Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Revenge of the Panda Slippers: Things I Made Edition

   I've mentioned before that I like miniature things, but I don't think I really expressed how much I like them.  I love them.  They inspire in me a warm sense of well-being that doesn't have any rational basis that I can think of.  It started to gel for me when I left architecture school.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Failure as I tried to make sense of just what in the Sam Hill happened, I realized that I loved building wee models, but once things started approaching a habitable size, I completely lost interest.

Since then, I've developed a sizable (har har) collection of tiny, cheap plastic whatnots from Happy Meals, Kindereggs and grocery store quarter machines.  Then I got all DIY on that business.

 Roughly five or six years ago, I started a series of figurines made in the likeness of the sorts of characters you might see on Congress Street on any given day: skateboarder, hippy, spaced out homeless dude.  I gave the homeless dude to my friend Crash Barry (have you read his books yet?) who "went undercover" to report on homelessness in the city and developed a real affection for some of the local characters.  The first two reside in the drawer of a little Sterilite cabinet (so little! so cute!) in my work space along with some tchotchke and some thirty or forty legs I made of polymer clay with the intention of creating the coolest coffee table ever.  Also in the picture at right is a self portrait while swimming fully clothed, which was part of the recreating-dreams-in-polymer-clay-and-casting-them-in-resin phase that never quite materialized.

I later made another, weirder self-portrait in the same material, wearing the same clothes that was part of an installation at the Sacred and Profane on Peaks Island. It's broken and still I keep it.

Around the same time I began work on a series of puppet heads of City Councilors, and started to explore dioramas.  Then there were the very tiny girls, would-be ornaments of Grunden's-clad fishermen and children bundled in snowsuits.  Also, miniscule bees with wings made of wax.

Eventually I pulled it together enough to complete a series of sculptures, dioramas set in translucent spray-painted plexiglas boxes framed in bass wood.  The contents were, as usual, polymer clay, occasionally with sand or reindeer moss or the like for atmosphere.

I can say with some certainty that the only reason these pieces actually materialized, unlike, say, the dreams-in-resin stuff, was that the aforementioned Crash Barry and his impossibly sweet wife, Shana (have you checked out her traveling children's program?) were, at the time, opening a gallery in Eastport and invited me to be part of the inaugural group show.  I was still struggling with the technical aspects of the resin-dreams, so put together a series of these slightly bizarre dioramas.  To my continuing bemusement, I sold quite a few.  The couple that remain are still beloved, but their continued existence in my life is becoming just a smidge albatrossian, particularly as I'm trying to thin the herd and appropriately prepare what remains for storage.

Naturally, when you a million projects loitering about half-finished, the best thing to do is to invest yourself in a new, much more complicated medium.  Enter animation.

So excited was I by the preliminary results that I began dreaming big.  Like, crazy big.  Like, Brothers Quay big.  At the same time, some turnips in my fridge had shriveled into strikingly head-like shapes, so I carved them out and put teddy bear eyes in them.

I still have hope for this one, but the technical aspects are still kicking my ass and the moths that invaded my apartment invaded the heads, setting me back a bit while I coaxed them out and sealed the heads.

It would be discouraging that so many projects that were incredibly exciting at their inception have fallen by the wayside, but I recognize that they usually fell prey to the same fits of hopelessness that kept me hampered in a lot of other ways, too.  That I decided to shelve them instead of chucking them in the trash in this or that squall of despair is enormously encouraging, since it means they're still in progress, even if they're about to go into the deep freeze of self-storage, temporarily.

In addition to falling in love with my life so far through the magic of artifacts, I've been really inspired to look back at my work (some things more than others) and realize that there's a pretty rich vein waiting to be mined.  I'll venture that another stumbling block in my quest to really find my passion, or at least try to translate on of them into a professional endeavor is exactly the kind of intense enthusiasm for a little of almost everything that makes me such a pack rat.

The plan at this moment is to put things in storage now that I've taken inventory and spend some time with the ideas, see what still resonates.  I think my tendency to be impatient has played a supporting role in the untimely death of some of this stuff and going forward I'd like to try a slightly more balanced approach, keeping a couple of irons in the fire at a time so I don't end up burnt out after a few weeks obsessing about one.

