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Midland, Texas, United States
I write. I make stuff.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Kiva: A Little Way to Feel Good About Life

I heard about first from Allegra, at Bijou du Jour. It sounded like an excellent way to help out people who need it: you go to the website, pick an entrepreneur, make a loan through paypal, and then get updates on how it goes. When they re-pay the loan, you can loan it to someone else (or withdraw it, if you wish). You can loan as little as $25--that's so much more doable than what you think of as A Loan--some huge deal involving thousands of dollars.

So I asked around, did a little checking. It's fairly new, so it's not reviewed at Charity Navigator, which my friend Karen recommended; but she's heard it's one of the good ones (her partner, Cathy, is the executive vice president of CARE, so of course I asked her). But I did find out that it became Famous when Bill Clinton mentioned it in his book, Giving, and appeared on Oprah with the founders.

So tonight I just jumped in and picked someone and made a little loan. She's in Africa, is 58 years old, and dyes and sells clothing. Dyeing clothes: hey, I can imagine that! I don't know how it will go (you're not guaranteed to get your loan repaid, but I don't think you really go into this expecting to get your money back) and can't recommend it based on anything other than the above. But, if you're wanting a way to feel like you're helping someone this holiday season, it's worth checking out, I think. Let me know what you think of it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Something Fun for You to Do: Jingle Bell Bracelet

Just in time for holiday cheer, here's a quick and groovy little bracelet that's easy and fun. I first saw these in New Orleans, at a garage sale on someone's patio. I came home, ordered the bells, and made my own. You'll think of the little girls in your life; I made one for me, of course. If you're part gypsy, part magpie--well, then: you'll want one, too!

The bells you need will look like these. This isn't the seller from whom I ordered mine, but the bells look much the same. You'll want the smaller size (they seem to come in two standard sizes; either will work, but I like the sound of the smaller bells.)

Whew! One Down.

And about a million more to go. See, I did not do Anything yesterday--I felt like crap and took a nap and generally spent the day coughing and sniffing (I made the mistake of saying early last week, that I'd beaten the cold in only three days and was so groovy cool, since it's supposed to take 10 days, blah, blah, blah. You know.)

So I felt compelled to make up for it today. Got that garment altered and photographed and written up. Mostly. Not finished yet.

And then had to make a new ironing board cover. I made the OTHER mistake of going to Holly's blog, where she'd posted photos of her own ironing board cover re-do and a link to the tutorial, here, and so I thought, "Oh, I need one of those!" Because look at how skanky my ironing board cover is:
Iron-on transfer stuff and paint and pen and fusible webbing and who knows what else? Coffee. Tea. Ick.
And I went out in the Fucking Edifice and found TONS of fabrics that I'll never use for Real Stuff but that would be FABULOUS as groovy ironing board covers.

I used an old cover as a pattern and took off. And that's when things started to go wrong. I made it too short, somehow. And when I added an extension, it was STILL too short. And then I ran out of fabric, so the final extension goes the wrong way. And then when I threaded in the elastic cord, I couldn't get it past those extension seams and had a little temper tantrum and just cut a tunnel in the fabric. Of course it was also too big at the top, and so that had to be altered. And then again.

By the time I was finished with this, I was ready never to touch a sewing machine again. And then I took the photos and realized how much I like it.Damn good thing, is all I can say. But I can also say that all those tons of fabric are going BACK in the FE, as I am NOT embarking on a weekend of sewing lots of ironing board covers. This one has to be enough for now. Maybe forever. Maybe I'll quit ironing anything, and this one won't get skanky and will stay shiny and new, and I'll never need another one. Yay!
Now it's after 3 pm, and I think it's time I took a shower and got dressed. At least I've brushed my teeth--there's that in my favor.

Photo Shoot

I had all kinds of projects I wanted to show you today, but no. Today we've spent all day long working on the next altered artwear column for Altered Couture. (This is the current issue; it has my column about dyeing.)
It seems simple enough: the article isn't very long. The project isn't complicated. You'd think it would be a piece of cake, yes?

Ha. It is to laugh. In the past when I've done step-by-step projects, I've always sent them off to be photographed. So I'd have maybe 10 plastic baggies, each with a step of the project. Meaning I'd have to make the project 10 times. The first time, you make it up to Step 1. The second time, you make it again but stop at Step 2. And so on. You put the parts into the bags, label them, send them off.

That will not work with altered clothing. You're not going to find 10 garments just alike that you can alter in stages and send off for photographing. But that's cool, I said: I have The EGE! He takes marvelous photographs!

What was I thinking? He does, indeed, take marvelous photographs. I do, indeed, have a project in mind. What comes next, though, is amazingly tedious: He takes a photo of the garment. We put the camera card in the computer, pull up the photo, check for focus and lighting. Take out the camera card, put it back in the camera. I do the first part of the first step. He takes a photo. Take out the card, put it in the computer, pull up the photo. . . .

This goes on throughout the whole project, with him taking the photos while I write the text, then me doing the next step while he waits to take the next photo. Here he is this morning, with his lights and the background cloth and the ironing board set up for me to work at. What a mess.
They definitely don't pay us enough for this. He has the patience of a saint. I, however, do not.

Then, four hours later, we've got it to the part where I can do the finishing on my own and send the finished project off to be photographed by the magazine. I do extra embellishing that's not a part of the instructions, so that takes more time after the step-by-step part's done. It's a long, tedious process, and it's what we've been doing all day so far.

But it looks pretty good, and now all I have to do is brave the mad shoppers to get some new buttons.
Maybe later on I'll get to show you some of the projects that are taking up space all over the sewing studio. . . .

Friday, November 28, 2008

Our Thanksgiving, Part IV: Hey, White Person!

And here's The Baby again, telling a story about their daddy and an electrician at the stadium where he worked. Back in The Day, everyone in town knew The Zachery's, especially Big Zack. That's the reference here: "Don't you know who I am?"

As a side note, The Baby has the most gorgeous singing voice I've ever heard in my life. Chill bumps, it's so beautiful. Many, many years ago (I've been married to his brother since The Baby was 8 years old), he promised me he'd Do Something With It. I'm still waiting--he sings at churches and revivals, etc., and that works for him. Of course, that means we never actually get to hear him sing.

Oh--the screaming you hear in the background at one point, where The Baby looks alarmed? Turns out it's the ringer on the phone of the girlfriend of Brother #4. It's the loud cry at the beginning of a Mexican song, and it scared the crap out of everyone.

I think this one is my favorite. The little girl in the doorway is one of our nieces (daughter of brother #5) and the guy in the red head rag is Jo (son #2 of brother #2), who looks fierce but is very shy and quiet and is married to the Very Tall White Woman we met yesterday. I always figure if I have to go somewhere scary, I'd want him to go with me. He works out and looks intimidating as long as you don't know he's a sweetie whose hobby is comics (worked in a comic book store and attended Comic-Con in L.A.) And at the end is, of course, Putty (brother #4), who comes up and kisses Carlos on the shoulder. One of my favorite parts of this family is the physical closeness--the hugging, the kissing, the constant petting and patting, arms casually draped over each other. Not to mention, of course (they are guys, after all) the poking and smacking and fake head locks. As far away from my own family as you can imagine. Thank goodness.


