our lives who really matter? Who give without expecting a return? Who ‘pay it forward,’ if you will, just so that the world can be a better place. I know it may sound cliché to some, but it’s really not.

So with immense joy I would like to share my comma with all who care to share it with me! After my last EGD in October, I was cleared of having to endure major stomach surgery! I will have a follow-up in January. I have positively decided that cancer does not ‘fit’ with me. I love life and the people who surround me with love and happiness!

I’m not ready to leave this world, for sure.

As Frank X Walker put it, “… And yet, every day you continue to humble, inspire, and move us to tears with your natural beauty … our only efforts to mimic your vistas are what we dare call art and dance, music and poetry, architecture and language, and love. It is the only thing we have ever gotten right.”

‘Thank you, world.’

Thank you, Frank, and … thank YOU, World!

~Jeni McDaniel”

Jeni McDaniel's comma (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Jeni McDaniel’s comma (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Note: Jeni’s comma will be one of the hundreds of photographs included in the Love Letter To the World video artwork, which will premiere on Winter Solstice Day, December 22. Visit the artwork website to watch the video!

Lonna Jo’s “and petty squabbles”

Lonna Jo's "and petty squabbles" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova

Lonna Jo’s “and petty squabbles” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova

“One of my favorite words is maktoob. I learned this word from reading Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist. maktoob is an Arabic word that means ‘it is written’ or ‘destiny.’ I am a believer in destiny, that life is a journey. We are all connected and intertwined, including our destinies. That is why I would have to say that my Love Letter To the World tattoo began in 2008 when I met my friend Karyl Anne.

I went back to school to complete my degree after having been a stay-at-home (for the most part) mom of five kids and wife (twice) for nearly 20 years. I had to retake some core classes because my credits were too old to use. I met Karyl Anne in an English Literature class. That was in the fall of 2008. Fast-forward to May 30, 2014 and my friend invited me to a poetry reading. She was earning her MFA at Spalding University and her mentor was one of my favorite authors, Silas House. She knew how much I loved him and Frank X Walker, both of whom would be reading that evening at the Brown Hotel.

After the poetry reading, I began following Frank X Walker on social media. In August 2014, I learned through his Facebook about the Love Letter To the World tattoo art project being done by Kremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde. I fell in love with the whole concept and poem; therefore, I posted about it all over social media to encourage others to participate.

All throughout 2014, I was always finding myself in the presence of dragonflies. Being an introspective person, I took this as a sign that there needs to be a change. I felt unsatisfied with the way things were going in my life because I felt trapped behind a mask. By December 2014, I felt the need to voice the transformation I was ready to make, inspired by the LLTW tattoo art project. To love the world, to love other people, to love life, we must begin by loving ourselves by being faithful to our own nature.

This past year of 2015, perspicacity brought me to an opening; my spirituality bloomed fully with a deeper understanding of the unity of our world … of the universe. I began meditating and visualizing. I strove to understand human connectedness and energy. I grew. In mid-August, there was a posting on the LLTW Facebook page, offering a free tattoo to two people. The tattoos were sponsored by Kentucky for KentuckyTo enter, one had to tell of a legend and had to pick one of four designs from the poem Love Letta to de Worl’: ‘our own efforts,’ ‘it shows off,’ ‘everything we do,’ or ‘and petty squabbles.’ I submitted two legends. One was of the Pope Lick goat man at the train trestles; the other—of Steve Dehart, from Nada, Kentucky, who purportedly killed off all the black bears of Eastern Kentucky in the early 1900’s. I chose the words ‘and petty squabbles.’ I felt that tattoo was mine and imagined it was already inked in my skin.

The day before my 44th birthday, I was notified that I had indeed won that tattoo! I was ecstatic! A year in the making … seven years in the making … or longer; at least a year after falling in love with the poem and the artwork, I was going to be able to get one of the tattoos from it. On September 13th, I went to Twisted Images in the Highlands of Louisville, Kentucky, where Irish S8N was ready to ink the words and design into my skin forevermore.

I love my tattoo. I love being part of a global art project. I love the poem Love Letta to de Worl’. In the beginning, I had chosen the words ‘healing waters.’ Swimming is an activity I love: flowing gracefully through water. Water is purifying; think showers/baths, ablutions before prayer, and being baptized. Purification of body and soul always requires the healing of waters; what is more healing than tears?

The stanza that holds the words of my tattoo is as follow:

When you weep, daily, 
over our continued ignorance, 
our epic failures and petty squabbles 
–our every transgression, 
your waters 
break and we are born again.

As a mom of five, I have cried over my children’s petty squabbles with one another. As a Bowen (maiden name), I have shed tears from the petty squabbles within my clan of hillbillies living on Hell Hill (it is named Bowen hill, but nicknamed Hell Hill due to the fighting). As a human being, I have sobbed over the petty squabbles that affect our world dividing us into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Tears are healing waters by way of their cathartic effect and sadly ‘our continued ignorance,’ ‘our epic failures,’ ‘petty squabbles,’ and ‘our every transgression’ ensure that there will always be a continuous flow of ‘healing waters’ from our faces and that of our earthen mother, Gaia.”

unlearn fear and hate, part II: Tori Amason

Tori Amason's "unlearn fear and hate" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Tori Amason’s “unlearn fear and hate” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

“I heard about Love Letter To the World months before I decided to get my tattoo. I thought it was just a cool idea to be a part of, but after really focusing on the beautiful words of the poem, I knew it was too powerful to pass up. When deciding the exact phrase, I considered three options: ‘about change,’ ‘about revolution,’ and ‘unlearn fear and hate.’

