The Sad

I’m one of THOSE pet owners. My fur baby is my whole world. I know us crazy people and our pets is a well established phenomenon, but norms get unreasonably attached to their critters too, if the epitaphs at the pet cemetery are any indication. There’s something about the total lack of judgement, the lack of guile, that is so relaxing and precious in contrast to interacting with other humans.

I had to help my lil’ puddin’ walk on to the Summerlands. Like everyone, I hoped nature would do the job for me in her sleep some night. Because by the time you realize they’re ready, they’ve been ready for awhile. Animals don’t complain much and they can’t tell you how much they’re suffering. You’ll always have waited too long. I’m sure that was the case here, too.

I don’t know about any one else, but Latins are awesome when the dark lady comes knocking. We are enormously practical and efficient. Death, like dictators, is a thing to be gotten through by dealing with it. I made the decision Monday night. By 9:45 Tuesday morning I had the vets lined up for a 1 o’clock house call, and the cemetery pickup scheduled for 1:45. I spent the intervening time sitting by her side, petting her and reading a book. I didn’t get to do that with Mr. Stinky. He got critical so fast, and I didn’t have time to take him home. It was comforting to be able to send her on in her own house, with all of us around. The vets were enormously compassionate. They were women. Most of the death care workers out there are women. Women have a handle on death that is really amazing.

I held her while she died. That was important. I wrapped her up tight after, and sat with her and petted her as she gradually cooled. It may seem morbid to some, but I hold to the idea that death should be experienced. It’s inevitable. It’s something we all will have to participate in as an observer, and eventually, like it or not, do in person. I would do the same for a beloved human. Our culture is so disconnected from this unavoidable part of existing, and I mean to not be.

In typical Latin fashion, after the cemetery came and took her, Mom and I got to work. Bedding was washed and packed away, along with leashes, harnesses, food, supplements, and dishes, in several bags for donation to a local animal shelter. We rearranged and cleaned the house to absorb the empty space that was once occupied by a 50 lb dog. Death doesn’t stop time. Processing a death involves action, not inaction. People who go in and immediately redistribute the possessions of a deceased person are branded vultures, but it’s in fact a very psychologically and evolutionarily sound way to go about dealing with loss. All my boo’s things weren’t going to bring her back by leaving them in place to stare at for however long. There are homeless critters that are immensely benefited by those things, now, and a shelter running on donations that is grateful to have them. The gal who helped us unload the car was so kind. She reached out to hug me several times, and I watched her physically restrain herself. I both appreciate the impulse to offer comfort, and the respect of not assuming I’d be ok with being hugged by a stranger.

After all was said and done, my bestie and my partner plied me with whiskey at our preferred little hole in the wall Irish pub.

That was day one. Day two my partner and I drove to the cemetery for the cremation. I opted for a private one (only my pet in the cremation machine, rather than several separated by partitions. It’s more expensive, but my control freak nature is appeased.) I chose to watch the process. After a few minutes with her in a private room to say our last goodbyes, I watched them open the door to the cremation machine and put her in. It’s not a comforting thing to watch. There isn’t anything dramatic or scary about it, for those of you who might be cringing right now. But it’s very final. For me, there is healthy closure in such a thing. Incidentally, you are legally permitted in most states to do the very same for a human. Hindu and Buddhist families are often present at their loved ones cremations from beginning to end.

Cremation for a dog her size takes about an hour if the machine is hot (at noon, it had been running for several hours already, so it was very hot). We spent that time walking around the cemetery grounds. I cried a lot (recall the aforementioned heartbreaking epitaphs). But cemeteries are green and peaceful and when you get past the reality of why they’re there, filled with love.

The woman (again) in charge of the cremation came and got me when it was time to finish up, because I had said I wanted to watch the entire process. I watched her use a long handled scraper and brush to carefully remove the cremated remains, a small pile of glowing bone fragments, from the machine and spread them on a steel counter top to cool before being ground (cremains don’t come out as ash. They are recognizably bone fragments until run through a machine that grinds them into powder). Once cooled, she used a soft brush to move every bit of bone and ash into the grinder, and once ground, used the same brush to meticulously transfer every last particle into the urn. The care taken was immense. She was kind and professional, as was everyone at the cemetery. I chose this particular one in Hinsdale (an hour from me) because they’ve been a family run operation since the 40s, and they were amazing when Mr. Stinky died, staying open well past regular hours to wait for me to bring him in.

