Crisis of faith

Last night I summoned up all my nerve and took myself to the monthly critique at the darkroom. I was half an hour late and all the beer was gone.

There’s a guy who is involved in the darkroom who is a bit, actually probably a decade or more, older than me. I bring his age up because he did: he turned to me and said something about, hey, we cannot compete with these 40 somethings, they know tech! and I thought, dude, you don’t even know me, and I was in fact a 40 something in quite recent memory, not to mention, I just got my damn hair done, how fucking old do you think I am? And why does this matter, to me, to you?

He was showing his work. It was really fucking amazing work, like, I would kill to have these pieces in my portfolio, big prints that were metallic and shining, work that started with extremely good photographs and went on to become something more. Things I do not even have the least idea of how to even begin to make. They were things he had made a long time ago and was showing now. He was confident and arrogant in a particularly male way, or so it seemed to me. I do not like male arrogance and men make me uneasy, these days. He talked a bit about hating the digital world and he said some dismissive things about stuff I care about- but this is on me, not on him, he was not being an asshole at all, it was just artist talk.

I felt horribly awkward and nervous and then I was first silent and then talked too much because I am not good in these situations and also it’s ridiculously hot. I really fucking hate summer. There were other people there who I like and respect tremendously, most of whom are much younger than me. Somebody said, eventually, “So, are you a photographer?” And I said, “Um, sort of! Ha ha!” although I have been defining myself as a photographer for fucking years and years now. I didn’t own it and I didn’t show my own work, although I had brought it. This is mostly because I realized, looking at this work and some of the other work people had brought, that my work is student work.

It’s objectively fair that it should be student work! I started this odyssey 4 months ago. Aside from one 7th grade afternoon (the memory of which I have treasured all these years and one of the driving forces in where I am now) I had never been in a darkroom, never printed a photo from a negative, never done any of this. I am trying, now, to make something. I know that, but. But I have been making art, one way or another, for a long time now and taking pictures for almost 20 years and, hell. I didn’t own it.

I am ashamed. I don’t have a body of work to show. I am old and I should have my shit together and know what I’m doing, in art if not in life, or at least somewhere, and I so, so don’t. I remember when I was a painting student in college and the middle aged ladies who were taking classes. I wasn’t a nice kid: they drove me crazy and I was mean to and about them. I was horrible and confident then. Now I am neither. Now I am a (mostly) nice middle aged lady, taking up space.

I went into a bad spiral last night. What is the point of me, middle aged lady, pretending to be an artist? I’m just a fuckup. I’m just a lameass broke bookstore clerk. I have failed in everything I have ever attempted. I have no right to try to make art, to print photos like it’s the first time anybody ever printed photos of a concrete pig. I remember this feeling – I got like this one time before, in my late 20s, when I felt it was disgustingly privileged to try to make art and nobody should doing it using anything other than stuff you can buy at the dollar store for less than $5 because otherwise, you are hurting the world. I spent years pulling myself out of that.

This though is sort of worse, because it is tied up in being a middle aged lady, and feeling like perhaps you should really put yourself on an ice floe for the good of the planet. Okay, granted, I would hop on a nice ice floe so fast right now you could not even see my smoke, but heat wave (heat DOME! It’s DOMING!) aside, it is really difficult for me to think I have a reason or a right to exist. Mostly I sort of think I don’t. I am not pretty anymore. I don’t have a great job.  My children are grown and gone and . . . I am just sort of keeping the dogs and the tomatoes alive. And trying to make, well, art. Art. Like I thought I would spend my life making when I was 23 instead of 53. Now I think, how dare I? How dare I try to reinvent myself and learn a new art form?

This says a lot about me – whoa dog! A lot! An extremely fucked up lot! –  but it occurs to me that it also says a lot about the world I inhabit. Why is women’s work dismissed? Why is it so easy for me to dismiss myself, my aspirations, my interests, my art – as pointless and stupid? Why do I think I should just quietly give up and maybe, I don’t know, do good works and needlepoint? Men my age do not, I think, feel they should be on an ice floe. (No they mostly go on OK Cupid looking for 32 year olds because they have suddenly realized they forgot to have kids but yeah, okay, I might be a little bitter, #notallmen) They have a kind of confidence, though, that I don’t have. I need it. I don’t have the faintest idea how to acquire it. I remember my mother saying dismissively, oh, that’s just women’s fiction. Those are just women’s books. Women’s paintings. Not important.

This toxic stew of misogyny and ageism, it can bubble up badly quite fast.

