Sunny side up

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Yesterday my car broke down for the 4th or 5th time in the last two months. On a blazing hot day when the cold that Cane gave me over the weekend decided to fully bloom. In the middle lane of traffic on a busy street. At 3:45 pm. (My antecedents aren’t very clear, but it really doesn’t matter. The breakdown, the blooming–it all happened at 3:45 in the middle lane of traffic on a busy street.)

I limped home at around 7:00. Literally–I had blisters on the bottom of my feet by the time I got there, after walking from the auto repair place.

But today is a new day!

The sun is still shining, but the temps are supposed to drop down to 80. I had already planned to take today off, so no work obligations for the car to wreak havoc with. I can be here when the garage door guy comes to fix the door a child broke last weekend by rolling the car into it. (Man, that car is the source of all trouble this week. Should just get rid of it!)

Nothing to do but sneeze and blow my nose and play with my collage.

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And maybe take an afternoon nap with this girl.

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She is a pro napper, this dog.

Right after the garage door guy comes.

 

 

 

The good kind of shitty

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So that is my collage poem/art about home.

Don’t spend any time trying to figure out something nice you can say about it in the comments. I know it’s not good. It is not at all what I could see in my head as I was making it. And that’s OK. I’m even going to call it more than OK.

Somewhere around the time I laid down some crappy-ass Sharpie on the houses, I knew it wasn’t going to be what I hoped. I thought about chucking all the houses and starting over, but one thing that came to mind was Anne Lamott’s famous words about shitty first drafts.

I was feeling fairly paralyzed until I started thinking of this collage as a first draft. I mean, I really wanted my whole houses from maps and collage poem about houses thingy to work out differently. When I realized it was going to be crap, I contemplated starting over with it. But then I started remembering Ira Glass’s words about being a beginner. I’ve referenced them before, but today I’m going to put (some of) them right in front of you:

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

(One of many sources for this here.)

If I waited to share this until I had the skill to make it match the vision in my head, I could be doing nothing else for a very long time. (And not sharing for a very long time.) But, once I was able to think of it as a shitty first draft, I was able to finish it and let it go.

Let’s look at it again. Like all first drafts, there are some glints of promise. Some sparkles of potential. But, let’s not deny how it is also, right now, pretty damn shitty:

something to try

I look at this, and I know Glass’s words are true, and sometimes this truth is disheartening.

When I was parenting younger children, I just didn’t have enough time to do a huge volume of creative work. (And that’s a truth, too, despite all the creative gurus out there who tell you that if you want it bad enough, you’ll make the time. Don’t believe me? Read Kelly Diels’s piece on time confetti, and then let’s talk.) Although my kids are less time-intensive than they once were and are preparing to leave my nest, I still have heavy time commitments to others.

But here are some other true words, too, that my friend Alexandra shared on Facebook over the weekend:

“When people start stopping, that’s when they start getting old.”

I don’t use “old” as a pejorative, but there’s a certain kind of old I want to be. I want to be the kind of older person who never stops starting.

And who never quits.

That’d be the shit.

 

Trying on for size

As mentioned in my last post, Cane and I recently stayed in the most wonderful house we found on Airbnb.

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It rekindled every fantasy I’ve ever had about living in a small, cozy, perfectly imperfect house.

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The main floor was all one room, with a tiny closet-sized bathroom. I like to think that if I lived mostly in one, unified space, I would have one, unified life.

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There was an upstairs, too…

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It was an open bedroom with skylights and slanty ceilings and a pie-slice view of the water. Lying in bed, I could hear the trains and seagulls and rain on the roof.

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There was also a wonderful bathroom, with a claw-foot tub (I swear I will live in a house with a deep, claw-foot tub before I die) and a sink carved from wood.

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Yes, a sink carved from wood. It was clear to us that much of the house was handmade, probably most of it from salvaged items. If you’ve known me long, you know how I love such things. To have a whole, perfect home like that? It made me want to move in and never leave.

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We were able to stay only two nights. I loved getting up in the morning and putting on a kettle for tea and sitting on the couch with a book. I loved studying the way its owners had crafted it, the way nothing really matched but everything seemed to go together. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a home like that? Or a life?

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I loved pretending, just for a short time, that I lived there. For two days, at least, I did. It’s really something wonderful, to try on a different sort of life in that way, kind of like when you go to a clothing store and try on something you’d normally never choose, and it surprises you how much it suits you.

