Wednesday, November 30, 2011

if you give a girl a sick day...

...she may lounge around watching movies and drinking tea like a normal person.

Or she may create fake inspirational mock-ups for her favorite time of year.

The best word I have to describe this palette is barftastic. Not to be too rude or anything, but that background pink reminds me of Pepto Bismol, which in turn reminds me of an upset stomach (one full of maraschino cherries, if that red is anything to go by). That said, this retro-granny style is exactly the sort of thing I would've been drawn to as a teenager. And the photos I used (cylinder of shiny globes, cat eating tinsel tree) are pictures of actual decorations up in our place as we speak. (In person, they give off a more modern, alternative vibe. Or at least that's what I tell myself.)

It was fun playing around with the layout templates (once again, huge thanks owed to Pugly Pixel). I'm sure there's a way to use them that would come across as more quirky and cute, but I was aiming for a little garish.

As it happens, I do come up with a sort of mental theme every year, and I consciously choose colors and materials in line with that idea to decorate and wrap gifts. This year is no different, but what you see above has nothing to do with what I'm actually picturing. Maybe I'll play around "seriously" and show you what I really have in mind...

Or not. It's hitting me that this is on the verge of becoming a fear post , because I'm getting very embarrassed owning up to just how much of a Christmas nerd I am.

OK, time to make some tea and be sick like a normal person. Plus I'm pretty sure Miracle on 34th Street is available for streaming on Netflix.... ;)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

hang it up

Remember that mess I made?

Well, here's a little a little glimpse of the progress:



....wall hanging!

A simple, cheap, and changeable solution for our high ceilings and very white space. Not quite finished so it's obviously a little disproportionate, but oh well. As soon as that whole "work" thing stops getting in the way I'll add the last strands and we'll be good to go!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

on a sunday: magic

Image credits, top to bottom: one / two / three / four


Sick day: On the couch, but in good company

Spent much of the morning at the doctor with what I thought was just another sinus infection. After suctioning my ear canals (yes, it's as gross and painful as it sounds), scoping out my sinuses, and ordering several x-rays, it was confirmed that I have "a deviation" in my left septum and some "childhood tissue" remaining in there. (I'm no medical expert, and the doctor is French, so that's about the extent of my understanding at present.)

The doc prescribed an antibiotic for the time being, but I have to call back to schedule surgery to remove the excess tissue. Apparently it's a simple outpatient deal, but I'm a total wuss when it comes to anything medically-related -- just ask the nurse who had to inject me before I left. It was all hand-wringing and attempted yoga breathing on my end. (Which, as it happens, is exactly where she stuck that needle -- right in my rear. The doctor said it would help with swelling? I don't know; things are weird here). 

The rest of the day has been spent on the sofa, drinking tea, and thinking. All that rest has me feeling a little better, though my head's still pretty scattered. I'm having trouble transitioning into what I really want to say, the reason I started this post in the first place, namely:

thank you.

The comments, emails, and messages I received after my last fear post were so uplifting and supportive, it truly knocked me out in the best possible way. So to anyone that wrote, called, or commented: Once again, thank you.

Interestingly, all of the responses I got were from women. It was like the universe swelled up to counter the viciousness of the girls in my memories, and to help me paint a new picture of what female relationships can mean and be. And I don't mean to get too chintzy, but I felt like I'd hunted around in the darkest part of myself, only to emerge holding a lifeline of shared experience and support. The connection to something so much greater than myself was unbelievably apparent. As I let my old ghosts go, I found warmth and light waiting to replace them.

I also found the world's best husband, my perfect fit, who, when I was curled up in ball feeling vulnerable and clutching my stomach, climbed right down beside me and wrapped his arms around me. 

I closed my eyes and listened to his heartbeat. 

That was the night after publishing my fear post, which had left me feeling more exposed and wounded than I was anticipating. I didn't need help or advice, just processing time -- enough space and minutes to fully let the feelings pass. In these instances, Andy's so incredible at finding a balance between being there and letting me be. He is steady and gentle. 

I only hope I can be so good in return.

Thanks again, friends (I think I can safely use that word now). Until next time.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

full exposure: to be a misfit - the middle school years

For a long time, at least as long as I can remember, I've had the sense that I just don't fit. But it's never something I talk about, apart from with my mom and Andy -- until today.

I grew up on three wooded acres in the midwestern suburbs. Now, right there is something that set me apart from many of the kids at school, who lived in houses situated elbow-to-elbow on whirling, infinite cul-de-sacs. These neighborhoods were full of children riding bikes and playing kickball until the sun set or the dinner bell rang (or so I imagined). Not that I ever really wished for such a life; the woods were, and remain, where I was most at home. I had one neighbor my age, who lived on a secluded street just behind our property; but mostly I would wander around on my own, climbing trees and building forts, or swinging as high as I could on the swing set while belting out show tunes.

When friends would come over, our games tended to be highly imaginative: We'd pretend our swings were unicorns taking us to distant lands, or (and this is so utterly embarrassing, especially for a sociology minor, that my stomach is turning just thinking about it) we'd play "Slaves," a game that required us (in the role of the titular slaves) to make soup for our master. We'd collect berries, leaves, and twigs, and mix them all up in a big bucket filled with water. Occasionally we'd also dig holes, because apparently, to a white nine-year-old in the suburbs of Chicago, that's what slaves did.

