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.

 

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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.

Bucktown: Highlights, lowdowns and WTFs

The key phrase for Bucktown seems to be “Close, but no cigar”. The 100% volunteer run show is a sort of neighborhood arts organization, whose profits go to benefit arts programs in the area. Which is awesome. And it’s been this way since the 80s. Which is also awesome. The awesome might stop there, though.

Highlights: The enormous staff of volunteers was extremely present and helpful. These guys were swarming all over me like friendly ants, offering help with absolutely everything. There was never a point in the day when I didn’t see a Greenshirt wandering by. All these shows have volunteers and all volunteers tend to be super nice and willing, but I’ve never seen this many of them. So A for enthusiasm on that score.

Food at this show was both a blessing and a curse. It was nothing but food trucks for the most part. Which is awesome because you can get much more variety that way, and a better quality food. Food trucks are enormously difficult to keep in business in this city, so the ones that exist tend to be top notch. However, they are also redonk expensive. $10 for an (admittedly freakin’ delicious) alligator sausage is absurd, and who ever heard of a $4 taco? But overall I was very happy to have the kind of quality selection that the food trucks offered. Often at shows you have nothing to choose from but burgers, burgers and some burgers, or byol. Which, I don’t mind packing a lunch, but due to space issues I prefer to have to bring as little from home as I can get away with.

Lowdowns: I had heard load in at this show described as “gross”. Understatement of the month. The downpour didn’t help, but that’s nobody’s fault. HOWEVER, having 200 vendors loading in, food trucks jockeying for position, stages being set up, fencing being delivered and assembled and porta potties being offloaded and filled all at the same ignorant ass hour of the morning in a residential neighborhood is craptacular to a fine degree. The storm was, at that point, just icing. When I asked, the lack of Friday setup was blamed on zoning, but I don’t buy it. You can get anything blocked off in this city for enough cashola and at $350 for a spot and only volunteers (that is, people not getting paid) running this rodeo, nobody gets to tell me they don’t have any. If Glenwood can do it with $100 a head, then nobody has any excuse. Not to mention that I think if you asked the neighbors, most of whom seemed to be pushing double strollers, they’d really rather all the noise happened at a decent hour. Note to self: buy galoshes and a proper raincoat. I managed to get through 22 years doing outdoor shows without either one. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Alas, load in wasn’t the only con on this show’s balance sheet. I was placed in an experimental row of booths that had formerly been the food truck area. It was a funny little cul de sac that you had to be standing in front of to notice was there, that was weirdly blocked off by the barriers they had set up in awkward fashion to corral the food area. Stated mission was to keep beer drinking restricted to the area of the food and stage, though why anyone would want to do that is beyond me. People like to wander and shop with their beer. People drinking beer shop more. Everybody wins. The logic of restricting the beer baffled me. The layout logic of my row also baffled me. It baffled the crowd too, obviously, as very little of it found my row of shops. At least one of the other vendors was so completely pissed off about it that he spent the weekend berating every Greenshirt he could grab, and trying to enlist the rest of the row to, I dunno, revolt I guess. My attitude was a more relaxed one. I had a Greenshirt actually thank me for having such a great attitude about it. I guess they were getting it from more than the one pissed off guy. But while I refuse to shoot the messenger, neither did I have the compassion of the Buddha about the whole thing. I thought it was all piss poorly organized from top to bottom. Because of this layout, I have no clue as to whether the crowd was good or not, so little of it came my way. What I did see however was not my demographic. I need child free professionals with expendable incomes or empty nesters finally enjoying their money for optimal profits, and what I saw was a lot of double strollers and pregnant women. Couples with small children don’t make self indulgent purchases they can’t justify. A fancier car than you strictly need can be written off with the excuse that you need a car, but art isn’t so easy. Which is not a judgement, it’s just a fact. It’s one of the reasons I do so poorly in the suburbs. From what I gleaned talking to other vendors, the profile of Bucktown had changed a lot in the last few years, going from the kind of hipster/nightlife area that best suits the kind of thing I sell to a gentrified family neighborhood. I wish I’d known that earlier, but the game of Musical Shows is never not an expensive gamble.

And an expensive gamble this turned out to be. While Sunday pretty well made up for a lot of Saturday’s crowd woes, considering the higher cost of doing this show, it wasn’t terribly impressive. The shop total, while not as good, was close to Glenwood’s which is nice, but the nut was over 3x Glenwood’s, which makes for a much lower overall profit.

