Sunday, June 30, 2013

Protecting the time on my hands

"Don't leave me here with all these critical voices, cause they do their best to bring me down."

[Written Saturday June 29. Posted Sunday, June 30.]

Anxiety. How I hate thee.

I dropped Neil at the airport this morning for at 8:30 flight. He's in Colorado Sprngs, at the ANA Summer Seminar, aka Coin Camp. He'll be back in one week, next Friday.

It's 102 degrees here right now, feels like 107, and I'm hiding in the coolness of the house. I promised myself a weekend off from bead making, a reprieve from repetitive strain for my neck and arm and hand. On Monday I'll get back into routine, beads in the morning, 3 miles on the treadmill at the fitness center in the afternoon. Back to sweating, or in my case, glistening, as I don't really sweat that much, as long as I stay in line with the fan.

I have no ability to be lazy and still. I don't watch much TV. I'm not reading anything gripping at the moment. I meant to make some beaded necklaces today, to take some over to my friend Pam for consignment in her little glass art shop tomorrow, and maybe to try selling some online. I created a new shop section for finished jewelry in my Etsy shop, and plan to list some things, just in case the market for jewelry is a little better than the market for my beads is at the moment.

But I'm feeling more or less immobilized by anxiety and I can't even say what the reason is. It's a tightness in my chest, a feeling that I'm gasping for oxygen. I hate this shit. I have everything I need and want. But I feel isolated, disconnected and from there it's such a quick spiral down into insecurity and fear. Fear of loss, fear of loneliness, fear of the abyss.

I fight it. I drink green tea. I call my daughter. I email a friend I've been too long out of touch with. I text back and forth with Neil, who is ensconced in a dorm room at Colorado College, getting ready to spend the next five days studying problem coins.

When we started dating, I showed Neil my coin collection, a band-aid tin full of Mercury dimes, buffalo nickels, wheat pennies, a few Morgan silver dollars. All seriously circulated and tragically abused from rattling around in that tin. I was completely ignorant about numismatics, but enraptured with learning about the hobby. Coins are interesting, a bit of history combined with the beauty of silver and gold, especially in the case of mint state and brilliant uncirculated certified gem quality specimens.

It was fun traveling around the country to coin shows, often combining trips with hiking outings and sightseeing in new cities, starting my own modest collection of uncirculated, or about uncirculated coins. I was interested enough to go to Coin Camp with Neil in 2005, but the experience was a mistake for me.

I might have enjoyed Neil's hands-on coin-grading course, but I deemed myself too inexperienced and chose instead a sort of overview of coins from antiquities through time. I'd have been better off taking the "spouses course," some light coin basics in the mornings, excursions in the afternoons. Instead, I spent five days in a very cold classroom, listening to a lecturer, a little past his prime, who made it all seem very dull indeed.

I think he must have felt the same way, a little bored by the material, because he would doze off during his own slide shows, and snooze through presentations by the guest speakers he invited in. The class was small and diverse, a teenager on a youth numismatist scholarship, a couple of older gents, a couple of return spouses who'd previously taken the spouses course, and me. I went with high expectations and it was agony. The slow water-torture variety.

I was still working at my corporate job then. The weather in Colorado Springs was dreamy, sunny and temperate, and I hated spending my days indoors in air-conditioned monotony. I was on vacation from a job where I spent too many vapid hours in windowless meetings, and my favorite parts of the seminar were the 15 minute breaks that I spent sitting on a bench on the campus, drinking up the light and the warmth and the view of green mountains in the distance. I went to every damn lecture session, because I knew Neil would be disappointed in me if I cut classes, tempting as it was.

Neil still is sure that I simply had the unfortunate luck of the draw with this particular teacher, and that I would enjoy Coin Camp if I'd chosen a more scintillating professor and subject. While that may be true, I haven't wanted to risk it again. I've become so protective of my time that I won't go to a movie if I think I won't enjoy it. I'm unlikely to chance another five days of coin bondage.

So here I am with all that time I'm protecting on my hands. And what am I doing with it so far but enduring it? Thinking too much, hiding from the relentless sun, longing for cool Colorado mountain air, but knowing I'd miss the cats. Feeling conflicted, afraid of being alone with myself for a week, feeling safe and loved, but also haunted by the fragile nature of happiness, unable to deny that the abyss is out there.

Maybe it's time to talk about the abyss.

Will talking about it allow me to shrug off the self-doubts that have been creeping back in, the feelings of underachievement, the rejection-sensitivity, the questions about my right to be human?

