Making something small happen

art of the everyday

Month: March, 2012

A love of baking – tract 4 day 6

I arrived at my usual spot (which has now become the drain cover outside GAP on Royal Avenue) at around 12.30 today, set my timer and got to work. The free bible giver was there again today and I noticed several people stop to talk with him. I had a couple of people stop and talk to me also. One man stopped to say he had read the tract yesterday and he thought it was really good, another passed by twice, the second time he stopped to say he really enjoyed the tract and that he was going to try baking for strangers so I would love to know if he does and how it goes. This aspect of the work that I put the tracts out there but get little feedback or shared experience beyond handing the tract over is something I would like to work on.

The longest interaction of today was a couple of men, possibly father and son? the elder of the two stopped to ask what I was giving out, the younger answered for me saying it was about Jesus right? I explained that is wasn’t that the project is about reclaiming values often attributed to Christians that I feel belong to everyone, for example, compassion, empathy or kindness. The younger man then said it was like humanism, I would not label myself as a humanist so this is a new area which I need to research more deeply to allow myself to coherently explain the differences. I did explain I am an atheist to which he responded that he was neither a Christian nor an atheist, the older man said “yes you are a . . .” the younger man simply said ” do not tell me what I am” at this he walked off across the street. This left me with the older man and he began to share his belief in guardian angels. I was a little surprised by this but I kept this to myself in the hope he would share more. He explained he used to have a Mitsubishi Shogun and had been driving in Donegal with the radio at full volume and the heat up full blast. It had begun to snow, soon turning to a blizzard. With all the noise in the car he didn’t hear the change when the wheels left the road and began to plough through a snow drift. He hit black ice and as the car began to spin he spoke to his guardian angel saying “you are driving now” as he lost total control. The car ended up crashing into a privet hedge and once he had come to a full stop he realised that the hedge was only a small part of a wider barrier. To the left and right of where his car had ended up was stone wall for miles in both directions. He believes “this was not just a coincidence”.

I gave away around 60 tracts so I may head out again tomorrow. If you are in Belfast keep an eye out for me!

A Love of Baking (Tract 4 day 5)

It was a relatively quiet day today, plenty of people took tracts, I handed out about 90 in total but people seemed busy and didn’t want to engage in conversation in general. I watched a couple of tracts being thrown away but the overwhelming response was to look at me then the tract then say no thank you. As I am watching the people go past I am beginning to see a pattern, older ladies take the tracts more readily than others, men take the tracts but often put them in their pockets without looking at them. Of course who accepts is affected by who I offer a tract to and my body language and approach to doing this. Perhaps I am most comfortable giving tracts to older women and this shows. I have to say I find it hardest giving the tracts to teenage boys, so many throw them away but I do not think that is the only reason. I feel I am most likely to be ridiculed by that group. Also the intended audiences for all the different people distributing leaflets or tracts or promo material are all very different and depending what I am perceived to be giving out it makes a difference who accepts.

I joined the free bible givers again today and am planning on contacting them to ask about what drives them to evangelise and what their ethos is. There was a real contrast by what I had assumed was my quite passive distribution and their method, they set a table up with all the literature they have to offer and then wait silently to be approached.

I have not really tried to stop people and chat yet, I mentioned previously I had addressed this with Andrea Montgomery in a tutorial but I feel the techniques are best used after I am approached by someone. I intend to address this reluctance to approach people fully in the tract. So tomorrow is my last day of tract 4.

A love of baking – the tract.

A love of baking (tract 4 day 4)

Had the best intentions to make it to town around lunch time to get the crowds passing but this wasn’t possible so I arrived at 3 a little flustered and found the “free bible girl” on my stage. It was starting to rain so I wanted the shelter, I allowed myself a manhole cover as a new and improved stage and soon realised that if I stood on this side of the entrance to Gap then people couldn’t slip into the shop to get past me, this may sound paranoid but I a sure this had happened previously.

As the rain got heavier a strange thing happened – more people started to accept my tracts rather than less. I am assuming this is because the more uncomfortable they felt the more they wanted my standing in the rain to have a purpose. It is days like this that I am sure they give me a gift and get nothing in return. A few people stopped to say what good work I was doing and a few openly laughed in my face as they took the tract only to throw it in the nearest bin. One young man took the tract and realising what his assumption led him to believe it was he began to veer towards the bin reading it as he went, his steps slowed then he began to walk away from the bin towards Castlecourt putting the tract in with his shopping as he went. I cannot explain how happy I felt and I began to wonder what it must feel like to stand on the street day after day and then for one day someone to come to you and say they want to become a Christian and can you help them? What if someone asked me that! I suddenly felt grateful to have “free bible girl” nearby I could refer any people wishing to be “saved” to her. What then is my responsibility to those I give tracts to?