Now that I've solved the question of how to figure out what I'm going to be when I grow up, let's take a quick stroll down keep-or-chuck-it lane:

Bag of gorgeous red human hair, my payment for giving the redhead in question a haircut.  Obviously, I kept it.  Obviously.
New Kids On the Block Action Marbles.  Seriously, do you even have to ask?  I saw them when I was 7 and they OPENED for Tiffany.  I was so annoyed that they wouldn't come onstage until the teenagers stopped crushing each other against the fence up front.  I mean, for fuck's sake, let's get these guys in and out so I can see Tiffany, right?

I also saw them at the Civic Center a couple of years ago on the reunion tour.  What?
In a bold decision, I threw this out.  It's a miniature solar-cell controlled theremin in a cottage cheese container, my first foray into circuit building since the ol' lightbulb & switch back in science class.
The flip side of that coin is this one, possibly my favorite foray into circuit building.  Remember Bill Cosby's Picture Pages and the pen that made bloops and bleeps as he drew?  Yeah, this is a theremin pencil and it does that and I'm keeping it, which is stupid because I never use it, but it's just really cool. Since you've probably noticed the theremin theme developing, I also built a full-on theremin in a little wooden box. It's a little wonky, but it mostly works. I am chucking it.  How's that for merciless culling??

Both of these are being recycled.  I am never going to send them to Found Magazine, if I'm really honest about it.  I do like the Holy Trinity soup, the unsavory excitement about the crucifixion, and the idea that brunch is clearly winning over Bible studies in Sunday morning popularity.

 Kept it.  Also kept the block of chipboard visible to the top right, "A Children's Guide to Postcritical Theory," which was an illustrated response to a lecture series in college.

Box of letters?  Kept it.  Remember this if you ever write to me.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Writing a blog is an interesting thing, made more interesting by the paranoia that keeps me from making it quite a known thing.  I've outed myself on twitter where I'm followed by a handful of people and only half of them actually know me, and I've selected a group of people I love and feel comfortable with to share on google+, but I've refrained from making the big social-networking leap of linking it to facebook because I'm a terrible self-conscious chicken.  I've been "outed" by friends who've liked posts more than once, and even that has felt scary, until I realize that the volume of stuff posted on facebook means that only a fraction of the people who see a link actually click on it. 

I guess my hangup is that I'm more than happy (I've become a stats-watcher, egad!) to share my writing, but I want it to be because people are interested in the topics as opposed to the idea that I have a blog.  I know I'm guilty of that voyeuristic inclination to read blogs just because I vaguely know someone,  but once I've checked it out, I only keep reading if it turns out they're as interesting as I thought they might be.  In many cases, I share a ton of friends and it would be a seemingly simple thing to just actually meet the writer, but in most cases my intense fear of being judged inadequate stands in my way and I just keep creeping around the interwebs like a stalker.

As it turns out, I loooooooove reading blogs and more than that, I love the comments and even commenting myself.  What I've found, though, is that the likelihood of me commenting is almost exactly inversely proportional with the likelihood of me meeting the author.  You live in another city? Great, let's talk!  You live in another state?  So much the better!  Getting thinky with strangers is my favorite!

At this particular moment, I'm aware of six people who read this blog with any regularity, one from comments, one from following, two 'cause they told me and two because I got feedback in another forum (an example: "DON'T GET RID OF THE TURTLE!!!!!!!!!!!").  I'm more than a little curious about how someone in Indonesia ended up here one time or why there've been multiple hits from Germany, but honestly, as readership has quadrupled this month, I'm curious about everybody.

All in all, though, I'm cool with anonymity.  As it is, my people-pleasiness occasionally makes me almost second guess what I'm writing.  Some people are here for the Deep Thoughts on Big Issues posts, some are here for Pictures of Awesome Shit posts.  Some are here...well, some are just along for the ride, I guess.  But every time someone tells me they like a particular thing, I start thinking I should do more of that thing.

