Creativity

My Closet and the Clothes in it

After my post about Red Shoes and Wishing, someone pointed out that what I was trying to accomplish with a wish list might work better as a Pinterest board. So now I have a Pinterest account and I’ve begun slowly populating my pin boards with appropriate images. I’m not sure how I’ll use the site yet. I’m still in the being-confused-by-new-social-media-site stage. Fortunately that stage is now a familiar one and I’m confident that it’ll begin making sense as I use it.

One of the pin boards I created is called “wearing beauty.” I’ll be filling it with clothing I own, clothing I admire, and clothing I hope to own some day. It allows me to collect images of fashion in a way that lets me survey it at a glance. The red shoes go there, for example. It is already apparent to me that the board gives the impression that I dress elegantly every day, which is simply not true. Most days I’m wearing what I affectionately call my “mom uniform.” It consists of a pair of jeans, a solid color knit shirt, and either bare feet or socks. The shirt usually has stains or spills on it. My hair may or may not have been brushed that day. On cold days I accessorize with an old red terry cloth bathrobe and bright yellow fuzzy socks. When I’m headed out to run errands or do other out-of-the-house things, I’ll upscale to an unstained shirt, brushed hair, and shoes. These clothes are not fashionable, but they are supremely suited for their task. While wearing them I am able to get stuff done without fussing over my clothing. There is a beauty in utility. If I have some spare creative time I may see if I can find a way to represent my mom uniform on the Pinterest board.

For years the mom uniform was the only clothes I owned. Even my church clothes had a heavy emphasis on wash-ability, move-ability, and adjust-ability so that they did not interfere with the management of young children in an environment not particularly suited to them. But then I started having to make professional appearances. I was able to let that part of myself which enjoyed fashion wake up and start collecting pieces. These days I’ve got clothing ranging from formal wear to paint-spattered work clothes. Each category of clothing is useful to me, but I am constantly winnowing to make sure that the various clothing types stay in balance. Sometimes clothes which are too worn for professional clothes get moved over to the nice mom clothes. Nice mom clothes gradually become stained mom clothes. Some items get culled completely as they are no longer useful. The culling is critical to make sure that I don’t run out of space in the closet.

I do have a special category of clothes called “project clothes.” These are clothes which are not yet what they could be. Sometimes they need mending or adjusting, but other times I intend them as the basis for a full creative project. I can’t have very many of these, they take up space and are not currently useful. However project clothes are the hardest category for me to cull. I have to let go of how I imagine they could be. Sometimes I have to let go of a shiny possibility in order to make room for a useful necessity.

All of this makes it sound like I spend lots of time and money considering my clothes. I don’t. I buy new things a couple of times per year and most of my “new” things are second hand via a thrift store. Usually these shopping expeditions occur in the the nerotic pre-public-appearance stressful time where I become convinced that everything I own looks horrible. A couple of new items can stave off that feeling for about half a year. Hopefully my new Pinterest board will not prompt me to be more spendy, but will instead help me have a clear picture of how to spend money carefully on things I really want and can use instead of a closet full of project clothes which I have no time to fix.

Red Shoes and Wishing

“You’re allowed to want things.” I said to myself. I didn’t quite believe it. If I began wanting things then there would be conflict between the things that I wanted and the things which my husband or children wanted. The simplest way to avoid the inevitable conflicts was to remember that what I wanted most was my family and to either let go or fold away the other things. So I pressed myself small, trying to take only the spaces in our lives which no one else was occupying. I got quite good at it. Unfortunately the process squeezed from my life those things which re-energized me. I was less and less able to meet needs because I had less and less to give. It came to a crisis and I formally told myself “You’re allowed to want things. Even if they are silly. Even if they are impractical. Even if logic dictates that you’ll never have them, you’re still allowed to want them.” I breathed a big sigh, and tried to believe it.

