Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Young and the Combless

Bob Marley
John Butler Trio
Michael Franti
My sister, Tori
Sprint PictureMail
My Man and the peachy footed kitten

One of the most hurtful statements my grandmother ever made on a fairly continuous basis was, "Are you going to comb your hair?" And the thing that made it sting the most was, I had inevitably been in the bathroom combing my hair.

Let's just say my naturally curly hair didn't always cooperate. Sure, I went through an 80's phase where people coveted my hair. Others braided their hair and then combed it out. Or they crimped it. Or they spent $100+ on spiral perms to get my ringlets. But that was short-lived and haphazard at best. It definitely couldn't be counted on, and like some sort of mythical beast, it was only captured in perfection in my senior pictures. On any other given day, it was just a glimpse of Bigfoot or just the tail of Lochness. It was a fleeting measure of coolness often squelched by the seemingly always en vogue straight hair style.

To be honest, most days I looked more like Slash from Guns n' Roses or triangular perfection like Alice in the cartoon Dilbert. Combing didn't help. Add to that a propensity for knotting, and what you get is a girl who fantasized about just giving up on it. I considered starting a hat collection. But trying to conceal an abundance of curly hair with a hat is kind of like trying to hide an at-term pregnant belly with a bikini.

I also considered letting my hair go wild. Back then, I sort of envisioned the dreading process as a matter of giving one's self over to nature. I figured the hair formed itself into those glorious hanks of hair, much the same way that a blackberry bush was a tangled, dark, dangerous mass of delicate tendrils abuzz with life. They beckon with their fruit, but they say, if you pick this fruit, you might get hurt, which makes the fruit all the sweeter. And isn't that what teenage girls do anyway? Don't they emit hormonal come-hithers while at the same time with a jail bait, Lolita-esque risk?

Though I managed to unintentionally rock some pretty mean tangles which eventually I had to cut out, I never officially partook of the dreadlocks. I just admired them from afar. I remember falling for a man, not because he had dreadlocks, but because he had done his doctoral work in the mountains of Jamaica. Once finished with his studies, he found that he couldn't leave and so bought a cobalt blue house in the jungle. There he spent his days listening to reggae, smoking ganja, and counting as friends and mentors the old men who had dreadlocks down to their knees. He showed me photo after photo. The hair looked like tree roots. They look like cigars. It looked like a mop. It looked like bungee cord. It looked like Predator. They tied it with one strand. They piled it atop their heads like a geyser. They tucked it into a crocheted version of what looked like a cross between fishing net and cafeteria worker hair net.

It's not as if this boyfriend was the first to introduce me to dreadlocks, but I think he was the first to make me see their beauty. His admiration for the men helped me understand that the dreads are less a hairstyle and more a way of being. And so it goes without saying that I am an admirer of the dreadlocked ones: Bob Marley, John Butler Trio's lead singer, Michael Franti. My sister has them. My boyfriend has them.

I am compelled and repelled.
I am in awe and dubious.

I'll admit, my boyfriend's dreadlocks are the first I've touched or been in contact with on a daily basis. And I feel sometimes like Jane Goodall must have felt when studying the apes. Among my findings:

* Dreadlocks can be like a rosary or worry stone. He fiddles with them, sometimes absentmindedly and some times methodically. Sometimes he rolls them between his big palms in order to compact them and to make them more distinct.

* Do not ever expect to run your fingers through your lover's hair in the way made popular by movies and paperback novels. The result is less than romantic. You must be careful how your hands and fingers operate in the head vicinity. An errant finger can snag, catch, pull, or put pressure on them and cause pain, which makes for a grumpy macho man. It's kind of like a self-induced cock blocking. The lady goes in for a sweet or sexy gesture, accidentally causes pain or discomfort and is thus DENIED. Therefore, approach with caution.

* He uses a special shampoo that makes me feel like a koala in a grove of eucalyptus. The bottle has a picture of a cartoon black kid that looks very much like the main character in Boondocks. It is expensive and must be special ordered, so don't go using it like a hotel courtesy sample bottle of Prell. Above all, if you do snitch a little, under no circumstances should you put your hands near your eyes or your genitalia. If you disregard my friendly reminder, the unfriendly burn of the shampoo on those sensitive parts will be your punishment.