While pondering all this a man approached to ask “What is it you are giving away that no one is taking?” Following the advice of the woman from yesterday to tell everyone it was a recipe I did just that. It turned out this man was a baker, so I asked him how to keep my chocolate chips in the middle rather than all at the bottom of my buns. “Oh” he replied “I don’t make buns just scones mostly” I asked how the fruit stays in the middle of the scones hoping this would give some guidance but he just told me he mixed it well. He left me with instructions to try to make a Yorkshire Brack ( so I will give this a go (and maybe give it out on the bus if it’s not a disaster.)

My last observation for today is how strange it is to give out the last tract of the day. I had a bundle of tracts from yesterday left but the rest were locked in my studio so I decided to give away all that I had with me and when I got to the last one I felt I had lost my authority to give it out. Normally people look at the bundle in my left hand and it seems to give reassurance, other people will get this tract to, I’m not just someone odd giving out my own post or something! As I gave the last tract to a women I handed it over and she glanced quickly at my other hand she seemed confused, what kind of person has only one leaflet to give away? The answer is the kind that will be better prepared tomorrow! Usually I set a time to stay out and have many leaflets left at the end of each session I find some comfort in holding these leaflets but it is also a reminder of the work still to do.

A love of Baking (Tract 4 day 3)

I took to my little “stage” again outside Gap on Royal Avenue Belfast and set the timer on my phone I would remain focussed on giving tracts and nothing else for the next hour. The rain held off but I kept my red raincoat on as it is a memorable bright coat so maybe those who have passed me in the last few days will recognise me.

The hour began as usual, with the same mild panic about what people would ask or say. Today I had lost motivation for the task at hand but I really felt I had achieved a lot by the end of the hour. I had the usual, “god bless you”s and even a “you are doing such good work” these were topped by a man asking “would no one take one of those? really ignorant those people aren’t they!” A few people identified the tracts as Christian from a distance and came to take them to lend support. One man in particular came over saying “Oh a tract, I take it you are saved?” When I mumbled “no” I really felt guilty. It is all in the wording of the question, are you a Christian? I can answer without guilt but when someone uses the rhetoric often spoken at my former sunday school it still hits home hard – I must be a disappointment. We carried on a conversation, the man asking why I wasn’t saved and what was my flyer about? The terminology seems to change from tract very quickly when people find out it is not religious. After being asked why I did not believe and what I thought would happen 5 minutes after I died ( to which I said I used to believe and having considered it I am no longer able to and I don’t think anything happens after you die, you just die.) I asked if I was permitted a question, this was granted and so I asked what was the reason for the hope this man has? I have mentioned this verse before. (1 peter 3:15) For myself I never had an answer that convinced me when I was alone and contemplating my beliefs. This man said his hope was that Jesus died for him, his hope was in salvation essentially. He stopped to ask was that answer ok I said yes if it was true to him then it was a good answer but for me this was not my truth. I asked about other religions and where they fit in and was given many examples of faiths that hold Jesus as their saviour and how many believers there are in the world. He invited me to visit a church group on sunday at 7. The whole time we were having this conversation a boy was standing quite close to us. After the man left with a “God Bless and don’t forget to visit us, then you will learn about fellowship” the boy kept looking over then turning away. I smiled when I caught his eye and eventually he said he had heard our conversation and he didn’t agree with people preaching at non christians like that. I explained I wasn’t a Christian to make sure he had fully heard the conversation and he acknowledged this explaining he was a Christian but he would never evangelise like that as faith was personal and he felt talking to people could easily put them off. He seemed concerned that I would be upset or annoyed following the conversation he had heard.

Another woman read the tract while out on her lunch break I assume and as she headed back past she stopped to say thanks that it was cool and she had really enjoyed it. One of the first people to take a tract noticed the recipe for buns on the back and she came back for another copy for her daughter, saying “people don’t know that is a recipe you should tell them”.

I gave away about 90 tracts today and with the really interesting conversations I had and several observations I made it was very worthwhile pushing myself to go out again, I just hope I remember this tomorrow!

A love of Baking (tract 4 Day 2)

So today I was back to the normal format of tract distribution, handing out the “literature” on the streets. As it was raining I stood outside Gap again as there is shelter here, sometimes location and practicality are the same thing. I find this location works well as it is never so busy during the week that people do not notice you and it feels a comfortable space to stand in for a decent amount of time. I had planned on heading back to Cornmarket but perhaps I will go there tomorrow. I am currently debating what is more effective – one space where I can become a regular presence or several spaces where I have access to more people.

