Patron of the Arts (and Crafts)

Sherri's Multimedia Painting

Sherri's Multimedia Painting

Surprisingly, I had Friday night off. Now I could have called in and asked if they needed an extra body. Almost assuredly, they would have said yes and I would have had a few more dollars to throw at my creditors. However.

However, I have worked a great many hours this past month and a couple minutes with the calculator indicated I could enjoy Friday evening without much more austerity than is already in place.

I ended up at my good friend’s house for what we term a “sistering.” Women gather and we talk about stuff. We talk and we talk – about our kids, our classes, our dreams, our aspirations, about how good the lasagna is. One of the craziest evenings involved the en masse arrival of the lesbians after which, somewhat perplexingly, we all ended up sitting around talking about boys and whether or not size matters. (The other memorable occasion was the night we were all PMSing and the potluck was ENTIRELY comprised of chocolate.)

My friend, the host, teaches art history and the guest list is often, usually, comprised of artists.

I have a love/hate relationship with the artsy crowd.

Willy on Great-Grandmother's Afghan

Willy on Great-Grandmother's Afghan

Now my mother is into crafts. She has always been thus. She’s fully aware of the difference between arts and crafts, although like most of us, she doesn’t know exactly where the dividing line is. The female members of both branches of the family tree are into crafts. A few of them dabble in the arts. They crochet, they knit, they tole paint, they quilt, and they paint ceramic figurines and execute paintings. They make collages and jewelry. Christmas will find them in quite a frenzy.

My mother is not big on the crochet/knitting thing, but she makes up for it with power tools, sanders, and every shade of acrylic paint Michael’s sells. She also sews. She’s actually very good at sewing. I was tortured throughout my childhood with my mother trying to teach me how to sew.

The disasters are family stories – the time I hemmed my dress (which I had no intention of ever wearing) to my jeans. And then there was the time I made kitchen curtains without any thread in the bobbin and couldn’t figure out why they kept falling off the rod.

I am afraid of my sewing machine and after the slight concussion of a few weeks ago, I am doubly afeared. It used to just silently glare at me and taunt me to try and fill the bobbin. Now, it seems, its malevolence has branched into physically harming me when I have no intention of pressing it into service.

That love/hate relationship centers on the fact that I love that talent/ability and hate that I don’t have it.

I did manage to spray paint this piece <br>I bought at auction for a $1.

I did spray paint this piece I bought for a $1.

I arrive at the sistering on Friday to discover that two of the guests did a run through Michael’s and purchased an astonishing amount of beads, wires, thingie-dos and other accoutrements for the making of jewelry. The idea was that we would all sit around talking (about boys or no) while making necklaces, earrings, bracelets, anklets, etc. etc.

I had a right awful day Friday. I immediately envisioned myself lopping off a finger with the needle nose plier-thingies and spending the night in the Emergency Room. Or somehow crafting earrings that would turn my ears black with gangrene. Or, worse, having all the art students laugh at me. I have a good ear for music, but can’t sing a note anyone besides me has ever heard. I also have a good eye for design, but can’t execute.  (I’ve spent 25 years trying to learn how to crochet and my only accomplishment is the ability to chain if I concentrate really hard.)

I know my limitations.

Generally, I’m not too concerned about being laughed at and poke more fun at myself than the others could even begin to match. But. I had a right awful day Friday and was trying to control my twitching.

I demurred.

Voila!  Bodily adornment for me, me, me!

Voila! Bodily adornment for me, me, me!

I insisted it would be far better and I would enjoy myself far more watching them turn hobby supply store goods into bodily adornments. I ate lasagna, drank wine, and watched women make jewelry.

The creative process (whether art or craft) intrigues me. I love watching artists and craftspersons execute. It doesn’t matter if it’s the well-turned leg of a piece of furniture or the execution of a piece of sculpture. Watching that ability to take raw goods and turn it into something visually appealing is a great form of entertainment.

In this case, I watched pieces of this and that turn into a necklace and a pair of earrings. From the beginning, it was the intention of the maker to give them to me. She kept asking my opinion and asking me to make decisions about the choice of components. I kept telling her I would be far happier and it would mean more to me if she made me what she wanted to make.

I left with a lovely ensemble of malachite and dragonflies.

The one thing I can do that I’m good at is needlework. Years ago I took up needlepoint as something to do while watching television. I loved the process. I loved the process more than the finished product. Of all the stuff I did, I only managed to actually frame a couple of pieces. In The Closet I Am Afraid Of languishes finished projects unframed and unstuffed. The act is enough.

In memory of Donnie.

In memory of Donnie.