* It's an ordeal to wash them every day, so on days when he doesn't, he gets into the shower with a neon green shower cap. This is the least attractive he will ever look but also the most vulnerable and thus cutest.

* He doesn't dry them with a towel. Instead, he shakes his head like a dog or more accurately, like a heavy metal head banger. He does this outside, in the midst of winter even, and I find it sinfully sexy. Some day I expect him to come back inside looking as if he's returned from Everest expedition, with frost on his beard and icicles hanging from his....rock pick.

* When he scoops the cat up in his arms, the cat sees the locks as toys. Likewise, every once in awhile you'll find her playing animatedly with something. She'll bat an unidentified object about the kitchen linoleum until you take it away from her. Upon further inspection, you'll see it's a tuft of hair . I might lose a strand of hair, but he loses little knotty furballs.

* They come with presupposition and judgment. People naturally associate the hairstyle with other behaviors. Thus, when he travels through the airport, he'll be the one they "randomly" search. Likewise, they'll be the subject of awkward dinner conversation for old ladies who mistake them for cornrows. People will associate them with being dirty, no matter how many showers you take. The subject of bugs and critters will come up, both as joke and in all seriousness. When he travelled to meet with his conservative grandparents who live in Florida, he worried that his grandfather would disapprove.

* They are most beautiful
when he hovers, my night sky:
display of Peony, Chrysanthemum,
Dahlia, Willow, Horsehair, Spider, Palm.
A visible trail saying: This
is where we ascend. This
is the descent. This
is the spark, flash powder,
the stars, he, me long-burning
glowing, free-falling in the glitter
trail, named for the shape of its break.
It is a timed rain. A salute, nightly.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December Metamorphosis

I was an equal opportunity Scrooge. For several years, I banned Jesus, Santa, snowmen, trees, lights, blow-up polar bears, snowglobes, ugly sweaters and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." The year MY grandmother died, I thought, "Keep it." Keep the absence. Keep the sadness. Keep away the rift that developed in the remaining family members. Keep the loneliness. Keep it all.

But THIS Christmas is different. I feel a bit of a buzz. A high. I feel light-hearted and smiley and able to propel myself through crowds I'd normally shun. I dig deep in my pockets for change to give the Salvation Army bell ringer. I open doors for people whose arms are filled with consumerism. I don't automatically change the channel if I catch a whiff of Charlie Brown and his sad little tree or a little boy wanting a bb gun or some little twit talking about angels getting their wings.

It's the sort of thing that makes me want to wrap cardboard boxes with Christmas wrap and then fill those boxes with loads of homemade baked goods a la my grandmother's tradition. I won't go so far as to say that sugarplums are dancing in my head, but I'm teaching and grading and buried in paperwork, yet also salivating over the idea of peanut brittle and peanut butter fudge and pillowy clouds of divinity and sugar cookies and, and, and...hoping the notes I'm writing on students' papers won't look like recipes.

It's the sort of thing that makes me want to shop. It's the sort of thing that's making me MAKE my own goddamned wrapping paper. I bought a stocking for the cat, and I'm SEWING his stocking out of old jeans. A few times I've caught myself humming the normally annoying soundtrack to the season.

And when My Guy returned from his trip back East and admitted that he kind of hoped that I would have surprised him by decorating his apartment for the upcoming holiday, I realized I was a true Christmas sap because I had considered doing so, despite his self-labeled Atheist.

Don't judge. Atheists can have other reasons for the season. Perhaps he misses family Christmas. Or perhaps it's just another step in this thing called US. And I'm down with that. So there I was digging through my storage unit for a faux tree and decorations. Eventually, I found it: box warped with age, broken open at the bottom, cobwebby. Perfect.

And this is how Christmas threw up at Mike's (cue sitcom laugh track):

He held the cat (currently an escape artist because she's randy--due to be spayed and thus wanting to get out and get some tail--or get her tail gotten, I guess) while I maneuvered a 3 foot long box with its contents spilling out...inside his small apartment. And then it turned out that 2 of the 3 feet on the tree were missing. Apparently, they'd dropped somewhere between the storage unit and Moscow.