I was out of practice at wanting things. It took time for me to remember. I began by creating small things, a pressed flower picture, River Song’s journal, a clean space in my house where my things could live. The process is ongoing. I’m still seeking which things call to me, feeling the call, and then waiting patiently to see if my brain will explain to me what these symbols mean. My long-neglected amazon wish list has begun to fill up. I don’t know that I will actually buy most of these things, but collecting the list of wishes has been fascinating. I can see how the physical objects are actually representations of qualities I want in my life. The stationery box with all the little compartments appeals to my sense of organization and to my connection with the teenage letter writer I used to be. The journal with the faux aged leather cover speaks of connections with things that last and with words. The movie Julie and Julia appeals to my desire for transformation into something stronger. The white eyeliner I admired so much on women in a television show is an expression of my desire to be and feel beautiful. It isn’t things I want so much as qualities. If I happen to acquire the things, they can serve as reminders to seek the attached qualities, but I can accomplish this without spending money if I am mindful.

Layer by layer I unfold these pressed together parts of my self. Each layer unfolds some new thing I want as a part of my life. Some of them are quite surprising. One day I discovered a desire to own red shoes. I’m mostly a brown and black shoe person. I like being able to wear shoes with many different outfits. Yet I wanted a not-at-all-sensible pair of high heeled red patent leather pumps. Not any particular pair, or rather I haven’t yet found the perfect pair. But I’m looking. Red heels are for women who are beautiful and unafraid. They walk confidently with their flash of color which often doesn’t match anything else they are wearing. They are like one of those Japanese paintings with a single spot of bright color as a focal point. Dorothy wore red shoes and they gifted her with the ability to travel home. Other fictional red shoes danced their wearer to death. I feel cautious about red shoes, but I am allowed to want them. If I find the right pair, with the right fit, at the right price, I will buy them. In the meantime I will try to gift myself with the qualities that are represented by red high heels.

Allowing myself to desire things has led to conflict. I’m learning to live with that. I’m learning to navigate the conflicts and that sometimes the process of navigating a conflict is better than creating a peace which only exists because everyone is careful not to bump in to each other. I’ve been surprised to discover that three quarters of the conflicts I must navigate are me against myself. Howard and the kids are quite happy to shift around and make space for me. I have a hard time making space for myself. I agonize over which desires matter more, where I should spend my efforts, what I should do. My frantic scrambles to get it right disrupt the flow of what could be. Many of my wish list items, and my growing collection of quotations in my River Song journal, carry themes of peace and courage. “Be not afraid.” I am telling myself in hidden ways. “It is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to fail. It is okay to be ordinary.” But also “Seek beauty, seek small happiness. Stop. Breathe. Feel.”

I am trying. I’m collecting more things on my wish list to see what qualities my deep self would like to have. I’m also watching for the right pair of red shoes.

Antelope Island

The first thing I noticed on the island was the silence. It wrapped around and surrounded me the moment I exited my van. No engine noise, hum of power lines, or buzz of refrigerator could be heard. Most times even the drone of airplane engines were absent. Instead I heard the sound of the breeze blowing gently against my ear, the buzz of a beetle flying ten feet away, the distant cry of sea gulls. It was a place which exuded solitude even when other people were nearby. I could hear other people from as far away as the sea gulls, but these noises were welcomed by the island. Voices belonged there as much as the birds and beetles. I stood on the first overlook and breathed in the fresh salty air. I was simultaneously glad to be on the island with my friend and her baby, while wishing to be there alone, and wishing I’d brought my own children. I was going to need to take another pilgrimage there, this much was obvious.

(Many more pictures beyond the jump) …

Contrasting Trips: The Dump and The Museum of Art

This morning I ventured to the dump for the first time in my life. Somehow it was always someone else who made those trips, not me. This particular trip was long overdue, as a corner of our driveway was filled with objects of no use to anyone. Not even putting them up for free on freecycle had resulted in their removal. So the pile sat while I didn’t go to the dump, not because the dump was daunting or frightening, but simply because I’d never done it before. The unknown minutiae of navigating to the waste transfer station, paying the fee, and unloading all served as a barrier which was in no way insurmountable, yet sufficient to inspire repeated procrastinations of the project.

In the end all those minutiae were no trouble at all. Finding the place was easy. The fee for a van load was a mere seven dollars. We backed up to a huge pile of accumulated detritus and threw ours onto the stack right next to where some one else had thrown the remains of a roofing project. On the other side was a discarded couch, pieces of an old jungle gym, carpet remains, and a broken mirror. All around were and huge masses of plant matter. It did not smell rotten, though I could tell that there was another pile somewhere nearby which did.