Our Thanksgiving, Part III: White Lightening

Here Carlos, The Baby, tells about his daddy and some white lightning. Their daddy didn't drink, as a rule--their momma has always been a strict tea-totaller. (That would be: "was and still is") (And keep in mind, as you watch this and listen to all the talking and laughing, that there is never any alcohol involved in family get-togethers.) The men he's referring to are the various coaches and athletic personnel who were at the stadium where their daddy worked.


Our Thanksgiving

I thought it would be fun to show some little videos of our family Thanksgiving. I'll post them individually, since it takes forever for them to upload.

So: yesterday at The Ever-Gorgeous Earl's mother's house. Because it's interesting, I'll provide various labels, like ethnicity and marital status, etc., where applicable.

The EGE's mother and her second husband, who's 1) white and 2) younger than her oldest five sons (he's my age) so that no one was much torn up when he had a stroke a couple years ago and became confined to a wheel chair. He never much came out of the bedroom, anyway, since various of The Boys wanted to beat him up. This is either his 4th or 5th marriage. He's very, very strange and has a lot of odd ideas, not the least odd of which is that he thinks he's smarter than I am. He and The EGE's mother are very, very, very religious. As in: believing in speaking in tongues and demon possession and having their own church.

The oldest brother and his wife (black) and their three kids, the youngest of whom turned 30 yesterday. None are married or have kids of their own, which gripes their daddy. We pointed out to him that he has grandkids by his oldest daughter, from another relationship; but she's in prison, so he doesn't really get to see those grandkids, so they don't count.

The second oldest brother died many years ago. He had 4 children. One of them was there with his wife (white, and very, very tall). One of the others married a white woman and went back to Canada with her, blending his two daughters (black and Hispanic) with her three daughters (white) and having another one of their own, so that he's in a house filled with females. He's the kind of guy who will thrive in such a house.

Then The EGE and me. No matter how odd some of the other women in the family seem to me, I know I am NOT by any stretch of the imagination The Normal One to them. The EGE reminds me of this.

Then #4 and his girlfriend (Hispanic) and her son (Hispanic). #4's son from his marriage (which lasted for almost 30 years) was there. He (bi-racial--black and white) and his wife (bi-racial--black and Hispanic) and their son, who's two and is driving them insane. They say he's the worst child ever on the planet and blame his two grandfathers' genes. #4 is pretty aggressive, and the baby's other grandfather is a coach, which tells you pretty much all you need to know. The baby already got a letter of reprimand from his day-care school's principal for fighting. He is adorable. I did not hold him (his daddy is the last baby I really held).

#5 is my age. His girlfriend wasn't there--she was with her daughters and grandsons, I think. He was there with his two kids (biracial) from his last relationship.

#6, also deceased. I don't know where his kids are. His daughter (biracial) married a white man and had a baby several years ago.

The twins, #7 and #8. They're fraternal twins and not really alike in any way. One lives out of town and hardly ever comes to family events. The other was there. His partner was at her family's with their two kids (I think she's white, but she might be Hispanic). He was there with his two sons (bi-racial, white and Hispanic) from his first marriage (to my favorite sister-in-law; Hispanic) and the older one's girlfriend (white).

The youngest brother, the baby (in his 30's) and his wife, who's from the Philippines. Several of her friends, who don't speak much English, and her niece (pregnant) and the niece's husband (white).

Then there was the oldest brother's youngest daughter's boyfriend, and The EGE's mother's husband's brother. There was a random child no one mentioned--he sat in the other room and played a video game.

About 35 people, more or less. Not all in the same room at the same time (those who don't speak much English stayed in the breakfast room talking), with some coming and going. But lots of people!

In my list of suggestions for getting through the holidays, I told about story-telling. That's what we do. I say "we," but it's just the brothers. No one else really gets a chance. The brothers talk about all kinds of things, but at the top of the list is their daddy, a larger-than-life figure who was well-known in Midland. He and their mother raised nine sons to adulthood with no help and no trouble, thanks in large part to the firm hand and quick temper of their daddy. Here's Putty (brother #4) in the white cap and Cowboy t-shirt telling about what it was like in Midland in the late 1960's and early 1970's, and then Sam, #5, telling about one of their uncles, Booker T. And then the oldest brother, Gab, in black, tells about when he was in junior high and was accused of starting a race riot (it wasn't a riot, but they tried to make it sound like one).


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Making Thanksgiving Kool-Aid. Filed Under: Things That Make Me Thankful

For every Big Holiday Zachery Meal, The Ever-Gorgeous Earl makes his Famous Kool-Aid. It involves, among other things, hand-squeezing dozens of lemons and takes hours--he makes 5 gallons. His family drinks every single drop and could easily drink three times that much. Nope, no alcohol. Just lots of lemons and sugar (I can't drink it; it would take the enamel off my teeth. It is not White People's Kool-Aid.)

Here he's grumbling because I've turned up the heat, but who can blame me?
Once he took his shirt off, I pestered him unmercifully, trying to get him to pose for me. Yeah, right.

So then I got my little video camera.


That'll teach him not to cooperate with me. Ha.

Kool-Aid, anyone?

Cool Postcards!

My friend Terry Garrett sent me some of his fabulous postcards, and in my effort to revive Real Mail, I asked if he'd let me tell y'all about them and if he sells them. Yes, and yes--hooray! You could get some for gifts, but be sure to get some for yourself. And then you can send me one, which would be so cool (I ordered a bunch from him, supposedly to send to people. But if I do that, then I won't have any, which would be Very Sad, as well as A Bummer.) Terry is an artist and an art teacher, and he does such cool work. He graciously created projects for my first book, Stamp Artistry, and he's contributed to a bunch of other terrific books, as well, including a brand new book by Susan Tuttle, Exhibition 36. We actually got to meet In Real Life one year at Artfest, in Seattle, which was way cool. He lives in Minnesota, Home of Cold, poor guy.

So imagine how cool it was to find that he's making these postcards--I'd so much rather send a postcard than something in an envelope--it's cheaper, sure; but the art shows, rather than being hidden away. So everyone who sees the postcard--all the postal handlers--get a hit of art, too. He also makes these as cards with envelopes, using the only printer in the US who offers 100% recycled paper, which is very cool. And green!
The postcards are printed on a really nice watercolor paper, with a standard postcard format on the back.

You can see more of his work here. Click on the image to see more collages.

He has over two dozen images, and the postcards aren't expensive. He doesn't have a website, but you can e-mail him at to order or find out more. Don't be shy--he's a nice guy!
And while I'm thinking of my book Terry is in, I realize I have some copies in storage, I think. Hmmmm--nice holiday gifts, perhaps. I'll check over the weekend, so come back Monday and see what the give-away is. . . .you could win a book with instructions for one of Terry's fabulous projects!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another Give-Away

No, not from me. Whew. Aren't you glad? No, this one is a copy of my book, being offered by Supria. I don't know her, but Google told me about this (I'm beginning to think of Google as The Man Behind the Curtain in so many mysterious rooms), and so I checked it out. Go to her website and see her work. Go here to the blog post about the free book. Tell her I said, "Hi!" and "Thanks!"

Surviving the Holidays with Joy

I thought I'd try to do something useful here and offer some ideas for making it through the holidays. If you're one of those people who loves the holidays and has a happy, functional, adoring family, tons of extra money, loves to eat (and never gains weight) and shop and buy stuff and sing and go to church and listen to children's pageants and has holidays that outdo all the previous ones, year after year, then you might want to skip this.

