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My Father.

A week ago this morning I was waking up from yet another sleepless night in East Texas to attend, and speak at my father’s funeral.  My dad was a complicated man, and if you only want to know the good, then I suggest you skip this part and scan on down to the eulogy I gave that day.  If you want to know the truth, read both.

I have struggled deeply with my feelings this week.  My father was a lesson in contrast.  I have some wonderful memories of his amazing sense of humor and his playful side, certainly his wealth of knowledge and his love of music, and I also have very painful memories of being abandoned emotionally and physical many, many times, and of walking on eggshells my entire life to make sure I didn’t upset him because then I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks or months or years.  It is hard to have a true bonded loving relationship with another human being when anxiety is at the core of your relationship.  When I was eighteen I got married.  My dad was so angry with my decision, he called me all the way from Africa to yell at me and hang up, hardly giving me the chance to say two words.  That would be the last I would hear from him for five years.  Despite many letters asking for forgiveness and trying to prove to him that I hadn’t screwed up my life and that I was a good person, nothing. Well, except for the one time I found out he was in Arkansas on home leave and I called to see if perhaps two years had been a long enough penance and maybe if I just broke the ice he would respond.  He responded alright…”How did you know I was here?  I have nothing to say to you.”  And he hung up.  I was a mess. Sobbing and pleading for him to want a relationship with me.  I sat on the floor, a grown married woman, and sobbed.  He eventually contacted me three years later and we moved on, never discussing those five years. It wasn’t the last time he cut me out of his life, but usually for only a couple of years at a time after that.

I realized a long time ago that if I was going to have a relationship with him, it would be on his terms and I made the decision to have it, knowing it would always be me that apologized and sought him out, whether it was my fault or not.

My parents split when I was eleven, and the next six years weren’t much better than those years of no contact. There were occasional phone calls and some letters.  Though, when my sister and I visited him five years later in Africa, we found a drawer full of letters from us that had not even been opened.  Letters full of things we had been doing in our daily lives as a young child and a struggling teenager.  Letters asking how he was and wanting to see him and sharing personal things. I understand that my dad had great difficulty with the divorce from my mother, and I will never know what pain he endured for that. But, that was such a kick in the gut to my seventeen-year-old self, for him to never have even read my heartfelt words to him during those difficult years.  Years spent with a destructive stepfather.  Years where acknowledgement and a kind word from a father would have meant the world.  Instead, there was great loneliness.

When Dad finally decided to speak to me again, we continued down the rollercoaster ride that would be our relationship for the next 25 years.  My siblings didn’t fare any better.  My brothers both spent a least a decade each out of contact, and my sister was on and off as well.  Each time for silly disagreements about how we should be living our lives.  Perceived offenses which most families would just acknowledge as disagreements.  Or just things teenagers and young adults do, and parents who love unconditionally talk us through.  I said that to him once…”Dad, I’ve just never felt that unconditional love.”  For years he joked about that.  Mockingly saying “oh you want ‘unconditional’ love…”.  I know his joking about it was his way of expressing that it hurt and that he cared, but at the time, it was hard to hear him make fun of my deepest desire.

We had wonderful times, too. Many, many laughs.  But, I have grown up with the sense that I have disappointed him so often.  He has said very cruel things to me and to all members of my family.  He has also given me wonderful compliments.  It’s just hard to know which was the truth. Perhaps he really felt both.  All I know is that I grew up never knowing.

So, here I am.  I’m almost 48 and I don’t know how to feel.  Do I miss him?  Did I love him?  Did he ever love me?  He asked me a couple of years ago if there was anything of his that I wanted when he passed, as he had been in ill health for quite some time at that point, and I told him there were things that were special to me, but the only thing I really deeply wanted was his guitar.  I have such fond memories of him playing it and listening to Hank Jr., Willie and Waylon, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Roger Miller and so many more.  He wrote many country songs and had this dream to get one recorded.  I connected with him through music and through that dream, because, for a man who spent 40 years serving his country in the military and the Foreign Service, risking his life at times, dealing with such bureaucracy, which he didn’t always love and did it because it provided a stable paycheck for his family, he had this creative side pulling at him, and this dream to run off to Nashville and be a songwriter and my gypsy artist soul connects with that desire and understands it so very much.  Last week as I wandered around his house, helping to sort through things, I cleaned the dust off that guitar and prepared to bring it home.  It was the only thing I took with me on the plane.  Everything else is being shipped to me.  And I felt good about that.  I thought about it a lot on the plane ride back to California.  Until I got here.