I drove away feeling lighter and grateful that our city has such a service. My home is cleaner and ready for further projects. However I was also sobered by the huge masses of waste, some of which could have been re-used. It was fascinating to see the process of disposing of discarded items. I could see the areas devoted to green waste processing and recycling. There was a section for chemical disposal. It is good for me to see this side of civilization which is usually hidden from view. I am newly reminded to be mindful about the quantities of waste that I produce. That pile was huge. I want to contribute to it as little as possible.

I showered off the psychic residue of having been to the dump, then Kiki and I headed to the BYU Museum of Art. She had a homework assignment to visit a gallery. The first exhibit seemed to fit right in with the trip of the morning. The theme of the exhibit was books as objects. One art piece was a twenty foot high and twenty foot wide cube of books stacked overlapping almost to the ceiling. All of the spines were inward so that only the pages could be seen. Another was a video of books being dissolved to pulp in a commercial washing machine. Books as objects is not a theme which makes me happy. I don’t like to view books think thoughts about wastefulness. I much prefer to hold a book and see the artistry both in the physical construction and the way that words have been intentionally spun to contain meanings. Fortunately the remaining exhibits in the museum were much less nihilistic.

I found myself standing in front of Bierstadt’s Seal Rock.

It was twenty years ago when I last stood in front of this painting. I was a college freshman at home for a visit. There was a whole exhibit of Bierstadt and I walked slowly past them all, but Seal Rock was the one that called to me most. I marveled at the way he captured sunlight refracted through the wave. The painting was bigger in my memory. Perhaps because so many of Bierstadt’s other works are on a giant scale. Today I stepped close to the painting and looked at the textures of paint used for the sea foam. A few steps away I spent some time staring into the painted eyes of a young Bostonian from 1739. I wondered what this young man thought while his portrait was painted. The painting was over three hundred years old and still hung for people to see and admire. The opposite of waste.

As I walked through the museum I was aware of the people around me. Mostly I noticed them as disturbances in my thinking space. I like my pools of thought to be undisturbed as I seek to examine my reactions to art. However the people were also interesting. Many were parents who had elected to bring their young children. I could not tell if the children were present to expose them to art or if they were just along for lack of babysitting. Art museums are not aimed to engage youngsters, though they can still benefit if the adult in charge is willing to be an informational bridge. I saw mostly hauling, not bridging. People sat rubbing sore feet. Students with clipboards went from painting to painting, filling out worksheets for an assignment. Some groups spoke quietly about the pictures they were viewing. Some spoke of other things entirely while glancing at pictures as they walked past. A few quiet people stood for a long time before a piece. Kiki sat and sketched for a bit. All of these people had come to the museum today, each of them took home a completely different experience.

The day was wrapped up by viewing my favorite category of art; when an artist takes something old, useless, or ugly, then transforms it into something beautiful. Such creations are the opposite of the waste transfer station. In this case the art manifested as quilts. Sometimes quilts are planned whole from new materials and are completely stunning. The ones that really tugged at my heart were the quilts which were obviously made from re-purposed materials. I stood next to one quilt and looked at the individual pieces. The fabrics had stories and my mind tried to picture them.

By this time Kiki was tired. Apparently the teenage art student has less patience for museums than does the aging humanities major. However we could not leave without stopping by the gift shop. It contained an exhibition of fine-art-inspired consumerism. This was the place where child focused objects were omnipresent; each urging parents to buy culture for their children. I noted all the toys without much interest, when my kids were younger I would have been tempted. Instead I was drawn to the rack with many beautiful notebooks and journals. I also discovered that museum gift shops are an excellent source for note cards. I resisted temptation, until we spotted the tiny jewel faceted spider ear rings in the Halloween display. They were adorable and priced to sell.

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home, as I walked down the aisles I was surrounded by packages and materials which would mostly be transformed into garbage for the dump. Yet there was also the possibility that these same things could be used in the creation of art. It was a distracting train of thought, which I had to shake off so that I could focus on buying the foods our family needs. Food and family are themselves worthy creations. I guess I’ll have to be content if the sum total of my efforts creates more beauty than waste.

