Psst–I’m over there…

Recently, a commenter asked if this was an abandoned blog, and was I ever going to come back?

I guess the shortest, simplest answers were “Yes” and “Yes.”

I didn’t want  to return until I knew I could stay returned. I’ve done far too many things in a scattershot, at-whim fashion, only to lose whatever impetus I had at the start–and I didn’t want blogging to be yet another of those things. So I stayed away until I could get the whole “blog thing” sorted out: What did I want it to be about? What kind of regular posting schedule would I adhere to? And, perhaps most importantly, was I willing to go all in, turn it into another career, and give it the serious, sustained effort it needed in order to be what I wanted it to be? Because I can’t do anything halfway; I’m either fully committed or I’m not committed at all.

So: I’m committed.

I dusted off the domain I registered a few years back, got a new host for it, and installed a brand-new version of WordPress. I was going to import these old entries, but decided against it; I wanted a clean start. It seems only right.

If you’d like to follow me to my new home, I’m now at www.magicalrealist.com. At this writing it’s still sparsely furnished–I’ve been there less than a week–but there’s definitely more coming…

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So I did it.

I took the plunge. In mid-October I rented a painting studio.

And it’s worth it. Totally worth it, and in ways I never anticipated.

The most obvious benefit is that when I’m at the studio, I get work done. I close the door, start drawing or painting, and stay focused on what I am doing for hours and hours on end. It’s amazing. I haven’t experienced this since art school, when I would spend all night working in the painting studios.

Granted, I haven’t produced anything particularly good in all those hours of work; most of it has ended up in the burn box or gessoed over. But that’s fine. That I am productive at all is a huge improvement over where I’ve been.

The most unexpected benefit, however, has been to my domestic life. As soon as I moved all the art-making apparatus out of the house and into its own space, I gained the ability to complete neglected projects around the house. In the last three weeks, I’ve painted bookshelves, refinished a desk and a chair, and cleared all the junk from my huge, glassed-in front porch. I am now busy turning that porch into a space for the cats to hang out, complete with perches, ramps, hiding places, and cozy spots to sleep–a project I’ve meant to do since I moved in six years ago.

Just as I’ve spent years stalled out in making art, I’ve had a similar problem with DIY projects around the house. I’ve ended up with furniture that’s half-refinished, upholstery projects going to seed, and an ever-growing stash of fabric I fully intend to make into clothes once I have the time and energy to do it. And I’ve never had the time, energy, or attention span to tackle, much less finish, these projects. Most end up languishing for years before I finally get to them, and I’ve always had a huge backlog of projects waiting to be done.

And these DIY projects haven’t gone undone for lack of physical space; I have plenty of room in which to do them. Moving the art supplies out of the house freed up a bit more space, but not that much. What has changed is that I now have the mental space to devote to these projects. Before, with art-making competing for attention on my to-do list, nothing seemed to get done–just as domestic matters always distracted me when I tried to make art. But now that I’ve taken art out of the house and out of my day-to-day decision making, everything has changed. I’m getting shit done. I have energy and patience for it that I’ve never had before. And none of it is so big or overwhelming as it once seemed.

Now here’s the funny thing: I’ve spent very little time in the studio since the beginning of November, and have made almost no art. I’ve put up shelves, cleaned, and organized my supplies, but that’s pretty much it. And this is okay. I’m not fretting over it, nor am I beating myself up over the rent I’m paying to do little more than store my art supplies. Instead I’m at home, working on a few big projects that will make my life immeasurably easier and more pleasant once they are done. They’ll be done (or done enough) by Thanksgiving, and by the first of December I’ll be ready to go back into my studio and pick up where I left off. The rent I’m paying for this “unproductive” month of studio time is more than offset by what it’s allowing me to accomplish here at home.

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Taking the plunge.

I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to combine making art with day-to-day domestic existence. I used to dream of the perfect live/work loft, where all I had to do was roll out of bed and go paint. Twice now I’ve made home-buying decisions based primarily on how much space I’d have in which to make art.

But I’ve finally had to face facts: this whole self-contained live/work arrangement I’ve aspired to has never, ever worked for me. I’ve ended up puttering endlessly while getting no work of consequence done. Because at home? There are distractions.

Cats demanding to be let out. Trash that needs to be emptied. Cats picking on each other. The bathroom floor that’s suddenly looking rather filthy. The fresh pile of cat vomit that needs to be wiped up. The Internet (oh, God help me, the Internet). Cats demanding to be fed. The overlooked bill that needs to be paid. Cats shitting Kryptonite and not covering it up, so I have to go do it for them before we all die of the stink. Twitter.  Cats who decide that the best way to get my undivided attention RIGHT NOW is to piss on something. Going downstairs to make lunch and deciding that making cookies would be a fine idea.  Cats falling out of upstairs windows. Email. Cats demanding to be let in. Cats…motherfucking cats, okay?