I don’t have any answers. I talked to my friends a lot tonight, most intensely to my friend Zen,  an artist, a photographer who has gleefully at 60ish taken up being a graffiti artist and is really good at it. He made me feel better. My friend Meg reminded me that this is the depressive brain – it tries to tell you stupid shit lies to make you stop doing things. And it was in general lovely to see them and remember that if these people like me, well, they are smart and awesome people, and they would not like me if I was horrible shit. I came home and took a bad picture of one of the sunflowers in my front yard, which are growing crazy and are like 16 feet tall and yet are standing up, being as orange as orange can ever be.

I worked in marketing for years. I could turn this into a nice redemptive piece with a happy ending right now. But there isn’t one and I don’t (thank you dashboard jesus) work in marketing anymore. I’m still kind of unhappy and I don’t have any answers. My art is probably shit. I don’t have a good reason to make it. I am one of the daffy middle aged artsy fartsy ladies beloved by parodists (and why is that, by the way?) and I am unhappy about it but fuck, I am still going to keep on trying, I guess. I pretty much have to – I suck at needlepoint. So here is a picture of a 6 foot concrete pig. img013

 

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Darkroom

solarized jodiI am spending a lot of time in the darkroom lately. No, not A dark room, THE darkroom – to be specific, the Asheville Darkroom, which is an amazing nonprofit that allows people like me to spend much needed hours in the dark inhaling dangerous chemicals and creating fucking amazing art. No, seriously. I mean, mine probably isn’t all that fucking amazing – YET – but it’s getting there and I’m loving every single step along the way. This, on the left, is a solarized portrait of my friend Jodi. Is it not amazing? It never met a microchip until I just now scanned it. Nope, that right there is your basic free range hand crafted artisanal photography, direct from my 35 year old East German camera to Kodak Tri-X film to the darkroom to my house (where it briefly got stepped on by dogs but then, what doesn’t?)

I am learning a lot. I have taken a class and a workshop on cyanotype – also totally fucking amazing and I’m going to be doing a lot more of it as soon as I brush up on my math skills so I can mix the chemistry for slightly less than the sixty images the bottles recommend. Next Sunday I’m taking another workshop, this time on, basically, how to fuck with your images right there in the dark (although for some strange reason it’s not called that, go figure) and I will be making even more cool things. For the last 4 months I’ve been spending at least four hours a week in the darkroom, just printing and printing and having the time of my life. So I’m going to put up a gallery of my scanned images, bit by bit, as I remember how to do that. You can buy them, if you like! You can ask me to go places with my East German camera and take brooding, grainy black and white pictures of you and I will probably do that – assuming you are somewhere I can get to in less than half an hour in an 18 year old car with no air conditioning.

ART IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL and since David Bowie was apparently holding the world in balance and his loss has thrown the entire thing down the tubes, we all need a little help with our souls.

In other news, Theo is the world’s healthiest 14 year old dog despite being deaf. I really – no really really REALLY – like living alone even if my room does smell alarmingly like mold and it turns out that I am, in fact, kinda messy even when all alone. I am healthy aside from somewhat high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which seems unfair since I’m vegetarian. Also I’m fat and need to quit smoking, but we knew that. All the animals are doing well, I’m still toiling grumpily away in the book mines and I think that is all the news that’s fit to print. Keep an eye on this space because, I swear, soonish there will be a new gallery – a gallery of artisanal photography. Whee!!

PS you should give all your extra money to the Asheville Darkroom; they really need it. God knows I give them mine because, while I could have taken up a less expensive art form, like solid gold sculpture or something, this is where I’m at, and I couldn’t do it, or not well, without them. And you can do it too! Or just send money.

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Paranoia

Yesterday, somebody came in my house. 

I know they came in because since miles left for Baltimore (another long story) some 2 weeks ago, my kitchen has been very tidy. This is new for me, and I treasure it. So yesterday, when I came home after first, working all day and second, putting in some quality time at the bar, I knew immediately that someone had been in the kitchen. The nutritional yeast had been moved and opened and left opened on the counter. Nothing else was touched. It was not the cat or the dogs; it’s a small and heavy dish and the precision of its placing was done by human fingers.

Nutritional yeast is a special thing. You only have that shit around if you were raised by hippies or were a hippy yourself. Nobody else on planet earth even knows what the fuck it is, even though it is fantastic on popcorn and will transform your boring vegetarian soup into something fit for kings. 

The Venn diagram overlap of people who know my dogs and know the peculiarities of my back door and know my kitchen and would open a small glass dish of yeast to eat a pinch is quite small. Or at least I think it is. There are five people in my world who fit. I know where four of them were. 