We had discussed the idea of a real tree but had "exnayed" the idea for two reasons: 1) I'm a semi-serious tree hugger who likes the smell of a real tree when the tree is planted in a forest but not the idea of killing and wasting a tree for a month of our own satisfaction and 2) we feared the aforementioned escape artist, crazy-with-sexual-energy kitty would climb it, chew it, topple it, etc.

So with no option to go out and buy a real tree and with being too stubborn to consider my faux tree crippled with one of three legs, I went into engineering, make-do mode. I brought out My Guy's mop bucket, tossed in the tree, some books I'd gotten from the recycling bin to weight the tree down, and filled in the other areas with bubble wrap. I then covered the non-festive bucket with festive tablecloths.

Did I mention we decided to put the tree on the kitchen table? (SEE hormone-crazed cat section above)

Did I also mention that the faux tree is comprised of 3 sections, but we were only able to use 2 sections before the tip of the tree hit the ceiling?

Did I mention that tree section A didn't fit properly into tree section C and thus required some sort of security measure for which My Guy offered up SCOTCH TAPE? He did. And of course I had to tease my football-watching, chest pounding, macho man club member for not having any MAN TAPE i.e. duct tape. [Epilogue: he came home the next day with man tape, as I had immasculated him with my joking.]!

Did I mention that I have apparently entered into a new writing phase in which I (sometimes randomly) emphasize certain words by typing them all in uppercase letters? IT'S THE EQUIVALENT TO YELLING, YOU KNOW!

So I decorated the tree with a new set of LED lights, which My Guy pronounced as "trippy." And they are. They are piercing and annoying as the newer cars you meet on the highways who have the NEWER, BETTER headlights...the ones that blind you and make you sick to your stomach and trigger Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (or treat PTSD) with their white hot lights. And then I hung the blue balls, the balls with harbingers of peace (a.k.a doves), bears with log legs and pine cones for feet, a football, a panda bear with a basketball, a snowman just chillin, African American angels. You know. Standard Christmas Decorations. And then the moment came when I placed the topper on. The topper sort of resembles a gingerbread cookie star. And the whole thing nearly toppled under the weight. So no gingerbread cookie star.

My Guy came home later with a lighter topper, which he ceremoniously placed atop the tree. He turned off the lights and commanded me to do the honors of plugging the topper in.


His brand-new topper didn't work. He said a Christmas curse, which is like a Christmas carol, only with a different sound than Fa-la-la-la-la-la. I took out and replaced every bulb in the topper and then plugged it in. And it shone with all the pomp and circumstance of the star of Bethlehem. And there was no manger, no crib for a bed, but there we were in My Guy's crib, chillin', looking at this little tree.

And at that very moment, I looked down and I swear there was a puddle beneath my feet. Hello metaphor! Yes, this man has taken December and warmed it. He had thawed this heart...Shut up!

I can say it. If Frank Capra can have It's a Wonderful Life, I can too.

Well, maybe a Decent Life.

A Pretty Good Life.

A Partly-Cloudy Life with a Chance of Wonderful.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Thrift Store Christmas

It doubles as both decoration and fire wood.
I think this Santa is supposed to be winking, but he looks like Pirate Santa or as if he had an accident.
Drunk Santa?
Nutty Professor Santa? Love those crooked glasses.
This is what happens when you mix quilting and excess Christmas spirit.
Zombie Santa
Anything with felt and googly eyes has to win your heart, right? And I don't think they're missing eyes....I think the winking santa is a popular figure. It's all part of the jolly image, I guess.

And this one struck me as kind of sad. Did you notice that this cute little mouse is sitting atop a mouse trap!?!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reasonable and Prudent

I can remember when Montana had a non-numeric "reasonable and prudent" speed limit. Montana Code Annotated (MCA) Section 61-8-303 said "A person . . . shall drive the vehicle . . . at a rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions existing at the point of operation . . . so as not to unduly or unreasonably endanger the life, limb, property, or other rights of a person entitled to the use of the street or highway."

