Just for fun

Though I boldly declared on my About page, when I began this blog, that I was all about embracing creative work for the joy of it (and nothing else), a recent post by the lovely and talented Alexandra Franzen* helped me see clearly that it’s easier (for me)  to say such words than to really mean them.

Having my own creative work space means that I no longer have lack of such space as a reason not to engage with the kind of messy projects I’ve long longed to do. But I’m not doing them, and it’s not just because the last month has been so, so ridiculously busy. (Though it has been, and that does have a real impact on what I can do.)

This might look like a lot of noise, but there's been very little action.

This looks like a lot of noise, but there’s been very little action.

I’ve observed two obstacles getting in my way:

Fear of not being good enough. The kinds of projects I want to do are visual, not verbal. And, I don’t have a lot of skill in this area. How could I? It’s not something I’ve ever made time for in my adult life. But, I really really really like to feel competent. I can re-read a million times  Ira Glass’s words on how we have to muddle through the stage of not being very good before we can get good, but I still don’t like it. That I live with a guy who has highly developed visual skills (and an MFA in painting) doesn’t help.

Fear of being frivolous/irrelevant. I’m OK with indulging in visual work when it serves some practical need. So, I’m fine with sewing projects that create something for our home, such as pillows or curtains. But to make something purely decorative (especially when I don’t yet have developed skills)? Or something no one really needs (such as notecards or journals)? I’m having a hard time giving myself real permission to do that. And yet, those are the things I’m longing to do.

These two fears play nicely into each other. It would be OK, I guess, to do frivolous things if I were good at them. But I’m not (yet), so they feel even more frivolous. And, I want to do different kinds of frivolous things–some with paper, some with fabric, some with paper and fabric, some with yarn, some with…. How am I going to get good at anything if I’m constantly flitting from one thing to another?

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No one really needs this. And it’s not particularly awesome.

I want to make things like Mar Cerdà, whose dioramas of Wes Anderson movie sets have been all over the internets recently. Things that serve no purpose other than to delight–but these are really, really good delightful things, aren’t they?

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Image via designboom

Obviously, on some level, I know this is ridiculous.

I know there is nothing wrong with giving some minutes of our lives to things solely for the purpose of pleasure. It’s not like I’m quitting my job and moving the family to a studio apartment so I can pursue my art. I know there’s nothing wrong with creating kinda crappy art, especially if doing so is necessary to some day producing kinda good art and it’s something we’re doing because we want to do it.

I know (I know!) these feelings are about all kinds of messages we all get from childhood on that are full of crap.

But it’s still hard to get past them. Because the first step in overcoming a problem (even an admittedly first-world one, yet another source of the funny feelings)  is to admit it, name it, and share it with someone else, I am doing that here. And I am pledging to indulge in something creative just for the fun of it this week, and to share it here. No matter how not-good it is.

Anyone want to join me? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. 🙂

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*I can say with authority that Alexandra is lovely because I’ve met her. She and her beau Brandon put on an amazing weekend brunch here in Portland. If you’re local, check it out. I am not a foodie in any way, but these two could might just convert me.

Link to designboom article: http://www.designboom.com/art/mar-cerda-miniature-paper-movie-set-wes-anderson-02-12-2016/

 

My life’s work

Near the end of last year, an old friend told me that she had come to consider the raising of her daughter her life’s work. I thought of that two Saturdays ago, as questions of raising children and “life’s work” swirled all around me.

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That day was my children’s 18th birthday. It was the day I accompanied my daughter to a university that prides itself on helping its students discover their vocation, the thing they were put on earth to do to make it a better place. It was the day I went way outside my comfort zone to audition for the Portland show of Listen to Your Mother, sharing a version of a post I published here last fall.

It felt like a big day to me.

This is a space where I explore creativity, and I can think of no more creative work I’ve engaged in than raising my children. I’ve only fairly recently realized that I’ve answered the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question, and that what I’ve most been is a mother–not a teacher, not a writer. I recently encountered a highly accomplished educator who has achieved more in a short career than I ever will (as an educator), and when I learned that she has young children, I was fairly astonished. I realized that I took myself out of the running for such things as soon as my children were born. I stopped considering anything that would take me out of the house in the evenings or that would require me to work in the summers. It wasn’t that I felt I needed to in order to be a good mother. It was that I didn’t want to miss out on mothering, and I was fortunate that I was able to make the choices I did.

