Monday, February 27, 2006

I like stuff!

I like stuff. Pretty things. Art. Sculptures. Handmade things. Colorful things. I'm not a packrat and I don't like clutter, but I love our things. Above, some of my favorites, the bedspread we bought at a bazaar in Istanbul, the mask from the trip to Venice when Jim asked me to marry him, the cat marionette Alexandra got us on a trip to Prague. I added my dogs in because they're old and lie around kind of like stuff, and because they're high on my list of favorites. The husky is my baby, Shilo, who we refer to as our "downstairs neighbor" because she NEVER comes upstairs to be with us in the studio. She is getting kind of tubby in her old age and occasionally goes on hunger strikes holding out for cookies. She would like her food bowl to be filled with crumbled cookies and nothing else. (Mentioning hunger strikes reminds me of the time my brother Alex went on one -- he was twelve and I was eleven and we were in Mallorca and he saw a sword in a shop but my parents wouldn't buy it for him so he went on a hunger strike for three or four days. My parents eventually gave in and bought the sword, only to learn at hotel check-out that Alex had been buying mini-pizzas on room service the whole time.) The brown dog is Leroy, my step-son, who isn't really happy unless he has some sort of physical contact with a human. That can be his paw overlapping your shoe, or his head on your knee, or any kind of touch.

Until very recently, Alexandra professed an aversion to "stuff." She wanted to be able to pick up and move like a leaf on the wind. I don't want that. I'm a nester. I get it from my mom who has made such a beautiful home, filled with orchids and art and color. I want to be surrounded by beautiful things I love, that remind me of friends and travels. Right now I'm craving a larger "nest." When we bought our little cottage we predicted it would be a five-year house, and it's been five years almost exactly and I'm starting to get an itch to move on, to expand into a bigger nest, paint new walls red and lime green and yellow. I LOVE looking at houses. Old houses. I'm not a big fan of new houses.

I got tagged by Meg (More to Me -- I still haven't figured out links!) today, and the topic is: 5 Food Challenges for 06. Well, I had to think hard about this, because I'm happy to say I tackled my big food challenges last year and am actively maintaining them, and feeling really good about it. So I'll say what those were/are, and then think up some new ones for this year:
1) Try more new recipes -- healthy ones only. I got a number of low-cal cookbooks and tried to make several new things a week. It was fun, and it taught me how to put together low-cal meals where I didn't feel the lack of anything.
2) Buy fresh fruit and veggies in large quantities, no matter what they cost. It is expensive to eat fresh & organic produce all year, but it's completely worth it to me to spend $4 on a carton of blueberries in February.
3) Substitute fruit & vegetables for carbs at meals. Instead of rice or potatoes: acorn squash or green beans or butternut squash fries or fruit salad. Instead of pasta: spaghetti squash. I've really gone crazy over squash this year!
4) Deny myself nothing. That is, I know I must have sweets, so I found things I can have, like Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches. I have sweets every day.
Now, new ones for this year:
1) Barbecue more in the summer.
2) Continue to try new recipes.
3) I would say, learn moderation with chocolate, but that's absurd and will never happen. I ask Jim to hide chocolate from me, and I know I will always have to. I know an old man who gets his neighbor lady to keep his Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches in her freezer so he has to ask her when he wants one -- otherwise he'd eat them all at once. Me, too, with chocolate. Another reason why we need a bigger house: Jim will eventually run out of chocolate hiding places!
I tag: Alexandra & Claudia & Shannon (sentimental) -- because she cracked me up figuring out how many Crispy Cremes she could eat in a day if she wasted no calories on anything else!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Then & Now

My college roommate was in Portland this week to buy a $23 million office building. Yep. To. buy. an. office. building. The most dramatic purchase I have made recently, that I wavered and hesitated over, was... er... well, there was a pink & purple brocade coat, but I ended up not buying that, even though it was on sale... and then there was the $10 bottle of glucosamine for our limpy old dog's joints and I thought that was a bit pricey... and it did seem like quite a splurge to buy that travel guide to Mexico on a wild whim... Nope, I can't quite wrap my mind around buying an office building. Jim joked that all other purchases must seem very trivial by comparison: new Mercedes? Feh! Give me two! To be sure, Julie wasn't spending her own money, but the money of some consortium of unseen millionaires. She made some reference to having trouble sleeping,.. Er, ye think?

