Sunday, December 21, 2008

Unemployed: Artist

I went to the bank the other day to open a savings account, a few decades too late. I’ve always joked that we would have enough when we retired to have lunch and then commit suicide, but it’s not so funny anymore. I mean, we might be able to have lunch, but we won’t be able to have dessert, much less afford to kill ourselves. There used to be the “put the old folks on an ice floe and let them float off to die” alternative, but with global warming, that’s out.
But – getting back to the bank.
The efficient young woman filling out the paperwork asked me what my occupation is, and I told her I didn’t have a job, and that I’m a singer, songwriter, and writer. She wrote in the blank: “Unemployed: artist.”
Ouch. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to justify my existence to myself, and in two words the edifice of my self-worth trembled, and all the dark fears that my parents were right billowed around me. Remember, I grew up on a farm, and came from conservative hard-working people. I remember well their attitude toward artists.
Artists, actors, musicians, dancers, writers, god help us poets and their ilk did not really work. They had fun during the day and stayed out late having fun at night – not like the workers of the world who were early to bed, early to rise, and none of that damned arts nonsense. All musicians were hopheads. All dancers were queer. All painters were dreamy lay-abouts who couldn’t even make a picture that looked like anything. All artists were parasites living off the pissed-off people who had to get up and go to a job every day.
If that is what you believe, there is nothing I could tell you that would teach you what hard work it takes to create art. To create something wonderful out of what you can do with your body, your mind, and your willingness to be a channel for something greater than yourself is something you achieve by years of hard work and practice, all of which you do for no money. In fact, you might have to pay people to teach you technique – voice lessons, drawing lessons, acting lessons, dancing lessons, instrument lessons. Talent is also helpful.
Meanwhile, while studying and practicing, you wait tables, you type, you clean houses or paint houses or build houses, you do something to support your art habit, and you take a lot of criticism, both artistic and personal.
You will be told more than once not to quit your day job, because you just don’t have what it takes.
When you fill out forms that say, “Occupation – check one,” they will never have a box for what you do.
Artistic success tends to be temporary – a painting sold, a few paying gigs. If you get to be the member of a dance or opera company – well, do you realize how many people are competing for those spots, and how good they are? Do you have any idea how many failed auditions every single dancer, actor, and musician lives through?
Oh yeah, it’s a real walk in the park, the life artistic. That’s why most people do it as a hobby. Going to a job is much easier than being an artist. So why do people do it? They have to. It’s who they are.
That’s why it says on my savings account form, “Unemployed: artist.” I’ll go on struggling with the self-worth thing. Why stop now?
You could help by buying one or two CDs. Why didn’t I think of saying that ‘way before Christmas? Oh well. The music’s been good for over 20 years, and it will still be good in January. Email me at:, and we’ll talk.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snowed In

Dear Hearts and Gentle People ~
It’s a cold Saturday in Puget Sound, and according to the Weather Channel it’s a cold day in a lot of the US of A, except down in southern Texas, where my friend Susan advises me they have the air conditioning on.
I have revised my cold weather getaway plan. I won’t go to California. I’ll pass through California on the way to Houston.
My Brave Knight (that would be Rick) departed for town a few minutes ago, in a pickup truck with chains. He was carrying library books and a grocery list. He qualifies for the Brave Knight rating today because the snow is deep and more is expected. I was going to go with him, but he said that my holey old athletic shoes are not adequate for the snow, and I don’t have any more substantial shoes. So I made the list and sent him off. There was a time I might have argued to go, but that was when I had good knees.
Our road was graded and sanded yesterday, but we haven’t had mail or a paper for two days. I haven’t left the house since last Tuesday.
Being snowed in is not such a big deal when you’ve got cable and internet, but a wind storm is predicted for this evening, so we could be in the dark soon. On the upside of that, we don’t have to worry about losing food in the freezer. We can store it outside and it will keep fine. As long as the raccoons don’t get it. But we’ll deal with that problem when it arises.
So I’m sitting here listening to the Kingston Trio Christmas album, “The Last Month of the Year.” My grand daughter is gluing together a Santa Claus and a snow man my cousin Nancy sent her. After raising two boys I am always amazed that this little girl will sit down with a project and follow the directions and get it done. Wow. As a process person, I appreciate goal-oriented people. They are mysterious and miraculous to me.
Meanwhile I sit here in the middle of a zillion uncompleted projects, with the Kingston Trio singing me through the season.
“One for the little bitty baby who was born, born, born in Bethlehem!”
Stay warm, friends.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Living the Boring Life

