Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rough patches build character

It's a bedspread, lily white, with endlessly fascinating loops, pleats and purposeful wrinkles. The antique edges are a photo editing trick courtesy of I snapped this picture inside an Anthropologie (home decor & clothing) store early in November. The hubs and I were wandering around Berkeley, California, retracing our first date 27 years ago as part of our 26th anniversary observance.

It's too tempting not to give in to the metaphor. A bed of roses, which life isn't. Rough patches, which we pass through like so many cobwebs in an abandoned house. A textured portrait of a real marriage and a grounded life.

Some folks like pristine, minimalist design and an orderly life. A starched white bedsheet comes to mind. I think the only use I might think of for that would be to tie it to the bars on the window and attempt to climb down from the prison of perfectionism.

The photograph reminds me of the many terraced rice paddies in the Philippines, where I grew up, and the acres and acres of pasture and farmland in California's Central Valley, where I've lived more than half my life.

All those furrows nestle spaces for growth, for pausing to reflect, for producing your life. You can tug at the bedspread and come at it with an iron to smooth it out, but it would be futile. You might even destroy the fabric you are working so hard to pretty up.

I told my husband, "I am SO ready for 2012 to be over." It's been a rough year in some ways but also a year of breakthroughs, hard-earned lessons and the squeaks of windows opening ever so slightly.

I haven't lost my taste for whimsy. I haven't surrendered my core belief that we have been gifted with a life of abundance. That abundance is simply manifesting in many other ways we would never have noticed had we not turned a corner and come upon "the new normal."

From wherever you are reading this, in whatever circumstances you find yourself, I am sending out goodwill and requests for blessings on your behalf. Let's face 2013 together.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Is the creative process worth the aggravation?

I teach ballroom and Latin dance to adults. This is a recent experience.

Optimists employ three words that drive the rest of us nutty: "But at least..."

He wouldn’t hear of performing any other dance except the one he had set his mind on. But at least he asked you to partner with him. You have a partner for this year’s showcase, yay!

Someone makes it a point to tell you that you were not the guy’s first choice for a partner. Not even his second choice. You refer to “But at least” above.

You don’t know the first thing about the dance he picked. He says he wants the sensuality level to be rated R. But at least your co-teachers have agreed to his request that they choreograph your number. And he's not awful looking.

Your co-teachers fail to live up to their commitment. But at least they showed up one time. When you follow up, they say yes, they’ll come to your next rehearsal. They don’t. But at least they spared your feelings by not saying No to your face.

Your partner commits to the rehearsal schedule. He arrives at least 20 minutes late every time. But at least he’s consistent like that. You bring something to read.

The chemistry between you on the dance floor is zilch. But at least you’re both learning something new. You patch together a choreography. Thank God for YouTube and all the steps already invented. 

It’s painful to watch your awkwardness in your rehearsal videos. You seem to be an expert at dancing like a nun. But at least you can laugh your heads off at your many mistakes. Two plodding turtles cackling like the dickens as you make your way toward the remote finish line.

It’s like pulling teeth to hear back from your partner about future rehearsal dates. But at least you’ve figured out how to manufacture chemistry: A big part of playing the tart is dressing the part. You start showing up at rehearsals in Very Short Skirts. It works, at least while you’re on the dance floor.

 Your partner declines to do a dry run of the performance in front of an audience. He has a “wedding” to attend. He posts Facebook pictures of himself at a sports event that day. You wonder why he felt the need to lie. But at least by keeping your mouth shut you manage to remain on speaking terms.

Your partner flakes out on dress rehearsal/photo shoot day. But at least you finished handsewing your costume that day. Although there might not be an occasion to wear it now.

You cut your losses and quit. But at least your boss agrees to the only way ($$) to get you to come back to work with this student.

Your partner agrees to a dry run at a local nightclub two nights before showtime. He calls to say he's 10 minutes away. He shows up an hour later and insists on having a drink first “to relax.” You both flub the dance. But at least…you didn’t get booed?

You can barely keep a neutral expression while you tell him you’ll see him for more practice the next day. But at least you didn’t sock him in the eye, thanks to your ladylike upbringing. And at least he finally acknowledges that yes, you do need lots and lots more practice.

You arrive at the performance venue and spot your partner at the bar, drink in hand.  You take him firmly in hand, walk him over to a table and insist he set the drink down until after your performance. You turn around and he is having a second drink at the bar. But at least he obliged when you called him over for a quick “We’re partners” snapshot, drink firmly in hand.

One hour before you go on, your partner insists you run through the choreography over and over again. You are exhausted. But at least, waiting for your names to be called, you realize you are too tired to be nervous.