Ultimately, although I'm embarrassingly excited to see that anyone at all is reading (despite my fear of telling people to read), I realize that this is kind of a personal exercise in...something.  Maybe I'm just translating the journals I kept for years into electronic format with an exhibitionist twist.  Maybe I'm flexing my writing muscles.  Maybe I'm really into the idea of imaginary friends.  Probably all of the above.  The question floats across my mind a fair amount, but I'm not actually very interested in figuring out the answer.  I like writing this.  I'mma keep doing it.  The end.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

There Went...Something

Look at them...don't they just LOOK like the nicest people alive?
We can file this under "put your money where your mouth is."  
Remember way back in the wee hours of yesterday when I was going to be a risk taker and damn the consequences and stop worrying about being judged and cetera, and cetera?  I would love to report that it was all unicorns and rainbows and I felt silly for ever having worried, but the truth of the matter is that it was partially unicorns and rainbows and I learned some valuable lessons right after I freaked out, made a scene in my attempt not to make a scene and ran away.

There were a lot of factors leading to my spectacular meltdown, but they're boring, many of them were avoidable, and it'll be way more gratifying for all of us if we just skip to after.

When the first song didn't work out, I kept my cool and said, "You know what?  That song is going to sound soooo good when I remember how to play it and actually do it right. You know, when I play next year..."  Har har.  But then the second one went south and I couldn't even remember the the third at all, and I panicked.  Obviously this wasn't a life or death situation or even remotely dangerous, but my reptilian brain was in control.  Fight, flight or freeze time. I froze while I debated the other two options.  Fighting, I suppose, would have been trying to muscle through the performance again, but I already felt humiliated, so I flew.

As I fled from the little tent-stage by the sea the good people of Long Island, some friends, some strangers, some somewhere in the middle, started shouting for me to try again.  They offered to turn their backs so they weren't looking at me.  They told me to pretend that I was playing for my friends, or bymyself.  They suggested someone get me a drink.  (My mom told me later that one woman chided them that I wasn't old enough to drink.)  They were, in short, the nicest, most supportive people in the history of the world and it made me feel even worse that these nice people who came to hear music now felt like they had to coddle the little hothouse flower who couldn't hack it.

Once we'd established that I wasn't going back up there, or at least not then, several people with amazing instincts for putting others at ease came to make small talk about my ukulele, the name of my band (if only the band had been there!), Eddie Vedder's uke album.  One of my favorite old men of all time, Emil (pronounced EE-mil), told me the ukulele means, "jumping flea" and was imported from Portugal.  Everyone told me to take a few minutes and try again.
Here's Yvette and her friend whose name I 
really ought to know because he was really, 
really awesome to me.

So I took a little walk away from the lovely seaside venue and hung out near the road.  I chose the song that felt most comfortable, trimmed some frills, played it through a bunch of times.  I went back and had a beer, enjoyed some pretty awesome acapella Irish songs and the event's host, Yvette, singing some sweet covers with one of the guys from her band, Rizing Tide.  Yvette's got pipes and swagger and is generally wonderful.

Eventually I played.  It was a simple little ditty, imperfectly executed but it felt good.  The lovely people of Long Island were gracious and supportive all over again and Emil called for more.  I declined, but reminded them I'd be back with that first song next year.

At a certain point in this adventure, it stopped being about the performance or even about my pride.  I just needed to take back control from ol' reptile brain.  If ever there was a supportive and nurturing environment in which to take a small risk, this was it, and it kind of felt like insult to all those nice people if my adrenal system decided to keep being scared of them.

Today I continued to feel vestigial twinges of guilt and embarrassment over the whole debacle, but ultimately I had a great time, heard some great music, bonded with some people I really enjoy but usually only see in a work context but have always wanted to just hang out with (while talking with one woman who was really excited and interested in playing the ukulele, I literally said, "You should check it out! Do you want to come touch it?" Thankfully she was into it and just said, "Yeah!" Instead of, "Do you want to come touch it?  That's a really weird way to put it.").  I would do it again.  I will do it again, if they'll have me.  And since I think they won't say no, whether because they actually liked it when I played or because they're too polite, next year that first song's going to be awesome. I promised Emil.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Here Goes Nothin'

If it is possible to be both a megalomaniac and paralyzingly self-effacing at the same time, then I am.  If it isn't possible, then I guess I'm at a loss to describe what goes on in my head when I get all ambitious and start making and/or executing wild schemes. 

