This is maybe the vainest thing, ever. But. HELLO FROM ME AND MY NO LONGER SNAGGLEDY TEEFS.
I had braces for five years when I was a teenager because my teeth were so bad. And then I fucked everything up when I didn’t wear my retainer, so they got even worse. I was SO self-conscious about my mouth and my teeth and my smile for YEARS. So when I had the means to fix it, I decided to go for it. Because of the pandemic, it felt like I had Invisalign for approximately 5 million years, but they finally came off today. I had to pay out of pocket. If I’m being totally honest with you, that’s what I used the advance from The Art of the Occult for.
Did I harness the power of the mystical arts for purposes of vanity? Maybe so!
Do teeth need to be perfect, or straight for a smile or a person to be beautiful? Absolutely not, I don’t believe that at all. But did fixing my janky mouth make me feel better? You bet your muffins it did. No regerts.
Today at Unquiet Things, a gallery of art that has lately captured my imagination. I initially began sharing this “eyeball fodder” in my Instagram stories as a daily practice, a ritualof art therapy for myself, back in 2019 or so. From there, I gathered these collections into a weekly series that I shared on the haute macabre blog, though we all know it was never actually a weekly occurrence. And I thank you for never calling me out on that! I just couldn’t think of a better name for it.
Going forward, these galleries of visual phantasmagoria and fantastical ocular flotsam can be seen on my personal blog, and with the more fitting honest title. Whether for you art is a source of fascination and inspiration, or therapy and healing, or any combination of modes of self-expression and self-awareness, I hope you’ll be surprised and delighted anew each time you peek in on Intermittent Eyeball Fodder .
Sometime in 2020, I came to the realization that I wanted more color in my life. This could have been a pandemic-prompted compulsion, or maybe the middle-aged yearnings of an individual recalling some beloved jewel-toned fairy tale illustrations of their childhood, but whatever it was, I was feeling done with my #allblackeverything phase (although I reserve the right to step right back into it whenever the urge strikes me!)
I spied the lovely luminous work of jeweler Alexis Berger at just the right time, then! Don’t you love these cosmic winks from the universe? Beautifully crafted, translucent beads with finishes reminiscent of Art Nouveau and the Belle Epoch, Alexis’ work is utterly imbued with her unique creative vision and I am so thrilled that she has agreed to answer some of my nosy questions. See below wherein Alexis shares all about her love affair with hot glass and her “sparkly glowing fire-melty” life’s dreams of working with this most sumptuous material.
As someone with enthusiasm for the arts but with a marked lack of talent or skill in that area, I am always interested in how my favorite artists got started. When did you know that this was what you wanted to do with your life? How did you know what medium was the one you were interested in working in? Do you dabble in other mediums? Where did it all begin, and when did “your art” coalesce for you?
I came from a very artistic family, both sides of my family were involved in architecture, design, and craftsmanship. My father is an architect. My mother is a craftswoman and worked as a professional seamstress for quite a few years, now she enjoys restoring antique sewing machines.
My paternal grandfather was a painter, musician, and photographer and my grandmother was a professional dancer. My maternal grandfather was also an architect and my maternal grandmother was also a fantastic craftswoman.
I was introduced to drawing and handicraft from a very early age, and from the minute I figured out how to make my hands do what I wanted, I used arts and crafts as an escape, I had a hard time in school so I felt like I wanted to escape a lot. When I announced that I wanted to go to art-school and around age 6? it was met with the hearty joy of parents excited that their kid is going into the family business. I was aware, very early on, that if I wanted to be a SERIOUS artist I needed to learn to draw from life so I was very focused on keeping a sketchbook and drawing ALL the time, that was me being a serious art-school wannabe, but I always did crafts for fun on the side. I loved embroidery, basketry ceramics, and of course making jewelry out of everything I could get my hands on. It was also at this time that I started collecting beads, or rather more accurately, adding to the collection that my mom started and I stole from. But because that was so much “FUN” I didn’t take it seriously, also I didn’t think I could put it into a portfolio to get into a SERIOUS art school.
This is a story of how I mistook my calling as a hobby for years, always learning other skills but coming back to jewelry.
I eventually got into an art magnet high school (Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of The Arts) which was great for me. They are very rigorous about training you to get into a good art-college and you’re around other artsy-fartsy kids who you learn as much from as the teachers. They helped me put a portfolio together which got me into RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and there I decided to major in Industrial Design (ID) which is designing everything you interact with that gets produced: toys, toothbrushes, cell phones… I still at this point thought, “I need to go get a JOB” and this would major would be good to teach me how to be a serious DESIGNER! Even though that’s not where I ended up, ID was a great thing to major in because it taught me how to think about things in 3D and how to use lots of different materials. I learned about metals and welding as well as woodworking and plastics.
