Arts or crafts

IMG_6451.JPG

I think there is one core part of my being that potentially makes me a truly shitty “writer.” I like to do too many things, most of which are not writing.

My fatal flaw is a wide streak of dilettante.

Dilettante has a shitty ring to it, of course, what with it’s negative connotations of shallowness and lack of ability. On a high self esteem day, I might argue that I can write the shit out of a sentence. Even on a weak day though I can claim knowledge of basic sentence structure and grammar.

Evidence? I just consciously re-wrote the sentence above to be TWO sentences. I know that kind of shit.

I consider writing an art. I aspire to be an artist.

My soul, however, values craft. I went to journalism school rather than a creative writing program for that one word. Craft. I may not have the soul of an artist.

I could blame my mother, Pat. Not in a Freudian way, although like all modern day people I can cite a whole lot of ways the woman from whom I emerged left her indelible marks. Turnabout is fair play, I left my mark when she had her fourth Cesarian.

My mother believed, truly believed, like a religion, like a creed, Pat believed in hobbies. She believed in crafts. My mother raised my sister and me to bake, to sew, to knit, to decoratively paint, to buy kits from stores like Michael’s and Joann’s Fabric, to try to make something. We were makers way before making was a thing, a phenomenon.

I made this website.

The first bathroom I ever saw with a sponged walls was not in a plush restaurant with warm terra cotta tones. It was our home bathroom the day Pat stripped the wall paper and tried something new.

Way, way, way back in the wayback machine of time, I didn’t know that people bought mittens at stores. I thought they had pointy tops and thumbs and came from four pointy knitting needles whose double-sides became stealth weapons of surprise when discovered between couch cushions. I thought that mittens were always made from variegated yarn. In hindsight, variegated yarn is the best defense (short of double-pointed needles) against children and a winter of multiple lost mittens.

Making things is so damn satisfying. After reading instructions and following a pattern or free-styling a new recipe, you have something. You have in your hand a tangible product of your toil.

The photo at the top is a knitted pig made in pieces from a hemp and cotton blend yarn and then stuffed and sewn together. I made it.

Satisfyingly, over a few episodes of binge watching the BBC’s Cumberbatch-tastic version of Sherlock, I had a cuddly toy.

(I kind of like Martin Freeman, as John Watson, a bit more than the admittedly heart- and other-throbbing Benedict Cumberbatch. Maybe it’s the frequent assumptions of his own gay attraction to the Cumberbatch. Or maybe it’s that his name is easier to pronounce.)

Writing is not as satisfying. I re-read stuff I have sweated, and I don’t see adorable stuffed pig. I see words that fail to say what I mean. I see editing and mistakes and just nothing.

I will re-read this post and thing “meh.”

I will pour blood from my fingertips in confession or joy, or maybe I will create some thought that hasn’t yet been created in the universe. It will sit never better than just OK in my heart.

In crafts, I can critique and think of small changes to make the next attempt better. In writing, in art, I am I own worst critic. I will allow a vague smile at the occasional turn of phrase.

At this point in my life, I have at least learned to take praise with a simple “thank you” rather than a full on assault suggesting that the utterer of said praise is an utter moron for liking what I produced. I’ve had times on stages or in front of crowds where I have thought to myself, fleetingly, “Yeah, I got this…”

Writing is lonely. I prefer to be physically alone in the house or at least in another room from people, including the one who agreed to marry me. I cannot watch TV and write. I cannot listen to the news, podcasts and some types of music. I cannot do it as easily as I can do so many other things, and I can’t do it with distractions and pop ups of computer notifications calling.

I distrust myself to ever do what I want in my heart to do well. With crafts, I can find forgiveness in small defects and see the larger whole.

In short, I need to get working on the teddy bear I’ve started with fuzzy baby blanket yarn. It’s variegated in various shades of brown. Let’s consider it an homage to Pat and the dozens of mittens made a long, long time ago.

Pat was a maker.

Maybe it’s because another birthday is a-coming

20130126-165724.jpg

I thought I had a thought about something to write about here. The jump was a Facebook status I saw with a quote that boiled down to whether you could call yourself an artist.

I usually don’t. Sometimes I do. It’s usually when I am melodramatically claiming insights and wisdom and sensitivities I don’t actually possess. Recently, I did gesticulate and gesture broadly while declaring “Fuck them all, I’m an artist,” to a work friend (he is beleaguered as I am by those people who cannot discern wit and sarcasm from assholic behavior).

