Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Brave Too

OK. Round two. Let’s talk again about bravery.

It arrived as an artist group invite.  It’s a group of “working” artists.  The “working” label is because it is women who are putting their eggs in that basket.  They are actively marketing, applying to shows, creating product lines, working with designers, putting their shingles out in their own spaces, and working really hard to make this art life happen.  This is their day job.

So, I shared gallery space with one of these ladies (Stacy) and got myself an invite.  Yay, me!  What happened was I had this great, encouraging night with a wonderful group of people who absolutely fill my Instagram account with wonderful stuff.  I admire them all.  Really.  But I’m just writing about a few.

You know how sometimes you can be in a big group of people talking and then one person will start talking and everyone kind of stops to listen to her?  Blayne’s like that.  She’s not pushy – not at all – and she isn’t loud. She talked about the difficulties of getting someone to highlight her artwork on their blog, some galleries who were nice and one that wasn’t.  It was like getting it straight from the horse’s mouth.  It WAS getting it from the horse’s mouth.  By “it” I mean experience and honesty and help.

Because we all need a little help.  That’s what struck me.  We were helping each other.  We weren’t holding back; it didn’t feel competitive or uncomfortable.  Christina had worked at a big name gallery and shared her perspective.  The fellow introverts (Bless you, Deonna!) listened and made insightful connections.  Even though we don’t all have the same dream, that night we all were in the same place.  We were working, working hard to follow the dream, whatever that dream looked like for us.

So I found out Blayne was the creator of the email list for that group and I fawned over her and made damn sure I made the next couple of meetings.  Through the generosity of that group, I was included in a show I never would have been included in before.  I watch as they post on social media, let people know a little about their lives, share their accomplishments, learn from their failures.  I learn how to let people in a little more, how to be ok with my own failures, how to share with and nurture other creatives in my circle.  I hope that – when I get to the point where I can create a few opportunities – that I remember this and share that space. 

I hope I get there because the defining attribute of the folks I’m talking about in this little blog is HUSTLE.  Oh my gosh.  I hear them talk and I look at these social media feeds and it makes me freaking exhausted.  Melissa Payne Baker makes a line of paintings --sure!—but also scarves and bags and glasses and sells them in multiple places, does book signings across the country, paints live at events.  Small, beautiful child dressed perfectly in all photos.  Blayne works with a designer to create the perfect painting for an amazing house and future magazine spread in some ridiculously short amount of time, moved to a fantastic loft studio, sells a daily paper line, creates and curates and tremendous, HUGE show as a fundraiser for Children’s hospital.  Beautiful small children.  Also is a photographer. 

They are also younger than I am and in the throws of mommy time.  I mean, when a parent has to be there every second or you have to pay someone to be there every second. 

But in the midst of all this, they have the kindness, the generosity to share.  These women invite me to the shows they start.  They include.  They make the circle wider.  I was – and am – inspired.  They are brave, but they are also kind.

Since I started this essay months ago, Blayne curated and built her massive and successful fundraiser show, the Beacham Series.  I was absolutely honored to participate and, again, was struck by how many wonderful artists she had gathered and fostered.  Soon after the show, Blayne sent a message on IG that she was going to have to step back a bit from the full-time artist world because of all the other things she has in her life that need her attention.  While this made me a little sad, I was sad because the way she said it I felt that she was dejected by this change, like she had let herself down.  I don’t know what actually had to change.  Maybe she and her family were just really exhausted by the whole show process, but from my perch at *cough* 46-yrs-old *cough* I bet it was one of those turning points where you work and you work and you work and you (she) just lost track of how much she accomplished.  Maybe she didn’t fulfill her fundraising goal.  Maybe her husband felt neglected.  Maybe she was feeling some mommy guilt.  I don’t know; I’m totally projecting my own problems on her.  But I do know this: she did something.  She did something really big.  I’m astonished at the huge show she put together, yes.  It was great and a ton of fun and art sold, mine included.  However, I think what she really accomplishes is opening a new path, for making so many artists (and probably other “regular” people too!) feel pretty freaking amazing about themselves.  She shows that some new things are possible.  She essentially created a new “people project” that wasn’t there before, from scratch.  But maybe her biggest win was being able to publicly say it is ok to step back for a minute.  Don’t we all need permission to step back and change direction?