I set myself up on the same spot where I have stood several times before. There is a small metal square screwed onto the ground and as I step onto it I tell myself that it is my stage. I do my best not be jostled out-of-the-way or to shrink back against the wall. This pretend stage reminds me I am not myself when I give out tracts that I do not have the same limitations as the real me does. All this sounds a little grand but really it is a strategy that I have adopted to allow myself to function outside of my comfort zone.

I handed out about 70 tracts today. I would say the majority of people who took them were Christian, this comes from comments like “God Bless you” and “God love you for standing out here on your own” It is strange to think street evangelism is possibly supported by Christians and again this parallels to the art world with artists supported by artists. Especially in education a lot of my work is supported by peers and tutors and I really need to think about how sustainable a practice would be outside of this scenario. I allowed myself the illusion that I was doing this by distributing the tracts in the public without the safety net of the university or an informed art audience however, in writing the blog and discussing the work with peers I receive a little of the encouragement I would get from an art audience albeit after the fact.

Today felt a lot about rejection and was areal contrast to yesterdays experience on the bus. One man in particular stands out in that he took the tract stood silently reading the whole thing, closed to my attempts at conversation and on finishing he handed the tract back with added grease from the pizza he was eating. It is so strange that the thousands of small rejections mostly polite keep you going but when someone gives their time and still thinks its nonsense that really feels like a failure.


Baking for the bus

Today (well last night to be exact) I baked for strangers. I posted up on Facebook that this was my intention and several friends suggested I bake for friends instead. In handing out my tracts the ideas and writing have so far remained abstract. I am reading Alain De Botton’s Religion for Atheists at the minute and some of the suggestions appeal to me but I am sure that many will remain just that, suggested rather than acted upon.

I have worked a lot previously with my journeys on the bus, knitting regularly to spark conversations and allowing the conversation to dictate the pattern I knit. This felt very strange at first and always remained one step removed from just talking to people or striking up conversations. With this latest tract ‘A love of Baking’ I wanted to push myself and my work into action. This may sound strange as for weeks I have been giving out tracts on the street but again this is a passive activity and allows me to explain as much or as little as I like. I am not concerned if my work is perceived as art or research or both or something else entirely but I am concerned that my actions follow my writings.

A while ago I photographed a plum and Ferrero Rocher given to me by someone on the bus. The action of giving something to a stranger seemed so odd and I have to admit I did not eat either thing. So would my action face the same bewilderment? I began thinking about baking for strangers some time ago but lacked the confidence to do it. What would people think, that I was crazy? I wanted an action that brought us together in the moment of our bus journey but that would leave people still comfortable.

Last night I baked two trays of buns and wrapped each one individually in cling-film, put them in a tin and made my way to the bus. At the stop I was soon joined by a lady and saw the perfect opportunity to test the action. I offered a chocolate chip bun and the lady accepted and shared a story about her Church baking yesterday for Fair trade, how closely baking and charity are linked is something that interests me and I was surprised how quickly this came up. We chatted about the ladies doctors appointment and her plans for lunch and on getting on the bus it felt natural to start offering the buns to the passengers. I offered the driver a bun as I got my ticket and his surprise really cheered me on, two older ladies on the bus were busy trying to see what I was doing and as I turned to them they laughed saying they were being nosey. I offered them a bun each and a tract and one of the ladies read the tract aloud. referring to it as a verse which for me echoes the way we would talk about traditional tracts.

As I moved up the bus the other passengers seemed to trust my action having seen other people accept the offer, people began to talk to each other about how things like this never happen one woman said it really cheers you up and that today she had really needed cheered up. Many passengers refused the offer, one because the bun would be squashed in her bag, another because he was diabetic and several for reasons they did not share but I would hazard a guess by their facial expressions that they did not trust a stranger bearing gifts. Several people asked what I was collecting for and seemed genuinely surprised when I explained that I just like baking.

I had planned to get the bus early around 9 but I didn’t want to be on a bus with more people than I had buns for and also I did not feel comfortable offering buns to children traveling to school on their own. I have no children but I am not sure how I would feel if I did and they arrived home to tell me a strange lady had given them a bun on their way to school. I became really aware that as I call myself an artist I granted myself the confidence to do this action but also that confidence comes from being young (ish) and female. How would the same action be perceived if the giver was older and male? I do not have an answer but I really believe that as I was younger than the majority of people who accepted buns this did play a part. Those that refused were all my age or younger.

As my interest lies in gifts I feel it is important to recognise that once again the gift at first appears to be from me but as in giving out my tracts the bigger gift is the acceptance of the receiver. I am not under any illusion that I can brighten up the word with a few buns, or that those that accept get anything more than I do from the exchange but I hope I am right in saying there was a feeling of tiny celebration for a short moment with the passengers on the number 19 bus this morning.