When it was all said and done, my dear lady friend in town for Bristol took me to my favorite brew pub and plied me with wine and her always sunny and deeply hilarious company. I stayed out til past 11. Something I’ve rarely done in the last five years. I had some moments of reflexive panic during the evening as the hours wore on and I instinctively thought I had to get home to take care of my baby girl. The last five years of my life, my full time job has been this special needs dog. A special needs pet, like a human, is an all consuming job. Sometimes that job is very hard to do, because so much of your life has to be sublimated to the doing of it. It’s going to take me a long time to get used to no longer having a curfew.

That was day two. Day three will involve talking about the whole thing (that’s what we’re doing now, btw), taking flowers to all the vets who helped me keep her as healthy as possible for the time she was with me, and properly disposing of the leftover meds. Not much when compared to the jobs of the last two days. Certainly not as fraught with emo weepy. I hope, anyway. Then I’ll go to the gym and sweat it out. Because there’s only so much wallowing in liquor you can healthily do, and I’ve done it. Time to wallow in sweat and effort.

Thank you to all my peeps for the comforting words and crying emojis (I’d love to see an anthropological study of our society’s return to hieroglyphics as a means of succinct communication of an emotional state). You guys are awesome.

“Where do you learn all this stuff?”

I’m a reader. That’s answer I give to this question, which I get at shows all the time. Usually after an excessively rambling account of the way Catholic and West African beliefs combined in diaspora religions, the history of the term “burking”, popularity of postmortem photography in the Victorian era, or the feeding habits of corvids and their relation to mythological traditions in northern Europe. Or, “I’m a nerd”. This is very true. When other kids had video games, I had a library card. Well, I had video games too, but after I won Contra I lost interest in the whole thing and never picked up a console again. My very first book was called “Misty and Me”, a feel good little bit of fiction geared towards that age group in between Cat in the Hat and Miss Peregrine, about a girl and her puppy. And I picked it out at the book store at the age of six, after convincing my dad that I was ready for a “real book” as I called it. That is, one without pictures and huge type. Dad didn’t believe me, which, fair enough considering my age, and asked for a book report when I was done. Then I started making my way through Nancy Drew, and they never argued with me about my reading habits after that. I think they were disappointed that I didn’t turn out to be some genius prodigy, but I guess that’s a parent’s lot in life sometimes.

Since Misty broke the seal, I’ve been – consuming, is really the appropriate word to describe it – literature at a high rate. I never don’t have a book. If I can’t find a good book I will read a crappy one, but I have to be reading. SF/fantasy, biography, comic books, poetry, history, biology, anthropology, religion, memoir, physics, criminology, field and survival guides, sociology, chemistry, fiction, huge ass picture books of art, entomology, big, sexy word combinations with hyphens like socio-biology and ethno-botany. There isn’t anything I won’t read. If it’s crap and I have options, I won’t finish it, but that’s about the only deal breaker. Genre doesn’t matter a bit, so long as the writing is tasty or the subject so interesting the writing isn’t an issue.

I find “autodidact” to be a clumsy and ugly word, but it’s what I have been since the alphabet began to make sense to me, and I never looked back. College was a nightmare of intellectually stifling maze running for this rat accustomed to following her nose over hill and deep into thickets of connected subject matter, wherever the path, beaten or otherwise, seemed to most interestingly lead. The problem with a system like the educational one for a person like me, is that they want your brains to function on a track, like a well managed freight train, while mine is…not. It’s like a thing that wanders around quite a bit. Insert preferred metaphor here. A brook, butterfly, squirrel, jabberwocky, nargle. Whatever makes you happy. That’s my brain. A wander-y thing that is very VERY hungry and has to eat information constantly to stay content. I have in my bookshelf subjects as diverse as the history of table salt and its effects on the development of cross continental trade routes and human culture, and a boxed set of Bunnicula books. Does this make me a better artist? I dunno, but it does make me a hoot (or a nightmare, depending on the sorts of guests you have and how easily they are made uncomfortable by discussions revolving around the finer points of dermestid beetle feeding habits) at dinner parties and an epic pain in the ass in an argument. It makes me take a very macro view of human culture in my time and place. A mixed blessing, that I won’t wander into here because time management. I’ve been called smart, but I don’t know that I’m smart, or just have a super absorbent brain. Like a Sham-Wow. Things that stimulate me lodge in my skull and become part of my world. My brain is a nomad before colonialism threw arbitrary borders on the map. It goes everywhere. It sees all the things. And it gets nutso if it has to stay still, overgrazing the same territory and contributing to desertification. Alright, maybe I took that particular metaphor further than makes sense, but you get my drift.

