Saturday, January 24, 2015

Imagineering my Life

"This liberty wind in my face, and I’m giggling again for no reason."

Is it possible to be too happy?

I know it must be annoying to other people. I know this because when I wasn't as happy as I am now, it irritated the crap out of me when other people were overly jolly.

A lot of friends, in my life and those who I only know online, have had tough years, challenging years, sad years.

So I wonder, when I'm posting lots of silly, joyful photos, from the Hawaiian Islands, or from Disney World, if I am just a little too happy. I wonder if I am putting it out there too much, showing off, and I wonder if I should stop letting it spill out quite so much.

So many things are just going right in my life. And I want to celebrate it. It hasn't always been that way, I had hard years, sad years, challenging years too. Yet in the bigger picture, looking at the things that really matter, I've lead a charmed life. My parents both lived long lives, my children are healthy and I've always had abundance. My neurotransmitters have been my worst enemies and, even in my darkest nights, I've always been grateful that it wasn't something worse.

Sure, I feel like I was an underachiever, that I had the brains and talent to have had a more interesting career, but I lacked self-confidence. I played it safe and stuck with the devil I knew and mined a lot of salt, but it paid the bills and sent my kids to college and allowed me to accrue a respectable retirement nest egg, which I'm continuing to try to grow.

Yes, I married (the first time) on the rebound, from years of dating disappointments, overlooking the red flags and then paying for it for so many years, because I thought I didn't deserve better, because I felt trapped and guilty and terrified of a sea change.

And now I have this amazing life and I sometimes wonder if I'm actually dreaming it. Could I have invented this whole fantasy life, could I have, as they say at Disney, imagineered an entire dream world? Am I heavily sedated in some asylum somewhere and is everything I think is real merely a figment of my own creation?

OK, maybe that is a little far-fetched, as I probably wouldn't have this slow-healing cut on my hand. Or a husband who works so hard and such long hours that I daren't ask him to help me set up my new computer. And I'd probably have spared my daughter the agony of having her husband of five years walk out on her in the cruelest possible way. And conjured up a heated, air-conditioned glass studio instead of a crowded space in our garage.

Nothing's perfect. But for me today it's more than good enough. Much more.

I've been working very hard, making beads, getting ready for an online trunk show, listing beads for sale compulsively on Facebook. I'm not sure why I drive myself so hard. I could give it up, all the endless work that goes with making art your living as well as your life. I'd suddenly have a lot more time. I could read more, write more, keep my house tidier, relax more, smell the roses more.

But I'm no gardener. I don't even know how to relax, really. Television doesn't interest me and eventually I'd run out of movies and mini-series to watch online. Plus I love melting glass. I love making beads. I love the validation when someone likes my beads enough to buy them and even better, when someone writes to tell me my beads are even more beautiful in person. I like the friends I've made in the glass community, the camaraderie with my fellow bead makers (and addicts), the knowledge that I'm doing something special, something not just everyone can do.

Speaking of addiction, I've stopped buying nearly as many beads as I had been. My collection is bulging at the figurative seams. I binged a bit right at the end of the year and resisted for a full week in January, and since then I've bought less than six beads or bead sets. Each of the five was almost accidental - I placed a bid that I though had no chance of winning and was surprised to find myself the winner.

I've given a lot of thought to addiction lately. I used to think addiction was a smokescreen for not feeling our feelings. Emotional needs not getting met that we are trying to fill with "things." But I love my life, I am happy and grateful and I don't know what gap I would be trying to fill. I do know that my parents, my mom especially, were no-nonsense types who rarely bought anything they didn't need. They had nice things but a reasonable number. I have gone to the other extreme - excess and self-indulgence.

Here's a secret. When I moved in 2007, I packed up a house I'd live in for 19 years. I got rid of boatloads of stuff (some I wish I still had). Some I put out on the curb and people carried it off. But all the "collectibles" were carefully wrapped in tissue and packed in boxes. There they are still, stacked in spare room closets. When we moved into our new house I just bought new stuff. I'm a ridiculous person.

I don't just have 1/4 lb. of a glass color. If I get below 2 lbs. of my go-to colors (opal yellow, silver pink, copper green, red copper green, uranium pastel, etc. I have anxiety. I probably have 10 different kinds of clear, about 15-20 lbs. total. Plus I switch between 104, 96 and Bullseye, and I had to have some Boro on hand in case that bug bites.

But somehow, I don't feel guilty about glass buying. Some of the glass I bought early on is out of production and has gone up in value. I usually only sell it if someone is desperately seeking some, but on the whole my glass is worth more than I paid - I just don't think about the hassle of packaging and shipping it.