You pull it off. Your dance goes reasonably well, except for the music cutting out too early at the end. But at least he didn’t drop you during the crucial lift.

He agrees to a photo shoot several weeks later so you have material for your professional portfolio. On that day, he calls 20 minutes before to say he can’t make it after all. But at least you’ve been given a video of the performance from which you can cull stills.

The stills are very blurry. But at least it saves you the effort of disguising his identity. Because you are going to BLOG about this experience, so help you God.

You’ve neglected the blog for months because the things you badly want to say will reflect badly on your work environment. But at least you wrote about one small aspect of it. And now hopefully the inertia has ended.


Andrew Zahn, who blogs on Creatives, raised some interesting questions on the creative process. He wanted to know:

  • Do you enjoy the process?
  • Do you create for yourselves, for others, or for both?

Andrew cites how Michael Richards and Jerry Seinfeld talk about their creative process in the making of Seinfeld in a webisode series,

Michael: OK. Because sometimes I look back at the show and I think I should’ve enjoyed myself more. 
Jerry: Michael, I could say that myself. But that was not our job. Our job is not for us to enjoy it, our job was to make sure they enjoy it. And that’s what we did. 

This is the comment I left on Andrew's blog: Do I enjoy the process? When I'm writing, no. When I'm designing quirky clothing for Swoosh by Scrollwork, yes. When I'm choreographing for a dance showcase, yes. When I'm rehearsing for hours on end—ick.

Were those three months of aggravation leading up to the showcase worth it? Viewing the stills, I'd have to say yes, they were. Both for my partner's sake and my own. He fulfilled his longtime desire to dance in public as part of a couple. His previous experience had been limited to team performances.

"We're doing this for you," I whispered as he and I waited in the wings. "Once we're out there, It's just you and me."

I've been through a year of self-doubt as a dancer because I let my guard down and listened to a jealous critic. But viewing our performances side by side, hers and mine, I realized I had sold myself short.

What about you? Do you tear your hair out when you're trying to create something?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Vanity Reciprocity Challenge

The older I get the harder it is to maintain the illusion of dewy beauty, especially since I was never a natural beauty to begin with. This is not a Woe is Me pronouncement—I reserve self-pity for the truly dire circumstances. Fact is, this year, the year before I turn the golden 5-0, I've noticed a bulking up of packaged promises in my lotions and potions drawer.

They promise to firm me, smooth me,
tighten and clear me,
soften and refresh me,
deep cleanse and unclog me,
shine me up, matte me down,
strip me gently, kill me softly...
hey how'd Roberta Flack get in there?

So when my teammates with etsy's Upcyclers asked me to pick the August challenge material to repurpose, the obvious choice was to survey all that glossy packaging and make something beautiful out of what helps keep us beautiful. I call it the Vanity Reciprocity challenge. You can read about it here. In a few days, a wrap-up post will also appear on the team blog, here.

Dude or dame, you likely use some grooming goop with regularity. A shame all those gorgeous boxes, cases and jars get tossed. Unless...

Vitamin C face capsules brighten an old brooch.

I have nine jars (so far) of these now-empty luminous capsules with the silkiest elixir for brightening skin tone. They're so round and healthy-looking they make me want to flatten them like bubble wrap. But they're so much more resilient. And versatile...

Skewing closer to my fabric art background, this one's an attempt to make a ginormous pendant that stays light thanks to the airy dangles. It's about as wide as your hand is long. I have no idea yet how to hang it around my neck, whether to use leather, ribbon, chain or braided trim, so this one's on the shelf for now.

It does let the light through, and can double as a suncatcher of sorts, I suppose. More creative minds than mine would've taken this concept and ran with it. Me, I procrastinate.

I auditioned different colors of seed beads for my next project...

In the end I went with the color closest to the Vitamin C capsules, the better to suggest a persimmon tree in full fruit.

I have some flattened glossy boxes waiting for me to whip them into something next. They housed my probiotics, aspirin, joint pills, and "excess carb absorber"—necessity combined with more vanity products! Thanks to them I can walk upright without clutching my gut, head, and knees.

If you are so inclined, dear reader, jump in and create something from your grooming goop stash. Then drop me a line here and link back to your blog, Facebook page, Flickr account or wherever else you've posted a photo. I wish blogger would allow picture embedding in the comment section, but we're not there...yet.

What else should I make with the nine jars of Vitamin C capsules?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Numb? Exhausted? Seek out more, not less stimulation—here's why

You know that challenge that says "Do one thing that scares you every day?" Let's tweak that to "Do one thing that vexes you every so often, just to build up your tolerance." For textbook introverts like me, that one thing is mingling in a rowdy crowd.