So it must be the fifth. And yet, I cannot ask her if it was her because. . . what if it wasn’t? 

I don’t even want to deal with the ramifications of that. 

Last night I locked this house down like Fort Knox – up to and including wiring a broomstick across the back door, it’s Pinterest worthy, if Pinterest was as obsessed as it should be with surviving the coming trumpocalypse – and I still got up at 2 am and did it all over again. 

I have only told two people about this (my best friend and my daughter, I called them both immediately and was all incoherently freaking the fuck out until they calmed me down) because I feel, somehow, obscurely ashamed. Such a strange thing, yes, somebody was in my house, no, I swear I know this but no, nothing was stolen, nothing was wrecked and no, I’m not imagining it, really, really, I am not. 

Last week somebody left a battered copy of Spiritual Midwifery in my mailbox. OK, it’s a great book, I used to have a copy, whatever, Asheville, I laughed it off. Yesterday, somebody came in my house. I am not laughing so much right now. 

So from the land of odd paranoia, I am writing this. I don’t care, really, I mean, my nutritional yeast is your nutritional yeast, and I wouldn’t have gotten through natural childbirth without Spiritual Midwifery. But leave a note next time. Because I would like to sleep again in this millennium. 

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Spring

My foot got better – well, more or less. It took five damn months, but it did it. I mean, it is still a little swollen and prone to occasional twinges, but aren’t we all? In other spring news, I took a black and white film darkroom class and loved it. I joined the Asheville Darkroom and now you can find me there whenever I can squeeze in the time. Everything else is more or less the same but I did go see my friends Elizabeth and John in Birmingham last week and here are the pictures! Many many pictures of rust. And a median fire on I 24 on my way back. And Rock City, a stop on my way home which is full of gnomes and screaming schoolchildren. Vacation! I had one! It was great! I go back to work tomorrow! Bah! But anyway, here are some pictures. Enjoy!

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2015 in Review

FUCK. THAT. SHIT.

And that pretty much sums it up. 2015 was a stellar year for cackling demon toads from the seven hells, a year renowned in infamy and pain. It pretty much sucked rancid donkey balls in hell, all long, long twelve horrid months of it. There were a few bright points – there were some concerts and art shows, lovely conversations with good friends, laughter, wine, good food, good books- hell, there was even Jurassic World – and so on – but those were grievously outweighed by all the shit that just kept right on raining down the pike. And as I sit here with my crutches beside me, with a broken left foot and a right arm that suddenly and inexplicably seems to want to stop working, I must say that 2016 seems to be carrying right on in its ugly, greasy, blood crusted footsteps.

So I have not been here since last October, when I was still worrying about skin cancer. Turns out that particular monster has at least temporarily been defeated, so that’s good. I have big old mega bills to pay for it, though, which I am afraid to even look at. Back in the day if you had insurance, you presented your card at the doctor’s office and LO, your bill was paid. No more! Now your card and your $50 copay just gets you in to see the doctor. All the many many many extra bills will be sent your way later. New times! New debts!

As I keep saying to anyone who will listen, welcome to the 21st century! Much like the 19th!

Well. In late October my good friend Elizabeth came to visit, so that was a lovely bright spot. Then in November there was Thanksgiving, at which we hosted 19 wandering souls for a dinner on Wednesday night.  On the Sunday after Thanksgiving while we were all at work, the burglars came. Yes, burglars. They left with two old laptops, my beloved iPad, the bluetooth keyboard I used with my iPad, Annie’s old iPad1, Miles’ fancy designer sunglasses, Jordan’s old and much loved North Face backpack and, inexplicably, a full 2 liter bottle of Coca Cola. The police duly came and said, oh well. I called the insurance company and they, too, basically said, oh well. I have a $1000 deductible and no proof that I ever owned any 2007 laptops, much less the iPad. So that was fun.

The holiday2015-12-27 14.17.14s arrived and Christmas was a lovely day; we got presents, ate and drank too much and watched Gremlins. Then of course all hell broke loose and the Sunday after Christmas (when I am the evil Empress of the Galaxy I will ban all Sundays after holidays) I ignominiously tumbled from a stool – not even a barstool, just a stepstool, in my closet, in the morning, and I wasn’t even hungover let alone drunk – and broke my left foot in a manner most alarming. See above. And since then – it’s been ten horrible days – I have been stumbling around on crutches, spending way too much time in bed and generally being rather miserable. I made it back to work for two days in there but now I am back at home, cranky, filthy and pretty much morphing into something that lurches out of bushes at passersby.

