The Birthday Project
The Birthday Project is a life long art project and accompanying rituals. When I turned 30 I realized I was about to live longer than Sylvia Plath, one of the first poets to light my brain and heart on fire. My 20s had been largely a trial by fire and my 30s felt like a new horizon - I felt like I had only started to understand my crafts and myself as an artist. And I mourned the work of Plath we lost with her death. I took that grief and finished a piece I had started in undergrad using her poem "Elm".
During that year I couldn't shake how memorializing Plath and her lost work also was an act of gratitude for my own life and the work I still had ahead of me. I decided to give myself a project that would last as long as my own life and would honor my art ancestors. Each year on the eve of my birthday, I create a ritual wherein I meet a female or trans or nonbinary artist who died at the age I am about to depart. I meditate on their lives, their work, their transitions into death and incorporate them into a solitary ritual of gratitude for another year on this plane. I spend whatever time I can in that next year (and often others after) creating a piece around that ancestor. It is a way for me to be in the midst of the life cycle: to grow something from the death of a beloved.
As someone who has an ongoing and complicated relationship to their own chronic health challenges, especially my c-PTSD and autoimmune disorder, this practice is often as much a preservation of my own life as it is one that seeks to contribute to the legacies of these artists.
Art on the left is the painting "Birthday" by Dorothea Tanning.