Caught in a crowd, an introvert's main defense is the tune-out. Out come the earphones, smartphones, and Kindle. Come to think of it, introverts, teens, and exhausted-at-day's-end people all resort to the tune-out. But what if you went the other way and tuned in instead?

Better yet, what if you turned the tune-in into a quest for full-on stimulation? This is blasphemy to the overstimulated, I know. But now the hunted becomes the hunter. Rather than retreat from the noise, garish lights, and assaults on the olfactory and tactile senses, you could seek them out. Rather than cloister yourself in a darkened bedroom with your aromatherapy candle, you could plunge into the middle of the hubbub. 

Crowds are not hard to come by. Public places are crawling with crowds. Amusement parks, mosh pits, and Black Friday midnight sales come to mind, as do mad-dash bridal gown grabfests and any peewee sport that brings out the parentzilla in otherwise sane big people. And of course there's always public transportation during commute hour (shudder).

The next time you find yourself in a situation that normally causes you to tune out, pay close attention. Use your cameraIn the hands of an observant person, a camera becomes at once a cloak of invisibility and a fly-on-the-wall device. You are there, not your annoyed, self-conscious self, but a detached version of you, your senses like a sponge, your stubborn preferences suspended.

Why do this? For the experience. More precisely, to record and reframe it later, and to be transported while still immersed in it. With a camera you have both a purpose for allowing the intrusion, as well as a buffer from the brunt of it.

Let's say you try this at a county fair. You are not just strolling from kiosk to kiosk, trying to decide between the Thai barbecued chicken on a skewer or the all-American corndog for dinner. This is not just you glancing up at a ferris wheel against the backdrop of ominous clouds. You are attempting to capture what it sounds like to hear the screams from the Midway rides, what this feels like to have the stickiness of cheap cake on the roof of your mouth, what it is to have envy creep into your heart when you spy the painfully exquisite detailwork of a quilt on exhibit and the fragile curve and faint color of a floral display. You are capturing the breadth and depth of this moment, in this spot, for someone you may never meet, who will come across your snapshot on the Web unexpectedly and unearth a buried childhood memory and a yearning to recapture the experience for his or herself. 

Or it might arouse a renewed aversion to all the aforementioned. Ah well. Let this blogger do all the work, then. Sit back and immerse.

Behold: the County Fair—the cool, the colorful and the creepy through my camera, amateur that I am.

Where will you tune in next?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Au revoir, foie gras—a nightmare ends in California

Image credit
Would you forcefeed your pet to make his liver swell up so you can feast on it with fava beans and a nice Chianti? No? But are you OK that it's done to ducks and geese to make foie gras? We had pet ducks growing up, and I recoil at the thought. In fact, some years ago I had to fight the gag reflex just to taste foie gras in the interest of research.

It was unremarkable. It had the consistency of deviled ham. And I couldn't get the image of a tortured duck out of my head. How can people think it's delicious?

Who the hell invented foie gras? (Hint: I've linked to one possible answer at the bottom of the post.) Who, one day, said, "I know, I'll take this hapless duck and..." Well, I'll let someone else paint the picture for you.

" produce foie gras, factory farm workers shove long pipes down the throats of ducks and geese multiple times each day to force-feed the animals unnaturally large quantities of corn and fat. The process causes the birds' livers to become diseased with hepatic lipidosis and swell up to 10 times their normal size. The birds are then slaughtered, and the diseased, engorged organ is sold as foie gras." ~ ASPCA
The French have a word for the process: gavage, which means to gorge. I don't think it's a coincidence that it's merely one letter away from "savage," although it's pronounced more like "garage." It's downright medieval.

How does a duck feel about this? Do you ever wonder? Or have you been looking away?
"Cramming pipes down ducks' throats is both physically painful and psychologically terrifying for these poor ducks." ~ Farm Sanctuary senior director for strategic initiatives Bruce Friedrich.
Just because they don't have a gag reflex doesn't mean they like it.

Understand, I'm not against eating meat, fish, fowl or eggs. I'm against deliberately harming, distressing or inhumanely confining animals prior to slaughter or laying eggs, with the intent to increase production and profit.

So HURRAY! Foie gras is banned in California starting Sunday, July 1, 2012. Phasing out gavage here was a long process that began in 2004.


Now let's set aside the foie gras issue itself and look at what usually happens around a point of contention.

Quite often, the knee-jerk reaction to deeply felt convictions such as this is an arrogant attempt to redirect. There are people who behave as though they have the right to tell you what you should feel strongly about. If it's not about something they personally deem the world's biggest problem, they will not hesitate to set you straight. I read a comment on one site that said, "Before you try to save the ducks, go rescue the humans living under the bridge." If you are of this opinion, here's what I have to say: Condoning cruelty isn't going to better the world. At the risk of sounding like Marie Antoinette ("Let them eat cake"), do feed the homeless, just not with foie gras.

