Sunday, September 30, 2012

On being easily amused

"Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go, I owe my soul to the company store."

I took the day off from beadmaking. Imagine that. My workaholic husband took his first day off after something like 18 days straight working or maybe it was 21. Of course he is in his home office answering work emails as we speak, or as I type, as the case may be.

I can't really complain because I got him this way, although I think he has gotten worse. When we met he always worked at least one day every weekend, usually Sunday. Now he usually works both days, and when I say work, I mean he goes to his office and puts in 8 hours. The only time he ever really permits himself to enjoy is his 9/80 every-other Friday off.

He explained it to me once, that those Fridays were different than weekends because they were given to him, whereas working weekends was a choice or something like that made no sense to me. When I was working, by which I mean a paycheck driven day job, it made me sad that he would take those Fridays off and work all weekend. Now it's better because I can take those Fridays off too. Because while I may not be punching the proverbial time clock, I am busting my butt trying to make my bead and frit businesses float.

As I said, since he worked like a lunatic from the time I met him, I have to accept him the way he is. And if it bothers me, it is more from the perspective that I worry he will work himself into the ground, by which I mean 6 feet under. He doesn't just work, he carries the geophysical weight of the world around the clock.

He's a numbers guy, as I've mentioned before. He tells me he has 135 emails in his inbox. I suspect some of them are reminders about the safety fair or people wanting to go out to lunch, but he insists each one of them requires him to read it, think about it, take action on it. He walks around the house saying, "so much to do, so much to do." And I give my standard answer, "sorry sweetie."

He freely admits that he fantasizes about retirement. He has a candy jar into which he has counted a certain number of tic-tacs in red, orange, yellow and green and he eats one for every paycheck. Well, originally they were skittles, but my daughter's boyfriend ate some. A candy jar of skittles in the TV room looked just like a traditional candy jar of skittles in a TV room, there for the traditional reason of enjoying some sweets with your tube. (And yes, ours still is a tube.)

Neil of course was horrified, so now the replacement tic-tacs are in a jar that I made a label for. It says "Property of Neil. Do not eat. Unless you are Neil."

I think the green ones are the last to go and run out when he turns 60. But he says he won't make it that long. And I say, he will never retire. He may get to the point where he can relax a bit, knowing that he could walk out the door if he wanted to. But I just can't visualize him actually giving notice. His father retired at the age of 60, and was immediately courted and lured back to work by a competitor, after which he worked until he was 69. He woke up one January day in New Jersey and faced with the prospect of another cold commute to New York City, he said, I'm done.

Neil's career finale may take a different tack, especially since we live in Texas where there are few sub-freezing days. There are some obstacles to overcome first. For one thing, when you have been a workaholic for 30 some years, you don't have much time to develop hobbies and interests. Strictly speaking, that isn't true, Neil has hobbies and interests. Such as his interest in sports. And his hobby of collecting toys for boys. Which in itself is an obstacle because after you retire you may not be able to blow $3,000 on some piece of precious folderol without a second thought.

Honestly, Neil is easily amused, and I say that to him regularly. He will sit at a college graduation and read the program of 700 names and analyze the diversity of the demographic, or count the number of people named Neil, or people whose names begin with an N. He will research the entire cast of a movie we've watched with especial interest in how many of the cast members are still alive. OK, so we watch a fair number of vintage classics.

Tonight we watched just a few minutes of a 1948 movie called The Fallen Idol, a story told through the eyes of a young boy played by actor Bobby Henrey. Neil calculated how old the actor would be today. If he still is alive. Turns out he is 73 and very much alive. He became an accountant and retired in 1997. I love Google and Wikipedia. So I'm a lot like Neil in that respect.

Anyway, today was a nice day, a bit overcast, a bit of rain. I cleaned yesterday's beads and took pictures but didn't get as far as editing them or listing anything new. I renewed some expired listings and added another bead to my clearance section. My big goal for tomorrow is to launch my two newest frit blends. One is already available in my shop and the other will be tomorrow. They are called Afterglow and Chelsea Garden.

