Friday, February 25, 2011

Puzzle Pieces

The best pieces are the ones you don’t expect. Pieces lost, maybe, in the spirit world before birth, or saved by the gods as surprise gifts, meant to be found bit by bit as you go along your way. Maybe you only see them when you’ve grown enough to do so, when you can see how well they fit you.

But you still love the other pieces, they still evoke tenderness and longing in you. They gave you shape, after all, when all you had of “something more” was faith that it must exist.

This is about beauty, and completion (maybe), and feeling whole.

This is about landscape. Maybe:

The scent of eucalyptus and coastal sage, and the way the fog blows in from the ocean to cloak the hills; the way the wind shapes the Monterey cypresses like a giant bonsai master.

But you still love the lushness of the other pieces, the way a mountain is automatically something covered with trees, the way rain drips off branches on old city streets. The way you smell rain coming.

But the pieces are all yours; it’s not about choosing.

Maybe it’s about being brave enough to change the shape of things, when it means losing an already beautiful contour.

And maybe there’s nothing outside of the puzzle—no loss, none of the completion you imagined, nothing other than loving the pieces you love and constantly being brave enough to shift them around. The picture was so pretty, but everything breaks or changes. The moment you think you can see just how it’s supposed to look, another of your pieces turns up, and your landscape rotates with the earth on its axis, and you’re dazzled all over again.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

•friend crush•

"Mommy, what's that in your mouth?"
(Read: chocolate, muenster cheese, or wine.)
I don't like lying to my kid, but I'm not above it. Especially when he's liable to take said mouthful by force, if I admit to it.

My husband recently admitted something along the lines of chocolate/muenster cheese/wine to me, whilst talking about an acquaintance. (I'll call him Paul.) "Paul," quoth my husband. "Who I secretly want to be my friend..." I fairly whooped. A chink in my husband's armor? Could it be... he *likes* someone? I took this and ran. My husband--a real person, as it turns out--has friend-crushes, too! A friend-crush is when you really like someone (in a completely platonic way) but in a waaaaaay beyond-the-playground kinda way: You want to get to know them. Their history. Their favorite movies. Their... hair products.

I've rocked some successful friend-crushes in the past. Estelle, the breezy Brit from Brussels, with her screaming 3-month-old and her lust for liquor. Jen, my classmate from Childbirth Ed., with her unbelievable curls, poise, and verbal smack-downs. The three of us, as it turns out, were fast friends, pioneering a 'mom's night out' for our stroller derby and kvetching about all things sleep deficit.

Friend-crushes. What could be more fun and delightful? My relationship with a certain Co-Blogger started in this very way (in the dairy aisle of the Co-op, no less), and spiraled into random offerings of pumpkin bread and Sunday night writer's group, back-scratching, tea drop-ins, and beyond. We should all be so lucky. Maybe we are.

I raise my glass to "Paul" and to my husband, and to my dear Jen and Estelle, and to the many shockingly beautiful friends I have (and have yet to make). What a wonderful world we live in, if only we choose to pursue it. xox

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tuna Picnic

Annie, relaxing over a nice cuppa.

Cats are not the only critters who like a little tuna juice snicky-snack now and then.

"What? What's wrong with fishy breath kisses?"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

•bake, little cheesecake, bake•

When I was in college, I frequented this little cake shop in the southside of Pittsburgh. Called "Grecianland," it was a marvel of various unusual spellings (a round eclair-type thing was called a "kok", and I'm pretty sure there was both a small version and a "big kok"). Almost without exception, the cakes in the expansive cold-case were "yogurt" cakes. Raspberry Yogurt Cake. Orange Yogurt Cake. Tiramisu Yogurt Cake. Chocolate Yogurt Cake. They looked like creamy cheesecakes. They were fancy, with filigree and dips, curls and fruit. One by one, my friends and I tried them all. Blackberry, espresso, mango. Double vanilla.

This was before I could bake. Before I could put together a box of macaroni and cheese without checking the instructions (six times). A nice meal was a can of Progresso French Onion Soup with toast and cheese. The cakes at Grecianland were otherworldly, and I depended on them. It never occurred to me they would cease to be, and it certainly never occurred to me that it would be difficult to find even a trace of their cultured existence, ten years on.