So thank you, art group.  Thank you Stacy for introducing me to Melissa (again?) and to Blayne for putting the email together and folks for hosting.  Thank you all for sharing your journeys.  It makes my journey a little less hard.  I know that’s not world-wide fame or millions of $$$, but I want you to know it matters.  What you do is brave and it is kind.  Carry on.   

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Brave One



I feel like I need to preface this by saying, “I don’t know her.”  And it is true, until yesterday she was a stranger.  I’d never heard her voice or seen her face. 
Maybe she doesn’t feel so much like a stranger today.  Today she seems like who I should have been if I’d had more balls.  And by balls, I mean courage.  I am vicariously living through her courage.

Let me step back.  “She” is Karen.  She’s starting an art center.  Pretty much single-handedly she’s researched, found a location, is funding, and is building (or her husband is building) an art center.  I’m from a small town.  She’s from the small town across the river.  She’s not “from money.”  In fact, her dad is much of the reason this is happening, I think.  He worked at one of the mills on the river for years, but he had the gift of making things.  He worked in wood and hoped to retire and be an artist.  He died young.  Never retired.  This art center is his legacy.  His daughter is a teacher.  His son-in-law is a teacher.  Or they were, until they quit to make this art center.

Her dream is to make a place where her dad could have been an artist -- before he had the money and the time.  She wants to provide affordable studio space to people from both sides of the river and both sides of the tracks.  It’s not huge, but it is big.  It’s important. 

Why do I care?  I don’t even live in this town anymore.  I live in Atlanta.  We have the Goat Farm, Tannery Row, the Artist Resource Center, MINT and MET, the B Complex, etc., etc.

I care because I’m pretty risk-adverse.  I understand the fear that leads people away from a life of art.  I didn’t really pursue it until I could afford to do so.  I didn’t consider making art on a big scale until I had a space in the house where I could really make a mess.  I’m super lucky.  I have a house.  I had an unfinished room with electricity.  What if I didn’t? 

When I’m working on a piece of art and some areas of it are working and some parts aren’t, I often tell myself “Be brave.”  For me, that means, get the big brush back out, paint over some of the parts you think you love.  See how the painting changes.  Allow it to become something else than what you had in mind. 

I’m getting better about doing that with a painting, but let’s be honest, that’s because you can redo a painting.  I’m still learning how to do that in life.
 
That is why I have an art crush on Karen.  She’s being brave in life.  She’s putting her inheritance on the line.  She found a cool, old brick building with old walls and huge, curved steel supports.  Somebody donated the electrical work and they’re barely gonna make ends meet, even with help.  They’ve planned the studios, the bathrooms, the office.  She’s working with the city for all the parking.  She’s setting up phase two and three: a shared space for a classroom that will be non-profit.  She’s gotten darkroom equipment and a kiln.  She’s not doing this thing half-assed.

It took me until 40 to consider art as a possibility.  I don’t know how old she is, but Karen isn’t waiting.  She’s doing this thing now.  She’s taking a big old swan dive into this possibility.  It’s risky, but it is also amazing.  She’s acting on her dream -- making the dream possible for other artsy folks around this town. 

I don’t know her.  I didn’t know her dad.  But damn, I bet he’s proud.

____________________________________________________________________________


If you’d like to see the art center, it is The Heritage Art Center in Columbus, GA.  She’s not asking for money, but she is ready for people to reserve studio space.  If you’ve been wanting a place to make art, if you’ve been scared to make the leap, consider this jumping-off-point.  If you are an art patron, this place will eventually be filled with artists; remember when you’ve got a project.  If you aren’t ready to rent a studio, but would be interested in having a place to come work on bigger projects, there will be a shared space for you, too.  If you have ties in the Columbus non-profit arena, then she might be able to use you on the classroom phase. 

I think this is a great opportunity to help someone help others.  Support the Arts.  Support people who support the arts. 