Yeah. You get the idea.

It finally dawned on me that one reason I managed to get so much work done in college, and do it so well, was because I did it all in public spaces. The university library, the ugly  couch outside the History department, my favorite pub, Starbucks–these were the places I went to get serious work done, because it was hopeless trying to do it at home.

Each of those places had their own potential distractions, especially loud ambient noise. But here’s the thing: none of the noise had anything to do with me. I didn’t have to investigate it. I didn’t have to respond to it. It was all impersonal, so I could just shut it out and focus on the task at hand, be it writing a paper or slogging through more dull academic prose. In fact, the university library was often too quiet unless I sat near the copy machines or the circulation desk. I needed background noise to focus; it just had to be the right kind of noise, from the right sources.

Why I didn’t apply this bit of self-knowledge to making art, I’m not fully certain. But finally, after 25 years of struggling to make art amid all the distractions of home, it’s finally dawned on me.

So I’m going to take the plunge and rent a workspace. I’ve looked at a few likely places, and if all goes as planned I should have one by the end of this coming week. I decided to give it a six-month trial, to see if having a space to make art in away from home makes a difference. (And I think it will.)

I was nervous about spending the money and making the commitment. I was afraid I couldn’t afford enough space. I didn’t feel I could justify spending money on workspace when I have more than enough room in which to work at home. Plus, I’ve always blamed myself, and my alleged inability to focus, for why I can’t make art in a sustained manner. I’ve always beat myself up with, “If you’d just exert some self-discipline, you wouldn’t have this problem!” And as I wrestled with renting worspace, I wrestled with that old self-blame, too. That, and, “What if you spend all that money renting workspace, and still don’t get anything done? How can you justify throwing money away like that?”

It was interesting, all the self-defeating self-talk that came roaring to the surface over this. It’s always been there, but this time I decided to confront it, pick it apart, and see if any of it was actually valid or true.  And as I did so, all that self-blaming, worst-case-scenario thinking collapsed in on itself. All the noise and fury faded away into nothing–because frankly, it’s all bullshit based in unexamined fear.

If, in the (unlikely) event I still can’t focus well enough to make art away from home, I will at least know this about myself. I can then consider other alternatives. But I won’t know for certain until I do it, so doing it is absolutely necessary.

My “self-discipline” problem is n’t really a problem at all (or at least not my problem). I have enormous self-discipline when I want something badly enough–but if I don’t want it, I don’t care about it, so forget it. I didn’t get through college and into grad school, or start a business, or enjoy any of my countless other achievements, both great and small, because I lack self-discipline. Sure, I’m restless, easily bored, highly distractable, and do not do well at mundane routine, but when I care enough about doing something I can usually find ways to work around all that.

As for the money, I got rid of a storage space, cable TV, Netflix, and a couple of monthly subscriptions, all of which have freed up enough money each month to get a small space. If I cut back on some of my other needless spending habits, I can afford a space big enough to be comfortable in for the next six months. And by next April, if this experiment is a success, I’m sure I’ll be able to find the means to rent an even larger space. Maybe I’ll do something utterly, mind-bendingly strange to get the money, such as–oh, I don’t know–sell artwork. Hey, anything can happen.

And getting studio space in a building full of other artists and creative types isn’t just about getting away from domestic distractions. It’s also about meeting other artists and becoming part of a creative community. I’ve lived in this city since June 2004 and still don’t know any other artists, or who’s who in the local art scene. I scarcely know anyone in this city, period.  So, paradoxically, this is as much about coming out of my self-imposed isolation as it is about escaping distractions–and I’m positive that both will fundamentally change the way I make art, and for the better.

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When in doubt, post video of your cat.

I have three blog posts in the writing, but as usual I’ve overthought them to death and they remain unfinished.

Plus, I’ve spent the last ten days or so getting my act together to deal with a long-neglected health matter, so I’ve let blogging slip far down the list of Things to Do.

(The health thing isn’t that big a deal, but it’s something that will end up a very big deal if I keep neglecting it.  So I’ve been making a few minor lifestyle tweaks that–once I get in the habit of doing them–should nip the problem in the bud.)

So, in lieu of putting off posting for yet another day until I have a Serious Post, I’m just going to post video of (some of) my cats.

This is Martha, the smallest of the cats and the most high-strung. She’s just a little ball of panic much of the time, and is easily freaked out. But she loves my lap, where she kneads biscuits like mad and would lick my fingers raw if I let her:

Nate was Martha’s adoptive “Daddy”; they were so close I used to worry about how she would handle his dying. She missed him a lot at first, but fortunately she has a friend in Sophie; they have grown much closer over the last two months.