Afterglow is a tribute to my father, whose favorite color was "sky blue pink," the color of one of those salmon pink and denim blue glorious sunsets. Chelsea Garden is named partly for my daughter, Chelsea Leigh, and partly for the china pattern that got me interested in lampwork in the first place. I had a saved search on ebay for "Chelsea Garden" that started when I bought a Spode sugar bowl and creamer at an antique show. There are several fine china patterns by various manufacturers, and I was collecting them. A lampwork artist from New England listed a set of beads that she named Chelsea Garden.

I didn't buy that set but I did start watching her auctions and eventually bid on and won two of her sets. When I opened the package, the beads literally took my breath away. My immediate thought was, all I had to do was string them, nothing more was needed, they were so beautiful they stood alone. I have them in a box, in the tissue paper they came wrapped in, and occasionally I take them out and look at them. I still think they are pretty, but I've come a long way baby and my lampwork bead tastes have matured.

I have a collection of other artists' beads now and I'm drawn to focals, although I have some sets in my collection. I buy some with the full intent of making earrings or gifts, but I rarely do. Tonight I did restring a couple of necklaces with my own beads. I'm not sure why. I'm not really a jewelry maker. And my bead jewelry has never sold well. Even at the one "craft show" I did that wasn't a bead show, I sold more loose beads than sets. So maybe I'll give them as gifts, or maybe I'll donate them to a charity. It's just something I like to do sometimes.

What I really want to do is make some enamel pieces for mixed media designs with my beads. I have some ideas, but always the call of the torch wins the competition for my time and creative energy. But it's definitely on my list, Number Five with a Bullet. Which coincidentally is the name of a song by Taking Back Sunday, a rock band from Rockville Centre, NY.

I bought Neil a T-shirt with their logo. But it ain't happening tomorrow.

The upside is guilt-free torch time. And I won't ever complain about that.

"You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go,
I owe my soul to the company store."
Merle Travis or possibly George Davis, recorded most famously by Tennesee Ernie Ford.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The talker and the silent type

"Well, beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today."

My mom was a talker. My dad was the silent type.

I said my mom was a talker, as if she isn't here any more, which in a way is true. Dementia is a little bit like death. The person you knew is gone. Mom doesn't have much to say any more. She still knows who I am but that's about it. Our conversations are about 45 seconds long, and replayed on an endless loop. I'm fine, she's fine, there's nothing much to say. Her days are all the same now. She sleeps a lot. She eats her 3 meals. She sits. She naps.

But back to the talking. Mom abhorred silence like nature abhors a vacuum. She talked about her day, people she knew, current events, cultural events. She told stories from the past, and it didn't matter that you'd heard the story a hundred times before.

My dad was quiet by nature and ill at ease in social situations. So, he found a coping technique. He told jokes. He told them well, articulated them clearly, paused properly before the punch line. Everyone loved his jokes. Everyone but me. My standard reaction to one of his jokes was to say, did you make that up, knowing full well that he didn't. I don't know where he got them but he always told them and it didn't matter that you'd heard the joke a hundred times before.

At home though, he mostly held his peace and listened. Half listened. My mom would be going on and on about some event or about people she knew, who did what to whom, and I could tell my dad had tuned out. I asked him about it once, and I'll never forget his answer. He said, is it more important that she talk or that I listen?

My dad was a smart man, and I miss him, although in some ways I still have him. I can hear the sound of his voice in my head, anticipate what he'd say in some situation or another. I feel like I could pick up the phone and call him, never mind that he hated the phone and would never answer it. He and my mom had a signal. If she needed to reach him, she'd let the phone ring twice, hang up and call back. Then he'd answer.

When my brother and I were searching my parents' apartment for the title to his car, I kept catching myself starting to say, let's just call Dad and ask him where it is.

For a quiet man, with solitary pursuits, like reading and working on his stamp collection, my dad was a strong presence in his life and in some ways stronger since his death. I actually find myself listening to his advice now and following it.

Tonight I asked myself, for the umpty-umph time, is it more important that he talk or that I listen.