Between moving and the shit-show that is a tourist industry job in August, I'm already behind the eight ball in terms of getting done everything I need to.  And then I volunteered to play a solo set with my ukulele at the 3rd Annual Long Island Music Festival, a set for which I had no songs written on an instrument that I barely play, although I definitely have an affinity for it. 

I only managed to write two songs, the performance is tomorrow and to top it off, my residual Catholic guilt made it impossible for me to take the day off from work when I realized how short-staffed they'd be, so I volunteered to work for a few hours in the morning.  Less than an hour from now.  What's that?  The only thing I can control at this point is getting a good night's sleep? Oh, you... just hush now. It's aaaaalllll going to be fine.  Or not.  I've already spun myself like a top until I ceased to worry.  Those dervishes might be on to something.

Anyway, sitting here simultaneously cursing myself for signing on to do something that was at best a bit overly ambitious and at worst a total embarrassment in front of people I see daily and being totally excited to do something I love and know I'm pretty good at, I've ceased actually working on the project at hand and gone straight for the solipsistic pop-psychology.

I'm going to venture that a person's own self-confidence is probably most everyone's biggest psychic blind spot, because to take stock of it involves attempting to make an objective judgment of an extremely subjective topic about which we imagine we're objective. You follow?  You thinking about you thinking about you is a feedback loop that is just very unlikely to lead to any meaningful epiphany. That being so, I've made the very practical decision to drag you down that particular rabbit hole with me anyway.  Let's go!

For the bulk of my life, I took for granted a couple of things:  that I'm generally good at learning things and that I'm generally really socially inept.  It's not that I was unable to get along with people, but as I look back, I think of myself as the kind of harmless dork that everyone could get along with because I was so weirdly outside of the politics of social circles.  I had a handful of close friends, but I wasn't really interested in trying hard to fit in.  I felt, by and large, as if I were an alien who read a bunch of Laura Ingalls Wilder books to understand human life and then was surprised that people looked at me weird because I was going to go make homemade butter (yes, really).  If I were a character in an afterschool special about a girl gang, I would have been the one who's only in the gang because she grew up in the neighborhood and all the tough girls feel protective of her even though she's all nerdy and can't fight and is totally oblivious to real life, a real Ponyboy. 

In my twenties I found a community of like-minded weirdos and became outgoing.  I'd spent a long time feeling like it was somehow rude or egotistical to acknowledge things I was good at, and then I met people who were amazingly talented in millions of ways and simultaneously open and unassuming about it.  I'd spent decades conflating simple confidence with some sort of greedy, ugly hubris.  I'm going to go ahead and blame Catholicism again.

What was even more eye-opening at the time was the way these friends were comfortable with their own talent and quick to acknowledge it in other people as well.  I was coming from a small, cramped place where I was afraid to say what I took pride in and afraid to be judged for saying what I admired.  I am still intensely jealous of people who have that kind of easy relationship with themselves, others, accomplishment, and admiration.  Even now, I feel a certain twinge when I meet teenagers who identify as artists or musicians or activists.  Those things won't necessarily define them forever, but how awesome it must be to be so comfortable with your convictions so young, even if they change over time.

For a while, I filed myself in that category.  I booked an art show and sold several sculptures for the kind of money I considered the purview of "real artists" as opposed to dabblers like myself, I played in a band and had shows that people came to.  In 2003-ish we made the obnoxious decision to release a cassette instead of a CD.  People bought it.  I worked as a freelance writer for a couple of local newspapers with good feedback.  On the one hand I wanted badly to be recognized as an artist, a musician, a writer, all things I considered my talents despite the fact that I couldn't get my shit together enough to commit to one.  On the other I felt like a total fraud who mucked around with some stuff but couldn't get my shit together enough to commit to one.

