Thursday, May 31, 2012

Making art my life

"Show a little inspiration, show a little spark."

So I know all of you are waiting to find out. Did my muse return or she still missing in action? Frankly, the jury is still out on that one. I did make beads today. I even made a new variation on an old style that I think may be a winner, as long as I don't run out of Dark Silver Plum and Goldstone shards. So it wasn't torture but some of the joy was a bit forced.

Just for a little extra self-flagellation, I decided to try blowing shards again. Fail! And now my work table and floor is covered with cellophane-thin fragments of glass. I also had a first. A hot piece of glass popped off a rod and onto my Birkie, where I stood on it, managing to simultaneously burn and cut myself. But I finished the bead I was working on before I removed the piece of glass from my toe.

It rained while I was working and I thought about using that as an excuse to call it quits. There was thunder but no lightning, Well of course there was lightning somewhere, just not close enough for it to mess with the power. And the rain did make it cooler for a while. I'm all about sunshine but I admit I feel a little bit exultant when the sun hides behind the clouds when I am working in the summertime.

The next three days are break days for me. Tomorrow I have errands. Have my car serviced. I'm 500 miles or so past 60K. Even though I have lived in Sugar Land for more than 5 years, I still go back to Fast Lube on Jones Road, a mere 25 miles from home, because I had my car serviced there for 19 years. A stop at Ulta because I have 3 coupons, to stock up on cheap bath salts and ponytail elastics that I use to bundle my glass because they don't turn into cement like rubber bands do when stored in a Texas garage. A stop at the shop that carries my beads because the owner has made me a mini mobile with some of the bells and elephants that I scored for her on ebay. And then T.J. Maxx is right on the way home.

I did sin a little bit at T.J. already this week. We're going to the wedding this weekend and somehow I have nothing to wear. At least nothing I want to wear. I have all my work clothes, and I could probably pull something together because no one is going to be paying attention to my attire anyway. But I really need to just do a closet purge because all those work clothes have nothing but bad associations for me. For a long time I had been buying nothing that I couldn't picture myself wearing in my post work life, but as it turns out, that strategy was flawed. I just don't ever want to wear those clothes again.

So I got a skirt and two tops and a little sweater jacket thing that is long and swingy and fun and hides the fact that I've temporarily misplaced my waistline. And while I was there I bought a couple of cat bowls because I am addicted to themm as they are so useful for holding the beads that migrate all over the house. And also because I am clumsy and cat bowls, along with dinnerware items, tend to have their lives shortened when in proximity to me. But you can never have too many cat bowls or pencil holders, in my world view.

I also bought 4 insulated mugs for taking coffee in the car because I just couldn't decide between purple, red, blue and green. Purple for me, red for Neil, I could have stopped there. But they were $4.99 and I can never find nice ones and these were nice ones. Even the cashier liked them and said she needed to get one herself and I hope she didn't hear me when I mumbled that, I think I got the last ones. And I got a display rack for my beaded keys for my show this weekend.

So that was the total damage, and the cashier asked me, as they do every time, if I want to open a T.J. account and get 10% off and I always say no thanks because I get mileage on my credit card and I figure I'll wait until I buy something really expensive. So I'm not sure why I asked how long the application would take. The answer is, in case you are wondering, not very long at all. She punched my social and my driver's license number into the register and asked me what my income was. I said I didn't have one, so I'm not sure what she punched in for that but as quick as you can say sucker I was approved. I'll probably cancel the card after I pay the first bill and after I spend just a little more money so that I can get the $10 rebate when you hit $200.

So T.J. tomorrow, maybe, if everything runs right on time. Last stop will be the Stafford Center to do the setup for my weekend show. I mostly like to scope out my space and put down my tablecloths and some of my display pieces and then bring the beads on Saturday morning when Neil will be home to help me portage. The show runs through Sunday, which gives me a very legitimate bead break and with a little bit of luck, some good reasons to make more beads and some idea of what the bead buying public is buying this summer.

I did some thinking today, about how being a bead maker somehow defines me, and what exactly would I be if I didn't make beads. For the last years of my career and even for some of the ones that preceded them, I did not identify myself with my work. I'm a writer but I wasn't working as a writer and being a compliance specialist had not one damn thing to do with who I am. I may not always know exactly who I am, but I always definitively know who I am not.

