Evolution of an Artist

I always thought of myself as creative, but not artistic. Crafts have always been in my life and I love doing them. But I always stuck with things that let me “put together” elements rather than have me create from scratch. I tried “real art” a few times, but it seemed that even proportional stick figures were a stretch for me.

I was a rubber stamper many moons ago. I did elaborate pieces with many wonderful elements. I had friends who were rubber stampers too; I belonged to a group that met monthly called Capitol Inkers Anonymous. It was a lot of fun to get together and see what everyone else was working on. Good heavens, we even had our own custom designed stamps – two of them because we couldn’t decide which one was best!

This was all years before I had children and plenty of disposable income. Since I got to spend it all on myself, you know what I did once? I took a trip to Santa Barbara, CA with members of this group to a rubber stamp store. Yes, just to go to the rubber stamp store. This was the early 90’s before EVERYTHING could be bought on the internet. They had stamps that were exclusively designed for their store and could be purchased no other way but in person.

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The scrapbook page (see artistic endeavor below) of the rubber stamp trip.

This adventure should come as no surprise to my music friends though. It sounds a lot like winging off to Austin, TX for my birthday to see Biffy, doesn’t it? Shades of things to come, I suppose. So I made stamp art on my own and with these people, we made mail art, exchanged art challenges, and entered contests. It was a fantastic community to belong to and I felt a little bit like an artist. But not really.

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No, this isn’t all of them, some are on a downstairs shelf…….

Then came scrapbooking. I have TWENTY scrapbooks, each a couple of inches thick. It was the height of the “scrapbooking craze” and there were stores, clubs, and events to feed my interest. I had several friends with whom I got to together at different houses for the sole purpose of scrapbooking together.  Writing this blog post prompted me to pull some of them off the shelf and page through them. I am so happy I made the effort to put these together.  Although some of the decoration and cropping of photos is rather dated and cutesy, I have years of my children’s lives neatly and beautifully commemorated. Man, they were cute kids! I seemed to have stopped shortly after my oldest hit eight years old, but that’s OK. That’s still a LOT of years I got done. It was a little like making art.  Kinda, but not really.

Then several years ago, I had an opportunity to clear out a lot of clutter in my house and in doing so I faced the mountain of “art supplies” I hadn’t used in years. I reached out to a friend in the spring of 2015 who was actively doing art and offered to let her go through my things and take anything she wanted. She took a lot, but not everything, I had hoped she would take it ALL and unburden me of the guilt at not doing anything remotely arty. But I still felt lighter and satisfied that my clutter was reduced. Then as often happens, I was inspired by this lighter, freer feeling. I found a free art journaling class online and thought “hey, I can do that” and sure enough I could. This led me to another class and another and soon I was drawing and painting like I never had before. I was drawing faces and trees and flowers. I could draw things that looked like THINGS. I was ecstatic. I even applied for and received a scholarship for a year-long online art class – many of you have seen the fruits of that labor on Facebook. I am currently into watercolors, although I still like to try my hand at mixed media, acrylics, and sketching.

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I have aspirations to try my hand at more assemblage art like this house-person.

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I am surprised and delighted by this new found skill and hope that I can continue to try new things and enjoy myself. Now, I feel like I can really say I am making art.  I know I should cut myself some slack and accept that the things I have done all along were forms of art, but I do feel like now I have arrived.  Now I get to call myself an artist.

Help From Friends – Observed

My last blog was about how hard it is to ask for help. Just days after I put it up, a Facebook friend actually needed help. The replies to her post were interesting and seemed to support the notion that while it is very hard to ask for help, sometimes it’s hard to get help too.

First, she started out apologetically and called what she was doing “a rant”. But what was immediately clear to me was that she was drowning. She acknowledged that she had a good life, a wonderful husband, and three fantastic children. But I know that doesn’t mean that her life wasn’t very, very hard for her. With two of her children still very young, life was at its most difficult point and she didn’t know how to get herself out of it. She felt alone and isolated. There were a lot of people who responded to her immediately with comments like “don’t worry we love you so much”, “I’m here whenever you need me”, and “let me know anytime you want to chat”. These were all people who I speculate were local to her and could have done something immediate and tangible. But that’s not what happened. They seemed to be putting the onus on her to orchestrate a get together to relieve her own suffering. When you are drowning you simply are not in a place where you can exert anymore effort. This Facebook plea was probably all she could do.