Of course, people wrung their hands with worry, assuming that no speed limit would mean unsafe roads and lots of accidents. I'm sure more than a few sighed in relief when the reasonable and prudent idea was challenged, and it was after a 50-year-old guy got stopped in midlife crisis in his Camaro doing 84 mph on Highway 200. He was given a ticket, which he appealed in supreme court. Basically, the court ruled that the limit was too vague and violated the Due Process Clause of the Montana Constitution. So by July of 1999, Montana roads had posted speed limits of 75. And I'm sure all the Nervous Nellie's emitted a sigh of collective relief. Whew! Thank God! We're safe! But you know what? The opposite was true. Research found that Montana roads were at their safest when there was no limits. Why would that be?

And you're also probably wondering, Wendy, why are you talking about something so boring?

I guess I think we all need to keep this "Reasonable and Prudent" idea in mind when walking down the street. No, I'm not talking about walking speed. I'm talking about living day to day. On a daily basis we have laws and rules to follow--rules issued by government, by work places, in schools, in our very homes, and most importantly, there are the rules that we self-impose and never question.

I'm not advocating a shrugging off of all rules. I'm not advocating anarchy. I'm advocating operating the human vehicle in a way that is the equivalent to the way things are currently stated in Montana law. Montana law still contains a section that says "a person shall operate a vehicle in a careful and prudent manner and at a reduced rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions existing at the point of operation, taking into account the amount and character of traffic, visibility, weather, and roadway conditions."

In other words, the way you operate day-to-day is very much a product of you being able to read and gauge what's going on around you. How's the mental traffic in your world? Is it mental rush hour? Bumper to bumper huh? Well, God damn it. It's your life. You've got choices. So maybe your first instinct is to get pissed, to pump your fist at the sky and curse your situation and those who seem to be responsible. Yeah, you can do that, but if there's one thing I've learned, cursing a traffic jam doesn't get it unjammed. So stay home. Or take a different route. Or meditate.

Sometimes the traffic isn't mental. Sometimes, it's literally those immovable clods around you or the ones who make poor decisions, the ones who ride your ass, the ones who leave their metaphorical blinkers on. You know the ones. There are all these people around you who don't do the right thing. Again, you've got choices. Are you going to road rage? Or can you see behind their windshield and know they've got their own things going on? Yes, they just sat for an hour at a green light. Yes, they waved for you to go at the 4-way stop when it's not your turn. Yes, they took up two parking spots. The point is, you've probably done some of those things yourself at one time or other. I'm not saying you have to be all nicey nicey or that the Golden Rule always works, but it's worth a shot.

I think the most important thing to keep track of is weather. It only makes sense to slow down in a blizzard. It makes sense to put the pedal to the metal when the sun shines. Some days the hazards won't be as obvious as a blizzard. Sometimes it's black ice. The black ice is a tough one. Of course you don't want to be too careful, too fearful because it might not be there at all. There are some risks. If we all drove every day according to what might happen, we'd be driving 5 miles per hour and in bubble-wrapped cars.

It recalls for me the scene last Thursday night as I drove my boyfriend home from the airport. It was raining hard. The rain made it impossible to see at times, and that was amplified by the steady serpentine of headlights coming in the other direction. Every time a car or truck would pass in the other direction, the windshield would be obscured for a brief and scary moment until the windshield wipers did their job. And perhaps scariest, the chances of hydroplaning were high because of the everyday condition of northwest roads. People use studded tires for traction in snow, and those tires leave deep ruts during other seasons--ruts that fill with rain. We drove home in silence, except for Mike pointing out my strategy: to keep up my speed by straddling those rain-filled ruts. He's a product of the East. He said he'd never thought of that. I don't think it's in any driver's ed manual; it's something I feel like I've grown up knowing. It the sort of reasonable and prudent decision that comes with age--it comes from driving the same roads all your life and knowing those curves by heart.