And then everything hit me. All these emotions.  All the loss.  After almost five decades of dealing with the losses that came with this difficult relationship, a final act of his sent me over the edge.  He left all four of us out of his will.  I had a curt heads up that this would be the case, but after such a difficult week, after losing my own beautiful beach house to my husband and having to move into this tiny 400 sq ft condo last year, and losing my marriage and starting completely over yet again at 47, and being so financially strained, there was something about this final slap in the face, and also being made to feel that I was not allowed to mourn his loss, that hit me hard.  I guess I couldn’t be mourning because I laughed and joked with my siblings, because I wasn’t a puddle of tears before, because I didn’t have lots of contact with my father, because, because, because….whatever the perceptions are…I didn’t love him, I didn’t have the right to grieve, I didn’t feel the loss in the same way and I didn’t seem worthy of a kind word.  And I questioned that.  And I almost packed up that guitar and sent it back because I was so angry at him I didn’t even want to look at it.  I cried a lot. A LOT.  And then I finally slept more than four hours at a time for a couple of nights and regained a little composure.  I talked with my mom and my siblings.  I yelled a little.  I yelled at my dad.  I felt a little like Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump yelling at God in that lake. How can a father be so hard on his kids their entire lives, and then leave them with nothing?  How can he think we weren’t worthy of something? Anything.  It’s not about the money…it’s about being remembered and valued. And it’s about not explaining this final act to me before he died.  Not telling us himself.  Not giving us some reason. 

But, I know he didn’t leave us with nothing.  But, what exactly has he left me with?

I kept the guitar. I’m staring at it now.  I will piece together my feelings for this man as life rolls on.  I don’t want pity or an “I’m sorry” or anything from anyone. I know everyone deals with pain, and I don’t think mine is more or less than another’s.  I just wanted to express both sides.  I meant everything I said in the eulogy below, as I stood beside his open casket and shared these stories with an unsuspecting group of friends who only knew him in retirement in rural East Texas and had no idea what this man had done with his life. Every word is true.  I claim my right to miss him and to grieve.  Because I do. And nobody gets the right to give me parameters on that.  My brother Jon also spoke and talked about how nobody walks with us our entire lives.  We enter and exit at different times and therefore we each have our own version of who a person was to us individually.  He was MY father.  And for almost fifty years I walked a very personal walk with him that nobody else did.  Each of my siblings walked their own walk with him filled with pain and happiness as well.  I am just glad that I have them to share in this with me, because only they truly understand.

The last photo we all took together. November 9, 2018

So, 2018 began with me moving out of my 20-year marriage and leaving my beach house and trying to make 400 sq ft work for me and my two young boys and trying to survive with a new business as an artist.  It was filled with beautiful highs and deep, deep lows, lots of tears, new adventures and a toughening up of my soul, and it ended with the death of this man that is my father on December 29.  And, 2019 began with his burial.  Fitting in so many ways.  I want to lay him to rest.  I want to lay so many things to rest.  I want to lay my sadness and anger to rest, though that will take more time.  He saw angels before he passed, and he wasn’t a religious man.  He was ready to go and excited to see his father who passed away before I was born.  I hope he has found peace.  I did, and still do love him very much.  I very much grieve his loss in so many deep and painful ways, and hope to remember all of it, not just the good and not just the bad. Because that is life–a complicated, beautiful contrast of highs and lows.  Rest in peace, dad.  I hope there is a lot of bass fishing in heaven.

Eulogy for Jerry Lee Baker, Sr. 

Written by Susan Baker Scharpf

Delivered on January 5, 2019 in Pittsburg, TX

I think one of the greatest fears as we see our lives moving quickly by us, is to feel like it will not have mattered much when all is said and done.  That someday, we will lie in a funeral home and a few people will gather and there may be some pleasant memories exchanged, but that in the end, it may not have mattered much whether we existed or not.  It has been really difficult for me to try to figure out how to put into a few words what my father’s life was all about, and what it meant to me…what is his legacy?  And I know that the sweet answer would be to say that it’s us…his four kids.  But, in this case, I know that is such a pitifully small part of the story, though perhaps his favorite.  Perhaps… 😉

But, somewhere in this world there is a man who got himself in trouble in Tijuana at 16 years old and wound up in a Mexican jail.  Legally, as the administrative officer for the U.S. embassy, my dad was not allowed to pay any bribes to get anyone out of jail.  But he did, out of his own pocket, and he drove that young boy to the border and bought him a greyhound bus ticket home, also out of his own pocket.  And that boy got a second chance.