And now, now I am living my dream of making art my life. Which is somehow ironic because those interest inventories that I took in college when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life predicted that my career preference most closely aligned with the interests of those working as artists. Probably because I checked sleeping late and wearing blue jeans every day and not ever having to have performance evaluations. Sad to say, the tests didn't take into account that I can't draw or paint and my 20 year old self could not see past those parameters when confronted with the career choice of artist. Which is how I ended up in law school, but that is another post.

Back to the present, I will just have to defer how I would define a non-bead-making me, because I am pretty sure I am nowhere close to being done with lampwork. After all, I have 300 lbs. of glass waiting to be melted.

"Ever evolving, ever expanding, ever adventurous and torturous; but never done." Alanis Morissette

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hitting that wall

"Let the river take it all away."

Today for the first time in more than four years I took a breath. Oh I know, I've been inhaling and exhaling all that time. But this was different.

I first picked up a mandrel and would liquid glass around it on March 2, 2008. And since then, I have been consumed, driven, to make beads every chance I got. And since I was a member of the employed up until July 29, 2011, that meant evenings, weekends, stolen sick days, holidays. Always juggling my sacred bead time with family time. I pretty much gave up everything else, volunteering at the SPCA, going to the movies, reading.

I'm so grateful to my husband, who, as he said, understands passion. Although perhaps he has been a bit of, um, an enabler, because while I vacillate over whether or not to buy $100 worth of glass, he is spending large multiples of that amount on his own passion. Which is part of the reason I have something like 300 lbs. of glass out in my garage studio. And it could be more but I'm not weighing it. I don't want to know.

In the beginning I bought glass by the rod, in samplers and at times a whole 1/4 of a lb. Nowadays I almost never buy less than 1/2 lb. of anything and if I'm pretty sure I will like it, or know I do, then 2 lbs. makes me feel like I have enough that I can actually melt some without fear of running out. Some colors, such as Opal Yellow and Silver Pink, I might have as much as 5 lbs. on hand and I have anxiety if I get below that threshold. And if you added up all the different shades of pink glass alone, I suspect we are talking about 50 lbs. Well, there are a lot of shades of pink. And it is my favorite color.

But about that breath. For some reason I always seem to know what I want to melt next and even as I spin one bead my mind is racing ahead to what I am going to do with the next bead. Or ten. I also tend to get obsessed with a design. The day I made my first fish bead I made eleven. For a while it was cats, Then owls, because people thought my cats looked like owls, so why not give them wings and beaks? And then there was the goddess addiction. I bit the bullet and finally made one and the next thing I knew I was cranking them out in every color. With tattoos. With trailing vines and flowers. Draped in shards.

And I learned something about goddess beads. People don't buy them. At least not mine. Some people actually are offended by them. Bead porn means something else to lampworkers, but a shop that carries my beads has heard comments along the lines of obscenity and perversion. The proprietor's response was, then I guess you won't be going to the fine arts museum any time soon. Or Florence. Classic.

So I lost my interest in goddesses a  hundred or so in, and now I have all these beautiful beads that I can't sell and that by even offering them for sale, I risk tainting my other beads because of my perceived nefarious aesthetic vision. And I can't donate them to Beads of Courage, or give them as bonus beads with purchases. So I will take them to the Gathering for swapping with other bead makers, who have the good taste to appreciate the human form.

Lately I've gone back to making giant florals. I made florals, then didn't make florals for a long time, then felt like making them again. And when I get on a kick, I have no problem with spending 20 minutes on a bead, garaging it and making the same style again. And again. There are always creative differences, colors, layers, vines, no vines, shards, no shards, murrini, no murrini. And when I am ready for a change of pace, I make one of my signature silver glass beads that provide me endless satisfaction and a jewel-toned array of colors.

Oh sure, sometimes I take mental inventory of my actual bead inventory, which somehow migrates into just about every empty space in the house. Nature abhors a vacuum, truer words were never spoken. And I beg the question, what the hell am I thinking, why am I making so many, many beads. Because the call of the torch is strong. And it is the journey. I love melting glass. Love love love it.