For everyone else, though? Come sit by me. Here're my creds: both my parents have died in the last two years. My husband's father died on Christmas Eve, many years ago. I am--let's do some labels, shall we?--a Vegetarian Atheist Neo-Hippie Scrooge, meaning I'm one of the world's pickiest eaters (and so don't like much of what passes for holiday fare: turkey, ham, weird funeral-esque casseroles, minced meat, pumpkin pie, giblets (aieeeeee!)--all of that stuff makes me cringe). The religious aspects of this particular holiday irritate the hell out of me, seeing as how they were put in place to dissuade those horrible pagans from their own mid-winter attempts to reassure themselves that, yes, the sun would, indeed, return some day. I love the solstice--it makes perfect sense to me. I think a mid-winter holiday is an excellent idea--lots of light and heat and bright colors and warm, nourishing food, singing and making noise and building fires. I understand all of that. But the whole Christian birth myth, to add religion, and then the whole Santa Claus myth, to aid consumerism--those are just insulting to the real need we all have to be reassured that spring will return, eventually.

Oooooh, sorry about that. Little rants just slip out.

And then the wild consumerism and the Huge Guilt that's laid on us--we must spend every penny we can afford and then a bunch we can't. If we haven't gone into huge debt to buy stuff for every. Single. Person. We. Know. Then we are pond scum, selfish, unloving, unlovable. Heathen, suspect, possibly Communist!

Oh, wait: communists are no longer a threat. Possibly Terrorist! Yes! By not going into debt buying Christmas presents, even for people you actually loathe, you are Aiding the Terrorists. So get out there and max out your Visa, damnit. You slacker.

Anyway. So you see: there's not a lot about the holiday season to recommend it to me. Last year I kind of fell into a funk, and I'm thinking of ways to prevent that, since it's such a waste of time--it's not like I've got forever to enjoy. Just right now. So here are some ideas for me, from me:

1. Keep in mind that everything changes, is constantly in a state of change. You cannot recreate the holidays from childhood, no matter how you try. In truth, those holidays probably weren't idyllic, anyway. Trying to make things Perfect, The Way They Used to Be, is futile. You aren't the way you used to be, your family isn't the way it used to be, nothing is The Way It Used to Be. In fact, there is no "Way It Used to Be." Go with the change. Don't spend two weeks looking for those special Christmas candies you remember from childhood. Don't kill yourself trying to knit a stocking just like your Aunt Gladys knitted every year. Find something new you think is fabulous and go with that.

2. Challenge yourself to be green. Instead of spending, spending, spending, and buying, buying, buying, try Making Stuff out of what you have. It's way more fun, it's lots cheaper, it's definitely greener. Set up a folding table and get out all your cheesiest craft supplies--the glitter, the felt, the pipe cleaners, the pompoms, the--yes!--Hot Glue Gun. Call your sister or a friend or your partner, open a bottle of wine, put on some music, and see what happens. Make cards, make stockings, make gifts, make whatever. Make a mess. That's why god made vacuum cleaners.

3. Ignore the holidays entirely and create your own. This is what I do. I embrace the whole Light, Warmth, Music part of the season in good old pagan fashion, with lots of twinkly lights and outdoor fires and Gregorian chants. No cards, no gifts, no baking.

4. Stay out of the malls. Nothing can make you feel more miserable than to watch other people spend money. You have no idea what they're buying or why, but you imagine they're happily buying tons of expensive gifts for a whole slew of people who adore them and are, at this very moment, buying THEM tons of expensive gifts, as well. You then invent a whole scenario about their lives and the fabulous Christmas they're going to have with a huge loving family all opening the gorgeously-wrapped presents and then eating the delicious breakfast and then racing to the airport to board a flight to the mountains, where they'll ski and/or sit in front of a roaring fire in their own private lodge, all rosy and merry and loving and way thinner and richer and happier than you've ever been in your miserable little life. When, in fact, that woman is probably hurriedly buying an outfit to wear to her husband's Holiday Office Party, which she dreads because she knows her husband's ex-wife/boss will be scrutinizing every thread and the secretary she suspects is her husband's new love will be there looking incredibly young and thin. She has a migraine and fibroid tumors and has begun to suspect she's going through menopause and would change places with you in an instant.

5. Don't eat stuff just because it's put in front of you. Everyone complains about gaining weight during the holidays and about feeling bloated and about "stomach flu." Well, honeys, a lot of it is just Bad Food. You know office parties where people bring all kinds of stuff, pretty much like the kinds of things they bring to funeral buffets: little meatball-esque things of unidentifiable origin, cookies made from a mix, candy where they didn't splurge on the Eagle Brand Condensed Milk but tried to get by with Borden's and some corn starch? You know the stuff: it's just not quite what it was meant to be, and it's nothing you'd ever order in a restaurant on purpose. It's not the kind of stuff you'd cook or even have in your house, but: because someone brings it, and it's free, and it's in front of you, YOU PUT IT IN YOUR MOUTH.

Stop and think about this: just because someone offers you something, you do NOT have to put it in your mouth. This will save you much, much, grief and misery in many, many situations. Just say, "No, thank you." Tell them you're a picky eater. Tell them you're a raw vegan. Tell them you have allergies. I always just say, "No, thanks." If they press me, I say, "I'm not hungry," which is true. If they're really insistent, you repeat "I'm not hungry" but with a little grimace, suggesting that you might have the stomach flu or Bird Flu or something ugly where they definitely do NOT want you to sample the Asparagus Flan and Green Bean Dip.

Save your holiday eating for things you reallyreallyreally like and can't get at any other time of year. I will eat my husband's mother's dressing. It contains giblets (aieeeeee!) and hard boiled eggs, both of which make my skin crawl; but for many, many years it was my favorite food on the planet, and I can eat it only at Thanksgiving and Christmas, since that's the only time his mother is going to make these huge pans of it. I will pick out the visible offenders and lay them at the edge of the plate. This will take some time, and everyone else will run through a couple courses of ham and turkey and fish-with-the-eyes and some scary casserole cooked by my sister-in-law who's from the Philippines where, her husband told us, they eat dog, said with a knowing nod that gave me shivers (this brother-in-law, who's quite large and loves to eat, told us the only two things he doesn't like to eat are "meat that's sweet and anything that used to be a pet." Since she cooks fish with the eyes still in it, I don't eat any of it, ever.)

6. Don't watch TV. Especially during the holiday season (September through March, because you know Valentine's Day is The Diamond-Buying Holiday). Advertisers' job is to make you believe that everyone else is blissfully happy, and that you could be, too, if only you'd get off that couch and go to the mall and buy X. And then X2. And on, and on.

7. Don't buy stuff. Tell people not to buy stuff for you. If you have to do that whole holiday gift thing, there are ways to do it: every person in the family can buy themselves something they really want. Wrap it up, open them all together at whatever time you open gifts, and spend some time telling each other about it: why you wanted it, what you're going to do with it, why it makes you happy.

Or each person picks out one person to buy one gift for. You could buy a cord of wood for your father-in-law, so he doesn't have to chop wood. You could buy a month of Netflix for your cousin who's just had surgery. You could take however much you were going to spend on gifts and change that into cash and make up envelopes, one for each week, with money in it to send to someone having chemotherapy (I talked to someone this week who told me that, if you ever know someone having chemo, sending them money is the best thing you can do. They can use it for groceries, if money is tight, or massages, which they're going to need when they feel like shit, or renting movies or buying the expensive chocolate that is the only thing that doesn't make them sick.) There's nothing like finding a real need and doing what you can to fill it. Tell the other people who might have been on your list that this is what you're going to do and why. If they buy you gifts, that's OK--that's their choice, and you don't have to reciprocate. That's the idea of "gift"--it's something freely given, out of a desire to give. It's not an obligation.

