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


Friday, December 31, 2010

Stuff In Progress

So this morning I made a list of the various garment-altering projects I've got ready to go, along with the dresslets I've got lined up to finish. The list looks like this:

Now, before you get all discouraged and say you don't have time because you have to work and stuff, let me say that this is what I do in my spare time. I don't work on this all day every day--it's what I work on in the morning when I'm having coffee and making the daily to-do list, and I work on it in the evening after dinner. It's what I do instead of playing computer games or talking on the phone or going to movies or hanging out with friends--all those things I've talked about when I say "you can't do everything"? This is what I've chosen to do instead of those. It's what I pick up when I take a break or need to change my posture and do something else. Instead of going in and having a snack, I sew a seam or add some beads. Instead of hanging out on Facebook for half an hour, I cut out another dresslet. In those random pockets of time, this is what I do. You can, too.

And here are some quick shots of some of them: 
I have a whole nother post to write about The Cat's Meow, the local antique store with tons of vintage clothes. He has amazing prices on many things and has had a 50%-off sale all this week. I've been three times and scored some cool coats. This one was $24 and is a wool/cashmere blend from the 1950's. It has buttonholes but no buttons, and I'm not sure how I'm going to handle that. I don't know if I want to cover up the buttonholes, add buttons, add buttonholes on the other side, too, and then add four buttons. I'll have to think about it a while. I like the way it hangs and want to emphasize that. It's not heavy, so I don't know that I'd ever wear it buttoned up, anyway, except that it looks cool that way, too. It's just a cool, lightweight (albeit wool) coat.

This is the fake shearling, on sale for $7.50 a yard. I wanted a cape/shawl thing and cut it out, but then it looked like I was just wearing a blanket, which was very tacky. So I've got to figure out how to trim it and add some sort of closure. I have an idea but am not sure if I can make it work structurally. If I can, it will totally rock; but I'm not that good, I don't think.

To-Do-Immediately pile on one of the tables. 

Denim dresslet on the left (was a long dress I got for about $1--nice and heavy, with good pockets). I cut it off and added way-cool Blue Fish buttons someone sent me long ago, and now I'm stitching it randomly. I'll show more as I work on it.

I'd been wanting a leather vest and found this one in the storage building in our backyard. Yes, I realize that's pathetic.
 Apparently it came with some other stuff at a garage or estate sale
 and I got it to cut up and use as fabric. Maybe for binding books--I don't remember.
 But it fits, and all it needs: much cooler buttons.
 These are totally tacky plastic crap buttons but are sewed on well, with backing buttons on the inside.

This is the current project--meaning of all the ones I'm messing with, it's the one I reach for first thing in the morning. It began life as a cream shirt/jacket with some sort of stain on it, I think. It's a fabulous heavy silk--I'm guessing it's a heavy sand-washed charmeuse, but I'm not completely sure. Someone remind me, please, to talk about fabric identification and how to go about that. But that's a whole nother post.

Anyway, I bought this for a couple dollars, brought it home and dyed it in the next batch of chartreuse. I probably picked that color to hide the stain. It's been months, so I don't remember. The buttons were already perfect--domed, padded, self-covered--so I left them. The front edges rolled--the interfacing was just pressed back, not stitched, and it kept rolling and puckering. So I top-stitched that, and then it lay kind of oddly at the bottom, so I had to stitch it closed down there. It still hangs oddly, but it's OK. It's been hanging in the sewing studio for months, waiting until I was ready to bead. I started this week and will show more soon. What I love best about this is that it--miraculously--doesn't wrinkle. Not a bit. Ever. Even when I leave it in a pile overnight.

OK--back to work. If you're altering something, give us a link so we can see it, please!

Clarice is a Video Junkie

Last night we started watching Alice in Wonderland. Clarice sat in my lap, entranced, until she finally fell asleep. She especially liked the flying things. Duh.

Since The EGE is at home for the holidays, she gets in his lap in the mornings and watches videos with him, which is going to be tough for me when school starts back and he's not here to entertain her. 

Here she is the other day, lying on my legs watching her favorite bird video:

A child of the 21st century, obviously.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Post for Zom!

I'm all excited that I may have found someone who--at least for now, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed it becomes a permanent obsession--says she shares my excitement about altering clothes. Zom told me she wants to see more, so The EGE and I are using that as an excuse to take more photos (him) and talk about what I'm doing (that would be me). We're doing it for Zom! Because even though I don't really know her, I'm imagining that she's someone who doesn't expect perfect photos and will like seeing work in progress. Because, see, my Thang that stops me so often is thinking, "Eh, I need to get this finished before I take a photo, and I need to take it outside where the light is true, and I need to. . . ." and so I never get shots and then I'm done with it and have moved on to something else. When what I really think is that it would be cooler than cool to have people to talk to about stuff in progress, like, hey! what if you tried this? Or I did this, and it worked like this. 

You know. Like a Sewing Club, but where you didn't have to get out in the snow to meet up.

So I'm hoping there will be more posts like this one. Not fancy, not as complete and detailed as I'd like, but:  at least I'm getting it up here, right?

This is the coat I may have mentioned--I can't remember:  it was marked $14.99 at Goodwill, but none of us could tell if it was leather. Yeah, I know, that's weird. But it's old and funky, and even after I bought it and took it to the shoe repair guy, who is also a boot maker, *he* couldn't tell what kind of leather it is. And this guy knows leather. It is leather, but it's very odd. Different in various parts, but not seemed. As if it's from some hybrid animal. And it's old. Very old, I'm thinking.
Anyway, so the girl at Goodwill kind of wrinkled her nose at it and said it wasn't leather and sold it to me for $3.49, I think. I bought it home and tossed it in the washer and dryer because, well, did I mention is was old? The lining was already shredded and hanging too long, as if it had been washed before. So I untacked the lining from the coat and am trimming and hemming and patching the shredded part with silk scraps.