So next time you’re in my booth and somehow the conversation turns to coming of age ceremonies in Pacific islands tribes or why fortune cookies are so ubiquitous, and you’re all, “How the hell did we get HERE?”, now you know.

 

 

“Doesn’t it suck if people don’t get into your art?”

It used to. I mean, it still does on a large enough scale, because this is how I make my living and if an entire show goes south that’s me having a pretty bad day. But on an individual level, like a person not getting into what I make, not anymore. At first I was really sensitive about it. I think that’s normal. I don’t know anyone making any kind of art that isn’t emotionally invested in it. But I feel like if you’re going to do this full time you need to disentangle your feels from the business end of selling your work.

The difference between opinion and critique is an important one. Lots of both will get thrown at you if you do…anything. Anything at all. Someone is going to have something to say about it. Some of it will be right on and some of it will be dookie. Some of it will be either/or, depending on where you stand. If what you’re doing is something you’re emotionally invested in, it gets even more complicated.

I started out as a crafter, so I’m no stranger to being told how wrong I’m doing something. You can’t learn to do a thing without screwing that thing up a few times, and your teacher is going to tell you about it. If they’re not a jerk they’ll do it pleasantly, but either way, you get used to being told what you did wrong and how it needs to be fixed. Opinion really didn’t factor into it. I was manufacturing someone else’s designs, and once I started doing it correctly, nobody had anything negative to say to me about it.

That all changed when I started making my own thing, and that thing was something with a subjective definition. I had to learn the difference between an opinion, “This sucks” and a critique, “The glue is sloppy”. And how to not get butt hurt about either one.

Opinions are awesome when they’re nice and hurtful when they’re not, but ultimately something I try not to get hung up on. I mean, I’m selling stuff, so I want to cultivate good opinions of me and my work, but I don’t let that be what validates me. The part I focus on are the happy customers. I’ve had customers say some of the most utterly humbling words to me about the effect my stuff had on them, or someone they love (and in the case of one therapist, on his patients). The kind that make ya almost tear up, and you’re all, “They are talking about someone much cooler than me”. That is life affirming shit, and will carry you through many “Is that supposed to be art?” kinds of interactions. Making art exposes some part of your inner life to the world for it to look at and judge. That’s just how art works. It feels very weird to have people treat the puzzle pieces of your heart like they’re shopping for tires or picking out a new set of highball glasses. Not everyone will, obviously. Some people will totally recognize heart parts. Some people’s own hearts will squee or cry when they recognize them and that’s an amazing thing.

Critiques on the other hand, are always useful, even when they’re off, or not applicable to whatever thing. It gives me a reality check. Makes me look at what I’m doing and reassess whether I’m doing it to the standards I want to be at. If someone has technical advice for you, listen. You don’t have to act on it if their advice isn’t useful, but listen. They may save you from reinventing the wheel at some point. Opinions though, you can learn to take or leave as you like.

 

My focus needs more focus

Does everything fall apart at 40, or am I just having a challenging year?

I’m going on day five of mild tachycardia. If you’re all, “WTF is that”, it’s when your heart rate revs up for no real reason. It’s basically an electrical malfunction, often hereditary, almost always harmless, though it can be very scary and can sometimes make you pass out. I’ve had it since I was a teenager, and it’s connected to my anxiety disorder. It usually manifests suddenly when I randomly compress my diaphragm in the wrong way. My heart starts beating so hard and fast that you can see it swelling my chest and neck. It’s creepy. It can last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes (once for an hour, THAT was fun) and leaves me somewhat dizzy and tired. After Katrina I was having it two or three times a week and had a full cardiac workup, because damn. And the government handed us all a bunch of “Here, go somewhere else for awhile” cash (thanks FEMA!) so I could. They’re like, “You’re basically ok. Reduce your stress”. I don’t know about you, but I love it when people who don’t have an anxiety disorder tell you to reduce your stress.