8. Sit down with your notebook or just some scratch paper and make a list of all the Holiday Things you can think of. Then go back and highlight the ones you love. Circle the ones you're used to but not particularly attached to, like caroling. Cross out all the ones you really don't like much, like eggnog. Then rank the ones you like, so you can see what things you really want to keep and focus on. Write these on a piece of paper and tape it somewhere so you can see it. If you adore midnight mass but could easily live without a dead tree shedding in your living room, you know where to put your energy (take a nap Christmas eve, give the tree ornaments to someone who adores them).

9. Talk to people. Tell them that you need to change the way you celebrate the holidays. If they balk at this, if they demand that you bake 12 dozen Christmas cookies and buy gifts for your husband's ex-wife's cousin's twins, then, hey: wake up and realize that these people do not have your best interests in mind and you're going to have to stand up to them and say: I love you. I want you to be happy and have a wonderful holiday season. But I need to change the way I do things for my own peace of mind, and so you're going to have to figure out what you want to do and what's valuable to you to learn to take care of yourself.

Don't argue with me: if you've got it on the tip of your tongue to tell me, yeah, but I've got little kids who deserve these wonderful holiday memories and count on me, whether they know it or not, to provide the cookies and the presents and the excess of everything! I can't let them down.

And I say: you're letting them down now. You're telling them myths about gift-giving (What is the Santa Myth but a bribe (be good and you'll get gifts) and a way to encourage greed (it's not about what your family can afford, since it's all FREE from a kindly old elf)?) What you're really doing is helping corporate America craft yet another generation of consumers demanding more, more, more, whether they can afford it or not. You're encouraging greed and selfishness and a lack of consideration for others. Why is it that the mother/wife/woman in the house is the one who's supposed to Make Christmas? There's a lot I could say about that, but I'll leave it at this: if you're the one doing all the shopping and wrapping and baking and organizing the pageants and dinners and gift swaps, and your family takes that for granted, what does that say about how they value you and your time? What does it say about how YOU value you and your time? Sit down and have a talk.

10. Don't charge a thing. If you can't pay for it, you don't need it. There's nothing worse, financially, than to wake up in January and realize you've dug yourself further into debt for a bunch of stuff that's been returned or shoved into the back of the closet. Just Say No to Overspending.

In short, quit doing stuff you don't love just because someone expects it of you. All you owe other people is kindness and consideration. You don't have to sweat blood and skip sleep and go into debt to prove you care about them. If you don't love it, don't do it. Find ways to spend time with the people you care about doing things you ALL enjoy, from long walks to making stuff out of old wrapping paper and last year's Christmas cards. If you thoroughly enjoy making the holidays a paradise of excess, then go ahead. Think, though, about what you're condoning (excess, debt, greed, a consumer mentality) and what you're missing: when I think about my parents at the holidays, I don't think about what gifts they gave me (and they gave me a LOT--I was spoiled rotten) or elaborate meals. I remember my mother sitting in front of the fireplace, watching the flames, talking about the Christmases of her childhood during the Depression. She didn't remember gifts and food but remembered her parents and brothers and sisters all together. That's what you want: all the people you love best, in a room together, laughing and talking and touching. It doesn't have to be centered around opening expensive presents. It can, instead, be centered around an activity even older and more traditional than going to the mall: story telling. You start off by telling a story that involves at least one other person in the room. A Good Story, not the one in which your sister wet her pants during the church pageant, OK? Then you pick someone else, and they tell a story, maybe from their childhood. The kids will tell a story from last week, maybe, or last year. The older people may weave long elaborate tales from 60 years ago. You will have simple food and warm drink, and the story telling will go on for hours. When you leave, you will not feel stuffed with anything but the joy of having spent time with people you like--whether they're blood relations or friends or a family you've made yourself--hearing about what memories they hold dear.

No fat, no guilt, no debt. Pure joy.

If, like me, you don't have a big family or circle of friends, you'll find your own way. You'll spend time outdoors, maybe sitting around a little fire, taking long walks. Doing Good for others. Visiting people you hardly ever get to see.
1. Starting an art project you wouldn't otherwise have time for.
2. Starting New Year cleaning a couple of weeks early. If you purge and donate stuff now, it may help someone else who needs some holiday help.
3. Getting out all the projects you've started but haven't finished. Sort them (ones that need to be abandoned for good, ones that can go into another project, ones that need to be finished) and put them in order. Then tackle them, one by one. Movies and hand stitching go well together, esp. if you're re-watching old movies that don't need your full attention (Note: stitching doesn't work with foreign movies with subtitles, at least for me.)
4. Find someone who needs cheering up and take them on, secretly. Send stuff to their house, come by when they're gone and rake leaves, arrange for carolers to show up at their door. Invite them for a walk, a trip to the grocery store, a movie, a church musical pageant. Make a dozen small gifts and leave one on their porch each morning. This is the Best Plan for Combating Depression, so let me elaborate: if you focus on someone else, someone who's not having a great time, or is lonely or sick (someone who's partner is in the military, maybe, or who has a new baby and is pretty much housebound, or who is having chemo or who has suffered a bereavement--the list is endless), and determine to try to figure out ways to make their days a little brighter--the brightness will reflect back on your days, too. Say your neighbor is working her butt off trying to take care of things while her husband is overseas. She's working hard and is lonely and harried (maybe she's got little kids). You don't necessarily want to spend every evening after work with her, but you'd like to cheer her up. Think cards in the mail, a mug left on the porch early one morning, with a packet of cocoa and one of those chocolate spoons. Flowers (not expensive if you buy them and arrange them yourself). Rake the lawn while she's at work. Buy an inexpensive wreath and decorate it and hang it on her door. Just stuff to cheer her up. It will help you not think about how sad/lonely/broke/tired you are. Promise--if you really get into it, it will work.

OK. That's all I can think of right now. But the thing to keep in mind is this: we all find our own way along the path. There is no standard out there that we have somehow failed to embrace; there is only the path in front of us, the one we haven't yet explored.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Not Your Grandmother's Anything

I love Craft magazine. Just adore it. The first time I saw it, back with Issue #1, I took a look at the price--$14.99--and said, "No way in hell." And didn't buy it. And then, months later, my friend Karen sent me a note and said, hey, someone gave me this magazine that I think you might like, and sent it to me. And I fell in love. I read every bit of it. Except the part it's known for: it's step-by-step instructions. I skip those. And I've never made anything featured in the magazine, either. I'm not one for making stuff from other people's instructions.

So what, you ask, do I like about the magazine? I love the enthusiasm, the excitement about projects, the ideas and the innovation. It's geared at The New Crafters, those 20-something and 30-something oh-so-hip crafters who have spawned all those books with titles like "Not Your Grandmother's Knitting" and "Not Your Grandmother's Crochet" and "Not Your Grandmother's Crafting." (they're in quotation marks, rather than italics, as those are not actual titles, as far as I know).

And in this issue, there's a short essay about that, about how the new generation of crafters prides itself on being fresh and innovative and moving far, far beyond the things their mothers and grandmothers did. It cautions about this, and I think they have a good point.