So here I am, almost a decade later, newly awake and aware and alive to possibility kind of like I was then, but also paralyzed by a feeling of comfortable outsider-ness that rivals my early days.  I like my weirdo job, I like that I can run a forklift, I think I'm a pretty good manager of people (although at the moment there are people who would disagree), but I also feel like I'm wasting away spending so much time doing something that doesn't use even a fraction of the things I know I'm capable of.  That's true of a lot of people I know vis a vis their day job.  I feel ashamed of my own dissatisfaction.

When Yvette, who organized the Long Island music shindig, contacted me, it was to see if my band could play.  The band isn't operational as a live act at the moment, we're writing and recording, so I declined on our behalf and then did a weird thing:  I told her that I would be game to play solo. 

Let's be clear:  I've written songs. I play instruments. I sing.  But I don't really play a solo-set kind of instrument and the songs I've written were heavily orchestrated and not so much translatable to something I could do myself.  When I volunteered to play this event, I was banking on my ability to write songs for me and my ukulele in a week and a half, which meant translating my theoretical comfort level with the ukulele into actual practice.  I think we can all agree that that was an impulsive thing to do.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that the part of my brain that typed that offer is the most interesting part.  The scared, shy, dismissive part of me got me a practical job that pays the bills and it isn't much interested in the possibility of risk and failure.  When I got happy, I got really excited about risk and failure, and within a few weeks, my instinct for safety told me to wait, wait, wait.  It's not bad advice, provided I don't swallow the tangential implication that I'm risk actually equals failure and that I lack the qualities necessary to do something less secure than what I do now.  Thank goodness, then, for the devious little sliver that makes me take a stab at a solo show, that wants to grab opportunities as they come.

Here's how I see my feedback loop:  I'm insanely proud and competitive, pretty sure I can do almost anything and eager to do it, but desperately afraid of being judged arrogant or out of bounds (is everyone cool if I pin it on the Catholics just one more time?).  I'm working on it, Serenity Prayer-style.

Tomorrow I'll take the day off from work (mostly), take a ferry to a beautiful island and do something I love among people I really enjoy. I wrote "only" two songs this week, but that's more songs than I've written in months.  If I'm going to consider myself at the starting gate of a new phase in my life, it's a great time to set new standards.  Instead of feeling neglected and under-appreciated, it's my responsibility to be more open about the talents I value in myself (by playing an impromptu show, for instance) and engaging with other people on that level.  By the same token, I'm going to have to let go of the wracking anxiety that's made it safer and preferable to be a genius in my own mind instead of risking defeat.

I think I've made a pretty honest assessment of myself, although I'm sure it's not a terribly flattering picture.  I hope you'll forgive me if I come across as a narcissistic bitch or a simpering baby.  Nope, actually, I do hope I'm understood, but I'm not looking for forgiveness...that's just the Catholicism talking.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

You Like Your Panda Slippers, Don'tcha, Dear?

One day at work I decided it was high time for me to clean out my backpack.  There was a fair amount of just trash, receipts and the like, but I also extracted Mardi Gras beads, a purple sparkly studded jelly bracelet, a dozen tiny plastic figurines, a ball of yarn and knitting needles, two pocket knives, and a set of markers.  As I pulled these items out, my friend Jodi became more and more engrossed.

"Your bag is amazing," she said.

"You should see my house," I said.

There are very few pleasures in moving, but for a curatorial magpie like me, dismantling the time capsule of things I'd forgotten about is a big one.

Consider the bookshelf:  Surfing magazines from a college spring break, text books on art history, dance, and economics (plus one on cosmetology from the 60s or 70s), license plates from my first car, a gorgeous etching by David Itchkawich (not the one below, but wow, right?) that I haven't gotten around to framing, and, possibly my favorite, a scrap of paper wedged between two books that says, "So the first cosmonaut comes around and tries to fix the soda machine, but imagine his surprise because he doesn't even know where he's going to be."  I vaguely remember this last being a note about a dream I wanted to remember.  Well done, Meg, well done.