I return to Pittsburgh at least once a year. The yogurt cakes are gone. Baklava and cheesecakes fill today's Grecianland, and I'm not interested. The proper pronunciation of "kok" (coke) is posted. Every once in a while, I troll the internet, plugging in various word combos. Hoping someone's blogged the answer. Not even an online menu from the current restaurant.

So I'm baking an attempt. And drinking, to dull the let-down. 6 minutes to go. xox

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


The self portrait class. Will I ever post about anything else? Are you bored yet? Well, I'm not, and this here's my blog! (Well, and Lis's blog too, of course...Lis, are you bored yet?)

I'm kind of joking. But kind of obsessed! These classes are just pushing my thinking buttons so hard. And that's nice. I like a well-engaged thinking button.

ANYWAY. The work for this week (and for life as an artist, no?) is to start thinking about our visual voices. Visual voice. It turns out, I have one. What I can see so far is that, in part, it has kind of a dreamy, Romantic, nature vibe to it. Which, when I think about my jewelry designs, doesn't seem that odd. (It also has a goofy vibe, which also is not surprising.)

One of my classmates is a novelist, and she and I started a casual sort of exchange about how/whether our visual voices line up with our writing voices. I think my voices line up pretty directly in some ways, and inspired by Johanna's self portraits, which often incorporate words, I decided to play with a photo I would have written off, except that it made a perfect backdrop for a prose poem (or lyrical fragment, as I generally prefer to call them) I wrote a while back. I had several people in mind when I wrote this, but mostly, it was for my dad. And now I realize it makes a pretty good note to self as well.

I don't love the technical execution of this photo/writing conglomeration. It still feels more conglomeratory than composed, but partly that's because editing photos on Picnik has some technical limitations (possibly operator-generated technical limitations, but still). Also, I do not love that this experiment resulted in line breaks--there was no getting around it, so I just tried to break the lines in ways that suggest they were not meant to be poetically chosen line breaks. The original piece is very much a block of text, and I much prefer that. Oh well. The goal here wasn't finalized, perfect art, anyway, but rather exploration and discovery. (If you can't read the words, you can click on the photo to enlarge it.)

•i don't knit•

I also don't read. (Amy does both, though, so at least we've got the bases half-covered.) I have knit before, and I suppose it could be argued I read now, since I consume all of your blogs (yes, you!) with vigor and delight. But you know what I mean. I used to read, I used to knit, before

I'm on sabbatical. Hiatus. And there are plenty of other people out there, getting the knitting of the world done. What better time than now, for me to hang back and rest on my cat-hat laurels? (Note: the above brown cat-hat had to be renamed "bat hat," in order for a certain small person to wear it for these snap-shots. Alas, Batman has come into our lives.) xox

p.s. Lest you think I was ever truly industrious, these lovely scarves were created by Rae Gouirand. I only ever managed a few hats, back in my knitting hay day...

Thursday, February 10, 2011


You never know what you'll find or where your finds will lead you. Yesterday, on a walk with a friend, I found an enormous number of these branches, in a huge pile by the curb, ready to be picked up by the town's yard waste removal program. The buds, at that point, were tight, and mostly green, but clearly ready to burst open. Mostly, I was attracted to them because I can never quite resist the thought of recreating interesting branches in silver. But I also thought it would be lovely to put the branches in water and force the blossoms. I wasn't certain it would work, because I've only ever heard of people forcing a small subset of blossomy branches--forsythia, flowering quince--but it seemed logical that all flowering trees would function on the same basic principle. Within hours of getting them home, it was clear they were very pleased with the jar of water I gave them.

I have this negative reaction to the word "force" in this context. It seems somehow cruel. But really, trees and bushes like to be pruned--they grow better for it. And what better to do with the clippings than provide them with what they need to shine? A jar of water, some warmth. It's not much as far as structure goes, but administered at the right time, that's all it takes for a branch to explode with flowers.

* * * * *

I am constantly amazed at how desperately I need to be creating
something--writing, jewelry, pottery, photographs, sewn projects, knit projects. It almost doesn't matter, because even when I'm working on something that isn't in one of my primary creative categories, as long as I'm really engaged by the work, it's a sure bet that it will eventually bleed right into working on something that carries more weight for me.