 

‘about change’ and ‘about revolution’ were reminders to continue living my purpose, but then I began to think about my life’s values and passion, and the work I do around social justice issues, and one simple phrase summed it up: ‘unlearn fear and hate.’ It explains so simply the strong and difficult holds fear and hate have on our society.

 

I finally chose this phrase for a variety of reasons. First, because it perfectly summed up a commitment I have made to help others, specifically other White people, how to unlearn all the lies we have been taught. I also chose it to remind me to give others a little grace on their journey because unlearning something is quite difficult and it requires much practice and effort. Lastly, I chose it hoping others would see it and recognize a call to action. I hope it sparks conversation and urges others to follow the phrase.

Thinking about the phrase being a call to action is ironic since below that tattoo is one that says “Let Love Live,” which serves as an alternative option to fear and hate. I never thought about how the two tattoos related until Kurt and Kremena asked me not to hide it from the shot we did for this project. Only then did I realize that together they tell a beautiful story; if you ‘unlearn fear and hate,’ you will begin to ‘Let Love Live.’ So to everyone who sees my tattoo, I hope you realize this: You have a chance to save someone’s life.

If you do not UNLEARN, your conscious and unconscious will keep people imprisoned.

For all freedom is bound together.

Your ‘UN’education could change minds, soften hearts, and transform lives if you begin to recognize the truth instead of the lies.

Wake up because we need you!”

Tori Amason

Tori Amason’s “unlearn fear and hate” (detail)

 

Still more commas!

That’s right. Susan’s comma is the fourth in a beautiful chain of gifts gifted to strangers.

It all started with Ernie Ray who offered to pay it forward for someone else to get a Love Letter To the World comma. That someone was Tara Zlacki. In turn, Tara offered to gift a comma and because Angela Baldrige was the first to respond to the call for volunteers, Angela got the third comma in what had already become a series of amazing commas.

Angela Baldridge's comma (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Angela Baldridge’s comma (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

When Angela, too, asked to pay it forward, Susan Grabowski asked for the comma.

Susan Grabowski's comma (photograph courtesy of Susan Grabowski)

Susan Grabowski’s comma (photograph by John Foster)

Here is the story sent to us by Susan:

“When I moved to Vermont five years ago, I joined a book club of sorts; we would read and discuss texts about releasing ourselves from pain and suffering, and finding compassion and lovingkindness—in general, Buddhism. This group, now my sangha, has changed my life in many amazing ways, as it has helped me realize that our reactions that include anger are generated by our own fear, and that this is absolutely human. All of us are simply trying to make ourselves happy. If we can better understand what our fears are, how we tick, we can open ourselves to bigger and better and more positive interactions with everyone. (It’s a process, and I am nowhere close to being any kind of expert, but this has really helped me to be a happier, more positive person!)

Shortly after relocating to Vermont, I started working at a small college for students with learning disabilities. Working at Landmark College has allowed me to see how students who learn differently struggle with fear of the unknown—not only their own personal fears, but the fears of others regarding their often invisible disabilities. So many Landmark students tell similar stories about how they were told they would never amount to much and how they probably could not go to college … they have been victims of discrimination, of someone else’s fear and hate, as well as of their own fear. At Landmark, students are given an opportunity to change their story.

Like so many of our students at Landmark, when I landed in southern Vermont, I was given an opportunity to change my own story. By beginning to understand my own fears, I have found and embraced a more a positive, happy, loving me. That positive energy led me to Burning Man. During my second burn in 2014, I learned about Love Letter To the World. Already having a few tattoos, I was intrigued. When I read the poem, it definitely resonated with me. The stanza ‘We can’t pass the course on humanity if we keep failing the lessons on harmony and until we unlearn fear and hate’ really spoke to me, and, in particular, the phrase ‘unlearn fear and hate’ was especially meaningful. Not only do these words have a deep, personal meaning for me, they are, from my perspective, the answer to all the angst in the world in which we live today. I believe that if we could actually ‘unlearn fear and hate,’ we would see this world transform from one in which we are exposed to public displays of unthinkable violence on a daily basis to a world in which peace is among our highest values.

Susan Grabowski's "unlearn fear and hate" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Susan Grabowski’s “unlearn fear and hate” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

I got ‘unlearn fear and hate’ as my Love Letter tattoo almost a year ago. That’s how I met my tattoo artist, Gao Feng. At the time, he worked at a small studio in Bellows Falls, VT. I was so impressed with his work and the care he took regarding the whole process, that I knew I wanted him to do any future tattoos I might get. So recently, when I was awarded the comma, I contacted the shop in Bellows Falls and discovered that he had just moved to Massachusetts, luckily not too far away. (Phew!) He did both ‘We can’t pass the course’ and the comma in October.

So now I have two phrases and a comma. The comma is a really great reminder to physically and mentally pause. To slow down—I am a big doer and I am almost constantly going, moving, creating, planning … Slowing down just a bit, pausing before the next big thing, taking a few deep breaths, really helps me with being more positive.

I plan to have the entire stanza tattooed on my body, eventually. ‘We can’t pass the course’ is the first step of that plan.”

Susan Grabowski's "We can't pass the course" (photograph courtesy of Susan Grabowski)

Susan Grabowski’s “We can’t pass the course” (photograph by John Foster)

P.S. #1 We met and photographed Susan in person in Black Rock City 2015. At the time, we knew her as Wheeze.

P.S. #2 Want to find out which tattoo phrase Susan sponsored? Check back next week!