The best part, of course, is that you don’t have to buy anything. Even though it all looks and feels really good on you, it might not work for the things you have to do, the choices you’ve made about how you are going to live. That’s OK, though, because it’s not about buying. It’s about the looking, the trying, the testing out that’s important. Seeing what you really like, so that when choices do need to be made, you can make good ones.

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New Rules of Engagement

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Some people become teachers because they love kids. Some become teachers because they love their subject. Me? I became a teacher because “an educated populace is essential to a well-functioning democracy.” Don’t laugh–or, go ahead and laugh if you want to–but that’s a quotation (as closely as I remember it) from my teacher education program application, and it was written with all the idealism, sincerity, and earnestness that characterized my 23-year-old self. (I’m a bit more cynical now, but I’m still pretty sincere and more earnest than your average bear.)

I became an English teacher, in particular, because I felt that knowledge of language was more important than knowledge of anything else. Strong literacy skills allow anyone to learn about anything and to avoid being manipulated by those who know how to twist language and make fallacious arguments. And yet, in recent years, I’ve removed myself from the kind of conversations my younger self felt were so important.

I stopped engaging because it’s gotten so ugly, filled with name-calling and gross, broad, unfair characterizations by those on both sides of our political divide. I stopped engaging because conversations in which everyone is shouting and no one is listening felt pointless.

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Pretty much something in here to offend everybody.

I think I was wrong. I trusted so fully in the strength of our political system that I thought it didn’t need me or my voice to carry on in pretty much the same way that it’s always carried on.

But look at where we are. I mean it:  Really look.

When Donald Trump clearly dominated the Super Tuesday primaries, just days after not repudiating validation from David Duke and claiming ignorance of who he is and what he represents (most likely falsely), I decided that I can no longer sit on the sidelines. I need to understand what is happening and to do what I can to counter it.

My concern is not just all of Trump’s reprehensible beliefs, so many of which are counter to values that have been the bedrock of our nation. It is that we might elect such a man as our president when we also have an incomplete Supreme Court likely to be deadlocked on key upcoming cases and a congressional process controlled by those who have vowed not to fill its empty seat by even considering a nominee, in spite of the fact that our Constitution gives the President the right to nominate Supreme Court justices (and there is precedent for doing so in the last year of a term, most recently by Ronald Reagan). Our system depends upon its checks and balances (thank you for teaching me that, Mr. Czubin). What happens if we elect a person who disregards the Constitution and we have a deadlocked and incomplete Supreme Court and a Congress that cannot work together or with members who refuse to do so in order to further their own political agenda?

To think that we are immune from the kinds of catastrophe that have brought down other nations is arrogant and ignorant. Our only hope, I have come to believe, is for all of us to re-engage in the kind of political dialogue that will help us move forward to find our common beliefs and solutions to our challenges that will not violate our common values.

For me, that means getting uncomfortable. It means engaging in conversations about politics, especially with those who do not share my opinions, even though I might feel unfairly judged and misunderstood. As I’ve started to do so in the past week, I’ve been formulating my new rules for engagement:

1. Look for the common ground and acknowledge it. We need to let each other know where we find agreement–otherwise we might not see that we have any.

2. Be open to changing my mind. I’ve got some pretty strongly held opinions, and I’m not likely to budge when it comes to my values. However, I think we too often equate certain solutions or positions with particular value systems, and we close our minds or jump to conclusions based on that. When someone I know linked to an article about progressives driving income inequality, my first instinct was assume he didn’t care about income inequality. I was wrong.

3. Ask questions to seek/confirm understanding before judging/refuting. This requires listening/reading carefully. In a recent conversation someone referred to “folks in the establishment” and I realized I wasn’t sure of who he meant. So I asked. Glad I did.

4. Ground discussions in facts provided by reputable sources. Sometimes the question I ask is, “How do you know?” I ask it not to challenge, but because I truly want to know where the information is coming from. If I’m going to refute someone else’s “facts,” I make sure I’m correct and provide verification from as credible a source as I can find.

5. Use neutral, non-judgmental, non-inflammatory language. This one requires me to stop and re-read and examine my language before I click “post” on social media.

6. Respectfully point out bias and fallacies in logic. We need to help each other see logic that isn’t valid or tactics of argument that divert us from the issue being discussed, and I can’t emphasize “respectfully” enough. I tried to do this recently and caused offense. If we alienate others by insulting or sounding like a know-it-all, we’re defeating the purpose of engaging. (And thank you, Mrs. McConnaughey, for your course on “Semantics and Logic,” which is where I learned to recognize both logical fallacies and loaded language.)