It's been in this exact state all week--I've been kind of scattered, doing way too much end-of-year-clearance shopping and spending way too little time at home in the studio. But I'm going to get back in the groove of work and get this baby ready for the next stage. Sorry I can't show the front of the coat, but the pins won't stay in the lining--it's so slick they fall out if I move it. I'll show more as soon as I get this stitching done.

Here's the table in its new spot in The Room Formerly Known As The Living Room. Don't know what I'll call it now. And, yes, I'll get photos soon. I'm not finished in there and have some other stuff I want to do before I show its transformation.

People Are Wonderful

As you know, we're not Christmas people and don't exchange gifts. I did give The EGE an iPod as a Solstice gift, and when I nabbed him with a pinch and "Christmas Eve gift," which is something my dad and I always did (although I need to google it and find out the origin, as I have no idea), he bought me a pair of long fuchsia leather gloves I'd been drooling over ("over which"--yeah, yeah, yeah). And yesterday, as, he said, a Happy Merry New Year's gift, he bought me a vintage black suede coat from The Cat's Meow, but that's a whole nother story that has to have a post of its own at some point. (I say "bought" rather than "gave," because after 34 years, we seldom try the buy-and-surprise tactic but go with the way more successful buy-it-while-they're-with-you one, in which you get input and don't screw up by buying, say, a paisley tie or a pair of plaid house shoes).

I did receive three gifts this month that I wanted to share because they illustrate perfectly how wonderful people are. This is the first, and the kindness of this gift is beyond measure:
All my life, as far back as I can remember (I have photos of them from when I was three), my mother baked and decorated sugar cookies for me for Valentine's Day, Halloween, and Christmas. Other people would laugh, because apparently most grown-ups think these cookies are a joke, the kind of cookies only kids would eat. I have always loved them and looked forward to the box arriving in the mail, and I'd eat one every morning with coffee.

And then my mother died. 

About a week before Christmas that year, a box arrived in the mail, and I opened it and found iced cookies from my friend Wendy. [Feel free to read over her back blog entries and then leave a comment nagging her about how fabulous they are and how you'd like MORE. Lord knows my nagging doesn't do any good.] Every year since then, she's sent cookies, arriving at just the time cookies would have arrived from my mother. There's really nothing else I can say about this. I'm sure you understand.

Several years ago when my friend Sarah [no website, alas] was in high school, I bought a pair of white Converse high-tops and gave them to her and her then-boyfriend to draw on. You know how things go in a really busy life. Time passes. I completely forgot about them in the intervening years. 

And then last week Sarah sent a note and said she was in town and had a present for me. Imagine my complete surprise when she gave me the shoes. And imagine my amazement when I opened the box and saw that those plain white shoes now look like this:
Are those not the most fabulous shoes you've ever seen in your life? I'm trying this week to figure out the best way (with input from Margot Silk Forrest of to seal them so I can actually wear them. I have to wear them, but I can't bear to think of them getting stained. I'm going slowly with this because it's scary to think about screwing it up with the wrong treatment.

And then this most amazing example of pure thoughtfulness. You may remember the mug I bought at Starbucks in Manhattan and how I got it home and opened the box and found it in many, many pieces and was so sad. Remember?

Some of you with fabulous memories (what a concept) may also remember Jean Maneke, who specializes in publishing law. She won a copy of Living the Creative Life in my give-away when it came out and then so very generously advised me on my contract for the next book, Creative Time and Space. She was in Manhattan this month, and she remembered (yes! someone with a functioning memory!) the story of my mug. Not only remembered it, but bought a mug, packed it, took it all the way home to Kansas City, and mailed it to me. It arrived in perfect condition, and I use it every single morning, thinking about Jean and about how wonderful people are.
Is that not amazing? I am continually amazed by people's kindness and thoughtfulness and generosity. 

I hope your life is filled with wonderful people, too. If you're feeling a lack, though, feel free to bookmark this post and come back whenever you need a hit of wonder.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Who or Whom? Who Knows? Whom Should We Ask?

I'm here to help, because this is the one everyone worries about. Or, if you're being picky, "the one about which everyone worries." And that brings up That vs. Which, which is a whole nother thang. 

We'll worry about it later.

You use who as the subject and whom when you would use an object. Easy enough, right? Except that few of us think in terms of "subject" and "object," so it's really not any help at all, is it? Instead, think of "he" and "him." Use "who" when you would use "he," and "whom" when you would use "him" (and if you're unsure about those, go back and read yesterday's mini rant):

Who went to the store? (He went to the store.)
To whom are you giving the pink slip? (You're giving the pink slip to him.)

This will get you through most of cases that might cause confusion, but there's still one biggie that plagues most of us:  which one do you use after a preposition? To wit: 

Give the good news to whoever/whomever you want.
Give the good news to whoever/whomever needs it.

In the first, you would use "whomever," and in the second, "whoever." The way you determine this is to determine the function of who/whom in its clause: if it's the subject--"whoever needs it"--use who/whoever. If it's the object--"whomever you want"--it's whom/whomever.

To whom did she give the good news?
Who needed the good news?

