Something is happening really amazing...

Friday, August 7, 2015

August 7, 2015

My projects seem to be taking two weeks on average, so maybe I should amend my initial commitment.

On deck for last week/this week was a shirt that I bought -- kind of an old lady floralish thing that had a pattern and drape that I liked and a surprisingly flattering cut, except for the high round Hanes Beefy Tee style neckline. I've taken a small round neck to something more like a boat neck once before, but that was on a dress with a zipper, so the final project looked awesome from the front and from the back was a mess of safety pins and flapping strips of fabric that I covered with a denim jacket. I figured this would be easier since it had no zipper, and I'm pretty sure it was handmade in the first place.

Alas, I have no pictures, either of the before or after variety. I forgot to take any befores, and it turns out to be pretty impossible to take a picture of myself from the neck down, so you'll just have to wait until you see me out and about in a kind of old ladyish purple shirt, and when you comment on it, I will humblebrag about the alteration, oblivious to the fact that you were only being polite because it's weird that I'm wearing grandma clothes.

I did get a picture of the single random neon green cross stitch on the shoulder.  I have no idea what it was for.


Like most teachers, I'm guessing, the bulk of my creative energy these days is going into preparing my classroom for the upcoming year. I am not too cool for Pinterest-inspired bulletin boards or spending too much money on new office supplies because they are in MY colors.  Aqua and Lime are my room's thematic colors, thank you very much, and the effect is bad ass. And really conducive to learning, I'm sure.

Also, my library is a work of art.

I am generally against posting pictures of anything that could attach this blog to my real identity (she said as if anyone but her friends read this blog),  but I might have to post a picture of my library. It really does rule.

Friday, July 24, 2015

July 24, 2015

So, I made this commitment to finishing up backlogged projects. That's a thing. A thing that I have not posted about in two weeks. I did start a project about two weeks ago. A fairly easy one. I expected it to go by quickly, but something like perfectionism really got to me (which is odd because I don't consider myself a perfectionist) and left me pretty well paralyzed for a while.

Let's talk about The One That Almost Did Me (and this whole project) In.

Here it is:




Yep. A drawstring backpack. There's a whole story to it. It really is a project I've been sitting on for a while.

I like to walk to this coffee shop that is about a mile and a half from my house* on mornings when I don't have to work, but I'm wimpy and don't like to carry anything heavy. String backpacks are the lightest (and most balanced!) way to carry a book and a wallet that I've found, and they're fairly easy to come by. I don't think I've ever actually paid for one; they're usually handed out free at the local teacher 5K where my coworkers and I annually bring up the rear. However, while free is nice, those bags are usually ugly -- made of that material that's not quite fabric but not quite paper and covered with advertisements for local shops. (Oh, but thanks for sponsoring us teachers, local shops! I don't mean to suggest that I don't appreciate it!)

I've had it in the back of my head for a while (like, two years) that I should just make my own out of a prettier fabric, but those plans really started to come together about six months ago. I'd just made myself a different sort of drawstring pouch for carrying my embroidery in since the one I had been using (that I think came around a gift set of soaps when I originally got it) finally fell apart. Making that bag was much more complicated than I imagined it would be, but the end product was nice, and it made me start thinking about finally getting around to making a nice "walk to the coffee shop" backpack.

The purple fabric comes from a dress I bought at the thrift store. Its long, loose silhouette reminded me of the dark mori girl aesthetic, which I really love, so I bought it without really being mindful of the fact that visual kei stuff looks very different on doughy blond women of almost 40 than it does on the waifs who model it. I never did wear it out of the house. I got as far as cutting it into a useable piece of fabric and then stuck it into my sewing box, to be forgotten until I pulled it out to attend to as part of this project.

Ok. So there's even more backstory.

This is my backpack from college:

 It was also my best friend's backpack when she went to college (we were both non-traditional adult students and not the just out of high school kind). I was grateful to her for giving it to me because I could not afford another at the time. It was in pretty rough shape though, and over the four years that I carried it, it burst many seams, especially around the front pocket (that zipper just really wanted to come off.)

Every time a new hole appeared, I'd sew it back together. I knew that my stitching left something to be desired, and I wasn't motivated to even try to be neat, so I went the opposite route, using brightly colored embroidery floss and making my stitches as obvious and uneven as possible.






This was my favorite part:


You can't really see it, but the pink stitches are little X-es.

My original plan had been to do the string backpack similarly, but I realized that I'd kind ofoutgrown that sort of willful messiness. I thought it would look forced if I tried it, so I decided I'd do this one as neatly as possible. Besides, it would give me an opportunity to practice my sewing. I'd love to someday do machine-perfect, even granny stitches even though J says, "If the stitches were perfect, how would people know it was hand made?"

This is a week's worth of effort at making a straight line:


I pulled those damn stitches out and started over SO many times. And they're still not straight.

I pretend like I have a really good handle on the growth mindset. I get it. You have to be bad before you can be good. But I've BEEN bad at this for a LONG time, and I was working really hard at being good this time. It really surprised and frustrated me that I didn't have a magical breakthrough fueled by past failure and good intentions. Maybe someday I'll be a granny-level seamstress, but it will take a lot more work than I've done here.

I wound up stuffing the thing back in my basket, letting my guilt about its unfinished state (and this neglected blog) build until this evening when I threw on my headphones and sewed for three hours straight.

Ha. I have a finished project, a blog post, AND a backpack that is not made of weird paper-fabric. (What is that stuff anyway?)

Now I need to think of something to do for next week.


* The coffee shop is almost directly between my MiL's house and my condo, so this ritual actually went uninterrupted for the year that we lived at her house.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

July 9, 2015

Aarrgghh... Saying I'm going to do something means that I actually have to do it or else I'm lame, doesn't it? I was reminded of this while reading today. I'm in the middle of the collected blog entries of Aaron Swartz. (Raw Thought, Raw Nerve. There's a lot of good stuff here, but man, the "a lot" almost overwhelms the "good." My kindle is slowly developing a backlog of books that he wrote about in a way that made me want to read them as well, so even when I'm finished, I won't really be finished.)

Anyway, one of the entries (essays?) I read today was on good management, and while it made me very happy to be a FORMER retail manager as opposed to a current one, it also had some lines that were applicable to my new, preferable, non-managerial life.