Ironically I never learned how to use glass while I was at RISD, glass was in a whole different department and location on campus and was notoriously difficult to get access to, so I never touched it there. I actually learned about glass for the first time while I was teaching weaving at an arts-camp called Buck’s Rock. They had a world-class glass blowing facility there and that’s where I first saw glass beads being made. I didn’t know anything about how to work with hot-glass and I was transfixed. It was like falling in love, all I wanted to do was make BEADS! I used basically every scrap of time off I had that summer to practice making them at the facilities there and when that summer ended I was completely seduced, from that point on, I was melting glass every chance I got.
When I went back to school at RISD in the fall. I got into trouble for using the metal shop soldering torches for lampworking and over the next summer, I made sparkly sharp messes in my grandparents’ back yard as I melted broken Heineken bottles and Bombay sapphire gin bottles. (which makes excellent blue glass with red copper streaks if you’re interested). My family was very forgiving… but to be fair, I never burned anybody’s house down, just toasted my own fingers a fair amount.
Glass was all I could think about, I had sparkly glowing fire-melty dreams at night and all I wanted to do was Lampwork all day, but I still didn’t quite have the confidence that I could be a glass-artist. I was still on track to become an industrial designer, but I was quickly falling out of love with the slicker-than-snot-super-hyper-masculine look that the department seemed to be pushing and that so many products in the industry seemed to have. Think: tennis shoes, gillette razors, cars, and even air fresheners.
Everyone wanted to make products that looked fast and angry and maybe wanted to lay eggs in your brain. I also began to look at the kind of life I would have as an industrial designer if I started working at a company…
-I would start as computer-monkey fiddling in a 3D modeling program
-taking direction from a senior designer
-I would be in an office
-I wouldn’t be using my hands to make anything much
-and worst of all I wouldn’t get to be in charge of the designs I worked on…at least not until I had worked my way up to being a senior designer which could take years.
…and ultimately, I didn’t get the tight little shiver of pleasure from looking at a well-designed toothbrush that some of my fellow students seemed to.
But a beautiful pair of earrings? ohhhhh!
Finally, in my senior year, I got to have a chat with one of the teachers and I asked, “Do I have to go work for Bic Pens or Clorox or Hasbro when I graduate?…OR can I go into business for myself? Is that something I can even do?”
And she answered like she was letting me in on a secret. “YES” that one conversation was the permission I needed to begin scheming on how to eventually make jewelry full time.
For those who may not know (me, for one) what exactly is lampwork glass? (And is that the same thing as “flamework”? I think I have seen your work referred to as both?) And what are the rewards and challenges of working with lampwork glass?
That’s right, flamework and lampwork are interchangeable terms. The “lamp” in lampwork refers to the fact that the heat source for this type of craft used to be done on oil lamps that would be stoked with a bellows blowing fresh air across the flame to heat it up enough to melt glass.
The process is melting rods of different colored glass in a torch (much like a bunsen burner) and manipulating the molten glass with different tools and techniques to create different shapes. Layering different colors will give you lots of different patterns and effects but you’d be amazed what you can do with just using gravity and an old ex-ato knife.
The rewards of working with glass are numerous but at the top of the list I’d say it’s immediacy. It takes years to make things perfectly (one of glass’ drawbacks is that it’s HARD and takes lots of practice) but when you sit down to work, you sculpt the piece all in one sitting, and it’s essentially finished. It will need to cool in the kiln but when it comes out it’s all shiny and bright and if you’re lucky, it’s just how you imagined it. If you’re casting something there are so many steps involved in producing and finishing your work. But lampworked glass is created in its final material and form and all the colors and shapes are right there for you to dig into.
While lampworking, it’s very easy to be seduced into covering everything you produce with detail rather than letting the material speak for itself, it’s a balance between showing off virtuoso technique and actually allowing the natural beauty of the glass to shine. There is a temptation to show skill rather than beauty. Metal and gem jewelry is all about using the color and optical qualities of the stone with the metals acting as structure and a “canvas” for the gems. I try to use that sensibility with my work, contrasting optic and reflective components with structural supporting ones. Glass is such an inherently beautiful material that working with it becomes a game to allow somebody to see that beauty in all its aspects without being distracted by too much sensory input all at once. I think this objective is true for many craftspeople who are working with sumptuous materials.
You’ve mentioned that glass as a material, allows you to “paint with light and color in three dimensions, which is critical to making the natural motifs that inspire my art”. Can you share a bit about those natural motifs and why they speak to you?