I can hope. I can try. I have a week.

It's no big secret that I've grappled with depression, off and on, for as long as I can remember.

There. I said it. A good place to start.

I've had a good long run in remission. I'm fine now. It's just that I know it's out there. I've always known that. It's part of what makes me me.

And it's really a story of courage.

There are no hospital stays, no self-harming behaviors, no attempts on my own life. No time missed from work, no radical therapies, no episodes of psychosis.

Just a lot of tears, a lot of shame, a lot of grief and a lot of guilt.

But there is also much joy and pride and happiness and grace.

I'm the ultimate conundrum.

Be ready to be riveted.

But right now, because writing is one of my drugs of choice, I've talked myself far enough from the ledge that I'm thinking about going out and getting some bath salts at Ulta with my coupon that expires today.

And then maybe I'll string those beads.

"I could be daydreaming but for a moment
And somehow they're creeping back in
I could be sleeping awakened the torrent
Somehow I get caught in their grips again

And here I am in my shame spiral
I'm sucked in to it again
And I reach out for your benevolent opinion
And you bring the light back in

Don't leave me here with all these critical voices
Cause they do their best to bring me down
When I'm alone with all these negative voices
I will need your help to turn them down

I could be listening to a conversation
The story I'm not even in
These voices have their way when I am unguarded
Suddenly I step in quicksand again

Once again in my shame spiral
I am glad that you've weighed in

Don't leave me here with all these critical voices
Cause they do their best to bring me down
When I'm alone with all these negative voices
I will need your help to turn them down."

[Alanis Morissette, Shame Spiral from Bright Lights and Havoc]

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Anti-anxiety cats

"Who can say if I've been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good."

Sunday, for the first time since we adopted him in November, Zamboni almost sat on my lap. I was wearing a long skirt and sitting the way I do, knees drawn up, on the end of the sofa that Neil calls the Bunn spot. Zamboni got up under my left knee and peeked up out of my skirt.

He hung out there for a little while, which was the longest he's voluntarily stayed in physical contact with me.

I was feeling weirdly anxious for no reason on that Sunday, Neil was at work of course. This time of year I have to fight the temptation to never leave the house. It's so nice and cool in there while outside it's just blistering hot. I didn't have anything pressing to do. I needed shrink wrap, for wrapping glass, Neil wanted me to pick up milk, I wanted some ear buds for my ipad, and I had two packages to drop at the USPS. I could have put everything off until Monday.

But I mapped out a logical sequence for those errands, starting at Lowes for the shrink wrap and ending at Kroger for the milk (which obviously has to be the last stop).

I had a cup of green tea with honey first, trying to calm the pressure in my chest, breathing in the steam to alleviate the feeling of breathlessness. Then I muscled through my inertia and headed out.

I admit it, I had a hidden agenda. My route took me past Petco, where Save our Strays does pet adoptions on Sundays. I saw on Facebook that they had kittens. So after Lowes, I found my car turning into the Petco parking lot.

I wanted to hold this boy.

His name is Basil and his twin brother already was adopted. He was in a cage with some step-siblings. One black, one gray, one marmalade, one dilute tortoiseshell. The little tortie was the friendliest, but I wanted to hold Basil, who is a flame point. He's about the size Zamboni was when we got him. He tolerated being held, but was distracted by all the smells and sights at Petco.

Still, the best cure for anxiety is to hold a kitten. I felt better holding his small warm body. I've signed up for volunteer training at Sugar Land Animal Services. The first training I can take is in early August. I'm looking forward to working with adoptable cats again.

I really still miss Puck so much. He was such a needy cat, he loved to sit on my lap and he purred like nobody's business. I love Loki and Zamboni, but both are very independent, friendly, sociable at times, but slightly aloof and rarely cuddly. My next cat will be affectionate. I want another white cat too, with odd eyes, like Puck. I'm happy to be patient until I find him, especially as I've always thought the right number of cats is two, and we have our two. If I found another month-old baby like Gris, all bets would be off, because all found kittens must be kept.

Kandace posted this picture of her cat, Rocky, on Facebook last night.

Rocky came to my back door on the Friday night after Thanksgiving, 2006. Buffy our min pin, was in the house, asleep in her crate. I gave Rocky some food and figured when we let Buffy out in the morning, that would be the last we'd see of Rocky. Astonishingly, Rocky made friends with Buffy and continued to hang out in our yard. He had silky soft fur and he learned his new name very quickly.

Even though I know I shouldn't have, I felt happy when I called him and he'd come running.

I already had a dog and a cat, I wasn't looking for another pet.