My husband is a talker. He abhors silence like nature abhors a vacuum. He'd probably be surprised to hear that, I'm sure he thinks of himself as the pensive introvert, just as I think of myself as an average conversationalist and I'm surprised to hear that people think of me as very quiet. But when it comes to the two of us, even my husband would agree that he talks circles around me.

And what does he talk about? Well, of course we have the typical conversations, how did our days go, what the kids are up to, what we should have for dinner, where should we go on our next vacation. He shows me the latest coins he's purchased and I show him any cool new beads I've made. We talk about the cats and the house and the yard and the cars, the books we are reading and the movies we watch together.

That leaves a lot of room for the vacuum effect. So he fills it. He talks about sports. Baseball mostly, He gives me the latest statistics on the Yankees and daily updates on various individual players. He analyses the chances of which teams will be going to the playoffs. He was obsessed with Lance Berkman for the longest time, until Lance had the good grace to go on the disabled list and sit out the rest of the season.

Of course I hear all about Jeter and A-rod and Mariano, and his idol of idols, Mel Stotlemeyer, who at least had the decency to retire in 2005. And Ichiro. And Hunter Pence. And Roger Clemens, who hasn't played in the majors since 2007, but recently, at the age of 50, resurrected his career with a minor league team.

And if it sounds like I care, who am I and what did I do with Liz? I know all of these things because I am under continual assault with a barrage of information of no earthly interest to me. And it's hard sometimes. I once said, if I give you a million dollars will you promise never to tell me what Lance did at bat ever again. But mostly I listen.

The ironic thing is, I loved baseball as a kid. It was one of the strongest bonds between me and my dad. We couldn't talk to each other. My dad couldn't or wouldn't engage in any discussion about life and the things that make it challenging and real, But he took me to dozens of Mets games, explained all the trivia and ritual that make baseball an intrinsically fascinating sport, taught me his unorthodox method of keeping score, and shared peanuts and popcorn and crackerjacks with me.

It was a very healing thing, because once my dad and I went a whole year without speaking to each other. I was about 14 and very hormonal and I honestly don't have any recollection of what ticked off the year of silence. I'm pretty sure we said things like, please pass the salt, but I'm not even positive about that. My dad had a stubborn streak so I got mine honestly but we were two mules in a stalemate.

As an adult now, I think my dad should have put an end to it. As an adult in that situation, I would have hashed it out with my kid. We'd have come to some resolution or agreed to disagree, but it would have ended with my telling my kid I loved her and moving forward. I think how horrible it would have been if something had happened to one of us and we'd never made our peace.

But my dad couldn't do it. He wasn't able to articulate feelings or verbally work through an issue, at least with me. In the end I was the one who held out the proverbial olive branch. We never did talk about it though. We began awkwardly to make the small talk of life again. And then there was baseball. Thank heaven for that.

Sometime after the Mets won the series in '69 and I went off to college, my interest in baseball waned. It flickered again in the '80s when Mike Scott briefly made the Astros look like a real ball team. But while I never regained the passionate interest I had as a teenager, I never forgot most of the rules (although they changed some on me) and the trivia. Like the fact that in 1927 there were two unassisted triple plays on consecutive days after which none occurred for 40 seasons.

I guess you could call me a fair weather fan. If the Astros ever got competitive, I might even bother to learn the names of the players on the starting roster.

In the meantime, I'm just phoning it in. I take a deep breath and try to let my husband's unremitting play-by-play roll off me like water off a ducks back.

And I ask myself, is it more important that he talk or that I listen?

"Put me in coach, I'm ready to play today,
Look at me, I can be centerfield"
John Fogerty

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The eleventh anniversary of nine eleven.

"If I needed you, would you come to me, would you come to me for to ease my pain."

I'm procrastinating. What I should be doing is taking pictures of my beads and editing them, writing listings for my Etsy bead shop, and maybe posting them on Facebook and Lampwork Etc. to extend my potential market reach. Making the beads is so much more fun than taking care of the business end of things.

I've been having to much fun making beads again, thanks to a slight dip in the temperature which may have kick-started the muse into inspiration mode again. I'm making a lot of sets and beaded keys right now, thanks to a particular customer who has been buying them almost as fast as I can make them and list them.

