Monday, August 19, 2019

Inspiration Monday: Allergies

Yeah. You read that right. Allergies.

What on earth is inspirational about allergies?

Hear me out here. I promise this makes sense. At least it does to me, and I'm not sure that means much, but here we go.

Today I went to the chiropractor who keeps me surviving my hateful skeleton. I asked her straight out why my entire body hurts to the touch and why it hurt so much more than usual when she jammed her pointy little elbow into my enraged muscles. I mean, it always hurts enough to make me rethink all my life's decisions, but today was extra.

Satan's Flowers

"Allergies," she said.

"Allergies?" I asked. "In my back?"

"Yup," she said as if she had just told me that sandwiches are usually made with bread. Usually.

"How's that work?" I asked.

"Allergies are inflammation. They can make inflammation elsewhere worse." Duh.

"Ah. Choooooo! Ack! Ack! Ackkkk!"
She had me there. My allergies are OFF. THE. CHAIN. I sneeze and cough so much my eighteen-month-old has started mocking me. I never once considered that one irritant might be causing another, one that affected me in a much more significant way.

That got me thinking. (And taking my anti-histamine, but that's beside the point). I started wondering what I am allergic to in my everyday life that is aggravating the other issues I'm already struggling with.

It's no secret if you were to paw through this blog, I went through a MAJOR period of writer's block--more like all-around creative block--that was years long. I went through a lot of life changes and probably a pretty sloppy scoop of depression, and now I'm fighting my way back out of the weeds to reclaim a healthy creative life and take some steps, tentative or not, toward my goals.

It’s going to take some hefty scratching to be able to determine exactly what’s causing all my creative itches, but there’s one thing I know for sure. Like every other human on earth, I’m allergic to shame.

It’s hard looking back at my old writing. I don’t just mean pulling out my old projects and cringing at the things I’ve grown past (though there is a LOT of that), but just recognizing how much time has passed since I made any real progress. Even this blog—it’s pretty easy to look at the dates and see the gaping hole where I thought a million times how I’d like to put up a post, but couldn’t bring myself to do it for one reason or another. It isn’t that I haven’t written in all that time. I have—a lot—but it was more like I was trying to write my way through the door of my projects and I never even scratched the lock. It has been frustrating. Painful. Irritating.


The thing is, I don’t think it just affected my writing. I think it bled into other areas of my life. So many time I've caught myself thinking, “How can I do that? I can’t even write a simple blog post. There’s no way I can do that.” (In this example, “that” means “anything at all.”)

You see how easily this can grow. Before you know it, it’s a tower of doubt blocking out the sky. No sunsets. No brand-new-day idea. No seeing possibilities for tomorrow because of the looming, shameful remembrance of what didn’t happen yesterday. If you’re not careful, that little bit of inflammation in one area of your life will burn you up somewhere else, somewhere important.

What are you allergic to in your life? What are the irritants, the sneaky little invaders into your life that leave you itchy and inflamed? You might find that they are affecting you in ways you never considered.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Hello (Again) World!

Blog, my friend! It's so good to see you again!
Euka the Wonderful

What? Hey--wait. Why so mad? I quit you? I just abandoned you?
No! No, no, no--it wasn't like that. You don't understand. Let me explain. See, life got very, very lifey. When I say very, I mean very. Since the last time I posted here, I've been through a lot.

I started and ended an LLC art business.

We adopted another love-bug of a giant, sweet rescue dog named Euka (who brought the words, "Green chicken!" into our daily vernacular.)

Lots of things changed with my job, in that I work at a different location in a different part of town and I'm now managing a different grant with a brand new staff.

Old car, new car. Same thing.
I was in a wreck that totaled my car. (You remember, the car that I bought a few years ago and loved enough to blog about it? Yes, that car. R.I.P. Mazie Bear.)

I lost my mom. 

Then, there's the biggest change of all:
I spawned a human.

Meet Landon, the coolest one-year-old on the planet. Cutest, sweetest, smartest, and happiest, too.  Trust me.