Then the weather turned cold. It was early December and a freeze was predicted. How could I let Rocky stay outside?

I couldn't just bring him inside though. He was a whole Tom who more than likely had parasites and might have one of the contagious feline disorders. So I took him to our vet, and $125 later, he'd been treated for mites and worms, tested for FIV and FLV, and gotten a round of vaccinations.

I took him home and moved him into the hall bathroom, apprehensive about how that would work out.

He was a perfect gentleman. He used the litter box, slept in the bed I gave him, played with toys in the bathtub. He never yowled to get out of that bathroom. He never scratched the door. He was happy to see me when I brought his food and good as gold in that little bathroom for the three or four days of icy weather.

He'd made friends with Buffy but it was not as easy with Puck. I introduced them gradually but didn't leave them unsupervised. Puck was anxiety cat and Rocky was alpha cat. He moved in like he owned the palace, I mean the place.

I put ads - Found Cat - in the local papers and notified the shelters and local vets. I did pretty much the reverse of everything I did when I lost Gris, except maybe putting out hundreds of flyers. No one came forward so I started half-heartedly making efforts to re-home him.

He is just so soft and has the cleanest white fur and clearest eyes of any cat I've owned. But there were problems. He bullied Puck. He got up on things and broke things. Neil wasn't happy about having another cat. Especially one who broke things.

Still he moved with us to Sugar Land in April and I continued asking around if anyone wanted a cat.

It was about this time that I first saw Loki. I was at Petco for something and there was a cat adoption event in progress. Loki was in a cage with two other kittens who were sleeping soundly while Loki energetically amused himself with a ball. He reminded me of Neil, who I like to describe as "easily amused."

About a week later I was in Dallas on business and I had dinner with Kandace and her future ex-husband. They had taken Buffy when they moved to DFW after graduating from college, and Kandace thought it would be nice to have a cat (like Rocky) as company for Buffy. After all, Rocky had made friends with Buffy, against all odds.

I made some calls and found out Loki was still available for adoption.

I called Neil and told him about the good news. Rocky would be leaving and we could adopt Loki. (Neil said, that's not good news, to the part about adopting Loki.) But I knew he'd fall in love once he met him. Neil is like Veronica Mars. A marshmallow.

A month and a comedy of errors went by before I brought Loki home. And Neil does love him.

The one fly in the ointment was that Rocky didn't turn out to be a good companion for Buffy. We think that Rocky, in his clumsy playfulness, accidentally scratched Buffy's eye the first time they were reunited. Rocky settled into his new life like the adaptable cat he is, but he and Buffy coexisted without rapprochement. Ironically, Rocky really bonded with Sabrina, a boxer who joined the household later. It's beautiful how they romp and skirmish and clearly show affection for each other.

It makes me happy when Kandace posts pictures of Rocky on Facebook. I've felt guilty that I foisted him off on her. She's not really a cat person and I've worried that she tolerates Rocky but that is about it. So this cheered me up.

She got him a new bed. She does like him.

And here's my big bear, who I have because Rocky went to live with Kandace.

Loki. With Puck. Who he loved. And with Zamboni. Who he, well, he's working on it.

"Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a sky bird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good."

(Stephen Schwartz, For Good, from Wicked)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Creativity in a box

"No grieving for me, these thorns that make us bleed, no lies just reasons to believe."

I've been pushing the envelope a little, working outside my comfort zone a little, which this week means I have been working with a lot of colors I'm not usually drawn to. Neutrals, browns and ivories and caramels and tans and taupes. There is an endless range of these colors in the world of glass and I own more than you'd think, given my love for more vivid color.

And this is what came out of my kiln.

I showed one to Neil, because this is a palette he appreciates more than I usually do. He's all about the warm colors and I like the cooler colors. I live in the range from red to blue and most of the way to green. Neil starts with red and goes the opposite way around the color wheel, through yellow. Poor green is left out, although I'm learning to love it more. It works into my neutral palette very naturally.

Neil looked at the bead, I think it was the top center one, and said, I'd name this one "Oasis." I'm not 100 percent sure why, but I'm going with it. My new Oasis series.

Another look. Same beads, different view.

I'm still fine tuning the design and I have some in the kiln now.

And then I tried my hand at Sugar Skulls. I don't know why it took me so long.

The second guy from the left is my favorite. And he's green. (I hear it's not easy being green.)

I'll be fine tuning this design too.

I'm grateful to have this little window of inspiration.

I'm still treading water in terms of where I'm going with my glass art.