Since I started training in fightsports, I almost never get it anymore. Apparently punching the crap out of things is cathartic. When I do it’s much milder than it used to be and lasts less time. Till four days ago. Every time I bend over, crouch, lean, sit or take a deep breath, my heart stutters, beating harder and faster for a few seconds. All. Day. Long. The reason I didn’t get to go visit my dead peeps on Dia de los Muertos is because I was at urgent care getting an EKG. I’m not used to more than an hour of it, let alone three days at that point. The upshot is, not dying. The downside is, I’m still having this, I don’t get a halter monitor (to record the “event” as they call it, which makes it sound like a Prince concert or something but I can tell you from personal experience is nowhere near as entertaining or sexy) til Monday because Medicaid, and in the meantime, I’m having a hell of a time focusing on the work I should be doing for the show that’s a week away, and the three after that.

This is just the latest in the line of weird medical crapola that has comprised my year thus far and done its best to tank my productivity. In April I had kidney stones that sent me to the ER, which led to weeks of discomfort and doctors visits, and a followup with the Worlds Most Sexist Urologist, which was triggering in ways I didn’t expect but should have. Ever had a cystoscopy? I don’t recommend it. Especially when the a-hole neglects to give you a local. But I bet he billed Medicaid for one. Just a hunch.

Earlier in the year, I totally had finger cancer. Ok, it was a really weird, blistery rash all over my hands that my mom’s no nonsense dermatologist who was nice enough to take a gander at it said was caused by stress. Guess what his advice was? You guessed it. “Reduce your stress”. Sigh.

Hypochondria is such a huge slice of my paranoia pie that this is been trying AF. My brain misunderstands reality a lot. It’s part of the wacky wiring that makes me so very entertaining. So my body is kind of sacred space for me. It possesses a solidity that nothing else does. Unlike that bunch of cats that aren’t really in my closet or the trumpets I hear in the background when the checker at Whole Foods is asking me if I want to keep or donate my bag credits. When most people hear the term “hypochondriac” they get dismissive. Like someone is making up illnesses for attention (which is a real condition, it’s called Munchausen’s, and you can totally Google it). People who have hypochondria aren’t doing that though. We are honest to FSM convinced we’re dying like, all the time, and it can be really terrifying (which ups your stress level, which leads to more weird shit going wrong with your body…). We’re also often ashamed of feeling that way, and hesitant to seek medical attention because we’re afraid both that we’re right, and that we’ll be totally dismissed by doctors. For example, I never tell a doctor I have an anxiety disorder, because when I do, they stop listening to me. I will often not tell them I have MDD either, because they all want to put me on SSRIs. Been there, done that, tried to kill myself. Kthnxbye. But I digress.

All this takes a hell of a toll on your energy and productivity. Making art takes energy and focus. Anyone who tells you it doesn’t is lying, or is one of those people you sometimes get at art shows who is all, “Oh, my 8th grader makes dioramas!”. I’m always like, “Great! Does she want a job?”. I’m a rennie. Rennies never shy away from putting children to work.

It’s tempting to say “Take some time off”, but I don’t know of one full time self employed person who can even afford that. Now take their finances down six more pegs if they’re an artist. In any case, I will focus through the (I’m convinced) impending heart attack and finger cancer and (probably) kidney disease, and I will get work done. Not as much as I’d like to and not as fast as I need to, but I’ma do this. I guess the point of this ramble is that. That I’ma do this. So can you, through whatever challenges are taking a poop in your Cheerios this year. But I felt the need to say it out loud. They say that you’re more likely to accomplish things you state your intention to accomplish. I have no idea if that’s true, but why not? I intend to accomplish Things! There. That should do it.

 

Imposter Syndrome

A friend asked me a question in a letter not too long ago. One that I’ve asked myself a million times, and I’m sure every artist/san/crafter asks themselves too. “Are my friends just being nice?”

Over the course of the last two shows I’ve had several friends drop many dollars in my shop and walk away with multiple pieces each. It’s wonderful and humbling and makes me all verklempt. After the last such multiple piece purchase I turned to my bestie and said, “Man, maybe I don’t totally suck at this?”

