Sunday, February 11, 2018

short takes

I have so much I want to write, and exactly no time or space in which to write it all at this particular juncture. Here are some short takes, and at some point in the near future I will be able to be more expansive, more reflective, and say some more. But for now:
  • I found a new studio in Vallejo, in the Old Town area directly across the street from Temple Art Lofts. It is just a tad smaller than my old space, and just a tad more expensive, but it feels just about right. It looks and smells like an insurance office with a slight mold problem (I am chalking that up to being all windows on one side with the door being closed for months while the owners find a new tenant) and I plan to do some major transformational work on it over the next 2 weeks. Sage will be burned, spells will be cast, carpet will be pulled, and contractors harassed. Wow, that's a poem I think.
  • In my spare time I have been working for a friend of mine as a hired gun, throwing production pottery for her restaurant tabletop business that has been in the weeds on orders. Remember last year when I was so fucked up over my mom's death that I thought I needed to get a job? Well, I didn't necessarily get one, but working as a potter mercenary--- which I may put in as "occupation" on my taxes this year--  is the closest I've come to legit employment in almost 20 years. And it's not even close to legit,  just a day here and a day there when I feel I can spare a day to make some real bucks as I try to figure out what the hell I'm doing next. This gig has reminded me of a few things:
    1. The joy of throwing pots.
    2. The importance of asking for help. My friend waited until she was having nervous breakdown before she asked me to help her, and implied the she "knew" it was beneath me to do this kind of work. Little does she know that this work is so healing for me right now, and it gives me such pleasure to not only help a friend, but get paid quite well while doing so.
    3. The satisfaction of mastery, of becoming aware and awake to endlessly repeated acts and finding something new to appreciate. When I go in to her studio I usually throw over a hundred items and when I leave my mind is empty and I feel totally calm.
  • I read a book that I think all people-- not just artists-- need to read, The War of Art. It says a lot of things I've already said, time and time again, about the craft of creating stuff, and it's written by a guy who has done the work, and it's a good reminder to me on how to get shit done. You can read it in a few hours and it's well worth it. Though there was one thing that really annoyed me about this book, and it's a reflection of its time, published in 2002, which in current warp speed time is basically 100 years ago. The author uses "she" in place of "he" a lot, to show that he understands women make art too, and are probably the biggest audience reading his book. And that's all well and good and inclusive. But almost every example he uses of people actually making art or otherwise making things happen-- you know, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Maugham, Tiger Woods, and about 20 other examples that I don't have time to look up while I write this-- are all men. And right about now I'm pretty sick and tired of reading about men's accomplishments. We know, we know. Dear Steven Pressfield: time for a second edition.
  • I have been really happy lately. I don't understand a lot of things, including my own moods, but I have been finding a lot of happiness the past few months. I love my new (old, very old) house. I love that my husband and I, who are consummate slackers, managed to buy it together without fighting, and we are fixing it up together without drama. I am proud that I jumped through every hoop the bank put in front of me and got the money we needed to make it happen. I love that I am in a new community that is totally strange to me, and I am an outsider. I love that I am meeting lots of new people. I love planting a new garden. I love the motorcycle club that is two blocks from my house that hosted a rally on saturday night with dozens and dozens of riders on their stupid Harleys making so much noise that I woke up in the middle of the night confused about what the sound in the air was. I think I'm starting to get it. Life is hard, but it's also limited. The stuff that I stress about basically doesn't matter. My people matter the most, and they are good, which means I'm good. For now.
That's probably enough for now. I'm going to be moving out of my studio over the next week, and then I will find some new things to write about. Here are some pictures:

one of 40.
a peaceful domestic scene.

new studio.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

moving studio

The idea of giving up my Oakland studio to move everything to Vallejo has been a difficult decision for me. For one, my studio rent is incredibly cheap, way below market. My landlords have essentially been subsidizing my business for many years. So giving up my beautiful, high-ceilinged, light-filled inexpensive space seems really stupid. Part of me wanted to keep it just to have it, even if I wasn't using it every day. But... I've been here for 20 years, and I believe that sometimes you have to give up great things if you want to make room for different great things in your life. So, I'm giving up my space, which will be taken over by my close friend, Sara Paloma.