The fabulous Little, Brown Handbook (not because it's either little or brown, but because it was first published by Little, Brown and Company--at least that's what I think, that they first published it. It gets confusing in there when you're trying to figure out which companies became which other companies) offers this test, which I'm going to include here for you:

A test for who vs. whom in questions--
1. Pose the question:
  (Who, Whom) makes that decision?
  (Who, Whom) does one ask?
2. Answer the question, using a personal pronoun. Choose the pronoun that sounds correct, and note its case.
  (She, Her) makes that decision. She makes that decision (Subjective)
  One asks (she, her). One asks her (Objective)
3. Use the same case (who or whom) in the question.
  Who makes that decision? (Subjective)
  Whom does one ask (Objective)

Perhaps you're beginning to see that you reallyreallyreally need to understand subjects and objects, subjective pronouns and objective ones. It's not nearly as tough as you might think:  subjects are the things doing the action, being the main guy in the sentence--however you need to think of it. They are the subject. The verb agrees with the subject. The object is the thing receiving the action, having something done to it. 

The bat hits the ball. 

The bat is the subject; it's doing the hitting. It's singular, so it gets a singular verb: "hits." The ball is the object--it's on the receiving end. Of course things can be a lot more complicated and convoluted, but that's the basic structure, and once you begin to think about things in terms of subject and object, things that once seemed confusing begin to fall into place. Think of the terms "subject" and "object" this way:  we all want to be the subject of things, the main thing, the big guy, the topic of conversation. We want to be the subject. No one wants to be the object, the thing having stuff done to it. Hence the idea of "He treats women like objects." Right? So remember that sentence, and remember that being an object means having stuff done to you, and that means receiving the action, not doing it.

Does that help?

The best way to learn sentence structure? Take a foreign language. I learned most of this stuff as an adult in college in my first Spanish course. I didn't learn it in German, and I didn't learn it in English. I didn't learn it in German because I hated German and didn't study. I didn't learn it in English because I learned how to talk and write from my mother, who didn't explain the technical terms but made sure my writing and speech were correct, often more accurate than that of my various English teachers. Yeah, I was one of those kids who answered the phone and said, "This is she." Well, except when grammar conflicted with safety, and then I said, instead, "May I ask who's calling, please?" Using "who" because, of course, it's the subject of the clause, "who's calling."

The truth:  grammar isn't nearly as difficult as grammar snobs want you to believe. Like everything else, it can be explained simply and logically. The problem is twofold: 1) most people don't really understand usage but rely on rules they learned and so can't really explain it, and 2) true grammar snobs don't really want everyone else to be able to speak and write well because then they wouldn't have that to be snobbish about. If the hoi polloi speak and write flawlessly, how will we be able to identify them and shun them? They would be able to walk among us, undetected. The horror!

OK. Questions? 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Can't Stand It Any More: A Small Grammar Rant to End the Year

The first couple times, I thought it was an aberration. Then I hoped I was just reading crap and that it would disappear once I upgraded to Better Lit. 

But no. It's everywhere--books, magazines, blogs, speech--and it's driving me crazy. So we're going to talk about pronouns, and here's the most important thing you're going to read today, brought to you by Strunk and White (that would be The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, and if you don't have a copy in your library, order one now. Read it, learn it, use it.)

"A pronoun in a comparison is nominative if it is the subject of a stated or understood verb."

Yeah, I hear you. You're going, "Well, alrighty, then! Just what I needed to know to make my life complete!"

Really, though: what does this mean in plain English? Well, you remember that a pronoun is the word that takes the place of a noun or noun phrase (we could go into the eight types of pronouns but, mercifully, will not). Our most common pronouns are "I, you, he, she, it, we, they." Right?

A comparison is obvious--you're comparing stuff to other stuff.

The nominative case is the same as the subjective case (not to be confused with "subjunctive," which is a whole nother thang and just forget I mentioned it here). It's about the subject, and it's the pronoun you would use as the subject of a sentence:  "He ate the cake." "He" is the subjective case. You wouldn't say "Him ate the cake," because 1) "him" is the objective case and 2) you're not a fool, and so even if the word "grammar" makes you feel faint, you would still have enough sense to realize "Him ate the cake" doesn't sound quite right. (Which tells you how I feel when I read "She was bigger than me.")

A stated verb is one that's there--you can see it. An understood verb is one that's not there--you can't see it--but you know the writer/speaker meant it, whether it's there or not, and so it's there in spirit, just like you and your mother-in-law's colonoscopy:  you're not actually there with her, but she knows you're there in spirit. It's understood, but you don't have to wear the paper booties.

What all this means is that you write:
"George is taller than I" instead of plaguing us with "George is taller than me."

You do not write (or say, god help us all), 
"Sandy reads more than me."
"The dog is bigger than her."
"I am sleepier than him."

No. You do not do this because 1) it drives me absolutely nuts and makes me want to come to your house and beat you with my ancient copy of the instructor's edition of The Little, Brown Handbook, and 2) these are all wrong. So very sadly, irritatingly wrong.

Following Strunk and White's advice, we know they should be:
Sandy reads more than I.
The dog is bigger than she.
I am sleepier than he.

Why is this? Because there is an understood verb hanging out there at the end of each of these:
Sandy reads more than I (read).
The dog is bigger than she (is).
I am sleepier than he (is).

These seem obvious when you look at them this way, don't they? Which is why Strunk and White go on to say this:

"In general, avoid 'understood' verbs by supplying them."

This is what I did, and that's why it's now obvious, and that's why it's easy.

You may be one of those people who think all of this is nit-picking and argue that, as long as we can understand each other, it's ridiculous to worry about these "finer points of grammar." But it's not.  Using language correctly allows us to communicate effectively. When we don't bother to say what we really mean, no one else is really sure what we mean. Want an example? 

You and I are talking about Joe and how he and I have differing world views and opposing ideas of the compassionate life. I say to you, "I like dogs better than him." You nod and say, "Yeah, he's not much for Chihuahuas, that's for sure." You think I'm telling you that I am more of a dog lover than Joe is, and you're giving me the benefit of the doubt in the Good Friend Department. What I'm actually telling you is that I like dogs more than I like Joe.