But it's not easy for me to keep that sort of creative momentum going on my own, and that's dangerous, because when I don't keep it going, I become depressed. More than any of the other things I do to combat my depression (and they are multitude), creative activity is the most important, the most consistently reliable. It's no exaggeration to say that an afternoon spent writing or throwing pots has a drug-like effect on me.

Over the last couple of years, I've come to believe that having some sort of creative community is almost imperative for me in order to continue or deepen my creative practices. I never called myself a writer until I had a community of writers with whom to share my work--people to whom I was responsible for getting some writing done, people who considered me a creative peer. Beyond my writing practice itself, having that community transformed me into a writer. If nothing else, I felt the structure of my responsibility to them--when it was my night to workshop, I really felt that positive pressure. That forcing. They wanted blossoms from me, and so I blossomed.

The last couple of months--since the beginning of this year--I've found one external prompt and creative community after another. First, A River of Stones, and the community that went with it, and then the Wading In class and that community. And now I'm starting the next of Vivienne's photography classes, You Are Your Own Muse, and I expect that class and its community to be every bit as wonderful as the last one. One reason I decided to take it is that I love just knowing that there are people with whom I'm responsible for building creative community--people who are both out there doing their own work and also excited to witness the work that I'm doing. It's totally inspiring. It's just the sort of gentle, casual structure I need, apparently, to force myself in the right direction, to be consistently happy; to explode with flowers.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

•can't blog it: open season•

OK, here's a good one. Blogger walks into a bar... and runs right into something she can't write about online. Certain People Might Be Reading.

I know, I know-- ridiculous! But it has happened. A thing has happened, and I guess it must be essay-worthy, because I'm certainly not hashing it out here. So! I hereby turn this over to you, dear readers. What have *you* wanted to write about, but been unable to post? Please share. Here at HaMama, you have the floor. Chances are, your Certain People aren't following you around the blogosphere. (small voice) I mean, at least not all the way into the comments of this unpost. xox

Monday, February 7, 2011

•yay or nay?•

Kiwi Rose Champagne Cocktail. With organic kiwi, ginger simple syrup, and Bulgarian rose water. Would you order it? xox

Sunday, February 6, 2011


People, do you all know about the color palette generator at Big Huge Labs? One of the folks in the Wading In class just alerted all of us to it, and oh, my God. So addictive. Takes any photo you upload and spits out a perfectly matched set of color swatches.

This is something I could do with markers, paint chips, watercolors, etc. But probably not to the degree that the program does it--it seems to be giving me a consistent 15 colors per photograph (maybe there's some well-known design/color theory reason for that), and the colors are sometimes extremely subtle gradations of one another. And there's just something about seeing all those swatches gathered together that way. It makes me hungry, you know? If you're a person who's obsessed with color (and I happen to know that some of you out there are), the color palettes are almost better than the pictures themselves. I'm not sure how to adequately describe the thrill to someone who's not that into this kind of thing.

There's a way to download the swatches into an Adobe compatible format so you can use them for other projects. Alas, I don't have Photoshop or Illustrator or anything comparable (I do have Acrobat 8.1, but it doesn't open these files), so I'm not sure what to do with my pretty collections other than gaze at them adoringly and then move on to the next photo. If anyone has any ideas about how I can open the files, and perhaps embed them here for our collective enjoyment, do tell!

I never thought I'd come across anything that would make me think (however briefly) about painting all the rooms in my house. I loathe house painting so, so much, and I generally believe that walls should be various shades of white or eggshell as a backdrop for other things. But this tool actually wakes up some heretofore unknown, latent interior design urge in me.

Oh, and then there's yarn. I'm just really trying not to think about new yarn while I play this game.

Friday, February 4, 2011

•log fur•

This curl of bark winked at me from the underbrush, as I delivered the toddler to school. A furry yule log! Mine. I stashed the beast in the car and went about my day. Later on, I was pretty sure I'd forget to take a picture, so I made with the camera while waiting for a hamburger. Not the classiest backdrop, but honest. And so very Half-Assed. And I must say, this beastie has a certain transcendent ferocity. May your weekend have the same! xox

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

More (Oh, So Many More) Thoughts on Self Portraits

Do you all remember just about two weeks ago, when I wrote something about how I've always hated pictures of myself, and I'd kind of like to get over it already?

