Microscopic Puddles and New Pen Pals

“I already made like, I don’t know, a million pieces of art.”

Hollis Blue Hawkins Wood

I recently became pen pals with my friend’s five year old. My friend, Shelley, her partner, Josh,  and their kid, Hollis, all live in the same house I lived in at two different times in my life. I lived there from infancy to age three, and again as an adult from ages 24-30. The house sits kitty-corner from a school and a church, whose bells ring every hour on the hour. It is walking distance to the city park my mom used to take me on stroller walks to when I was little. Now, Hollis also visits that park with their family. 

I visited Shelley and Hollis over my winter break and when I went by their house to say goodbye, Hollis was so excited about the letter they had written to me, they actually showed it to me right then and there and read it aloud instead of mailing it to me. 

*A note about gender and pronouns: Shelley has raised her child in a way that Hollis feels free to determine their own gender and change their pronouns whenever they feel like it. In this introduction, I refer to Hollis with they/them pronouns (although, in the interview, Hollis tells me they are currently using she/her pronouns).

Hollis’s first letter to me. It reads: “Luz, I love and miss you so so so so so so much and thank you so so much for the idea of sending each other cards! I hope we can experience a sleepover and I, myself actually use actual scissors! Real scissors! –Hollis” 2024. Photo courtesy Luz Blumenfeld.

When I returned to Portland, I wrote Hollis a letter back about the crows here. At the time of this interview, I was still awaiting her next letter. 

I wanted to interview Hollis because I love hearing how she navigates life as a five year old and what is important to her.

This interview took place over Zoom in January of 2024.

Luz Blumenfeld: What have you got there?

Hollis Blue Hawkins Wood: An orange, and a pear.

Luz: Does your shirt say “hummingbird” on it?

Hollis: Yeah.

Luz: I saw a hummingbird today.

Hollis: Really? I think my shirt is spelled backwards a little.

Luz: I can see it the right way on my side. I can read it.

Hollis: Yeah. This is from my old school.

Luz: Is that the school where your mom works?

Hollis: Yeah, I used to go there. And [my friend] Amiri goes to the school I used to go to.

So Luz, wanna come over or sleep over today or maybe tomorrow?

Luz: I wish I could come for a sleepover today or tomorrow, but I’m all the way in Oregon.

Hollis: Oh yeah, I forgot that you’re there. Right now, I’m wearing some new boots that just came today.

Luz: Can you show me? Oh, wow. Look at those rain boots. Have you splashed in a puddle with them yet?

Hollis: No, well, these are new. 

Shelley: They’re like, super new. 

Hollis shows me their new boots on Zoom. 2024. Photo courtesy Luz Blumenfeld.

Hollis: Can you see how shiny they were, how clean they were? Maybe that could answer your question.

Luz: What question?

Hollis: The one– Have I splashed in puddles with them yet?

Luz: Oh, so not yet.

Hollis: Yeah, that’s right.

Luz: Yeah, you’ll have to look for a big one.

Hollis: Yeah. I have lots of big puddles at my school so I don’t need to worry about that. I splash in every single puddle. In microscopic puddles, gigantic puddles–

Luz: There are microscopic puddles?

Hollis: Yeah, microscopic ones.

Luz: How can you see them?

Hollis: I just splash in them– I splash in microscopic puddles every rainy day. (laughs)

Luz: I don’t think I would be able to see a microscopic puddle… Unless I had a microscope. 

Hollis: Aah! Pear emergency! 

Luz: Pear emergency? (laughs)

Shelley: Want me to put them up so you can have them tomorrow?

Hollis: Yeah. Bye-bye. (laughs) I just said goodbye to them. About the questions, are we ever gonna do that? 

Luz: (laughs) We can do questions, yeah. I was gonna ask you first, what are your words lately? What are your pronouns lately?

Hollis: She and her.

Luz: Okay, thank you. I just want to make sure I have that right because there will be a little section of the interview that introduces you, and I want to put that in there. 

Hollis: Wow. What’s the second question?

Luz: Well, when we finish the interview, I’m gonna put it in a book and then we’re gonna publish that book.

Hollis: A book?! (gasps)

Shelley: Do you want to show Luz your book?

Hollis: Oh, yeah, I’d love to show you.  