See? This stuff matters. Using words correctly allows us to communicate with each other. If you think we communicate just fine anyway, I'll argue that you probably spend most of your time communicating with people who are pretty much like you in terms of class and culture and education. You have a large shared vocabulary, and you can use shorthand with each other. (Or at least you think you can; no telling how often your friends think you're a goober and have no idea what you're talking about.) If, on the other hand, you communicate with lots of people who are not like you--from different cultures or backgrounds, with varying levels of education and literacy--then it becomes obvious that being exact is important.

Think about it. Think about the difference between "It's hard to be stupid" and "It's hard being stupid." Those two sentences mean two different things. The speaker is telling you completely different things. In the first, she's telling you she has difficulty imagining how anyone could be stupid. She's not, and she thinks achieving a level of stupidity would be difficult for anyone. In the second, she's telling you that she is, indeed, stupid, and that the experience is a difficult one, perhaps requiring your pity sympathy.

So if you're in a complicated relationship with two other people, and you're trying to determine where you stand in their affections, "I love you more than he" may not be exactly what you want to hear after all. The same might be true of "I love you more than him," but, supposing you care more for the speaker than you do for the other guy, it may give you some small measure of comfort.

So. Go. Practice. Please. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Time to Put My Money Where My Mouth Is

OK. I've been going on for years about how you don't have to use the rooms in your house for what other people use them for, right? I keep telling you that you can make your space work for you, that there's no need for a formal dining room or living room unless you actually entertain people. But there's been a part of me that thought I needed to have one room in the house Just In Case. Just that one room--every other room is already its own thang:  our bedroom and the bathrooms and the kitchen get used for what they were intended to be used for, but the two front bedrooms are not:  one is The EGE's study, with his computer and the tv and his desks and tables; and the other is The Voodoo Lounge, with a bed/daybed and a desk and a wall of bookshelves. The dining room is the sewing studio, and the laundry/craft room is my office, which I call my "studio" because the word "office" sounds so sterile. But I've always thought we had to keep one room more-or-less "normal," just in case.

Just in Case what? I'm not sure. In case we suddenly start to entertain? In case we have guests? In case someone comes to the house, someone I want to impress? I realized this past week that this is ridiculous. We don't entertain, nor do we have any desire to. At various times during our lives, we've tried to Develop a Social Life. We've had parties and dinners and invited people over, and the truth is that it's just way more trouble than it's worth. I'd get all into it, cooking (yeah:  astounding, I know) and making a party. And then, later, making another one. But nobody else ever got into it, so it was basically just us inviting people over and feeding them, which got really old really quickly. Although it was a fun experiment, it's nothing I ever need to do again. The truth is exactly what I keep telling you:  you have to figure out what's important to you and what's not. You can't have everything, and you can't do everything. While I might think it would be fun to dress up and have food with people, it's not anywhere near the top of things I like to do. I like to work; I like to write. I like to make stuff. I like to hang out with The EGE and the cats while I'm stitching. 

I don't like is sitting around talking to people. While I enjoy talking to people at, say, Starbucks or someone where everyone's doing something--where I can stitch and don't feel like I'm supposed to be acting as Hostess, a totally preposterous notion, I have no desire to do this in my house, which is where I work. So why would there be a room in my house set aside for that? I have no idea. We've talked about this before, and The EGE has always said that I should do whatever I want with that room. He doesn't care. Nobody comes to visit him; and if they did, they would go sit on the porch or in his study. Not that that has been an issue in the 20+ years we've lived here. The only person who actually comes to our house is our nephew, who comes over maybe once a year, and he's known us all his life and doesn't exactly expect Formal Entertaining when he stops by.

So today we're going to change things. I'm going to make the living room into an extension of the sewing room, which will free up the space in the middle of the sewing studio where--ahem--we need to be able to walk without brushing against things on the table and knocking them off.  To make this happen, we're going to have to move the big honkin' chair out of the living room. It will go here:
This is the area of my office that's going to change.

Here it is from the other angle; you can see the iMac and printer.

Front view. Moe loves this chair, and I've resisted moving it out, but it's got to make way for something else. The EGE thinks Moe will be happy in the bigger chair.

Here's the sewing studio as it is this morning. It looks pretty much like this all the time. Oh, sure, I make a real effort to clean off that large table and put it away, but it's up, right there, 95% of the time. The ironing board isn't usually up--I usually put it up and take it down as needed because, with it up, it's nearly impossible to get through this room, and you *have* to get through this room to get to our bedroom and to my office. Now, in my defense, let me say that the clothes you see all over the room are not there all the time. They're constantly changing--most of these have been here less than a month. They come in the house, get laundered, and then are hung up here until I figure out what I want to do with them. So it's not all Hoarder City in here. Nope. It's a real work room where I work every day. This weekend I worked on almost everything you see here:  in the foreground is a leather coat I got for $3.99. I'm repairing the lining--so it's spread out and pinned. Also on that table is a green silk shirt jacket--I beaded it for a while this morning after I stitched on the denim dresslet you see in the pile, along with another dresslet that's ready to be hemmed. On the ironing board is the fabric from yet another one, next to a leather vest I found in the storage building--it needs new buttons, which I'll remove from another vest. That big green dress hanging from the top--that's an olive green corduroy LL Bean dress I got for less than $2 last week. I'm going to replace the buttons with some I'm going to cover with acid green corduroy from a shirt I bought years ago for just that purpose. I'm going to remove its pocket and put it on the dress, too. Olive green? Ick. Olive green with chartreuse/acid green? Ahh!

A slightly different angle. The day bed is where the cats hang out in the afternoon sun. I hang out there, too, when I'm doing handwork.

Believe it or not, that's the doorway to our bedroom right there in the center.