Julie and I met at Berkeley in 1992, both 19-year-old transfer students from other schools, both arriving with suitcases but no pots or pans, no beds, no desks, just a few days before classes started. I was going to live in the "co-op" system, a self-governing collective of houses scattered around town, each with its own peculiar "flavor" -- the vegetarian co-op for example, "Lothlorien," was known for its blow-out "food orgies" in which you were allowed to feed anyone but your own self. It was made famous later that year as the dwelling of the "naked guy" who walked to class in nothing but flip-flops each day, and who sued the school over its mandatory-clothing policy (he lost). I was assigned to Cloyne Court, the massive party mansion on the north side of campus. After meeting my bunkmate, who was, er, a guy, I bowed out of that and met Julie vying for the same room as me in a big Victorian house in Rockridge. Neither of us got it, but we joined forces and found a soulless little box of a studio apartment together. And there we stood, with not a stick of furniture, not a wooden spoon, not a shower curtain, not a thing. Our parents were far away, classes had begun, our new lives were underway, and we had a magnificent lack of stuff. It wasn't like in the movies on dorm move-in day with the mom carrying the kid's rice cooker and laundry basket while the dad hooks up the stereo. We were alone and stuffless. We were also basking in our own self-congratulatory glee at being "Cal students" -- we thought very highly of ourselves! I mean... Berkeley! This is the school with Nobel-laureate designated parking spaces, for goodness sakes, and we were here!

Well, that apartment slowly filled up with futons and plants and posters. Julie learned to cook and I did not. I was an English major, she was sociology, I studied Shakespeare. she studied cult psychology, I flopped on the rug in sweats and socks while she studied at the little table in nice outfits with her shoes on all day and her legs crossed, just as if she were at an office. We were pretty different even then, but we spent so much time together, and she's easily the person I associate most closely with that wonderful time in my life. Studying at Cafe Strada or pointing out Allen Ginsburg on the street, driving down the coast in a convertible to go to sailing team regattas, having weird Russian Thanksgiving dinner with her big family, learning how to throw parties, dressing up as Daphne & Velma for Halloween, making fun of sorority girls, trying to get into bars, giggling much and often. My brother once pierced her nose by numbing it with ice and jamming the earring in. We got season tickets to the symphony and I fell asleep every single time. We voted together in our first ever presidential elections (You're welcome, Mr. Clinton). We fretted over money, overspent, got jobs, gained weight, and both took tentative steps onto our future life paths. Those paths diverged pretty radically. I went on to art school in San Francisco, and Julie to business school at USC. I bought a little yellow cottage, she bought an apartment complex. We rarely see each other any more, but when we do, it's like a chute back to that time before the paths diverged!

She came to stay last night after buying her building and we went out for Thai food and cocktails with Jim, then came home and drank wine and did an art show & tell, and heard about some of Julie's extensive world travels -- among other places she has been to India, Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, and Burning Man. This morning we walked the dogs and went out for very big fruit pancakes:
Incidentally, it was Julie who introduced me to Alexandra, who has been my best friend now for many years.
And on that note, a quote I love:
"Yes'm, old friends is always best, less you can catch a new one that's fit to make an old one out of." -Sarah Orne Jewett
(and to all the new friends I'm making here: I hope that one day you are all old friends!)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Thank you Claudia!

Look at the gorgeous book bag I received in the mail today from Claudia (Chest of Drawers - I would put a link here if I knew how!) How wonderful to bring in the mail and find such a treasure among the bills! Thank you Claudia!

I have a lot of crafty friends who sew themselves unique clothes and bags, who cut up vintage ties and sweaters and shape them into new and wonderful creation, all with just imagination and thread -- and I wish I could do it! My grandmother was a master seamstress and quilter but I never learned a thing from her and now I never will. I wish I could turn back time and share this with her! But alas, I'm helpless with a needle and thread. Some day I will learn to sew. I'm going to wait, though, and stay focused on the handful of things I do now: write, draw, collage, paint. I let myself try new things as a treat: at Christmas I went on a doll-making binge, but I got it out of my system and went right back to my "regularly scheduled programming," and enjoyed my work all the more for having had a fun break.

A lot of creative folk I know have a hard time settling on one or even a few activities. We're bursting with ideas, multi-talented, interested in everything! And we MUST play, we must feed our hungry thirsty minds, but we also have to have a degree of discipline if we're going to excel in any one - or two, or three - things. Maybe we need to draw concentric circles around ourselves? The inner circle is our main love, and the outward-radiating circles are spheres of play we can venture into when we need a breath of fresh ideas? Like opening a window in our head to let in air and light!

I'm nearly finished with my current project -- my Laini's Ladies holiday '06 line, and it has been a delight and this weekend I will be able to make some check marks on some lists and move on to the next thing!