Sketch from the downtown Vallejo streetscape project, 2012
I'm still working at my studio in Oakland since I could not handle moving house and studio at the same time. Gotta phase it out. And the commute, which basically starts at about 60 minutes a day and can easily triple that depending on traffic, is utter hell. Hell! I realize now that keeping the studio was never really in play, because there is no way I'm dealing with a commute. At this moment, the plan is to move my studio into our downstairs area, where I have about 300 square feet to work with, a major downsizing for me. I've also been looking at commercial storefronts in the "Old Town" of Vallejo, which is very cute. The City obviously put some planning and money into this area and I would be thrilled to have a studio there. There are not a lot of shops or activity going now, but it will soon and I would love to be a part of that, just like I was in Oakland.

I hesitate jumping into a commercial space. I was really looking forward to not paying rent for a while. This last year my business has been very slow while I crashed and burned after my mother's death, and I would like to have as little financial pressure on me as possible while I try to get my little boat righted again. Buuuuuuut... I also want to be a part of this new Vallejo life, and meet people, and hustle, and spending all day at my house does not seem like the way to do that. If you are hustling and only your cat sees you, are you really hustling?

Your hustle puts me to sleep.

I'm not above asking the universe for some help or insight, so I asked, very nicely, "Please tell me what to do!" The only thing I got was that it doesn't matter whether or not I get a new studio or work in my own house, the only thing that matters is that I go where I can create and make myself happy, and I can do that in either place. Not exactly the definite answer I was hoping for, but it's a start.

By the way, I will be having a major moving sale Feb 10, both online and in person at the studio in Oakland. If you want to be notified of the sale, sign up here.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

leaving the O for the 'Jo

Back in the spring of 2015 I wrote about considering leaving Oakland, and California altogether. Well, it's done: my husband and I have left Oakland. We managed to buy a place on the outer edges of the Bay Area in Vallejo, and the last 2 months have been a scramble to work on our little fixer-upper (virtually nothing actually got done) while packing up our lives in Oakland. As my husband likes to say, we have left the O for the 'Jo-- pronounced "ho". We spent our first night here on New Year's Day.

How the hell did this happen? My husband has been chomping at the bit to buy something for years. I have always been reluctant because I hate anything that rings of adult responsibility-- having children, dogs, and mortgages being my top three things to avoid at all costs. On New Year's Day last year, I asked my husband is he had any special goals for 2017, and he said, "I want to own a piece of property by the end of this year," and I nodded my head to look supportive while thinking to myself that there was no way that was going to happen. 

A month later, my mom died, and when I was finally able to come back to Oakland in the early spring, I suddenly felt done with it. I literally said to my husband when I was getting out of the car after driving home from Washington, "I don't want to live here anymore." It's hard to describe how I was feeling. My mom died, and I felt like my old life was just over, and I didn't feel any sense of attachment to it anymore. Every small thing that had been grating on me in my life-- my jackass landlord, my inconsiderate upstairs neighbor, our cute but falling-apart apartment, and a host of other things-- suddenly was completely intolerable. I needed to make a change, I couldn't keep coasting on my current situation. 

By chance, we had a project in Vallejo a couple of weeks later, a town I have driven through on the freeway a thousand times but have never stopped and visited. I was immediately intrigued by the town-- the waterfront, the views of the Bay, the downtown with beautiful old buildings and not a lot going on, which recalled Oakland in the 90's. It also has the same rough edges that Oakland used to have before it got all upscale. Then there were the sweet neighborhoods and cute homes: Victorians, mid-century bungalows, pre-WWII stucco homes, Spanish Mediterraneans, and cottages. My radar went off when I realized that many of these homes were for sale in the $350,000 range. Now $350,000 is a shitload of money, I am aware of that. But my brain has been bent by living in the Bay Area for too long, so to my mind $350,000 for a home is CHEAP. I found a realtor and we got to work.

As it turned out, about a thousand other people had the exact same thought. We looked at house after house, every single weekend, putting in offers, writing letters to home owners telling them how much we loved their home and what good and interesting people we are, trying to get someone to sell us their house. People who live in normal housing markets are shocked that this is a thing in California, that potential buyers basically have to sell themselves to owners by writing letters about why they should sell their house to us. Yes, it's thing and this is the ridiculous world I live in.

Finally we found a house that no one else wanted. A home that did not photograph well in real estate listings and full of junk from the previous owners. There was a catalogue of wallpaper samples in one of the rooms from the 1940's. It smelled funky and the bathroom was scary. It had not had anything significant done to it since the 80's. The yard was overgrown and wild. No one had lived in it for years. It was also tens of thousands of dollars less than anything else we looked at, so we casually put in an offer, which was accepted. My first reaction when our realtor told us they took our offer was not joy, but "oh shit". OH SHIT WHAT HAVE WE DONE?! My natural disinclination for adult responsibility kicked right in.