For example, "If you're not getting things done, you can always come up with excuses for why. Competent people get things done anyway."

And also, "Just having a list with all the stuff you need to do -- and taking it seriously, actually going down it and checking stuff off every single day -- is the difference between being a black hole of action items and being someone who actually Gets Stuff Done." 

And (best for last), "We procrastinate because we are afraid. We're afraid it's too much work and that it will drain us. We're afraid we'll screw it up and get in trouble. We're afraid we don't know how to do it. We're afraid because, well, we've been putting it off forever and every time we put it off it seems a little more fearsome in our minds. That's why not putting things off is so liberating. We're forced to confront our fears, not let them grow bigger by repeatedly running away. And when we confront them, we find that they're not so scary after all."

I have been putting off step two of the "finish all the unfinished projects" project. With my summer camp work I don't have a lot of free time, and I've been just generally uninspired. It was really hard to feel like any of my incomplete work would be interesting to do, much less to write about.

I had done a few things that felt like making progress. I got a decent camera. I went through things, did a lot of organizing. But the closest thing I've done to making anything this week was some basic seam ripping and stitch reinforcement on costumes for the campers' show next weekend.

After work today, I struggled with what to do. I wanted to be someone who is competent. Someone who Gets Stuff Done. But I also wanted to not do anything. Hadn't I earned a night of doing nothing by working all day? I tried to come up with versions of Nothing that sounded like Stuff Getting Done. (This almost always turns into shopping in my world. See above regarding the new camera. This time, it was bra shopping. I need a new sports bra, so going to the store would be a productive activity.)

I also had this project that I'd publicly committed to hanging over my head, and I was feeling it grow more and more fearsome. 'I don't have any good ideas.' I thought. 'Anything I do is going to sound forced and stiff, and I'm going to be embarrassed by it.' I am afraid that I am going to screw up. I am afraid that I don't know how to do it.

Anyway. So. I did something. I'm not sure if it counts as a "creative endeavor," but it was something I had been putting off, and something that was half-started, so I'm counting it for the project.

**************

When J and I moved back to the condo, we radically rearranged the rooms and furniture. Everything is much more in line with the way we actually use our living space, and a lot of dead spaces have become functional. We've also gotten rid of a lot of furniture that didn't actually serve a function. Being away from the place for a year helped us step away from the idea of what things we're supposed to be ("This is the dining room") and closer to what we actually need.

This is all AWESOME. But. I'm one of those people who collects things.

Oh, I pared down my collections by an impressive margin over the course of this year, but I come from a long line of antiquers and collectors, and there are some things that I just like too well to get rid of.

But with the reorganization, I had a lot fewer random surfaces to put things on. (Every thing is being actually used, so there's no room for useless stuff.) Luckily, the shop that I used to manage sold organization supplies,  so I at least had a pretty good store of knowledge regarding how to fix the problem. I decided to go with ledge shelves on the blank wall above my sewing chair. (I'd seen some gorgeous work with ledge selves on Pinterest...)

Ok. I spent a good chunk of my life promising people who shopped in my store that installing ledge shelves was SUPER easy. I was apparently very, very wrong. I purchased multiple shelves. I hung one, and pretty much gave up. (I decided I'd hang the rest "later.")


Here is the one shelf I got up. It can never come off the wall because the drywall behind it was basically destroyed in the process of hanging it. Also because I stripped a screw (Ok, when the directions say tighten with a screwdriver, DO NOT use a drill) so it will probably come out of the wall never.


The shelf in the context of the entire space. Having only one looked really pathetic.

Does hanging shelving count as making something? I am going to say yes. At any rate, it was hard and (I think) it resulted in something that looks nice.

I wish I could say that between applying the lessons that I learned fucking up the first one and the fact that I'd acquired a stud finder in the interim, this second go round went much more smoothly. Unfortunately, it did not. I screwed stuff up. I didn't really know what I was doing. I now have THREE shelves that can never come off the wall because there is evidence of extreme fuckery behind them.

There is another unfinished project hiding in this picture.

I think they look all right, though. Not, like, magazine perfect or anything, but I have a place for my Holt Howard figurines now, and wasn't that the point?

Again in context. The lamp is so ugly, but a very young me saved up the $45 to buy it, so I'm keeping it in honor of her belief that being pink made it really beautiful and special.

Aaron Swartz also wrote that most people have no idea how to do things right. I'm definitely one of those people. But he also said, "Usually, if you do you give your best shot at something, you'll do pretty well." (I think he was talking about internet startups and such as opposed to hanging shelves, but I'll take it.)







Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June 30, 2015

Discussed setting parameters and rules for creation/'making' at book club yesterday. Things like deciding to take a picture of yourself every Wednesday or whatever-whatever to force yourself into the habit of just doing the arty things that you're just not doing. S, who is probably the most accomplished of the lot of us when it comes to sticking to creative endeavors, said she preferred to think of such things as "prompts," and I thought there was some wisdom in that. You can take pride in rule breaking, but while prompts are fun to bend or twist, there's no emotional component to ignoring them that would make it tempting (or at least justifiable) to do so.


I've flirted with that sort of thing for this blog, seriously considering a few and going so far as to lay the groundwork for one (only to back way the fuck up when it went in a direction I didn't expect). The problem, I told the group, is that every idea I have sounds trite to me after I've thought about it for a few days. They were all like, "Duh. Did you not even listen to the assigned Ted Talks? You have to just do it anyway." And I guess they're right.


Anyway, the idea stayed at the front of my mind all day today, but every time I considered what my "rule" could be I got annoyed by the thought of all the unfinished projects that I have that don't fit under a larger umbrella "prompt." I decided that I should commit to finishing them before starting any other grand scheme and then realized that, duh again, that was kind of a rule in itself. So that's going to be my parameter for a while anyway. Believe me, there's plenty of content to be mined.


The obvious thing to have done first would have been to pull out the circle tree tapestry and finish the, like, three lines of stem stitch that I have left to do on the thing. It would provide a nice narrative structure to my writing so far. However, I conveniently-inconveniently left the guide for it in my sewing TRUNK which is still at the house (unlike my sewing BASKET which I moved to the condo right away) so that was a no-go.