7. Assume positive intent. I’m writing here about engaging in conversation with those we know. Trolls have no positive intent, but I bet most people you know are not trolls–even that guy from high school who posts the memes you hate. When we look for the positive intent, it’s easier to stay engaged.

As I’ve been dipping my toes back into the pool of political conversation, using these rules, I’ve found that what we like to say really is true:  Our commonalities are bigger than our differences. I’ve come to understand some things about why some support Trump, which doesn’t lessen my fear of him, but it does lessen my fear of his supporters and lessens my bewilderment. My re-engagement hasn’t been comfortable, but I’m glad I’ve done it and will continue to do so.

I believe that many of us have disengaged because we feel powerless. We feel like very small cogs in a system we can’t game. Most of us are small, and the odds really aren’t in our favor. Still, this world hasn’t yet entirely killed that young idealist who still lives within me, and I think we all need to try and we need to exercise what power we have:

We need to talk to each other. We need to inform ourselves. We need to vote. 

My generation has never really experienced threats that required the kinds of sacrifices our grandparents had to make. I hope to whatever you believe in that we aren’t now. Let’s all do whatever we can to ensure that we won’t be. No one ever said democracy was easy. Might be time for all of us to get uncomfortable and do the hard work it requires.

If you agree, please share this post in whatever way you like to share. (Sharing buttons in the sidebar.) Let’s start a movement. #letsengage

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Flag Photo Credit: Landre Photography via Compfight cc
Meme Photo Credit: KAZVorpal via Compfight cc
Voting Photo Credit: Photo Credit: BryanAlexander via Compfight cc

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/

 

Why click Publish?

In October, a person I lived with hit me. On purpose. It was an event that was both the climax of one narrative, and, perhaps, the precipitating action of another.

Ever since, I have been struggling not only with living this narrative, but also with knowing how or whether to tell the story, to put it into words to share with others.

Like Joan Didion, I’ve long thought that the primary reason I write has been fairly simple and very personal:

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Publishing–the act of putting our writing out into the world–is an entirely different thing.

When one writes primarily for personal reasons, as I do, whether or not to write is a simple question with a simple answer:

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When one publishes, when one has at one’s hands the means for easy publication (as we all do now), the question is much trickier.

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And even this doesn’t really capture it. Far more often than the chart would indicate, the question needs the word “possible” and my answer is actually “maybe.” The idea of my own gain is always mostly abstract because for me, both writing and publishing are entirely optional. I made choices early in my life to make it so. Though there was much I didn’t understand (about everything), I somehow knew (fiercely, without doubt) that I did not want to tie my writing to my livelihood. Not “real” writing, anyway–the words I cared most about, the ones I set down in order to find out what my experiences mean.

I’ve experienced traditional publishing, but probably because I did not care much about influence or money (and subsequently didn’t get much of either from it), my experiences with traditional publication felt a little hollow, a little flat. (Not unlike losing my virginity, which mostly caused me to wonder what all the fuss had been about.)

Blogging has been a different thing entirely.

To carry my questionable metaphor further, writing and (traditional) publishing are, it seems to me, fairly masturbatory acts, at least for the writer.

Yes, yes, yes, I know:  Published words can have profound effects on readers. But in the traditional model of word sharing, those effects are rarely known by writers in any but the most abstract of ways.

Blogging–the small, old-school blogging of the type I do here–is much more a two-person affair with the potential for intimacy. The answer to the question of Why publish? is different here. I’m under no illusion that publishing isn’t still very much about my own desires and gratification, but the notion that putting words out there will do something for someone other than just me is more than an abstraction. And what we create here is just that:  what we create. Whatever happens in this space is as much about readers as it is me. My words are the opening of a conversation, not a lecture.

So, the question of whether or not to publish is a quite different one when the venue is a space such as this. To answer it, I must consider what value my words might have to others, what benefits my partners–my community–might get from them. I have to weigh those potential benefits against possible costs to myself and others, which are so often those I know (sometimes intimately) IRL. It’s rarely an easy equation to balance when the topic and the truths are hard.