I had never quite understood just how bad it is to lose the use of a foot. It is fucking horrible, is what it is, because everything just becomes incrementally more difficult if not impossible. And everything was, frankly, difficult enough already. I cannot get in and out of my house without help, because it turns out that the step at my front door is too high for crutches, something I had never noticed in the last 9 years. I cannot take a bath or a shower, because I can’t get in and out of the bathtub without help. Audrey and I went and got a bath chair – nothing sexier or more glam than one of those contraptions squatting in the shower! – and she took down the glass doors, so it is possible now, but perilous, and I need her here when I attempt it. So I’ve had one shower in the last ten days, which is not enough when you are also having ridiculous hot flashes like ten times a day to the point where your glasses steam up and your hair drips sweat. You can’t carry anything on crutches, which means I can’t get my coffee from the kitchen to the bedroom and, well, on and on and bloody on, forever. TMI? TFB. Also, although I know this will come as a shock, I am not naturally graceful or athletic and man, turns out I SUCK at crutches. I keep narrowly escaping death by gravity and my shoulders are screaming at me. This is probably what is wrong with my arm, bah.

So here we are, hobbling into 2016. This is going to be a better year GODDAMNIT. If it kills me. And partly because I don’t think I can survive another year like 2015 and partly because my old friend Adam showed up the other day and gave me a mystical hippie pep talk, I am not going to concentrate any more on the bad. I am going for the GOOD. I am going to BUILD THE UNIVERSE I WANT TO LIVE IN! I am going to UNLEASH THE CREATIVE GENIUS THAT DWELLS WITHIN ME! Or something like that. Anyway, I’m going to draw more. Paint more. Photograph more. And blog more. And if I don’t do these things, send me an email and yell at me, because sweet whispering jesus in a snocone, what the hell is all this pain for if it doesn’t produce some motherfucking art?

 

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Adventures in Dermatology

I met a friend for drinks a little while back and we realized with a sinking feeling that we have reached that age where we have medical tales of woe. Oh god. I am lucky, of course, since for the most part I have been ridiculously healthy all my life, but damn, once you get near that half century mark things can get a bit dire. And of course, as noted by peevish essayists dating back at least a thousand years, stories of medical crap are of consuming interest to precisely one person: the one affected. For everybody else they are at best a snooze, at worst they give you that itchy feeling that you need to gnaw your own arm off to escape. SO! Let me tell you about my operation! 

I had a scary mole on my arm so, after a few months of worrying about it off and on, I actually managed to acquire a family physician of my very own (I don’t mean I bought one, although bring on the Health-O-Bot, but instead I am a recognized patient at a family practice.) This as you probably know, fellow American, is a big pain in the ass that takes months. Once achieved, though, the sky is your limit. Your health insurance won’t actually cover much, although it claims it will, but still! You can go to the doctor as much as your pockets will bear! Anyway, my doctor agreed that the mole was not so good and so he took it off. Then his office called me and said, actually, that mole was very not good, and you need to go to a dermatologist. So I duly presented myself at the dermatologist where I found out that a) the mole was what is called severely atypical (in English very very not good) and that the weird mark on the bottom of my foot that I had been ignoring cheerfully for the last five or six years was also quite a not good thing. The dermatologist, who has all the warmth and charm of your average speculum, told me that he was going to cut a large chunk out of my arm where the original mole was and a somewhat smaller chunk out of the bottom of my foot. This happened last Friday. 

I lay on the table looking assiduously at the white, white wall, trying to ignore the fact that there was an operation happening on my arm. “You know,” I said chattily, “The dentist has a video screen attached to one of those lamp things that shows, like, nature videos with soothing music. You should get one of those.”                                                                                                                                                                                      “Huh,” said the dermatologist, “But then my nurses would be in here all day watching it. Ho ho ho.” “Giggle,” said the nurse obligingly and I, outraged, also chuckled obediently because, okay, principles are one thing but the man was currently engaged in carving up my arm. I am fond of my arm. I use it regularly. I am still angry though because if my boss said something that condescending and clueless and yes, sexist, not to mention indicative of complete disdain for his colleagues, I would be furious. 

They moved on to my foot. “This is just a scraping,” said the dermatologist dismissively. “Wait,” I said, “You said you would go ahead and take the whole thing now so I didn’t have to go through recovering from it twice.” He ignored me and swept majestically from the room, his work done. “You’ll get the biopsy results sometime next week,” said the nurse, “keep the stitches wrapped up with some ointment on them.” Then she left too and then, after a few minutes, so did I, with 8 stitiches in my arm and a hole in my foot. It’s  a fairly big hole, actually, it looks kind of like a crazed student took  took a number 2 pencil, set it on fire and stabbed me in the bottom of the foot. It feels like that too. 