Except today I hit a wall. A wall where I didn't know what I wanted to make next. Where I had to talk myself into keeping going instead of talking myself into stopping. I've hit a rut before, but never a wall. Where the thought of making yet another giant floral had lost it's appeal, the bloom was off the rose so to speak. So I made some spacers until I had used up the mandrels on my bench. And shut it down. For today anyway.

And who knows, maybe tomorrow I will wake up with visions of sugar plums as interpreted in hot glass art. More likely than not, my mind will once again overflow with ideas for new and better beads. Maybe I will finally crack out that borosilicate glass that I have been afraid to work with, mostly because I fear I will like it, and then what am I going to do with 250 lbs. of soft glass. But one way or another, I expect I will get back on the silicon dioxide horse. I breathe, therefore I bead. I bead therefore I breathe. And after all, tomorrow is another day.

"Now we're back in the fight, we're back on the train, yeah, back on the chain gang." Chrissie Hynde

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Silent Treatment

"You and me of the 10,000 wars."

Just yesterday, my husband and I were talking about how compatible we are. He even gave me a list of the good things about me, how I give him space, especially when he comes home from work, his will to live sapped, when all he wants to do is sit in front of the TV with his mouth open and drink chocolate milk. Nesquik,  his drug of choice. He also said that I am good at amusing myself.

True dat, as Veronica Mars would say if she was here and real and not just a character in a long-ago cancelled television drama. I am easily amused, which is a good thing, because my spouse is a Type A workaholic who takes about one day off every fortnight. He also said I laugh at things that would not have pleased the previous regime.

I accept him as he is because I got him this way. But I do understand that things might have been different if we were raising baby twins together, so I don't blame the previous regime for not wanting to be a married single mom. And having one broken marriage under my own belt, I know that when you have crossed that point of no return, nothing the other person says is funny, no matter how funny it is.

I like to think I have grown to the point that I know what really is important and what is just background noise, so it is unusual that we mixed it up a bit tonight. And while I don't believe that love means never having to say I'm sorry, I do know that love forgives and that we both immediately regretted the moment although neither of us wanted to be the first to admit it.

To set the scene, I was crying mad because I had just found out that a glass order I placed on April 30, the last day of a sale, for $300 worth of glass that I really wanted, was not received by the vendor, apparently due to a hiccup on the vendor's website. And the vendor's attitude was, sorry but there is nothing we can do about it. Naturally the vendor is the only U.S. distributor of some of the glass, and has me over a barrel if I still want it. Which I am pondering.

I had barely hung up the phone when my husband got home to change clothes and have some chocolate milk before going out to play softball. He listed to my story, said some appropriate things, and then did something utterly audacious. He changed the subject. He started to talk about coins he is watching on ebay, which is something he talks about, oh, on average, all the time, and I said something like, "you have a one-track mind." And instead of laughing, he got up and left the room. Pointedly.

Funny how silence can shout so loudly. He went to change, which always takes him forever because I think he reads a chapter of a book every time he goes into the changing room. I amused myself (easily) until he came out and got a glass and a spoon and a gallon of milk and sat down at the kitchen table with his Quik. OK, two can play that game. I got up and went upstairs. He caved. He asked, "how is Digna?" which was code for "I want to break the silence and be friends again." "Fine," I called, in no uncertain terms. Digna is the housekeeper.

I knew he wouldn't leave without saying goodbye, and he didn't, and I did say that I was sorry he got mad at me. Which is tantamount to an apology that is sincere but unapologetic. And by the time he gets home, all will be well again, barring the possibility that I will take a bath and be in bed with the lights out.

This wasn't the blog post I meant to write tonight. I've recently become a follower of Kelle Hampton and her blog, Enjoying the Small Things. Kelle chronicles the game-changing diagnosis of her newborn second daughter Nella with Down Syndrome, in her blog and in her book Bloom, which has just hit the bookstores. With evocative words and photographs, Kelle bears witness to the fact that life is both hard and amazing, and that by looking harder for the beauty, the more places you are likely to find it.

One of Kelle's themes is that we all are more alike than different, and this week she challenged her readers with these questions: "Have you found beauty in the unexpected? Has life taken you on a different path than you envisioned? What have you learned from it?" She invited us to tell our stories. In 300 words or less.