And, somewhere there is a man who had been injured in a car wreck and in Mexico, you could not be released until all “debts” had been paid.  Dad worked with the doctor and smuggled this man out of the hospital and into an ambulance, took him to the border where an American ambulance was waiting, and used his authority as a U.S. diplomat get him across the border and to a hospital.

And somewhere, there is a family and descendants of a family who many years ago were serving as missionaries in Mozambique where they were captured and used as political pawns. And the Mozambiquen president told the United States that they would NOT step foot on their soil and try to negotiate their release and that it would be on their terms.  But in a small office in the embassy, my dad was making plans with a military rescue and recovery team to go in and bring that family home.  And when they were safely in the air, dad got the call and he then called the president of Mozambique to tell him what they had done.  And that family went home to live their lives.

And somewhere in Africa, there is a group of men who were given a little more dignity and respect. Dad was looking out of the window of his office at the embassy at all of these locals scattered all over the lawn. He asked an employee what they were doing and he responded that they were using tin can lids to cut the grass. Dad asked why they didn’t have a lawnmower and the employee responded that the Africans wouldn’t know who to use it and weren’t intelligent enough to be taught.  He said something like “this is the embassy of the United States of America, and this is not how we treat out employees.”  He immediately went to his desk and ordered lawnmowers, which they quickly mastered.  He said the grounds of the embassy were immaculate because the African employees took such pride in their work and felt valued and respected and wanted to repay that confidence.

And while Americans were enjoying the disco era and all the things the late seventies had to offer, three satellite planes were grounded during a coup in Suriname.  Satellite planes that should have been circling South and Central America scanning for any threats to our national security, in particular nuclear war.  And while our family was under national Surinamese orders to not leave our house, my father was gone for three straight days with no word.  During that time he negotiated with the leader of the coup, to have those planes released.  And during that same time, Americans in the country heard a rumor that those planes were going to evacuate us all to safety, and he had to let them all know that wasn’t the case, and to stay calm and we would work things out.  Those planes were released without incident, and nobody understood the vulnerable spot we as Americans had been in until he stepped in.

In each of the incidents I mentioned, we were there when he came home for dinner and tried to put away the events of the day and be a father and a husband. Every time his own life had been threatened or he put himself in harm’s way to do his job, like the day he worked in an evacuated embassy in Ecuador trying to get communication to Washington while machine gun fire came through the window, and the day he stood on the street corner at the end of a coup in Bolivia and faced a tank coming up the street that luckily turned out to hold American soldiers, he came home to dinner to young children who didn’t know enough to be afraid and certainly had no clue about what he had experienced that day.  It is no wonder that though he seemed to move mountains in his work and received many awards for his outstanding service, there was sometimes a struggle to connect with his family.  There was a distance that I think can often come where there are so many details about your life that you cannot, or don’t want to share.

Each of us kids has a different relationship with our father, and a different way in which we connected to him.  Our relationships differ not only because we differ in ages, but also because we each were older and more aware in completely different countries and sometimes continents.  On top of that, our individual personalities led us connect with him in different ways.  For me, it was music.  I have such strong vivid memories of him playing his guitar and making large real-to-real audio mixes of songs that he loved and recorded off the radio and albums. He wrote many many country songs, a passion and hobby that I believe brought him back to his roots and a simpler life that shaped him as a child.  My dad had an incredibly funny sense of humor and that came out in his songs as well.  Songs like “She Wants to be a Cowgirl, but She’s Just a Cow” and sooo many others.  When he asked me a couple of years ago if there was anything specific I wanted when he passed, I knew immediately what it was.  I said the only thing that I really wanted was his guitar. It was emotional to clean the dust off of it this week and prepare to take it home with me.

My father was born in Cardwell, Missouri in 1945, the 7thof eight children.  His parents moved to Wynne, Arkansas soon after and worked hard to provide what they could for their large family, but it was a humble uncertain existence.  Fishing was a big part of his family and he grew up fishing and exploring all the rivers and lakes surrounding Wynne. When dad was 17 he joined the Air Force and became a communications officer. He wanted to get out and see the world and thought this was the best way to do it.  He was sent off to boot camp in San Antonio and then off to Alaska.  After four years in the Air Force, he got out and eventually got a job with the State Department.  During this time he also met and married my mother, had a son and was then assigned his first overseas post…this man who had grown up in rural Arkansas was given his very post…to Tehran, Iran.  The next thirty years of his life would take him from there to The Hague, Holland; La Paz, Bolivia; Bern, Switzerland; Guayaquil, Ecuador; Paramaribo, Suriname; Tijuana, Mexico; Lilongwe, Malawi; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and during a three year assignment as a rover, he worked at the embassies in every country in Africa except two.