Do you know it is very difficult to deal with a hole in the bottom of your foot? Particularly if you have the kind of job where you cannot sit down. I went to work on Saturday – and Sunday, and Monday and Tuesday – and although I sat down as much as I could it was not enough. My boss watched me limping and went out and bought me a pair of slippers, which was incredibly kind of him, but I think it was still not enough because today, which is Wednesday, it is of course all swollen and red and painful. This is America. I am broke. It costs me $50 every time I walk into the dermatologists office, or $85 to go to urgent care or $35 for my regular doctor and I am about out of paid time off, so if I don’t go to work, I will not get paid, which will impede me coming up with that $35 or $50 or $85. 

Anyway, I am now trying to get someone to look at my stupid foot, or, best case scenario, to just call me in a prescription. I am not having any luck at all, although I am obediently pressing 2 when prompted and leaving my name and number and birthdate and a description of my problem. This is, I think, good training for the self pity Olympics at which, as you can tell, I am going for a gold. However! I have decided that if I am in fact dying of cancer, I will at least not have to quit smoking, so, yay for that plan. UPDATE! I take back the mean things I said about the dermatologist. They just called me back and are phoning me in a prescription. Hurrah! All is now well. Until it isn’t. 

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Dispatches from the War on Fleas

We are having a bad flea late summer. Most of the summer, we were flea free and I congratulated myself on my total slackness: I never walk the dogs anymore, so they only have our yard to run around in, hence they are not exposed to other, inferior dogs with their declasse flea problems. Or so I said. Then August hit and with it came the plague. I had bites all over my back and although the dogs can roll around on their backs and howl when that happens, it affords little relief to the suffering human. Some, though. And I have never been more grateful for Annie’s gift and legacy of dollar store back scratchers. They are the best thing in the world, creepy little bamboo hands. 

I bought expensive flea medication online, naturally only noticing when it got here that it doesn’t actually kill fleas, it just makes them sterile. Well, terrific: the adult fleas, discovering their plight, bit more viciously. I vacuumed as previously reported in this blog, repeating the mantra “the vacuum is your number one weapon in the war against fleas.” I have no idea where I got this sentence, but it’s a good one, right? Then I caved and spent more money on more meds that supposedly actually killed fleas. And I think they did – the scratching got a bit better. For a while. Now they’re all becoming hysterical again and doing entertaining things like scratching themselves on the siding (I have been trying and trying to take a video of Perdita scratching her butt on the wall; it is hilarious but the minute I take out the phone she stops and looks at me, deeply pained. Perdita does not want to be a Youtube star.) and on the porch benches. Now they all have little dreadlocks from the scratching and I am counting the days until I can dose them again. 

Meanwhile, in more serious and scary dog news, Django, the purebred Springer Spaniel who is probably singlehandedly responsible for all the stories about purebred dogs and their issues – food allergies? Check. Random odd medical emergencies? Check. Ate a couch, no, two? Check. – stopped eating. If the other dogs stopped eating it would not suprise me: Perdita is the only dog in the world who is determined to keep her girlish figure and Theo is 13 years old, which is 91 in human years, or, as I like to say, 206. But Django is wholly food motivated and he will eat anything, from CDs to socks to furniture. Fortunately, he has so far always also been able to digest anything, but this time I feared the worst. Off he went to the vet with Audrey. No socks, no blockage, nothing visibly wrong, but $380 worth of blood tests later (it is worth having a care credit card if you don’t have one, pet owners) it turns out that his liver enzyme counts are off the charts and not in a good way. The vet kindly gave us a month’s worth of liver meds – exceeding expensive liver meds, so it was nice of her to give them for free – and suggested an ultrasound. What would you do, I said, if the ultrasound comes back bad? The same thing we’re doing, she said, and I said, okay, lets try this for a month without the ultrasound and see what happens. He is also on antibiotics and an appetite stimulant and now we wait and see. He seems perfectly healthy – he is just impossible Django, bouncing off the walls as usual and scratching in ridiculous ways. And indeed all his other numbers are the peak of perfection for a nine year old dog, 63 in human years, or almost to social security if they didn’t keep moving the bar up. So if you all would hold him in the light as the Quakers say, we would be grateful. Because as much as I bitch about having to make a vat of dogfood every week (ground turkey, sweet potatoes and brown rice, with ground up eggshells for calcium and a multivitamin tossed in) I don’t really want to stop any time soon. 

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