OK. Think about that, and then add this: twice in the last two weeks I've seen reference to a quilt exhibit at the Whitney in 1971 that sparked the art quilt movement. One reference was by a young art quilter I interviewed, and another was in the introduction to Masters: Art Quilts: Major Works by Leading Artists.
What all of these have in common is the idea that, try we might to believe we're breaking brand new ground, nothing is without history, without ties to things in the past, without roots. And it behooves us to acknowledge those roots and to learn about them. If you're an art quilter, there are things about making quilts that you need to know, whether or not you ever intend to make a traditional quilt or anything that remotely resembles one.
And if you're a crafter, you can't claim to have no ties to the history of craft. Chances are you haven't reinvented crochet or come up with a series of brand new embroidery stitches that no one else has ever executed before.
I love that craft is having a renaissance, and I love that younger people--male and female--are getting involved. I love the idea that, no matter what time of day or night you sit down to make something, there are other people all over the globe sitting down in their spaces to make something, too. The energy! The inspiration!
But here's where I get testy: the whole Not Your Grandmother thing? I'm the age of some of the grandmothers. Yes, indeed. And whatever it is that the new movement is supposed to be reacting against? I don't know what that might be, but there are lots of people my age and older who are doing things way wilder and funkier than the stuff I'm seeing in the books geared to the Seriously Hip.
Sure, it's an effective marketing tool: every generation likes to believe that they're far, far removed from the previous one. From, in fact, everything that's gone before. It's the way the world works: the young have to have brand new music, brand new fashion, brand new everything. It's how they do the separation thing, and it's vital to growing up.
But there's something to be said for studying what's gone before, for learning the lessons you need to know about technique and skill and patience. It's great to have wild ideas and flights of fancy--it's what makes art new, what makes it sing. But if you've been so busy scorning the history of your craft that you haven't bothered to learn about annealing or casting on or why hot glue is a crappy idea, all because you're determined not to follow in the footsteps of Your Grandmother, then you're going to have to learn a lot of piddly stuff the hard way. It's so much easier to learn it the easy way and then master it and then get on with twisting it and transforming it and seeing where it can lead you. We all want to see that.
Your grandmother knew something about crochet. Your mother knew stuff about darts and gussets. While you don't want to make middy blouses (or maybe you do--who knows?) and those crocheted poodles that used to sit on people's beds, there are things you can learn that will make it ever-so-much easier to master the steps that will allow you to create those fabulous things zinging around in your brain. You can bet the crafts you're scoffing at as being old and staid and hokey were every bit as wild and crazy at one point as whatever you're doing right this minute.
So, yeah, I get testy when I see things I like and find fascinating and then read about how new and hip and young and fresh they are, as if only a 20-year-old could have come up with something so innovative. It's just another way of dividing us: young vs. old, art vs. craft, fine art vs. applied art. On and on, ad nauseum.
If only we could skip all that and just get on with it. Learn the basics from those who've mastered them, no matter what the age (the masters at digital editing wouldn't be the same as the masters at handmade lace-making, I'm guessing. But I could be wrong). Learn the history of our chosen field and why things have been done the way they were done. Maybe there's a reason for doing it that way still, and maybe there's a way to do it better. But to sneer at it just because it's something that existed before we were born? That's the path of the fool, the one where you're halfway down it and begin to hear the words "reinventing the wheel" over and over and over.
Sure, sure, I know this is a pointless rant. Youth must rebel. Age must dig in.
But is that true? Can't we all rebel? And can't we all dig in? (And Can't We All Just Get Along?)
In every generation you're going to see those who are innovative and those who take the path of least resistance. Some of the most imaginative people I know are older than I am. You don't see their work, you say? Ahhhh--the most imaginative work isn't always what sells, what's popular, what gets published or shown. So the stuff you're rebelling against, Your Grandmother's Craft, isn't necessarily the Best and the Brightest of what her generation was doing. It was, perhaps, the safest, the most comfortable, the stuff The Public wanted to see.
Go. Be wild. Be imaginative. But realize that some of those in the older generations of crafters and artists are holed up in their studios doing work that would take your breath away.

This Week's Give-Away: Another Sketchbook

Yeah, y'all knew that wasn't the end of the not-for-me sketchbooks, didn't you? So here's another one.

It's a landscape format, 5.5" x 8.5"--which I think would be lots of fun to try, if only I loved the paper in these. Which I don't. Sad for me. Good for you!

I wish the Moleskine had landscape format sketchbooks. Sigh.

Post a comment if you'll check back on Friday. Entertain me!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Orange Lamp

This is the $3 orange ceramic lamp I told y'all about. I should have taken a photo of it with the "before" shade, before I stripped off the fabric and re-covered the dented old white plastic part.

The shade is a little crooked here--I had to get some pliers and bend that thing on the top to straighten it. I couldn't get a good photo of it, so The EGE took these.The orange and purple fabric was just perfect--it was some Hallowe'en fabric--huh? that's what I thought: why is purple and orange polka-dot fabric Hallowe'en? But I didn't argue, since that meant it was way cheap and I bought all they had, which wasn't much--apparently it had gone for costumes or something--with some fuzzy trim from Hobby Lobby, bought with the 40%-off coupon. I attached it all with Alene's Extra Tacky glue--a line down the seam of the fabric, then smooth it all the way around then another line of glue where I turned the raw edge under. So it's glued only at the seam, not glued solidly all the way around, where you'd have to worry about puckers and wrinkles and stuff. Turned the top and bottom to the inside and glued them and then glued big orange rickrack over the edge to hide that--it was on the inside but still seemed tacky.
And there you have it--wah-lah!

My Nest in The Voodoo Lounge

Y'all have seen shots of this room before, but I wanted to show it more fully. It's my favorite place, where I spend part of each afternoon, sipping lattes and reading. Oh, it's not quite as decadent as it sounds, as it's almost always work-related reading, but it's still quite wonderful, so I wanted to share. Maybe you'll see something that will give you ideas for your own nest.

Here's my chair. It's still brand new (denim) under the dyed bedspread cover and the towels and rugs. When you live like we do, you need all the covers: the cats sleep here and play here, I spill stuff (everything from the latte to ink), pens leak. So layers, as needed, can be removed and laundered. Plus that rug in the seat of the chair is like chenille--very cushy and soft.

The footstool in front of it holds my tray of Stuff. We'll come back to it later.

This is the left armrest--some books, my yoga toes, which you've seen before, my journal. Post-It notes, scissors, pens. Remember these 50-cent scissors? And the $1 glasses? You'll see them everywhere in my house, which was the plan: I can almost always just reach over and grab a pair of either one, no matter where I am. Think luxury is having a fur blanket? Towel warmer? Jacuzzi in your master bath? Nope. Luxury is always being able to reach scissors and glasses without having to disturb the cat in your lap.--it's one of the things I love about these pieces (there's this big chair, a large loveseat, and a full-sized couch, all faded denim. I had seen a couch like this years ago in a magazine and said, "Someday I'm going to have one of those." Then, a couple of years ago, I went in and priced one locally: $4995. Yeah, right. I found another one for $1995 but still thought that was way too much to spend on a couch, even though I loved the denim and had visions of stamping, painting, embroidering, and appliqueing it as it wore out (read: got torn up by the cats and the spilled ink). Then, a couple years ago, I found these at Lack's. The large couch was $599, and the other pieces were less. I got all three, delivered and set up, for less than the least expensive of the other ones I'd seen. PLUS these are the most comfortable--very soft but firm, you know? Meaning they have lots of padding, so they don't seem flimsy, but they're soft enough to be cushy. In other words, perfect. Alas, all three of them kind of take over the living room, so I moved this one in here. And started making a nest and fell in love with it all.) So: wide armrests for holding things (and, of course, for excellent cat perches, so that most of those things end up on the floor). The cats sit on them and kind of look like Snoopy doing his imitation of a vulture. Scary!