(Click on any of the images to expand them)

Yeah. I think I'm officially over it, and the class still has another week and a half to go. I also think I'll sign up for the next one.

I promised to write more about all the things this class is making me think, and although I'm still not ready to turn this into some polished essay on the subject, I really kind of want to write about it. And this is my blog. So this doesn't need to be a polished essay. (I know, I'm all about the revelations.)

So here, in no particular order, is an unpolished and random collection of thoughts on self portraiture. More or less just as the ideas gathered themselves in my journal over the last couple of weeks. And it's long. Really long.
(You've been warned.) But there are pictures! And my grammar's not half bad, I promise!

1) I keep thinking about the words "image" and "imagine." The pictures I'm taking are often hitting me with incredible force--and it isn't about what I look like necessarily, but more about something behind the image. I wrote more or less the following in a comment on Vivienne's blog yesterday: As I look at the pictures, I'm having these visions of what I might be capable of, things that have nothing to do with my physical appearance, or with taking pictures (of myself or anything else). And the visions aren't anything I'm consciously calling to me--they're just these overwhelming feelings of creative possibility that stem from the pictures themselves. Amazing.

It keeps occurring to me that "imagine" is a more powerful verb than we give it credit for. Even when we're deeply committed to acts of creativity, I think we don't often hear the literal meaning the word "imagine" carries: That a mere image can call reality into being.


2) If all of that is true--that an image can expand our ways of imagining ourselves--what else can it help us to imagine? How can portraits of ourselves and other people stretch our creativity and help us to stop putting limits on ourselves and everyone else?

3) And really, isn't that just another way of asking how really seeing ourselves and other people can allow us to expand our visions of them/ourselves?

4) And on that subject, I'm blown away by the degree to which self portraits allow us to allow ourselves to be seen. There are so many elements to just this issue. One of them, it's been occurring to me, is that when we're the ones both in front of and behind the camera, we have all the power and control. We can tell the story we need to tell about ourselves.

I'm not entirely comfortable with this, actually--this "being seen" business. And it's also the thing I am probably most desperate for in the world. And suddenly, this class is helping me develop the power to say, "Here I am. This is who I really am." It makes me a little squirmy to post these pictures here, but I'm also pretty proud of them. Not necessarily as photographs (still know nothing about my camera! but it's a blissful ignorance!), but as images that tell a bit of my story.

I'm interested in how this differs for me from sharing my writing with the world--after all, writing too is a way of saying, "This is who I am." I think partly it's different because I've been writing for much longer than I've been taking pictures of myself, and partly because writing is so easily separated from my physical self. A portrait is about much, much more than my physical self, but it's intimately, inextricably entwined with that physicality as well, and that's a new level of vulnerability for me.

(And wow, do those last few paragraphs shed some light for me on my fascination with/loathing of/terror of performing. Topic for another day entirely. Welcome to my stream of consciousness.)

5) Which leads me to the concept of "bad" pictures of ourselves. I think my dislike of most pictures of myself has very much stemmed from feeling unseen--and by unseen I mean, not seen for who I am, not appearing visually in a way that meshes with who I feel like I am on the inside. And that's pretty much my definition of feeling ugly.

6) Which leads me to something else I keep thinking, as I look through the hundreds of photos taken by my lovely classmates: If you don't find someone beautiful in some way, you aren't really looking at them. Look harder. With the exception of the average axe murderer, everyone is beautiful. Everyone. Yup, you too.

7) And also: Once you start accumulating pictures that make you feel seen, all the pictures you thought you hated might start to look very different to you. I had occasion to look through some very old pictures of myself just in the last two weeks, during this class, and it was as if I'd never seen them before. As if every instrument I'd ever used to measure them had been recalibrated. Sure, some of them are bad pictures--but that's all they are. They don't reflect who I am--they're just lousy snapshots. And that's different. And it's not a big deal when I'm feeling seen in other pictures.