I actually found "Oh tonight I can't because... " reasons for almost all of my works in progress, but I did have a skirt that I purchased at the thrift store in January with the intention of shortening and never did. It's a mid-calf length Sag Harbor thing, which sounds unpromising, but it was in the deep discount bin and I liked the pattern and fabric. (Fewer and fewer things at the thrift store are made of decent fabric, and this worries me. What will I wear when all that is left is disposable fast-fashion cast offs?)


Anyway, I don't know where the Sag Harbor line is originally sold, but it's fairly ubiquitous on thrift store racks, reliably both well made and frumpy. I pulled it out of the closet, put Welcome to Night Vale 70 parts A and B on my headphones (because I am NEVER going to have listened to those episodes often enough to satisfy my slashy little heart), and got to work.

I have a knee length skirt now! Yeah!


Please ignore the graininess and the fact that it took me and J exactly two weeks to get out of the New House excitement and back into the habit of leaving the drying rack up at all times and a bunch of guitars in the middle of the living room floor. Maybe taking a decent picture of this can be another unfinished project...


Let's add another random rule to my project and say that I have to do this once a week. We'll see where it goes.





Saturday, June 20, 2015

June 20, 2015

Moved back to the condo and spent the first week without internet thanks to a scheduling error with Time Warner on my part. (How frustrating. It was my own fault and so I was robbed even of indignation and the right to complain...) But, I'm back now!


I do have a longer post fermenting, with pictures and rambles and everything, but right now I just wanted to stop and notice how long its been since things like going grocery shopping and making lunch have made me happy. I just got back from the grocery store, and I am so, SO happy.


The home we found for my MiL is very different from the facility she had to move into when the doctors first confirmed that she could no longer live on her own. There are only 6 families, and last week the director scheduled a kind of board meeting of primary care givers, just to talk about how things are going, what concerns people have, and perhaps most importantly, what wisdom families of seasoned residents can offer to new families like myself and J. (Yeah, Corporate Nursing Home NEVER had anything like that, and anyway, the residents and staff turned over so quickly, it doesn't seem like there would have been a point.)


A refrain that came up over and over again was how hard it is to let go. How hard it is to 'leave them there.'


Maybe because we've experienced a very different, much less ideal assisted living situation, maybe because K is my partner's mother and not my own, maybe just because I was so, so tired... I haven't found it hard at all.


J has expressed similar thoughts, although in his mind they may be related to the fact that he is a Son and not a Daughter. Everyone else at the caregiver's meeting was a Daughter.


Regardless, I am coming back to simple things like putting together a small salad for lunch with new appreciation. I don't know if I should feel guilty for feeling so relieved, but I do feel SO relieved.

Friday, May 29, 2015

May 29

Missed my book club on Wednesday due to testing related exhaustion. Ugh. Plugging the word "circus" into a search engine supplies the definition, "a public scene of frenetic and noisily intrusive activity," and if that doesn't perfectly describe the end of grade testing cycle, then I don't know what does.

Our group was supposed to discuss Kim Werker's charge to go out on a "date" alone, which was sort of underwhelming an assignment for me as I do dinners and movies by myself all the time without thinking of it, and (did I mention?) I went to a freaking concert alone, so go me. However, this evening I did find myself briefly on my own in a public date space, and I didn't feel entirely comfortable or natural in the scene, so joining my group in spirit if not in person, I guess I'll talk about that a bit.



I made plans a while ago to meet D for an event at the art museum (Hell yes cocktails and crafts) this evening. Driving from my small town to The City during rush hour on a Friday afternoon seemed like a dicey proposition, so I left with way more time to spare than I actually needed and arrived at the museum an hour in advance of D. I wasn't too angsty about this since looking around art museums is a thing that I like to do, and I haven't been to our local one in years.



At first I didn't do a lot of nonsensical thinking. One of the first paintings I encountered was The Beheading of St. Catherine of Alexandria which married two of my favorite things -- excessive gold leaf and heads getting cut off. Mmm.... shiny AND gory....


As I wandered around though, the museum got more crowded. A band set up and started playing jazz-with-horns. Everyone who came in had really nice shoes. High heels with decorative wooden platforms and big buckle-y straps that hooked around the ankle. Bare legs all around. I had on tights and an old thrift store dress and I became very self conscious of being The Girl who was Alone and Looking at Art. Suddenly I couldn't shake the feeling that I was trying to star in a performance of myself, and not doing a very good job of it. I felt like a parody of a girl in a vintage dress at an art museum.


I stopped being able to enjoy the paintings and started worrying, "If I spend too long looking at one painting, then I'm just trying too hard to be a girl who comes to museums alone to gaze at Art. And if I just wander around, then CLEARLY I'm just here to be seen being here and not here to actually see anything." Such ridiculous dithering, and yet I could. not. stop.


Happily, D arrived very shortly after that crisis, and I was able to transition to the event where I had an AMAZING time which I will probably write about later.


 I've written before that I have a lot of hang-ups about the performance side of keeping this blog. There were definitely points in the fun part of our evening, especially when pictures were being taken, when I thought about how much I was going to enjoy it later when I was writing about what I was doing. But shouldn't the point of doing things just be the experience of doing them? This is something I struggle with a lot. I worry that this website is the equivalent of my self-conscious overdressed ass standing in the middle of a bunch of museum goers, thinking about how she looks and thinking that the only way to be genuinely herself is to not be thinking that. And yet still thinking of nothing else.



 














Sunday, May 24, 2015

I own no red clothing, and I kept wanting to fist bump the other few people who had done their best with purple.

The best thing about today's sermon (er... collect? homily? I am an Episcopalian by current practice, but a non-denominational "charismatic" protestant by upbringing, and there are times when I feel more adrift in the waters of our current church than J does, and he grew up without religion at all.) Anyway, the best thing about today's church service, which was outdoors on account of Pentecost, was the pinky fingernail sized frog that hopped along the edge of our picnic blanket. It was cute and fascinating! I've grown a lot in the time since I was a kid drawing on the back of my church bulletin, but I don't seem to have matured much in my ability to maintain focus on any kind of preaching.


Other good parts were the music, which was normal singing set to guitar rather than "chanting" led by piano and a cantor, and after church when there was a real church picnic, which I have not been to since I was such a young person and which provided all of the wondrous foods that seem exclusive to picnic lunches. (Oh three bean salad, how I love you! And cut up watermelon and baked beans and pimento cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off!)