My father picked cotton in Arkansas

He camped at the base of Mt. Kilamanjaro

He skied in the Alps

He’s been to the altiplano in the Andes mountains of Bolivia

He’s been in the deserts of the middle east

He’s been in the deep jungles of South America

He’s been in the rainforests of Suriname

He’s fished for piranha

He’s been on a boat on Lake Titicaca

And so many other adventures

 

I loved my father. And these are the memories that I will treasure for always.

 

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Love is Not What Conquers All.

Love.  It’s one of those words we all throw around and claim that it conquers things and makes the world go round and is all you need. I think those statements are about as true as “time heals all wounds”.  Time doesn’t heal jack.  Do you know what heals? Growth, learning, paying attention to another person’s story, understanding a little better why the hurt came and why you felt it so deeply, coming to terms with the fact that life happens, accidents happens and most importantly for me, that I am sometimes the cause of another’s hurt.  These revelations and so many more things come to us over time, but it’s not time itself that heals wounds.  And it’s not just love that conquers all.

I will concede one thing that I believe about love and that is that loving ourselves enough that we learn how to find some peace and joy in daily life gives us the confidence to face the pain we encounter, forgive others and more importantly than forgiving, to feel empathy.  It allows us to see beyond ourselves to understand that others are also fighting battles that we cannot understand, which helps us to let go of anger of being offended and judgment. But….and this is a very hard lesson…that does not mean our love itself can change circumstances, heal another from their physical or mental ailments or force others to make choices that would bring them greater happiness and so much less sorrow.  And, perhaps one of the hardest lessons, it does not require us to stay in a situation in which we are being hurt in any way by a person to prevent that person from experiencing the  pain of being removed from our lives. LOVE, in and of itself, is not all you need.  What we need are all the the actions that love inspires us to take, the words it inspires us to say and the things it inspires us to think and believe.

So….why do I have so many pieces that are centered on love?  Well….for one, they always sell! If I’m being completely honest…. 😉 And why is that? I’m sure there are a thousand answers.  For me, I believe it is at the core of all we do and all we want out of life. It is the great motivator, just not the end result.  When we love and respect and find peace with ourselves, it leads us to want that peace and happiness and love for others, which leads us to act on those desires and affect change and reach out in whatever ways we can.  Maybe it sounds selfish to think loving ourselves is so important, but I truly believe it is. It’s hard to love our neighbor as ourself if we don’t love ourself first.

This became a pillow. Monochromatic grey, black and white in the background, red and fuchsia appliqués and stitching. Lots of pattern and color.

I know that in the grand scheme of life, I will only truly affect a very small number of people, and that’s okay.  I hope in some way I can inspire my kids and friends and acquaintances to love themselves and do good so they will in turn affect others in a positive way, and those “others” will affect even more others, and so on.  Real love inspires nothing but good.  And that’s why I think people buy these love pieces, whether its a card or a pillow or a piece of art, so they can have these little reminders of something good.

 

 

So many little details and scenes added with the free motion stitching on this piece.
I try to add lots of detail stitching to create another fun layer of things to discover.
These little 6″ minis have become a favorite. This one had some hand beading on it.
Another LOVE pillow with so many vibrant batiks and lots of free motion quilting.
One of my 5″x7″ notecards. The love and heart ones sell year round.
There are ten thousand ways to assemble the batiks and stitching into these fun designs.
Another of my 5″x7″ blank notecards. Can’t keep these love ones in stock.

 

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And Strength. My Ode to Motherhood.

My almost five-year-old has become fascinated with boobs lately.  “What are those? Mine are small. When will mine get big like yours? Mommies use these to feed their babies.  How do they do that?  How does milk get in them?”.  I’m trying to be the cool mom and take all these questions in stride, answering the questions like an intelligent, educated, forward-thinking woman because I want him to see this as biology. But, I admit, sometimes it makes me laugh and sometimes I get squirmy, a little uncomfortable with talking so bluntly about things we never discussed when I was a child. These recent conversations, and the fact that it’s Mother’s Day weekend has me, as I’m sure much of the world, contemplating what it means to be a mom.  And if you aren’t a mom, you’re probably thinking about your own mother and what she has meant in your life. I mean, it’s not just about milk-producing boobs. Thankfully.  As an adoptive mom, mine never did that, so I’m glad it’s not the criteria. So, what is it about?