My reply, from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, made it clear I thought her friends who were but a stone’s throw away could do much more for her. I pointed out that she didn’t need someone to say, “hey give me a call”, she should not be required to make another effort. What she needed was for someone to say, “I’m coming by Saturday at 2 o’clock for coffee and cake, and I’m bringing the cake.” I’ve been there, I know what it feels like and how you can’t see your way through or around it; keeping your head above water is pretty much all you can handle.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to ask for help. And more curiously, I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to proactively provide help. Why weren’t those local friends showing up at her doorstep to take her baby out for a stroll while she washed her hair, why weren’t her friends arranging playdates so they could talk intimately about how hard it was to have young children? It shouldn’t be this hard.

I also found it very interesting that not one but four people that know her online only and from different countries than her own were the ones who gave the concrete explicit advice. One especially sage woman replied to a well wisher “Can I be really naughty and say [she] has now asked? You sound lovely, can you check up on [her] a bit and not wait for her to contact you right now? … I know it’s very hard to do the instigating of contact right now for [her].” Maybe the distance of a couple of times zones made it easier for me and the Aussie to be blunt, but I think it was important for the people who were in a position to do something to be told that THEY were the ones who needed to be DOING.

So I wasn’t the one who was going to be able to show up with “tea and sympathy”, but I hope I was able to prompt those who could.

I’ll Get By with a Little Help From My Friends

I have a hard time asking for help. I am very good at accepting help, specific help, but I won’t ask for it. Simple example: It costs $120 in gas and tolls to get to my sister’s house and for a family gathering my dad handed me some money “for gas”. I happily took it even though I would never in a million years have let anyone know how badly that expense decimated my monthly gas budget. Another friend, knowing I was having a hard time, called me to get together to make sure I was doing OK. I gratefully accepted the “tea and sympathy.” And someone has graciously assisted me with the tangled mess that is my yard, it’s hard work that I don’t especially like and it overwhelms me. But again, these were all things offered to me, I didn’t go to anyone to request it.

About a decade ago, my closest friend at the time was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer. I stepped up as the primary coordinator of all her “friend care” – you know the person who organizes and directs all the people who say “what can I do to help?” I had a website that listed all the things she needed help with, who was available to do it, when people were assigned to do what, etc. It worked well and I was astonished by how many friends she had who were available to help, it was over one hundred! Actually, I was a little shaken because I was pretty sure I didn’t have that many people around to pick up the slack for me should I fall hard. As I watched so many people pull together to provide the enormous amount of care that is needed when you have young children and two kinds of cancer, I became so scared that I would never be able to garner such support, I started to volunteer. I picked two different areas of my kids’ lives to volunteer my time so there would be more people who knew me that might be willing to help if I got sick. But I hated it. Think what you will of me, but I hated volunteering. It may have been that it wasn’t a good match for me, and it may have been because deep down I was doing it because I was pre-“asking for help” and that made me uncomfortable. I lasted two years and I am in contact with just one person from that time, but only loosely. And the cancer survivor friend I worked so hard for? She developed deep relationships with other cancer survivors and drifted away. I don’t blame her at all. Our lives went in completely different directions and I am happy knowing that I was there for her when she needed me. I ended up doing all that volunteer work and did not get out of it what I thought I would. I am sure there was something I got that was intangible, but what I really feel like I got was the understanding that I don’t have an altruistic bone in my body. I figure maybe my contribution to society is that I raised the children of a completely service oriented man (my ex-husband – former volunteer firefighter, Marine, and federal law enforcement officer.) Yup, that was my duty.

I still wonder why it is I have such a hard time asking for help. When I was growing up, I could not even ask a salesperson in a store for help. In situations like that, I think it is because I don’t want to ask someone something that I think they’ll think I should already know. Even when it’s their job to tell me. Messed up right? Asking for more personal help? That hints at not wanting to impose, or bother someone, even if not only would I offer the same to them, they might have even suggested they were available to help. And of course the big one – why would anyone want to help me? I guess that goes back to “anxiety”.

In the decade since my friend got sick, I have had a cancer scare. It involved surgery that was thankfully minor and I did not require much help. Neither did I ask for it though. In general my health is actually better than it was back then, so maybe I will escape major health crises. I just hope that if I’m wrong about that, someone will be there if I need it. Without me having to ask.

Music Makes My Life Go Round

Overwrought teenagers often emotionally claim “music saved their lives!” But if I could have you take a deep breath and try to believe me, I can tell you that music did, in fact, change my life in dramatic ways, not once but twice.