Right in there--see the pink walls? That's our bedroom. It's a good thing we're skinny people, or we'd never be able to get in there. Now, granted, there's more room here than it seems, and I don't usually have all this stuff hanging here. Well, there's always a lot of stuff hanging here, but it changes a lot--the stuff in this sewing studio is all stuff that's waiting alteration. As I finish it, it moves into a closet. This is almost all new stuff--or, rather, new to me:  it's mostly thrifted. On the left, a black linen tunic I'm going to bead. Behind it, a new trench coat from Old Navy on clearance for $14.99. I'm going to dye it orange. Behind it, my robe--heavy terrycloth, dyed years ago.

Here's one sewing table with my 35-year-old Kenmore workhorse
 that I use almost every day. 
And here's the other sewing table, behind the ironing board, with my newer fancy-shcmancy Janome. You can't see it, you say? Yes. That's the problem. It's under the pile of skirts to be altered.

Another view of the sewing table. 
Here's the painting table set up against the west wall (with the leather coat in the foreground).  It's very cool, but it's hard to get to, so I haven't been doing anything. See that stack of canvasses on the right front edge? Painted and ready to go for months now.

Here's a view of the tiny space between the cutting table and the painting table. That big white bag on the left is one of the recycling bags. If I can get the big table out of the way, I can roll my sewing chair over to the painting table. That's how it worked before I started doing all this sewing and had to leave the cutting table set up. Either that or wrestle with it to set it up every morning. Eh. I think not--it's hard on the fingers to do those folding legs.

Here's the narrow little path you have to use to get from the kitchen to our bedroom. When I've got the ironing board set up, as it is here, and I'm sewing, I have to scoot the chair out of the way for The EGE to walk through. This is ridiculous, 
and it's what we're going to change today. 
Here's the living room. It's the last room in the house I've kept in some sort of normalcy, if you want to call Cat City normal. I love this room--it's bright and full of art, but guess what? We never, ever use it. Ever. We walk through it a million times a day, 
but we never sit down and hang out. 
The cage is Clarice's room, where she eats her meals and sleeps at night. We thought we'd get rid of it, but she likes it and goes in by herself, so until she outgrows it, we're kind of stuck. It's an extra-large dog kennel, so it *is* as big as it looks here (yeah, we even created a loft in it for her). It's got a huge litter box, a scratching post/condo, a couple beds, a bunch of stuffed animals from when she first came and was tiny and we wanted her not to have to sleep alone. 
Here's their 6-ft. tower. We can't ever get rid of it unless we replace it. They love this and use it constantly for playing and scratching and sleeping. That's Moe napping.
Here's a view from the southwest corner of the room. 
Here's the area that's going to change today. 
The doorway on the left goes into the kitchen. The one on the right leads to the hall with the bathroom, The EGE's study, and The Voodoo Lounge. Those drawer units are custom built to hold rubber stamps, but now most of them don't. The ones on the left hold beads; the ones on the right have a mish-mash that needs to be further weeded out--stuff for paper art that I don't do any more but hate to get rid of.
Here's the view from the hallway. What's ridiculous:  that couch is my dream couch, a really comfy couch covered in real denim. I'd always wanted one, and when I finally found one I could afford (the one I first found was $2000), I bought it, a matching love seat, and a big chair. Now, the idea was that I'd paint and stamp and stitch and applique all over them, and as the cats sharpened their claws on them, as is inevitable (and don't even mention de-clawing:  do you know what they do when they declaw a cat? It's not removing the claws; it's cutting off the first knuckle of each toe, a horribly painful operation. I used to work for a vet, remember. Theoretically, I clip their claws every two weeks. Guess how often we stick to this schedule), I'd totally embellish every surface. But--but!--when they were brand new, I couldn't bear to let the cats destroy them right away, so I bought white bedspreads and dyed them as slip covers. And they looked so fabulous that I left those on and then kept piling on rugs and pillows and the pieces of fleece that the cats sleep on (so we can just gather it up and launder it). We've had this furniture for almost five years now, and it's still covered, still brand new. 
No embellishing has occurred.  
And from the kitchen doorway. That's the chair that's going into my office today. And the green cover is coming off. Yikes. Scary!

So my office is going to be a little more crowded, which is not good--I roll out the mats and do yoga in there in the evenings. But I think it will work. I may have to get rid of some little tables and the storage ottomans, but maybe not. We'll see.

So that's what I'm going to do this afternoon. Wish me luck! Oy. I'm tired already.

Friday, December 24, 2010

And The Winner Is~~

Congratulations, Bee! Send me your address, and I'll send you the copy of Creative Time and Space~~

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ready To Think About Space? Start Here

If you think you don't have any space--real-life space, as opposed to "space in your brain"--check out this video, which is guaranteed to inspire you.

PhotoCard: Once a Candy Striper. . .

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Hard Stuff: Time [Part the Second]

We'll get this out of the way right off:  I know perfectly well that I'm not typical and that I'm very lucky. I don't have to leave the house to go to work. My husband does all the cleaning and cooking. I don't have kids or grandkids or anyone else who depends on me to take care of them. I know that's not typical, OK? No need to point it out to me, although many people do. But here's the deal: all that didn't happen by accident. And it's not true that I don't have a day job; I have several. I don't have a boss I see in person every day, but I do have editors (I have to stop and try to count how many, in fact, because there are quite a number of those. All fabulous, I might add!). I have deadlines I never miss, and I have things that have to be done at a certain time. I have no assistant or agent or intern or groupie, alas.

It's like that for most people who are trying to make a living doing what they love when what they love doesn't happen to be law or medicine or engineering: they're working all day every day, mostly by themselves, trying to keep the balls in the air.