Days go by and I have no sales. And I know that should not be the ruler, the benchmark for what I do.

Van Gogh sold no paintings in his lifetime.

I don't have to sell beads to live, but I do feel very aware of every dollar I spend now. If I sell a few beads or some of my glass that I don't use, then I allow myself to buy a little new glass. But for the most part I have all the glass I need.

So if I'm not doing it for the money, then I'm doing it for the creative expression. Unfortunately my muse has been phoning it in a lot lately.

Against my better judgment, because I rarely find this sort of thing useful, I purchased Kim Neely's e-book, Creativity Bootcamp for the Glass Beadmaker.

Kim is a talented bead artist with a reputation for making magic out of silver glass, particularly an early Double Helix color called Terra. Terra was originally going to be called Chaos, but after Kim named her first bead set made with the glass Terra, Double Helix asked her permission to rename the glass Terra.

A year or so ago, Double Helix re-released Terra and Kim wrote a tutorial about how to use it, called Taming Terra, which I own. I was a little disappointed to learn that one of her secrets was that not every bead turns out magical and that she weeds out a fair number that don't quite turn out. She also works with two small kilns, alternating them in order to keep soak time short. Not necessarily a practical way to work for someone with a setup like mine.

After being underwhelmed with this tutorial, I probably wouldn't have bought another, except that it was on sale for 50% off and with my ongoing creativity crises, I decided to gamble the $12.50.

I need to spend more time with it, at least read through all the exercises, perhaps even try a few. Kim even starts out by asking us to commit to trying the exercises rather than just reading and pondering them. I suspect she intuits the skepticism that some are likely to provoke.

But I could have told you before I bought the book that the likelihood of me doing a bunch of creativity exercises was slim to none. I knew I was buying the book more out of curiosity to see what exercises someone like Kim would come up with that she felt were valuable enough to sell. And OK, I was feeling a bit desperate.

Kim was a writer by profession before she was a beadmaker, and her tutorials are well-phrased with pretty pictures. And a couple of things she said immediately drew a reaction from me.

The first was about validation, a topic dear to my heart, as you my faithful readers well know, since I've written about it ad nauseum. Kim has this to say.

... when you sell your art for a living ... youʼll begin to see sales as validation, a sign that the work is good. Which it is, of course — the problem with relying on sales for validation of your work is that when you do this and then the work stops selling as well — even if itʼs the result of external factors like changes in the market or a weak economy — itʼs very, very hard not to take the slump in sales as a rejection of the work. If strong sales mean the work is good, slow or no sales must mean the work is bad, right?

Not necessarily. Sometimes, even if people like your work very much, they just donʼt have the money to buy it. If your work isnʼt selling or is selling more slowly than you would like, itʼs not a personal rejection. Thatʼs Rule #2, and life in the cruel world of commerce will be much easier on you if youʼll take that one to heart.
I think, now if I can just internalize that philosophy, then it's already been worth the price of admission.

But. You'll notice I bypassed Rule #1. For a reason. Because it is this.
Putting too much emphasis on sales (or lack thereof) can really do a number on your artistic vision and take your work places where you donʼt want it to go. The first thing you want to avoid is the temptation to alter the direction of your work based on whatever styles of work are currently selling. This never works out well. ... So, Rule #1, donʼt break your neck trying to make what is selling for someone else. Make and sell what you love, always, and the buyers will eventually find you.
And that's where I want to say, no, scream, but how long? How long is eventually? I've been making and selling what I love, for years now really, just when is it that the buyers are supposed to show up?

I wonder if I'd do better writing books about creativity exercises than making and selling beads.

I'm not intentionally or heartlessly dissing Kim's teachings. I understand where she's coming from. She's wrestled with her own creativity demons, the ones she speaks of, fear, motivation, self-doubt. Quite possibly she has systematically vanquished them by plodding through the exercises she describes. Yet the rather loud cynic in me thinks of what my dad used to say, them as can do, and them as can't teach.

Tutorials, especially well-written ones with pretty pictures, are doubtlessly more lucrative than cranking out yet more of the beads you are famous for.

On the flip side these exercises may be just what the doctor ordered for some beadmakers stuck in their own personal limbo of fear, doubt, procrastination and demotivation.

I've already been doing many of the recommended things. I'm dutiful. I work at my art when I feel like it and when I don't.

One of the hooks that pushed me over the decision line to buy this e-book was this.
The one absolutely foolproof way to break any creative block
How could I not need to know that secret?

Silly me. I'm old enough to know that when it comes to something as intangible as creativity, there's absolutely nothing foolproof about it.