“You are the best mom”. And I love how my favorite store is Vons….I won’t correct him. 😉

Nothing influences my work more than relationships, and the strongest relationships I have are with my mother and as a mother myself.  It is the greatest source of joy, pain, comfort, loss, self-doubt and self-confidence. It is everything.  Everyone has a mom story.  It might be more full of pain than joy, but everyone has a mom or is a mom or was a mom or is desperate to be a mom or maybe has no desire to be a mom. There is something so deep and tangible and transformative about motherhood, no matter how you experience it.

My boys own my soul. They came at great cost and yet a price I would have paid ten times over.  Years of fertility treatments, tears, physical and emotional sacrifices in attempts to get pregnant and have a child changed me.  It steeled me up and gave me perspective and empathy and strength.  And then there was the choice to adopt.  And that led to over a hundred hours of classes and lots of paperwork and home visits and background checks and so much scrutiny.  Lots of waiting.  And that gave me patience and perseverance and determination. And more strength. And that led to my sweet baby Isaac, our first adoption.  But, five months into motherhood I had to hand that baby back to his father and watch him drive away forever.  That broke me in a way I had never experienced.  And it gave me humility and compassion and oh so many tears.  And strength.  And eventually, all of that led to my sweet Dylan.  And four years later, another miracle came in my 12 lb baby Seth.  Now, as they celebrate their 9thand 5thbirthdays this month, respectively, I find it has led to so very much more.  Understanding, gratitude, so much love and acceptance. And strength.  Always strength.  Forever getting stronger.

This is why I am inspired by strong women.  I love them and am inspired by them and I want to be one.

“It is the custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtinesses and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.”
― J. M. Barrie, The Adventures of Peter Pan

 

 

 

 

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Creating Contrast

I’m taking my boys home to Texas this summer for a couple of weeks. I’ve been incredibly homesick and ready for them to have a taste of where I came from. These two California boys need to experience rural living, dogs, fields, southern accents, neighbors separated by more than a wall, real barbecue, stifling heat and humidity and some lake life. I love San Diego, but Texas will always hold a special place in my soul.

So, when an old high school friend asked me if I would make a quilt for her, I jumped at the chance. Aside from being flattered that she would want something of mine, I loved the idea of designing something inspired by this beautiful lake where I spent many days swimming and boating and even having a few waterskiing adventures.  That said, when I was spending those days at Lake Texoma, paddleboarding wasn’t a thing there.  So when my friend told me it was her passion and she wanted a quilt of her paddleboarding on the lake, I loved that it combined a hint of the California lifestyle themes that I often do with my Texas home.  And since it was another quilt that involved a water theme, I knew I had to pay attention to the differences between my tropical style and the more earthy, woodsy feel of the landscape in that area. My quilts may often have simpler layouts, but my MFA in set design doesn’t allow me to make sweeping generalizations–water isn’t just water.  There are California beaches, Florida beaches and Texas lake beaches and they are not the same thing.

I will share other aspects of the design process for this quilt in other posts, but for today, I want to share the things I did to make this particular quilt read Lake Texoma and not sunny San Diego.

I’m including these three quilts, side by side to illustrate my points.  I know they are often subtle things, and maybe to some people, it doesn’t make a difference.  But it does to me.