So. Do I tell the story of being hit? I’m down in that last big bubble on the chart, where my words are hanging out in a drafts folder. There are things I want to say about mental health care. I know that shared experience is always valuable, but I don’t know how much value my words on this might create. I don’t know how much sharing those words–even in a space as small as this one is (but which could blow up in size at any time)–might cause more harm than good, particularly to some I love. Though I boldly claimed voice as my word for the coming year just days ago, I have more questions than answers about how to use it. That’s why I’m doing here what I always do when I write:  I’m writing entirely to find out what I’m thinking. And by publishing here, I’m letting you know that I’d like to know what  you think, too.

Hope we can talk in the comments.

Word

2015 was the hardest year of my life.

So many things shattered this year.

So much shattering.

When you’ve lived 51 years, that’s saying something, as there’s some good competition for the title of “hardest year.” Was 2015 harder than the year that straddled the nearly-constant misery of 7th and 8th grade? Harder than the year I got divorced (the first time)? How about the year I became an instant, full-time parent to my step-children when their mother suddenly died? The year IVF failed 3 times, including one miscarriage? Or the one when pregnancy finally stuck but was swiftly followed by bedrest, life-threatening birth, NICU, and caring for preemie twins? How about the year of calamities (school strike, surgery, terminal illness, break-in, death), in which we discovered our home was riddled with mold that was making us all sick, and I came to realize it was a metaphor for my marriage? Closely followed by the year in which my husband and I lived together while negotiating divorce because he threatened to sue for full custody of our children, and then I adjusted to living half my life without them.

Yes, 2015 was harder than all of those years, in spite of my best efforts to manage and make it not-as-hard. I did all the things I know to do:

  • Stay in the day, hour, moment I was in
  • Surrender to the truth/pain and find the lessons within it
  • See a therapist
  • Exercise and eat right
  • Practice self-care
  • Set clear boundaries
  • Practice gratitude
  • Reach out to friends and accept help
  • Be gentle with myself and others
  • Breathe
Focusing on small moments of pleasure.

Grateful to breathe with the bee in this single lovely moment. More grateful he didn’t sting me.

Although there were days of light and ease and comfort and hope, most days of the last year mostly sucked, pretty much from the first one up until the very last. And some were just knock-me-to-the-ground devastating. 2015 followed a really hard 2014, which had followed a fairly crappy 2013, years I’d ended with a firm belief that the next one must surely be better than the last because they couldn’t be worse–so the whole idea of joining in with all of those choosing a word or setting an intention for 2016 seemed laughable to me, something for innocents who don’t understand how truly uncontrollable life is and how, sometimes, it is nearly unbearable despite all the things our culture tells us we can do to be OK with whatever it throws at us.

And then–for reasons I don’t clearly understand–I decided to do it anyway.

I signed up for Susannah Conway’s mini-course on choosing a word for the year, despite my skepticism and my feeling that such things are, in the words of my good friend Kate, “silly and twee and a bit woo-woo.” At least, a bit too much of all those things for me.

But, I had a notebook, and I thought, What the hell? Can’t hurt, right? (And, because of one of those hard 2015 things, I now have time on my hands that I look to fill in positive ways.)

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I was working pretty hard in the last days of this year on surrender and practicing gratitude and staying in the moment, and I thought writing in my journal to explore words would be fun, if nothing else. And you know what? It was.

I love words, and I loved exploring words. I liked the questions Susannah posed. By the end of Day 3, I was down to three possible words:  Flow, Power, and Voice. By Day 4, I knew my word:

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As I wrote on Day 5:

My word is Voice. If I use my voice, I will have power. When I make time for flow experiences, I find and express my voice. After a year of allowing myself to be silenced, I need to claim my voice. I need to speak for myself and for others I care about. I want to use it to speak truth, to connect, to heal, to do good work.

The truth is, I’ve allowed myself to be silenced in many ways for many, many years. Perhaps I needed the pain of 365 hard days–in which I became literally silenced in my own home–to wake me up to this. I wish it could be a year for me to focus on the kinds of words I found myself writing over and over again on Day 1, when describing an ideal day:  light, warm, soft, ease. These are things I want in my life. But I think I am only going to find them when I find my voice and use it.

And, I think that finding and using a strong, true voice is going to help me get through whatever 2016 wants to throw at me in much better shape than I got through 2015.

So:  bring it on, 2016. Give me whatever you’re going to give. But if it’s more crap, don’t expect me to put up with it quietly or dress it up with pretty words.

I’m done with that shit.