Nature is the best teacher when it comes to making a design that works, for lots of my work I try to make something that looks like it could have been plucked off a tree or picked up on the beach. Or imitates human anatomy, there is something so thrilling about capturing lifelike qualities in art.
Other than hot glass, what are your favorite materials to work with and why?
As I mentioned before I LOVE fiber-arts and I still incorporate a bit of that into some of my jewelry, I make crochet silk necklaces for many of my pendants. I especially love crochet and embroidery. I’ve been enjoying crocheting lace on my clothes during the pandemic. It’s so soothing and repetitive, you can let yourself go into a trance while binge-watching Star Trek.
You seem to have a thing for EYES! As I mentioned to you in a previous conversation, I shared on my Tumblr page (haha, yes, I still use Tumblr!) a photograph that you had posted to your Instagram of your weeping eye brooches, and that Tumblr post is now at 14K likes/reblogs and growing– obviously, this is a symbol that speaks to other folks as well! Whether it’s the symbolic tears of the mourning eye or an apotropaic talisman to ward off evil, the eye is a powerful and enduring emblem. I’d love to hear about its personal meaning for you.
Yes! Thanks, I’ve been thinking about that for a while, it’s really striking to me how many people are feeling a connection to weeping eyes right now. I think about the last time jewelry with a weeping eye motif was really popular and that was around the Georgian and Victorian era, death and mourning were so present in people’s daily lives and that’s where we are again. We as a society are going through a huge mass-death event and are feeling the appalling consequences of living under a government that couldn’t be bothered to help us. There is so much loss to feel and process, as well as joy and relief as hope sprouts back up to meet us. All of this emotion makes crying eyes feel like the right motif for the moment. I know it did for me.
Part of the job of art is to help us process our feelings and express ourselves, and wearing jewelry is a very potent act of self-expression. Wearing a weeping eye is unmistakable in its message, there is pain here, there is beauty here, and I’m here to feel it.
What does a typical day in your studio look like?
What a fun question!
I get to my studio at the crack of noon most days (I’m not an early bird) and the first order of business is to go open the kiln from the day before. It’s like Christmas every time, I pull out the treasures and turn the kiln on to heat up,(it goes to about 1000 degrees) while this is happening I go make myself a HUGE pot of tea which I will chug continuously throughout the day, I usually spend a few minutes photographing the stuff I made the day before (while the light is still good) then it’s time to light the torch and melt that glass!
I believe I read that you also have a love for music? And cooking! Tell me more! Who are some of your favorite musicians right now? Do you have an all-time favorite album? What is a meal that you’ve cooked lately that you were particularly excited about? Or a favorite go-to comfort meal? If you can’t tell, music and food are two subjects very dear to my heart 🙂
I take after my Grandmother in that I love dancing, before the pandemic I loved ballroom and partner dancing of all kinds, I miss the music I would listen to then, blues, and zydeco music would be what I would hear live most often. But music to listen to while I work is a totally different game. Right now I’d recommend the album Deluge by Anura, it came out recently and it absolutely put my head in the right space to make good stuff. You can get it on Bandcamp from the label “Already Dead Tapes” Highly recommended. It’s a perfect relaxing but invigorating get-work-done album.
As for FOOD! Well, I am a lucky girl indeed because although I’m an OK cook I married a Genius Chef. My husband is an amazing cook who is always inventing and teaching himself how to make new things, he has made sourdough from scratch, pickles, pizza oh boy! But I think the thing he made that’s my favorite as well as being really creative was he made spiced fried chicken with a “breading” made from almond-flour and sesame seeds which just about knocked my socks off.
This is all to say, do I have a passion for cooking? Yes! It just happens to be my husband’s cooking.
Is there a particular bead and/or jewelry artist you admire or who you consider a role model? And/or if you were to draw attention to a favorite designer or artist, who would it be and why?
I am constantly amazed and inspired by my dear friend Anandamyi Arnold who makes incredible floral/fruit sculptures and surprise balls out of crepe paper, they are often so life-like that they are confused about the real thing if you’re interested, I’d check out her Instagram page under the handle @lynxandtelescope
She was definitely a role model for me as she has been making sculptures full-time professionally for years and was a fantastic example to me of how to “make it” and set up your life to work as a full-time artist in the Bay Area.
Is there anything else that you might like Unquiet Things readers to know about your work?
I’d say that I would want people to know that I’m so grateful I get to do what I love for a living and part of why that’s possible is people like you who have made it their passion to curate and proselytize about things that move you and others around you.
So thank you, and thank you to all the people who have read this, I hope you got something out of it. Perhaps you feel inspired to pick up that craft project you’ve been thinking about doing, that would make me very happy to think somebody might go make something because they read this. 😀
A new mix of lullabies and volcanos and the divining of sounds made by cracks in the ice; the eerie creaking shriek as they form, the moan of the wind scouring over them, the ghostly sobs of those who met their end within the fracture.