Max and Sophie are brother and sister; I adopted them as 11-week-old kittens. I meant to adopt only one male kitten to keep lonely orphan Nate (who was then 6 weeks old) company.

They were the last two from their litter left unadopted, and they obviously had a very close bond. I mean, how can you resist kittens who are hugging each other in their cage? So yes, I had to take both.

And to this day, they still have that close bond–maybe a little too close, sometimes:

Spay/neuter your pets, folks…

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Experiencing technical difficulties.

It’s not my computer; it’s my desk. Or, rather, my body and the way it feels when I sit at a desk for more than 10-15 minutes at a stretch. I don’t have any pain, but I do get a feeling of “heaviness” in my lower legs, tightness in my lower back, and an overall feeling that my body is utterly out of whack. I can’t find a comfortable position, no matter how I shift in my seat, and I’ve switched between three different desk chairs (my usual Aeron, an old crappy task chair, a squishy “Executive” chair I keep meaning to CraigsList) in an attempt to alleviate it. None of them made a difference.

I have no trouble standing (even for long stretches of time), or lounging on the sofa, or slouching in a deep armchair with one leg thrown over the arm. I can paint or read or walk around for long periods just fine. I’m also okay if I lean on a tall stool while working at my drawing table or sewing. But this sitting-at-a-desk thing is giving my body a lot of grief.

This has been a growing problem for at least a year, but it’s finally to the point where I have to (literally!) get off my ass and do something about it.

As I type this, I’m standing.  It’s still not a very good arrangement; I’ve put my monitor atop the computer tower (which sits on my desktop), and the keyboard is sitting on a stack of books. The keyboard’s at a decent height, but the monitor is still too low, so I’m getting stiff shoulders and a crick in my neck. But my lower back and legs are fine–which they would not be were I sitting–so I think I’m on the right track.

Over the next few days, I’m going to figure out some sort of standing-desk arrangement. I can’t spend any money on it (because I’m still on my spending fast until the end of the month), but I’ve got loads of scrap lumber and hardware and ingenuity, so I’m sure I can invent something that will work.  I’m a big believer in the idea that if you don’t fit into the world, it’s your job to remake the world to fit you–and on that note, I’m off to find my tape measure and see what I’ve got in the lumber pile.

ETA: I’ve got it! I swiped some of the Ikea ‘Ivar’ shelving in the basement, and it’s the perfect thing for this project. I need to clean it up, and I might have to buy a pull-out tray for the keyboard, but I’ll definitely have a new standing computer desk before the weekend.

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What I don’t regret, #1.

Five years ago, I dropped out of a grad program in the Humanities after only two quarters (and I barely lasted that long).

It was a highly-regarded program; I had full funding for the first year; the faculty included many scholars working in my areas of interest; my fellow grad students were a congenial bunch, and the department and staff were very supportive. As grad programs go, I had it good–and I knew it.

At the same time, I was utterly miserable. Before that first quarter was half-over I knew it was a mistake. I felt trapped and suffocated and didn’t want to be there. Specializing in a particular field (which I had been so excited about when I applied the year before) now seemed like a dead end. I wondered how I was going to make it through the next two years of coursework, much less write a dissertation.

I wanted to quit, but gave it another quarter to see if things got better; I’d worked so hard to get there, after all.  The professors who wrote my letters of recommendation were also friends, and didn’t want to disappoint them. I dreaded telling my family I’d left, and explaining why. I didn’t want to be the first one in my cohort to drop out. And besides, grad students are supposed to be miserable, aren’t they? Continue reading

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Fear less.

I got turned on to a great new Web-based magazine today, via Seth Godin’s blog. Fear.less is about fear. Or, rather, it is interviews with individuals who have passed through the fire of their worst fears and emerged transformed. In a culture that is pervaded and driven by fear–of terrorism, of fat, of the flu, of foreclosure and economic doom–Fear.less is a welcome antidote. And it’s free. So check it out.

And funny that I should sing the praises of a new magazine about overcoming fear–because it fits in so perfectly with the subject I’d already decided to write about.

A couple of entries back, I wrote about Nate’s dying, after defying all odds and living for nearly a year with end-stage Chronic Renal Failure. Taking care of him forced me to confront a host of my own fears, which I wrote about last October. But when I said that “…one sickly little orange cat changed me and changed my life in ways I’m still only beginning to comprehend. I am not the same person I was, I no longer view the world in the same way I once did, and I have plans for the future that I never would have considered before,” I wasn’t kidding. And I’m not just some crazy cat lady wallowing in maudlin sentiment, either.

Because of Nate, I’m headed back to school again, at age 42. It’s going to take me a while–I will probably be about 50 by the time I’m done–but I’m going to be a veterinarian. Continue reading

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