 

Photo Credit: Voice image modified from original by bek15 via Compfight cc

Everywhere you look

I see so many cool things in the course of my days–potential projects are everywhere! Most come into my viewfinder and pass right out, but some I feel compelled to capture with my phone’s camera, always sure that I will make something just like that cool something I’m seeing.

Guess how many of these dream projects I’ve actually tackled?

Actually, it’s kind of hard to say. It depends on how you define “tackled.” To make me feel like there might be some purpose in all these near-hits that are pretty-much misses (so far), I thought I’d like to put them in one place here and share them with you. Maybe they’ll inspire you to make some great something? And then I can feel better about it the next time I take a picture “for later.” 🙂

Mappy Easter Eggs

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Aren’t these super-cute/cool looking? I’ve never come close to making anything like these. I’ve gotten stumped on what to use for eggs. I know I could blow out the insides of some raw eggs and then mod podge some kind of ephemera to them, but blowing out the inside of eggs would likely make me dizzy. Or get a migraine. And I hardly decorate for Easter, and don’t really like the idea of decorating for holidays or seasons…Still, I really like these. Maybe next spring…

Garden Screen

IMG_0264This one we actually kinda did. Sorta. We wanted to build a screen to hide our garbage cans, and we wanted the screen to contain plants. We found these outside a restaurant somewhere, and I thought they were pretty ingenious. Our version was pretty similar. I’m going to call this one an inspiration-turned-action victory!

Except, sadly, that screen is no more. It got pulverized in a bad windstorm last winter. How quickly one can fall from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat!

Fairy Chair Garden

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OK, so I was never gonna make a garden for fairies. But something about this was just so stinkin’ cute. And it’s made in an old chair, which I have a well-documented soft spot for.

Because I went cold turkey on chairs that need rehab, I don’t have any likely candidates for this project. But I have jumped on the succulent bandwagon and have several in our house. Nothing as twee as the little vignette above, though.

mod Peg Board

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Um, yeah:  This was taken at Chipotle. I no longer remember why I thought we needed pegboard with giant holes or where I thought we’d put it or how I thought we’d make it, but I do remember thinking this looked cool. Still do. Never going to to this, however (all those pesky why/where/how questions I can’t answer).

Chunky Picnic Tables

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I’m not really sure why I thought these tables were something snap-worthy. What they look like to me now is expensive. Maybe it was that they looked easy to build? We still don’t have a well-functioning picnic table, but we talk about building one every once in a while.

Lattice Pillow

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Gotta like the finger in this one! There was something about this pillow I thought was way-groovy. Still do, and this is one project I actually started. Got stymied by the very thin strips of fabric. Several burned fingers (from the iron) later, I abandoned it. Should have known fingers would be my downfall with this venture.

Big Embroidery

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We did some renovation work on our bedroom this summer, and I tried to convince Cane that this could make a super-cool headboard. He didn’t share my vision. 🙂 But there’s something about this super-sized embroidery that’s really appealing to me. Makes me want to embroider something with big, chunky fibers of some sort. It could happen.

Vertical Planter

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I liked this take on a vertical planter–maybe because it doesn’t have to be attached to the side of the house. Something about this design appealed to me. I can’t really remember what it was now, but I still like the planter all the same!

Burlap Sack Planters

IMG_0572Speaking of planters…I just thought these were clever. Burlap is so inexpensive, and making these would be a lot easier than building a box. For me, at least. But this is another one on the list of projects not done.

Salvaged Christmas Tree

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Add this to the list of projects Killed-by-Cane. Probably a mercy killing. I’m pretty sure I snapped this one during the holidays, and I’m pretty sure I said something like this:

“Just think! We’d never have to wrestle a real tree into the house again! No more needles to sweep and vacuum! And it’s recycling instead of killing a tree! It’s UP-cycling, actually. With house parts. And we’re all about houses and re-use and all that junk!”

And I’m pretty sure he said something like:

“But we’d have to store it. And it’s ugly.”

This right here captures everything about why we are generally a good team.

Book Page Snowballs

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I am not a big holiday decorator. (I’ll spare you all the reasons why.) But I have loved and longed for these ever since I first saw them 3 or 4 years ago at Powell’s bookstore, where they are hung for the holidays. Thanks to a bountiful source of discarded book pages, I have the paper. Last year I even went so far as to research how to sew a thick stack of paper, and I bought a special needle for my sewing machine. I also bought a cool gizmo to cut the paper into circles. Still haven’t made them. Maybe this will be the year…and I’ll make the mappy eggs right after I make these.