8) Let's take a look at the word snapshot for a moment. I happen to like it, and the momentary, fleeting, time-bound nature it implies. For the same reasons, I really like the word "capture," despite the fact that it seems to get flung about willy-nilly on the Internet. (Was "capture"--used as a noun--a real photography term pre-Internet-digitized-Flickr photography?) Anyway--it's fitting, I think. It's occurring to me, as I snap picture after picture after picture--in mere seconds, with no space in between them, just trying to keep myself moving the entire time--that a photograph is simply a freeze frame.

Later, after I download the pictures, I can "flip" through them on my computer, zipping from one to another very fast--like a flip book or an old movie reel--and I can start to sense how I move. How that richer, more nuanced, more fluid whole might be beautiful, even if the freeze frames just aren't working on any given day. (And I'm not an Ani Difranco fan, but I have to admit the final lyrics to her song "Evolve" apply beautifully here: "It took me too long to realize / that I don't take good pictures / 'cause I have the kind of beauty / that moves.")

Me, magically making my hair...float?

9) However! I'm beginning to think I would argue that everyone can "take good pictures." Everyone has the kind of beauty that moves, I think, and everyone's beauty can be captured in those freeze frame moments if they/someone tries hard enough, sees them clearly enough. And as I said before, I'm learning that it takes a lot of pictures to get a few good ones. Can I just say that again? A LOT of pictures. Oh! And movement in the moment when you're actually taking the pictures is so important. It keeps you loose, natural, comfortable, and it gives the camera some of that moving beauty to sink its teeth into.

Me, not moving, just exhausted from
taking too many damn pictures.

10) The other thing about taking so many pictures, aside from starting to see how they fit together to make movement, is that they show facets. Whenever I see a lot of different photos of someone, taken over time, I'm often amazed at how different they look in each picture, and at the same time, how recognizable they become over the course of many pictures. I'm noticing that I look vastly different to myself in all my different pictures--though, taken all together, they're clearly making an overarching, collective portrait of me. The pictures represent all these facets of me--different moods, expressions, mannerisms. Things people who see me all the time in real life probably recognize unthinkingly, but I had no idea I consisted of so many tiny moments making up a whole.

11) Some of the activities for this class have sent us out into the world to take pictures. And that's super fun. And also somewhat challenging, because--as you might imagine--people look at you funny when you're jumping around, snapping pictures of yourself and making funny faces at the camera. This is...daunting. And also, once you figure out a way to deal with it, kind of funny and fun. One woman in the class told us that she was simply telling people "I'm doing a project for a class." This, I love. This, I will use--now, during the class, and forevermore. Think of all the deviant behavior that can be excused this way!

(In fact, it makes me think of a fantastic sociology professor at my college, who used to teach a notorious-on-campus Sociology of Deviance class, during the course of which, students were sent out into the world to behave in some deviant manner of their choosing and then to note the world's reactions. Of course, students in that class weren't permitted to make excuses for their behavior. But I wonder if anyone ever thought of taking a quadrillion self portraits, say, on the train from Bryn Mawr to Center City Philadelphia?)

Anyway, whatever excuse you use, you quickly learn that you need to have one. And you still wind up feeling a little inhibited and ridiculous, even once you kind of find it funny to have people giving you weird looks.

And--here's a shock--my pictures from the days when I've felt more inhibited are not even close to as good as the ones from other days. They're not even remotely as open and free and really me as the others. And how fascinating that the presence of other people can so deeply affect how easily we allow ourselves to be ourselves. And how interesting that when we can honestly stop worrying about how people are seeing us, we're so much more able to offer them the opportunity to see us for who we really are.

In conclusion: Take Vivienne's class if you have the chance and the inclination. But even if you don't do that, go take some pictures of yourself. A lot of pictures of yourself. And see if it doesn't change you a little bit.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

•rabbit, rabbit•

It is a rare month when those are the first words out of my mouth. I managed it at 4:59 this morning, though. Superstition looks good on February. Tiny rituals for a short month. Civic religion, washed down with hearts--a Necco wafer communion.

I rapped on wood yesterday, when I said I wasn't pregnant. Somewhere inside, was I crossing my fingers? Be Mine... xox