But mostly, you know, ambient/electronic. Not trying to oversell it.
Það er margt sem myrkrið veit,
– minn er hugur þungur.
Oft ég svarta sandinn leit
svíða grænan engireit.
Í jöklinum hljóða dauðadjúpar sprungur.
There is much that darkness knows, my thoughts are heavy.
Often I watched the black sand burning green meadows.
On the glacier cry deadly-deep ice-cracks.
If you enjoyed this little Icelandic lullaby, then you will find more here. I never thought I’d have comfort blog posts that I’d revisit and spend so much time with over the years, but if I had to pick one, this would definitely be it.
I must have been thinking of Daft Punk when I came up with the title for this blog post. The end of an era. Dang. But the following thoughts have absolutely nothing to do with the legendary Parisian dance music duo, so enough of that.
I’ve been in a cake-making mood, lately. I don’t even really like cake, although I do have preferences (and none of them are chocolate because apparently, I am some sort of perverse contrarian weirdo.) I don’t want to make a cake every day, but I decided I was going to make a sort of cake-a-month challenge. And you may laugh at my reasons.
I don’t want to eat cake. I want a visual document of a cake I made. I just want to take pictures of my cakes.
Flipping through my grandmother’s Betty Crocker cookbook was one of my favorite past times when I spent weekends visiting my grandparent’s home as a child growing up in our tiny Ohio town. I would park myself in an old armchair with a stack of them on my lap and flip through the pages, tracing the photographs with my small fingers, dreaming of making these delicious desserts myself.
Often times on those weekends, my grandmother would bake a pie* and I would “help” by rolling shapes out of the leftover crust, sprinkling them with sparkling sugar, and baking them up in the still-hot oven, after the pie had finished its time there. I was always rather disappointed that my creations looked absolutely nothing like the colorful confections in the pages of those books that had inspired me so.
*Speaking of pie, I found this image yesterday and I have been cackling about it for the past 24 hours.
As I grew older, I never completely lost my love for cookbooks but found myself more frequently drawn to food blogs on the internet, where I had begun to find recipes to experiment with. When I created my own blog (not this one, but its very distant cousin) back in 2002, one of my biggest inspirations and motivations was to one day feature delectable images on my website that rivaled the beauty of those that had captured my imagination. This, as it turns out, was no easy feat for a person with no eye for design and no photography skills or training. I mean…that’s a lot of work. And not necessarily work I was interested in investing in what is basically just a personal blog.
I eventually came to the conclusion that I was going to have to learn something if I wanted to improve my cake pictures. And while I won’t pretend I put a lot of effort into it, I did watch a class on Skillshare that I do think was pretty helpful and I think I’ve actually leveled up a tiny bit! I’ve shared pictures willy-nilly throughout this post, and none of them are in any sort of order, chronological or otherwise–but I think you can spot the few that I did post-video classroom.
Now please remember, I am coming at the subject from someone who knows next to nothing, so obviously if you’ve got some of these skills under your belt already, then there’s probably not much insight to be had here. I watched Olena Hassell’s course on photography, composition, and styling but there are probably free videos on YouTube that may share similar tips, tricks, and techniques. It was actually a YouTube video that convinced me to pay money for Skillshare, ha! I am too easily influenced.
I’ve obviously got quite a ways to go, and I’ll probably never get there, where ever “there” is. That’s fine. I think I have reached a point where some of these photos are exactly as good as the photos on those cooking blogs of yore that I was so enthralled with. But that’s just my opinion, and even if they’re nowhere even close, I am pretty excited to continue trying my hand at it and sharing beautiful photos of cakes, while fobbing off on someone else the actual cakes themselves, for purposes of digestive disposal.
I read something once, I forget who said it or where I saw it, but it was something to the effect of that the peculiar thing about recurring dreams is that, no matter how many times you dream these same things, they always take you by surprise.
This is somewhat true for me. I have a handful of recurring dreams but in the moment of the dream, it feels like the first time it’s ever happened. And yet it also feels inevitable. This is the part where I tell you about my dreams. This is the part when I learn what camp you fall into (I have observed that there there are only two, this is very black and white and no middle ground): you will yawn and your eyes will glaze over and the bounce rate of my site will rise precipitously, or you will dig in and commit, no matter how boring and mundane my nocturnal reports turn out to be. I fall into the latter category. I will listen to anyone’s dream despite how ridiculous and nonsensical they might be, even if they are so tedious and tiresome that they are actually putting me to sleep. Dreams are fascinating.