Of course the same roads you've driven all your life will look different on different days. And of course life dictates that we can't always take the roads we're familiar with. But the beauty of "reasonable and prudent" is that you deal with it as it comes. After all, you're the one in the driver's seat, the one with your foot on the gas. You're the one with so much potential, with so many places to go.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

11 Things I Don't Need

Reverb 10 is an annual event and online initiative to reflect on your year and manifest what’s next. The concept is to use the end of your year as an opportunity to reflect on what's happened, and to send out reverberations for the year ahead. The website provides 31 prompts to coincide with each day of December. I've been reading some pretty amazing blog entries based on Reverb 10 musings, so I decided I'd play along. Obviously, I'm several days late, so I'll get started with today's prompt:

"What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?"

1. I DON'T need boredom at work. It's partially my fault, as repetition is both comforting and safe. It's easy to use the same book, the same lesson plans, the same lectures, the same jokes inserted in those lectures until it begins to feel a bit like Groundhog Day. It's a matter of baby steps, though, in terms of getting rid of boredom. If I completely overhauled both classes, I'd be overwhelmed by a mountain of work (i.e. creating new lesson plans and all the accompanying paperwork). So I decided to change my English 101 class. I'm using Remix, a new book that spends less time explaining a type of essay and instead concentrates on modeling good writing.

2. I DON'T need inactivity. Every year, I struggle with "medicating" my stress by eating. And surprise! I gain weight. I need to get back to that feeling of exhileration I felt when I ran, lifted, and practiced yoga daily. Some of the people I admire the most make no excuses. Yes, they lead busy lives. They have jobs, families, an art practice, yet they manage to work exercise into their lives. My plan for correcting the activity is much the same that it is every year: start small. Make sure you walk the dog twice daily. Work on your abs and do pushups and basic stretching because you know that leads you to want to do more. I'd like to add the series of Zumba videotapes or P90X into my life because I know two things about myself: 1) I like to shake that ass, and 2) I respond well to boot-camp style structure in a workout. Likewise, there's that sweet connection between exercising and eating better. After all, once you've committed to working out, you don't want to sully the temple. I love that!

3. I DON'T need to put my foot in my mouth. Case in point: this morning, my boyfriend was holding the cat in such a way that she looked like she was doing a yoga move. It triggered me to talk about a calendar I saw at a local bookstore. I went on and on about how I had seen a ghastly calendar featuring cats in yoga poses. I like yoga. I like cats. But I don't think the two should be one, if you know what I mean. Being a writer and a fan of lively description, I went into a full-length analysis of it. I think "cheesy" was the icing on the descriptive cake. Well, my boyfriend fell silent, and then said "There's something I need to tell you." I got a terrible feeling in my gut. I knew what he was going to say. I had made fun of a Christmas present he had bought me. How terrible is that? He was totally thoughtful, having bought me something that incorporated two of my passions, and I had squashed it. In 2011, I want to minimize that feeling. I don't want to be the inflictor of wounds that need to be licked. I have some major making up to do, especially if I don't want coal in my stocking, or nothing at all--I wouldn't blame him.

4. I DON'T need to be such a consumer. Even though I don't shop in the conventional ways, even though I don't inhabit malls, I do make rounds at thrift stores and collect art supplies that never seem to get used. I have too much and get frustrated at not being able to find things. I need to resist the temptation of haunting those favorite places and recognize that it's as much about the social experience as it is the actual purchase.

5. I DON'T need to be as disorganized. My boyfriend once looked into my car and said it looked like a homeless person lived there. I got all "butt hurt" as he would say, but I knew he was right. I mean, it was November, a full month after farmer's market, and yet my farmer's market booth display was still in my car. That's nonsense. Likewise, there are Cooking Lightly magazines that a friend had given me. I never even looked at them. They need to go to the recycling center, yet I never seem to make it over there. The trunk is full: books, sheet music, ledger paper, and other ephemera. You'd think, based on all those supplies, that I spontaneously create art wherever I'm at, kind of like the circus clown who produces a balloon and twists it into a weiner dog on command. It's nonsense, I tell you.