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So, to spend the 18th birthday of my babies with one of them at a university she may be living at a mere 6 months from now, and to travel from there to an audition to share my voice with a larger audience than I’ve ever shared it with before all felt poetically fitting.

I am in the midst of a most uncomfortable time. Part of me is so profoundly sad that my time of daily, active mothering is coming to an end. Nothing has brought me greater joy or fulfillment. Part of me is profoundly weary from daily, active mothering (which I’ve been doing for 21 years, not 18), and I’m looking forward to some relief from the grind of food and laundry and driving and all the myriad tedious things that mothers do. Part of me knows that my children are ready to launch (or, at least, for the first stage of launching) and that they need me to let them go. Part of me wants to cling tightly. Part of me is mourning the loss of the role that’s filled my life for more than 20 years. Part of me is excited about what else I can do in the space that’s opening.

That is why I am so glad that on the same day my children became their own, legally independent people, I did something so affirming of the other kinds of creative work in my life. And, it seems so fitting that this new creative endeavor is so closely connected to the one that has most defined me:  mothering.

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I’m so happy (and thrilled and terrified) to share that I get to be in the Portland show of Listen to Your Mother, a venue in which mother-writers share their words on stage. Like everything right now, this is a mixed experience. I’m excited and scared. I’m filled with both anticipation and dread. I know it’s a good thing that will lead to good growth, but it feels super-uncomfortable. I’ve done poetry readings in the past (although it’s probably been a good 7 years or so since I’ve done that), but those were small audiences in intimate venues. This will be a large audience, on a stage, with lights shining in my face and no one facing the audience but me.

I know I’m going to need to take my cue (and some courage) from my daughter. Just about a year ago, I watched her take the stage to run for a statewide position in a student organization. She was alone on a stage, with lights shining in her face, facing an audience of several thousand of her peers.

She was amazing. Poised, articulate, funny, and powerful. She nailed that speech (and went on to win a national office just a few months after that, after making another one). And you know what? If I can raise a daughter who can do that, I’m pretty sure I can hold my own on a stage, too.

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I think, perhaps, we do our children a real disservice when we ask them what they want to be when they grow up. Such a question implies that there will be a stage at which we arrive, when we become the thing we are meant to be, when our vocation is realized. Maybe it is like that for some people, but for me I think it was never meant to be that way. I think that what I’m going to be when I grow up is a question I am still answering, and that, even though I can’t always see it clearly, all the things I do are part of a unified pattern. I think the universe threw me a little birth day gift on Saturday, let me glimpse for a few moments the interweaving of all the threads. I still can’t clearly see the pattern of the fabric, but I’m going to keep weaving anyway, joining strands of experience into the whole cloth of my life.

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It’s been a wild ride. And it’s not over yet.

No words Wednesday

I got no words this Wednesday because I spent all of Tuesday night working on some words to share Saturday. Which is really because I got all puffed up/jacked up on the idea of broadcasting my Voice last January, which is when it seemed like a really good idea to sign up for this:

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Now, from the vantage point of February, that’s not seeming like such a great idea. Especially because the piece I want to audition with is about twice as long to read as the time limit. Which I didn’t realize until tonight because:  procrastination (foil of perfectionists and those who are scared crapless).

I’ll let you know how it goes. I might be scared (and unprepared), but I’m not chicken.

No matter what

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It was just about a year ago that our life jumped its tracks.

For quite a while we’d chugged along pretty happily; then, in the fall of 2014, things started to change. Last February, when two of our three children spiraled into crises we could neither control nor cure, it was a full-on train wreck.

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I have no memory of our last Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday neither Cane nor I have much use for, even in a good year. I usually make him a silly card and we do something that’s a nod to the day, but we see it primarily as an economy-fueler and a romantic pressure cooker that makes this kind of truly creepy, weird nonsense happen:

(Yeah, that’s a real commercial, not a parody. It aired during episodes of Swamp People last weekend, which I watched only because I was stuck in a hotel room with Cane and a migraine.)

Last year, in what I can now see was an attempt to deal with what was going wrong by carrying on as if everything was all right, I began making a real (not joke) Valentine’s Day card. The thing is, when your life feels like a mess of twisted steel, well, that kind of thing just isn’t a priority.  And it can feel all kinds of false.