At some point I will have to gather and organize my thoughts on the topic of Why It Is That I Go To Church In The First Place. Largely it's because I do have some vague sense that it is important to focus on living a life that is in line with one's values, and church seems like a good way to maintain that focus.


I started to fall out of non-denominational "charismatic" Protestantism at age 18 when I could no longer reconcile what I felt in my conscience to be true with what my church was telling me I should believe. I was at my friend L's house, and he had a painting on the wall that his boyfriend had done of the two of them in the bathtub together, L's arms around the artist. It was the sweetest, most romantic thing I had ever seen, so pure and good and right that it killed the last shreds of  the "love the sinner hate the sin" bullshit that I had been clinging to as a young Christian with gay friends.


That's why we're at least sort of Episcopalians now. Our congregation anyway is big on social justice, and I get a lot out of hearing the lessons I've known since childhood framed in a way that supports this kind of thinking. There are a lot of aesthetic, decorative things that I would prefer about a less ritualized church experience, but amid all of the incense and chanting here there's nothing that I am ashamed of being associated with.


So there are lots of good reasons for us to attend a weekly service. That said, the real reason that we started going was J's mom. It would be a nice routine for her and good for us to have the support of a church community. ("We pray for all in our congregation who care for family members with dementia," is included in the"cycle of prayer" email that goes out weekly, and I do feel something when I read it. Uplifted.)


K moved into her eldercare home last Tuesday. This was our first Sunday without her. Yeah, we still went.


Like I said, I am still considering and sorting out the reasons that I'm going to church again after a solid twenty years without it. Maybe it will just boil down to picnic lunches and Our Friends Are There. I don't think I'll ever feel like a Christian the way I did as a teenager again. But I do feel like there's something valuable in fellowship with a community of like-minded individuals and being reminded of things like the beatitudes and being stewards of creation.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My favorite is the one where she eats the whole cake.

The pool at my condo just opened for the summer. (In contrast, for the summer at my MiL's house, the palmetto bugs have come back out in force.) Even though J and I won't be moving back for four weeks at the earliest, I took a trip over there today just to get in to the water for a little bit. I sat in the sun reading Hyperbole and a Half until sweat was running down my back and I knew I'd be able to convince myself that it was hot enough to swim no matter how ridiculous-cold the water was.


The water was ridiculous-cold, and I waded out slowly like a wimp, listening to the kinder set make up the rules to their water-football game as they played it.


"Ok, starting now only throw it to a person."
"Ok, but starting now, right? That didn't count."
"Yeah, that didn't count, but now it does."
"Ok."


"No more jumping on people and wrestling them!"
"Unless the other person wants to."
"Well, yeah. Unless they want you to."


Spent about an hour floating and lazily paddling around in the deep end (out of the way of the football game, in case the 'throw it to a person' rule was suddenly revoked). Now my skin is tight, and I'm doubting the effectiveness of my sunscreen. Also, I smell like chlorine.


Also,  I am blissfully content. I'm hungry for signs and symbols that this year is at its end, and this definitely counted as one.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Napping would be the worst sin of all.

The worst part of weekends is that I stress out about the ways that I am NOT resting and recharging properly. All of my media serials (which is to say, three television shows and a podcast) have new episodes all at once, but I'm not watching (or listening to) any of them because that would be "wasting" my weekend. I am, however, sitting here on the internet, halfheartedly playing through a visual novel I've already completed twice as though that were a worthwhile use of my time.


And why do I have to use my time in a worthwhile fashion anyway? We're four weeks out from summer vacation, and I am exhausted. It's getting to the time of year where not just throwing a film on the Smartboard and calling it a day is an feat of incredible planning and fortitude. You'd think I'd allow myself to "just put on a movie" in my real life at least, but NO.


I have no real resolution to these thoughts. I have a feeling I'm going to post this for the sake of knowing that I've done so and then return to my listless sifting through of 'meaningful' activities that I have no desire to get down to. Gah.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Your heart refilled...

The circles on a grid sampler is slow going. Once the novelty of new stitches and yarn-instead-of-floss wore off, I started to find the coloring book quality of the project a little tedious. (I also finished my engaging plot-heavy audiobook and switched to The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, which I've read before and LOVE and RELATE TO, but will admit is light on the suck you in story side of things.)


Anyway, I don't like the idea of having given up on the project, so I picked it up this weekend and made a good deal of progress. I'm trying to remind myself of the reasons I started it. Learning new stitches was the main thing, and I've done that. Check out my French Knots and Chain Stitch, y'all.
 


Pretty inexpert actually...


There are a lot of things that I've realized I was doing wrong over the course of the project. Initially, I did the key in order, stitch by stitch and color by color. That's why you'll see that all of my Satin Stitches and Pinwheels are already filled in. Eventually, I reached a place where it made no sense to do the outside of a circle without having first done the middle, at which point I stopped and looked at the directions again and realized that I was supposed to go circle by circle. Dang. 

I'm not sure about the marks that my hoop is leaving. Am I doing it wrong? Will they come out? Can you iron this sort of thing? 

(Google solves all, and I just discovered that that answer to this problem is a product called Magic Sizing, which I am already well familiar with from my long ago days of wearing vintage dresses that I actually ironed.)

Anyway, expert or no, I have enjoyed the new stitches aspect of the project. I especially like chain stitch, which is mentally engaging enough that I can listen to music rather than books while doing it. (I confess, my enjoyment of music is too shallow for listening to it to be a primary activity. I need to be driving or cleaning or cooking, or, now, doing needlework in addition to keep from getting bored.) 

I'm obsessed with this song lately



I can't tell if I think its a sweet ode to the reality of long term relationships as opposed to the fantasy promised in novels and love songs OR if it's just some creepy stalker whining about being in the "friend zone."

Either way, "An ocean of whiskey and time..." Damn, that's pretty.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

I carried a watermelon.

