I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it...Picasso

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Inside Out

I used to shop.  Alot.  Too much.  I told myself it was okay because I was such a thrifty shopper.  Sale read free to me.  If it was on sale, I needed it.  Particulary if it was a good sale.  Why then there was no question that I needed it.  Shopping made me feel...successful.  Yes, I had conquered the art of fine living through good sales.

We had a bit of a financial disaster not too long ago.  It was bad.  Really, really bad.  Life changingly bad.  Shopping came to a screaching halt.  Credit cards were gone, money was scarce and I was permantly grounded from all stores except the grocery store and the pet store for dog food.  Suddenly, I was stuck with the feelings that drove me to the stores with no way to make them go away.  I had to ask myself why I shopped in the first place.

I don't need to reiterate everything we have learned from Oprah about the drug affect of shopping.  We all know how compulsive activities are a sign that something isn't right.  We eat, we shop, we drink, we exercise excessively, we do lots of things that help us to drive away discomfort.  Take that vice away and we are stuck with lots of 'splainin' to do.

The trend of America over the last 25 years or so (dare I say since the Reagan days?)  has been to live from the outside in.  To grab stuff, people, toys, kids, cars, you name it and try to gather it all up in our greedy little arms pull it close and hope we feel fulfilled.  "Whoever has the most toys wins!" is what the t-shirt read, I believe.  Acquisition = Happiness.  How's that workin' for ya'?

So there I was -  broke and broken looking my discontent with my life square in the bloodshot eyes and asking myself some very confrontational questions.  What's up with the shopping?  What are you looking for?  Soul searching has become a cliche for figuring out yet another way to game the system and yet when you really sit down, take some deep breaths and ask yourself, "What the hell am I looking for?" it is surprising sometimes what you hear as answers.

So for me, the equation was if there is nothing on the outside to quell my emptiness what is on the inside to pick up the slack?  Now, understand, this was not the first time I had done some soul searching.  Oh, no!  I was a card carrying member of the New Age/Self help movement for twenty-some-odd years.  I had been to the mountain top with Werner Erhardt and I had floated in a tank of lukewarm saltwater clutching crystals to my chest.  I had read the Course In Miricles and dutifully shown up to sit at Maryanne Williamson's feet everytime she spoke at Town Hall.  I covered more ground in navel gazing than most people could believe possible.  (I mean no disrespect.  I have taken valuable nuggets from every experience I had during that time and have cobbled together a very comprehensive totem for myself that I believe serves me in very good stead.)  And yet, there was a real disconnect between what I knew was good for me and what I was doing that was good.  With no money in hand and a whithering spirit, there was nothing on the outside to bring me comfort and yet a return to my New Age practices left me cold at the thought of it.  And then, I got it:  even these soulful practices could not help me because they were just another version of the shopping.  Either way it was looking on the outside to pull something in.

The best thing I could find in myself was the urge to create.  It was a complete about face in approach because I was going within to pull something out.  Not the other way around.  When I looked into myself for treasures, out came my artwork.  When I asked myself for comfort out came toys and jewelry and house numbers and backsplashes and bags and scarves.  It turned out, I was my very own TJ Maxx.  I didn't need to go shopping to have.  I needed to go crafting to have something to do. 

For me, the best part of the story was that with no money, substituting long afternoons cruising the aisles at Michael's was not an option either.  I ended up picking up junk from the side of the road, ripping up old clothes, breaking no longer cherished ceramics and tearing apart old jewlery to arrive at an expression of myself that was unmatched in my life for self satisfaction.  I had flipped the paradigm from outside in to inside out.  I was pulling ideas from inside myself and crafting things of meaning and beauty and living out loud in a way that was envigorating and exciting and really, downright satisfying.  I had something to do that filled up the bottomless pit that was stuffed full of stuff from the mall.

When it occurred to me to begin to sell my wares and make a go of a business I was clobbered with my next existential crisis:  Is it good enough?  Will other people like it?

...to be continued.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wandering Wonders

 I've wanted to do this for a long time.  Blog, that is.  I've always written - I've even been paid to write for periods of time.  I have an on again, off again relationship with wordsmithing as, up until the last ten years of consistant work, I have had with what I call, my art.

I was a kid with very busy hands.  I was always looking for something to make.  I started cooking when I was seven.  My dad built me a stool so I could safely reach the stove and access the countertops in order to reach the cabinets.  I cooked from scratch.  I cooked from scratch because it took longer and kept my hands busy longer.  It also tasted better.  Even then I was a foodie.  But cooking could only happen at certain times in my mother's house.  What to do with my agile little hands when the kitchen was closed?

Mom bought me books full of craft projects.  Lots of popcicle stick projects which were not as easy to pull off back in the days of no Michaels.  I managed though and sooner than my mother would have liked, I needed another book because I had completed all the crafts in the book I had.  She found this annoying,  I found it frustrating.

Grandma saved the day.  She began to teach me the real deal.  It began with crochet.  She thought beginning with one needle was best for little hands.  I would sit on her left,  real close, and would follow her patient demonstrations.  She was a good teacher and I was a better student.  I was given  a crochet hook, sized appropriately to my hand and a limited amount of yarn.  I would practice my stitches until the  yarn ran out then pull it apart, roll the yarn and begin again.  Over and over.  On the front porch swing, on the stoop in the backyard, on the davenport (grandma's term) in front of the TV, in bed I would chain, loop, pull through and be happy.  Once I  proved myself worthy, I was handed knitting needles and there we were, back again, side by side on the davenport, her opera singer's voice repeating the moves over and over to me.  I'm not sure what I loved more - learning the crafts that made my hands happy or sitting so close to Grandma.

Grandma was the last of the pioneer women.  Literally.  Her father was a master carpenter on the railroad, the major employer in the day out in the western states.  Great grandpa Reinking also enjoyed homesteading and helped to forge new communities in Montana and Washington.  Grandma had mysterious stories of riding the railroad to Montana from Iowa, cooking on the train and being excited about the unsettled wilderness they were about to occupy.  She told stories of walking to the schoolhouse and being aware of being watched by the Blackfoot Indians who lived nearby.  She was a foriegner in their country.

Through the many years I was able to enjoy with my Grandma Matie, she taught me to sew on her trestle operated Singer,  how to embellish a pillowcase with freehand embroidery, how to mend a sock on a lightbulb, the proper way to sew a button on a coat,  and allowed me to follow her through her many adventures in stichery, many that I still have.

Canning was another "domestic science" (Matie's newlywed cookbook was called Twenty Lessons in Domestic Science) she shared with me.  Grandma had an outdoor canning shed which meant a wood stove in a barnwood shanty in the throes of  a sticky summer in Arkansas.  She'd take me out to the canning shed with a couple of bushels of something - peaches, apples, carrots, corn, whatever - and we would prepare the food,  boil the jars and lids and give the jars their final bath all on a wood stove and cast iron pots.  The results were a winter's worth of harvest delicacies.  The work was gruling and sweaty and taught me that hard, unglamous work could produce some of life's greatest rewards.  When I can now, over my fancy stove and in my air conditioned home,  I alway have a moment remembering the heat and the sweat and the intensity of the smells with the flies around our faces and aprons that dabbed and wiped everything from runny noses to perspiration to molten sugar.  Aprons or course, my grandma had made on her pedal operated sewing machine.  I was primed to face  a future of my own handmade life.