It has struck me since I started writing this blog that I don't do much but WORK - I knew that, but it's so obvious now that I have no adventures to write about except being able to make check marks on my lists. Oy! All the more reason to be so excited for the mini-romantic-getaway Jim planned for a belated Valentine's: he's taking me to Ashland to see a play and stay in a B&B! (Ashland is a beautiful little town near the Oregon/California border that's known for its Shakespeare festival and we've been meaning to plan a trip there for the five years we've been living in Oregon and this will be the first time. Can't wait!)

Speaking of little adventures, I've been seeing lots of references in different blogs to "artist dates." Can someone tell me the gist of this? Are there rules? Suggestions? What's the origin of this wonderful idea? Is it an Artist's Way thing? I want to plan some for myself and would love to hear more about it. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Wow. I guess there are a lot of thoughts about babies whirring through a lot of heads out there! Thanks to everyone for their comments and emails - and mom, if you're reading this, you're allowed to comment, too! (My mother called me and said she was sorely tempted to put in her two cents to that last post, though I'm not sure if it was to veto superhero baby names, or to say, "The time is now!" She's been very patient with daughters not giving her grandchildren, but I think her patience is wearing thin. Thank you to my brother, anyway, for giving her a granddaughter ten years ago and buying Emily and me some time! - Just kidding, mom.)

My gloom & doom outlook for the future of the planet gets me down sometimes and I begin to feel about having children the way I feel about buying purebred puppies rather than rescuing dogs from the pound: that we should do our best by the dogs & people already in the world and not make more. I don't really mean we shouldn't "make" new people. I do wonder at what will become of the massive population explosion, though, and the taboo against talking about limiting population growth, (which apparently violates our sacred human right to have children whether we can care for them or not). But after reading some of the comments to my last post, the hopefulness got to me a little. I DO want to believe future generations can be better than us, that future administrations will reverse the current one. I DO want to believe there's hope. I don't believe it, but I WANT to. And I know my pessimism won't prevent me from at least trying to have children. Not in the hopes of birthing the savior of the environment (though that would be neat) but just in the hopes of making a person or two and getting to know them and experiencing the fullness of life in that way, and to have a family that will grow up around Jim and I as we get old.

(Speaking of us getting old, Jim wondered aloud today if he'd ever be known as "crazy old man Di Bartolo" by the neighborhood kids o' the future. Ha! I wonder what kind of an old woman I'll be, too. Here's a quote off a wall of a B&B in Southern Arizona where we saw bobcats, bears, and lots of hummingbirds a few years ago: "I want to be an outrageous old woman who never gets called "old lady." I want to get leaner and meaner, sharp-edged and earth-colored, until I fade away from pure joy." - by unknown. Isn't that great?)

Also, here's a poem-ish thing I wrote about "Life", which I find endlessly delightful and astonishing in all its costumes, from a biological perspective, more than a spiritual one. I mean, this world is SO COOL!

Every moment
Life finds herself somewhere new,
hidden in an acorn or a plain brown egg,
and she's delighted every time.
Every moment she's dreaming,
unfurling herself like a fiddlehead, reaching.
She's a busybody, a dervish,
A wily matchmaker without whom
Tortoises might never meet in the desert,
or moth find moth by moonlight.
Life arranges miracles every moment
with no more fanfare than a knitter
clicking her needles together.
She's a weaver, a gardener,
and I am one nest and one garden,
Where Life might grow, a little bird, a flower,
a miracle of my own.

(As for the little doll, Sparkle, pictured above, this was my crafty Christmas project this year - I always feel the need to make some new kind of thing at the holidays. It's how Laini's Ladies was born, and maybe I'll figure out a way for Sparkle and her little sisters and brothers to make their way out into the world someday, too.)
All the best! Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Bunnies, Babies, Blighted World

Tee hee. This is Jim & I at our friends' magical wedding last summer -- we were all asked to come as animals or faeries. The part of my costume that you can't see -- because I decided not to wear it -- was made by my clever sister Emily and consisted of a snake that would appear to be swallowing me up to my waist. (My "baby" sister is a herpetologist who did her dissertation on rattlesnake physiology and something about sexual dimorphism and feeding habits -- she's now a professor at 29! Smarty pants!)