My main five recurring dreams, however, are pretty boring, so I won’t go into them at length… but I am very curious about other people’s recurring dreams. Research has shown that there are common dream themes; do yours fall into any of these categories? Are they similar to mine? Are they quite different? Are they dull affairs or are these things you dream frequently full of adventure?
At least once I week I will dream:
-That I am still working at my high school fast-food restaurant job, and have been doing so on and off for years. I haven’t checked the schedule recently, so I show up for a shift on the off-chance that I am supposed to be there. At some point during the dream, I realize I haven’t collected a paycheck in many years.
-That I am simultaneously paying rent on two apartments. I had somehow rented out another, completely forgetting that I was already living somewhere else. This frequently involves a side dream in which I panic, suddenly remembering a pet who hasn’t been fed for a while, but I can’t recall which place they are living in.
-That I have to move back to New Jersey, for some reason. When I was younger, I dreamed that I had to move back to Ohio. Basically, I am moving back to a place I don’t have any ties to anymore.
-My sisters are visiting and messing up my house, and I am getting very frustrated and upset.
-This last one is not a frequently recurring dream, but it does happen from time to time, and it is always, 100% the harbinger of a nightmare. I will walk into a dark room, flip the light switch…and nothing. The light does not come on, and although the scenario after that point is always different, the broken light switch is always a signifier that the situation is about to go to hell. I have gotten very good at waking myself at this point, as soon as I realize the room did not light up! Also, I have realized that I tend to have this sort of dream when I am overly warm at night. I now keep a fan on no matter what the time of year, I tend to wear airy pajamas, and I don’t bundle myself too tightly in my blankets. It’s been years since I’ve had a really awful bad dream, and I attribute that to learning how to pull myself out of it and keeping myself cool at night.
Dreamed that Nicholas Cage and I were zombie scientists working on a serum to slow our rate of decay and after a hard-won breakthrough, he screams “take that in your lumpy face, CAROLE!”
I have taken to sharing my more interesting dreams over on Twitter over the last few years. The one above I tweeted about just last month, but good lord, I’ve got 140 character dream diaries going back almost a decade over there. Before that, I used to share them on Tumblr but someone was rude to me about it once, and I got super butthurt and gave it up. Twitter is much better at ignoring me, and I am OK with that! Here are a few for your enjoyment, puzzlement, or just for you to ponder “good lord, what is WRONG with her?”
-“Last night I dreamed I attended a production of ‘P.G. Wodehouse’s Dracula.’ “
-“Last night I dreamed I was aboard a warship that was actually just a jaunty ferris wheel that had become unmoored and was floating aggressively across the sea.”
-“Dreamed of ascending a never-ending spiral staircase in a grotty old pawn shop/museum in order to view a murderbone exhibit. Bones of murderers? Bones used for murder? I woke up, so we will never know.”
-“Dreamed that Han Solo gave me a cb radio and a pair of track pants. I never saw him again.”
-“Also dreamed I sat in as an observer at auditions for a show called America’s Next Top Witch. The potentials looked like Rock of Love contestants, only spookier and I’m not sure how this is possible, but also sluttier. I could tell it was going to be an incredible show.”
-“Dreamed of a much-coveted bangle but I could only buy it in two colors: poison or live snake.”
-“Last night I dreamed that I contracted the legal services of Hooker, Hooker, Corncob, and Charles.”
-“Dreamed I flung myself through the window of my high-rise suite, thinking, “wow, it would be cool to float through the creepy midnight clouds like the vampire gang in The Lost Boys”. And it was way super cool.”
-“Last night I dreamed of thwarted attempts at peeing in a massive gravy boat. 9/10 of my dreams are me trying to take a wee; it’s a wonder I am not a chronic bed-wetter.”
-“I dreamed three things: spiders as big as coconuts; my mother’s last grocery list; a heart pricked thrice and baked with raisins.”
In yesterday’s post, I referred in a vague sort of way to having done something that scared me and that I had been dreading. But it was also something that would provide a valuable opportunity to not only step out of my comfort zone and have this new-to-me experience, but also to make a connection with a wondrous kindred spirit…both of which are good things to try for, so I agreed to do it.
This thing I am referring to also happens to be something I swore I would never do (which is another thing I have recently written about!)
I am, of course, talking about my first time ever being a guest on someone’s podcast.
I swore this was a thing I would not do, not because I have a problem with podcasts or those who create them! No, my problem is with me, my shyness, and my inability to carry a conversation. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where I might stumble and falter with my words and look foolish…and I especially didn’t want to make the person trying to converse with me look foolish, either! When it comes right down to it, this is the main reason I write: I have a terrible time articulating my thoughts verbally. They just make more sense on the page.
