Back to the beginning

no risk no rewardPaul Madonna has got my number.

My divorce is final; I’m officially alone. (The statement is a touch more dramatic than the feeling.) Just before it went through, I opened myself  again, and in doing so discovered I wasn’t the right person for someone I really liked. Which is fair, but hurt, and does not inspire me to risk losing again. Risk fucking up. But you have to, if you want to live the way I want to live.

For a few days I steeped in sadness and self-pity. Then guilt, for feeling so sorry for myself about trivial things while there are children being slaughtered at their schools. Then I  started to come back around.

Tomorrow morning I get on a train. New Mexico will treat my wounds with her snow, hot springs, stars, and quiet. New York will stoke the fire in my belly, help me crave life again, and a quick trip to Baltimore to see a dear old friend will twirl me around. (One of my life’s great treasures is the collection of sweet reunions I’ve gathered over the years.) I am taking a notebook, and a Polaroid camera, and a heart to fill with hope. And also some wool longjohns to guard my weak California sensibilities.

(I disabled comments for now; it’s not that I don’t like the interaction – I do – but when I know who is reading and how they’re reading, I begin to write for my audience, and that’s was not my intention for this space.)

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writing into the void

I’m trying to let my story out.

It isn’t easy for me. Despite being prone to baring my soul to people I’ve just met, when it comes time for me to sit down and try to turn my experiences into something for public consumption, I choke.

I think it’s because the internet is weird.

Really, it is. When I last wrote in public forums (in my own voice, not as a bike racer & women’s racing advocate as I did on my previous blog), there was no internet. I wrote in similar forums, in terms of content — high school literary magazines, local newsletters, open mic nights — but the scale was vastly different. Back then, maybe a couple hundred people would read what I had to say, and they were all familiar to me. When I tell my story to someone I’ve just met, I have the benefit of a face-to-face connection; I know who I’m speaking to, even if I don’t know them.

Now, anyone with an internet connection has access to my stories, and I have no idea who I’m dealing with. I can’t play to my audience the way I did back then. Now it’s just me, vulnerable, talking into the void. I want everybody to read what I write, and love it/me, and I want nobody to read what I write, because I feel so naked writing it.

Seriously, the internet is weird.

While I’m finding my voice and screwing up the courage to use it, this blog will be my little island of pseudo-anonymity. It wouldn’t be that hard to find, if anyone cared to look; it’s linked to the same profile that I used the last time I blogged, and my picture is on the about page. I know I’m not really invisible here, but I can pretend. Even that little bit of anonymity is hugely liberating. It allows me to ease into the idea of writing on a grand scale, which is ultimately where I want to go. I want to connect with all of the people and the only way to do that is without fear.

I do have stories to share; I’ll learn to tell them here. Maybe they’re not incredibly profound, unique, or life-changing, but they are human. You write what you know, and that is what I know: what it is to be human. What it’s like to feel.

meet the artist

For a long time I wasn’t myself, but I was happy. And that was fine, that worked. Then a series of problems with my heart – the irony of having a broken heart is not lost on me – created a need for instant and overarching change in my life. I had to stop riding my bike, which up to that point had taken up a good fifteen hours of my time each week and had been the primary activity I shared with my then-husband.

I was devastated, depressed, and angry. Before I was forced to quit, I had been at the top of my fitness, and I could almost touch the fruit of all my dedication and ambition. Then, it was done. Just like that. I had no idea what to do with myself except stew in my disappointment. Then I remembered things I used to enjoy before I found bicycles. I made art, I explored, I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. So I started doing those things again. In two months I finished two journals. I wrote stories for the first time, and I liked what I wrote. My voice sounded familiar again.

As I felt more and more like I was becoming the person I am at my core, I tried to share this new life with my then-husband. I wanted to bring him into my fold the way I’d been brought into his for the past ten years. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen, and after a while I couldn’t do it anymore.

I knew my marriage was finished; my own therapy wasn’t helping, couple’s counseling wasn’t improving anything except our ability to find things that weren’t working. I’d been trying for months. I needed to leave so I didn’t destroy myself, and I wanted to stay so I didn’t destroy anything else. Happiness and obligation are not good bedfellows, so I was doing everything I could to make my own needs irrelevant.

Then one morning, I opened my RSS feeder and found this comic:

All Over Coffee #582 by Paul Madonna

The image pinged around inside me, settled. I felt calm and clear about the direction my life was taking: I did know exactly what I had to do. With that little bit of cosmic reassurance, I believed I could really do it.

And I did.