None of this, however, left me feeling all that different from my peers; I had friends from all sorts of backgrounds. Some were the children of doctors and ad-execs and lived in mansions; others had been relocated from the city projects to subsidized apartments in our area. In third grade, one of my best friends, the daughter of a South Korean scientist, lived at FermiLab. (Cottesong Park, are you out there? Remember me?)

These surface-level descriptors were never much of an issue for me. As my mom would say, "You notice race the way you notice hair color: Oh, red hair. Oh, brown skin." In my mind, there wasn't a whole lot of story associated with such traits -- red hair was red hair, brown skin was brown skin. You had money, or maybe you didn't, and neither was particularly good or bad. (Though, full disclosure, I did ask for and receive a black Cabbage Patch Kid, as well as a black Barbie. Obviously I was drawn to them in some way. You tell me why.)

Instead, what set me apart was my high sensitivity and (dare I say it?) intellect. This is still the case today. I process the world in a deep, analytical, and complex way. On the Myers-Briggs personality scale, I'm a tried-and-true INFJ -- a combination found in only one percent of the population. Is it any wonder I have trouble finding like-minded people?

The first time I was ever stung by a bee, I cried to my mother, "I don't understand, Mama. Why? Why did he sting me?" I hadn't done anything to the bee, not that I knew of, and I couldn't comprehend why it would lash out at me.

Human interactions later in life have often left me in much the same state.

Prior to entering seventh grade (my first year of middle school) I was generally pretty confident in my friendships and social status. Sure, I was a little quirky and considered "smart," but I was still part of the popular group, at least as it existed in our little corner of the world. I had my first kiss (and first period) by age eleven; I knew what music was in (Alanis, duh); I wore overalls, sometimes with leggings; I painted my nails with Express polish in shades of purple and teal; and I knew the names of all the actors on Full House, a show I never missed.

But suddenly, unexpectedly, my world started to crack apart around me. Without knowing why, I was abandoned by my closest friends, a number of whom I'd known since preschool. It was a gradual process, with some key events that went straight to my heart -- and manifested themselves on my wrists. This is something else I never, ever talk about, and I suspect even those closest to me now don't know. But here goes: I started cutting. Or dabbling in it, anyway, mostly using straight pins to create (and thereby relieve) some of the incomprehensible, overwhelming pain I was feeling.

My mom (how does she keep popping up here? You're a saint, woman) gave me a copy of Reviving Ophelia, and I knew, at least, that my experience wasn't unique to me. Still, it was hard not to have someone in my immediate environment to connect with. My response was, essentially, to get weirder. I started SAD (Students Against Dissection) and became a vegetarian. I bought my first Ani DiFranco album and discovered Spilling Open, which prompted me to start making my own mixed-media journal pages.

Part of this process, I believe, was actually me discovering my true self: Uninhibited by the social conventions adhered to by my prior group of "friends," I was free to engage with whatever ideas I chose. And I stuck with what resonated (I am still a vegetarian, and I credit Ani with helping me survive my teens. In fact, I posted this song just a few weeks ago).

It took until around my junior year of high school to start feeling OK in my own skin again, at least most of the time. I was unapologetically involved in activities that represented my passions: theatre, speech, art, orchestra, German club, student council. And I was good at them, holding numerous leadership positions, winning multiple awards, and competing in the state speech finals (Prose Reading, in case you were wondering. My rendition of Sarah Vowell's "Shooting Dad" killed it. Pun semi-intended.). By senior year, I had a tight-knit group of friends and my first serious boyfriend (yep, that'd be my now-husband).

This isn't to say there wasn't plenty of tumult in between, including an unfortunate phase my freshman year that involved wearing red plaid pants, but somehow it felt much more normal -- the ups and downs of everyday teen existence, and nothing multiple late-night viewings of John Hughes movies couldn't remedy.

Of course, almost immediately following high school I moved to Germany, prompting a whole new round of Ways-I-Don't-Fit (and never will again -- once you adopt another culture so completely, I don't think it's ever possible to fully return to your own. Hence, perhaps, the reason I have continued to wander all these years since.).

But all that can wait for another day. Maybe. If I'm so inclined. For the time being...

I'm embarrassed to admit:

So much of what I've just written. That I played a game called "Slaves" as a child. That my best friends decided I wasn't worthy of them, and that my response was to start cutting. That I'm worried about what my mother will say, now that my version of all this is out in the open. That, amidst all I have to be grateful for, I still have bouts of agonizing loneliness and despair, and the sense that I'm incapable of having real friends.

I think, what I fear the most here, is that that last bit is true. (Or else the part about my mom ;)) Sometimes I feel like I'm in the adult version of my middle school years, trying once again to figure out who I am and where I stand, while the rug is continually pulled out from underneath me. I hold myself at a distance, convinced that most people secretly hate me or will abandon me one day. Amazing how the past manifests itself in one's current reality. 