WTFs: In the park section of the layout, a booth had been marked with a huge ass tree smack in the center of it. Did they send drunk squirrels with spray paint cans to do the layout, I wonder? Wait, no. I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

The aforementioned beer restriction. According to one Greenshirt, having beer everywhere is no more expensive permit-wise than having beer in just one place. From my limited wanderings I’d have to say there was a crowd both days, but they were staying where the beer was. The stage area was packed all day, both days. Gee, funny how that works. If I had one piece of advice for these guys, it would be to Free the Beer. Which even the artists weren’t allowed to remove from the beer area. And there were volunteers stationed at all exit points to enforce this. I did anyway, because I am a rule disrespecting jerk and also a ninja. Sorry man. If I’ve been on my feet for that many hours in wet boots making that little money, I’m going to enjoy my beer in the comfort of my own booth. Attempt to stop me at your peril.

Lastly, potties. They were not pumped after Saturday. This created a condition so revolting on Sunday that people were leaving the show. All fine and good for patrons, but what about the artists and food vendors who have nowhere to go to pee? Props to the Greenshirts for handling the situation as best they could with spray bottles of bleach and constant monitoring of the banks of porta johns to keep them as usable as possible, but there wasn’t anything they could do about the actual pile of shit rising from the murky depths almost to the seat. They said the company had simply failed to show up to clean them, but given the other issues I saw with organization, I wonder if someone didn’t just forget to schedule the pumping of the pots.

Final verdict? Hard to call. I’ll have to think very carefully about this one. I heard a wide range of opinions from a wide range of artists. Everything from “Yes this show is great you just need a better spot” to “This show was great but the demographic has changed too much and these people are just here to look”. Saturday was pathetic, but Sunday was alright. Not fantastic, but alright. Pain in the Ass factor is very high though, and it ain’t a cheap show to do. Most shows send out their applications to artists from the previous year, and I’ll have to see if a booth request is part of it. I definitely don’t want to do it again if they put me in the same backwater, but might consider it if I’m on the main drag. This is going to be one of those situations where I might have to do it again and see what happens. Current profit to expense ratio says it wasn’t a particularly worthwhile show, but Saturday and Sunday’s crowds were like two different neighborhoods. I don’t know what’s up with that, but provided I can secure a better location, it might bear investigation.

Next up, Lakeview!

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.

Here, have an update

Hi y’all!

Those of you who keep up with me on social media may have noticed that I’m a busy monkey lately. Usually I do the bulk of my production over the winter, but this year Life Things made that not happen as well as I’d have liked, so I used the huge lag between my spring show and my late summer ones to make up the difference. And man, have I done that. I’ve got a serious amount of stock ready for these next two months of shows. Before you get too impressed with me, remember that I’ve got a rennie crafter’s ideas of time and workload management, and that this is my full time job. I have way more time than many artists do to art with, and was taught the valuable skill of working even when I’m not feeling it. Inspiration is a thing, and sometimes you don’t have it. But when you’re trying to make a living you have to not let that stop you. There’s lots you can do even when the muse is taking a smoke break. Fortunately, I work well under pressure, and my muse has been on board with me these last couple of months, so I’ve been frankenjunking like a boss.

You’ve probably noticed all the flowers hereabouts, which is a bit of a sidestep from my usual. My meditations lately have focused on the transitory nature of the states of being we experience. Things like depression, happiness, anger, contentment, and what it actually means to embody an emotional state, both physiologically, (like what all those fancy neurotransmitters are really doing in there) and experientially. What’s more symbolic of how brief our lives and experiences are than flowers, says me. Moths and butterflies are often used symbolically to represent transition and change, too. Hard core monks meditate in charnel houses next to decomposing bodies to really come to grips with the brief nature of our existence. While most of my materials are decomposing, an actual carcass is too Dada even for me. Also, stanky. So flowers it is. You’re welcome.

Plus, you know, they’re pretty. I like pretty things. Not everything I find attractive is dead, you know. I have layers, people.