It’s interesting that validation from strangers is easier to accept, but validation from loved ones brings up this kind of insecurity. Do we think, what, that we’re tricking people, and strangers are ok to trick? Or strangers have worse taste than our friends, who of course wouldn’t want the shabby products of our hamfisted attempts at creation if they weren’t just being nice? Why do we think that way? I’m not saying you should go around thinking you’re all brilliant and Aaahtist-ing all over people, because ego like that is gross. But can we at least go around trusting our loved ones judgement? We don’t have to agree with it. We should learn to give it the same weight as our own in this case though, even when it conflicts with ours. Maybe their perception here is right and yours is completely whack. It can happen. You could be…wrong. You might NOT suck!

Ok, if you can’t accept that at least accept your potential whack-ness of perception.

While we’re at it, accepting things that is, lets get something straight. Loving you is a perfectly valid reason to support what you’re doing. You are the work, the work is you. Art is an expression of the self. So supporting you is supporting the work, whether the work is something they’re totally into or not. If someone loves you enough to buy a piece of art they think is hideous or that just doesn’t speak to them, you’ve done something right in one of the most important relationships in your life. Someone values you and your path a lot. “Take the doughnut”*, as my new favorite book on living a creative life advises. Go you!

But lets get pragmatic, because love is lovely but I’m a cynic. Unless your friends are very wealthy people, nobody is buying art just to be nice. The scale of being nice is a very short one and your friends are probably on a tight financial leash like most everybody else. Your broke ass peeps will maybe spend a fiver on being nice. Maybe a ten or even, possibly, in a good week, a twenty. Additionally, whatever they buy from you has to go somewhere. Nobody spends money on something they’re gonna bin. So in addition to parting with funds, they need to negotiate for space with all the other things in their home. I don’t know about y’all, but I have neither money nor space in any great supply. Most people just don’t. And when they budget enough of both for your work, that’s more than loving you. That’s a sincere appreciation for the work you’re doing and a desire driven impulse to support it with their filthy lucre. Which is awesome.

But either way, the question of if your friends are sincerely loving your work, or just loving you? They are of equal value here. They both say good things about you and what you’re doing. Take the doughnut.

 

 

*In Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking, she tells a story relating to this subject. I won’t go into a lengthy explanation here. You can get the whole thing by reading it if you like (and I recommend you do because it’s a great book). Short version; the “doughnut” in question becomes a metaphor for help and/or validation in whatever form it comes. Just accepting that help without making it into a “Do I deserve/am I allowed” kind of thing. You deserve it. It’s allowed. The art police isn’t coming for you for impersonating an artist. You are one. No papers necessary. Take the doughnut.

List!

I’ve decided to compile a list of Underappreciated Reasons To Choose A Career In The Arts. Oh, because life and things got in the way of my being a very good employee for myself this year, but since I’m the only one who works here AND I run the place, I can’t fire myself, so I’d better just give myself a pep talk and get on with it.

Eh-hem.

Mornings. I hate them. While I’m no longer the vampire I was as a youngster, and do in fact like to get to bed at a humane hour, I hate getting up any earlier than eight or nine. I also need a good two hours to gear my brain up to deal with people and the world (not metaphorically, my particular mental health issues require it because I’m overly sensitive to noise and smells when I first wake up, so like, I legit need to ease into the day so I’m not a total dick to people). When you’re an artist, with the exception of shows (and that’s only if you do street fairs), you don’t have to get up in the morning. If you want to you can, but the choice is yours. I get to wake up whenever the dog wakes me up, which is a damn sight more pleasant than some mechanical slave driver of an alarm clock so I can go pour espresso shots for commuters or some other such thing. Been there, done that. Got fired.

Social media. Most people get busted for Facebooking at work. For a self employed artist, social media is a legitimate part of your job and necessary to your life, since that’s the main way you promote and grow your business. I could spend half the day on FB and writing blog posts and call it productive without even slightly lying, because so long as what I’m doing brings attention to my business page, it’s work. Even if I’m posting pictures of cats. Think of all that time you waste on FB sharing cat gifs while you should be collating something. Now take away the collating and the guy who’s going to get bent because you’re not doing whatever collating actually is, and give yourself a high five because that three hours you just spent sharing cat gifs and writing a blog post about why it’s your job to share cat gifs upped your page views by like 500. Pretty sweet, right?