I'm in the final quarter of my third year teaching. Although I still feel like a hopeless amateur, the contexts of my life as a teacher are becoming more and more familiar and comfortable. I used to stand at the front of my classroom, looking at the carpet with different primary colored squares, desks arranged into neat "pods," cubbies bursting with notebooks and papers, laminated posters of sentence starters for math journals and accountable talk written in my own still-shaky handwriting ... Sometimes, I kid you not, there'd even be an apple on my desk. I'd feel coldly out of place in these moments. Every detail so clearly spoke "Elementary School Classroom," and here I was, standing at the whiteboard with a marker in my hand, feeling not at all like the "Elementary School Teacher" that would complete the scene. It felt like I was in the middle of some elaborate playset, and if I could just close my eyes and remember hard enough, all the pretend would fall away and I'd find myself back in a "real" world  that was more suitable to the "real" me.

That doesn't happen as much anymore.

Yesterday (Friday) was a big day. J's band was playing for the first time in two years. I've mentioned some of the difficulties that we have getting out lately, so for him to have been able to attend a series of practices AND for us BOTH to be able to go out on the same night was a serious big deal.

The show was at a bar that he's been playing at since we started dating, 17 years ago, when I was only 21. If you want to talk about the "real" me in my "real" life, it doesn't get much more familiar than that booth at the front of the bar facing the right of the stage, where I've been sitting with different constellations of bandmember girlfriends (and boyfriends), acquaintances, and other hangers on for most of my adult life.

(The title of this post is what I would say to bartenders and sound people who, seeing me hanging around before sound check, would ask me if I was in the band. Really, all I carried were amps, and no one got the joke anyway.)

Friday also was the 5th grade dance at school. I'd kind of forgotten they were on the same day and ended up dashing from one event to the other.

At the dance, I jumped and bopped to the worst pop music in the world. I did "The Wobble." I raised my hands in the air and sang "Baby, you're a firework!" with crowds of ten year old girls. I clapped and stomped to We Will Rock You. I crowded around and applauded the groups of boys whose lessons at the local hip hop dance studio had clearly paid off.

At the bar, listening to some of my favorite music in the world, certainly made by my favorite person, I stood with my arms crossed, nursing a beer, and nodding at only the best, best moments of the songs.

The bar felt right and familiar, but these days, now, things that are vastly different and unlike anything that my past self who spent every weekend nursing beers at that bar would have been able to imagine also feel right and familiar.

(Oh, and these days, I have students create my posters. My handwriting never did start to look right on an anchor chart.)


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It's like middle aged livejournal in here!

I'm thinking a lot today about engaging with my own faults. Confronting my poorer traits instead of shying away from them. This is counter to my usual strategy for dealing with feelings of shortcoming. Normally I try to protect myself from any perception that I am deeply flawed. At some point, this self-shielding became defined as healthy behavior for me (It's important to have good self-esteem, right?) but I don't think it really is.

There's a science fiction short story, and I'm going to be utterly obnoxious in referencing it because I can't remember anything close to its title or author, and it's shelved somewhere at my condo too far away from me right now to look up. I'm going to talk about it anyway because it is an important reference point for me when I think about my own insecurities.

In this short story, there's a boy who has some dread disease of the brain. Miraculously, though, he gets an experimental treatment and lives. Unfortunately, his miracle cure leaves him completely unable to experience happiness. The part that is important for me is when the author describes the interactions that the boy (er.... man, at this point) has with others. Because he cannot process any positive feelings, all of his conversations with other people are tinged with a sense of disapproval and the perception that he is disliked. This struck me because OH! That's like me! Not all the time, of course, but sometimes I feel as though EVERYONE, from cashier to confidant, disapproves of me and is annoyed by my presence.

In the midst of these feelings, I cannot tell if they are periods of clouded vision or moments of clarity. Because I am too far down into it to refute the criticism I perceive at every turn, I turn to other strategies for preserving my sanity and self-esteem. Usually, I make plans to FIX and IMPROVE and THEN, once I have stopped "being horrible" or having qualities that inspire criticism, everything will feel ok.

(And when she is perfect, then she will be loved.)

(When this doesn't work, I retreat deeply into fantasy until it goes away.)

The problem with this is that no amount of self-improvement has helped, and even if I could become perfect, I suspect that this feeling would still come on sometimes, like a storm or the flu. Nothing I've ever tried in the past has made this cycle STOP. I've been able to disappear into myself until it goes away, but it always comes back.

Also, I ...ah... will never be perfect.

(This took me a while to accept, actually. Asked to solidify my goals for therapy once, I said, "I would like to know that the voices in my head that tell me I'm not good enough are wrong, and if they're not, I'd like to become good enough to silence them.")

So what do I mean by engaging with flaws, and how would that help this situation?

My real issue isn't that I'm not thin enough or pretty enough or good enough a teacher (or engaging enough a conversationalist, interesting enough a person, creative enough an artist, productive enough a worker...). My real issue is that I crave approval and affirmation to an extent that isn't healthy.

Which is a hard thing to admit.

And I think it leads me not only to the above-described blue periods, but also to a spirit of unhealthy competition. (Perfect = The Best at Everything.) This in turn leads to being impatient with and critical of everyone I encounter, even as I imagine that they are criticizing me. (I become mean and jealous, oversensitive to small slights, and generally nasty.) It sucks, but these states of mind make me doubly wretched -- both self-loathing and hateful of others.

Since I'm writing about it, I guess it goes without saying that I have been feeling like this for a few days now. My methods for dealing with it are as ineffective as ever, and, like I said, I am a miserable person in this state, as hateful as I feel hated.

The impatience with and lack of compassion for others is actually more of flaw than any of the failings I feel so painfully at these times, but it's the personal imperfections that I always choose to focus on. I'd like to change that.

(The desire for approval is even more of a problem than that, but I don't have a strategy for dealing with it right now.)

Inspired by the genuine and affectionate (if na├»ve) heroine of my current gothic novel, I decided today that every time I felt cross and impatient with someone, I'd stop and think about what I like about them. It sounds affected and utterly Pollyannish, but it kind of worked. I stop focusing on MY need for approval and love and start trying to just give it instead.

Does any of this make sense? It all follows logically in my head.

1. Before, when I got lost in the spiral of self-loathing, I'd try to fix the things I hated about myself at the time. Superficial things like my looks and my manners.

2. The trouble isn't those things though. Much worse is the way that I am when I feel this way. I feel miserable, and I think miserable things. I think that's where the spiral comes from.