Really and truly, dear reader, just because I occasionally isolate one thing that gets my goat and choose to blog about it on this here blog which is mine mine mine doesn't mean I have completely unplugged from the Extremely More Important Problems of the Big, Bad World that people of this ilk will trip all over themselves to point out to me. How much more useful are they being, giving orders to get over it?

It's one thing to express your opinion, which might differ from mine, and quite another to tell me I'm wrong to feel the way I feel about something. That's called overstepping your boundaries. Notice that the inarticulate are more prone to this, as if to compensate. You'll find plenty of examples here.


All right, here's the answer I promised you. Who invented foie gras? One theory is that the Jews did. Old Testament Jews, that is. The story is that once Pharaoh tasted foie gras made by Jews the non-forcefed way, he demanded it year-round. Trouble is, geese only fatten up in the fall, to make it through the winter. So the Jews had to forcefeed them to keep the Pharaoh rolling in foie gras.

Listen to chef Dan Barber tell the tale here. He also talks about Spanish farmer Eduardo Sousa's natural, humane way to get his beloved geese to pig out of their own accord. Barber calls him the goose whisperer.

Sousa: "I'm just here to give the geese what they want."

Bravo. Paddle away, ducky.

Image credit

Monday, June 11, 2012

"Sure I can! and so can you"—the introverted artist imagines coping in an exhibitionist's world

Image credit

Certain livelihoods require that you maintain a high level of visibility. Maybe your aversion to self-promotion is what's stalling your career advancement or depleting your social cred. The exhibitionists have elbowed you into the shadows. Is it time to pull a chameleon? See their flamboyance and raise them some swagger?

This week I learned that sometimes you might need to let go and stop being so self-contained. Enough of this plodding deliberate approach to life 24/7. But suppose being reserved is simply who you are? Does insisting on "being true to yourself" come at a price? 

"When they're loud, be louder!" a colleague advised me when I muttered about my distaste for the spotlight and the personality types who hog it. My fellow introverts will understand when I say I don't crave the spotlight for its own sake. It's a necessary evil to achieve an end—more clients, buyers, readers and such.

Be louder, moi? Sufferin' succotash, no. It's the unrelenting loudness that irks me. Why would I want to become what I despise? On the other hand, I wasn't put on this earth to be the perennial spectator to someone else's unending performance, either. I've got a song and dance in me, too.

"This stage ain't big enough for both of us."

That's what I hear whenever I'm around the noisy horn-tooters. They may not be aware they're sending that message, but maybe their sensitivity muscles have atrophied from lack of use.

They would venture to say the quiet types are overendowed with sensitivity. And they might be right about us.

The recent exchanges I've had with a member of the Confetti Contingent have gone something like this:

Me: "Could you move your generous arse just a smidge so I can see the parade?"

She: "Dahling, I AM the parade...You know, you'd look attractive if you stood a little straighter. Here, let me show you. I do everything perfectly. Blah-blah-blah-me-me-me-blah-blah-blah. You're doing it all wrong."


She: "Look at me! Look at me! The universe lights up when I show up! It's not a party without me."
Me: (under my breath) "So that would make me, what, chopped liver?"

I am at a loss as to how to co-exist with these people without sustaining lasting damage to my ego. I try to limit my exposure to them if I can help it. Sometimes it's hard to spot them in time.

It's not something to take personally, I know. Plenty of spotlight to go around. The exhibitionist's niche is different from mine. She will draw the stargazers, the ones who want to be dazzled. I hope to attract the ones who can relate to me, who want to learn how to gleam without gold plating.

And even now, writing this, I just realized how hilariously, pathetically unhinged from reality the exhibitionist's my self-image is. The problem is mine. Nobody can be that self-involved. Or can they?

Still, if I could tweak the situation, the quasi-exchange would go something like this:

Me: (not talking. Absorbed in inner world, as usual.)
She: "I am just bursting with ideas! I'll have this place shipshape in no time. I can do this! Oh...and so can you. You have something valuable to contribute. Like, um, experience. Expertise. Jump in anytime."
Me: (still not talking, having been struck dumb)

Update This came out today (July 1, 2012) on Seth Godin's blog:
"Shine is fresh and new and it sparkles. Shiny catches the eye and it appeals to the neophiliac, to the person in search of polish. Patina, on the other hand, can only be earned. Patina communicates trust (because the untrusted don't last long enough to earn a patina) and it appeals to a very different audience."