  1. Color Palette: All three of these quilts are strip quilts and have similar water and sunset colors.  Strip quilting is a technique I use frequently to build the background.  I like how it allows me to use lots of different fabrics and also creates the feel of a horizontal landscape. The colors in these quilts are similar, but I made a few adjustments to each one. I used thin strips to create the octopus quilt, which, coupled with the gradated colors (light at the horizon line and darkening as it gets to the deeper water), creates more depth. I picture this scene way out in the vast ocean somewhere, far away from land. In contrast, the manatee quilt in the middle is the brighter, clearer shallow waters in Florida where the manatees live.  I also used larger blocks of fabrics which makes it feel closer, but still kept the horizontal lines. Contrast both of those with the lake quilt. The water in Lake Texoma is much darker, and though I didn’t want to go too dark and murky, I wanted to show that it’s more green than tropical turquoise. My ratio of greens to blues was much higher in this quilt, and even the prints were not quite as fantastical, which gave it a little more of a realistic look.
  2. The trees and grasses: These details are what solidify a more specific location.  The octopus is out in the deep ocean, so I gave no hints of land being anywhere nearby.  The manatee quilt got some land and a few palm trees flanking the sunset, plus the grasses that are a part of that natural environment. This, coupled with the larger blocks of color, gave it a more close-up, intimate feeling.  The lake quilt needed Texas trees.  Very different from palm trees.  I added a couple of those large oak trees and also grounded them in some land because there is never anywhere you are on that lake where you can’t see land.  I also added a few grasses which would be a part of the environment there, but kept them more natural looking.
  3. The animals.  I mean of course these have to be different.  But, I try to be consciously different. Fish live in all waters, but I didn’t just want to throw in any old fish.  The octopus quilt has a fantastical feel to it.  The octopus is sending up the sea stars which, when they cross the horizon line, turn into the night time stars.  The mermaid is pushing the moon into the sky and the sun is setting, giving the whole thing a magical feeling with everything in motion.  So, I stuck to more magical looking creatures–the amazing diamond print octopus, all the stars and the mythical mermaid. For some reason, fish just seemed out of place and too banal. No offense to fish! 😉 The manatee quilt was supposed to be fun, sweet scene with these beautiful peaceful creatures going about their daily life.  Of course it needed little fish! It’s like the manatee and the sea turtle needed their little friends nearby to create this perfect Disney-esque setting.  I researched the type of fish that would be found in those areas and that’s the style I created.  Cute and colorful and several different sizes.  Lake Texoma has lots of different fish, but in order to really drive home the fact that it was this particular lake and certainly not any kind of ocean, I added one of the more recognizable fish–the fun, visually interesting catfish. Ain’t nobody from Texas that doesn’t recognize a catfish!  I also added a rainbow trout and some other little fish and a duck.  All things very common to this area and all things that say “lake” and not ocean.  (Not that there aren’t trout in the ocean….but it has more of a lake feel to it.)

So many things are interchangeable and I don’t have to always make such specific decisions on every piece that I do.  But, I feel like I need to have a clean thought process through my work or else it just gets diluted and everything starts to look the same. Muddy, like the bottom of that lake.

To read more about the quilts pictured above, click on these links:

Octopus quilt, “Connected”

Manatee quilt

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Derby Dolls, Here I Come!

So, this has very little to do with quilting, but it does explain a little bit how I roll.  Which, if you stretch it far enough, does relate to my art.  Because art imitates life or life imitates art or whatever.

I have been in a funk. Lots of life changes in the last few years. If you know me, you know I’m spontaneous. Which might be a nice way of saying erratic. Impetuous. Impulsive.  You get the idea.  I plan. Sorta. At times.  But I call myself “outline girl”. I have a general idea of where I’m going but lots of the blanks are filled in as I go.  I kinda like it that way.

I took my four-year-old to a beautiful skate park last week and decided I wanted to start rollerblading. I wanted to get some exercise and stop sitting on the sidelines eating protein bars while my boys had all the fun. To be honest, I have been thinking about it for while, but this week, that impulsive little bug hit me and I went looking for rollerblades I could afford.  I actually really want to skateboard, but thought this would be a good transition step. So, on my lunch break on Saturday, I went into a consignment store and lo and behold, there were a pair of used skates in my size for $28! Must have been fate. Which is how us impulsive girls think. I snatched them up, ran down the street to a second hand sports store and got a new set of knee and elbow pads and wrist guards.  I may be impetuous, but even I have my boundaries. Though I sorta forgot about the helmet even though I’m a nazi about making my boys wear them. I was so excited that after work, I ran home, changed into some cute workout clothes with long, fun patterned socks so I could look like one of those retro 70’s cute skater girls and headed for Lake Murray, which has a great flat (or so I thought it was flat…) three mile paved path around it.

Cute socks. Too blurry. Big legs from that angle.

I was pumped. I sat in my car with the door open putting on my sweet new (to me) skates, listening to fun music.  It was a perfect Southern California evening—cool air, sun glistening off the water, ducks, people strolling. I almost bit it getting my skates on, because as I was tyring to get the second one on, the first one, with my foot in it, kept sliding away from the car and pulling me with it.  But, I won that battle and was all decked out and ready to go. However, I just HAD to take a photo of myself first because nothing happens if it’s not on Facebook, so I set up the camera on the back of my car and nonchalantly tried to take a picture without anyone noticing. I did it, but from that angle, my thighs look massive, but I digress. I grabbed my phone, turned on the music and started heading out. It quickly became apparent that I had not skated in a very long time.  I felt like Bambi on ice, and the road seemed really rough and my skates weren’t very smooth. I kept checking to see if something was on the road, but no.  I checked my skates…they looked fine.  I check again a few feet later and noticed there were cracks in the wheels on the right skate.  By the time I went twenty feet, I knew something was wrong. I turned around and look behind me, only to see a trail of broken rubber pieces leading from my car. I looked down at my skates and ALL the wheels—every single piece—had come completely off of the right skate and they were bare! And I had left a trail of bread crumbs.  So nonchalantly.  My plans were thwarted! I was pretty disappointed and tried to cruise back to my car, ignoring the path of destruction, hoping nobody would know it was me. Sigh.