I was just searching for a photo to put up with my post today, and this made a really weird tangent in my brain because I was thinking about... er, having babies, and how some groups of people in this country are having them faster than others, sort of like... er, rabbits. As I said, weird tangent. But I have been thinking about babies. It's not exactly my biological clock -- I do actually believe the clock is a very real physiological thing. In my 20s it was in full force for a while. Baby dreams, strong urges to "forget" to take my pills, things like that, but it sort of faded with time, and now the idea of babies is more of an intellectual process. A bit more rational, which is maybe not the way to go about it, because anyone will tell you it never "feels" like the right time -- and it doesn't. And friends of ours who DO have babies, some of them are cheerleaders for babies, but far more of them say doomful things while staring with their wide sleepless eyes, like "You'll never have time for yourself ever again. ever. ever. ever..." or "the one thing nobody warned me about was the monotony". Not helping us take the plunge! And then there are those who visit with their perfect babies who never cry and make parenting a one-year-old seem like the simplest thing in the world! (Sweet Caleb! Darling Grace!)

There was a line on Scrubs this season that was too too good. When Carla was trying to convince her husband Turk that they should have a baby, she told him another doctor said it was like having a dog that slowly learns to talk. That convinced him to go for it! (Men.)

(Speaking of men, on the dog walk this morning Jim out of the blue started playing the baby name game. His choices were: Bruce Wayne Di Bartolo; Clark Kent Di Bartolo; and Peter Parker Di Bartolo. Dork! Big big dork!)

As self-employed artists we'll have it easier than some with the transition - we work at home. We'll work it out. But we're both in a point in our careers where we work endless hours and are so greedy with our time. But then I feel more and more that I'm closing off an essential part of myself by not having a baby. It's kind of like having vast rooms in your house that you never go in, but they're rooms in myself. It's an experience of life and self that I don't want to miss. There's a part of me that feels like it's selfishness to bring children into this blighted world - that we do it for ourselves, not for them. I have an absolute sense of fatality about the future of this planet and I can't help but think that a century from now any descendants of ours will be gasping in a toxic stew, drowning under the floods of global warming or embroiled in a morass of wars. I was really glad to read the lovely poem today on Alexandra's site, but it didn't sway me to optimism. I can see no sunny future for this planet: it's doomed. We're killing it. But I still want to have babies, even though they'll inherit this big messy doomed future.

It strikes me that I'm overthinking this whole thing. Anyone? Anyone? Whew!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Board Games & Bloodhounds

This has been a week for 'Laini's Ladies' (see my website for info), as I'm working on my line for the next holiday season. I find with most projects that once I focus on them and really sink my mind's teeth into them, I get sucked in by the challenges and begin to have a lot of fun. So too with these; I was putting them off just a little bit because I was focused on finishing my book and I couldn't do much else. I have a stack of projects to get to and feel so blessed that I get to spend my days doing something so fun, and that I've carved out a little niche where I get to create just what I want, that I've found a company to manufacture my line who doesn't destroy the fun with micromanagement, that my whimsical little ladies have a home in the world and that people like them!

I was talking to Alexandra recently about plotting fiction and how you just have to keep on trying out new ideas and forcing your mind down new avenues until you find the one that works, and it brought to mind this quote by Thomas Edison:

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

I LOVE that thought -- it expresses perfectly my experience with plotting, and with so many other things in making one's way in life. I've always liked the image of our paths in life as boardgame boards -- that's what I created for my art school application in fact. Snaking curving paths, one step at a time, a roll of the dice, a fork in the road, choices, detours, going backwards, going forwards. But it really would only be accurate if you could see the way your path intersected with a million others. It would have to be the world's most complex board game! Undrawably complex. This leads me towards another metaphor (I've realized I have an obsession with making metaphors for the creative life):

I was watching a documentary on PBS a few weeks ago about two dog trainers who's agreed to take on grown dogs who hadn't been trained as puppies and see what they could do with them. One guy was a bloodhound trainer in West Virginia, the other lady raised sheep and herding dogs in Scotland. Both dogs were fantastic and succeeded beyond one's wildest dreams, but the bloodhound was the one that blew my mind. For its first "test" after only 8 weeks of training, it was taken to an empty baseball stadium and given a 2-second sniff of a scent, and then it had to find the precise seat where 13 hours before one person it had never met had sat among thousands of others. Wow! Imagine: thousands of threads of scent, 13 hours old, all intermingled and intertwined... and the dog beelined, zigging and zagging through the bleachers, straight to the right seat! It astonished me. Imagine, first of all, being able to remember the precise scent after that quick sniff and not lose the memory among all the other intertwining scents, and then tracing it like that. Amazing amazing! So here's the inevitable metaphor: finding our "path" is kind of like that, maybe more than like a boardgame board. It's invisible. There is so much interference, so many other paths crossing ours, so many things to muddle us along the way, but to be able to keep that one path shining and foremost in one's mind and follow it unswerving, it's a feat. And we people aren't often trained as puppies to follow our own path -- more likely a bunch of voices try to give us a bunch of different paths, and we should be so lucky to have that bloodhound's ability to remember what it is we're looking for amid all those other possiblities. In fact, I was pretty lucky to have parents who DID teach me to follow my own path and I look forward to having children of my own some day to carry forward that wonderful parenting and raise my own 'puppies' to have their own unswerving sense of self. Here's a "cheers" to wonderful parents, and also to strong souls who have to teach themselves, every step of the way, how to believe in themselves. And remember Thomas Edison's words -- there are thousands of "ways" out there; just keep searching for yours!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Creative Revolution