I gave up a lot when my first child was born. He was a “hard baby.” I never knew how hard until my second child was born and there was a DRAMATIC difference. “Oh my god” was all I could think, is this what it was supposed to be like?  After nearly ten years of utter (although admittedly voluntary) subjugation to the special needs of my son, things changed. I read a novel that somehow allowed music back into my life. My sisters were involved in this too. We would pick songs that would go with different parts of the storyline and I became a complete teenager in this pursuit. BUT, it pulled me out of a self-imposed hole I was sunk in and returned “self” to me. I eventually joined an online forum for a band and made many, many friends from around the word. The name I used as an online persona persists today – 10YearsGone – in my Twitter, Instagram, and one Gmail account. This return of self had a deep and lasting impact on my life. I actually know the day it started and it’s noted on my calendar as my “re-birthday”. It’s coming up next month and it’ll be eight years. I know it sounds simple, but only someone who has lost themselves and then found their way back truly understands how profound this is. It’s possible that I never would have found my way back, sometimes that happens to people. I know it was those early days of picking out music from bands I had never heard of before that sparked the soul in me to fight its way back.

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Is there any other place to be other than the front row?

The second time music changed my life it was more a function of the community that developed around me. I spent a lot of time going to live music. I even started writing reviews for a music blog. I was well entrenched in the music scene and I was thriving. My personal life, however, was in the crapper. I had a couple of very poignant interactions from my music sphere that finally made me understand that I was better than what I was getting at home. I could finally see that I needed to make a change and I disentangled myself from a marriage that was not working for me. It was revelatory to know I could move on and be a happier person in all aspects of my life.

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This community is so tight-knit that the “tour flag” gets itself from venue to venue handed off to a new carrier each time with no involvement from the band.

Since then I have gotten some of my tattoos to commemorate the music of the bands that have inspired me – Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls and Biffy Clyro. These two bands have fan groups that make up a significant portion of my music friends. I saw Frank Turner play just the other night and Biffy are playing in April right before my birthday. Both these bands definitely deserve a post of their own. Another band, Snow Patrol, while they did not inspire me to ink myself, provided me with the lion’s share of my international/online friends. Sadly, Snow Patrol hasn’t toured in a dog’s age so it’s been a long while since I’ve see many of these people, but they are still very important to me.

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Snow Patrol at Letterman. The sisters and I are on the right (I’m in *yellow*!)

These three bands and the people who follow them have influenced me in profound ways that I could never have projected back when I was mired deep in the difficulties of early motherhood. Music and my involvement in it changed my life infinitely for the better. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A Yogi I am Not

I am now done with my 30 day unlimited pass at Radiance Yoga in Old Town. I went to six different types of classes. I can now say for certain that yoga is not my thing.

Right out of the gate, I hurt my shoulder. I have compromised shoulders that easily develop impingements. A year ago I was in physical therapy for nearly three months because it got so bad that I could no longer reach around my back to unhook my bra. Really, I should have seen a professional before that, but I am fairly stubborn. I have been very careful and was taught how to lift without aggravating it, so I was surprised when after just two yoga sessions I was feeling the familiar can’t-lift-my-arm-like-that pain. I think it was those damn downward facing dog things. The rest of the yoga classes I went to were all “gentle” and “restorative” ones.

I enjoyed parts of the classes, but only parts of them. Often I found myself thinking “is this going to be over soon” or “how much more ’til I’m done?” I know that trying to calm or redirect a wandering mind is supposed to be part of the experience, but this was much more than just that. I just was not enjoying myself. There were two distinct times that I did enjoy it and both times involved the instructor actually touching me. One time she physically assisted a stretch and the other time was during the ending shavasana when the instructor firmly pressed on each person’s shoulders and scalp.

But there is another kind of yoga that I do like. The official name of it is Let Your Yoga Dance, but a better name might be Meditation in Motion or Sacred Heart Movement. For me it is more like a dance class with its theory rooted in yoga. There are some poses, a little bit of chakra work, but most of it is a combination of guided dance and free dance. My friend Cheryl teaches it once a month at a church space and the cost is simply a donation to the church’s food pantry. Can’t beat that! If you are local to me, you really should try it – second Monday of the month at 7:30 p.m. While I have a background in dance, you absolutely don’t need one. You just need a free spirit and a desire to move with the music. I have gotten some of my best ever aerobic workouts here and it’s effortless because it is so enjoyable. I do love to dance – in a class, at a club, in my living room!