3. I'm not yet ready to address the source (desperate need for approval), but at least I can change my miserable thoughts, which is a long way from plan A, which was telling myself, "just be perfect, dumb bitch."

(This should really be in a personal journal and not online, but I just typed it all here, so... here it is.)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I'm not going to live my life on one side of an ampersand...

Listening to all of the rockingest Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer songs to get myself hyped for this concert which Yes! I did buy tickets to, and oh my goodness it's in like, two hours and in another city and at a venue I have never been to...

AND! It's the first day back from spring break! AND I kind of thought I could be "sick" tomorrow, but I forgot that it's an Important Meeting Day that I Can't Miss. So, No!

But I love I love this music, and in listening to it have not only gotten excited about the show, but have also been inspired to change from work clothes into a dress and boots and glasses that, by virtue of being brown instead of pink, are slightly more rock and slightly less elementary school teacher.

*********

Typed the above before heading out to the show, then realized that it was time to go and dashed without posting.

I had a great time and didn't feel awkward. The venue was intimate, and Amanda Palmer was as charming and engaging as I have always found her in the past. If I hadn't had to work the next day, I'd have waited in the autograph line that was already filling as I slipped out toward the end of the encore.

*********

The day after the concert, we got news that a spot has opened in the memory care facility we've been holding out for (it is SO much nicer and more personal than any of the others), so I will be back to having regular company for shows and other outings. Although I am incredibly grateful to be at the end of this stint as elder-caretakers that has kept one or both of myself and J tied to the house at all times, it is also nice to think that I have gotten a little bit of practice at being a 1 instead of a 1/2.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On cuteness, youth, and glitter make-up.

The performance aspect of blogging worries at me. I want to do things genuinely and for their own sake, and it troubles me when I start to think in terms of Can I and Will I Maybe Write About This? It seems to dilute the intention behind and experience of... doing anything really.

But, on the other hand, it's kind of lonely here in my temporary basement apartment with no one to share things with but J. Not to say that I don't have friends that I can share things with, but it feels obnoxious to constantly crow 'oohh... I made a thing, want to see?' Or to hold forth on the topics that I've been turning over in my head and/or diary. At least with a blog I can sort of casually leave these things in a visible place, and people can look at them or not as they so choose. At any rate, it frees me from the worry that I'm boring people.

This next bit is of the holding forth variety. I'll just leave it here.

****

This is Barbara H. Donnelly.  As you can see she is (was?) "one of America's foremost experts in Needlepoint and Crewel Work." The used bookstore that my friend D and I visited last weekend keeps its craft books in the very, very back, and we almost missed them, and then when we did find them, it seemed almost not worth it because they were mostly old and uninteresting. BHD's The Crewel Needlepoint World was definitely old and, from a 'stuff I could actually use to improve my skill at needlepoint' standpoint, fairly uninteresting. (Though its promise that, "Vests that showcase his hobbies and interests are sure to be a favorite with your man!" was pretty funny.) But I needed to own Barbara H. Donnelly's picture and bio.

It's important to me to be sincere and earnest, and I am afraid that someone will read my appreciation here as ironic or snarky. It's not! I mean, I get that on one level her frosted white eyeshadow  and windswept helmet hair is funny, but I'm not writing about her right now because I want people to laugh at her, even gently.

So, why does she appeal to me, then?

Let's talk about cuteness. My book club is working through Kim Werker's  Make It Mighty Ugly, and this week we got to the activity that seems to be the centerpiece of the author's philosophy. (We also got to Skype with her, and that was pretty cool, and you can read about it here.)

The exercise asked us to make dolls or creatures or whatever-whatever that were "ugly." Which of course leads into a discussion of what exactly IS ugly? The issue I ran into was that any plan I made toward ugliness evolved pretty quickly into something cute. After all, ugly can be pretty cute. (Uglydolls are a whole thing that succeed because of this fact.)

I REALLY like cute things. I really like Sailor Moon and cakes with sprinkles and vintage floral EVERYTHING. I wear glitter nailpolish and flowers on my head.

I am almost forty.

 I'm very interested in the idea of what makes a proud and glad mature life. Not that I think I'm so very old at Almost Forty. I get it; I get it. Forty is Still Young. I've been offending people by saying that I'm middle aged for almost ten years now, and likely people will continue to be offended by my saying so for the next ten. But what is so wrong with being middle aged?

Is middle age just the admitted end of cute? Eff it all, but maintaining a youthful look and personality is HARD, and I'm not sure I think it's worth it. As much as I adore everything pink and and pretty, there's a part of me that longs to be free of the compulsion to physically BE that myself.

Imagine being able to happily own and wear cute stylish things while not being cute or hip! Imagine settling comfortably into the figure your body wants to cut (for me, more and more solid with each passing year. I seem to have skipped that adorable alterna-plump stage and gone straight to matron.) Barbara represents for me this idea of an engaging, happy, and genuinely attractive life beyond the glamour of youth. Fuck yeah frosted eyeshadow! Fuck yeah North Suburban Embroiderer's Guild of Illinios! Fuck yeah cute mustard woolen turtleneck with a thimble brooch!

I first started thinking along these lines when I saw the Harry and Edna pictures at the Intuit Gallery in Chicago. The people in the pictures were so comfortably and happily old! And yet still festively dressed and doing fun things. Edna's dresses were amazing, and in spite of her apparent wealth, you didn't get the sense that it would have ever even occurred to her to go to a gym or salon to remain thin and blonde forever and ever.

Also, I know that Edna and Barbara are a good deal older than I am. Having not had children, I think I feel more of a kinship with empty nesters than I do with women my own age. I'm not trying to make anyone feel old before their time. I just want it to be ok for me to wear glitter nailpolish and party dresses and to be pleased with myself even though I grow (by many people's standards) frumpier and less exciting all the time.

Are cuteness and ugliness polar opposites? Or is there some place where cuteness and not-conventionally-pretty-ness meet and become even more fabulous? Edna and Barbara live there. Several of the dolls we made at our book club/craft night do too. I'll admit that I'm scared to go there now, but I think it sounds like a lovely, lovely place.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cakein' 2: Electric Boogaloo

For reasons that were equal parts wanting to master that damn frosting and just plain wanting more cake, I made another angel food cake yesterday. I left it in the oven just that much longer, let the sugar syrup for the frosting get just that much hotter, and in spite of my really strong memory that swears the top of an angel cake pan used to fit over the top of a bottle, I discovered that it hangs upside down just fine if you just set it on a ramekin. No balancing required.