Sassy outfits. So I mostly live in jeans and t-shirts, because I mostly do things that get me covered in various kinds of muck, dust and shmoo. But when I’m not doing that I am a peacock. It’s not a girl thing, it’s that I believe Stevie Nicks is my real mother and it’s my job to represent. I own, no joke, 9 different black, tattered/lacy/frilly/gothy/Stevie in her Gypsy glory days, full length skirts. And people, that’s just the black ones. I didn’t count the antique white, wine, purple and grey ones, or the ones that just aren’t foofy or long. I have three fedoras, two bowlers, a cowboy hat, a top hat, and an adorable cloche. I’ve got six sets of hair flowers and more antique Afghani and Indian jewelry than any tribal fusion dancer you’ve ever met, save possibly Rachel Brice. Lets not get into the cute jackets, stompy black boot addiction, or just how many sweater/goth pirate trench/long Asian inspired 20s-esque coat things I own. Do I have a problem? Hell no! “I’m an artist” gets you all the slack when it comes to what you wear. But more pragmatically, I’m a very decent reflection of my work and people get way into that. So my Stevie wardrobe addiction is actually a tax write off.

Tattoos. I only have one “job killer” tattoo on the back of my hand. Otherwise all my ink can be covered by clothing. So long as I dress like Steve Urkel. Yeah, not happening. I’m one of those obnoxious gen x-ers that refuses to cover up tats or remove piercings. Because they in no way affect my ability to do any job, or indicate my level of intelligence or education, and it’s discriminatory to refuse to hire someone based on their choices in body mod. It’s become far less of an issue today than it was when I first entered the job market, but it will still get you stink eye. Which is insane given the kinds of jobs I end up applying for. I’m not going for law firms, I’m going for bars and cafes, ffs. In my current profession, not only do people not care, they kind of expect me to be wild looking, so the ink adds to the overall vibe I create in my shop and is an easy conversation starter for a lot of people. Also, I get to do a thing I deeply love to do, support other artists. I carry around a stack of my tattooists cards, so when people ask where I get my work, I can pass potential customers along.

Time. Most people need to wrestle time for the things they’re passionate about out of the limited amount of “me” time left in their day, if they’re not too tired. I do the things I’m passionate about for a living, and because I make my own schedule, I make time for the ones that aren’t my job when funds allow. I’m a workaholic, so I don’t abuse the work for myself thing. Plenty of people are undisciplined or unfocused, and can’t work for themselves or they’d get nothing done. I on the other hand have a hard time being told what to spend my time on, so I actually work harder for myself than I have for most of the employers I’ve had. Not all of them. I’m a kick ass employee so long as the boss is not a douche canoe. But lets be real here, there are so many more douche canoes in charge than non.

Job satisfaction. At the end of the day, something exists in the world that wasn’t there before. That thing is doing no harm, and is causing good feels. Mine, because I don’t call anything I don’t like finished, so I get my sense of accomplishment (yay dopamine!). And some random onlookers, because at the least it shows someone something they’ve never seen before, and at most someone connects on a visceral level with what I made. My stuff is mostly pretty abstract. I rely on a symbolism, visual harmony and storytelling that isn’t necessarily obvious, and needs to be looked at carefully and more than once to be picked up on sometimes. A lot of it can be read in multiple ways, too. When someone sees something that touches them, it’s because their brain and my brain had a weird conversation that maybe no two other brains could have had in just that way. It’s like making a poem out of a jumble of words and having some random person passing by understand it as a poem. Which is pretty freakin’ cool if you ask me.

So relax, kiddo! Yes, you’ve got a lot going on the next two months. Yes, your season got  wonky and you’re relying on just four shows to make your year and that’s TERRIFYING. But hey, look on the bright side. You get to wear a narwhal hat to work and nobody will care. And some random lady got all teary eyed and hugged you that one time because you made something that just rocked her world. That’s a thing that no steady paycheck can buy.

“How did you get here?”

“Here” being doing street shows for a living. The questions come phrased in a number of ways but basically boils down to wanting to know how this is my job. And there’s no simple answer. I didn’t decide when I was a wee lass that this would be my life. Some people do. Some people have a Thing. That Thing is their focus and driving force and what they work towards for a goodly portion of their lives. I don’t have a Thing. I am fascinated by All the Things, which makes for a hell of a time picking a life path, lemme tell you. If I could manifest my perfect career, it would be reading books and going places. I would be a Book Reader and Place Explorer. But that’s not a career anyone is going to pay me a salary for. So here I am.

