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.

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High points of a social species

When my dad first got diagnosed with cancer I was 23-ish. Dad and I have a difficult, complicated relationship. I can say we love each other, but we definitely don’t like each other. Still, there was no hesitation, and Mom didn’t have to ask. I told my various employers I was taking a leave, and canceled all my show plans for the rest of my season so I could stay in Chicago and do whatever I could. My bosses completely understood. I expected that. They were groovy dudes on the whole. My friends in my immediate circle knew what was up of course, because they were nearby. But this was before everyone had cell phones. Before Livejournal and Facebook. Internet was a thing, but it was a thing campgrounds didn’t have. Most of us still used calling cards and pay phones, and getting information spread around was a matter of weeks, not hours. Unless you’re a rennie.

There’s a saying. “Telephone, telegraph, tell a rennie”. Within days all of Bristol faire knew what was up. What shocked the crap outta me was how much they cared. I got a rose from a guy I could not stand, who was none too fond of me either, with a message of support. I was baffled, and asked him wtf. He told me, without the patented swagger and sarcasm that made him insufferable, that his mother had died recently of cancer. That he understood where I was at, and was there for me if I needed to talk to someone who got it. That blew me away completely. It was only one of many flowers, letters and messages of love and support that came from all corners of my home show.
Two months later I was at the faire in North Carolina, visiting friends and just getting some space from all the drama at home before digging in for a winter of slinging coffee at a bookstore and worrying. I ran into the owner of the faire there, who was not a big fan of yours truly. We had clashed on several occasions over petty shit, because I have a stubborn streak wider than the Amazon and rabid dislike for mansplaining. My policy was to avoid him at all costs (a policy I have instituted for all members of management staff in general, no matter what it is they’re managing, because I am sassy as hell and that tends to go over badly). I nodded, briefly, hoping to just scamper away unnoticed, when he stopped me. He said he was so sorry to hear about my dad, and if there was anything he could do to help, to please let him know. He said, and I remember this vividly, because his face was so sincere and he looked me right in the eyes when he said it (not something this man tended to do when speaking to me), he said, “We’re family here. Always remember that.” I couldn’t really do anything but mumble a “thank you”, because I was so totally about to cry.

Years later, I’m hunkered down in a strangers house in Shreveport, and a century storm has just taken out the city I was living in. At the time, CNN was telling us that something like 85% of the city of New Orleans was under water. Much later we would come to understand that they weren’t making a distinction between two inches of standing water in the street, and neighborhoods flooded to the rooftops (which, thanks by the way, assholes).
We thought we had lost everything. I had evacuated with 4 days worth of clothing, dog food, and a coffee pot. Because we thought we’d be right back.
Within days I was fielding tons of phone calls. My nearest and dearest peeps, of course, but also people who I barely knew had gotten a hold of my number and were calling to make sure we were ok. People I had outright animosity towards, who were only too happy on an average day to tell everybody what a bitch I was, were calling to make sure I had gotten out. Boxes full of things started arriving. Underwear, socks, yarn and needles (so I could knit and keep my hands busy), coffee, booze, dog treats, gift cards to Wal-Mart, little wads of cash rolled up in t-shirts and folded between packets of incense and other little comfort items rennies tend to use to make our mobile life more homey, books. Care packages from every show where anyone who vaguely knew me might be at. My tribe, even the members who hated my salty guts, pulled together for me right then.

I am actually tearing up as I write this. Because it never fails to humble and awe me (and I’m actually emo AF, though I try not to do it in front of people). I’m nothing special. I’m not a rock star or a pillar of the rennie community. I was just another traveler. Just a booth monkey with a few friends, a few enemies, a trailer and a dog. I was pretty antisocial, to be honest. I worked six days a week, so who had the time, but really that just gave me a convenient excuse. I’m not a big joiner. I’m awkward and uncomfortable in social situations. But somehow this group of people, some of whom had what I thought was the barest, most incidental of connections to me, stepped up in a big way when shit hit the fan.
That is what community is all about.
That’s why I threw $50 in the hat to get Pendragon’s booth rebuilt. Not because I’m friends with the owner or involved in her life. But because Jeffery Segal said it simply and accurately. We’re all family here. And you help your family.