How about you?

Am I the only one who sees inspiration everywhere? You want to tackle any of the projects I’m not going to get to? (So many projects, so little time…) If you do, I would love to see your results. 🙂

It’s just not fair…

…of me to keep you on “The Edge” of your seats. I know, especially when it’s taking me so long to get posts written these days. But I just have to share the awesomeness that is the Clackamas County Fair before it gets any further away from me. Although we technically have a few weeks of summer left, it’s pretty much done. I need one last gasp celebration of all that is the rural county fair before the summer is really and truly over.

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If you’d like to see a lovely depiction of the fair, full of artfully-shot photos and adorable little-kid goodness, I encourage you to visit Alicia Paulsen’s post about her day at the fair. She is the writer of Posie Gets Cozy, a blog that makes me want to sit and sew and knit and cook good food and snuggle up in sweet, old-fashioned quilts.

But then come right back so you can see the view from our sometimes twisted lens.

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Fruit/vegetable sculpture. Of…something?

There was, of course, the standard fair fare–rides, games, high-fat food.

cow

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There were also the things that make me wonder about some people. And sigh a lot.

redneck signs

demolition derby

I’d never been to a demolition derby. Destruction just for the fun of it isn’t really my kind of fun.

I didn’t get many photos of the standard fare because that’s not what really draws me to the fair. What gets me are the things that make my heart feel so tender about us humans and what we do with our brief time on this planet.

llama judging

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The llama judging may have been my favorite part of the day, watching kids decked out in their best jeans and their boots, so serious and earnest as they brought their animals forward to be inspected.

It brought back such vivid memories of Fern at the fair in Charlotte’s Web that I went home and read some of those passages aloud to Cane. (We roared at how her parents sent her and her brother off with 50 cents to last the whole day. Some things have certainly changed!)

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There is so much creative energy and work on display at the fair, and something about seeing so much of it gathered in one place touches me like few other things do.

I love thinking about the origins of county fairs, how they were ways to celebrate the skills so essential to rural life.

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This gorgeous coat was sewn by a 13-year-old. Wish I had such mad skills!

This gorgeous coat was sewn by a 13-year-old. Wish I had such mad skills!

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Look at this amazing dress!

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And this, which is amazing in a totally different way. A modern take on feed sack reuse. Love it.

What gets me even more than displays of useful, utilitarian skills are the ones that show how deep our need to create is, in ways that go beyond the purely practical.

The tiniest little succulents you ever did see.

The tiniest little succulents you ever did see.

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Welcome to Sherwood Forest. Lego-style.

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So many paintings, of such a wide range of subjects.

A Wizard of Oz-themed table setting.

The table-setting event is one of our favorites. This was a Wizard of Oz-themed one.

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A sweet little flower arrangement.

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An “I Spy” quilt. How I would have loved this for my kids when they were small.

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A dress embellished with paint. Each button had a unique design.

And, finally, I also loved the displays of collections. It seems Marie Kondo has all kinds of us thinking about whether or not objects “spark joy” in us, but the creators of these displays have clearly been tuned into their sources of joy for some time:

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I have a collection of teacups from my grandmothers and great-grandmothers much like this one.

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"Barbie's Wide Variety of Shoes" was definitely our favorite collection!

“Barbie’s Wide Variety of Shoes” was definitely our favorite collection!

When I began my month-long August photo project (which I pretty much abandoned mid-way), I wondered about photography and how it impacts my relationship with experience. What I realized carrying my camera around the fair is this:  I like photography when I’m focused on exploring a topic or idea–but not so much when I’m trying to make good photos.

As I’m sure you can tell, I didn’t do much more than point and shoot while at the fair. I didn’t want to fuss much with framing my shots, and I wanted even less to fuss with camera settings. What I wanted to do was capture images to help me remember what I was loving about the fair, and I liked how capturing images was getting me to think about what I love and why I love it. It was OK because I was experiencing it with someone else who was taking photos for the same reasons; the photo-taking was integral to our experience, not something to capture it.

I guess this means I won’t ever be a great photographer, and photography isn’t really one of my creative outlets. But that’s OK. Sometimes I’ll still get lucky and take some great photos.

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We stopped at a dahlia farm on our way to the fair. I kinda like this one.

