Archeology

My mom just got back from Miami, and brought with her a trove of old family photos and documents.
Nobody talked about Cuba when I was growing up, and those that left weren’t allowed to take so much as a photograph with them. My grandfather had nothing more than a briefcase with him when he saw Havana for what he thought was the last time. For the longest time I thought I was Puerto Rican because we spoke Spanish, my grandparents lived there, and we would spend our summers in San Juan when I was a kid.
They still don’t really talk about Cuba, so I’m fascinated by everything Cuban. My childhood had no context, in a way, and it’s only as an adult that I’m finding some.

So today is sort of magic. My mom and I sitting on the floor in the upstairs hall during a thunderstorm, looking at photographs of people I’ve never met. Some of them still living in Cuba. Photographs of people I know and love when they were so young and sad from being uprooted. My uncle looked haunted. My grandparents so tired.
Telegrams from my grandpa to my grandma in a tone of romantic longing (if you’d known my hard drinking, gambling, naked lady art collecting grandpa it would have startled the shit out of you just like it did me), sent while he was in Havana waiting for his exit papers and she was in Mexico, waiting for both her visa and for my uncle to finish high school.
And maybe my favorite thing of all, this photo.

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My great great grandparents in the center. Double G Grandma was almost 100 years old when this was taken. They’re surrounded by their daughters on their farm. The woman on the right top row was my great grandmother. They were farmers. All of them. The widowed daughters come home to roost and take care of their parents, who never stopped working the land no matter how old they got. It was my grandmother who (in a very calculated move) married money and bought property for her whole family in the city so they wouldn’t have to work so hard in their old age. That was my bio-grandpa, who died when my mother was 13. The romantic telegram sender was the man I always knew as my grandpa, my grandmother’s second husband. Who also had money, though he, like every other Cuban, lost everything when he left. No wonder my grandmother had such a fairly smooth time adjusting to being poor.

It’s weird that my family started out as part of the rural population the revolution was supposed to raise up, turned well to do middle class that the revolution was intended to take down. I wonder what that felt like to her. I can’t ask her, because her Alzheimer’s is advanced to the point she doesn’t talk anymore. I probably wouldn’t anyway. I hate to poke people’s scars, and it’s evident my family has them, since this is the first time I’ve ever heard some of these stories.

People always ask me what influences my work, and I tell them I had a Mexican mythological upbringing. Which I never questioned at all. It’s neat to know now why a Cuban girl identifies so much with Mexican folk culture. Mexico sheltered my family at critical points in their journey. I had never realized how much time they actually spent there. I think they very nearly stayed in Mexico City, but it wasn’t island enough for them. No wonder Puerto Rico became home. It was the nearest thing to Cuba they could find. I might have grown up Mexican if not for an unstoppable love for a certain way of making black beans and a longing for good rum.
Funny how life works out.

Glenwood: Highlights, lowdowns and wtfs

Gawd I love this show. Srsly.

The thing with Glenwood is that it’s pulling off that funky art ‘hood, grass roots vibe, and it’s doing it right. Because it’s not contrived, like it is in so many other places. Rogers Park is, in fact, a funky art ‘hood.
And a big thing is they’re not trying to make money off the vendors backs. This is not a reliable way to make a living. You’re in it for love or not at all because every dollar is earned HARD. I know this not because of my years of experience, but because ren faire is the same.
A lot of these shows are seemingly run by people who have no idea or don’t care. Glenwood however is run by…I don’t know, actually, but they’re clearly not douche canoes and they hella know what they’re doing and that’s all I care about. And in a neighborhood that’s been in that Goldilocks zone of pre-gentrification for decades now, and stubbornly refuses to allow the process to continue and push out all the gorgeous cultural and artistic diversity that makes it such an attractive place to be. The crowd is diverse, weird, educated, intelligent, courteous and playful. Sometimes they’re also kind of drunk. But usually the fun kind of drunk.
It reminds me a lot of the French Quarter, actually. Without the tourists. Or someplace Charles deLint would set a story in.