Needlepoint is damned expensive. I regarded it as worth it, because the moving meditation of pulling thread and yarn in and out of canvas was soul-soothing. But as with so many areas of my life, the cost of both time and money became insupportable. When I had the time, I turned to cross stitch and simple embroidery to fulfill my need to poke a needle in and out of fabric. While I enjoyed the act of cross stitching, I hated the end results. There’s something about cross stitch that offends my sensibilities. The only piece I ever displayed was the one I made while my best friend was dying of cancer.

Back in January, I had another attack of Needleworkitis. At ridiculous expense, I purchased a kit of needlepoint boasting an image that I’m not thrilled with. Needlepoint is damned expensive and I went for the clearance stuff. The kit itself bears a ridiculous price, but even worse is the added expense of all the other crap – stretcher bars, thread organizers, hoops, needles, magnifying glasses, and carrying cases. (And as fate would have it, I have not had time to relearn the stitches – something I must do before I can bring myself to tackle this project which cost me far more than was prudent.)

Like many people with ADD, I have a love of containers. It’s been postulated that those of us with ADD love (love, love, love) containers because we’re embroiled in a constant battle to organize our minds and our surroundings.

Containers and yarn and books, oh my!

Containers and yarn and books, oh my!

HMOKeefe claims to not be ADD, but I’m dubious. He has containers for his containers. He puts stuff in containers, holders, cases, bags and boxes and then puts those things into containers, holders, cases, bags and boxes so that the end result is a lot like Russian nesting dolls. On our vacation, I had a suitcase, an overnight bag and a purse into which everything was tossed willy nilly. He had 77 tote bags filled with containers of containers that like that old Barrel of Monkeys game I was uncommonly fond of as a child eventually revealed the item he intended to need. Now that I think about it, perhaps he’s not ADD. He actually uses his containers. Still. I think there’s some sort of pathology there.

As I sat there watching the jewelry process, I was equally intrigued by the containers. I submit the entire guest list of Friday evening is ADD. Not only did they spend a boatload of money on beads and whatnot, they also purchased containers, dividers, and all manner of stuff to organize the supplies.

I’ve gotten off-topic. (We ADD people tend to do that.)

Birthday quilt from Sherri.

Birthday quilt from Sherri.

My point, I think, is that while I’m relatively talentless in the arts and crafts area, I love having things people I know have made. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by people who do have talent and see fit to give it to me. The objects themselves are wonderful, but the bonus of knowing the artist and, sometimes, watching it made is an even greater thrill. I asked on Friday if I could be considered a patron of the arts if I never actually paid for any of the stuff I have. I was assured that was not unusual.

So. As an impoverished patron of the arts, feel free to make something and give it to me. (I draw the line at plastic canvas – it’s a long story. If your medium is plastic canvas you’ll need to find another patron.)

Routine (or the New Normal)

I’m working part-time at a group home for teenagers. The kids are there because of stuff they did or because of stuff done to them. In most cases, though certainly not all, these kids have lived a life of routine that does not have a discernable pattern – or in other words – no routine.

For years, I viewed the concept of routine as a Great Evil to avoid at all cost. I was, and perhaps still am, convinced that routine stunts creativity and turns us into automatons. But more on that later.

Anyone who has been charged with the responsibility of taking care of a three-year-old understands the importance of routine in a child’s life. Toddlers without a routine are some of the most miserable beings on the planet. More importantly, they know this. If you change a toddler’s routine for any reason, in most cases (aside from holidays, vacations, etc.), the toddler will scream blue-bloody murder.

When Chef Boy R’ Mine was that age, any deviation from the weekly routine turned him into a hyperactive monster prone to tears, rage, and publicly embarrassing behavior. Being sufficiently enlightened, knowledgeable about child development, and having examined all of my parents’ shortcomings as parents, I, like nearly every other parent, was convinced that my child would always be happy and well-adjusted. It’s such a rude awakening when enlightenment, knowledge and introspection does not, in fact, make a damn bit of difference as to whether or not the child is going to have a tantrum at the Kroger.


The older the boy got and the older I got, the more I realized that routine is not just important to toddlers, it’s important to everyone. It’s not the blanket evil I was once believed to be true.

My first day of school.

My first day of school.

The beginning of the school year was always a time of relief and rejoicing. Staples used to run a commercial with a happy, frolicking father tossing school supplies into the basket with great glee. His two disgruntled children watch. I laughed every time I saw it and said Amen! I thoughtfully provided the commercial at the beginning of this post.

The start of school signaled a return to routine. After a couple of months of flexible bedtimes, erratic meals, impromptu outings, and any number of unscheduled activities, we were all worn out from too much deviation.

Now of course, school brought its own challenges, but there was a carved in stone routine that was only interrupted by Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Memorial Day. Those interludes provided needed respite from the grind, but like the first day of school in August, I always looked forward to January 2nd when the holidays were officially over and we could get back to the routine.