Let's talk about that right now. You've heard it, and you've read it, and I've talked about it before. But just in case some romantic notion of the life of a full-time artist is still fluttering around in your head, let's talk about it briefly. If you're thinking full-time artists, those people who make art for a living, are the same people you've maybe read about who are waking up at noon and having friends over for "art dates" and traveling to the openings on Canyon Road, you're confusing full-time artists with people who don't have to work. People who don't have to work are a whole nother breed entirely, and we're not talking about them.

Full-time artists are not People Who Get To Spend All Day Long in The Studio Playing. No. They're people who are working, running a business, doing their own marketing and packing and mailing and photography and web design and blogging and tweeting and entering stuff in their Etsy shop. They make the work, market the work, sell the work, show the work, pack and ship the work. Keep the records of the work, keep stock of the inventory, figure the taxes. I know very few who have full-time helpor even part-time help. They do it themselves. They hardly ever have insurance, and they don't get paid vacations or holidays. If they take time off, it's time they have to make up. Most of the full-time artists are running as fast as they can, trying to cobble together a life of doing the work and selling the work and filling in the financial gaps with writing or teaching or private lessons or, most usually, all three. Many of us couldn't do what we do without the support--financial, emotional, physical--of our partners. I certainly couldn't. There are those who do, whose income from their art is their sole income. There are others who work day jobs and then spend another 8 hours in the studio. There are lots and lots of serious artists who are working their butts off trying to make it work.

Why? Because they can't not do it. Their work is their passion, and they do whatever it takes to make it work.

You try to get in touch with them, and they don't respond, and you think, scornfully, "Diva!" But that's most often not it (sometimes that's it, but not very often). Usually it's because they have a certain day of the week in which they respond to email because the other days are a flurry of all the various things they have to do to try to stay afloat in an economy that bites and a culture that doesn't value working artists. It values Famous Dead Artists because people have figured out how to make money off those guys. As soon as they figure out how to make money off you, you'll be golden, too.

(Iin the Sunday NYT they noted that, just this year, Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" sold at auction for the highest price ever paid by anyone for any work of art ever: $106.5 million.)

In talking about making time, we have to talk about the things you're going to have to give up. If you've made some lists, you know what those are. They could be all kinds of things, from piddling to compulsively cleaning your refrigerator every night (don't tell us; we don't want to know). But I'm guessing that many of you have one or the other or both of these on that list:
~~the internet

I guess those two because that's what people tell me. And while I could address these two dispassionately, I'm not going to try. I'm going to tell you how I feel about them and how I handle them, but first let me present the other side. My friend Roz Stendahl is a self-proclaimed tv slut. She loves tv. She may be one of the most brilliant minds I've ever known, but she's not a tv snob. Oh, no! She doesn't discriminate, from what I can tell. It's not "All PBS, All the Time" at her house. It's just tv, from movies to shows to I-don't-know-what. But you know that already, because you read about Roz in Creative Time and Space. And so you also know that Roz is one of the most productive people you'll ever find. She gets more done in a day than most people do in a week. A month. ForEVER. She's a US Army recruiting poster!

[And let me just stop here and say this:  if you're Of a Certain Age--you know: Over Fifty--and you use that as an excuse for why you kind of don't do much of anything and take it easy and sloth around rather a lot (and don't you love that I just verbified "sloth"?), you're going to have to give it up. It's not a valid excuse. Some of the most energetic people I know, people who can and often do run circles around people half our age, are my age. Over fifty. I've spent time with Roz. I got to hang out with Katherine Engen of Valley Ridge. They're not old; they're a little younger than I am, in fact, and *I'm* not old. And, honeys, let me tell you: I've always thought I had a lot of energy and got a lot done, but these two women--and a bunch of others I've met--are amazing. They get up and get going and stay going all day long, multi-tasking and meeting deadlines and coming up with brilliant and fabulous ideas and then--then!--figuring out ways to implement those ideas. So if you're 55 and thinking that's a good enough reason to sit on your butt for hours every evening, think again. Life is passing you by, and at warp speed. You'll be old soon enough, so there's no reason to rush it. Get up and get busy making the most of your next 30 years!]

So here's what you need to know about tv and Roz:  sure, she watches a lot of tv (I've never actually witnessed this; when I've been with her, she's been doing about a million other things, but she does swear she watches it, and I have to believe her), but she gets a TON of stuff done while she's watching it. If you want to park your butt in front of your tv, then, you're going to have to do it like Roz does it:  she figures out what parts of projects she can do while sitting down, and she grabs those for her tv-viewing-times. If you're saying, "Well, if Roz watches a lot of tv, it can't be so bad, so I can watch it, too," then you have to watch it the way she does:  while working on something. You don't get to just sit and mindlessly flip through the channels or stare at some has-been making fun of someone else's attempt to tap dance.

What do I think of tv? Oh, sweetie, you don't want to get me started. I think it's evil in almost every way, designed to make us want things we don't have and spend money we don't have and wish for lives we don't have. It's supposed to keep us placid and unthinking and--

Well. Never mind. Here's my solution:  I don't watch tv. I quit watching tv in November 2000 when I decided that any day I didn't have to listen to George W. Bush was a good day. Since then, I have watched the Local Forecast ("Local on the 8's") on the weather channel right before I slide in the Netflix movie we watch during dinner, and I watched a couple hours during 9/11 (and then turned it off once they began speculating and commentating and ranting), and I watched Obama's inaugural address (which, for personal reasons, was important to me:  a bi-racial president. Who would have dreamed it was possible?).

Other than that, though, I haven't watched tv (although I think I watched Sex and the City on cable--I have it all on DVD and can't remember when it was on cable) in over a decade, and I haven't missed it. Sure, I don't get a lot of people's cultural references. I don't know the hip new slang (although by the time it's on tv, it's not nearly as hip and new as people would like to think it is). I can't identify who's hot and who's not. I've never watched an episode of any reality tv show--oh! except Hoarders in some hotel somewhere. Ewwwww. I haven't watched Oprah or American Idol or Survivors or those vampire shows or the show where the women wear those dresses from the 1950's. I've missed all of that.