Fast-forward to this year.

I still think Valentine’s Day is a trumped up holiday that perpetuates stupid and unhelpful ideas about love and romance, but I like to reclaim things and find the value in them and make them into something that works for me. I also like to muck around with paper and glue and images, and a Valentine’s Day card is a good excuse for doing that.

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I originally thought I’d just have fun doing something more graphic than meaningful, like this image Eric Carle shared on his Facebook page:

heartpaternBut then, flipping through some of my discarded book pages, I found the words that I’ve put on the front of this year’s Valentine card to Cane. Not too long after that, I found the black-and-white image of a train, and the card felt meant-to-be something more meaningful.

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We are learning that “on track” for us doesn’t have to look the way we always thought it did. It certainly doesn’t have to look or work the way countless movies, novels, poems, fairy tales, and insipid commercials tell us it should.  We aren’t going to be married any year soon, and although we now (sort of) live apart some of the time, our life is back on the rails, and our love for each other feels like The Little Engine That Could, pulling us and our children up the steep and rugged peaks of their adolescence and our middle age.

After a time of real uncertainty about our future together, we are committed to staying on the rails, no matter what. And that’s something worth celebrating. (But not with a giant teddy bear.)

Hoping you all have whatever kind of Valentine’s Day you are hoping for.

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Train wreck photo credit: simpleinsomnia via Compfight cc

Wednesday Words 2.10.16

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When You Are Old

William Butler Yeats

When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

I guess this is my idea of a love poem? What can I say–I like ’em on the sad side. I don’t know why, but this poem haunted me in my younger years. I found it again looking for some Valentine poetry. If you’re in the market for some, I suggest this page from Poetry Foundation. A great mix of work.

I found this particular poem in the article “Poems to Send the Person You’re Crushing On.”I had great fun looking for just the right image. You can find images with a creative commons license here. Many of them allow you to remix or adapt the images. I’ve always been interested in the juxtaposition of word and image–the reason for this little Wednesday series.

So tell me:  What are your favorite love poems?

Photo: “Couple Walking Away on a Dirt Road” by simpleinsomnia via Flickr with a creative commons license. http://bit.ly/20UIc7V

In praise of small projects

So I’ve got this really nice creative space to work in now, and…I’ve hardly stepped foot in it. Have I mentioned that I’ve got two high school seniors at home?

My daughter with a few of her admirers. We spent Saturday with Elks from all over Oregon.

My daughter with a few of her admirers. We spent Saturday with Elks from all over Oregon.

Spending time alone making things is good therapy for me. Focusing on creating keeps my brain from hamster-wheeling about things that do not benefit from pointless mind-spinning (Ack! I’ve got two seniors! How did that happen? What will their lives be like next fall? Where are the kids going to be living? How are we going to finance college? How did this happen so fast? What is my life going to look like now? What do I want it to look like? How did I get this old? Am I old?…), and time away from people recharges my batteries. (Learning about introversion changed my life. I suddenly understood why I felt exhausted so much of the time.) I’ve realized that when I don’t get any of this kind of time, I get really cranky.

The problem with getting only small bits of time for projects, of course, is that it can be hard to keep momentum going and to get anything finished, and that creates frustration. I get bugged because there are so many things I’d like to do, but I feel like I should limit myself to just one project (so that I can have hope of finishing something). Ideas for other things slip away from me before I can even capture them, creating a different kind of frustration. I start having difficulty choosing one to settle on, and fritter away what little time I have dinking around on nothing much of anything.

I'd really like to get back to this project, but it will take so long to finish and there are other things I want to do, too.

I’d really like to get back to this, but it will take so long and there are other things I want to do, too.

I’ve been realizing that it can be helpful to think of “create” in slightly different terms and to embrace the small project. There are a few I’ve done in the last few weeks that fall into this category.

Sewing Notions Holder

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Previously, my sewing notions have been both stuffed into a plastic bin with drawers and stashed in other places because the drawers weren’t big enough. As I put my studio together, I wanted something more functional. On a recent trip to The ReBuilding Center with Cane, I found a drawer with dividers in it. I saw an instant organizer for thread and pins and scissors and such:

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It was missing a knob, but I found a spare one in a box of knobs and handles in our garage. Not needed at all for function, but it’s cute.

