Out of the Pit, into the Cave

May 21, 2014

Depression is an interesting beast. It’s so prevalent in our world, has been for years, just read some Romantic poetry or wallow in Russian literature for a while, and you’ll realize how not-alone you are in this feeling that never seems to go away. I’ve seen it described as a rain cloud that follows you around, the big black dog, a pit, a hole, a cave. We come up with these personifications, these illustrations, to try to make it something we can look at, distance ourselves from, maybe even fix. My meditation guy wants me to look at my whole brain that way. Like I’m a private detective, leaning up against that lamppost in the dark, lighting the cigarette and watching the brain (hey…shouldn’t smoke!). Watch what the brain does, make notes in a little book, process it, spit out a report at the end. This is what happened, this is where it went, dry and dissected, no emotions.

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I wish my depression was the big black dog. I know how to deal with dogs. It started out as a pit, a hole. It’s been that before. Prior to my divorce, back in 2000 or so, it was a giant hole, and once I had dragged myself out of it, with no help from my husband at the time, he tossed me back in. But I got out…probably because I had spent a couple of years trying to deal with my brain and what it was doing, and I had enough tools to build a ladder out of there fairly quickly. I had some control over the situation.

Not so this time. This time I didn’t even see the pit before I got tossed in. I thought it was way behind me, filled in, totally safe ground to walk on, and I blithely continued on, carrying my little beachball of work stress and hormonal disruptions…which yes, caused a minor depression, but it was completely treatable. I just didn’t know I needed to deal with it. I think it would have eventually worked itself out with the right supports (which I wasn’t getting). But then a giant maw of a deep dark hole opened up and I just tumbled all the way down. And I can look back now and see how deep I went, how bad it was (sometimes still is).

They tell you that once you’ve experienced one depressive event that you are more prone to them later on. Great. Appreciate it. Didn’t ask for this. Mine are event-based. This isn’t just random shit being shot out of a cannon, like some people’s depression, which I can see would be much harder to deal with, because you can’t pinpoint the cause. It just is. It’s that brain chemistry out of whack. No, this is because of what other people have done, and in each case, it is out of my control. I am just the one dealing with the aftermath. It seems unfair, but I know that life is not set out to be fair…there is no arbitrator of fairness and karma setting out punishments and rewards. You may believe otherwise…feel free…but I don’t.

So once I’m in the pit, the deep hole, I have to find my way out. Sometimes it’s medications, which didn’t work this time, it’s always counseling, it’s always a time of deep reflection and artmaking for me, which makes me somewhat lucky, in that I can actually create while down in the pit. I know plenty who can’t, who are hogtied by the depression to a point of not being able to even pick up a pencil. I guess I’m glad that when my brain goes into that hole, she takes her sketchbook and her pens with her. I guess that is a learned defense against the depression.

And it really is me, the private dick, still leaning up against the lamppost, checking my watch, adjusting my hat against the misty rain, waiting for the brain to show herself again, logging her activity.

I guess the plus is that she’s moved out of the hole. Well, she moved into a cave recently, I guess…I don’t know why the visualization changed, but it did. It seems easier…she can just walk in and out of the cave, no need to build a ladder or scramble up the sides of a muddy pit. She hunches over, my brain, and she brings a bowl out into the light, gathers some leaves or berries (I’ve been eating a lot of berries lately), she blinks, squints up at the sky, sees me and drops her chin, acknowledging my presence, and then shuffles back into the cave. Brings tears to my eyes. There she is. She was out. She tried. She’s going back in for a while, because it was too much.

Some day I’ll talk about the current quilt and its title. Because it is the hardest part of this depression. I know what was in my head as I drew it, and…it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever had to deal with in my own head. Yes, only one. Sad but true.

I’d better find a way to do something restorative tonight, beyond exercise and meditation. Because…ouch. Bad place.

Earth Stories: Drawing It Big

May 14, 2014

The Earth Stories exhibit opened at Michigan State University Museum in Lansing, MI, on May 11, and continues through November 26. The opening reception is May 16 from 4-6 PM. It then travels to the University of Central Missouri Gallery of Art and Design, Warrensburg, Missouri, January 19 – February 28, 2015. This means I will finally be allowed to post the pictures of this quilt as of the 16th…I thought I’d spend a few posts reviewing how these two pieces came to be.

I was accepted into the exhibit in October of 2012. I wasn’t even going to enter. I got into this huge discussion with the family, intellectuals all (although I qualify as an emotional intellectual…nowadays only barely rational apparently) about what could actually SAVE the Earth. The original plan for the exhibit was to pick a group or person who had made a significant contribution to saving the Earth, to keeping our planet livable, whole, sustainable even. I kept coming back to science in general, but the thought of doing a quilt of people in labcoats with microscopes and water-testing devices seemed kinda lame.

Then I watched this video:

It was Monique’s fault. She posted it. And it clicked a switch in my brain. A huge one.

Understand that I teach life science. I teach biology to 12-year-olds. I teach human reproduction. What do we need to do to save the world? We need to stop overpopulating it. We need to make sure that the available resources are distributed fairly, but also that we don’t overwhelm them with too many people (it may be too late for that, honestly). So when I saw that there were groups that were trying to help women who actually WANTED to control the number and timing of their births, the size of their families, to keep them within the constraints of what they could afford, of what they could handle, THAT was the group I was going to put the strength of my convictions behind.