At the group home, the first thing we do is put these kids on a schedule. They have standard mealtimes, standard bedtimes, and a daily rhythm that doesn’t vary too wildly. They chafe at first, but like the toddlers they come to both expect it and need it. The minute something gets off-kilter, they get hyperactive and there are tears, rage, and the occasional tantrum. Routine is good.

As the years went by and I began noticing how much I looked forward to the first day of school (and January 2nd), I realized that routine was important in my life too. While it does inhibit my creativity and does, to some extent, turn me into an automaton, the emotional equilibrium that routine provides does mitigate the downside. For the most part.

Several years ago, I became disgusted with my routine and made some sweeping life changes. I do not regret this.

Can you see John Lennon's head?

Can you see John's head?

However, these sweeping changes punctuated by some disasters of varying importance have left me, metaphorically, in the cereal aisle at Kroger having a tantrum. Everything is in flux and while I can envision the goal line, I cannot see it. (I can’t believe I’m using a sports metaphor, but there you have it.) I had a plan and I have goals, but I don’t see the plan being executed for another 5 to 7 years which means attainment of the goals are going to take even longer. I have resisted looking that truth in the eye.

I am emotionally exhausted and prone to rage and tantrums. I am simply tired of not knowing what I can expect from the next day, the next month or the next year. I’m fond, perhaps too fond, of quoting John Lennon’s “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” It’s good to have goals, but that doesn’t preclude having a routine or abandoning a plan that can’t be executed under the circumstances. Muttering “This too shall pass” has been comforting. It may very well be passing, but the movement is so slow as to be imperceptible.

I have chafed at the routine that is trying to emerge, because it is in direct opposition to my goals and expectations. I had a major setback yesterday. I’m still reeling. I do know that the chafing, the grumpiness, the rage and the tantrums have not changed one damn thing. I need to embrace the latent routine and accept my New Normal.

So. My task for the day is to try and fine tune the routine that I think circumstances are dictating; and tweak it enough to insure I don’t become a bitter, old woman whose creativity is limited to seeing what happens when she substitutes Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup for the Cream of Mushroom in the tuna casserole.

The New Normal I’m trying to talk myself into embracing is so far outside my realm of experience (and not in a good way) that figuring out how to turn it into something that’s going to work for me is daunting. I do know that viewing it as temporary is not working. For years now, I’ve hung onto arbitrary timeframes uttered by doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs that have proved to be complete fiction. There is no goal line in sight. (Damn it, did it again.)

So, channeling the sentiments of many sages, the goal is to be right here, right now with a routine, day in and day out, that doesn’t ignore the future, but doesn’t treat the now as the aberration. The now is the future. I will resist discussing quantum physics to make this point.

And this all seems much grimmer and whiny than is my intention. I’m more at peace right now than I have been. Years ago when the New Normal began, I would have told you I couldn’t have gotten to this day without losing my mind. While my mental health has ups and downs, I have not worn a strait jacket or been prescribed haloperidol. While I’m not dancing around singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” I am also not railing at the universe.

Now then. If you’ll excuse me, I have a set of chores that I’ve previously allotted 9 hours to, but which the New Normal dictates must be done in 45 minutes. I need to get cracking.

Favorite Quotes No. 1

During periods of so-called economic depression, societies suffer for want of all manner of essential goods, yet investigation almost invariably discloses that there are plenty of goods available. Plenty of coal in the ground, corn in the fields, wool on the sheep. What is missing is not materials but an abstract unit of measurement called ‘money.’ It is akin to a starving woman with a sweet tooth lamenting that she can’t bake a cake because she doesn’t have any ounces. She has butter, flour, eggs, milk, and sugar, she just doesn’t have any ounces, any pinches, any pints. — Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

Skinny Legs and All is, to my mind, a must read.  It’s a polemic disguised as a hysterically funny novel populated with a bizarre cast of characters not the least of which are a can of beans, a purple sock, and a vibrator.

This quote has been running around my head recently as I try to make sense of the various health reform debates. 

A friend of mine introduced me to this novel and I was amazed at her copy.  Nearly every sentence was highlighted, underlined and/or annotated.  The book is one quotable quote after another and tackles such things as Middle East peace, male/female relationships and whether or not inanimate objects are really inanimate.  It boasts a plot that is impossible to summarize in less than 500 words.

For years I kept the book by my beside and dipped into each morning using it as a source of daily affirmations – an idea stolen from another friend. 

It’s been years since I’ve read the novel from page one all the way through.  I finally finished the novel of Chinese erotica and was trying to select a new book to read when I ran across Skinny Legs and All.  I got side tracked from the new novel pursuit when I elected to look up the above quote.  In looking for it, I ran across some real gems and chuckled again.  I’ve read this novel all the way through at least 20 times (and I almost never re-read anything) and it never fails to provoke out and out guffaws. 

I’ve decided to re-read it beginning at page 1.  Lord knows, I need a good laugh as well as some big ideas to meditate on.