This week is National Volunteer Week and at First Aid Arts, we LOVE our volunteers! So much of the work that we do would not be possible without those who share there energy, intellect and drive with us.
Today we’d like to spotlight one of our amazing volunteers, Christine Park. She has helped us put on events, and she has contributed to the development of our research and evaluation programs, ensuring the training and services we provide are accessible, safe and effective. She is an incredible example of someone who has not just donated her time, but all of the experience and wisdom she's gained from her own life to further the vision of First Aid Arts; to create a world where wounded hearts heal beautifully.
We asked Christine to share a bit of her background, about her current work as an art therapist and the importance of carefully navigating cross cultural work. We also asked what drew her to become a First Aid Arts volunteer, and if there is any art that has inspired her that she would like to share with the greater First Aid Arts community. This is what she wrote:
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and what you do.
A: My mom said my first toy, even before I could walk, was a piece of string that I'd spent tying and untying into different types of knots. She was fascinated by the fact that I entertained myself for hours doing this. Hearing stories like this, I'm not surprised—neither by my activities nor her responses.
I spent nearly my entire undergraduate career anxious with the tension between purpose and meaninglessness that felt inherent in creative work. When I began pursuing a career in art therapy, I thought I had arrived at some sort of solution... I mean, it's therapy, and therapy is always done with justification and rationale. But it was not until four years later, after I graduated from the program, that I understood my answer was always there: Creative work is always purposeful. It is the thing that pushes against numbness and apathy and everything else that tells you check out, disconnect from yourself, feel less, or be less alive. Creativity is resistance. Creative energy is tenacity.
My life is marked with the momentary victories I've experienced in the midst of depression and the overwhelming bigness of the surrounding world—all through creative acts, like making a beat with my hands on a tabletop, stringing beads on a wire, throwing paint balloons against a wall, folding origami turtles and leaving them in random places, playing like a child, and deciding to go GPS-less on my bike. I touched base with myself, validating and affirming this vast, complex landscape contained within my body, letting go of some things and gripping tightly to others.
Right now I do art therapy at a prison. More seasoned clinicians have told me that hope isn't enough to withstand the process of institutionalization; I have to make a plan. So besides individual and group sessions, that's what I'm doing right now. Making a plan.
Q: Tell us about your cross cultural work and why this is important
This is almost too daunting of a question to try answering neatly and succinctly. I believe that in the practice of therapy, cultural competency is an absolute must. And just as a human being, cultural sensitivity and awareness is... essential. Becoming more culturally sensitive and aware is a practice of love and compassion. For everyone, it takes a lot of work and humility. For many, it takes way too much work and humility. Coming from a gentle examination of myself and my relationships with others, I've come to believe that great components of love are laying the self down and offering respect to others—not just as a behavioral thing, but with a heart of genuine care, stemming from truly seeing the person/people in front of me. Sometimes, it's easier to regard all of this in theory, which is sad and unjust and horrific because all beautiful potential just kind of stops there—staying in the intellectual realm and doesn't translate to action.
I am bringing love into my conceptualization of cross-cultural work and its significance because for me, at least, it is a necessary calibrator. I know I fall into the very innate trap of regarding myself before others. It's what I know how to do best, and it takes work and practice to alter my tendency and attitude. Even with awareness of difference, my constructs of how things are/should be are way harder to catch in real life.
When I was doing art therapy at a residential safe house for girls who had been trafficked in Cambodia, it took me forever to realize Khmer people just don't associate color with emotions. (This was confirmed by a Khmer social worker who said something along the lines of, "Yeah... That's not really a thing here. I've never heard of it before; it doesn't make sense."). How I've grown up in America, it was ingrained in me unconsciously; yellow is often associated with happy, blue with sad, and red with anger. So the art therapy training I had about using color to express emotions was suddenly irrelevant. In individual sessions, when I asked the girls to color in an emotion faces chart with whatever colors they deemed appropriate, a lot of them chose red for happy. Red represents luck/joy/good fortune in Chinese, and China's had a cultural and economic history with Cambodia. Most colored in "rage" with dark green. It's just a thing that tended to happen. "Ashamed," "depressed," and "hurt" tended to be in blue/gray/black hues. It really makes me think of how arbitrary our assignments to things are, but how socialized we are to thinking a certain way.