All gushing aside, it was a hard core weekend. The show is open from 11 to 9, which makes for a ten hour show day not counting the hours spent setting up and tearing down. I started Saturday morning with a dose of food poisoning, so was setting up with barf bag in hand. Endless gratitude to my best friend and booth monkey for, well, everything. I almost had to abandon him, because nobody wants to buy stuff from someone clutching a barf bag, but he had the extreme presence of mind to bring along a basic first aid kit containing Pepto, which sorted me out and enabled me to work the day. Not at 100%, but better than nothing.
Sunday was considerably less traumatic, thank FSM.

At the end of it all I’m up 40% from last year. Which is better than I expected. Sales were in all categories across the board. Nichos, collage, junk chimes, and knits all represented.
There were several people who had bought pieces last year come in for more, and people who had wanted them last year came to give in to the inexorable pull of glittery dead things and baby heads. One girl even asked me when I was going to teach a class! Can you imagine that shit? Junk and Glitter 101. Pfffft.
But hey, you know what this means? People like my stuff enough to get more of it! I can’t even tell you how rad that is in my second year up and running. Affirming is what. Not too bad for a weekend that started out with barfing.

And can I just say, FINALLY? It’s been a sucky season and I was starting to freak out. One good show doesn’t make the year but it’s nice to be able to do things like get the damn car serviced already. My poor Oswald has been sounding like career chain smoker for the last month.

So Glenwood, thumbs way up, in case you were thinking about it, oh fellow crafty people. I hope to report in such a positive light on next weekend’s shenanigans in Glen Ellyn. Stay tuned!

Rage against the dying of the light

I don’t usually get the feels when someone famous dies. Which is why it’s surprising that I’m sad. But I am. I’m genuinely sad he’s gone.
Many of the brightest lights in the world live in a private darkness unimaginable to those observing from the outside. Some of them can exorcise enough of their demons through their art that they’re mostly ok. But many can’t.

While everyone mourns the artist, it would be good to remember that the art came from a place of desperation, as much art does. The link between mental illness and imbalance and the creative drive is well documented. There is a high rate of substance abuse, depression, institutionalization, and suicide among the artistic community and it’s something that is in part assisted by the fact that we don’t see and acknowledge it.
Of course you are responsible for yourself. For how you move in the world. Your brain and it’s issues and malfunctions are yours to navigate. But sometimes you need help. Help can’t find you if you don’t seek it. You can’t help someone if you can’t see they’re struggling.
But both seeking help and seeing the need for it in a society that shuns the mentally ill can be an overwhelming challenge. We have a long history of putting people away who can’t behave in a way that makes everyone around them comfortable. And the horrible truth of it is that oftentimes connection is the difference between dealing and dying. To feel as if you’re not alone in the dark. To know there’s a hand to grab on to if you start to sink too deep.

I imagine being so damn funny caused him problems with this. The “but you don’t look sick” mentality that people have. If you are not visibly ailing then you must be faking it, or it must not be that bad.
It is, in fact, that bad.

I wonder sometimes, if we lived in a more compassionate society, one where people genuinely looked after one another, would he have been able to get on top of it and survive for just a little longer. People don’t see one another. If we did, would he have made it?

I think it’s important to be open about mental illness and imbalance. Same as it’s important to be open about sexual assault, about grief, about all the bullshit that makes life hard to live. Because being in a darkness where there are hands to grab on to is vastly different than being in a darkness alone. Sometimes just knowing someone gets it is enough. But how do you know when no one talks about it? When you’re told to just suck it up and keep moving. Nobody wants to be dragged down.

Hey world, a lot of art comes from pain. Your favorite painters, poets, actors, writers, dancers, comedians, sculptors, many of them are struggling to find reasons to keep going. And that struggle, though invisible, is very real.
I spent years in and out of the hands of various mental health professionals and was briefly institutionalized. I have what’s called generalized anxiety disorder (characterized by a feeling of anxiousness and fear nearly every day), major depressive disorder (characterized by depression, loss of interest in daily activities, guilt, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts on an almost daily basis), and I have auditory and tactile hallucinations that aren’t related to schizophrenia. To a lesser extent I’m obsessive/compulsive and touch phobic (human contact freaks me out, but I’m fine with animals).
I have been told repeatedly that medication will help me. I choose not to be medicated.
I choose this because I feel very strongly about learning to adapt. I came from the factory with my wires crossed. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s there forever. So I feel like it will benefit me most if I learn to work with the crazy, rather than struggling against it. To this end I create, do martial arts, yoga, meditate, and speak openly and candidly about all the bullshit that makes it hard to stay alive. You can choose to ignore or dismiss it, but understand that dismissal is partly why he died. We’re all connected in a very real way, and the attitude that makes for dismissal, on a huge scale, is a big part of what makes mental illness and imbalance so hard to navigate.