After I moved out on my own and signed the papers that would someday make the divorce official (you can walk into a California courthouse and walk out married five minutes later, but if you want to reverse the process you have to wait at least six months for the state to catch up), I had a friend over to my apartment. I’d bought a print of the comic – the first art I’d purchased for myself – and hung it near the door so that I see it before I go out and as I come home.

She noticed the image. I told her the story, how I’d been struggling to stand up for myself and do what I knew was best for me, and this picture showed up at the very moment I needed a shove out of the nest. How it felt like a perfect little gift from the universe.

“Who’s the artist?” she asked.

“Paul Madonna.” I answered.

Her expression changed; surprise, disbelief, surrender. She knew him. In fact, he would be at a dinner party she was taking me to next week. I’d meet him, and I could tell him the story of how he made something that impacted my life in a pretty big way.

It’s rare that you get an opportunity to tell an artist that they reached down deep inside you and pulled out part of you. But in the same way that the comic arrived so perfectly, so did the opportunity to tell my story in return. Cosmic. We had a great exchange about art and connection and creative process and ways of seeing. The experience was almost profound; to have a stranger touch your life from afar and then be able to come in close and touch them right back. It was so profound because there wasn’t any doubt about what I had to do, the sequence laid itself out:

  1. see art
  2. move forward
  3. meet artist
  4. tell story
  5. pay attention.

trailer park chic

When I moved into my new place, my first place all to myself that I could decorate however I wanted, my mind went straight to taxidermy.

Really.

I do love a good stuffed critter.  Good is the operative word in that sentence, and unfortunately for me, good taxidermy costs a pretty penny more than my taxidermy budget. So I tucked away my fantasies of a pretty little fox sitting on a tree branch, one lazy hind leg dangling (yes, I had a specific piece in mind, why do you ask?), and switched my focus on a pair of mounted antlers. That I could paint. Turquoise.

The way my life has been going of late, many little things have fallen into place, easy as pie. When I went to Minnesota last month, I told my best friend about my antler plan. Two days later we were clawing our way through piles of antiques in a mom & pop shop, and she discovered this:

Except, um, they weren’t turquoise when I bought them. I guess I didn’t take a “before” photo. Oops.

A twenty-dollar pair of mounted antlers. Plink. Right into place.

It took me a month to find the right paint, decide on fabric, and research upholstery techniques, but last night I finally sat down and did it.

What it looked like after a lot of grunting, cursing, and one mildly-gashed shin. The mount, the antlers and their plaster-of-paris “skull”, the dusty old felt, and a hammer. Don’t ever accuse me of being delicate.

The back of the “skull” mount. Those are real brass tacks holding the felt to the board; I love them, even though they were a total bitch to remove.

 

I wrapped the “skull” in fabric, attached it with those brass tacks & some lovely old upholstery nails, and stuck that bad boy back on his mount. Ta-dah!

He lives in the kitchen now.

I think he needs a name.

Champagne cork stamps

It’s Friday the 13th! What better time to break out that bottle of champagne you keep chilled in the fridge for special occasions? Go get it, I’ll wait.

Don’t tell me I’m the only one who keeps just-in-case bubbly on hand.  If you don’t already, you should definitely start. You never know when something will need celebrating. Then, when you’re done celebrating (ie, sober), bust out a knife and a Sharpie and make yourself a little memento of the event.

What you’ll need:

  • champagne (or wine, but that’s not as fun) cork
  • craft knife
  • Sharpie
  • coffee and ibuprofen (optional, not pictured) to lift the champers fog

Instructions:

1. Draw your design onto the flat end of the cork. Make sure you draw it backwards; your image will stamp in reverse. Draw anything that strikes your fancy – I chose my first initial in lowercase.

2. Very carefully (see how that’s both bold AND italic? Really. Be careful.) cut your design using the craft knife. You can either carve out the space around the design to make the design stamp (that’s what I did), or you can carve out your design to have a circle stamp with your design on the inside.

I’ve found that the best technique is to trace around your design with the craft knife (use small vertical cuts with the point of the knife rather than a sawing motion, otherwise your cork will catch and tear). Once you’ve traced the design, gently cut away the excess cork from the sides using the long edge of the knife as shown. Don’t press too hard; it doesn’t take much, and you don’t want to saw off part of your design (though if you do, you can always cut the cork back to flat & try again).

3. Maybe you have some really tall shoes that need breaking in? Definitely put those on.

4. Cut away the outside (or inside, if you’re going for the photo-negative effect) until your design is completely exposed.

5. Grab an airline cocktail napkin and stamp away!