6. I DON'T need to keep obligations based on some sort of perceived indebtedness to others. Sometimes it is okay to be selfish. I can't take responsibility for this insight. Ever-wise Mike once again gets the credit. He reminds me, "It's business." This philosophy is much needed, as I enter into situations where my intentions are good and find they simply aren't working for me. Such was the case with a business where I had my cards on consignment. The business owner allows vendors to work in lieu of paying a booth fee or taking a percentage of your profit. You work 3 days per month. So I worked 24 hours per month. And don't get me wrong. It's not back-breaking work. There are really no responsibilities other than ringing up the few customers who shop there. Otherwise, I used the time to grade papers or to work on my art. The problem was, if I was working a minimum-wage job, getting paid $58 a day, I would earn a total of $174 pre-tax per month. And that would be fine if I sold a maximum of $20 per month and a minimum of $2. I bitched and moaned about the unfairness. I vowed to create more goods to sell. And then Mike calmly said, "Quit." Epiphany! I can cut the cord, with maximum benefit to me, AND no one will think any less of me. AND who cares if they do think less? Fuck 'em.

7. I DON'T need a lot of mediocre, half-ass, case-specific, fair-weather friends. I need a handful of kick-ass true friends.

8. I DON'T need to get down about a world that doesn't function in the way I'd like it to. I spent much of this year feeling Bah Humbug-ish about the disappearance of morality. Does no one want a relationship with ONE person anymore? Does everyone long to munch the more verdant grass in a yard other than their own? Is sex with a bunch of strangers more important than romance and the possibility of longevity and security and love of a particular person? I ended up feeling much like Mr. Hand in Fast Times at Ridgmont High: "Everyone is on drugs!" And I don't mean that literally. Yes, I'm aware humans are the only species to choose monogamy. I'm aware that men have longings. I'm aware that spontaneity and newness trump the" same ol' same ol'," but I also think there are ways to keep a relationship fresh and exciting. I don't think straying has to be a given. It's a choice with consequences that reverberate in so many directions and that hurts more than the main players. It's okay for me to be old-fashioned. It doesn't make me square or lame. It makes me a solid choice for the kind of man who sees loyalty as a virtue and not a character flaw.

9. I DON'T need to be so sensitive. Sometimes I feel like a live wire. A casual comment is not a diss. It's not criticism. It's just an observation. I also needn't think that everyone is articulate or a poet. I'll give it to you hypothetically. Let's say a certain teacher normally wears perfume and make-up and typically wears a dress to teach, and she does on THIS particular day, but she spends EXTRA time getting ready one morning because she plans on going straight to the airport after her class to get her lover. She hasn't seen him in three weeks. She hasn't had sex in 3 weeks. She's abuzz with knowing the famine will soon be over. Soon she'll be satiated in every possible way. Full. She envisions one of those scenes they show in movies where separated lovers are reunited. It involves the two running open-armed to each other. It possibly involves being twirled in someone's arms, kissed, maybe a few tears shed. But the reality is an oxymoron--a mind-blowing combination of lovely and ouch. He says, "You look good....kind of like a snobby bum." Your cheeks grow hot, and you feel like you could bawl, but you say, "Thanks," This change will take time. It's all about context. He's a DUDE. He's tired. He's got an excruciating headache. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he speaks positively about you. His tongue is usually golden. Let it go. Chalk it up. It's an anomaly. Don't linger on it. Don't fret. Don't let it distract you from the truth: he's home, and you are what he wants. His kiss means more than a few misplaced words, when your fingers retrace the Braille of his body, they'll erase the sting of your insecurities.

10. I DON'T need let the behaviors of past lovers affect the fantastic thing I have going. I need to put the fears away. They hurt me, but he hasn't. I wasn't good enough for them, but he thinks I'm wonderful. Thankfully, I am a living video of this song by Orianthi.

