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

Saturday, March 27, 2010

...In Fact, I Will

Everyday is like being in the third grade for me.  I was educated in the American public school system (but for a brief detour into the north woods of Michagan for some private boarding school) in the 3 R's canon and life was presented as a very concrete, matter-of-fact place to function.  NOTHING and I mean nothing, was even hinted  about what was to come.  Acres of gigantic computing machines with hole-punched tape and spinning reels sent men into outer space when I was a kid but there was nothing suggested about a small box of plastic pieces that would sit on top of a desk and send my sanity to the moon.  The computer way of life came on like an amphetamine rush,  just about the time I thought I should be feeling some firm footing in my life.  Like many plebs of my generation, I segregated myself from the computer users because I was an artist and computers were for "regular" people and office workers.  (True enough, I was sent to business school but I learned the fine art of bar keeping by this time and never dreamed that the computer would invade hospitality too!)  It seemed very clear that as long as I could continue to get ribbons for my IBM Selectric I could communicate with the world in a business-like fashion and could leave the desk tops computers to the geeks.  How'd that work out, you may be asking.

I finally relented a few years before my son was born.  My sweet husband let me quit my job in the film industry to stay at home and write screenplays while he put down the guitar and posted billing (on a computer) for a TV company.  My first crack at the computer was a set- up that Denny brought home from work.  It was one of those scary things with the black screen and the flashing amber cursor.  I knocked out two, rather fine, screenplays on that monster and though I never memorized the "F" keys (I'll allow you to imagine what I called those keys in frustration) and always needed a cheat sheet, I felt that I had slipped my way onto the information highway and could travel at my own speed.  Once my son was born I found I could not cope with a new baby and a computer at the same time and so, not so suprisingly, I walked away from the computer...

...for about five years.  In techno, that is light speed travel through several universes.  My son went off to school,  people were constantly asking me if I had email and I decided that I needed to catch up with folks that were concerned with things other than juice boxes and playdates.  I purchased my first Compaq computer and had no idea just how stupid I could feel until I sat down before this chunky white plastic cube and put my fingers on the keyboard.  Let me just say, here and now, that my tolerance for slow is embarassingly low.  And may I remind you that waiting for a home page to materialize in the mid-nineties, particularly when a photograph was involved, was a herikeri mission to those of us with no patience.  I would literally begin to perspire and bounce my knees up and down, sitting in the chair waiting...waiting...waiting...waiting...............

Forget it!!!  This was not a time saver!  This was a time waster and I had no time to waste!  As far as I was concerned, home computers were for people who either had nothing to do or didn't want to do what they had to do.  Done.

We moved to a new house and I was claiming a room of my own.  A place to sit, read, be alone and yes, I was going to try to write again.  A new Compaq was purchased and I was assured the computer had come a long way and it was not going to make me as tense and nervous as the last one had.  I set up an email account, collected a few addressses of people to communicate with and did very little writing.  I did do a little research now and then.  I worked with a friend to put together a fine trip to Italy and utilized WebMD when I thought I could shortcut going to the doctor.  The PTA Presidency gave me opportunity to get on the computer occaisionally but my feeling about the whole thing remained the same - computers were a crashing waste of time.  Give me a phone and a typwriter anyday!

A two year-old Dell was brought home from the office and a much nicer printer was purchased.  Bills were being paid online cutting the amount of time it took me to pay all the debts from our credit riddled lives in half and saved me from having to write my name over and over again until I was sick of myself.  People were becoming annoyed with me as they tried to make plans via email as I waited for phone calls.  "Don't you ever check your email?!?"  Obviously, no.  But I began to take the whole email thing into consideration and realized it was becoming a matter of social etiquette and if I wanted to have a life outside of my home, I should probably get with the program.  I will check my email more that once a week, I will check my email more than once a week...

Something else that was happening was another one of my favorite mediums was taking a powder and being replaced by the digital.  The good old fashioned, film photograph that I had spent so much time and money learning how to do well was gasping it's last breath as the point and shoot digital was bursting into Best Buy.  When my beloved Cannon 35mm broke and it was going to cost me a fortune to repair it, my husband and son presented me with a lovely digital camera for my birthday and I didn't know whether to be grateful or cry.  Yet another one of my life's pleasures that I was going to have to learn how to do - all over again.

Woe, oh woe to me.  Okay.  The cordless phone - a liberation.  Loved it and welcomed it with open arms.  The answering machine - I didn't need an answering service anymore, it was one less bill to pay and even though it put good people out of work, I liked the machine better.  Ditching the correctable typewriter - you know the drill.  But now the glorious, sensuous, malleable endeavor of exposing film to light?  Oh gawd.

So here's how it was adding up for me.  Either I continued to be a middle-aged stick in the mud that looked way too much like my mother telling me my teenaged music was just noise or I just hold my nose and cross the line into the 21st Century and try to enjoy the ride.  I never wanted to ever become my mother, in any sense, and I continue to fancy myself a hip albeit aging  person and so - I crossed.  Stepped right over that big fat timeline with my "yes we can" attitude and looked across the horizon of the future.  Yet like anything with a learning curve, there is a generous amount of time spent in learning pergatory before the fun begins.