The Red Transmissions podcast aims to document the work, behind-the-scenes moments and creative process of the characters in their network, and explore why artists, activists, and “worldthreaders” do what they do, how they do it, and hear about the inner workings of their projects. I was so very honored to talk with Red Transmissions host –and remarkably fascinating human in her own right!– Elizabeth Torres this past Saturday about all manner of things, from my upbringing in a weird household full of art and spirits and new-age wonderments, my history and experiences with writing and online curation, and what goes into writing and promoting a book during a pandemic.
When it came down to it, I wasn’t as terrified as I thought I might be. Elizabeth was so patient with me; soothing my jangled nerves and wrangling my rambling chatter! I’m afraid that the worst did happen… there was an instance or two where she asked me something and my mind went completely blank and I froze and stuttered and stumbled. But when the world didn’t come crashing to an end that second and she prompted me with an additional question or shepherded me along with another line of thought, and the conversation moved on. I wish I could be totally cool and tell you that it all went swimmingly and I was amazing and flawless, but I think you know me too well for that, ha!
I shared a press-type photo that was shot by my brother-in-law around this time last year for the purposes of this podcast and its corresponding article for the Red Door Magazine this summer, but since that time, as I’ve shared here before, I’ve chopped all that hair off. Here’s a photo of me post-recording, feeling empowered and exhausted and cultivating the 1996-97 dELiA*s catalog hair I’ve always dreamed of.
I cringe thinking about my early existence up until about my mid-20s or so, and all of the people I left hanging, all of the promises broken, all of the things I said I’d do and then…didn’t do.
You know how you often see those memes or webcomics about how you’re all ready for bed after a long, hard day; you’re tired, you’re exhausted, your head hits heavy on the pillow and then BAM. Your eyes pop open with a startle and a shudder because you’re suddenly bombarded with the excruciating memory of that really humiliating thing you did or that embarrassing thing that happened to you when you were in the seventh grade? My personal version of this scenario is being suddenly reminded of all the people I’ve let down, that time I didn’t make a deadline after I swore I timeliness, that afternoon I flaked out and didn’t meet someone, somewhere, when I agreed that I would.
In retrospect… I did these things a lot.
In looking back on myself with a kinder gaze, I know why I did this, and it often had to do with situations that required boundaries and advocating for myself. I was always trying to please everyone or avoid conflict and in doing so, I frequently ended up overextending myself. It’s possible that at that time in my life I wasn’t self-aware enough to realize that while something sounded good at the moment, I was never going to follow through with the plan. And most often, I just flaked out of a situation because I was scared and anxious about it.
If I needed extra time, I should have asked for it. If I didn’t want to do something, I should have spoken up. If something seemed scary, it would have been helpful for me to explain it to the person whose request I was acquiescing to, so that they could have the opportunity to support me. Or at least so they knew that even though I agreed to do something, it was going to be a struggle for me!
I still feel guilty these many years later about that time I told my sister that I would meet her on campus to sign up for classes, and then I just… never showed up. I didn’t intend on taking any classes that semester and I was too scared to tell her — so I just did the easy thing at the time, which was telling her, “yeah sure, see you there” instead of “hey, I think you need to know I’m not planning on going to school right now.” What was easier for me at that moment was definitely not easier for me down the road, when I had to make up my excuses about not showing up that day, and then continue lying for the next few months about the classes I wasn’t taking.
I suppose this is on my mind because yesterday I did a thing I had been dreading terribly. I had agreed to do it because I knew it would probably be a good experience that would benefit me in the long run, and so there was really no question about whether or not I was actually going through with it. I said I would, so I did. And this is because as I have gotten older, I have been able to look outside myself and beyond my fears to finally see it from the other person’s perspective: they asked something of me, and I said yes. They are depending on me for whatever it was that I agreed to. They are trusting me to uphold my end of the bargain. And whatever temporary relief I would feel from backing out would definitely not be worth knowing that this person’s experience with me left a sour taste in their mouth, and not only would they probably not want to work with me again, who knows what they might have to say about me to other people?
Having spent the majority of my youth being the person most likely to flake out on a friend or family member, it is extremely important to me now to feel that I am someone reliable and trustworthy. That I can be depended upon to hold up my end of the bargain.
…AND WOW. I am reading back over all of this right now and it sounds SO self-righteous and sanctimonious, so please listen:
-I understand that last-minute issues and emergencies come up and plans fall through.
-I understand that my chronically ill friends are frustratingly challenged when it comes to making and keeping plans. I am definitely writing from a place of privilege and relatively decent health here and I recognize this.
-I understand that everyone is at a different place in their life’s path, and we are all just doing the best we can.