This photo has nothing to do with anything - it's from Christmas, obviously, I just felt like putting up a photo of Jim and me, because I feel like I'm making amazing new friends sight unseen, and I was hiding behind my single artfully enhanced Photoshop self-portrait, but here we are. Nice to meet you all! It's really quite amazing to me, this little community I feel forming in the small colorful, wise, wonderful, seeking, searching, intimate spaces of people's blogs - I never got it before, I never understood what blogging was about or why anyone would want to read about what I did today, or why I would want to read about what they did today, and now I GET IT! I AM interested in what you all did today. It's like a marvelous extension of my own life to meet Claudia's children, read Frankie's email from her best friend, see Meg's boyfriend's awesome snow dragon, and on and on. And I suspect I am THINKING more than usual, or at least, in a more focused way. Sitting down just now to the computer I told myself, even though my last post was stale I wasn't going to take the time to leave a new one because I need to get to work, and also because I don't know what to write about, but then I read Meg's and Jamie's thoughts on creativity, and left long comments on them (with the worry, I must admit, that I was using up all my thoughts for the day leaving comments instead of writing my own post - but hopefully I'll have more thoughts!) and felt completely inspired to write, too. So, that's all a very enthusiastic preamble to talking about creativity:

I see something happening in the world that is wonderful to me: creativity is being taken out of the hands of the "elite" and given to everyone. You don't have to be a gallery painter, you don't have to know how to draw, to make gorgeous art. I'm talking about the paper arts boom, often mis-named "scrapbooking". Somerset Studio magazine (yum yum), craft stores filled with the most amazing papers, stamps, inks, doodads, hinges, yarns, decoupage papers, etc etc, and all the books that are being written to show us all, even if we have no arts training: it's in us all. I think that drawing has always been a sort of gatepost to calling oneself an artist, and it kept a lot of people from identifying themself as such. If you don't draw, where do you start with the blank page? We all know the power (for good & evil) of a blank page! But now, there are all these wonderful resources to show you how to play again, like Jamie was talking about, with matte medium and paint and collage and stamps - and without drawing a line you can make something so extraordinary. And you may gain the confidence to try drawing, if you feel like it, but you don't have to. I've watched this explosion, this revolution in art, happening quite outside the framework of the "arts world" (most snooty painters I know wouldn't be caught dead in a "scrapbook store") and I cheer. Even though I HAD been to art school, this revolution swept me up and changed MY life too.

I was an oil painter, an illustrator, ekeing a living selling prints and cards of my work at an outdoor craft market, getting some illustrations published in children's magazines, when 3 Christmases ago a friend of mine, Maggie, had a Christmas card-making party -- I'd always in the past felt obliged to do a painting for my Christmas cards, and the pressure made it sort of un-fun. But I would't have time for that, so I got a little idea of a collage lady with a quote on her dress, laminated, with a delicate little waist to tie a ribbon around, and dangling beads for feet, and I made THOSE at her party, and whoa, was it fun. It was sitting indian-style on the floor in pre-school-fun-kind-of-fun. And... people loved them. I started selling THOSE at the craft fair, and I sold out every day. My eyes opened a little wider. I spent the two months the market was closed making new designs, and that was the beginning of Laini's Ladies, which is now how I make my living (along with the very new addition of selling my first novel.) Play is so important! And believing in your creativity. And as for learning how to draw, you certainly don't have to draw to be an artist, but it is a wonderful skill to have and I mean it absolutely when I say: anyone can learn! I didn't start until my mid-20s as a result of writer's block and needing another creative outlet. I was astounded with every drawing I did how much better it was than the last. It made me wonder, if I keep at it, how much better can I possibly get? It's a very exciting thought, and I challenge anyone who thinks they'd like to learn to draw to DO it. In secret if you want, you don't have to show anyone, this isn't like learning to dance, it can be private, just between you and your notebooks. When I was teaching art (for a brief time) I did stress the difference between wishing and really wanting to do something. To "wish" you could draw is like saying you wish a fairy would touch your head with the drawing wand and the gift would flow into you; you're probably not willing to put in the work. Like how I "wish" I could play the guitar or sing -- I know I won't try to learn. But if you really want it, more than you want other things, there are steps to take. It's not like wishing you were taller or an heiress or something; this is utterly in your power.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Mysteries & Revolutions!