Let's just say, without giving away the farm, that my personal creative block has proved foolishly resistant to being broken in this particular way. That's not to say it wouldn't be the ram that batters through that annoying block for someone else.

Of course there are the "hands-on exercises, assignments and creative prompts" that I have yet to try.

I think it's not impossible that my recent bout of inspiration was animated by my desperation to avoid doing those very things. If that's true, then in some contrary way, the tutorial did serve to stimulate my creative muscle.

But holy holy, I'll take my inspiration any way I can get it.

"You've known the distance
From sea to field of green
I've traded mountains for a dream
Some hearts lay broken
By love's unanswered prayers
Words fall like roses
Through the air
Roses around my feet are telling me something
Roses around my feet
I used to feel nothing
No grieving for me
These thorns that make us bleed
No lies just reasons to believe
Roses around my feet
Are telling me something
Roses around my feet I used to feel nothing."

(Tish Hinojosa)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Matrimonial mistakes

"And deep into his fiery heart he took the dust of Joan of Arc."

My little butterbean turned one on June 10. He had a Cat in the Hat birthday party, right down to the green eggs and ham. Oh wait, wrong book. But my very creative daughter planned a very cute themed party, and Thing 1 had a great time despite a respiratory infection and conjunctivitis.

My daughter's ex and his (also now divorced) parents, sister, nephew (cousin Logan) and aunt all attended and as planned, I was civil but not sociable. My daughter's former mother-in-law greeted me with some warmth and moved to hug me, but I said hello and took a little step back. The ex-father-in-law arrived late and avoided me until I made deliberate eye contact and acknowledged him with a bare nod that was returned in kind.

This was the first time since things fell apart last November that my daughter had seen them, and I noticed they both hugged her and I suppose that is good. I also suppose they like her better, now that she isn't attached to their family, except of course for the unbreakable bond a baby makes.

Kandace and Jason got married near Keller, near Jason's family, and they were more involved in the onsite preparations than I was. Kandace and I did shop for her wedding dress together, and I did drive up to be there for her formal pre-wedding portraits. But other than paying a few bills, I just showed up for the party. I had the sense that Jason's parents were more helpful than I was, and I wanted to thank them, so some months later Neil and I visited and invited them to join us and the kids for dinner at the Melting Pot.

It was a weird dinner, and thank god for the fondue related activity or I'm sure conversation would have been even more forced. As usual, Neil played the Spanish Inquisition, asking a million questions. And as is not uncommon they showed very little interest in us, and asked us nothing. It's a conundrum, because I don't really like to talk about myself a lot, but I do resent complete disinterest.

Perhaps out of a sense of tit-for-tat obligation, Joe and Sue invited us to their house on Lake Granbury for lunch on our way home. Not that it was technically anything like on our way home, but we did go, and they fed us and took us out on a boat belonging to Joe's landscape business partner. And at one point I thanked Sue for welcoming Kandace and being so nice to her, and the woman actually responded, "well, I didn't have a choice, did I?"

This statement was so incomprehensible to me that I chalked it up to, to what? To something. She misspoke, or I misheard. Or she misheard my comment. Because even if it was true, and all it implied was true, you just don't say it out loud to the mother of your son's bride.

Still after that, I pretty much wrote Jason's parents off as ill-mannered, small-minded people and felt mostly relief that I would have to see them rarely. Because Kandace kept urging me, I became Facebook friends with Sue, and that just served to confirm how many worlds separated us. If I'm a little to the left of left, then Sue is a goodly distance to the right of right. Rabid conservatism and racism does not a good bedfellow make for me. One of the best things that came out of the kids' divorce is that I got to de-friend Sue.

I shouldn't have come as a shock (but it did) when, a week before the party my younger daughter called me up in a tearful quandary about whether she should go to the party. She felt very conflicted about seeing Jason and the inlaws, and her boyfriend had put his foot down and declined to attend. I said, look, we aren't the ones who have anything to be ashamed about, if anyone should feel embarrassed and uncomfortable about see us, it is them. Jason left Kandace, he is their son, and from what I learned, his dad had been setting an example of faithlessness for most of Jason's life.

Chelsea still had mixed feelings, so I told her I'd support her decision, just as I supported Kandace's decision to invite whomsoever she wanted to Ryland's party. But I also suggested that her sister could use as much family support as she could muster, in what has to be a difficult situation. That's when Chelsea opened up on Sue.