Making Things Beautiful

I’ve had the stationery box since I was a teenager. My grandmother often gave gifts of stationery for holidays. Mostly the boxes came and went from my life without notice as I used up the contents. This particular box was large enough that got pressed into service for storage. I collected my various papers and envelopes all into this single box so that I could access them easily. I was a diligent correspondent in those days. I wrote letters to people from other states that I’d met at youth conferences, to friends had gone on trips or moved, and to distant relatives. I got a lot of satisfaction out of putting words to paper and then putting the paper into envelopes. People did not write back so often as I wrote to them, but I figured that letters were gifts that I was giving without expectation of return. That way any letter I did happen to receive was also a gift.

Like most people, I shifted from paper letters to email. The stationery box was shoved into various corners and cupboards, used to store stickers, and used to store the few letters that did trickle to me over the years. Then in the past month I happened to receive a pair of letters. One from a friend and one from a person who sent me a thank you note. These things combined with the blog entry of another friend who is actively encouraging people to send her letters, spurred me to go find my old stationery box. It was a fairly ugly box by this stage of its life. The walls were structurally sound, but the lid a little caved in and stained. I decided to make it pretty again by re-covering it. So that was my small beautification project of the day. The box is made new and ready to collect more letters. Finding stationery to supply it will be a slower process. Stationery sets are not so commonly available as they once were. Also I’m afraid I’ve gotten picky about design.

Fixing up a stationery box was not a particularly productive activity. It did not forward any of my goals for the day. It did not accomplish any of my To Do items. Yet the decoration made me happy. More importantly, it will continue to make me happy for years to come. I made a whimsical post on Facebook and Twitter about how I had made something needlessly beautiful. Several friends wisely answered me that beauty is never needless, it always has value in and of itself. So I am issuing myself a challenge for this week. Each day I will make something beautiful. These will be small projects. Things I can accomplish in 30 minutes or less. Conscious focus on the beauties of my life will be a good thing I think.


My stationery box: re-covered with fresh paper and decorated with pressed wisteria leaves.

Project Complete: Staining Our Deck and Playset

Wooden structures like fences and decks are, in theory, supposed to be re-stained every couple of years. This protects the wood from damage and keeps them looking pretty. We haven’t done that kind of maintenance in over a decade. First there was no time. Then there was no money. Then there was neither time nor money. However the seeing the gradual dilapidation of these wooden structures was making Howard and I both feel sad about the state of things. I finally freed up the time and sneaked enough money from the budget to make it happen.

This is the playset before we began. You can see remnants of the original stain on it, but much of the wood is bare.

Step one was to rent a pressure washer and blast off all the old paint. Howard handled pressure washing the playset. I managed the deck. Our gargoyle, Winston, had a supervisory job. The washing took five extremely wet and dirty hours.

The water blasted off old layers of stain and also some top layers of wood. There were many places where we had to be careful that the high powered stream did not damage the wood more than necessary. I suspect that would not have been an issue if we’d been properly maintaining our wood through the years.
This is the playset all clean and dry.

Next came staining. We used five gallons of stain and about 22 man hours of work. We decided to apply the stain using brushes rather than a sprayer since our last sprayer experience was…messy. It was a lot of work, but we got it done.

From a distance the structures look like new. Up close you can see all the dribbles, drips, spots where the washer gouged the wood, spots where we neglected to blast off the old stain, and places where the wood is just old. It is not perfect, but now when we step outside it feels nice instead of feeling depressing. I can live with that. On to the next project.

Making River Song’s Journal

The new iteration of Doctor Who is by turns silly, clunky, brilliant, heart-breaking, and delightful. I watch every episode. I like the essential hopefulness and joyfulness of it. There are piece of the stories which stay with me even after I walk away from the screen, like the story between the Doctor and River Song. They both travel in time and have met each other many times, but always in a random order. This makes reminiscing difficult because they don’t want to accidentally give away the future of the other person. To solve the problem the Doctor gives River Song a journal. It looks like this:

I love the idea of this journal. It’s tattered condition implies hundreds of adventures that River and the Doctor have together. Through it they are able to find where they are in relation to each other and then proceed to have yet another adventure. Possibly my interest in the journal is due to the fact that I love journals. I always have. I wondered if it were possible for me to buy a journal with a cover made to look like River Song’s. I googled and discovered that the BBC has released a printable PDF which one can use to cover a journal, but that there is no officially sanctioned journal for purchase. There are several etsy shops which sell handmade ones, but the prices were daunting when I’m trying to cut back on frivolous spending. I sighed and gave up. Or so I thought.