So, shows! You can find them all listed to the left of my Facebook page under the “events” tab. You can also say, “Madam! Prithee, put me on your mailing list, for I am lazy and wish all pertinent information to be delivered directly to my device.” and then give me your e-addy and I totally will. (Ok, “prithee” is recognized by spellcheck, but “experientially” and “charnal” are not? WTF spellcheck??) But I’ll be back at Glenwood and Lakeview, and also Edgewater, though they haven’t notified me yet, they cashed my check like two months ago so I’d better have a booth number. And new this year I’ll be in Bucktown, which everyone has been telling me since I started this party that I should check out, so I’m optimistic. August and September are the time to see me this year, unless you’re in the Milwaukee area, in which case come on out to Re:Craft and Relic in November so we can hang. I’ve also applied to my first Chicago Art Girls show in December. If you’re all “wtf is Chicago Art Girls”, they’re a loosely organized bunch of women artists that promote and support each other, throw a holiday shindig once a year, and kindly let a few non members apply to their hootnanny. I have a lot of shows in common with several of these ladies and I deeply dig each and every one of them. I just wish they didn’t all live in like West Town or whatever. Those of you who don’t live in a city the size of a small country just don’t understand how difficult it is to get with people that live in farther flung neighborhoods of the county. It’s actually easier and faster to get to Wisconsin. But I digress. I won’t know about that one til September, so stay tuned for updates on that score, and the rest of the holiday shenanigans, as the November and December shows don’t tend to put their calls out for a while yet.

Speaking of which, I will not be back at Late Late this year, for any of you who attend that one. That crowd way wasn’t into my glittery shenanigans. A few FB peeps came out like the awesome, supportive rock stars you are, but on the whole I was clearly not what that crowd was looking for. Eh, live and learn.

A new Thing I’m trying this year at shows is pay what you want artist trading cards. I’ve made up a buncha tiny art that anyone can afford because you can pay or trade whatever you want for it (No children or pets please!). You can pay a quarter, a dollar, a flower, a c-note, a cupcake, a hug, produce, sandwiches, your own tiny art, or just say “thanks” and we’re square. If you don’t at least say “thanks”, I will think you’re kind of rude, because damn, where are your manners, but you can still have some art. The point is that you pay what you want, and if you want to pay with being kind of rude, I accept. I’m  gonna judge you, but I accept. It’s always been my jam to be accessible. This way, even if you’re homeless, you can afford art. Because they’re not “free”, you still participate in a fair exchange, even if your part is just shaking my hand. I dig this because I’m a control freak (no really, just ask my shop monkeys), and it’s a great exercise in not controlling, just accepting. Whatever your payment will be is exactly enough (As long as it’s not alive! I really can’t stress enough how much I don’t want a pet hamster or a five year old.).

Also! The knits are going away forever, so what’s left is going to be on super sale at the shows where they’ll let me have more than my juried medium. Some shows are picky about that, but others, like Glenwood, are pretty laid back about having more than one kind of thing in your shop, so long as you’re still making all the things. So hats, scarves and tubes made with super sexy, really kick ass fiber are going for less than cost of materials, even. I just need them outta my way. And, while not on super sale because they’re already pretty much at cost, the mini shrines are also going away, so what I’ve got is all that’s gonna be, and if you’ve been eyeing one, now is the time to commit. I still have a decent number left, so they’ll probably still be around next season, but I’ve decided I’m not even going to take custom orders on them anymore, so git em now before they’re gone.

Is that it? Hm. Yeah, I think that’s it. You know all of the things for now.

I hope everyone is having a fabulous summer so far. It’s all too brief in this godforsaken latitude, so enjoy it while it’s here. I know I am.

“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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What’s with all the death?”

I’ve explored a large number of spiritual traditions. As a youngster, I was trying to find a god that didn’t offend me with its misogyny and bigotry. As an adult and an atheist, out of curiosity about how different cultures deal with the big scary issues facing a living, sentient being. One of the biggest, scariest issues is, of course, dying.

Everything dies, even mountains. So why is it so terrifying? Some Native traditions refer to death as the Great Mystery. That about sums it up, doesn’t it. I’ve had plenty of people in my life go off into that mystery. Relatives of great old age and friends of great tragedy or accident. Nobody has come to tell me what happens next, if anything. So I’m left to deal with the idea of non-existence in whatever way works best for me. We all hope to live long and fabulous lives, but the truth is that death is walking next to all of us, all the time. We don’t know when she’s going to put her hand on our shoulder and say, “Come now. It’s time.” And that’s kind of terrifying.