Awesome enough to warrant sprinkles!

The takeaway here is obviously Make More Cake. Make lots of cake. All in the name of improved confidence in the kitchen and in general.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fractions are hard, so you get some characters who are 4/6 Shepherd, 2/6 Huskie, and 1/6 White Wolf. No dog is a mutt.

Three of my students shared their coauthored fictional dog universe with me yesterday. Damn, if I’m not inspired by that fine bit of paracosming. They have many chapters of the first novel written, as well as a slide presentation. I won't share too many details. The name for their universe is pretty clever for being invented by ten year olds, and I don't want to spoil things in case they're poised to become the next Erin Hunter style collective.
There are currently 37 slides in their presentation of the various characters in this universe, detailing each dog's family history, personality, and magic powers. (Examples of Dog Powers: “Fire and Dreams.” “Liquids and Shapeshifting.” “Darkness and Gadgets.”) Many of these descriptions hint at elaborate plot points. (Woodsmoke’s pup Marceline has a few character traits that are delineated “After Curse.” Oooh...) 
I love that carefree, unselfconscious creativity.
I am fortunate enough to have a friend who I have been collaboratively storytelling with for years (We call it "play by email Dungeons and Dragons," but it's much more like writing than gaming), but we don’t indulge in lengthy slide-shows about all of our characters and the intricate tapestry that is their histories. But man, wouldn’t it be fun to, though?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Eat them up, yum!

In a moment of unwisdom today, I taught my students the roly poly fish heads song. Sometimes you're pouring little piles of goldfish crackers onto napkins and these things just happen.

(Yes, I am a highly trained professional educator. And like most in my line of work I spend a great deal of time dishing out class snack, opening Go-Gurt tubes, and putting newly-lost teeth in ziplock baggies. I teach 5th grade.)

(Did you know that the fish heads song has a whole bit about drinking cappuccino with oriental women? I didn't until I played it in its entirety on the Smart Board this afternoon. The lyrics passed uncommented on.)

Perfectionism and teaching never go really well together, and sometimes they clash in ways that make me want to crawl under a bed and hide for the rest of my life.

(When was the last time I fit under a bed? Do you remember what it was like down there? Dark and quiet and smelling like your pets?)

Today was the day my kids began drafting the 'informed opinion pieces' that are supposed to be the final product of this district mandated writing unit that takes months and months to complete, and at least last year did ultimately result in some pretty fine fifth grade writing. Which is a good thing because it is a LONG unit filled with recursive reading of challenging texts, and though the topic is engaging and the kids actively participate in the discussions and activities, they tend to come away from the experience believing that they hated every minute of it. When my students from last year drop by (which they do fairly often as their middle school is right next door), they see the anchor charts on the wall and shudder "Oh no. You're doing that unit?" (It doesn't kill them, and it does make them stronger, so...?)

Anyway, you know the concept of the terrible first draft? Imagine feeling personally responsible for 25 terrible first drafts. I am not actually personally responsible for them, of course. They reflect the students' growth and effort as opposed to mine, and I can no more take credit for the incomplete sentences and half-baked ideas being scratched out today than I can for the beautiful final drafts my kids submitted last year. It's about them. Not me.

I think I do an ok job of keeping my neurotic anxiety to myself in the classroom. You should hear how chill and promising that things will get fixed and made better later I am with anxious writers. (I never take that attitude with myself.) Then I go home and want to cry because apparently none of my students know how to write a sentence.

It was the first day of writing. I need to chill.

***

It was my birthday last Wednesday, so I made myself a cake. Damn skippy you can make your own birthday cake if the best cake in the world is your grandma's recipe and no one you know (including yourself) knows how to make it. I thought learning it would be a great gift to myself.

Um... in spite of my best efforts, it did not look much like my grandma's cake when I finished with it

J said I should take a picture of it, and at first I resisted. It was UGLY! My "fluffy white frosting" did not set right and was more runny than fluffy. Also, I might have taken it out of the oven a minute or two too soon, and I DEFINITELY had slapstick misadventures trying to get the hot angel food cake pan inverted onto a bottle in a timely fashion, so it collapsed a little.

It tasted good, though, and I am trying to be more at one with first drafts of all sorts, so here it is.

Delicious! Droopy, but delicious.

 
 Notice! It's half gone! Because it's delicious! Maybe by this time next year I'll master the art of tasty AND pretty, but if I have to have one or the other, I suppose I got the better of the two.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Undone

I'm pulling out more stitches than I'm leaving in in the circle tree sampler. At this rate, I'll never finish, which isn't so bad since I listen to audiobooks while I work, and I'm in the middle of a good one. (Among Others by Jo Walton. The reader has a great Welsh accent.)

Walked to the thrift store this afternoon and was pleased to see that they'd put summer clothes out. Took that as a cue to pull down the basket of summer things I'd found over the course of the winter (our local thrift shop is the only one that pulls its clothes by season) and hang them in closet. Looking forward to wearing new clothes this week, but still feeling a pretty strong case of Sunday blues.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Within the lines

According to leader of my book club, it is an impressive thing when I toss out the directions to something and try to do it on my own.  She mentioned a time that I'd given up on the hopelessly complicated pattern to the mandarin collar on a dress I was making. I knew what mandarin collars looked like, and it was pretty clear how the pieces could fit together to make one. It was not at all clear how the directions even involved the collar shaped pieces, much less how they would all come together. So I sewed the thing in the way that seemed obvious and ignored the directions that I didn't understand. The collar worked.

Tossing out the directions and doing my own thing is definitely a pattern of mine when it comes to creative endeavors, but I don't know that I would categorize it as one of my positive traits. Though the collar was successful, the dress itself, and the costume it was intended to be a part of, was a disaster. Definition slapdash. And I think that's true of a lot of things that I make.

Not that I make a lot of things.

I am trying to do more though. That's part of what the book club is about. We're working through Kim Werker's Make It Mighty Ugly toward the end of 'conquering our fear of failure and creating our own masterpieces.' Or something. (I have not conquered my fear of failure. Or my suspicion that my attempts at art are not worth the effort.)