It's wonderful and gratifying to have someone love your beads so much. It's a curious thing though, because at some point I think this customer may have more of my beads than I have. I'm sincerely hoping she has a thriving jewelry business and is selling necklaces, bracelets and earrings made with my beads to trendy boutiques, high end box stores and/or a cotillion of wealthy California ladies who lunch. Alternatively, I'm avidly hoping never to see my beads make an appearance on an episode of Hoarders. (Just don't look too closely at my dining room table. And the kitchen counter. And my desk. And the coffee table ...)

I find myself making beads specifically for this customer, thinking about what her tastes are and predicting what colors and styles are likely to appeal to her. So I'm making more of the same colors and styles and at the same time diversifying in an attempt to tempt with novelty and variety. And to some extent to stem my own potential boredom or burnout from making the same things over and over.

Still, I find sets relaxing and in some ways mindless. Round beads are simple and relatively fail safe. I trip myself up because I make things in pairs and nailing the size in one try isn't a given, although I'm pretty good at eyeballing almost perfect matches. Graduated sets are even easier. I make seven or nine beads in the size ballpark and arrange them from largest in the center down to smallest on the ends.

Most of my sets have coordinating accent beads in foursomes. Usually one foursome will be pastel or opal and the other will be transparent or veiled. I have no idea really if my customers like this combination or would prefer smaller sets without accent beads or larger sets without accent beads. But at the end of the day, it usually comes down to making what I want to make, what I love.

Of course, I'm practical, I look at what sells in my shop and I make more of that. Rainbow sets have been hugely popular this year, and the nice thing about that is there are dozens of colors on my rainbow spectrum. So no two rainbow sets are ever identical. I have favorite reds and purples especially, and my rainbows have more than seven colors, usually nine and sometimes ten. I'm especially fond of infra-red and ultra-violet, but red-orange and yellow-green work for me too. And some sets are opal and some are transparent and I've even done a pastel rainbow spin.

Also popular have been my Pantone sets. I'm about ready to switch from the Fall 2012 palette to the Spring 2013 palette. Yummy colors.


Before I say goodnight, I'd like to acknowledge the eleventh anniversary of nine eleven, two thousand and one, today. Like everyone, I remember exactly where I was at the time the news broke. I was in my office at work. My friend Robin in North Carolina instant messaged me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, the north tower. As the tragic drama played out, my personal grief had a macabre twist. That day I was sad. That day I would have traded my life with someone in the WTC who wanted one.

No, of course I wouldn't really, I had kids, I had parents, I had a brother, I had people who cared if I lived or died. What I also had was terrible guilt, guilt that I was suffering because a man I loved (a man I had known for less than 4 months, a man who had told me he loved me and wanted to be with me forever) had a change of heart. If he had a heart. People who lost friends and lovers in the disaster, those people had reason for suffering. I had a tempest in a very small teacup.

But it was my teacup. You feel the way you feel, and I was grieving, and in the days that followed the terrorist disaster, at least I wasn't the only one crying at work, the only one with red eyes and a heavy heart. Because the very fact that something so evil could happen in the world and yet this man (who I loved still) didn't come to me underscored, like nothing else, how inexorable the end of our relationship really was. And that was a bitter pill.

On September 14 I did get a letter from this man (one he sent to all of his mailing list) and what he had to say hit home. I'd like to share it.

This man (who I loved, had loved, still loved) said this:

"Perhaps whoever did this despicable act has their own set of sad stories - senseless deaths of friends or family, lingering anger fanned into murderous flames... Anger breeds anger, death breeds death. Pray for them all, and pray that we break this vicious cycle."

And I responded:

Your letter brought me to tears - but something brings me to tears on a hourly basis since Tuesday morning.

New York City is the city of my birth. I attended high school on Lexington Avenue and 46th Street. I was married in the World Trade Center. But sentimentality pales in the face of this monstrous, incomprehensible horror and the sorrow-laden aftermath.