11. I DON'T need to follow the rules. If Reverb 10 requests that I write 11 things I don't need, I can choose not to waste another hour of my day on this blog post and to write 10 instead.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Everyday Expedition

More and more, it strikes me that the best guides are the ones who feel they've lost their way. Those guides make sounds of incredulity when you tell them they have worth. They say don't follow me. They are the fallen athletes who warn you "I'm no rolemodel." True enough, there are paths you wouldn't want them to lead you down, and you wish for them their own sherpa at times--a beast of burden who can help them shoulder the load as they make their breathless way up personal Everests that seem, at times, insurmountable. The air gets thin up there, but damned if their cheeks don't manage to still glow. And isn't that how it is? It can be cold--the sort of cold that makes you brittle, the sort of cold that threatens to numb your very soul. Yet, if you look out across those berms, it looks like a diamond field.

My friend, Shanda, is that way. A diamond. Borne of the same sort of coal as anyone else, but squeezed, pressured, shaped, configured until a stone. The diamond wears a diamond. She glints, and so does that ring on her left finger. I'm no jeweler. I have no idea how many carats, but that ring is heavy. When I met her, I was jealous of that ring. I thought, "She has EVERYTHING."

Now I know that everything can be too much sometimes. Sometimes I see her give it away. The shrugging off of wealth, on the surface, reminds me of a college friend of mine, Sara. Sara was so deep into her Buddhist study that the idea of impermanence had its own pulse--a complusion to not be of the world that manifested in constantly giving herself away. If you said, "Sara, I like that necklace," her hands would contort behind her back as she unclasped that necklace and presented it to you as if she'd never wanted beauty.

Shanda's charity has nothing to do with impermanence. In fact, it feels the opposite: she's trying hard not be erased. Maybe it's like another friend of mine who daily submits to the gym's hamster wheel to "fight entropy." He know's he is going to die, and he wants all he can get from this life before he has no more.

Her giving is not what compels some to box up the so-called unneeded things in our lives and take them to a thrift store. It is not meant to save the unfortunate around her but herself. And quite honestly, I think she's onto something. We all need to stop stuffing coins into the metaphorical bell ringer's kettle. We need to stop thinking that focusing on charity will save the world when our own private worlds are in need. It's all about triage, caring for gun shots before paper cuts. The Dalai Lama and all manner of enlightened people will disagree with me on this point. They would say we should focus on others as a means of helping ourselves, but I often think it's shell game, slight of hand, trickery.

Let's be real. Sometimes the path is exhausting, and the lack of oxygen makes you light-headed. All you can do is seek out a resting spot. Make a temporary shelter until you catch sight of base camp. Some days, seeking shelter looks a lot like dumpster diving. She goes to the recycle center, bends over the book bin, gathers raw material for her art. Other days, it looks like a natural distaster. A stranger looking in the window might see the victim trapped in the rubble, but in this case, the victim is not a victim at all. This is not destruction but construction. She sits surrounded by bits of paper, metal charms, inks, glues. She is at peace here. And lately, she is a version of Alice's Mad Hatter. She can breathe easier when the sewing machine hums and makes whole what others see as scraps.
She shared her make-shift shelter with me the other day. It involved a camera and a few precious kid-free hours. To an untrained eye, we were just two women having hot chocolate with no problems or worries. But one just happened to be taking photos of the shadows the handle casts down on the saucer and the faintest hint of lipstick on the rim. We drove deserted backroads, so she could take pictures of startling red barns that slashed out against snow and a sky so faded that it might as well be snow. She put her car in reverse, backtracked in order to take a photo of the most beautiful turquoise door. The shack on which it hung looks like it will blow down with the next big storm. But in my mind, it holds. It holds because she has it in her to recognize its beauty. But the part of the mission I remember most is her standing with her back to a busy street. The traffic rushed behind her, but she was still. Her mouth was open as she looked into the lens. She saw the irony of an alley corner where two one-way signs seemed to point in opposite directions.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

12 Tags of Christmas - Day 3

My tag (see blurry photo above)

Tim Holtz tag (see music-backed tag above)
In my version of Tim Holtz's 12 Days of Christmas challenge, Day 3, I used a $1.99 ArtWorX box (markers, colored pencils, watercolors, oil pastels) I got at Goodwill to make the green color on some script paper. I didn't have any of his tissue tape, so I cut up some old sheet music and applied adhesive tape to the back side. I created white speckles with the white acrylic paint included in the ArtWorX kit.