I could write a whole blog post just about going from the "pre-approval" phase of a home loan to actually getting a loan. I thought getting pre-approved meant something, that the hard work of proving you are worthy of a loan was done. WRONG. Pre-approval basically means that you have been assessed to be alive, employed, and in possession of a bank account. That's it. For real and full loan approval there are a hundred hoops to jump through, and I had to jump through hundred more because of my self-employed status. My loan officer has a name any porn star would be proud of, and we talked daily for weeks. And I did not flip out once, except at the very end when I squeezed out of few tears of frustration, but I got us that fucking loan. At 47, I am now officially an adult.

I'm going to tell you about our house now: it's one of the cute little stucco homes on a street with
almost identical homes, all built around 1934. It has fantastic light, hardwood floors, great ceilings, and a sweet archway between the living room and the dining room. It has two bedrooms and one bathroom. The kitchen has the original cabinets and tile work. The living part of the home is on an upper level, and then the garage and a whole unfinished downstairs is on a lower level. My studio is going to be there. I'm not even going to start in on the whole moving-my-studio thing right now, because I'm trying to stay sane. The yard has persimmon, pomegranate, avocado, fig, and an orange tree. Our mortgage is less than what we paid in rent to our former landlord.

I'm writing this on my second full day here and my sense of disorientation is still very high. My closest friend is a 13 minute drive away, which is far for me. I don't have a single friend in Vallejo yet, though I've met some very nice people. Also, today would have been my mom's 70th birthday, which is adding to the overall weirdness of the day. But I also feel like I belong here, and this is going to be a fantastic home for us, and I'm excited to start this new life.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

time to teach

For this of you who are interested in workshops things, I will be teaching a workshop in Sonoma (yes, the Sonoma in the wine country) October 14th and 15th. I know I should announce these things more ahead of time, but my train is still off its tracks and I'm flying by the seat of my pants these days. That's just how it is. The class is pretty full, but there are some spots, so sign up here if you are interested in how I do my surface design. I promise I will answer all questions, show you all the things, and we will also drink wine. Not too much wine, but enough to flush our cheeks and feel that all is right in the world.

I have resisted teaching for many years, even though I love telling people how to do things. I think mostly because I like to keep my own schedule and I don't like outside forces imposing on it. And I'm afraid the more I teach, the less time I have to work on my own things-- I don't want to become that artist who is constantly traveling and teaching with no time to create.

 Also, I will be a beginner and there is a chance of sucking, so I am scared too.

But all of the sudden I'm feeling more open to the idea-- of teaching, of giving up some of my studio time, of meeting people in person and sharing what I've learned. Also, it's good to be pulled out of my studio orbit. Cultivate some new sources of inspiration. Right now I would even take a job teaching a weekly class, something I would have literally run away from even a year ago. I think maybe I just need more stability in my life right now. Things to lean on.

Any teachers out there who have any advice for me... hit me now!

Saturday, September 02, 2017


I had a big energy surge in May and June to get ready for the Palo Alto show. While I didn't feel like
I was able to bring my whole heart to the work, I was happy with how everything looked in the end. And I did well at the show, so I felt like the intensity I had to bring to get it done was worth it. But since the show ended I have been drifting. I'm told over and over that I am allowed to drift for a while after you lose your mom, but it makes me feel weird. I'm an achiever and a do-er and putting that aside to be sad is adding to the overall out-of-body experience of this year.

The only thing I am doing "right" is taking care of myself physically. I do my yoga, I take my walk, I do the meditation, I eat the good food. I drink too much beer but oh well.

I was thinking about my mom as I was walking through Mountain View Cemetery this morning, which sounds really really sad but the cemetery is one of the most beautiful places in Oakland and is great for walking.

I was thinking about how many people have said to me, "Your mom is still with you." I know people just want me to feel better, or are trying to reassure me somehow, but I don't feel like she's "with" me. She's just in my head right now. Is that what they mean? I wonder what she could possibly be doing because she is obviously not hanging around here in any way. What I would give for a haunting.

I had the thought that the best thing about being dead is the complete lack of consciousness of the world. You don't have to care about injustice, or insane floods, or the way we are slowly destroying ourselves and the planet, or the many millions of small sadnesses that people are coping with every second of every day.

My mom said that the best thing about dying was the fact that she wasn't going to have to live under a Trump administration.

Then I thought that the best part about being alive is the ability we have to create, and that is the only good reason to be alive-- to make and create things that sustain life in a whole hearted way. And how lucky I am to still be here and be able to do that, and that I have to make the most of my ability to do that now while I still can. All of the gravestones around me were a reminder that everyone thinks they will live forever and have all of the time in the world. But really....