I am so stirred by your beautiful words:

"Perhaps whoever did this despicable act has their own set of sad stories - senseless deaths of friends or family, lingering anger fanned into murderous flames. Anger breeds anger, death breeds death. Pray for them all, and pray that we break this vicious cycle."

I have printed them out and hung them on my wall.

You get it. It is as Gandhi said, "Human kind has to get out of violence only through nonviolence. Counter-hatred only increases the surface as well as the depth of hatred. Hatred can be overcome only by love." And it is as Francis Bacon said, "In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy."

As moved as I am by the stories of people bonding together and showing solidarity and wanting to give in whatever ways they can, I'm profoundly saddened by the vitriolic rage against the spiritually ill perpetrators, the blind passion for retribution and the prospect of more bloodshed, of war.

I have never believed in an eye for an eye. It's a sentiment I have been trying to share, but it's not one that is generally well received. People say we can't lie down and play dead. I don't know what is right.

Maybe, like Hemingway, I need to make a separate peace. Like the old spiritual, "I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, I ain't gonna study war no more."

Powerful words, powerful then, powerful now.

"In the night forlorn the morning's born
And the morning shines with the lights of love"
Townes Van Zandt

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Warring States bead and me

"Think I'll go out to Alberta, weather's good there in the fall."

I did it! I visited all the blogs in the last reveal of the 6th Bead Soup Blog Party and commented on most of them. The creativity and skill demonstrated in the finished pieces was just amazing. I was on inspiration overload by the time I was finished, but I'm glad I participated.

I mentioned that Lori, the Bead Soup organizer, was going to be advertising some sales and promotions on her blog Pretty Things, but life interrupted and I got an email apologizing that she wasn't able to make it happen right now. So here's the deal -- I'm offering 20 percent off on my premium frit blends and my handmade lampwork beads in my Etsy shops until September 15. Just use the coupon code 20PERCENT in both shops when you check out.

I've been pretty excited about the new Warring States beads I've been making. Beads of this design are traced back to beads made in ancient China during the Warring States period of history (early 5th century BC).


As usual when I get obsessed with a bead style though, I can't seem to stop making them. So I make them ad infinitum, until I get totally sick of them and never want to make another. Sometimes I do go back after time passes and revisit a design, such as my giant plunged florals, so I won't say that I'll never make another goddess or another fish. But I might not.

In the meantime, after some beginners luck with a simple Warring States, don't you know I just had to make them more elaborate, with more dots and more opportunities for frustration when I am almost done with a bead and I get two neighboring dots married to each other. That is never a good thing. Sometimes I can save the bead by picking the dots off with a tweezer and placing new ones. Sometimes I just wind up with a hosed up bead with the dot from outer space. The up side is the bead goes into the Beads of Courage bowl. Kids don't mind if there is an alien dot or a pair of married dots on a bead.

As long as I'm in dot mode I've also been making big round beads with rows of offset stacked dots. They don't have a sexy name like Warring States, so I just call them big round beads with rows of alternating dots. I could call them Brad Pearson style beads because I have to admit they are derivative. The big bad juju that haunts contemporary beadmakers, everything has been done before by someone, there's nothing new under the sun. The best we can do is try to put our own spin on things and give credit where credit is due.

In other news, I am ready ready ready for cooler weather. Heat doesn't bother me (much). Humidity doesn't bother me (good for my complexion, hair and nails). The sun, at least being out in it, bothers the bejesus out of me. If I am inside and the house is cool, then the sun doesn't bother me. In fact, I prefer it to overcast skies. But since my studio work space is in the garage, and as the sun starts to encroach in the afternoon hours, it is stinking hot. I manage with a fan and it's OK until 3 pm or so. I am longing, however, for pleasant temperatures, temperate breathable air.

I have a feeling my muse is ready for some crisp days too. Even I can understand that she doesn't want to be out sweating between a torch and a kiln, god love her. Neil's theory is that summer in Sugar Land starts on May 10 and ends on October 10. So, another month and change. Bring it.

"Four strong winds that blow lonely, seven seas that run high,
All these things that won't change, come what may."
Johnny Cash