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Normally I wouldn’t even think of this as a creative project, but it kinda was. I had to figure out where to put things. I found the mug for the fabric markers and decided how to use the spaces. I screwed the knob to the drawer just to make it a little more aesthetically pleasing. I was originally going to hang it on the wall, but then I decided I didn’t want to put more holes in it, and I like it resting as a shelf on top of my work table.

Nope, I didn’t do anything fancy or awesome. No tricky paint jobs or lining the back with decorative paper or anything, really, than propping it up on the table and filling it. But it’s now more functional and it’s visually pleasing (to me). Good enough.

Covered Notebooks

I wrote earlier about covering composition books, and last week I branched out to a different kind of notebook:

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I had some ideas for doing something more creative than simply affixing a piece of fabric to the cover, but I didn’t have time to play with any of those ideas. In the interest of getting something fiinished, I decided to let the fabric stand alone. Because, honestly? I like the fabric by itself just fine, especially on the back cover:

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I like that this playful unicorn is hiding out on the back cover. Too bad I chopped off his front hooves.

This fabric was a remnant from Bolt, a wonderful local fabric boutique. I bought it to cover a chair seat cushion, but it wasn’t right. So, now some of it is a notebook cover. I might play around with attaching a tie to it:

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But I might not. It’s really just fine the way it is.

I knocked this off on a day when I just needed a small win. I needed a little time in my studio by myself, puttering with fabric, and getting something to go right. I don’t even know what I’m going to do with this little notebook. It wasn’t really about the notebook–which is why I’m calling this one good just as it is.

Coffee cup Planters

I’ve got a bit of a problem with vintage kitchenware. I love old plates and bowls and mugs. I don’t have complete sets of anything because I could never settle on just one pattern. We have a random collection of things. Still, I don’t buy everything I love. (There’s too much!) What I do bring in has to be functional and fit with the other things we already have.

Over winter break, I found a sweet little trio of 70’s coffee cups. Normally, they are the kind of thing I would admire and then put back on the shelf. They are smaller than we like for coffee and tea. But they were just so cute, I decided I would get them and fill them with…something awesome.

…And they sat around our kitchen for well over a month with nothing awesome in them. Until I finally went out and got some little succulents for them:

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This is not the most original project. (Do a Google image search for “succulents in coffee cups” and you’ll see just what I mean.)

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It has also been a bit of a fail because one of them died almost immediately.

It went from this…

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…to this:

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So sad.

Nonetheless, I’m feeling inordinately pleased with these, despite the dead plant and lack of originality. Projects like these should count in our creative ledgers. I had to find time to get to the plant store, select the plants, and then get them into the little cups. Obviously, there’s some art to selecting the right plant (because one so clearly wasn’t).

I don’t have a good photo of these on my kitchen window sill (because the back light makes for a fairly terrible one), but that’s where they are. They fit perfectly there, and they please me every time I’m doing dishes. That’s definitely worth something.

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So, I got nothing ground-breaking or earth-shaking to share here today, other than perhaps this little bit of encouragement:

Maybe you’re doing more than you think you are.

Maybe you should give yourself more credit than you do. 

Maybe what you’re getting done is plenty. 

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Wednesday Words 2.3.16

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When I love a man, I will climb on the back of his scooter on a balmy summer night wearing only a t-shirt and a thin cotton skirt.

There are things I won’t say:
Where are we going? Or, It might get cold, or, Maybe I should stay home and work.

Because he loves me, he will stop before the road turns up the mountain, rub a palm across my knee, and he will say, Are you OK?

What he means is, Are you warm enough? Are you sure you want to go further?

When I love a man, I will rest my hands loosely on the bones of his hips, hooking my thumbs through his belt loops. I will lean forward and tell him,
It’s going to be a beautiful evening.

He will know that what I mean is,
Let’s wring as much wonderful as we can out of the twilight of our lives.

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Last February, I began making a Valentine, which I talked about here and here. Because February 2015 was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad month, I didn’t finish it. When I came across it in July  or so, I tossed it. It hurt too much to think of finishing it. But I thought of it the other day and went looking for the poem fragment, which I knew was different from the last version recorded here. I think I will not try to revive this card for February 2016. I need something all new. But I wanted to get this version into my notebook.