Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Buddha A Day, the Ellen Sandbeck Way

According to her bio at Simon & Schuster, Ellen Sandbeck is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures -- which includes two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms -- in Duluth, Minnesota. She is the author of Slug Bread & Beheaded Thistles and Eat More Dirt.

She and her husband Walt, have been friends of our for more than two decades since our arrival in Duluth. We watched their kids grow and they watched ours. Simultaneously we alsoo watched our careers evolve and certainly Ellen's has flourished. I thought a good way to start the new year would be a brief interview, along with a handful of images from her new project called A Buddha A Day.

ennyman: Where did you get the idea for a Buddha a day?
Ellen: When I was in Santa Cruz visiting my sister Annie, in fall of 2008, my sister’s boyfriend, Michael, took us to the beautiful Tibetan-Buddhist center in the midst of a redwood forest where he volunteers. We hiked for miles on the center’s trails, turned the giant prayer wheels, and admired the temple, the shrines, the gardens, the gift shop, and the hospice. Then Michael told us that when he volunteers, his job is to cut Buddhas out of newspapers and magazines. I have been doing papercuts for years, and I immediately thought “Wow! That is so cool! I could do that! I want to do that!” My eyes must have been bugging out of my head, or my tongue must have been hanging out or something, because Michael then went on to explain that local Buddhists bring their old newspapers and magazines in to the center so that any photographic images of the Buddha that are in these publications can be cut out and saved so the paper can be recycled without destroying any images of the Buddha. The cut-out images are then stored in small shrines. I was somewhat disappointed to hear this, but the idea of cutting out images of the Buddha stuck with me and wouldn’t go away.

Several months later, after I had finished all the writing, rewriting, illustrating, and editing changes on my newest book, “Green Barbarians,” I began my project “A Buddha A Day.” I have been producing a papercut of the image every day since mid-June 2009, and plan to continue for a full year. I am putting the images on my Facebook page, “A Buddha A Day,” and I am inviting people to choose an image they like and enter a writing contest (excellent writing on any topic, a page or less long). If I like a submission, the writer will win the Buddha image of his or her choice.

enny: What do you enjoy most about this project?
Ellen: I really enjoy having a good reason to stare for hours at beautiful images of the Buddha from cultures all over the world. The variety is amazing, and the effect of contemplating the Buddha for between 2 and 6 hours per day has been interesting.

enny: Do you ever wonder why you committed to it? How often do you want to quit?
Ellen: No, I don’t wonder why I committed to it. It was an overwhelming urge, and I haven’t wanted to quit yet. My husband has, I think, wondered why I committed to it, however! I’ve been much spacier than usual while doing this project, which is a good trick!

enny: Are there days when you have to do two or three because you’re camping or doing some kind of event?
Ellen: Yes. Though if I know that I’m going to be away from home, I try to work ahead. It took me about 4 months to build up an extra dozen images before we visited relatives on the East Coast for 10 days this past fall.

enny: You’re also a writer and your newest book Green Barbarians just came out. What’s it about?
Ellen: Green Barbarians is an attempt to encourage people to toughen up and refuse to allow Big Business and the advertising industry to scare them into buying expensive, dangerous crap.

enny: Which is harder, writing books or making a Buddha a day?
Ellen: Writing books!

enny: What’s the strangest or funniest incident you have experienced while doing this project?
Ellen: I guess I think it’s funny that people have liked the images so well. Actually doing the images is extremely peaceful and uneventful.

When I did my first interview with Ellen at the end of 2008 there were no Buddha projects in the works. Knowing Ellen as we do, you just can't predict what's going to turnip... or turn up.

If you're not yet familiar with Ellen's A Buddha A Day project on Facebook, I encourage you to visit for a moment and bookmark it so you can get there quickly later when you have more time. In fact, if you submit some prose of a page or so, you can possibly end up with one of Ellen's Buddhas hanging in your home... or office. Go for it!


Ellen said...

Hi Ed! Nice posting!

I should mention that entries to the A Buddha A Day contest don't have to be prose. Good poetry is also welcome!

Ellen Sandbeck

ENNYMAN said...

Thanks, Ellen. Happy to help get the word out.

Keep on keepin' on ...