This is the right one, with the quilt book, about artists from the Houston quilt show, and then my current stitching project.

The chair is catty-cornered in the northeast corner of the room. Behind it, on the wall, are these belts--some were gifts, some I bought in Santa Fe, one I made myself. On the shelves behind the chair, on the north wall, are the journals. If you look up, this is what you'll see:

If you sit in the chair and look to your right, to the north wall, you'll see the bookcase I had built in. You've seen it. These are some of my favorite found photos--I'm thinking about what I'm going to do with them on fabric. These lower shelves are filled with the Ikea magazine holders I painted. There are more in the storage building, and eventually more of these will go out there. I try to keep only the ones I need for quick reference here, as I need the shelves for actual books.

Then, farther to your right, in the northwest corner, is the closet and, to the left of the closet door, my mother's desk (the one they bought and stripped and refinished. It's very cool, with a lid that locks). There's one of the big buddhas on it that I spray painted gold. That silver thing in the closet is the return-air duct--because of the way this house was built--the newer part that was added on without an attic or crawl space--they had to do this. I'm keep saying I'm going to cover it with orange fabric. One of these days.

To the left (south) of that, the bookshelves that were built into the wall.I left these white, to make it easier to see what's there (and so I wouldn't have to paint them = ick) and hung curtains over the front. The baskets on the floor hold the stash of extra cheaters, and a pink stuffed pig sits on top, wearing a pair of them.

The south wall, with the bed we use as a day bed. This is where The EGE sits when he comes in to visit and where I take a nap if I'm sick. Mostly, though, it's just for sitting. There's the pillow I finished--it was a pillow top I found in my mom's stuff. I bought a pillow form at the fabric store and slipped it in and whip-stitched the top.
You can see the giant voodoo doll in the left (southeast) corner--she has my hair and has pinned to her all the smaller keepsakes--things people send me, stuff of my parents', stuff from when I was a kid. I have a wooden box full of tiny colored safety pins, plus some embroidery thread, and whenever I find or receive something small enough to fit, I attach it. I love it all there together.

The west wall, with the window. There's my lava lamp, which I love (not old, alas--my parents wouldn't have let me have a lava lamp back then--Too Hippie. This one was cheap at Lowe's). The curtains here are the same ones in front of the old bookshelves. That little wooden box is the one with the colored safety pins. It's a box my dad brought me, I think. The Sirius radio, which is tuned to classical except in the evenings, when it's jazz (real jazz, not smooth jazz--we listen to smooth jazz in the truck and in the studio, but real jazz in here. It just fits.) There's a cup with cheaters (the magnifying glasses--my eye dr. calls them "cheaters" and uses them himself, although I'm guessing his aren't red with rhinestones). And now we're back to the chair, as you can see over the armrest.

This is in front of the chair. It's the tray with stuff I need--scissors, tape, markers, stamps.The first three volumes of Dan Price's journals. I keep it on the shelves in the original bookcase, behind the curtain, and then take it out and put it on the ottoman.

This is the tray on the other ottoman, to the right--all the pens and pencils and markers. I can just reach over the arm of the chair and pick what I need.
And that's it: my nest! It's about time to go there now. Put the kettle on, fix something warm to drink, pick up a magazine and just enjoy the afternoon.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Purple & Terry

Y'all are so great, helping me find homes for these. So I'm giving away two today--one to Purple and one to Terry. Ah, I love Terry--since his first and last name are there, I can look up his address without having to wait for him to get in touch. Yay! We LOVE that at the Voodoo Cafe, where w-a-i-t-i-n-g is not our very-most-favorite thing to do.

Purple, send me your address, please.

I still have more to give away (what? You're not surprised?) and will post another give-away here in the next couple of days. So check back!

Little Rituals Everywhere

In his most excellent essay in the current UU World, Doug Muder writes about the "Assembly of a lesser god," and about ritual and prayer and hope and faith. Now, as many of you know, I'm not a praying person. Or one given to faith. Or rituals or belief or pretty much anything I can't see. I tell people, when pressed, that I don't believe in anything I can't see except love and gravity, and there are days when I'm not too sure about gravity.


But this essay has stuck with me for several days. I love the idea of ritual. There's a chapter in this new book where I ask artists about their creative rituals. I wish I had more of my own. I don't think I have to believe in anything in order to have a ritual, something routine and comforting and grounding. And I think rituals surrounding creativity are important, esp. in those dark days when we're not sure it still exists. Isn't that what faith and belief is all about, anyway? That even when we feel bereft, we know that Whatever-It-Is (god, luck, inspiration) is out there, somewhere--waiting for us?

And I also love the idea of imaginary friends. That's what religious figures are: the saints and the prophets, all reaching out to lend a hand and offer sage advice? They're pretty much the same as Joe, my own lifelong imaginary friend who has, at various times, taken the guise of a dragon and a dinosaur and, most recently, a shape-shifter, which pretty much covers everything else. He's kept me company, and when things go wrong (when, oh, the shitty neighbors start trapping my cats), he's the star of various marvelously intricate revenge fantasies, being capable as he is of many, many amazing feats. Since I'm not really big on the whole killing-and-maiming kinds of revenge, my favorite fantasy (and I cannot believe I'm telling you my fantasies) involves his ease in teleportation and my neighbors finding themselves, completely naked, stranded on their roof. This amuses me a great deal, as you might imagine.

The other night I finished the new lampshade for my fabulous orange ceramic $3 lamp, and I went to get the finial to put on the top. The lamp came with a little gold ball, but I'd already checked and found, to my delight, that the finial from my parents' life together would also work. I have never seen it on a lamp--as far back as I can remember (not very fucking far, is how far), it was always just loose, lying in various drawers. It's a rusty-looking thing with a clear marble on top. To me, that marble was a crystal ball, and the finial--I had no idea then what it was called--was Magic. It granted wishes of all kinds and protected the house, is why it was never given so lowly a task as holding a lampshade in place.

I couldn't find it. I couldn't find either of the finials. Now, if it had been just one that had gone missing, I'd figure that one of the cats had absconded with it or rolled it under something, much as Moe did with the pecans. But both of them? They had to be somewhere together. The EGE vaguely (we're getting very vague in our memories around here) remembered seeing them somewhere but had no idea where that might be.

So I called my friend Wendy and asked for help. She immediately went in to one of her statues of Ganesh and offered him more blue peanut M&M's (his favorite) and more liquor and asked him to help me find the finials. I lit my St. Anthony candle, the one I light in times of dire need, like when we can't find the keys, or the jar of cumin. We did this while talking on the phone, of course.

Is Wendy Hindu? No. Am I Catholic? No. Do we actually really and truly believe that an elephant god or a dead guy can help us find things we've lost around our houses? Well. The point is that we'd like to believe it. It would be so comforting to trust that someone else was In Charge of these things.