Small, smart, and handsome indeed.
Becoming a mom is the single most difficult and wonderful thing I have ever done. It's hard. Extremely. But it's so, so worth it. Landon is my very favorite of all the possible favorites, along with his dad, of course. 

There are probably a million other things that have gotten between this blog and me over the last few years, and they got between myself a lot of other things that I love as well. I went through the longest period of writer's block of my life. I stopped doing so many of the creative and artistic things I love because I spent so much of my energy just trying to navigate my way from dawn to dusk without ending the day less than I started.

The only way out of a hole is to climb, so here I am, scrambling my way back up the cliff and reclaiming my creativity. This weekend I attended a writer's retreat with my "long-distance" writing group from Nashville, Pretty in Ink.

I had no idea how much I needed a weekend away to shock my system out of its rut. The scenery was breathtaking, and being around those fierce, talented women inspired me to follow through with the three goals for the weekend:

1. Make progress on my pesky ten-year-old novel that I've restarted yet again. This time, I think I've really gotten to the root of where I was derailed, and I did make progress.

2. Write a blog post. I think it's safe to say that I accomplished this goal, even though I waited until I was back home to get it posted.

3. Submit a short story for publication. This was the big one. I don't know what my problem is with submitting my work. I can get amazing feedback, edit myself into a coma, finally get my stories polished to a shine, and then...nothing. I just kind of leave them sitting there on my computer in their folder, napping and twiddling their little thumbs. This weekend, I yanked one out and submitted it to two contests.

So, blog, my friend--I did not abandon you. I just wandered from the trail. I worked my way back, though, and maybe I'm a little worse for the wear, but here I am all the same. I don't know if I can commit to a regular posting schedule like I had before, but I can work on getting myself back into the groove with some kind of regularity. I have a lot of cool things simmering--some cool art commissions, and a very cool collaboration with Ellen Morris Prewitt that is as unique as it is fun.  I'm spending a lot of time trucking away on my part of that project, but I don't want to spoil it until it's time to unveil the results.

Life might have gotten a whole lot more complicated for me over the last few years, but what I've learned through all the hills and valleys, squinting through the fog, is that it creativity is what connects me to the life I'm living. It is through the arts that I experience the world, and how I participate in it. Otherwise, I'm just free-spinning through life, and I can't think of a more wasted opportunity than that.

Here's to the road ahead, and may every bump and curve become inspiration.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

East Buntyn Art Walk

Today I am crawling out of my weekend cave, putting on outside pants, and heading over to show off some of my handmade books at the East Buntyn Art Walk here in the grand city of Memphis. I art a lot, and I walk a good bit, but I've rarely combined the two.

Hey, it seems like a winning combination to me!

I'm hoping to find some new homes for some of my books, because I am running out of room in my house to store them and I have a strong hankering to make more. If you're local, come join me. If you're not, but you want to take some of these things off my hands, email me.

Here's hoping for a beautiful day, some time to scribble a few words in my own notebook, and for lots of fellowship with some fantastic local artists.

Well, and cookies. I am also hoping for cookies.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Tools of the Trade: Newton Pens Eastman

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently attended the Arkansas Pen Show as a vendor for the first time to sell find new homes for some of my handbound books. It was a wonderful experience for a number of reasons, but not least that my friend and I had the best table-neighbors possible for vending a show. We were placed next to Shawn and Elizabeth Newton of Newton Pens. There was much interesting discussion about art, craftsmanship, writing and tools thereof, superheroes, Maniac Magee (which I promptly re-read and love more than ever), and lots of other random things. There was no way I was walking out of there without finally owning one of Shawn's custom, hand-turned fountain pens.

Choosing just the right pen was nearly impossible. I hemmed and hawed over his incredible selection, chewing my lip as I fought back another wave of frustrated indecision.

Okay, I'm totally lying. If I had allowed myself to actually do more than sneak a side-glance at his table, that is what would have happened, but I didn't let it. I couldn't let my eye wander over there, because (thanks to Shawn's amazing pictures on social media), I had already promised my love (and my money) to one of his pens in particular:

Newton Pens Eastman in Cool Mint Water Acrylic

Shawn has made pens from this material before for other customers, and from the first time I saw it, I was sold. The color is gorgeous--soothing and mild, but with an icy vibrancy in the veining. When writing with it, I catch myself just stopping to look at it, enjoying the way the swirls bend and swoop in the walls of the pen, adding the illusion of mass suspended in weightlessness.