Look at the little set of journals I couldn't resist buying this weekend! This is an addiction I'm sure I share with very very many other folks who may find their way to this post: journal-buying. Like candy! And it's so exciting to imagine what may fill them some day. It strums at the mind. A dozen little polka-dotted journals that will someday jostle and overflow with ideas and quotes and swatches of fabric and little doodles... a future of ideas. That's what a blank book is! I will likely begin with one of my lists of the projects that need immediate attention. Such a calming thing to do, list-making. Reading Meg's entry about picking a direction when many different ideas tug at you, I can relate absolutely. Jim and I have known for years what our super power of choice would be: the ability to stop time, just for ourselves, and while everyone was frozen in place we'd get to go on creating, writing, snatching necessary naps, squeezing more juice out of each day. (If we ever get this gift out of a super power grab bag, I'll let worthy kindred spirits in on it too!) It can be overwhelming when the ideas flow too fast.

There must be a stern little custodian at the gate of ideas (I imagine this gate to be in one's ear, somehow, that that's where the ideas, like little people, come and go) who lets out only a few at a time. This little man, he has quite a serious mustache that he grooms like it's a pet, a great ring of keys at his hip, a pocket watch, and a persnickety look on his face and he is unmoved by the pleading and wheedling of ideas. He is disciplined, even if I am not. His job is to keep me from being overrun by ideas, trampled and exhausted by them. He requires that I make lists. The lists give ideas physical reality even before I have followed through on their creation, and my reward is getting to check them off! So many, many ideas, I must not ever let them learn that if they wanted to they could overpower me. They would start a revolution. I would be powerless!

While we were in Seattle this weekend, Alexandra and I shared a lament to boredom. That is, to the fact that there are folks who reach their hands out into this mysterious, twirling, seething, wild, heartbreaking, sonorous world and manage to come back with... nothing. That there are folks with a capacity for boredom!! Impossible! Unimaginable! Infuriating! They should be forced to surrender their dead time to those of us who can find a use for it! This world is many things. It is wicked and vulgar, it is thrilling and uplifting, it teems with kindness and grace and cruelty and tragedy, it is by turns funny, horrifying, delicious, capricious, bitter and sweet and a million other things, and it is never ever ever ever ever boring!

I just finished reading a book that lit my mind on fire in the best possible way -- A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. Read it! Read it! (And her other books too.) It's a novel about the Italian resistence in the final years of World War II and the remarkable way the Italian people rallied to protect both native and refugee Jews at tremendous cost to themselves, saving nearly 50,000 lives (true). It's a story about the best and worst of humanity, about dirt-poor uneducated peasants who would sooner starve than turn over fellow humans for a reward, even strangers, even to feed their own children. It's one of those books - my favorite kind of book - that lights up a shadowy corner of history and makes it real and human in a way only fiction can do, because it takes fiction to give fact flesh. It's one of those books that when you read it, you have a feeling that if only everyone would read it, the world would learn something and become a better place. Wishful thinking, but it makes you want to proselytize for it, so I am: read it! And if you do, let me know!

One final thing, one of my favorite quotes:
"I would rather live in a world surrounded by mystery, than live in a world so small my mind could comprehend it all."
- Harry Emerson Fosdick

Thursday, February 09, 2006

making up me

(this is from my new "tiny stories" offshoot of Laini's Ladies - there are more on my website)

A few days ago I wrote about the days after college when I realized I had to find the "tightrope" to the big wild dreams that filled me -- and how the reality of it was so terrifying it sort of stopped me in my tracks. Well, I just found this in an old notebook, and it rockets me back to the days of wild dreaming (& I'm not going to edit out any of the extreme melodrama of my 20-year-old self!)

I want to be a raw animal voice, a sound of thunder, dandelion spores aloft on the wind. I want to be the osprey's call, the jagged edge of granite that silently guards the sea. I want to bring life out of the sand, and the constellation-drinking night-sea. I want to know how to light fires in central Nowhere that will dance against a sky as dark as crayon - I want the stars to descend on me like a sprinkling of pollen - I want to be covered with stars and stand on the highest peak and break the shrill cold night with a scream! I want to evolve. I want to DEvolve. I want to chop wood and eat berries and track creatures through the forest! I want to be joy-filled and let people know it. I want to travel the world everywhere falling in love and picking grapes and posing for artists. I want to spear-fish naked, collect shells, climb back aboard the boat with the pacific seas streaming off my hair...