If you don’t go see Karen, go see Dee Dee at Highland Galerie.  Or Fiddleheads.  Or visit the Bartlett center.  Or go to a student show at CSU.  Or support the Columbus Collective.  This little town by the river is experiencing a bit of a renaissance.  Couldn’t be happier.  Go, Columbus, go!




Sunday, January 5, 2020

Small Time


I am a small-time artist.  I don’t say that to insult myself.  Actually, it has only been in the last year or so that I’ve been able to own up to calling myself an “artist.”  I used to call myself a painter or just say I was artsy.  I say that because it is an honest assessment of where I am.  I will never be a Banksy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, or Yayoi Kusama.  I'm not tearing up the art scene in SoHo or London.  I'm a suburban housewife who can't seem to not create stuff.  I think that stuff is pretty good.  However, I really struggle with how much to expect from myself.  Am I good enough to put myself out there?  If I think I am, I risk a certain level of delusion and possibly alienating a future resource.  If I don’t believe in myself enough, I risk losing an opportunity. 

I’m proud of where I am.  Please don’t get me wrong.  I am absolutely thrilled with the progression of this art life.  In several years, I have moved from being a mom of young kids who occasionally hacked out a couple of paintings in the lawnmower storage area (one lightbulb hanging from the ceiling) to being able to paint nearly every day in a “real” studio space, complete with doors, windows, and many (many!) light sources.  I sell through friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, and complete strangers.  I'm in cute shops.  I'm in galleries.  I am no longer losing money (yay?) and though I couldn’t pay our mortgage, I might have been able to pay for our utilities this year, maybe our groceries.  Groceries are a big deal.  I do have a 14-yr-old boy, you know. 

And although I can acknowledge I’m small-time, small-time is bigger than amateur – or non-existent.  For the first time, I have expectations for myself.  When I didn’t have any expectations, every tiny success was a wonderful surprise.  Since I’ve started this path, each year I sell more, participate in more shows, buy more materials.  What happens when I have that inevitable down year?  I invite this trouble because I had a down December for the first time ever.  A great year!  A miserable December.  If you didn’t know, 4th quarter for artists is pretty much go-time.  Usually.  It’s like Prime Day, for a month.  I make small pieces, create ornaments, and print cards.  I have open houses and take new work to galleries.  And this year?  Crickets.  It’s tough. 

It’s tough – and it is discouraging.  I don’t do well with discouraging.  On top of that, I didn’t get into a show that I really wanted to join.  I’ve been working on this big series of mixed media pieces that I love and really have enjoyed making.  I was hoping they’d get to debut together at this show.  Now, I’m looking for a new place for them to go.  It’s a blow.

It’s a blow that I will absorb.  Why?  Because my kids were in the car when I got the email about not getting in the show.  They heard me talk about how disappointing it is, how much I was counting on it.  I want them to see me deal with it.  To pick up and go on and find the new path.  If this blog is about parenting, about me, about art, then this moment is also about those things.  I’ve been turned down for shows before.  I’ve not made the sale.  I’ve had commissions walk away.  Somehow this feels bigger. 

I think it feels bigger because I am at this turning point.  I’m invested.  Literally.  I’ve upgraded my studio.  I’ve created a little gallery space in the basement.  I’ve bought inventory software.  I’ve bought some IG ads.  I’m going all in. 

It’s scary.

What if I’m not good enough?  What if all this time and effort has brought me to a place where everyone is rolling their eyes behind my back: There she goes again: talking about her “art”?  She calls herself an artist.  Crazy Shelley.

I am crazy.  No question.  I’m not technically diagnosed with anything; I am mostly weird.  I wonder too much.  That makes me crazy, I think.  At least it makes me crazy in the world I live in. 

It also is part of what makes me a small-time artist.  I’m not examining a crazy world; I’m not living in NYC or some exotic location.  My art is not terribly outrageous.  I'm not making sense of a genocide that I witnessed first-hand or illustrating an obscure culture that I'm reviving.  My world is very, very uncrazy -- like Leave It To Beaver uncrazy.  I’m examining my uncrazy world and still seeing it as crazy. 