I guess what I am getting at is this. Sometimes I write things here about my experiences so that other people can connect with and perhaps gain something from them. I don’t think that’s what blog entry is for. This is not advice for you. And if you are reading this and thinking this is about you, it is not. I promise. This is about me recognizing something good about myself and celebrating and sharing. I used to be a certain way, and now I am not, and I am incredibly proud of myself for that. And of course, I screw up. I still hate to tell people no. I still have to extend deadlines or postpone a phone call or possibly disappoint someone when I can’t be as timely as I like. I’m not perfect.
For example, in the last few years, I tried to be part of a thing that entailed doing something on a fairly regular basis that made me terribly anxious and uncomfortable. I gave it my best, more than once, and I found that I just couldn’t. It was awful and I hated it. Instead of continuing to RSVP and then make excuses as to why I couldn’t attend, I finally spoke up and explained that this was a thing I could not do.
And you know what? It was fine. Because those few moments of vulnerability and an embarrassing confession were so much less painful than doing a thing that made me so unhappy, and now I don’t have to worry about it anymore. Another example is when I asked a certain organization whether or not they would be interested in doing an interview with me. When they agreed, I told them I would have a Q&A over to them in a month or two. Which because I had overextended myself, turned into two or three months. I reached out and apologized for the delay and asked if they were still interested. They replied that they were and that I should just feel free to get to it whenever I got to it and that would be fine. Well, it took a whole damn year, but I finally did send them that Q&A. I tried to do what I said I would do, but when I couldn’t do it in a timely way, I communicated and kept in touch as best as I could about it to make them aware of the timeline.
So as a human person, despite the strides I’ve made, sure, I still screw up. But I realized when I’d bitten off more than I could chew, comfort-wise, and I handled it. I recognized that my timing was quite far off from what I had anticipated, but I still wanted to make the thing work so I handled that too. Imperfectly, but these too, are things I am proud of.
I did stress that writing all of this was more for me than it was for you, BUT, if you are someone who is looking to make some improvements on your personal reliability, this is what I can tell you:
-If you could turn back time, do not agree to those plans. But you can’t, so future-you needs to remember that if you don’t want to do something, don’t say you’ll do it. But present-you had probably better do it, because you said you would.
-But seriously, the next time you’re called on to do something, really take a moment to ask yourself whether you have the bandwidth to make good on the promise. Declining now is far better than breaking your word later.
-If you have to cancel plans, do it NOW. Do not wait. Did you wait? OK WELL DO IT NOW. But especially do not wait until the last minute.
-By that same token, if you are running late, let your friend know. It’s a text that takes like two seconds. It’s polite. Don’t just show up twenty minutes late, like it’s no big deal. People’s time is worth something. Even your friend’s time. Especially your friend’s time. When you show up late with no explanation and without having notified them, you are basically saying “you? I shit on your time!”
-Are you a young junior baby employee? Maybe you haven’t been in the workforce very long and you don’t have much experience with keeping your boss or your manager happy? A good thing to remember is that if you are going to be late, even a few minutes late–call and let someone in your office/store/restaurant/whatever know about it. If you are not going to be at work, don’t just not show up. You have to inform someone so that they know what’s going on with you and they can plan a shift or a schedule accordingly. I worked with many college interns a few years ago, and there was nothing worse than when my boss asked me “hey, where’s so-n-so today?” And I had to tell him that I had no idea, they were scheduled and they didn’t show up, and they didn’t even call about it. That made ME look bad. So try and look at it from that point of view. Your showing up late or shrugging off your shift might not just reflect poorly on you. It’s affecting other people, too.
-Plan, I mean really plan for your deadlines. If that means parceling them out in small chunks or time blocks on your google calendar, complete with notifications, do that. Put your appointments and meetings in your calendar or your planner or your phone. Don’t expect yourself to remember everything you’ve got going on. You can’t. So write it down and keep it handy. If you are disorganized and forgetful, that can translate as dismissive and inconsiderate.
-Ask for help. I don’t know what this might mean for you, but for me, this might mean asking a family member to remind me at least 24 hours before we’re scheduled to have a Skype call. Or I will ask my partner for extra support, encouragement, and ultimately lots of tough love if needed, because maybe I have agreed to do something really scary but that I know will benefit my personal growth… and also I know I will want to talk myself out of it, every step of the way. You might require different kinds of help with your different situations. It’s worth making a list of where you might run into trouble, who it is that may be able to assist you, and what it is exactly that they could do.
At the end of the day, I am still the person who is happiest when plans are canceled. My sister and I– the same one I stood up in the registrar’s office– have in the past paid for concert tickets many months in advance (and this is more than once, mind you) and then looked at one another on the evening of the event, each already knowing what the other is thinking. We just don’t be the one who has to say it out loud. “Do you REALLY want to go to this thing tonight?” “No! Do YOU?” “OH THANK GOD, LET’S JUST STAY HOME.”
