I like French. No, I LOVE FRENCH.
I can’t really tell you exactly what it is about the language and culture and the people but I just love French and the French.
It’s something about PASTRY, Art Nouveau, boulevards and Kissing. It’s about how the language sounds, the way it feels in my face when I say “pas du tout”. It’s the (probably Parisian) attitude of je m’en fous (“Whatever”, but sweary). It’s a particular way of passing judgement but in an unapologetic, kind of cool way; it’s how it feels to say Oui, Non and je n’aime bien ça (“I don’t really like that”), with no explanation. I love the French because I’m descended from Huguenots, the people who left France for anywhere that wouldn’t cut off their heads because they were Protestant. I feel like the French are “my people”.
Force Majeure is French but it’s used in English, too. It’s a legal expression, a contract clause which "essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation" when an extraordinary event "prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations" [Wikipedia]. Sounds dry but it most certainly isn’t if you’re the one losing out because of flood, fire, pestilence, volcanic eruptions or…a pandemic. Now, this legal, pandemicky stuff is NOT why I created this design. I didn’t even create it in 2020. The origin of my particular Force Majeure design goes back to 2018. The 8th of June 2018, to be precise.
I was on the 59th day of that year’s 100 Day Project (my third year in a row). I’d chosen print-making because I’d enjoyed linocuts and etching at secondary school but we hadn’t spent a lot of time on them. When it comes to artistic challenges I tend to choose things I have unfinished business with and this project was no exception. It put me face to face with an art-making process that doesn’t fit comfortably with my personality. I found myself confronted quickly by a process that is, for the most part, lengthy ("time-consuming and tedious") and which requires deliberate, clear-cut (lol) choices and forethought ("planning" - eww - and "knowing how it’s going to turn out" - boring.) Apologies to print-makers. You have my eternal respect and admiration, really.
Because of this, by the halfway point I was making small works so that I could design, draw, carve, and print in a day. I was contemplating giving up every single day. I’d even made a print that said I QUIT. And made another one which said BECAUSE, the only response I could conjure for my whining, print-making, inner three year-old.
Where the Force Majeure thought came from, I actually can’t tell you. I know exactly where I was (at my huge art table, crammed into my living room) and what the day was like (a sunny winter afternoon) and I can see the little square of grey lino sitting on the blue and white plastic table cloth, but where the concept actually came from I don’t know. A bolt of inspiration, I guess, travelling too quickly through my thought stream to see it coming (too quick even to get my letters around the right way).
I’d made a couple of feminist-inspired tee shirt designs in the previous year and, on this particular day, I decided that having a set of three would be nice. Three isn’t a crowd in design terms, it’s balanced (and probably #science). I’d been “priming my mind”, thinking about yin and yang and how those concepts are described as masculine and feminine. I’d been thinking about “yang” tendencies, and about how my life was better with more “yin” in it: openness, softness, circles, swirls, shadows, uncertainty, vulnerability, patience. I’d been thinking (I love thinking!) about the “soft skills” people in the business world talk about and how powerful and personally challenging those things actually are in practice. I’d been thinking about what our world seemed to need.
So I pulled all of these thoughts together, added some contrast and basically came up with a gang patch/stamp about the power of love and creativity.
In French grammar, the noun force is feminine and its adjective “agrees”, with an “e” on the end: majeure. If you google “force majeure” you get “unforeseeable circumstances”, “irresistable compulsion” (I like that one), “superior strength” ( I LOVE that), “an effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled” (bring it on!), an “Act of God”.
Force Majeure for me is about the power each of us has (is), individually, to generate and to experience the unfolding of our own life. It's consciousness, mind. It's the impulse to make something new, joy that arises spontaneously, apparently out of nowhere. It is life in all its glory and devastation; it is the power each and every one of us has to create and to appreciate but also to abandon or destroy. It is neither good nor bad.
This amplifying energy/presence/drive - whatever you want to call it - is expressed best in the work we love, the art we make, the speeches we write, the friendships we cultivate, sensuality and the passion we feel for another person. Parents feel it all the time. Artists have it running through our nervous systems virtually 24/7. Even if you’re not a parent or an artist, you will feel it, sometimes. And if you pay it attention, it seems to grow. You can cultivate it but beware:
It is big. It can feel intense. It doesn’t always feel good, in fact it is expressed in our feelings of anger and grief, as well as our feelings of wonder and celebration. I feel this thing every day, a lot of the time, when I put my mind to it. I used to be afraid of it (if you've read Glennon Doyle's Untamed, it's akin to her "Ache"). I’ve always felt it, I think, but my ability to really encounter it and embody it became hobbled over time. It wasn’t until, after a few years of desperate searching (and thousands of dollars on self help books and therapy that went only story-deep), I discovered how to connect with myself. Sounds laughably simple (straightforward but not easy, I assure you). That’s a story for another blog (maybe) but the upshot is, if I were to brand myself, this design is the one that comes the closest to being “me”.
But it’s not just me: it’s you, too. If anything I have said here strikes a chord, Force Majeure is for you. If you know that despite all the bad press, human beings are glorious and not monstrous, it is for you. If you believe the world needs more “female energy”, it’s for you. If you’re an artist, it’s for you. If you believe in the Holy Spirit, it’s for you. If you believe you are God, it’s for you. And if you think there’s no Higher Purpose at all and yet marvel at a mind able to think that in the first place, then it’s for you, too.
Many of the designs I come up with are made with a particular “tribe” in mind. Force Majeure, however, is for all of us and that’s why I love it the most. It began as a linocut print and has morphed into a screen print and then into a three-thousand stitch embroidery. I have rearranged it and put it on upcycled Western Shirts. I re-drew the lightning-heart and made it into a stand alone symbol. I created a spin-off design which I will do as a preorder again this year.
In 2021, winter jackets are coming, plus tees and tanks and a new thing: PANTS (it’s too bloody warm to make those yet, though). In the meantime, there are bags and hats and shirts and jackets in the Shop. I do this for fun as a giant, ongoing project (ten years in and counting) but I do it so that you can have these things, too. We are awash in marketing and messages, so you may as well where something that actually matters.
May the Force be with you…
P.S. I would love to know what sparks this post strikes in your mind, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.