Generally, I’m more unsure. Although, as M. will shout at me, ridiculously so. If I don’t trust my words or my way with words, why the fuck should anyone else?

It’s a baby step that I now tell people that I’m a “writer” (yup, note the quotes and do the little airy double-fingered gesture) or admit to blogging or working on a book, now with M.’s sage advice an admitted collection of essays. Essays I can manage; a book creates a dry heave kind of thing in my brain. Hmm, not a great visual that – a retching head.

It’s important, I think, that you have to at some point say “fuck it, I’m in the club.” I’m tired of waiting for permission to decide what I am.

I never or rarely call myself a stand up comedian. I say (admit) I’ve done stand up comedy (and suppose I might again).

At night in dim clubs and bars, there was a mostly unspoken hierarchy, and there was a definitely bitched about gripe of who got to call themselves a comic. I think I took the atmosphere too much to heart, too personally, and I couldn’t bring myself to compare my meager offerings to people who made money and gigged madly and got auditions.

In retrospect, I wish I had brassier balls to front myself as belonging, even if I didn’t feel it inside. After all, I drank beers (and retro-shamefacedly even slept) with clowns who cashed checks built literally on fart jokes. Fart, fucking, jokes.

(Cue the smoke and vaselined lens with swirling colors, I feel a nostalgic memory coming on….

Back in old Boston, there’s a dingy room in a basement of what was once a bank. The tiny tables behind the stage, where comedians impatiently wait there turn, is adjacent to the black, iron wall of the bank’s vault.

I chatted and fiddled with my list of jokes in front of me and nursed a beer. A guy who at the time got paying gigs and took a shine to me, leaned over me to whisper sweet nothings of advice, and no doubt peer from above my head at the fun bags in my blouse.

He explained that I was too smart, and audiences don’t like that. My success, it would seem, would best be served by following his lead. He suggested I stand up from where I was sitting and watch his carefully calibrated performance unfurl.

Woman that I am, because I do sadly believe woman are a bazillion times more likely to politely follow these kind of orders, I got up to watch.

No lie, it was painful. Scampering and dancing on stage and a solid gold bit that if my dim mind remembers culminated in the comic gold of not being able to tell if the farts were coming from his dog or his grandmother sleeping on the couch. GOLD!

People do laugh at that shit, I’ll give him that. Although, sometimes it’s the uneasy laugh of watching someone fall spectacularly or the cruel laugh at the handicapped or maybe the giggle from watch monkeys flinging poo at the zoo. So, indeed the room had laughter in it.

A couple of people later, it was my turn. He returned the favor to study my set and give me notes.

It was one of those nights I only sort of remember. My best moments on stage are the ones where like a trained athlete it’s all muscle memory, mechanics and flow. Everything rolls out instinctively, not held up by my conscious (and self-concious) thought of what’s next.

I ripped it. The audience was listening and laughing exactly where I planned. They were silent on my words that would lead to revelation and release. But, in my game, in that ultimate zone, I don’t remember the details.

Admittedly, those nights were rare for me. I could measure my success by the astonished smiles and back pats from my friends and acquaintances back stage.

In a comedy club, a cold handshake with no eye contact tells you your fellow comics are embarrassed for you. In contrast, there’s a warm spread of people reaching out to touch you, pat you, congratulate you, smile when you’ve just nailed it in the end zone.

My would be suitor, smiled and offered the perfunctory hand shake and “good set.” He didn’t try to sleep with me again after that night.)

Those moments are the ones that make me want to sell myself harder. I only wish it didn’t take negative stimuli for me to feel the need to conquer.

There’s a bit more in my head. Stuff about what happens into the next decade, now that I’m about 10 years deep in M.’s and my relationship, just shy of that many years into my California dream, and looking down the barrel to 49, knowing it was 38/39 when it all last shifted seismically. And, as they say on Madison Ave. and Cupertino, wait there’s more.

But, for now, I’ll have to consider a part 2.

Live and learn

What a week it’s been for the old ego. Here I am a bit more ragged and a bit more paranoid and a bit more raw and sensitive and wounded and pathetic. And, here I am stronger and smarter and perfectly fine.

It all began on a day when I consented to not just listen to others but to go out of my way to solicit their opinions about me, myself and I. An idea born from the bowels of hell, doubtless, or at least from the sewers and muck and mire of man’s meager experiences.