It's third-hand information now, but before the wedding, in response to some congratulatory comments from members of the wedding party, Sue made statements to the effect that Jason would just have to learn from his mistakes. These comments were repeated to Chelsea, who chose to repeat them to me, five years after the fact.

Since Kandace is a young lady that I think anyone would be proud and grateful to have as a daughter-in-law, I will choose to attribute whatever biases Sue bore to the profound chasm in their religious and political views, and not take it personally on behalf of my daughter. I can't say I'm not shocked though.

In 1998, when I told my parents that Jon and I were getting unmarried, my mom said, I never thought he was right for you. So why didn't you tell me that before I married him, Mom? Because you wouldn't have listened to me anyway, she said.

I thought about that a lot. And the conclusion I came to was that if I thought one of my girls was marrying the wrong man, I would not hold my peace. I would say something like, I love you and I will support you whatever you decide, but I have to tell you that I think you are making a mistake. And then I'd give my reasons. And then, if she decided to marry the man anyway, I'd do my best to stand by her, and not speak of it again.

I didn't easily warm up to Jason and I could never put my finger on the reason why. I didn't like or dislike him. The one thing he had going was that he seemed to love Kandace and I appreciated that he handled her well if she got moody. And honestly, over time, I became fond of him. I certainly never suspected that he'd do what he did. Whatever my feelings, I was hoodwinked by the illusion that he and Kandace loved each other and would one day celebrate a golden anniversary.

They only made it to wood.

Chelsea did come, Ryland had his party, and the rest of the weekend was uneventful. I stayed until Monday, which was the baby's official birthday. Kandace had taken the day off, but wasn't feeling well, so we only went out to get drops for Ryland's eyes and a few odds and ends from Walmart. I had considered staying until Tuesday, as Neil had gone on to Oklahoma on business, but I hit the road Monday afternoon, feeling guilty, but wanting to sleep in my own bed.

Babies do tire you out. I never take naps but I fell asleep on my daughter's sofa on Sunday afternoon, with a cat on my chest and a dog on my feet, watching Despicable Me. I got home Monday and slept for a solid 8 hours. What insomnia?

Not that night anyway.

I do miss the bambino though. He's definitely Thing 1 in my book.

"It was deep into his fiery heart
he took the dust of Joan of Arc,
and then she clearly understood
if he was fire, oh then she must be wood.
I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
but must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?"

(Leonard Cohen, Joan of Arc)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Earning crumbs

"What strange prizes these battles bring, these hectic joys, these weary blues."

I had an interesting conversation with Neil this morning. After I woke up at 6 am and gave up on trying to sleep, I googled early morning insomnia. Many studies show a correlation between chronic early morning awakening and depression. I don't feel depressed. I know what depression feels like and this isn't it.

Neil asked me why I make beads, is it something I love or something I do to make money. I countered with the query, isn't it possible to have work that you enjoy doing? To have a job doing something you love while earning a crumb doing it?

I love my work but I don't love the fact that I am filling up boxes and trays with more and more beads while making more. There is certainly satisfaction in making a bead that is aesthetically pleasing to me, but I'm jonesing for the other half of the equation, the validation of knowing that my work is aesthetically pleasing to others.

I've always been an external validation kind of gal. I'e gotten better at self-validation over time. But I'm happiest when I receive strokes from others, whether it be a sale or just a compliment or a share on Facebook.

The past week or so, I've been revisiting Warring States Beads. In my online listings I say this.
Beads of this design are traced back to beads made in ancient China during the Warring States period of history (early 5th century BC).
And from Wikipedia.
In China, glassmaking began around the 5th century BCE during the late Spring and Autumn to early Warring States periods. During the Warring States period ... glass was imported from regions outside of East Asia, such as Mesopotamia. Imported Western ... glass probably inspired the production of the first Chinese glasses. The main group of objects with Western influences are eye beads or dragonfly-eyed beads.
Here are some of my "Chinese eye beads."

I loved these the first time I made them. But as was the case with my first hearts, my first cats my first florals (plunged and raised), my first fish and owls, my first goddess beads, I was certain they'd be universally loved. I expected them to be best sellers. If I were a bead buyer, I would have been drawn to these beads.

True, I am a bead buyer, but I buy beads that are out of my skill set, styles I don't make and probably won't ever make. Once in a while I see a beautiful bead and think, I can make that. If a try or two convinces me that I can't make that, I will buy it from the artist. For instance, I don't do blown boro beads or marbles. I don't make pressed lentils or 3 dimensional roses. I don't do masked etching or paint with enamels on beads or do very elaborate fine stringer work. And sometimes I just want to own an artist's signature style or show support for the beauty they are making.