There is a sensible path from there to here. It probably involves art school or business school. Or both. At least it must involve being able to do math and knowing how to draw.  But that’s not how I came to be here. Like most major decisions I’ve made, I just kind of went for it with no real idea what I was doing. That fact aside, this didn’t just occur to me one day as I was wailing on a heavy bag or having my morning constitutional. It actually started as a notion a former roommate and I were batting around over coffee at a Denny’s in Metairie, Louisiana about 20 years ago, the first winter I spent in New Orleans. I wasn’t a leather worker yet. I was barely even a nomad. I think it was my second year on the road. I just wanted to be the boss of me and hang out with art, not thinking for a minute I might be the one making it. At the time, I was dreaming of a brick and mortar shop of some kind (it was the far back times, when nobody had computers and the internet was a geek thing, but not something most people used or even knew about), where I’d just like, get really great makers to sell their stuff out of it. I remember saying to my roommate, “It would need a name so people would know it was about art and traveling.” He looked up from his grilled cheese and said, “As the Crow Flies”. We thought we were brilliant. And promptly forgot all about it.

Many years later I’m on a back deck at my best friend’s mom’s house, enjoying delicious grilled foodz and having a nice yak with a lively assortment of folks. I was apprenticed to two master crafters at ren faire at the time, learning loads of stuff, on the road for nine months out of the year and spending my off season in New Orleans. This was the thick of the “no fixed address” portion of my adult life. Conversation turned to business and goals and such, and I was noodling with the idea of maybe having my own shop someday. Bestie’s mom asked me what I’d call it and I said, “As the Crow Flies” kind of out of nowhere. I hadn’t thought about my roommate or the conversation we’d had for years, but there it was right on the tip of my tongue. The talk moved on to other things, like it does. But then a few weeks later, she hands me a sign she found at a garage sale. It’s this country cute thing with crackle paint and a bird stencil and says “as the crow flies” on it, and she said it was for my shop someday. Kind of as a joke.

Instead of putting that sign in my basement or some other no mans land of gag-y gifts, I sat it on top of my bookshelf. Where it has been now for many years. Staring at me. Kind of like a dare.

Between that day and this came more years traveling, hurricane Katrina, living and marinading in the funky mojo of New Orleans, college, several personal disasters, some cancer (not mine), and my major depressive disorder trying to make me walk off a building when the tangle of Life Things got extremely unruly. I knit when I’m stressed out, so the pile of hats and scarves got huge and an acquaintance suggested Etsy as a way to deal with them and pay for the yarn. From there it was a natural progression of “I wonder if I can do -insert art thing here-“. I took some online classes (happy to pass along the links for anyone interested), and played with glue and got ideas from paying a different kind of attention to the world than I had previously been paying. Got encouragement and invaluable advice from a huge number of friendly artists at shows and art tours who were happy to talk about their work and the work involved with art as a job. Did a small, one day show to see what doing shows was all about. Had Mary not let some rando from out of state do her Market, taken pictures of my stuff with such enthusiasm and posted them on her Facebook page, had Maday not clamored to find out who the artist was who made it (first time anyone had called me that in a professional capacity), had the customers not been so positive and encouraging, I may have stalled out completely. But they did. I made friends and connections. I kept going.

Anyone who tells you that the art brain is inborn and it’s not something that can be learned is lying to you. Some people come from the factory with an art brain, which gives them a head start, but it’s definitely something you can learn and nurture in yourself, no matter what kind of brain you start out with.

And here I am. It’s not a consignment store or a gallery, and it’s not a leather shop at ren faire, though at some future point it may encompass both or either of those things (remind me to tell you about Awesome Idea For When I Win the Lottery #12 someday). When my roomie and I first hatched the notion I wasn’t any kind of artist that I was aware of. Though I’ve always written poetry (No really, since I was five. Eh-hem. “Fishy fishy fish. You are so pretty fish. I love your gold fishy fishness. The end.” My folks thought it was super freakin’ cute. They probably regretted encouraging me when it led to open mics at cafes til 4 am, but nobody is psychic.), visual arts came to me way later. I guess I did kind of have a Thing. My Thing was to be the boss of me in whatever way made sense. Super vague as far as goal setting goes, but hey, it worked, so…