I gave this a lot of thought and actually sat down to write my story, but by the time I had edited it to 300 words (exactly), I realized I could not tell it properly in 300 words. That was going to be my blog post tonight. But since I have already used something like 850 words, I will save it for a rainy day. Or for tomorrow, it could happen.

I have been reading some of the stories written by others (many of whom apparently can't count words) and it does make my story look more like I have always lived a charmed life. And in many ways I have. One of the things my mom used to say is that if people put their dirty laundry out on the line, people would take their own dirty laundry back in. Better the ring-around-the-collar you know, etc.

"After the battle and we're still around, everything once up in the air has settled down, sweep the ashes let the silence find us. A moment of peace is worth every war behind us." The Indigo Girls again.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ode to a cuppa Joe

"Peace like a river ran through the city."

I love mornings. I never in a million years would have thought I'd ever say that. I'm a lifelong night-owl who loves sleeping more than eating and almost as much as breathing.

I've never been a morning person. From 7th grade through 12th at Hunter College High School I had to travel from Forest Hills, Queens, to midtown Manhattan - and be there when the bell rang at the ungodly hour of 8:40. I know, I know, big deal. High schools here in Texas start at 7:30, but most kids don't have a one-hour bus and train ride first. And you know, it was the sixties and it took me a while to get that perfectly straight part down the middle of my long brown hair before I could leave the house.

I vowed that when I grew up I would never have a job where I had to be at work early or had to wear anything except blue jeans (OK blue jeans and a t-shirt). So naturally, I spent 30 years in a career where our flex hours were 7:30 to 5 and blue jeans were allowed only during the last 10 years of my stint on designated casual Fridays.

Maybe if I had loved my job more the alarm clock wouldn't have been private enemy number one. Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference. Except for one time in my life when I was manic, temporarily forgot how to sleep and was up cleaning my house at 4 am. (which is another blog post), the snooze button was all that stood between me and the proverbial unemployment line.

OK, I am never going to be that person who sets their alarm so they can hike up a mountain and watch the sun come up. I try never to book a vacation flight that leaves earlier than noon because there is no point getting up on the wrong side of bed, so to speak, if I can possibly avoid it. But somewhere along the way I lost my taste for sleeping until 11 or 10 and sometimes even 9. Left to my own devices, it turns out that I am neither night owl nor early bird, neither fowl nor other fowl. If I listen to my biorhythms or whatever it is that you listen to in your own body, my perfect sleep hours turn out to be midnight to 8 and sometimes 11 to 7, pm to am.

Sparkle time for me comes in the form of a cup of hot black joe, a purring cat, white or brown, take your pick, and the sun pouring in like butterscotch and sticking to all my senses. Thanks to Joni Mitchell for that. Sure soon enough I will pick up the iPad, check email, Lampwork Etc., Etsy, ebay and Facebook, necessarily in that order. I will dress, on schooldays I will go to school and on all the other days I will go to work. And by that I mean I will turn on the kiln, take 2 ibuprofen tablets, 2 omega 3 gels and 1 tumeric and black pepper capsule - all for anti-inflammatory therapeutic reasons - and head for my studio.

My studio. My jam-packed 120 square foot space in our garage. Our unheated, non-air-conditioned garage. My nirvana of glass goodness, plus the tools of my trade: torch, oxygen concentrator, propane tank, kiln, ventilation hood, and various and sundry other energy consumers. Plus a  gallimaufry of all things lampworkers must have, in addition to miles and miles of glass cane - frit, leaf, mesh and wire, enamels and powders, murrini and shards, cubic zirconia, fine silver and 24K gold for fuming, mandrels, mashers, pokers, presses, racks, rod rests, rollers.

I'm closer to 50 than 40, and always will be. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Who would have thought, in this second half of life, that I would finally find a passion that wasn't embodied in the heart of another human being. But there it is, I have, I did, I do.

My friend Nancie says that if you love what you do, you will never work a day of your life. Pretty impressive coming from a hairdresser and yoga instructor without medical or dental insurance. Me, I could never make that leap of faith which is why I spent more than 30 years working for the machine. It's why I have such a sense of gratitude, every single morning of my life, for that embodiment of human passion who keeps me in this tourist town (no bright red devil he, more an angel in disguise). And for the grace of the gods and goddesses who have brought me to this place where I am happier than I ever dared hope or imagine - in my wildest dreams - I would be, I am thankful.