Still, you know you are in trouble when you find out you didn't win a bead you thought you had the high bid on, and you feel relieved. Selling beads on FB means I am constantly going through the photos to monitor my listings and then I see something beautiful and have to click on it. I have an awesome collection, but lately when the mail comes I don't even want to open the packages. Because I'm out of space to put things away. I don't know why most other bead makers are not bidding and buying but I keep doing it. I love making beads. I don't want this to kill my joy.

Bead buyers justify buying beads by thinking, I can make xyz pairs of earrings from that set and make my money back and a profit. I'm learning that it's not so easy to sell jewelry. I listed a necklace for pretty much the price I'd have sold the beads for and got no bids. Not to mention that as much as I like the idea of making jewelry and like it when I actually do it, I almost never really feel like doing it.

I don't think most lampworkers are addicted to buying beads. I know my limits as a beadmaker. If I think I can make it I usually won't buy it. That's my rule anyway. But there is such talent out there and I know how hard some of the techniques are.

I also have a HUGE collection of beads I have traded for or gotten in bead exchanges. Literally hundreds. I have participated in earring exchanges and most are still in the bags or boxes they came in. (I'm always open to trades.) I've also donated at least one thousand beads to Beads of Courage.

As usual I feel conflicted. I feel like I should be saying "buy more beads" since I make and sell them. I worry about being an "enabler" but I have talked to some of my "fellow addicts" one-on-one and the consensus is that people are adults and responsible for their own decisions. At least I try to keep my prices fair. I see beads sell for both too little and too much every day.

Today I saw a set of 14 perfectly pretty pink beads sell for a buy-it-now price of $11. For the first time ever, I commented on it. I said that it made me want to cry. It did. Thought not for the usual given reason that it devalues the art of the beadmaking community as a whole. I don't think my pieces will sell for less or less well as a result. I just felt sad for the person who put in the time behind the torch and thought so little of her time and talent as to ask so little for her art.

But I can't take on all the problems of the bead world and carry them personally. I have to resist my nature, which is to carry other people's pain. I have to refer back to what my mom used to say - "I don't try to live other people's lives, I have enough trouble living my own."

Although frankly, living my own life lately has been anything but trouble.

"I am driving in my car up Highway 1
I left LA without telling anyone
There were people who needed something from me
But I am sure they’ll get along fine on their own

Oh this state of ecstasy
Nothing but road could ever give to me
This liberty wind in my face
And I’m giggling again for no reason

I am dancing with my friends in elation
We've taken adventures to new levels of fun
I can feel the bones are smiling in my body
I can see the meltings of inhibition

I'm reeling jubilation
Triumphant in delight
I am at home in this high five
And I'm smiling for no reason

I am sitting at the set of Cali sun
We've gotten quiet for its last precious seconds
I can feel the salt of the sea on my skin
And we still hear the echoes of abandon

Oh this state of ecstasy
Nothing but road could ever give to me
This liberty wind in my face
And I'm giggling again for no reason."

((Alanis Morissette

Monday, January 5, 2015

The hostess with the leastest

"Life'll find ya, wherever you go, requiescat in pace, that's all she wrote."

2014 is done and dusted. I packed up the ornaments and put away the 3-foot tree. The stockings were un-hung from the staircase with care.

The latter half of December was a stressful end to an otherwise perfectly good year.

Blame me. Despite keeping it as simple as possible, I'm the hostess with the leastest, and when we have house guests, even ones closely related to us, something or someone is always getting on my last nerve.

I try, I really do. I bought new sheets, comforters and pillows for the guest rooms and washed multiple rounds of towels, and stocked up on a reasonable amount of food and, with a lot of help from Neil, orchestrated two homemade family dinners.

Our kids' visits didn't even overlap. Neil's crew was here for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and mine showed up on Boxing Day. It's not that we plan it that way, it's just tradition that my kids spend Christmas Eve and Day with their own dad. No one is willing to be flexible or change, and it's not a battle worth choosing.

It's probably simpler and easier to have separate celebrations, especially since we have different ideas about the reason for the season. Neil's kids are used to a giant gift-fest. I give my kids money and the same small gifts and my traditional stocking stuffers every year. Socks and soap, sometimes nail polish, makeup, body lotion. This year everyone got Del Sol keychains in their stockings - which were a big hit.

Having people around 24/7 saps my energy. I'm easily overwhelmed by sinks full of dishes, cups and glasses and cans and bottles of beverages everywhere, gift wrap detritus strewn hither and yon, too many voices talking, talking, talking.

I'm out of my routine, and not in a good way, not in the way of being on a Hawaiian vacation with Neil. I'm eating at odd times, such as when I'm not hungry, and eating more than I really want and not getting any exercise.

I am having food-issue flashbacks.

These are my problems, my baggage. Other people have to own their own bodies and decide how to fuel them and even whether or not to abuse them. It's on me that it hurts me to witness the choice of overindulgence by others.