They call it a 360 review. It’s the workplace, salt mine, hell zone, productivity, performance management equivalent of “Do I look fat in these jeans?” You line up a jury of your peers and your not peers and a professional, who voluntarily does that kind of thing for money, interviews them. The questions seem to range from, “Management doesn’t think she sucks, but what do you say?” to “”Seriously, tell me something you hate about her.”

Maybe there were some constructive things in there. I lost sight when the report turned personal.

Here’s what really got to me, though. I didn’t learn anything. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. But I did remember all of the emotions of being a kid, all of the stupid struggle almost anyone with any soul at all remembers.

The report said that the people surveyed thought I was smart, creative, quirky, funny, a good writer and interesting. Yeah, on some days, I manage OK. The report also revealed that some people don’t understand me, and I bug the shit out of some.

Wow. Revelatory. I find myself growing already.

The bitch is, at the suggestion of my manager, and in an open-minded moment of intellectual weakness when it sounded like a valuable experience, I asked exactly those people who I don’t really get along with to participate in my personal witch hunt.

Here’s a fucking bulletin: there are reasons we don’t get along and they ain’t all related to my being a flawed human being.

The same people who don’t like me at the age of 48, are the ones who in junior high told me I was weird. The girl who wanted to marry and stay in our town and have babies and just be normal, subtext unlike me, is now a woman in my office with the perfect nuclear family in a suburban home who works part time for the extra cash to ensure a model life. She doesn’t hesitate to point out to me today my flaws, just like her doppelgänger back then.

My whole life I’ve wondered why folks with the most boring lives are the ones who proselytize others to be like them the hardest.

Every conversation with her reminds me of my junior high crush crush on Greg Maharis. In addition to being cute and well-dressed, he smoked cigarettes and exuded cool. He also looked past my awkward, uncomfortable, unfeminine, uncoordinated, inelegant, ungainly teenage self, and we had some great conversations. Other, prettier girls in my class couldn’t comprehend why he talked to me at all.

Two of my junior high triumphs were via Greg. In another class, when some twat started making fun of me and doing what junior high girls do, he stood up for me and declared me “cool.” My friends who were there and had overheard the conversation in hushed silence assured me of the moment’s epic nature. Then, on a fateful spring evening he crossed the abyss of the gym floor separating guys from gals and asked me to dance.

My suburban colleague in my grownup world today is all of those girls who never understood why Greg would talk to weird me.

The other people who don’t get me today are the competitive ones who didn’t get me then. My whole dorky life, I had an easier time talking to the adults around me. Apart from my close friends, my peers weren’t thinking or reading or interested in the same shit as me. Other kids didn’t read the newspaper, for example, except to cut out items for a current events assignments.

I found myself in conversation with teachers and Blue Bird troop leaders and moms. I like hearing other viewpoints and stories. In adulthood, one of my good friends was almost slack jawed as her own mother told me the alternative, risqué version of her family’s journey from Hungary. A version she had never, ever heard.

Apparently, in today’s modern office I’m a self-promoting douche who curries favors with the higher ups by horrors of horrors, engaging in conversation.

Funny how none of the people deriding me for talking with our president gave a shit that I’m also friends with my buddy who runs the facility. Uppity I very well may be, but I’m equal opportunity in my talking with interesting people. It’s not self-promotion if people like talking with you and seeking you out.

I’m older by a week and wiser not at all. My journey of self discovery told me what I already know.

And for whichever narrow mind labeled me as “immature” and hopes that I grow out of my traits — Sorry, dude, it’s only going to get worse. I refuse to “act my age,” dress like you, stay quite, act appropriate or conform to what world order you deem correct. My job is to to fuck up your order. The older I get the louder I get.

Me, my friends and my tribe, we’re the crazy ones. The disrupters. Artists and dreamers. Our fun is to speak out of turn.

I will never be able to explain to you why a good friend insisted on wearing girls patterned socks with the uniform of a bailiff, a court officer of the Massachusetts State House, and face getting reprimanded. You can’t understand the friends who walked away from solid jobs for love and for travel and adventure. It’s beyond your understanding that what you label as a “normal” life leaves many of us cold or scared shitless.

We don’t want what you have. And you can’t have what we want.

And, here’s the part that I think you can’t stand. People like me. They like my friends and our kind just fine. They seek us out, promote us, thank us and befriend us. They also hate us, fire us and shun us in equal measure. Same as they do for the regular folks, like you, also in equal measure.

But, we have a lot more fun.