So what kind of importance does all of this have? I've met expats who thought they were the saviors of Cambodia. People who really believed that their hearts and intentions led them to do all the right things... while inadvertently telling kids that yellow equals happy. And counselors who believed their education was supreme and their knowledge of diagnoses was the thing that made treatment or broke it, but part of me wonders if they'd be saying the same things if they'd more critically thought about where and how they learned these things. The psychiatry bible itself (the DSM), developed by the American Psychiatric Association, is based on Western biomedical psychiatry, which does not regard ways of healing like being in community with one another, which is often a focus of, say, collectivist cultures. In school we never talked about how potential APA researchers' observational biases could have impacted the perceived prevalence of mental conditions. Nor did we consider our textbooks to be written in ways that gave selective attention to "universal" criteria of mental unwellness.
So the problems are repeated. And most errors go unchecked because it's too easy to make them invisible or take information at face value. So then, vigilant and tenacious pursuit of subversion is risky and not worth the energy. And critiquing isn't worth the mind power. And if I'm in the majority then why do I have to change anything anyway? Because. Love. Again, this is my take. It's slow, it's small, but I hope to God it is not insignificant.
Q: What drew you to volunteer with First Aid Arts?
A: The thing that sparked my interest in First Aid Arts is its values. I had a feeling the people at First Aid Arts had arrived at a similar conclusion about creative power. I holistically believe art-making itself can be therapeutic. And I mourn for all the people who are afraid of doing art. I've spent a great deal of time mourning for myself for the same reason. Battling the "not good enough" monster by just doing it—that's also an act of resistance.
I think FAA makes art into play. It makes it accessible, but more than that, it makes it innocent and pure. It brings love into art, as well as connection, because you're doing it with a bunch of other people in this wildly vulnerable space.
I decided to volunteer with First Aid Arts because I believe the work they do is essential, and First Aid Arts' philosophies are basically analogous with how I practice as an artist and art therapist.
Q: What is one piece of art that inspires you, that you would like to share with our community?
Right now, I am most inspired by my younger brother's poetry. He's a spoken word artist and animator. A storyteller. My brother and I are very good friends. Sometimes I can't tell whose voice is whose because his poems carry my heart, too.
In addition to his work, I am very inspired by the way he shapes his practice and his artist identity. He just goes for it and doesn't stop, even when all of it becomes unpleasantly tiring or boring. He carves out time in his busy schedule every evening and sits in front of his blank screen in faith that inspiration will come. And if it doesn't, he writes about that experience too, and the frustration of it all. The following poem is one of his more recent ones. It will speak for itself, trust me.
Cesspool by Brian Park
After a lifetime of hiding
the inescapable ocean that is your body,
Oxygen is beautiful.
You can hear the uncurled of lips,
stinging from coolness;
the closed eyes,
head turned upwards,
the offering of your heart
You are not alone.
this painful explosion
of your lungs
is echoing across the world in scattered molecules
and is responded to in kind,
the crackling of tracheae
reminds you of rain
some sort of profound rebirth
and you can hear them;
that have somehow stayed afloat
they were as lost as you - as us -
breathing air for what must feel like the first time
There’s something about trauma
that makes us connect
desperately grab at each other,
hurl ourselves into arms that know what it is
to flail wildly, destructively,
all to keep from drowning
of our lived experiences
ringing true as the the currents
We never needed an excuse to be broken people.
we were born into
pulling us apart
from the rifts of our bodies
With respite hidden
in the hollow coves of each other’s sternums
and with weary eyes
to those who never had to experience
the relentless ocean.
maybe it’s the naivety in me
that yearns to love.
Like the Pacific,
I was born in the arms of my parents
who would swim across oceans in moonlight
if it meant a better future for us
and to them
we were destined to never touch water
And maybe I shouldn’t be writing this poem in the first place.
Maybe, I am a cesspool pretending to be an ocean.
I have seen you curse the lands with drought,
wishing for famine, and dust;
watched you throw yourself in violent tsunamis
across tourist beaches
in hopes of leaving a dent in the sand
I have watched children
flee from water -
terror, or resentment
maybe a little bit of both
Watched their parents
move further inland,
watched them warn their neighbors
of our churning bodies
I have watched
into the hard and fast rules,
the twisting of words.
We were supposed to subvert the binaries
we codified them
made them law
and painted them across
an axis called morality.
is the best solution we can do,
I am a cesspool of an ocean.
can only mourn so much
and will be heard even less.
I will carve this body
with an inscription called love
etch this quiet diary in the sand
to be washed away by the roaring of oceans
it could make a difference.