Luz: I’d love to see it.

Hollis: I made a picture book.

Luz: Wow!

Shelley: There was a publishing party at school. 

Hollis: Let me show you inside. 

Luz: Yes, please.

Shelley: Maybe pick a couple of pages. 

Hollis: I’m gonna pick all the pages!

Luz: Can you hold it up to the camera? 

Hollis: Yeah, see the words?

Luz: I do see the words! I see “daddy,” and “mama.” And it looks like a sand castle. Is that a sand castle?

Hollis: Yeah.

Luz: Is that a picture of the beach?

Hollis: Yeah.

Hollis shows me their beach drawing over Zoom. January 2024. Image courtesy of Luz Blumenfeld.

Luz: What’s the green part?

Hollis: The green part is the tent.

Luz: Oh, the tent! Cool.

Hollis: Are you wondering what this is?

Luz: Um, that person? 

Hollis: Yeah, that’s me. 

Luz: You’re really tall in that picture.

Hollis: I bet you can’t even see the eyes. The eyes look a little strange. It’s like you can only see one eye. Did you notice this part at the top where I wrote my name?

Luz: Yeah, it looks really purple. It’s almost like camouflage. It’s hard to see but I think I can see it. What’s going on in this next picture?

Hollis: (laughs) Well, I’m relaxing outside. This is my house and this is a tree. This is a tree trunk, and this is me relaxing outside like, 🎵la la la la la la 🎵(laughs) 

Luz: (laughs)

Hollis: And this is my house and I’m walking over by my house to say, “hi mom, how you doin’?”

Luz: Is that the house where you are now? It looks like that house. 

Hollis: Yeah, it is.

Hollis and Shelley hold up Hollis’s drawing over Zoom. 2024. Photo courtesy Luz Blumenfeld.

Luz: Did you know that I used to live in that house when I was a baby?

Hollis: Whoa.

Luz: I know you knew I used to live there before I moved to Portland, when I was already grown up. But did you know I used to live there when I was little? They brought me home from the hospital to that house, and then we lived there until I was three.

Hollis: This is the first house you ever got?

Luz: Yeah, actually, I have a picture of my dad holding a very tiny newborn baby-me in the kitchen. And it looks different from the way the kitchen looks now because we renovated it at some point. We kind of redid the kitchen before you guys moved in. But this picture is taken about where the fridge is right now. If you look where the fridge is in your house, can you see that at all?

Hollis: I can’t see the fridge.

Luz: No, you won’t be able to see the fridge in the picture. I mean, the spot where he’s standing is basically where the fridge is in your kitchen right now. 

Hollis: Oh, I see. 

A picture of a photograph from my dad’s memorial. In the photograph, my dad is holding a newborn baby-me in the old kitchen of his house. Oakland, CA, 1992. Photo courtesy Luz Blumenfeld.

Luz: Right there. Maybe I can send the picture to your mama’s phone and then she can show it to you. 

Hollis: I’d love to!

Luz: I think that picture is when I just came home from the hospital, so I was really tiny. 

Hollis: Yeah, like maybe this tiny (holding up her fingers).

Luz: (laughs) I mean, maybe I was microscopic at some point, but by the time I was born, I was not microscopic anymore.

Hollis: (laughs)

Luz: I remember when you were in your mommy’s belly and your mommy had something on her phone that told us what size you were at certain months. And at one point it said that you were the size of an avocado.

Shelley: Do you want to show them another drawing from your book?

Hollis holds up their drawing of a holiday house with a beam of sunlight to show me over Zoom. 2024. Photo courtesy Luz Blumenfeld.

Luz: Ooh, this one looks like a Halloween house to me, maybe a haunted house. What’s up there?

Hollis: This is actually a bathroom.

Luz: A haunted bathroom?

Hollis: And then there’s the smoke coming out of the chimney, and there’s Santa in his sleigh.

Luz: Oh, so it’s more of a holiday house and a holiday bathroom.

Hollis: Yeah. And then you see this yellow? That’s the sunlight. 

Luz: That’s beautiful. That’s so cool. I love the way you drew this out. 

Shelley: That’s the last page. Maybe we can make some copies of it and send a copy to Luz.

Hollis: I made that in, like, 2023 but it’s 2024, so it’s old. 