So yoga is out. Dance is in. I need to find more ways to dance this year.

Cookies, Chips, and Pumpkin Pie

The holidays are over – thank goodness. I did really well in the run up to Christmas – not a lot of extraneous December events in my life. But in a span of 11 days I had a Gingerbread House party, Christmas Eve (the big deal at my house), my Boxing Day party, New Year’s Eve out, and a New Year’s Day party. There was a little bit extra food during that time. OK – a lot of extra food. The interesting thing is that after being on my eating plan for eight months now, eating all those foods I don’t normally consume actually made me feel uncomfortable. Of course I felt overfull and sluggish HOURS later so it didn’t do anything to help stop me in the moment, but it means I am listening to my body a little better than I have in the past.

After the New Year’s Day party (my worst indulgence by far,) I clearly recognized the bloated feeling that I regularly used to get in the evenings when I was in my gaining weight phase. Definitely not enjoyable. It made me actively want to go back to my low carb/high fat (LCHF) eating. I don’t want to feel that way anymore. I want to feel terrific and I usually do on LCHF. Even when I experience a little hunger (which doesn’t often happen,) the overall state of my body seems to be good. I am going to get there quickly by going back into ketosis.

“Ketosis is a metabolic process that occurs when the body does not have enough glucose for energy. Stored fats are broken down for energy, resulting in a build-up of acids called ketones within the body.” MedicalNewsToday.com

By drastically reducing my intake of carbohydrates, I will force my body to use its stored fat as a source of energy. This can take several days depending on how long/how many carbohydrates you have been eating. I have gone so far as to get myself some test strips (Ketostix) to make sure I really am doing it correctly. Because I have spent months low carb and this was “just the holidays” I expect to both get back into fat burning ketosis quickly and not suffer any of the crankiness often associated with switching from high to low carb intake (often called keto-flu.) I can confirm that this keto-flu is real. I spent just short of a week feeling tired, weak, and irritable. But it did pass like the literature said it would. A LCHF diet also causes your cells to release a lot of excess water (and conversely eating the carbs caused my cells to retain water.) So yes, I understand that some of the immediate weight loss is “water weight”. But when people scornfully say that, they usually assume that you will be returning to your former eating patterns soon enough and yes then the water weight lost will come back. I, on the other hand, am resuming the eating pattern the reduces the water weight, so I expect it to stay off.  Then the fat-burning can continue.

As I said before, this is not for everyone.  It works for me and I have been able to stick to it since May.  I think of it as an eating plan, not a diet and since I seem to be able to “survive” the holidays and vacations, it seems to be sustainable too.  I’ve conquered the menopausal weight gain and I feel great.  I’m keeping it!

p.s. Ketosis is a very dangerous state for someone with diabetes I, it can lead to ketoacidosis.  But don’t confuse the two.  Ketosis in a otherwise healthy person is a generally recognized as a safe metabolic state.

It Was (not) a Very Good Year

For reasons that do not bear public scrutiny, this was a very hard year for me. Everyone has been going on about the greats we lost in 2016, too numerous to even mention here; but as a friend stated, she has hit grief overload. We’re old now, people we grew up knowing about are going to start to die more and more frequently, let’s get over it. I, however, have had a personally pretty crappy year. I have been muddling through, making my own path, finding my way. There are certain things I can control and others that I cannot. And despite my knowing that, I spend way too much time being tortured by the things I don’t have control over. That is one of my mental burdens. Sometimes I work against it, and sometimes I wallow. A tactic I turn to over and over again is to wait something out. It’s surprising how often it works. Although there is tremendous pain in the waiting, I am regularly rewarded for having waited. The problem with this tactic is that when it doesn’t work, it fails SPECTACULARLY. So, there is risk in everything. I have gone through fits and starts of brilliance in my struggle with this year though. I had a breathtaking bucket list trip to see the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico, got my concert going back up to where I want it, redid my living room, figured out my weight issue, and started this blog!

 

 

“If you were perfect, you’d be bored” ~ Sara Maschino

So it is with great relief I bid 2016 adieu. I am still not certain that 2017 will bring me all the things I want, but I can have hope. I will continue to go to live music. I will make an effort to hang out with my friends. I will renew my intentions with my art. I will work out hard and continue to reshape my body. And I will live and love my life as best I can.

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