I promise to finish the Edge story asap. We did go back to work this week, so it might be a few days before I get to it. 🙂

 

In praise of the hobbyist

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Last week I wrote a long brain-dump on the notion of following our passion and making creative passion the center of our livelihoods. While I was working on it, this came across my Facebook feed:

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at least go to just after the 3:30 mark, just so you can hear his voice and see his face. If you want to know what the expression of creative passion looks like, this is it.

What this video helped me see is what a lesser place this world would be if only those who made  creative passion the center of their life’s work were the practitioners of it.

According to the BBC, this priest, Father Ray Kelly of Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland, is a trained singer with 3 albums to his name, but singing is (obviously) not his primary calling. He sings “to make a few bob for local charities.” He says, “I enjoy singing but I wouldn’t want to do it full-time–I love what I’m doing as a priest. The way I look at it is, it’s a gift one has, and if you have a gift you use it.”

Ever since seeing him, I have been acutely aware of all the gifts being used in large and small ways around me every day. This weekend Cane and I went to small, free music performance at a local eatery. There were about 15 of us there, lining a small hallway

The singers had great voices, great stage presence. I closed my eyes to listen, and I could hear no significant difference between their voices and the ones I might hear coming through Pandora.

“Talent is a key ingredient, for sure,” I said to Cane, “but really there’s so much more to becoming a star, that particular kind of big success. Because there are so many people who have the same kind of talent who never get rich or famous from it. It’s also luck, and connections, and resources, and a drive to achieve at that level, in that way. It requires a set of skills and qualities that have little to do with the creative talent.”

As we listened, I became so deeply grateful for all the “small” musicians who’ve entertained me throughout my life–the ones who play at bars and restaurants and weddings and parks. I’m not a concert-goer because I don’t like music in large venues with big crowds, and the price of tickets to such events are so often more than I’d like to spend. I like to take music in with other things–food, friends, scenery. Without musicians willing to play in small places for small audiences for little (or no) pay, I’d likely never hear live music, and that would be a loss.

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I have been wanting, since I started working on that other post, to see the new documentary about Amy Winehouse (sadly, every attempt to do so has met with misfortune). Though I haven’t yet seen it, she keeps coming to mind as I consider these questions about gifts and passion and what we do with them.

I keep wondering how her life–and the lives of so many others whose talents were so large when they were so young–might have been different if we broadened our ideas of what it means to live our passions, to use our gifts, to be “successful.”

At the end of the trailer, we hear her voice: “I’m not a girl trying to be a star. I’m just a girl who sings.” How might her story have ended differently if she hadn’t become a star, if she had remained “just a girl who sings,” if we honored and celebrated all the small kinds of creative work as much as we do the work that garners a huge audience and prestigious awards?

Early this summer Cane wrote a blog post of his own that elicited a strong reaction in his jiu jitsu community, “Confessions of a hobbyist black belt.” In it, he doesn’t just defend the hobbyist, he makes a case for the importance of the hobbyist:

What is often missing is the voice of the hobbyist. The student who has a full time job, maybe a family or other demands and chooses to not dedicate the bulk of their life to the art. This is where the vast majority of people who study Jiu Jitsu live. Either by choice, circumstance, or necessity we are part time grapplers. We enjoy the art as much as anyone and aspire to be the best grapplers that we can be but we are realistic that we don’t choose to train in a way that will make us the next world champion. This is the realm of the hobbyist.

It’s okay to be a hobbyist. There is no shame in it and it doesn’t make you any less of a Jiu Jitsu student. Everyone has their own role to play in the art. …We need people who are successful parents, professionals, educators, tradesmen, students, doctors etc. These people give the school a wonderful diversity and richness that it wouldn’t have if everyone was full time athlete. … Each has an important role to play in creating a rich tribe that nurtures everyone’s aspirations and respects everyone’s path through Jiu Jitsu.

I couldn’t agree more with him. Each of us who practices any kind of creative art has a role to play, and we all make a contribution to the lives of others when we do it. My challenge to you today is to notice all the small creative gifts that you encounter in the next 24 hours, things crafted by those who’ve earned no fame or fortune or even a small paycheck from their work, and to think of what your world would be like without our creative hobbyists.

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Both the pot and the plate are hand-made thrift store finds.

For me, I wouldn’t have the blankets on my sofa, the art on my walls, or the words in my blog reader. I wouldn’t have the table I’m sitting at to write these words, or the food I’ve eaten while gathering them. My world would be colder, bleaker, quieter, and I’d be hungry for so many things beyond food.

What would be missing from yours?

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