Luz: You could make another one.

Hollis: Yeah, I want to make copies of it. And I’m gonna send it to you. I’m gonna send one to everyone on this continent, even people I don’t even know. 

Luz: Wow, they’re going to be so excited to get that as a surprise. I would be really excited. Even if I didn’t know you and I got that in the mail, I would be excited. I was just gonna ask, if you wrote a book, what would it be about?

Hollis: My favorite Pokémons.

Luz: You want to make a book about Pokémon?

Hollis: Yeah, I’m doing that. I already made the book cover. I want to show you something.

Shelley holds Hollis’s Pikachu book cover drawing up to the camera on Zoom. 2024. Photo courtesy Luz Blumenfeld.

Luz: Okay. Is this for the cover? Whoa, you already made it.

Hollis: I tried to make a Pikachu.

Luz: It looks just like Pikachu! I love it.

Shelley: It’s so good, Bubs. This is my first time seeing this actually. Wow, I could tell right away that it was Pikachu. 

Luz: That’s great. What will be on the inside of your Pikachu book?

Hollis: Well, a lot of things about Pikachu.

Luz: Is that what you want me to put in my book? You want people to know all about Pikachu? 

Hollis: Yeah. 

Luz: What do you want them to know?

Hollis: That Pikachu is a mouse Pokémon, but it can generate electricity and– Luz, do you see those red parts in the cheeks? That’s where the Pikachu stores electricity. 

Luz: Really? I didn’t know that.

Hollis: They can do a move called Thunderbolt. It’s an electric move that Pikachu does when angry and when it’s in a Pokémon battle. That’s only one of the moves.

Luz: What do you think you want to do when you get older?

Hollis: I want to be an artist!

Luz: Yeah? That’s awesome.

Hollis: I already made like, I don’t know, a million pieces of art.

Luz: You’ve made so many pieces of art and you keep making more.

Hollis: Yeah, I feel like my whole house, or my whole room, is covered with art and toys. (laughs)

Luz: What’s your favorite toy right now?

Hollis: Toys with wheels. I have many toys with wheels. Oh, I forgot to show you something. Be right back!

Luz: Ooh, what is it?

Hollis: It’s a clay pot I made.

Luz: You made a clay pot?

Hollis: And there’s money inside. Let me show you.

Shelley: What does it say? Tell them what it says.

Hollis: It says, “We Accept Tips.”

Luz: (laughs) It’s a tip jar?

Hollis: Yeah, look at the money inside of it. Let me show you some dollars. They’re real dollars. 

This is just an ordinary, boring box. But inside–

Luz: Whoa, look at that.

Hollis: –I have one dollar. 

Hollis shows me the clay pot they made over Zoom. 2024. Photo courtesy Luz Blumenfeld.

Luz Blumenfeld:  One question I had was, what’s something that you learned recently that you’re excited about?

Hollis: About Martin Luther King Jr and his birthday. 

Luz: That’s cool. What did you learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr?

Hollis: Well, that he did good things in the world, and fighted against– What was that word, Mama? 

Shelley: What word?

Hollis: That Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting against. Segregation.

Shelley: Okay, yeah, that one.

Hollis: Yeah. He fighted against segregation. And segregation means people get treated badly because of their skin color and how they talk. But Martin Luther King Jr. stopped that.

Shelley: He changed a lot of people’s minds. That’s definitely true.

Hollis: Yeah, but he got arrested a lot, which I don’t think should be good. Some white people didn’t believe him because he was Black.

Shelley: Okay. (laughs) So, yes, there were people who were unkind in those times. And Martin Luther King Jr. wanted kindness for everyone. He wanted people to have what they need. A lot of people really believed in the things that he was saying. And some people who didn’t believe in it before even changed their minds–

Hollis: Woah.

Shelley: –Because he was such a good speaker. And so we celebrate him because a lot of people really liked his ideas. People changed their minds about things because of hearing him speak.

Luz: And his ideas are still important today. 

Shelley: Yeah, they are.

Hollis: Yeah. That’s why we still celebrate his birthday, even though he died. 

Luz: Yeah, definitely. Thank you for sharing that. Do you have any questions for me?

Hollis: Oh, yeah. Some questions like, what’s your favorite color?