What I haven't missed, though, is the time other people spend sitting in front of their televisions, time that often involves either beer or fattening snacks or both. Our tv is in The EGE's study, where I go only to 1) eat dinner and 2) get stuff out of my closet. His study is filled with his Stuff, and there's no reason for me to walk through there, so there's no reason to pick up the remote and turn on the tv, even if I were A Watcher. When we watch a movie, it's a conscious thing:  we turn it on, sit down to eat, watch the movie. When I'm finished eating, I pause the video, go get my stitching, and come back stitch until the movie's over or I get tired of watching it and wander off.

Here are some suggestions for you if you want to cut back on your tv time but can't quite man up and get rid of the tv entirely:
~~put the tv in a room where you don't spend much time. If you want to watch something, you'll have to make an effort to go there.
~~don't buy the newest/biggest/brightest tv. When the color on your set starts to get wonky, just deal with it. The less entrancing the picture, the more likely you'll think of something else you could be doing.
~~Give away all the extra tv sets in your house. If you claim the time you spend in front of the set is "family time," then make it truly family time by insuring you're all together in one place.
~~don't ever sit down in front of the tv without something creative to do. Make a comfortable spot with great lighting. If you really want to conquer your tv habit, make this comfy nest in some OTHER, non-tv-having room.
~~think about this:  while you might argue that you can watch tv while you stitch or sketch or paint or whatever, what are you actually doing then? You're listening. And if you're listening to mindless drivel coming in your ears while you're stitching, how can you listen to your brain and the ideas it's trying to send you? How can you think about what you want to do next?  How can you think at all? And then you have to ask yourself if watching tv is an excuse *not* to think, if it's a chicken way out of pursuing the ideas that might lead you to something wonderful.

And what about the computer? Well, first go to page 38 in the book and read what Roz has to say. For me, the internet is a lot harder to avoid than tv. I don't like tv, so I don't miss it. On the other hand, I have to use the internet every day in order to work, so I can't get rid of it. The challenge is to keep from spending hours there.
~~if you're playing ANY of those inane on-line games, stop. You can argue all you want about how relaxing and fun they are and blah, blah, blah, but they're eating up your time. They're addictive, and there's nothing there for you. The only computer game I play anywhere is the only game I play in real life:  solitaire. I started playing solitaire, in real life, with actual cards, back when I would find myself awake with killer cramps in the middle of the night. I could either pace, which I did a lot until the ibuprofen kicked in, or I could play solitaire. Now happily past the whole Killer Cramp period of my life, I play computer solitaire when my brain is too tired to do anything else--about once every couple weeks. It's not very exciting. It has no bells and whistles, and that's the point:  it's a predictable game that I can play when I have nothing else I want to do, but it's not going to lure me in and suck me into its clutches for hours and hours and hours. Unlike the fancy online games, it's not designed to become My Life.
~~quit mindlessly following links. Sure, that's how you can find out about new and exciting things and ideas and inspiration, but that's also how you can end up spending every single minute of the little bit of time you can spare from your busy life. Instead of sitting down and painting, you're reading someone else's blog post about how their painting is going. 
~~pick the top sites or blogs or whatever--the ones you can't live without--and set it up so you can get there quickly and easily without being tempted to go anywhere else. Set a specific time when you'll check those--once a week, once a day, whatever--and set an amount of time you'll spend doing that:  half an hour, an hour. 

Read the rest of Roz's suggestions. Heck, read that whole chapter again. 

What do I do? I have trouble with the computer. It's the biggest timesuck in my life. I check email way too often. I get email from all over, so I can get work-related mail from my east coast editors starting at 6 am and from my west coast editors as late as 8 pm. I try to respond to those immediately, so I check email a lot. And that can lead to my following links to FB comments or tweets. I try to minimize that during the day, but it's tough. You have to set limits.

I set up Facebook and Twitter to link to Tweetdeck, and I try to do all the social media stuff from there because it limits the temptation to wander off into the Mall of Social Activity.

The solution? Set time limits. Keep the computer out of the studio. Turn off the audio notification so you don't hear the little chime that tells you you have new mail. 

You know, I could go on forever giving you tips I've picked up from other people and things I've discovered myself, and I'll try to provide those when I can, but the truth is:  you've got to get your head in the right place first. Once you do that, once you decide that this--this creative life--is what you want, and that you're willing to make whatever adjustments are necessary to get there, it's all going to be a whole lot easier. 

On the other hand, as long as you're convincing yourself that you work hard and deserve a couple mindless hours in front of the tv with a beer or in front of the computer with a bag of M&M's, that's what your life is going to be about. You only get one life, and you can spend it watching tv and living vicariously through other people's stories and art, or you can decide you're going to grab hold and make it the most creative life you can imagine.

Go. Read chapters 2 and 3. Make some notes. Take a deep breath. I'll be back~~we can do this together.


The Hard Stuff: We'll Start with Time. [Part the First]

To make more creative time and space, you're going to have to give up something. That's the reality:  you're not going to be given more hours in the day, and you're not going to be given more space than you actually have. Well, OK, theoretically, someone might suddenly have a warehouse studio they're not going to be using any more, and they're happy to let you have the key and the run of the place, with water and electric, just because they love you.

In that case, you rock. Truly. Now go away before we have to hurt you.

For the rest of us, though, it's probably not going to happen that way. To get more of what we want, we're going to have to give up some of the stuff that's getting in the way. To get more time in our days, we're going to have to give up some of the things that are occupying that time right now.