Basically, that's a lot of fluffy wine-tasting talk to say, "It's purty. Like, really." The light was not kind when I tried to take a few quick shots of the pen to add to this post, but there are some much better pictures on the Newton Pens site. (While you're there, go ahead and click the Newton Pens Scholarship tab. It is such a cool program!)

As soon as I entered the room to set up for the show, I was like, "HiShawngimmemypenpleasepleasehurrykthanks," because I didn't want anyone else making me have to fight them for it. When I finally had it in my clutches (along with a custom pen sleeve in the coolest geek-cred fabric made by Elizabeth Newton), I immediately had the strongest urge to go hide in a quiet room and write an entire novel. Unfortunately, since I had two days of selling books to do, I had to sit and stare at it until after the show when I would have time to put some miles on it.

It has some miles on it now.

Yes, it does.

First, I want to talk about the quality of the craftsmanship. This pen doesn't feel like any other pen in my collection. It wouldn't--it's completely unique, made by hand. That said, I dare you to find a flaw. It has been polished to incredible smoothness inside and out. It has been turned with meticulous care and consistency, for any variations of material thickness or machining technique would be fairly obvious in this, a clear pen. The form factor suits it so well: a simple, straight cylinder with flush cap and barrel. It allows the material to take center stage. The cap and barrel threads are tight, so the cap stays in place securely when the pen is closed. The tolerance between cap and barrel when closed is nearly seamless. It is not possible to post this pen given the shape, but the length is significant, similar to a Pelikan m1000, and should be sufficient for any size hands. Likewise, the pen is light enough to hold in quite dainty hands, even though it is of substantial size.

The filling mechanism is cartridge/converter, and it came included with a nice standard-international converter (and a fill of Waterman blue-black). It is also possible, with the addition of a smear of silicone grease on the threads, to use this pen as an eyedropper-filled pen. (Here's more information from Fountain Pen Revolution if you're not familiar with eyedropper-filled pens.) I bought a brand new bottle of Diamine Soft Mint (J. Herbin Diabolo Menthe would also work) just for this purpose.

I chose an extra-fine steel nib for the pen. Shawn now works with a partner who is creating custom gold nibs for his pens, but he also sources good-quality Jowo nibs, which can be found on several well-known manufacturers' pens. Personally, I'm a fan of the Jowo nibs, and I've rarely used a poor one. This nib is no exception, providing a relatively smooth writing experience with a moderate amount of pleasant feedback. (I consider some feedback, or paper-feel, very pleasant when writing. If you prefer a mirror-smooth writing experience, I might direct you to a broader nib. It's rare to find that quality in even the best fine and extra-fine nibs.)

As a crafts-woman myself, few things make me happier than supporting my fellow artists. This pen will remain a special part of my collection, not just because I love how it looks and how it writes (I do!), but because I know what it is to make something with my hands and the guts it takes to share that with others.

I write reviews like this and keep a "Tools of the Trade" portion of this blog specifically because I believe it is important to understand and find affection for the tools that make our endeavors not just possible in a minimal way, but truly enjoyable. I appreciate this pen like I appreciate other tools, and I love it like any number of other nice things I've been blessed to own. However, more than either of those things, I respect it and the hands that made it.

May all that care, attention, and passion infuse every piece I write with it.
Official Title: Writing Sample in Horrible Lighting, $1000 unframed

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Arkansas Pen Show

This weekend my friend Derek and I have taken the plunge and set up shop to sell some of our journal handi-work at the Arkansas Pen Show. I've been to the show in years past...and I usually leave with a pen or two, yes...but this year we are on the other side of the table.