What is faith, anyway, but the belief in something we can't see or hear or touch and that has no basis in reality but that we choose to pretend, for whatever reasons of our own, is Real? We like to believe. We will tell you of times when faith has been born out. (The EGE found the finials, right in plain sight, within 24 hours. But you knew that already).

The other day I bought a wooden elephant at the craft store. He had hinged legs, so he can sit upright, like a human, and arms that swing. Well, one arm that swings: I got him cheap because the other arm is missing. Despite that, he has a very elephant-like look on his elephant face. How could I resist? Esp. since he was on clearance and cost 40 cents.

And I thought to make him be Ganesh, make him a little shrine, paint some decorative details on his head, offer him peanut M&M's. Find him three more arms. . . .Wendy and I surfed together, on the phone, looking at images.

But then I got to thinking that that just won't work for me: adopting other people's imaginary friends. That would be like me asking you to tell me about yours. You'd say, "Oh, Zabba has been with me forever! She's green and can see through her hands and protects me from toothache and gout!" And then I'd say, "Whoa. Cool! I think I'll adopt her, too!" never mind that I don't know from gout and never have toothaches. So the next thing you know I've adopted Zabba and created an image of her, and she looks absolutely NOTHING like your Zabba. And I say, "Oh, yeah, well, she also can fly and prevent forest fires." And you're all like, "No, no, no! That's not Zabba at all!" But what can you do? That's part of having imaginary friends: you can't prove a thing about them. No way to copyright them. You know? Your version just won't stand up in court.

I've been looking at the figures I have here in the studio. There's the elephant, and there's a wooden blackbird I also got Way Cheap and couldn't leave behind--he was perched on a smiling jack-o-lantern, wearing a bow around his neck. As soon as I took him out of the sack, I tossed the pumpkin, peeled off the bow, and gave his neck a new coat of black paint. Whew. He's now part of a growing gaggle of black birds out here.

There's John Henry, the black wooden doll we got at an antique store on Congress Avenue in Austin. He is obviously handmade and was wearing, at the time I found him stuffed behind a bunch of scruffy-looking commercially-made dolls, a white nightgown. Horrors! We immediately bought him a black felt cowboy hat and tossed the gown and wrapped him in black flannel. The EGE named him John Henry. My friend Keith made him a pair of tailored khaki trousers, which fit perfectly, and I bought him an off-white sweater last week. I don't know a lot about him, but the look of complete alarm on his face tells me he's seen a lot and would be really good at serving as a warning about What's Out There.

Then there are a couple of dolls I made--that one I made when I was five. And a wooden figure made by Laurel Hall--it hangs over my desk.

Anyway, there are a bunch of beings out here that need jobs. Protective jobs, encouraging jobs, jobs interceding with the forces of nature. I think I'd like to create a pantheon of imaginary friends out of them, giving them powers and tasks. But they won't be like any deity or minor god or saint that already exists--at least none that I know of. What would be the fun in that? And what, really, would be the use? We need imaginary friends that fit our lives and serve the needs we have: the need for security, the need for absolution, the need for imagination. Whatever lack we feel, that's what we need filled. For me, my imaginary friends have always (that would be "always did and still do keep") kept me company and gave me someone to talk to. Maybe that's not quite as flashy as Saint Lucy curing blindness or Saint Jude interceding with the Baby Jesus, or even the Baby Jesus himself, but it's a pretty big deal for someone like me.

If I name them (which I haven't yet; they're all nameless except for Joe, who has no idol; and John Henry (I have to remember to ask The EGE, again, why he's named that)) and give them offerings (probably not perishables, because, unlike Wendy, I'd forget to replace them regularly, not actually liking peanut M&M's myself), what purpose would my rituals serve? For me, it would be acknowledging the importance in my life of imagination, which has always been and still is (aieeeeeee! stop me! help me!) vital. I think of the effort it will require to make up personalities for these beings, and powers, and areas of influence--things that make sense to me (one of them will, absolutely, help with the whole Memory Thang, and another one is going to have to be completely and totally calm in the face of internal terrors, like those scary calls from the dr. And one of them is going to have to keep track of deadlines, so I don't have to.) I think The EGE needs one who'd in charge of The Yard, including the patches of less-than-healthy grass and that random dog who comes by in the night to foul the pristine lawn.

And the rituals--the lighting of candles, the making of offerings (whoever's in charge of lost things should have an altar of Found Things--all the random things I find while taking a walk)--those would be ways of establishing order and spinning a thread that leads from one day to the next: right now, the only "rituals" I have are the things I do in the morning when I get up. I open the blinds throughout the house and go into The Voodoo Lounge and turn on the lava lamp and the fountain. Not much of a ritual, but those little acts are what serve to remind me that it's a new day. There's light, and there's the pleasant sound of water, and because it is a new day and I can see and hear and walk into the room, then anything is possible.

And isn't that what ritual and belief and faith is all about? That, as long as you keep doing whatever you do--lighting the candle, making the offering, saying the prayer--everything is going to be OK? You're alive, you're able to do these things again, for another day. For today, at least, all will be well. Anything is possible, if you just believe.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

You Don't Spit into The Wind

Did I just say last night that everything was going OK? Oh, sure: I said it in the context of not having any Holiday Angst type of stuff going on. But still: I tempted fate by saying that, hey, look! Things are fine!

So of course in the middle of the night I woke up (as always--how many times do normal people wake up? My husband = never. Me? Sheesh--it's like sleeping is the thing I do in between the waking up, which is My Real Job. And I can't even blame it on menopause, as I've done this all my life. My mother said I was Not a Good Sleeper. Apparently I was absent the day they taught that skill and have never managed to acquire it on my own. I wonder if they have Sleep Remediation Classes. It's not that I can't go to sleep, or that I wake up and can't go back to sleep; it's that I wake up regularly, as if it's my job to keep an eye on things, even in the middle of the night. Do the words "control freak" come to anyone else's mind, or is it just mine?) and said, "Ow! Who the fuck's been sanding the lining off my tonsils?" I do not actually have tonsils, but it felt like it at the time. And then this morning I woke up to find that someone has set up a Snot Factory in my head. And production is moving along just splendidly!

But, happily, it reminds me of one of my favorite lines, right next to, "Oh, look! A chicken!"--and that was one where a little kid came to school with a cold. A friend of mine was asking how he was doing, and the kid said, "I have too much boogers."

I do, too. Too much boogers. I think the normal Booger Load is about ten parts per millimeter. Anything more is just Too Many. And thank you for asking.

Aren't colds just the silliest things? They're nothing. No fever, no aches, no danger of imminent death. You can't even get much sympathy from your family and co-workers. They just tell you to Buck Up and back off and not to breathe on them. But you just feel like crap. And not just physically--you could deal with that. (Stuff junior-sized tampons in your nostrils. Really! That's what athletic trainers do for a bloody nose during a game. Works for the output of the Snot Factory, too. Not that I've ever actually done it, OK? But, lawd! The times I've wished I had a box of OB Juniors. Do they even make those any more?)

ANYWAY! The real pain in the butt about colds is how they take away your energy, your mental energy, how they drain your brain of ideas ('cause the SNOT'S taking up all the room, goddammit!) and the will to even make the effort to try to do anything creative. I didn't even make the effort today. I mostly drank gallons and gallons of hot tea and took grams of vitamin C and actually TOOK A NAP, which is pretty much like George W reading a book: not a common occurrence, let me tell you. Not that I actually went to sleep--but I lay very, very still and willed my immune system to get busy.