The hard part here:  we are so, so resistant to change. No matter what I say in this space, most people reading it are going to argue with me. They're going to insist that I have no idea what their lives are like, that I can't imagine their days and the demands they have. They'll say they'd love to make changes, but change is impossible. They'd love to give up stuff, but everything they're doing is stuff they have to do.


You're going to have to go with me here when I tell you that this is not true. Unless you're working multiple jobs to feed your family and are also trying to raise that family, along with going to night school and care for elderly parents--in that case, you truly do not have any extra time.

For everyone else, though, there are things you are doing that are eating up time you could be using to paint or sculpt or write or sketch or practice your singing. My job here is to help you find those and suggest ways to get past them. It's not going to be easy. I'm sorry. I know people really prefer books and articles and blog posts that are all warm and cuddly and tell them they're just fine the way they are and shouldn't really exert themselves and, oh, don't worry:  you're doing everything just perfectly.

If that were true, you wouldn't be wondering why you're not getting more done. I'm the Bad Cop. I'm the one to point out the things that need changing and nag you until you do.

Go back to that list you made, the one where you have two columns, and one of them is all the non-creative things you do during the day. If you really worked on this, you should see some things there that serve no purpose. Things like watching American Idol and reading those 25 blogs every evening and going through stacks of magazines and tearing out pages you might want to use in a collage someday. And shopping for collage ephemera. And sorting through that emphemera. Finding a place to put it. Labeling it. Admiring it. Showing it to your friends.

Some of you may find those things inspiring--sorting your stash of stuff may fill you with all kinds of ideas, and you may think that activity should go in the "creative" column. But stop and think about it:  sorting and handling and looking at stuff does not equal actually using it to create anything. Shopping and adding to your stash of rusty things is not the same as taking those rusty things and making something out of them.

I've talked to many people over the years--sadly, almost always women--who have fabulous collections of stuff. Their friends love to come to their houses and spend time in their studios going through this stuff. For these women, collecting stuff is a passion. It's their art. Some of them--the reason I was talking to them in the first place--have turned this into their art. They actually make stuff from their collections. But it's not that the stuff they make or the act of making it is their passion. Oh, no. It's just a way to justify the shopping, the collecting. The hoarding. 

Plus it's a way to write it all off on taxes:  all that collecting now becomes business-related. The trips to Paris. The collection of glass eyes. The crumbly lace and rusty doorknobs. All inventory.

If that sounds yummy to you, maybe what you need to do, instead of trying to figure out how to make more time in your life for creating, is stop and think about what you really WANT in your life. Maybe it's not a passion to make anything after all. Maybe what you want is a way to shop. Collect. Take classes with your friends. There's nothing wrong with that. It makes lots of people very happy, and it sure beats squandering the grocery money on bingo.

But if shopping and collecting and sorting and admiring your stuff just isn't doing it for you, it's time to do the hard work of admitting that amassing a ton of cool stuff isn't the same as creating art, and it's never going to fulfill you. Making art isn't about shopping. It's not about the stuff. It's about translating what's in your head into visible, concrete form, something that no longer exists only in your head but has a presence in the actual world.

That's what artists do:  they imagine stuff--songs, poems, paintings, garments--and bring that stuff to life. Once you understand that and accept that everything else is just getting in the way, you can move past the dabbling and collecting and shopping and bidding and acquiring and get down to the nitty-gritty of what it is that you want to do. 

Let's say you want to make collages, OK? That's a good example because lots and lots of people are making collages in their art journals, and their friends say they really should make larger ones and show them to other people and maybe put them in an Etsy shop. They're that good, and you know you've got something. Here's the truth:  looking at other people's collages online is not doing the work. Sure, you need to see what's out there, but if you're spending hours a night surfing blogs and websites with other people's collages, you're not doing the work. Shopping for canvasses isn't doing the work. Tearing pictures out of magazines isn't doing the work. Shopping for paint and markers and glues isn't doing the work. Traveling to some other city to shop at a fabulous art store isn't doing the work. None of that is doing the work. Some of it is necessary, but most of the necessary stuff can be done quickly, often online:  you can order most of the supplies you need without going out and spending half a day in the shops, fingering the paper and adding to your growing stash of supplies. Because that's not doing the work.

Doing the work is doing the work. It's not about shopping, talking about the work, flying to Rome to look at other people's work. I know people who do exactly that:  they spend half their time traveling to Santa Fe and Europe and South America to see other people's art. They have fabulous studios and tens of thousands of dollars' worth of supplies in those studios, but they spend very little time there. They call themselves artists, but they spend hardly any time making art. They look at art, they talk about art, they collect other people's art.

They don't have time to make art of their own.

OK. Enough. Here's what you do next. Think about all the non-essential things you do every day. Essential things are the day job, flossing, feeding and taking care of whatever beings rely on you. Paying the bills. Those kinds of things. 

Make a list of everything else. Be honest. If you're spending 3 hours every night sitting in front of the computer following links, write that down. If you're spending an hour on the way home from work stopping by your favorite shops to see what's on sale, write that down. If you're parking yourself in front of the tv for an hour after dinner, write that down. 

Do you do any of these things?
~~spend time sorting mail and looking at catalogs? 
~~idly looking at magazines you've already looked at once?
~~running the channels on the tv just to see what's on? (If you're an adult and have spent any time in a house with a tv, you KNOW what's on; you don't need to check. It's not like they suddenly put brand-new stuff on there that's going to change your life and make your teeth sparkly)
~~sitting down in front of the computer and doing the online equivalent of running the channels? 
~~calling or texting people just to see what they're doing when you really have nothing you need to discuss with them?
~~sitting in your studio/at your kitchen table/on your bed sorting stuff you've sorted before? 

Think hard about this. Make some lists. I'll be back later~~