That was the International Planned Parenthood Federation. They provide voluntary birth control to women in countries where it’s not allowed or where they have financial or religious difficulty in getting the medications they need to make sure they can take care of their families. They can decide how long to wait between births, which is healthier for both mother and child, but she can also decide when to stop having children. Imagine, giving women a choice? Plus helping to conserve our natural resources? All good.

Once I was accepted into the exhibit, which is an interesting story in itself, I sort of looked at how much time I had during the school year and how much time it would take to make a 72″-square quilt, and I planned my time. My goal was to have it drawn before Spring Break, traced onto Wonder Under during Spring Break, ironed to fabric before Summer Break, and then get the whole nasty beast done over the summer.

Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men, and overwhelmed single moms who don’t even know what kind of shit might hit their fans.

I did OK with the first part, actually…OK, well, not really. I had about 4 or 5 mis-starts to the drawing…in fact, I think I started drawing in February (Spring Break being April). I already knew what position I wanted the main figure in, but I couldn’t quite visualize parts, so I asked the girlchild (who was running a nasty fever at the time that turned into the nasty flu that messed up her system for a while) to pose…

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She was thrilled. As I’m sure you can see. Yes, my carpet is that beat up.

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She didn’t have the right look on her face. She’s supposed to be Earth Mother. I decided not to make her old…mothers aren’t usually super old. They’re frazzled. Plus she had live trees on her, and it’s not supposed to be alive.

A few days later, I tried again.

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Serious issues with the thighs. And the mountains are lame. Plus that left hand? Both hands…way too small.

I don’t usually fuss this much over drawings, but that was the thing with this one. I needed it to say the right thing and I don’t usually care so much that the viewer is getting the message. I figure they will get SOME message and that’s all that matters. On this one, the message mattered.

So I tried again…

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Much better belly/thigh area (and the pregnancy finally shows up…notice it wasn’t there before). Her face, though…too spacey. Like she’s contemplating what color nail polish might go with those shoes.

I gave up for a while…a month actually. Then I realized Spring Break was bounding towards me, so I started again…

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Ugh. Too small, arms suck. Whatever!

A few days later, though…BOOM!

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There she is. There’s the start. Much bigger and the right look on her face…but I filled an entire page just with this part of her torso. I copied the bottom part and taped it to another page and then drew the bottom half…then enlarged those and taped them together.

I finally had the beginnings of this thing.

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Now realize that light table is 3 feet by 4 feet, so it gives you a good idea of how big this thing gets. I started in a 14×17″ sketchbook. I think I enlarged the drawing 200-300%. Then I drew the rest of it to size (which is always a crazy tiny-piece mistake for me, and yet I do it every time).

I spent about 20 hours drawing this thing. I’d draw for a while and then step back and look at it (or stand on the piano bench and look at it, because it was the only way I could see the whole thing).

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Most drawings take me a couple of hours, maybe four or five for a super-complicated one like what I’m working on now.

I had TV shows running on the laptop (the computer in the back is too slow and sound is an issue) to keep my brain occupied. Here’s me drawing the thought cloud that shows a happy world with plenty of food…


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This is back at the beginning, right after I had taped all the extra paper around the enlarged figure to make it 72″ square.

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It was a huge endeavor. I’ve never spent so long DRAWING a quilt, but it really did need to be forcibly pulled out of me…it took a good chunk of Spring Break to get it done. This was before all the shit hit the fan at work, so my brain was mostly OK for this type of task. I don’t know if I would have been able to do that now. It was really difficult. Maybe the art brain would prefer that level of involvement in a drawing to all the other crap I throw at it.

Next post? Numbering and tracing pieces…


Stop and Let Me Be

April 30, 2014

Having a full-time job and being a single mom and being an artist means I never feel like I’m caught up with anything. My ex made some snotty comment about the state of my house yesterday…he doesn’t bring his job home with him, that’s for sure, and I deal with most of the kid stuff. Plus he actually cleans house on the weekends or at night, and I obviously don’t. I’m doing art instead. I keep meaning to schedule 30 minutes every other day or so to pick up, or even 10 minutes each day to focus on one small area of the house, but then reality kicks in and I don’t get to it. Time gets sucked up by stuff like making tonight’s dinner last night or dealing with some stupid tax thing or yet another college thing or an expired prescription.

This is why I can’t pick a new camera, even though I have birthday money to pay for it. This is why I can’t figure out the car situation. This is why the house is not clean. Because I have a brain that would rather be picking fabric or drawing or even reading a book than straightening up the house. I solve so many problems during the day that at some point, I run out of problem-solving ability. Literally, my brain just stops working on that stuff…it’s like a puppy who doesn’t want to walk any further. It pushes its feet into the ground and no amount of pushing, prodding, cajoling will budge it.

The only thing it wants to do is wander off into that calm arena of artmaking.

So I let it. Maybe that’s not the best thing to do; certainly it doesn’t get the house clean. I have a plan for the damn car. I don’t have a plan for the damn camera. And I think some of this looming depressive cloud that is settling over me this week is summer coming. I’ve never been depressed about summer coming. But it’s just another unstructured break that reminds me of badness. Yesterday was sad day. I thought maybe part of it was lack of sleep, so I made an attempt to go to bed earlier last night…which is why this post is happening NOW rather than last night.