I need another word.  Unusual.  Jarring.  Beautiful.  Puzzling. 

I’m an observer and have spent my life trying to reconcile the discordance I feel between light and interest and growth vs. human self-destruction.  Everyday beauty constantly reminds me that life is bigger than we make it.  The contradictions and connections don't depend on glamour or grittiness. I write about it.  I paint about it. 

So this translation of how I see the world is what I make.  It is for sale.  And rejection of what I make sometimes feels like a rejection of me. This is why I had such a hard time sending my writing to literary magazines.  It is why I usually make safe choices.  It is why I “became an artist” later in life.  It is why I am quiet. 

I’m small-time because I am just now getting it together, just now being gentle enough with myself to introduce myself to others as an artist.  I'm small-time because my art might be saying things that people have already said – maybe they even said it better --but I'm saying it in my voice.  I’m small-time because I’m OK with just getting my foot in a few doors, because it is a business when I’m not quite a businessperson.  I’m small-time because it’s the bravest thing I’ve done for myself. 

So far.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Without Reservations


Pretty sure I’ve said this before on here, but being a parent is hard.  You either have to be a naturally good and wise person (I’m not) or you have to work like hell to become a more self-realized adult to prevent your own crap from bleeding over into your children.  I’m working on option two. 

I mean, I know there are people who really don’t care too much.  They pop out kids without really thinking about much above what the monogram is going to look like on the Christmas sweater.  And they seem fine.  Their kids seem fine.  And they float through life living pretty much the life their parents lived, but with more technology.  I’m not sure how that works because I’m seeing it from the outside (and simplifying it a ton.)  From the outside, I just don’t see how this happens.  Don’t they question?

And I guess that’s it.  I lead an examined life.  And by “examined” I mean, full of doubt and learning and change.  It’s uncomfortable.  I question religion.  I question family ties.  I question what I read and hear.  I question my own thought processes and inspirations.  I question the love I receive and the love I give.  I question my place in this world and my contributions to others.  I question everything.  It’s exhausting.  No wonder I look so old.

I like that I don’t take the status quo and run, but this way of looking at the world also breeds a kind of bone-deep sadness that I don’t want to pass on to my children.  I want a few pieces of absolute joy to shine through – find them where they will – otherwise they work too hard for too little happiness.  Jack finds his joy in his coding world right now and I worry that he will someday find that he is not the best programmer in the world and that “just” being ONE of the best coders in the world won’t be enough.  See how ridiculous I am?  And Lila, emotionally intelligent and logical and indomitable, sees too much of the pettiness of others.  She watches like a hawk.  And thinks that’s the way it is and the way it always will be. 

In a way, I think I want ignorance for my children.  Which is so bad.  Or is it?!  Part of me wishes I had those children who are a little dumb and don’t see the nuances of this world, don’t see what can’t be unseen.  Jack has a little of that, in that he doesn’t always get that people are being intentionally horrible to him.  What a gift!  And my children are given the gift of having come from a privileged background.  They are not threatened with poverty or having to wonder if their lives matter to others or being placed in horrible schools. 

They are, however, part of the epidemic of young people wondering if their lives matter enough to themselves to continue living.  As a mom, I wonder how much I contribute to that voice in their head that says they don’t do anything right, that no one sees them, that there’s nothing better in the future.  Because if that’s what they hear, part of that is ME. 

Trying to get them to see the world as I want to see it – full of opportunities to help others, full of the wonders of the glories of nature, full of a collection of humans with amazing variety of knowledge and experiences – also means there is a world infested with problems to fix and people unlike us who just don’t want to see it.  And that’s sad.

And it was sadness that started it all this morning because it is Monday and it is early and Lila is the new kid at school.  It’s big school and she’s a social animal and it’s hard to be on the outs.  There were tears and lots of moments where I had to hold back my own impatience with her emotions and understand how truly difficult it is for her.  Hugs, hugs, and more hugs, sprinkled with a little bit of perspective. 