I want to get back to work. I'm trying really hard.

Friday, May 19, 2017

do the work

Over the past 6 weeks or so I've been getting back into a morning routine. It's not the same as my old routine before my mom died. For one, it starts much later in the morning since I can't seem to get out of bed before 7 AM. And that's a vast improvement over my 10 AM wake-up that I was in for a while. Actually, I wake up around my normal time, 5:30 AM, but I just lay in bed instead of getting out of it.

My morning routine is pretty regulated, because it keeps me moving and sees to all of my needs, and I don't have to waste time having a conversation with myself over should I bother washing my face today, do I need to eat breakfast, what should I do for exercise. I just do what I did yesterday and don't overthink it.

My routine has been leading me into my studio after lunch, and I've been spending at least a few hours in there every day. That's where the overthinking starts.

I'm trying to get work together for the Clay and Glass Festival, the one big show I do every summer. There is no way I'm not doing it. I actually made so much pottery in 2016 that I already have a good start on work, but I have a lot of holes. Like I have no small or medium sized vases. There is a bowl deficit. And only a few mugs left.

But I just keep freezing up. I'm sure it's the grief and depression, but I have lost interest in the loose, painterly, scratchy work I've been into for the past 2 years or so. I don't want to make it anymore. So then I say to myself, "You can just make what you want to make, just have fun." But I have no desires, I have no ideas.  It's like trying to light a match underwater.

I left the studio yesterday kind of hating myself and pottery in general. I kept thinking about a dream I had the night before, where I was in a watercolor class being taught by my friend Rae. I was painting all over this sheet of paper, and it in the wacky way that dreams go, all over this room that we were in. I was having fun, and it was a magical dream that made me happy all morning. I made some time to paint that morning to try and live out the dream a bit, and it felt good. But my "real work" with all of its loaded expectations and judgements, is like the opposite right now. I just feel like I'm falling short all the time.

I know that's not fair to myself. And I know that in many ways it's not even true. It's just how I feel.

I was bitching about my day to Big Brother and he basically told me to Just. Do. The. Work. Don't worry about stretching myself, don't worry about feeling creative, just make some work, make some money, and get inspired later when I'm feeling better. Copy my old work if that's what it takes.

Big Brother kind of knows what he's talking about because by horrible coincidence, his father died 2 weeks before my mom, so we've been going through the same kind of shit these past few months. I hung up the phone thinking how much I need to dial it back on myself right now. It's just way to much to ask to come up with fresh inspiration. It's absurd to expect. It's rude to even ask. My old semi-stale inspiration will have to do. Wow, hear how judgy that is? It's hard to stop.

I'm taking a break from the studio today and heading for the beach with my watercolors.

I'm a blank slate-- what are you going to make out of me?

Meanwhile, I don't judge my watercolors for a second.

Friday, May 12, 2017

this mother's day

My mom was not big on Mother's Day. In our family, it was considered a commercially manufactured holiday created solely to play on the guilt and obligation of children (and sometimes their partners too) in order to generate sales of cards, flowers, chocolates, and brunches at restaurants. My mom let it be known she did not like to be the recipient of this kind of attention on Mother's Day, but any other day of the year was just fine. I was not really comfortable with letting the day go totally unremarked upon. After all, I am an American citizen and to completely ignore a finely tuned machine of consumer manipulation is downright unpatriotic. I would always call my mom on Mother's Day to wish her a happy day, and now I am wondering if she really did think Mother's Day was bullshit.

I have been going to a grief support group for daughters who have lost their mothers, and everyone in the group is a daughter who loved their mother (not always the case, as we all know) and one of the ongoing themes is regret. There is not one of us in the group who does not have some level of regret that we didn't spend more time with our mothers, do more for them, show them how much we loved them, tell them how much we loved them. My mom knew that I loved her, and more importantly to her, that I liked her also. We always had a good time together. There was never any holding back when it came to expressing love. My family is very fortunate in that way.

I would give anything to have just one more minute with my mom, to hug her, to tell her I loved her, to look into her eyes, to laugh at her jokes. And I just think that the biggest problem with being a person is that there is never enough time to be with the people you love. No matter how much I gave my mom and received from her, I'm always going to want more of her love and companionship. But everything is limited. Life is limited and what we can do while we are in it is limited. Feeling that regret is part of the process of grief, it's a reckoning with our limitations, and I can just barely stand it.