"I'm trying to tell you something about my life, maybe give me insight between black and white; and the best thing you've ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all." Amy Ray, Emily Saliers - the Indigo Girls

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Beads of Courage Conundrum

"Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug."

Last night I finally understood the expression "clusterfork" except the fork isn't exactly a fork if you know what I mean.

Back story. I donate beads to Beads of Courage, a nonprofit arts-in-medicine program that provides beads to children fighting cancer. Kids earn beads for their "Acts of Courage" as they reach treatment milestones - or sometimes when they just have a really bad day. Beads help kids tell the story of their journey back to wellness. And sometimes the beads comfort bereaved parents and help them remember. But mostly the beads seem to have a healthful encouraging influence on kids who are going through hell.

About two months ago, a mom of a boy with lymphoma purchased two of my beads from my Etsy shop. One bead was for her son and a more or less matching bead was for a silent auction fundraiser. She didn't ask me to donate the beads, she bought them and later she told me my bead raised $200. Wow. I asked if I could make her boy a special bead and asked the colors of his favorite sports team. The bead I made was similar to this one.

A couple of weeks later, this mom bought two of my fish beads, one for her boy and one for his little sister. I only just learned that BOC has a sibling program. This little girl had to leave school to be home-schooled - to reduce the risk that she'd carry germs home to her brother and his compromised immune system. After buying the fish beads, this mom mentioned that mouth sores were one of the punishing side effects of her son's chemo and that she had been looking for a blowfish bead.

I googled blowfish images which gave me the idea of making a hollow fish bead with bumps. And when I finished the first one, he was pretty darn perfect. And then this mom bought several more of my beads, saying these were for her. Mom's need courage too. So I sent along the blowfish, which looked something like this dude.

So this mom and I had been conversing via Etsy and she told me about a contest she was conducting at her son's school, where the students were drawing designs for beads that they thought would give a sick kid heart. She was also raising funds to sponsor an artist to make 25 beads of each of the five winning designs. I suggested that before the finalists were finalized, it would be wise to ask a bead maker how well the designs could be interpreted in a bead.

I did not mean that that bead maker should be me, but she sent me scans of the top 15 contestants. I did not judge them, just commented on each one as to how it might (or might not) transfer to a bead design. And by happy chance, the bead designs I thought would be best were the very ones her son liked best.

At this point I was (and still am) undecided about whether to take on this project. Consignment work is hard, even when it's easy if that makes sense. You want everything to be perfect and you wind up making a lot of extra beads to get them just right. And making 25 of the same thing is hard for many creative people, although I have been known to get obsessed with a design - cats, owls, goddesses - and make dozens before I stop and never want to look at one again. Or at least for a while. I have recently started making ginormous florals again after a two year hiatus.

OK, I'm almost to the clusterfork, so hang in there. On Arpil 23, the Wautoga Democrat published a story about this boy's journey, right down to the contest, with my name right there in print too. Cool. I thought. Except BOC didn't see it that way. They saw it as stepping on their toes, and they completely missed the point that this mom wanted to sponsor an artist (or artists) to make these beads to donate to BOC. Somehow they got the idea that she was buying these beads to hand out herself. Which, when you think about it, is entirely within her rights. Buy beads. Give them as you wish. That's America.

So as I heard it, a BOC representative confronted this mom while she was in the hospital with her son who is fighting for his life. And told her that she could not do anything without their approval including giving newspaper interviews. And that she should have told them that she was having contact with their artist.

If it weren't so shocking and sad, it would be funny.

Among other things that were reportedly said, the BOC rep asked this mom if she would consider donating the money she had raised so that artists could have it for supplies to make more beads instead of having the beads made and then donating them. Which I think is pretty interesting, considering that I am unaware of BOC funding any artist beads. For a short while they did purchase purple heart beads but that ended because they said they no longer had funding for artist beads and (I'm quoting the Director of Bead Donations here, in a statement made online today), they "recently moved to a commercially produced Purple Heart as well as Butterfly bead[s] for most cases." 