My issue is why I felt like she needed those sprinkles of perspective.  I’m trying to help her see that bogging herself down with negative thought over negative thought is a dangerous place to be; you stop seeing the positive.  But I also want her to be ok with just feeling bad sometime.  She doesn’t have to always look for the sunshine behind the clouds.  She doesn’t have to fake feeling good.  She doesn’t always have to pay meanness back with kindness.  I’m looking for the balance.

That’s how I deal.   But is it how I want my kids to deal?  Not really.  I don’t want them to have reservations about where they are and how they feel.   I want them to have a little more confidence that their desires, feelings, worth, and abilities are wholly justified.  My struggle is that I can’t justify things without questioning them.  I always have reservations.

When they were babies, I felt like my job was only to show them how much I loved them so that they would leave our home always knowing that they were loved.  Then, they could function in the imperfect world with a solid base, have a place to come home to emotionally.  They could deal with whatever came their way.

They are no longer babies.  And I feel that parenting has gotten way more complicated.  Pitfalls abound.  The good news is that they are mostly their own person now.  My role has become a bit of a nattering voice in the driver’s seat who annoys them with questions about their life and commentary about current events and the occasional embarrassing singing episode.  

But maybe I need to return to how I parented my babies a bit more.  Maybe my only real purpose is to love them as hard and as often as I can.  Because everything else is unstable.  The questions will always there – in them and in me.  Honestly, I need to do this unbalanced thing because it is the only damn thing I can do without reservations.  Love them.  Love them always.  No holding back.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

What I Want to Tell Your Kid


Well, first off, I’m hurt.  Your intention was to hurt someone, I guess, with your nasty Instagram poll and meme.  You did.  You hurt Jack.  He obsessed all day about the kid who he thought was his friend who publicly humiliated him on social media.  So, well done.  You hurt his dad, and his sister (maybe), and his mom.  But I’m trying to put that aside and be a parent.  I think this is a learning moment.

What I’m not sure you know is that there is a suicide epidemic in this country.  Kids like you and Jack are killing themselves at higher rates than ever before.  Experts indicate that social media is a factor.  Kids on the spectrum, like Jack, have even higher rates of suicide.  I think it is because although social interactions don’t come naturally to him, he’s smart enough to observe what other kids do and try to do the same thing – and he’s constantly failing.  Do you know how it feels to know you are constantly failing at being normal? 

So, what you have done is shown him that everyone else knows he is failing, too.  In posting your poll about how happy everyone is that he’s leaving, you’ve just reemphasized how disliked he is.  For the rest of his life – because you know he has the memory of an elephant – he will remember how his classmates were happy to see him go.

And it will fester.  It will be added to all the other mean things kids have said to him that he can’t forget.  But it will mean more because it came from someone who had him over to spend the night, who went to QuikTrip with him and bought him doughnuts at DD, who worked on school projects with him.  It came from a “friend.”

It is as a friend that I want to say this next part.  Jack is not the only kid who will remember.  I’m old, almost 46.  Middle school and high school were a long, long time ago.  But I still weigh those men and women by some of the choices they made back then.  Were they a total jerk to their boyfriend?  Did they lie to the teachers?  Did they pick on the little weirdos in the class?  These are the building blocks of their character.  While allowances are made for what they were going through as kids and what they learn as adults, their actions when I knew them as young people are still part of how I see them today.  I don’t know your plans for yourself, but you might want to consider that these kind of digs might get you a few snickers now, but it will cost you in trust.

Trust.  I think that’s why this hurts so much.  We trusted you.  I say ‘we’ because my experience with Jack is that only a certain type of kid is brave enough to be his friend. I feel safe letting Jack hang out with those kids.  It’s usually someone who is smart enough not to be irritated by Jack’s incessant need to be right.  It’s usually someone who understands how valuable Jack’s unwavering loyalty is.  It’s usually someone who appreciates his sense of humor.  But it is always someone who is brave.  Because we know Jack is one of the little weirdos.  Jack knows too.  And his friends know.  Everyone knows.  That’s not really the point. 