With one or two notable exceptions, I've been slim most of my life and that has involved some discipline and denial. Intellectually, I know that my choices may not be right for everyone. Practically, I can't get past the judgmental idea that gluttony is a sin.

And on the flip side, I have one child judging me relentlessly for the shortage of vegetables in my own diet and pantry, and for the fact that I buy flavored, sweetened yogurt instead of plain - and adding my own fresh fruits and honey.

In fact, I felt pretty much perpetually judged and criticized by children, mine mostly, for most of the holiday weekend. Words put into my mouth, history reinvented, and everything from my driving to my wardrobe scrutinized and found lacking.

At least they care. Sort of.

With Thanksgiving, followed by Hawaii, followed by Christmas, followed by the New Year holiday, I've gotten behind on my personal bead making. In December I took on another 100 pair-project for Beads of Courage. That left me little time to make anything new to sell on Facebook, although I did eek out a few small sets.

Mostly I've been selling some of the beads I've had hanging around for a while, some for bargain basement prices. I just donated 100 Act of Courage beads to Beads of Courage, along with the Carry-a-Bead pairs. "Act of Courage Beads are the artist-made glass beads that are given to acknowledge the milestones in a child's treatment journey. These beads truly bring the arts to our Arts-in-Medicine mission." [From the BOC website]

So I thought that getting something, even just $10, for beads I've had on hand, was better than nothing.

I'm conflicted about this of course. Do I devalue my art as a whole by selling some older and less popular designs for budget prices? I sell them in a Facebook group that sets a $10 minimum starting price and a $25 maximum Buy-it-Now price (although auctions can go as high as the bidding takes them). Mine mostly started at $10 and ended at $10 - or $11 or $12. Sometimes they just expired with no bids.

I've stopped letting that bother me. What does bother me is when I see someone else post a set of 6 or 7 very so-so beads and watch them get bid up or bought now for good money, while concurrently a pretty set I have listed languishes, bid-less. I whinged about that in one of the group chats and someone reminded me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

And of course, as a bead maker, I look at beads with what Neil would call the hairy eyeball. I see the flaws, the level of skill (or the lack). But as my dad used to say, it's differences of opinion that make horse racing.

Anyway, as always, I want to up my game. I want to make nicer sets with better curb appeal. It just takes time. Which I won't have any more of, after tomorrow, until next Sunday. Orlando calls. Yes, we are off again.

In the meantime I reopened my Etsy store, or rather, didn't close it as I intended. I let almost everything left expire, but when I was down to about seven items, I started to renew unsold listings. I'm up to 81 items now, with one sale since my change in direction. I've yet to list anything new, but that is the long-range plan, at least today.

2014. It was, as I said, a perfectly good year, but there was a sad note recently. One of my Colgate friends in Houston has pancreatic cancer. When he told me, I had no clue how grave a diagnosis that was, not to mention that I mixed it up with prostate cancer and was stupidly positive on the phone. "Oh, my cousin had that, and he's fine now."

I did the research and the stats are grim. If he'd said liver cancer, I'd have known it was nigh to hopeless. The prognosis for pancreatic cancer isn't a lot better. But my friend says they caught it early and he'll have chemo, followed by surgery, and he talks in terms of recovery. At least that's his story and he's sticking to it.

I don't know, it just seems wrong, My parents have been gone for one year and four years, my friends should not be dying. But it happens, it has happened, we've lost classmates and more will follow.

Keeping that in mind, my artistic conundrums are clearly first world problems.

I'm planning to keep that in mind. Front and center.

You've got an invalid haircut
And it hurts when you smile
You'd better get out of town
Before your nickname expires
It's the kingdom of the spiders
It's the empire of the ants
You need a permit to walk around downtown
You need a license to dance

Life'll kill ya
That's what I said
Life'll kill ya
Then you'll be dead
Life'll find ya
Wherever you go
Requiescat in pace
That's all she wrote

From the President of the United States
To the lowliest rock and roll star
The doctor is in and he'll see you now
He don't care who you are
Some get the awful, awful diseases
Some get the knife, some get the gun
Some get to die in their sleep
At the age of a hundred and one

Life'll kill ya
That's what I said
Life'll kill ya
Then you'll be dead
Life'll find ya
Wherever you go
Requiescat in pace
That's all she wrote

Maybe you'll go to heaven
See Uncle Al and Uncle Lou
Maybe you'll be reincarnated
Maybe that stuff's true
Maybe if you were good
You'll come back as someone nice
And maybe if you were bad
You'll have to pay the price

Life'll kill ya
That's what I said
Life'll kill ya
Then you'll be dead
Life'll find ya
Wherever you go
Requiescat in pace
That's all she wrote

(Warren Zevon, 1947-2003)