Luz: Blue. What’s your favorite color?

Hollis: Purple. And yellow. Yellow cause Pikachu– almost its whole body is yellow. 

Luz: Do you have any other questions for me?

Hollis: Did you hear my fart sound? 

Luz: No, no I didn’t.

Hollis: These are some more questions. Um, do you have a toilet?

Shelley: Okay, no more potty humor.

Luz: Okay, I can answer that question. Yes, my house does have a toilet. Most houses do.

Hollis: (giggling) Is your toilet in the bathroom or in your room?

Luz: It’s in the bathroom. 

Hollis: Do you have a TV in your room?

Luz: Nope. No TV in my room. Do you have a TV in your room? 

Hollis: No cause I’m only five. No one lets me have a TV. But I do have it in my living room.

Luz: I think there’s a TV in our living room too.

Hollis: Um, sorry Luz, but we have to go soon. We have to stop this conversation soon. Because the computer has a low battery. 

Luz: Well, I’ll let you go soon because I think it’s almost your bedtime also.

Shelley: Can you say thanks? Thanks for talking, thanks for calling–

Hollis: Thanks for talking, thanks for calling me. And I have one more question for you. Do you have chickens? (laughs)

Luz: Do I have chickens? Like pet chickens?

Hollis: Yeah, And if you do have them, do they lay eggs?

Luz: I don’t have them, but I think if I did, they would.

Hollis: Do roosters lay eggs?

Luz: I don’t think so.

Hollis: I knew that. 

Luz: Do you have chickens?

Hollis: We were thinking about it.

Luz: You’re thinking about getting chickens?

Hollis: Yeah. My mom said maybe we can get them tomorrow.

Luz: Tomorrow?

Shelley: I don’t think so. (laughs)

Luz: Thank you for talking to me, Hollis. 

Shelley: We’re gonna say good night now, okay,?

Hollis: You’re welcome to have a sleepover anytime you want.

Luz: Thank you so much. I am so happy to have that invitation–

Hollis: Or a movie night together.

Luz: Will you keep writing me letters? Will we keep being pen pals?

Hollis: Yeah. 

Luz: Cool, can I put one of your letters in my book?

Hollis: Yeah.

Luz: Thank you. All right, Hollis. I’m gonna let you go to sleep.

Hollis: Okay, I’m gonna miss you though. 

Luz: I’ll miss you too. But I will talk to you again soon. If you want, we can hang out on the computer, or we can hang out on the phone another time.

Hollis: And write messages.

Luz: Yeah, and we can write letters to each other.

Hollis: (making chicken clucking sounds)

Luz: Good night little chicken.

Shelley: Bye, love you.

Luz: Bye, I love you too!

Hollis: That left me cracking up.

Hollis Blue Hawkins Wood (they/them) is a 5 year old kindergartener living in Oakland, California. They are a budding artist in many mediums; from handmade (and teacher stapled) picture books to clay pottery and original songs on the ukulele. Hollis loves the earth and often volunteers to pick up trash at their local park. They love playing with trains, and reading and snuggling with their pets (Okra the dog and Huey the cat). Hollis was the recipient of the Student of the Month award in January of 2024 for cultural and ethical leadership in their school community.

Shelley Hawkins (she/her) is a mom, teacher and 4th generation Oakland resident. Shelley has a background in permaculture design, urban food systems and food justice. As a teacher to Black and Brown kindergarten and first grade students, she brings these skills into the classroom to promote empowerment and push back against the status quo. Shelley lives with her partner, her beautiful child and raucous pets in Oakland’s Dimond district. 

Luz Blumenfeld (they/them) is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and educator with a background in Early Childhood Education. Third generation from Oakland, California, they currently live and work in Portland, Oregon. They hold a BA from California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, California and are graduating in June this year with an MFA in Art and Social Practice from Portland State University. Luz published a book of poems entitled More and More Often in 2023. They taught an undergraduate class called Practice Practice, which focused on exploring methodologies of an art practice. In April, Luz curated a show about ephemera at AB Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Their work explores themes of play, site, care, and memory through research as lived experience and materials such as sound, sculpture, and publications.

The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.

Created within the Portland State University Art & Social Practice Masters In Fine Arts. Program, SoFA Journal is now fully online.

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