I’m not telling you all this so you can say, “gee, what a champ”. I’m telling you all this so you can see. His pain brought him down partly because nobody could see it properly, partly because he couldn’t find a hand in the dark. Learn to see. Learn to be open about what you’re dealing with. Learn to reach for a hand. There are services, free ones, you can contact. You have not failed if you need help. You just need help is all. Everybody does.
Look for help.
Be someones lifeline.
Survive.

Mid summer dump

Wherein I quickly recap the last month, throw some pictures of new stuff in, and remind everyone to come out to my next two shows, cuz, SHOWZ!
Ready?

Right. So. August?? How the hell did that happen?
Well July was unremarkable but for the start of Bristol Renaissance Faire, which has occupied my weekends for the last 22 years. Ren faire is where I got all my real education (if they taught fire eating in college I might have liked it better), and though I don’t travel anymore I still do my home show. Money is good and I get to catch up on all the road rennie gossip I miss as a townie. You can take the girl off the road…

Anyway, the weeks have been taken up with learning new skillz and making old junk into new things. I took an online collage class with the incomparable Lynn Whipple (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lynn-Whipple-Art/346136962142796) and LOVED IT.

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It was my first real foray into 2D and feels yummy in my brain, plus being yet another way I can reuse old junk. I like it so well that I’m adding it to the general mayhem in my shop.

Which, is going through a slight restructuring. Some things are going away once what I have has sold, like the hat/hair bling and jewelry. They’re labor intensive and don’t really move, plus feathers don’t like to be packed and unpacked repeatedly.
Probably signs too.

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The first two shows this season were so crappy it’s hard to gauge whether or not those are going to be a hit, so I’m giving it more time, but I think I’d rather make those as the spirit moves me rather than as a stock item like the mini nichos. I’m leaning in general towards a “as the spirit moves me” attitude, shifting away from my crafter roots of feeling like I need to replace what sells with something of the same sort. FSM knows if that’s a good idea or not but I’m having such a stimulating time working with found objects that it’s worth a go.
For example, Junk Angels. Junk from a basement, a job site, a junk sale, the gun range plus taxidermy and glitter. I freakin’ LOvE them. I hope I’m not alone in this, but whatevs.

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And these mixed media memento mori I did with the lids of old cigar boxes, which I think came out quite nicely.

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And so many of my friends and coworkers are getting in on the fun with scavenging, that I’m up to my elbows in bones. I got bones from a hunter’s midden pile, bones from under a porch at a carpenter’s job site, bones from a creek bed up at Bristol. Everybody is finding me dead stuff!* It’s awesome! The challenge is what to do with it all. C’moooon Spirit! Move meh!
So yeah. That’s been fun.

And upcoming here in August are two shows back to back. Glenwood Ave. Arts Fest in Rogers Park on the weekend of the 16th and 17th, where I’ll be on Morse with my glittery shenanigans and my bestie and creative partner Dave and his industrial/found object/generally weird and slightly creepy lighting, which is made of awesome.

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And the following weekend, the 23rd and 24th, he and I will be at the Glen Ellyn Festival of the Arts, where I shall take a last stab at seducing the western suburbs over to the dark and glittery side. Though I think my attempts at such things is coming to an end. If Glen Ellyn doesn’t show me some mojo I think next season’s applications will be more city based. Though I’m seriously considering applying to the Spring Green art fair in Wisconsin. I don’t know if they’ll like the cut of my gibberish, but like half the artists I stalk do it, so I may take a shot. The worst they can do is turn me down.

Now you know where I’ma be at, you can come visit and share a yak and a cocktail and keep us company for awhile.

*Everything died either because natural causes or food. I’m strict about that shit.