I did make a decision about the main figure in quilt…she’s flesh, not gray. She’s still alive. Barely. So I stayed in sorta grayed-out flesh tones…nothing bright.

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The other two figures are more on the pink side of flesh, and I’ll use those fabrics for the two hands grabbing her thighs. Need contrast.

The biggest problem with picking fabrics for this section is that there is no way I can pick the whole body out in one night, and I don’t want to iron a bunch of flesh fabrics and then have to re-iron those fabrics with the next batch of flesh fabrics every night. I need to see the WHOLE thing. Usually I lay out the whole body and then iron for hours. Like I would budget a weekend day (in reality, I would have done this during break). Not happening this time. So I started laying them out…

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And I realized that I could do all the bone pieces and some other things on the leg, like a stitched scar. I have to cover everything during the day, because I have cats who like to sit on fabric and get things all messed up, so I didn’t want to lay out too much flesh last night. I think I did about an hours’ worth, and I know I’m in the 900s now, but I still have a bunch of random 800 pieces to do, like the eyeball on the leg (you know, because legs have eyeballs) and the grabby hands…oh yeah, and pubic hair, which means I have to decide what color hair she’s going to have.

More pieces…the big ones are all leg bones and pelvis…

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It’s really hard sometimes to explain to people what I do in the middle of the night, when they ask how much I sleep or how I stay up so late, while they are obviously thinking how fucking crazy I am. When I’m ironing, I’m not tired any more. I’m not stuck in a bad place in my head where some 6-second Vine of derision and uselessness runs over and over again, berating me for my mistakes. I’m in a place of peace. So it makes sense that I would want to stay there for as long as possible, to make that feeling the largest part of my brain, especially as I get ready for sleep; having that be the prevailing thought as I fall asleep helps me stay asleep, helps me have good dreams instead of bad. Helps me wake up in an OK mood instead of the other kind.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really get the good sleep last night, despite the early bedtime (“early”…make that 1 AM instead of 2 AM). I have been reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak…


It’s a beautiful book. The words, how Zusak writes a phrase, the visuals of the sky and souls, are absolutely wonderful to read. Yes, it’s a WWII book about Germany and Nazis…but it’s really not. But it is. Death is the narrator, and it’s surprising how human death seems…more human than some people I know. I was reading it at the gym and came to the last 50 pages and started to get very emotional…now have I cried at the gym? Heck yeah. Regularly. Sad, really, but it happens. Too much brain time. Proof that this is a significant depression, because the serotonin levels from exercise should be helping with mood, and they don’t. Not really.

Anyway. I chose to stop reading, because I figured the last 50 pages would be pretty sad. And I was already in sad mode. So I came home and cooked tonight’s dinner AND last night’s dinner (god I hate all that cooking) and ironed for a while and thought I would put off reading the end until another day. Except I couldn’t. So I sat in bed at 1 AM and I finished the book (I read fast). And I cried during the whole last 50 pages. So I guess it’s a good thing I waited until I got home. It’s a good book. Don’t care about the movie.

Anyway. So I’m not really starting off today in the right mood, and it’s kind of a crazy day. I wish I could regulate my mood better, but despite taking all my meds and trying to eat and sleep right, best I can, and exercising every day, my moods have a mind of their own. I’m standing off over here watching them fight and piss and moan, wondering when they will just stop and let me be. Deep sigh.


Where Am I?

April 15, 2014

Such a philosophical question. I am significantly damp, somewhat peckish, with blood sugar definitely dropping. I forgot an umbrella, I left all my snack food in the motel (brain not functioning), and I’ve been up since 3:30 AM Pacific time.

Where am I? Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University, where the boychild will probably be spending the next 4 years of his life.

It’s a little mind-boggling and even sad to be here. I’m excited to send him here, to have him be moving on to being a college student…but with all the upheaval of the last year, it’s also really hard to be here.

Plus it’s pouring rain and getting colder, with snow expected this afternoon. In 5 minutes, I have to put all my wet outerwear back on and venture out to meet him at some info session, but right now, I am (shockingly) sitting in a nice comfy chair and drinking tea, texting the girlchild (who is not even up yet) about what color shirt she wants.

A few hours later…we did the info session and food and shopping for family, but by then it was hailing and windy and significantly chilly. On the one hand, worst day ever to visit this week, but he now has a better idea of what clothing he’ll need to live here. And he still likes it! Me, I’m happy to be living in Southern California. I spent a year living in Britain and constantly feeling damp and having my glasses fog up.

In San Diego, everything is green, that lime leafy green, right now. In a month or so, it will start to turn brown. Here in New York, everything is brown and dead-looking right now, with the exception of a few trees setting out buds. Spring isn’t quite here.

I’ve been reading a lot. It’s hard to stitch on the plane if you don’t know the people around you. They want to talk, or it just takes up too much room. It’s easier to read with headphones on so you don’t have to engage. Same with drawing…I did draw on the plane, but only when I got to sit with the boychild. Drawing is even more personal. I really don’t want to discuss it with strangers. But, yes, then I post it on the web…seemingly an incongruent act…but you are all out in the ether, not sitting next to me for four hours. No one can disapprove of reading, right? It’s an educated thing to do. We want our kids to do more of it…it helps us deal with the world, increases vocabulary, makes you more empathetic, protects against Alzheimer’s…hell, it’s unhealthy NOT to read.