I used part of a zipper (50 cents), some green netting (50 cents for many yards), some crimped metal ribbon (24 cents for multiple yards), and a bird ornament (47 cents)I got at the Hope Center thrift store. The nest is a Tim Holtz clock sticker I cut in half. Likewise, the December calendar beyhind the bird and the photo in the left-hand corner is a sticker from Tim Holtz.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tim Holtz 12 Tags of Christmas: Day 2

So Tim Holtz is on to Day 2 of his 12 Tags of Christmas project, and so am I. I have two things to say about it:

1.) This one frustrated me. It frustrated me so much that, several times in the isolation of my "studio," I invoked the advice of bad-ass comedian, Daniel Tosh, who suggested that you should try to find ways to sneak in the phrase, "Suck It!" Well, several times, I found myself saying, "Suck Tim Holtz!" But I didn't mean it. Holtz is a good and talented fellow, even if there is some weird thing going on with his name, and his fans spell it "T!m"--oh no he didn't!?! I digress.

2.) My frustration is my own fault. Tim's tag has a music stamp on it, and boohoo, I don't have one. So I found myself some real sheet music. Then I thought the music was too bold to be able to stamp on it, so I cover it with some favorite shiny irridescent paint. Trouble! Both old paper and the shiny new surface did not take to inking. Gah! This resulted in a mussy, smudged "Seasons Greetings." I had to re-stamp it in black with the only permanent ink I had. Staz-on is my savior (tis the season....ahem).

Hmm...what else didn't work out? Well, I didn't have a metal bird. I have about a bazillion bird stamps, but none of them fit in the space, or they covered the sentiments....just didn't work. So I went back to my Re-Used Muse sensibilities and added a photo of two girls who look sassy and seem to fit the title of the musical piece, "Free Spirit."

But I STILL wasn't satisfied with my copy. I wanted a bird in there somewhere, damn it. So I got out my collection of cancelled stamps and added a couple stamps. One was an Alabama stamp with a flower and a bird, which I liked because then these two girls seemed to have a story, a background. They're Southern belles now, and they're trying to make their way home for Christmas, or perhaps they've gone away from Alabama and are having to make their own Christmas in some new place. Whatever. The other stamp just suggests travel.

And I wanted to use metal, but no bird. So I used an earring that had lost its back and was missing a strand of beads. It used to have 3 strands of beads, but only has two. I thought the 2 strands kind of echoed the two girls. I pounded out the top circle so it would be flat, and then I added a green button to lighten things up.

Anyhoo. This is what you do when you wake up at 4 a.m., and if you don't like it, you can "Suck it!"


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Imitation: The Sincerest Form of Flattery

So Tim Holtz began his annual 12 Tags of Christmas (see first image above)

Not to sound snarky, but I've never seen the point of tags. I mean, it's not like people are going to go through all this trouble in order to make such beautiful and intricate tags for the typical purpose of tying on a package for the purpose of identifying the sender and the recipient.

So I've decided to play along, but my plan is to attach the tag to something I see as more practical. In other words, I'll make the tag and attach it as a card front for a card I intend to give this season. Or, I'll find a way to incorporate the design into a home decor item, with the hope that the result might end up being a Christmas decoration for years to come.

My other gripe is that I don't have all the supplies, and frankly I don't want to buy a bunch of stuff. You can see that I incorporated old dictionary pages as a background for the tag. The definitions are season and holiday appropriate. I made my wreath out of buttons. I didn't have wire to fashion into a tree, so I used a Holtz tree stamp. I didn't have a die cutting machine or the die that cuts that particular house, but I did use two of his stamps (a notebook paper stamp and a texture stamp) in order to fashion a paper house. He used some sort of flocking to indicate snow on the house, the tree, etc. I used glass glitter. He used a rubber stamp to make the admission ticket. I used some of his ephemera stickers.

And the fence....

The fence is pure Wendy. It's pure Re-Used Muse. It's actually an aged book binding. It's the stuff behind the spine in really old looks like some sort of gauze or mesh adhered to thick cardboard.