Part of me was still determined to go find new wheels, but since I had left my shoes at home, I couldn’t go shopping for new wheels in just my cute socks. And by the time I got new wheels, the gates to the lake would be closed.  So, Amazon it was!  Instead of working out, I ate truffles and sat on my butt and ordered cute blue wheels, set to arrive on Monday (today).

The next morning when I arrived at church, I noticed one little piece of wheel rubber sitting on the roof of my car.  Somehow it had survived the drive home and to church the next morning and was just sitting there mocking me.  And then when I got home that night from work, I tried to carry everything up the stairs at one time and bit it on the first step, scraping up my knee, though barely missing the kneecap.  I almost took that as a sign to go back to quilting.  But I’m a rebel.

So today, I was a little burnt out at work, and knowing those cute little wheels would be waiting for me when I got home, I got all pumped to head back to the lake tonight, despite the fact that it was grey and cold and misting.  I didn’t change my clothes this time…figured my camo jeans and long sleeve shirt would be added protection from my inevitable spills. So I got home, changed my wheels (like a pro!), grabbed a few pieces of salami and headed for the lake. When I arrived, this little geese family welcomed me and I figured it was a sign. I did a repeat of the fun music and putting my skates on and attempting a photo, but my thighs still looked huge from that angle, so figured I would find a better spot on the path. And I headed out, classic country music station on my headphones, ironically Johnny Cash singing “I Walk the Line”. Must have been the shirt.

Now…a few things. First of all, what is it about a woman of my age rollerblading that was amusing.  Was it because I was decked out in my ripped camo pants, Johnny Cash shirt and aviators and it looked like I was trying way to hard to look too cool? Or was it because I still looked like Bambi on ice? Or is it because I looked too old and too unstable and they were just sympathy smiles? Or was it because nobody rollerblades anymore?  Which isn’t true, really.  Just maybe not at Lake Murray? But they’re at the beach all the time and yeah, it’s a little retro, but still fun, right? I got so many looks and smirks and smiles, but I’ve grown comfortable with being my own woman, so whatev.  And maybe it’s just because I looked really cute…one can dream.

Second of all, that path is not flat.  Nor is it smooth.  Why did I think it was either? I almost died on the very first curve that dips down farther than I was prepared for.  So half a mile in I stopped and Googled “how to stop on rollerblades”.  No joke.  I stood there on a patch of flat ground and watched two YouTube videos from Asha from SkateFresh teaching you how to stop on rollerblades.  Probably should have done this before I started. Although she really should have called it “how to slow down”, not “how to stop” because frankly, though both methods were quite helpful, neither brought me to full stop without a little extra work. I practiced the methods for a few minutes until I felt I could keep myself from crashing, and continued on. And you know what?  It worked! And I hit a few bumpy patches, and flailed my arms a little bit and I’m sure I’ll be super sore tomorrow, but I made it around the lake and it was super fun.

This is where I bit it. Like it was telling me I might not make it to 59 like this…

But third, I also learned that I really have to focus.  This is not a daydreaming activity.  At least not for me. Because I learned that as soon as I get distracted looking at the wildlife or the lake, I stood up too straight and didn’t lean forward and almost fell.  And then…I actually did fall.  Right after this woman on a bike smirked at me and pointed to her helmet and shook her head. And I wanted to tell her to MYOB, but I knew bad karma never ends well for me.  And maybe even thinking it got me.  But I stopped at this spot to get a photo of myself and I pulled out my phone and wasn’t paying attention and I fell backwards on the side of my butt! And it hurt. But nothing cracked. Nothing that I know of. And then I realized that I definitely need that helmet.  Of course, I wouldn’t fall forward and use my brand new gear. Thankfully I have a big butt, so that helped cushion the fall.

 

I’m not sharing the video, but here I am thinking I’m taking a photo.
Because I was giddy, which makes me silly, so I have my olympic speedskater pose. Does it make me look fast?

I finally made it to the end of the path where you have to turn around, and still needed that perfect photo.  It was cool and windy and there were these little posts there that were the perfect height for smaller thigh photos but no way to prop up my phone.  So I pulled someone’s half empty Starbucks out of the trash and used it to lean my phone against. But the wind was blowing and since the timer was on my phone it kept taking blooper shots.  And then I couldn’t stay in position without rolling, and it was a lot of work to get a photo, so I did a few silly ones, because by this point I was feeling giddy that I’d even made it that far!