I actually believe many of those things apply to drawing as well…it’s just harder to draw for many people…although no one doubts their drawing ability when they’re young. We haven’t mastered reading and we draw like little crayon ninjas, taking over the visual world with our interpretations. I have students who don’t like to read, who fight it, won’t look for key words, won’t practice. Sometimes it’s a language issue, sometimes it’s parents not making an effort to read TO their kids, to read IN FRONT of their kids (something besides Facebook status posts, folks…because that’s not reading unless you click through and read news stories and blogposts…and even then, your commitment was for a thousand words instead of pages).

I never had to make my kids read. But they saw both parents reading all the time and we read to them every day.

I wonder, though, what happens with the drawing? I wonder what kind of world this would be if we made drawing or visual expression (dance?) or even music as important and crucial, at home and at school, as we do reading? What kind of world would it be then?


Certainly I would be able to draw on the plane then.

That Never Happens in My Real Life…

April 10, 2014

Yesterday, I went on a road trip to Aliso Viejo in Orange County (California) to finally see the California Fibers exhibit at Soka University, where I have had two pieces since January.

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It’s a beautiful campus, at least what little I saw of it.

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It was obviously Spring Break, because otherwise, I’m fairly sure these pools must be filled with students, right?

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There’s no way they’d stay out of there.

Julie was my companion (and driver, which was awfully nice of her)…

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It was a gorgeous Spring day in California, although a little on the warm side…

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I’ll be posting about the exhibit (again) on the California Fibers blog, as soon as I find some free time to do that…today is kinda overbooked. Again. I know.

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Julie and I spent quite a bit of time discussing this global map, especially how it wasn’t the way we were used to seeing maps laid out, with Japan at its center (Soka’s founder is Japanese and the sister school is also in Japan).

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Relative sizes of countries and locations of islands and the equator were part of the discussion.

Then we headed outside again to check out the fountain…

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Especially because it appeared to have dead bugs all over it…

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That may be a commentary on university costs right there (a definite discussion point in my household at the moment). I hadn’t been able to come see this exhibit for so long because it’s only open Monday-Friday, which is kind of annoying. I mean, I guess I understand in that it’s on a university campus, and their staff isn’t around on the weekends, but…hell, I would have had to take a day off work to see it otherwise. I’m not sure how many non-retired people who aren’t students at the university have been able to see the exhibit, which is too bad, because the space is really beautiful. It’s up through May 8…if you’re in town, you should check it out.

It was a nice trip, and I got home early enough to get some stuff done…although some of that was following the kids around. Girlchild is cat-sitting (or checking-in-on-cats really), and Maus decided he didn’t so much LIKE being in the garage, but definitely liked being TALL.

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There was some worry and some kitty squawking and a ladder was involved, but we found out later that he does this all the time. No worries.

I sat outside while girlchild did all her feeding and cleaning and trash stuff and kitty-petting, because I had an ebook that was due back today and had holds on it (not sure how the renewal policy works on that) and I wanted to finish the book…it was Parasite by Mira Grant…


It’s a story set in the future, 2027, where we have developed intestinal parasites that help keep humans healthy, but as always, in the future, our meddling with science will cause issues. This is the first of a 3-part series called Parasitology, and I’m looking forward to the next one. I really liked this book…it was scientifically intriguing (although the reason I gave it a 4 out of 5 on GoodReads is because some of the science wasn’t explained well enough, and that bugged me). There’s some obvious stuff going on and some political/corporate intrigue and a bunch of crazy people acting in the name of science or money or both. And dogs. Dogs are good in this story. All good stories should have dogs in them.

Interestingly, Mira Grant is the pseudonym for Seanan McGuire, whose Rosemary and Rue I read last year. I thought this was much better of a story, more solid and grab-at-you than the October Daye series (although I would probably read more of those as well). McGuire as Grant has also written the Newsflesh trilogy, which is now on my to-read list.

Then I finally made it home and managed to get to work on the last few hundred pieces on the newest quilt…I finished tracing around 11 PM (I fixed dinner and did other stuff in there, really)…and here it all is, laid out…

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It’s probably 7 yards…I try to cut about 1-yard pieces, although I don’t actually measure them, because that would be way more anal than I am (I know, I seem that anal, but I’m not). It took a total of 21 hours and 36 minutes to trace all of them, which is interesting because like I’ve said before, usually I can do 100 in an hour, so this one must have been more complicated. There are 1776 pieces officially (although I know there are probably 10-15 more due to mistakes in numbering). The quilt itself, well, the image anyway, is 34″ wide x 73″ high (so add about 10 inches to each of those measurements for a finished size).

In comparison, the quilt I did for Celebrating Silver is about 40×70″ and has 1227 pieces. So. Yeah. And it took only 95 hours to complete. I’m sure I can cut that time! (Are you kidding me? Tracing Celebrating only took a little over 11 hours. I am fucking nuts.)

Anyway. I’m going to start cutting those out today, knock on wood. I have a busy art day planned, with a new life-drawing class I’m trying out as a plan for the summer, lunch with friends I’ve never met in person (ah, the wonders of the internet), and then a stitching meeting afterwards (that’s where I’ll be cutting stuff…it’s not appropriate to cut out Wonder Under at the other two places, you know?).