I'm waiting. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Yes I Can

"What difference does it make?"  That was the answer I finally came up with.  "Is it good enough?" is so subjective that my habitual asking of the question was, ultimately, just an excuse not to begin.  I realized that it was an unanswerable question and a waste of time to keep ruminating over it.  I liked what I was doing.  Someone else clearly liked my work because people were buying it.  People wanted to sell it in their stores.  But most importantly - I like what I do.  If I like it, someone else does too.  That is the answer.

So once an artist gives up the agony and ecstacy, there's reality to contend with.  I had hit this wall before.  I spent the first act of my life in the performing arts.  Auditioning was a daily form of self-esteem abuse for me and I lived on a see-saw of good enough/not good enough.  The first cut "thank you" could send me home in an end-of-the-world funk, while a call back for round two could invoke a starlett sense of grandiosity.  In between was the daily brain chatter about whether or not I was good enough for this profession and whether or not I should toss in the towel and do something drastic-  like work in an office.  I rode this see-saw for two decades.

When I was a child, there was never any doubt about what I wanted to do when I grew up.  When I wasn't going to school, I was taking violin lessions, dance lessons and acting classes.  I had to practice, learn lines and often rehearse for performances.  I was passionate and dedicated and sacrificed much of what was typical of growing up for my art..  Yet, there was a prevailing mentality in my house that I should have "something to fall back on".  Learn to type, was my father's mantra, and I was sent to business school the summer before 7th grade to provide me with the skills to support myself when dancing and acting didn't work out.  It engrained in me that my failure as a performing artist, as dedicated as I was,  was probably predetermined.  Though I was spurred on by defiance what I didn't realize was that "typing" created an ominous back door that permitted me to ask questions of my value that I might not otherwise have pondered had I felt there was no other option but to succeed.  The portal was opened to have self-doubt be a way to quit.

I had enough success at it all to know that I was not a quitter and in fact did some very interesting and satistying work.  I had not however even begun to live up to my talent and in hindsight wish I could have several do overs.  I wished I had locked that door to another world and tossed the key into the Hudson River.

I moved on to marriage and motherhood and immersed myself in my new world in a near monastic way.   There was no back door and there was no quitting to do something else.  These deeply serious committments became my training ground, for learning to  make it work, no matter the obstacles.  I couldn't get rid of the baby because he was too hard to deal with and though I guess I could have ditched the husband, he was too inextricably tied to my idea of family.  My husband and my son presented me with a reality that forced me to dig deeper than I thought humanly possible and find out that I could do just about anything I set my mind to.  It also opened my eyes to the deep gratification in how we become transformed by that which does not kill us.

And so, the website.  Would I or wouldn't I?  I had no computer skills save the ability to write a letter and have an email account (which I checked about once a month).  There was no money to open a store and there certainly was no money to hire a web designer.  Hell, I didn't even have the hardware to maintain a website!  I had a dinosaur desk top that my husband had brought home from the office and a cell phone that was so old I couldn't even text.  I found myself in what seemed to be an impossible positon and I was trapped in a technological vacuum.  Did I have the guts to join the 21st century, at my age,  in order to do business in a whole new world of cyber commerce?  Face to face, once again, with talent and desire that was threatening  to fizzle away into a shadow of the past, this was looking like one more thing I didn't give my all to.
No fucking way.

Step one.  Buy a computer.  Really?  I have no money.  Sell something.  Borrow from the tax account.  Do something drastic.  No kidding?  What if.....?  No what ifs!  Make a decision and do it!  But I have no comput... Just do it!

I took a thousand dollars from the tax account and after some internet research (which in and of itself was a challenge to my computer skills) I went to Best Buy and bought myself a laptop with enhanced media capabilities (I knew there would be a lot of photography involved with my project).  I forced myself to, one painful step at a time, set the thing up and get it ready to roll.  I knew I would begin my journey with an etsy storefront because I thought it would be easier (true) than a stand alone site and there was a customer base to access (also true but not without self promotion). 

Step one:  Go to etsy and search my company name to see if it is taken.  I had been operating for several years as Special Affects and I entered it into the search and....taken.  Shit!  Now what?  After some mental frenzy I remembered that awhile back I had toyed with the idea of starting a clothing company with my sister-in-law, Beth, and I had played around with some names that would incorporate  both of our first initials.  Nells Belles was on of those names and I had always liked it.  I entered it into the search....available!  etsy requires no spaces in the names and so NellsBelles was born and I really, really liked it.  I was happy, happy, happy. 

Step two:  claim your storefront and behold, the etsy template.  Easy, I thought.  Like filling in the blanks.  (yeah, right.  nothing in computer land is ever that easy).  Oh and it wasn't!  "Insert pre-existing art work or go to our handbook for tips on how to created your own banner (etsy for signage)".  I had no artwork but I boldly went to the handbook and quickly glossed over as I read the "simple steps" to creating your own banner on your computer.  My sadness turned to tears and shortly rage moved in.  Goddammit, I was not going to be defeated!  I had perilously spent money on a computer that put my family at some risk and I could not let my ignorance stop me now.  But there were people on etsy that did these things for you, for a nominal amout of money, so I picked one and sent her an email and described what I was looking for.  She cheerfully wrote me back and asked  if I had any inspiration pictures she could work from.  You mean mail you some pictures?  No, silly, send them as an attachment.  An attachment?  You mean take pictures with my little point and shoot and then send them to you through the internets tubes?  Ah, yeah.  Okay.  Ah, I can do that.  I'll get those right off to you.

I didn't know how.