After a fire took most of her belongings in 2021, it might not have surprised friends of Lisa Sigurgeirson — aka Lisa Maxx — that art would emerge from the ashes.
But no one, Sigurgeirson included, expected the journey would evolve into hundreds of poems and thousands of photographs, daily creations that found their own community online, and ultimately inspired a new calendar.
“RisingUp from the ashes” is Sigurgeirson’s effort to curate hundreds of daily dispatches into 12 pages she hopes will inspire and uplift. The musician, writer, photographer and accomplished parenting educator’s home was damaged in a morning of smoke and sirens two years ago this February; as she processed the event, she thought writing down her thoughts might be helpful.
“I didn’t own a pen, or a piece of paper to my name,” she laughed. So she started writing her thoughts on her phone. Sigurgeirson is adamant that she wasn’t setting out to write poetry, but it started looking that way almost on its own.
“Once I had written the first one, it wasn’t really a poem at that point. They were just kind of, I called them ‘poetic thoughts’; it was on the page, and it sort of looked like a poem.”
Being on her phone — and being the sort of person who tended to share her feelings, she said — posting to Facebook seemed natural. The format invites photos with posts; Sigurgeirson said her daily walks in nature had been incredibly comforting, so she thought she should find ways to share that part as well.
And that was the start of it.
“So I posted it onto Facebook with a photograph,” said Sigurgeirson. “And then the next day I did the same thing. And then the next day, I did the same thing.”
A poem a day. It felt like it was helping, both the routine and the act of creating something. Sigurgeirson promised herself if nothing else was accomplished each day, she would manage a poem and a photograph. It became a journey that lasted more than a year. Every single day, without fail, she would write and shoot a photo.
In the beginning, she said, they were about what she was experiencing in the moment — the trauma of losing so much in the fire loomed large. Sigurgeirson recalled an early poem about how it took two hours to make a cup of tea, because her brain wouldn’t hold firmly to the task.
“It would get detoured,” she said, “And that’s a common, natural experience post-trauma. And I mostly would write them at night, at the end of my day.”
The promise became a practice; as the days became weeks, Sigurgeirson said people began to reach out — online at first, and in person as she began to return to her routines on the island. They were, to her surprise, thanking her.
“Once I started going out into the world again, a number of weeks — or even months — later, they were saying ‘thank you so much for your writing and for your photographs, I look for them every morning.’ And I’m like, wow. People were wanting, or needing to see and read these. Someone was counting on me, in a way.”
Sigurgeirson said the poetry went through darker times; not every day can be filled with sunshine. And the daily missives would also intersect with moments of uplift, of resurging joy. But both are important, she said, because it’s a process, not a destination. Well-meaning people, she said, would accidentally minimize the trauma of the fire. She called it a “toxic positivity.”
“Sometimes people would respond and say, ‘oh, at least you didn’t die’ or ‘at least you had insurance,’ ‘you get to pick new floor coverings’ and all that,” she said. “But when you’re in the throes of loss, it’s not time yet for these kinds of supposedly uplifting comments.”
But the calendar, she said, was all about lifting spirits at a glance, whenever someone might need it — and even, she argued, when they might not.
“People have been purchasing them to give to friends and family who are going through challenging or difficult times,” said Sigurgeirson. “But I also feel like they’re little reminders that we could all use; you don’t have to be going through a trauma or grief to want something beautiful.”
After a few false starts with contractors and insurance, Sigurgeirson said her house was seeing improvements, she was indeed picking out flooring and there would be a return to the place she’d lost. But there was still work to be done.
“It will be 22 months next week since the fire,” said Sigurgeirson, “and I’m not home yet.”
Sigurgeirson invites anyone interested in ordering a calendar to follow her social media (Instagram @ lisa_sig_ or on Facebook “Lisa Sigurgeirson; writer”) or reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org.