I want to pretend this was written by a preposterous character I made up, but it was me! And I think that in those days I sort of WAS a preposterous character I made up. I remember making conscious decisions about who I "was" -- I recall in highschool announcing, "I believe there are more INvisible beings in the universe than visible ones." Well, lovely, but I believed NO such thing! I never even succeeded in believing in God and soon gave up and swung hard the other way and took to making antagonistic atheistic comments to my poor mother. Well, I hope I have settled down by now into who I truly "am" but I clearly remember the vivid construction of self that occupied my mind and my journals!

Wonderful weekend wishes to everyone! Alexandra and I are off to Seattle for a few days where we may put on facial purifying masks in the hotel and watch movies or write letters to mutual friends, and we'll have lunch with various folks and I may see my wayward brother, and I'll probably spend some time in a cafe with my laptop while Al is in her seminar. We likely will NOT spearfish naked or track creatures through the forest. Did I ever REALLY want to do those things? Or did I want to be able to say, at 34, that I HAD done them? I wonder!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Adoring & Being Adored

A few weeks ago the blogs I've been reading got to talking about workspace, and perhaps this was the final impetus to clean out mine, which had gotten so appallingly cluttered it was like a little cave of craft materials, in which I had about one square foot of surface on which to work, and I had to sort of be careful with my elbows and feet so I didn't knock things over, and there was certainly no room amid the stacks of books and things for a doggie (this one is Leroy, Jim's dog. My dog we call our "downstairs neighbor" because she apparently doesn't like us enough to come upstairs to be with us in the studio). Anyway, I wish I could've taken a before photo but the camera was out of town with Jim at the time, so that part of my work life is now only an undocumented memory and thank god! I LOVE coming into the studio now!

Now, this is sort of a reach, but the idea of getting used to something so unpleasant does dovetail with something else that has come up a few times in the past few days and made me think, and made me grateful. It's about relationships, and people getting so used to bad ones, or unfulfilling ones, or ones that diminish them, that they don't really see what it is they're living, and cannot "see beyond" or believe they deserve better. I know there are a million complicated reasons why people hunker down in uninspiring relationships -- I'm not even talking about abusive ones. Thankfully, I have no experience with that. But it doesn't have to be really bold or overt to take its toll -- the relationship I was in before meeting Jim wasn't abusive, just drastically unfulfilling. It was a relationship in which I got so accustomed to not feeling special that I began to believe it. I also was pretty sure I was in love, and that things like that had to be "worked on". Not true! You can love someone and wish them the best and still owe it to yourself to get the heck out! Love isn't enough, no matter what the old platitudes say. And there's nothing, nothing, nothing in the world like feeling adored, by someone you adore back. In the same way I wish all women (& men) the strength to pursue their creative ambitions, I wish everyone to believe they deserve to be adored, too. And of course, you don't get to be adored for nothing, right? It's important that you ARE the person you wish to be, that one who's worthy of adoration, and that you are to your partner who you wish them to be to you!

But what makes me think about this is two situations in the past week, one a good friend who has recently found herself in a wonderful relationship after so long in one that had truly begun to diminish her. It was visible -- she was becoming someone she didn't want to be. The wrong relationship can do that to you -- start to warp you into someone else, someone you don't like very much. But now, she absolutely sparkles! The other case is someone who has just broken up from a bad relationship and can't yet see how she was diminished by it, and that she deserves more than that someone who never ever made her feel special. It takes time. After breaking up from my own uninspired relationship, I was a wreck. It was a truly humbling experience for someone who'd had the incredible good luck of an easy life, wonderful parents, absolutely no childhood trauma, nothing bad. Having such a charmed childhood can make you an unempathetic person. I used to almost scorn my best friend for her self-help books. Going through that break-up, I would be driving along thinking random thoughts, and as soon as my mind would alight for even a moment on the relationship, I would feel punched in the stomach, a real, visceral reaction. I'd never known anything like it, and it really made me grow as a person.

And blessings be, it all made me recognize something good when I found it! I met Jim the next year and, to steal a line from my own novel, "it was like a flare was lit over the world, revealing all new colors". There's nothing in the world so wonderful as adoring and being adored. Where trust meets passion -- that's love. And it's so so worth looking for!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Frog Blessing

I think I will refer to that saying as my "frog blessing" -- this is one of my new greeting cards coming out from Amber Lotus. I just got my first samples today and they look so great and so perfect! I love the idea of my artwork forging its way through the skies in the bellies of airplanes carrying people's words and wishes tucked away inside. When I got an email from a woman in the Netherlands who had bought one of my Laini's Ladies near the cruise ship terminal in Maui and brought it home with her, I couldn't help but picture that lady flying halfway around the world on her own paper wings! I love it!