I wasn’t quite ready to go to sleep when I finished, but I also wasn’t ready to cut the WU out, so I debated cleaning (I debate that a lot…mostly I do it for about 10-20 minutes and then I figure there must be something better to do). Then I remembered that I only had a little cutting left on the Mammogram fabrics, so I pulled that out…

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and managed to finish. It took a total of about 7 hours to cut this one out…interesting, because it only has about 360 pieces in it. But many of them are big and complicated pieces, difficult to cut out. So now it’s ready to iron down as well. I will probably save that for after Spring Break, because it’s not a difficult task…it doesn’t require a huge amount of brain power. I really want to get to the fabric-choosing phase of the big quilt over break, which is looking more and more impossible as the days disappear behind me. Oh well. It will all get done. And I need to draw! I have two I need to draw in the next few weeks. I’m not worried. They’re smaller than this one, but inevitably, I will make sure they have 12 trillion pieces in them.

Yup. I’m a little crazy that way. But you knew that already. But I finished two tasks! In one day! It must be Spring Break. That never happens in my real life.



Zooming In…

March 31, 2014

It’s interesting to wake up the morning after the hike and try to figure out what the hell you did the day before to cause the specific, different muscle pain that you have today. For instance, why does my right quad hurt so much more than the left? Maybe because that’s the leg I used to pull myself up onto rocks when we were scrambling up the canyon toward the waterfalls?

Then there’s Poison Oak Paranoia: every slightly itchy feeling since Saturday, I’m checking for the rash. I’m convinced it will show up (and it can take up to 5 days to show up, which is scary). At some point, I’ll get around to posting about that hike, but I have to resize the photos and I was in two long meetings yesterday, so I ran out of time.

My women’s art group is doing a show with Mexican female artists in September/October about the border, more of a conceptual collaborative piece than everyone contributing a single piece of art, so it requires meetings and brainstorming and working with people who work very differently than I do. I realize my experience of the border by being a teacher of students who regularly cross it is very different than others. I’m not entirely sure what I feel about it except that it seems to break up families and make it more difficult for certain groups of people, especially those who really don’t need more trouble in their lives. I read a book a few years ago about four Hispanic girls and the Dream Act and how this arbitrary line that we draw affected their lives. Anyway, you will probably see more about this project in the future, but know that right now, I am envisioning floating 3D fabric houses in the air above our real-live fence. And how that will go together. I think it’s good to force the art brain to work out of its comfort zone, out of what it’s used to doing.

Girlchild survived her weekend camp and came back invigorated and excited (she is so much more of an extrovert than I am). She had to tell everyone who her role model was as one of their team-building/introduction exercises, and she told me she chose me, and I said, “because you want to be a depressed, crazy old woman in your future?” and she said, no, because she wanted to be strong like me. Sigh. And I don’t feel strong at all most days. It’s like dragging myself along through the mud most days, but I guess she’s right. I just wish I didn’t HAVE to be so strong. It would be OK to have less to deal with and get through and to not have to feel like I’m always surviving things. I’d be OK with that. I guess I should tell her, some day, when it doesn’t make me burst into tears, that a huge part of my strength comes from having her and her brother around, that if they hadn’t been here this year, if they’d been off at college or even if they’d been around but not supportive (which believe it or not, they have been), then I don’t know where I’d be right now…maybe still in bed and under the covers. Maybe worse. Sigh.

I graded a little, but I didn’t let it take over my day. Then I traced some more…

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Honestly, this seems to be taking forever and I don’t know why. Complicated pieces? Tired brain? Hard to say. Lots of little skeleton pieces…hey, I must be tracing dirt again! Dirt, then water. Skeletons, then bodies. Then birds, always the birds…and cats. Actually, I think this one has a dog instead of a cat. I don’t remember drawing a cat. The drawing is so big and took so long to do that I don’t remember, and when I’m tracing it, it’s upside down on the light table, so I can’t see all of it. I literally only see the little section that I’m tracing.

Kinda how I’m living life at the moment…just the little section I can handle each day. The night before I usually think about the little section I will handle the following day, but I try not to think further ahead than that unless I have to. It’s too hard. It feels too empty.

Brain. You really need to rewire yourself. Being smart and reflective and all inside-looking and crap? It ain’t helping you at the moment. Look out. See the whole drawing, not just the piece you’re on.

Nope. That’s what gets me in trouble right now. Trying to see the whole picture. I zoom out, the brain freaks out, and I zoom back in, quickly erasing whatever set it off. I don’t know whether that’s the healthiest thing to do or not…it’s just what I’m doing to survive right now.

Recovering at Home

March 21, 2014

So I finally got the girlchild home tonight around 7 PM. It took some persuasion, but I was fairly sure she would recover faster at home away from the easy stuff at the hospital, so although she was scared to walk away from 24-hour care and access to better pain meds, we went home. Home, of course, in a divorce is a difficult concept. I did leave her at her dad’s, because he actually has a hospital bed in her room with the adjustable top and bottom (remnants of the marriage…I have one here in my garage as well, gifts from my grandmother to fill out our guest room, back when we had such a thing and she was getting rid of furniture she no longer needed). Plus I need to go back to work tomorrow and he is taking the day off to take care of her, so it makes more sense to not move her more than we have to at the moment.