The point is what you do with that knowledge.  Jack carries on.  He stays, for the most part, pretty happy.  So I’m hoping he doesn’t turn into one of those sad, sad statistics.  But the teenage years are crazy, so I’m scared.  The people who don’t want to deal with his weirdness, well, they turn away.  Some people are kind.  Some people aren’t. 

You had a chance here, a choice.  It was – to you – maybe a small thing on a day you were bored.  You had this little thought on how to dig on someone.  You followed through.  In that moment, you chose being unkind over kind.  You chose not to stand up for the little guy.  You chose to kick him instead.

My hope is that maybe you realize that your little dig can have big consequences, to him and to you.  And maybe next time you’ll think twice -- or not do it at all. 

Oh.  And you can go fuck yourself.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Solo



If you’re not an artist, you probably don’t really know why I’d be so excited to have a solo show.  It’s kind of a thing, a landmark moment, a big deal.  It’s something to put on your resume or CV; it’s an honor and an achievement.  It means a gallery owner saw your work as valuable enough to put on their wall for weeks at a time.  And yeah, I’m super excited about all that, but I’m more excited that I get to make a sort of visual journal for anyone who might come see it.  It’s my greatest hits. 

A solo show will mean having 60-75 pieces of my art in one place.  It’s never happened before, even in my basement.  It’s hours and weeks and months of my life.  More, it’s a roadmap to how I think, a chance to connect the dots in what I’ve made.
If you’ve seen the kind of work that I make, you know I’m “diverse.”  In the art world, that’s not necessarily a good thing.   However, if you see enough of my work up on the wall, you can begin to see how they share themes, colors, and movement, even if the materials are different.  An encaustic piece shares the same kind of strokes as an oil on canvas.  A resin construction has the same floral style of an ink on yupo.  Fascination with construction of layers is everywhere.  But I’m starting to sound too artsy.  Let me break it down.

(drum solo)

I’m what you’d call a self-taught artist, although that’s far from what actually happened.  What it really means is I didn’t go to art school.  I was taught by artists in the town where I grew up.  I was in walking distance a pretty good museum.  Summer was longer then (8 lousy weeks for my kids) and I spent quite a bit of it in art class.  I took art in high school.  My awesome neighbor down the street (a professional artist) gave me lessons.  I volunteered teaching art at a half-way house when I was in college.  I painted in my dorm room, in my first apartment, when I rented a room in a stranger’s house.  I created things: a lamp from a vase my cat broke, a shower curtain from laminated poetry, a bed skirt from triangular fabric scraps.  I wrote.  I worked.  I moved.  I read.  I got my MFA.

Wait.  What?  Here’s the bridge. 

Yes, I have an MFA.  It’s a studio art degree, but it is in poetry.  Most people don’t even know it exists, but it is a degree that certifies (?!) that I have spent several years studying the writing of poetry.  We studied structure and history and other famous poets, but we also spent required hours in workshop, listening, critiquing, editing, and putting it all out there.  It was a wonderful time in the company of other people who really think about the world we inhabit.  They sit with it.  Then it comes out in these beautiful, gut-poking, sneaky ways. 

So that’s where I’m coming from when I’m putting this show together.  It’s me, untrained by a system of art.  So, sometimes I use mediums in ways they maybe shouldn’t be used or make shadows the wrong color.  However, it also means I have a way of looking at things as a poet.  I see the underlying structure and how missing a supporting column makes you go back and look at what’s shaky.  I think in building ways, putting unrelated things together to make a metaphor that rings.  I understand juxtaposition, alliteration, and allusion and I paint with them. 

When you look at my encaustics next to my resins, a little piece next to a huge piece, paint next to ink, try to think of them like lines of a poem, or poems in a collection.  Because that’s what they are.  I wrote them into being.  They are how I see things: in pieces, separated, coming back together, everything loosely connected by beauty. 

(That’s my big finish.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wings


Sometimes I wonder what I am doing.  You know, with parenthood, with trying to be a fully realized person, with art.  There are SO MANY artists out there, so many wonderful, talented, driven artists with really great hair and darling babies and so much more energy than I have.  I scroll through Instagram and depress myself with all the people I follow who A) make a new painting every day --or like 3 new paintings--or B) just have talent oozing from their golden fingertips like they’ve eaten Midas. 