I have enjoyed getting to meet so many interesting people with whom I share interests: fine writing tools, art, craftsmanship, and writing. I must admit, I have also enjoyed the experience of having people come and hold my handbound journals, flip through their pages, and think through how they would put them to use. That is a big thing for me--I do hope they will be used. Though I spend much time building the books to be as perfect as they can be, I secretly hope they will cross my path again, just for a glimpse, so I can see them with their pages full to bursting, their corners bumped and frayed, and their bindings limbered by use.

I've enjoyed this, hermit though I am, and I'm thrilled to share my art with people whom I hope will love it the way I do.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Inspiration Monday: Heavy Days

Oh, dear blog, I have not forsaken you! I have been a busy bee the last few months, and so many times I thought to settle myself down to type out an update: something intriguing that crossed my path, enthusiasm for writing tools and books, and some random pictures of my dog (because she's adorable, darn it. I'm doing it anyway.)

You wish you had a sweater that fly.
There are myriad reasons I didn't follow through, and most of them are why I haven't settled myself down much in front of my novels or stories, my sketchbook, or even my towering as-yet-unfinished reading pile. The biggest reason I've got is that my days have grown heavy, and I'm weary from the toil.

There's literal toil, of course. I've written much about my job, and more than I write about it, I think about it, feel my way through it, and keep on doing it. I love it, I'm grateful for it, and I hope to get better and better at it as I go. That takes a mighty bite out of me some days though.

I haven't been writing as much as I want, as I said, but I did make it through Nanowrimo with a few days to spare. That was mostly due to the fact that Husband was willing to drive me around with my iPad in my lap while we ran errands. Someday I might actually open the novel file again and actually see what I wrote, but that day is likely a long, long time away.

I've also been working more on myself--including going to the gym. If you know me, you know this is as pleasant to me as a cow wandering into a butcher shop and volunteering to become a big pile of steaks. I've been incredibly grateful for the support of fitter-than-me friends who reassure me that exercise didn't kill them, and most likely won't kill me. I mostly believe it. Mostly.

Those things have eaten up my time, but there's more to what has eaten up my mind. There are a lot of heavy things dragging on my heart these days. Loss, and the shadow of it on the horizon, hovers. Wherever life is involved, it has always been there, and always will be. When the time comes that it commands our attention, there's no avoiding it.

Today, my Monday is feeling heavy, and that's the inspiration for it: the heavy days, as much as our light and joyful ones, are just as worthy of our notice. It is part of the road we all travel, and wherever your feet may fall on the journey, there's still much to teach and to learn, gratitude and goodness to share, and strength we don't yet know we have.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Inspiration Monday: Problem Solving

Yesterday, I posted about how I plan to solve my plot problems for this year's NaNoWriMo challenge. I wouldn't exactly say I accomplished it, but even small progress is progress just the same.

Today, this is how I decided to solve another one.

Hello, 2001! Welcome back to the future!

Gotta love the good 'ol CRT refresh prison stripes.

Yes, I've posted before about computers I've used for many happy hours writing, and my "regular" desktop and laptop setups are more than satisfactory.

They also internet. They internet very, very well.

For all but the barest technicality, this Indigo 500mhz iMac G3 running OS 9.1 cannot internet, and therefore will not allow me access to lolcats, Buzzfeed lists, email, or let me zip across wave after wave of Wikipedia surfing in the name of "research."

It can word process, though. It can do that like a champ.

It is just old enough that I can't use it for much except writing, but new enough to directly transfer an intact document file to my regular computer. I'm hoping it will be a distraction buster like my beloved typewriter, but maybe with its own flavor and a little more utility since it affords a modern digital format. Naturally, I'll have a good fountain pen and notebook nearby at all times.

Sometimes solving a problem doesn't mean ripping your guts out and examining what's wrong with you. Sometimes, it is as simple as modifying the environment to accommodate your needs. In this case, I'll always find distractions, but the better I know myself and my habits, the easier it is for me to place obstacles in just the right place to keep myself on task. Take a look around at your own creative space--what works? What doesn't? What works a little too well? 

Bring it, NaNoWriMo 2015. I'm ready.

(Well, if you don't count not having a novel idea yet. There's still that.)