Here’s where we spent the last 50-some hours…

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in the Acute Care Pavilion of Children’s Hospital, the big glass building in the background. I wish I could say I wandered around and took lots of pictures of all the art that was there, but mostly I stayed in the room with her, barely able to concentrate on anything longer than a blogpost. There was some possibility after this morning that I would have to spend a third night, so midday, I went home and showered and packed another bag for tonight, thus guaranteeing that I wouldn’t have to spend the night, right? Oh well…it was better to plan for it than not, like the night before. I think I’ve been home a total of 4.5 hours in the last 50.

She finally allowed one token photo of her in the room, about an hour before she was discharged…

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The painting behind her? I cannot say. I can tell you that we were on the air or sky floor, so all the paintings and art were related to the sky.

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Like this one of pigs flying…

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There were lots of whimsical things going on here. It was interesting, though, to walk into the family waiting room next to her room (she was sleeping and I was on the phone with work people about the chaos I missed but still need to know about), and to look at the giant photographs in the room and realize you know the artist, that she’s in one of your art groups. Wacky.

There were a lot of mosaics, which I’ve always loved, especially the irregularly shaped ones like this spiraling ocean of life that wandered through one of the outdoor gardens…

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The ex and I actually sat outside near this mosaic for most of her surgery. It was better than being inside. I’ve spent the last 3 days inside, I think. And this tile (and others like it) were in the main bathrooms scattered throughout…

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The animals were happy and calm…meant to make us feel the same way (except for the terrified puppies in hot-air balloons, of course).

Anyway, I left the meds and instructions with dad, and he can be in charge for the next 24 hours…we’ll see where we’re at after that. She can walk for short distances, but it hurts. She has to wear a brace while “ambulating” (doctor’s words) for the next three months. No soccer for three months. She has a ton of schoolwork to get done, and we need to get her back to school ASAP so she doesn’t miss too much.

I’m feeling a little distant from everything. I got very little done for all that time. Couldn’t stitch or read anything long at all. I finally managed to input grades today when I knew she was coming home. There’s something about that waiting state that doesn’t allow anything decisive to happen. I’ve accepted that as lost time. Moving on now.

I came home and did some dishes and ate and exercised and meditated (the first time I’ve done the last two since Monday night), so that was a relief. Now I’m going to sleep in my own bed with enough pillows and no one coming in every 2-4 hours to check vitals or give meds. What a relief. I’m hoping to get my art/creative brain back tomorrow, or at least be able to number the newest drawing or cut out pieces…pretty brainless stuff, but still on the artmaking spectrum.

She’s home. It’s good.

So Much Wasted…

February 26, 2014

I don’t feel human when I’m numb. I woke up this morning and the numbness, it was dragging me down into a pit. That’s not good.

I go to school. I do work. I go to the chiropractor and she says oh my what’s going on with your neck and puts warming pads on me and leaves me to relax and instead I cry. That is what I do now. That is who I am now. She gives me some exercises, explains what’s happening (to my back…she doesn’t notice the crying). Asks what’s going on. Tries to suss out why it’s worse than it ever has been. Hmn. Can’t say. I come home and think about being productive. I think about what I’m doing to my back?

I can go two ways with that productive thing: (1) do some work, grading of some type or (2) start picking fabrics for a quilt.

I do neither. I have a library book due Saturday. I’m almost done with it. I sit down and read. I talk to parentals for a bit about sprinklers, but mostly I read. I didn’t actually have much time between getting home from the chiropractor and having to leave again…so it was hard to force myself to be productive.

Then it’s book club night! I liked the book a lot, and I like getting out of the house to hang out with other geeky women and talk about books and movies and whether the guy that plays Sherlock is hotter than the tenth Dr. Who. Or whatever. These are my people. I ended up talking to someone I’d talked to before briefly…turns out her current life has some similarities to mine. It was a good conversation. Plus I have more books to read. This is how geeky our group is…those of us who liked the book now vow to read everything he’s written and we get all excited about how many books he’s written. Yup. I will never be able to read all the books that I want to read. Then there’s discussion of whether the British show of this is better than the American version, and if it’s a European show, we know there will be no happy ending. Americans like happy endings. The Europeans are much more realistic. I am more Euro than US of A in character. Always have been.

I come home and exercise while talking briefly to the kids, then spend an hour plus on the phone with brother and SIL talking college and retirement and money. It’s too late to start anything artistic. I’m honestly too tired to do anything else tonight. Maybe tomorrow. There’s no rush.

I still haven’t finished the book. Too many distractions and interruptions. They’re not bad interruptions though…they’re just life. And life interruptions like that are better than wallowing in the depression pit. That pit smells bad. I don’t like hanging out there. It makes me feel bad.

Except I know I still feel empty and numb…and I feel like I didn’t accomplish anything today…and I feel like I will never feel better. And I haven’t meditated yet, so I will try to do that after I finish writing this, but will probably fall asleep doing it.

I drew at school during prep. I did a bunch of grading and I got that nasty awful feeling in the pit of my belly that tells me I should work on my mindset, so I turned the music on and started to draw. There wasn’t much time left in my prep period, so I didn’t draw for long, but it seemed to get me through the day.