Then I make something that I think is really cool.  Like today.

Actually this isn’t something I made today, it is something that became fully realized today.  Or almost.  I still have a little “finishing” to do.  But, people!  It happened.  I brought some things together that didn’t go together before.  I had a problem inside an idea and I solved it.  It looks pretty.  It means something.  It WORKED.

If I were in better shape I’d be jumping up and down.

Can I tell you about it?

It’s called Flight Pattern.  Or Flight Path.  Still thinking. 

It started a year ago as a coaster – or really a remnant of resin from another project.  I had a little square silicon mold and I poured the leftover resin in it, then added some thematic elements: a wing, an owl face, some feathery ruffles, the word “flight”, a little gold.  It was cool.  No idea what I was going to do with it. 

The next time I had some resin leftover, I made another.  They developed in theme.  They were all girl power.  They had feathers and wings and metals and words about the future and flying and… girls.  Every one different. 

They weren’t even my colors.  I didn’t have a plan.  Every now and then I’d take them out and think about what they could do. 

Turns out they were lousy coasters – too uneven.  They became “tiles.”

But a funny thing happened.  They started to mean something.  I realized I was putting together little snapshots of girlhood and feminism. 

It is not new for me to struggle with how being a woman looks for me and what that means for my daughter.  I still have all the hang-ups of wanting my child to be polite and sweet, but I have seen the TED talk and the articles about how that parenting approach only ensures that she will be left behind after elementary school and trained to only follow the rules, never to push them.  She’ll be well-behaved, but never fly above expectations.  I don’t want that.  That’s what happened to me.  I want something different for her.  She’s funny and so very, very people smart in a way that I never was.  I want to praise her crazy-strong body and her loud voice, her chance-taking and her questions.  And even in wanting those things, I hold her back in little ways.  That’s on me.  It doesn’t mean I don’t see and appreciate the fierce joy and possibilities that her self holds.  I do, but I'm not always the best at fostering them.  I’m learning that I’m not going to be the one that is able to teach her how to go beyond.  I only have to get out of her way so she can rise.  All that.  Tile by tile.  A little gold.  A butterfly we found on the front porch.  Some darkness, some places clear. 

Still, these thoughts were a stack of tiles, connected in color and theme, but going nowhere. 

Then my mother-in-law brought me some ceramic pieces from a totem she made for her garden.  And I started thinking structurally, how I could connect her pieces into a hanging sculpture, or a resin piece that would echo the circle and line abstract work I’ve been doing.  And in thinking about how I could make a piece for her ceramics, I thought maybe I could make a piece for the girl tiles.

I turned a deep panel over and painted it and poured clear resin, then added a path in copper and white and blacks.  It sunk and moved as it took two days to harden, but turned out pretty cool.  Now, how to attach the tiles?  I was initially thinking I would drill a hole in the resin and hammer in pegs, but I went to Home Depot to see if I could find something better than just pegs.  I did.  I have no idea what they do in real life, but they are these little copper tubes that flare a bit on one end – just enough to hold if I poured another layer of resin, which I did.  First I had to mark where I wanted the tiles and make sure the pegs would stay in the tiles.  Found the right drill bit to keep the tiles on the copper pegs, and… (angels singing.)

I mean.  I just love this stuff.  It’s a weird sort of problem solving, making something like this.  It has absolutely no purpose, other than depicting my own sort of feminism motherhood journey. (The path goes down, gets dark, then goes up.)  The tiles are even interchangeable; it doesn’t have to be MY journey.  But dang.  I just love it so much.  It’s like pulling out thoughts I didn’t even know I had and making them physical.  That has to mean something, right?  Being able to say something with things? 

Maybe someday, when my girl and I can’t stand even looking at each other and she doesn’t think I understand a single thing about her life, maybe something I make will have a voice she can hear.  Maybe she’ll see herself in the skateboarding silhouette or the “future interests” I have sharing space with music in this piece.

Maybe she’ll understand we both make our own paths, but I tried to let her fly.