Even with the wonderful pragmatism of Buddhism in my pocket, it’s a hard thing to give space to in my consciousness. I don’t hold all Buddhist beliefs to be literal truths, but plenty of them hold symbolic water with me. Reincarnation for example. I don’t believe my spirit, if such a thing I do possess, will go anywhere when I die, but I will be in actual fact reincarnated. My body will be broken down into its individual elements by a host of fascinating and necessary creatures and fungi collectively known as “decomposers” and be taken up by the grasses and trees whose roots have found my remains below them (I’m a green burial advocate, so I mean, for all intents and purposes, to be composted), which will then be preyed upon by whatever eats them, and in turn by whatever eats them. So maybe “recycled” is a more accurate term than “reincarnated”, but whatevs. This, to me, is right and proper. I was borrowing those elements from the universe, and I must return them when they’re due. Like a library book. My elements aren’t mine to keep, but belong to the universe collectively, and in time must be loaned out to something else. I could be a nebula someday.

I’m not the first sentient being to deal with things like Life! Death! Universe! symbolically. Art has a long history of being a coping mechanism and method of expressing Shit Too Big To Deal With. So to be honest it always kind of surprises me when people ask me what’s up with all the death. I want to ask them how they deal with it. Not in a judgy way, but I’m legit curious. It’s not even really death, exactly. Just because there are a lot of bones and carrion birds (don’t get me started on bird mythology, because we will be here all night) and whatnot doesn’t make the story specifically about death. The story I’m almost always telling is about transition and in-between-ness (“liminal” is the dictionary word for those people or things in between two states, which spellcheck refuses to believe is a word, but it totally is, you can google it). Dying happens to be the big one for a living thing, so it shows up often, but there are many other liminal states to be meditated on though the medium of art. There is no such thing as an end, only a shift. People don’t cease to exist, they cease to be people. What they are next is pretty open to interpretation depending on your belief system, but the transition part is non-negotiable.  A mountain, when it’s no longer a mountain, is dust, sand, magma. It hasn’t disappeared though. People don’t. Planets don’t. Because Library of Universe. Many of my materials are well along the path to returning their elements to it, and I’m there to help. Like a good little decomposer/recycler/agent of karma.

For whatever reasons, people like to make huge, complicated ideas that belong on a continuum into either/or equations. I’ve had to deal with this personally as a card carrying mentally ill person. People like to categorize me as balanced or unbalanced, but the fact is that I’m both, either or neither, depending on the day (or the hour). Sometimes, when my chemistry is chill, I’m very normal. For years I refused to discuss my malfunctioning circuitry with anyone, choosing instead to pretend so hard to be balanced that no one knew what to do with the unbalanced me when it happened. It wasn’t a good way to deal, though it left me with a valuable skill set. To this day I pass so well nobody knows I’m whackadoo unless they’re around me a fair bit. I’ve learned not to have the inside conversations in my outside voice. I’ve learned to respond to being touched like mammals are supposed to instead of flinching, and stopped organizing the pasta alphabetically. Sometimes though, I’m laying on the floor talking to the people that live in my brain who aren’t me, or not being able to leave my house because, AAACK! WORLD! That effort needs expressing somehow, too. The things inside you can’t let off their leashes but that can’t stay inside indefinitely or you lose touch with the difference between subjective reality and the one we all more or less agree is real (don’t get me started on quantum theory or we’ll be here all night).

I’m also a first gen. My parents came here from somewhere else, and like lots of immigrants, they wanted their kids assimilated like, now. So I didn’t grow up with a strong sense of either place. My family was very different from the other kids I knew, but also not like any Latino family I knew either (which, growing up in a very homogeneous suburb, consisted of my Puerto Rican friends from summers in San Juan, so maybe I didn’t have a great representative sample for comparison). I sit between two cultures and don’t feel fully a part of one or the other. People who feel rooted in their culture express their feelings for it all the time through artistic mediums. People who don’t feel rooted though, also have feelings that need dealing with. Feelings of in between-ness and dislocation.

I’m not sure at what exact point I decided that this medium was a good one for expressing All of the Things. The weirdness in my head, my feelings about non-existence, the ways of being in between two sharp points in the world and still feeling authentic. But I did, and it works for me. And I have the huge compliment of being told at every show how well it speaks to other people. People who are liminal people, people who are members of one or another counter culture, but also people whose freak flag doesn’t fly very high at all. People who work with death, grief, or mental illness as part of their jobs. People who occupy places society doesn’t explicitly approve of, or that aren’t well defined. It’s satisfying as hell. I’m really just sitting in my basement playing with glitter and junk and wondering if anyone is going to get this, and it seems that, yeah, they do. Not everyone does, but that’s fine. Not everyone likes shrimp or BMWs.

We all have to deal with Shit Too Big To Deal With in some way or another.