I wish for so many things to be different. I didn’t want things to be like this. There are some things I can change, but so much of it is out of my control…so much is just up in the air. So much is because of my brain, which refuses to behave. Why start now? Depression takes hold, digs in. I feel like I will need to cut fingers off, sever tentacles, slice up some connecting phalanges in order to disconnect from that part of my brain, the part that is deep in hopelessness…deep in crying.

So much brain power and energy wasted on this state of mind.

So much wasted.

The Getting Up and Pretending

January 28, 2014

I’m not sure where my head is still…I forgot even more stuff today, left one ingredient out of dinner (the kids noticed, but survived), couldn’t find photos that I had already removed from the relevant email and resized, left my brain in a dusty corner somewhere. I feel so freakin’ inefficient and lame because I can’t seem to focus properly…only half my brain is engaged in life. The other half is somewhere else. Hopefully it’s in Tahiti or the Caribbean, having a grand old time, instead of what I imagine from all the TV shows, where we hope it’s on vacation but it’s really locked up in a damp cell with duct tape (students, that’s d-u-c-t, not quack like a duck) over its mouth, bloody nose from getting hit too hard, double vision.

Yes, the imagination runs in overdrive on a regular basis. I tried to remember stuff. I shipped my  journal and bought boxes for the quilt, which needs to get there next week some time. I should have packed it up tonight, but I didn’t have the mental energy…which is too bad, because I think the other four nights this week will be much worse than tonight. Oh well. I need to iron it and dehair it as well. Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow night (cough cough, after tutorial, soccer game, and gym). Whatever. The show doesn’t open until May. It will get where it needs to go on time. Ish. I focus so hard on deadlines sometimes that I think it makes me a little insane. Juggling like crazy right now.

I graded papers tonight because I am now way behind. I rarely grade at home these days…it’s just not a priority. I try to do it at school, but sitting in the classroom during prep is depressing. So I avoid it. I have enough depressoid going on…I don’t need to make more. On the other hand, I do need to catch up. So I’m trying to balance those things out.

I exercised and meditated like a good girl…exercise is just an excuse to be able to read really, and that is never bad. And meditation…it centers me, makes me be more conscious of my inner state, which is often not good, but I’m much better at controlling it this year. My students I think are benefiting from my conscious understanding of when I am losing it, and taking control of that. Breathe. Think. Don’t react. Wish I’d known about it sooner…I think it would have made my life different and better years ago.

Then I came in to try to figure out the fabrics for the Ivy Memorial quilt, which has nothing to do with any art show or entry or deadline at all. I didn’t think there were that many pieces in it, but that is because I am a space cadet and forgot all the detailed tiny bits I put into it because I am freakin’ insane. It has 312 pieces in it, which is a lot when you consider its size…which is about 19″ high x 38″ wide…wow, that’s a lot bigger than I thought it was…and that’s without a border.


I laid out the first 100 pieces, which are all freezer paper, cut with a border if they’re meant to be wool, so I can cut out the wool on the line, or cut on the line if they’re meant to be cotton, because I will turn the edges under to applique them. Only a tiny bit confusing…

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Most of it is supposed to be wool, with a few cotton accents around, and I planned it to be mostly bright colors. Last year or the year before, I was searching for a run of flesh tones for the main figure, but I never really worked out the rest of it. I have a decent stash of greens and a few browns etc., but none of the brights I was envisaging for the flowers. I have red. That’s about it.

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I did manage to iron the hills and river behind the main figure…I had enough greens for that…this is what I’ve used so far for the hillside…

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And the river is done. But before I decide about the rest of them, I need to find the stash of leftover pieces from the two Sue Spargo quilts…there were brightly colored pieces in there that were big enough for flowers, which is mostly what I need them for. I think they’re hiding out in the living room in one of the boxes from my last cleanup. I never throw those offcuts away, those funny-shaped pieces left over from cutting out birds or flowers. Yes, I think that makes me a hoarder in some ways, but I think if I just keep watching a Hoarders episode every month or so, I will be motivated enough to keep the packrat tendencies down to a minimum. Besides, in this situation, I think it’s exactly what I need…little pieces of bright colors. I may track those down tomorrow night.

After I pack the box. Yeah, I know. I don’t think I’ll be doing either of those things tomorrow night, but who knows.

I could just do another drawing of a sad woman with a weapon…because that’s not disturbing at all. I try to explain that I get all my supremely sad and angry and disturbing thoughts out in my drawings, so I don’t need to follow through with them. Expressions of anger, sadness, grief, depression, even suicide. I don’t need to DO any of that, don’t want to…but do need to acknowledge the thoughts that ramble through the brain. It would be stupid not to address those thoughts, the ones that inhabit your brain in the early hours of morning and want to color your dreams. Naw. Bugger off. I saw you, I said I saw you, now go away.

It’s funny…I have this tiny little wool stash, only about 20 different colors and some small pieces of some others…so it makes it really hard for me to pick what I want. I like having a huge palette from which to choose. This is the biggest section of stash…crazy quilt fabrics on the left side, browns, yellows, whites, purples, blues, and grays on the right side (actually it’s taking over the left side too…I recently consolidated the CQ stash over as far as it would go). And below the shelves you can see is a drawer of green and one of black.