Winter weather makes me a little nervous. This house I’m living in has no wood stove, so if the electricity goes off, it will get cold, and stay that way. When I asked the owner of the house what she did when the power was out, she told me that her kind neighbors took her in for a day or two, and after that she flew to California.
I am considering whether I shall follow her sensible course of action if the electricity goes off for an extended period of time. I haven’t been to California for a while.
California is where I was born and where I grew up until my early 20s, when I moved to Vashon Island. I was born in a little town called Watsonville, a farming community on the southern end of Santa Cruz County.
Today at the store I stood in front of a large Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider display, picking up bottles and looking at the pictures from Martinelli’s history on the labels, trying to see if I could recognize anything in them.
The Martinelli’s plant was across the street from my high school. I remember sitting in Mr. Plummer’s freshman English class in the basement of the old high school building (built in 1903, now long gone), staring out the ground level windows at Martinelli’s on the other side of Beach Street. I was waiting for life to begin, waiting to be free from school, and bells, and petty tyrants, of which there seemed to be so many, both adult and student.
One day a man who looked like Gabby Hayes, or a prospector straight out of the Gold Rush, came walking down Beach Street leading a donkey that was carrying a pack. This would have been in 1962 or so. I was curious, but I never found out who he was or why he and his donkey walked by the high school. He was a character, no doubt, one of the people at whom we rolled our eyes and twirled our fingers around our ears to indicate, “crazy.” In 1962 there weren’t many characters. Characters came in a few years later when we all decided to let our hair grow.
I wish I could say that I saw other interesting things while gazing out the windows of my high school classes, but that was pretty much it, just that one guy and his donkey. Other than that it was four years of boredom.
Growing up in California in the fifties and sixties felt pretty boring. I know now that I was living a comfortable life in a place where the temperature stayed between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit all year ‘round. I guess that being safe and comfortable can seem boring to a kid.
My cousin and I are planning a road trip to California next spring. We’ll drive out to Green Valley to see the ranches, both my grandfather’s and my father’s. My father’s apple trees are gone, replaced by dwarf varieties that produce more apples. Also gone are the peach, apricot, fig, and lemon trees that we had for our personal use. Once the place was sold and became a part of agribusiness, no longer a family farm, those oddities had to go. Too bad. I remember how happy my dad looked when he sat down to a bowl of fresh peach slices drenched in cream.
Now when I go up to the top of the hill and look at the views I so loved as a child, I am trespassing on someone else’s land. But I go, anyway, so I can look at the flat orchard-covered floor of Green Valley to the north, and the long vista over the Pajaro Valley and off to Fremont Peak in the hazy distance to the south, and drink the view in.
I must be getting old, to mourn times and people that are no more. Makes me wonder why we want long life, when the older we get, the more losses we carry. Still, you know I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
I wish you all a warm and wonderful Christmas, or whatever the heck you celebrate. May it be safe, and comfortable, and boring. You know: enough to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over your head, family and friends, no sickness or death or other catastrophes. Boring. Let’s hear it for boring.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Superwoman No More

In a conversation with some other women who have had significant health challenges, I heard myself saying, “It is so hard to wrap your consciousness around the fact that your body is not the same.”
They agreed: “No one prepared us for this.”
“This” could be one or more of any events or illnesses: cancer, car wrecks, chronic illness of any kind, falls, breaks, loss of hearing, sight, smell, taste, or cognitive ability; and whatever else I have forgotten or don’t know about that belongs on this list.
For me it has been various accidents, with mononucleosis piled on top. I cannot rely on my body to do what I once took for granted.
For example, move all these boxes of stuff so I can put up the Christmas tree? At one time that was the work of a moment. Not any more, brothers and sisters. Now it’s a matter of figuring out if I can catch my sons or my husband long enough to do the heavy lifting and shifting. If not, the thing does not get moved, and the little project does not get done.
When I do manage to get something done, I have to rest up afterwards. Crap. Insult added to injury, and then I’m too tired to sustain the insult, and need a nap.
Actually, the naps are great, but there was a time when I would not stop for anything, especially not a nap, which appears to be “doing nothing,” and horrors, we can’t have that, superwoman doing nothing.
Superwoman is beginning to realize that her high flyin’ days are over. They got left behind somewhere – for me, in that car wreck, in various falls and broken bones, and in the mononucleosis that left me with no energy.
It wasn’t until today, when I was talking about how when things happen to your body it takes forever for your conscious mind to catch up, that I realized that my mind still hasn’t caught up. I’m not sure if my mind has even started to admit that there’s anything different than it used to be.
It’s pretty frustrating to stand and look at work you used to do easily and confront the new reality that you can’t do it. It bodes well for anyone who plans on coming to the garage sale I’m going to have one of these days, though. I’m leaning in a lot of ways, but mainly I’m leaning towards getting rid of anything that’s in my way, and that’s practically everything.
Superwoman needs a nap now.