And now I want to know (please?): 

What are you embarrassed to admit?

Ever since I started this process -- returning to art, talking about what scares me -- readership of this here blog has almost quadrupled. Granted, I didn't have a whole lot of regular readers to begin with, but I know someone's out there, on a daily basis. So comment, anonymously or not. I'm truly curious about what you have to say.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

just happy to be here

I have more fear posts brewing in my mind, as well as an important project update. But for now, on the edge of this wide open weekend, all I can think is: I'm just so happy.

(Photos of happy people I love, borrowed from other people I also love)

Cheers, world. And thanks.

gratitude banner

Andy and I have been making this gratitude banner since the first of the month (in honor of the holiday at the end, obviously :) ). Each day, we write down something we're thankful for and hang it on the line. But it's getting harder and harder to figure out what to write: There are too many choices! It feels impossible to pick just one. Take today: Perfect weather, late lunch and coffee at our new favorite spot, sorting photos of my amazing students and thinking about how far they've come in just a few short weeks, a new art book, plane tickets home for Christmas (don't get me started on how incredible it is to be able to afford that)....It's amazing what life looks like when you start paying attention through a different lens.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

change of plans

So, that hike I was supposed to go on? Cancelled. Why? Take a look outside:

That's right, folks, there were CLOUDS in Abu Dhabi. That NEVER happens! Fog, yes, but this was the first time I've seen actual cloud cover. Obviously, this alone wasn't reason enough to call off the hike, but we were meant to go hiking in Oman, where the forecast called for rain. Not so fun, or particularly safe. (Have you seen the flooding there recently? Crazy.)

Andy and I did a border run instead. He needed to renew his visa, and I still got to catch a glimpse of the mountains.

We're hoping to reschedule a camping trip for the end of the month. With the exception of the past few days, the weather here has been sunny, cool, and perfect. Can't wait to finally get out there and explore.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

happy holidays

Can you guess what I'm doing today?

(Ignore the cat -- she was mad we refused to take her along and insisted on being in this photo.)

(Also, are we cat people now??? Scary stuff.)

like a letter from a friend

I came across these words today, and they resonated so strongly that I couldn't help but feel moved to say what I'm about to: 

I want to be an artist.

There, it's out. The dream I shelved for (what I told myself were) practical reasons a few years ago hasn't gone away. In fact, it's like this pulsing, nagging, growing thing inside me that refuses to be ignored.

Have you ever read the book A River of Words? It's one of my favorite children's books, telling the story of William Carlos Williams through simple, imaginative prose and wonderful mixed media illustrations. A few years ago, when the book was up for a Caldecott, I had the opportunity to meet the writer, Jen Bryant, and illustrator, Melissa Sweet, at the American Library Association National Conference. 

A river of Words

Watching Melissa sign my book, I thanked her for her work and told her just how much it meant to me -- and then I started to cry. I couldn't seem to help myself! The pictures looked so much like something I might make, and there was this tiny voice in the back of my head saying it's not too late! even though I felt like I'd largely abandoned my artistic self long ago. And then Melissa started crying and took my hands and was like, Why are we crying? And we laughed and shrugged and moved on.

It was such a strange, dizzy moment. 

I could still cry, thinking about it now. I know exactly why I let that artistic voice get so small, tuned it out for so long. Why my major morphed from Art History and Textile Design to Philosophy to Humanities, to, finally, Education, and it wasn't for "practical reasons." 

When I peel away all the surrounding noise and excuses, I'm left only with this:


A little demon nestled in some deep down dark place, one I've been sure to feed.

Now I'd like to give that little fear-demon a giant smack in the face. 

No, I'm not about to quit my day job. (For one thing, I kind of like it, and it's also paying the bills. I just don't necessarily want to keep it indefinitely.) I also think I need more time to....marinate. Yes, I want to be an artist -- but what does that mean? What type of artist? Do I go back to school? If yes, where? How? etc. 

Those questions don't have ready answers just yet, but for the time being, I do have a place to start:

Andy and I are heading over to Abu Dhabi Pottery today, where I'm hoping to sign up for classes. Since what I'm most nervous to try is throwing (using the potter's wheel), I'm thinking that's exactly what I need to do. Especially since it relates to the second item on my list. Which also happens to be where the blog comes in: For my next few posts, I'm going to write about whatever sticks out in mind as something I absolutely shouldn't reveal. Those shameful, embarrassing but truthful stories that I'd rather suppress as soon as they bubble to the surface? Yep, writing about 'em.

And finally, something I've always known I need to do more of, is sketch. I've avoided it in recent years because I've felt so inhibited, like nothing I could put on paper would be good or matter. Even when alone, just me and a pencil and paper, I'm worried about what others will think. So, right-left-kick, I'm gonna sketch like a madwoman.

Here goes nothing. (And everything.) (Or at least something.) (In any case -- onward.)

Special shout out to Pugly Pixel and Fuzzimo, where I get my free vectors (i.e., the notebook paper you see in the above images, as well as the polaroid frames, masking tape, etc., you've seen in the past). Katrina's tutorials at the Pug are also amazing, which is how my computer-illiterate self was able to create and code my sidebar.