I cruised back like a pro, got my skates off without incident (besides pulling the inner boot out by accident), came home and did 10 minutes of yoga stretches.  Out of necessity.  So tight.  Oh, and I Googled roller derby in San Diego and signed up for orientation for and the adult boot camp.  That’s right. Now I need a Derby Doll’s name….any suggestions??  I’m getting into a hot bath now. Going to watch “how to skate” videos on YouTube while I soak.

I foresee a roller derby quilt in my future. Seriously.

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Posted on

The Business of Selling Out.

Being an artist is an interesting dichotomy. I have an MFA in set design, and after seven years in the theatre departments of three different colleges, I have rubbed my fair share of shoulders with artists and I have rarely met one that doesn’t struggle with the line between being what he or she considers “a true artist” and “selling out” to make a dollar.  Or lots of dollars.  As artists, we want to only create things that are meaningful and inspired and born out of pain or suffering or joy or some extreme.  But we (most of us…) would like to actually earn money and not have to work as a barista and live with our mothers. (no offense to those who do either or both…)

My mother is amazing. And I would totally live her, don’t get me wrong. But I want to create and earn a good living doing it.  Is that too much to ask?  So, if I create things I know people will love and buy, am I selling out? Am I no longer a true artist because I made little sea turtle and not something with a political and/or social agenda?

The idea to create notecards was actually my mother’s suggestion.  These 5″x7″ textile notecards are the smallest pieces of art that I make so far.  They are the simplest and they are one of my best sellers.  They came about because my mother told me that she loves to buy things from local artists when she travels, but often winds of buying notecards instead.  There are two reasons.  One is that she is kind of done collecting things for her home unless it’s something extremely special.  (She’s already passing out the special pieces that she owns to us kids because she’s afraid we’ll fight over them when she’s gone.) But, even if she does find a special piece of art she loves, she can’t always afford an original.  Notecards are always affordable and easily framed and serve as a reminder of a trip or an artist or a beautiful image that artist captured. Because she is drawn to them so much, she kept telling me I needed to add them to my repertoire.

But, here’s the problem.  It’s very difficult to create an original work–not a print–for $12-$15 and have it be profitable.  And since I am making a career of my art, I definitely had to make it profitable. Breaking even with a fun hobby ain’t gonna feed my kids!  It took me several attempts, but I finally found a process that works for me and is a mini version of the same process I use for my quilts. And at first, I could hear those old artist voices in my head saying I was selling out. I was making cutesy little tchotchkes to earn a few extra dollars and I wasn’t creating “art”. But I’ve learned a few things in creating these cards.

  1. Simplifying down to a very basic, clean, graphic design is not only more difficult than it may seem, but it is also a true skill.  Any artist will tell you that form and line and composition, no matter how big or small, is one of the keys to a beautiful piece of art. I have a tiny amount of space and time to catch your eye and make you fall in love.  It’s much more difficult than a piece you might stare at for a long time, discovering all of it’s intricacies. It takes an clever, somewhat calculated eye.
  2. Forcing myself to only spend a few minutes on each design makes me very frugal with my lines and I have to pay close attention to where I place the details. In other words, I have to edit. I have to keep the most important thing and scrap the fluff. I can do that with colors, patterns and the shape of the appliqué. All those things go into the creation of one 5″x7″ piece of art.
  3. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that one man’s simple design is another man’s meaningful symbol. Maybe creating a flower is not such an emotional process for me. But, when a woman comes in grieving the loss of her husband and she sees an rose on a card that reminds her of him because he bought yellow roses for her when she had their first child–suddenly that insignificant (to me) little piece is going to take on a emotional meaning, and isn’t that what true art does?  It’s not up to me to spoon feed the meaning of my art.  I believe that often the piece of art chooses the owner. A person walks in and sees it, and past experience or a loved one or a special connection to a place or a person creates the meaning behind the art.  Yes, sometimes there is a story behind a simple design that I make. But that doesn’t really matter all that much if this elephant card reminds a woman of a once-in-a-lifetime trip she took to India with her mother.

I do think these little cards are special.  And I think they’re art.  Maybe art with a lowercase “a”, but “art” nonetheless. Am I selling out? Maybe just selling.

I’ve included tons of photos here of different notecards I’ve created in the last couple of months.  I try to have a wide variety and will write more about my process soon, but wanted to talk more about their significance today. Enjoy!

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