In the canny words of comedian John Mulaney, who was not talking about this blog, but rather a comedy special:
“I appreciate you coming to a thing because you didn’t have to, and it’s really easy not to go to things. It is so much easier not to do things than to do them, that you would do anything is totally remarkable. Percentage-wise, it is 100% easier not to do things than to do them. And so much fun not to do them, especially when you are supposed to do them. In terms of, like, instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin. It is an amazing feeling. Such instant joy.”
It’s definitely easier not to do things. But if you cancel on me, I am probably not going to be mad at you. I understand where you’re coming from, and I get it. But I hope you know I am super easy to talk to and if you didn’t want to do it in the first place, you totally could have told me! And hopefully, I’ll be able to tell you, too. That I don’t want to go to your thing. That way when I don’t show up, you weren’t even expecting me! And as long as you call me if you’re running late, we’re never gonna have a problem.
Sometimes I get a little down on myself for not being an absolute expert on the things I love or enjoy. Like how dare I profess an adoration for fragrances if I haven’t studied under master perfumers, traveled around the world sniffing varieties of rare volatile oils, and begun to create my own blends and open up shop to sell them! Who do I think I am to say that I thoroughly enjoy the practice of knitting if I haven’t been educated in textiles and fashion, if I haven’t apprenticed with a craftsperson, if I haven’t begun to draw up my own patterns and publish a book of them? Can I even mention my love of cooking if I didn’t attend some sort of culinary institution, if I didn’t train with a celebrity chef or appear in a great bake-off, if I don’t have a professional series of videos on the internet documenting my homecookery?
I find delight in too many things to devote that amount of time to any one of them, and honestly, I don’t know that I love any of them enough to dedicate my entire existence to them. I have a great amount of respect and admiration for those who have found that one thing, or who are willing and able to put in the work to become some sort of next-level guru. But it’s not me. It might never be me.
I think these fears massively play into my anxiety and depression with regard to social media comparisons. I see people being wildly successful in their chosen field or craft, the thing that (I assume) they’ve devoted their lives to, and I start feeling badly about myself, lesser-than, for not excelling in similar ways. But wait. Stop. Step back a moment. Why am I feeling badly about a thing I know I don’t want for myself anyway? I already know I don’t possess that devotion or dedication or discipline to pursue any of my interests to that degree! There is nothing to compare, here. These people and I are on totally different paths, with different priorities and goals. What they are doing is wonderful and I wish every single one of them all the success that they deserve. But their journey is not mine. Somewhere along the way I’ve gotten things twisted and confused and made them more complicated than they ever had to be.
All of these thoughts whizzing round-and-round in my head made me think of this thing that my friend Flannery shared, and which I relate to in an intensely comfortable way. I don’t want to be the best and smartest at a thing! But…do I? No, that’s work I don’t want to do! Still…if we could be THE BEST…?!
Ok, but no. It’s all too much work and I’ve got too many other things I want to at least know a few things about! I don’t have the time or the inclination to know everything! Even so, realizing all of this, I sometimes question myself. Like…who am I to even offer an opinion about a thing, if I don’t have the scholarship and academic background and rigorous study and training to back it up? I guess it’s times like these that I must remind myself of this piece of wisdom from goofball alchemist and artist Tyler Thrasher, which I have re-shared from his Instagram, above in the featured image for this post. Take a moment to scroll up and read it aloud, or to go straight to his Instagram and read it there. He continues this line of thought in his caption for the image:
“Have no shame in multiple hobbies and interests. The world is vast and there’s room for it all.”
I was extraordinarily privileged to interview Tyler for Haute Macabre about his art practice and philosophies back in 2017; I love all of the artists who take a moment to answer my questions, but this Q&A has a special place in my heart. Tyler is so damn smart and savvy and talented–but also, just…fun. So much fun! And something he shared, which sums up his work and his art and everything he puts out into the world, is in this statement.
“I think curiosity and experimentation are just vital for being human.”
I don’t know who needs to hear this (I mean, me for sure) but: you really don’t have to know everything. You don’t have to choose, you can be multiple things in life, and having many interests is not a curse–you are a creature of curiosity and it’s part of being human.
I may never be a fragrance guru, a champion knitter, a captain of cakes. And I don’t even want to be! There’s so much else to do and see and know and be! I like to think I am leading a creatively complex life whatever my skill levels, even if they plateau and never improve, even if I abandon that particular interest for something else entirely. And you, too! Let’s just love what we love and not be dicks about it–not to others, and especially to ourselves.