So here we are. In a limbo of sorts, since the BOC rep suggested that this mom just pay me to make her sone and daughter each a set of the beads and then stop there until they figure out what to do. Nice of them, considering I have never committed to making all 125 beads, no compensation has been discussed, and as I said, I'm undecided if I even want to take it on.

What I am really hoping here is that BOC comes to its senses, and comes back to this mom with an apology and sincerely thanks her for all she has done to promote the BOC program. And she has done so much, because, as she told me, holding his beads helped her son cope when medication was insufficient to control his "bad headaches and the worst body/bone pain he has ever had." Because in her words, “[e]ach bead is a memory of strength.”

So, in case you are curious, here is my first interpretation of the winning designs. And no worries. I will continue to make and donate beads to BOC. Because, to paraphrase Ben Cumberbatch again, it's about the work. And what I mean by that is, it's about the kids.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Starting in the Middle

"Where on earth is the sun hid away?"

I'm listening to Natalie Merchant, well 10,000 maniacs and pondering this, my first blog post. I might as well start in the middle, contrary to the advice of the Red King to "begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop." I'm sure as I ramble the pieces of the puzzle that is my life will begin to fall into place.

So today I woke up in my own bed, which is my favorite place to wake up in the morning, especially having returned from Cali just  days ago. Travel has its own special appeal, but there is nothing like your own blankets, mattress and pillows. I'm a homebody at heart and soul. The best trips are never more than 5 days or 10 if passports are required. That's just me.

So I woke up at the crack of 7 and hit the snooze button, even though I liked the Garth Brooks song that was playing. We just don't have a decent radio station, considering that we are a major market, but really, any noise will do for the split second it takes to hit snooze. Just once today because I had class at 9:30 and I love sitting with the cats and having 2 cups of steamy black coffee even more than I love another 30 minutes of sleep.

Today I even had time for my favorite breakfast, cereal and skim milk. Quaker Oat Squares mixed with Pecan Crunch something or other. No rush to get to class because my teacher is rarely on time and since it is an art school, no one expects art students to conform to anything including a strict schedule. Hey, it's all about the work, as Benedict Cumberbatch (playing Sherlock Holmes) said just last night.

The work wasn't all that great today, as I am learning mostly by trial and error how many ways there are to hose up copper enamel. I spent a lot of my class time today, sanding and starting over. But so it goes. Today was the last official class but I still have about 10 days to finish my final project, which is setting a faceted stone, which means a trip to Jemco tomorrow.

Class ran a bit long so I went directly to my next stop, my monthly deep tissue massage. Lovely you think? Actually not so much. Teresa manhandles me until I tap out. Today we (she) worked strictly on my neck and shoulders. My neck has been stiff for at least a month now. The good thing about that is that it has made the pain in my arm and hand for which I originally sought treatment fade into background noise.

Two more stops before it was home for the tapped out me. A quick stop at Ross because after all Tuesdays are discount days for senior citizens and I love being carded again. It had been a while. A hairbrush and some scrunchies were all the damage I did before the last stop, the dreaded evil post office. Having downed my post-massage bottle of water, I almost skipped the postal service today, but decided I could make it. Short line, packages mailed, yeah me.

Home. I love my house. I love finally being free of the paper chase. I love to just rattle around the house, feeling like a princess, feeling so much gratitude because the way it is today is not the way it always was. More about that. Sometime.

I had a quick bath before dinner, and Neil came home just as I was drying off. We had one of our typical weekday dinners, boiled eggs and toast. I'm a couple of fruits and vegetables down today. Tomorrow, I think a stop at Jamba Juice is on the menu for this kid.

So with that thought I am off to watch a little tube with my beloved and make it an early-ish night. Because I didn't get to make beads today and I have a hair appointment tomorrow and I'm hoping to get up early and make beads first because summer is around the corner and my studio (my little corner of the garage) gets pretty hot afternoons. And I have an idea for a bead plus some new frit blends to test, so I am excited about getting in a little bead time.

Holding that thought, I will say good night. Good night stars, good night air, good night noises everywhere. Much love.

"Love spoke of my past as a valuable test, and smiled, and said she who loves last loves best" (Dar Williams)