The next day I kept bumping into supplies. My on my craft desk was some dark blue tissue paper and Modge Podge (a decoupage glue) which I’d been using to re-decorate some little metal boxes. Sorting through a pile under my desk I found an unused journal which I bought some time in the past six months. I knew I had card stock, scissors, and an exacto knife. I had everything I needed. So without exactly deciding to, I began making a River Song journal.

I began with this black journal. Having it be black was important so that the dark could show through the tissue paper and make the shadows which can be seen in the recessed portions of the journal cover. I colored over the red line with a sharpie marker.

Next I printed out a copy of the PDF and sized it so that it would fit the cover of the book I had. Then I cut out the pieces as a pattern. I arranged the patterns on the book to make sure the proportions were correct before I proceeded.

I traced the pattern onto white card stock. Once I had it all traced, I glued a second piece of card stock to the back to give it the thickness I wanted.

I used a knife and scissors to cut out the pattern pieces. I deliberately made everything not quite square to resemble the PDF better. Once the pieces were cut out, I arranged them on the book. Then I glued them down using Modge Podge.

I waited for that to dry thoroughly before proceeding. Fortunately this particular glue dries quickly. Next I cut a piece of the blue tissue paper so that it was larger than the book. I applied glue to the cover in sections and carefully pressed the tissue paper down so that it got into the recessed places as well as the top of the card stock. On the binding side, the tissue lined up with the edge of the cover cardboard. Glue does not bend well and I wanted my book to be able to open. I had to be gentle and careful so that I did not tear the tissue paper. I used two layers of tissue, letting the glue dry completely between layers.

I clipped the corners of the tissue paper and then propped the book open so that I could wrap the tissue around to the inside of the book. I glued it down, making sure to slather a layer of glue across the top of the tissue so that it was protected. I also put a layer of glue all across the top of the cover, both front and back.

All that was left was the spine. I cut some pieces of card stock to fit and repeated the process of laying down tissue paper. Again I was careful not to glue anything to the binding crease so that the book would open easily.

And here is the journal completed:

It is not perfect. Intentionally so in some places. I do wish I’d figured out how to give it a more leather-like texture. The Modge Podge is smooth and shiny. You can also see the strokes of the brush I used to lay down the glue. I’m pleased with the result even though it definitely has a home made look. Perhaps as I carry it around, and use it, the shine will wear off a bit. I’m far from the only one who has committed this particular act of geekery. A little googling will find similar journals in leather, paint, knitting, fridge magnets, key chains, and all sorts of other forms.

The question I began asking myself almost as soon as I began construction was what I planned to do with the thing once it was made. I already have a journal. Several. It seemed foolish to spend so much work to make another one. Then I realized that what I loved about the idea of River Song’s journal is that it was full of amazing things all out of order. I wanted a book like that. One where my usual self-imposed writing rules don’t apply. I wanted to see what deliberately changing the structures of my creativity would cause to fall out of my brain. Once I knew that, I also knew what my rules for filling the journal needed to be.

1. Don’t write it in order. When I have something to write, pick a page at random and begin.
2. Date every entry.
3. Write only things that matter to me. Nothing boring. That said, sometimes small and insignificant can also be fascinating.
4. Leave the first two pages blank. Write them last.
5. Draw as many pictures as I wish. They don’t have to be good.
6. I can update, change, or alter anything that I have already put in the book. I just need to note the date of the change.
7. Writing sideways or upside down is fine.
8. Find things to clip and tape into the pages.
9. Neatness is not required.
10. I can make stuff up, write stories, or pretend to be someone else.
11. I can invite others to contribute to the pages.
12. I am the maker of all these rules. I can break them if I wish.

And so my River Journal adventure begins. I wonder where I will travel.