Anyway. Directions. Tossing them out. Going it alone and all that.

The "art" I do mostly is needlework. I draw stuff on cloth and trace it with the one stitch I know. (Beautiful stem stitch which curves so nicely.) These projects are limited by my drawing skill, which has never progressed beyond almost-but-not-quite there where proportions are concerned. I've been using a light box and working from photos, and that's a little better.

Anyway, I just finished my most recent needlework drawing. It's a portrait of my favorite singer, taken from a picture of him wearing all white and angel wings.

Andy Bell is kind of my spirit animal.
Or maybe my final transformation -- the Eternal Sailor Moon of my personality.

Anyway, so I'm embarrassed to use that as a contrast to what I'm going to talk about next because it feels in that case like I'm setting up my silly stitched drawings as something Good to counter the Bad that is coming. But anyway.

One of my favorite moments in literature is in Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebeard. A friend asks the main character, an abstract expressionist painter, why his art is "art." He says something to the effect of, "Because if I wanted to, I could do this," and sketches a perfect likeness of his friend.
 
One of my biggest fears about things that I make is that I haven't reached technical mastery in a way that makes wandering away from conventions acceptable.
 
Somehow, I got it into my head that knowing more stitches would count toward the kind of proficiency I think I need to have. (I think I am going in that direction because the alternative is to become better at drawing and that is a prospect that is intimidating. It sounds hard.) Anyway, though I don't find working from other people's designs very satisfying, I decided to buy a kit toward the end of broadening my repertoire of stitches.

I chose this design.  

Dimensions Needlecrafts Crewel Embroidery Tree
 
 
I thought it was pretty.

I mistakenly thought it looked easy, too.

I usually use a pretty tightly woven fabric for embroidery, even though that's "wrong." In my experience, it makes curved lines come out better. Did you notice that the above design is all circles? Or that the fabric provided is a heavy and with a low thread count, the sort that is usually used in embroidery? Have you ever tried to make a bunch of circles on a grid? I had not.

My efforts are embarrassing so far.



Um....



This is a football. Not a circle.
 
 
 
Back to the original point of this post though. I suck at following directions. Looking at my own work compared to the professional photo, I now see that I did my green satin stitched circle all wrong and will have to pull it out, along with a couple of my early small brown circles. I find it frustrating, but I think it will be good for me in the end. You only get better at things by sucking first.
 
I am definitely sucking first, so I guess I'm on the right path?
 
 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cleaning

J and I are in a unique situation this year. We temporarily don't live in the condo that has been our home for 12 years. We'll go back once the obligations that are keeping us away are taken care of.

(It's a long and complicated story involving parents and their growing need for care. Or perhaps it's a short and simple story that happens to be too sad to fully recount. Once J's mom is settled somewhere permanent with the proper level of assistance, we'll move back into our home and sell hers.)

As much as possible, we're trying to treat this extended vacation as a unique opportunity to evaluate the way we live from a more objective vantage point and make potentially huge changes without the hassle of living in the middle of these transitions as they happen.

I've read Marie Kondo, and while I'm not completely sold on her method (I'm sorry, but the clutter of too many books actually does leave me joy, so where does that leave us now?), it has inspired me and J both to begin scything through the unmanageable piles of crap that have accumulated in the name of our collections and obsessions. I thought mine were clothes and books, mainly, with a secondary helping of craft things. I've radically pared down the mess (while leaving plenty of books to cozily crowd every shelf in the house), and I decided to spend today addressing the craft supplies.

What I realized, as I ruthlessly tossed generous lengths of perfectly good fabric, jars of glitter (but you love glitter!), strands of beads purchased on sale because BEADS! FOR CHEAP! and other things that I might have some day made something with (but didn't), was that my real problem is ephemera. Memorabilia. I've kept every diary, every birthday card I've received, and every notebook paper drawing anyone has ever made for me since I was in high school if not earlier. Photographs. God, photographs. Sketchbooks. Schoolwork. Letters. I used to have pen pals in high school. So many giant storage bins filled with paper.

What am I going to do with all of it?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

"But... you want to go."


That was my partner J's response to my answer for why I was skipping an upcoming concert --  "Nobody wants to go."

Normally J and I would go together, but the timing doesn't work out this year.

Anyway, the concert. I'm a big fan of Amanda Palmer, a fairly polarizing singer. "Hard to casually enjoy or dislike," says one critic, and I'm in the not-at-all-casual enjoyment camp. I think she rocks, and I connect to her audacity, defensiveness, and tendency to fuck up in public. (I am aware of the criticism regarding her entitlement, and I think it's fair, but I appreciate her public vulnerability and, at the end of the day, I just really like her music.) I've been to all of her local shows since The Dresden Dolls and loved each one, though the most recent one was slightly diminished by the friend who invited herself along and then proceeded to post openly derisive commentary to social media throughout the show. (That was at the height of the not-paying-musicians-even-though-she-made-a-million-dollars mess. Again, not excusing AP...)

I did not ask that friend if she'd go with me to this show, but I did ask a few others. ONE casual acquaintance said he'd like to go but didn't have the money. Everyone else had issues with her personally and wouldn't consider it. It's fair; she's that kind of public figure.

But anyway, I put this concert out of my mind because it didn't look like I'd find company.

"So you'd rather not go to the show than go alone?" Asked J, and ... damn. I hadn't considered it that way.

I am great alone diner and alone movie goer, but I've never been to a show by myself. There are other factors to consider - it is on the expensive side, AND it's in a work week, AND it's in a work week when there's another work night event that I want to go to where I might possibly have company. BUT, do I want to miss one of my favorite singers? Not really.

This blog is going to be (I hope) about happiness and reconnecting to it. The title and other quotes come from a student's "analysis" of Cinderella. (English is her second language, hence the irregular syntax, which I thought made the sentiments sound even more beautiful.)  Of course, I don't believe in anything as simplistic as "Because she behaved and wasn't rude, something happened really amazing to Cinderella." but I do think we have more of a hand in our happiness than I've been acting like I do lately. And even though it's dorky (and not very Amanda Palmer-y, actually) I totally believe that it is better to be kind and cheerful than otherwise.

I haven't decided whether to buy one single ticket to this show or not. But I'm excited by the possibility, and I want to do more things that make me feel excited.