I'm including here a list of additional blessings and imperatives that I've been working on. On a very slightly related note, I recently read an article in the paper on the 10 healthiest foods for you and they were mostly what you would expect: spinach, apples, kiwis, etc, with the delightful addition of DARK CHOCOLATE!! and I've tried to make a point of eating something from that list every day (and if that means dark chocolate every day, so be it!). In the same spirit, I would like to try to live something off this list every day:

Share sweet things with delicious people -- Make art & love -- Notice the moon -- Indulge -- Deny yourself nothing -- Grow wings -- Sweet-talk yourself -- Make life fresh every day -- Bewitch someone -- Eat organic -- Make time for thinking & miracles -- Play dress-up -- Grab your daydreams & handcuff yourself to them & go wherever they go -- Wear flowers -- Sing -- Wish wildly -- See beyond -- Glow -- Kiss more -- Be cozy at the end of each day -- Encourage silliness -- Feed someone grapes -- Revel in mystery -- Create the future -- Sparkle -- Cross oceans -- Have your cake & eat it too -- Meander -- Wave to strangers -- Grow enormous flowers -- Spread hope -- Paint something red -- Dance like they did in old movies -- Make stuff from scratch!

What would you add?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Invisible Tightropes

I've always been a daydreamer, and I've always had big juicy plans. My life was not going to be ordinary! I would sail the world, sparkle, write books, see both sides of the moon. And for so long those big dreams were a safe distance in the future. I never had to connect the dots from "here" to "there." I remember so clearly the days just after college when it began to dawn on me that it was time to connect those dots. A paralyzing feeling of helplessness came over me. I was just some penniless kid with a diploma clutched in her fist who had no idea where to start searching for that magic tightrope to dreams. It was terrifying. I didn't search much. I got a job -- a great job! -- editing travel guidebooks for Lonely Planet.

I, who had dreamed so much of traveling and writing, found myself in an office editing the writings of other travelers. Hm.

I know I'm not the only one who has ever carved themselves a safe little nook on the fringes of their dreams! There is much to be said for safety, for health insurance and home ownership and all that good stuff. But what is sadder than a whole lifetime spent skimming along that crust of ice that begins to form over your dreams, watching it get thicker and thicker as the years go by but remaining always transparent so you can look through and see your dreams forever as they grow more and more misty and inaccessible? That's what happens when you "approximate" your dreams by choosing the closest safe alternative!

After two years I quit my job and went into debt to go to art school. I told myself, what's the price of one new car, more or less, for a whole lifetime of dreams? And I think it's worked out pretty well, happily! I didn't come out of art school six years ago with a map to that magic tightrope to dreams, but rather, that first big HUGE commitment showed me what I think we all already know: that the tightrope is invisible, and it's forged with every step you take. Following your dreams sounds like a grand romantic notion, but in fact it's a daily trudge, and not for the faint of heart!

I have heard myself say, in the past, the more people who aren't willing to take the risk, the better for those of us who are. But honestly, I think we could do worse than to live in a world full of daydreamers walking invisible tightropes towards self-fulfillment, and I wish more of us could find the confidence to put our dreams first!


This seems like as a good a place to begin as any! Reading blogs the past few weeks - Alexandra's, Meg's, Claudia's, Swirly's, etc, I've been intimidated about starting my own. Especially for a first post, I felt so much pressure for it to be profound, I kept putting it off and just leaving comments for other people, but this "tag" thing seems like a low-pressure situation, so here goes:

Four jobs I've held:
Bookstore clerk
Travel guidebook editor for Lonely Planet
outdoor art market vendor (Portland Saturday Market)
now: novelist!

Four movies I could watch over & over:
Pride & Prejudice (the new one OR the BBC one)
Cinema Paradiso
Lord of the Rings

Four places I've lived:
Oahu, Hawaii
Gaeta, Italy
Brussels, Belgium

Four TV shows I've watched:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Office (British & American versions)
America's Next Top Model -- don't judge me!

Four places I've vacationed:
Italy many times

Four of my favorite dishes:
Mango anything
Dungeness Crab

Four Sites I visit daily:

Four places I'd rather be:
In my future villa on the Amalfi Coast
at the bookstore
riding an elephant in India
an ancient forest in Scotland, because that's where my novel is set and I've never been!

There's that. Now I tag Jim so he'll have to put up new posts. And I'll try to think of something interesting to say for my NEXT post!