Back to my Warring States series. They are not simple to make, they take time and I think I execute them well if not brilliantly. And I think I've sold maybe one, at a show, where I was running a sale of buy two focals and get one free. I've had people consider them and tell me they don't like florals. I don't see these as floral in any way, but maybe to those who don't know the rich tradition of this style in the contemporary glass movement, they just look like a bunch of dots. I'm not objective. Plus there are artists who have built an entire revered reputation around dots. Take that, you non-lovers of my Chinese eye bead labors.

I am frustrated with the disconnect between how I see my beads and how the world evidently views them. I'm discouraged by lack of sales and stymied as to what I'm not doing right, whether it be putting my creative finger on the pulse of the art bead buying public, or spinning my marketing and merchandising wheels insufficiently or in the wrong direction.

Neil made some suggestions about studying the market and making what it popular, but I already do that. And if something I made sells, I immediately make more of that something, because if one person liked it enough to buy it, it might be the next big thing.

He also tossed out the idea of taking some more training, i.e., master classes, but I'm ambivalent. I've taken classes from most of the teachers I most admire and while I enjoy them, I'm not sure I'm learning anything new. Everyone has their own way of pulling stringer but at this point I know the way that works for me.

There's another issue with classes, especially if I have to travel and incur airfare and lodging costs on top of tuition. I have no cash flow right now, unless I sell a lot of beads. A LOT of beads. I can't access my retirement savings before Neil retires or they will be taxed at the highest Federal income tax rates. Even though I'm eligible to take distributions without incurring any penalties, Uncle Same still would get to keep 40%-50% of any money I withdraw.

So for now, I'm living on whatever my bead business brings in plus the money I have left from the time I left my company almost two years ago. I'm hoping I can make it last for two to three more years when other income sources will kick in.

But maybe I'll think longer and harder about taking a class in the Houston-Dallas- Austin-San Antonio radius. Or at the other end of the spectrum, I'll splurge real big and go to bead camp where you can take a 5 day class and stay on-site at the beach. That would be an awesome opportunity to bond with other passionate beadmakers and maybe help me empower myself to attend an event such as Bead and Button (which is happening right now) or the Best Bead Show in Tucson or the Glass Art Society conference or Soft Glass Invitational or Beadstock East or West.

So many choices, so little bread.

I better get working on on figuring out how to earn more crumbs.

"Behind my bolt locked door
The eagle and the serpent are at war in me
The serpent fighting for blind desire
The eagle for clarity
What strange prizes these battles bring
These hectic joys these weary blues
Puffed up and strutting when I think I win
Down and shaken when I think I lose
There are rivets up here in this eagle
There are box cars down there on your snake
And we are twins of spirit
No matter which route home we take
Or what we forsake
We're going to come up to the eyes of clarity
And we'll go down to the beads of guile
There is danger and education
In living out such a reckless life style
I touched you on the central plains
It was plane to train my twin
It was just plane shadow to train shadow
But to me it was skin to skin
The spirit talks in spectrums
He talks to mother earth to father sky
Self indulgence to self denial
Man to woman
Scales to feathers
You and I
Eagles in the sky
You and I
Snakes in the grass
You and I
Crawl and fly
You and I"

(Joni Mitchell, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The bliss of solitude

"You can find me when the light is changing."

I've been having trouble sleeping. I dread going to bed because I know it will be hard to get sleepy. Even if I can hardly keep my eyes open during some TV program I'm trying to watch, the minute I get in bed I'm wide awake.

I have my bedtime rituals. A hot bath, which used to reflex me and make me feel drowsy, until it became part of my scenery, just one more thing I do. I brush my teeth and lay out my morning meds and take my bedtime meds. There's something about this that underscores the brevity of life. As I do it, it seems like no time at all since I went through the same motions the night before.

I put anti-wrinkle, anti-blemish cream on my face, tea tree oil on my toes, hand lotion on my hands and talcum powder on my legs which seems to keep them from itching, I have no idea why. I put my night guard under my pillow and assume the position. The one on my side with a pillow between my knees. And I settle in for the time it takes to drift off to dreamland, which varies but is rarely brief.

That's not even the most annoying part of my sleeplessness. I can't stay asleep. I wake up from one to five times during the night. Most of those times I get up, go potty, get a drink of water, not because I need to, but just because it's a habit. About 3 am I put my night guard in. I can usually fall back to sleep with it in.