It was cold today (if my friend Roz is reading this, she'll laugh until she snorts, so don't tell her--she lives in Minneapolis and thinks it's not cold unless parts of your body have begun to freeze and drop off into the snowdrifts. She's crazy, of course: it got up to only 50 degrees here today, and it was so cold I didn't go outside At All. So there. Cold is cold.) Plus it was windy. Nasty, dusty, ugly from-the-north wind, where the sky gets ugly and brown and you fear that cow manure will lodge in your sinuses.

Yes! This can happen! A friend of mine kept having horrid sinus infections one year, and his dr. finally did a nasal swab (ech! we've got a whole Nasal Theme going on here tonight) and tested it and found COW MANURE in his sinuses. No, he wasn't performing strange acts with bovines; this is how it works: when the farmers to the north plow the fields, it plows up not only dirt and pollen and shit, but--literally--shit. The fertilizer and the stuff from the cow lots and whatever. And the tiny particles get airborne and swoop down here on the wind and get sucked up your nose and BREED.

All together: EWWW.

Where was I? Oh: whining. Yeah. I'm really good at that. Only I get sick of listening to myself pretty quickly and just want to be back to normal, already: I Have Things To Do, OK? Geez. I've got to make a shopping list: buy tiny tampons.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Being of Service

As we creep slowly into winter, I look for ways to keep myself on an even keel. Oh, things are fine right now, and they may continue to be. But you can never tell. Last year the holiday season was sad, and with my father now gone, too--well, it never hurts to be prepared.

One of the most successful holiday seasons was when I first joined the Unitarian Universalist Church, back when I was impressed by the level of involvement with the community. We delivered food at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I spent those two days serving meals at a community center. It felt really good, of course, as these things always do.

The church has moved away from that, and I've moved away from the church. "Church" is such a foreign concept to me, anyway. But I crave that sense of being useful during The Holidays, which I don't much like, anyway. I mean, really: if you hate consumerism and you're not religious and you're one of the pickiest eaters on the planet, what, exactly, is there to recommend The Holiday Season as it's commonly celebrated? But I digress (and aren't you surprised?).

One more thing that struck me in The Way of the Peacful Warrior--and, yeah, I realize that, for a movie I said didn't have a lot to recommend it, it certainly seems to have had some food for my own thoughts--was the idea of Being of Service. The Nick Nolte character works in a gas station, and Millman mocks him for having a low-level nothing job. He responds that he's being of service, serving people and filling a need.

Today I when I sat down with my afternoon homemade latte, I read an article in the UU World magazine about dignity and rankism. You can read it here.

And I started thinking about how the jobs we hold in least esteem are those that provide a service, the ones that take care of or pick up after other people. Quick: what's one of the lowliest jobs you can think of? (I've had one of them: kennel assistant. Cleaning out animals' cages. It was a nasty job, but it was an important one. It wasn't something I did when most people who have this job do it--during high school. I did it as an adult, and I did it as well as I could because the animals needed clean cages. But a job with a lot of esteem? Um. No.)

But that's not a job we usually think of when we think of common, low-level jobs. How about the guy who picks up trash, the one in the park with the bag and the pole with the pointy end, the guy who goes around spearing up all the detritus that people drop on the ground? How about that job? Don't we pity the people who do it? And if we make eye contact with them, which we hardly ever do, don't we feel a little odd? Kind of guilty he (it's usually a man) is cleaning up after us, but also so glad we're not having to do it?

It's a vital job, though. We produce so much trash that, if it were all left to blow around and pile up, we'd be buried in it. Thank goodness there are people who pick up our trash, right?

No one does it in neighborhoods, though. Oh, there's the old man who goes around picking up aluminum cans, sure. He gets those off the street and out of the alley and out of the dumpsters (The EGE saw a family at the recycling bin the other night: the adults put the kids inside the aluminum bin and had them hand out all the cans. But that's another thing entirely. . . .)

So tonight when I took The Second Walk (the earlier walk today was to the gym, so I can go three days in a row without driving, if I'm lucky), I took a plastic garbage bag and a pair of disposable rubber gloves and picked up trash along my walk. Granted, this isn't an area very much filled with trash; but there was still about half a bag full of the stuff people toss out of their cars as they drive through. I picked up everything I could see along the way and then put it all the dumpster, along with the gloves.

Does it really make a difference? Probably not. Oh, sure: every little bit helps. I don't litter. Not ever. I signed an Anti-Littering Pledge in the 5th grade in Ponca City, Oklahoma; and apparently it's one of those lessons that actually "took," as I've never--that I can remember--intentionally littered in the 41 years since. Whoa.

But here's what I hope: I hope I continue to do this regularly. I hope people see me and ask what I'm doing and think, "Well, that's not so bad," and maybe pick up a little trash themselves, even if just in front of their own house. I hope that I tell about it here and maybe someone out there thinks, "Huh. I walk a lot. I can afford some rubber gloves and trash bags. Maybe. . . ."

It's not a lot. There are all kinds of other ways to be of service. I'd like to explore more of them, but I know myself well enough to know there are some things I probably will never do. Still. Here are some ideas:

--pick up trash
--offer to pick up groceries (dry-cleaning, library books, etc.) for a neighbor, someone who can't get out for whatever reason (health, little kids, no gas money)
--volunteer: library, hospital, SPCA, food bank, Goodwill
--give blood
--read for books for the blind--if you have a good reading voice, this might be for you
--are you bilingual? Offer to translate.
--are you a licensed massage therapist? offer free massages at nursing homes, hospitals, hospice, a battered women's shelter--somewhere where a kind, gentle, healing touch will work miracles
--like kids? volunteer at afterschool programs, pre-school programs. Community centers need coaches and referees (women, too!) for their neighborhood programs. Don't forget arts and crafts (I used to take paper I collected from the print shop to a couple of the community centers for their craft programs)
--think of things you could collect from one place and distribute to another: there was a big re-sale shop that got a lot--a LOT--of donations. They couldn't use all of them. I'd pick up a big load of good-but-not-groovy clothes and take them to one of the community centers where they kept a closet of clothes that people could have if they needed them.
--if you love to bake, double your recipe and take something to someone who'll appreciate it: the teachers' lounge at your closest school, a nursing home, women's shelter, Salvation Army, police department--the list of people who would love a treat is endless, indeed. Read this for inspiration. Pino was featured in Artful Blogging a while back. You don't have to do things for just the very neediest among us, although that is wonderful. You can choose to do things that will make life brighter for almost anyone, esp. if that person is working to make life better for others (firemen, garbage collectors: imagine how they'd love to have homemade cookies delivered).

If all of the above sounds trite to you, like something you've read a million times and gone, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," then think about what you might enjoy. Something that allows you to do something you like to do anyway (taking a walk) and feel useful (picking up trash) at the same time. Making aprons and giving them to ____. Making cards and giving little packets of them to _____ (people who might want to send a card to someone but not have a card to send).

Don't push it. Don't feel guilty if you're not inspired. I'm not going to check up and ask you what you've done. You don't have to do anything at all. Just put the idea in your head. If something comes to you that feels like "Aha!" then you'll know what it means. It's giving you a chance to Be of Service, and that will feel really, really good.