Thursday, November 18, 2010

moments of truth

There are two incidents that have been replaying in my head lately, seemingly unrelated, but since they keep popping up I've been looking at them more closely and trying to see the connection. They actually happened around the same time, which I didn't realize until I started writing this. One incident is kind of personal and familiar to any woman who has grown up in western civilization in the past 1,000 years. I've had body image issues since I was an adolescent, which was fortunately balanced out by the fact I had a really strong mother who told me I was beautiful every day of my life so my issues did not teeter beyond occasional starvation diets, rare splurges on stupid beauty products, and momentary flashes of self-loathing. But still, I carried the body issues into my adulthood. The gazing in the mirror wondering why my hips had to jut out at that angle, wishing my legs were just a bit longer, sucking in my stomach and wondering if I could walk around like that on the beach and look natural.

Suddenly, a couple of years ago, I got sick of not liking my body. Here I am, totally healthy with a strong physique that years of exercise and good diet brought me, and I can't even enjoy it. I have to focus in on something that's not perfect and make myself unhappy. Sound familiar? I decided right then and there to change my thinking. Every time I look at my body in the mirror now, I think, "Damn, you look good!" I give myself outrageous compliments, I flatter myself shamelessly. Doing that just makes me feel better and then I don't waste time thinking about how I might change my body. Sometimes I catch myself with the old critical eye on that little bulge hanging out above my yoga pants, and I stop myself. I try to love that bulge. I'm not going to say I get wildly ecstatic when I go bathing suit shopping, but at least I don't burst into tears in the dressing room anymore.

The other incident happened around 2006-2007 while I was in New York City helping a friend with his clothing collection during fashion week, which is a crazy, draining, whirlwind event. I went with very little sleep for a week, and after the show was over had a breakdown/crying jag out on the sidewalk. I was crying because business was not going so well for me, and there was something about helping my friend with his business that brought that front and center. Orders were slow and I was having to make ends meet by doing a lot more wholesale, and I hated it. It felt like my business was on the rocks and my success only marginal. This was the lack of sleep talking, but there were some grains of truth in there-- I was drifting. Like confronting my less-than-perfect but still beautiful body it was a moment of truth: get your shit together and work what you have or drown in unhappiness and self-pity.

How does this relate to the present? It's recognizing when the inner voice is trying to send a message. Sometimes it manifests in negative thoughts and patterns, but it's still the inner you exploring the terrain and trying to find the best path. If you read my last post, some of you may recognize the message coming through: the artist, bored with herself and her work...again. It happens to everyone, no matter what they do, I just happen to think it's particularly difficult for the artist because the boredom comes from within. Maybe I'm wrong about that but I always like to think I suffer more than anyone else. Because I do dammit, see those extra-large tears rolling down my face!? Anyway, Christmas is coming and my present to myself is getting my shit together and working what I have. I'll tell you my plan as soon as I have it in place!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

the freedom, the pleasure

I don't think I've mentioned lately that I've been having a nervous breakdown in the studio lately, dying of boredom. This is a perennial problem that I have to deal with, and I think I 'm only just now recognizing that it is going to continue to be a issue that comes up as long as I'm making pottery for a living. I keep thinking I have the problem beat with various fixes, but I keep falling back into the pit of despair, boredom, frustration. I was listening to a wonderful interview with Sophie Crumb, daughter of the great R. Crumb and Aline Kominsky , as she and her father promoted her new book of drawings. Though both of her parents are famous and professional artists, Sophie shrugged off the idea of having an art career, saying, "Trying to be professional takes you away from the freedom and pleasure of drawing." Boy, that hit me right in the heart as I thought about how my own career in art sometimes takes me away from the freedom and pleasure of making pottery. And I'm not the only one suffering with this problem.

Pulling the problem apart is easy, but the solution is hard. The current problem? Too much production pottery, making the same thing over and over. Now, it's true that I have Ruth helping me, and so I apply very little brain power to the actual production of the endless cupcake stands, bird vases, creamers, etc. that roll out of the studio on a weekly basis. But that stuff takes up a bunch of physical space in my studio, which in turn takes up a bunch of mental space in my head. Then there's no room for anything.

Then there is another looming issue: Ruth is leaving me. Didn't that just sound like she's breaking up with me? That's kind of how it feels. But Ruth is burned out too and needs to move on from being an assistant to doing her own thing. In this strange world we live in I'll probably end up being her assistant some day, but for now I need to find a new assistant... like now. Do I feel like looking for another assistant? Not at all. Ruth is an ideal assistant: easygoing, great at her job, and no habits that consistently get on my nerves. Easy on the eyes too, I don't know why I always end up with the cutest assistants. Even then, I'm finding that having another person in the studio when I'm there to be, well, constraining. Draining.

Part of me just wants to go kamikaze and not hire a new person, but I already know that's a short road to insanity and then making a desperate hire, who I will end up firing. Not an option. I know there is a creative solution out there for me, but my brain has shrunk so much lately from the boredom thing that I can't see it. Any ideas out there?

Monday, November 01, 2010

the baby question

I turned 40 last July. One of the many benefits of getting through your 30's is having a firmer grasp on knowing what you want out of your life and why you want it. Also, people are starting to get used to the way you are and not expecting you to make any big changes. For instance, if you've always been kind of a slacker with not much of a job, by the time you are 40, people will usually stop asking you when you are going to get a job.

Like all child-free people, I spent some of my 20's and most of my 30's explaining to people why my husband and I do not have a baby. To family, to friends, even to acquaintances and strangers I've justified, explained, and rationalized why I do not have a baby, do not want a baby, and am not planning on having a baby. Deciding to not have a baby is not seen as a legitimate choice in this culture. Or in any culture. This is especially true when you are happily married, educated, middle-class, and good with children. My husband, Andrew, and myself are all of the above. Kids love us. We love kids. We just don't want them living in our house.

The truth is, I've never wanted to have a child. I've always wanted to be an artist and live my life unburdened by having to raise another human being. I know that being an artist does not preclude having children, that there are people out there who do both. In fact, one of my closest friends and artist who I admire most has two children under the age of five, and she pulls off the parent/artist thing in a way that I find kind of magical. But that's not me, and that kind of balancing act is not something I want to try out and see if I could be good at it, too. The problem with becoming a parent is that even if you suck at it, you usually won't get fired, and if you don't like it, you can't really quit.

Our decision does not dim the hope of certain people. One time, I called a good friend with happy news. "Guess what?!" I said. "You're pregnant!" my friend said. Ummmm, no. I had been selected to go attend a workshop as a resident. "Ohhhh..." my friend said. We were both disappointed and slightly embarrassed for the other, her wishing I would get it together and get knocked up already, and me wishing she would get used to the fact that I am and will remain child-free.

I bring this subject up because it's a question everyone has to consider, whether or not to raise children. The cultural expectation that one should have a baby overrides many people's decision-making process around the question. I had another friend who didn't realize she did not want a baby until she married someone who didn't. It never occurred to her to question whether or not she wanted a child, she just thought she would because... well, because that's what you do. As I get older it's a question that comes up less and less, and it's a relief. There's very little support for people who don't want to have children, and the conversation around it is usually the same. Are you an artist with a baby or struggling with the baby question? I'm very interested in the journey people people go through when thinking about this decision. Post your thoughts here.