I get up earlier and earlier too. I go to bed between 11 pm and midnight and by 6:30 am I'm rolling out of bed. I was a night owl who spent a 35 year career longing to be able to sleep in, at least until 8, and now I can't sleep.

I do enjoy mornings. I think my first cup of coffee, sometimes with a cat on my lap, is my favorite part of the day. I drink one cup of full caff and two cups of half caff. I check things on my ipad, email first and then in random order, eBay, Etsy, Facebook and Lampwork Etc. Sometimes I check my blog roll, and of course i follow whatever links on Facebook interest me.

There is a sameness about my days right now, a sort of grayness. I eat breakfast if I'm hungry or I remember to. I gather yesterday's beads from the kiln and put them to soak. I dress. I go out to make beads from 9 am to 1 pm when it gets too damn hot. Which is OK because 4 hours of bead making eviscerates my creativity and taxes my neck, arm and hand.

I come in and notch down the AC whic still runs a program that assumes I work somewhere besides home Monday through Friday. I eat breakfast if I forgot to earlier. I re-check email and all the websites I checked earlier. I change into workout clothes and drive over to the community fitness center. I walk on the treadmill for one hour, listening to an audiobook or watching reruns of PBS shows on my ipad. There are always other people there but no one talks, hell, no one makes eye contact. I go to the post office if I have any beads or glass to ship. I go to the bank.

I vary my routine on some days. I may get my hair cut or my nails done, or a massage (strictly for my work-related pain of course). I pick up milk and groceries. Sometimes I go to Lowes for propane or a craft store for beading stuff. Sometimes I shop for clothes or shoes or things for the house, although there is little I really need. Every couple of weeks I go to the library and check out mostly movies, an occasional book.

I clean yesterday's beads. Maybe I take pictures and list things on Etsy or eBay. I check the usual websites again. Obsessive much?

By this time it's pretty close to the time Neil gets home, so I think about dinner, which is one of the following:

Boiled eggs, with bagels or English muffins. Or egg salad
Tuna Mac. Kraft macaroni and cheese with a can of solid white mixed in, a quickie tuna casserole.
Soup. With English muffins, or bagels if I remembered to get some. Cream of chicken mixed with chicken noodle. Or tomato.
Frozen pizza. No comment.
Ravioli. The refrigerator kind, with spaghetti sauce for me, butter for Neil.
Baked sweet potatoes.
Hot dogs and buns.
Leftovers of the above.

It suits us.

Unless like tonight when Neil has early softball and I won't see him until 9 pm. So I'll eat when I get hungry, tortillas with melted cheese and deli turkey or tomatoes. If I remembered to get some.

Lately, now and then, I bake. I make yogurt cake, or banana bread or cupcakes from a box. I'm not very good at it, but I try.

If Neil is home, we usually watch something together. A TV show if we can find anything good, or a DVD.

If Neil isn't home, like tonight, I'll watch one of the movies I checked ou of the library.

So the days fly, but I worry that something is missing. I feel like I should crave more human interaction. Which isn't the same thing as actually craving more human interaction. I feel like so much solitude isn't good for me, yet I don't really mind it. And I'm not sure what to do about it anyway. I'm still thinking about a part-time job, or volunteering with the Sugar Land animal rescue, if I can ever find it. Certainly getting out and doing some social service work would put me in the world more and make me a more interesting person.

It might even give me something more interesting to write about.

Last summer was different. I took an art class twice a week for 7 weeks. I made several multiday trips to Keller to spend time with my new grandchild. I visited my mom. We took a trip to Seattle and to Glacier National Park, followed by a trip to New Jersey, the latter memorable mainly because I was sick the whole time.

We have some fun things on the horizon. This weekend we're going to Ryland's first birthday party. Neil is going on to Oklahoma on business and I'm staying with my daughter for a couple of days. In July I'll visit my mom again. In August we're going to Yellowstone Park, and we're talking about trips to North Carolina and New Jersey too. Neil is going to coin camp in Colorado and also going to Chicago with his kids for a few days, but I'm opting out of those two events. They're too close in time to our other trips and I really don't like to be away from home that much.

I mean, if I can't sleep, I'd rather do it in my own bed.

"I have a need
For solitude
I'll never be
Safe in crowded rooms
I like the sound
Of silence coming on
I come around
When everyone has gone

I have a need
For cool verdant spaces
Beneath the trees
Secret empty places
Nobody knows
So no one will intrude
I have a need
For solitude

But you can find me, when the light is changing
At that time of day when there's
Little day remaining
You can find me where I've been waiting
Waiting here for you."

(Mary Chapin Carpenter)