“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.

 

 

Year End Blog: Salutations, thank yous, Things!

Hello, and a merry Whatever Holiday You Celebrate If Any. This is my end of year ramble, which is not going to be about all the shows I did this year, because mostly I did the same ones but for a couple. I can sum those two up thusly; Bucktown,ugh. Not remotely worth the pain in my ass. Chicago Art Girls, holyshityay!

Finally it seems I’m finding the shows, the audience, the mojo, that I need to find. We makers of things all do. We need to not just find our audience, but also find our shows/galleries/wherever the rad people come to experience what you make and hopefully let you make a living making. Making a living making is more than just selling the work. It’s also the connections and the community that you find while you’re at it. The importance of that can’t be remotely overstated. So, THANK YOU. You are so freakin’ beautiful and weird and awesome that I can’t even. There’s no doing this without you and I treasure your presence and participation. Those of my friends and rennie peeps who were among the first to follow the Facebook page, fellow artist/sans/makers, and those of you who just hopped on at the last show, or however you found your way here, you’re all in my black little heart and I love you. Like, for real.

2016 has been…challenging. To say the least. I am, like everyone, dealing with that as best I can. But speaking from a strictly shows and art life place, this season has been wonderful. I haven’t done the numbers yet, so I don’t know if I mean that in a financial sense, but this job isn’t exclusively about paying rent. This year stands out for having many bigger pieces finding homes, and many of those homes being with people who have bought from me before. I have collectors y’all!! That tells me something important. It tells me I’m connecting with people. I’ve talked before about how art is a desire driven purchase. It serves no practical purpose, and there’s no good reason to budget for it from a cost/benefit standpoint. We’re not looking at psychological stuff. Pure nuts and bolts I’m talkin’. So when people are spending on something with no purpose other than to be looked at, it’s speaking loudly and insistently to something rooted in their guts and souls. And that’s an artist’s freakin’ JOB. I am doing my job! And I appear to be doing it passably well. I probably can’t properly articulate how exciting that is for me. I have never comfortably referred to myself as an artist, because I never really thought of myself as one. That whole imposter thing is a thing. So for me, it’s beyond dope that I feel like I’m doing the job of making art. You did that! Give yourselves a cookie, because you made someones day.

In the coming season I want to build on that momentum and sense of growing community. That’s going to mean exploring new venues. New shows, always and of course, but also open studios and funky spaces of all sorts that support the artists. If all goes well you’ll find me right back at the shows you found me at this year. Glenwood, Lakeview, Edgewater, Craft and Relic, and Art Girls. Because those all continue to rock. Not Bucktown. Yes, that one turned out ok in the end, but the vibe was wrong for me, and I’m learning to trust my gut when it says “nope”. I hope to extend a tentacle into Logan Square this time around, so that should be interesting. Indiana will wait til next year because of family stuff, but it’s on the radar. There are some events in Milwaukee I’m eyeballing too.

And, Patreon. Is going. To happen! In the coming months, in addition to making All of the Things, I will be shooting video and giving a serious think on rewards (exclusive blogs! live chats! dinners! classes! art!) and whatnot for the various patron levels, so that I can make this happen. If you, oh hive mind, have any suggestions on such things I welcome your input. I don’t know what someone who pays me whatever, say $5 a month, to make art would like to have access to, so I’m open to ideas.

The opportunity this vehicle gives artists to connect with people all over the world is incredible. And the opportunity it gives people of modest means to be part of supporting the arts is mind blowingly awesome. I love tipping buskers. My dollar isn’t much in this day and age, but it’s not the only dollar in the hat. The hat contains many dollars from many people like me who want to be some part of that artist’s success. Patreon is the hat for people whose art doesn’t translate to a busking sort of situation, or a busker who wants a way bigger stage. A global hat to pass, with the opportunity for real interaction between artist and patrons. I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to that, but I have no idea what I’m doing in general, so I’ma just do it and see what happens.

Thank you thank you for being here my lovelies. 🙂

Here’s to a safe and sane (or insane in a really great way) years end.

 

 

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.

“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…