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Then to the left of that are the blues (3 drawers) and greens (3 drawers), with a drawer of grays and one of browns…

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There’s other stuff stacked on top, pieces large enough for backings and backgrounds, plus a hefty Kaffe Fassett collection and all the William Morris-type fabrics ever printed…there’s a bizarre combination for you.

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Behind me is one drawer of brown, one of orange, and one of red (spilling out all over)…I have another black drawer back there somewhere too.

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Then under the sewing machine desk are two drawers of brown, two of pink/flesh, and then a ton of flesh colors that won’t fit in there. The top pink drawer is broken…the plastic is so old and one of the fatter cats kept sleeping on it until she broke it. I keep meaning to try to replace it. I’ve been really good over the last two years about not buying backing fabric, about using up what I have.

Since I will never be able to afford to move out of this house, I’m thinking when the kids move that I will just knock down all the walls and make a huge studio. I’m sure that won’t hurt the resale value.

So yeah. I did some art stuff, not a lot. I worked. I don’t feel happy. I don’t feel completely buried by sadness…just heavy with it. Always so heavy. I work so hard at pushing that away, at getting up and out of it. I wish it would just go. But I think I would need to walk out the door and get on a plane to some foreign country and start completely over for that to really work…plus they’d need to wipe my brain (tempting, oh so tempting). But then who would make my art? So I stick with my dorky kids who argue with me like teenagers do, and the goofy dog who lay on my lap while I was grading, and the three cats who vie for my attention. Every day I feel like I’m just going through the motions of a living person, trying to act like a real live human so no one notices that I am actually an alien from another planet, infiltrating their world, trying to fit in. At least there is art and there are animals and snotty teenagers and books and sometimes even decent movies or television (although tonight was not a good night for that). Without those things, I don’t know that it would be worth it…the getting up and pretending. I do miss, horribly, going to the movies regularly. Sigh. Oh well. Life sucks and then you die (I said that in high school with no understanding of what it meant…now that I better understand what it means, I deeply hope it’s not true).

“‘That’s the thing about pain,’ Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. ‘It demands to be felt.'” John Green, The Fault in Our Stars



I Need Better Shoes…

January 26, 2014

If I’m going to hang out at art openings, I will need better shoes. I may need a personality transplant as well, one that smiles and chats at the appropriate times. I also need to be much less judgmental, both of the art and the art wannabes; the fake is strong here.

That said, I did force myself to be among the living…

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and had a reasonably intelligent conversation with, of all people, another middle-school teacher who volunteers for the group that was raising money at this function. The group is 1:1 Movement, which is working on educating kids about sustainability and conservation. One of the things they do is give a plastic recyclable bag to each kid in a classroom and ask them to collect everything they would normally throw away for a whole week, and then they come back and look at what’s in the bag. The woman I talked to started saying all these things my students say about losing stuff, papers they got the day before, the pencil they brought to school…I hear you sister. They will come out to our school and talk to the kids…gonna see whether I can pull this off.

It wasn’t what I expected when I went…but I wasn’t really paying attention properly. They invited local artists to paint the recyclable bags they give the kids…

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And then they auctioned them off to the highest bidder…

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The money went to buy more bags for kids.

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I don’t have any money to spare at the moment. So I bid on nothing. I did start to walk out (way too many people that I didn’t know), and then stopped. I bought a jar of wine (drinks came in jars, which meant I spilt), and then went and sat down in sort of the center of things, OK, not the center, but there were still lots of people around me…

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And I did actually talk to about three whole people, one about my shitty camera (he had the same one and the same problem with the stupid lens covering…piece of shit!), one about the project itself (she was obviously an extrovert), and one about tamales. I know. I’m not an expert, but I did know where they were (observant tendencies).

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Mostly I just sat and listened to other people do artspeak and anti-artspeak and wow, I’m old here, aren’t I? And I don’t have a lot of tolerance for people. Sigh. So I people-watched and checked out shoes and clothes and who was walking around with whom and what they looked at and didn’t look at. But I stayed for at least 45 minutes. And I’m glad I had the conversation with the other teacher, because I will look into bringing them on my campus. I think it would do my students good to think more about what they waste…it frustrates me no end. Breaking pencils so they can throw lead at other students, picking up 5 pieces of white paper instead of 1 because they think they’re entitled to do so (I buy my own paper about half the year), losing assignments they picked up the day before, never having a pencil or lead.

Anyway. I did it. I went. It was OK.

I went to Road to California in the morning and afternoon with Julie and my mom…I will have to find time to write that post. It’s long and complicated.

The morning looked like this…

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Actually, it was much prettier than that, but the camera is not being my friend.

I stitched in the car on the way up and back. I always expect to get so much done, but even with about 3 hours in the car, I only finished two of the blocks and got a bit into the third…and the first of the two I finished was really almost done.

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I have done a lot of Pekinese stitch in the last few days. The bottom two are done (I could embellish them a lot more, but would never finish at that rate). The top right one will get finished in the car tomorrow (yet another drive for art-related activities).

And then when I got home, I needed to decide how to spend my evening. I needed to find something that would help my mood, rather than make it worse. I’ve had a bunch of drawings wandering my head for weeks, so I sat down and drew…

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It’s not done. Yes, it’s a bit disturbing. It will get more so, once I add another page to the left. Such is my brain.

OK, tired, exhausted. Really. That is the second time I’ve drawn a gun. It is the third time I’ve drawn tsunami waves. It’s not done.


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