So much of grieving, especially during a pandemic, is experienced internally and alone. Unable to gather to remember and mourn a loved one who died recently, I thought back to the first form I was taught in a paper engineering class taught by artist Kelli Anderson (https://kellianderson.com/): the Möbius strip.
Initially conceived as a message from the departed for those of us left behind, "A Paper Spell for Grief" centers around a Möbius strip and what happens to it once you cut along a single straight line all the way around. Whatever the mathematical explanation, it feels like a sort of magic one performs with their own hands. The title of this piece suggests this magic; and like many spells, requires materials to cast: Scotch tape or glue, scissors and “ritual paper,” the included strip of paper used to create the Möbius strip.
My friend Kristen was vibrant. I chose words for the ritual paper highly specific to her and how she approached her life, and used colors from the palette she often used in her artwork. The most difficult part is forming the Möbius strip itself. Trying to use non-ableist language was helpful in focusing on the action of what needed to be done, rather then confusing people by assuming which hand was dominant (“use your right hand”) or that everybody would hold the strip horizontally to begin. I wanted the instructions to be as short and simple as possible so as not to frustrate or scare people away. The illustrations are meant to help here.
Part of the wonder in working with Möbius strips is observing their shape. The instructions encourage you to slow down and trace the name all the way around without breaking contact. This becomes a moment to reflect on the person you are mourning, to begin conceiving of that infinite space suggested by the Möbius strip.
You’re then asked to think about how each of the words on the ritual paper can say and mean different things when combined with the name in the middle:
LOVE KRISTEN, like you’re getting a letter from her, as an imperative, like a shout.
FIERCELY KRISTEN, like how she did things, undeniably her, as another message to you: be fierce.
And when cut, LOVE and FIERCELY are on one loop, all their meanings bound together, separated but still linked to Kristen.
There is an ephemerality to Möbius strips that "A Paper Spell for Grief" relies on to be effective. It begins as an unremarkable strip of paper, becomes a Möbius strip with one simple action, and becomes something else entirely with a single cut. Like mortality, you cannot go back to what you had prior to that cut. There is a finality to this action. But there is also mystery, one that you created with your own hands while thinking of the person who is now gone.
Download the files here to print out "A Paper Spell for Grief" and customize your own ritual paper. PLEASE NOTE: for the latter, the file is meant more as a guide so you know how to arrange the words on the paper: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/0ly7aiaw2i7eqh1/AADwoYiqbD1onf5uEJ3bmlwAa?dl=0